Looking at Australian politics from a libertarian/conservative perspective...  
R.G.Menzies above

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Two of my ancestors were convicts so my family has been in Australia for a long time. As well as that, all four of my grandparents were born in the State where I was born and still live: Queensland. And I am even a member of the world's second-most condemned minority: WASPs (the most condemned is of course the Jews -- which may be why I tend to like Jews). So I think I am as Australian as you can get. I certainly feel that way. I like all things that are iconically Australian: meat pies, Vegemite, Henry Lawson etc. I particularly pride myself on my familiarity with the great Australian slanguage. I draw the line at Iced Vo-Vos and betting on the neddies, however. So if I cannot comment insightfully on Australian affairs, who could?


30 April, 2010

More Multicultural delights: Polynesian versus African

From what I have seen, Africans do tend to talk loudly on their mobile phones, and anybody who does that is annoying and should in my view be reminded of good manners. The reminder in this case was undoubtedly extreme, however.

I actually have used a rather good remedy in similar situations. Without looking at the offending party, I have myself spoken up in an exceptionally loud voice saying at some length how ignorant it is for people to talk so loudly that other people have to listen to their inane conversations. I have found that remedy to be effective but you probably have to be pretty assertive to use it.

A BRISBANE father-of-four brutally bashed a young rail commuter for speaking too loudly on his mobile telephone, a court has been told. The Brisbane District Court was this morning told Popani Fala Tovale, 40, fractured the nose and left cheek of Chernor Hadi Bah, 20, after punching him up to three times in a so-called “phone rage” attack while travelling on a Brisbane to Beenleigh commuter train on September 6 last year.

The court was told Tovale, a Samoan national, attacked Mr Bah after calling him an "African" and ordering him to get off the passenger train at Coopers Plains, 15km south of Brisbane, for talking too loudly on his phone.

Prosecutor Jacob Robson said Mr Bah had been on the phone speaking with his father and was in the process of trying to end the call when Tovale repeatedly punched him in the head -- leaving him with a fractured nose, left cheek bone and numerous deep lacerations.

He said Tovale told Mr Bah: "Hey, get off the train you African. Why are you talking on the phone?" "Just get off this train or move away from here."

Mr Robson said Mr Bah replied: "I think I am allowed to talk on the phone if I don't talk loudly."

The court was told Tovale punched Mr Bah so hard he was knocked unconscious and later required surgery to insert a plate to repair his cheek and suture his numerous facial cuts.

Mr Robson said Tovale later told police he attacked Mr Bah because he was in a "bad mood" after having an argument with his sister. He said although Tovale called Mr Bah an "African" it appeared their was no suggestion the attack was not racially motivated. "It's not a premeditated racial attack," he said. "The main motivation was (Tovale) was in a bad mood and it was the way (Mr Bah) was talking that upset him."

Tovale was sentenced to 18-month's jail after pleading guilty to one count of grievous bodily harm. He will be eligible for parole on October 30.

The Crown also tendered a victim impact statement, written by Mr Bah, which revealed he now feared people of "islander appearance."

Judge Greg Koppenol, in sentencing Tovale, said unprovoked and brutally violent attacks in public places would not be tolerated by the courts. "There was no provocation for this brutal attack," he said. "Brutal violence leading to serious injury should attract the appropriate (jail) sentence."


New national curriculum looking fairly promising at this stage

The history is predictably one-sided but Rudd comes out in favour of phonics and grammar. But what the teachers actually do could be another story. That phonics and grammar are evil is almost a religion to some of them

ENGLISH and maths classes will return to basics, history will explore Sorry Day alongside Anzac Day and science will be made more interesting.

The changes form the backbone of a radical overhaul of teaching in Australia that will bring all states and territories under a single curriculum.

An eight-page liftout inside The Courier-Mail print edition today provides a comprehensive guide to the drafts of the first four subjects that span Prep to Year 10 and will be taught in classrooms from next year.

Under the changes, Prep students will be taught to count to 20, learn what a scientist is, write in upper and lower case letters and talk about how families share their history.

Within three years children will learn to tell the time on analogue and digital clocks and research a famous astronomer and by the time they finish primary school, students will be using paragraphs to write well structured English texts.

When they reach Year 10, students will be working with trigonometric ratios and discussing the major economic and political debates in Australia during the 20th century, including workplace reforms.

Parents will be able to follow the curriculum online to get an unprecedented look at their child's learning at every stage of schooling.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the new national approach would end the "pretty patchy standards" in many classrooms and give parents confidence that their children will learn the essentials wherever they live.

"When it comes to teaching the basics, let me be very frank – what we need to make sure is our kids know how to sound out letters, that they know grammar, that they know punctuation, that they know adding up, taking away, counting. These essential elements must be part of the basic knowledge in the school education of all Australian kids," he said.

Queensland has consistently trailed the nation in literacy and numeracy and the curriculum is a centrepiece of the Government's election promise to deliver an "education revolution". Premier Anna Bligh said a national curriculum would ensure Queensland students would not be disadvantaged.

The draft reveals Prep students will be expected to learn more and play less while Queensland's Year 7 students will face greater demands.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said the Year 7 and Prep curriculums would be a challenge, with "a significant jump" required from both students and teachers. Queensland is one of three states to currently have Year 7 in primary and not high school.

Mr Hart said the Year 7 science and history curriculum was closer to what was currently being taught in Year 8. "It's clear in the science curriculum that there is a significant jump in the expected achievement levels," he said.

Early Childhood Teachers Association president Kim Walters said it was a sad day for Queensland's play-based Prep. "Outdoor play will suffer because of this, I am very disappointed," she said.

The Opposition yesterday slammed the history and science components of the curriculum, saying it was left-wing and contained too much focus on indigenous Australians.

"If we get elected this year, we'll entirely review the national curriculum and if it doesn't measure up to what we expect then, the Coalition will scrap it and start again," education spokesman Christopher Pyne said.

Teachers in 155 schools will trial the subjects for the next three months.

Senior curriculum will be released next month for consultation and draft curriculum for geography, arts, and languages will follow next year.


Australian PM commits $2.4bn to 'non-feasible' carbon emissions storage

AUSTRALIA'S focus for slowing climate change - the planned storage of power-station carbon dioxide emissions - has been dismissed by a US study as "profoundly non-feasible".

The Rudd and Bligh governments have made carbon capture and storage (CCS) - under which planet-warming emissions from power stations would be removed and stored underground permanently - their biggest single direct investment in new technologies to fight global warming.

The Rudd government is spending $2.4 billion on CCS projects and is putting $100 million a year into the Global CCS Institute it created last year. The Bligh government is spending $102.5 million on the ZeroGen CCS project near Rockhampton and other CCS projects.

Michael Economides and Christine Ehlig-Economides, in a study published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, found that for one commercial-scale coal-fired power station, the underground storage area for the removed CO2 emissions would have to be "enormous, the size of a small US state".

"The findings clearly suggest (geological CO2 sequestration) is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions, although it has been repeatedly presented as such by others," they wrote.

"(Storing CO2 in a closed system) will require from five to 20 times more underground reservoir volume than has been envisioned by many, and it renders geologic sequestration of CO2 a profoundly non-feasible option for the management of CO2 emissions."

Michael Economides, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Houston University, said official figures showed the Sleipner reservoir - which is offshore Norway and often held up as an example of carbon storage - injected only a third of the CO2 that one modestly sized power plant would produce.

"Also, our information is that the CO2 injected at Sleipner is a lot less than 1 million tons per year and is closer to 1 million per three years. The whole thing is preposterous," he told The Courier-Mail by email.

Scientists say annual global carbon emissions - mainly from using coal, oil and gas - must peak about 2015 then fall away quickly to give a decent chance of keeping average temperature and sea-level rises manageable for most countries.

In Adelaide this month, University College London professor of chemical engineering and director of UCL's Centre for CO2 Technology, Stefaan Simons, called on Australian policymakers to rethink their pursuit of CCS.

In a lecture event co-sponsored by oil and gas firm Santos, Prof Simons said shifting the world's electricity reliance to coal and gas plants equipped with CCS may take so long that devastating levels of climate change would be locked in.

"(CCS) is potentially a dangerous diversion - soaking up time, resources and funding that could be better and more readily applied to achieving a low carbon future.

"I challenge our energy policymakers to reassess whether ... we should continue to use fossil fuels as our primary energy source. We could replace fossil fuel electricity production with that from renewable sources," Prof Simons said.

The Global CCS Institute said it was considering the US study findings.

A spokesman for the Queensland Government said it didn't know if any of its CCS research partners would be looking at the US findings.

State energy minister Stephen Robertson last week said Queensland had taken the next step to establishing "safe, long-term underground storage of greenhouse gases from coal-fired power stations".

He released a tender for proponents to explore land in central and southwest Queensland that may be suitable for underground storage of CO2.

Mr Robertson said Queensland and Australia would continue to rely on coal as a major source of power generation.


Now you see it, now you don't: building disappears

And the Rudd government is in denial

LAST Friday Marra Creek Public School's six students had a $150,000 building in their playground. When they returned to class this week, it was gone.

The subcontractor who supplied the 18- by 14-metre roof and the six steel posts supporting it arrived at the school south-east of Bourke on Saturday with a crane and removed the covered outdoor learning area he had helped to build.

He had waited a month to be paid under the federal government's Building the Education Revolution $16.2 billion economic stimulus scheme.

"We didn't run a bulldozer through it, but we pulled it down," said Jarrod Kennedy, a welder from Dubbo. "We employ 15 people. We've put on some more people from January because the government stimulus package came through. Then this happened."

Mr Kennedy said his company, Jarrod Kennedy Welding, was owed $30,000 for the project and $30,000 for another economic stimulus job elsewhere. "On my invoice it states that until [I am] paid for the property, it's mine," Mr Kennedy said.

The builder of the covered area, TCT Construction from Dubbo, has gone into liquidation. The liquidators had told Mr Kennedy it could take 18 months to pay TCT's bills and even then he might receive only 10¢ in the dollar, he said.

"The stimulus package is there to create jobs and, come the end of the job, we're not getting paid."

The Parkes MP, Mark Coulton, supported Mr Kennedy's actions. "This was supposed to be a stimulus package to create employment and now they're not going to be paid," Mr Coulton said.

"I don't blame him at all. He can't afford to lose $60,000.

"I'm laying the blame right at [the Education Minister's] feet. Julia Gillard could have implemented checks and balances."

Ms Gillard said there would be no investment in school infrastructure if the federal opposition had its way.

"It's hardly surprising that Mr Coulton is criticising the government's investment in schools.

"He and [the Opposition Leader, Tony] Abbott voted against every dollar and in every school," she said in a statement.

"If it was up to them, the projects never would have happened at all." The NSW Department of Education, which manages the BER scheme, said the subcontractor would have to raise the issue with the company that engaged it.

"The managing contractor has confirmed to the BER program office it has paid its contractor for the work undertaken," a spokesman for the department said. "They paid this contractor because they received confirmation that they had paid their subcontractors."


Former ally David Penington savages Kevin Rudd's 'status quo' health reforms

ONE of the nation's eminent medical experts has turned against the Rudd government's health reforms, declaring they will make little difference to how hospitals are run.

David Penington, a senior fellow at Melbourne's Grattan Institute who initially backed the deal Kevin Rudd struck with the states, said yesterday he was "appalled at the lack of any agreement on governance that differs from the status quo", and had little faith any real change would be forthcoming from the reforms.

He also deplored the fact there was no commitment to the key issue of "a vastly better interface" between the hospital sector and primary care, or aged care and mental health - "all issues of critical importance for the longer term".

Like some other experts, Professor Penington was cautiously positive about the deal struck at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra on April 20, but said his views had changed since reading the 56-page formal agreement circulated the following day. "Inevitably, this (COAG) trading, as always, degenerated into arguments about money and control, not about healthcare reform," Professor Penington told The Australian.

"The thing that will come back to bite Kevin Rudd will be that he will have achieved nothing to improve quality of hospital services, as they just continue to be controlled on numbers, as in every state at present."

This involved a disproportionate focus on budgets and not always meaningful measures for variables such as waiting times, instead of a more direct focus on patient outcomes.

While it was essential that the local hospital network boards included and heeded doctors and nurses, the "fact that implementation . . . is now to be left to meetings between commonwealth and state bureaucrats leaves me feeling no real reform will be delivered", Professor Penington said.

The broadside comes at a critical time for the government's reform push, with Western Australia apparently no closer to signing the deal and doctors in other states increasingly restive over some of its details and omissions. Forty of the country's top health experts, including top federal government figures, are gathering for a forum in Sydney today to discuss the health reform agenda.

John Dwyer, another senior doctor and longstanding reform advocate who has been critical of aspects of the proposals, said last night he, too, had found fresh points of concern in the agreement detailing the COAG deal. One was the doubt hospitals would have the computers necessary to track their activities in the detail needed to claim payments under the proposed activity-based funding formula.

Professor Dwyer said he attended a meeting at a leading Sydney hospital yesterday where the doctors agreed the process was "going to be a nightmare".

"We couldn't see how it was going to happen without a huge increase in bureaucracy," Professor Dwyer said.

Another point was the requirement for clinicians who joined the governing councils that run the local hospital networks to be drawn where possible from other networks.

"That just shows that whoever drafted that doesn't have a clue about the importance of local management," Professor Dwyer said. "I do think this (reform process) has been an opportunity lost . . . nothing is more important than seeing if we can't salvage something that would give us genuine reform."

Some experts also have concerns about the plans, with former federal Health Department deputy secretary Philip Davies, now a health policy academic at the University of Queensland, saying it was a matter of "regret" that COAG's compromise deal had weakened Mr Rudd's original plan.

However, some experts said they considered the COAG compromise an improvement on the original. Jane Hall, professor of health economics at the University of Technology Sydney, said the plan would in time allow a different approach to planning and long-term funding that would benefit patients in the long run.


Dr Penington in his own words below

THE Council of Australian Governments meeting on April 19 and 20 was the culmination of events with origins in Kevin Rudd's political commitment in 2007 to take over and fix the health system if the states had not done so. Following the prolonged study by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission and more than 100 hospital visits across the nation by the Prime Minister and Health Minister Nicola Roxon, hopes were high. In reality, the COAG communique is a mixed bag and must be tested as to whether it represents a workable framework for reform.

Rudd rightly discerned the system was at a tipping point in respect of funding for the future. In every Western country, health costs are rising well ahead of the consumer price index. This is even more critical in the light of costs associated with our ageing population detailed by this year's Intergenerational Report in January. The capacity to fund future growth has now been resolved by COAG, subject to ongoing negotiations with Western Australia, with significant funding from the commonwealth with its access to growing revenue.This is the one big tick.

The premiers at COAG were concerned primarily with public hospitals, always a big issue for state budgets. These views were put most stridently by Victorian Premier John Brumby.

Concern in the community, however, is for the quality of health care more broadly and people's access to it. Primary care, and its interface with hospitals, matters as much as hospitals themselves, as services increasingly will be delivered outside hospitals.

Aged care is becoming an urgent issue. There is a need for elderly people to be looked after in or near their homes, with expanded community nursing and nurse practitioners and access to rehabilitation hospitals and services, rather than seeing the elderly as a negative issue for public hospitals, just needing more nursing homes.

Mental health entails hospital and community services and needs urgent development. There is a crying need for better preventive health services.

These are all seen in the COAG communique as commonwealth responsibilities, but there is nothing in the proposed governance arrangements to assure us that they will operate as a unified system.

During the past 15 years, states have seen controlling hospital costs as their prime concern, although taking note of public complaints about waiting times in emergency departments and waiting lists for surgery. Hospitals are managed against budgets, numbers of patient separations and waiting times. In NSW and Queensland, management is controlled directly by health departments. In Victoria, former premier Jeff Kennett had established network boards, filled largely by people with finance and business backgrounds, used to management by numbers and with little or no understanding of medical issues. Casemix funding somehow removed a need to understand what was being done.

Calls for intervention in 2007 were stimulated by events in Bundaberg, Queensland, later reinforced by happenings at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, and then in the trauma unit at the Alfred in Melbourne, all hospitals performing well on their budgets and numbers.

The Garling review in NSW identified the problem as being due primarily to the profound separation between management and medical staff, who felt they no longer had any respected role in their hospitals.

Many times every day, doctors need to make difficult, urgent decisions, often on incomplete evidence. The tradition of professional review, now termed "clinical governance", is a crucial component of ensuring continuing safety and quality of a hospital's performance. Public hospitals are there to provide medical services to sick people, not to provide numbers to state governments, and where medical staff members feel ignored by management, these processes of review fall quickly away. Moreover, university-linked teaching hospitals are the standard setters with their clinical research, testing the quality of outcomes and assessing the value and safety of new developments.

This largely was ignored by the NHHRC and is in danger of being lost following COAG.

Rudd, after his hospital visits, recognised that management needed to be delegated to hospital network boards and that these should include medical input. He indicated support for hospital research. If boards are to be appointed and supervised by the state bureaucracies, however, there is little to give confidence that change will occur in hospital management.

NSW introduced medical executive positions in all its hospitals after the Garling review, but Victoria believes its hospitals are fine. The problem, though, has not been confined to NSW.

The further issue of how the local network boards will relate to the sectors of primary care, aged care, mental health and other services remains for oversight by states' officers with limited background in these areas.

The communique refers to new state-based "joint intergovernmental authorities" that will have "no policy or operational role" but act as "funding authorities". This was no doubt agreed in the final stages to get across the line, leaving no role for the commonwealth to monitor use of the funds in terms of hospital performance.

In reality we need, state by state, a joint health service authority overseeing co-ordination in planning and service delivery for all sectors. To use state bureaucracies to oversee hospitals is sensible to avoid duplication, but there must be a framework to ensure approved national policies are delivered through reporting to such bodies.

As the commonwealth is the main funder, it should lead such bodies, bringing planning and delivery of its own sectors into joint planning and delivery.

In Britain, the National Health Service had become strangled by bureaucratic regulation. The reforms led recently by Lord Darzi have vastly improved services there, with the principle that at every level, there must be a partnership between doctors and administrators. He used medical schools as the principle tool for this package. We need similar changes here, embracing the whole system.

The proposed further consultations that will lead to the COAG meeting on June 30 do not give confidence.


29 April, 2010

Still no problem with Australian banks

ANZ first-half profit soars. I have quite a lot of ANZ stock so this is very pleasing -- JR

ANZ posted a 36 per cent rise in first-half profit today, boosted by lower charges for bad loans and higher profit margins amid improving economic conditions in its home market.

With a war chest of over $4 billion, Australia's third-largest bank by market value also said it was considering whether to bid for Lone Star Fund's controlling stake in Korea Exchange Bank.

The stake would give ANZ a significant foothold in South Korea as part of its ambitions to become a "super-regional" bank in Asia.

The Melbourne-based lender said net profit for the six months ended March 31 rose to $1.93 billion from $1.42bn a year ago and the group declared an interim dividend of 52 cents a share, up from 46c last year.

The group's net interest income rose 8 per cent to $5.19bn while its net interest margin widened to 2.43 per cent from 2.22 per cent last year.

Chief executive Mike Smith said: "The backdrop to our improving business performance is a considerably better outlook for provisions, which reflects the strength of the economic recovery, particularly in Australia and Asia."

Australia's banks held up well during the global financial crisis, with provisions for problem loans among the only major blemishes during the downturn. Executives at the major banks have said they believe that provisions have passed their peak.

ANZ's provisions for problem loans came in at $1.08bn for the first half, down 23 per cent.

The group's cash profit -- a smoothed measure closely watched by investors -- was $2.38bn, up from $954 million last year and ahead of the average forecast of $2.29bn of six analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

Its underlying profit, which strips out other items including credit intermediation trades and other one off items, rose 20 per cent on year to $2.3bn....

There was a threat that the Greek debt crisis would impact on credit spreads globally, Nr Smith said. "I think the contagion issue is now very real", he told reporters.

Still, the problems in Greece were unlikely to affect underlying economic growth globally and were not going to be very significant for Australia, with Asia still projected to grow solidly, Mr Smith said.


Kevin Rudd's Department of Hot Air costing taxpayers $90m

TAXPAYERS will fork out $90 million a year to keep more than 400 public servants employed within the Federal Climate Change Department - despite most of them now having nothing to do until 2013.

More than 60 of them are classified as senior executive staff on salaries between $168,000 and $298,000 a year. Their salary bill alone will cost an estimated $12 million every year.

A further $8 million will also be paid in rent for plush offices at Canberra's Constitution Place until 2012, where it is believed 500 new computers will be delivered this week.

It can be revealed that despite Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's decision on Tuesday to suspend the failed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme until at least 2013, the department has ruled out plans to cut back staff.

A formal response by department secretary Martin Parkinson to a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday - the same day as the scheme's suspension - claimed the department would not offer redundancies.

The formal response, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, said there were no plans for "the immediate future" of any scaling back of staff, despite the agency losing its core function.

According to official figures, the number of top-paid bureaucrats being paid up to $298,000 a year has almost doubled since January this year from 39 to 61. That was to gear up for establishment of the Australian Climate Change Regulatory Authority, which will also now have no function.

Overall agency staff has also been ramped up since last year with total climate change employees having risen from an initial 246 to 408.

Of the 61 senior agency officials, only nine have been inherited from the scrapped home insulation scheme. The majority, 38, were employed on the CPRS and a further 19 were employed on the renewable energy scheme which has also been axed.

But none of the 408 staff within the department will be shed even though the department's key function, the CPRS, has been axed.

Its own tender documents reveal a lease contract of $16 million for its offices which expires in 2012.

"The hundreds of public servants who have been beavering away on this policy, the 114 public servants who they took to Copenhagen for that matter in support of this policy . . . none of that's changed," Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said yesterday.

"Which is why I think that Mr Rudd for political reasons doesn't want to talk about his great big new tax on everything but as sure as night follows day, if he gets re-elected, we'll be stuck with it."


Greatest moral challenge turns out to be Rudd's dearest folly

Despite all the denials, we now see in black and white how the defunct - or in Kevin Rudd's language "extended" - emissions trading scheme already has an impact on electricity prices.

No sooner had the Prime Minister announced he was scrapping - sorry, "extending" - the scheme, all the energy companies came out to say the extra cost factored in for a scheme that hadn't even passed the Senate was, miraculously, no longer necessary. So now they'll only increase our already inflated bills by 36 per cent instead of 60 per cent, in EnergyAustralia's case.

There you have it - a glimpse at the tip of the iceberg that was Rudd's dearest folly, that had him prancing around the world stage and which he pitched as the defining achievement of his first term.

Rudd's mission to rush out in front of the rest of the world with an ETS because climate change was "the greatest moral challenge of our time" has finally been exposed as flimflam. "It's very plain that the correct course is to extend the implementation date and to assess the action by other states at the end of 2012" was Rudd's way of announcing his backflip this week.

It vindicates the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and his backer, Senator Nick Minchin, in their refusal last year to be coerced by their former leader Malcolm Turnbull into supporting the ETS.

In hindsight, it is even more extraordinary Turnbull was so obstinate. From the moment he rolled his hapless predecessor Brendan Nelson for articulating the exact wait-and-see position Rudd has now adopted, Turnbull and his supporters claimed the Coalition had no choice but to back Rudd.

They were supposedly terrified of handing Rudd a trigger for a double dissolution election on climate change. But even before Climategate, before the flop at Copenhagen, it was obvious that wasn't the case. As I wrote last August, Turnbull should have called Rudd's bluff, and embraced an election on a new energy tax.

Well, sure enough, Rudd blinked. He never wanted to go to voters with a new tax. He wanted to walk to the polls hand in hand with Turnbull, as a great statesman with his patsy, having pulled a fast one on an electorate soon to be burdened with the costs.

Yet one of the ABC's political sages, Alison Carabine, was claiming yesterday Turnbull was the only politician to emerge from the ETS with any "credibility". Hello?

Now all the ETS boosters in the business community, the rent-seekers whom Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg has dubbed the "climate-industrial complex", who stood to profit the most from carbon regulations, are right behind Rudd's backflip. It's business as usual, with a reported $2.5 billion saved to the economy.

Rudd is clearing the decks of anything smelly before the election, in that curiously Zen way he has of ignoring the fallout.

He is banking on the electorate forgetting his astonishing catalogue of flops and fiascos, from home insulation, school halls and his mishandling of the asylum seeker issue that has led to an influx of boats, to GroceryWatch, Fuel Watch, the 2020 Summit, Aboriginal housing, solar rebates, green loans and so on.

Even his much-promised Mandarin-speaking new relationship with China, our biggest trading partner, is a flop, with China's People's Daily last September stating "relations between China and Australia have now hit their lowest point in a decade, since John Howard met the Dalai Lama".

Rudd hopes the electorate will remember only the images of him visiting hospital after hospital, plonking his bottom on the bed of another astonished sick person.

There are very real human costs for all his posturing policy wonkery. The ABC's Four Corners reminded us on Monday night of another of Rudd's green-tinged follies, the catastrophic home insulation scheme, which resulted in the deaths of four young insulators. That's not to mention the $2.5 billion spent - almost half of it on fixing the bungles. That's half of the $5 billion he's thrown at the states to get them to agree to his hospitals funding rejig.

Even when he sat down next to the father of Matthew Fuller, the 26-year-old insulation installer who was the first to die under the scheme, Rudd could not bring himself to apologise.

As Kevin Fuller, Matthew's father, told Four Corners: "Kevin Rudd burst into the meeting after about 15 minutes and sat right next to me and he didn't, he didn't remember my name, so I shook his hand and said it's Kevin, it's not that difficult to remember."

There was no apology to the Fullers, "no looking in my eyes or Christine's eyes and saying I'm sorry. Even sorry for your loss would've been good."

Rudd seems to be one of those people whose self-belief never falters, even while everything is falling down around him. But he has few cheerleaders left, outside of the increasingly unhinged Crikey blog. Even the ABC's Chris Uhlmann was scathing this week: "If you really believe that climate change is the greatest moral and economic challenge of our age, then you wouldn't retreat, would you, because if you did, people might begin to wonder what you actually believe in?"

Perhaps the best assessment of the Prime Minister this week comes from the Roman senator Tacitus, via letter writer Harry Gelber, of Hobart: "Omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset."

Roughly, it means: everyone agrees he would have been thought capable of governing, if he had not already governed.


Rudd retreats on web filter legislation

Another retreat! And again a welcome one

KEVIN Rudd has put another election promise on the backburner with his controversial internet filtering legislation set to be shelved until after the next election.

A spokeswoman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said yesterday the legislation would not be introduced next month's or the June sittings of parliament.

With parliament not sitting again until the last week of August, the laws are unlikely to be passed before the election.

Labor promised before the last election it would force internet service providers to block access to illegal content such as child pornography and X-rated images.

But the US government, Google and free speech advocates have said any efforts to censor the internet would slow download speeds, stop the free flow of information and be ineffective.

Senator Conroy's spokeswoman said the government was not deterred by this criticism.

The government was still consulting with internet service providers and considering public submissions; once that process was complete, it would introduce the legislation into parliament, the spokeswoman said.

Australian Christian Lobby managing director Jim Wallace was disappointed. "The minister has done an excellent job on this . . . and I would like to see it legislated because it was an election promise," he said.

Opposition communications spokesman Tony Smith said Senator Conroy should come clean on when he would release the legislation.


Negligent bureaucracy behind big payroll meltdown

Queensland Health broke basic safety net in payroll push, experts say

QUEENSLAND Health has been savaged over its rushed rollout of the failed payroll system by the co-developer of the software. Workbrain co-founder Scott Morrell claims Queensland Health ignored the most basic of safety nets, seeing the department drop 75,000 workers into an untested system and hoping for the best.

Speaking from Toronto, Canada, Mr Morrell said clients implementing the system – or any new payroll system – should transfer employees gradually into the new system, after running several parallel pay cycles with the old system.

Queensland Health took neither precaution, instead just testing 10 per cent of employees in three "dry runs", where no one was actually paid. But a department spokesman said the results of the 10 per cent dry runs were "within the average range and were considered acceptable by auditors".

Thousands of Queensland Health workers have missed out on pay during three fortnightly cycles.

Two Australian payroll companies also slammed the Government for the rollout, labelling the decisions to ignore safety procedures "amateur hour".

Mr Morrell co-founded the Workbrain system in 1999 and ran the project development team. He said after spearheading the Workbrain project for six years, he was stunned by the Queensland Health rollout. "Yes, things can go wrong, but the usual issues that occur in a client rollout are typically addressed quite quickly," he said.

With staff of about 75,000, Mr Morrell said Queensland Health should have transferred just 100 to the Workbrain/Sap system first. "Any problems are then isolated and you then grow slowly as you get a comfort level," Mr Morrell said.

Australian payroll software companies also expressed dismay at the rushed rollout. The chief executive of Aussie Pay, Dean Morelli, said it was unheard of for any company to launch a new system without testing it on population subsets. "The level of risk taken indicates a complete amateur show – it is not the software at fault," Mr Morelli said.

HR3 payroll software provider general manager Frank Rizzeri labelled the rollout "reckless". "If one of our project managers did it that way, they would be terminated," Mr Rizzeri said. "To bypass those basic safety nets shows a complete and utter lack of due care."

A spokeswoman for Acting Premier Paul Lucas said the decision not to take a parallel pay run was made by the IT expert project board.

The decisions to bypass safety nets are under investigation by KPMG.


28 April, 2010

Rudd's hot air over global warming

THE great fraud has been found out, and his country saved - for now - from the greatest of his follies.

Here's the worst lie that Kevin Rudd, perhaps our most deceitful Prime Minister, once told about global warming and his Emissions Trading Scheme: "The biggest challenge the world faces in the decades ahead is climate change. "It is the great moral and economic challenge of our time."

But on Tuesday Rudd decided "the great moral challenge" of our time wasn't, after all. It was just "a" challenge, he said.

And with public trust falling in his ETS "solution" - a great green tax on gases - he cut and ran. His ETS would be shelved until at least 2013. Two elections away. Yet only last year this same Government claimed "delay was denial", and we could not wait to save "our jobs, our houses, our farms, our reefs, our economy and our future". To stop "700,000 homes and businesses" on our coast from drowning. (Another lie.)

Rudd had his excuses, of course. The naughty Opposition now opposed the ETS in the Senate, and other countries were "slower to act" on global warming themselves. But it was just more Rudd spin.

For years he's mocked warnings from sceptics and some Liberals that it was reckless for small Australia to make cuts that almost no other country would make. As I've often argued, we'd just export jobs overseas without making a scrap of difference to any warming, which seems to have halted since 2001 anyway.

Rudd pretended then that such arguments were mad. Almost criminal. "The clock is ticking for the planet," he said six months ago. "The resolve of the Australian Government is clear - we choose action, and we do so because Australia's fundamental economic and environmental interests lie in action. Action now. Not action delayed." The costs of delay would be "severe".

So why does Rudd only this week agree that waiting for the world is not mad, after all, but responsible? Was he spinning then, or is he spinning now?

Almost as empty is Rudd's excuse that his hand was forced by the Opposition's rejection of the ETS since the accidental rise of Tony Abbott to the Liberal leadership by a single vote.

IF Rudd truly believed his ETS was so desperately needed to meet the world's "biggest challenge", why didn't he fight like sin to get it through the Senate, as President Barack Obama fought to get his health reforms through his Senate?

Why didn't he throw everything into cutting a deal with the Greens and the two independent Senators to vote through an ETS to "save" the planet?

That deal may yet come, of course. Rudd's ETS is not yet a corpse but a zombie, and with an election looming, Rudd wants that zombie down in the crypt, so timid voters won't tremble.

You may think I'm harsh on Rudd, but I say little that he hasn't said himself - and of delayers just like him.

I remember his speech last November to the Lowy Institute in which he vilified me and a few other sceptics he named: "The third group of climate deniers are those who pretend to accept the science but then urge delay because they don't want their country to be the first to act. "What absolute political cowardice. What an absolute failure of leadership. What an absolute failure of logic."

You said it, Prime Minister. Or were you just spinning then, too?


'Lenient asylum' pulls Sri Lankans

AUSTRALIA'S "lenient" asylum policy, easy access to citizenship and generous welfare benefits are the main pull factors attracting Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, says the head of Colombo's anti-human-trafficking operation.

Prabath Aluthge, chief of Sri Lanka's National Counter Human Trafficking Resource Centre, told The Australian the recent wave of boat arrivals was driven by success stories spread by Sri Lankans who had travelled to Australia.

But as authorities intercepted another boat carrying 41 asylum-seekers near Ashmore Reef on Monday, Mr Aluthge said a crackdown by the Sri Lankan authorities and the toughening of Australia's asylum regime had led to a decline in the number of boats leaving Sri Lanka.

And Malaysian authorities announced they had stopped an Australia-bound boat carrying 75 Sri Lankans from leaving Malaysia on Friday.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Aluthge said he expected the changes in procedure, which include the suspension of processing of all new Sri Lankan asylum claims for three months, would have a deterrent effect, as would the deportation of people whose claims had been unsuccessful, a move foreshadowed by the Rudd government.

Australia was considered to be a soft option by prospective Sri Lankan boatpeople, Mr Aluthge said. "I think you have a very lenient asylum policy," he said. "These people, they want to go to a country where asylum policy is very lenient, where it is easy (to obtain) citizenship, easy to get welfare benefits from the host government," the Sri Lankan official said.

Mr Aluthge said neither Tamil nor Sinhalese Sri Lankans had any grounds for claiming asylum in Australia now the country's bloody civil war had ended.

Since 2009, almost 1000 Sri Lankans, mostly minority Tamils, have arrived in Australia by boat.

All told, they comprised about 20 per cent of the total number of boatpeople to arrive as part of the present surge.

"The successful people informed their friends about Australia - to come there and you can earn something and you can get political asylum very easily," Mr Aluthge said. "They motivate with this information."

However, Mr Aluthge said there had been a decline in boats leaving Sri Lanka for Australia. "We have an awareness campaign. There are police very alert. We have established a coast guard department," he said. "And . . . now the war is over, the entire navy can work with the coast guard."

Most smuggling rings in Sri Lanka were organised out of Colombo or the Negombo region north of the capital, he said. But the market is mostly Tamils in the northern part of the country.

Mr Aluthge said the organisers paid agents across the country to recruit passengers, sometimes even guaranteeing their debt for the journey, which could run from $5000 to $10,000. "They sometimes mortgage their properties, sometimes they get bank guarantees," he said.


Token Crackdown on disability pension racket

WITH around 778,000 Australians on disability pensions and the number rising steadily, the Rudd government will today announce tougher rules that will make 6500 people ineligible for the payment.

Paying disability pensions costs the commonwealth more than $11 billion a year, and that sum is expected to reach $13.2bn in just two years.

Under today's changes, 6500 disability support pensioners will be judged to be capable of work but an additional 1500 people will become eligible to receive the welfare benefit.

The net reduction in DSP recipients by 5000 is a first step in slowing the rate at which the system is ballooning. Those no longer eligible for the payment may be able to apply for the dole.

The government will also close a loophole for people on the DSP who live permanently overseas but who return to Australia every 13 weeks in order to retain their pension. That will take effect from January next year.

The new assessment process includes an overhaul of so-called impairment tables used to measure how a person's disability affects their ability to work.

Impairment tables are used by doctors to make their assessment of a person's work capacity, with points allocated to particular disabilities. A person must accumulate a certain number of points to be granted the DSP.

The growing number of people on disability pensions is a growing problem for the Rudd government because it has become a parking lot for those who are out of work, particularly mature workers, in times of rising unemployment.

During the recession between 1990 and 1993, the number on disability pensions rose from 300,000 to 400,000. At the end of December last year, 777,725 Australians were on the DSP.

Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said it was essential that the level of a person's impairment was assessed using the most up-to-date medical information.

The current impairment tables were last comprehensively reviewed in 1993 and were not consistent with contemporary medical and rehabilitation practices, she said.

Ms Macklin will also establish a new Health Professional Advice Unit within Centrelink to give DSP assessors independent advice. That would include advice on suitable treatment to help someone return to work and on assessment of borderline claims.

The government believes that over the years, the impairment tables have led to anomalies and inconsistencies which have distorted the assessment process.

For example, when hearing impairment is assessed, a person with a hearing aid is not required to wear it, but someone who is having sight assessed must wear glasses.

Ms Macklin said an advisory committee was being established to provide advice on updating the tables, drawing on consultations with the medical, allied health and rehabilitation sector, disability peak bodies, mental health advocates and government agencies, with the revised impairment tables to be used from January 1, 2012.

Ms Macklin said the DSP was an essential element of Australia's safety net. But she said it was vital it supported the people who needed it -- those Australians who, through disability, are unable to work to fully support themselves.


Rising wave of voter anger over housing

High prices are mainly the result of Greenie-inspired land-use restrictions. There is not enough land on which to build all the new houses needed

Pity the prophet who gets it wrong on housing. Economics professor Steve Keen recently marched from Canberra to the top of Mount Kosciuszko – while also wearing a shirt that read "I was hopelessly wrong on house prices" — after losing a bet for claiming that housing prices would drop by 40 per cent after the global financial crisis. Instead prices fell in the single digits before climbing again in double digits last year.

But Labor wasn’t forced to wear a T-shirt — maybe just a metaphorical hair shirt — when it announced it was reversing some of the Foreign Investment Review Board changes made last year that controversially relaxed laws on foreign home ownership. This was in the face of admitting that it had no hard figures of sales of existing homes being sold to temporary residents since the changes, exact details of cases of possible rorting and previously claiming that the FIRB changes had had any significant impact on the market.

"The re-imposition of compulsory notification, screening and approval at the front end, and the forced sale of properties when temporary residents leave Australia, will ensure that investment is in Australia’s interests, and in line with community expectations," assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry said.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and state leaders also announced a review into housing affordability and availability at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in April, with a view to seeing whether such factors as zoning and planning, taxation and the first home owners grant had affected the market, and possible measures to alleviate the situation.

Kudos to the government for moving on the FIRB changes. But what does all this activity on housing mean? It means that Labor has figured out what many already know — that there is a voter groundswell of anger over housing in Australia. But it’s not the sort of transitory anger that one might have over many issues of the day — it’s a deep anger, a bitter anger that extends not only to those trying to buy their first house but also the parent who sees his children potentially locked out of the market forever, a fear his children share.

A widely quoted survey by the Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia and Bankwest Retail claimed that the majority of the Generation Y polled thought they would never own a home and were doomed to a life of renting. "We have never seen such pessimism among prospective first-time buyers throughout the past five indexes," said Victoria Shortt, chief executive of Bankwest Retail.

It is an anger that grows as prices continue to spiral upward, rising to higher, ridiculous multiples of average yearly wages. It is an anger that festers over the outrage of negative gearing. It is an anger that grows as mortgage stress sweeps the land. It is the impotent anger of letters to the editor and calls to late-night radio programs, desperately searching for answers and reassurance.

It is the resentment towards endless weekends spent futilely searching for an affordable place. It is a fury upon hearing interest rates are rising while overexposed banks are cutting back on home loans, creating a perfect storm for first-home owners. It is an outrage that burns over the scandal of "land banking" by companies, drip-feeding bits of real estate into a market with acute housing shortages.

It is, one might say, an electorally significant anger. Upon such angers are elections won and lost. The majority of votes may be home owners, but it only takes a small swing to unseat a government. And the army of the angry and dispossessed is growing by the day, seeing no solution in sight and paralysis at a state and federal level. And parties of both sides take heed – that army isn’t going anywhere. Not until you fix the problem.


27 April, 2010

Sydney ANZAC day march led by a hero of heroes

Trooper Donaldson VC on the right above. He was awarded the VC for his actions when his patrol was ambushed in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan, on September 2, 2008. In this action, he deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire in order to draw attention to himself and thus away from wounded soldiers. "This selfless act alone bought enough time for those wounded to be moved to relative safety," the citation says.

AUSTRALIA'S only serving Victoria Cross holder, Mark Donaldson, made it crystal clear where his heart lay yesterday at Sydney's wintry dawn service-- with his mates, back in Afghanistan.

But Trooper Donaldson faces similar problems to those experienced 40 years ago by our other living VC recipient, Keith Payne: he's an action hero whom the Australian Defence Force wants to keep from harm's way.

Trooper Donaldson, 31, like past VC holders, is living with the brass's reluctance to put such a prized target for the enemy in the field. "I took a moment this morning at the dawn service to pay my respects to those guys over there," Trooper Donaldson said of his comrades still in Afghanistan, where he won the VC in 2008.

"I'm sure they are worried about the job they are doing at the moment. They are probably taking a moment to reflect and respect and say thankyou and then just getting on with the job at hand." After attending the dawn service at the cold and wet Cenotaph in Martin Place, Trooper Donaldson took pride of place at the head of the march that wound through the city, cheered on by tens of thousands. It was a heart-swelling experience, he said.

"I would encourage everyone, if they are still serving today to come in and march. It's a pretty special thing." He went on to toss the coin in the Anzac Day rugby league clash at the Sydney Football Stadium between the Roosters and St George.

The defence establishment also wrapped Mr Payne in cotton wool after he was awarded the VC in Vietnam in 1969, posting him to the Royal Military College, Duntroon, as instructor, rather than meet his request to return to unit. But after leaving the army in 1975, Mr Payne continued to press the army to let him visit soldiers on active duty.

He was finally given permission to participate in last year's Anzac Day service at Tarin Kowt, in Afghanistan's south, where the bulk of Australia's forces are stationed. Most recently, Mr Payne harnessed his star power to campaign for a new Aboriginal War Memorial at Cape York, which he unveiled in Weipa yesterday.

Trooper Donaldson's superiors have kept the door open for his return to duty but there are risks to sending such a prominent figure back to the frontline.

"We've been careful to ensure this can be managed without compromise to Mark's safety," a Defence spokeswoman said. "Any decision Defence makes in relation to the deployment of Trooper Donaldson will be made with great consideration, and take into account the safety of all those on deployment."


Koran caution for Australian tax laws

From what I can gather, Sharia compliant lending treats interest as capital, which would be illegitimate under existing Australian tax law. I can foresee some juicy evasion schemes coming up if that rule is relaxed

AUSTRALIA will check our tax laws to ensure they don't offend the Koran and prevent our access to the $1 trillion Islamic financial market.

The toughest restrictions are linked to Islamic law, or Sharia, which prohibits the payment of interest, known as riba, and bar investment in gambling and alcohol products.

However, the most complex issue relates to finding compatibility between Western tax systems, which concentrate on the details of a transaction, and Islamic "instruments' which looks at the "economic substance” and can have another outcome.

At stake is the vast network of the Islamic banking and insurance market worth almost $1 trillion and calculated to soon expand to reach $5 trillion.

"Accessing this major source of capital could assist Australian businesses to diversify their funding base in the future,” Corporate Law Minister Chris Bowen said.

Assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry yesterday announced the launch of the tax law review during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.

"This is not about special treatment or concessions for Islamic finance or its providers, but about ensuring that our system doesn't unfairly disadvantage or preclude such instruments and, in doing so, deprive Australia of capital, jobs and growth,” Senator Sherry said.

"Islamic finance is a rapidly growing part of the global financial system and Australia is in an excellent position capitalise on that growth, but we have to identify if our tax system doesn't unnecessarily prevent that from happening.”

The review will be conducted by the Board of Taxation.


Warmist laws postponed

Labor's thwarted emissions trading scheme has become an inconvenience for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the federal opposition says.

The government has shelved plans to push ahead with plans to begin operating its carbon pollution reduction scheme by July 2011, The Sydney Morning Herald said today.

The scheme will not start before 2013 at the earliest following a decision by cabinet's priorities and budget committee, the newspaper said.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong would not confirm the report. "The blocking of the CPRS legislation by the opposition has caused delays and created uncertainties which will of course affect the budget treatment of the CPRS," a spokeswoman for the minister told AAP. "The government remains committed to the CPRS as the best and lowest cost way to reduce carbon pollution."

Small Business Minister Craig Emerson also refused to confirm the report, saying it was the Coalition that was thwarting efforts to address climate change. "We will take the climate change issues to the next election and the people will have another opportunity to determine their position," he told Sky News. "I know what position they will adopt, and that is that their must be decisive action on climate change."

Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt said the decision would save the government $2.5 billion, and was contrary to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's past claim that climate change was "the greatest moral challenge of our generation". "Now it is an inconvenience for him," Mr Hunt told ABC Radio.

The decision means the government is likely to take its ETS legislation off the table until after an election, expected later this year.

It also means Labor will not use its latest legislation as a double-dissolution trigger, nor its original bills twice rejected by the upper house last year. The Senate was expected to vote on the legislation when parliament resumes sitting in May.

