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, 2012

Abbott promises crackdown on wayward unionists

The Federal Opposition says a Coalition government would significantly increase penalties for union officials who breach their duties.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says union officials found guilty of breaches will suffer the same penalties as company directors, with fines of around $200,000 and potential imprisonment.

Mr Abbott says there will also be a new body to ensure the rules are enforced.  "Under the Registered Organisations Commission it won't take more than three years to investigate an open-and-shut case of wrongdoing," he said.

"Our commitment today is to ensure that essentially the same governance rules that apply to businesses and that you adhere to in your business life will apply to unions and union officials as they go about the business of running their unions."

But Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten says Mr Abbott is using the controversy surrounding the Health Services Union to justify an attack on all unions.  "Let's not smear millions of trade unionists with some cheap political propaganda to pump yourself up in the polls," he said.

Mr Shorten says that the proposed changes would be made to laws that Mr Abbott introduced during his time as industrial relations minister.


Australians  now 'indifferent' to environment

CONCERN for the environment has dwindled into a "middling" issue that many people do not have strong feelings about, a major study into Australian attitudes towards society, politics and the economy has found.

Food, health, crime, safety and rights to basic public services - the tangible things that people confront on a daily basis - are dominant national concerns.

"Australians are effectively indifferent to global and societal issues, rating these significantly lower," said the report What Matters to Australians, produced by the University of Technology, Sydney and the Melbourne Business School, with the support of the Australian Research Council.

"What we see in these results is a picture of a relatively conservative society concerned with local issues that influence its members' daily lives."

People's concerns about industrial pollution, climate change, renewable energy and depletion of energy resources plummeted when compared with an identical study in 2007, with only logging and habitat destruction remaining among the top 25 issues of concern to Australians.

In 2007, environmental sustainability was the only set of global issues that was ranked as highly important. When the same questions were repeated last year, no global issues appeared among the nation's top concerns.

"Overall, this reveals a startling decline in the Australian population's concerns about environmental sustainability," the researchers wrote.

"It is possible that 2007 was nothing more than an aberration when the debate about environmental sustainability became a matter of ordinary, everyday concern. What we now see in Australia and across Western countries is likely closer to a long-term trend in the value of environmental matters to the general population."

The study is based on a sample of 1500 adults, weighted to represent the population as a whole, who completed detailed questionnaires that forced them to rate a vast array of issues relative to each other.

The subjects were forced to select a series of different issues they felt strongly about and gradually exclude the least compelling ones until only the most important remained.

Parallel studies were conducted in the US, Britain and Germany, with Australians exhibiting a similar range of concerns to Americans and Britons. The German responses, however, were markedly different.

"You can pretty much read German history in the German responses," said a lead author, Timothy Devinney, a professor of strategy at the University of Technology, Sydney.

"They are very concerned about privacy, civil rights, global issues, questions of peace and turmoil. While Australia is globally oriented in some ways, the tyranny of distance means most people aren't actually engaged with global issues as much as some might expect."

Professor Devinney said the lower priority accorded environmental concerns might indicate that 2007 was an "outlier" year in terms of large attention being placed on environmental issues, with last year being a return to the norm.

The findings also show that Australians are relatively disengaged with party politics.

"More than two-fifths of people in the study were either aligned with an independent political position or did not feel their political values aligned with any of the political representation options available to them through organised party politics," the report said.


Health ministers warn of 'unsustainable' services

The report shows in recent years Australia has imported more doctors than it has produced local medical graduates.

The report shows in recent years Australia has imported more doctors than it has produced local medical graduates. Photo: Louie Douvis

AUSTRALIA'S dependence on imported doctors and nurses - which faces rising international criticism - will continue to grow without reforms in supply and use of local graduates, the first national report on the health workforce says.

The report by HealthWorkforce Australia shows in recent years Australia has imported more doctors than it has produced local medical graduates.

That is despite endorsement eight years ago by health ministers of the goal of "national self-sufficiency" in health workforce supply.

The report was released after yesterday's meeting of state and federal health ministers, who warned that "without strong reform intervention these estimates will mean services may be unsustainable".

The ministers gave their support to the prospect of big changes in the working scope of doctors and nurses which is likely to include increased use of assistants and technology such as ehealth.

"This … reform and innovation is imperative to the future sustainability of quality health services for the Australian community," the ministers said in a communique.

On current trends, Australia by 2025 would be short of up to 110,000 nurses and 2700 doctors, the report says.

The figures would worsen substantially if Australia were to retain current local training numbers but stopped importing international medical graduates and nurses, leaving a shortfall of more than 15,200 doctors and 148,000 nurses.

The report says there has been increased concern about the impact of international recruitment of health professionals on the workforce in developing countries.

It cites recent research showing that the loss of medical graduates in training and other costs to developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa amounted to more than $2 billion, while recipient countries like Australia saved billions of dollars.

The report says that to achieve greater self-sufficiency in the supply of doctors and nurses, Australia would have to make significant reforms in productivity and scope of practice to reduce reliance on doctors and nurses.

Reforms may include greater use of assistants, the introduction of "new workforces" and broader application of technologies such as ehealth and telehealth (the use of telecommunications for consultations, diagnosis and procedures).

Yesterday's communique said the report presented the need for "essential, co-ordinated, long-term reforms by governments, professions and the higher education and training sector to ensure Australia has an affordable and sustainable health workforce to meet the changing health needs of the Australian community".

Because of the magnitude of some of the increases in graduate numbers needed in coming decades, training alone would not close the projected gaps.

While the government had increased funding for clinical training of doctors and nurses it was "not likely to be sufficient to meet projected future requirements for growth in training capacity, nor was it intended to do so", the report said.


Melbourne loves its cobbled laneways

DOZENS of historic bluestone laneways will be replaced with cement paths in Brunswick and Coburg, and heritage advocates fear lanes in other inner suburbs will face the same fate.

Residents say the replacement of about 47 kilometres of 19th-century bluestone lanes will tarnish the period charm of the suburbs. "Brunswick will eventually be a network of concrete driveways," said Meredith Carter, whose home of 30 years in Sutherland Street backs onto the first lane earmarked for replacement.

Under a Moreland council maintenance program, the lane's cobblestones will be pulled up for drainage works from next week. "In the guise of making repairs, they're going to be undermining the beauty and the amenity of the area," Ms Carter said.

The works - which will occur over 30 years - are focused on "right of way" laneways, which were built in Brunswick from the 1850s to allow the "night man" to empty backyard toilets, but now give residents rear access for cars. Moreland has 67 kilometres of these laneways, 20 kilometres of which are heritage protected and will be maintained.

But former Sutherland Street resident and heritage planner Chris Johnston said all the laneways were equally valuable. "Ask Melburnians what they see as having heritage value, and the image of a bluestone laneway really resonates," Ms Johnston said.

Mayor John Kavanagh said repairing damaged bluestone, or pulling it up for drainage works and relaying it, was expensive because of specialised labour costs, and the concreting program would save council up to $7 million over 10 years.

"Our budget is limited, and when you look at our other priorities, like footpaths, road reconstructions, bike lanes, maintenance of open public space … these facilities cater to a greater number of people than the aesthetics of bluestone laneways," he said. But heritage advocates say the practice sets a dangerous precedent, as most of Melbourne's bluestone lanes do not have heritage protection.

Paul Roser, conservation manager at the Victorian branch of the National Trust, said councils should conduct surveys looking at the potential significance of all laneways before they "disappear under concrete".

"The advantages of traditionally set bluestone pitchers is that they can settle, move, and any problems are localised and can be easily repaired."

Councils such as Maribyrnong, Yarra and Stonnington repair their bluestone laneways using bluestone. But Darebin council uses asphalt or concrete if lanes are not in heritage protected areas.

Melbourne City Council "encourages" the retention of bluestone laneways outside heritage zones, but this year sold bluestone laneway Elliot Lane, home of the St Jerome's Laneway Festival, to a developer.


29 April, 2012

No let-up: Another drubbing for the Labor Party

The Brisbane municipality is huge so control of it is the biggest municipal prize in Australia.  Its budget is comparable to Tasmania's

Queensland Labor’s "thugs and villains" should fall on their sword following the ALP’s drubbing in Brisbane City Council elections yesterday, retiring councillor David Hinchliffe says.

The long-serving Labor figure last night warned the ALP had become the "personal fiefdom of a few egomaniacs" and renewed calls for the party’s state secretary, Anthony Chisholm, to resign.

Labor was reduced to six - possibly seven - wards in Brisbane City Council’s 26 wards in last night's emphatic win by the LNP, with Lord Mayor Graham Quirk also returned with a higher share of the vote than LNP predecessor Campbell Newman achieved in 2008.

It means twice in five weeks Labor in Queensland has been routed by a resurgent Liberal National Party, given the comprehensive state election loss on March 24.

Mr Hinchliffe called for elder Labor statesman Wayne Goss, Jim Soorley and Peter Beattie to play a senior role in re-shaping the Labor party at a state conference to be held "as soon as possible".

Mr Hinchliffe, who has served as a councillor since 1988 and was deputy mayor between 2004 and 2008, said he had been threatened over the phone last night after making earlier comments to "I have already had them on the phone to me tonight," he said last night.  "They will be loading up the guns to shoot the messenger."

Mr Hinchliffe believed the party administration needed to stand down.  "The executive of the party that has been responsible for the two disastrous campaigns - and the third of those campaigns will be on its way as soon as the federal election is called - those people should tender their resignations and get out of the way," he said.

Mr Hinchliffe described Saturday’s Brisbane City Council loss as "a tsunami on top of a wipe-out".

Mr Hinchliffe said he felt entitled to have his say because he had been in office for a quarter of a century and in the party for one-third of its history.  "And that is what I am doing, as vocally and as loudly as I possibly can," he said.  "This is not the time to sit idly by and wait for some mythical pendulum to swing back. "


China drops axe on mine spend after political 'interference'

With both farmers and the Greens baying loudly against mining, the NSW government dithers  -- when it should be acting decisively  on behalf of the community as a whole

THE Chinese government has delivered a damning verdict on doing business in NSW, pulling the plug on a planned $10 billion in mining-related investments across Australia.

The Shenhua Group, which has spent $600 million developing a coal mine in Gunnedah, in northern NSW, will no longer pursue plans to spend a further $9 billion across the country, The Sun-Herald has learnt.

According to mining industry sources, Shenhua told the department of the federal Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, that it would take its money elsewhere. The energy company will instead invest in mining projects in Africa and closer to home in Mongolia.

Mr Ferguson's office declined to answer detailed written questions from The Sun-Herald about Shenhua's warning, instead referring the questions to the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.

"Commercial decisions by the Shenhua Group are a matter for the company," a spokesman said.  The company did not respond to questions.

While the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, is likely to claim Shenhua's retreat was a reaction to the carbon tax, sources said it was a direct response to "political interference" and regulatory roadblocks it has experienced under the Coalition government in NSW.

Shenhua officials met the Minister for Trade, Andrew Stoner, on Friday in a hastily-arranged meeting as the state government fights to ensure Shenhua remains committed to the Watermark coalmine at Gunnedah. The project is a 30-year mine in the Liverpool Plains region, which is prime agricultural land.

Just a week ago, Shenhua received the latest stage of government approval for the mine - the "director-general's requirements". The company had waited seven months for the approval, which is supposed to take 28 days.

Sources in the O'Farrell government said the approval had been delayed by the paralysis in the Department of Planning, as the government continues to review planning laws and integrate its strategic lands policy.

The company, which paid the previous state Labor government $300 million to exploit the area, was also furious when the Minister for Energy, Chris Hartcher, changed the conditions of its exploration licence last year.

Mr Hartcher's media statement at the time boasted of "tough new conditions for the renewal of Shenhua Watermark Coal's exploration licence" in response to community concern. Farmers in the Liverpool Plains have battled against a number of mining proposals.

Mr Stoner has also commissioned an investigation into the intentions of foreign investors in NSW.

A government source said "companies are screaming about delays".

"Why would an investor come to NSW, where it takes four years to get a project approved and into production, when you can do it in less than two in Africa? If [Shenhua] money is withdrawn, it sends an awfully powerful message to other investors when Australia and NSW is seen as a less-attractive option than Africa," the source said.

The NSW Minerals Council has been lobbying on behalf of Shenhua. Its chief executive, Stephen Galilee, the former chief of staff to the Treasurer, Mike Baird, asked for written questions before declining to make any comment.

An industry source said: "Shenhua has made it quite clear it has had enough of what it sees as political interference in NSW. There are meetings going on to try to change their minds but this is a seriously bad thing for NSW. The last hope for some of the foreign miners is whether 'can do' [Queensland Premier] Campbell [Newman] can do."


Premier set to act on Victoria's  IT fiasco

Governments and  computers = money down the drain. And all in the name of "savings", of course.   Projects are almost invariably too ambitious

The board of the Victorian government's troubled information technology agency is set to be removed after a review found the body suffered from poor governance.

The move is likely to be welcomed by thousands of state public servants still struggling with substandard IT despite the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars since 2008.

CenITex, which services the computing needs of 36,800 public servants, has been the subject of three inquiries this year, including an Ombudsman's investigation and a police probe by the fraud and extortion squad.

Fairfax Media understands the Baillieu government has acted on the findings of the State Services Authority review, which was expected to be released but has recently been suppressed and labelled cabinet-in-confidence by Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips.

Last month, an investigation by Fairfax revealed that 46 per cent of the $377 million worth of contracts CenITex signed since 2008 had gone to highly paid contractors - many on $1000 a day - while the bureaucracy noticed little improvement in its outdated IT.

CenITex's board is headed by chairman Warren Hodgson, a former secretary of the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development.

Also on the board are Graeme Bowker, former Melbourne Water Corporation chairman Alan Clayton, senior public servant Randall Cohen, who is also a non-executive director of the Mt Baw Baw Alpine Resort, Christina (Chris) Gillies, a director of MS Australia and Jim Monaghan, a former managing director of the Queen Victoria Market.

Fairfax understands that the State Services Authority's draft report into the IT body was critical of Treasury's oversight of CenITex. But senior government and CenITex sources have told Fairfax the department successfully pressured the State Services Authority to soften its criticism in its final report.

Government spokeswoman Stephanie Ryan said the government was considering "the best way" for CenITex to deliver shared IT services across departments and agencies and enhance value for money for taxpayers. The government's move, she said, "will bring CenITex closer to government and improve ongoing accountability".

"CenITex will continue to operate as normal during this period," Ms Ryan said.

In the Victorian Government Gazette yesterday, CenITex was declared a "reorganising body" under the State Owned Enterprises Act 1992. This allows the government to effectively remove the board and appoint an administrator.

CenITex was supposed to amalgamate the government's network systems, internet providers, data centres and help-desk services for the public service.

Treasury officials had hoped the "shared services" model would save on the government's huge IT bill, which has been running at $1.65 billion a year, according to a 2008 cabinet-in-confidence business case obtained by Fairfax..

But some of those who established the agency told Fairfax these savings - to be diverted to "frontline" services for Victorians - may take years to materialise.

Problems with CenITex's service ranged from months of consistently poor internet access for the Department of Business and Innovation to severe service interruptions in the Wangaratta government office to the Department of Justice turning its back on CenITex to outsource the courts IT system to a private provider.

Former executives told Fairfax IT specialists brought into CenITex were paid on average $1000 a day. Leaked internal wages information showed senior manager Gordon Miles, who has been at CenITex since March 2009, was paid $1697 a day, making him one of Victoria's highest-paid public office holders.

CenITex spokesman Ross Gilmour would not comment on the board's removal, while the Ombudsman's office would not confirm or deny its investigation into CenITex.

The ongoing police investigation is into allegations, revealed by Fairfax last year, that CenITex managers awarded a contract to themselves.


Will Australia learn from Europe's mistakes?

In looking at Europe, Australia may well see its own future. In some ways, Australia is just 20 or 30 years behind the developments in the Old Continent. Australia’s population is also ageing, albeit starting from a younger level. Australian governments have recently relapsed into financing their massive public spending increases on borrowing, just as European governments did in the 1970s and 1980s. And Australian government programs now sound as least as ambitious as EU initiatives—and they will probably end up at least as wasteful and inefficient.

The European public debt crisis is a wake-up call to those who believe in running a country on ever more feel-good programs, welfare initiatives, and industry assistance. The crisis of Europe is a crisis of government that has become too big. This is where the massive debt burdens originate—only a small component of government debt is the result of the financial crisis. The financial crisis did not cause Europe’s problems. It only made them apparent.

Perhaps this is the greatest benefit to Australia from Europe’s current woes. Europe provides us with a clear warning. It shows us what happens when government spending grows continually faster than government revenue. Such a scheme of financing government ultimately becomes a Ponzi scheme when eventually more debt needs to be raised to just pay the interest on previous borrowing.

Australian politicians keen to implement their next flagship policy should be sent on a mandatory field trip to Greece or Portugal each time they want to spend extra money (or maybe not, since both countries are still nice places to visit as tourists). The lessons from Europe’s decades-long spending binge need to be learned and understood. Australian governments should refrain from adding any extra programs to existing spending commitments for as long as the budget remains in deficit. Not only would this ease Australia’s dependence on offshore funding but it would also reduce our vulnerability to global economic shocks and prevent us from edging closer to a situation similar to the one in which Greece, Portugal, Spain and other European countries find themselves.


28 April, 2012

Lonely students play varsity blues

I think Adele Horin has a point below.  My undergraduate years were in the '60s and I had an exceptionally  good time in campus politics at that time.  Being one of the few outspoken conservatives on campus in the Vietnam era was immensely entertaining.  But what I enjoyed most was my time in one of the university's army units.  So I was the complete counterformist.  Donning an army uniform when most of the campus was scared stiff of being drafted into the army was real defiance.  And I could tell of other adventures ....

Rather to my regret, however, my own son in his undergraduate years was rather like those Adele Horin describes below: Sticking to his studies and his old school friends.  Fortunately, however, he has now moved to Canberra to do his Ph.D. and he seems to be having there the sort of fun I would wish for him.  In his undergraduate years I kept telling him that your time at university is a time for having fun so I am glad he has finally realized it

Having just read the latest American literary sensation, The Art of Fielding, about college baseball, I am struck once again at the deep emotional connection young Americans feel towards their university; for the American college student the years between 18 and 22 are seminal when new friendships are forged and campus experiences can be life-changing.

It could not be more different from the narrow, often lonely and alienating experience of going to university in Australia.

This week, new figures showed record numbers of students from migrant, indigenous and otherwise hard-up backgrounds are going to university.

But I could not help wonder how these students will fare without a pack - or a pair - of high school mates as a ballast against loneliness.

Some parents once feared university might corrupt their darlings by bringing them into contact with strange and subversive elements. But nowadays parents are more inclined to worry that university is not the broadening and enlivening experience it once was.

The old school tie is more important than ever. Many young people cling to their high school friends for dear life as they progress through the university years, barely making a new acquaintance.

So big and inhospitable are campuses, so large are the numbers in tutorials, so depleted are university clubs, and so pervasive are the changes in life outside the campus that the university experience has become less vital, interesting and social for many students.

A few years ago the mother of a gorgeous and vivacious young woman from Sydney's north shore - now a journalist - revealed how friendless her daughter found university. The only sources of welcome and cheer were the campus Christian clubs that unsurprisingly had gained a huge following. If this young woman with bountiful social skills found university a bit lonely what hope do the shy, awkward and socially disadvantaged have?

My assertions are based on observations over the past five years of a group of young people still making their way through university and backed by three research reports since 2005 charting the engagement - and disengagement - experience of thousands of students.

To give credit where it is due, the universities are keenly aware that student disengagement is a major issue that needs to be addressed. But a lot of the forces causing the alienation are outside the universities' control.

The First Year Experiences in Australian Universities report, which traced changes from 1994 to 2009, found only half the students in 2009 felt a sense of belonging to their university and one-quarter had not made a friend - a significant worsening from previous years. As well, there had been a significant decline in the proportion that felt confident that at least one teacher knew their name.

Decreasing proportions participated through university sports, clubs or societies, and, of course, students spent less time on campus than in the past, and the less time they spent, the less they felt they belonged.

The report also points to improvements in student satisfaction with the quality of teaching, and enjoyment of courses. Academically, life is better.

If university is a less exciting and social place than it used to be for many, it is partly because students are holding down jobs, on average 13 hours a week, and not just to pay for ski trips. Another report, "Studying and Working", which looked at student finances and engagement, found many were in financial hardship and 14 per cent sometimes could not afford to eat.

The decline in shared houses due to soaring rents is another reason for the diminution of university experience. Thinking back, it was the network of shared houses that linked students into a constant party in the long-ago 1970s that made the era so vivid. Living with mum and dad will not be so memorable.

And then there's Facebook. Stephen Marche, writing in The Atlantic, posed the question "Is Facebook making us lonely?" If you use it to make arrangements to meet friends it is an asset. But when Facebook - and online interactive games - become a substitute for meeting people then it robs students of the richness and complexity of real relationships.

That is what makes Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding so fascinating. It is a novel, at heart, about the deep and complex relationships forged at university, with the central character being a shy, awkward and socially disadvantaged young man.

The American system is entirely different from ours, propelling students across the continent to reside at college. It is enormously wasteful. Students and parents rack up huge debts to pay for tuition and board when often perfectly good institutions of higher learning are in their home town.

But it does have the advantage of expanding student horizons and friendship networks, and of imparting a thrilling edge to the university experience, and a deep attachment to the institution.

For the 40,203 students from low socio-economic postcodes who started university this year, the opportunity is priceless. Previous research shows such students have more clarity of purpose, study more consistently and skip fewer classes. But they are also less likely to make friends or like being a university student.

Young people are lucky in so many ways with a world of connection and information at their finger tips. But the university experience seems less special and more impersonal than it used to be, and that's a pity.


PM faces defeat in house as Labor abstentions loom

Slipper obviously turns a few stomachs in the ALP

JULIA Gillard faces the risk of a Labor MP abstaining from a parliamentary vote on the future of Peter Slipper's tenure as Speaker, amid growing internal concern about the impact of the affair on the government.

A senior Labor MP has told The Weekend Australian that the Prime Minister risks the possibility of abstentions within her ranks if Mr Slipper attempts to take the chair on May 8, budget day, and the opposition moves a motion of no confidence.

"I for one am considering whether I'd abstain," the MP said.

With independent MPs Tony Windsor, Andrew Wilkie and Rob Oakeshott favouring Mr Slipper remaining on the sidelines until both Cabcharge misuse and sexual harassment allegations have been dealt with, an abstention by just one Labor MP would leave the government facing a humiliating defeat on the floor of parliament.

Mr Slipper, who has denied wrongdoing, intends to return to the Speaker's chair once the investigation into the alleged misuse of Cabcharges is complete -- even if the sexual harassment allegations are still pending.

Some within Labor ranks believe the Prime Minister or the leader of government business in the house, Anthony Albanese, should have a "quiet word" with Mr Slipper ahead of the resumption of parliament.

While the Slipper affair has raised fresh questioning of Ms Gillard's judgment, sources described as unrealistic Hawke government minister Graham Richardson's suggestion that she had a month to get her act together and that Kevin Rudd's return to the leadership remained a possibility.

Amid the fresh rumblings, senior ministers backed the Prime Minister, including two touted as potential replacements.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the caucus had resolved the leadership issue in February, when Mr Rudd failed in his bid to wrest back his former position as head of the party. "That issue is over," Mr Smith said.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, also flagged as a future leader, rejected the prospects of a leadership change. "I just think that's complete nonsense," Mr Shorten said.

Mr Albanese said it was the government's view that Mr Slipper should be free to return if he had been cleared of criminal allegations and the other allegations remained unresolved.

"It certainly is the government's view that you can't have a situation whereby people are held to account because of civil proceedings," Mr Albanese said yesterday. Tony Abbott said he would be surprised if Mr Slipper attempted to come back before all allegations were dealt with.

"The Coalition's very firm position is that the Speaker should not attempt to retake the chair until all of the allegations against him, including the very serious sexual harassment allegations, have been fully dealt with and resolved," the Opposition Leader said.