"The Prime Minister clearly has no commitment to climate change," Mr Hunt said, adding the ETS was a tool to get Mr Rudd through an election. "And he's dropped it the moment it's become inconvenient."

Non-government senators have thwarted Labor's bid to win parliamentary approval for its scheme.

The opposition backed away from supporting amended legislation that a Malcolm Turnbull led Coalition negotiated with Labor late last year. Now under Tony Abbott, the Coalition is pushing what it calls "direct action" to address climate change.

"The Prime Minister is not willing to take his emissions trading scheme to the electorate, to the election because he didn't want to put it up against the idea of direct action to reduce emissions," Mr Hunt said.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said he had not seen the Senate program for the coming weeks, but believed there was little hope for the scheme with the Coalition and Australian Greens both opposed to it.

It was disappointing if it had been shelved, but there were other issues to think about ahead of the election, he said. "There are plenty of issues around," he told ABC Radio on Tuesday. "The issue of healthcare is going to occupy a lot of people's minds, I might also say, so is the question of economic management.

"We've come out of this global financial crisis in a stronger position than most economies, they are the type of issues that are going to be in people's minds. "Even if we don't get a price on carbon there's still a lot to be done."

Mr Ferguson said energy efficiency and new technologies were still government priorities.

The latest development comes as a poll showed trust in Mr Rudd to manage climate change had dropped to 36 per cent. The result in the Auspoll survey was a fall from 46 per cent in February 2009.

Advocacy group GetUp!, which commissioned the poll in conjunction with the Climate Institute and four other non-profit groups, says the result reflects voter frustration with stalling climate change action.

However, 35 per cent of voters would be more likely to vote for the Rudd government if it took stronger action on climate change, and only 16 per cent would be less likely.

Mr Rudd, as late as last week, was maintaining support for an ETS. "Our policy hasn't changed," he told The Sydney Morning Herald. "We maintain our position that this is part of the most efficient and the most effective means by which we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions with least cost to the economy."


Conservatives claim cost of housing 4200 asylum seekers has topped $344m

THE arrival of another boat carrying of asylum seekers has set a record for the number of arrivals in one financial year - and the Federal Opposition is demanding to know how much it's costing taxpayers.

A boat with 49 suspected asylum seekers and two crew was intercepted north-north-west of Ashmore Islands on Sunday night, the 114th to arrive since the Rudd Government softened John Howard's border regime. This took the number of people in 2009-10 to 4210, the highest in a financial year, with two months to go.

Opposition immigration and citizenship spokesman Scott Morrison said the number eclipsed the 4175 in 1999-2000 and the 4137 in 2000-01. "To paraphrase Kevin Rudd, he had a gold medal year on boat arrivals in 2009-10," Mr Morrison said.

Mr Howard still holds the record for the most number of boat arrivals in a calendar year - 5516 in 2001. That may be broken, with the rate of boat arrivals this year exceeding the pre-Tampa Howard era.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department yesterday said 2063 asylum seekers were housed on Christmas Island, which will rise to 2114. Christmas Island's capacity is 2040, with 400 extra beds still weeks from being ready after bad weather stalled work.

The Federal Opposition is demanding Mr Rudd and Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Evans admit what it's costing the Government to house the influx. "Figures obtained from Senate Estimates earlier this year revealed when the Rudd Government prepared the 2009-10 budget they believed only 200 people would arrive," Mr Morrison said.

"In November last year Senator Evans asked for an [extra] $134 million to cover 1400 arrivals, with each arrival costing $81,900. "With this year's arrivals now at 4210 we can expect an additional bill of more than $200 million, based on the figures previously provided by the Immigration Department."

He said Senator Evans should release a statement of the increased costs of flights between Christmas Island and the mainland. "The Minister must also detail new costs such as reopening the Curtin detention centre and increased operational costs at the other detention centres around Australia . . . taking the spillover from Christmas Island."

On Friday another boat en route to Australia, containing 75 Sri Lankans, was stopped by Malaysian police.


26 April, 2010

A public hospital experience

Don't expect civility from bureaucrats

Last week I had reason to visit the emergency department of a metropolitan hospital. My family doctor had become alarmed at the quantity of over-the counter pain killers I’d consumed – an orgy of paracetamol brought about by the agonising fallout from a routine a bit of dentistry – and strongly advised me to visit ER, to have my blood toxicity levels checked. It was not an adventure to which I looked forward, and as I traveled toward the hospital I braced myself for what would undoubtedly be a wait of many hours, there surely being more important emergency cases than my own. It was perhaps naïve of me to think the hospital would greet me sympathetically, but the hostility I encountered left me, for one of the few times in my life, speechless.

Upon arrival at the hospital, I presented myself to the woman at the front desk, who smilingly took my details and told me to take a seat and wait for the call from the admissions nurse. Only a few minutes passed before she called my name and I approached her booth. Housed behind protective glass (for reasons which would become obvious), she was a short woman in her late 40s, with a teardrop-shaped body that I conservatively figure would weigh in at about 140 kilos. This would not be worth mentioning but for what happened next (her hair do – a ginger coif swept behind the ears with the extreme slick favoured by teddy boys and butch lesbian stereotypes – is perhaps not worth mentioning at all...probably). Without taking her eyes from the computer screen in front of her, she asked me what I was there for, and I told her, to wit:

“My doctor suggested I come here for blood and liver toxicity tests, on account of the large amount of pain killers I’ve taken over the last five days.”

I smiled for the benefit of her right ear and pointed to my tooth. “Bad bit of dentistry,” I said.

At this she thrust her right hand towards the gap in the protective glass and, in a voice entirely free of humanity, said: “Show me the letter.”

“I don’t have a letter,” I replied. “I spoke to my doctor on the phone and she suggested to me that I come here.”

Her eyes still on the computer screen, she took a deep breath of tedium, her beanbag bosoms awaking for a moment and stirring like two huge Gullivers before her sigh of expulsion nestled them back into the doubtlessly sweaty hell in which they sleep. I got the distinct impression that, somehow, I’d done something I oughtn’t.

“How many have you taken?” she asked, in the kind of bored, sing-song tone one might employ when asking the family dog which part of the carpet it has poo-pooed upon this time. I decided it best to be honest, as the only loser of a lie would be me.

“Probably between 20 and 30 in the last 24 hours,” I replied. “It’s the only way I’ve been able to...”

At this point I stopped talking, because her face had turned toward me for the first time this afternoon. Upon it was a look that I see most commonly these days on American teen TV shows, when the nerd in the clique says something common and the the silver-spoon bitch turns with her head bowed, her mouth agape and her dead eyes peering up through her fringe as if to say: “Like...duh!” Only there was no humour in this face at all – it was designed to convey pure contempt, and that is precisely what it did.

“You’re joking,” she said, disgusted, though she knew I wasn’t joking at all, being that I was in the emergency ward of a public hospital. “No,” I replied. “Like I said, it was the only way I could kill the pain.”

For a few long moments she was silent, her voiceless eye contact prolonging the humiliation I was meant to be suffering.

“Did you bother to read the label?” she finally asked, her eyes fluttering closed until the very last syllable, after the fashion of the grotesquely superior (what I would have given for a gorilla suit into which I might have swiftly changed before she opened her eyes again).

“Like I said, I was in pain, which I guess makes people do silly things sometimes.”

And I would have continued with this line of argument, describing the desire for pain relief as not unlike hunger, which can cause some people to eat like filthy @#$%ing swamp hogs until their silhouettes are indiscernible from those of the Teletubbies. For it occurred to me that, if you took our surroundings out of the equation – if the buildings and uniforms and name tags evaporated until there were just two people and nothing more – what we had here was a woman the size of a small 4WD vehicle, who couldn’t walk (I was to later observe) without swaying like a sumo from one point of the compass to the opposite other, berating someone for unwise consumption.

But we were in a hospital, she was in a uniform, and there are signs on the walls of all emergency departments declaring that abusive behaviour will not be tolerated – signs that, at time like this, can be interpreted to suit passive aggressives in uniform. And I needed help. If ever there was a situation where one had to suck up the contemptible rudeness of another, it was here, at the emergency department of a public hospital. That we were in such a place, and she employed by it, made her next comment the most reprehensible of all.

“You do realise, don’t you” she fumed, that look still on her face, “that you could quite possibly die?”

Now, the fact that I was in the emergency ward of a hospital should have been proof enough that I was concerned about my condition. I would have thought one of the core duties of the staff of any triage unit would be to alleviate, to the best of one’s ability, any anxiety that a patient may be feeling. Well, somebody didn’t tell Makka Pakka, who seemed to think it was her job to fill me with self loathing and alarm.

She did a bit of typing, during which she repeatedly shook her head in demonstrative disgust, then said: “Sit down over there and wait till you’re called.”

I waited in emergency for four hours before my name was finally called. It would have been a long four hours if I’d had the mental space to dwell upon this hideous gobbledock’s prophesy regarding my imminent death, but I was more furious than anything, and time tends to fly by swiftly when you’re butchering someone in your mind, weighing up methods of dispatch and disposal (I spent a good deal of the time trying to calculate how many weather balloons I’d need to ferry her off into the stratosphere and out to sea, provided I cut the pieces small enough).

Once inside the hospital proper, the doctors and nurses were bloody wonderful, not a one of them failing to appreciate how I’d come to be there. One doctor I spoke to went so far as to blame my whole adventure on the over-cautious nature of pharmaceutical classifications, and the society that deems the most effective pain killers off limits to people in pain, lest they might enjoy themselves. “It’s madness,” the doctor said, and I agree.

Emergency departments are unhappy places, full of people whose pain and panic tends to make them impatient, and the reason for those signs that warn about abuse is that health providers deserve better than to be shot as the messengers of a notoriously ill-equipped and understaffed system. But this has to be a two-way street - the people who visit emergency wards are frightened and hurt, and any health provider who makes them feel worse is a bad one. I cannot imagine the sort of spray that Nurse Charles Laughton has in her arsenal for the addicts, the alcoholics, the chronically depressed and anxious, who should never, ever be discouraged from visiting hospitals. Her argument is doubtless that they’;re wasting public resources, but we all pay for those resources, and I can promise her that, in ten years time, when her obese arse will doubtless be strapped to a bed haemorrhaging money from the public system, I won’t be bedside abusing her for what she’s done to herself.

I’m willing to accept that my experience with this particular nurse was an isolated incident, but then, all experiences are isolated incidents - we deal with them one at a time. Which is why I’ve written this today, and why I’ll be printing it out and making another quick trip to emergency tonight, just to silently slip something under the glass.

I’m sorry for the offense, lady, but, frankly, you deserve every spit of it. Whatever you do to kill the pain is more than alright by me.


One Victorian State high school enforces standards

NOT many people would figure that as school girls' skirts rise, education standards fall. Last week Ms Wade made headline news when it was revealed her state high school regularly checks the length of its girls' skirts.

Yes, that's right, headline news. This "back to basics" stuff sure did cause a fuss. This was a revolt against the slackness of the post-'60s decades and so was news.

And I was relieved to hear it. Until I checked what else the school is doing to warrant such gasps of shock. In fact, Bentleigh shows that our social pendulum may still have a long way to go before it's swung back to anywhere near where it was.

The school won praise for also insisting students line up in an orderly fashion before class and sign good behaviour contracts in the senior years. What's more, they risk failing subjects if they wag school too often. Talk about revolutionary. Or, as Ms Wade put it more demurely: "We are raising expectations".

I so don't have a problem with any of this. It's all the little things - the skirt lengths, the nose rings, the coloured beanies, the hooded jackets - that give a school an identity, or, rather, an oh-dear reputation.

Sometimes such fashion statements can be refreshing - or surly - assertions of individuality outside school. But in a school they can be signs the school is failing to teach the kids that individuality often has to be balanced with a sense of community if we're all going to get on with each other and thrive.

Such sloppiness also signals that the school doesn't dare to impose any expectations on children, who signal back that they owe the school no duty.

Same story with lining up, which is a basic acknowledgment that life can't be a me-first free-for-all if we want a civil, well-run school or any other form of society. Cracking down on wagging and bad behaviour is also basic stuff in socialising children, teaching them that some kinds of discipline are actually going to make their lives better, not worse.

I most certainly am not hankering for a shut-up-or-smack kind of teaching, but the fact that Ms Wade's very modest changes have made such news makes you realise many other schools must have given up insisting on anything at all.

No wonder there's been such a drift away from state schools to private schools, which for some years have insisted on the kind of things that in a state school seem so brave.

But I'm still worried, and not just because Bentleigh's new rules are not so much back to basics as plain basic, yet are seen as so new. Why do Bentleigh's students now need to sign "contracts" to behave well, when it should be a school's unchallenged right to insist they must?

Why are students under this "tough" policy allowed as many as seven unexcused absences a semester before they fail a subject? Why does the school make a boast of having just two assemblies a term at which the national anthem is played?

When all this is hailed as "tough rules", I'm reminded again how soft the rest must be.


The Leftist Premier of Victoria is just a blowhard

JOHN Brumby was quite a different bloke as leader of the Opposition compared to his recent years as Premier, as you'd expect. Back then he tended to deal in absolutes - and wasn't too hesitant about recycling a few urban myths.

He was vehement in his support for a thorough clean-up of what he saw as systematic corruption throughout the state under Jeff Kennett, with a particular interest, since waned, in the tendering process for Crown casino.

But he also wanted a robust, rigorously independent inquiry into police corruption, and many agreed. If only we had attacked it back then, so much that is now the black legend of these last few years might never have taken place. As later Liberal Opposition leader, now Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, observed: "Who would know that it would lead to 27 killings?"

Brumby could also be sidelined by fiction, even gossip. He once tackled Kennett in State Parliament claiming the government had a list of journalists who could be ethically "corrupted" to support Kennett's huge and contentious privatisation agenda. Kennett denied such a list existed and asked Brumby for a copy of it. In the excited session that followed, Brumby called Kennett a liar.

Brumby later admitted he did not have the list, but he was reported as being "fairly sure" of its existence, because he'd heard it being talked about on 3AW.

Brumby also named in Parliament 20 Victorians he said were "cronies" of the Kennett government. One of them, Ron Walker, said he was considering legal action.

But most extraordinary was the claim that two top businessmen, who Brumby named to the Herald Sun, would be in jail by the time he was elected Premier. "I mean, some of them will be in jail. Seriously, some of them will be in jail. I won't be working with them in jail!" Brumby said. As it turns out, he doesn't have to go to jail to do business with either of them. Neither was locked up, nor charged with anything.

I called one of those two wealthy businessmen yesterday, and was surprised that he had never been made aware what had been said of him (the Herald Sun chose not to publish the names at the time). "I was never, ever a crony of Jeff Kennett's," said the well known Victorian adding that he never had a poor relationship with Brumby.

"It's the first I've heard of it," he said, laughing, but annoyed. "I am most surprised to hear it. There would be no logical reason why he would say that. A comment like that is defamatory. He didn't know me."


Camera-shy Rudd is exposed by Libs

WITH the Liberal machine convinced they will have to be on an election footing any time from August, the opposition leadership group has taken the irrevocable decision to make Kevin Rudd's character an issue. There will now be two lines of attack: competence and cowardice.

This high-risk strategy reflects the fact that the Coalition has precious little time to deconstruct the Prime Minister's persuasive public persona, the "dentist between appointments" as Barry Humphries so nicely put it. Labor will claim that this new assault is playing the man and not the ball. But this argument will not be sustainable. The opposition leadership group, which has been discussing this new tack for the past few weeks, wants to concentrate on the flaws in Rudd's political persona, not on the man himself.

As one senior Liberal told this column, "We have always believed that there is hollowness at the centre of Rudd." The difference now is the Coalition believes this impression is crystallising in the public mind. Three indicators that reinforced the opposition's confidence voters are finally waking up to the Prime Minister have tumbled out in the past week.

They involve what the opposition argues is Rudd's "gutlessness" in sending out his juniors to cop the blame for failures that, when they previously looked like successes, he was more than happy to be associated with.

One senior frontbencher involved in the leadership group's tactical discussions put the argument this way. "This is based on increasing fundamental incompetence: the pink batts roll-out, pink batts small business false promises on the steps of parliament, Green Loans fraud, the inquiries into the Building the Education Revolution rorts. It just rolls on . . . This is all about the difference between the grand moral gesture and the reality of governance, which in the case of the pink batts program has led to 120 home fires, 1500 electrified roofs, 240,000 dangerous or dodgy roofs and the four fatal tragedies."

That's the competence front. Then, says the Liberal frontbencher there's the associated issue of cowardice: "The failure to front the cameras to deal with the abandonment of the pink batts program after having personally promised to restart [it] in a classic grand gesture in front of the cameras.

"The breaking of the election promise on building childcare centres [announced on the day the Melbourne Storm story broke by junior Minister for Early Childhood Education Kate Ellis who now says only 38 centres will be built compared to the 260 trumpeted during the 2007 campaign] . . . The schools and the Green Loans announcement are all examples of a fundamental lack of leadership and courage. In short, character does matter and Rudd's incompetence and cowardice are now front and centre. The opposition believes that there was a turning point when Rudd ran away from, in particular, the pink batts program announcement and that both Canberra insiders and the public felt there was a failure of leadership that puts him in a new light. "These are deep issues of character and after having been a wonderful presenter, the fact that `there is no there there' to quote Gertrude Stein is becoming evident to the public in the view of the opposition. Against that background, Tony Abbott's authenticity, love him or hate him, shows up well," the frontbencher says.

In fairness to Rudd, that last proposition will also be well and truly tested as the Coalition develops its new line of attack.

In terms of competence the next hurdle for Rudd could be his "activity based funding model" developed as part of his buyout of the state Labor premiers at last week's Council of Australian Governments meeting. Rob Messenger thinks he'll fall at that hurdle.

Messenger is the LNP member who blew the whistle on Jayant Patel, the former Bundaberg surgeon who is now facing charges in the Brisbane Supreme Court. Patel has pleaded not guilty to unlawfully killing three patients and causing grievous bodily harm to a fourth. The charges relate to his time as director of surgery at the Bundaberg Base Hospital between 2003 and 2005. Bundaberg Hospital is in Messenger's electorate and he has taken a keen interest in Rudd's health reforms. While Patel deserves the presumption of innocence until his trial is done, Messenger nevertheless fervently believes that Rudd's COAG agreement on health will only lead to more such cases.

And there are royal commission findings that back what he has to say. "One of Rudd's key structural changes to health is [the] activity based funding model," says Messenger. "The phrase and name is immediately appealing to the layperson . . . [It's] a grouping of words carefully put together by spin doctors and designed to swing the worm in your favour during a televised health debate. As soon as Rudd spouts, `we are going to reform health nationally with activity based funding" you know that the voters are pressing the worm button in [Rudd's] direction," Messenger says.

"But the voters of Burnett and Bundaberg have had a different experience with [the] activity based funding model."

Messenger says that the Davies Royal Commission, which examined the Patel case, found that health bureaucrats put budget bottom lines before people's lives. Two quotes from the royal commission illustrate Messenger's point: "Budgets became heavily linked to activity and activity indicators without fundamentally ensuring there was no erosion of quality." The "evidence showed budgetary concerns and activity targets figured prominently in management strategies generally, as it did at other Queensland public hospitals; in particular, in relation to the employment of the two Senior Medical Officers. The emphasis was on reducing elective surgery waiting lists, not patient safety."

Messsenger says that because Patel was carrying out so many operations, some of which are at the centre of the Brisbane Supreme Court case, the local area hospital board treated him as "the goose that laid the golden egg" in terms of continued funding levels.

"Rudd's activity-based funding model was one of the reasons why Queensland's health system crashed and burned," charges Messenger. "He needs to be challenged and held to account for this failure," he says.

It's the model, of course that Rudd developed as former Queensland premier Wayne Goss's chief cabinet officer. Now that we have it nationally, the opposition will no doubt want to know if it will be Rudd who'll front the television cameras if it produces another Patel.


25 April, 2010

"Refugees" at work

No-one who knows the African crime-rate will be surprised

A YOUNG Adelaide woman has lost an eye and narrowly escaped permanent brain damage after she was stomped on with a stiletto shoe during a vicious assault in a popular city nightclub.

The attack was believed to have been sparked after the 25-year-old victim accidentally stepped on another girl's foot in the women's toilets of the West Tce venue during an African-themed Rugby Sevens party last month.

The victim, who would give only her first name, Tash, has described how she thought she was going to be killed as up to four women of African descent bashed her in what she maintains was an unprovoked attack in the early hours of March 21.

The retail worker said she was bashed and knocked to the ground in the toilets at about 3am by a group of women, before one stamped on her face - plunging her stiletto heel into Tash's left eye, missing her brain by millimetres.

"I remember getting smashed (on) either the sink or the hair-dryer and (I) went straight to the ground," Tash said. "They were kicking my face and I remember the heel going in, I felt the heel going in. "I was basically three millimetres away from permanent brain damage - the heel went in 23mm."

She said she could not think of anything that may have provoked the attack but recalled she may have stepped on the foot of one in the group when she entered the toilet.

The western suburbs woman later underwent 90 minutes of surgery at Royal Adelaide Hospital but doctors could not save her sight. Her eye was removed on March 26 and she will shortly be fitted with a prosthetic eye.

The incident was reported to police but Tash said she believed her attackers were from interstate, complicating the task of identifying them.

Three days after the attack, HQ applied to the Liquor and Gambling Commissioner to trial a six-month lockout banning people from entering the venue between 3am and 8am, to tackle alcohol-related crime. It is understood the application was not related to the assault. HQ licensee Rod Rose could not be reached for comment.

Details of the incident emerged after the Sunday Mail last week reported on a surge in crime among young women, including a 40 per cent increase in assaults.

The viciousness of the attack has left Tash shell-shocked. She said she is now too scared to go out at night and wears sunglasses every day to hide her disfigurement. "It's not human (what they did), especially females," she said.

"I've never heard of something so vicious . . . I had a feeling I was going to die; as soon as I tasted my own blood, I thought `I'm gone'.

"It's awful out there; I'm scared in years to come people are going to start carrying guns into clubs."

Tash said she was "trying to be strong" despite her life-changing ordeal but desperately wanted justice over the attack. "They (the attackers) don't deserve to live a happy life; I don't know if they realise what they have done . . . maybe they have done this before," she said. "I have my down days; it took me a week to cry after I got out of hospital, I was just really angry.

"I would really like to speak to anyone else who has gone through what I have."

Tash's mother said nothing could justify what the women had done to her daughter. "Hopefully they get a conscience and give themselves up, and somebody who knows them does the right thing and reports it to the authorities," she said.

"She's got a strong family unit supporting her and good friends; she's got a battle in front of her but she's a fighter. She's not going to bury her head in the sand and will carry on the best way that she can."

Eastern Adelaide CIB Senior Constable Christian Ruckert said police were appealing for anybody to come forward, as CCTV footage seized from HQ had offered no leads.

"This was a pretty brutal attack and I've never heard of anything like this before," he said. "You don't expect females to do that to each other; blokes glass each other but you don't expect this from girls."


The age of bureaucracy

I make this point in trying to fathom the catastrophic failures of leadership we keep seeing lately - from the billions wasted on pink batts and school hall rorts, to the 173 deaths in the Victorian bushfires last year. Even more unfathomable is that no one seems accountable. Failed leaders can't explain what went wrong and are showered with sympathy. We seem destined never to learn from our mistakes.

When the former Victorian police commissioner, Christine Nixon, 56, admitted in the bushfire royal commission this month that she was getting her hair cut, meeting with her biographer and having dinner at a restaurant with friends on Black Saturday last year, she was enveloped in a warm group hug.

A few troglodytes, such as the former premier Jeff Kennett and the Liberal MP Fran Bailey, said she should be punished for dereliction of duty, and sacked from her $8000-a-week position as chairwoman of the Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority.

But they were quickly drowned out by Nixon supporters, such as Heather Ridout and Joan Kirner, who claimed the criticism was a sexist plot. The sisterhood enveloped her. After being forensically eviscerated by counsel assisting the commission, Rachel Doyle, SC, Nixon appeared unperturbed, saying she had been buoyed by the support from Black Saturday families.

We seem to be impressed by leaders skilled at looking confident and brazen through catastrophe, as incredible amounts of money are wasted, their core business disintegrates and, sometimes, people die. What was most telling about Nixon's testimony to the royal commission were the mundane details of her performance that day and how she perceived her role.

She was the No.1 person in the state with operational responsibility, yet she didn't know what to do. When she dropped into the State Emergency Response Co-ordination Centre about 3pm on Black Saturday, February 7, after meeting in her office with her biographer, she seemed to just float around, lost, not asking for a briefing, observing that people seemed "very busy".

"I thought the people in those areas were carrying out their responsibilities effectively, the best I could tell, and that they were very busy trying to respond to a range of issues." But, asked Doyle, "What were they busy doing?"

Good question. As for her role, "I would look at computer screens over people's shoulders. "And what," asked Doyle, "what did you glean by looking at … screens over people's shoulders?"

"I just saw that they were very busy, that people were working on a range of issues … and that people were going about their work."

"It sounds rather passive, Ms Nixon."

So it does. What the people in that control room weren't doing, for example, was warning towns in the path of the fires that they were next in line. Asked if she had "considered" whether the towns might have been warned, Nixon said she "assumed" they had.

The paralysis in the co-ordination centre on Black Saturday, as revealed in the commission testimony, is a textbook demonstration of what managerialism or bureaumania does to organisations. It causes everyone to lose sight of their core aim, which is to run an emergency response system that warns people a fire is on its way, or a police force that protects good people from bad people, or a land management system that doesn't allow fuel to build up to lethal levels in the bush.

As police commissioner Nixon became the posterchild for bloated bureaucracies everywhere.

And the media adored her. She was progressive! She took part in the gay and lesbian pride march! She was a woman! She was consultative! She relaxed uniform standards! She recruited women and minorities! She answered emails, had lots of meetings and set up myriad committees. She was the nana feminist, who humbled the most masculine, testosterone charged militaristic symbol of the patriarchy itself. She was perfectly chosen and trained to spend her days being busy doing her job, whatever that was. Busy, busy, busy. The truth is her defenders are right, she can hardly be blamed.

Christine Nixon is the perfect leader for our age.


NSW Government staff paid $11.8 million to not work

THE State Government is paying staff a staggering $11.8 million every year to sit around and do nothing. It can be revealed that 164 Government workers remain on the payroll although their jobs are redundant.

The struggling Transport and Infrastructure Department accounts for almost a quarter with 40 workers paid to do nothing, including three who have been on the payroll for seven years.

A Freedom of Information document reveals there were 164 excess employees across the government agencies in December. But a former HR manager still employed with a government department said the the real figure was much higher.

Under the FOI, the Service Technology and Administration Department has eight excess employees listed. "I know for a fact they have in excess of 30 staff, however they fudge the figures by saying they are doing meaningful work inside or outside their department," the woman said. "A person could be on a salary of $90,000 and doing the work of someone who is paid $50,000."

"Taxpayers would be appalled to know millions are being wasted paying public servants for jobs they don't have," NSW Shadow Treasurer Mike Baird said. "It is extraordinary some public servants are being paid for up to 7 years to float around the bureaucracy. The frightening thing is that this is clearly the tip of the iceberg. "Not only is this taxpayers' money pouring down the drain, these workers would have zero job satisfaction so it is a lose-lose situation."

The FOI shows in June 2009 there were 253 employees on the Excess employees list which was cut in December to 164. The Justice and Attorney General Department had 22 people.


Too-hot topics out of NSW secular ethics course

THE state government made a last-minute decision to remove a hypothetical scenario involving designer babies from secular ethics classes being trialled in public schools as an alternative to scripture classes.

A hypothetical terrorist hijacking has also been removed from ethical scenarios put to students.

The baby scenario was removed some time between late last week and early this week after the Herald reported the Anglican and Catholic churches had lobbied the Keneally government over the ethics trial as a threat to the future of religious education.

Phil Cam, an associate professor of history and philosophy at the University of NSW, who developed the ethics curriculum, confirmed the two scenarios had been omitted, saying they were considered "age inappropriate".

The Catholic Bishop of Wollongong, Peter Ingham, the spokesman for the NSW and ACT bishops on the ethics trial, said he was not aware that the designer baby and terrorist scenarios had been part of the original draft and their inclusion was not something the Catholic church had lobbied against.

A spokesman for the Anglican church also said the Anglican church had not been aware of these topics in the curriculum.

A spokesman for the NSW Education Minister, Verity Firth, confirmed that the controversial topics had been removed.

The NSW Greens MP and spokesman on education, John Kaye, said: 'There are no reasons why these issues should not be discussed in primary school classrooms as students are exposed to them through news reports and television."

Bishop Ingham said he did not oppose the teaching of ethics in schools but did not want children enrolled in scripture classes to be excluded from them. He said he would call on parishioners of the Catholic diocese to sign petitions asserting the importance of scripture classes.


24 April, 2010

Joyful Christianity banned after 9pm?

The Tokaikolo Christian Church choir's joy and dancing banned by local council. Noise restrictions for all other activities cut in at 11pm so this seems discriminatory. And where is the vaunted multiculturalism of the Leftist NSW government? This church is of Tongan origin. The people of Tonga are Polynesians with their own distinctive traditions.

A SMALL western Sydney church has been hit with a $3000 fine by the local council because its choir was singing too loudly and some choristers were caught dancing.

Council officers raided the Granville church and were alarmed to discover choir members dancing in the carpark and the door of the church open an hour after it was supposed to be closed.

The dispute has gone all the way to the office of Treasurer Eric Roozendaal, who has been asked by his fellow minister David Borger to show mercy to the musical Christians and waive the penalty.

The Tokaikolo Christian Church choir was practising Christmas carols and other songs on the evening of December 3 last year.

The "infringement" occurred at 10pm as the rehearsal was finishing. A week later the church was hit with a $3000 fine from Parramatta Council. It has been unable to pay the fine, which has been referred to the State Debt Recovery Office - which slugged the church another $50.

The council claims the church violated the conditions of its development consent by being too noisy and hosting activities outside its approved "hours of operation", which are supposed to end at 9pm.

A spokesman said: "During a site inspection conducted at 10pm on December 3, 2009, the following observations were made: Three males were observed walking up the driveway on the northern side of the premises, towards the kitchen area; a large group of people were observed dancing in the basement carpark area; and the front door of the premises was open."

Reverend Nesiasi Kolo told The Telegraph parishoners would end up footing the bill.

Local MP Mr Borger is lobbying Mr Roozendaal to have the controversial fine waived. "In considering the difficulties the church faces in balancing their community activities with their impact on their neighbours, I would suggest that strong consideration be given to the waiving of the fine and the issuing of a stern warning," he said.


Australian Federal Government gets tough on foreign ownership of real estate

This will be a generally popular move but if a conservative government had done this, it would be "xenophobia' or "racism". As a move to restrain rises in real estate prices, however, it is just tokenism. High levels of immigration and Greenie-inspired land-use restrictions are the big causative factors there

FOREIGN students and temporary residents will face tough new rules when buying a house and will have to sell on leaving Australia.

The Federal Government's crackdown, to be announced today, reverses its December 2008 decision to relax foreign ownership rules.

Bowing to public pressure, the Government will also introduce a hotline for concerned locals to "dob in" foreigners they suspect of breaching the rules. Under the rules, temporary residents and foreign students will be:

SCREENED by the Foreign Investment Review Board to determine if they will be allowed to buy a property.

FORCED to sell property when they leave Australia.

PUNISHED if they do not sell by a government-ordered sale plus confiscation of any capital gain.

REQUIRED to build on vacant land within two years of purchase to stop "land banking". Failure to do so would also lead to a government-ordered sale.

There have been growing claims that real estate prices have been forced up by wealthy Asian families, especially from China and Korea, buying up property and outbidding locals at auctions.

The Government is concerned by anecdotal reports that foreigners are "collecting" houses, often in the same street, and leaving them empty when there is a shortage of housing.

Assistant Treasurer Senator Nick Sherry said he wanted to ensure foreigners did not put "pressure on housing availability for Australians".

Treasury is investigating 50 suspicious residential buys by foreigners in Melbourne.

Senator Sherry said the changes would "ensure that investment is in Australia's interests and in line with community expectations". He said the Government would catch cheats with new powers allowing it to cross-match information from Land Victoria and the Immigration Department.

It will also rely on members of the public to report suspicious property buyers to a new hotline: 1 800 031 227. "I want to make sure everyone in the community has a direct line to report their concerns," Senator Sherry said. "If you do the wrong thing, you will be found out."

New penalties, which may be linked to the value of the property, will apply to buyers, sellers and estate agents.

There is no data showing how many properties have been bought by temporary residents.

Since the Government's 2008 change, the median house price in Melbourne has risen from $450,000 to $524,500.

Foreigners living overseas are still prevented from buying existing homes and only allowed to buy or build new ones.


Kevin Howard is emerging

Disorder in home country not enough to warrant asylum says Rudd's immigration spokesman -- very reminiscent of skeptical Howard government policies

IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Evans has indicated the Rudd government is poised to issue further rejections for Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum-seekers who arrived before the government's April 9 suspension of claims from the two countries.

"I think the important point to make is that because a country is subject to civil disorder and great difficulty doesn't mean that everyone from that country is a refugee," he said yesterday during a visit to Christmas Island. "I think people comment on the situation in Afghanistan and say it is still fairly unsafe in certain regions, but that is not a convention-related reason for someone to be found a refugee."

The Rudd government earlier this month froze asylum applications from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, citing improved conditions in the two countries. While the freeze is in force, the government will review changes in the two nations to determine which applicants should be sent home.

Senator Evans was speaking as yet another asylum-seeker boat arrived in Australian waters yesterday - the 45th this year - with nine passengers and three crew aboard. The boat intercepted by the navy was also the ninth since the government announced the suspension of claims on April 9. Sixty-three Afghans who are subject to the new freeze have so far reached Christmas Island, a department spokeswoman said.

So far this year, 21 asylum-seekers have been sent home, including 19 Sri Lankans. Last year and in 2008, a total of 63 Sri Lankans were sent home.

No Afghan asylum-seeker has been returned in that period, although the government is believed to have issued rejections to a number of Afghans, who now have the option of an independent review. "There are indications that both cohorts are seeing increased rejections," Senator Evans said.

"We're waiting on the UNHCR review of country information as one source of information to use but already using the country information that we are getting, we are seeing a greater number of rejections based on other bits of information, saying things are safer for them."

Senator Evans yesterday inspected detention facilities on Christmas Island, which are operating under capacity for the first time in weeks following the transfer of almost 500 asylum-seekers to the mainland since last month.

Senator Evans did not expect the suspension of claims to have an immediate impact on arrivals, but it may do so in the long term.

He said asylum-seekers with small children were coming by boats in increasing numbers. Families cannot be held in the immigration detention centre for single men, and the government was struggling to find suitable places to house them on Christmas Island. Currently, they are in a former construction workers' camp but it is cramped and, according to the minister, not ideal.


Australia has only recently lost control of its borders

No issue in our national life produces more cant, hypocrisy, posturing and downright disregard for facts and history than that of illegal immigrants coming to Australia's northern shores by boat.

Two important recent developments are [conservative] Tony Abbott's announcement that no one who comes here illegally by boat will get permanent residency and the [Leftist] Rudd government's suspension of the assessment of asylum applications by Sri Lankans for three months, and Afghans for six months. The government also said the situation in both countries was improving and therefore more of those asylum-seekers could in due course probably be sent home.

The Rudd government is moving crab-wise towards a [conservative] Howard government position (effectively restoring indefinite mandatory detention), that they will be generous to refugees but the Australian government will choose which refugees come here.

This has virtually always been the Australian way.

John Howard's insight was to understand that it would be impossible to sustain support for a big immigration program if substantial numbers of illegal boats were coming.

No one is really qualified to express a view in this debate who has not read Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, which demonstrates categorically that asylum-seekers in Europe were not primarily refugees but extremely determined illegal immigrants.

That doesn't make them bad people, but it means the highly emotional response is misplaced.

Australia will always take refugees, but it is up to the government, representing the people, to determine how many and which ones. We might take all sorts of criteria into account, such as the degree of need, but also the prospects of such people settling well, whether they have relatives or other support here and so on.

Both sides of politics agree that we will take about 13,500 refugees a year, so any boatperson who is allowed in takes away the place of someone elsewhere in the program. No politician has argued that boatpeople be added to the total intake. There are really only two effective positions.

One is to deny the people smugglers the ability to deliver Australian permanent residency to their clients. They will then stop running the boats.

The other is to accept that whoever manages to physically get here gets to stay permanently. Life in Australia is a glittering and magnificent prize. A few months at a camp is unlikely to deter people who have that prize in sight. Sending them back home at the end of the detention period, as the government is foreshadowing, may well do so, though it would be better to do that quickly rather than slowly.

The Rudd government has lost control of the boats, with nearly 5000 people arriving since it came to office. Rudd should understand this plainly. That rate of arrivals will destroy support for the immigration program.

Previous governments have been much harsher than the Howard government was, but much less effective. The most anti-immigration modern prime minister was surely [Leftist] Gough Whitlam.

It is the fashion these days to be nice to Whitlam, because he is indeed a very nice old chap. But this should not obscure the central reality of his government, that it was a catastrophic failure in economic management and countless bad consequences flowed from that.

In 1975, under Whitlam, barely 50,000 immigrants came to Australia, and more Australians left permanently than immigrants came into the country, a stupendously shocking result.

Whitlam was extraordinarily cruel to Vietnamese who had worked for or associated closely with the Australian embassy and army in South Vietnam. By the fall of Saigon, two planeloads of orphans - 280 kids in all - and only 78 other Vietnamese had come to Australia. Hundreds associated with Australia were left to the tender mercies of the communists.

Malcolm Fraser [conservative] presents himself as a great saint on refugees, but no one participates in this debate more dishonestly than Fraser. In fact in opposition in 1975 Fraser had called for only a small number of Vietnamese to be brought to Australia. He was slow to allow any refugees to come to Australia after he became prime minister. In his seven years in office only 2000 Vietnamese came to Australia by boat.

I remember as a student campaigning hard to get Fraser to allow Vietnamese to come to Australia as refugees and this only happened towards the end of the 1970s and in the overwhelming context of a push led by the US for international resettlement. In that context it would have been inconceivable for an Australian government to do much less.

Fraser loves to laud his humanitarianism, but there is much less to it than meets the eye. The vast majority of Vietnamese who came here under Fraser did so either after being selected by Australian officials in UNHCR camps, just exactly as happens today with the majority of our quota of 13,500 refugees, or as a normal part of the family reunion migration program after other family members had been settled here. Fraser's record on eventually accepting substantial numbers of Vietnamese is good.

The Vietnamese have been a wonderful success in Australia. But exactly like Howard, Fraser was determined to stop people coming here directly by boat. Australians have a long history of being generous to refugees and to migrants generally provided they come to Australia in an orderly process supervised by the Australian government.

Many Afghans who come to Australia go through Pakistan, catch a flight to Malaysia, get another flight or boat to Indonesia, then join a boat to Australia and on the journey get rid of their documents. It is perfectly understandable that they want to live in Australia. It is not, however, a refugee situation.

Other nationalities who come on tourist visas and then claim refugee status have entered legally, they have documentation and they can be sent home if their claims are unsuccessful, which gives assessors more of an incentive to turn them down.

The assessment process on Christmas Island, in the absence of documents, is extremely subjective. The Rudd government's latest moves are not likely to stop the flow of boats. Nonetheless they are a move in the right direction.


Small classes for schools a 'costly mistake'

THE head of the Productivity Commission has attacked the emphasis on reducing class sizes in schools as "the most costly mistake" in education policy in recent years, stealing scarce resources from investment in teaching.

Productivity Commission chairman Gary Banks also pointed to the waste of money in highly bureaucratic state school systems, with NSW spending more money than Victoria per student to achieve similar results.

Mr Banks said the "performance of teachers appears not to have been a priority of education policy" and "if anything, attention to it seems to have been weakened over the years, at least until recently".

"Arguably the most costly mistake has been to spend scarce budgetary resources on smaller class sizes instead of better teachers, notwithstanding steadily accumulating evidence that smaller classes, in the ranges contemplated, were unlikely to achieve improved learning outcomes," Mr Banks said.

"While there are many more teachers in Australia than ever before. . .the average teacher who joined years ago seems to have effectively paid for this with a lower salary today."

Mr Banks's comments come as the federal government this week asked the Productivity Commission to look at the education and training workforce, including school teachers.

In a speech on the government's human capital agenda, delivered last week but released yesterday, Mr Banks said opposition to reform in the school sectors seemed "particularly strong and wrong-headed" but future policy needed to rest on the evidence of what worked.

Mr Banks said the debate over teachers' pay had to look not only at improving the overall rate of pay compared to other professions, but also paying more to certain types of teachers, such as maths and science teachers, who are in short supply.

"Currently, one finds little recognition in remuneration structures for experience or skill levels, let alone for scarcity, or the contentious matter of differential performance on the job," he said.

Mr Banks noted the $500 million partnership on teacher quality between the federal and state governments, which is trialling schemes to pay more to highly qualified teachers or those in remote or disadvantaged schools.

"The main constraint on their success -- or the scope to extend them -- may be resistance by teacher associations, rather than the budget," he said, pointing to objections by the NSW Teachers Federation to the introduction of a highly-paid teaching position for "highly accomplished teachers" in disadvantaged schools.

Mr Banks also championed autonomy for school principals, saying most had little or no say in hiring, firing or promoting staff. This ran counter to the trend internationally, with Australia being among the most centralised systems in the OECD.

"There is little between Victoria and NSW currently in relation to literacy and numeracy outcomes. What does seem clear is that Victoria's devolved system achieves comparable outcomes at a significantly lower cost per student than NSW's more highly centralised and bureaucratised one," he said.

"Or, to put it another way, NSW has achieved similar results to Victoria with additional resourcing."


23 April, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks Kevvy's health reforms will be about as successful as all his previous schemes

A government health Dept. that has to hire security guards to protect itself from its own medical workers!

Can it get any worse than this?

PRIVATE security guards have been enlisted for round-the-clock protection of payroll staff amid fears about their safety as the Queensland Health pay fiasco continues to worsen.

The guards have been posted at payroll hubs across the state at a cost industry sources estimated would be $7000 a day.

Australian Services Union branch secretary Julie Bignell demanded the private security for payroll employees during their 15-hour shifts after staff endured a tirade of "emotional abuse".

She said one unpaid doctor told a payroll worker he would shut down a hospital transplant unit if she didn't pay his credit card bill. "The situation in payroll hubs is critical," Ms Bignell said. "And these people aren't being paid either."

The State Government was not able to say how much money it was spending to fix the pay bungle.

Meanwhile the number of workers still left unpaid continued to climb. Another 600 workers have been affected in this pay cycle and the entire six-week payroll debacle has caused financial hardship for tens of thousands of employees.

Last night the Queensland Nurses Union committed to a state day of industrial action next Thursday amid Opposition accusations it had "gone missing" on the issue. Secretary Gay Hawksworth said the union's 20,000 nurses would not strike but instead conduct workplace "demonstrations".

"It is time now to highlight across the state how angry nurses are that people have not received their full wages . . . because there is no indication of when those wages will be received," Ms Hawksworth said.

The move came only hours after 500 Queensland Health maintenance workers downed their tools, promising to work only in emergencies. "The action taken (yesterday) is a direct consequence of Queensland Health's inability to pay these workers' wages, or even provide a timeline for resolution of the problem," AMWU organiser Scott Stanford said.

Queensland Health pay kiosks handed out cheques and cash to more than 300 people yesterday who had received no pay in this cycle.

And Premier Anna Bligh yesterday defended a move by Gold Coast hospitals to placate out-of-pocket health workers with free coffee. "Nobody has been offered free coffee instead of wages," she said. "It was a gesture of goodwill from a management who cares about their staff."

She issued a personal email apologising to Queensland Health's 75,000 staff early yesterday morning, labelling the payroll bungle "unacceptable".


Rudd's axed home insulation program to cost taxpayers $1 billion in cleanup costs

TAXPAYERS face a $1 billion bill to clean up the Rudd Government's botched home insulation scheme, which has wasted 2 per cent of its $42bn economic stimulus package.

After months of revelations of dodgy work and rorting of the $2.45bn program, the Government yesterday scrapped it on the basis of an independent report highlighting massive failings in its design and administration, The Australian reported.

As Tony Abbott attacked the scheme as the worst government bungle in Australian history, the Prime Minister left it to junior minister Greg Combet to announce the about-face on an earlier promise to redesign and relaunch the program.

Doing his best to put a positive spin on the debacle, the Assistant Energy Efficiency Minister focused on rorting by unscrupulous installers, rather than poor regulation, as the key cause of the scheme's problems.

The report, by former senior public servant Allan Hawke, blamed weak oversight by ministers and public servants, a rushed time frame, inadequate audit systems and poor communication with state-based regulators.

"Internal management structures, particularly early in the program, did not provide the necessary senior management oversight or allow for considered review at appropriate times," the report said.

"A program of the profile and significance of the HIP (Home Insulation Program) involving an industry that had minimal regulation warranted very close attention."

Dr Hawke's report also questioned whether any of the scheme's aims had been achieved, including energy efficiency, greenhouse gas abatement and job-creation.

The insulation scheme, designed to insulate 2.7 million homes, was announced in February last year as a stimulus measure.

It was suspended two months ago because of serious concerns about fraud and safety that followed the deaths of four young installers, 120 house fires and claims that up to 1000 roofs may have been electrified.

Big fix-up job ahead: The Government now faces the task of finding and fixing safety and quality problems in 1.1 million homes fitted with insulation under the program.

So far the Government has committed to inspecting all 50,000 homes fitted with foil insulation and 150,000 homes with non-foil insulation.

Dr Hawke has warned that significantly more than 200,000 homes might need to be inspected.

He said this work could leave little change from the $1 billion still remaining in the scheme's budget.

Mr Combet defended the program's role in stimulating the economy during the downturn.

"This was a very important program, the home insulation program, in the context of the global financial crisis and it resulted in 1.1 million homes having insulation installed," he said.


Rudd breaks election pledge to build 260 new childcare centres

Another backflip over a stupid promise

THE Rudd Government yesterday dumped its election promise to build 260 new childcare centres at schools and community hubs and end the daily nightmare of the "double drop-off".

Minister for Child Care Kate Ellis blamed the Government's policy backflip on the changes to the childcare market in the wake of the ABC Learning Centres collapse. "The insolvency of ABC Learning is the greatest ever shock to the Australian childcare market," she said. "What that evidence tells us is that an injection of more centres would threaten the viability of existing services and cause disruption for Australian families."

Instead of the promised 260 new centres, the Government has decided to call a halt at the 38 centres already in train, including six in Queensland.

Family First senator Steve Fielding slammed the decision as "a kick in the guts to mums and dads who really need a helping hand when it comes to affordable and accessible childcare".

Ms Ellis yesterday released a report into the state of child care in Australia that showed more children were using child care and they were using it for longer periods. Since 2004, children on average spend an extra day a week in child care. "The number of children using long daycare has also increased by 15 per cent over the last four years," Ms Ellis said.

She said the number of long daycare centres had increased at a rate of about 250 centres a year since 2005, meaning supply was keeping up with demand.

The Government also released the first quarterly snapshot into childcare vacancies which found 90 per cent of Australian childcare centres had vacancies and there were, on average, 65,780 long daycare vacancies available each day.

Childcare Queensland president Gwynn Bridge yesterday said she was "absolutely delighted" with the decision to can the promised 260 centres. "There is no demand for them at this stage," she said.


Three cheers that Australia won't have charter of rights

By Bob Carr, a former Labor Party premier of NSW

THE advocates of a human rights charter must be walking around as if they've suffered concussion or been mugged by reality.

The federal government gave them an inquiry. The inquiry took nine months to agitate public opinion over rights. Geoffrey Robertson stumped the country and produced a book. And the federal cabinet said no.

It makes me feel happy about Australia. There will be no charter of rights because there's no crisis of rights in Australia. If the public believed the executive arm of government were stifling freedoms, Australia slipping behind other democracies, there would have been a decided shove towards a human rights act. Something like the political shift against big government in the US. Instead, when Frank Brennan launched his report in September, it sunk below the water, not leaving a slick of printer's ink.

Australians have a high civic IQ. They know their country is robustly free. They wake each day to see their elected leaders, state and federal, traduced in the media. They have seen victims such as Mohamed Haneef triumph against the authorities in the courts. The people have changed a federal government and have made two recent state elections look competitive.

Yet the people are probably reasonably happy that government can take action to limit liberties, as the Victorian government did in November when it gave police the power to target knife and alcohol violence. This included the right to stop and search people without suspicion (in unapologetic contradiction of Victoria's own charter).

Governments state and federal have also strengthened laws against terrorism and, far from feeling threatened, people feel more secure.

In November I debated a charter with Michael Kirby. The former High Court Judge showed he was a politician manque with a capacity to play to the gallery that I, a mere amateur, could only envy. When he noted the teachers and students of an Islamic school in our audience, he quickly adjusted his rhetoric to assert that a charter was the only way to protect the rights of Australian Muslims.

Before the month was out French politicians were stripping Muslims of the right to wear Islamic dress in public, a proposition rejected by Canberra.

Yet France is covered by the European Union charter that we were told had made Europeans freer than Australians.

By the way, Kirby was one of the few judges backing a charter. If there were no phalanx of judges behind the idea of more judicial review, what chance did it have?

No newspaper editorialised for a charter and the Left of Australian politics did not adopt it. The last ACTU congress heard a debate from advocates and opponents of the charter and declined to take a position. The national Young Labor conference voted down six versions of a charter. The Left of the parliamentary ALP evinced little enthusiasm.

In fact nobody was able to nominate a right that Australians lacked that would be rectified with a charter. Robertson tried when he referred to a hospitalised maritime worker who had his beard shaved off and a married couple who were separated in a nursing home. Both were cases easily sorted out by administrative appeals, not a shift in the constitutional balance of Australia.

Paul Kelly, writing in The Australian on February 17, made the point that Brennan's report was based on the notion that all our problems as a society could be reduced to rights and solved by having them judicially reviewed, what I would call "rights fundamentalism". This approach falls to pieces if you think how it might be applied in many areas: in schools, for example (and Robertson had proposed that a bill of rights for Australia recognise the rights of children). Do we want schools where students are agitated to assert rights, presumably the right not to be disciplined, not to take compulsory subjects, to challenge the authority of principals?

Perhaps a respectful learning environment is undercut by thinking of schools as arenas for these arguments.

Looking back, there was a simple-mindedness about the charter proponents. Give us a poetic list of rights, they said, and - oh joy, oh joy - extra litigation and judicial review will expand freedoms. What has triumphed - and we owe this to the Prime Minister - is a more politically literate view, a wisdom that understands that when you codify rights you freeze possibilities; that political culture counts more than pious abstractions.

I'm told that during the period cabinet was considering the Brennan report Kevin Rudd was reading Steven Pincus's 1688: The First Modern Revolution. That we've avoided a lurch towards a charter reflects Rudd's understanding that the untidy ebb and flow of common law, free elections and freedom of speech will keep us freer than lawyers' arguments over every word and clause in a charter. His reading would confirm it's the ethos of a country that counts, the spirit of a people. The rejection of the Brennan report shows Rudd does not feel intimidated by a leftover item from two previous Labor governments.

Apart from Brennan and members of his inquiry, the biggest loser is the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Under its chairwoman Cathy Branson, it spent an estimated $500,000 supporting one side, the pro-charter case.

It was taxpayers' money and should have been used to prosecute cases of discrimination.

That, after all, is the kind of bread-and-butter work that keeps us free.


22 April, 2010

Another failed government computer project

Government dreams of surveillance are constantly foiled by the necessary complexity of computer programming and the potential for errors entailed by that. The longest program I have written had only 1200 lines of code and that was no walk in the park. The longer the program gets, the more likely it is to fail. Only Bill Gates seems able to get millions of lines of code to work

A NATIONAL document verification service intended to clamp down on fake IDs and rising identity theft has been slammed as a failure by the Auditor-General.

More than 18 months past its four-year project deadline, the $25 million IT hub intended to allow authorities to authenticate a vast range of commonly used ID documents issued by legions of federal and state agencies is yet to enrol many of the expected users and is nowhere near fully operational.

The national Document Verification Service (nDVS) has been handling fewer than 10 transactions a day instead of the expected one million daily, while no fraudulent documents were identified in more than 50,000 transactions to the end of November 2009.

"This does not mean that the system produced 50,000 'yes' responses," the audit office says. "Instead, 38 per cent of the (operational system) responses have been false negatives or error responses.

"Testing of the false positives has identified these are attributable to incorrect data entry by users, or data errors due to inconsistencies between the details recorded on the (presented) proof of identity document and the electronic record held by the (responsible) agency."

The findings are from an audit of the federal Attorney-General Department's management of the National Identity Security Strategy (NISS), which found the department had failed to provide the necessary leadership.

Since 2005, the Coalition and Labor governments have allocated $31 million towards identity-related security measures under a Council of Australian Governments agreement on stronger protection of legitimate documents and easier detection of fakes.

"Progress in implementing elements of the NISS by the parties, as originally intended, has been limited," the audit office says. "A range of activities have been undertaken (but) in many cases do not align with the intended outcomes.

"The one budget-funded element, the nDVS, has been built and (some) document-issuing agencies have been connected to the system, albeit more slowly than expected.

"However, the system is rarely used and presently is making little contribution to the objective of strengthening Australia's personal identification processes."

The department said it has begun a review of the strategy and the intergovernmental agreement that underpins it. It notes that the work relating to the COAG initiative is "linked to substantial Commonwealth funding".

"In the absence of any financial incentive to offset the implementation of identity management initiatives, it may be difficult to secure the agreement of all jurisdictions to changes," the department said.


Rifts opening already in Kevin Rudd's health plan

KEVIN Rudd's claim to have delivered historic health reform is under increasing challenge, with doubts emerging about whether it achieves its aim of sidelining inefficient state bureaucracies.

As the government yesterday confirmed that as few as 165 out of the nation's 764 hospitals would be converted to the activity-based funding model the Prime Minister championed as a key driver of a more efficient health service, Canberra has also agreed to take a hands-off approach to the management of local hospital networks. This would give states and territories total control over appointments to the new bodies.

Cracks appeared in the Rudd plan yesterday, with the Australian Medical Association questioning who was in charge of the hospitals and states and territories refusing to co-operate on the proposed local health networks. Mr Rudd is also yet to seal a deal with Western Australia.

Mr Rudd's promise of greater management flexibility looked shaky, after the ACT government ruled out co-operating with NSW to jointly manage the Queanbeyan Hospital - which is just kilometres from central Canberra. Only last month, Mr Rudd visited the Queanbeyan facility to say it should be jointly managed under his reform plan.

The problems emerged as Mr Rudd blitzed the electronic media to promote his health reform plan and hammer Tony Abbott with demands for the opposition's support. The Opposition Leader, attacking the plan as "a bureaucratic muddle", refused to undertake to support legislation putting the reforms in place.

"What it looks like he's done is just create more bureaucracy and it will be less clear than ever just who is in charge of our public hospitals and just who is responsible when things go wrong," Mr Abbott said in Perth.

"No one seems to know and the more you hear Mr Rudd talking about it the less clear it gets."

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister convinced state and territory leaders (with the exception of Western Australia's) to give him control of 60 per cent of the funding of public hospitals and hand direct management to local hospital networks run by community-based boards funded on the basis of their activities, rather than in annual block grants. He backed down on an earlier threat to hold a referendum if states did not agree to surrender a third of their GST revenue to Canberra, agreeing to a pooled funding arrangement with states as its "managers".

Premiers including Victoria's John Brumby cited the concession as the deal clincher and backed the plan after Mr Rudd sweetened the deal with more than $4 billion in upfront funding for hospital beds and improved mental health services.

AMA national president Andrew Pesce, appearing unconvinced on the fine detail, yesterday gave the plan guarded support.

"There is still a concern . . . that state bureaucracies could seek to control local hospital networks," Dr Pesce said. "This would work against the spirit and intent of the COAG agreement and must not be allowed to happen."

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon's spokeswoman confirmed last night that 165 hospitals would be subject to activity-based funding. But she said those hospitals serviced the majority of Australia's population. "Activity-based funding will mean that we fund these services to be as efficient as possible," she said.

Dr Pesce said the AMA was pleased that activity-based funds had been quarantined and would flow straight to local hospitals.

Earlier, ACT Health Minister Katy Gallagher said she expected her jurisdiction's local health network would be based on the territory's boundaries.

This appeared to be at odds with Mr Rudd's observation last month that the nearby Queanbeyan Public Hospital, in NSW, was part of a community of interest with Canberra. Visiting the facility on March 15, Mr Rudd said it had spare capacity that could be utilised by ACT people awaiting treatment.

"Surely we should start thinking about why a local hospital network in this area doesn't bring together hospitals in Canberra, in Queanbeyan, in Yass and Cooma to make some sensible, local community-of-interest decisions for the future," the Prime Minister said.

Ms Gallagher yesterday backed regional co-operation between interstate networks but said it would be difficult to manage hospitals across borders. "I just don't think that can be delivered in the short term," she said.

Ms Gallagher said a regional approach might be developed in the future.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Nicola Roxon said cross-border services could be delivered where appropriate and efficient.

"Cross-border arrangements like these already occur in some parts of Australia, such as Albury-Wodonga," she said.

The comments came as Mr Rudd released his formal agreement with the premiers, which made clear the local area networks would be created and governed by the states. The agreement said states would appoint the boards running the hospital networks with the commonwealth specifically excluded from having any influence.

While it said board members were meant to have experience in health or management, the agreement included a clause allowing states to appoint people on the basis of other unspecified qualifications as they saw fit, leaving open the possibility of appointment of political mates.

The agreement also confirmed that states would make the decision about how many local hospital networks would be created under the new arrangements.

Earlier, Mr Rudd told a succession of radio and television interviewers he was satisfied his agreement with the premiers delivered on his initial reform intentions.

The Prime Minister said activity-based funding would drive real improvements and that the decision to enter pooled funding arrangements with the states would not prevent hospitals receiving direct funding from Canberra. He also rounded on Mr Abbott, saying he had a history of negativity. "Doesn't matter what we put forward - he is opposed - always opposed," Mr Rudd told Sky News.


New Australian "health" card will pin you down forever

Everyone already has a numbered Medicare card. Why do we need a new one?

DON’T believe the Rudd Government when it says the health number system it brings in on July 1 can’t be used to create a national identity card. That promise is just as trustworthy as Paul Keating’s infamous L-A-W tax cuts.

This new e-health number sounds innocent and the legislation underpinning it says it can only be used for identifying you in the health system.

However, the Law Council warns that pledge is no protection at all. Any government that wants to extend the use of this health ID number to the welfare system, the tax system or create a national identity card can simply introduce a new law to do so. It is for this reason that voters should be highly suspicious of this new health identification number system.

The Government promised us its new e-health system would work on an opt-in basis. This week we found that was not so.

Bureaucrats at the National E-Health Transition Authority revealed that your new health care identification number will be compulsory. On July 1 you are getting a new 16-digit health identification number whether you want one or not.

If that doesn’t make you suspicious then the fact that the Government has no intention of sending you a letter to tell you about your new e-health identification number should make you even more wary.

Why won’t the Government be notifying you about this number? Maybe because it doesn’t want you to know it’s tagged and identified you without your consent. It hopes that if it doesn’t alert you, you won’t be upset about the way they’ve invaded your privacy and they won’t have to deal with a public backlash.

Even more suspicious is that from July 1 doctors will be using this e-health identity number every time they write a prescription, order your blood tests, your X-rays or refer you to a specialist. And they may even not tell you. So much for being able to “opt in” to the new system.

The Government and doctors say we need this new health ID number because it is impossible to correctly identify an individual patient in the health system.

Medical records and tests are lost as some health providers use Christian names to identify you, others use surnames, often names are misspelled and sometimes people with the same name share the same birth date.

When mistakes occur they can be deadly. A patient could get the wrong medicine, the wrong treatment or, for example, a cancer won’t be picked up because of the confusion.

The other problem medics have is our health records are fractured. Your GP has a set of records, your specialist has another and the hospital system has its own.

To solve this, doctors want a single e-health record where all this information can be shared and accessed by different providers all over the country. Before this can happen they need you to have an e-health number that this e-health record can be attached to.

That sounds like a useful idea and it is. The problem is there are huge privacy implications for such an e-health record. For example, if this record can be seen by any health professional how can you stop your dentist or your dietitian finding you had an abortion or you were treated in a mental facility?

How do you hide the fact you sought a second opinion from your doctor?

Four months before this new system starts, the bureaucrats running it can’t answer these questions. You’ll only get an e-health record if you give your permission to have one set up.

But the bureaucrats running the program can’t say how the system stops a medic creating such a record just for his convenience and without your approval. Nor can they explain how they are going to authorise medical practitioners who might want to access your e-health record or use your e-health number.

Yet they want our representatives to vote this legislation through the parliament and trust them to get these very important details right later.

The Health Department has been working on this e-health project for over a decade but four months before it starts basic privacy details have not been solved.

The Rudd Government’s killer home insulation program shows what can happen when you rush a program through before the details are sorted out. The ramifications of this e-health number issue are just as worrying.

For more than 20 years Australian governments have been trying to inflict a national identity card on us.

In 1987 the Hawke government tried to set up the Australia Card. In 2006 the Howard government tried a smart card that would have linked tax, health and welfare departments and contained a photo ID with a signature and number.

This e-health number provides the building blocks for just such a system. Don’t trust it.


"Green" NSW Labor party ripping heart out of commercial fishing

THE days of being able to buy fresh, local prawns are under threat from Federal and State Labor following the release of plans to prohibit prawn trawling in the Solitary Islands Marine Park, Federal MP Luke Hartsuyker said.

The NSW Government yesterday announced a proposed new plan of management to expand the sanctuary zone from 12 to 20 per cent and to totally prohibit prawn trawling in the park within two years.

“The extreme actions of the NSW Government follow the Rudd Government’s announcement to further assess an area up to 80 kilometres off shore in order to establish a new Commonwealth Marine Reserve," mr Hartsuyker said.

“The local commercial fishing industry understandably feels very threatened by both Federal and State Labor. “The NSW Government has now made it very clear that they want the commercial fishers gone. There is nothing balanced about this approach.

"Both Federal and State Labor want to rip the heart and soul out of the local commercial fishing industry. “If Labor gets its ways we will no longer be able to catch local prawns and consumers will have no choice but to purchase imported seafood."

Mr Hartsuyker said it would not only cost jobs, but would also be a boon for the seafood black market.

“Today’s announcement also highlights why the local fishing and tourism industries are so concerned about the process to establish commonwealth marine reserves," he said. “There are serious concerns that Federal Minister Peter Garrett will be guided by the extreme ideology in his department. "Those concerns are now well based given what the NSW Government has now announced. “The flow on effect to commonwealth waters is scary.

"Sustainable fishing is vital, but I believe it is wrong to blanket ban prawn trawling over the complete area.”


“Gambling our Future on Sunbeams and Sea Breezes”

A Statement by Mr Viv Forbes, Chairman, The Carbon Sense Coalition, Australia

The Carbon Sense Coalition today accused Australian politicians of risking Australian jobs and industry on a quixotic scheme to generate 20% of 2020 electricity from sunbeams and sea breezes.

The Chairman of “Carbon Sense”, Mr Viv Forbes, said that even if this were possible, it could only be achieved by tripling power costs to industry and consumers.

“The proposed Renewable Energy Target Scheme would legislate that 20% of Australia’s electricity must come from “renewable” sources. They tell us this will reduce our production of carbon dioxide and thus reduce global warming.

“This is a foolish gamble.

“Firstly, there is no evidence that man’s production of carbon dioxide controls climate. The pulsating sun, the churning cosmos, the restless oceans, the changing clouds, the swirling jet streams and the erupting volcanoes on land and under-sea are the real climate controllers. Man’s effect on global climate is insignificant.

“Secondly, there is extensive evidence that a warmer world with more carbon dioxide plant food in the air would be a cleaner, greener and more abundant place for most people.

“Thirdly, the only non-carbon fuel that can reliably supply the legislated 20% of Australia’s grid power by 2020 is nuclear fuel. But that is currently prohibited, and there is not enough time for development.

“Man has been using wind and solar power for centuries. They were invaluable for the cottages and cottage industries of yesteryear. They are not suitable to supply large modern cities and industries – they are very dilute energy sources needing large areas of land for collection, and they can never supply continuous power. Every large solar/wind facility in the world has to be backed up 100% by a reliable power source – coal, gas, nuclear, geothermal, hydro or some not-yet-invented large capacity storage unit. Of these, only gas is immediately available and politically acceptable in Australia.

“Compulsory development of wind & solar energy will thus force the wasteful construction of backup gas-fired power plants. Soaring capital and operating costs will then force Australia’s electricity prices to at least treble by 2020.

“But, alas, burning gas also generates the dreaded CO2. And it is not “renewable”.

“Every producer and consumer should be free to use wind and solar power at their own expense, but Canberra should not enforce such job-killing and job-exporting silliness onto every consumer and industry in the land.

“Abolish Renewable Energy Targets – Australia and its climate will be better without them.”


21 April, 2010

Pyrrhic victory on healthcare?

Nothing will improve but now Rudd will get the blame for that.

Most of the bit of extra funding will go on more bureaucracy -- as most health funding already does. And anything that does get down to the coalface will get absorbed by population growth -- for most of which Rudd is again responsible (via his lax immigration policies)

Kevin Rudd claims his "historic'' health and hospital deal is a success but admits he can''t turn things around overnight.

Following two days of exhaustive negotiations and $5.4 billion in sweeteners, Mr Rudd yesterday secured the support of NSW and Victoria and said the Federal Government would cut a separate deal with WA if necessary.

But the Prime Minister reiterated his warning that the health deal he struck with Labor premiers and chief ministers won't produce instant results. "I can't turn things around overnight," he said. "I cannot wave a magic wand and say here are 6000 extra doctors to staff the system tomorrow."

Under the new reforms, which will take effect on July 1, the Commonwealth will take control of 60 per cent of public hospital funding in return for $5.4 billion in sweeteners and an agreement by states and territories to hand back an unspecified amount of GST.

However, doubts remain over the success of the reforms with premiers questioning whether their agreement with the commonwealth is in fact a done deal. WA Premier Colin Barnett said the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) signed by the remaining seven states and territories doesn't work without all eight on-board.

Victorian counterpart John Brumby also conceded there was uncertainty about the legalities of the IGA. "The legal advice is probably unclear on that point that Colin makes,'' Mr Brumby told ABC Radio today. "I think there will need to be legislative change to give effect to this and probably safeguard the interests of the states and of the Commonwealth.''

Despite WA opposing the reforms, Mr Barnett and Mr Rudd believe an agreement can still be reached on their GST sticking point and will continue discussions in the lead-up to the reform kick-off. Mr Rudd continued to insist his deal was valid with or without WA.

Meanwhile Mr Rudd will blitz the airwaves today after securing the historic health agreement while other state leaders signalled their support for the deal.

And the NSW government will hold a special cabinet meeting today to discuss the benefits and outcomes of the deal. Premier Kristina Keneally said families would be better off, with an additional $1.7 billion over four years for the state's health system.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh hailed the reforms were "a once in a generation opportunity". Ms Bligh said Queenslands could expect faster elective surgery and better emergency departments and added that $755 million in new funds would deliver significant gains for the state.


More on Pyrrhus Rudd

The madman must think that more bureaucracy actually helps

One of the magnums of Centenary of Federation Shiraz sitting down in the Lodge cellar would be a suitable drop for the Prime Minister to uncork to mark the signing of his health agreement.

He ought to enjoy the celebrations because when he wakes up he’ll remember the deal he has struck, which makes him responsible for the delivery of healthcare services in Australia.

So when the disgruntled son or daughter of an elderly patient decides to call talkback radio in their city because mum has been on a trolley for six hours in the Emergency department, they’ll be wondering what Kevin Rudd is going to do about it.

Only a few months ago, in the aftermath of the Copenhagen and the failure of the emissions trading scheme in the Senate, there were rumblings about what Rudd could really point to as major achievements in his first term in office. It triggered what now, in hindsight, looked like a token sackcloth-and-ashes routine before he embarked on a series of announcements on healthcare which combine to form a significant reform he can show to voters going to the polls, probably by the end of this year.

Rudd started his statement on the deal struck with the state premiers (technicalities with WA aside and you can read more of the details here) by saying it was a good day for families and a good day for patients.

And it is a good deal, for anyone who comes into contact with the health system. Because when it’s operational we will be very clear on who runs Australia’s health system. The federal government. If you want to vote on healthcare, voters now know where to direct their anger. In short it’s good news for people but could make life difficult for the PM.

There is - or at least there was in the initial policy document outlining the National Health and Hospitals network - some wriggle room for the PM when it comes to poor service delivery. If a hospital is not measuring up to performance standards on a range of measures - the four-hour waiting time in emergency departments, for example, or the minimum targets for elective surgery delivered within deadlines - the feds will be alerted… and tell the state government to go in and sort it out.

Rudd had a gun to each of the premiers’ heads: without significant reform of the how Australia pays for healthcare services the states would be going broke in a matter of a few decades.

But Rudd re-stated at the press conference that as the dominant funder of Australia’s public hospitals, he would be taking responsibility for patients’ experiences of sub-standard care in the health system. He wheeled out his oft-repeated line on hospital services under his plan. “The buck stops with me,” he said. “On the delivery of the healthcare system, that will lie in the hands very much of the local hospital networks.”

Wriggle room for managing the day-to-day news cycle, perhaps, but none at the ballot box.


Google versus the Australian government

I'm on Google's side in this one -- JR

In just six months, Google received 155 requests from the Australian government for users' personal data and 17 government requests to remove content from its services.

Of those requests, which occurred in the six months to December 31 2009, it complied with just 52.9 per cent. Fourteen of the content removal requests relate to YouTube, while there were one each for Blogger, web search and maps (except Street View).

The search giant revealed the numbers, which do not include child porn removal requests, in a new online tool breaking down how often countries around the world ask the company to hand over user data or censor information.

The move comes after recent censorship battles between Google and the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, who recently attacked the company over its strident opposition to the government's plans to censor the internet.

Google also recently baulked at Senator Conroy's request for it to apply the government's filtering policy to YouTube.

"There's been a very rigorous debate [about censorship] in Australia ... we really wanted to start a conversation with some data," Google deputy general counsel Nicole Wong said in a phone interview with this website. Wong said some of the requests sought removal of multiple pieces of content. The company planned to release new figures every six months but acknowledged the data was less than perfect as the specific details of each content removal request are not provided.

"The issue around deciding to censor information requires some level of transparency, particularly in a democracy, for the people who are governed to be able to push back," Wong said.

Colin Jacobs, spokesman for the online users' lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia, supports the move, saying it "gives a bit of insight into what can otherwise be a mysterious process".

The government has said its internet filtering policy would include transparency and accountability measures but Senator Conroy said he would stop short of releasing the blacklist of banned websites.

Brazil topped Google's list at the nascent Government Requests website, which indicated that officials there asked Google to filter content 291 times between the beginning of July and the end of December in 2009.

Germany was second with 188 requests to remove data while India and the United States ranked third and fourth respectively with 142 and 123.

China was deliberately excluded from the list for legal reasons. Wong said regimes such as China and Iran "point to examples [of censorship] in Western countries" such as Australia when justifying their own, much more extreme, censorship.

"Government censorship of the web is growing rapidly: from the outright blocking and filtering of sites, to court orders limiting access to information and legislation forcing companies to self-censor content," Google chief legal officer David Drummond said in a blog post about the new tool. "So it's no surprise that Google, like other technology and telecommunications companies, regularly receives demands from government agencies to remove content from our services."

Brazil also made the most requests for user information, with Google logging 3,663 requests. The United States was a close second place with 3,580 requests for user data while Britain was third with 1,166. "The vast majority of these requests are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations," Drummond said.

"However, data about these activities historically has not been broadly available. We believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship."

Google said it planned to update the website in six-month increments. "We're new at this, and we're still learning the best way to collect and present this information," Google explained at the Requests website. "We'll continue to improve this tool and fine-tune the types of data we display."

The number of governments censoring the internet has grown from about four in 2002 to more than 40, according to Open Net Initiative figures cited by Google. "Increased government censorship of the web is undoubtedly driven by the fact that record numbers of people now have access to the internet, and that they are creating more content than ever before," Google vice president of public affairs Rachel Whetstone said in a separate blog post. "This creates big challenges for governments used to controlling traditional print and broadcast media."

The launch of the Government Requests tool came on the same day that officials from 10 nations sent a letter to Google's chief executive demanding that the California firm better defend people's privacy. Canada's privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said a collaboration of countries representing a total of 375 million people were "speaking with a common voice" to remind internet firms to obey each nation's privacy laws.

The letter was also signed by data protection officials from Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Spain. "We are increasingly concerned that, too often, the privacy rights of the world's citizens are being forgotten as Google rolls out new technological applications," the letter stated.

The letter urges Google to set a worthy privacy example for other online firms.


People smugglers take no notice of Rudd's "tough" new rules

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott today renewed his attack on the Federal Government's border protection policy as another boat carrying asylum seekers arrived in Australian waters.

Mr Abbott and his deputy leader Julie Bishop have unveiled a mobile billboard in Perth which displays the number of boats which have arrived since the last federal election.

Mr Abbott revealed the massive billboard as news spread of another boat being intercepted on Tuesday night. The Navy intercepted the boat carrying 46 asylum seekers and two crew off the West Australian coast. They will be taken to Christmas Island for health, identity and security checks.

Mr Abbott says the Federal Government has lost control of the country's borders. "When I left my hotel this morning we had had 111 unauthorised boats. By the time I got here half an hour later we had confirmation of a 112th boat," he said.


20 April, 2010

Australia leads world in investor safety

Interesting that Canada did well too

AUSTRALIA has been rated equal-first as the safest country in which to invest while the economies of other countries continue to deteriorate.

Sixteen countries, including Japan, Spain and Greece have had their ratings downgraded since the beginning of this year, amid a big shift in debt from the private sector to the public sector during the global financial crisis.

Dun & Bradstreet's latest economic and risk outlook report said the forecast for Australia's key trading partners was mixed, with the payment performance of companies in Japan, China and India a key risk this year.

In the US, tight credit conditions and ongoing problems in the financial sector are expected to limit private consumption and new investment, while domestic demand in Britain is expected to remain weak.

D&B said this could affect Australian firms exporting to those regions, which are respectively ranked fifth and sixth based on analysis of their political, commercial, external and macroeconomic risks. But the outlook for the Australian economy remains strong and is expected to continue to improve, according to D&B director of corporate affairs Damian Karmelich.

The nation is in equal-first position with Canada, Norway and Switzerland as the safest country in which to invest. "Domestically, Australia never experienced the slow-down that the rest of the developed world did and therefore we have a very robust domestic situation in terms of the economic outlook," Mr Karmelich said.

"Secondly, we are exposed to the upside of China and generally we are exposed to the upside of countries which are industrialising at a very rapid pace.

"The other thing which is very much in our benefit, particularly compared to somewhere like the US, is that because unemployment never reached the heights that many had feared it means consumer confidence has remained very strong."

The other countries that were downgraded this year were Algeria, Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Iran, Guatemala, Iceland, Kuwait, The Netherlands, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Mr Karmelich said many of the downgrades were related to governments taking on bad debts during the crisis in order to rescue companies, with Greece the most extreme example of a public debt crisis. "The consequence of that is those governments are now struggling with those very same issues that the corporates were struggling with and they have very large deficits," he said.

Mr Karmelich said Iran and Yemen faced significant political issues that negatively impacted their risk rating.

Overall, D&B said conditions had improved markedly from early last year and that global growth was expected to reach 2.4 per cent this year.


Conservatives would give people a reason to save

"Hartsuyker" is Dutch for "hard sugar". Rather a good metaphor for savings, I think

OPPOSITION spokesman on superannuation Luke Hartsuyker says he would scrap some of the Rudd government's key changes to super, including the mandatory default funds for each industry and the new concessional contribution caps. He also criticised the Cooper review's MySuper proposal, a low-cost, no-frills option, saying it would encourage apathy.

Speaking at an Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees lunch in Sydney yesterday, Mr Hartsuyker said a Coalition government would focus on measures that encouraged and engaged people to save more for their retirement.

This would include removing the mandatory default funds in modern awards and encouraging both the employer and the employee to make a choice, he said.

Under the Rudd government's award modernisation program, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission nominated a list of super funds that must be used by employers when a new employee does not request one.

"Labor's default funds are reversing the competitive pressure on fees and performance," Mr Hartsuyker said. "Why should a superannuation fund strive to excel when their client base is guaranteed by legislative instrument?"

However, AIST chief executive Fiona Reynolds said a default system was necessary in a compulsory super system. "I do not think a lot of employers would want that responsibility either, to know they might put people into a fund (that) is no good," she said.

Mr Hartsuyker, also the opposition spokesman on consumer affairs, financial services and corporate law, said the Coalition would also reverse Labor's cutbacks on concessional contribution rates "by redesigning concessional rates and what they hope to achieve".

Last budget, the Rudd government halved the caps on the amount of money people could add to their super without having to pay too much tax. Mr Hartsuyker said contribution levels needed to be increased but stopped short of saying the level of compulsory contributions should be raised from 9 per cent.

"If we can design the right program of encouragement, there is no reason why this percentage can't rise," he said. In terms of the MySuper proposal, Mr Hartsuyker said forcing funds to have a no-frills default product for disengaged members would "encourage apathy in superannuation, rather than encourage voluntary contributions and much-needed engagement".


Population debate ignores the dire social fallout

WHEN the federal government blithely sets the annual immigration rate, including in it a significant number of refugees, it clearly does so without giving a toss for either the needs of those who are brought in or the needs of the existing communities into which they are settled. Unless it starts to invest considerably in this number there is a very big risk that Australians will not only remain opposed to further immigration but that immigration will continue to contribute to a range of gut-wrenching social problems as well as Australia's economic growth.

This particularly applies to refugees. Refugees differ from other migrants in a number of ways; they often don't have local family connections and support or the skills that would guarantee employment. They also haven't planned to come to Australia in the way that others might have and are often severely traumatised by their experiences at home.

This means they need extensive government assistance, and so do the suburbs expected to take large numbers of them. Traumatised schoolchildren who are years behind in educational attainment do not make it easy for classmates and teachers, however sympathetic. The same goes for parents. With the exception of some limited assistance for counselling and trauma, it is very difficult to see where the federal government has contributed to meeting refugee needs. As usual the states get counted out of the population and immigration debate but are left picking up the pieces.

At a recent seminar I attended in South West Sydney for the African Family Safety Project, the irresponsibility of our refugee program was forcibly brought home. Domestic violence is rife in parts of this community and it and their leadership groups are struggling, almost unaided, to cope with it. The community's efforts to contain family violence are fought at every turn by their own demons and the NSW and federal government's refusal to recognise that it needs to be dealt with now before another ghetto of crime and disadvantage is established.

SydWest Multicultural Services, which ran the seminar, receives some funding from the Women's Policy Office but little else. The seminar's main focus was with mostly Sudanese refugees who came from Africa under Australia's Humanitarian program. In the four years from 2002-03 to 2006-07 escapees from the Sudanese civil war accounted for a quarter of our intake. They included boys who had been soldiers, girls and women who had been raped, men who had been tortured, men and boys who had fought for their lives and killed. Eighty-two per cent of these people have little or no English language. Why should we be surprised that there might be difficulties establishing them in metropolitan Blacktown, where they have been sent?

There was good and bad news from the seminar. The good news was the presence of men at the seminar and a general agreement that domestic violence was wrong and should be stopped.

The bad news was that this is going to be difficult. We are talking about intensely traumatised people. Some will be silent, others will act. But there is also the culture gap. Some male participants complained about the nature of the Australian welfare system and what they saw as its preferential treatment of women. In the space of a few days these families had been transported from violent and lawless refugee camps or traditional community life in rural villages to brick veneer homes and welfare incomes in Anglo-Celtic Sydney. In Australia, welfare income is mostly given to mothers rather than fathers. Refugee women are in frequent contact with community services where men are not included and many men felt community service providers were breaking up their families by telling their wives they had the right to walk away from a marriage that made them unhappy. It was the men who were isolated and powerless, they said, and domestic violence was retaliation.

Male frustration was compounded by the generous youth allowances provided to their children once they turned 16. It meant their children could defy them (I assured them they were not alone in this) and traditional family respect was broken.

As the meeting progressed it was clear that for this community, the dramatic transition to Australia, lack of work for men and the power of the welfare dollar had become a diabolical cocktail. Official letters and phone calls from polite Department of Community Services workers were clearly not cutting it with families desperate for some face-to-face contact with people prepared to listen to them. One young man pointed to a poster on the wall. "That poster is a lie. It says Australia is a multicultural country. It is not. We were not told our ways would not be respected, that there was only one rule and that was the Australian way," he said.

"My wife was encouraged to leave me when she should stay." Others agreed.

There are hundreds of changes we need to make if we are serious about averting a social disaster in Blacktown and anywhere else that has to deal with a very different group of newcomers, especially if they are traumatised, unable to find work and struggling to bridge cultural divides. If we do not we will spend the next 20 years digging our new citizens out of the ghettoes to which we have condemned them and addressing crime and social dislocation.

While a theoretical discourse about the most desirable population size rages in the remote political echelons of Canberra, a city with strikingly few refugees of Sudanese or Afghani extraction, real Australia has to get on with the job of dealing with it. A little less theory and a lot more practical assistance would make the intellectual vanity of the population debate easier to take.


Labor whacked on boatpeople in Newspoll

THERE has been a huge swing to the Tony Abbott-led Coalition on who is best to handle the issue of asylum-seekers arriving in Australia, with the Liberals holding almost a two-to-one advantage over the Rudd government.

The swing to the opposition came despite the government's suspension of refugee applications from Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum-seekers and the reopening of the notorious Curtin detention centre in remote Western Australia.

The results, in a Newspoll taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, came as a six-month asylum-seeker deadlock at the Indonesian port of Merak was finally broken yesterday, but at least 18 of the Sri Lankans involved have already reached Christmas Island.

During the past three weeks of political debate, dominated by Kevin Rudd's plan to take over 60 per cent of state health funding and the government's suspension of refugee applications from Sri Lankans and Afghans, Labor's primary vote has remained unchanged on 43 per cent while the Coalition's has gone from 38 to 40 per cent. Based on preference flows at the last election, Labor leads the Coalition with an election-winning two-party-preferred vote of 54 to 46 per cent.

Under the Opposition Leader, the Coalition's position on asylum-seekers is that the Howard government's policy of issuing temporary protection visas "stopped the boats". This has not only greatly attracted support among Coalition supporters but is also winning over Labor voters. Support for the Coalition on handling asylum-seekers has doubled from 23 per cent in November last year to 44 per cent last weekend.

Since Mr Abbott became Liberal leader last December, there have been more than 100 illegal boat arrivals and Christmas Island is filled to overflowing with refugees. During the same period, support for the Rudd government's ability to handle asylum-seekers has risen from 20 per cent to 26 per cent.

Voters who were undecided about which party to trust on border protection have shifted overwhelmingly in Mr Abbott's favour.

The Newspoll shows that Mr Abbott's demands for a tougher line on illegal boat arrivals have attracted stronger support among Coalition voters than when Malcolm Turnbull was Liberal leader. In November last year, 54 per cent of Coalition supporters said they preferred the Coalition to handle the issue but last weekend that jumped 27 percentage points to 81 per cent.

Mr Abbott also picked up a large number of Labor supporters, almost tripling his support among them. In November, 8 per cent of ALP supporters backed the Coalition but last weekend the figure jumped 15 points to 23 per cent.


19 April, 2010

India and immigrants: A small personal anecdote and some broad generalizations

Australia has always welcomed a LARGE influx of immigrants, initially from the British Isles (including all my ancestors) and later from all over Europe. In more recent times there has been a huge influx from Asia, mostly Han Chinese.

And ALL the arrivals have settled in very well to the Australian way of life -- if not the first generation but certainly their children. So Australia is a society with strong Anglo-Saxon traditions even though many Australians are not of Anglo-Saxon ancestry. America is much the same.

The assimilation is so marked that I have even noted Yugoslavs who argue in favour of the monarchy. For Yugoslavs -- who still reliably hate one another (Serb-Croat rivalry etc.) -- to favour Queen Elizabeth as Queen of Australia is a rather remarkable testimony to how well immigrants have accepted Australia's traditions and is, I think, impressive.

Needless to say, there is always a fly in the ointment and the two major flies are Muslims (Lebanese in particular) and Africans -- both of whom have high crime rates, high rates of welfare dependancy and an apparent inability to settle well into the Australian mainstream.

But all is not lost. Australia's Indian community are clear assets to the country. And I must admit that I speak from some prejudice. I like Indians and find their peaceable nature wholly admirable. I have been to India 3 times and to Fiji once (from whence many Indians have come to Australia) so I know Indians in their own context as well as in a local context.

I am always one to put my money where my mouth is, however, so I have filled up the spare bedrooms in my big house with Indians. I have not gone to India but India has come to me.

One indication of my Indophilia is that I have long flown the flag of the Republic of India from the flagpole at the front of my house. I did so both to indicate ny own affection for India and in order to make my Indian sharers feel at home.

Recently, however, two of my Indian residents took the oath of allegiance and became Australian citizens. One of them came to me and told me that. I of course shook his hand and congratulated him.

But he had one request: Now that both were Australians he asked me to fly the Australian flag rather than the Indian flag from my flagpole. I of course have obliged.

But isn't that just the sort of attitude that one would hope for from immigrants? I applaud it and see it as yet another demonstration of the desirability of Indian immigrants. If we could replace all our Muslim and African immigrants with Indians, I personally would be much pleased.

Mind you, I am also strongly in favour of Australia's major "minority" -- the restrained, peaceable and hard-working Han Chinese. And since Australia is probably about 10% Han these days, that is another great strength for Australia. Wherever I go I see Han people and they are never any bother to anyone -- but they are often important service providers -- restaurateurs, pharmacists, doctors etc. -- JR

Rudd's empty health-reform proposals

Stripped of its grand phrases, the funding architecture of the National Health and Hospitals Network serves chiefly to move existing funds into other locations, so that it appears as if the federal government, rather than the states, is doing the financial heavy lifting. Likewise, the proposed local health networks amount to nothing more than convenient assemblages of local professional bossy-boots, each spruiking their particular institutions and localities, with the inevitable effect, as former Labor adviser John Deeble observed last week, that "the more affluent areas in which doctors and nurses would most like to work" are bound to become, over time, also the best resourced.

Unravel the righteous words about the importance of primary and community care, and it becomes clear that nothing much is about to change there, either. There are no specific proposals about nurturing "wellness", or better treating the epidemic of breast cancers, or dealing with mental health more effectively. Nor is there any evident revision of the received view that treats old age as if it were a form of illness, so that the elderly are condemned to spending their autumn years under the cold fluorescent lighting of hospital waiting rooms.

The federal proposals won't make the business of hospitals easier, by keeping people out of them. They won't make the system fairer in any discernible way; nor, so far we can be told, will they work to restrain overall costs. They propose to revise our awkward and cumbersome state-federal division of health responsibilities, but in such a manner as to involve no extra policy work by the federal government whatever. In short, they are the perfect paradigm of political piety, devised with no purpose other than to displease as few of the major interests as possible, and involving an endless series of petty squabbles carefully pre-designed to have only one possible victor.

We're told the PM is trying to emulate Barack Obama's single-mindedness during his own health reform travails. And yet the contrast between the two is not a flattering one. Obama's year-long policy fight led to a messy and thoroughly unheroic outcome: but as a result 30 million Americans will sleep easier at night. Further, the Obama legislation came out of more than a year's worth of pragmatic but humble politicking, in the course of which the President (like Johnson 40 years earlier) must have abased himself before many people with whom he had little desire even to share the time of day.

Rudd's purely telegenic approach to leadership, by contrast, is accompanied by endless purposeless displays of strength. And yet on each occasion this is exercised only on those he already knows he has under his thumb: such as the unfortunate NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, who endured a ritual humiliation under television lighting, purely to provide the PM with a similitude of toughness.

In several decades we may be able to look back and say of Obama that he took the first halting steps in the genuine reform of American public health provision. Looking back on Rudd's proposals, by contrast, we will be bound to ask: was that really all there was?


Green bigots want to keep blacks "in their place"

By Richie Ahmat, chairman of the (Aboriginal) Cape York Land Council

THE confrontation between the Aboriginal traditional owners of Cape York Peninsula and The Wilderness Society in relation to Queensland's Wild River laws is fundamental. If it is not resolved fairly and soon, it will be the beginning of a long war that our people will never abandon until justice is restored.

What is at stake here is the very meaning of land rights. While our people are defending the principle that Australia was not a terra nullius, TWS is pursuing the restoration of terra nullius through the concept of wilder nullius.