W.A.: Education Department Director General calls for calm over NAPLAN fears

WA's education chief has urged parents to ignore the "fear campaign" surrounding national literacy and numeracy tests amid calls for parents to boycott the tests next month.

Education Department director-general Sharyn O'Neill called for calm as Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students across WA prepare to sit the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy tests from May 15 to 17.

Her comments followed a call from the Literacy Educators Coalition for parents to withdraw their children from the tests because they "create fear and stifle creativity".

“This kind of testing has been active in WA schools for the past 12 years, and the information we gather from NAPLAN is for teachers to better educate their students,” Ms O’Neill said.

“NAPLAN can be a call to parents to talk to their school and gather information about their child’s results, and we have an overwhelming response from parents who do just that.

Ms O’Neill also denied claims that the tests put undue pressure on students, likening the anxiety a child might feel ahead of the tests to that of a sports carnival or music performance.

“It is reasonable for teachers to do some preparation with students just like they would for a concert, for example,” Ms O’Neill said.

“However, if parents feel their child’s anxiety is caused by undue pressure from teachers, I encourage them to contact their school to discuss this.

“With these results a teacher can be at the forefront of diagnosing a problem, and parents have good information on the performance of their child.”


Employment is a contract, not a right

Australia’s industrial relations system does not treat the employment contract as a simple contract between two equal agents, but as a relationship with unequal constraints and expectations. Toyota’s sacking of 350 workers last week has brought the issue of ‘unfair’ dismissals to the public sphere, but while the debate centres on the manner and basis of these dismissals, the more fundamental issue of consent has been ignored.

A defining principle of contract in common law is its voluntary nature. A contract is an agreement between two parties that is valid only as long as both parties consent to it. One cannot contract with someone who does not consent, and if one party no longer wants to be involved with the other, they can simply terminate the contract. If employees want to leave their employer, they don’t have to explain why they want to leave. All that matters is that they no longer consent to the contract for their labour.

Unfortunately, the law as it stands today is not a two-way street. Employees may quit work for whatever reason they see fit, but the employer cannot fire employees without ensuring that their reasons for terminating the employment contract are ‘fair.’ No longer is it a simple matter of consent but a case of arbitrary value judgments forbidding dismissals deemed ‘harsh, unjust, or unreasonable.’

Because of unfair dismissal provisions, employers often hang on to undesirable staff. Workers who would have already lost their jobs, and received an important market signal, are kept on out of fear of legal action. Employees may be unproductive, skip work often, not adhere to safety protocols, have a poor attitude, or simply have personality clashes. Whatever the reason, if the employer deems an employee no longer fit to work, keeping the worker employed can be detrimental to both productivity and workplace culture.

Firing workers is not a decision made lightly. Employers must be certain that the worker cannot improve. They then must consider redundancy payments and the cost of finding and training a replacement. This is a time-consuming and costly process in itself, but with the addition of unfair dismissal laws, the employer must also consider the costs of conciliation and arbitration arising from an unfair dismissal claim, and the extra ‘go away’ money needed if the claim is successful.

As a result, employers often try to sack undesirable staff under the cover of economic hardship. They may cite falling consumer demand, a financial crisis, a strong currency, high input prices, etc. It doesn’t really matter. They are simply carrying out a process long overdue and getting rid of employees who have long overstayed their welcome.

The charade needs to end. The law must reflect the reality that employment is a voluntary contract, and when one party no longer consents, the contract must be terminated.


27 April, 2012

Member of Sudanese gang jailed for his role in gruesome three-week robbery rampage

Africans are a big problem in Melbourne.  The episode below is only one of many.  Rather than feel gratitude towards the country that gave them refuge, many of them seem to feel only contempt for the rest of the community

A MEMBER of a gang of Sudanese youth who attacked 13 victims during a three-week robbery rampage has been jailed for almost six years after a judge said the courts could not tolerate unprovoked violence against soft targets on Melbourne's streets.

The assaults and robberies were "violent, it was unforgivable, it was brazen, it was frightening," County Court Judge Michael Tinney said today in sentencing Ring Chol, now 19, to a maximum five years and 10 months and a minimum term of three years and four months.

Some of the victims, attacked after leaving western suburban train stations or walking alone in St Albans in mid afternoon, had left Australia after the bashings, the court heard.

Judge Tinney said Chol's group, which included offenders aged 13 to 16, targeted vulnerable people, some of whom were bashed, threatened with a knife or bottle, or laughed at during attacks - despite offering to hand over possessions during the 22-day spree in June 2011.

"Just take my wallet, take my phone, take my bag, just leave me alone, I will die," one victim told his attackers after trying to flee.  "Yet he was punched repeatedly by you and at least two others" and lost consciousness during the assault which lasted 10 to 15 minutes, Judge Tinney said.  "These were cowardly and often brutal attacks," the judge said.

"Many people in this community no longer regard public transport as a safe option.  "This court must send a clear and loud message."

Judge Tinney said hardly a day goes by when soft targets are not subjected to robbery and assault in Melbourne and unprovoked violence must no longer be tolerated by the courts, if it ever was.

In one incident Chol stood on the bumper of a taxi and threatened to smash a rock into the windscreen unless the driver gave over property, and in another a victim was followed from Keilor Plains train station to his home where his house window was smashed and three vehicles damaged.

While bailed for the original offences, Chol breached curfew and has since been charged with two other assaults committed in central Melbourne for which he is yet to face court, Judge Tinney said.

He said Chol suffered post traumatic stress from the horrors he witnessed growing up in Sudan and what was described as "three years of hell" being subjected to racially-motivated violence in Egypt before coming to Australia as a 14-year-old.

But Judge Tinney said while some sentence reduction was called for due to his earlier trauma and his youth, the nature and gravity of the offending should be condemned.

Chol pleaded guilty to two counts of armed robbery, six robberies, two counts of recklessly causing serious injury, four counts of criminal damage and one count of attempted robbery.

Two child offenders are yet to be dealt with in the Childrens' Court and other members of Chol's group have not been identified, the court heard.


Dodgy doctors still working in Qld.

DOCTORS continue to work in Queensland public hospitals while unregistered or improperly credentialed, seven years after wide-ranging changes were recommended.

A Health Quality and Complaints Commission report, released this week, identified recurring and system-wide issues within Queensland Health's doctor employment, credentialing and management.

While no patient harm was identified and improvement was "apparent", the HQCC found some breaches had existed for months and one case took an "unacceptable" three years to identify.

The "Dr Right" report found inadequate leadership and a culture of secrecy continued to cause problems, with regional hospitals more likely to face significant safety and quality challenges.

It identified three key areas of concern, including compliance problems, incorrect management and a negative department-wide culture that contributed to ongoing problems.

Former Bundaberg Base Hospital surgeon Jayant Patel was employed by Queensland Health without proper credential checks and was later jailed for the manslaughter of three people and grievous bodily harm of a fourth.

The scandal sparked the creation of the HQCC to oversee complaints and monitoring.

The HQCC decided on the far-reaching credentialing investigation after a 2009 report on an Emerald Hospital doctor.

Commissioner adjunct Professor Russell Stitz said the latest report found one in every 100 doctors may not have been appropriately credentialed as at June 30 last year.

"Patients trust doctors with their lives so they need to be sure their care is provided by the right doctor, with the right skills, doing the right tasks, with the right support, in the right place," he said.

The report made eight recommendations for improvement and will give Queensland Health six weeks to agree on an action plan .


Thousands of Queensland public servants face losing their jobs as Newman Government tightens its belt

THOUSANDS of Queensland public servants face losing their jobs as the Newman Government tightens its belt to boost the state's bottom line.

Public service sources said a climate of fear now surrounded workers on temporary contracts, with a freeze on extensions meaning many whose contracts expired after the March 24 poll are set to join the ranks of the unemployed.

In a cruel twist, many "temporary" contracts were extended for years on end under the previous Labor government, meaning some workers lost jobs they had held for more than a decade.

One woman, who has worked for the same department for two years, was told in February that her position would soon be advertised permanently and she could apply, only to learn this month that her contract would not be renewed.

"I feel betrayed by a department and a system where I have worked so hard and given my absolute best," she said.

Public sector union Together will rally on Tuesday against the changes, with secretary Alex Scott accusing the Government of using a "blunt instrument" to force workers into unemployment.

While the hiring freeze covers only non-frontline staff, there are concerns the Newman Government is revising the definition of frontline so more contracts can be chopped.

The Government could not say how many jobs were affected but up to 20 per cent of the public service is employed on contracts, or up to 40,000 people.

Non-frontline recruitment has also halted even if interviews had already occurred, transfers have been frozen and the roles of those on secondment to higher duties will not be extended unless in exceptional circumstances.

Premier Campbell Newman made a pre-election promise to increase the percentage of permanent public servants while reducing reliance on long-term temporary contracts.

He wasted no time after his landslide win, ordering departmental bosses to sever contracts last month, four days after taking office.

Mr Scott said: "We're not challenging the Government's mandate . . . but we think the process that is currently being used is causing maximum pain to the workers with minimum gain to the Government."

In an email to staff on April 11, Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson acknowledged the so-called Establishment Management Program would be "challenging" and urged those who needed help "coping" to contact their managers.

The Queensland Public Service Commission, which is overseeing the freeze, last night could not detail how many people were affected, saying in a statement that each department held its own figures.


Government loan scheme to bite sharks

Lending taxpayers' money to people who are hopeless risks seems a good way to blow the money concerned

THE State Government is setting up shop to take on loan sharks preying on disadvantaged Victorians.

Under the new Good Money initiative to be launched today, "financially excluded" Victorians otherwise at the mercy of fringe and payday lenders can gain no-interest loans and financial advice.

The first one-stop financial shop will be opened in Geelong today to provide short-term loans of up to $1200, financial counselling and other community services to more than 1000 people.

Without the program, those who do not qualify for credit face borrowing from pawnbrokers and payday lenders who charge up to 1542 per cent interest a year - meaning a $5000 loan over 22 weeks would cost more than $32,000.

Based on the Good Shepherd Microfinance model, the Good Money program will administer the No Interest Loans Scheme where families and individuals on low incomes with concession cards can gain credit free of interest and charges to buy essential household items, and saving accounts.

As well as a $4.3 million state contribution, the program has the backing of National Australia Bank which has contributed $3.5 million, and Good Shepherd Microfinance.

Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge said the program would help disadvantaged Victorians get financial support.

Having been a single mother on a pension unable to gain a bank loan for a new fridge, Valda Johnson, 44, knows how important such help is.

Forced to rent a fridge at a high cost because the only other option was a pawnshop, she was saved when Uniting Care arranged for a short-term loan and financial counselling.

"It (the pawnbroker loan) was nearly 20 per cent ... you are actually paying double what you borrow from them and I couldn't afford their loan payment of $1000," Ms Johnson said.


26 April, 2012

Australian public television presents both sides of climate debate

IT'S the taxpayer-funded TV journey which set out to change opinions on the climate change debate - and ends with little ground being made by either protagonist.

After four weeks of filming around the world and 60 hours of interviews (at a cost of 60 tonnes of carbon), I Can Change Your Mind About Climate has barely shifted the opposed views of its stars, former Howard government finance minister Nick Minchin and climate activist/author Anna Rose.

The premise was simple: Pitch up a list of people who hold your views on climate science, then go about convincing each other to change.

Funded jointly by Screen NSW (under the O'Farrell government) and Screen Australia's national documentary program scheme, it was produced by filmmaker Simon Nasht and entrepreneur Dick Smith.

It airs on ABC1 tonight.

Mr Minchin, who led opposition to a carbon trading scheme, claimed he was "a little shocked the ABC had signed off on this proposal as it involves airing the views of those sceptical of anthropological global warming ... and it doesn't do a lot of that".

The program flew the pair across Australia, then to Hawaii, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Washington and London filming meetings with leading professors and anti-global warming bloggers.

Mr Nasht said producers purchased renewable energy offsets for Ms Rose and four production crew.

Mr Minchin argued the federal government was "making a mistake spending billions on the assumption we're the ones causing climate change and I don't think that's right".

He believes the show's value was "in Anna beginning to understand what I call the scare-mongering is actually counter-productive".

Ms Rose said yesterday: "Nick did not present any evidence or coherent explanation for why the world has warmed so significantly that could be attributed to anything other than fossil fuels, cars, coal-fired power stations."

She took up the challenge to educate "people watching at home who might still have some questions about climate science and be able to answer them in a clear way".

While she is steadfast in her position that the climate crisis is a real and urgent one, the duo did share in their disappointment at having several of their suggested interview subjects cut from the final edit.


"Fiddled" hospital waiting list statistics in the Australian Capital Territory

A senior administrative staff member of ACT Health has been stood down after discrepancies were discovered in relation to statistics about the waiting times in the emergency department data.

The director-general of health Dr Peggy Brown said the matter is being treated as "serious", and a formal investigation has been launched.

Dr Brown said the inaccurate reporting on statistics had been happening for more than 12 months, and could have started as far back as late 2010.

"It appears waiting and treatment times have been altered on some records without authority,  and I am very sorry this has occurred."

The hospital’s data is checked externally and internally, and it was an external check that brought anomalies to light.  The data showed improved waiting times, but this would not have impacted on planning to cover peaks and troughs.

Dr Brown says the overall impact on data is small, but the full extent is not yet known. In national emergency access targets recorded under the new National Health Reform, the directorate believes the overall change is 2 per cent.

The errors were discovered about two weeks ago and the senior staffer was stood down on Monday pending a review.

A previous Auditor General’s report found poor documentation at the Canberra Hospital, but Dr Brown says this is the first time she is aware of data manipulation. A paramedic has told The Canberra Times data does not reflect the full extent of delays finding beds for patients delivered to the hospital by ambulance.

Dr Brown says there have been two previous cases where data has been corrected.

She would not speculate on what motivated the senior staff member to change statistics.  "I will note however, that there was no personal or financial gain for the individual. I think they have made a very serious error of judgment seeking to slightly enhance the performance data of the emergency department.  "It has been a very misguided decision."

Dr Brown says a forensic audit has started and there will be a second, overall review of data processes, both of which should take several weeks to complete.

Data, including the latest quarterly figures, will have to be corrected . Staff will have to go back and correct all records.


Very slippery indeed

FRESH claims disputing embattled Speaker Peter Slipper's travel records have emerged after a Melbourne chauffeur rejected records that claim he drove the MP 19 times.

Jamal Patto, who owns Babylon Investment Group, has threatened to take Mr Slipper to court after his company was linked to $1922 in Cabcharge payments between January 2010 and July 2011.

Two of the listed dates were for hire car travel in Sydney on January 18, 2010 - despite Mr Slipper allegedly being at his home in Queensland, raising further questions over the MP's use of entitlements.

Another Melbourne driver also claimed Mr Slipper kept him waiting for about 30 minutes at wine outlet Get Wines Direct, owned by a friend of Mr Slipper. The driver, whose initials are NR, kept a detailed file of text messages sent by Mr Slipper.

Last night, Mr Slipper said: "All my Cabcharge usage is in order and within entitlement."

Mr Patto, Babylon's only director and sole driver, is disputing records showing his company was a regular provider of travel to Mr Slipper.  He claims to have only driven Mr Slipper twice - earlier this year when Kevin Rudd and Prime Minister Julia Gillard faced off in the leadership showdown.

"I was at the (Melbourne) airport and there was a big taxi line and he asked me if I could take him to parliament house," Mr Patto said. "He later called me and asked if I could take him back to the airport. I only met this guy once. All those other dates that appear, I have no idea how."

The Department of Finance said it would "consider" the new allegations.  "The Department of Finance has no relationship with Babylon Investment Group and is therefore unable to comment on whether the company received any payments," a spokeswoman said.


Young Aborigines are the principal authors of their own misfortunes

What is the likely fact missing from the following droll entry in the NSW Police media log for Wednesday, September 28, last year?

"Police have arrested two boys aged 15 and 11 following the pursuit of a stolen car in Sydney's inner west this morning. About 3.30am police spotted a stolen white Honda Civic travelling along Parramatta Road at Stanmore.

"The car failed to stop after being directed and a pursuit was initiated … The pursuit was terminated after … the car crashed into a gutter at an intersection [in Petersham].

"When police approached the car, the 15-year-old driver was allegedly armed with a pair of scissors … The driver, from Glebe, was subjected to a breath alcohol analysis and returned a reading of 0.042."

The same likely fact is missing from a incident two weeks later on October 11, reported on "A 14-year-old girl allegedly failed to stop for a random breath test and led officers on a high-speed car chase before crashing and rolling a car in western Sydney this morning, police say."

The car chase took place about 3am in the western suburb of Whalan.

There have been other similar incidents leading up to the depressingly predictable crash and shooting in Kings Cross early on Saturday, when a stolen car, driven by a 14-year-old, ran down two pedestrians.

What sort of kids are on the streets after 3am, in stolen cars, drinking alcohol, driving recklessly and resisting police?

You know the answer. The statistical probability points to a subculture that is overwhelmingly over-represented in arrests, convictions, incarceration, child abuse, child neglect, domestic violence, alcohol abuse and substance abuse. This subculture functions in a culture of moral apartheid, which perpetuates the vicious cycle.

It was inevitable that a feral teenager in a stolen car was going to run over someone. Cars are more lethal than guns. They kill or seriously injure thousands of people a year, while guns are used in only several dozen murders or attempted murders a year.

In Kings Cross on Saturday morning, Sarah Roberts and Tanya Donaldson were on the footpath when they were bowled over. Roberts, 29, was rushed to hospital. The joyriders going to Kings Cross in a stolen car were begging for trouble and it duly came when a police foot patrol, attempting to stop a vehicle that had already hit two women, fired into the front window to immobilise the car.

In so doing the police wounded the 14-year-old driver and the 17-year-old front seat passenger. The police were aiming at the windshield, not the occupants. When a car is being driven with such callous indifference to safety that two pedestrians are knocked over, police must assume the car's occupants are also dangerous and attempt to subdue them quickly. These incidents take place in instants, not minutes.

It turns out that the driver of the car has been known to police since he was eight. Eight! Five occupants of the car, including two 14-year-olds, were later charged with various offences.

Yet since the incident the two who were shot have been presented as victims, with stories about anger in Redfern. At a rally outside NSW Parliament on Wednesday organisers accused police of "attempted murder".

Predictably, Anthony Mundine, he of the quick fists and quick mouth, entered the fray via Twitter: "Heartbreaking day for me visiting 14 y.o kid shot by police at Kings Cross. I'm at loss to understand how cops could shoot unarmed kids!!!"

He later added: "Barry O'Farrell needs to take a serious look at his police force. All I keep hearing about [is] trigger happy cops killing people. Wrong fo[r] real!!!"

It is not "trigger happy cops" the community is worried about. The bulk of the anger coming out of the Kings Cross drama is from a much wider community sick of violent, self-destructive behaviour by young Aborigines. The community is sick, too, of the constant use of the term "disadvantage" to rationalise the irrational and excuse the inexcusable.

Mundine continued to dig a hole for himself on Twitter yesterday - "police intentionally shot to kill!" - followed by this: "Yes the kids should be trailed [sic] for what they did! But the police should be trailed [sic] for attempted murder!"

Sarah Roberts and Tanya Donaldson were minding their own business when they were mowed down by a dangerous fool. As to their welfare, Mundine had nothing to say, other than this: "DID THEY DIE???"


25 April, 2012

Forget the spin cycle, Gillard's problems are ones of substance

The weekend media reported that "senior government figures were very happy with the sale of their surplus" and were finally getting "cut-through" without distractions. Of course, that was before the allegations against Labor's hand-picked Speaker, Peter Slipper, blew up.

How the government imagines it is getting "cut-through" over something that has not been announced - let alone delivered - is a mystery. But statements like these do illustrate how delusional things are becoming in Canberra.

The government thinks it is doing an excellent job and making the right decisions. It is just that bad luck always intervenes to muck things up and distractions occur that prevent people from seeing how good it really is. If only it could get clear air to explain itself and put a proper spin on things, its popularity would rise to the level it truly deserves.

In truth, the government is incompetent. Its real problem is not image but substance. It isn't that it failed to sell the carbon tax. It is that it decided to introduce a carbon tax in the first place after promising there would be none. It isn't that the public is ungrateful for all those insulation batts and new school halls. It is that the public can see how money has been thrown away on wasteful projects and does not believe, along with every sane analyst, that this saved Australia from financial collapse. The gulf between reality and spin is badly undermining the credibility of the government.

So now the government bemoans that the public is "distracted" by the Slipper affair. This distraction arises from another very deliberate decision - to take someone under a cloud in his own party and elevate him to the highest parliamentary position as part of a "cunning plan" to neutralise his vote. What tarnished Labor is the decision, not the presentation.

However, I will say one thing for Slipper: at least he appears to think he is innocent of financial impropriety. He is going to give an explanation for his conduct and answer the questions of investigators, which is more than you can say for Craig Thomson.

Thomson says there is an explanation as to how his credit card got used to buy prostitutes. It's just that he refuses to give it and refuses to co-operate with the police, who want to know what it is. Is this an image problem for Julia Gillard? No, this is a substance problem. She could support full exposure of what is, by all accounts, corrupt behaviour by someone in the Health Services Union or she could give her full support to Thomson. She has chosen to do the latter.

So I am going to suggest a new tactic for the government when it comes to selling this year's budget - level with the public and tell the facts rather than weave the spin. This would involve admitting it was costly and unnecessary to ramp up spending by 36 per cent in the past four budgets. It would mean admitting that if a surplus budget will take pressure off interest rates now (as the government is claiming), then more careful budget policy would have helped over the past four years when we returned budget deficits of $27 billion, $55 billion, $48 billion and $37 billion - in total, $166 billion. And it would mean admitting the 2012-13 budget would not be a surplus at all if the government included its actual spending on the national broadband network (up to $43 billion), which it has taken off-budget.

Most of all, it would mean stopping all this nonsense about its problems being the result of bad karma. Last week Gillard, seeking to explain why the forthcoming budget surplus will be so weak, wailed that "the rivers of gold that flowed into Peter Costello's coffers don't exist any more". I have news for her - they never did. There were no rivers of gold or anything else that could compare to the rivers of iron ore and black coal that are now pumping the Australian economy.

Gillard's latest forecast for the coming financial year is $375 billion in receipts, which is more than $100 billion more than the last full financial year of the Coalition government. Over five years, this is an increase of 37 per cent. The problem is that Commonwealth spending has risen even faster.

This government has tried more spin cycles than would be safe for an average washing machine. It should try a rinse cycle to get rid of all the accumulated grime - and a little bit of disinfectant to spruce up the end result.


Public hospital meltdown in S. Australia

Anything out of the routine stumps them

A QUARTER of Adelaide's ambulance fleet was lined up outside Flinders Medical Centre on Monday - and the state's biggest hospital refused to help.

The backlog included life-threatening emergencies, such as one patient aged in their 90s with a suspected heart attack and very low blood pressure, who was left waiting outside the hospital for at least 30 minutes.

A spokesman for the Royal Adelaide Hospital said it "already had a large number of patients in its own ED" and was not accepting diversions at the time.

Ambulance Employees Association secretary Phil Palmer said the bottleneck also meant no ambulances were available between Cross roads and Yankalilla, delaying dispatches to top priority cases across that area.

He said the state's major hospitals must work together to handle the load.

"We need a state health system where people co-operate with each other for the benefit of the patient," Mr Palmer said.

He said members counted 10 ambulances lined up delivering patients at FMC about 4.30pm - a quarter of the roughly 40 ambulances operating across metropolitan Adelaide.

A photo taken around the same time shows nine ambulances held up outside the hospital, while two more were understood to be on the way.

Mr Palmer said patients left waiting included another with a heart condition waiting for 45 minutes, cancer patients in pain and people with fractures.

He said the "intolerable and unacceptable" incident would be taken to the Industrial Relations Commission.

"On busy days like that, the last thing the community needs is ambulance resources tied up outside a hospital when their patient should have been handed over to ED staff," Mr Palmer said.

FMC general manager Roz Hanson said the delays were caused by a sudden influx between about 2.30pm and 3.30pm.

"Within a two-hour period the FMC ED experienced an unexpected surge in ambulance patient demand, with a high number of ambulances arriving at the hospital in two 15-minute time frames," Ms Hanson said.

"At this time, the FMC was also receiving a number of emergency situation presentations from within the hospital which affected the ED's usual ability to receive the high quantity of patients in a timely manner."


The oldest tree

AT least two miracles have saved Tasmania's 10,500-year-old stand of Huon Pine - the world's oldest clonal tree - from destruction.

Located in the sub-alpine heights of Mt Read near Rosebery in northwestern Tasmania, it's miraculous that 100 years of mining has not wrought the sort of havoc that copper smelting has visited on nearby Queenstown, where woodcutting and acid rain have stripped the slopes of vegetation. Second, it's good fortune that when wildfire did strike the Mt Read heights in the early '60s, killing ancient stands of King Billy pines, the flames stopped metres short of the heart of the Huon Pine that has stunned scientists around the world.

Discovered in 1995 by forestry worker Mike Peterson, the ancient Huon Pine has marched its way over more than a hectare, down a hill towards the Lake Johnston glacial lake, reproducing genetically identical male copies - clones - of itself. While the oldest individual tree or stem on the site now may be 1000 to 2000 years old, the organism itself has been living there continuously for 10,500 years.

For the past decade, 72-year-old Kerry Hay has been the gatekeeper of the tree. A bus company operator in Rosebery, Hay first heard about it one day in 1995 when someone from Sydney knocked on his door wanting to see it after reading about its discovery. Hay had to send them away disappointed. It took almost five years of lobbying to get permission to take visitors to the stand, and longer to get access.

Visitors must be accompanied by a registered tour guide and Hay charges $70. But it's not a particularly bountiful enterprise. With snowfalls at any time and an average rainfall of 3.3m a year, the weather is only good enough to see the tree for about three months of every year. "Not too many come for the tour," says Hay. "If it's cloudy you can't see the bloody thing."

But on a clear day it is a breathtaking experience. To get there it's a steep drive up a mining road before branching off onto an unkept 4WD track. Visitors must wear plastic covers over their shoes before stepping onto a boardwalk that winds its way through the skeletons of ancient King Billy pines that were burnt out in the '60s fire.

At 850m elevation it is a craggy environment with low heath covers. The pathway leads to a lookout over Lake Johnston with the stand of Huon Pines about 100m away. To reach the stand it is necessary to scramble over the shale and low ground cover and navigate around thick dead trunks that must be thousands of years old, their roots spread over the ground like pythons, some as thick as a waist.

Inside the stand of Huon there is a thick carpet of moss and a tangle of roots and shoots that explain how the stand has marched its way over the landscape.

By studying the tree rings of the Huon Pines, climatologists have been able to establish a continuous record of climatic change over more than 3700 years. As a consequence, the Lake Johnston Nature Reserve has received one of the highest ranked protections available in the world, reflecting its immense significance to the botanical and scientific communities.


An angry retort to Bettina Arndt from a feminist

But she ends up agreeing that Bettina has got her facts right

If you read this weekend’s Sunday papers, you will have been thrilled by an incredible piece of news: Bettina Arndt is the first human being to have visited an entirely different universe.

The voyage happened during her piece, Why women lose the dating game; Bettina visited the universe - hitherto only speculated about by astronomers - and found an alien entity who, coincidentally, was called Clem Bastow. This alien entity reached the end of the article and found herself nodding in cautious agreement.

FOOLED YOU! The alien was me! And I have been struggling with this strange new sensation for the past day: what does it mean for you when a large part of a Bettina Arndt article rings true?

First things first, in case you think this article is being written by my dog and I’m actually chained up in a basement somewhere: there’s plenty she didn’t get right, namely, women’s role in the dating game. “Many thought they could put off marriage and families until their 30s, having devoted their 20s to education, establishing careers and playing the field,” says Arndt of silly women nationwide. “But was their decade of dating a strategic mistake?”

Sometimes you just gotta wonder if Bettina even likes women. She seems so determined to decry feminism - even when, as she’s done here, she doesn’t expressly say as much - and defend the plight of the poor men left sobbing in the movement’s wake.

However, on the topic of the misogynist cesspool that is the “dating scene”, unfortunately, she’s spot on.

I used to laugh about things like The Game and the idea of “pick-up artists”, dismissing them as little more than a horror story from across the pond, but then I was hypnotised into a relationship by a 38-year-old Darth Vader impersonator who sidelined as a counsellor who helped young men pick up chicks.

He worked as a ‘guest lecturer’ - or something - with a lifestyle coach who taught meek dudes things like “same night lays” and how to avoid “the verbal leakage of power” (no, I don’t know what that is, either).

These blokes weren’t really interested in actual relationships, and they didn’t have to be, because there were always going to be more single women who were willing to step up to the plate if another demurred.

By that token, the census analysis Arndt quotes - “68,000 unattached graduate men in their 30s for 88,000 single graduate women in the same age group” - isn’t surprising.

Likewise, the experience of Gail - who found that men her own age on dating websites were only interested in younger women - rings true. I am still half-heartedly engaging in the sisyphean saga that is “looking for someone nice to go on dates with”, and now that I’m 30 (well, almost), I find I am almost exclusively contacted by men who are 15 to 20 years older. Who’s contacting the women who are 45+?

In short, it’s hell out there. But here’s where I begin to become human once more, and remember what it’s like to disagree with Bettina Arndt: why do we carry on as though these women who have reached their late-30s and early-40s and found themselves (“still”) single have thrown their lives away?

Yes, it’s nice to share your life with someone - all but the most misanthropic or committedly lone-wolf-ish of us know that. However the tone of Arndt’s piece suggests that we should capitulate to the good-enough husband (even trotting out Lori Gottlieb’s Marry Him!, which was listed as a favourite text in the online dating profile of a man I recently encountered who insisted that “[his] crotch!” wanted my phone number).

As Arndt puts it, “many women are missing out on their fairytale ending”. As someone else in the article, Penny, puts it: “We were told we were special, we could do anything and the world was our oyster."

Hate to break it to you, Penny, but all of that is true - provided you don’t need the pearl inside that oyster to be a man.


24 April, 2012

Slipper looks like a slip-up for Julia

Will it bring on an early election?  It seems possible.

Leftists normally screech loudly about sexual harassment but Gillard  appears indifferent to this episode.  Perhaps homosexual harassment is OK?

KEY independent MP Rob Oakeshott says he is "open minded" on a no confidence motion that might be moved against the Gillard Government in the wake of the scandal to engulf controversial MP, Peter Slipper.

Mr Oakeshott said this afternoon he was "frustrated", "despondent" and "pretty angry" at the latest turn of events, saying if allegations made against Mr Slipper were proven true, it would turn out to be "the darkest days of this 43rd parliament".

Mr Oakeshott hasn't ruled out withdrawing his support from the government on the floor of the House of Representatives. "I'm open minded on a no confidence motion that may come before the House in May in regards the speakership," the federal NSW MP told ABC Radio.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said: "One of the really worrying features of the Prime Minister's attempt to explain herself away, to explain her actions away, is that she's essentially making light of sexual harassment.

"I mean, to suggest that sexual harassment and the misuse, the quite possibly fraudulent use of Commonwealth entitlements is on a par with those other issues just shows again that this Prime Minister does get bit.

"She just doesn't get  it when it comes to the seriousness of this and the appalling cloud that now hangs over, not just the Parliament, but her and her Government."


The embattled Queensland MP, who was forced to step aside yesterday following The Daily Telegraph's revelations of alleged sexual harassment and Cabcharge misuse - also faces questions over a mystery Townsville taxi trip on June 1 last year. Mr Slipper was in Canberra on the date the taxi fare was booked.

A Daily Telegraph investigation has now uncovered a raft of apparent breaches of Commonwealth entitlements by Mr Slipper. These include a number of questionable taxi fares, including a short ride from Pascoe Vale to Carlton in inner-city Melbourne that took place at 4.19am (EST).

He also flew to Melbourne to interview a potential adviser for a role in his electorate office on the Queensland Sunshine Coast.

And in a further blow to Mr Slipper - who now faces a lengthy and potentially costly court battle to clear his name - it can be revealed that one of his most trusted advisers, Tim Knapp, is being questioned by the Australian Federal Police over two matters.

One of these involves the illegal use of a Commonwealth fuel card - which was in Mr Slipper's name - and was used in a private vehicle.

The AFP is also investigating claims that Mr Knapp may have engaged in fraud against the Commonwealth by taking leave from Mr Slipper's office, even after he had been paid out for these entitlements.

Mr Slipper, who has been forced to repay more than $20,000 in wrongly claimed entitlements, is prevented from using taxpayer funds for blatant political or "party business", according to Finance Department guidelines issued to every federal MP.

And yet in March 2010, he spent more than $3000 to help a good friend, Jillian Law, as she campaigned for a seat in the Tasmanian parliament as a member of the Liberal Party.

On March 5, 2010 - just two weeks before the Tasmanian election - the then Liberal backbencher flew to Melbourne where travel records show he caught a taxi from Pascoe Vale to inner-city Carlton at 4.19am.

A few hours later, he flew to Hobart for the sole purpose of speaking at a fundraiser for Ms Law, who only managed to attract 800 votes at the March 20 election and failed to secure a seat.


Negligent Vietnamese doctor now practising in Australia

There have been other instances of East Asian doctors not relating well to indigenous people.  The attitudinal and cultural gaps can be too wide to transcend fully  -- leading to a dismissive attitude on the part of the doctor

A baby too weak to suck from a bottle, with a high temperature and losing weight rapidly, was sent home three times by doctors in the two weeks before she died.

A New Zealand coroner has found that the last doctor who saw three-month-old Skylah Vaimalu should have sent her to hospital.

But he is powerless to make any recommendations against Dr Huu Hoai Nam Nguyen because Dr Nguyen is now practising in Australia.

Skylah died at her home in Arawhata Street, Porirua, on September 1, 2007. Wellington coroner Ian Smith's long-awaited findings into her death have just been released.

Born in May that year, the fourth daughter of Travilla Pupuke and Mosa Vaimalu, Skylah was a bubbly baby. "She was a very happy baby," her mother said yesterday.

Shortly after Skylah received her vaccination injections in August 2007 she developed flu-like symptoms. Ms Pupuke gave her Pamol but, by August 19, her cough had a high pitch and she had diarrhoea.

The next day she took Skylah to Waitangirua Health Centre, where the baby was diagnosed as having bronchiolitis and continued paracetamol was prescribed.

Later that afternoon, she developed a high temperature and was bleeding from the nose. Her mother took her to the emergency department at Kenepuru Hospital, but the doctor was not concerned, again diagnosing bronchiolitis.

In the following days, Skylah remained very sick and continued to lose weight. On August 29, Ms Pupuke again took her to Waitangirua Health Centre, where she was seen by locum Dr Nguyen. Skylah was dehydrated, had severe diarrhoea, was pale and losing weight.

Dr Nguyen again diagnosed bronchiolitis, prescribing Histafen. He told Ms Pupuke that, if Skylah would not take a bottle, she should feed her with a syringe. "Ms Pupuke felt that her concerns for her daughter's health were being ignored," Mr Smith says in his findings.

On August 31, the family continued to monitor Skylah and give her medication. By this time her breathing was heavy, her skin was pale and she had trouble sleeping.  At 1.45am on September 1, she was given formula with a syringe.  "Ms Pupuke was now exhausted and fell asleep but, when she awoke between 7.30am and 8am, she found her daughter deceased."

Pathologist Jane Zuccollo found Skylah lost 1.5kg in 10 days, from 7kg to 5.5kg. The coroner concluded she died from sudden unexpected death in infancy after suffering bronchopneumonia.

Wellington Hospital general and community paediatrician Nikki Blair completed a review of the medical care Skylah received. In a statement, she told the court that Skylah should have gone to hospital.

"Dr Blair was also critical of Dr Nguyen's suggestion of providing a syringe for feeding as being inadequate for a baby too weak to suck," Mr Smith said.  "Had Dr Nguyen still been practising in New Zealand, I would have recommended that he receive more formal training in paediatric medicine, but I understand that he now resides and practises in Australia."

Ms Pupuke, who has since also moved to Australia, said: "It's very hard to understand that Mr Nguyen, being the last doctor that saw her, did not admit her. I feel strongly that her health and wellbeing was not much of a concern for them. I do feel I've been let down – me and my family, but mostly my daughter."

The Medical Council issued Dr Nguyen with a certificate of good standing before he left, unaware of this case until contacted by The Dominion Post yesterday. Spokesman George Symmes said it would hold a complaints hearing next week.

Waitangirua Health Centre chairman Logan McLennan said there had been no concerns about Dr Nguyen's performance.


Compensation claim fears cramp students after classmate sues girl over tennis mishap

COMPENSATION claims against schools for playground and sporting field accidents are creating a "nanny state" harmful to children's health, a childhood obesity expert says.

Professor Geoff Cleghorn said a growing number of compensation claims by students and parents could lead to more schools banning or restricting sports and outdoor activities.

His concerns follow revelations in The Courier-Mail that Julia Wright-Smith, 13, a student at prestigious Somerset College, was served with legal papers by lawyers acting for architect Paul Burns, whose daughter Finley was allegedly accidentally hit in the eye with a tennis ball by Julia, her classmate.

Other Queensland schools have also moved to ban activities including tiggy, red rover and cartwheels because of injury fears and a flood of compensation claims.

Prof Cleghorn, from the University of Queensland, said accidents happened in the playground and risks could be eliminated only if all sports and outdoor games were banned.  "If you try to legislate against every element of chance, you're not going to have them (activities)," he said.  "In the drive to provide a caring and nurturing environment, you could be creating a nanny state. I feel strongly that kids should be out exercising."

An investigation by The Courier-Mail in 2010 found Queensland state schools had been successfully sued for thousands of dollars for playground and sporting field accidents.  They included lawsuits by children injured while doing handstands, running on the school oval and being thrown in a judo demonstration.

But compensation law expert Mark O'Connor, of Brisbane firm Bennett and Philp lawyers, said most school sport injuries lawsuits were thrown out.

"Sports injuries rarely succeed in the courts because the courts expect people doing physical sports to be aware of any possible risks involved," Mr O'Connor said.

But the Burns' lawyer, Mark Frampton, said there was "nothing malicious" in the case and Finley had to serve legal papers on Julia in case she suffered long-term eye damage and needed to mount a compensation claim "down the track".  Mr Frampton said the Burns family was required to give notice of a potential claim.


The impossible dream:  Firing hospital bureaucrats

It appears to have happened in South Australia but it's mostly just a reshuffle

MORE than 50 full-time bureaucrats will be axed from the state Health Department.

In a statement late yesterday, SA Health chief executive David Swan said 53 full-time equivalent staff would lose their jobs in a savings measure expected to rein in $10 million a year. The cuts equate to each job being worth nearly $190,000 a year.

Front line staff and service delivery would not be affected.  "All of these roles are located within the Department for Health and Ageing, not in our hospitals," Mr Swan said.

Earlier this month, Health Minister John Hill admitted his department would not be able to meet savings targets set for it by Treasurer Jack Snelling.

Mr Hill also banned flexitime for senior employees to save up to $13 million a year. The department was supposed to shed more than 440 full-time equivalent public servants this year but had only managed to shed 70 by December last year.  The Health department is facing a projected overspend of $125 million in 2011-12.

Mr Swan said the department was "continuously looking at ways to identify efficiencies to ensure funds are directed into services".

"In line with this, the department has conducted a review of activities over the past few months which has resulted in a restructure," he said.

"The review has led to the reduction of 53 FTE positions through targeted voluntary separation packages and redeployment. These positions were situated across a number of head office functions, including communications and policy."

Mr Swan said the review also identified additional savings in goods and services expenditure throughout the department. In addition to the review, a further 22.4 FTE vacant positions were declared "excess to requirements" as part of the existing savings strategies.  This brings the total number of positions to be reduced by 75.4 FTE.

"We are always looking at how we can improve the way we do business and continue to deliver world-class health services to South Australians," Mr Swan said.


23 April, 2012

Gonski: top losing schools named

Howard, Rudd and Gillard knew better than to cut any private school funding.  Latham wanted to go down that track but lost the election

LORETO Kirribilli is among the independent schools in NSW with the most to lose - estimated at up to $3.9 million a year - in the proposed Gonski reforms of schools funding, a preliminary analysis shows.

Other schools at risk of having their federal funding reduced are Monte Sant' Angelo Mercy College at North Sydney, St Aloysius' College at Milsons Point and Oakhill College at Castle Hill.

They are among the 17 per cent of independent schools in NSW that have had their funding maintained and indexed at the levels they were at before the Howard government changed the system in 2001.

The Commonwealth formula uses census data to allocate funding on the basis of need according to the socio-economic status of parents.

Since the introduction of the so-called SES funding formula, the wealth profile of many schools has increased, entitling them to less funding under the formula.

But the Howard government introduced a "no losers" policy, which was continued under the Rudd and Gillard governments, which meant annual funding for schools would not decrease.

Analysis by the Association of Independent Schools using 2009 data from the federal Department of Education suggests 86 NSW independent schools would lose between $65,000 and $3.9 million each year under the Gonski system.

The NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, said government figures showed Loreto Kirribilli would have received $32 million less than it has since 2001 if the SES formula had been applied strictly. This year it will receive an estimated $3.6 million above its strict SES entitlement of about $1.7 million.

"Losing some of that money would be more than fair and reasonable, especially if it ends up back in public schools," Dr Kaye said.

Geoff Newcombe, the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools NSW, said an examination of the proposed Gonski model using 2009 data showed a number of schools to have had their funding maintained and indexed would receive more funding, casting doubt on claims that these schools were "overfunded and

rorting the system. Other schools, however, will have their funding reduced by amounts ranging from relatively low levels to up to $4 million," he said.

He said all education sectors were awaiting 2010 data to allow the Gonski model's indexation rate to be calculated.

If it was below 6 per cent, the "feasibility of the Gonski model will be struck a severe blow".

It would need to reflect "the real increases in the annual cost of education which has averaged around 6.5 per cent to 8 per cent per annum". A spokeswoman for the Education Minister, Peter Garrett, said the Gillard government had said repeatedly that no school would lose a dollar per student as a result of the funding review.

"Mr Gonski and the review panel have made clear that there is still a lot of work to do to test and refine the various elements of their proposed funding model.

"This includes testing the proposed funding amount per student, and examining whether the loadings for disadvantage are set at the right levels."


Labor would lose both chambers if an election were held now

LABOR would suffer its worst result in the Senate since 1944 if an election were held now, giving Tony Abbott control of the upper house as well as the lower, an analysis shows.

This would allow him to wipe out many of the big achievements of the five years of Labor governments, as he has pledged to do, though some financial and legal complications would remain.

The analysis was conducted by a senior Labor strategist, who wishes to remain anonymous, using the latest Herald-Nielsen polling results and projecting them onto a Senate election.

Only two prime ministers have enjoyed control of both houses in the past four decades - Malcolm Fraser and John Howard in his last term.

Among the nine Labor senators who would probably lose their seats are the Finance Minister, Penny Wong, a convener of the Left faction, Doug Cameron, and one of the so-called faceless men who brought down the Rudd government, the Right faction's David Feeney.

With the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, standing aside, the government is again forced to survive on the narrowest possible margin.

Yet the prospect of a Coalition clean sweep in both chambers raises the question of how much of its work would remain intact. Mr Abbott has promised to repeal the carbon and mining taxes, and parts of the Fair Work Act.

The Herald's pollster, Nielsen's John Stirton, said the analysis was a legitimate use of Nielsen polling data but it represented "a worst-case scenario rather than the most likely scenario".

This was because it used a single poll, the March poll, rather than an average of several months, and March was an especially low point for Labor. His "most likely" scenario assumed Labor recovered support before an election. But even then, it would manage only barely half the seats in the Senate.

Labor's primary vote was 27 per cent in the lower house in the March poll. At that level the Coalition would win control of the House in a landslide.

However, no pollster tests support for the parties in the Senate. To see what the consequences would be in the upper house, the strategist took the state results from that poll to estimate a Senate outcome. He subtracted 3 percentage points to replicate voter behaviour in recent elections.

Mr Stirton said: "In the absence of any other data on how people might vote in the Senate, it's not unreasonable to discount the lower house vote by 3 per cent because that's been the experience in the last couple of elections.

"The main caveat is that the state breakdowns give you fairly small samples and that results in a high margin of error."

In a chamber of 76, the projected result would shrink Labor's Senate strength from 31 seats to 22 or 23. The Greens would grow from nine to 12.

So the combined total of Labor and Greens - the now-governing coalition - would go from a majority of 40 to a minority of 34 or 35. The Coalition's numbers would swell from 34 to 38 or 39.

The fringe parties and independents would hold three spots instead of the present two, as Bob Katter's Australian Party would win a seat in Queensland.


High price paid for low solar return

ACT electricity consumers are paying about $8.37 million annually for power generated by more than 10,500 solar generators which produce only 0.7 per cent of the overall annual requirement.

The cost for an average household paying for the government's feed-in tariff scheme has reached about $26.40 a year and Environment Minister Simon Corbell expects this to jump to about $50 late next year.

Meanwhile, those who have had solar generators installed receive on average almost $800 a year for the electricity they generate.

The feed-in scheme compares poorly to ActewAGL's Greenchoice program. During 2011, its more than 20,000 customers bought 2.54 per cent of the ACT's annual electricity requirement for less than half the cost of the government's feed-in scheme.

Under the federal government's mandatory renewable energy schemes, ActewAGL was required last year to buy 5.62 per cent of electricity sales from large-scale renewable generators and 14.8 per cent from small-scale renewable generators.

ActewAGL general manager retail Ayesha Razzaq said ActewAGL's fully accredited GreenPower program allowed ActewAGL to purchase renewable energy from sources such as hydro, windpower and biomass on behalf of customers. This electricity would otherwise be sourced from fossil fuels.

ActewAGL general manager network services Rob Atkin said that on April 16, there were 10,566 solar sites connected to the ActewAGL network.

From April 1 last year to March 31, the energy produced by photo voltaic systems in the ACT was estimated at 0.7 per cent of the total demand.

These systems contributed nothing to the peak winter demand because at that time, without sunlight, they were not operating. During the summer peak, solar photo voltaic systems contributed about 0.47 per cent of that demand.

Mr Corbell said the ACT micro feed-in tariff scheme was initially capped at 30 megawatts. This was increased to 35 megawatts on a Greens-Liberal amendment to reflect the introduction of the medium scale category. This would cap the maximum annual cost to the average ACT household at $50.


What an arsehole! Some very unfunny "comedy"

I would have knocked him over if he had invaded a function of mine like that

CELEBRITY comedian Rod Quantock has refused to apologise for gatecrashing a glamorous Melbourne wedding, leaving guests stunned by a series of "unfunny" stunts.

Wearing Groucho Marx masks and brandishing a rubber chicken and megaphone, Quantock and 60 other uninvited guests interrupted a private function at Comme restaurant on Saturday afternoon.

The reception takeover was part of Quantock's award-winning roving show for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, where he takes his audience on a tour of the city, hijacking shops, cafes and events with impromptu performances.

But guests say Quantock's act was "uninvited, unwelcome, and very unfunny" and ruined what was otherwise a tasteful and painstakingly planned affair.

They say his performance of Another One Bites the Dust was a pointed joke about the newly married couple's future that fell flat.

Wedding photographer Shannon McDonald said: "A lot of time and care went into planning this lovely couple's wedding, and for Rod Quantock and his followers to disrupt it for their own amusement wasn't funny or cool. It wasn't his moment, it was theirs."

Quantock, who won the MICF directors' choice award for his act the same night as the wedding, was surprised he had offended the wedding party.   "I thought most people enjoyed it and those who didn't - well, I couldn't care less about them," Quantock said.

"It was just a little bit of silliness that invaded their world for a few minutes."