Wilder nullius, which is a vision that TWS has for indigenous homelands across northern and remote Australia, allows for black people in the landscape but in a highly restricted form. These blacks are not supposed to engage in any form of wealth creation or development. They are only allowed to pursue traditional activities. They are to eschew employment or consumption, and not participate in or be in favour of any form of industry.

If the blacks abide by the role envisioned for them, then TWS will arrange for the environmental agencies of government to provide funding programs for them to be employed as rangers and so on. If they step outside of this role, then TWS will get the government to stop the funding. Only compliance to the TWS vision of wilder nullius will receive support.

To us in Cape York Peninsula it is disturbing that an environmental organisation born in the genocidal context of Tasmania is seeking to reverse the Mabo principle that Australia is not and has never been terra nullius.

If you want to do anything with Aboriginal land you must get the free and informed consent of the Aboriginal traditional owners. This is our right to self-determination. These are our land rights.

Whether you want to undertake development or you want to create protected areas: the principle is free and informed consent.

And the mechanism for securing this free and informed consent is via Indigenous Land Use Agreements that are registered under the Commonwealth Native Title Act. ILUAs are ultimately supervised by the Federal Court of Australia, which ensures that all of the traditional owner groups have been fully informed, and that they have given their free consent.

Our job as a land council under the law is to make sure the proper process is followed, that all of the traditional owner groups are properly identified and are given all of the relevant information. We are required to ensure that the necessary meetings take place, and that the traditional owner groups have legal representation throughout the whole process. We must make sure that consent is provided by the whole group, not just individuals or subgroups. Where there is dispute within the group, we are required to assist in the mediation of the disputes.

Land councils are like trade unions. We provide support to traditional owner groups, so they are not left vulnerable in their dealings with governments and third parties over traditional lands. We make sure proper negotiation processes are followed. We make sure legal and anthropological advice is available.

We don't allow individuals and subgroups to make agreements without ensuring that the whole group is involved. Otherwise unscrupulous bureaucrats, developers and other third parties will rip the landowners off.

Just look at what has happened and is still happening in Papua New Guinea and throughout the South Pacific with timber companies and tribal groups. Tribal groups are being ripped off because they do not have strong representative bodies with legal and other expertise to support them.

My colleague from the Kimberley Land Council, Wayne Bergman, and my fellow countryman from Cape York Peninsula, Noel Pearson, have pointed out the sinister parallels between the way in which TWS is pursuing its wilder nullius campaign across northern Australia and the way the mining industry used to operate in the 1970s and 80s.

The mining industry used to split tribal groups up, peeling off individuals and subgroups from the main group and setting them against the land councils and the majority of their own people. They discredited the land councils and pushed governments to weaken land rights because they did not want strong land councils. They wanted to rip off the traditional owners without any interference.

TWS has been pursuing the same tactics in its campaigns in the Kimberley and Cape York. As Pearson wrote recently, it is the extreme environmentalists who are today the real rednecks.

My own analogy of what is going on is a bit different. I come from a trade union background; I worked for many years for the Comalco bauxite mine in Weipa and participated in the strike against Rio Tinto's individual contracts.

I know from my CFMEU days about the tactics undertaken by opponents who don't want equality at the bargaining table. They want to peel individuals off and have direct dealings with them without dealing with the tribal group as a whole. This is what TWS is now doing across northern Australia.

The most curious thing about all this, is that the Labor politicians who are playing key roles in the Wild Rivers imbroglio have close affiliations with the trade union movement. Queensland minister Stephen Robertson was the state secretary and national president of United Firefighters Union of Australia. The chairwoman of the senate committee inquiring into Tony Abbott's private members bill which seeks to overturn the Queensland Wild Rivers Act, Senator Trish Crossin, was an industrial officer in Darwin with the National Tertiary Education Union and the Australian Education Union, as well as having been a development officer for the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers' Union.

They should be the first ones to recognise that the way in which the Queensland government has conducted itself, and the divide and rule tactics employed by the environmental groups is exactly what trade unions have experienced throughout the history of organised labour. Robertson should hang his head in shame.


Human rights act canned as election looms

THE federal government is preparing to announce that it will not create a human rights act for Australia despite the recommendations of a report it commissioned last year.

The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, is planning to outline the government's response to the report, by a human rights consultation committee headed by the Jesuit lawyer Father Frank Brennan, in a National Press Club speech on Wednesday.

Sources say he is likely to promise improved parliamentary scrutiny of new laws for human rights issues, the addition of human rights to the national schools curriculum, and increased funding and functions for the Australian Human Rights Commission.

But, as predicted, the government appears set to sidestep the key reform - a bill or charter of rights - because cabinet is divided on its political implications.

It is unclear whether a bill of rights has been ruled out or simply shelved for further debate if the government wins a second term. Mr McClelland's office would not comment yesterday.

The expected response would be a victory for the federal opposition and Labor figures such as former premier Bob Carr and the NSW Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, who have campaigned against a bill of rights. Mr Hatzistergos was heard to quip to former Labor MP and rights advocate Susan Ryan at a recent constitutional law conference at the Art Gallery of NSW that he was ''sorry for her loss''.

Although most developed nations have one, resistance to a bill or charter of rights has centred around fears of a power shift from parliaments to judges, who would be asked to assess whether laws are compatible with human rights, although without the power of veto. There have also been fears it could prevent religious institutions such as schools from hiring religious staff.

Cabinet has considered the issue several times, and is reported to remain divided.

Some ministers are said to feel the political battle for a bill of rights is not worth the pain, especially before an election.

But others are said to be concerned about the effect of squibbing the charter issue in marginal inner-city seats where the Greens - who support a bill - are posing a threat to sitting members.

Ms Ryan, the chairwoman of the Australian Human Rights Group, said any government response that fell short of a human rights act ''would be a huge disappointment among all those organisations that work for vulnerable people and are hoping for a better deal from the government''.

If not this week, she said she expected it would happen in the future.

The Brennan report's recommendations were based on public consultations across the country and 35,014 written responses, of which 27,888 supported a charter or human rights act, while 4203 were against it.


18 April, 2010

Australian-born families to be a minority by 2025

Australia today is a wonderfully cohesive yet permissive society. To throw away such a rare combination would be a tragedy

THE Australian-born family will be a minority social group in 15 years, according to new research by demographic consultants Macroplan Australia. Soaring immigration and an ageing population mean that migrant families will outnumber Australian-born residents by 2025.

According to 2006 census data, 40 per cent of Australia's population were born overseas, or have at least one parent who was born overseas. But if immigration continues at current levels, that will jump to more than 50 per cent by 2025.

The news comes days after Tony Burke's appointment as Australia's first population minister, tasked with managing the huge influx of migrants expected to help swell the population to 36 million by 2050, up from 22 million today.

A survey of 3000 people has revealed 70 per cent of Australians do not want a bigger population and less than a quarter favoured immigration as the main contributor.

However, experts say the migrant majority will be a healthy development for Australian culture and attitudes. "It is all adding to the cosmopolitan nature of modern Australia," said Bernard Salt, a demographic expert at KPMG. "It means our views become less blinkered and we become more tolerant, confident, engaged, opportunistic and optimistic because we are open to new ideas and not obsessed with keeping things the same."

Brian Haratsis, chief executive of Macroplan, said Australia's current population tends to "stare at our shoes and say we're the best in the world" instead of embracing new ideas.


Australian Red Cross to review its policy on banning homosexual men from donating blood

There are good medical reasons to avoid blood transfusions. This would add another one

THE Australian Red Cross is reviewing its long-standing policy banning homosexual men from donating blood.

Gay rights lobby groups have backed the review, due to begin within 12 months, which could see homosexual men able to donate blood for the first time since 1985.

Currently, men who have had homosexual sex within a 12-month period are banned from donating blood.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service spokesman Nicholas McGowan said the policy was in place because even though all samples are tested for HIV and other blood-borne diseases, they were not "foolproof". "The issue with HIV-AIDS is there's still a window that even the most sensitive tests can't detect," Mr McGowan said.

Mr McGowan said the Red Cross would consider new research and technology as part of the review but warned against expectations it would definitely result in a relaxing of the policy. "I don't think that should stop us from taking this opportunity to talk it all through." he said.


A poor school report might punish Labor

THE last time the Auditor-General released a report during a federal election campaign the results were explosive. With one week to go in the 2007 campaign the independent investigator found the Coalition government had used a controversial grants program to funnel millions of dollars into projects in marginal seats, against departmental advice.

This year it is the Labor government's turn to wonder when the Auditor-General will drop a potentially damaging report into its Building the Education Revolution. The $16.2 billion program was announced as part of the government's efforts to keep Australia from falling over a cliff into recession.

As well as helping to upgrade school facilities the project was designed to quickly inject cash into the building sector, with the idea of keeping jobs going at a time when the government was expecting unemployment to eclipse 8 per cent.

For the past six months reports of overspending on projects have been filtering out, as have principals' and parents' complaints about their lack of input into the projects.

The temptation is to see parallels between the building program and that other federal economic stimulus program – the home insulation program. But the home insulation program was actually administered by the federal government. The state bureaucracies are the ones managing the education building funds and projects.

The federal opposition is making the most of the link, saying the school program is yet another example of the government's inability to manage programs and taxpayers' money.

Once it realised the extent of the problems of the insulation program – both practical and political – the federal government axed it. Ministers are no longer visiting homeowners talking about the benefits of ceiling insulation. But not so the schools building program.

Julia Gillard visited at least one school construction site every day last week, hard hat and reflective safety vest on.

Gillard is not backing away from the program and continues to point out the benefits of spending money to improve educational facilities. She is also taking every opportunity to ask the opposition if it would guarantee the program's future.

Tony Abbott has indicated the opposition would axe it, although this is at odds with what his education spokesman Christopher Pyne has reportedly been telling school principals. Nevertheless the opposition is not letting this get in the way of its attacks on the program.

Last week Gillard commissioned her own investigation into the billions of dollars of spending. This is in addition to the Auditor-General's report, which was originally expected last week but has been delayed. There are now nine official state and federal examinations of the scheme.

Although it is likely the reports will conclude that only a relatively small number of the 24,000 projects were problematic, the opposition will still pounce on any evidence that the government is a poor economic manager.

That is why it is in the government's interest for all the reports to come out as soon as possible. The sooner they are released the further away from the election they are.


Failed bureaucrats remain fat cats in NSW

GETTING sacked by the NSW government almost sounds like fun. Where else but in the first state can you enjoy rock-solid job security – and full pay – even after being shafted for an act of incompetence?

As ridiculous as it sounds, this is life in NSW after 15 years of Labor where a symbiotic relationship has evolved between inept ministers and highly paid public servants who know that being fired is often just a new beginning.

The system of mutual backside covering works like this: a scandal breaks, the government tries to bat it away, the pressure rises, a minister comes under fire, a bureaucrat is "stood down" before being quietly redeployed or paid off.

The latest NSW mandarin to take a stage-managed fall is Michael Bushby, the chief executive of the RTA who was sidelined last week after the F3 debacle.

For some of the many thousands of motorists who lost half a day in the mother-of-all traffic jams, it may have been heartening news to hear on Wednesday that someone had been held accountable and that action was being taken. That's certainly how the Keneally government hoped Bushby's execution would play with the public.

Shafting Bushby succeeded in taking some of the mounting pressure off Transport and Roads Minister David Campbell.

And as the government more than likely stumbles head-on into a totally different debacle in the weeks ahead the name Bushby will – happily for Campbell – fade away.

But what actually happens to the sacrificial lambs like Bushby? To answer that, it is worth rewinding to the Paul Forward sacking in 2005. Forward was a widely respected chief executive of the RTA who had taken part in the planning and delivery of Sydney's network of toll roads and tunnels. His misfortune was to be heading up the roads agency when sentiment turned against the newly opened Cross City Tunnel.

Even though the public's fury was aimed squarely at the politicians who had signed away public roads to the interests of a private company, it was Forward who was thrown to the wolves.

At the time, the Cross City Tunnel scandal had the potential to stop in its tracks the career of a relatively new roads minister, Joe Tripodi. But as the F3 debacle showed again last week, NSW Labor is not fond of letting its own heads roll.

Forward was stood down on his full salary of $342,000 and spent two months on the so-called "unattached list", a kind of safety net for NSW bureaucrats without a department to run or a division to manage. The bureaucrat was then handed an undisclosed pay-out. Established in private consultancy, Forward went on to advise the government on a range of roads matters.

There are now 615 people on the unattached list, costing taxpayers $45 million a year. Some bureaucrats have been on the list more than five years. Those who have spent time being paid to wait include Sue Sinclair, the former Sydney Ferries boss who was parked on $265,000 a year. Another mandarin to enjoy the jobs roundabout is Forward's successor Les Wielinga, a key figure in the implementation of the Cross City Tunnel who went on to the top job at the RTA.

Wielinga, who has never been sacked, then rose to the top job at the integrated Transport and Infrastructure Department where he headed the doomed Sydney Metro project.

So prospects look pretty good for Bushby, who is at home on $360,000 a year while former police commissioner Ken Moroney investigates the F3 debacle.

Having taken the hit it is unlikely that Bushby will be reappointed head of the RTA. But it is just as unlikely that Moroney will find that Bushby was so grossly incompetent as to justify his sacking. This will open the door to the unattached list, a probable role back in the bureaucracy or, as was the case with Forward, a handsome pay-out.

Like I said, getting sacked by the NSW government almost sounds like fun.


17 April, 2010

Robbing Peter to pay Paul's doctor

By Henry Ergas

No one would dispute that health reform is difficult. But that is not why the commonwealth government's proposals are inadequate. Rather, it is because they do not say, in an honest and transparent way, how we will pay for health care in the long run, how it will be provided, and within what constraints.

All those fundamental questions of architecture the government's proposals obfuscate, while being too clever by half about what proposed tinkering with the plumbing can and cannot achieve.

The reality is that the plumbing is not the problem. Rather, it is whether the health system's design can withstand the demographic, technological and financial stresses it is certain to face. Even if ignoring this fact were good politics, it is bad policy.

This much is now clear from the government's "best and final offer" to the states, released earlier this week. Four flaws stand out.

* First, the proposed hospital reforms are still not properly thought through. Even the government no longer claims they will end the blame game, merely saying they will "reduce" the degree of overlapping responsibility. But how or why they will do even that is unclear.

Doubtless, aspects of the proposal, such as the move to case-mix funding, are sensible. But they are undermined by the lack of clarity about how those payments will be determined and disbursed. The problems are compounded by elements in the proposed arrangements that are simply ill-conceived, including the heavy reliance placed on targets (such as waiting times in emergency wards), and incentive payments related to those targets, which are highly vulnerable to gaming. [And are commonly gamed in England]

Nor are the proposed changes to funding arrangements genuinely attractive to the states, even in narrowly financial terms. While the commonwealth is taking on more expenditure than originally announced, the savings to the states are still 5 to 10 per cent short of the share of GST they are being asked to forgo.

Increasing this gap is the fact that much of the added commonwealth expenditure requires further spending by the states. And the states will also have added expenditure risk, for instance should case mix payments be set on the basis of hypothetical, rather than realistically achievable, levels of efficiency. The government's estimates of the financial benefits to the states ignore these added costs and risks.

Last but not least, it remains entirely unclear how any growth in hospital spending, beyond that provided by the GST, would be funded.

* Second, the proposed changes to aged-care funding do not address the current arrangements' key difficulties. As a result, they cannot and will not durably reduce the pressures aged care imposes on hospital costs.

The greatest problem in aged care is the availability of high-care places, that is, of places for older people with severe disabilities, such as advanced dementia. This is where demand is projected to increase most over the next two decades.

The primary constraint on expanding supply is the commonwealth's restrictions on the charges that high-care suppliers can impose on residents. While these price controls make sense given the limits the commonwealth (in my view, wrongly) imposes on the number of aged-care places, they are an inaccurate instrument. One consequence of the controls is that the supply of high care beds is not keeping pace with long-term demand.

The commonwealth proposes addressing this mainly by providing interest-free loans and other capital funding to aged-care providers for new places. This is not sensible, as it does nothing to preserve existing places and makes taxpayers carry what ought to be commercial risks. Moreover, the scale of this measure, and the others the commonwealth has announced, falls far short of the emerging shortage. As a result, the problems will persist, and with them, the shifting of costs to hospitals.

True, the package proposes payments to compensate states for dealing with aged-care patients in hospitals. But these seem based on current levels of cost-shifting, not on those likely in future. This increases, perhaps greatly, the states' future spending risks.

* Third, the proposed changes to funding primary care for diabetes and possibly other chronic conditions are unclear, untested and risky. They too could increase hospital costs.

These changes involve paying GPs a fixed amount per patient, to which would be added a payment dependent on outcomes. Such schemes can have real merit. But international evidence also shows they can induce cherry-picking by doctors (with bad risks ending up in emergency wards), while the performance-related payments lead doctors to focus on managing these patients rather than others who may be more deserving (so they too end up in hospital).

How severe these problems are depends on the scheme's precise design and on the level and structure of the payments. But these have not been disclosed, much less rigorously trialled, making it impossible to have confidence in the outcome. Given the importance of chronic diseases to health costs, this adds to uncertainty about the financial implications of the commonwealth's proposals.

* Fourth, nothing has been said about future arrangements for private health insurance, and especially for hospital cover. But this is a crucial piece of the puzzle, both in terms of efficiency and of financing. Indeed, it is the centrepiece of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission's core proposal that we move to a scheme of competitive, comprehensive health insurance, as in The Netherlands, Switzerland and Israel. Yet we seem to be moving away from such a model, rather than towards it.

Overall, there is nothing in the commonwealth's proposals that would enhance fiscal sustainability, and too little that would enhance efficiency. Rather, the greatest effect would be to recycle revenue from the states to the commonwealth, leaving many of the current difficulties unresolved or even worsened.

It is an illusion to believe our health system's ills can be cured by robbing Peter to pay Paul. Nor can those ills be treated by artificial deadlines, ultimatums and rhetoric. It is now up to the premiers to ensure the system gets the care it needs and deserves.


States reject Rudd's brainless hospital takeover

VICTORIA and Western Australia's mutiny against a proposed takeover of public hospitals by Canberra appears to have the support of every other state.

The premiers and chief ministers held a phone hook-up on Friday when they resolved to push Canberra to let them to run their own hospital funds, a source close to one premier said.

This means Canberra's plan to pare back GST handouts to the states - so it becomes the majority funder of public hospitals - faces strong resistance at the upcoming Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra on Monday.

Under a model agreed to by the states, each state and territory would contribute to an individual hospital funding pool with the Federal Government. But the states would decide how all the money was spent.

Victoria and Western Australia have signalled they would not sign up to the hospital reforms unless this demand was met and the other states have agreed to support them on this.

While each state wants different sweeteners, the leaders were united in their demand for Canberra to give them "significant additional funds" over four years to meet new performance targets.

Two of the Federal Government's key reform proposals are likely to win the support of the states and territories.

This includes a plan for local hospital networks, which would run one to four hospitals. The states will also support the Federal Government's activity-based funding model.

This would emulate a system operating in Victoria and South Australia, where hospitals are given a fixed amount of money for specific medical procedures to encourage efficiency.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wants the states and territories to sign up to a deal that would see them hand over 30 per cent of GST revenues. In return, the commonwealth would take over majority - 60 per cent - funding of public hospitals.

He has added an additional $3 billion in incentives - including money for doctor training, elective surgery and emergency departments - to win over the states and territories.


Tough stance on boatpeople all talk

Is anyone surprised?

JUST seven days ago three Rudd government ministers held a dramatic news conference to announce a policy volte face on illegal boat arrivals and applications for asylum.

Chris Evans, Stephen Smith and Brendan O'Connor, representing the departments of Immigration, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs respectively, talked tough on asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, and even tougher on penalties for people-smugglers.

It was a calculated response to the Coalition's increasingly successful claims that the Rudd government had gone soft on illegal boat arrivals and its policy changes since the 2007 election had encouraged rather than deterred arrivals. Polling was showing that voters thought the government was not handling the issues well and were giving the Coalition the edge.

Despite the government's fervent wish to concentrate on the health reform package, the frequent arrival of boatloads of mostly Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum-seekers was capturing public attention and media time.

Evans started the press conference with the statement: "Look, today I want to announce that the government is implementing an immediate suspension on the processing of all new applications from asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

"Evolving country information from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan is likely to have a significant effect on the outcome of assessments as to whether asylum-seekers have a well-founded fear of persecution within the meaning of the Refugees Convention.

"The likelihood of people being refused visas and being returned safely to their homelands will increase."

Evans, Smith and O'Connor then proceeded to outline the policy and justifications for it that turned the government's rhetoric on asylum-seekers for the past six months on its head.

In the week since the announcement the policy and justifications have been shredded and exposed as a cynical and deceitful political exercise.

What's more, it's a policy that is unlikely to achieve what it is intended to achieve because the government continues to attempt to please everyone and put politics ahead of policy.

While the changes are a sham and built on illogical or false premises, even the government admits they're unlikely to have any effect on boat arrivals in the short term and will not stop moving detainees to the mainland.

The shift leaves those who want tougher action on asylum-seekers, such as Tony Abbott, with his no permanent visas "no ifs, no buts" approach, dissatisfied and those who want a greater degree of compassion outraged.

Last year, the initial reaction to the first "irregular maritime arrivals" was to deride the opposition's claims, discount projections as being fanciful and point to illegal boat arrivals during the Howard years.

This year, the central political argument has been that waves of asylum-seekers are a global problem and that they are being driven to Australia by so-called "push factors" - war and strife pushing them from their home countries - rather than by the so-called "pull factors" - guaranteed permanent visas and a better life.

Labor continued to demonise the Howard government's asylum policies and promote its own commitment to processing refugee claims within 90 days.

Evans continued to tell the Senate that people in detention for long periods faced mental trauma and Labor figures derided mandatory detention of boatpeople in remote centres.

But cracking a century of boat arrivals also cracked the government's nerve and the decision was made to dump all the compassionate rhetoric made before and after the election.

Not only was 90 days no longer the maximum period for processing on Christmas Island, as Evans had aimed for, it was now the minium time in detention for Sri Lankans - 180 days for Afghans.

Also, the detention is effectively indefinite because there is no guarantee the suspension will end when reviewed.

The government's justification for these actions is risible. Why doesn't the Rudd government just live up to the Prime Minister's election promise to "turn back the boats", buy a fight with the human rights and refugee groups and appeal to voters who want some real action?

Part of the answer to that question is that the government thinks it can escape concerted criticism from the harshest critics of the Howard government as long as it performs a pea and thimble trick to satisfy appearances.

That assumption appears to be correct if the muted response to the government's decision is any guide.

After claiming the increase in asylum-seekers was all push factors because of the bad conditions in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, the Australian government is now arguing the situation is getting so much better in those countries the asylum-seekers should be encouraged to return of their own volition and the number of refugee visas will drop.

The grounds for this claim are based on US State Department advice, a proposed review by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the suggestion that a "number of countries" had suspended refugee applications from Sri Lankans.

The US State Department's advice on Afghanistan is that it's getting worse, the UNHCR's review is a regular update unlikely to change dramatically and the citing of other countries is misleading. The ministers have still been unable to name other countries that acted before Australia and there have been reports since the press conference last week that Denmark had suspended its refugee applications.

What the Danish Refugee Appeals Board did almost exactly a year ago was to suspend the appeal of six Tamil families who had lost their refugee application and had been ordered to be repatriated so that those six families would not be sent back. The suspension was extended in June last year to cover all Sri Lankan refugee appeals, not applications, until the Danish Foreign Office provided more information about how dangerous Sri Lanka was.

The suspension of appeals was lifted in December last year, after the advice was given, and applications for refugee status from Sri Lankans were not suspended. Whatever the politics of all of this, it's not good policy, either way.


Australia's population to grow to 42 million by 2050, modelling shows

AUSTRALIA'S population will reach 42 million by 2050, six million more than the Federal Government's target, if migration, fertility and life expectancy continue at today's pace.

Modelling by Australia's Centre for Population and Urban Research warned of a doubling of the population in 40 years, which it also claimed would be unsustainable, and significantly outstrips Federal Government targets.

Cities such as Sydney and Melbourne would evolve into mega high rise metropolises on the scale of Hong Kong, with a drastic deterioration in quality of life for its inhabitants, it warned.

The research conducted by Professor Bob Birrell, one of the country's leading demographers at Monash University, said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's target of 36 million people would be overshot based on the current net migration rate of 298,000 a year.

Under a business as usual scenario, Sydney would have a population of more than 7.5 million and Melbourne upwards of 6.5 million and both would need to be redesigned to cope.

Treasury modelling contained in the third Intergenerational Report forecast a population of 35.9 million by 2050 but assumed returning to a net migration rate of 180,000 a year.

Professor Birrell's modelling based on Treasury figures showed a continued rate of 298,000 would produce a population of 42.3 million based on greater life expectancies and lower birth rate of 1.9, as well as immigration. The workforce would be 22 million.

A lower net migration rate of 125,000 - the average from 1996 to 2007 - would result in a national population of 32 million. Professor Birrell warned the Federal Government had to return to a figure of 180,000 a year from existing higher levels if it wanted to avoid overshooting its own target of 36 million.

But even at these lower rates, Professor Birrell warned that cities such as Sydney and Melbourne would need to be completely redesigned. "We have to get down to that figure quickly, in the next few years," he said yesterday. "It's to do with economies of scale - to refit a city is an enormous exercise."

Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said it was time there was a rational debate about population growth.

"It is clear Rudd's idea of a big Australia seems to start at 36 million. Where it ends, we simply don't know," he said.

"By contrast the Coalition is keen to engage in what is a sustainable growth path for Australia and engage with business, the community and the environment lobby and plan our migration intakes appropriately."

While Mr Rudd had originally suggested that 36 million was a "target" population for Australia, his newly-appointed Population Minister Tony Burke has been keen to backtrack and claim it is merely a forecast.

"A figure of 36 million is a very high level and vastly higher than most people imagined until the [report] was released. Imagine 42 million," Professor Birrell said. "It would involve a serious deterioration in quality of life and a fundamental change to the way people live."


16 April, 2010

Man goes to government hospital seeking help; is refused help; becomes angry; is attacked by security staff and is killed

Sitting on people to restrain them quite commonly causes death by asphyxia so you would think that medical personnel would be the LAST people to do that. And what were FOUR police officers doing there? Was it because he was black?

But regardless of the cause of death, isn't that a great way to run a public hospital? Attacking mentally ill patients instead of treating them? Sure shows the level of care and expertise available, doesn't it? Your government will look after you!

A MENTALLY ill father-of-three has died after he was handcuffed by police in a north Queensland hospital, injected with anti-psychotic drugs and suffered respiratory failure.

Police Ethical Standards officers are due to meet today with the family of Lyji Vaggs, 27, who went voluntarily to his local public hospital's mental health unit several times on Wednesday seeking to be admitted, The Australian reported. Vaggs - from Townsville, was told by hospital staff there were no beds available and that he should go home and take his medication.

Family members said yesterday that Vaggs, a nephew of Aboriginal academic and activist Gracelyn Smallwood, had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and that he told hospital staff he needed help because he was "hearing voices".

It is understood Vaggs became "boisterous", was forcibly restrained by security staff and police were called. He was handcuffed and injected with anti-psychotic drugs, at which point he stopped breathing and died yesterday.

Associate Professor Smallwood has been asked to speak on behalf of the family. She will attend today's meeting with police. The Australian understands the police officers who responded to the call for assistance were involved in only a minor way with restraining Vaggs, but did handcuff him.

"We were told several of the mental health orderlies and security staff held him down and sat on Lyji until the police came, and when he was needled he stopped breathing," a family member said.

"A mental health doctor later came out to a roomful of us who were waiting and said he could not figure out what caused Lyji to stop breathing, but it was probably when they restrained him." Professor Smallwood said....

"This boy was like my own son. He did not need to die. He was calling out for help. Now his wife Stacey is left with three little boys - and we all want to know why."


Labor Party aiming to cut private school funding?

More likely they will freeze funds going to private schools while increasing funding elsewhere. Roughly one in three pupils in Australia is now privately educated at some stage so it would take a bold government to attack that. The campaign by former Labor leader Mark Latham to do so was undoubtedly a major reason for his resounding election defeat

TONY Abbott has questioned the point of the education funding review flagged by Julia Gillard and claimed the government would cut funding for private schools if re-elected.

The Australian reported this morning that the Education Minister told the Sydney Institute she would launch a review into education funding at the end of the month. She also guaranteed schools would maintain their funding until 2012 and said there was no suggestion that non-government schools would lose funding.

But Mr Abbott has today questioned the purpose of the review if it simply recommended more money for schools. “What's the point of having an inquiry if it's just more money for everyone?” Mr Abbott asked on the Today program on the Nine network. “Where's the fiscal responsibility in that?”

Mr Abbott pointed to the Rudd government's broken promise not to means test the private health insurance rebate before the 2007 election as evidence it would seek to strip funding from private schools. “You just can't trust these people,” he said.

“They don't like private education. They will, after the election, if they're re-elected as sure as night follows day, they will try to cut private schools funding.”

But Ms Gillard said she was prepared to go to fight the next election on the issue of trust on school funding. “I'm happy to fight the next election on the issue of trust,” she said. “School funding, we have almost doubled the amount of money going into schools.”

In a speech to the Sydney Institute last night Ms Gillard said her plan was to use information gathered through the My School website to ensure all schools were adequately funded. There is widespread criticism the existing model favours elite schools over public schools.

“We have given a funding maintenance guarantee. I gave it last night. This is not about taking money of schools,” Ms Gillard said this morning. “The school funding review that I opened up last night is about all schools. We currently have a system where we don't look across at all schools and say `how are they being funded?' I want to do that, I want to get it right for every child and every school.”

The government has promised to review schools funding before 2013 when the current Howard government model expires.


Flood of illegals coming to Australia in boats shuts down all other immigrant checking

IMMIGRATION Department officials have been ordered to back off all non-essential visa checking, such as raids on brothels and illegal fruit pickers, as mainland detention centres are at risk of overflowing because of the constant transfer of asylum-seekers from Christmas Island. The Australian has learnt that Immigration Department compliance officers were told late last week to detain people only where necessary, because of the space pressure inside detention centres.

The instructions, which were issued verbally, not in writing, are understood to have been handed down last Thursday and Friday.

It is believed compliance officers were told to ease off all non-essential work and to detain people at airports only when absolutely necessary. Yesterday, a spokesman for the department conceded there was "some pressure" on detention centres onshore.

"Compliance officers have been asked to consider the impact of current detention capacity when planning their field operations, including looking at alternatives to detention," the spokesman said.

Pressure on mainland detention centres stems largely from a refusal by the government to authorise a spill to the mainland.

The comments came as authorities on Christmas Island yesterday unloaded a total of 135 people at Flying Fish Cove in nine barge trips - passengers from three boats intercepted last week.

The Australian understands that most had travelled from Afghanistan but that they had been intercepted before the government announced a suspension of all new Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum claims.

The latest arrivals came as the Danish government began investigating reports in Australia that claimed it had suspended refugee applications. Denmark is concerned that its position on asylum-seekers was misrepresented in Fairfax newspapers after statements by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Immigration Minister Chris Evans last Friday said that Australia was not the only country to suspend Sri Lankan refugee applications.

And yesterday, the head of Indonesia's people-smuggling taskforce at the National Police, Commander Hermawan, was quoted in local media, warning that as many as 5000 illegal Middle Eastern immigrants were preparing to cross from Malaysia to Indonesia, where they would be stranded by the Australian government's policy change.

As the latest asylum-seekers landed on Christmas Island, the Coalition moved to toughen its stance on border protection by ruling out family reunion rights for boatpeople. Less than one week after unilaterally committing a Coalition government to a lower migrant intake, the opposition's immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, has again provoked the ire of party moderates, this time by barring boatpeople from access to the family reunion scheme.

Mr Morrison yesterday told The Australian that a Coalition proposal to reintroduce controversial temporary protection visas would prohibit visa-holders from bringing family members to Australia. "We won't be offering family reunion under the TPVs," Mr Morrison said. "Then you'd be effectively offering the same rights and entitlements as permanent visas, and this is not a permanent visa."

The proposal has prompted outrage from refugee groups, who say TPVs forced asylum-seekers to bring their families on the boats with them, sometimes at the cost of their lives. Refugee Council president John Gibson yesterday condemned the proposal as reckless and inhumane. "If you want to talk about causation, there is absolutely no doubt in the world about that factor, because the number of women and children increased four-fold," Mr Gibson said.

Mr Morrison's proposal was also attacked by Liberal moderates Petro Georgiou and Russell Broadbent. Mr Georgiou, perhaps the most outspoken Liberal critic of Howard-era refugee policies, described TPVs as "pernicious instruments".

"History shows that a number of women and children on SIEV X were drowned seeking to be reunited with people in Australia who had been found to be refugees and who were on temporary protection visas," Mr Georgiou said. "Under the Howard government, almost all people on TPVs were converted to permanent protection visas."

Last night there were 2212 boat people on Christmas Island, which was originally designed to hold just 400.

The overcrowding has forced the Immigration Department to put mattresses on the floor of small rooms that held just one bed a year ago but now sleep up to five men. An education facility inside the centre has been converted to a dormitory, and people sleep where they used to take Australian studies classes.

"It's tight, but we're managing," a spokesman for the department said yesterday.


Duped dads win back child payments

Sadly, Australia seems to be one of the few countries that allows such basic justice

MEN are using a new law to win back hundreds of thousands of dollars paid in child support for children they later discovered were not theirs.

New figures obtained by The Australian reveal that since January 2007, 48 men have won back a total of $434,378.64 paid through the Child Support Agency. The men used DNA testing to prove they were not the biological fathers of children they had been supporting. One man got back more than $70,000 by proving children were not his. But among the 48 orders, the sums to be repaid by mothers ranged down to less than $20.

Section 143 of the Child Support (Assessment) Act, requires the Family Court to consider issuing orders for repayment where paternity is successfully challenged and child support has been paid.

Child Support Agency deputy secretary Philippa Godwin said the agency had received no complaints about the process, but women's groups are outraged by the numbers. "Where parentage has been satisfied for child support purposes, but a parent believes they are not a parent of a child, they can apply to a court for a declaration that a child support assessment cannot be made against them for that child," Ms Godwin said.

"As part of determining this application, the court can order a DNA test to determine paternity of the child. The results of the test will be considered by the court in deciding whether to make the declaration." Hundreds of tests have proved that an aggrieved man is, in fact, the biological father of the child in question.

Sole Parents Union president Kathleen Swinbourne said the new laws were hurting children at the centre of DNA disputes. "What does this say to children about being wanted, being loved, being parented? What does this do to children whose fathers turn around and say, `I'm not your daddy anymore, I don't want you'," she said. [More to the point, what does it say about lying and deceitful women?]

"The effect of this on children must be devastating. And that's to say nothing about the financial circumstances mothers find themselves in in trying to continue to support their children while trying to pay back child support."

Ms Swinbourne said she did not accept the argument that men should be entitled to change their role in children's lives based on biology. "If you've raised these children and parented them, you can't turn around later and change your mind. It doesn't matter what the DNA says." [And it doesn't matter if women lie and cheat? It's the woman who has caused any harm to the child by her lies]

Men's Rights Agency director Sue Price said it was about time that men who had been duped by former partners were able to remedy the situation. "I think it's a good thing that children are able to know the biological father rather than their pretend father," she said. "I think it's essential that they should be able to have the money repaid to them. Why should they have to pay for another man's child?"


Despite huge public pressure, the Queensland government still can't work out how to pay its doctors and nurses

Disillusioned Australian doctors will start drifting away from the system to be replaced by poorly trained and sometimes disastrous doctors from the Third World (e.g. India)

THE Australian Medical Association's Queensland President is concerned doctors could "turn their backs" on the public system if their pay is not processed correctly next week.

AMAQ President Dr Mason Stevenson said they surveyed 300 doctors and more than 92 per cent had been affected by Queensland Health's payroll bungle. More than 66 per cent said their pay problems had lasted for over a month.

He said the findings show the situation was worse than they originally thought. "Most have not been paid their overtime or on-call allowances, while some have not been paid at all,'' Dr Stevenson said.

Earlier, Queensland Health director general Mick Reid agrees his job should be on the line over the bungled payroll system. Speaking on ABC radio this morning, Mr Reid said many of the problems had been fixed but others had emerged. “The numbers are going down with people who are coming forward with significant pay issues,” he said. “And many of the issues we identified in the first pay run have been picked up in the second.

“Some additional issues have arisen in the second so they’re not all fixed. “The vast majority of people have been paid correctly. But even if one hasn’t been paid, that’s one too many.”

Mr Reid said the responsibility for the plagued system rested with him. “I take absolute responsibility for the payroll of Queensland Health, so it’s my responsibility,” he said.

Mr Reid was asked whether his neck should be on the chopping block. “That should be part of the review,” he said. “My first task is to get this fixed.”


15 April, 2010

Is prison good for blacks?

The heading I have used above will undoubtedly enrage some but the evidence given below by David Biles supports it. David Biles is a consultant criminologist and was head of research with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

Biles has written the article below to put into context a scandalous case in which a cop killed a black in his custody

RECENT media coverage of the legal proceedings relating to the death of Cameron (also known as Mulrunji) Doomadgee at the Palm Island police station in November 2004 has inevitably raised a number of questions about the phenomena of deaths in custody in general.

This case and several others that have been mentioned recently might have caused us to believe that deaths in custody were continuing to occur at a similar rate to that established by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which sat from late 1987 to early 1991 and examined 99 cases that occurred between 1980 and 1989. During that decade data were collected on non-Aboriginal as well as Aboriginal deaths that occurred in police custody and in Australian prisons, even though the former were not subjected to close scrutiny.

This preliminary data collection exercise found quite unexpectedly that Aboriginal people in both police custody and in prison were no more likely to die than non-Aboriginal people in either form of custody.

That finding prompted some heated discussion among the royal commission staff, because it indicated that the basic assumption underlying the establishment of the royal commission was misconceived.

Some staff members suggested that what was needed was either an investigation of all deaths in custody, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, or the focus of the inquiry should be the over-representation of Aboriginal people in both forms of custody.

The fact that neither of these options was considered was a disappointment to some staff members, but towards the end of the inquiry there was greater emphasis placed on the reasons why so many Aboriginal people were behind bars in the first place. Another cause of criticism of the royal commission was the fact that even though many police and prison officers were found to be at fault in performing their duties, none of their shortcomings was found to be sufficiently serious to justify the laying of criminal charges.

That fact alone places the Doomadgee case in a different category as the senior sergeant-in-charge of the Palm Island police station, Chris Hurley, was subsequently charged with manslaughter and acquitted by a Supreme Court jury in Townsville in June 2007.

That may not be the end of the matter, however, as it is assumed by many people close to the case that Hurley may at some stage face a civil charge, where the standard of proof will be on the balance of probability rather than beyond reasonable doubt as is required in criminal cases.

A further criticism of the royal commission was the fact that in its detailed examination of the 99 cases it never gave serious consideration to the possibility that at least some of the cases of apparent suicide by hanging could have been accidental deaths due to the practice known as sexual asphyxia.

It is possible that some of the legal staff, as well as some of the commissioners, had no knowledge of this subject, or if they did they may have taken the view, quite reasonably, that any public mention of this behaviour may have encouraged others to imitate it. One can only speculate that either ignorance, prudence or coyness prevented this subject from even being considered.

The royal commission cost more than $40 million, and a further $400 million to implement most of its recommendations.

It was the subject of intense media interest, both internationally and nationally, while its hearings were being held, but many of its general findings were never fully understood by the public, or by many practitioners working in criminal justice.

This may have been due to the fact that its reports were nearly always very long, to the point that it is doubtful if any individual can honestly claim to have read every word that the royal commission published.

For example, another of the unexpected findings of the research undertaken by the royal commission was the fact that convicted offenders serving non-custodial sentences such as probation, community service orders or parole were much more likely to die while serving those orders than were offenders serving prison sentences.

In other words, imprisonment actually reduces the probability of death.

This should not be particularly surprising when one considers the high-risk lifestyle lived by many of those involved in crime.

The risks include taking too many drugs, drinking too much alcohol, smoking too much, driving too fast and generally living a chaotic life.

For all its negative features, prison does at least provide three meals a day, and reduces (even if it does not entirely eliminate) the consumption of drugs.

It also provides basic medical care and some degree of social support.

For a host of economic and humanitarian reasons, the aim must always be to keep the number of people in prison to an absolute minimum so that it is only used as a last resort, but the consequences of imprisonment are not always totally negative.

What has happened to deaths in custody since the conclusion of the royal commission? The answer is a mixed one.

Deaths in police custody have reduced significantly, while the opposite has been the case with prisons.

The improvement in the police custody deaths is almost certainly due to police forces across Australia taking the job of looking after Aboriginal detainees more seriously (by, for example, encouraging Aboriginal elders to stay with detainees) and, perhaps more importantly, making an effort to get Aboriginal detainees out on bail or transferred to prison as soon as possible.

On the prison side of the equation, there has been a massive increase in both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal deaths and this is totally the result of a similar increase in prison numbers that has occurred in the last 20 years. Over that period the total daily average number of prisoners in Australia has more than doubled from fewer than 14,000 in 1990 to very nearly 29,000 today.

Also, to our national shame, Aboriginal adults who comprise almost exactly 2 per cent of the total adult population now make up over 25 per cent of our prison population.

It is still the case, however, that non-Aboriginal prisoners are more likely to die than Aboriginal prisoners.


Docs evade regulators to save babies

AFTER saving 'Baby Z' with one of the biggest longshots in medical history, Melbourne doctors have secretly saved more newborns around the world who had no hope of survival.

In a story more like a Hollywood script than a medical journal - and with an extremely experimental drug not yet approved by any drug agency in the world - neonatologist Dr Alex Veldman and biochemist Dr Rob Gianello have saved babies in the UK, Germany, and The Netherlands.

Their global breakthroughs come after the pair were left with no option but to treat a Melbourne girl dubbed Baby Z with an unproved drug only ever tested on a small sample of German mice, or watch her die.

Remarkably it worked, and Baby Z became the only person to ever survive molybdenum cofactor deficiency - a one-in-1 million metabolic condition that poisons the brain and kills within months of birth.

When the Herald Sun broke news of her survival last November, the story made headlines around the world, leading to a flood of calls to Monash Medical Centre from overseas.

Although work to gain approval for the drug cPMP is still in its early days, Dr Veldman has been able to use the drug globally under emergency access regulations.

"They all wake up and start to feed and look around and recover, they all stop seizures," Dr Veldman said. "One after the other they are repeating the pattern."

Working with the drug's inventor, German plant biologist Prof Gunther Schwarz, the Monash team has saved 'Baby P' in Germany in November 2009; 'Baby O' in the UK in December 2009; 'Baby M' in March 2010; and this month has saved 'Baby C' in The Netherlands.


Man in intensive care after being restrained by police in Townsville hospital

No prizes for guessing that they put him in a choke hold and kept him there

A MAN is in intensive care after police attempts to restrain him in a Townsville health facility.

Police say the 27-year-old Mundingburra man became agitated and aggressive towards staff at a Townsville health facility after voluntarily arriving there around 3pm yesterday.

Health staff and security guards attempted to restrain the man and called police to assist.

The man stopped breathing shortly after he was restrained and sedated by officers.

He was resuscitated and taken to the Emergency Unit at Townsville Hospital before being transferred to intensive care, where he remains.

Officers from police Ethical Standard Command are investigating the police involvement in the incident.


'Labor elite out of touch' on population growth

A new survey has shed more light on how Australian voters would respond if population growth became a big election issue.

The survey by the Australian National University is the largest recent study of social attitudes to population growth and shows that nearly 70 per cent of respondents do not believe Australia needs more people.

The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes was restricted to voters, and 3,124 people completed the mail-out questionnaire.

They were asked "Do you think Australia needs more people?" and 69 per cent said no.

Dr Katharine Betts, Adjunct Associate Professor of Sociology at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, has written a report on the findings. She says those who voted 'no' were worried about local jobs, urban congestion and the environment.

"I think it's clear from this data that the growth train steaming ahead has a lot of unhappy passengers, and I think it's pretty clear that there's a large swathe of voters out here who would really like the train driver to put on the brakes," she said.

"We were rather surprised that the top pick there was the reason 'We should train our own skilled people not take them from other countries'. Twenty-four per cent of people chose that as either their first or second reason."

The 31 per cent of respondents happy with population growth were asked what sort of growth they would prefer, and 23 per cent chose immigration.

"With the people who favoured growth, they tended to pick economic reasons, having more babies and more migrants could counteract the ageing of the population, we need skilled migrants for the workforce - that accounted for nearly three-quarters of the responses amongst the pro-growth people," Dr Betts said.

The survey was completed in the three months to February. Its findings are in contrast to the much smaller Lowy Poll released last week which found most people want a bigger Australia but do not want the population to reach the predicted 36 million by 2050.

Dr Betts says in this latest study, the state most unhappy about population growth was Queensland.

"Seventy-three per cent of Queenslanders thought Australia didn't need more people but the ACT was quite unlike the other states, and 50 per cent of people in the ACT wanted more people," she said.

Dr Betts says she thinks the results show there is widespread opposition to the idea of a "big Australia", but that opposition does not yet have a political focus.

"There is this new party being formed, the Stable Population Party of Australia; we don't know what the Opposition is going to do, they've been talking about a rather smaller migrant intake and perhaps they'll pursue that line," she said.

"But I think it does show that [Prime Minister Kevin] Rudd and the Labor political elite are very much out of touch with Australian voters on this particular question."

The survey results will be published in the quarterly journal People and Place.


14 April, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says Rudd is another Gough Whitlam

Distortions about markets from a Leftist ignoramus

By Greg Lindsay

In the introduction to the 1982 publication The New Conservatism in Australia edited by Robert Manne, the editor admits ‘to having no competence in economics whatsoever’. That has not stopped him from inserting himself into various debates about economic issues ever since.

His dismal record was highlighted in the book Shutdown from 1992 that he co-edited, which declared that economic reform had failed in Australia and that ‘the most important contemporary example of economic success is Japan’, and, well you can guess the rest.

The fact that Australia is now the strongest OECD economy and on the various scales of economic freedom, quality of life and prosperity, pretty much leads the way, seems to have escaped this academic Nostradamus. Sure, there is room for improvement and our modern democracy exhibits the usual tussles over how this might be done, but no serious observer challenges the moral and economic power of the market.

Well, I’m mostly right. An outbreak of less serious commentary began with the setting up of a straw man some years back called 'neo-liberalism'. It’s a term that started to appear in its latest manifestation in Australia more than a decade ago. We at CIS decided that it was essentially being used as a term of abuse and we would not succumb to the intentions of its promoters. We couldn’t quite work out what it really meant anyway.

In the lead up to the 2007 election, then opposition leader Kevin Rudd added his five cents worth and, with some other essays since then,’ neo-liberalism’ and ‘market fundamentalism’ marched hand in hand. ‘Economic conservatism’ seems to have been trampled in the parade. My colleague Oliver Hartwich tried his best to clarify the issue and in fact showed that the now Prime Minister was in fact a 'neo-liberal' (see here).

Of course the Global Financial Crisis gave neo-socialists of all kinds a whole new field to play on, and so they have. Professor Manne, highlighting his lack of expertise in economics once again, is back in print, this time in The Weekend Australian recently with an extract of a chapter in a new book he has edited with David McKnight. What’s regrettable about this piece is the tone Manne’s chapter exhibits.

We at the CIS admire greatly the work of F.A. Hayek. That’s no great surprise. Indeed there’s a long list of thinkers we admire stretching right back to the founding decades of the Enlightenment. The ideas of such people have taught us much and have laid the groundwork for the prosperity and freedom we see today, especially in the West.

In his recent essay, Manne attacked Hayek personally. He held Hayek responsible for everything from the collapse of the derivatives market to some colourful rhetoric of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. It probably needs the analytical skills of an historian to make sense of all this.

Manne’s tasteless remarks about Hayek and his philosophy of liberty, however, show to some extent what liberals are up against these days. The financial crisis is eagerly interpreted by the opponents of liberty as ‘evidence’ that free markets don’t work. The troubles in financial markets serve them as a new justification for more government control, whether it is in US health care or Australia’s new broadband network.

The mistake Manne and his neo-socialist friends are making is twofold. First, they are ignoring the role that state institutions like government-owned enterprises, regulatory regimes and central banks played in the build-up of the crisis. Governments failed at least as much as markets may have.

Second, liberals have never argued that their philosophy would create heaven on earth. With free markets it’s a little bit like with democracy, to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous dictum: They are the worst form to coordinate human activity bar all others. Markets can be a messy business with ups and downs. Yet given the right institutions, they generally work rather well.

Markets are not perfect and few economists would argue that they are, but then again nothing on earth is. Even though utopian dreamers may believe in the omnipotence and benevolence of government, history teaches us that such belief has often led to disaster. Or, as Hayek has argued, they lead us down the slippery road to serfdom.

The current neo-liberal straw man is just that, a straw man, and should be given no credence. Markets are not going away. Yes, some institutions in some countries may have been inadequate and can be improved. Many might learn from Australia in that regard and I hope they do. And that of course is not to say that institutional arrangements here are beyond consideration for improvement to the benefit of all.

Just one last word on Hayek. One of his lasting legacies was the founding in 1947 of the Mont Pelerin Society, an international organisation of economists, political scientists and others interested in furthering the ideals of a free society. It has had in its membership some of the world’s foremost intellectuals, including eight Nobel Laureates in economics, Hayek himself being one. Details can be found here. Its 2010 General Meeting is being held in Sydney in October, only the second time a General Meeting has been held in the southern hemisphere.

The MPS conference will bring to Australia some of the world’s leading scholars of liberty and will be a symbolic and cogent reminder to those who still forget so many lessons from history.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 13 April. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

How the West was lost: a lack of faith in civilisation

There is a growing belief among Australia's most formidable conservative thinkers that the foundations of Western civilisation in this country are being eroded. As a consequence, the grounding that Western civilisation has given everyday society - especially the behavioural and moral influences of Christianity - is disappearing and needs to be reaffirmed.

Such views are not new; they have been espoused from time to time. Now, however, the viewpoint has become organised and it has some serious firepower behind it.

Just over a fortnight ago 84 prominent Australians gathered for a dinner at Stonington Mansion in Melbourne - the home of the art dealer Rod Menzies - to launch a program to "confront these disturbing trends".

The Foundations of Western Civilisation Program had John Howard and Cardinal George Pell as guest speakers. Geoffrey Blainey gave the vote of thanks and the columnist Andrew Bolt was the MC.

The program's chairman is former Liberal minister, Rod Kemp, and the event was organised by the conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

The event was over-subscribed and more than 50 had to be turned away. Those there included Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, as well as such corporate luminaries as Hugh Morgan, Donald McGauchie, Rick Allert, Steve Skala and Brian Loton.

"Sometimes Western civilisation is treated with outright hostility," read the invitation letter. "Cultural relativism has led to our education system often undervaluing the achievements of Western civilisation. "The rise of the nanny state is undermining our freedoms of association, of speech, of liberal democracy."

John Roskam, from the institute, said the evening tapped into a debate about values, where they come from and what they are grounded in - Western civilisation. "It's rounder than the concept of a threat, it's under challenge," he said.

Howard spoke off the cuff. According to those present, he argued that Australia has a secular tradition with no established church. But, while that tradition must be respected, it was his personal belief the Judaeo-Christian ethic has been the most profound moral and cultural influence in this country and it should be preserved. Other religions could be embraced and welcomed without in any way diminishing the Judaeo-Christian influence.

Howard, who never wore his faith on his sleeve, gave examples of where he saw erosion caused by a combination of factors such as post-modernism and people who think the values of Western civilisation are not worth preserving.

He contrasted the 2003 memorial service for victims of the Bali bombings with the memorial service held after the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria last year. Both were secular services with religious components. At the latter, Howard noted, the religious element was downplayed, to the extent the Anglican and Catholic bishops were referred to as leaders of significant community groups.

Howard said he found the bushfire memorial "very hollow". "I feel Australian society is losing something when we don't recognise the important role of religion," he was quoted as saying.

Howard recounted the faith and values youth forums he attended as prime minister and how he was struck by young people openly discussing suicide. It used to be taboo to talk about the taking of one's own life and Howard believes "there are no absolute taboos any more". Ultimately, he saw it as an increasing lack of meaning in young people's lives due to the waning influences of Western civilisation.

Pell went further, saying he felt suicide today was being "celebrated". Faith and values, he said, meant you're living for some reason other than yourself. He lamented that a secular view is legitimate but a religious view should not be heard in a public place, and that it was deemed permissible to speak openly of a green god but not a religious God.

Beyond religion, Julia Gillard's proposed national history curriculum was singled out for a belting, because it supposedly does not place enough emphasis on British and European influences.

Howard cited the recent push for a human rights charter in Australia as a consequence of a lack of understanding of our system of parliamentary democracy and an independent judiciary.

Both he and Pell acknowledged the flaws and blemishes of Western civilisation and the "black spots" these had left in Australian history.

But Pell referred to China, where he said an erosion of values was also occurring as capitalism took hold. "This radically different culture is now searching for the secrets of Western vitality to provide a code for decency and social cohesion compatible with sustainable economic development."

He quoted the Chinese economist Zhao Xiao's "fascinating comparison with the selfism of Western radical secularism". "These days, Chinese people do not believe in anything," Zhao asserted. "A person who believes in nothing can only believe in himself. And self-belief implies anything is possible - what do lies, cheating, harm and swindling matter?"


Treating Aussie internet users like a bunch of dodos

Attention Senator Conroy: Forget about filtering the internet. Instead please pour your energy, time and (our) money into providing Australia with an internet – and a phone system for that matter – that works, is accessible and affordable.

Many Australians are likely oblivious to the communications dark ages in which we live. In the USA I can connect my home or office to a variety of internet providers, all offering great, low-priced deals. In Australia I am given a choice of a couple of providers with a few extra resellers offering outrageous prices and slow service.

In the USA almost all internet plans provide unlimited downloads and usage. In Australia I am offered plans limiting the hours I can spend on the internet; if I exceed this I am hit with exorbitant hourly rates or a slower internet.

In the USA I can choose a cell (mobile) phone from a myriad of companies and obtain good reception most of the time. Drop outs are rare. In Australia I have to go into my bedroom and sit in a certain place with my left leg elevated at a particular angle to get any reception and even then my phone regularly drops out.

In the USA I can wander into any Starbucks and most other cafes and get free wi-fi. Furthermore, wall to wall power outlets are provided so I can spend as much time as I need doing my work and sipping my lattes. I can also get free wi-fi at shopping centres, hotels and even some airports. Those larger airports that charge are still not expensive – it costs about $6 for the day. I can even access the internet – albeit again for a nominal charge - on domestic flights!

In Australia I am flat out finding a cafe or coffee shop that even provides wi-fi and the few that do almost always charge. McDonalds have finally started to offer their customers free wi-fi but their brochures state that “power is not provided”. Some McDonalds stores have signs banning customers from connecting to power outlets.

I’m not a “techie” – I still text using complete words - yet I remain in techno-shock after arriving back in Australia a year ago following almost 7 years abroad. While I immediately fell in love with my new iPhone I found that my network dropped out quite often and that I can’t use the phone throughout my own house without the continual “hello…hello….can you hear me now?”

Yet my phone problems were relatively minor compared to my quest for a home internet service. I had assumed that connecting a fast broadband service would be a simple procedure only to be told that there were no lines available at the exchange. This fact alone should alert Senator Conroy and everyone else in Canberra that we have serious problems with our communications infrastructure. That in the year 2010 we cannot connect a phone line to a home in a suburb of one of our major cities is a testimony to years of government apathy.

It got worse. Other internet providers told me that while they could find an exchange line (allocated to another network), our home phone line was “paired” and could not handle a broadband service. They explained that when the phone line was originally being installed, it was shared with another home to save money. The only option was to pay $300 for a new line but they still couldn’t guarantee a line at the exchange until this new line was installed!

So I turned to wireless broadband however upon instillation found that it was so slow I could cook dinner between refreshing pages. I called the provider who told me I was in their “black spot’, though could not explain why this – rather important (to me at least) - point was not revealed when I ordered the service. With my options for internet service all but gone, I was forced to take wireless broadband with another – naturally the most expensive – provider.

Being now the proud owner of the highest price internet plan I could find for the lowest service quality available – plus a mobile phone that only works in the bedroom - I find myself regularly setting up office at my local McDonalds where I consume countless toasted sandwiches and flat whites and wait for the battery life on my computer to expire (remember they don’t include power).

I live in a modern, mid priced suburb, 25 minutes from the city centre of Brisbane and therefore wonder what my communications options would be if I lived in rural Australia, far from exchanges and internet technicians. I may be starting to understand just why those that live outside our cities react with such cynicism each time governments announce big plans to revolutionise our communications industry.

We live in one of the world’s great nations – with one of the western world’s most backward technology. Senator Conroy, Mr Rudd - I don’t want my internet filtered. I want an internet that is affordable, accessible and effective. A phone that I can use anywhere without dropping out would also be nice. Please just bring us into the 21st century and we’ll be happy


Proof that wine-talk is complete bulldust

Not a single wine-commentator or judge detected the difference between wine made from sultana and Chardonnay grapes. Eventually, however, a grape buyer tasted one of the grapes. In a separate scandal Californian wine buffs were recently shown to be just as hopeless

It has taken seven years, but the largest case of wine deception in Australian history has finally reached a conclusion. A former winery boss has been found guilty of passing off sultana grapes as the more prized chardonnay variety.

One-time managing director of Riverland-based Rivers Wines, Andrew Hashim has been convicted in the Magistrates Court on 34 counts of falsifying records, following the company having earlier pleaded guilty to 97 similar counts.

The court found that large quantities of grape juice and wine were sold as chardonnay during the 2003 vintage to more than 10 companies including Hardy's, now known as Constellation Australia, and Orlando, now owned by Pernod Ricard.

But after one buyer raised doubts about the variety, the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation conducted a "painstaking" paper trail search and discovered the wine was mostly sultana based. "We discovered what the court called an `enormous' amount of documents proving Rivers Wines' records had been falsified," AWBC compliance manager Steve Guy said yesterday.

Further evidence from grape growers who supplied Rivers Wines revealed many had supplied sultana grapes in good faith but the winery had recorded their receipt as chardonnay. The price for chardonnay fruit at the time was about $1000 a tonne and sultanas about $250 a tonne, with wines subsequently produced reflecting the price differences.

The finding has been hailed as proof the wine industry is committed to protecting its reputation in the wake of a huge wine substitution racket between French suppliers of so-called pinot noir to US wineries. That wine was proved to be from a range of other varieties, leaving both countries' industries scandalised by the findings.

Mr Guy said the Rivers Wines case was "the most significant deception ever" in Australia's wine industry. "It shows we're committed to enforcing our truth in labelling laws," he said.

The maximum penalty on each count is $15,000 for a company and $3000 for individuals. Sentencing is expected by the end of the month.


13 April, 2010

Aristocracy is good?

This is a REAL example of cultural relativism. What some Europeans deplore about Australia is precisely what Australians are most proud of.

There may be more devotion to high culture in Europe but so what? I myself have a devotion to much high culture -- from Buxtehude to Janacek -- but if one of my fellow Australians enjoys reading "Phantom" comics as much as I enjoy reciting Chaucer in the original Middle English, good luck to him. As the Romans wisely said: "De gustibus non disputandum est".

Besides, it is precisely to avoid the social rigidities of Germany, Britain etc., that millions of their citizens have migrated to Australia.

Despite my "highbrow" tastes, I personally am most at ease among working class people here in Australia. I think their realism, relaxed attitude and sense of humour is hard to beat.

For Europeans, as the Swiss banker father of a friend of mine once said, Australians are the plebeians of the Western world.

The cliches were presented by the editor-in-chief of the German broadsheet Die Welt, Thomas Schmid, last year in an editorial. He argued that Australia lacks civilisation, everyone is dressed informally, there is a lack of social differentiation and the only thing setting the upper class apart from the middle is its higher income.

It is an empty place with nothing in the middle - in geography nor identity. These are prejudices Australians have had to deal with almost since the arrival of the First Fleet, a fate they shared with other New World societies such as the United States.

One reason was that while on the political spectrum undemocratic Old World societies constituted one end of the scale and democratic New World societies the other, it was the other way round on the cultural spectrum, which ranged from the distinguished, educated European gentleman to the materialistic, uncouth philistines in the colonies.

In Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, the aristocratic Frenchman lamented that the United States - the first and worst example of democratic excess - lacked an aristocratic elite, which made great art and literature possible. He found a "depraved taste for equality which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level" .

In the second half of the 19th century, Australia started looking into matters of a distinctive national identity. It found the bushman, a myth that neatly fitted into the 19th-century intellectual landscape.

It was closely connected to the notion of the "coming man", a reaction against the social snobbery the English middle-class exhibited against the colonials and amplified by Australia's foundation population.

In contrast to this larger and socially inferior group, the colonial gentry did not regard Australia as "home" but kept close and respectable connections to England, and therefore left the creation of a distinctive Australian identity to the less powerful but numerous "lower orders".

The ritual of egalitarianism helped to shape the new order. It is always what people believe that matters, yet while the idealism of the bush hardly claimed more than sentimental commitment, Australia's democracy had a real basis. It was an "egalitarianism of manners".

A highly efficient economy together with a shortage of labour after the discontinuation of the assisted migration scheme produced high standards of living for male workers. They became more independent and self-confident.

They found dignity and did not have to be humble before their "betters". There was no need for "improvement".

The manners of public life were direct, open and non-deferential. In this egalitarianism lie the deeper reasons for the condescending view upon Australia - it devalued the cultural capital of the average European intellectual.

In contrast to mass culture, the consumption of high culture implies certain competencies. We need to be able to decode a piece of art, the ability for which is conveyed by education. This helps social groups to set themselves apart from others which lack these capabilities. Everyone understands mass culture; it does not serve any form of status. Matters are different, however, with "restricted" culture; by a conspicuous refusal of other tastes, a class tries to depict its own lifestyle as something superior.

As a result, in Europe cultural distinctions functioned as social distinctions. Aversions to different lifestyles became one of the strongest barriers between the classes.

In Australia, ordinary men enjoyed "cultural dignity". Claiming to be better than the rest because one could competently talk about art did not suit a society of "common man". Tastes were often shared. Everyone met at the races. This did not mean art was not appreciated; it meant the exchange rate of cultural capital into power was less favourable than in Europe.

The "holy men of culture" and their inimitable nuances of manners and behaviour were confronted by Australia's democracy. This annoyed them to no end. Australia was not only the end of the world, it also became the end of civilisation and of any worthy cultural endeavour.

Take the Englishman John Pringle, for example. In his classic book, Australian Accent, he complains about art being just "part and parcel of the general background of entertainment and recreation".

That was exactly the problem. There was culture in Australia, however it did not not serve a political economy of power as existent in Europe. Artists were just like other people, they even lived in suburbia. Accordingly, they and their work had to be inferior. Australia became the victim of an international version of class discrimination.

It should not pay attention to the knockers. Offended European capital and the cringe should not stand in the way of recognition of its achievements. It should celebrate its achievements more self-consciously, be they culturally, socially or economic.

It survived the global crisis relatively unscathed. It is a vibrant nation in a booming region. It has more to offer than beach, beer and (alleged) crassness.

Australia enjoys culture and democracy in more equal parts. In short, it has every reason to be taken seriously, especially by a tired Europe which increasingly loses meaning on the world stage and faces almost insuperable demographic problems.


Australia's bloated health bureaucracies need to be reduced

You find them here, you find them there, you find them everywhere: the bureaucrats of the Australian health system. The commonwealth definitely has 4400 of them, NSW probably has 30,000 of them and the other states and territories have lesser numbers. In total there are probably about 75,000 in the public hospitals and health system.

As C. J. Dennis observed in The Glugs of Gosh: In every office, on every floor / Are Swanks, and Swanks distracting Swanks, / And Acting Swanks a score, / And coldly distant, sub-assistant / Under Swanks galore

They are omnipresent and a necessary part of making things happen. Sometimes they are necessary to ensure things do not happen. They range from the clerical staff who check you in to any public hospital, they are the specialists' personal assistants and they support the research work done in large teaching hospitals.

There is the vast array of public relations, internal and external communications staff, logistics, financial management and accounting staff and all the clerks who process the Medicare payments, the invoices for which a patient never sees.

The private health sector also employs bureaucrats, but the advantage they have is the flexibility of being outside the rigid industrial relations and management practices of the public services.

In releasing his health reform plan, Kevin Rudd has promised there will be no net increase in the number of bureaucrats. In fact, if Rudd's plans are to succeed, what we need are more nurses and doctors and fewer bureaucrats.

As with the health sector generally, a great deal depends on the definitions of who does what and how they are classified. Bureaucrats spend hours trying to agree on the definitions. There are probably four classes of bureaucrat, however, with plenty of scope for culling:

l). The senior and middle- management level in departments and hospitals across the sector has about 2000 people who could go. The only changes would be a reduction in costs and an improvement in performance. Most hospitals would cheer.

2). The clerical officers who hold a position because ministers had to show something was being done in response to complaints, and there had to be a bureaucrat to do it. There are about 1500 of these and few would be missed.

3). Officials in departments and hospitals who are administering archaic regulations and industrial practices. There are about 3000 of these across the sector. In most cases their functions could be abolished or absorbed elsewhere.

4). The bureaucrats who service a vast array of advisory boards, regulatory, research and consultative committees. A rigorous, honest review would reduce the number of these organisations and thus the number of bureaucrats. Probably between 3000 and 4000 board members and support staff could go.

All up, there may be up to 10,000 bureaucrats (including federal ones) out of 75,000 whose jobs could be eliminated in exchange for increases in the number of health services professionals with appreciable improvements in the way the system would function. Some of these people want to leave but are handcuffed by defined benefits schemes in some states. But any reductions in staff will pose problems for Labor governments because public sector and health unions are powerful.

The Prime Minister's National Health and Hospitals Networks proposals are conceptually attractive. They ignore state borders and would result in clusters of health service centres that would meet a wide range of demands. Combined with other measures, they may also help keep people out of public hospitals.

However, the underlying assumption in the scheme is that all the states are similar. They are not. The differences are starkest between NSW and Victoria as the merger of the Albury and Wodonga hospitals has illustrated.

Unless things change by Monday, the amounts of money requested by the premiers will not flow to the public hospital sector. Yet new money is fundamental to making all this work.

Additionally, Rudd has not specified who will meet the transition costs. These could be substantial even for Victoria, which operates the best public hospital system. In NSW, the transition costs will probably be $800 million to $1 billion between now and 2014.

Meanwhile, to implement the networks, the NSW government will have to dismember most of its existing area health services, introduce significant new accounting and management information systems, expand at an increased pace the new clinical and financial systems to support case-mix and reclassify a large number of the clinical and clerical staff who will remain in the system.

Successfully changing the structure of the head office of the NSW Department of Health, the area health services and the relationships with groups such as the universities that use the system for teaching hospitals will be a gargantuan task. It will mean widespread staff relocations, redeployment where possible into other parts of the already large and costly NSW public service and, ultimately, forced redundancies.

Rudd said at the National Press Club on March 3 these arrangements "will not be allowed to result in any net addition to bureaucracy because, as a condition of funding, any increase in the number of local staff working at Local Hospital Networks must be matched by a reduction in head office staff numbers in health departments and regional bureaucracies".

It was a very courageous commitment, Prime Minister. Worldwide health-sector experiences show that organisational change of this dimension requires consummate management and financial skills. Giving the task to the federal Department of Health will not be a solution as it has not run a public hospital since 1970.

It would not be possible to redeploy NSW Health Department bureaucrats to the commonwealth public service because such transfers are virtually impossible.

If enduring reform is really going to happen, an essential step will be a rigorous assessment of what health departments are doing and why they are doing it. In many of the states' health departments there are a wide range of programs, roles and functions that have accumulated through time. No one would really notice if some quietly disappeared.

If states such as NSW and Queensland are to deliver on the networks and other federal government reforms, they will have to bite the bullet and quickly come back to the fundamental services that are needed to support a public hospital system.

As an ageing Australian I have a fervent interest in ensuring that the policy incapacity and ineptitudes of my generation are not visited on my children and grandchildren by a reluctance now to fund the costs of a high-standard health system in 50 years.


How to hijack a child’s education

The union inspired threat by state school teachers to boycott next month’s literacy and numeracy tests for Queensland children ought to be seen for what it is, wildcat industrial action aimed at sabotaging a policy for which the Rudd Government gained a mandate at the last election.

Queensland Teacher Union president Steve Ryan’s performance on radio this morning justifying this boycott was an example of the sophistry and arrogance that afflicts union officials who believe schools are there for the benefit of teachers rather than for students and their parents.

According to Ryan, the NAPLAN tests “only’’ measure literacy and numeracy, not the whole child. Good to see that the union sees the ability to read, write and count is such a minor part of a child’s school education.

And while this boycott might seem a lot like industrial action to the rest of us, it is nothing of the sort, according to Ryan. It is a “moratorium’’ on supervising the tests.

This action is all about the union’s distaste for a nationally consistent measure of school performance. It has precious little to do with the welfare of Queensland children. It’s unlikely that the union will be able to get away with such nonsense for long, but it would help put a quick end to this ridiculousness if the Bligh Government gained some backbone and opposed this union’s constant efforts to hijack a policy that has the legitimate political endorsement of the Australian electorate.


Prime Minister Rudd invited asylum-seeker boats to Australia, says people smuggler

The surge of asylum seekers flooding into Australian waters was a direct result of the Federal Government's policies, according to the men who send the boats here.

For weeks Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has denied the sharp rise in the number of refugee boats was connected to Labor's decision to overturn the Howard government's hardline Pacific Solution.

But a former people-smuggler now living in Australia, who can only be identified as Shadi, said: "The immigration rules in Australia were changed and everyone knows it and that's why so many are now coming. "Before, the reason it stopped was John Howard absolutely, he deterred some boats by force and Nauru Island where they (boat people) knew they could get stuck for one or two or three years.

"We and the passengers would check the internet daily to see what Canberra was doing and we all knew these things," he told The Courier-Mail.

The Rudd Government tightened Australia's borders on Friday by immediately suspending the processing of asylum claims from Sri Lanka for three months and claims from Afghanistan for six months.

About 50 men, who arrived at Villawood from Christmas Island last month, began a hunger strike late on Sunday, according to advocacy group the Social Justice Network.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday the Government understood Australians were concerned about the influx of boat arrivals.

The Government will decide whether to extend the bans after the suspension period ends. But Mr Smith was forced to deny this amounted to indefinite detention, or a stripping away of human rights.

He said under the Howard Government "very many people (were) on very, very long periods of indefinite detention – years, not months". "We want to, once processing starts, process people expeditiously," he told the Nine Network.

"We don't want to return to the bad old days where people are left in the wilderness for years and where people are effectively vilified for exercising their rights under the refugee convention."

His comments came as authorities intercepted another boatload of 25 asylum seekers on their way to Australia yesterday. A large flotilla of boats is expected to leave from the Indonesian archipelago within days.

Authorities have identified at least 15 people-smuggling gangs in Malaysia and Indonesia, who have mobilised hundreds of refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka.


The "green" reality behind the huge NSW electricity price rises

The NSW government faces rapidly increased demand due to the Federal government's breakneck intake of immigrants so how are they going to cope with that? Increase the supply by building more power stations? No way! The Greenies would have a fit and would block construction until Kingdom Come.

So the government is going to cut down demand. How? By making electricity so dear that most families will be forced to use less of it -- which will have the Greenies rubbing their hands with glee. And the whole process will be repeated to some degree nationwide, depending on how much reserve capacity each State has

BIG businesses in NSW have been spared the crippling 64 per cent increase in power bills that families and small businesses will be forced to pay.

The NSW State Government has even set the terms of reference for independent body that oversees regulation in the power industry so that the hefty rise does not even apply to itself, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Big businesses such as mining company Cadia Valley Operations, which uses almost 1 per cent of the state's power, and power-guzzling supermarkets Woolworths and Coles will also be unaffected by the electricity price hike.

Meanwhile, families in NSW will be paying up to $918 extra a year on their power bill.

Power for the Government buildings and big businesses is set through a competitive contract, meaning bureaucrats and businesses can secure the cheapest deal.

Around the nation, the price of electricity is also likely to keep rising, the Federal Government says. In an opinion piece last month, the Federal Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, Martin Ferguson, admitted that hikes to electricity prices are inevitable.

He put this down to the costs of "increased investment in electricity networks, investment that is critical to guarantee supply reliability."

Mr Ferguson added: "The fact is, state and territory regulators are now fronting up to necessary price increases, most recently the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) in NSW...and earlier in Western Australia."

In NSW, IPART granted the state's three electricity retailer-distributors average annual price rises of between $557 and $918 per household.

The Western Australian Government announced last year that electricity prices would increase by about 18 per cent. Other states would face increases of a similar magnitude, an expert told ABC.

"You would expect that all of the states should pay a similar price," International Energy Consultants managing director, John Morris, said. "There'll be variations from state to state, maybe plus or minus 5 or 10 per cent."

NSW Energy Minister John Robertson said yesterday households were free to select an electricity retailer and negotiate a better price with a different retailer in the same way big business could.

Opposition Energy spokesman Duncan Gay said the benefits for homeowners in switching retailers was only tiny and that they were being punished more by the increase than were big business and the government sector.

"Imagine the outcry there would be if shoppers could only choose between shopping at Woolworths or Coles," Mr Gay said.


12 April, 2010

Teachers' union wants censorship of school information

THE Australian Education Union is preparing its position against next month's National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy tests.

There is a distinct possibility of a national boycott. Such a move will be a direct challenge to Education Minister Julia Gillard's resolve. She must hold the line on NAPLAN and the availability of data on the MySchool website.

At the centre of the mooted boycott of the NAPLAN tests, scheduled to roll out across the country from May 11 to 13, is one pressing issue. This is how data collected by the government can be used in league tables. Next Wednesday in Hobart, the Tasmanian branch of the AEU will ask members for a decision on the boycott. It is expected to pass. This will give momentum to the national AEU push for a boycott.

Already, the industrial journals of the AEU are using combative language. In last month's issue of Public Education Voice, the official journal of the AEU's ACT branch, the following call to arms summarises the union position:

"As our union has been called upon in the past, we are once more called upon to stand proudly for the principles of our profession against the political expediency and indeed stupidity of our political representatives . . ."

But besides the battle cry of the AEU, Gillard is coming under increasing pressure to change the MySchool website. Last month, talks were undertaken between the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, which developed the MySchool website, and the AEU to see how they could placate teachers threatening to boycott.

As a measure of the AEU angst towards the accountability of school performance the MySchool website enables, Jo Earp, editor of Australian Teacher Magazine, had this to say in an editorial headed "Rank smell of unwanted website" in the March edition: "It is hard to gauge how Gillard would deal with a teacher boycott of NAPLAN testing, as she remains tight-lipped on the legal options open to her, but it seems highly unlikely that the stalemate will be broken."

At the centre of the AEU opposition to the My School website is the issue of alleged misuse of the data and league tables. According to AEU Victorian president Mary Bluett, "All that's being sought is a protection of the data and that it not be, in our view, misused to generate unfair league tables."

This position presents what amounts to a direct attack on the availability of information to parents and the media. Data protection must be resisted. It is a form of censorship that denies parents data they should be able to access.

It is, however, seemingly acceptable to make school comparison information available to the AEU but not elsewhere. Why else would AEU Tasmanian president Leanne Wright say last month of the NAPLAN results, "To a point they can be useful for teachers because they give an overall indication of how things are going"?

Being useful to teachers does not include being useful to parents, it seems.

It is not just the AEU that is against providing the specifics to parents. Responding to the MySchool website, Viewpoint, the March newsletter of the Victorian Independent Education Union, asked that "reporting of students' average scores be replaced with a graphical representation of relative performance or an alternative proxy such as percentage achievement above minimum benchmarks". This is nothing more than data protection by stealth.

But beyond the persistent claims by the AEU and its federal president Angelo Gavrielatos that the MySchool website data is "invalid", it is curious that parents are overwhelmingly in favour of not less data being available but more.

In a survey before the launch of the website, more than 90 per cent of polled parents believed they had a right to know how their school compared with others.

Still, calls for legally binding conditions pertaining to use of the MySchool data are reason for concern. While it is arguable that organisations should be prevented from collating the MySchool data and selling it to parents, as one organisation did on the website's launch, the media should not be prevented from making information available in whatever form it chooses.

To restrict this is tantamount to a union, at best an unrepresentative body in community terms, choosing what the public should and should not be able to access.

What the AEU persists in doing is trafficking in false information, generating an unreasonable fear about whether league tables will show some schools to be better than others and that sinking schools will be exposed.

If this logic is taken further, it is acceptable for poorly performing schools to continue to fail their students as long as people do not know. This is data protection.

What Gillard must resist, on all counts, are calls for legislation restricting the free availability of comprehensive data generated from the NAPLAN test results and posted on the MySchool website. She must also hold the line against the kind of criticism made by Waleed Aly in the April edition of The Monthly.

In a comment piece on the new national curriculum, Aly, not known as an educationalist but as a lecturer in politics at Monash University, takes aim at Gillard's "meat and potatoes curriculum", which he says is distinguished by "common sense" and "practicality" that amounts to "a very conservative revolution indeed. [John] Howard with a smile."

It may be conservative to measure children, tell parents how their schools are going in comparison with others and offer a curriculum that gives children the kinds of content that it is utilitarian rather than ideological.

But it is the kind of conservatism we need. This is why the Education Minister must stare down her opponents, protect the school performance principles that parents broadly share and provide accessible data on schools for all. SOURCE

Asylum claim freeze won't stop the boats coming to Australia, admits Foreign Minister

More than 20 extra Australian Federal Police officers are expected to fly to Christmas Island to quell possible disturbances as authorities intercepted the first asylum-seekers to fall victim to the Rudd government's suspension of new refugee claims.

Four boats carrying more than 230 people have been intercepted since Immigration Minister Chris Evans announced on Friday a six-month suspension of all new Afghan asylum claims, and a three-month suspension for Sri Lankan claims.

A boat carrying 25 passengers, understood to be predominantly Afghans, was stopped by Customs and Border Protection personnel yesterday near Browse Island, off Western Australia's north coast. Later yesterday, another vessel, this time carrying 30 passengers and four crew, was intercepted by the navy in the Ashmore Islands, also off WA's north coast.

As the interceptions were occurring, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith conceded the policy changes were unlikely to have any immediate impact. "We're not asserting or suggesting this will stop the flow of boats in the short term," he said.

Tony Abbott continued the Coalition attack on the asylum claims freeze, labelling it a stunt to get the government through the federal election.

Yesterday's arrival may be the first boat to be affected by the suspension, which was designed to send a signal to asylum-seekers and people-smugglers that Australia is not a soft touch. It was not known if the passengers aboard the boat had been told of the policy changes, which will ensure a minimum six-month stay in detention should they proceed with refugee claims.

But in a clear sign authorities are concerned the policy shift could trigger violence in the detention centre, the AFP yesterday moved to boost its presence on Christmas Island. The Australian understands an extra 24 officers were due to fly in yesterday, but were delayed by poor weather. They will join the 17 officers understood to have flown in on Friday, plus a smaller contingent that arrived on Saturday.

On Friday, the officers held a meeting with senior immigration officials before unpacking riot gear, including shields. A freight plane that arrived on Christmas Island on Saturday is understood to have included tear gas, rifles and ammunition.

The insignia worn by some of the officers suggests they are members of the elite Operational Response Group, the AFP's offshore tactical unit.

However, there was no trouble at any of the island's detention centres yesterday. Afghans and Sri Lankans were told through interpreters on Friday that the claims decision would not affect their cases, although many are worried that their chances of being granted asylum are less hopeful if the government believes conditions are improving in their home countries.

Refugee Immigration and Legal Centre co-ordinator David Manne, who is on Christmas Island visiting asylum-seeker clients, said the announcement had created considerable confusion and anxiety among detainees. "For those not caught by the freeze, they are still finding it difficult to believe there won't be a negative impact on their cases as well," he said. "Some asylum-seekers sense there's a potentially serous misunderstanding and trivialisation of the grave dangers they believe they would face if they returned to Afghanistan."

The Immigration Department said yesterday there were 2162 detainees on Christmas Island, well above the official operating capacity of 2040. To ease the pressure, the department is trying to install new accommodation that would supply an extra 400 beds on the island, and a charter flight with a seating capacity of 177 is expected to leave today.

But with 202 intercepted asylum-seekers and crew en route to the island, combined with the bottleneck on new asylum claims looming due to the freeze, a spill to the mainland is considered virtually inevitable.

Mr Smith admitted yesterday there was little prospect the suspension of claims would have any immediate impact on the number of boats arriving, which has been steadily increasing. "But it does send a message to the people-smugglers, and to their potential prey, that if you come to Australia from Sri Lanka or from Afghanistan, there'll be a three-month or six-month pause, and you will not be guaranteed a visa."

Mr Smith denied the government had effectively consigned new asylum-seekers to indefinite detention, a fate Senator Evans described in February as worse than prison. "Once processing resumes, none of the rights that are currently accorded or afforded to them will be taken away from them," Mr Smith said.

The Opposition Leader said of the freeze: "They're trying to say you won't be processed for three months or for six months, but let's face it, people were waiting months on Christmas Island anyway." But Mr Abbott declined to say if a Coalition government would maintain the freeze should it win the federal election, which is expected in coming months.

A spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, Teuku Faizasyah, offered tacit support for the measures, but said they were a matter for Australia. "In the broader perspective, any measure that prevents people from travelling illegally will suit any country in the region," he said.


Tim Dunlop is pretty rubbery on immigration

Tim is a fairer Leftist than most and he quite logically shows that Australians are not critical of illegal immigrants because of racism. Few countries have accepted more immigrants per head from all over the world than Australia has.

So what is Tim's comment on the open door to illegals which Prime Minister Rudd has been holding open but has now shut until the election?

Tim thinks Rudd is a spineless waffler and who am I to disagree with that? But the idea that an open door to illegals could be "sold" to the Australian population is preposterous. Tim below:

Arguments that equate a desire to control immigration with racism are often mounted by those who wish to assert their own purity against a straw man. The truth is, there is nothing inherently racist about wanting to control your borders and there is nothing unique about the way Australians react to the issue.

In fact, Australians have been as good as anyone about accepting people from overseas. That much of the concern, when it arises, is focussed on those who arrive by boat is hardly surprising. Not only does the sensationalist media spotlight boat arrivals and grossly exaggerate what is happening, but one of our major parties, the Liberal-National Coalition, viciously exploits the issue for political gain. This may tap into the racist feeling of some (it's not as if no-one is a racist ever) but it is more likely to be tapping into a range of other concerns, from jobs to the environment to national sovereignty.

In the face of misinformation from influential sections of Australian society, the only workable solution is a long and consistent campaign of pushback, of countering lies with facts and of standing up for the principle of dealing justly with asylum seekers while not dismissing as racist anyone who wants to place limits on our overall intake. The reason the Opposition can exploit the issue is at least in part because the Labor Party (in and out of government) is incapable of sustaining such an argument. The fact that, at the moment, Labor is led by a moral coward of the magnitutde of Kevin Rudd makes things especially difficult.

No-one should underestimate the difficulties for any PM dealing with this matter. As I say, influential forces within society are thrilled to use the subject as a way of delegitisimng a Labor government. And there are genuine concerns out there about population growth. But when the PM is as singularly weak as Kevin Rudd it is almost certain that Labor will capitulate in the face of a scare campaign.

It needn't be this way. During the hysteria over Tampa, independent MP, Peter Andren refused to countenance the fear mongering, went into his electorate and made the case for acceptance of asylum seekers. According to the Australians-are-racist crowd, not to mention the jelly-backs who run Labor's campaigning, this should have meant disaster for Andren. Fact is, though, he was reelected with an increased majority.

So the hysteria and lies can be fought if you have the spine to do it. Unfortunately, Kevin Rudd doesn't.



Three current reports below:

Rudd vows to repeat the British disaster

The introduction of 4 hour "targets" in the NHS has led to appallingly rushed and negligent treatment, with many needless deaths and much suffering resulting

AUSTRALIANS would wait no more than four hours for medical attention in hospital emergency departments in an ambitious bid by the federal government to halve existing waiting periods.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will today announce a $500 million injection for emergency departments but only if the states sign up to his health reform plan.

And in a boost for Queensland the government announced yesterday it would spend $22 million on clinical training to entice graduates to take up jobs in the cities and towns in which they have studied.

Under the new target, public hospitals will be required to ensure people are admitted to hospital, referred for follow-up treatment or treated and discharged within four hours.

Government figures show about 600,000 people each year - or one in three patients - wait for more than eight hours in emergency departments before being seen.

Two-thirds wait for longer than is clinically recommended before they receive medical attention.

The $500 million will pay for an extra 1.2 million consultations. Hospitals that reach or exceed the new four-hour target will receive reward payments. Doctors say the reason is not a lack of staff but a shortage of available hospital beds.

The Australian Medical Association wants 85 per cent of beds to be occupied at any given time so there is space for people brought into emergency departments. No emergency department in metropolitan Sydney had that capacity last year, according to the association's report card on public hospitals.

The AMA will be wary of praising the move unless there is a specific commitment to funding more beds.

The announcement is the first of several expected to be made this week as Mr Rudd pushes the states to sign up to his health reform plan. Announcements on elective surgery, aged care, primary care and mental health are also expected. But consumer-friendly announcements such as that on emergency waiting times will only happen if the states sign up to the PM's reform plan.

Mr Rudd will meet state and territory leaders at a Council of Australian Governments meeting on April 19 in a showdown over the plan, which would lead to the Commonwealth becoming the main funder of hospitals and the only funder of outpatient services. The Commonwealth would lift its share of hospital funding from an existing 40 per cent to 60 per cent.

But the states would lose one- third of their revenue from the GST. That would go to local health networks that would be responsible for the day-to-day running of hospitals.

The plan is being strongly opposed by Victorian Premier John Brumby who wants the states to keep GST revenue, while the Commonwealth raises its share of funding from 40 to 50 per cent.

Mr Rudd is insisting the states give him an answer on his plan at the COAG meeting. If they knock it back, he has threatened to hold a referendum on the issue either at or before the next federal election.


Rudd health reforms 'bizarre', says Reserve Bank board member Roger Corbett

Corbett was a brilliantly successful manager at Woolworths so his grip on reality is undoubted

RESERVE Bank board member Roger Corbett has attacked Kevin Rudd's hospital reform plan as "bizarre", and a "formula for disaster", as the Prime Minister today prepares to release a $739 million injection to aged-care services as a sweetener to break the deadlock with the states.

The former Woolworths chief executive, who chairs the Westmead Children's Hospital in Sydney's west, described the plan as "almost grotesque" and praised Victorian Premier John Brumby and Kristina Keneally of NSW for resisting elements of the blueprint, arguing it would not end the blame game and would add to confusion.

"It's not going to resolve anything. In fact, it's conceivably going to significantly worsen the situation," Mr Corbett told the Seven Network.

His intervention comes as negotiations between the premiers and Mr Rudd enter a final week ahead of next Monday's Council of Australian Government's meeting.

The Prime Minister will today unveil a $739m package supporting 5000 aged-care places. The announcement will increase pressure on Mr Brumby, who last week issued a rival blueprint rejecting Mr Rudd's planned hospital takeover in favour of a 50-50 funding model and continued state control.

In Brisbane yesterday, Mr Rudd again pressed premiers to sign up next week. "I believe that working families, pensioners, carers right across the country have already reached a conclusion that the current system is not good enough," he said. "It needs to be improved." [But how?]

But Mr Brumby attacked Mr Rudd for releasing the package one element at a time. "It would have been better to deal with the whole health system in one go rather than in bits and pieces," Mr Brumby said. "I don't believe you can separate it out." Mr Brumby said the Prime Minister must put more money on the table for the states to agree to his plan.

In today's announcement, the commonwealth will offer to take full funding and policy responsibility for aged care, including home and community care currently provided by the states, to enable a nationally consistent aged-care system. Mr Rudd will offer the states $280m to fund older people who occupy hospital beds while waiting to get into aged-care facilities, which in 2006 numbered 2400.

The package also includes $143m for providing zero real interest loans to aged-care providers to support development of 2500 new aged-care places. It promises to work with the states to release more land and accelerate planning approvals to enable aged-care homes to become operational more quickly.

Incentives will be provided to general practitioners to increase services to people in aged-care homes, in a $96m plan over four years.

It is estimated that 27,000 hospital admissions a year could be avoided through better GP care in aged-care homes.

State premiers have been demanding key detail on the federal government's plans for aged care since Mr Rudd unveiled his $50 billion public hospitals reform plan last month.

But Mr Corbett told Seven aged care was a prime example of why the hospitals reform plan should be opposed. "If you're involved with aged parents and trying to navigate your way through those services, they are hopelessly unco-ordinated and, I think, a national disgrace run by, I might say, the federal government." Mr Corbett said Mr Rudd's planned local area hospital networks would only add to confusion and lead to more public servants.