22 April, 2012

New watchdog established for angry air travellers

JETLAGGED passengers will have a new airline complaints czar to report to when flights are deliberately overbooked or their luggage goes missing.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese will today announce the establishment of a new, independent national airline customer advocate to help passengers resolve complaints.

The new role follows concerns the rise of low-cost carriers accused of deliberately overbooking flights had coincided with an increase in consumer complaints.

Applications for the role open this week.

The new advocate will also name and shame airlines into action, publishing complaints received and the major reasons for complaints to each airline.

The new role, which will carry a six-figure salary, will be independent but funded by the airlines rather than taxpayers.

Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar Airways, Regional Express and Tiger Airways will participate in and jointly fund the position.

The airline advocate role was first proposed in the National Aviation White Paper, amid warnings airlines could face a tougher regulatory approach if they failed to embrace the measure.


Abbott urges AFP to investigate Slipper allegations

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Australian Federal Police should investigate sexual harassment allegations against House of Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper.

A political row has erupted over the future of Mr Slipper, who is returning to Australia from Los Angeles denying the allegations made by former staffer James Ashby.

Mr Ashby, 33, launched legal action in the Federal Court on Friday claiming he was continually harassed by Mr Slipper since he began working for him in December last year.

The Sunshine Coast MP is also accused of misusing taxpayer-funded Cabcharges.

Mr Abbott says the allegations are "extremely serious".

"It is very important that the Prime Minister act swiftly to require the Speaker to step aside," he said.

"And it is very important that the Australian Federal Police quickly investigate these matters so that they can be resolved as soon as humanly possible."  The AFP says it is assessing the information.

He was confronted by journalists when he landed at a Los Angeles airport on Saturday afternoon.

He remained silent for the most part when questioned by journalists saying simply: "All allegations are denied."

He had earlier taken to his Twitter account to deny the claims.

The allegations are a new headache for Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Government, which is relying on the independent Speaker's support to retain its parliamentary majority.

Mr Slipper was appointed to the Speaker's role after he resigned from the Liberals as part of a deal with Labor.

Federal Government Frontbencher Anthony Albanese says he has no knowledge of the allegations and rejects suggestions for Mr Slipper to be stood down.

"Those issues are a matter for Mr Slipper, there are legal proceedings underway... that's what the newspaper reports indicate this morning," he said.

"On that basis it's important that we recognise the separation between the judicial arm and political arms of the state."

In the claims detailed in News Limited's Saturday papers, Mr Ashby alleges the Speaker only hired him to pursue a sexual relationship.

He says in his first weeks on the job, Mr Slipper requested massages, asked him for graphic details about his sex life and sent him suggestive text messages.

In one of the alleged exchanges quoted by News Limited, Mr Slipper is said to have asked Mr Ashby if he wanted to become "closer", immediately after allegedly sending a sexually suggestive text message.

Mr Ashby also alleges his employer sent him texts signed with an "x" or an "xxx".

He said in his legal statement that Mr Slipper asked him to shower with the door open, which he refused to do, but he says Mr Slipper never closed the door for his showers.

Mr Ashby claims he always rejected the advances of the 62-year-old, who is married with two children. The case is due to come before the Federal Court May 21.


Should fish be eaten or just admired?

Australian Greenies say that  fishing disturbs nature so fishing should be forbidden in vast areas of Australia's extensive territorial waters  -- and the present Leftist Australian government is about to give Greenies just about all they want

Australia's newest Commonwealth marine reserve will be the world's largest "fattening paddock" for yellow fin tuna, but critics say only foreign fishing vessels will be reaping the benefits.

The one million square kilometre Coral Sea Marine Reserve will be the world's largest.

Chief among those arguing that commercial fishing should be allowed in the reserve is Canberra University's Dr Bob Kearney.  He is a former director of fisheries research in NSW and a fierce critic of what he claims is a decline in scientific rigour when it comes to Australia's plans to give up a third of its exclusive economic zone to marine reserves.

Dr Kearney says the Western Pacific tuna fishery is the world's last great fishing resource and Australia should be increasing its catch, rather than locking it up.  "It's just absolute nonsense, it's scientific claptrap to claim the yellow fin tuna is under any threat," he told ABC's Landline.  "The real problem for Australia is it's grossly under-exploited.

"While we've got a shortage of food, we're importing 70 - 75 per cent of our seafood."

Contrary to claims by conservation groups such as Greenpeace, Dr Kearney says yellow fin tuna stocks are not threatened by fishing and could be fished much harder.  "You couldn't wipe them out on known technology if they were $1 million each," he said.

But one of Australia's leading marine conservation scientists says that is not the point.  "I'm not arguing we need to protect the Coral Sea because it's hugely overfished, its actually the opposite argument," says Dr Terry Hughes, who is director of Coral Reef Studies at the ARC centre for Excellence in Townsville.

Dr Hughes is also one of 300 international marine scientists who have called on the Australian Government to make the Coral Sea Reserve a 100 per cent no-take park.

"The issue isn't about food security or about fisheries management, it's about preserving one of the last few pristine ecosystems on the planet for the benefit of future generations," he said.  "So we have a societal choice to make. Do we want to make everywhere in the ocean equally degraded or do we want to have a few places that are very special where we afford a higher level of protection?"

The Australian Government hopes to complete its rollout of marine reserves by the end of 2012 but could finalise the Coral Sea proposal in the coming weeks when Australia commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The Government received more than 486,000 submissions during its 90-day public consultation period, with about 80 per cent generated by an international online campaign run by conservation groups.

The Protect Our Coral Sea Alliance comprises 14 organisations including the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the American Pew Foundation.

It has welcomed Australia's commitment to marine conservation but argues the Coral Sea proposal does not go far enough.  The alliance also wants a ban on all fishing.

Under the Coral Sea proposal released late last year, some commercial fishing would be allowed in the reserve.

But a group of longline operators fishing the Coral Sea say the restricted zones are unworkable.  They would rather be compensated than risk legal action for accidentally fishing in no-take areas.

"Our gear shifts around in the currents and we set that gear over about 50 miles (80 kilometres) in length in the water so we have to allow enough room for the gear not to drift over the line, if we drift over the line with any hooks into the park then we would be breaking the law," says Gary Heilmann, of De brett Seafoods.

He is the spokesman for the group representing 10 boats fishing out of Cairns and Mooloolaba.  Mr Heilmann says it costs about $50,000 to send a boat from Mooloolaba to the Coral Sea to fish for tuna and other large species.  He says the likely returns once the marine reserve is declared would not justify the cost.

'Fattening paddock'

Queensland Senator Ron Boswell says Australian boats are being forced out of the Coral Sea while Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands governments are licensing foreign operators to exploit the region's abundant tuna reserves.

"People are taking 700,000 tonnes of tuna just on the other side of the Coral Sea so Australia is providing a big fattening paddock for international fishermen to come in and take our catch," he said.

He has asked questions in the Senate about the likely cost of compensation which will also include about 40 prawn trawlers and the businesses supporting them.

"No-one's ever put a figure on it but I've done a rough count around Australia and there's 245 boats that are going to be displaced in one form or another and that is going to cost millions and millions of dollars," he said.

The Government says compensation and readjustment funding will be decided on a case-by-case basis and it expects to begin negotiations with the industry in the coming months.


Eyes hold clues to life for deadly box jellyfish

Scientists in far north Queensland say a new discovery about the life cycle of the deadly box jellyfish will allow them to better predict when swimmers are at risk.

Researchers from James Cook University in Cairns have been able to pinpoint the exact time when box jellyfish turn from polyps into deadly stingers.

JCU Associate Professor Jamie Seymour says until now, there have been serious gaps in understanding when people are most at risk from the deadly animals.

"We've had a model for about eight or nine years now that predicts the end of the seasons and it does it really, to within two or three days," he said.

"We've been spot on for the last seven or eight years but we've never been able to predict the start of the season."

He has been able to get an insight into exactly when box jellyfish hatch by hunting them down off the far north Queensland coast near Weipa and gouging out their set of 24 eyes.

"It's a lot like the trunk of a tree, it's got concentric growth rings inside it and each one of those growth rings is added daily so then we were able to age exactly how old those jellyfish were," he said.

He found the jellyfish turn from tiny polyps into deadly stingers around September but they do not turn up along the coast and start posing a risk to swimmers until November.

"The next thing I'd like to find out is what do they do in that two to three months? Where are they?" he said.

"We know they're growing quite quickly so from that tiny size, they do reach a decent size quite quickly but where are they? What are they doing? Why is it a couple of months until they show up along the coastline?"

Professor Seymour says his team of researchers is prepared to put themselves on the line to answer those very questions.

"It's sort of like working with snakes, as long as you get hold of the non-bitey end you're away and running, " he said.  "And having said that, it's fun and if you take the precautions."


21 April, 2012

KY Pete?

It looks like slippery Peter is even slipperier than we thought

If you've got a strong stomach, the allegations against Peter Slipper are here

A typical Leftist attack on responsible people

People who have saved rather than spending all their money as soon as they get it are to be penalized by not getting the same retirement benefits as the shiftless. And since those who have saved have almost certainly put more into the system by way of taxes, it is doubly unfair

SELF-FUNDED retirees and part-pensioners will be forced to pay more for aged care under means tests from July 2014.  But seniors will be protected against over-charging by life time fee caps of $60,000 and new rules to limit costs.

Family homes will be spared from new means tests as long as they have a family member living in them.

The changes are part of a $3.7 billion overhaul of aged care announced by the Gillard Government yesterday to prepare the "creaking" system for growing demand from ageing Baby Boomers.

Julia Gillard said the changes would address a "crisis" in aged care that saw a massive shortage of care packages and expensive upfront bonds imposed on nursing home residents.

She defended the new means tests, saying they would ensure people paid what they could afford. "For the first time in aged care, fairness will also get a look in," Ms Gillard said.  "For too long, pensioners have had to subsidise those who are much better off.  "Those who can support themselves and contribute a bit more should, and we must look after the needs of those who can't."

The aged-care shakeup would focus on helping older people stay at home and prevent those who go into residential care from being forced into fire sales of their family homes, Ms Gillard said.

More elderly people will be able to live in their homes after the Government creates about 40,000 new subsidised home care packages over the next five years.

But for the first time, people receiving new at-home care will be hit with extra "care fees" of up to $5000 a year for part-pensioners and $10,000 for self-funded retirees earning more than $43,000 a year.  The new charges will only affect people who need aged care for the first time after July 1, 2014.

Fee packages will come with cooling off periods in a bid to end the practice of elderly people being forced to sell their homes quickly to secure a nursing home place.

People who rely solely on the aged pension, who make up about 51 per cent of those in aged care now, will not pay any extra fees above current basic charges of up to 17.5 per cent of the single pension.

Accommodation charges and other fees will be assessed by a new Aged Care Financing Authority modelled on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Pricing Authority.


Industry warns of risk in cutting tax breaks on super

These breaks were put in place in order to encourage people to save  for their own retirement rather than relying on the young to support them so this is a very regressive step

CABINET ministers are pressing ahead with plans to cut superannuation tax breaks, despite industry warnings that big changes would leave workers without enough cash for their retirement.

The finance sector launched a fierce campaign against the changes yesterday after failing to gain assurances that the generous concessions were safe from cuts.

The Weekend Australian has learned of talks within the government on five savings options, including small changes to tax rates that could recoup several billion dollars in next month's budget.

While a final decision is yet to be made, the expenditure review committee appears set on scaling back at least one of the tax benefits in order to deliver on Labor's core economic promise of a budget surplus in 2012-13.

Existing tax concessions sacrifice about $30 billion in Treasury revenue every year and some of the biggest advantages go to those on higher incomes, leaving few incentives for those on low incomes to save for retirement.

Labor's deliberations include putting a surcharge on high-income earners while sparing those at the bottom of the income scale, at a time when the Coalition is sending mixed signals about cutting entitlements for the wealthy.

In a show of force, four of the industry's biggest groups issued a rare joint statement yesterday to urge the government to rule out any tax changes because of the risk of eroding employee savings.

Pauline Vamos, the head of the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, said cuts to the super concessions would damage confidence in the system when workers needed to save more.

"This is not a hard decision for the future - it's a wrong decision," Ms Vamos said. "The vast majority of people are way behind on their super contributions."

Only 310,000 people have account balances of more than $500,000, Ms Vamos said. She added that it was false to suggest the concessions unfairly favoured the wealthy.

ASFA was joined by the Financial Services Council, the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees and the Self-Managed Super Fund Professionals Association of Australia in seeking an assurance the cuts would not go ahead. But the government offered no guarantees yesterday.

FSC chief executive John Brogden said any change to the tax rate on contributions would undermine one of the foundations of a system in which all workers paid the same concessional rate.

"It would be very short-sighted for the government to try and pull out more tax now," Mr Brogden said last night. "All they'd be doing is leaving future governments with a bigger bill for pensions, healthcare and aged care."

AIST chief executive Fiona Reynolds said that tinkering with super would leave all Australians with reduced savings.

Shaping the government strategy is the belief that the investment industry will gain greatly from the increase in the super guarantee levy from 9 per cent to 12 per cent by 2020, letting all workers save more for retirement.

Opposition financial services spokesman Mathias Cormann blamed Labor's heavy spending in the past for its budget challenge.

"This is short-term politics to deal with the fiscal mess Labor has created over four years in government," Senator Cormann said.

The budget options include a pause in the increase to the annual cap on concessional contributions, a higher tax on fund earnings, the deferral of adjustment meant to go ahead in July and changes to the tax on superannuation contributions.

The 15 per cent contributions tax creates an incentive for employees on the top tax rate, 45 per cent, to sacrifice some of their salary and put it into super.

There is no similar incentive for more than three million workers paying the lowest income tax rate of 15 per cent.

The Greens have called for a sliding scale, as outlined in the Henry tax review, in which those on the 45 per cent rate would pay only 30 per cent on super contributions. This would leave them with an incentive to save but would raise revenue by doubling the 15 per cent flat contributions tax they currently pay.

While a return to the Howard government's super surcharge is considered unlikely, a form of surcharge is one of the options as a temporary adjustment.

Those earning more than $85,000 paid a surcharge on super contributions in Peter Costello's first budget in August 1996, raising about $500 million a year in the early years as the Coalition sought to balance the budget.

Mr Costello removed the surcharge in 2005 but Labor voted to keep it.

Wayne Swan is in the US and his office would not comment on budget speculation. Financial Services Minister Bill Shorten is in Europe and has not commented on super changes in the budget.


Child abuse inquiry:  Beware of what you wish for

The result will be a coverup

Dr Jeremy Sammut

In an Australian first, the Victorian government announced this week that a parliamentary inquiry will be conducted into the handling of child sexual abuse cases by the Catholic and other churches.

It is impossible not to sympathise with victims who feel they will finally get the chance to hold their abusers to account. Giving people the chance to tell their stories can have a cleansing effect.

Child abuse often occurs when those in positions of authority remain silent or fail to listen to children who complain about it. Ending the silence provides an opportunity to learn lessons and make sure the same mistakes are never repeated.

Premier Ted Baillieu expressed this sentiment when he said, `We regard child abuse as abhorrent and we will endeavour to do whatever we can to prevent it from happening.'

But having worked in this field for a number of years, I am increasingly sceptical about our willingness to openly address very contentious issues that are highly relevant to the welfare of children.

Some big silences remain in the debate about child protection. Contemporary society would prefer not to talk about key problems, such as the fact that single-mother households are over-represented in cases of child abuse and neglect.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, `a relatively high proportion of substantiations [of reported child abuse and neglect] involved children living in lone mother families'. The Australian Institute of Family Studies estimates that child abuse in such households is `about two and half times higher than would be expected given the number of children living in such families.'

This problem was created by the Whitlam government when it introduced the single mothers pension in 1973. This made it possible for women who did not work and did not have bread-winning husbands to raise children at taxpayers' expense. What has ensued is the rise of a dysfunctional underclass of welfare-dependent single mothers with a complex range of personal and social problems, including substance abuse, domestic violence, and an inability to properly parent children.

A Senate committee recently recommended that the federal government issue an apology for the pre-1970s policy of forcing unwed mothers to give up their babies for adoption. We also need to admit that efforts to right perceived wrongs, starting with the creation of the single mothers pension, have precipitated a social disaster.

But we are reluctant to admit this because telling the truth about `diverse' family structures is not politically correct. We are culturally deaf, as it were, to the fact that all `families' are patently not equal when it comes to securing the welfare of children.


Windfarm revolt

A DEAD wedge-tailed eagle, chicken eggs without yolks and a dysfunctional village with residents bursting to flee. This is the clean-energy revolution Waterloo-style, where the nation's biggest wind turbines have whipped up a storm of dissent.

Adelaide University has been drawn into a controversy that threatens to spin out of control after one of its masters students asked residents of Waterloo, 120km north of Adelaide, what they really thought about living near windmills and was knocked over in an avalanche of complaint.

Yesterday, a South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage officer collected the remains of a juvenile wedge-tailed eagle from the base of one of the Waterloo wind farm turbine towers. He said it would be X-rayed and examined to establish the cause of death.

It may help to explain why, according to one local ranger, three wedge-tailed eagle nesting areas identified before the turbines began to operate 18 months ago are no longer active.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources district manager Ian Falkenberg said initial observations of the eagle remains showed a punctured skull and major fractures of the right wing, including a significant break about three inches from the shoulder.

GPS readings showed the remains were located 180m from the base of the tower.

Mr Falkenberg said eagles in the mid-north of South Australia were in lower numbers than in other parts of the state and considered "vulnerable" at a regional assessment level.  He said prior to the wind turbines at Waterloo, there were three eagle territories but was not aware of any of those territories now being active.

According to wind farm operator TRUenergy, there are still active wedge-tailed eagle populations in the hills.  TRUenergy spokeswoman Sarah Stent said: "Eagle monitoring on site of resident population today shows no decrease in bird numbers."

TRUenergy acquired the Waterloo wind farm last year and has announced a $40 million expansion. It is also planning a wind farm development at Stony Gap. The company insists it has broad community support and certainly the strong backing of the SA government.

Waterloo has become a hotbed of concern among locals, many of whom claim to be suffering ill-effects from the wind turbine development.  They want independent noise measuring and for Senate inquiry recommendations for research into the impact of low frequency noise to be adopted. Some want to be relocated and many want the wind turbines to be turned off at night.

Village resident Neil Daws is concerned his chickens have been laying eggs with no yolks. 

Ironically called wind eggs, the yolkless eggs can be explained without wind turbines.  But together with a spike in sheep deformities, also not necessarily connected to wind, reports of erratic behaviour by farm dogs and an exodus of residents complaining of ill health, Waterloo is a case study of the emotional conflict being wrought by the rollout of industrial wind power.

When Adelaide University masters student Frank Wang surveyed residents within a 5km radius of the Waterloo wind turbines he found 70 per cent of respondents claimed they had been negatively affected by the wind development and the noise, with more than 50 per cent having been very or moderately negatively affected.

Mr Wang is concerned that a summary of his results was leaked before it could be peer-reviewed.

Adelaide University vice-chancellor Michael Head has written to TRUenergy in response to company concerns about publication of the summary. "I have looked into this matter and found that the study in question was undertaken by a student as part of a minor thesis for his masters by coursework," Professor Head said. "This was entirely the student's own project and not undertaken for or on behalf of the university."

A university spokesperson said the survey was overseen by a senior lecturer and approved by the University's Human Research Ethics Committee.  "There is clearly a need for further research that considers all aspects of wind farms and their impact on the community," the spokesperson said.

Mr Wang told The Weekend Australian the university had been supportive of his research.  "Yes, definitely," he said. "My supervisor helped me to choose this topic."

Mr Wang said he was not willing to release his research publicly until after academic peer reviews.

Ms Stent said TRUenergy was not able to judge if Mr Wang's results were a fair representation of community sentiment in Waterloo.  "It is not our view that the majority of the population is opposed to the wind farm nor dissatisfied with our approach to community engagement," she said.


20 April, 2012

Do any of these wankers know how HOT it gets in the tropics?

It's all just fine for them in their air-conditioned offices of course.  For over a century, Qld. rail workers have worked outdoors  in temperatures that would be regarded as a life-threatening heat-wave in Europe -- and clothing appropriate for the heat was a major factor in enabling that

IN A fight tailor-made for our great state, an epic stoush is brewing over men's work shorts following the decision by Queensland Rail to ditch railworkers rights to a fashion statement as synonymous with Queensland as XXXX and the Great Barrier Reef.

The Courier-Mail broke the news of QR's fashion edict yesterday and was flooded with feedback. The long and er ... short of it?

Most Queenslanders were not happy, but opinion remains divided on the future of men's work shorts.

The fashion world has backed the Rail Tram and Bus Union's calls for shorts to be saved. Yet due to safety concerns, including the risk of skin cancer, occupational healthy and safety experts are backing QR's move.

Leo Ruschena, lecturer in Occupational Health and Safety at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, said the traditional image of the Aussie worker was changing.

"The bronzed ANZAC image of the bronzed labourer wearing shorts, maybe a singlet and boots I think is something we should consign to the dust bin of history," Mr Ruschena said.

Mr Ruschena said the heightened risk of skin cancer in Queensland required stricter sun protection including the centimetres of skin between socks and shorts.  "Whether it's railway workers or farmers they're all subject to the same UV rays and need to cover up," Mr Ruschena said.

He said an organisation's move to cover up their workers was often about protecting their own interests with the rates of workplace negligence claims for skin cancer soaring.  "I imagine (QR) would have a large number of claims in relation to skin cancer and those claims around Australia is on the rise," Mr Ruschena said.

Despite this, Brisbane's fashion elite claim there should always be space for shorts in a man's wardrobe.  "There's all types of shorts ideal for a lot of industries ... we have very hot days where we need shorts," Brisbane fashion designer Daniel Lightfoot said.

Mr Lightfoot said the fashion world was experiencing a resurgence in shorts, harking back to the 1960s "Gold Coast look" and the shorter the shorts the better.

Aung Lynn, general manager at Brisbane menswear chain Mitchell Ogilvie, agreed.  "In Europe people are wearing shorts and jackets," Mr Lynn said.  "It can look very trendy but you can't be working at the bank and wearing shorts," he said.


Tony Abbott promises to get rid of carbon pricing scheme within six months of being elected to power

TONY Abbott has pledged to get rid of carbon pricing within just six months of the Coalition winning government.

The Opposition Leader said that if blocked in the Senate he would immediately call another election, a double dissolution, and invite the ALP to commit “suicide twice".  “I won't reduce the tax, change the tax, or redesign the tax. I will repeal the tax," Mr Abbott said in Brisbane today.

The Coalition is maintaining its course to make the election scheduled for late next year a referendum on the carbon pricing scheme set to begin this July.

Mr Abbott ramped up his intentions to scrap the entire scheme if elected, and assured voters they would not miss out on pension increases and tax cuts to be funded by the scheme's revenue.

“There is no mystery to this. Essentially, all that it requires is the passage of the repeal bill through the Parliament," Mr Abbott said.  “After all, what is done by legislation can be undone by legislation.

“I don't expect the Greens to support repealing the carbon tax. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine the Labor Party, beaten in an election that's a referendum on the carbon tax, committing suicide twice by resisting the new government’s mandate.

“If they do, there is a constitutional procedure designed for just this eventuality. It's called a double dissolution. I would not hesitate to seek a second mandate to repeal this toxic tax. Indeed, it would be my duty to do so."

Mr Abbott said that “because the electorate would double-punish the Labor Party for wilful obstruction, I expect that the repeal arrangements would be in place within six months.”

Mr Abbott dismissed the Government's argument that scrapping the scheme would cost voters extra welfare payments and tax cuts which it plans to fund from pollution penalties paid by major companies.  “Well, the public aren't mugs. They know that a tax cut paid for by a tax increase is a con, not a cut," he said.  “The only way that taxes can sustainably be lowered is if government spending is lower or if the economy is larger.

“The Coalition can deliver tax cuts without a carbon tax because we will eliminate wasteful and unnecessary government spending and because lower taxes and higher productivity will boost economic growth."


Prayer rooms at football?