Mr Rudd's aged-care instalment will add to a string of big bang announcements from the commonwealth in the past few weeks, including the weekend's $500m funding injection to cut waiting times in emergency departments to a maximum four hours and $500m to treat diabetes.

"I would say to any premier or chief minister who thinks that their system is currently good enough and doesn't need to be improved, to go and have a long, long conversation with people currently queuing for attention at the emergency departments of their hospital this morning," Mr Rudd said.

Claiming the biggest shake-up to the healthcare system since Medicare, Mr Rudd has proposed that the federal government contribute 60 per cent of public hospitals funding in return for clawing back 30 per cent of the GST. The government has threatened a referendum for a full commonwealth takeover of health if the states fail to agree to the plan. [Contested referenda are always lost in Australia so that is an empty threat. Rudd would be the big loser]

Tony Abbott yesterday accused Mr Rudd of throwing money at problems. "It seems that the Prime Minister is throwing money at problems in a transparent attempt to bribe the state governments to sign up to his plan," the Opposition Leader said.


Horror rooms in rundown NSW government hospital

RELATIVES of critically ill patients at one of Sydney's biggest hospitals are being housed in a rundown building infested with rats and cockroaches and surrounded by smashed bottles and rubbish.

Walkways in the desolate accommodation block at Liverpool Hospital are littered with bags of wet, dirty linen, discarded shopping trolleys, bird nests and rat droppings.

One section of wall on the third floor at Ron Dunbier House has been demolished and is blocked only with a piece of masonite, studded with long nails, propped on its side.

Fly screens have been ripped from their frames and are covered in cobwebs. A wire fence between the units and the busy freight rail line, about 15 metres away, has been forced open and the area is littered with broken beer bottles, plastic food containers, discarded chairs and soft drink cans. Grass has grown over much of the rubbish and lights have been smashed by vandals.

Desma Manyweathers paid $34 for two nights' accommodation, plus a $40 deposit, when her husband was admitted to the intensive-care unit, but refused to stay after viewing her room. "This place is virtually derelict, dangerous and dirty, she said. "Inside my unit, the microwave has dried food in it, the lights are broken, the phone is covered in grease and the shower is rusty and full of filth."

Cupboards and drawers were mouldy, the stove was dirty and the ceiling leaked. "Unless you are used to living in a hovel, you could not live there," she said.

Mrs Manyweathers spent her first night at the hospital sleeping across chairs near the intensive-care unit but has since moved to a motel in Casula, which costs her $74 a night. She also pays $32 a day to take taxis to and from the hospital.

Her husband Bill, who has bowel cancer and internal bleeding, has been told he may not be discharged from the hospital for weeks but she fears she will not be able to afford to stay near him. She said staff had expressed surprise the block was still being used to house relatives as gangs of youths carrying knives were regularly chased from the units.

"I can't afford to stay in a motel but I can't stay here either," she said. "I don't know any woman who would feel safe here on her own."

The hospital is undergoing a $390million upgrade but the ageing accommodation block will not be rebuilt.

A hospital spokeswoman said maintenance was undertaken "as required" and staff would respond to urgent requests. All rooms were cleaned before and after they were used and a full-time cleaner worked in the building each day, she said.


11 April, 2010

Grouch and grumble: Bring back Bex

I am a terrible skeptic. I don't believe in Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Karl Marx, Barack Obama, global warming, the benefits of a low-fat diet or the evils of obesity. And I put plenty of salt on my fries. So I guess it should be no surprise that I don't believe in the evils of Bex either -- though I know that that is going to raise a few eyebrows.

Let's start from the present: If you have got aches and pains these days, your doctor will always recommend paracetamol (acetaminophen) -- because it is "safer" than apririn. That paracetamol can destroy your liver while aspirin only causes microscopic stomach bleeding seems not to be considered.

Australia used to have an over-the-counter pharmaceutical called Bex, which was hugely popular in Australia, particularly among Australian women. It contained aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine. Everybody knows about two of those ingredients but guess what phenacetin was? It was a analgesic known since the 19th century which broke down in your body to -- wait for it -- paracetamol.

But the do-gooders condemned Bex because it was so popular. It was so popular that some people would go through a whole box (12 powders) in a couple of days. There were labels on the packet telling you not to do that -- saying that long-term heavy usage was harmful but what the heck!

The particular harm that Bex did was thought to come from the phenacetin: A tiny percentage of users -- very heavy users -- got kidney failure and Australia had the world's highest incidence of kidney failure. So the Becker company was told to convert their powders to aspirin only.

The customers however thought that the new Bex was "not the same" so stopped buying it and it is no longer produced. So what's the problem with that?

One problem is that many Bex users went onto Valium instead -- with its attendant risk of making you drowsy when you're driving. So did the ban on Bex kill people in road accidents? Probably.

But the main problem is that something was taken away from people which they found very beneficial -- all because a tiny minority misused it. You can misuse anything by taking it in excess -- even water can kill you if drink too much of it. Google "hyponatremia" if you doubt it. So should we ban water? They would if they could, I suspect.

So why did Australian housewives like Bex so much? Because it gave them a small lift while taking their aches and pains away. They would come home from their shopping, make themselves a cup of tea, take a Bex then have "a good lie down". And after their nap they would wake up refreshed ready to deal with the rest of the day.

That was however only one use of Bex. You basically took Bex for ANY aches and pains. It kept a lot of people away from the doctor when they had colds and flu, for instance.

And a VERY important use of Bex was as an early treatment for what is still a dreaded and all too common ailment: migraines. Migraine sufferers generally get some warning when a migraine is due to strike, an aura, jaw stiffening etc. And as soon as anybody prone to migraines felt the slightest suspicion that one was about to strike, they would grab their nearby packet of Bex and slam one into themselves quick smart. And it did help. If you got the Bex into yourself straight away, the migraine would either not develop or would be less severe than a full-blown attack.

I know an old lady now in her 90s who was prone to migraines in her youth (migraines in women tend to stop after menopause) and she took a LOT of Bex. AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HER KIDNEYS. She would hardly be around at age 92 if there were. So let me note again that it was only a tiny minority of Bex users who got problems from it.

It is true that soluble aspirin can also help with migraines if you take it quickly enough but I suspect that Bex did a better job. I am of the Bex generation. I took it on rare occasions when I had a headache (which I rarely do). And I certainly remember fewer complaints about migraines back then than I hear now. That's pure anecdote of course and Bex probably didn't help all migraine sufferers, but why not test it out properly? Nobody seems to have done so. The simple-minded do-gooders who always know better than ourselves what is good for us just banned it.

Now here's the final kicker: Something that is often prescribed for aches and pains these days is NSAIDS (Ibuprofen etc.). And guess what is a major side effects of NSAIDS? Kidney damage. NSAIDS are hundreds of times more toxic to the kidneys than Bex ever was. So let's ban NSAIDS!

Sometimes the wisdom of the past WAS better than the wisdom of the present.

UPDATE: I suspected that APC preparations such as Bex and Vincent's were not unique to Australia but could find no mention of it. The following comment from a reader does however confirm my speculation:
"Bex... It contained aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine"

Ah yes, the APC pill. I first encountered them when I enlisted in the US Army, 1965. Wonderful, knocked out a headache in fifteen minutes vs the sixty-to-ninety of plain aspirin.

While a prescription drug outside the Armed Services, they were handed out by orderlies more readily than a stick of chewing gum. Now entirely illegal to manufacture in combination.

Sydney's Lebanese Muslim problem

The report excerpted below is authored by a Leftist do-gooder but some reality even gets through to him

The new story in Sydney is the blood trail in the past decade and more spelling out names such as Karam, Assoum, Sande and Chehade.

Sydney has Australia's largest proportion of Middle Eastern-born residents, but in a city of more than four million people they still number only about 120,000. Undeniably the community is disproportionately represented in criminal activity.

You only need to go to the jails to see what NSW prison's officers have come to call their "Gaza Strip".

Inmates of Middle Eastern background are crowding most areas of serious crime. According to Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham, the numbers continue to grow, as do management difficulties. Woodham says they are particularly adept at corrupting his officers.

The next example of disproportion is the number of police assigned to the specialist Middle Eastern Crime Squad. It is the largest in the NSW Police, with up to 120 personnel.

Most of Sydney's Middle Eastern-born residents come from Lebanon, drawn from successive waves of migration - but, as is often pointed out, the trouble is less with these citizens as with their sons and grandsons.

Chief Superintendent Ken McKay, the straight-talking Director of State Crime Command, has made a lot of arrests and, he says, in three years not one of them was a foreign national.

An Arabic cultural expert who advises police and prefers not to be named links most of the crime to a third wave of migration between 1978 and 1982 - fallout from a vicious civil war.

While the generalisation has its limits, many of these newcomers had not regarded Australia as a first choice, seeing the move as temporary. As a result there was less of an effort to assimilate and learn the language.

They settled, as migrants do, in areas where they could find familiar faces, replicating family and village structures in suburbs like Punchbowl and Auburn.

While earlier waves of refugees, better-educated and eager to embrace a new life, had prospered, many in this newer cohort saw a different horizon. They were inclined to mark time. Life moved on, children were born and it soon became clear there was little to go back to.

By then their children were adolescents who had assumed uncommon power. They were the ones to fill out the forms and help mum with the banking. They became a disconnected subculture, a product of a collision of history and geography.

When I worked on a Four Corners investigation into organised car theft I was introduced to this generation. Many were skilled backyard mechanics. Back in Lebanon there is a massive industry in rebuilding cars.

In Beirut, a young man explained, there was little opportunity for schooling and plenty of time to learn how to reconstruct Toyota Landcruisers from an Aladdin's Cave of parts sourced from as far afield as Australia.

By the 1990s southwest Sydney had become an automotive Bermuda Triangle. Large families from small communities helped form gangs that stole to order.

When George Elfar fled to Jordan in 1991 he remained in contact with son Andrew, who helped continue the business. Some members of the Elhassan family were also caught riveted to an industrial-strength scam.

A BMW carjacked in William St was one of many vehicles traced through a jumble of parts found in a container bound for Lebanon. It soon became clear how Brian Elhassan, a celebrity on the show car circuit, could afford to gold-plate the wheels of his Subaru WRX.

Last year 18 members from two more groups formed around some members of two families. It was alleged in court they were rebirthing vehicles, using parts stolen to order.

Police have identified more family-based operations believed to be doing the same. While auto crime is a speciality, as with many ethnic crime groups there is energetic diversification. And as usual drugs are the main attraction.

After Bill Bayeh was busted for heroin and cocaine supply in the late 1990s there was a rush to succeed the deposed king. Danny Karam and Michael Kanaan stepped up, then fell out. Karam was shot dead. Kanaan joined Bayeh in jail.

Further west, there was a long-running feud, with tit-for-tat shootings early this decade started by rivals Adnan "Eddie" Darwiche and Bilal Razzak.

Police made 1100 arrests and laid 2400 charges in the space of one year as they tried to stop the ensuing war....

I would like to say this particular crime wave will, like so many others, soon recede. But that is unlikely. Jails breed a kind of barbed wire psychosis, organising young men into crime networks such as the Muslim Brotherhood Movement.

Recruitment into outlaw motorcycle gangs has altered the accent, let alone character, of the bikie movement.

Worst of all, there is a widespread belief within this community that they are being persecuted by law enforcement. This marginalisation serves to increase the pain for all of us.


Greenies could die of lead poisoning

They already drink a lot of birdshit so what's a little lead? In the old days when Australian country people HAD to use tank water, they used it to make tea, which is, of course, boiled first. But even that won't remove lead. But the lead probably comes from city pollution so that was an unlikely problem for them

PEOPLE who drink from their rainwater tanks may be consuming unacceptable levels of lead, a study says. Scientists from the University of Technology, Sydney, assessed the quality of water stored in household tanks around the city and found that five of the 11 tanks contained lead levels exceeding 0.01 milligrams a litre - the amount considered safe in drinking water by the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

They also found the turbidity, or murkiness, of the water exceeded acceptable levels, as did the pH levels in some tanks.

A lead researcher, Benjamin Kus, said the results of their study confirmed past research that had also found rainwater tanks could accumulate higher than acceptable levels of lead and other pollutants.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 16 per cent of households use rainwater tanks, and more than three-quarters of them use the tanks as their main source of drinking water.

The scientists believe high levels of lead and murky water were making their way into rainwater tanks because not enough of the initial roof run-off was being discarded before water entered the tank. The roof run-off, or first flush, was often the most polluted water and was collected in a pipe attached to the tank, they said.

Mr Kus said most first-flush devices collected about 12 litres to 20 litres of roof run-off but there were no exact calculations on how much first flush should be collected. He also said the exact source of the lead was not known.

In an additional study Mr Kus and his colleagues collected water that flowed into the tank from the roof to determine how much water needed to be bypassed before it was safe to drink.

They found that for an average roof - about 250 square metres - the first 1250 litres of water needed to be bypassed before the levels of lead and the turbidity of the water were acceptable for drinking.

According to drinking water guidelines, published by the National Health and Medical Research Council, lead that is absorbed into the body can make its way to the kidney, liver and bone marrow. Lead is a cumulative poison that can severely affect the central nervous system, and can persist in bone for up to 30 years.

The implications of the study are especially relevant to people living outside metropolitan areas, where rainwater tanks are often the principal source of water. More than 30 per cent of non-capital city households use rainwater tanks, according to the Bureau of Statistics.

In NSW there are no restrictions against the use of rainwater for drinking. However, NSW Health recommends that, where available, people should use the public water supply for drinking and cooking because it is filtered, disinfected and generally fluoridated.

Maintenance of tanks is the responsibility of the owner or user of the tank.

A civil engineer and co- author of the studies, Jaya Kandasamy, said bypassing large amounts of roof run-off water was not ideal in drought-affected countries such as Australia, especially when households were installing rainwater tanks to conserve water. Tank water should be treated or filtered, Dr Kandasamy said.

The study, published in the journal Water Science and Technology, found the levels of other heavy metals, salts and minerals in the tank water were acceptable for drinking.


Throw away the key: worst of worst to stay locked up in NSW jails

This would be a great step forward in protecting the community -- as long as appeal processes against wrongful convictions remain available.

Premier Keneally, below, is American. So she comes from a place known for very long jail sentences. The short sentences usually handed down by Australian judges must be a wonder to her

THE state's worst murderers and violent criminals will be kept behind bars after their sentences have finished under a radical plan by the NSW government that will target prisoners who resist rehabilitation.

Premier Kristina Keneally will today order Corrective Services to begin an audit of the 750 "worst of the worst" prisoners in NSW.

Prisoners refusing rehabilitation programs or judged not to have taken responsibility for their crimes will be detained indefinitely under new powers. The plan will build on the Crimes (Serious Sex Offenders) Act, which provides for the extended detention and strict monitoring of rapists and sexual offenders.

Extended Supervision Orders would be expanded to keep murderers and violent criminals caged in the same way as sex offenders.

Prisoners such as Motekiai Taufahema, who murdered Senior Constable Glenn McEnally in 2002 and is due for release in two years, could be locked up for longer if he is deemed not to have reformed.

It is thought more than 50 inmates could expect to be locked up beyond the end of their sentences after the review is completed. Ms Keneally said: "This is about sending a message to the worst prisoners: 'If you don't do the rehabilitation, you know what? You won't get out.'

"Those prisoners who do the right thing will not be impacted by this review … but those refusing to take responsibility for their actions will be identified."

Civil libertarians said the plan undermined the justice system and would deter prisoners from rehabilitation if their sentences were effectively meaningless.

NSW Council of Civil Liberties secretary Stephen Blanks said: "The rule of law requires politicians to set the framework of justice and for judges to deliver sentences away from political influence.

"The prison system is there to encourage prisoners to reform but, if they know they can effectively be re-sentenced by the government, there is no incentive to reform."


The open door through which one in 20 Australians came

Comment by Andrew Bolt

Andrew Norton says one fast-increasing category of immigrants is slipping in under the radar:
Under a rule-based system, if you meet its criteria you can come to Australia, with no restrictions on total numbers…

There were big increases [between 2001 and 2009] in rule-based long-term visas for students and for people coming to Australia to work, the section 457 visas. A lot of people also came to Australia on working holiday visas.

They were added to another more long-standing group of people with residence rights in Australia, New Zealanders. New Zealand is also a ‘back door’ route to permanent entry to Australia, with about 30% of the ‘New Zealanders’ taking up residence in Australia being born somewhere else.

Put all these rights-based migrants together, and there were about 1.2 million of them in mid-2009.
One in 20 of us. Come in under an uncapped category. Norton puts much blame on Howard.


10 April, 2010

Too good to be true?

By Robert Carling

That Australia’s economy performed better than many others during the recent global financial crisis is beyond doubt, but a stronger claim is often made in public commentary – that Australia avoided a recession. If such a miraculous escape from the realities of globalisation seems too good to be true, perhaps that’s because it isn’t true.

The claim that we had no recession rests on the definition of recession as two or more consecutive quarters’ decline in real gross domestic product (GDP). This definition is too rigid and arbitrary and its genesis does not justify the weight now given to it. It dates back to a 1974 New York Times article in which an economic statistician suggested ‘two down quarters of GDP’ as one among several rules of thumb for identifying a recession.

Identifying turning points in the business cycle is a task that requires a balanced assessment of a range of economic indicators. Real GDP is subject to significant measurement error and moves unevenly from quarter to quarter rather than smoothly up or down. Even then, real GDP per capita is more meaningful in the context of Australia’s brisk population growth.

Australia did not have two consecutive quarterly declines in real GDP, but on a broader and more balanced assessment we did have a recession, albeit a brief and shallow one. Employment declined for six months; total hours worked fell for 12 months by a total of 2.4%; the unemployment rate rose by 1.6 percentage points in less than a year; and business investment and home building activity contracted sharply.

This argument is not merely an academic quibble after the event. Even though the quantitative margin between having a recession and not having one was small, the qualitative difference between those outcomes is immense. If the assertion that Australia avoided a recession goes unchallenged and becomes woven into the annals of economic management, aggressive fiscal stimulus will be viewed in a more favourable light than it deserves, and is more likely to be repeated in future downturns.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated April 9. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Another triumph of airline security

SECURITY at one of the major regional airports in the Australian state of NSW is under scrutiny after a secure entrance was found to have a secret PIN code posted clearly on a gate.

Federal Government officials will next week review security at Dubbo airport in the state's Central West after it was alerted to the blatant breach of security.

A photograph of the secure entrance showed the code written on a piece of paper taped to the gate. The note, headlined "Gate Access Code," revealed the code and advised people to "please touch pad softly" and "remember code to re-enter."

A Daily Telegraph reader spotted the code posted on the back of the general aviation entrance gate at the airport. The reader said anyone with a mirror or a camera phone could get the PIN.

A spokesman for Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said the posting of access codes on the gate was "not acceptable." "We expect the urgent implementation of better arrangements," he said.

Dubbo City Council corporate development director Megan Dixon said the access code was changed on Tuesday after the airport was made aware of the potential for a security breach.

She said the PIN code was signposted on the gate to allow "itinerant airport workers who have security clearance to use this gate." "We had a security audit last year, which we passed." [Now that's a REAL worry!]


Health bureuacrats party while health workers go unpaid

Just the sort of contempt for the public and irresponsibility that one expects from government health bureaucrats. At least this didn't kill anyone, unlike some abuses by British government health bureaucrats.

And it's yet another example of custom-made computer progams failing. When will they ever learn and stick with tried and tested programs that they can buy off the shelf?

The introduction of Queensland Health's payroll system was celebrated with a roof-top party while thousands of staff went without their fortnightly pay. Senior executives and bureaucrats involved in the $40 million project were treated to beers, cheese platters and a barbecue just days after the troubled payroll system went live.

The Tuesday afternoon shindig was held on March 30 on the roof of the Department of Public Works in George St, with guests enticed by an invitation featuring a cheesy play on the poem Click Go The Shears. It went ahead despite warnings "it would be inappropriate" given at least 3800 hospital workers had not been paid or had been short-changed by the payroll system.

Some staff had just one cent transferred into their accounts. Others had data about rostered days off and overtime completely wiped from the new system.

The Courier-Mail print edition revealed this week how staff at the state's biggest hospital who may have missed out on pay were offered phone numbers for charities.

The host of the party was Corp Tech, the government's technology arm responsible for installing and seeing the system go live on Sunday, March 14. "It's outrageous," said one technology expert who worked on the project. "The first payroll errors became apparent a week after the system went live. And here they are having a barbecue a week after that."

The new rostering and payroll system within Queensland Health was to be the flagship for the combined SAP and Workbrain systems.

It was expected similar systems would be rolled out across government over coming years. Instead, the flawed $40 million project – estimated by some sources within the Queensland Health Implementation of Continuity project, as it was officially called, at more than $100 million – has had a devastating impact on many of the 80,000 Queensland Health staff it was designed to service.

Five days after the system went live, Mick Reid, director-general of Queensland Health, told staff they could be "proud of what we have achieved". In the message to all QHIC staff leaked to The Courier-Mail and dated March 19, Mr Reid said he wanted to thank his colleagues for "your tireless effort in achieving the payroll system go live".

Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek said yesterday news of a "celebration" of the so-called "successful" roll out of the payroll project would only further anger nurses and health workers who hadn't been paid properly. "Thousands of health workers across Queensland simply haven't got money in the bank to pay their bills," he said. "Health workers are sick and tired of the spin and excuses – they just want to get paid."

One Queensland Health staffer declined to attend the party, saying it was "inappropriate to have a function when there are so many people still suffering the after-effects".

Executive director of Services for Corp Tech Phil Hood yesterday said he was unable to comment.


Slap on the wrist for brutal and unprovoked bashings by men who should have known better

One of the offenders got a short jail term but what about the other guy? No jail at all?? Both sentences should be appealed. The kid was attacked while doing a good deed -- trying to break up a fight between Mitchell and Bogtstra

An off-duty bouncer who choked a promising young footballer unconscious during a brawl at a Melbourne fast-food restaurant has been jailed, while his co-accused has walked free.

Nathan Karazisis, 24, of Burwood East at the time, assaulted Luke Adams at Hungry Jacks in Prahran last July, leaving him with a fractured skull.

The Victorian County Court heard Karazisis and co-accused Mark Bogtstra, of Camberwell, had been out drinking after their shifts as bouncers before the 6.30am assault on Mr Adams and another man. During the attack, Karazisis grabbed Mr Adams from behind and placed an arm around his neck so he could not move. Karazisis then forcefully and repeatedly punched him in the head and face at least six times until he choked him unconscious.

Mr Adams fell heavily to the floor, striking his head, before Karazisis joined Bogtstra in bashing a second man, James Mitchell.

'It was shameful, criminal conduct,' Judge Ross Howie told Karazisis as he jailed him for two years and four months. Judge Howie said Karazisis, who was trained in martial arts, appeared on security footage to be calm and in control during his attack on Mr Adams. 'I'm satisfied you held him as you did and for as long as you did in order to choke him unconscious,' he said.

Mr Adams suffered bleeding in his skull, multiple facial bone fractures, a scar to his head and black eyes. The promising young footballer, who was in the Victorian Under 19s state team, was unable to play for the rest of the year.

Mr Mitchell, who was punched, kicked and stomped on as he lay on the ground, escaped serious injury.

Karazisis pleaded guilty to recklessly causing serious injury, affray and intentionally causing injury. He must serve a minimum 12 months' jail.

Bogtstra, 22, was sentenced to a nine-month intensive corrections order after pleading guilty to affray and intentionally causing injury.

Judge Howie said there was no justification for the attack. 'Like Mr Karazisis, you were a qualified security officer and should have known better,' he said. The pair have had their security licence cancelled.

Outside court, Mr Adams' father doubted the sentences would deter others.

A third man, Konstantinos Kontoklotsis, of Brunswick, will be sentenced at a date to be fixed for his role in the assault.


Why Victoria's feminist police chief fled her post

Political correctness is a magic shield for its practitioners -- but utterly useless. She once took part in a "gay pride" march, but being of any use during a major emergency was beyond her. Comment below by Andrew Bolt

Christine Nixon was hired as our police chief not because she was a great leader. She was hired first of all because of her politics - and with the added advantage of her gender - and on Black Saturday it showed. Showed disastrously. As she was hired, so she failed, in an emblematic indictment of these Days of Seeming, not Doing.

To be brutally honest, she seems to have panicked. When this burning state needed saving through action, not group hugs, she realised she was useless. Unneeded. And so she fled, first to her office, where she hid for 90 minutes doing unrelated paperwork, and then, minutes after being warned many people would die, to a restaurant. “I had to eat!” she’s protested.

So as Kinglake burned, she went to dinner. And by the time she pushed away her plate, Marysville was in ashes, too, and most of Black Saturday’s 173 victims were dead.

A telling detail: in this hour or more she spent dining with friends, Nixon’s phone rang precisely once. I suspect that after years of her leadership, her colleagues had come not to rely on her in a crisis.

You may have already heard some of the excuses made for Nixon, mostly by Age and ABC Leftists who see in her disgrace a blow to their wider agenda.

Her astonishing - and admitted - failure to do her duty at the time her citizens needed her most is waved aside as good delegating, or a cool que sera, sera fatalism about the fires, or a prudent decision to let busy men get on with it. Besides, it’s not as if people died for her diet, right?

That such excuses can be made shows not just that people tend to defend sides rather than principles, or images above reality.

It’s frightening to have to explain why a police chief should be at her post, rather than in a restaurant, when people are dying by the score and her officers are trying to save the rest.

But those inclined to excuse Nixon should know she was not just chief commissioner of police on that day. She was also charged under the Emergency Management Act with helping the Police Minister co-ordinate the response of all emergency services to the disaster.

Yet she did not do that job, or seem to even feel any instinctive need to do something, anything, to help in that hour for which all her experience, and all the greatest police traditions, had presumably prepared her.

It’s not just that she went to dinner. Read on its website the bushfire royal commission’s brutal expose of Nixon’s serial failures.

She admitted under cross-examination that she did not attend the State Emergency Response Co-ordination Centre until noon on Black Saturday, despite knowing the fires were already out of control on a day the Government warned would be “as bad a day as you can imagine”.

Not once did she check if police had fulfilled their formal responsibility to issue warnings to towns in the path of the fires.

From 1.30pm to 3pm, she actually left the SERCC and retired to her office to clean up paperwork, neither seeking nor receiving in those 90 minutes a single briefing or call on the fires. Nor did she call any police in the fire zones to check their wellbeing, ask for news or offer help.

She did not call the Premier once, even to discuss - as is her job - declaring a state of emergency.

She did not call in her Deputy Commissioner in charge of disasters, Kieran Walshe, and he himself - perhaps following his boss’s example - did not turn up at work until nightfall, and only to give a press conference.

She failed to check that every regional commander in the fire-prone areas was at their post, and to this day does not know if they were.

It was as if she were a mere spectator. Not once did she seem to actually do anything to help. And it got worse.

On returning to the emergency headquarters at 3.30pm, Nixon did not ask for another briefing on the fires, even though she says she heard the staff say: “This is looking terrible; there are many more fires.”

“I should have, but I didn’t,” she told the commission, explaining that everyone seemed “very busy” and “carrying out their responsibilities”. They acted. She watched. And was treated as a mere watcher, too.

Her senior officials didn’t bother to tell her that nursing homes and hospitals were being evacuated in Neerim South and near Bunyip. She also didn’t check how police planned to protect fans at a country music festival at threatened Whittlesea. Nor did she ask for or read the police log in the room that noted what her officers were battling to do.

“It sounds rather passive, Ms Nixon,” the startled counsel assisting the bushfire commission exclaimed.

At 5pm, the fire service chiefs did at last brief the paralysed Nixon, warning her the fires seemed about to burn Strathewen, and there was a “real potential for people to lose their lives”. Worse, a change of wind later that evening threatened Kinglake and other towns and “we were facing a disaster”.

The Police Minister had been called in to help co-ordinate the effort. It was now about 5.30pm. And what did Nixon decide to do at this moment of crisis, with lives to save? She asked an Assistant Commissioner, Steve Fontana, to brief the Police Minister in her place while she went out to dinner.

She deserted her post. And didn’t return that night, not even after hearing whole towns had been destroyed.

Nixon has tried to mislead the royal commission, in my opinion, about how profoundly she betrayed her duty. She did not tell it she’d actually gone to a restaurant, and implied instead she’d stayed at home, keeping in touch.

She denied she’d had another appointment that night, saying only she’d “had a meal” and “was obviously listening to the radio ... and watching television”. Asked if she’d had email and web access, she said: “Yes.”

But presumably not while you were at the restaurant, Christine. You weren’t properly monitoring anything then but the menu.

I cannot think of a worse failure of duty by an Australian police commissioner than this. She did leave that job just days after the fire, but why hasn’t the Premier dumped her as head of the Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, saying such a failure of leadership could not go unsanctioned?

But that’s Nixon’s luck. She’s long been protected in this town, thanks to her socialising, her politics, her gender, her charm and her cultivating of influential friends. Her seeming has saved her, when her performance should have sunk her. And from the very start.

She was hired from the NSW force not because she’d succeeded, but because she seemed fresh, honest - and an agent of fashionable feminist change. She came vowing not to Uphold the Right, as is the police motto, but to “keep the peace”, she said. To negotiate, to be “non-deferential, anti-authoritarian and collegiate”.

This is the sweet seeming she promised. The reality, though, is that we got a feminised and demoralised force that too often surrenders the streets to mobs. One that excused away the rise in violent crime; failed to stop a gangland war until 27 people were killed; lowered physical tests to shoehorn in more and weaker women; and let the force dress like Sloppy Joe, undeserving of respect.

And in Nixon we got a chief commissioner who didn’t just blow $40 million on a dud IT system or lead a team riven by hatreds, but one who cuddled her Labor masters, hid the truth on ethnic crime, and wrongly claimed her freebie flight to the US was given by Qantas to her husband.

So she proved useless on the night she was needed most? When the times called for action? We reap what we sow.


9 April, 2010

Action from Rudd at last: Freeze on "asylum" applications

But action of the hamfisted sort one expects of Leftists

THE Federal Government has frozen processing of all applications from asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan to try to stop the tide of arrivals.

The suspension of processing is effectively immediately, and will be reviewed in three months for asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and in six months for asylum seekers from Afghanistan.

It says changing situations in both nations may affect visa applicants' claims for protection. The Government says it accepts its Christmas Island facilities are stretched because of the number of arrivals.


Greenie scheme burns down houses

As stupid as most Greenie schemes but more visibly so

A YOUNG Malvern East family is the latest face of the roof insulation debacle as figures show insulation was the cause of eight fires a month in Victoria this year. The Opposition has now called for all 1.1 million homes to be inspected as the toll from the government's botched rebate scheme continues to mount.

Father-of-two Kemal Brkic, 35, is counting his blessings after awaking suddenly around 4.30am to the smell of burning electrical wires at his Waverley Rd, Malvern East home. He said he checked the roof when he noticed marks appearing on his ceiling and was confronted by flames leaping one to two feet in the air. He managed to douse the blaze with a fire extinguisher but said it could have been much worse.

Commander Ian Hunter, the head of the MFB fire investigation unit, said the fire in the Waverley Rd home had started after insulation over downlights caught fire. He said the old blow-in insulation had recently been removed from the ceiling and replaced with batts. But he said not all the old insulation had been removed properly and had gathered against downlights. The new batts were placed directly over the lights and they overheated, he said.

Mr Brkic’s new insulation was installed about six weeks ago under the Federal Government’s scheme. "Another five or ten minutes and the whole roof would have gone," Mr Brkic said. "To have woken up at that time, and had a fire extinguisher in the house... we were pretty lucky." He urged anyone who had insulation installed recently to have it checked, especially if they also have downlights. "I'm so grateful all the family was safe. I had my mum and dad in the house and my two young kids. "It was pretty scary.'

Figures show huge increase in the number of house fires caused by insulation in the past 12 months. The MFB attended 31 ceiling fires involving insulation from July to December in Victoria last year, compared to just seven in the first six months. "Coincidentally that's about the time the home owners insulation program commenced," he said.

Fire investigators also looked into a second fire overnight at Glenda Rd, Doncaster, where insulation was installed as part of the rebate scheme in November last year. But it turned out to be caused by a faulty light bulb fitting - not incorrectly installed insulation. However with all the publicity over the debacle the incident had homeowner Wilma Garland, who is in her 80s, worried that she was yet another victim.

The government said last week the number of fires linked to the scheme was 105. It axed the $2.45 billion rebate scheme after it was linked to the deaths of four installers, house fires, and safety and quality problems potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of homes.

It will start a scaled-back scheme on June 1. [They're slow learners]


Enquiries are still ongoing but the house in an overnight fire that killed two people was also "insulated" recently and we may therefore have another result of this "know-all" Greenie scheme

Starving to slow death in a notorious government hospital - family claims grandad ignored

A WOMAN spent an agonising week watching her father waste away in one of Sydney's top hospitals because there was no one rostered on that could insert a feeding tube. Stricken grandfather Max Miller went without food for eight days after the nasal tube providing him with life-giving sustenance failed last Tuesday while he was being treated at Royal North Shore Hospital.

The retired advertising executive, 83, broke his neck in a fall on March 19 and complications with his injury last week prevented a new tube being reinserted. The only option was for a different feeding passage, known as a PEG tube, to be inserted directly into his stomach. But Mr Miller was told he would have to wait because it was Easter and there was no one around to do it.

It was only after his daughter Prue Miller contacted The Daily Telegraph in desperation yesterday that her father finally made it to the front of the queue and got the procedure. "The doctor said on Thursday they would place him on the acute list to get him a PEG line but five days later there was still nothing done," Ms Miller said. "He was just disappearing before our eyes and he was so terrified. He kept saying to me 'I don't want to die, I don't want to die'."

Ms Miller said she "begged and begged" for staff to do something. "They told me it was up to the radiology department but the radiology department said that they were too busy," she said. "The system has become so appalling that people are dying simply because there is no one around to do what is needed."

A spokeswoman for Royal North Shore Hospital said Mr Miller was still receiving fluids, electrolytes and glucose via an intravenous drip after his feeding tube failed. She said his operation to have the PEG tube inserted was rescheduled "due to more serious cases taking priority". "The hospital believes that the appropriate care and treatment has been and is being provided," she said.

Mr Miller's case emerged just three days after The Daily Telegraph reported that 87-year-old World War II veteran Kevin Park called triple-0 from his hospital bed in Lismore because he could not get help from nursing staff.

It also coincided with nurses at Bathurst Base Hospital threatening industrial action because of "horrendous and unacceptable" work pressures.

NSW Nurses Association general secretary Brett Holmes said the hospital's surgical ward was funded for 12 beds but had up to 18 patients over the weekend, while the medical ward had to care for an extra five patients beyond its capacity.


The lying obesity propaganda never stops

There is not even epidemiological evidence behind the assertions below. The epidemiology show that it is people of MIDDLING weight, not slim people, who live longest

OBESITY has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia, as experts say the federal government is woefully unprepared for a tsunami of weight-related health problems.

Fat was rapidly becoming the biggest public health challenge Australia had to face, said the president of the Public Health Association of Australia, Mike Daube, who is also the deputy chairman of the government's National Preventative Health Taskforce.

New figures from Western Australia, which are expected to be echoed across Australia, show the contribution of excessive weight to ill health has more than doubled in just six years [And how do they judge that? It's just opinion. You can bet that the death certificates concerned say things like "myocardial infarction", not "obesity"], and by 2006 accounted for 8.7 per cent of all disease. Tobacco's role has fallen by a quarter, and now causes 6.5 per cent of illness and early death.

"The obesity crisis is not on its way - it is already here," Professor Daube said. "What we have done about obesity is not working. This issue needs concentrated and determined action."

He said that while the federal government had done more than its predecessors there was an urgent need for the issue to be high on the agenda of the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra on April 19.

"Our political leaders should be considering not only improvements to the hospital system but how to stop literally hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths," he said.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has signalled he will use the COAG meeting to push the states to accept his hospital reform plan. Critics have said it might not work well for complex diseases such as those caused by obesity, which is linked to increased rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

More than 60 per cent of Australian adults and one in four children are overweight or obese. In 2008 the cost of obesity in NSW alone was $19 billion, according to NSW Health.

Ian Olver, chairman of the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance, criticised the government for its lack of action on the taskforce's recommendations last year. Professor Olver said governments had acted strongly against tobacco but had failed to tackle obesity adequately. "They have access to evidence-based policy and they need to act on it," he said.

The leader of the study, Victoria Hoad, said she expected the rest of the country to reflect the findings in Western Australia. "Smoking traditionally has been the leading preventable cause of disease but people have been getting fatter and quitting smoking," she said.

Timothy Gill, from the Boden Institute at Sydney University, said people in their 30s and 40s did not understand they faced health problems caused by obesity that in the past were more commonly seen in people in their 60s and 70s. "There has been a degree of normalisation of the problems," he said. It took 50 years to lower the rates of tobacco use in Australia but there was not that time left to deal with obesity, he said.

A spokesman for the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said that the government was investing $872 million in preventive health.


The light of publicity squeezes some decency out of the West Australian government

A CANCER stricken WA pensioner robbed of $70,000 in life savings will finally get some of his money back. Attorney-General Christian Porter has finally agreed to give Mr Fletcher back some of the money he was robbed of two years ago. The back down comes after The Sunday Times highlighted the dying man’s plight on March 21.

Two years ago thieves broke into his home near Kwinana and stole a safe containing $70,000 - his life savings. No one was ever convicted of the break in, but four people were convicted of receiving money stolen in the burglary.

Police seized cars that the offenders were alleged to have bought with some of the stolen money. The cars were forfeited to the state and sold, but instead of giving the proceeds to Mr Fletcher, the government simply put the money into consolidated revenue.

Mr Porter said today the money from the sale of the cars and any money that may have been recovered from the robbery would be returned to Mr Fletcher.

Kwinana MP Roger Cook, who fought for the return of Mr Fletcher’s money, said today the government back down was a welcome development in the long running saga.


Note that my QANTAS/Jetstar blog continues to chronicle bad and alarming news about QANTAS. Six stories already this month

8 April, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has drawn a cartoon to accompany a story about how a Lefty became a racist -- even in her own eyes -- when she had to live among people from cultures rather different from her own.

Amazing meanness: Some army men who served overseas won't get Anzac Day pay

Because they are in the Reserves rather than the Regulars. But Reserves are much used for active duty by most governments today -- as a cost-saving measure. They are the last people who should be stiffed. They save the government a mint by not being paid full-time.

Misuse of the Reserves will reduce them to nothing if the government contempt for the reserves continues. Then the government will have to pay full-time salaries to get the personnel it needs. How short-sighted is that? A rational government would be doing everything possible to prop up the reserves.

There will always be some need for reservists to go on full-time duty to supplement the regulars. That is what they are for. I did so myself when I was in the reserves. But what should have been the exception has now become routine. A family member with two young children who is a reservist is now on his second deployment in two years to the Middle East -- in a war zone

Reservists enjoy their service. That's why they enlist. But if they are going to be deployed like regulars without the same training and not being paid for their time then you are looking at a very different ballgame when it comes to enlistment

DEFENCE force reservists who have fought in Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands will not be paid to march on Anzac Day this year - unlike the regular forces - as part of budget cutbacks that will also slash their training and ammunition.

The morale of the 25,000 reservists is near collapse, with the head of the Defence Reserves Association, Jim Barry, warning yesterday of mass resignations, saying the Diggers were preparing to "vote with their feet".

A final straw for many of the weekend warriors who have provided crucial support to the heavily committed defence force was confirmation they will no longer be paid to turn out for parades on Anzac Day and similar occasions.

The 17,000-strong Army Reserve, which provided the bulk of the peacekeepers for the current missions in East Timor and Solomon Island would be hardest hit by the cuts, Major General Barry told The Australian. His warning came as Defence Minister John Faulkner endorsed the government's strategic reform program designed to make $20 billion in defence savings over the next decade.

"They (Defence) have run out of dough," General Barry said yesterday. He was concerned there was no indication the situation would improve in the 2010-11 financial year. "I haven't had an answer from anyone," he said.

If the budget cuts were maintained, the reservists would "march with their feet", he said. The number of reserve annual training days had already been cut to 25, about half of what was needed to maintain proficiency, he said. "A lot of them are still hanging on, but morale is pretty low.

"We know it's impinging on operational efficiency and they're not going to be sufficiently well trained," General Barry said. "They're getting about 25 days of training at best, and they need, depending on the unit, somewhere between 35 and 50 days to be proficient before they go anywhere near pre-deployment training for the Solomons or where ever," he said.

The Australian Defence Force confirmed reservists would not be paid to take part in local Anzac Day commemorations. Army Reserve Training Salaries, which according to its website are tax-free, would only be paid for official Anzac Day ceremonial tasks, a spokesman said.

Opposition defence, science and personnel spokesman Bob Baldwin said the government should immediately intervene. "It is indeed a very sad day when reservists who have served in such places as East Timor, Solomon Islands and Afghanistan, are not allowed to parade on Anzac Day.

"I echo the sentiments of Major-General Barry when saying these budget cuts have cut into the very core of Australia's heritage," he said.

Yesterday, Defence Minister John Faulkner announced the government had endorsed implementation of the Strategic Reform Plan which was on track to achieve $797 million in savings this financial year.

Addressing the Defence Senior Leadership Group in Canberra last Wednesday, Senator Faulkner said the program was not just about delivering savings and efficiencies. It was an an integral component of the white paper.

It would only be possible to buy the new equipment needed for defence if the full savings were made, he said.


Call for civil action over racial slurs in Western Australia

One guess that the word "Boong" (Aborigine) is the target here -- amazing how they manage not to mention that though. What about "Abo"? To me it is just an abbreviation but some people get all righteous about it. There are a lot of Aborigines in Western Australia and they do have a high rate of incarceration

Interesting that vilification is already a crime but that is not enough for the bureaucrats, apparently. They want more of the action. It looks like they think the coppers are too lenient. Cops have a lot to put up with from blacks so they probably see as fair comment some things that ivory tower bureaucrats would get all hot and bothered about

The Equal Opportunity Commission wants to have the power to launch civil action against people or organisations who have racially vilified an individual in a public place.

Laws allowing civil action for racial vilification passed the Lower House in 2007 but the legislation never passed through the Upper House. It is already a criminal offence and, in at least one incident, it has been taken to court in Western Australia.

Commissioner Yvonne Henderson says racial vilification can have a major impact. "People feeling a sense of injustice and exclusion and it can lead to social problems further down the track."

The President of the Ethnic Communities Council of Western Australia, Maria Saracini, supports the call. "It deters or is aimed to deter people from engaging in conduct which is considered unlawful or un-Australian."

Yvonne Henderson says she would like a racial vilification bill to be placed on the parliamentary notice paper once again. She says people who have been the subject of racial discrimination should be able to lodge a complaint with the Commission.

"Well it would have to be in a public place. It could be a sign, it could be a poster, it could be a sticker, it could be words spoken. "It could be words broadcast by means of a P.A. system. It would have to be in some kind of public place which could include a workplace."

The Government and Opposition have been unavailable for comment.


The Tamil "refugees" are nothing of the sort

Unless they are former terrorists. And all of them could have chosen resettlement in nearby India if they wished

AS arrivals of Sri Lankans in Australia claiming asylum continue, there is ample evidence to suggest the situation in Sri Lanka is very different from that portrayed by refugee advocates. Indeed, there is strong evidence that since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009 Sri Lanka has moved towards stability and inter-ethnic reconciliation, rather than widespread or institutionalised persecution of its Tamil population.

Sri Lanka's steady return to post-conflict normalcy has been widely reported internationally. Key benchmarks include:

* The restitution of freedom of movement for all internally displaced persons.

* The resettlement of 193,607 IDPs throughout northern Sri Lanka (leaving only 76,205 IDPs yet to be resettled).

* The rehabilitation and gradual release from custody of nearly 2000 former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam combatants, co-ordinated with the International Migration Organisation and funded by the West.

* The recruitment of several thousand more Tamil-speaking police constables to serve in Tamil-majority areas.

* Removal of most travel restrictions nationwide and the lifting of the security curfew throughout the Northern and Eastern provinces, as well as progress in reconstructing roads and infrastructure.

* And, most significantly, the restoration of democracy through the re-emergence of Tamil political parties previously suppressed by the LTTE and their free participation in presidential elections.

In the naturally complex aftermath of a three-decade-long conflict, Sri Lanka has invested considerable material, financial and societal resources towards restoring normalcy. Indeed, although the nation still has much work to do, its rapid and practical progress is a noteworthy achievement after such a long and bitter conflict.

The Bishop of Jaffna, Thomas Sundranayagam (an ethnic Tamil), wrote in January: "Jaffna is returning to normal. Commercial activities are taking place and the civilians are also very happy. They can now easily visit Colombo and other areas. People from the south also come to Jaffna."

Sri Lanka's economic recovery has also been steady.. Travel advisories have been downgraded worldwide, leading to a significant growth in tourism. Early this year The New York Times rated it the No.1 travel destination for 2010.

In September last year, Michael Delaney, the assistant US trade representative for South Asia, told a news conference: "We had over 40 US companies, including several Fortune 500 companies, that came to Sri Lanka. We think the economic boost from the end of the war is much greater than commonly believed."

Australian investor Mark Scannell, who has begun construction of a multimillion-dollar hotel in eastern Sri Lanka, says: "Sri Lanka is safe and free for anyone to holiday or invest [in]. Tourists should disregard Western negative propaganda and experience what the country has to offer."

So, why does Australia see a growing number of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seekers? It appears that Australia's relative proximity as the closest Western country, high living standards and perceptions of sympathetic treatment have been a significant pull factor in attracting them. Australia is also the nearest country that is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention.

Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seekers who come to Australia have deliberately avoided the option of seeking asylum in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, only a two-hour boat ride away from Sri Lanka. Although India is not a signatory to the convention, it has long been hospitable to Tamil asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka.

V. Suryanarayan, a retired senior professor affiliated with the University of Madras and a respected expert on the subject (as well as a Tamil), wrote in September 2008: "Geographical contiguity, ethnic affinities and easy availability of boats made Tamil Nadu a natural choice. The government provides free housing, free medical care and free education, in addition to financial doles and supply of essential commodities like rice, kerosene and sugar at subsidised rates.

What is more, the government of Tamil Nadu has permitted the refugees to take up employment, a gesture not extended to Chakma refugees from Bangladesh. As far as refugees are concerned, it is not roses all the way, but . . . [they] do not feel any sense of insecurity in Tamil Nadu."

There are several reasons why Tamil asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka come to Australia instead of going to Tamil Nadu. Some are attempting to use Australia as a conduit to the West generally, as seen in the Oceanic Viking stand-off, where a note thrown to Australian journalists and published in The Age said: "Australia doesn't want to accept us. Send us to other countries like Canada, Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand."

Indeed, some of the asylum-seekers intending to enter Australia have for many years resided in countries other than Sri Lanka, such as India, Malaysia and Indonesia. A notable example was "Alex" Kuhendrarajah, the spokesman for a group of Tamils in Indonesia, who, contrary to his claims, had lived in Chennai, India, for many years and had previously been deported from Canada because of his involvement in criminal activities.

There are other reasons why so many Tamil asylum-seekers come to Australia instead of joining efforts to rebuild Sri Lankan society or obtaining asylum in Tamil Nadu. Some appear to be LTTE fighters seeking to evade legitimate detention in Sri Lanka, and have deliberately avoided India, where there is a high probability of arrest and detention, as the LTTE is a proscribed terrorist organisation.

Australia, unlike the US, Canada and the European Union, has not proscribed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, which is likely to constitute a significant pull factor for LTTE fighters keen to seek asylum.

Second, a majority of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, an estimated 800,000 people, is based in the West and there have been indications that sympathetic elements within the diaspora have encouraged and funded the passage of asylum-seekers to the West. As one Australian Tamil community leader recently remarked: "People who have help from overseas will be able to pay the smugglers and come."

After the conflict in Sri Lanka ended, genuine displaced civilians (as opposed to LTTE combatants) traumatised by the violent final phases of the insurgency could not be faulted for wanting to leave Sri Lanka in search of a brighter future in Australia or elsewhere. Even with the end of the insurgency, to varying degrees Tamil fears of discrimination and Sinhalese triumphalism are likely to remain.

However, there is minimal evidence to support claims of widespread or institutionalised persecution, and given the rapidly improving situation in Sri Lanka, the Australian government should exercise heightened caution and scepticism in assessing the validity of asylum-seeker claims from Sri Lanka.


Another hospital computer bungle

Governments and computers do not go well together. Britain spent over 12 BILLION pounds on their new hospital computer system before giving up on it.

FURIOUS staff at the state's biggest hospital have been referred to charities for "food and financial assistance" after Queensland Health failed to pay them.

Amid a widening payroll bungle, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital workers were sent an extraordinary email providing phone numbers for the Salvation Army, "St Vinnies" and the Wesley Mission in case they needed "emergency relief".

Some staff yesterday complained they had been short-changed or not paid at all for the second consecutive fortnight.

The problems have coincided with the introduction of a $40 million payroll system, set up to replace a version that overpaid workers millions of dollars.

Although Queensland Health pledged to repay cash-strapped staff late payment fees, unions said the situation had placed extra stress on hospital workers. Queensland Nurses' Union secretary Gay Hawksworth said the union was inundated with at least 160 phone calls yesterday from angry members across the state who had been substantially underpaid. "This is a significant problem," she said.

"The reality is that this just should not happen. The payroll system should have been well and truly tested. "If there were glitches the first time around, staff should not have to endure them the next pay period. It really needs to be fixed up and it needs to be fixed up quickly."

Ms Hawksworth said she knew of some QH staff who had given money to colleagues to help them out during the payroll crisis. "People have found themselves not able to pay their mortgages or their rent," she said.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said an apology by Deputy Premier Paul Lucas last week had "meant nothing". "Now we face the same problem again. Nurses having to choose between a mortgage payment and putting food on the table," he said. "The apology was worthless."

Mr Lucas, who is also the Health Minister, said his director-general Mick Reid had written personally to all staff with information about what they could do if they were underpaid. "We need to be bending over backwards to help these people," Mr Lucas said. "We have provided cash to people and there is no need to seek charity help."

Mr Lucas said yesterday he had met union representatives to discuss their concerns. "I've . . . made it clear to my department that I want any of these issues sorted out as a priority," he said. "Each fortnight Queensland Health processes $180 million in wages to more than 74,000 staff and with shift allowances, overtime, and other payments it is very complex."

But in a statement yesterday, Queensland Health deputy director-general Michael Kalimnios said the payroll system was operating well. He said: "Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that the significant issues experienced during the first pay run of the new system were not being seen today."


7 April, 2010

"Human rights" folly

A FUNNY thing happened in the nation's capital recently. ACT Supreme Court judge Richard Refshauge ordered the release of Gim Em Moh, a convicted criminal, after finding that the sentencing magistrate had failed to treat Moh with the "inherent dignity" he deserved as a human being under the ACT Human Rights Act.

Moh pleaded guilty to using fake credit cards and a fake driver's licence to buy electronic goods. In sentencing Moh, a Malaysian national, to six months' jail, magistrate Grant Lalor said that Moh "was turned loose to burgle the stores of Canberra with false credit cards" and "turned loose to rape and pillage the stores of Canberra".

Refshauge ordered Moh's release, claiming that sentencing obligations had not been met, and chastised the magistrate for his "exaggerated and extreme language". The judge said "anyone deprived of liberty must be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person". What was Lalor thinking when he said a fraudster and thief had behaved like a fraudster and thief? Moh must have fallen about laughing as he left Canberra not so much a convicted criminal as a victim of a human rights breach.

However, the real joke is on Refshauge. By treating colourful language as a breach of Moh's rights, the judge has unwittingly delivered a useful sermon, not on the inherent dignity of human beings but on the inherent folly of a human rights act.

Refshauge has demonstrated the irresistible seduction that happens when judges are given the chance to impose their personal preferences using a list of ambiguously worded "human rights". Barely a few years ago Refshauge was a hearty supporter of community views when it came to notions of justice.

In 2007, when he was the ACT director of public prosecutions, he told the ABC's Stateline program that sentences in the ACT were sometimes too lenient compared with other jurisdictions. He expressed concern about the trend of defendants opting for judge-alone trials in the hope of shorter sentences. "We do lose a sense of where [sic] the community thinks is a fair thing and that community involvement can be very important even though sometimes it means that the community comes to a view that's different from mine . . . But that's important," he said. "It is the community's decision."

When Refshauge was appointed to the Supreme Court in August 2008, a prescient blogger wrote: "He seemed to have his finger on the pulse as far as public sentiment was concerned. Let's hope he doesn't end up having the operation that all incumbent judges have had, where they lose all sense of what the community they are supposed to represent feels."

The Moh decision on March 26 suggests Refshauge has had that operation.

As DPP, Refshauge told a conference in 2007 that the HRA was no "rogues' charter. There have been no more acquittals or technical defeats for the prosecution than before the act, nor an express reliance on the act in ways that are different from the common law." As a judge, he has helped turn the HRA into a rogues' charter by relying on its fuzzy notions of dignity to release Moh, instead of merely using the statutory obligations under the ACT's sentencing laws.

Refshauge, who in October 2008 was alleged by a defendant to have fallen asleep during a boringly complex civil hearing, has certainly woken up to the alluring chance to defer to his own brilliant mind when defining a vague list of human rights. What was the naive blogger thinking? Community views? They don't get a look in when a judge is charged with defining what "inherent dignity" means when a criminal is being sentenced.

And here is the essential defect in a human rights act. At its core, it is anti-democratic, requiring unelected judges to answer a wide range of social and political questions once left to parliament. Previously, the Left relied on specific pieces of discrimination legislation to impose its "rights" agenda. A charter of rights is a more ambitious project. It empowers an elite cadre of unelected charter recruits to impose a broader ideological agenda that would have no hope of success under normal democratic processes. Even Frank Brennan, chairman of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee, admitted that a charter is a "device for the delivery of a soft-Left sectarian agenda".

Those advocating a federal charter of human rights are keen to keep a lid on this simmering culture war. The midwives for the delivery of their agenda are not just unelected judges; Brennan's report also recommends a far more devious backdoor charter of rights where public servants will be required to exercise powers vested in them under any law in accordance with an overriding list of hazy "human rights".

As Margaret Kelly wrote on this page a few weeks ago, this is a "legal Trojan horse": unnamed bureaucrats behind closed doors will decide on highly contested human rights.

Kevin Rudd is no cultural warrior. But he is a canny politician. His government has announced that Brennan's recommended federal human rights act is "not a high priority". So you won't hear anything about it come election time. But if the Rudd government is re-elected we may see the Prime Minister staking out his position as an apparently sensible centrist by opting for Brennan's fallback position for bureaucrats.

You know the routine. Rudd can say that if he has enraged both the Left (which wants a full-scale charter) and the Right (which rejects a backdoor charter as equally anti-democratic), then he must be doing something right. Don't fall for that ruse. This is a culture war about how Australia should be governed.

Every chapter in the culture wars has its own orthodoxy. The orthodoxy surrounding a human rights act says empowering unelected judges and backroom bureaucrats to make fundamental social and political determinations is a benign process aimed at improving our human rights culture. And opponents should be treated as either mad or malevolent, or both. In fact, opponents are old-fashioned democrats who believe ordinary Australians are better trusted to make decisions about the country's future. Culture wars don't get more core than this one.


Another attack on jobs for women

Routine Leftist stupidity: First paid maternity leave and now enforced equal pay. If employers are forced to pay women more than they are worth as employees, the response may well be to hire men instead or cut back altogether

BUSINESSES could be forced to report every two years on what they are doing to reduce the widening gap between men's and women's pay.

And the Sex Discrimination Commissioner could get new powers to investigate alleged sex discrimination without waiting for a complaint.

The plans are two of the changes tipped for next month's Budget as the Rudd Government's response to a number of key inquiries into women's policy.

Despite it being almost 40 years since it became illegal to pay women less when they did the same work as men, the pay gap has not closed and is in fact growing. It now stands at 17.5 per cent, or $224 per week.

A major parliamentary report last year called for responsibility for reducing the pay gap to be taken off the federal bureaucracy and given to industrial umpire Fair Work Australia.

Deputy Prime Minister and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard commissioned the parliamentary inquiry into pay equity and is driving change in the area.

Under the proposed changes, Fair Work Australia would research pay inequity in industries like childcare, aged care and the finance sector that have big pay gaps or poor pay for women. Its job would be to negotiate with employers on how the gaps would be reduced in four to five years.

It would achieve similar outcomes to key lawsuits that have found women in certain industries are being underpaid when their skills and the value of their work is compared with men working in jobs that require similar skill sets.

It is hoped the umpire would achieve increases in women's pay by negotiation and without lawyers becoming involved.

The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, which has responsibility for pay equity, is under review and its former director has not yet been replaced.

A review of EOWA has found it lacks power, is focused on getting businesses to report on equal employment rather than actually change their practices and that 4500 of the businesses employing more than 100 workers escape its survey net.

A separate Senate inquiry has looked at the effectiveness of the Sex Discrimination Act, calling for the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to get new powers to initiate inquiries.


Another useless affirmative action appointment

This makes Britain's Cressida Dick look efficient. Cressida only killed one innocent Brazilian electrician on the London underground

FORMER Victoria Police chief Christine Nixon has admitted she went home at 6pm on Black Saturday to go out for dinner with friends after she was told of the likelihood of deaths in the bushfires.

The Herald Sun reports her exit from the control centre was about five minutes after she was briefed about the possibility of loss of life from what became the worst bushfires in the state's history.

The former Victoria Police chief yesterday was questioned at the bushfires Royal Commission in her first appearance since the disaster, which claimed 173 lives on February 7 last year.

Asked who was in charge after she went home, Ms Nixon admitted it was still her job. "I wasn't in the premises, but I was still clearly in charge," she said.

Ms Nixon told the commission she had a meal and monitored radio, websites and took calls and text messages as the disaster unfolded. But last night she clarified her movements to the Herald Sun, saying she went home and then to a North Melbourne bistro for dinner with her husband and three friends and returned home later.

Ms Nixon, who was paid almost $380,000 a year as chief commissioner, was appointed to chair the Victorian Bushfire Recovery and Reconstruction Authority just four days after Black Saturday.

In evidence yesterday, the commission also heard:

MS Nixon did not speak to Premier John Brumby at all on Black Saturday.

SHE left an assistant commissioner to brief Police Minister Bob Cameron.

SHE did not consider declaring a state of disaster on the night of Black Saturday, despite the emerging numbers of deaths and loss of homes.

SHE did not request an updated briefing of the situation facing Victoria on returning to the Integrated Emergency Control Centre at 3pm, because "I didn't need to waste their time by getting another briefing."

SHE did not check whether adequate warnings were being given to towns lying in the path of the fires, because she had "assumed fire authorities had done so".

But Ms Nixon did admit she should have done better. She told the commission her husband had driven her from her office to the Integrated Emergency Control Centre at 3pm, where it was apparent the fires were escalating. Asked by counsel assisting the commission, Rachel Doyle, SC, if it was enough for the chief commissioner to assume that warnings were being given, Ms Nixon agreed it wasn't.

She said it was an "extraordinarily intense time" but said that was not an excuse. "There should have been a follow-up, and I should have done it," she said.


Runaway population growth will kill dream of owning a home

RUNAWAY population growth will end the dream for many young Australians of ever owning their own home, says federal Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson.

Mr Thomson has defied his party by saying Australia's population should be capped at 26 million, disagreeing with his Government's projection of 36 million by 2050.

Representing the inner Melbourne electorate of Wills, which is made up of 30 per cent immigrants, Mr Thomson believes Australia's annual intake of migrants should be cut to 70,000.

Under the Rudd Government, migration has jumped to around 300,000 a year compared to 126,000 under the Howard Government.

Mr Thomson said tackling population growth was necessary to stop the dreams of owning your own from fading away. "Rising house prices and rising interest rates are leading to falling housing affordability and make it impossible for young Australians to own a home of their own," he said.

He said the appointment of Tony Bourke as Minister for Population was a step in the right direction. "I believe Australia needs to have a population policy ... but we still have quite a distance to go," he said. "We need to take steps to stabilise our population."

He said the Rudd Government should abolish the baby bonus, which costs around $1.4 billion annually, and put that money to educating and training young Australians and equipping them with skills. "The Government has not been supporting university places, apprenticeships and TAFEs in the way it needs to for over a decade now," he said. "We've had these things flatlining and we need to put greater investment into these areas."

In an address to federal Parliament last August, Mr Thomson outlined a 14-point plan for population reform which called for an end to the open door policy which allows New Zealanders to move here. In the speech he said the open-ended uncapped program made it impossible for Australia or New Zealand to implement a population policy.

He also called for a cut in the skilled migration program, sending overseas students home for two years for a cooling-off period before being eligible for permanent residence and increasing Australia's foreign aid.


6 April, 2010

A tribute to many years of "look and see" literacy education in Australia

Phonics was abandoned decades ago -- in a typical act of Leftist destructiveness -- but very recently seems to have staged a partial comeback

An astonishing four million Australian workers [Note: the total Australian population is around 22 million, of whom roughly half would be workers -- so the percentage involved here is enormous] have poor language, literacy and numeracy skills and cannot understand the meaning of some everyday words.

And their inability to following basic instructions and warnings is causing a safety and productivity nightmare. Most are in labour-intensive and low-level service jobs.

Among the terms that are too difficult for some workers are "hearing protection" and "personal protective equipment is required", according to a report by Skills Australia for the Rudd Government.

The words that many do not understand include: immediately, authorised, procedure, deliberate, isolation, mandatory, recommended, experience, required and optional.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout told the Herald Sun 46 per cent of workers had substandard literacy skills and 53 per cent had numeracy below the expected benchmark.

"It's really worrying when people can't read or write," Ms Ridout said. "It contributes to workplace safety problems. You've got to have a lot of pictures to promote safety and it contributes to inefficient practices and mistakes. That means time is wasted and work has to be repeated."

Ms Ridout, a board member of Skills Australia, said some workers could not read and understand standard operating procedures, which led to incorrect use of machinery. They could not read drawings and were drilling the wrong-sized holes or cutting steel incorrectly.

"These people are not able to function successfully in a modern workforce," she said. "But it is not just the workers. One company found a supervisor couldn't read or write properly and got a big shock," she said.

Ms Ridout called on the Government to introduce a national adult literacy and numeracy scheme in next month's Budget to provide resources and teaching support. "This problem is caused by bad education," she said. "These people haven't been picked up when they've fallen."

Other terms that were too difficult for some workers included sheeted material, company policies, gross misconduct and disciplinary action.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has nominated improving productivity as a crucial plank towards coping with the pressures of an ageing population. Ms Ridout said poor workplace literacy and numeracy was a roadblock to that goal.

The Government recently provided $50 million to create more training places for businesses to increase skills that are in high demand.

But Ms Ridout said it did not help workers who had trouble with the basics. "We can't lift skills if some workers don't have the basic skills to build on," she said. "All these people should be given a chance to participate but if they can't read and write and add up, it's going to be very tough for them."


Conservatives not backing net censorship plan

OPPOSITION leader Tony Abbott says there is insufficient evidence ISP filtering is effective enough to warrant his full support. Mr Abbott hasn't been convinced internet filtering can really trap net nasties as there was no substantial technical evidence.

"We certainly haven't seen the kind of technical assurances that we'd need so let's wait and see how this thing develops," he said in response to a question on the ABC's Q&A program last night. "I want to see protections in place. I don't want to see our kids exposed to really terrible stuff on the internet. On the other hand I don't want to see the internet destroyed by a filtering system that won't work so I guess for me it's a factual issue.

"Can you have a filtering system that is effective, that doesn't lull parents into a false sense of security and which doesn't in the process make the internet ineffective as the kind of marvellous research tool and educational device that it is? "I don't know at the moment ... I just don't know," Mr Abbott said.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, however, argues that his filter is "100 per cent accurate" following a live trial of the blocking process with nine ISPs.

Speaking on ABC Radio last week, he said: "The internet filter that we are proposing has been shown to be 100 per cent accurate - no over blocking, no under blocking. It's 100 per cent accurate because it targets a defined URL address ... it's an individual page within a website."

Joe Hockey is one opposition frontbencher who has made his views on the filter crystal clear. In his speech "In Defence of Liberty" at the Grattan Institute last month, the shadow treasurer expressed concern the government would take advantage of the filter to broaden its censorship reach.

"The government’s Internet filtering proposals is a scheme that is likely to be unworkable in practice. "But more perniciously it is a scheme that will create the infrastructure for government censorship on a broader scale. "Protecting liberty is about protecting freedoms against both known and future threats. Some may argue that we can surely trust a democratically elected government in Australia to never try to introduce more widespread censorship. I am not so sure," Mr Hockey said.

The federal government wants to introduce mandatory ISP filtering so online content rated RC or Refused Classification would be automatically blocked by ISPs. Legislation to force ISPs to start blocking the internet is expected to be introduced in the second half of this year.

Kevin Rudd is set to cast the online filtering net wider in the coming election, a major backflip from original plans unveiled at the previous polls.

But online experts say the definition of RC is too broad, highly subjective and can trap legal, adult material.

Labor first unveiled its internet filtering plan in the lead-up to the 2007 election and people hardly bat an eyelid since the emphasis was explicitly on the safety of children - not adults - on the internet. In his manifesto - Labor's Plan for Cyber safety – Senator Conroy, then Opposition spokesman for communications and IT, said: "Labor recognises that cyber safety today is an important part of children's overall health and well-being, yet it is one that is not being adequately addressed by the Howard government."

Senator Conroy laid-out a five-pronged plan to enhance cyber safety for children, including the introduction of a "clean feed" to stamp out net nasties. "(Labor will) provide a mandatory 'clean feed' internet service for all homes, schools and public computers that are used by Australian children.

"ISPs will filter out content that is identified as prohibited by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The ACMA 'blacklist' will be made more comprehensive to ensure that children are protected from harmful and inappropriate online material," he said at the time.

Today, Senator Conroy has his sights firmly set on stamping out RC content which he argues includes child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act. They are illegal to purchase in the physical world and such laws should extend to the virtual world, he says.

The Classification Board determines what type of content falls under RC and other ratings. At the moment, there are three content areas that guide the board's decisions - film, games and publications. There is no category for the internet and as such, videos on Google's YouTube site, for example, are judged as films. "As long as it's moving it's a film. Otherwise it's a publication," a Classification Board spokeswoman said.

(A public consultation process is underway to see whether there should be an R18+ classification category for computer games.)

However, Senator Conroy's definition of RC is not exhaustive and can be misleading as online free speech advocate Irene Graham points out in one of many examples. "RC material is a wide-ranging category of content which includes material deemed to 'offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults'," Ms Graham said.

The depiction of actual sexual activity between consenting adults involving lawful fetishes could also be classified as RC content and blocked by Senator Conroy's filter, she said.

Senator Conroy's office has admitted that the process is open to one's interpretation. Asked whether the government believes there are no grey areas when it comes to RC material online, a spokeswoman for Senator Conroy said: "State and federal attorney's-general decide on the guidelines for Refused Classification based on 'community standards'. "There will always be content that various individuals disagree with but importantly it is the Classification Board, an agency at arm's length from the government and representative of the community, which makes the decisions about individual cases," she said.

Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre executive director at the University of New South Wales, David Vaile, says the internet cannot be treated as a tangible product. "The internet has eroded the distinction between published and unpublished - where this meant central production and distribution, and a sale based revenue model," Mr Vaile said. "Now everyone can and is a publisher, and the volume is so high that humans cannot be afforded to classify it all. This means the classification model has broken for the internet."

Internet giant Google also believes the filtering regime is too broad. "(It) limits freedom of access to information. A broadly scoped mandatory filter could block important content which informs public debate on socially and politically controversial issues and we do not believe that governments have the right to block that information," a Google Australia spokeswoman said.


NSW Health admits its patient satisfaction figures are rubbery

NSW Health has overstated the proportion of patients satisfied with how long they have to wait for an operation, after an error compiling the statistics, the department has admitted.

In its latest patient survey, released in November, it claimed 85 per cent of patients thought their operation had been scheduled within a reasonable period. But the actual figure was 80 per cent, a departmental spokesman confirmed to the Herald.

The original satisfaction figure was compiled from the responses of the 59 per cent of patients who had undergone medical tests before admission, while other patients' answers were not included.

Those numbers suggest about a third of patients who did not have pre-surgery tests were unhappy with how long they had to wait for their procedure.

The department admitted the mistake - which it also made in the preceding two years' surveys - in a bulletin of errata to the reports published on its website. But the bulletin did not supply the true figure, which remains uncorrected in the online publication.

The misrepresentation comes as doctors last week revealed surgery waiting times have blown out across western Sydney, where same-day cancellations of procedures are running at four times the maximum level deemed acceptable and some surgeons are refusing even to schedule operations they judge unlikely to go ahead. Doctors say the region is under-funded for its high workload of uninsured patients who cannot choose private care.

Along with overcrowded emergency departments, elective surgery access has been the state government's most difficult issue in the health portfolio, and is at the heart of the federal government's argument for assuming a greater proportion of public hospital funding.

The Commonwealth last year pledged up to $600 million over four years to the states to reduce surgery waiting lists. In its reform plan document released last month, it called surgery waiting times "a particular area of concern", and said Canberra would "increasingly look to insist on higher national standards of performance … with new targets backed up by explicit financial rewards and penalties".

A NSW Health spokesman defended the patient survey, saying the state was the first to attempt such an exercise. It was "an extremely valuable tool that enables us to get an in-depth picture of patients' experiences".


Conservatives to cut immigration

TONY Abbott's Coalition will cut net migration levels if it wins government, in a bid to stop Australia's population reaching its predicted size of almost 36 million in 2050.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison yesterday told The Australian the Rudd government had allowed immigration to rise too high and the population figure that Treasury's Intergenerational Report predicted last September for 2050 was unsustainable.

Mr Morrison said the Coalition would not allow the average net overseas migration of more than 300,000 a year that had occurred since the Rudd government took power to continue. "We want to return to the levels we pursued in government," he said. "A net overseas migration intake of 300,000 (as occurred under the Rudd government) would not be a feature of future Coalition policy."

Mr Morrison said the current population growth rate of 2.1 per cent put Australia ahead of Canada, Britain and the US. "It even puts us ahead of China and India," he said. "It's principally fuelled by net overseas migration. A natural increase in the fertility rate has (increased it) but what has been driving the numbers . . . has been spiralling rates of net overseas migration."

Mr Morrison said the Coalition would support skilled migrants coming, but was likely to cut other elements of the program, including family reunion. "It's about getting your immigration policy under control," he said. "The migration program should be tight and focused on skills and productivity."

The Opposition Leader last night backed Mr Morrison's comment that the prediction of a population of 35.9 million was not sustainable, saying the roads of Sydney and Melbourne were already choked.

But Mr Abbott stopped short of committing the Coalition to a cut in migration, saying decisions on the intake should be taken on a "year by year basis". "Immigration has to be in Australia's national interest," he said on the ABC's Q&A program last night.

Mr Morrison said the 35.9 million forecast, which Kevin Rudd has endorsed as appropriate, was being driven by net overseas migration well above what it was under the Howard government. He said average net overseas immigration under the Coalition had been 126,000 a year, but under Labor it had risen to more than 300,000.

Mr Morrison said that according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia's population was growing in net terms at the rate of one person every minute and 10 seconds, and immigration accounted for more than 60 per cent of the increase.

The new immigration spokesman toughened the Coalition's rhetoric on asylum-seekers, challenging the government to take control of Australian borders in the wake of 103 boats carrying 4575 passengers reaching our shores since Labor was elected.

Mr Abbott last night backed the return of the temporary protection visa system and said a Coalition government would return asylum-seekers to their homelands if they no longer had a fear of persecution.

Columnist Glenn Milne yesterday wrote in The Australian that the Opposition Leader and Mr Morrison had determined that if Australians were concerned about boatpeople, they were going to have similar concerns about Mr Rudd's declaration that a "big Australia" of 35.9 million people by 2050 was a good thing.

Mr Morrison denied the Coalition was pushing a racist agenda by endeavouring to cut migration numbers. "It has nothing to do with issues of race," he said. "We did not want to create an unpleasant debate. We were quite serious about having a debate that didn't degenerate into political name-calling on issues of race. "At the end of the day, we will obviously take a more conservative view about intake in the current climate."

The business community's reaction to Mr Morrison's comments is likely to be tempered by the immigration spokesman's support for the skilled migration program, which business leaders strongly back because of the nation's skills shortage.

Former NSW [Labor] premier Bob Carr, who has been outspoken on the issue of population, said the government must cut skilled migration. "The argument is about the level of immigration, the rate of immigration . . . we've ramped it up to levels the Australian people aren't comfortable with," Mr Carr said.


5 April, 2010

Conservatives side with blacks against Greens

This is personal for Tony Abbott. He has long worked personally in furthering Aboriginal welfare. Comments below by black activist Noel Pearson

THE Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee this week started its inquiry into Tony Abbott's private member's bill, which seeks to override the Queensland government's Wild Rivers Act 2005. It is one year since the Queensland government announced on April 3 that it had made the first declarations of wild river areas in Cape York Peninsula.

There are serious questions about the validity of these declarations. They were approved by the Governor on April 2 last year, only 12 days after the Queensland state election. The Natural Resources Minister who purportedly made the declarations, Stephen Robertson, had been appointed only eight days earlier.

The Wild Rivers Act requires the minister to consider the results of community consultations and public submissions before deciding whether to declare a wild river area. The minister who decides to make the declaration must be the same person who has complied with the legislative responsibility to consider submissions and the outcomes of consultations. Before last year's Queensland election, the relevant minister was Craig Wallace.

If the legislative responsibility to properly consider public submissions was performed, it could only have been performed by Wallace ahead of the election. The declarations were already finalised and ready to go long before Robertson became minister. We do not know whether Wallace exercised the power to decide to make the declaration.

The Queensland government has since claimed that it was Robertson who made the decision to declare the wild river areas under section 15, and that he did this on April 1 last year.

We need to be assured that legislative requirements were met. Correspondence between Queensland bureaucrats obtained under Freedom of Information laws shows that the declarations were already proceeding to the Governor in Council on March 30 last year, two days before they were supposedly declared by Robertson.

Why is this important? The implementation of the Wild Rivers Act is also at issue.

Two examples illustrate the injustice of the Wild Rivers Act and its implementation. Section 15 of the act stipulates that the minister's decision can be reviewed only if the minister decides not to make a declaration. If he does decide to make a declaration, the minister does not have to provide any reasons for his decision. Those who have questions about the minister's decision have no recourse.

The second example concerns decisions about the width of buffer zones from riverbanks where activities are proscribed. The legislation contemplates that the width of buffer zones is to be determined by relevant scientific information and the public is to be consulted.

Government documents obtained under FoI legislation have disclosed that buffer zones relevant to mining and petroleum exploration activities were subject to an agreement struck between the Queensland government, the Queensland Resources Council and the Wilderness Society. These setbacks from riverbanks are far more lenient for miners than for indigenous interests, in some latter instances just 50m from a waterway in a preservation area.

There are three ways in which Abbott's bill would restore the rights of indigenous people in Cape York and allow us to continue our reform agenda. First, the bill would enhance the land rights of the native titleholders of Cape York Peninsula and enable them to negotiate with the state government so they provide free and informed consent to arrangements to protect the rivers of Cape York Peninsula.

The Queensland legislation offends the commonwealth's Native Title Act 1993-98, enacted by the Keating Labor government as an act of historic justice in 1993. For the Queensland government and environmental groups to claim the Wild Rivers Act does not affect native title, they must believe title is restricted to so-called traditional activities, confined to hunting and gathering. But in many cases native title is a full property right analogous to freehold.

It is remarkable that this bill - which enhances native title - is proposed by the conservatives. The resistance of the Coalition to native title in the past resulted in amendments in 1998 during the Howard government, which reduced the rights of native titleholders. But the weakening of the rights of native titleholders vis-a-vis external development has had the perverse consequence of weakening the rights of native titleholders to undertake their own economic development.

The conservative side of politics has been late in waking up to this effect. However, for anyone concerned about honouring indigenous rights, especially land rights, it is not a matter of who is proposing to honour and enhance the rights but whether the proposal does indeed achieve the honourable result. Furthermore, this bill is consistent with the commonwealth government's commitments as a signatory to the International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The declaration says governments shall consult and co-operate in good faith with indigenous peoples to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them. It also states indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources. The wild river laws contravene both these articles.

There is an Australian law, a well-established mechanism for governments and other parties to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples in relation to matters affecting their lands: indigenous land use agreements under the Native Title Act.

The Queensland government should have negotiated and settled indigenous land use agreements with native titleholders as part of the process of putting in place environmental protection provisions for rivers.

Finally, Abbott's bill puts the indigenous reform agenda in Cape York Peninsula back on track. The Queensland Wild Rivers Act derails our reform agenda. After 20 years of land rights gains and government progress, indigenous people in Cape York Peninsula are forced to contemplate a restrictive economic future shackling us to continuing welfare dependence.

The most perverse effect of Queensland's wild rivers scheme is that it will make smaller-scale environmentally sustainable developments more difficult while not preventing large-scale industrial developments, such as mining. It will be large-scale external developers, able to pay their way through the heavy transaction costs imposed by the layers of red tape - and able to lobby their way around George Street, Brisbane - that will be able to operate.

This is the hardest point to explain in this debate. The Queensland government claims the Wild Rivers Act allows indigenous economic development. But in reality, jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops is prohibitive to Cape York people.

The green bureaucrats who will have the real power, who are they? They are the public service arm of the extreme preservationist movement that made the deals about the future of our land with the Queensland government in the first place.

These are the reasons the bill to override the Wild Rivers Act must be supported by the commonwealth parliament.


War veteran calls emergency number from hospital bed

And no sign of repentance from the hospital

An 87-year-old war veteran had to use his own mobile phone to call triple-0 from his hospital bed because he couldn't get help from nursing staff. Asbestosis sufferer Kevin Park was left languishing in Lismore Base Hospital earlier this month after waking in, in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat.

Patients on the ward were forced to use archaic brass bells to get attention after the paging system failed. A nurse initially tended to Mr Park but no one bothered to help him change out of his soaked hospital gown, so he tried ringing his bell again to get someone back.

Scared, confused and alone, Mr Park was at his wit's end after 45 minutes of ringing when he finally decided to call triple-0 on his mobile. "I didn't know what was going on. It hadn't happened to me before and I wasn't even sure whether it was blood or sweat," he said from his hospital bed yesterday.

"Desperate people do desperate things. In the end I rang the emergency telephone number to ask them to get me out of here and somewhere where I would get some attention."

Only after his telephone call of desperation went through to an operator did a nurse finally appear, but Mr Park's ordeal did not end there. The nurse took his phone, returning it later that night with its SIM card and battery removed.

"Taking my phone was, to me, the biggest offence," Mr Park said. "To me it's thieving. You can't ring out on the phones they have here so that mobile phone was my only access to the outside world."

A North Coast Area Health Service spokeswoman said staff took Mr Park's phone to prevent other patients being disturbed in the middle of the night. "NCAHS has apologised for any distress that may have been caused to Mr Park and his family," she said.

"The nurse call system on Ward C8 was identified as faulty (but) the emergency part of the system is still operative." The spokeswoman said a replacement system would be installed later this month.

Mr Park, who served with the RAAF in World War II, was admitted to hospital last month suffering a lung condition.


Food Fascists going into overdrive

They pretend its a war on commercial food providers but it is really a war on people's choice of what to eat. And it's nothing to do with health, as people of middling weight live longest

AN obesity intervention wish list has been released, calling for a ban on all junk food advertising as well as new taxes and a cap on the number of fast food restaurants. The list, published in The Medical Journal of Australia, also calls for measures to discourage the bulk purchase of junk food, a redesign of supermarkets and a redirection of subsidy dollars to make fruit and vegetables cheaper.

It was time for government to prioritise the health of its citizens ahead of the profits of the food industry, said Bebe Loff, director of the Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health at Melbourne's Monash University.

Dr Loff also had a message for free marketeers who automatically criticised calls for a tax on junk food.

"Those concerned by our wish list's 'nanny state' implications might helpfully redirect their focus to the many unseen measures intentionally adopted by the food industry to shape our behaviour," she said. "It seems that without our knowledge or consent we are subject to the pervasive nannying activities of industry." [The food industry has no powers of legal coercion -- which is what this Fascist wishes to use]

The wish list proposes that governments ban all forms of marketing of energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods, a redesign of supermarkets to make healthy foods more prominent and the introduction of "kilojoule caps" for certain foods.

It calls for greater uniformity in packaging design to make EDNP foods less enticing and less amenable to bulk purchase and says planning laws are needed to regulate the number of fast food outlets.

It says fruit and vegetables should be subsidised, with this money coming from new taxes on EDNP foods and also a redirection of current subsidies flowing to the processed food industries.

Dr Loff said the scale of the problem ensured that isolated public health campaigns would do little to "slow the so-called obesity epidemic". She said Australia needed structural reform of the "vastly altered market in food that has developed over recent decades."

Another paper, also published in the MJA, calls for a new levy on the junk food and alcohol industries. VicHealth chief executive Todd Harper said a levy could be imposed on junk food and alcohol advertisements requiring the companies pay into a pool every time they promoted their products.


Tardis solution as more asylum seekers arrive at Australia's illegal immigrant processing centre on Christmas Is.

CHRISTMAS Island is taking on qualities of Dr Who's Tardis - it seems it can never fill up. According to officials, the island still has room for the seemingly never-ending flood of asylum seekers, even though all of the beds are full.

And the island is about to get even more crowded with yet another boat with 50 asylum seekers and four crew intercepted east of Ashmore Island yesterday. That boatload - which will take four to five days to arrive at Christmas Island - was the 35th asylum seeker boat to arrive this year and the 103rd since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took office. Also on the way to Christmas Island is another boatload of 79 asylum seekers and four crew, intercepted on Friday.

When the two boatloads do arrive they will be added to the 2062 asylum seekers already on the island. That's 22 more than the island's capacity of 2040. Despite this, a Department of Immigration and Citizenship spokesman yesterday said: "We have adequate capacity".

That seemingly makes Christmas Island akin to the time-travelling Tardis which, despite outwardly being the size and shape of a phone box , has infinite space inside.

The spokesman refused to respond to reports in The Weekend Australian that some detainees were sleeping in rooms designed for teaching English or for conducting interviews with immigration officers. "Christmas Island has adequate capacity for the current caseload," was all the spokesman would say.

Outside church yesterday, Mr Rudd refused to discuss the rising tide of people fleeing persecution from, in particular, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. On Friday 36 men and one woman were granted protection visas and were transferred to the Australian mainland. Twenty-seven of the refugees were from Afghanistan, eight were from Sri Lanka and two were from other countries.

More detainees are expected to be transferred to the mainland either today or tomorrow but the immigration spokesman would not say if they were more visa recipients or were being moved to free up beds.


4 April, 2010

Geheime Staatspolizei galore in Australia

There they go again, our very own Keystone Kops. The Australian Federal Police have bungled yet another "anti-terrorist" investigation. The fiasco finally came crashing down around their ears in the Victorian Supreme Court on Wednesday. To cut a long story very short, three prominent members of the Australian ethnic Tamil community - all Australian citizens - had been charged with acts of terrorism in support of the Tamil Tiger rebellion in Sri Lanka.

Over five years, the evidence against them gradually fell to pieces, and the more serious charges along with it. The operation was a mess. It sank to grim farce when one of the suspects, Arumugan Rajeevan of Sydney, was unlawfully dragged from his car at gunpoint by "federal agents", as they grandly style themselves these days, presumably in mimicry of the FBI. Rajeevan was clapped into handcuffs, denied a lawyer and questioned for five hours. When it gradually dawned on the plods that the evidence against him would not stick, they decided to "unarrest" him, a concept hitherto unknown to the law, as the Victorian judge, Paul Coghlan, pointed out with some asperity.

"The notion of unarresting people is something that I've struck here for the first time," he said. "The notion that somebody can be arrested unlawfully and then just unarrested at somebody else's whim is bizarre."

Justice Coghlan found that some AFP officers had been "frighteningly high-handed". They had abused Rajeevan's rights, and his interrogation by one officer, Patricia Reynolds, had been "beyond any training a proper investigator can have". The three pleaded guilty to a minor charge of sending money to a terrorist organisation, and each was released on a good behaviour bond of $1000. Figures given to Parliament last year show the AFP had spent well over $5 million on the pursuit.

The trouble is that when you give the police and the security services extraordinary and secret powers, as governments have done, it is London to a brick those powers will be abused. We saw that in the affair of Mohamed Haneef, the Indian doctor stitched up by the AFP and the Howard government as an Islamic terrorist. And I wonder, too, if we are seeing it in the matter of an Iranian-born Islamic cleric in Sydney, Mansour Leghaei, who faces deportation after ASIO branded him a risk to national security.

Leghaei and his family - who are Australian citizens, although he is not - have lived quietly in this country for 16 years. There appears to be tremendous community support for him. The local Anglican rector, Father David Smith of the Holy Trinity Church in Dulwich Hill, describes him as "one of my best friends" and is leading what he calls a "Christian Save The Sheikh Coalition".

"Mansour is just not a political animal, " he says. " He has been working towards integration and understanding."

Leghaei is not allowed to know the evidence against him. ASIO needs to give no reason, and no appeal is possible. The spooks have spoken. Big Brother is bigger than ever.


Carbon trading on backburner

THE Rudd Government has transferred its entire emissions trading team into the strife-prone household insulation program, putting plans for carbon trading this year on the backburner.

The team of 154, which has been costing taxpayers an average of $370,000 each planning for the non-existent emissions trading scheme, will be put to work on sorting out the problems with the $2.45 billion home insulation program that left four people dead and has been implicated in 120 house fires up to March 24.

With a budget of $57 million this financial year alone, the emissions team works for an agency that is little more than a name – the Australian Climate Change Regulatory Authority – until legislation to create an emissions trading scheme passes Federal Parliament.

Hiring for the "phantom" agency (as it has been dubbed) continues, with plans to take staffing to 300 by the end of next year, relayed Department of Climate Change deputy secretary Geoff Leeper.

Emissions trading laws, officially known as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, are stalled in the Senate and now face a firm no vote from the Opposition. They were once the centrepiece of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's response to climate change, which he dubbed "the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time".

The re-assignment of these bureaucrats is part of a quiet gutting of Environment Minister Peter Garrett's department over the past couple of weeks as the Department of Climate Change under South Australian Senator Penny Wong and former ACTU secretary Greg Combet took responsibility for another $400 million in environmental programs.

About 500 Environment Department staff were requisitioned by the Department of Climate Change to keep the programs operating. The Department of Climate Change did not exist until December 2007. The new entity is known as the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Its secretary, Martin Parkinson, said it now has more than 1000 staff.

Dr Parkinson told a Senate inquiry his agency had taken over the National Energy Efficiency Initiative and Solar Homes and Communities Plan, which were budgeted to cost about $370 million this financial year. These new responsibilities could take spending to as much as $1 billion, according to last year's budget reports on climate change.


Rudd flips on 'big Australia'

Insane growth rate is stretching all services

The federal government will consider slashing Australia's annual migration intake to help tackle concerns about traffic congestion, housing, hospitals, water and the environment.

Just months after declaring himself in favour of a "big Australia", Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday warned of "legitimate concerns" with population growth and appointed Agriculture Minister Tony Burke as Australia's first Population Minister. Mr Burke has been given a year to develop the country's first population plan, including a review of immigration levels.

The announcement came as another boatload of asylum seekers - the 102nd to be intercepted since Mr Rudd took office - was placed in detention at the Christmas Island facility, which has reportedly reached capacity.

Mr Rudd denied the new strategy was a smokescreen to divert attention from the recent boat arrivals, saying the idea for a population plan had come after "extensive deliberations of the cabinet over the last month".

He said population growth must be monitored: "Particularly its impact on urban congestion, its impact on the adequacy of infrastructure, its impact on the adequacy of housing supply, its impact on government services, its impact also on water and agriculture and on our regions."

Mr Rudd's change of heart followed the release last month of Treasury's Intergenerational Report, which predicted Australia's population would swell from about 22 million to 35.9 million in 2050, with overseas migration by far the biggest contributor.

Australia's growth rate is now twice the global average, even outstripping that in some developing nations including the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Figures from the Bureau of Statistics show that last financial year net overseas migration added a record 298,924 people, while natural increase (births minus deaths) added 157,792.

Victoria's population, estimated at 5.44 million at June 2009, is growing faster than the national average, with 27 per cent of all immigrants in 2008-09 choosing to set up home here.

The majority moved to Melbourne, where population growth outstripped all other capital cities for the eighth year in a row, compounding pressure on the city's public transport network, roads and housing market.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison dismissed Mr Rudd's announcement as a diversion to cover his failure to control boat arrivals. "Effectively what he has announced is a plan for a plan after the next election," he said.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Australia needed a serious debate on population. "It's very hard to have a sustainable population strategy if you can't control our boat arrivals. You can't have a population policy without having a border protection policy," he said.