HAVING succeeded in convincing the AFL to introduce prayer rooms at all venues, Bachar Houli was unfazed last night by a stinging backlash sparked by former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, who called the idea "stupid" and "political correctness gone mad".

Football fans took to websites to condemn and ridicule the move, but at his home in Melbourne the AFL's first Muslim player told The Australian: "The main thing is we've got what we want, and you can't change that.

"At the end of the day, people want to go and enjoy the footy as well as continue with their beliefs, and if it means they have to pray once a day at the footy, we're not asking for much."

Mr Kennett said the move was "ridiculous" and complained that political correctness had replaced "the great days" of football, when there were few stands, mud on the ground, meat pies sold for sixpence and fans braved "the smell of the urinal".

Describing Australia as "a Christian society of many faiths", the former Liberal premier and former Hawthorn club president said communities should not have to change their "very fibre" to accommodate multiculturalism.

"To put prayer rooms into sporting venues is not part of the Australian lexicon, it's not the way in which we've behaved," he said.  "I think it's an overreaction, I think it's political correctness, I think it's absolute rubbish. It's not practical, it's stupid, it's political correctness gone mad."

Houli, who plays at Richmond, where he prays before and after games, pressed for prayer rooms to be introduced at grounds in his capacity as the league's multicultural ambassador.

He said devout Muslims, who pray five times a day, were forced to pray in carparks or stairwells during games, and said more Muslims would come to the football if they had a place to pray.

Multi-faith prayer rooms have been introduced at the MCG and Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, and Sydney's ANZ Stadium. The AFL intends to press for prayer rooms at all other venues, including the SCG.

The move was welcomed by Muslim leaders, including Muslim Australia vice-president Ikebal Patel, who said the AFL deserved full marks.  "What is the harm?" he asked. "What's the problem in someone enjoying a game of footy and at the same time being mindful of their religious obligations, whatever they may be.

"Full marks to the AFL for being inclusive when we have people from different backgrounds and faiths. It's not only Muslims who might like to pray. It is engaging with God, and they might even be praying for Hawthorn to win."

The AFL's newest club, Greater Western Sydney, backed the move last night, saying: "Western Sydney is a culturally diverse region and the Giants welcome all people regardless of their background. We are proud of the contribution clubs like Muslim AFL team the Auburn Tigers have made to growing the game in Western Sydney, and the Giants would be happy to support any initiative which makes the game more accessible for all people."

AFL chief Andrew Demetriou said the league had an obligation to make venues welcoming to people of all cultures.

Many football fans took to websites to condemn the move. "What next, the Adhan over the loudspeakers instead of the final siren?" posted one Richmond fan. "Or . . . half-time breaks to coincide with mid-afternoon prayer? Or designated women-only areas at the ground on the top deck completely out of sight and earshot of any men? Actually, that one's not a bad idea.  "Seriously though, I don't like this decision at all and it's just another example of how this country is changing."

Others posted: "This is OUR game and I'm sick of all this multicultural crap that is dividing our country"; "The last bastion of Australian culture to be stripped away from us in the name of Islam"; and "Football should be football. It's a religion in itself. Let it be."


Note:  I have another blog covering Australian  news. It is   more specialized so is not updated daily.  See Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour.  Three posts today

Telstra backs Abbott's alternative to Julia's fibre broadband

Telstra CEO David Thodey says the Coalition's proposed NBN model is cheaper than the government's. Source: News Limited
THE National Broadband Network model proposed by the Coalition if it wins power would be faster and cheaper to roll out than the $36 billion design being pursued by Labor, Telstra has declared.

Telstra chief executive David Thodey said that adopting the fibre-to-the-node network - the model favoured by an Abbott government - would be lower-cost and faster than the approach of laying fibre to the home and could result in faster payments to the telco for the use of its infrastructure.

Mr Thodey also revealed that if the Coalition does take office at the election due next year, renegotiations of a multi-billion-dollar deal that secured Telstra's involvement in the NBN rollout would "not be significant in the overall structure of the deal".

The comments cast a shadow over Labor's warnings that the Coalition would face an uphill battle to strike a deal with Telstra.

Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull argued this week that Telstra would get faster payments for providing access to its infrastructure under his plan as the NBN rollout would be quicker - a potentially welcome move for Telstra's 1.4 million shareholders and the millions more Australians who have a stake in the No 1 telco through superannuation funds.

Under Labor's NBN, Telstra's copper network will be replaced with a super-fast optic fibre rolled out to 93 per cent of the nation's homes and businesses, with the rest served by a mix of satellite and fixed wireless.

Under the Coalition's plan, the copper cables that run into homes would be retained instead of replaced with fibre. The fibre would stop at a cabinet - the node - that would serve a street, although it would take the more costly approach of laying fibre to the home in some instances such as in new greenfield estates and for some brownfields areas.

While he stopped short of backing either major party's broadband model, Mr Thodey said a fibre-to-the-node network would be quicker. "There are different technologies to use; they have pluses and minuses on both sides.

"Definitely fibre to the node is a faster and cheaper deployment. However, in some areas the copper has been there for a long time and there could be issues.

"If you have a purist view about an ideal world, fibre to the home is definitely the ultimate solution.

"But just like when I'm building anything within Telstra, I have to make a good trade-off in terms of the returns I get," he said.

NBN Co currently estimates it will take about 10 years to complete the NBN, but the project has already been dogged by delays that critics estimate have put the project 15 months behind schedule.

"The government needs to make their own decision about the priorities of where they're investing," Mr Thodey said.

"The Labor government made their decision about the priorities - that's their prerogative - and should the opposition ever get into power, they may have other priorities for that investment. That's their business. I can't really comment on that, but, yes, fibre to the node is a lower cost and faster deployment.

"But it may have longer-term consequences over 30 or 40 years, so it's just pluses and minuses just like any business case any commercial person would look at."

The comments have sparked another political furore over broadband policy. Last night, Mr Turnbull seized on the comments.

"Obviously we're very open to working with Telstra," Mr Turnbull said.

"The point I've made for some time is that the approach we are taking would be a win-win. It would result in the rollout being much less costly for the taxpayer and, while Telstra would get the same amount of money because the rollout would be achieved more quickly, they would get it sooner, so there is some timing benefit for them."

The office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy last night said: "Telstra recognise their Alan Bond when they see him."

The line was a reference to Kerry Packer's famous comment that "you only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime" as he bought back the Nine Network for a fraction of the $1bn price the businessman had paid for it a couple of years earlier.

Kevin Rudd, as prime minister, and Senator Conroy announced they had orchestrated a deal with Telstra in June 2010, but the deal only came into force last month.

Labor had threatened Telstra with curbs on its opportunity to buy wireless spectrum and to force it to divest its half-ownership of Foxtel if it were not prepared to reach agreement over the NBN.

Telstra's co-operation is important to both major parties as fibre can be rolled out more quickly, cheaply and with less overhead cabling by accessing Telstra's infrastructure, such as its exchange space, pits and ducts, while paying Telstra to migrate its customers from copper to fibre would ensure take-up.

Mr Turnbull recently revealed that he would expect Telstra to hand over ownership of its copper lines at no extra cost as it made decisions on the ground about the rollout - despite Telstra considering that the copper network has significant value.

Mr Thodey said yesterday that the opposition had indicated "they would continue with the NBN but in a slightly different technology design".

"If that's their policy then I have little concern," Mr Thodey said. "However, if there was a different policy it would be very hard to speculate. But of what has been publicly said, there should be no change."

Telstra would still get payments for migrating customers from copper to fibre, but if that was accelerated under Mr Turnbull's plans, "then there are different cash flows which could be seen as advantageous to Telstra".

"I have a contract with NBN Co and with the government that stands," Mr Thodey said.  "Should they want to renegotiate that contract my door is always open and I will negotiate in the interests of creating value for shareholders."  He emphasised that he was looking forward to the project.


19 April, 2012

Thinly veiled antisemitism is resurgent in Australia too

As many Western leftists abandoned Israel following its post-1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, Sinai and the Golan Heights, instead embracing the then novel Palestinian cause, Grass remained pro-Israel. Some four decades later, few would describe Nobel-prize-winning author Grass, 83, in the same terms.
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Grass' controversial recent poem What Must Be Said, published in the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, severed any friendship that existed between himself and the Jewish state. Grass alleged that a nuclear-armed Israel "threatens the already fragile world peace" and railed against the inability of Germans to take Israel to task for fear of being labelled anti-Semitic. Nine stanzas of poetry sparked a global outcry.

It is self-evident that a former Waffen SS (Nazi military unit) member should exercise extreme caution when commenting upon the actions of the nation-state he unwittingly brought into existence. Still, the decision of Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai to declare Grass persona non grata scarcely requires condemnation. Censoring writers is the antithesis of liberal democracy, however repugnant their views may be.

Much of the debate over Grass' poem has centred on the equation of democratic Israel with the Iranian theocracy and his trivialisation of the existential threat posed by regime in Tehran (whose leader has threatened to "wipe" Israel from the map). Yet, perhaps the most repugnant element of Grass' poem was his Freudian suggestion that Israel was contemplating an attack in order to "annihilate the Iranian people".

At best, Grass is guilty of attention-seeking opportunism. At worst, his attack constitutes classical anti-Semitism in two respects.

First, it rehashes allegations of mendacious Jewish behaviour and conspiratorial, censorious control of governments and the media.

Second, Grass's casting of Israel as the likely next perpetrator of genocide implies that Jews are collectively possessed of evil intentions.

The Grass scandal is hardly some isolated phenomenon. Rather it points to a far deeper intellectual and moral malaise on the political left, although as British journalist Nick Cohen pointed out in a penetrating recent essay for Standpoint magazine, what has been described as the new anti-Semitism from the far left and militant Islamic groups was in fact "extraordinarily consistent" during the previous century.

Anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism has stolen a march in the early 21st century, albeit shorn of overt racism. Instead, the world's oldest hate manifests itself politically via the bizarre demand that Israel, alone among the world's nations, must cease to exist in favour of a bi-national Palestine. For academic Philip Mendes, such fundamentalist discourse demonises "all Israeli Jews and all Jewish supporters of Israel as the political enemy".

Most depressing of all for this committed two-state supporter is the thundering silence of the Western left. As Ari Shavit, a columnist for the left-wing Israeli daily Haaretz, writes: Grass's poem "doesn't contain Goebbels-like propaganda" yet the "words said by Grass and the words not said against Grass prove that the gangrene of delegitimisation is gradually spreading and devouring us".

Australia, too, has not been immune to such developments. Witness the ugly Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions rallies staged outside the Israeli-owned chocolate shop Max Brenner throughout last year, where protesters literally chanted blood-libels ("There's blood in your hot chocolate"). Yet the response of leading left intellectuals, who ought to know better, was to uncritically defend the protesters.

Those protests were the handiwork of Students for Palestine, a front group of the far-left Socialist Alternative group, itself routinely accused of anti-Semitism. It was no coincidence that the same folks recently planned to protest outside the Adass Israel Synagogue on Sabbath. Amazingly, the demonstration was cancelled not out of any concern about anti-Semitism but because "anti-Zionist Jews" were allegedly among the congregants.

This is a new twist on an old far-left strategy whereby the views of a tiny minority of radical anti-Zionist Jews are ostentatiously paraded. Not only is Israel routinely libelled, but anti-Semitism is written off as a disingenuous tactic of Zionist polemicists. Thus, Michael Brull, writing on ABC online's The Drum, described self-confessed jihadist Mohammed Merah, who last month murdered four French Jews, as not anti-Semitic but a "secular" killer.

Israel is hardly a perfect nation but the interventions of Grass et al are passing strange. Over the past 15 months, an estimated 13,000 Syrians have perished as a result of President Bashar Al-Assad's brutal crackdown. This is roughly the same number of casualties produced by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict since the onset of the 1948 war. Yet Grass's poetic stylings avoid altogether the continuing Syrian bloodbath. What must be said indeed.


Hockey blasts attitude of 'entitlement'

SHADOW treasurer Joe Hockey has condemned systems of "universal entitlement" in Western democracies, contrasting this attitude with the concept of "filial piety" thriving across Asia where people get what they work for and families look after their own.

Speaking in London, Mr Hockey said that by Western standards the highly constrained public safety net in Hong Kong and other Asian places might seem brutal "but it works and it is financially sustainable".

"Contrast this with what we find in Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States. All of them have enormous entitlement systems spanning education, health, income support, retirement benefits, unemployment benefits."

Government revenues fell far short of meeting the cost and the difference had to be made up by borrowing.

While he was less critical of Australia, saying that over the years there had been some key decisions to reduce spending, Mr Hockey said it still had "a lot of spending by government which many voters see as their entitlement".

Pressed on the ABC’s Lateline about whether the Coalition would look at the whole range of entitlements, Mr Hockey said: "Yes.’"

Australia needed to be "ever vigilant" and to compare itself with its neighbours. Australia had moved a long way but this "doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move further’".

In his speech, he said countries with a lower level of entitlement were free to allow business and individuals to be successful. "It reduces taxation, meaning individuals spend less of their time working for the state, and more of their time working for themselves and their family."

Both sides of the Western political spectrum were to blame for the entitlement mentality. "Perhaps the  real problem is the exuberant excesses of politicians."

But now, he said, "the age of unlimited and unfunded entitlement to government services and income support is over ... We are now in an era where leaders are much more wary about credit risk."


A strange affair

There seems to be a lot unsaid below

The ACT Government has agreed to return most of a $400,000 payment from Queensland Health that has sparked a misconduct inquiry in the sunshine state.

But the Territory will not return about $130,000 of the payment that has already been spent on projects related to the National Mental Health Plan.

This week, the Queensland Government revealed two senior health bureaucrats had been suspended on full pay while allegations were referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

It has been reported that the allegations related to an unauthorised $400,000 payment to the ACT Government.

The ACT Health Directorate said the money was accepted in good faith from Queensland Health for the national mental health secretariat, which is maintained by the ACT Government.

In response to questions from The Canberra Times, a Health Directorate spokesman said last night the ACT had agreed to return funds to Queensland that had not already been spent on mental health projects.

“The ACT Health Directorate set up a special purpose account to ensure all funds within the account were transparently accounted for, and to keep these funds separate from ACT Government funded activities,’’ the spokesman said.

“If a jurisdiction provides funding for national mental health activity and the projected activities for which the funds were allocated has not proceeded, the funds are regarded as still belonging to that jurisdiction and are dealt with as that jurisdiction requires.’’

The ACT hosts the secretariat for the National Mental Health Standing Committee, which is overseeing the implementation of the fourth National Mental Health Plan.

Money that had already been spent on the projects would not be refunded.

The spokesman said Queensland Health staff had contacted an ACT Health Directorate official earlier this year to discuss the funds.

 “The ACT Health Directorate official informed the Queensland Health officials that the funds were held in a special purpose account, the purpose for which they were provided and the status of that activity,’’ the spokesman said.

A review had been conducted into the actions of the ACT Government.

 “The ACT Government has undertaken an internal review to make sure ACT Government procedures have been followed,’’ the spokesman said.

The comments came after Queensland Health director-general Tony O'Connell revealed he had stood down “two senior Queensland Health officers” following allegations of official misconduct.

“I take these matters very seriously and have referred this issue to the Crime and Misconduct Commission for thorough investigation,” he said in the statement.

“The officers in question have been suspended on full pay pending the outcome of the investigations.”

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said the two "very senior" officers worked in the Queensland Health corporate office.

The spokeswoman said the allegations were reported by a third party in a "public interest disclosure" but she was unaware of the person's identity.


It was the union that forced Toyota to take the actions that it did

WONDERING why Toyota had to go about their recent sackings by tapping unsuspecting victims on the shoulder before ejecting them from the workplace? It's because their workplace agreement leaves them little option.

The Altona Agreement, made with the union in 2011, provides for redundancy packages of up to 84 weeks' pay, plus unused leave entitlements, for workers who "propose themselves" to management for "voluntary redundancy". For the average long-serving employee this amount could be between $150,000 and $250,000.

Workers who don't put themselves forward voluntarily, remain in a pool of staff that can be forcibly made redundant. However, these people receive a larger "compulsory redundancy" package. The exact amount of this package is unable to be disclosed because the company, at the time of job cuts, is bound by its agreement to negotiate the amount with the union.

Clearly, employees are incentivised to wait, let the union negotiate a better redundancy deal and then see if they get made redundant by force. While most employees are not keen to be put out of work, it is fair to say that there would be some people hoping for that tap on the shoulder. After all, the beefed up package is probably almost two years' pay.

As for the presence of security guards, the Health and Safety legislation pretty much makes it impossible for the company not to take every precaution and mitigate every possible risk. Even AMWU state vehicle division secretary Paul Difelice told ABC radio "I don't know how people are going to take it when they're told they're no longer required".

An employee may be upset that they either did - or didn't - get a redundancy package. There is a risk that someone could say something awful, perhaps abuse another employee, or even resort to violence. All liability for bullying or assault claims through Work Cover lies with the company.

Staff who don't feel they were chosen fairly for redundancy can challenge the decision by putting in an unfair dismissal claim.

Should a Fair Work Commissioner agree with their claim, reinstatement or compensation of up to 6 months' pay will be payable to the employee, who is allowed to retain the original redundancy money on top of their dismissal compensation.

If the employee also believes the redundancy occurred as a result of some form of bias or discrimination, a third claim, called adverse action, can be made through the Federal Court. A win in this jurisdiction, which has a reverse onus of proof on the employer, has no cap on the amount of monetary compensation that can be awarded to employees. This means a Toyota staff member can triple dip on the system and receive - and retain - three separate lots of monetary compensation for the loss of their job.

Criticism is levelled at "the way" the job cuts were done by the company. But putting a person out of a job is a lot like breaking up with someone; possible to do nicely but impossible to do painlessly.

Toyota may have liked to deliver the bad news in a more sensitive fashion, but given the constraints of the agreement, the negotiations with the union and our workplace laws, was probably unable to.

If we look to the reasons why the Toyota job cuts have to be made in the first place, we should look past the company's official reasons. Toyota recently revealed that absenteeism was a terrible problem and was as high as 30 per cent, particularly around long weekends. On those numbers, with the squeeze of the high dollar and other pressures, is it surprising management has reached the conclusion that production can still proceed with a 10 per cent reduction in the workforce?

Examination of the Toyota workplace agreement reveals it is a generous and tolerant employer. The wages are very good, and employees have protections that are extremely charitable beyond community standards. Clearly the company believes in sharing the proceeds of profit with the staff. However, now the external environment is harsh and the agreement doesn't allow it to make changes internally to respond to these conditions.

Any cost-based change to employee entitlements that could be proposed by the company would have to be voted on by employees - probably at the direction of the union - and then passed by Fair Work Australia, who mostly disallow agreements unless workers are "better off overall".

When times are tough, and companies are locked in to legally binding agreements, it can be easier to put staff out of work than to ask everyone to take a freeze or cut in wages. Sometimes barriers we erect to protect us contribute to our demise. There is no doubt that employees made redundant from Toyota will experience grief and loss. As will the staff left who have to work without their mates alongside them.

But the only way to have true job security is to work well for a healthy and sustainable company. Income certainty for employees is delivered by a profitable balance sheet. While legislative protections are required, sometimes the legislative environment can become unbalanced.

When it becomes all too hard - and expensive - to keep people employed, companies have no option but to shed jobs.


18 April, 2012

Australian economy leads the world

Australia has the strongest economy in the developed world and it is expected to outperform all comers for at least the next two years, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said this update is consistent with the reasons he has given for bringing the budget back to surplus, and criticised Tony Abbott for "talking down the economy".

The IMF - which issued its World Economic Outlook in Washington overnight - said it expected the Australian economy to expand by 3 per cent this year as fiscal tensions from Europe and the United States continue to ease.

The body stated that after a major setback last year with the Eurozone crisis, the global prospect of far more stable financial conditions was gradually improving.

The update said that it expects the Australian economy will outstrip growth over all other advanced economies over the next two years, noting we live in a region where exposure to troubled European banks was less than for other parts of the world.

But it also warned that Australia was exposed to risk if economic conditions in the Middle East caused another oil price spike.

The organisation revised up its global growth forecasts, with the global economy expected to grow by 3.5 per cent in 2012, up from 3.3 per cent in the January update.  A forecast of global growth of 4.1 per cent in 2013 has also been revised up from 3.9 per cent.

Global growth continues to be underpinned by solid growth in Asia, the report said.  China's economy was expected to grow 8.2 per cent in 2012 and 8.8 per cent in 2013, while India was expected to grow 6.9 per cent in 2012 and 7.3 per cent in 2013. These forecasts were broadly unchanged from the IMF's January update.

Mr Swan will attend a meeting of the G20 finance ministers in Washington this weekend, with appointments scheduled with IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, the outgoing president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, and the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke.

Mr Swan said the latest global outlook update was consistent with the reasons he had consistently given for bringing the budget back to surplus.  "The IMF also forecasts Australia's unemployment rate to remain low at 5.2 per cent in both 2012 and 2013," he said.

"With solid growth, low unemployment, contained inflation, strong public finances and a record pipeline of business investment, the Australian economy is the standout performer of the developed world."

Mr Swan said that the chance of the Reserve Bank cutting interest rates was greatly increased by a budget surplus.

"The IMF's confirmation of Australia's strong economic fundamentals - with solid growth and low unemployment - further underscores the importance of returning the budget to surplus, and giving the Reserve Bank maximum flexibility to cut interest rates if it considers that is necessary," he said.

The government has hit out at Opposition leader Tony Abbott for "getting it wrong" on the IMF growth forecasts.

During a morning doorstop, Mr Abbott said the IMF report showed the local economy was "underperforming", as they had downgraded the economic growth forecast.  "It forecasts 3 per cent for the current financial year and it looks like we are going to get 2 per cent," Mr Abbott said.  "This is an underperforming economy and it's underperforming because of the poor economic management of the current government."

But Mr Abbott's assertion was not correct, according to a spokesman for the Treasurer, who said the growth forecast of 3 per cent in 2012 had been the same since the start of the year.

Mr Swan tweeted from the tarmac before taking off for Washington that it was "crucial Tony Abbott stops talking down the Aussie economy – describing us as 'underperforming' despite big tick from IMF this morning".


Antagonism rising between the Greens and the Labor party under aggressive new Green leader

WAYNE Swan says other countries would think he was "nuts" if he listened to the Greens' call to delay the return to surplus next year.

But new Greens leader Christine Milne met Julia Gillard yesterday to warn her party would use its position of influence to force changes including boosts to the dole and extra spending on dental health.

"I made it clear to the prime minister that the Greens' view is that we should ease off on achieving a surplus this year," she said.

Senator Milne said her party's deal with Labor to back supply does not prevent it from trying to amend the Budget.

But Mr Swan, who is heading to a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Washington, said he would be ridiculed if he caved in to the demands.

"This isn't a matter of the Greens, this is the right thing by the country, by the economy, and by the people and that's what we will be doing," he said.

"I'm about to head off to a meeting of the G20 ... If I was to sit there and take the advice of the Greens or a lot of other people around the place in the commentariat world, they would say you are nuts if you're not coming back to surplus on that timetable."

The Treasurer said Australia had a healthier economy than most developed countries and his plan to return to surplus was the envy of other world leaders.

"I will be sitting there (at the G20) saying I'm coming from a developed economy which has a budget coming back to surplus, which has an unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent, which has a pipeline of investment in resources of something like $455 billion," he said.

"I will look across to Tim Geithner of the US and their economy has only just got back to the same size it was prior to the global financial crisis. They've got an unemployment rate of 8 per cent plus.

"I will look across at the British. The British economy is 4 per cent smaller than it was prior to the global financial crisis with an unemployment rate of 8 per cent plus." He conceded the Government had failed to win support with the Australian public because of the carbon tax but predicted voters would turn back to Labor.

The Government yesterday received the green light from a review led by Reserve Bank of Australia board member Jillian Broadbent to set up its $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation from July 2013 to help fund green energy projects.


Australian government should re-examine the climate data

(The  article below has four very experienced and knowledgeable co-authors:  Bob Carter is a geologist specialising in paleontology and marine geology; David Evans is a computer modeller and was a consultant to the Australian Greenhouse Office, 1999-2005; Stewart Franks is an associate professor of environmental engineering at the University of Newcastle; William Kininmonth headed Australia's National Climate Centre at the Bureau of Meteorology, 1986-98)

TWO recent, widely publicised reports by the government's scientific advisory agencies on climate change have sought to raise alarm yet again about global warming.

With the world having warmed slightly during the late 20th century, CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Climate Commission all advocate that this warming was caused mainly by industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, and that the continuation of emissions unchecked will cause dangerous warming of 3C-4C by 2100.

However, these and other climate agencies are now encountering a public that is increasingly aware of the lack of factual evidence for dangerous warming, and of the speculative nature of the arguments advanced in its favour.

For example, many people now understand that there is no direct evidence that 20th-century warming was caused mostly by carbon dioxide increase; that the late 20th-century warming has been followed by a 15-year temperature standstill in the face of continuing increases in carbon dioxide; and that the models that project alarming future warming are inadequate.

The dangerous warming hypothesis is embodied in the complex climate models that CSIRO and others use to predict the future climate.  But when the model predictions are tested against the latest high-quality data from our best instruments, they are seen to have comprehensively failed.

For example, the models predicted increasing global air temperatures (the measured rises have been much less than predicted), increasing ocean temperatures (there has been no change since 2003, when we started measuring it properly with Argo ocean-diving buoys) and the presence of a hot spot caused by humidity and cloud feedback at heights of 8km-12km in the tropical atmosphere (entirely absent).

The last item is especially important because it shows that the crucial amplification assumed by the modellers and which is responsible for two-thirds of the predicted warming (yes, only one-third is directly due to carbon dioxide) simply does not exist.

Finding that the estimated historic increase in carbon dioxide was not enough to cause dangerous warming on its own, the modellers guessed that atmospheric water vapour would amplify, by a factor of three, any initial carbon dioxide-forced warming.  That this assumed amplification is present in the models but not in reality explains why the models consistently overestimate recent warming.

What then should our government be making of all this?

Well, the government appears to take advice on global warming and climate change from a wide range of sources, which include the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Australian government agencies (CSIRO, BOM), state-based greenhouse or climate-change bodies, rent- seekers from many university climate-related research groups, business lobby groups and consultants and, finally, large environmental lobby organisations (Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace, WWF). Phew.

The reality is, though, that all of these groups and organisations take their lead from, and support the views of, the IPCC (a political body that is unaccountable to Australian citizens).

Their starting assumption is therefore that human-caused global warming exists, that it is dangerous and that the way to avert the danger is to "decarbonise" the planet. The many agencies and groups giving advice are, in fact, just providing multiple conduits for the same repetitive, alarmist message, which derives ultimately from the same IPCC source.

Since the government's carbon tax legislative package passed the Senate last October, Australian press coverage of the global warming issue has been muted, doubtless partly signifying that there have been few government media releases that address the topic since the Senate decision.

That situation changed with a jolt during the week starting on March 12, when a wide variety of news media carried stories about CSIRO's Cape Grim air pollution monitoring station in Tasmania, followed later in the week by publicity for new reports on global warming by CSIRO/BOM and the Climate Commission.

In effect, the week revealed a co-ordinated and highly successful public relations campaign by three of the organisations involved in giving advice on climate change in Australia, with support and advance knowledge among some media editors and reporters. The aim was to rekindle the fast-fading fear of global warming alarm among the general public.

Very little scientific balance or analysis was provided during this week-long barrage of tired, speculative and highly controversial assertions about supposedly dangerous global warming.

Rather than being a new state of affairs, this assault in favour of warming alarmism by Australian climate agencies follows many similar propaganda blitzes during the past 10 years.

As experienced scientists, we have just completed a detailed assessment of the recent reports, which has been added to the list of earlier independent audits of IPCC and Australian reports at Quadrant Online (Google "global warming: an essential reference").

Our analysis of the "new" reports finds that they provide no evidence that dangerous global warming is occurring; nor that human carbon dioxide emissions will cause such warming in future; nor that recent Australian climate-related events lie outside normal climate variability; nor that reducing carbon dioxide emissions will have any discernible impact on future climate.

Therefore, Australian public policies regarding dangerous climate change, sea-level rise and other climatic hazards are based on inadequate scientific advice, which is shackled to the shortcomings of inadequate computer model projections.

The climate models are incompatible with the measured data. In recent decades the model predictions have significantly exceeded the measured temperature rise.  In science, data trumps theory. If data and theory disagree, as they do here, scientists go with the data and revise their hypothesis.

But in politics the opposite is true, for authority figures and political correctness reign supreme. In which context government climate scientists, Western governments and numerous influential lobby groups all strongly support the idea of dangerous global warming, despite the strong contrary evidence.

We conclude that an obvious and urgent need exists for the government to reassess its climate hazard policies. A good starting point would be to implement an unbiased review of the evidence.


Must not express conservative views about male/female differences

An LNP staffer has resigned after sending an email to a Queensland feminist about the superiority of men, telling her to "get a life" and calling her a "sourpuss" for writing an opinion piece about the need for more women in parliament.

Max Tomlinson, the then media adviser to Liberal National Party Senator Ian Macdonald, wrote to Dr Carole Ford after she penned a newspaper column criticising the lack of female representation in Queensland's parliament.

In his email, Mr Tomlinson tells Dr Ford "like most women, you probably don't possess the necessary drive, determination and decisiveness that men innately possess.  "It's not a personal criticism; it's a fact of biology.

"That was part of nature's grand design to enable men to be stronger, more fearless and more determined than their sisters. Sorry, Carole, fact not fiction."

This morning, Mr Tomlinson told that he had resigned from his job with Senator Macdonald because of the publication of what he described as a private email.  He said he had no further comment on the matter.

At the beginning of the email, Mr Tomlinson said while he usually ignored "sourpusses" like Dr Ford, he was compelled to write to her after reading her "pathetic" piece about the drop of women's representation in Queensland parliament from 49 per cent to 18 per cent.

Mr Tomlinson argued history had shown it was men who are naturally equipped to succeed above women.  "Where, for example, are the great female explorers, mountaineers, warriors, inventors, chefs?" he said.   "Blokes dominate most areas of human endeavour because nature equipped them with something called testosterone."

He goes on to write about his "wonderful wife" who suffered judgment from women such as Dr Ford because they chose to be homemakers.

"Women like my wife are the life-givers, the embodiment of sacrificial love [the purest form of love], the primary keepers of the flame of civilisation that separates us from the animal world, and yet the Sisterhood frowns on them for not joining the anti-male club that you so typify," he said.

"The anti-male world of conspiracy theories in which you and the Sisterhood inhabit is the complete antithesis of the world in which positive women thrive."

He signed off the email "I repeat: Get a Life. Kind Regards, Max".

Dr Ford said the email was insulting and she had found it overly aggressive for what she had considered was a fairly tame piece published by The Courier-Mail. 

"It's just extremely disappointing that any man in 2012 would think that way," she said.  "It surprised me that in this day and age people would get angry about a request for women to have better representation in parliament. It's astounding that people would be angry that we make that request."

Dr Ford said she had been married for 43 years and had three children and in her first lecture she talked about the work women did "both paid and unpaid" and was a supporter of stay-at-home mothers.


17 April, 2012

A triumph of faith and connectedness: Fundamentalist pastor saves little girl

In a society as atomized and as anonymous as ours, church connections can be very important

A TODDLER who survived up to five days alone in her home after her mother died was within hours of dying herself, paramedics said yesterday.

Lucy Keevers, 2, has spent three days under the intensive care of doctors after she was found severely dehydrated at the house in Wagga Wagga, in the state's southwest, on Friday.

Her 36-year-old mother Liz, a severe epileptic, is believed to have had a seizure and died in the lounge room up to five days before Lucy was found.

Ambulance Service Inspector Eamonn Purcell said Lucy was close to death when she was rescued from the death house by a local preacher.

He said the two-year-old - with blonde hair like her mother, and wearing a pink outfit - did not make a sound as she sat in the back of the ambulance.

Insp Purcell said her eyes were open wide and she was weak, with a rapid pulse and low blood pressure.  "Even when they stuck a needle in her, she didn't blink. I think she was within hours of death herself," he said.

The mother and daughter moved to the suburb of Ashmont about 18 months ago, renting a house on Tarakan Ave and attending the local church with a neighbour.

Insp Purcell said paramedics were often confronted by distressing situations and had been touched by the brave little girl.

Relatives arrived in Wagga Wagga yesterday to begin the task of clearing out the death house.

Neighbour Kim Beaumont described Lucy as a happy, quiet girl who was very much loved by her mother.

Ms Beaumont said she last saw Liz as she hung out the washing on Tuesday, April 10.

"It was just awful," she said.  "The washing was still on the line and I kept telling myself I must go over and see whether Liz was OK?  "You just feel so guilty, I know you shouldn't blame yourself but you do."

Ms Beaumont said Liz was an active, full-time mum. "She was on medication and being seen by doctors but no one expected this. There were never any problems at the house," Ms Beaumont said.

Church of Christ Pastor Ross Brinkman said the mother was a much-loved member of the church and the girl regularly attended playgroup there.  He found the young mother and daughter after becoming concerned and breaking into the house by the front window.

"I received a phone call from one of our parishioners alerting me that she had not turned up to events," Pastor Brinkman said.  "I went around to investigate and that's when we made the discovery."

Pastor Brinkman said the woman's daughter would be well cared for within the Wagga community.  "The concern we have is for the welfare of the daughter. We will continue to love and care for her," he said.

A report will be prepared for the coroner.


NSW Premier wants more money for his schools

Last time I looked, education took up about a  third of the State budget so you can see why.

THE Premier, Barry O'Farrell, has voiced strong support for the Gonski review of schools funding, warning against the "perils" of ignoring its recommendations.

Speaking about the Council of Australian Governments agenda, Mr O'Farrell said it would be disappointing if the opportunity that Gonski represented was not accepted.

"He's put in place what I think is a reasonable formula for the way in which education could be funded into the future," Mr O'Farrell said. "I think it's a formula that both benefits public education and non-government education and it's a formula that we would dismiss at our own peril."

The Association of Independent Schools has raised concerns about the proposed new schools funding formula, with preliminary estimates suggesting some schools could lose as much as $3.9 million in annual funding.

The association's executive director, Geoff Newcombe, said this would force fees to increase and some schools to close.

Stephen Grieve, the president of the NSW Parents' Council, the peak body for parents of students at non-government schools, said uncertainty about the future of school funding was "generating real angst among parents".

Sixty-seven per cent of independent schools were in areas of low socio-economic status and "there's a real doubt … as to whether or not parents would be able to afford higher fees", Mr Grieve said.

While supporting reform, he called on the government to provide certainty for parents and "a clear model as to what's happening in the future".

Schools tipped to lose money include those that have had their funding "maintained" at historic levels above their strict entitlements.

The NSW Greens MP John Kaye said the school funding debate was at risk of being hijacked by the private education lobby's "scaremongering over fee rises".

Dr Kaye said the lobby was successful in obtaining an additional $2.7 billion to insulate half of non-government schools from the Howard government's funding formula.

"In 2000, the political power of the non-government sector extracted massive concessions, including huge increase in funding and a 'no-losers' provision," Dr Kaye said. "Twelve years later, the same tactics are being wheeled out again to gouge yet more money from state and federal governments.

"Despite the increases in public funding, fees for the most exclusive private schools have increased dramatically since 2001 … by almost three times the rate of inflation."

The federal opposition spokesman for education, Christopher Pyne, said the Schools Minister, Peter Garrett, should heed the calls of the non-government schools sector and guarantee school funding in real terms beyond 2013.

"Schools simply cannot plan for the future based on Mr Garrett's deliberately tricky refrain of 'no school will lose a dollar of funding'," Mr Pyne said.

The federal secretary of the Independent Education Union of Australia, Chris Watt, supported the Gonski model as "a good scaffold" for reform but said: "We have to look at the detail and what it means for individual schools, to make sure there won't be some negative consequences."

Angelo Gavrielatos, federal president of the Australian Education Union said ‘‘claims of potentially isolated cases of individual schools possibly being in receipt of less funding need to be seen in the context of a dramatic investment for the neediest students’’.

John Collier, chair of the NSW branch of the Association Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, said it was vital that all schools preserve their current entitlements, without losing a dollar of funding in real terms, and that the "acrimonious situation of taking money away from some sectors to give others" was avoided.


Qld. paramedics slam emergency calls meltdown

EMERGENCY Service workers are having to dial triple-0 themselves to talk to police on Friday and Saturday nights in Brisbane because they cannot reach busy officers on other numbers.

The Courier-Mail yesterday revealed a huge volume of calls were flooding police communications centres - most of them relating to non-emergencies.

Last month a new record was set for triple-0 calls despite the establishment of the Policelink call centre designed to handle non-urgent crime reports.

A police communication centre worker said awareness of the Policelink number was not widespread and people continued to call triple-0 because they wanted a timely response.

A Queensland Ambulance Service worker, who did not want to be named, said in their case they were often unable to get through to police on direct phone lines so they had no choice but to join the "triple-0 queue, like everyone else".

"It's worse on the Gold Coast. They don't even bother trying the police numbers there because it's so busy," they said.  "They just dial triple-0 every time they need to contact police."

The misuse of triple-0 calls is not exclusive to police, with fire and ambulance also grappling with growing numbers of calls. During the past nine months the ambulance service received an average of 47,896 triple-0 calls a month  up from 44,412 a month in 2010-11.

The fire service also experienced an upsurge in demand but although as few as 5 per cent of calls were genuine emergencies little has been done to tackle the problem.


Left-wing critique of US alliance is a little hit and myth

More media distortions and reinventions of history

The Australian-American Alliance is a constant feature of national politics since at least the Pacific War and certainly since the formalisation of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951. Even so, it remains central to the contemporary political debate.

On the ABC TV Four Corners program last night, Major-General John Cantwell reflected on the challenges he faced when commanding forces in Afghanistan. The retired general wondered how he could tell individual soldiers and their families that serving alongside NATO forces in Afghanistan was worth it in view of the potential sacrifice involved. However, he acknowledged that "at the highest level of strategy" the Australian-American alliance, and the mutual obligations that go with it, are of importance to Australia.

In yesterday's Australian, Sydney University historian James Curran described the tension that developed between the then-new Whitlam Labor government and the Nixon administration in 1973 and early 1974. This led the Americans to query the value of the alliance and to consider the re-location of US intelligence-gathering installations located in Australia.

These were the darkest years of the alliance and reflected the fact that many, but by no means all, senior Labor Party figures either queried the value of, or were opposed to, the alliance. Nowadays no one in the Labor caucus would fit this description, and opposition to the alliance finds expression within sections of the Greens and among some leftist groups.

As a general rule, Australians do not have to check the calendar to learn that it's getting close to Anzac Day. ABC TV and/or radio invariably obliges with a documentary overwhelmingly critical of Australia's involvement in one or more military commitments. This fits with the familiar left-wing line that Australia has fought other people's wars.

Certainly this was the case with the Vietnam War documentary All the Way, which aired on ABC1 last Thursday. Presenter and co-writer Paul Ham concluded the documentary in the language of the other-people's-wars brigade. According to Ham: "In the end we lost what we hoped for. America retreated across the Pacific and Australia faced an uncertain future in Asia. The Vietnam War dragged us screaming and kicking to an obvious reality that we are part of Asia and that we can only rely on ourselves for our security. And yet we fight on in new wars with old allies - still in the dark, still trusting our friends." The reference was to Afghanistan.

All the Way was based on Paul Ham's Vietnam: The Australian War, published in 2007. Like the documentary, Ham's book contains valuable information along with some valid criticisms about how the US military fought the war and how the Australian Coalition government at the time failed to adequately explain the conflict.

However there is a significant difference in content and tone between the book and the film, perhaps explained by the fact that ABC staffer and documentary maker Anne Delaney directed and co-wrote All the Way.

All the Way runs familiar criticisms of Liberal Party founder Robert Menzies. According to the documentary, Menzies "claimed the double red/yellow peril was on our doorstep". Yet Menzies never referred to the "yellow peril".

In fact, Australia's military commitments during the time of the Menzies government supported some Asian governments against some Asian communist or extreme nationalist regimes or movements - namely in the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, Indonesia's Confrontation of Malaysia and Vietnam.

All the Way also claimed that the Americans forced "conscription on Canberra" because the US wanted more American troops in Vietnam. This is mythology. Conscription for overseas services was introduced in November 1964, well before Australia decided to send combat forces to South Vietnam. Also, as Peter Edwards makes clear in the 1992 official history Crises and Commitments, the prime reason for conscription was to help Britain defend Malaysia against an attack from Indonesia, and to help defend Papua New Guinea.

Moreover, as Craig Stockings points out in his edited collection Anzac's Dirty Dozen (2012), the commitment was entered into "not out of any misguided loyalty or foreign coercion, but as a consequence of cold self-interest".

In 1965, Australia was genuinely worried about the military designs of the nationalist Sukarno regime in Indonesia. Menzies and others believed that if Australia supported the US in Vietnam, then the US was more likely to support Australia against Indonesian militarism in the region.

Successive Australian leaders - with the exception of Whitlam in the early 1970s - have embraced the US alliance because they believed it in Australia's national interest. This was the case in Vietnam. It remains the case concerning Afghanistan.

There were many Vietnamese who supported the US and Australia at the time. Just as there are many Afghans who support NATO's involvement today.

But you would never know this from viewing the Ham/Delaney documentary All the Way, or many like it.


16 April, 2012

Tony Abbott is not the messiah, he's a believer who stands by his sibling


DURING the 2010 election campaign, the ABC's Q&A devoted an entire program to Julia Gillard and then to Tony Abbott on succeeding Monday nights.

Tony Jones, the show's presenter, had orchestrated a "gotcha" question from a Vietnam veteran with a gay son who'd recently come out and wanted to marry his partner. "When will you overcome your fear and ignorance of gay people and give them the dignity and respect you'd happily give to all Australians?"

I'm sure that, like me, the former High Court judge Michael Kirby, the Institute of Public Affairs' Tim Wilson and a number of Abbott's less high-profile homosexual friends were rolling their eyes at the time.

As everyone now knows, thanks to an excellent piece by Kate Legge in The Weekend Australian Magazine, so were Abbott's sister Christine Forster and her lesbian partner, Virginia Edwards.

Abbott acknowledged the value of stable same-sex relationships, but reiterated his reservations about categorising them as marriages. Jones, no doubt sensing an opportunity for moral one-upmanship, asked him: "Do you think if you really got to know some gay men you might change your opinion?"

Abbott replied: "I do know some gay people - extremely well - I really do, mate, OK?" and proceeded to pat Jones's hand by way of playful demonstration that he's not phobic about physical contact, much to Jones's discomfiture.

It was one of the relatively rare moments on Q&A when something unpredictable happens and the audience starts laughing rather than responding in factional blocs.

What was funniest about the incident was the sudden role reversal. The most politically correct male presenter on ABC television was trying to convict a right-wing Catholic opposition leader of homophobia. But instead of it being an open-and-shut case, Abbott pleaded no case to answer and made it clear that if anyone was uncomfortable in his own skin, it was Jones.

As the Sydney Institute's Gerard Henderson noted at the time, it was also surprising that so experienced a journalist should have been unwilling to let the facts get in the way of his presuppositions, given that Abbott's friendships with Kirby and with me had been widely known and a matter of public record since 1994.

Then again, perhaps Jones and his back-up staff just didn't bother to do their homework.

Although Abbott and his family have kept his sister's confidences and have done what they can to protect her privacy, it was inevitable that Forster's sexuality began to be quite widely known about the political class three years ago. I was surprised that by the time the election campaign got under way none of the supposedly gay-friendly members of the press gallery had got wind of the story and sought to exploit it.

As Kerryn Phelps, a gay activist, wrote in an article in The Punch on Monday: "Most of us in the marriage equality movement have known about the relationship for a couple of years, so we have been viewing Tony Abbott's comments on the issue of equality through the prism of knowing he had a sister who left her marriage for another woman."

Phelps's take on Abbott is pretty silly, but because it exemplifies the worst traditions of unreconstructed 1980s feminism. I'll return to it presently.

First, it's worth quoting Legge, who is both a sophisticated feminist and a matter-of-fact reporter. "When Julia Gillard hosted gay couples to a dinner at the Lodge, the event made headlines around the country. Mr Abbott and his wife, Margie, have welcomed Ms Forster and Ms Edwards to their home on countless occasions without fanfare or fuss. They know more about gay relationships than people think."

The story of Abbott's gay sister and her partner, like the story of the lost son who turned out to have been fathered by someone else, won't do him any damage at all. On the contrary, I'm sure most people can empathise with him. If you have a fond relationship with a sibling, it's obvious you don't shut them out of your life at the time they most need emotional support just because they're same-sex attracted and have decided to do something about it.

Deciding not to behave in a judgmental way in such circumstances doesn't mean that you're obliged to abandon a considered position on sexual ethics or on marriage, either as an institution or as a sacrament. Nor does it prove you're a hypocrite. It just means that the Christian imperative to love one another trumps all other considerations.

One of the problems many in the commentariat have in coming to grips with Abbott is that he's not a Catholic conservative from central casting complete with a 1950s world view and prejudices to match. It's a comforting fiction, I suppose, but one that leads them and the ALP to underestimate him habitually.

He's actually a modern man, someone who's given to irony and occasional self-parody; not in the least bit one-dimensional. As well, as anyone who's seen him with Margie and his daughters should be able to tell, they're a close, happy family.

Labor's former pollster Rod Cameron used to say Abbott was virtually unelectable but that, too, was wishful thinking. In fact, he probably has more in common with the values and interests of the public at large than the average psephologist, let alone the denizens of the press gallery.

Phelps is another commentator who imagines she is channelling the zeitgeist. Her contribution to the debate is a reminder of what was wrong with triumphalist 80s feminism.

Rather than engage with Abbott's arguments on marriage, she asserts that he has none and dismisses his position as blokey malice. "I can just imagine those lively discussions at your family dinners. 'No Virginia, no Christine. I won't do what is in my power to do just so that you lot can get married. Why not? Because I said so.' You know you are winning an argument hands down when the only case the other side can make is 'because I said so'."

Hard as Phelps may find it to understand, most of us, rightly, expect political parties to honour their solemn pre-election undertakings.


A Leftist government that does surplus budgeting

Americans wouldn't believe it.  Obama borrows 40% of what he spends

FINANCE Minister Penny Wong has rejected any suggestion that bringing the Budget back to surplus in 2012-13 could trigger a recession.

"It's the right thing to do to bring the Budget back to surplus," she told Network Ten yesterday.

Senator Wong said November's mid-year economic review forecast growth of 3.5 per cent and it "assumed the fiscal policy the Government's got in place".

She has rejected a suggestion by her Opposition counterpart Andrew Robb that a surplus would be achieved by fiddling the books.

Mr Robb said one example was the energy security fund to help coal-fired generators adjust to the carbon tax, scheduled to start on July 1.

Labor will spend $1 billion this financial year and in each of 2013-14 and 2014-15 on the fund, but only $1 million has been set aside for next financial year.

"You don't come back to surplus simply through accounting," Senator Wong said.  "You come back to surplus because you make hard decisions."

But Mr Robb said he wasn't convinced. He said Senator Wong was caught out and unable to explain why the funding for generators wasn't anything other than a dodgy accounting trick.

"This is just one of many money shuffles that have been uncovered totalling billions of dollars," the Opposition finance spokesman said in a statement.

"What these desperate tricks confirm is that when Labor pencils in a wafer-thin Budget surplus for 2012-13 in May it simply cannot be believed. It will be illusory."

New Greens leader Christine Milne said Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was to blame for creating an environment where Labor felt locked into delivering a surplus in the May Budget even though economic circumstances have changed.

The Greens believe the Gillard Government shouldn't be rushing to bring the Budget back to surplus if it means tough spending cuts and delaying reforms such as the introduction of a universal dental care scheme.