The Future Eaters author and former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery welcomed the move, but said the Government should create an independent board to set medium and longer-term targets that would take into account the environment, social issues and the economy.

Greens leader Bob Brown said the new strategy must be matched with action. "The major parties' population growth plan is outstripping Australia's infrastructure, environmental capacity and affecting quality of life."


Rigid Leftist workplace laws hurt teens

IR's teen losers take their jobs plea to the PM

TWO youths who lost their after-school jobs at a Victorian hardware store have appealed to Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard for their jobs back, after their employer was required to pay $3000 in back pay.

Matthew Spencer and Leticia Harrison said the part-time work had given them independence and confidence, and they would not accept back pay "for work we have not done".

The duo were among six youths who lost after-school work at the Terang and District Co-operative because their new award stipulated they had to be employed for a minimum of three hours a day, compared with the previous state award that had a two-hour minimum.

However, the youths were engaged after school for 1 1/2 hours, with their employer arguing that was the only amount of work available before the store, located 210km southwest of Melbourne, closed at 5.30pm.

Charlie Duynhoven, who employed the six teenagers, said he had agreed to back-pay them collectively about $3000 after the Fair Work Ombudsman required him to conduct an audit of his employment records.

But Mr Spencer, 17, and Ms Harrison, 16, have written to Mr Duynhoven, saying they do not want "back pay for 12 months of work that we have not done". A copy of the letter has been sent to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. "We have decided we don't want the money; we would rather have our jobs back," they wrote.

"We do not feel that you have exploited us in any way as we had agreed that we would work for an hour and a half after school as it suited with our school hours and the opening times of the hardware store. "We would prefer that the work could continue with the same hours.

"Surely if we want to work for an hour and a half after school we should be able to do so, especially when the hardware store is only open until 5.30pm. "This job has given us independence, skills and confidence that when we leave school will be valuable to us in finding future employment."

Retailers have applied to Fair Work Australia to have the three-hour minimum cut to two hours. They want the right to employ youths after school for less than three hours where the worker agrees and business circumstances require.

In February, Mr Rudd said the government would try to "work (the issue) through". Ms Gillard's office said on February 7 that attempts were being made to come to an arrangement that suited both the employer and the teenagers.

The federal Liberal candidate for Wannon, Dan Tehan, said yesterday the students had "unfortunately learnt the hard way that Kevin Rudd is all talk and no action". "Kevin Rudd gave them hope that he would act to get them their jobs back, yet in eight weeks he has done nothing," he said.

A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said yesterday that Mr Tehan should come clean with the students, and "tell them the hardware store owner was unfortunately breaching conditions in an award that existed when Mr (John) Howard was prime minister". "He could also explain to the students that, under Mr Abbott's industrial relations plans, as workers in a small business they'd be one of the two million Australians who could be sacked without warning or reason no matter how good an employee they are," she said.

Given the application to vary the award had been lodged with Fair Work Australia, the independent umpire would "look at the merits of the arguments and decide if changes to the minimum hours should be made".

Unions are resisting the move, with Joe de Bruyn, national secretary of the shop assistants union, warning that 30 per cent of the workforce were casuals and part-timers who relied on minimum hours protections. "The idea that school kids earning pocket money can somehow swing this issue for what is 30 per cent of the workforce would be quite extraordinary," Mr de Bruyn said. "These kids are being used by employers to prosecute a case."

Ms Harrison has started a petition seeking changes to the award, and has secured 600 signatures. Gary Black, executive director of the National Retail Association, said employers were concerned that as soon as the hardware store case attracted publicity, the Ombudsman intervened and required an audit.


3 April, 2010

Police secrecy about attack on Indian

"Racial sensitivities" apparently. The public are too dumb and stupid to be given important information, apparently. One guess that the offender was an ethnic too -- perhaps a Polynesian (Maori etc.)

A SERIOUS alleged knife attack at one of Queensland's busiest train stations during the peak afternoon commuter period was kept quiet by authorities. The Courier-Mail has learnt that an Indian man's throat was slashed while he waited on Platform 9 at Brisbane's Roma Street Station about 4.20pm on March 17.

A 26-year-old man was charged a short time later after handing himself in at police headquarters, across the road.

It is alleged the attack on Narendrakumar Patel, 34, was seen by police monitoring the station on closed-circuit television screens. But details of the incident were never released by police despite the high-profile location. Sources have claimed that a decision was taken by authorities not to release details of the assault, which is certain to fuel fears about train station safety.

It also will spark debate about whether Indians are the target of racially motivated attacks in Queensland, an issue that has raised tension between the Australian and Indian governments after a spate of attacks in Victoria.

Police would not comment on the case, or the decision not to release details.

But Opposition justice spokesman Lawrence Springborg said the attack struck "at the heart of confidence of all rail commuters" and the public had a right to know about it. "I hope that this has not been covered up or hosed down by our authorities because of the nationality of the victim," he said.

Police Minister Neil Roberts said train stations were patrolled by 54 officers in the rail squad and more than 100 full-time transit officers and private security guards. He said the clear-up rate for crime on the rail system was "very good".

Mr Roberts also said he had been briefed on recent incidents involving people from various ethnic backgrounds. "Some are obviously racially motivated, however police advise me that in their opinion the majority of incidents involving persons from different ethnic backgrounds are not suspected of being racially motivated," he said.

The man accused of attacking Mr Patel was charged with assault occasioning bodily harm and carrying a knife in a public place. It is believed the bluntness of the knife saved Mr Patel from more serious injuries. Despite police prosecutors opposing bail, the man was released and is due to face court again on April 15.


Australian clerics mock atheism

I think that these attacks do apply to militant atheists. Evangelical atheism as practiced by Dawkins et al. is pretty absurd

RELIGIOUS leaders have used their Easter sermons and messages to condemn the rise of atheism, with Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen describing the philosophy as an "assault on God".

A day after Sydney Catholic Archbishop Cardinal George Pell criticised non-believers, Dr Jensen said in his Good Friday sermon at Sydney's St Andrew's Cathedral that atheism was a form idolatry.

"As we can see by the sheer passion and virulence of the atheist - they seem to hate the Christian God - we are not dealing here with cool philosophy up against faith without a brain," Dr Jensen told worshippers. "Atheism is every bit of a religious commitment as Christianity itself. "It represents the latest version of the human assault on God, born out of resentment that we do not in fact rule the world and that God calls on us to submit our lives to him. "It is a form of idolatry in which we worship ourselves."

Cardinal Pell of St Mary's Cathedral delivered a similar attack on atheism in his Easter message yesterday. He praised government organisations "paid for by the Christian majority" for helping make the Australian way of life the envy of the world, but noted that atheists sponsored no community services.

The new Catholic Bishop of Parramatta, in Sydney's west, Anthony Fisher, continued the attack in his Easter message. "Last century we tried godlessness on a grand scale and the effects were devastating: Nazism, Stalinism, Pol Pot-ery, mass murder, abortion and broken relationships - all promoted by state-imposed atheism," he said.

However, the Atheist Foundation of Australia said Dr Jensen's claims were "preposterous" and condemned Christianity for a spate of child sex abuse scandals. "He seeks out a scapegoat and attacks atheism without any understanding of what he is saying," foundation president David Nicholls said. "To state we hate his god or are attacking his god is nonsense. "How does one hate or attack that which does not exist?"

A spokesman for Dr Jensen denied it was a co-ordinated attack by the churchmen. But he said the comments were likely to have been spurred by the recent Rise of Atheism conference held in Melbourne, which attracted 2500 non-believers and featured renowned figurehead Richard Dawkins.

Dr Jensen went on to say in his sermon that religion can be an "even more dangerous" form of idolatry than atheism if incorrectly interpreted. "Here, too, religion can simply be the power game under a different guise ... Atheist or religious person - we all need to be reconciled to God and give him our lives," he added.


Major public hospital rejects surgery patients wholesale

WESTMEAD HOSPITAL is cancelling surgery at four times the rate the Health Department considers acceptable, and waiting times are so long some surgeons are refusing to add new patients to their operating lists.

About 8 per cent of elective surgery patients at the flagship Sydney University teaching hospital had their operation cancelled on the day of surgery, due to a shortage of post-surgical beds. This was often after fasting and being prepared for theatre, said John Fletcher, chairman of the hospital's surgery division.

This did not include the many patients told not to come to hospital days before their scheduled operation. Those cancellations - which Professor Fletcher said affected up to half of patients for some types of surgery - were not formally recorded.

Population growth, a jump in the proportion of emergency admissions last year from 41 to 45 per cent of all surgery, the designation of Westmead as a major trauma treatment centre, and the rigid enforcement of unrealistic bed budgets were behind the worsening shortage of beds for non-emergency surgery, he said.

Hospitals in western Sydney have suffered staff freezes and bed cuts due to debts that last year reached $26 million. Doctors insist the quality of treatment at Westmead remains excellent, but they are frustrated they cannot accept more patients.

The neurosurgeon Brian Owler said he was under pressure from managers to schedule operations that had virtually no chance of taking place on the nominated day, but had begun to refuse. "I think it's unfair to patients when the possibility of them being operated on that date is extremely small," he said. "People arrange their lives around it. They take holidays and get relatives to fly interstate to look after them."

Associate Professor Owler, the Australian Medical Association's NSW councillor for surgeons, said many patients in so-called category 2 - whose procedure should be performed within 90 days - were waiting much longer, sometimes with disabling spinal conditions. "People suffer pain and numbness and they can't walk," he said. "If they get [high blood pressure] because they can't exercise, that compounds the problem."

Patrick Cregan, the chairman of NSW Health's Surgical Services Taskforce, said same-day cancellations in western Sydney were about twice the state average, and much higher than the 2 per cent maximum set by NSW Health. "The fundamental problem is that [the area] doesn't have the resources it needs," he said.

Peter Klineberg, chairman of Westmead's medical staff council, said the 854-bed hospital - the state's largest - was effectively capped at 17 elective surgery patients a day who would require an overnight stay.

This was in addition to gynaecology and cardiac patients who are accommodated in separate wards, and day-surgery patients. The hospital could perform almost twice as many operations if beds were available.

Under the state trauma plan released on March 1, Westmead would receive a greater proportion of severely injured patients. Dr Klineberg said this would exacerbate bed shortages.

A spokeswoman for Sydney West Area Health Service said it was too early to know the impact of the trauma changes. She said Westmead was meeting elective surgery targets and in the period to last December 90 per cent of patients had their operation on time.


Helicopter parents not doing enough to let children fail

THE belief that regular praise will improve the self-esteem of students has backfired, with educators urging over-anxious parents to let their children fail so they can learn from their mistakes.

Parents were also doing too much for their children who were becoming less resilient and unable to cope with failure. Some were even too scared to put up their hand in class and risk giving the wrong answer.

As new research shows that members of Generation Y are entering the workforce with an inflated sense of their abilities, principals are warning "helicopter parents" against putting too much pressure on children to be successful, which could discourage them from risking failure.

Rod Kefford, the headmaster of Barker College, has warned: "We are creating a generation of very fearful learners and the quality of our intellectual life will suffer as a result."

Today's students are let down lightly by teachers and wrapped in cotton wool by some parents. But in the 1960s, it was not uncommon for teachers to tell students bluntly that they had given a wrong answer. "Then someone invented the concept of self-esteem," Dr Kefford said. "In some ways it has been the most damaging educational concept that has ever been conceived.

"We couldn't do anything that would upset or harm the self-esteem of students, which was very fragile, we were led to believe … That is when we stopped our proper work in the character formation in young people. If we are serious about building resilience, we have to let them fail. It is only through our failings in the learning process that we learn anything." He said schools needed to give children the confidence to risk failure to encourage more creative thinking.

"[Through] this fear we have of ever allowing them to fail, we are selling them short as human beings and as future adults," he said. One of the first empirical studies on generational differences in work values shows Generation Y or the "millennials" (born between 1982 and 1999) are entering the workforce overconfident and with a sense of entitlement. The research, led by Jean Twenge at San Diego State University and published in the Journal of Management, shows this generation wants money and the status of a prestigious job without putting in long hours. When they do not get the marks they expect at university or rise quickly enough in their jobs, they turn into quitters.

"More and more students are reaching university not knowing how to do things for themselves. Parents think they are helping young people by doing things for them but they are actually making them less independent," Professor Twenge said.

"It is now common for parents and teachers to tell children, 'you are special' and 'you can be anything you want to be'." While such comments are meant to encourage students and raise their self-esteem, experts say they can inflate students' egos.

"Feeling special often means the expectation of special treatment," she said. "Your parents might think you're special but the rest of the world might not. This can be a difficult adjustment."


2 April, 2010

Feminists and Greens, not Christians, are the real wowsers

"Wowser" roughly means "killjoy" and is of American origin but is now commonly used only in Australia. It was originally an abbreviation of "We only want social evils removed" and was part of the campaign for Prohibition

I'd have thought stripping was the last thing you'd do in a country called Iceland, and now it is. The country's parliament last week voted to ban striptease shows, making it a crime to turn a buck from a naked woman.

Now, normally news from Iceland - even news including words such as "stripper" and "nude" - cuts no ice with me. But there's a moral to this story that helps explain why Formula One driver Mark Webber protested last weekend that Australia had turned into "a bloody nanny state in which we've got to read an instruction book when we get out of bed - what we can do and what we can't do".

Mark, all the way from Iceland comes your explanation. The telling thing about Iceland's ban on strippers is that it's long been a Christian country - yet it's not Christians now forcing everyone else to live by their finger-wagging code.

True, Iceland's Christianity is of that wobbly northern European kind, with only one in 10 believers in a pew on Sundays. Sounds a bit like Australia. Yet the 90 per cent of Icelanders formally registered with a church have long tolerated the strip shows that a new breed of believers have now banned.

And who are these new wowsers? Why, followers of a creed that's also growing strong here, and dangerously lacks Christianity's tolerance. You see, Iceland is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing not for religious reasons but feminist. Indeed, it's the only European country other than the Vatican City and Andorra to ban stripping at all.

Kolbrun Halldorsdottir, the politician who first proposed this law, says its adoption by parliament is "mainly as a result of the feminist groups putting pressure on parliamentarians". Moreover, almost half of Iceland's parliamentarians are female, and president Johanna Sigurardottir is not only a feminist but the world's first openly lesbian head of state.

This is the coalition of ideologues who have banned what Christians wouldn't, ruling that men may not enjoy what feminists don't like, and other women may not make money in ways their betters think sinful.

True, stripping is a demeaning trade and the less of it the healthier. I'd even admit to being dismayed that our local councils are so indifferent to the trashing of our culture that they allow the huge twirling sign next to the busy Richmond train station that advertises two sleazier strip clubs.

But the issue here is not whether stripping should be banned (I'd say no), but who is most likely to ban it - and ban lots of other things they don't like. Or put it this way: it's to identify just who is most likely to tick off Mark Webber.

We're so often told that the real straighteners are Christians, and especially Catholics. "Get your rosaries off my ovaries," screeched an anti-Catholic Age columnist at Tony Abbott on the ABC's Q&A, as if the Opposition Leader really was about to ban abortions and anything else his Catholic faith didn't like.

In truth, Abbott as prime minister would do no such authoritarian thing, and not just because he's terrified of losing the votes of women. He actually knows Christianity has what so many in-your-face ideologies of the Left do not - a respect for freedom and individual conscience.

Christians, or at least those with brains, understand their God gave us freedom to choose, or else there'd be no Hell. How we choose is ultimately up to us - and it's in that free choice that we show our moral worth. That helps to explain why Australia, despite being an overwhelmingly Christian country, has so few laws passed on purely religious grounds.

We can watch strip shows, divorce, drink, draw rude pictures of Christ, work on Sundays, visit brothels, have abortions, buy condoms, blaspheme and call the Pope a Nazi. We are free to sin against the Christian creed - and to be judged.

But the new moralists aren't quite so keen on such freedom. It's the old problem. Most moralists are really after power, not goodness, and moralising licenses them to do almost anything to make other people nicer, since their bullying is for their victim's own good. And if they don't believe in God, they'll feel even more obliged to do his judging for him.

That's why feminists feel free to ban other women from stripping, and why Webber is being driven mad by laws that are intrusive, expensive, patronising and inconvenient impertinences.

The worst of them are our new racial and religious vilification laws that have done no good and much harm, most notoriously when they were used to punish Christian pastors for quoting Koranic passages on jihad to their flock. This preaching was illegal, ruled the VCAT judge, because it elicited "a response from the audience at various times in the form of laughter".

Amazing - a law against blasphemy that was passed not by Christians but secular multiculturalists.

Then there are those countless other pestering laws that are meant to spread the latest faith of the faithless, rather than achieve any practical good.

* Take the ban on shopping bags that inconveniences shoppers without saving the planet.

* Take the ban on bottled water passed by the NSW town of Bundanoon that strikes the approved attitude but won't stop global warming by a flicker.

* Take the new Victorian law that demands all new houses have six-star green rating, forcing buyers to pay extra to live someone else's green dream.

* Take the recycling laws that force people to ritually separate their garbage at no benefit to anyone.

* Most infuriating of all such laws is Victoria's mad ban on new dams that has forced hundreds of thousands of garden lovers to water their gardens by hand at dark dawn, thanks to the man-made water shortages that followed. We must stand, hose in hand, in our gardens at dawn because influential greens felt more water was a sin.

That's the new green moralist forcing you to genuflect to their faith, using the law in ways Christians can't and won't.

YOU don't believe me? You can't believe that our laws are being used just to ram this new faith down your throat? Then read this letter in The Age from a green in Northcote (where else) infuriated by the Brumby Government's pre-election announcement that it will relax its water restrictions, thanks to good rain and the new desalination plant.

"I was stunned to hear that Melburnians can shortly return to squandering water," this Gaian raged. "After years of drought ... the population was beginning to show that behaviour can be changed, we can become responsible consumers of the Earth's resources. "Now, with a state election looming ... we can return to the head-in-the-sand wasteful behaviour of years past. Shame on you, Mr Brumby." Other writers agreed.

This is the green version of a law to force us all to eat fish on Friday.

Some of these new moralists would go even further, and turn the country into a theocracy. A green Iran. Take James Lovelock, the Gaia guru, who preaches that "climate change may be an issue as severe as a war" and "it may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while".

Or Prof Clive Hamilton, the Greens candidate, who claims global warming may require "emergency responses such as the suspension of democratic processes". Sure, Clive. Can I be the dictator, or is that job reserved for you?

You know the answer. After all, Hamilton is the fanatic who preaches that the "Gaian earth in its ecological, cybernetic way, (is) infused with some notion of mind or soul or chi".

And if it takes a law to make us see things his way - well, let Webber blubber. Or flee to a truly Christian land where he's still free to blaspheme.


Christmas Island now a 'taxi service' after asylum-seeker boats slip through

CHRISTMAS Island has become a"taxi service" after an asylum-seeker boat slipped though Australia's border security and announced its arrival in a triple 0 call, the Opposition says.

And the immigration detention centre is expected to come under further pressure today, with about 150 more boatpeople on three vessels reportedly expected to land.

Wednesday night's undetected vessel, which sailed within 1.5km of Christmas Island, was the 101st to arrive since the Rudd government took office.

It was also the second time in a week that authorities had been alerted to an arrival by a phone call from those on board, after a vessel carrying 41 people called the Australian Federal Police from the island's Flying Fish Cove on Monday.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison today said Kevin Rudd needed to listen to the Australian people and take action on people-smuggling, predicting further transfers from the overcrowded island to the mainland would occur over the Easter long weekend. “It's not going to change under this government. They've shown no resolve to address this issue. The Prime Minister actually denies it is an issue,” he told the Macquarie Radio network. “He needs to listen to Australians on this because what they tell us, what they tell me is that they're sick and tired of this and they want someone to take some action.

“(The asylum-seekers) literally rang triple 0 to announce their arrival. Interception I don't think is the word for what's going on up there. It's basically becoming a bit of a taxi service. “Christmas Island's become a bit like a revolving door, they've got to get people off to get people on.”

Yesterday's boat carrying 64 Kurdish asylum-seekers and three crew was escorted by HMAS Broome to the island for health and identity checks.

Reports this morning claim the human cargo on board took the number of arrivals since the November 2007 election to 4450 asylum-seekers and 230 crew.

Mr Morrison said yesterday the arrival of the 101st boat would cost taxpayers more than $5 million and was the 16th this month which he described as an “all-time record.” “Four boats have arrived in the last seven days alone, with 160 people on board. With each additional person on Christmas Island costing almost $82,000, each boat is an expensive failure,” he said. “The budget has already blown out by $132 million and by the end of the financial year the Coalition expects it could blow out by a further $250 million.”


How a Leftist broadcaster looks after blacks

Reader Sian, hoping to get an ABC internship, was excited by the first half of this ABC announcement: "Many people would love the opportunity to be introduced to the ABC, and we have created an introduction for you via our ABC National Indigenous Internship Program."

Ah, well. Sian misses out, but a few lucky Aborigines will get an opportunity that people of their colour are rarely offered.

In fact, let’s now meet some of the ABC’s officially “Indigenous Staff”, including lucky beneficiaries of the ABC’s policy to give employment preference to Aborigines, or employment to Aborigines in Aboriginal shows:



Several readers observe that at least the fourth person pictured is demonstrably Aboriginal. In fact, here’s his tangled genealogy, as released by the ABC itself:

"Daniel is from the Minjungbal clan of the Bundjalung nation...Through his mother, he is a descendant of the Kullilli people of south-western Queensland… His paternal ancestors came from Vanuatu… Among his other ancestors are an English merchant seaman who married above his rank into the family of the paramount chief of Fiji and, an intrepid West Indian who jumped ship in Australia in the late nineteenth century – disappearing from official notice by marrying into the Aboriginal community."



Keith Windschuttle exposes a Leftist fraud in great detail. A small excerpt:

The central point in the debate over the Stolen Generations is the accusation that children were forcibly removed from indigenous Australians as young as possible for the immediate purpose of raising them separately from and ignorant of their culture and people, and for the ultimate purposes of suppressing any distinct Aboriginal culture. The purported aim was to end the existence of the Aborigines as a distinct people.

As the Australian National University historian Peter Read defined the accusation: “welfare officers, removing children solely because they were Aboriginal, intended and arranged that they should lose their Aboriginality, and that they never return home.”

Or as Australia’s Human Rights Commission, wrote in its 1997 report Bringing Them Home: “The policy of forcible removal of children from Indigenous Australians to other groups for the purpose of raising them separately from and ignorant of their culture and people could properly be labelled ‘genocidal’ in breach of binding international law.”

Using these works as its sources, the SBS television series First Australians encapsulated the charge for a popular audience: “Between 1910 and 1970 an estimated 50,000 Aboriginal children were removed from their families. Most were aged under five.”...

My book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume Three, The Stolen Generations, (Macleay Press, 2009) challenges these claims.

Robert Manne has now responded in three separate places — ABC Radio National, the Weekend Australian and The Monthly. In none of them, did he focus on the central charges above. He was unwilling or unable to engage in a genuine debate. Yet he knew that major sections of my book disprove the claim that the children removed were as young as possible or that they were removed from their families permanently.

I demonstrate this through an analysis of the records of every child removed by the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board between 1907 and 1932, when: two-thirds removed were not under five but teenagers, aged thirteen to nineteen; most went not into institutions but into jobs in the paid workforce; those children sent to the handful of institutions mostly remained there for months, not years, let alone their whole childhood; a clear majority returned to their families and communities; family visits to institutionalized children were not discouraged; instead the board paid parents a stipend and rail fare to travel to see them child welfare policies and practices were not racist because they were the same for white children as for black.

While Aboriginal policy in New South Wales is the most important in this debate, since this was where the concept of the Stolen Generations was invented, I also analyse in detail all the available archival data on removals in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

In Western Australia, the overwhelming majority of children who went into Aboriginal institutions were not forcible removals but went there voluntarily with their parents to gain access to welfare.

During the regime of A.O. Neville from 1915 to 1940, the principal government Aboriginal institution in the south of West-ern Australia, the Moore River Native Settlement, received a total of only 252 unattached half-caste children, just ten a year, most of them orphaned, neglected, abused or diseased. In the Northern Territory, the two institutions for half-caste children in Darwin and Alice Springs were populated mainly by children between six and fifteen years sent by their parents from remote stations and communities to go to school. In the 1940s and 1950s, most of these parents used their government Child Endowment cheque to pay the hostel fees.

I advance two further reasons why the Stolen Generations thesis has always been inherently implausible: Until the white historian Peter Read invented the concept in 1981, the leading Aboriginal activists of the twentieth century were completely unaware that for the entire period 1910–1970 there was a great conspiracy by successive cohorts of politicians and bureaucrats in all states to eliminate the Aboriginal race.

None of the five-point and ten-point manifestos of the activists at the sesqui-centenary in 1938, the Black Panthers in 1970, or the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972 complained of children being stolen. Even those Aboriginal activists who served terms as directors of Aboriginal welfare boards did not realize they were overseeing a program supposedly comparable to the Holocaust. They could not see the genocide supposedly underway right beneath their noses.

Since 1915, the Aboriginal population has grown at a substan-tially faster rate than the home-grown white population. Hence the Aborigines must be the only people in world history to have suffered genocide in the midst of a population boom.

Rather than questioning this evidence or the logic of my arguments, Manne’s responses have studiously avoided them. He has presented no data to counter my analyses of the ages at which children were removed or about the lack of permanence of separation. Nor did he offer anything to question my examination of child welfare practice for white children that showed removals in New South Wales were the same for white and black children.

Instead, Manne’s responses have focused on a handful of topics in which he has previously entered the debate himself. I discuss his main points in what follows.


1 April, 2010

Government schools paying double for "stimulus" work -- compared with Catholic schools

A COMPARISON of building costs in a Catholic and a government primary school reveals that the public school is paying twice the amount of fees to consultants as the private school.

The western Sydney primary schools Holy Family, in Emerton, and Lalor Park Public both received $2 million under the federal government's Building the Education Revolution program to build new halls.

A breakdown of costs provided by the Catholic Education Office for the Parramatta diocese shows the non-construction costs at Holy Family school total about $170,000 and include fees to the architect, who acts as project manager, consultants, such as structural and electrical engineers, surveyors, the council and certifiers.

The equivalent costs in the public sector total about $350,000 and include an incentive fee for the managing contractor to finish on time and on budget, on top of its project management fee, the state government's project management cost and "design documentation, field data and site management" worth about $240,000.

Program leader for the BER in the Parramatta diocese Bernard Ryall said the initial building budgets allocated less than 10 per cent of the project's value for fees, presuming a straightforward construction with no complications.

In an extensive refurbishment of 10 classrooms at St Bernadette's Primary in Lalor Park, worth $2m, the non-construction costs were $195,000 while at St Monica's Primary School in Richmond, northwest of Sydney, a 400sq m brick and metal-clad hall built with a $2.5m grant included non-construction costs of $182,000.

Mr Ryall said the key to the smooth running of the BER was determining from the beginning school needs and detailing site complications that would vary costs: "If you have that clarity at the outset, you get good value for money.

"It's when you have constant changes and need to rework plans that you incur additional fees." .

While the NSW Education Department appointed a managing contractor to oversee construction in a region, the CEO in Parramatta co-ordinates the work within its office structure, working with the eight architects engaged to custom-design buildings in its 54 primary schools and four high schools.

Catholic school principals are in the driving seat, working with the architect on the design of the building, with the Catholic Education Office providing support as required.

Holy Family principal Brenda Kennedy said the school hall being built under the BER was designed by the architect who designed the school, which opened in 2004.

"I like to think of it as an oasis in the middle of Mount Druitt," Sister Kennedy said.


More revelations about huge "stimulus" waste

THE federal government's $16.2 billion education building stimulus package could have delivered thousands more school buildings had it not been for inflated costs including a series of secret fees paid to major construction companies.

The Australian can reveal managing contractors in NSW have been charging fees of between 12.5 and 16.5 per cent on projects - about 3 1/2 times amounts suggested by the federal government - adding as much as $500 million to the cost of the Building the Education Revolution rollout in NSW.

Managing contractors are further entitled to charge 5 per cent in "contingency fees", a 1.3 per cent fee for reporting to government and unspecified "design and price risk" fees.

A senior contracting source familiar with the fee arrangements, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Australian one of the seven major contractors in NSW, the Reed Group, had levied 20.93 per cent in fees on work done. "I was amazed to see such high fees," the source said. "I have not seen anything like this previously. I and many others working on this program are receiving nothing like this."

A spokesman for NSW Education Minister Verity Firth yesterday confirmed the 20.93 per cent figure, saying it included "site supervision, profit margin and incentive payments".

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard has repeatedly insisted project costs for managing contractors were capped at 4 per cent. "In terms of project costs, the target there is 4 per cent, which is the amount that is used as a benchmark in commercial construction about project costs - so there we have it," she told 2GB broadcaster Ray Hadley on March 15.

Ms Firth's spokesman said the state was not in breach of the federal government's 4 per cent cap. "Project management fees are capped at 4 per cent. Site supervision, profit margin and incentive payments are not project management fees," the spokesman said. The spokesman declined to comment when asked why the government had earlier refused to list the secret fee structure.

NSW Education Department director-general Michael Coutts-Trotter said the approach was required to ensure the BER program was delivered on time, which was a condition of the federal government's funding. He said the managing contractor process was chosen to ensure the projects were delivered on time, safely and to the highest building standards.

A comprehensive investigation by The Australian reveals the secret fee structures, which have never before been publicly disclosed, are known as "Fee A" and "Fee B". Those fee structures, which go some way to explaining some of the huge variations between the cost of buildings under the BER and standard costs, have been used by the managing contractors and the state government since tenders were originally taken.

Despite requests for details of total fees to managing contractors, the NSW government had refused to disclose totals until presented with the "Fee A" and "Fee B" structure by The Australian.

Under the fee structure, managing contractors who employ outside builders to carry out the work are paid "Fee A", which averaged 11 per cent. Managing contractors who use in-house builders are paid "Fee B", which averaged 15 per cent. In addition managing contractors are entitled to an "incentive fee" of between 1 per cent and 3.25 per cent, which averaged about 1.5 per cent of all BER funding.

The revelations come as Wayne Swan conceded some schools might have been rorted under the scheme. "It may be the case that, given we've got 9000 schools in Australia, in some cases it may have been rorted and that should be investigated and stamped out," the Treasurer said.

A spokesman for Ms Gillard said maximum project management fees of 4 per cent charged by managing contractors did not relate to other fees such as "site management" and other on-site costs. "While the states and territories are responsible for the implementation of BER projects, we want to make sure we're getting value for money which is why we have strict requirements in place in relation to project management costs," Ms Gillard said.

"The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations is closely monitoring project progress in each state and territory through the submission of monthly reports. Should they find evidence of mismanagement or proof that the 4 per cent project management cap has been breached, then we will be following up these cases."

While the "Fee A" and "Fee B" structure explains part of the inflated costs, billions of dollars still remain unaccounted for.

Non-BER builders contacted by The Australian to conduct quotes on structures provided under the scheme have expressed dismay at the huge inflation in costs. Standard prefabricated double classrooms - known as "MDR Homebase" classrooms - are typically built and fully installed by manufacturers to specifications similar to those under the BER at a price of up to $500,000. Under the BER, the same structures are being costed at between $800,000 and $1m - 60 per cent higher than standard rates.

The Parents and Citizens Association of Eungai Primary School in northeastern NSW was so concerned about the price of its MDR Homebase it requested a breakdown of the fees involved from the NSW government three weeks ago. Despite a typical cost breakdown consisting of about one page of information, the P&C committee has still not received a response.

Covered outdoor learning areas, spanning 30m by 25m, typically cost between $170,000 and $250,000, including full installation, according to builders. NSW government figures show more than 40 COLAs under the BER have been costed at more than 800,000 in NSW alone. The huge fees are not isolated to NSW, with gouging identified across the nation.

The problem appears most pronounced in the eastern states where state governments have employed managing contractors to oversee the roll out.

Cairns builder Geoff Lewis said he had been negotiating with a major contractor to build a series of structures under the BER but left the scheme after he calculated the contractor was earning fees of up to 30 per cent on the projects. "I've been a builder and avoided doing any government work like the plague for 25 years with all the problems that come with it," Mr Lewis said. "With the economic downturn I stuck my nose in to see whether there was anything I could get my teeth into. "I have detailed spreadsheets and the major contractor is ripping 35 per cent out of every job."

Mr Lewis said once those fees were taken out, an $850,000 funding package left him with less than $550,000 to spend on the project. "I was gobsmacked but when I contacted them the managing contractor told me to `value engineer' the project, which is a very nice term for shrinking it to reduce building costs."

In Queensland fees soak up as much as 20 per cent of the $2.1 billion in taxpayer funds earmarked for state primary schools. Queensland Education Department director-general Julie Grantham said at least 80 per cent of the funds was being spent on buildings, furniture and equipment.

Her department's assistant director-general for infrastructure delivery and operations, Graham Atkins, said consultants' fees varied between sites.

Smaller builders claim the discrepancies between what major contractors have charged under the BER and what small builders typically charge have arisen because the managing contractors are unaccustomed to dealing with such small projects.

"These big players are used to managing huge individual contracts, often in the hundreds of millions of dollars, where these types of high fees are the norm," said one builder who previously did state government schools contracts and is now doing work under the BER.

"They have huge overheads for those projects but for building these small projects the fees on the ground are nothing like that."


Lunatic Leftism in schools

Any intelligent teacher tries to get the kids on side but discipline is needed too

TEACHERS trying to restore order in their classrooms are being asked to ditch tough disciplinary measures for such tactics as standing on a green spot or pointing to a message on a wall.

Traditional methods for dealing with disruptive children, such as detention and loud reprimands, are being cast aside in favour of merely "hinting" at bad behaviour. The techniques are part of an Education Department program being tested at more than 100 state schools in disadvantaged areas.

Some of the methods, criticised by a family group as "pie in the sky", urge teachers to give up "power" and become "agents" of their students.

Strategies to improve class behaviour include involving students in deciding rules and discussing with them the impact of their misbehaviour.

But Australian Family Association spokesman John Morrissey, a part-time teacher, said the program sounded like a throwback to the 1970s. "A lot of this is pie in the sky stuff," he said. "If you don't have a tight ship being run at school, and some backup from home, it is very hard to achieve discipline."

Liberal education spokesman Martin Dixon said improving academic standards shouldn't mean turning classroom practice on its head.

But the scheme's facilitator, La Trobe University's Prof Ramon Lewis, said it was all about using gentle hints rather than being aggressive with unruly students. "You identify ways of letting kids know that someone's rights are being ignored without necessarily forcing them to do anything about it," he said. "So, basically, it's a skill of hinting. That can be a sign on the wall you can point to. "One teacher has got a green dot on the floor on which he actually stands to indicate that right now someone is not doing the right thing."

Prof Lewis, who has been researching classroom management for decades and has written several books, said discipline still had a place.

Some of his techniques are being used at north suburban schools, under an Education Department initiative called Achievement Improvement Zones, in a bid to lift literacy and numeracy levels and improve teachers' practices.

Acting Education Minister Maxine Morand said trials did not replace traditional classroom discipline. "Principals and teachers at Victorian government schools already have the power and autonomy to deal with students behaving inappropriately," she said.

An Education Department spokesman said Prof Lewis had more than 20 years' experience in training teachers in how to use positive reinforcement techniques to encourage good behaviour.

Broadmeadows Valley Primary School principal Andy Jones said Prof Lewis's program had been well received and had good results. "A lot of what he does is quite out there," he said. Prof Lewis's methods were also backed by youth psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and Parents Victoria, which said fresh ideas were needed to deal with difficult children.


The latest battle with the navy's hugely expensive dud submarines

Will they ever work? It's no wonder that the navy can't enlist enough crew to man them all

MOST of Australia's strife-ridden Collins class submarines were fitted with dud generators when they were built, it was revealed yesterday. The Defence Department official responsible for rehabilitating the Collins class fleet, Kim Gillis, told a senate subcommittee the navy had discovered five of the six submarines were built with flawed Australian-made generators.

"The generators on HMAS Collins, the original ones, were manufactured in France; inspections of those indicate they're very solid and we're not expecting to have a failure of those," Mr Gillis said.

"The remainder of the Collins class submarines had their generators manufactured in Australia, and are susceptible to this particular failure. They weren't done properly when they were first manufactured."

Mr Gillis said the fault was confirmed during repairs to HMAS Farncomb, which was recalled to port last month after suffering generator failure, but had overhauled generators reinstalled yesterday. Mr Gillis stressed that the repair job had taken about a third of the predicted time.

It is believed the cost of modifying Australian-made generators is about $125,000, and each submarine has three.

The Collins class vessels, the largest conventionally powered submarines in the world, have become synonymous with controversy, underperformance and delay since the first of the fleet, HMAS Collins, was launched in 1996.

Last month it emerged that HMAS Rankin will be out of action for five years and HMAS Sheean for four years. It was also revealed that the government is demanding $5 million in compensation from the Australian Submarine Corporation over separate defects that have kept Collins incapacitated.

By the time Sheean and Rankin are relaunched, they will have overhauled generators. The two remaining subs, Waller and Dechaineux will be nursed along with the substandard generators until their next scheduled maintenance stop.

Mr Gillis told the committee that by having three generators, there was less likelihood of failure. He said the government would have little chance of gaining compensation from the manufacturer of the generators, which drew a hostile response from the subcommittee chairman, the Labor MP Arch Bevis. "If we're in the habit of handing out money to Australian businesses, or American businesses, or anyone else, we should sure as hell be in the business of making sure that what they provide is what we pay for."

The Defence Department also admitted yesterday flaws had been found in European helicopters that will replace Australia's fleet. It was revealed last month that a German military report had pinpointed serious deficiencies in the MRH-90 helicopters; Australia has ordered 46 of them. Major-General Tony Fraser said there were problems with the chopper's floor being too thin.


Reefgate: More Greenie dishonesty about coral reefs -- including secret data again (of course)

Following is a letter from Walter Starck [] to an academic journal about a recent article they published which violates many canons of science. Walter Starck is one of the pioneers in the scientific investigation of coral reefs.

The article Starck criticises advocates banning fishermen from as much of Australia's Great Barrier reef as possible and gives as one of the reasons: "Given the major threat posed by climate change, the expanded network of marine reserves provides a critical and cost-effective contribution to enhancing the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef"

Re: McCook, L.J., et al. 2010. "Marine Reserves Special Feature: Adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef". PNAS 2010: 0909335107v1-200909335.

The above referenced study presents a number of concerns:

The most serious concern is a major conflict of interest involving all of the 21 authors. It should be noted that the lead author is employed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and all of the 20 additional authors are either employed by them or are recipients of substantial funding from them.

It is incongruous in the extreme that all these employees and repeated recipients of generous GBRMPA funding, could, “…declare no conflict of interest.” when they are in fact assessing the benefits of their own work and that of the organisation which supports them.

Combined with the rather unrestrained positive spin on the benefits and cost effectiveness achieved by GBRMPA management, the appearance of this report is that of a promotion piece which the most productive and respected beneficiaries of their research funding have been invited to endorse.

In such case, it would have been very difficult for them to decline or to offer much objection to the claims made. At the same time, their names and status would provide credibility and deterrence of criticism while greatly increasing the prospect of acceptance for publication in a prestigious journal such as PNAS.

In addition, PNAS, “Authors must acknowledge all funding sources supporting the work.” There appears to be no such disclosure in this study.

PNAS must also, “…make materials, data, and associated protocols available to readers.”

McCook et al. state that, “Another important observation emerging from this review is the extent of relevant data that are not published or readily accessible. A full picture of the effects and effectiveness of zoning on the GBR has required extensive use of gray literature, previously unpublished data, and collation of separate data sources.”

GBRMPA has been the sponsor of most of the research cited and, through the permit system, they exercise control over the terms of all other research conducted there. They are also a major publisher of GBR literature, both scientific and non-technical. The extent to which relevant data is not published or readily accessible is their direct responsibility. As the data referred to for this review has obviously been assembled, why has it not been made available?

The major claim of a doubling of fish on protected reefs appears to rest on a single example. This is inconsistent with abundant other evidence including that which is presented in the report itself. Only one reef area of the 8 featured in the report showed a 2-fold increase and that area had the lowest level to begin and lowest difference between fished and unfished reefs.

In 5 of the 8 areas featured in the report the protected reefs actually showed a decline in coral trout numbers. On fished reefs, three areas showed increases in biomass while 5 showed declines. This is hardly the “extraordinary” 2-fold increase in protected areas being bannered.

McCook et al. state, "The economic value of a healthy GBR to Australia is enormous, currently estimated to be about A$5.5 billion annually...." "Relative to the revenue generated by reef tourism, current expenditure on protection is minor." "Tourism accounts for the vast majority of reef-based income and employment. ...income from tourism is estimated to be about 36 times greater than commercial fishing."

These claims are highly misleading. The economic value cited includes the total value for all tourism in the region when half of all tourists do not even visit the reef. For those who do, the reef component of the large majority is a one day, one time participation in a reef tour and the value of reef tours is similar to the value of commercial fishing.

If one also considers the economic value of recreational fishing, retail fish sales and seafood meals in restaurants, the total value of fishing is closer to twice that of reef tours. In addition, the reef tour industry regularly uses only about 2 dozen out of the 2500 reefs of the GBR and, on those which are used, the actual area visited would only be about 1% of the area of even those reefs.

Unfished reefs to optimize scenic value for tourism could easily coexist with an order of magnitude greater fishing effort, and no detriment at all to tourism. The attribution of total tourism value to the reef is no more justifiable than attributing it to the similar numbers who visit the rainforest or who eat seafood meals while visiting the region.

Such claims have been repeatedly made by GBRMPA and would, if used by a business, constitute violations of advertising and corporate law. To see it done repeatedly and included in a report in a leading scientific journal is a sad indictment of GBRMPA sponsored science as well as basic honesty.

Babcock et al., 2010 (in another study published in PNAS on the same day as McCook et al.) also examined the ecological effects of marine protected areas. However, this report is much more widely based geographically and longer term. Although the observed effects were generally positive, they were decidedly less large, rapid, extensive, and uniformly positive than those reported for the GBR. All of them also involved areas subject to much greater fishing pressure than the GBR.

One might reasonably expect that increased protection for the least impacted areas would result in a less marked beneficial effect rather than the much more widespread rapid and dramatic benefits claimed by McCook et al. For example, Babcock et al., “…found that the time to initial detection of direct effects on target species … was 5.13 ± 1.9 years….”

Note that this was the time to initial detection, not the even longer time required to reach a doubling of population. When compared to the much greater effects claimed for the GBR over two years, the latter do indeed appear to be “extraordinary”.

Various key claims are contradicted by other more extensive work by the same researchers with no acknowledgement or discussion of this.

In reading over McCook et al., some 40 such discrepancies were noted and more detailed examination would surely reveal more. However, without going further it should be clear that PNAS has been badly used. The serious and obvious conflict of interest alone can neither be ignored nor credibly explained away. If not addressed, it makes a farce of the declaration of no conflict. It alone must surely be more than sufficient grounds to retract this study. Although doing this may be unpleasant it would be far less damaging than to try to examine and defend all of the sad and disreputable details.

Coming at a time when public credibility in science is being seriously eroded by ongoing revelations of malpractice in what the public was assured was inrrefutable fact and settled science regarding climate change, these “extraordinary” (their own description) claims regarding the GBR are well positioned to become a “Reefgate”. This is especially so in that a key claim in this report and widely made elsewhere, is that a major benefit of protected areas on reefs is the increased resilience they provide against climate change.

Although controversy regarding the management of the GBR may appear of minor public interest from a U.S. perspective, it will be national news here in Australia and PNAS could find itself very much involved in a most difficult to defend position should prompt and decisive action not be taken.

A public release on all this will be made here in the near future. Whatever the decision of PNAS, it would be better made sooner than later.

Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

Two of my ancestors were convicts so my family has been in Australia for a long time. As well as that, all four of my grandparents were born in the State where I was born and still live: Queensland. And I am even a member of the world's second-most condemned minority: WASPs (the most condemned is of course the Jews -- which may be why I tend to like Jews). So I think I am as Australian as you can get. I certainly feel that way. I like all things that are iconically Australian: meat pies, Vegemite, Henry Lawson etc. I particularly pride myself on my familiarity with the great Australian slanguage. I draw the line at Iced Vo-Vos and betting on the neddies, however. So if I cannot comment insightfully on Australian affairs, who could?

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.