"Everyone in Australia knows if the Prime Minister hadn't come out and made an emphatic statement in 2009 saying the Budget would return to surplus this year on the basis of Treasury modelling about the extent of the growth that was predicted, we wouldn't be in the position we are," Senator Milne told Network Ten.

"But it's actually Tony Abbott and the Ju-liar community who are responsible for this because it's a political imperative."

Senator Milne said Prime Minister Julia Gillard believed the Government couldn't change its position.


Private schools warn of fee rises

This is just a shot across the bows. Labor learned under Latham that attacks on private schools are a big loser.  With 39% of Australian teenagers going to private High Schools you can see why

SOME schools could lose up to $3.9 million a year under a proposed national funding system, forcing them to increase school fees, the NSW Association of Independent Schools has warned. Some might be forced to close.

The association's executive director, Geoff Newcombe, said he was concerned preliminary data suggested "serious flaws" with the new funding model proposed under a review led by the businessman David Gonski.

"We are very happy to work with the government," Dr Newcombe said. "But we are very concerned about how much independent schools could lose under the new model. This would be likely to put pressure on schools to increase fees and in extreme circumstances could cause a small school to close."

Dr Newcombe said 2009 data provided by the federal Department of Education to demonstrate how the new funding system would work suggested significant reductions in funding to many independent schools.

The association's analysis of the data showed that 86 independent schools in NSW would lose funding under the proposed model - a quarter serving communities with low socio-economic status. According to the analysis, 50 of the 86 schools would lose more than $250,000 a year.

Dr Newcombe said a small, low-fee school in outer Sydney would lose more than $65,000 a year, requiring an extra $280 per student to be found, based on the 2009 figures. A school with a low to medium socio-economic status in metropolitan Sydney would lose more than $960,000 a year, leaving the school to raise an additional $1300 per student. Some schools stood to lose as much as $3.9 million

"At this stage the independent schools sector in NSW is not withdrawing its support for funding reform as it does not believe this result was the intent of the review or of the government," Dr Newcombe said.

"However, the sector … is calling on the Australian government to give certainty to parents and independent schools by stating that funding to schools will not be reduced in real terms."

Brian Croke, the executive director of the Catholic Eduction Commission, said it was too early to tell whether individual Catholic schools would be better or worse off.

He said there were technical issues that needed to be resolved, but the concept of having a base level of funding for each student, topped up with additional loadings for disadvantage, was a good one.

Stephen O'Doherty, the chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, said he was "very positive" about the directions of the Gonski report, particularly because it promised to provide additional funding to schools serving needy communities.

The federal secretary of the Independent Education Union of Australia, Chris Watt, warned against rushing to adopt the current Gonski model. "It won't just be high-fee schools that would lose out in this, it's potentially every school in every sort of community," he said.

The federal Education Minister, Peter Garrett, said the government has said repeatedly no school will lose a dollar per student as a result of the review.

"All the work now being undertaken is predicated on that commitment," he said. "Mr Gonski and the review panel have made clear, there is still a lot of work to do to test and refine the various elements."


Labor's fear is that Milne's Greens will lack Brown's pragmatism

The Gillard government's immediate reaction to the departure of the Greens leader Bob Brown and to his replacement by Christine Milne was one of concern.

Since the balance-of-power alliance with the Greens that was imposed on it by the hung parliament, Labor has haemorrhaged political support.

Firstly, the arrangement resulted in Labor putting a price on carbon, which exposed Julia Gillard to the extremely damaging claim she had broken her election promise regarding no carbon tax.

Secondly, Labor wins no support from the left for this policy or any other green measures. It just bleeds from both ends.

While the Coalition primary vote has become entrenched at or about the 44 per cent it received at the August 2010 election, Labor voters have deserted the government, with 10 per cent of those who voted Labor now opting for the Greens or parking their support in the "undecided" category.

Brown entered the Senate in 1996, the same year John Howard became prime minister. While poles apart politically, Howard and Brown were conviction politicians.

This underpinned Brown's success in building the Greens federally to the current peak of nine senators and one member of the lower house.

Brown's reward for conviction was best demonstrated at the 2001 election, which was dominated by the MV Tampa episode. Labor, under enormous pressure, acquiesced with Howard's hard line against the asylum seekers and went backwards. The Greens advanced.

Over the years, Brown also developed a degree of pragmatism. He talked a big game but, especially towards the end of his leadership, accepted that in politics, sometimes something was better than nothing. The greatest example was the watered-down mining tax, with which the Greens were unhappy.

"Our position is that ultimately we are going to have to pass the mining tax because Tony Abbott's Coalition is opposed to it," Brown said.

This position caused some frustration within the party given the Greens' ability in the Senate to toughen the mining tax. But Brown knew Gillard would not budge.  The worry inside Labor now is that Milne will not share that pragmatism.

One senior figure said the common view is that an alliance with a Milne-led Greens could damage the government more than the Brown alliance because of Milne's reputation as a policy hardliner and her uncompromising rhetoric.

It was known that Gillard could reason with Brown, saying: "Bob, we've gone out of our way for the Greens on this issue, can you tone it down on that one?" And at times, Brown would reply: "No worries, leave it to me."

Milne deserves to be given a chance before being judged. She has rejected the hardline tag and has promised a more open party. She has pledged, somewhat pointedly, to be a more consultative leader and stated that Brown's departure means the rest of the Greens team will now have a chance to "shine".

But Gillard's warning that she expects Milne and her party to "conduct themselves responsibly and reasonably", including letting the government return the budget to surplus, was deliberately sharp.

The first test of how much, if anything, has changed under Milne's tenure will be the Greens' response to the budget.

The government wants a 1 percentage point cut to company tax to be funded by the mining tax.  The Greens, including Brown, have so far refused to support this, saying they will allow the tax for small companies only - those with a turnover of less than $2 million.

They say bigger businesses should receive nothing and the money saved should be spent on worthy national projects such as a dental scheme.

Milne's opening statement as leader included attacking the mining industry as rapacious and the "old economy".

Milne believes the economy is approaching a tipping point between old and new, and wants to work with what she calls "progressive business". But to do one at the complete exclusion of the other, especially when the other is not yet ready to carry the economy, is obviously risky.

The last time the miners were written off as the "old economy" was at the start of last decade when all and sundry slammed Peter Costello for not pinning the economy to information technology by climbing aboard the dotcom boom.

As Costello noted in his memoirs, if Labor and others had had their way, "we would have got out of mining just when it was about to take off and invested in technology just when it was about to collapse".

Milne is on the record as demanding that the $2 billion diesel tax rebate the miners receive be cut back harder than the 6.2¢-per-litre reduction planned for the budget and she supports calls to pare back their other tax perks, such as accelerated depreciation.

It has been speculated that if the Greens were to support the company tax cuts in full, then they will demand in return the further reduction of the diesel rebate, which they believe should be phased out.

The government needs the Greens because the Coalition opposes the tax cut on account of the way it is funded.

The miners are angry and alarmed again. On Friday, before anyone knew Brown had quit, they published full-page ads warning the government not to accede to the demands of some "groups still demanding Australian mining should pay even more".

Ominously, they reignited the "keep mining strong" tagline - the same as in the $22 million anti-mining tax ad blitz that crippled Kevin Rudd's leadership and almost killed Labor.


15 April, 2012

NSW conservative Premier keeps his promises

WHEN Barry O'Farrell sat down next to Julia Gillard in Canberra on Friday with other state and territory leaders, he would have been keenly aware of the differences between himself and the Prime Minister.

Weeks after she took office, O'Farrell described Gillard as a "ranga" [redhead] in a misdirected tweet to a radio journalist. Superficial differences between the ginger PM and the Premier known as "Fatty O'Barrell" in his heavier days in opposition are one thing but it's their polar-opposite political fortunes that fascinate O'Farrell and guide his leadership style.

In the Premier's eyes, it comes down to one thing: trust. O'Farrell is modelling himself as the anti-Gillard. A leader whose word is his bond. A bond that will not be broken no matter how stubborn and lethargic it makes him look.

Take O'Farrell's refusal to budge on a full sell-off of the electricity network - the $30 billion or so locked up in the government-owned poles and wires. Defying the wishes of business, his own infrastructure adviser, Nick Greiner, and the majority of his cabinet and parliamentary colleagues, O'Farrell will not act.

Why? Because it was a pre-election commitment. Actually, he had ducked taking a firm stand on the issue for a long time until the local newspaper in Lithgow got him on the record as being against a full privatisation. So on one level the towering infrastructure backlog of NSW is on ice for another four years in the interest of keeping face with the Lithgow Mercury.

The second-airport debate is another example. O'Farrell says it was his commitment not to proceed with another airport for Sydney.

Does anyone remember that commitment? I don't and I'm paid to monitor such things.

This allowed him to walk away from the airport debate without even having read the report urging his government to move now. Some colleagues think the growing view of O'Farrell as a "do nothing" Premier is unfair. "Barry is the only politician who gets a kicking for sticking to his promises. For politicians in Canberra his approach is completely foreign," a Liberal says.

It's no coincidence that O'Farrell is a keen listener to talkback radio. When things go wrong he is straight on to the airwaves. During the disabled schoolkids transport fiasco, Ray Hadley's show became like a daily confessional for the Premier. O'Farrell knows - just as John Howard did - there's no better way to reach voters than to talk to them directly.

The Premier also listens to them. You only have to listen to 10 minutes of talkback radio to get a gauge of the white-hot anger out there at Gillard, the carbon tax "liar".

O'Farrell is prepared to go to any length to avoid the same tag.


Bogus marriages allegedly brokered by immigration agent 'commonplace'

AN investigation has uncovered bogus marriages allegedly brokered by an Queensland-based immigration agent.  Bombay-born Chetan Mashru is also accused of profiteering through applications for refugee and skilled migrant visas students have no prospect of getting, The Courier-Mail exclusively reported.

A happily-married father-of-two said Mr Mashru, 32, offered in January to arrange residency for him "if you divorce your wife".

The man's family in India yesterday received a threatening text warning against pursuit of complaints against Mr Mashru, a day after The Courier-Mail confronted the agent at his Oxley office.

The Federation of Indian Students of Australia called for more criminal prosecutions of agents, saying such complaints were commonplace in an industry "reeking of corruption and nepotism".

A teenage mother of three, who also asked not to be named, said she was paid $3000 by a Punjabi student who she married.

The Inala woman, 19, whose husband has never set foot inside her Housing Commission home, said: "I was struggling money-wise at the time, and a friend suggested it.   "My friend said if I need money, there's this thing I can do - I can just sign some papers saying I'm married and they'll pay me $1000 each month."

The woman said she saw her new "husband" pass Mr Mashru a large sum of cash in August, the month they were married.  While she remains married to the man, she no longer receives payments out of fear she would "get into trouble".

Her husband, 24, who also declined to be named, must now return to India.  He confirmed he had paid $18,000 to Mr Mashru, who sources visa brides through a network of Australian friends.

"Chetan do (sic) only the girls sitting at home and who got children," he said.

A second sham marriage involves an Indian student, 27, who claimed he paid $20,000 to Mr Mashru to be paired with an Acacia Ridge woman of Jamaican descent aged 21.


Climate changers shrinking

The federal Department of Climate Change will shed nearly half of its Canberra-based staff within the next three years as it struggles with further deep budget cuts.

Public service sources say the department will reduce its workforce by about 440 people, or 48 per cent, by 2014-15.

Staff were told in a meeting this week that the current workforce of nearly 920 full-time-equivalent workers would be cut to about 520 in 2013-2014 and to some 470 in 2014-15.

It follows last week's announcement of about 300 job losses in the department by June 2013 as the government tries to rein in expenditure and deliver a surplus.

But a department spokeswoman said the new figures were just "one possible scenario" and a range of options were being considered for "internal management purposes". The numbers were based on the department's projected budget for the next three years, which was publicly available in the budget papers.

Affected employees, all of whom are based in Canberra, would be offered "job application skills training to better equip them in seeking alternative employment".

"At this stage the staff reductions will be achieved through natural attrition, review of existing contracts, increased opportunities for flexible working arrangements and voluntary redundancies," the spokeswoman said.

Earlier this month, the department's secretary, Blair Comley, asked for expressions of interest in voluntary redundancies to reduce staff numbers by a third this financial year.

In a statement to employees, Mr Comley said the cuts were the result of "a very tight budget situation", the conclusion of a range the department's programs and the impact of the "efficiency dividend" - an annual cut to agencies' administrative budgets.

The Community and Public Sector Union, while unable to confirm the latest job cut figures, said reducing numbers to 470 would be a massive blow for staff and would seriously damage Australia's ability to deal with the impacts of climate change.

National secretary Nadine Flood said that some work in areas such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and industry assistance programs would "simply not be done".

"Since the initial cuts were announced a few weeks ago, staff morale has hit rock bottom," she said.

"Many staff are voting with their feet, moving to other agencies or leaving the service completely.

"They are passionate about contributing to one of the nation's most pressing issues, but they are growing tired of their increasingly hostile and uncertain environment."

Federal agencies which have announced plans to reduce staff include the departments of Education (500 jobs), Treasury (150), Resources (100) and Veterans' Affairs (90), as well as the Bureau of Statistics (75), the Fair Work Ombudsman (70) and ComSuper (50).

The Health Department will also shed an unspecified number of jobs, as will many smaller agencies.

Finance Minister Penny Wong has told agencies to try to avoid involuntary redundancies by instead spending less on travel, consultants and advertising.


Tiger mothers and the social escalator

Observing the contrasting school experiences of the panellists on last week’s episode of Insight, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Australian ideal of a ‘fair go’ for all was all self-deception and no self-realisation.

While non-selective public schools are apparently under-resourced and blighted by underachievement, private schools and selective public schools seem to provide supportive and aspirational educational environments conducive to academic excellence.

Perceptions aside, Australia actually remains one of the most socially mobile countries in the developed world, according to a 2010 OECD report. This is consistent with a 2011 Smith Family study, which found that 29% of Australians whose father had stayed at school until Year 10 or less obtained a university degree.

Despite the relatively high level of social mobility, Australian children often go on to reproduce the socio-economic environments into which they are born. The same Smith Family report also found that 53.7% of the children with fathers who were managers and professionals become managers and professionals themselves, compared with only 27.9% of those whose fathers were operators, drivers and labourers.

However, a degree of social immobility is not necessarily cause for concern about economic opportunity. This is because social mobility is never exclusively a function of the opportunities offered by society; the values and aspirations of individuals are also crucial.

Assuming that the same material opportunities existed, a society of tiger mothers of the Amy Chau variety (‘Study hard, do well and do not date or drink’) would produce very different socio-economic outcomes from a society of Alfred Doolittles (Eliza Doolittle’s feckless father in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion).

Unsurprisingly, social capital often trumps economic capital when it comes to producing a healthy, meritocratic society. As the testimony of the students on Insight made clear, academic achievement is in large part the result of the values and aspirations of fellow students, parents and teachers, and not simply a product of the number of dollars spent on schooling.

While an austere regime of constant study and no play might seem all too onerous for children and parents alike, an emphasis on self-realisation and responsibility is arguably the best way of speeding up our social escalator.


14 April, 2012

Should unproductive academics be made redundant?

Below you will find the sort of rage-filled rant that comes from academics who have not shown academic excellence.  The "publish or perish" rule is a demanding one (though I never found it so) but a more objective  way of assessing intellectual excellence has yet to be found. And if a university is not about intellectual excellence, what is it about? 

The claim below that intellectual productivity is "philistine" shows by itself what a  confused thinker the author is.  He sounds like  one of the "Theorists" who tend to infest English Departments these day.

It is certainly true that some good teachers are inactive in research but they should not be in a research-intensive institution.  You can be good at both research and teaching and a university is right to demand that

How to assess academic productivity? At Sydney University, the question couldn't be more relevant: in November, management announced that it had made a serious budgetary mistake and would slash underperforming staff in order to pursue IT and building improvements. Although officially, research is only 40 per cent of academics' responsibilities, management retrospectively introduced a new performance test, just to purge staff. Anyone who hadn't published at least four articles in less than three years was threatened. This basic violation of natural justice was astonishing, particularly from managers who continually profess their commitment to high-minded, progressive values.

Like other workplaces, universities have performance management processes. These, not redundancy, are the answer to underperformance. But how to respond to a failure of management?

The cuts have provoked an outcry. With its simplistic measures, how will Sydney maintain research quality, when the finest researchers couldn't possibly teach and publish consistently at the rate administrators demand? How can management sack staff with classrooms already so crowded?

Sydney's administrators have not been so different from their counterparts elsewhere. Administrators everywhere are trying to shrink their already overstretched academic workforces. Universities, apparently, just don't need academics.

Talk of values such as productivity serves to justify managers' failure to promote the conditions necessary for universities to function. Local managerialism is the polar opposite of world's best practice - such as in the US Ivy League - and shows parallels with the disastrous financialisation of the global economy.

University technocrats are the equivalent of the regulators whose negligence caused the GFC. Just as markets favoured complex financial instruments far removed from commodities, so too universities have been alienated from their basic rationale by an ascendancy of executives hostile to the principles that should govern academic communities: respect for students and staff; research unfettered by philistine "productivity" requirements; security of academic tenure; uncasualised labour; low student-staff ratios. These are the ways to guarantee academic "productivity", rather than its bureaucratic substitutes.

It is the managers who are unproductive. Systemic managerial failures are compromising quality.


Aussies tell Dawkins: Live and let religion live

By Reverend Peter Kurti

When Cardinal George Pell and Professor Richard Dawkins faced off on ABC’s Q&A last Monday, they did so in front of an audience that seemed quite relaxed with the idea of discussing religion in the public square.

Dawkins correctly emphasised the importance of empirical research as the basis for scientific knowledge. But he was tetchy and misjudged his audience. He cited jet lag. But Aussies know about long haul flights and don’t fall for that hoary excuse.

Pell, a boy from Ballarat, can pitch religion almost faultlessly to an Aussie audience. There are limits to human reason, he argued, and some truth is best expounded and expressed by myth.

Pell stumbled once or twice. But the Q&A studio audience seemed to grasp what he was saying.

Militant secularists must have been dismayed by such open-mindedness. They want religion removed altogether from the public square.

They are a noisy group, but they are a small one. Indeed, a new study by researcher Mark McCrindle suggests as few as 4% of Australians are passionately opposed to religion.

‘The idea of a 21st century sceptical, secular mind dominating is not accurate,’ says McCrindle.  Although one in two people did not identify with religion, McCrindle’s survey of 1,094 Australians suggests that religion continues to be an important part of our culture.

Almost half of those surveyed (48%) described themselves as being open to a religious worldview. About 40% identified as Christian and 19% as spiritual.

Christian leaders might be encouraged by these figures. But with only one in four Australians going to church, they are unlikely to translate into active church membership.

‘Our Aussie approach to religion is, like everything else, a bit laidback,’ says McCrindle. ‘It’s an identity, it’s not an activity and more about who you are than what you do.’

What is real, however, is an innate openness towards religion and tolerance of different religious beliefs, which is entirely in keeping with the Aussie ‘live and let live’ ethos.

So while Dawkins and his local disciples maintain their rage against Rome, Mecca, and Lambeth Palace, the rest of us are not as troubled. Most Australians are comfortable with both the secular and the sacred sharing space in the national life.


Attack on "green" energy by NSW conservatives

THE NSW government's decision to withdraw support from clean energy schemes was criticised yesterday as a retrograde step that would threaten billions of investment dollars.

The Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, has said the government would not be supporting green schemes that require a subsidy and is calling for the closure of the federal government's renewable energy target.

After the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal's draft determination for a 16 per cent rise in electricity prices, Mr Hartcher blamed federal Labor for forcing households and small businesses to foot the bill for its carbon tax and "costly green schemes".

He called for the closure of the renewable energy target - legislation that is supported by the federal opposition.

The NSW opposition spokesman for energy, Luke Foley, said yesterday the tribunal's determination found that green energy schemes had not contributed to electricity price increases. Power bills are forecast to rise between $182 and $338 a year from July 1.

Mr Foley said the state government had ended bipartisan support for the 20 per cent renewable energy target after calling for the target to be removed, despite adopting the target in its state plan released last year.

"The O'Farrell government has launched a relentless attack on renewable energy, with chilling investment signals sent by the government throughout its first year in office," he said.

"Solar in NSW has been stopped dead in its tracks. The draft wind guidelines are designed to chronically handicap the expansion of the wind industry.

"Renewable energy is already contributing to lower wholesale electricity prices. The Australian Energy Market Commission recently reported that new wind energy projects in Victoria will mean that increases to wholesale electricity prices in that state will be lower than in NSW. Rather than attacking wind farms, the O'Farrell government should require its own planning review to come up with a sensible and workable planning regime for the development of the wind industry in NSW."

The acting chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, Kane Thornton, said it was a "worrying sign that the NSW government would seek the removal of one of Australia's most significant energy policies without considering the impact this would have on investors who have put billions of dollars into clean energy projects in NSW. The renewable energy target is scheduled to run until 2030 and these projects would face collapse if it was removed."

A spokeswoman for Mr Hartcher said yesterday the government supports the increase in use of energy from renewable sources as a key component of its broader energy strategy. She said NSW Labor had set network charges for the five years to 2014 and was responsible for the failed solar bonus scheme.

"Labor and the Greens keep ignoring the truth, which is that green energy schemes are hurting consumers because they all need subsidies - and those subsidies are hidden in their electricity bills," she said.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre said yesterday rural and regional customers would be among the hardest hit by the electricity price rises. It has called for energy rebates that target people most at risk of poverty.

A senior policy officer, Carolyn Hodge, said rebate rates were uniform despite the fact consumers were charged different electricity rates.

"PIAC is particularly concerned about people in rural and regional areas who are paying approximately $600 per year more than the average Sydney household," she said. "Not all of the assistance available to vulnerable people has kept up with power prices."


'Death' crash ambos failed to follow criteria

Tap on the wrist for gross negligence.  One of them was a "paramedic educator"!

Two paramedics who incorrectly declared a car crash victim dead when he was still alive had failed to follow strict criteria at the scene for determining the death of a patient, a review has found.

Ambulance Victoria chief executive Greg Sassella said the paramedics would not be rostered on to work together and one of the paramedics had been removed from his position as a paramedic educator in the wake of the horror smash in Bacchus Marsh in the early hours of April 1.

Crash victim Daniel Huf, 30, was critically injured when his sports car struck another vehicle and flipped on the Western Highway at Bacchus Marsh just before 2am.

Paramedics incorrectly assessed Mr Huf as deceased and those at the scene claimed that up to 90 minutes passed before emergency service workers tasked with recovering his body from the wreckage realised he was alive.

Mr Sassella said today that the review, conducted by Ambulance Victoria's clinical incident review committee with help from the medical advisory committee, had found the paramedics were in error.

"The paramedics involved in the case have acknowledged their error, have been cooperative and are understandably upset by their actions," he said.

"Ambulance Victoria will continue to support the paramedics involved who have accepted that they made a mistake and would have done things differently.

"The service has taken steps to prevent this from occurring again."

He said the two paramedics had not been working together since the crash and in the future would both be rostered to work with senior paramedics for further supervision and training.

"One of the paramedics involved will be removed from his present role as a paramedic educator," Mr Sassella said.

"Ambulance Victoria paramedics have been advised of the requirement to adhere strictly to the guidelines for determining that life is extinct."

He said Ambulance Victoria had discussed the results of the review with Mr Huf's family.

"We reiterated our apologies and our thoughts remain with the patient and with them," he said.

Mr Sassella also said universities providing paramedic education would be contacted so that students could learn from the case.

Ambulance Victoria will make further comment about the case this afternoon.


Music education helps education generally

MUSIC in schools is being sacrificed in the push to improve literacy and numeracy, but a major study shows its importance in improving students' results and attendance.

The Song Room, which funds music programs for schoolchildren, said students were falling behind despite a bigger focus on literacy and numeracy.

And a leading Hobart music teacher said fewer schools were investing in music, despite long-term knowledge that primary schoolchildren in particular benefited from specialised music teaching.

The Song Room report said children who had done its programs had higher academic grades, gained the equivalent of one year in literacy and reading results in NAPLAN scores, and had better relationships with teachers.

"The results show students taking part attend school more often, become more engaged with their studies and schooling and become happier, more well-rounded students," said co-author Professor Brian Caldwell.

Sandy Bay music teacher Annette Stilwell said music was offered less and less as part of school studies.

"The very sad thing is that they don't spend the money in the primary schools," she said. "It's especially important in the little ones. We know it helps their concentration, memory and time management skills.

"Everybody benefits but in particular in primary school, and it should be specialised music teaching."

Ms Stilwell said singing was cheap to teach but also had benefits.

"People talk about the high results in Asian students, and they neglect to mention they have intensive music classes in all their primary classes," she said.

The Song Room offers programs mainly to children who would not otherwise have the opportunity, with the possibility of some this year in Tasmania.

Chief executive Caroline Aebersold said the study showed music and art helped bridge the huge disparities in educational achievement for students from low socio-economic, indigenous or non-English-speaking backgrounds.


13 April, 2012

Qld. Premier demands complete control over environmental assessments

He will be a formidable foe for Gillard at the next election if she interferes  -- and Qld. is the swing State that any Federal government must win

CAMPBELL Newman has demanded the Federal Government hand over complete control of environmental assessments to the state in a move designed to cut business costs.

But Julia Gillard has vowed to retain the final say over high-risk and World Heritage area developments, warning Mr Newman's plan could allow Queensland to build a nuclear reactor without any input from the rest of the country.

Ms Gillard has struck to deal with all state and territory leaders to remove duplication of most environmental approvals as part of a drive to cut "green tape".

Liberal premiers including Mr Newman say they want the carbon tax on the table as part of the talks, which will continue at the Council of Australian Governments summit in Canberra today.

But Mr Newman has gone further than other Premiers and called for complete control over environmental assessments in the Sunshine State.  "It's a bit rich for the Prime Minister to suggest that the states have to work with her to reduce that green tape when the Federal Government coming over the top in Queensland on major resource and tourism projects is causing huge delays and blocking the economic progress of Queensland," Mr Newman said.

The Premier told The Courier-Mail he did not want to see a repeat of the delays and inconsistent rulings that had held up ports, rail and coal mines in the Galilee Basin.

He also said the Federal Government's decision to overrule the Traveston Dam after it was approved by the Bligh government was "one of the most appalling decisions in the use of that Act".

Ms Gillard said her plan to streamline environmental rules with states would mean developers "don't go through double assessments".

But she said the Federal Government still had to oversee developments in World Heritage areas in Commonwealth waters and nuclear power.

Ms Gillard said Mr Newman's proposal would stop the Federal Government having a say if there was a plan for another nuclear reactor like the Lucas Heights plant in Sydney.

The COAG meeting in Canberra today is likely to sign off on a plan for guaranteed vocational education places, but states will also trade blows over the carve up of the GST and the impact of the mining tax.

Mr Newman also took a swipe at federal Labor's industrial relations laws, saying they had contributed to the increase in strikes in Queensland coal mines and were partly to blame for the closure of the Norwich Park coal mine.

Business leaders who met with Ms Gillard and premiers yesterday welcomed the plan to cut "green tape".  BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers said the current overlap of state and federal rules was "tortuous".

Business Council of Australia chief Tony Shepherd called for governments to also scrap renewable energy targets.

But the Greens said the plan to streamline assessments could cut environmental protection.


Push to remove Qld. ports from World Heritage area

IN a move that has outraged environmentalists, the State Government is considering a push to remove several Queensland ports from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney claims the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area should be redrawn, with the embattled Gladstone Harbour the first port on his list of exclusion zones.  Mr Seeney said the Government was committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef but argued the Gladstone Harbour was not a part of it.

"If there is going to be a continual misrepresentation of those boundaries then I think that will build a case for the realignment of the boundaries," he said.  "It is obviously a misrepresentation to talk about Gladstone Harbour being part of the Great Barrier Reef."  Mr Seeney added other ports could be considered for exclusion from the area.

However, any such proposal would meet with resistance from the Federal Government, with Environment Minister Tony Burke saying the current boundaries were appropriate.  "The Government has no plans to change the boundary of the property," he said.

Greens member and environmental medicine specialist Dr Andrew Jeremijenko was outraged by the suggestions.  "There's a lot of rare and endangered species that use Gladstone Harbour," he said.   "There's no gate at the end of the Great Barrier Reef  Gladstone Harbour is used as a migratory place."

Dr Jeremijenko said the harbour was facing problems that could no longer be ignored.  "Fishermen are coming forward and saying `the water's making me sick'," he said.

"What Jeff Seeney's saying is that he doesn't care about the fishing industry and the tourism industry  he just wants this to be a developed harbour."


Shock closure of Norwich Park mine sends powerful warning to unions

THE shock closure of the Norwich Park mine sends a powerful warning to unions that mining giants can shut sites even in a resource boom.

Morningstar analyst Mark Taylor said it was also "an easy way" to send a "powerful" message to unions who were in a pay dispute for the past 16 months with strikes.  "If you're closing down an operation that's not particularly profitable for you, and if you're copping grief from unions, it's kind of an easy way to send a message to them that mines can shut down if they're not profitable," he told The Courier-Mail.

The comment comes as CFMEU mining and energy division district president Stephen Smyth raised suspicion over the closure given ongoing strikes at the site.  "I'd hate to think this is the length they'd go to ... shut a mine down to show them," he said. "If it is, it's a pretty low act to do. For BHP, this is probably simply a business transaction."  Mr Smyth said the mine had functioned when the coal price was a lot lower than it was now. [But were the unions as Bolshie then?]

Last night, a BHP spokeswoman denied the allegations, stating the motives behind the mine closure were in the open.  "We talked about it losing money for months now," the spokeswoman said.

"It was affected by the wet weather in Queensland last year and obviously the higher-cost environment that we're all currently experiencing across the industry.

"Obviously industrial action hasn't helped the situation but the cause is basically the economic viability of the operation given the wet weather and the higher-cost environment."  She reaffirmed that BMA was ceasing production across the mine and would "seek to redeploy employees to our other mines".

Mr Taylor said a loss-making mine was more likely to stay open in a boom "because you're going to be making money out of it".  But he said if prices went off, it would no longer be profitable and become the first to shut.  He said coal prices had been declining "for a while" to around US$200 a tonne.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman yesterday blamed the Federal Government's workplace policies for the closure of Norwich Park mine.  "Prime Minister (Julia Gillard) and her cabinet need to take responsibility for creating an environment where we're seeing a break-out in industrial action," he said.

"I ask the company concerned to think long and hard about what they're doing.  " ... the very future of the community of Dysart is at stake."


Secretive university of Canberra

The University of Canberra asked five journalism students to withdraw Freedom of Information applications targeting controversial stories involving UC journalism course cuts and its sponsorship of the ACT Brumbies.

The students submitted their request as part of a final-year investigative journalism assignment into freedom of information processes but four of the five students withdrew them after intervention from the Dean of Arts and Design, Professor Greg Battye.

Third-year journalism student Lauren Ingram refused to withdraw her request and said she had been threatened with possible expulsion for asking about details of planned cuts to the journalism degree and the abolition of nearly half of the journalism practice units – including, ironically, the investigative journalism unit.

Ms Ingram said there had been “a serious lack of genuine student consultation and a remarkable amount of spin-doctoring from UC” regarding the course changes.  She felt it was appropriate to seek information on the cuts for her assignment and planned to publish her findings on the UC’s on-line student newspaper.

Ms Ingram said she had been completely surprised by the university’s reaction.  She said she came out publicly yesterday on media webstie because she believed it was unacceptable for the university to even request students withdraw FOI requests into sensitive administrative decisions, much less threaten them.

Ms Ingram said Professor Battye had instructed her journalism lecturer and former Canberra Times editor Crispin Hull to “pass on a message to me as the one remaining student refusing to withdraw their FOI request’’.

“Battye cited UC legal advice and said to let me know that if I continued with the FOI it could result in a breach of the student conduct rules. Such breaches can lead to expulsion or exclusion from university, or being failed in the subject involved. Battye claimed he had a legal opinion that the assessment required UC academic ethics clearance, which had not been sought.’’

Ms Ingram said “I told the lecturer the request went against ‘everything I've been taught about journalism’.”  The Canberra Times was awaiting a statement from Professor Battye.

Mr Hull said yesterday the Crikey story was one-sided and said he had clearly defended his students from Professor Battye's claim they risked breaching the UC’s ethical guidelines.

According to an email from Mr Hull to Professor Battye sent last Tuesday, Mr Hull said “First, there is no risk. As I tell students, every Australian has a legally enforceable right to ask for and obtain access to documents under FOI, so there cannot possibly be any ethics-committee requirements for such "research", if indeed it even qualifies as "research". Any legal advice you have to the contrary, in my view, is plainly wrong.’’

He also said that “such a warning, in my view, would be tantamount to bullying conduct, and I will not be a part of it.’’

Mr Hull noted that singling out the student who was pursuing an FOI request with the UC would also “appear extremely odd’’.  He did, however, write to students last week to tell them "The FOI office feels swamped and will have to spend a lot of time and enormous cost with your FOI requests ... [the FOI officer] would like to be relieved of the legal burden of having to fulfil the FOI requests according to the FOI Act".

He requested student formally drop their FOI requests in exchange for a guest lecture from David Hamilton, the university's FOI officer:

"It would be good if you could officially withdraw your FOI requests as soon as possible and in return we will get [David's] FOI insights and you will get the opportunity to ask him questions about the FOI process. I think this will go further towards achieving our educational aims than doggedly persisting with the formal FOI process."

Ms Ingram received more than 400 pages of documents relating to the journalism course changes last Thursday and was in the midst of reading them.

Mr Hull said the process of the course was to give students a real-life experience of the FOI process, and while they could submit an FOI to the UC in their capacity as a private citizen, he would be requesting next year’s class not use the UC for the assignment.

“There is the potential for the exercise to get warped when the FOI people know it is a student exercise,” he said.  “It is all just too in-house."  But he praised Ms Ingram for her doggedness in pursuing her request and said she showed ”obvious promise as a journalist".


12 April, 2012

His Grace  strikes back  -- but he's still a nong

I reproduced the derisive comments by Peter Costello  on words by the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne yesterday.  His Grace  was obviously upset to be ridiculed so I find online today a reply from him.  There is no comments facility attached  to his reply (I wonder why?) so I will make a few comments here.

Most of what he says is fluff but two of his statements were interesting:

"The common good must motivate our nation at every possible level"

"A full and good life for all includes a fair sharing of wealth"

I can't remember who first said the first of those comments but it was either Marx or Hitler:  I think Hitler.  His Grace would appear to be  unaware of where ideas such as his lead.

The second comment betrays a complete failure to grapple  with what is "fair".  I think it is fair that those who earn the money  should keep it.  His Grace has obviously not thought of that!  Or maybe he is just too limited a thinker to grapple with it.

He is just a red under the bed hiding behind a pectoral cross....  which is rather an amusing image if you think about it.

Must not link to naughty American sites which say things that are forbidden in Australia?

Sad that we have to rely on America's culture of free speech (encouraged by their First Amendment) to be given access to a full range of views on a given subject

RACIST comments published on US book retailer website Amazon about an Aboriginal author have reignited debate surrounding News Ltd columnist Andrew Bolt's writings on indigenous people and drawn fire from Aboriginal groups.

Bolt, who was found guilty last year of offences under the Racial Discrimination Act, wrote a blog this week titled "Are we censored enough for you?" in response to Anita Heiss' book, Am I Black Enough for You?

Heiss was one of nine Aboriginal people who took Bolt and his publisher to court over articles that implied light-skinned indigenous people chose to be black for personal gain.

In a post on the Herald Sun website on Tuesday, Bolt included a link to US-based on which almost 80 "reviews" of Heiss' book had been published by last night, some openly racist. Some attacked Heiss personally and referred to a perceived lack of freedom of speech in Australia that prevented the writers from expressing their views here.

Bolt's blog linked to the webpage, stating: "Only in America, it seems, is an open debate on this Australian issue able to be had. That should embarrass us."

He said Random House and the ABC had deleted and "censored" comments on their websites about Heiss' book.

Bolt's writings this week and the ensuing publicity in social media and the wider news media prompted the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples to issue a strong statement - which did not name individuals or publications.

"Much of this 'debate' has become a thinly veiled platform for racists to peddle their tired, ill-informed, racist rhetoric," Congress co-chairwoman Jody Broun, said.

[Rubbish!  It was nothing to do with racism.  What Bolt was condemning was the appropriation of  welfare facilities designed for severely disadvantaged people by people who were not  obviously disadvantaged]

"Racism lies just beneath the surface and it bubbles out when Aboriginal identity is discussed.  "Let's be clear, Aboriginal identity is defined by us, no one else. We are a diverse peoples reflecting the contemporary Australia we all inhabit."

Heiss, whose memoir is partly a response to Bolt, did not want to comment last night and in the US had not responded last night.

Australia's Race Discrimination Commissioner, Helen Szoke, said racist views published outside Australia but accessible here posed a growing - and challenging - problem.


Expert says tablets and smart phones will make Julia's new fibre network  out of date

THE rise of mobile internet through smart phones and tablets threatens to make the national broadband network a waste of money, a prominent social analyst says.

Speaking in Adelaide about the latest Australia SCAN social trend survey, Quantum Market Research's David Chalke said NBN Co was "missing the boat".  "Everything is going to be wireless by the time they've dug up the roads and stuffed the pipes," he said. "It will be too late, it's all going to be mobile and wireless in the future."

A survey of 2000 Australians, performed every year for the past two decades, revealed desktop computers were dying out. Most people (71 per cent) had a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

"The lion is uncaged," he said. "It was chained to the desktop, no more. The future is all about mobility. `I'll do it wherever I want, whenever I want, however I want, on a 4  1/2 inch screen'."

But an NBN Co spokeswoman said it was the demand for data-rich video that was driving the fibreoptic network.  "People want the convenience of wireless technologies so they can use their iPads and laptops in more places, but fixed networks continue to do the `heavy lifting' of broadband data use," she said.

"As we move to a time where really data-heavy applications like video become more prevalent, there will be an increasing need for fixed connections like the NBN."

She said it was also important to recognise that when people use iPads or smartphones in WiFi mode, they are using a wireless connection to a fixed network. [But losing the speed which is the main claim for the fibre network.  Existing cable would do as well]


New  Queensland conservative government approves new mining-related projects -- including the building of a DAM

Horrors!  Greenies hate ALL dams

THE state government has approved two mining-related projects and advanced aims for new dam in central Queensland.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney today said the Co-ordinator-General had approved applications from mining companies to expand a north Queensland freight terminal and move a rail route used to transport coal through central Queensland.

Pacific National has won approval to expand its freight terminal at Stuart in south Townsville.

BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliances (BMA) is also able to proceed with proposed changes to a rail route from its Caval Ridge Coal Mine near Moranbah to the Queensland coast.

The Co-ordinator-General has also released the environmental impact statement for the proposed Nathan Dam on the Dawson River, north of Taroom, in the state's southeast.

Mr Seeney says the dam would unlock the potential of the Surat and Bowen basin regions in southern and central Queensland.  "The project could create 425 jobs during its construction," he said in a statement.

Mr Seeney says the LNP is delivering on a promise to drive economic growth and focus the Coordinator-General's office on major projects.

The Coordinator-General said the expansion of Pacific National's freight terminal was compatible with existing and future development in the area.

The change in rail route for BMA's Caval Ridge mine provides a more direct route and reduces noise impacts on housing, the statement from the state government said.


11 April, 2012

Empty-headed Anglican archbishop

There is a pattern to the media cycle that is as predictable as the seasons. Before Anzac Day the press will be looking for stories of sacrifice by those who have served in the defence forces. During Melbourne Cup week, the jockey - largely ignored for most of the year - finds he is king of the airwaves. And during the quiet news periods of Christmas and Easter, church leaders have the opportunity to make headlines with their sermons and pronouncements.

Of course, there are many churches and many leaders, so there is a bit of competition. This year that competition was easily won by the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, who published an opinion piece that inspired headlines such as: "An Easter roasting for banks and miners."

The archbishop began his Easter article with a mention of Christ and the obligatory mention of migrants and asylum seekers, but his real purpose was to call for a new social contract "about a sense of mutual obligation". Mutual obligation has been a buzzword in politics for some time and usually means that just as the state looks after those down on their luck, those receiving assistance should put back into society.

The archbishop was not making that point. He wanted to make the point that the government and opposition are failing us. Apparently they focus too much on the news cycle. And other institutions and corporations "need a reality check" - that is where the attack on the miners and banks came in.

The archbishop's gripe with miners is they are "reluctant to share a fair proportion of the wealth" which belongs to all Australians. Really? Did the miners say that?

What the miners did say is that after they have paid state royalties, payroll taxes and 30 per cent company tax, that is a fair share and - what is more - a fairer share than miners are paying in other comparable parts of the world.

I have heard the government say it isn't enough and they should pay an effective tax rate of 55 per cent. But it got its sums all wrong and had to back down on that proposal. It has now negotiated a more modest tax increase, which will affect junior miners but the big ones hardly at all.

Now, the archbishop might have strong views on the applicable mix of royalty rates and company taxes and, if so, he should argue them. But to characterise the debate as simply being about whether one industry should pay a "fair" share or not is to avoid the question, not to answer it. What is that share?

The archbishop also complained the banks have not made a case for increasing interest rates. He is referring to the February rises in home mortgage rates of between 0.06 and 0.1 per cent.

The banks argue they increased lending rates because their funding costs have risen. I am not usually in the business of defending banks but on this occasion they were right. As the Reserve Bank's February Statement of Monetary policy noted: "Bank funding costs have increased relative to the cash rate over the past six months."

So the archbishop was wrong to attack them on this issue. Banks did have a case for increasing rates. He may have been trying to say they did not explain their case adequately. But, if so, what is he complaining about? Some kind of PR failure?

The archbishop's Good Friday article seemed to echo the argument of another person who has been railing against the banks and the miners: the Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan. He attacks miners and banks as a way of shoring up Labor's support base - a little bit of class warfare to get the faithful back into the fold. When your primary vote is about 30 per cent, there is some method in that madness.

But I don't think it is going to work for the archbishop. Are people going to flock to church to hear sermons against miners and banks? Bank-bashers are a dime a dozen. You don't have to wait until Sunday to get an earful of that.

When the church speaks of its unique message - the life, death and resurrection of Christ - it draws on centuries of Christian thought and theology. I doubt Christendom has done nearly as much work on the taxation of mining profits and modern banking policies. If the clergy want to get into that area, they had better do some deeper thinking. Archbishop Freier's Good Friday publication is not going to spark a new social contract any time soon. It might pay to work out the details before we decide to ditch the present one.


Churches and religious schools fight to maintain homosexual ban

CHURCHES are battling to keep their right to refuse to employ gay, lesbian and transgender people.

The Federal Government has thrown open for debate the laws which exempt religious organisations from court action if they refuse to employ or have as volunteers gay, lesbian and transgender people - if this conflicts with the organisation's religious beliefs, reported The Advertiser.

Many religious groups no longer discriminate when they employ people but some have bans, most commonly in the employment of teachers.

South Australian Equal Opportunity Commissioner Anne Burgess said if the exemption to discriminate was continued, it should be limited to jobs directly involving spiritual or religious activities.

"A number of people are saying the ability of religious groups to discriminate should be reduced to a minimum, so it should only be appropriate if it is a person teaching religion or carrying out some religious duty," she said. "When it comes to whether the cleaner or the librarian (is gay, lesbian or transgender) why should it matter?"

The Labor Party made a 2010 election promise to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in a consolidation of anti-discrimination laws.

The religious exemption is the most contentious of the 30 questions proposed by the Federal Government in public consultation.

Question 22 states: "How might religious exemptions apply in relation to discrimination and gender identity?"

Many church groups have defended the need to discriminate including the Australian Catholics Bishop Conference, which has told the Federal Government: "The right to freedom of conscience and religion should be upheld as there is scope for the attributes of sexual orientation and gender identity to undermine the freedom of Catholic bodies to have the right to employ or admit those who are committed to Catholic teachings and beliefs".

Uniting Care Wesley Adelaide spokesman Mark Henley said the organisation did not believe the right to discriminate was needed.

The South Australian Bar Association, in its submission by president Mark Livesey QC, says: "A religious organisation which is contracted by the government to provide a welfare service should not be permitted to discriminate by refusing to employ homosexual or lesbian staff."



Four current articles below

Carbon tax is 'unconstitutional', says tax expert

A PROMINENT Australian legal expert says he believes the Gillard government's carbon tax is unconstitutional and that the three largest states stand a chance of successfully overturning the legislation in the event of a High Court challenge.

The University of New England academic and practising barrister, Bryan Pape, has provided legal advice to conservative policy think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, that says the carbon tax legislation — due to come into effect on July 1 — could be challenged on several grounds including that, "the Commonwealth cannot tax State property: Legally carbon dioxide emissions are State property".

The advice goes on to say that, in Mr Pape's legal opinion, "the Commonwealth cannot impose a carbon tax and other related penalties within the same Act. The Commonwealth cannot introduce a carbon tax within its external affairs powers".
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Mr Pape — a specialist in taxation and administrative law — made headlines in 2009 when he mounted a High Court challenge over Labor's $42 billion stimulus package, arguing that the $900 payments to individuals exceeded the federal government's taxation powers.

"These greenhouse gases are property owned by the States and it is impermissible for the Commonwealth to impose any tax on any property of any kind belonging to a State," Mr Pape said.

The full bench of the court ruled in favour of the Commonwealth by a margin of 4-3.

IPA Climate Change policy director, Tim Wilson, told the National Times today that the think tank had commissioned the advice in a bid to prod the states into action against the carbon tax, a piece of legislation the conservative body has long opposed.

"The IPA commissioned a legal opinion because state governments have sat on their hands and let the Gillard government introduce a tax that they could potentially stop," he said.  "Only the High Court can decide the constitutionality of the carbon tax, but there are clear grounds to challenge it according to one of Australia's top administrative law minds."

Mr Wilson said the full text of the legal opinion would not be released "pending a possible legal challenge."

"A copy has being provided to the Premiers and Attorneys-General of the states with the best legal standing for a potential challenge – New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia," he said.

The legal advice will arrive on the desks of state premiers as they prepare to travel to Canberra this week for Friday's Council of Australian Governments meeting, where, for the first time in 4½ years in office, Labor will be outnumbered at the negotiating table.

NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland are  all under conservative rule and a new opinion poll has today revealed that federal Labor now trails the Coalition in every state and territory on both primary votes and on a two-party preferred basis.


Companies urge war on environmental 'green tape'

THE business community has united to demand Julia Gillard and the premiers slash unwieldy environmental assessments and approvals processes, warning "green tape" is jeopardising $900 billion in resources and infrastructure projects.

In a rare move, the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry last night issued a joint plea for the Prime Minister and state leaders to declutter the bloated national reform agenda so that it focused on fewer areas that would have the biggest impact on improving the economy.

The business groups said the new priorities should include scrapping the double-handling of environmental assessments on projects between the commonwealth and the states, fast-tracking the approvals for major projects including by quarantining some areas for resources exploration and exempting light industrial and residential developments from costly assessment processes.

The groups have also called for governments to axe more than 240 federal and state policies related to climate change and energy efficiency before the July 1 start of the carbon tax, revive the stalled energy reform agenda and cut business red tape.

On top of this, they want a new scheme for rewarding the states for making good on significant reforms after an impasse at last week's treasurers' meeting over the expiry of "national partnerships" agreements that trigger hundreds of millions of dollars in federal payments.

The groups have released their call in a discussion paper for the Council of Australian Governments business advisory forum that meets tomorrow with Ms Gillard and the premiers in Canberra, and will include BHP Billiton's Marius Kloppers, Rio Tinto's David Peever, Telstra's David Thodey, Wesfarmers' Richard Goyder and Pacific Brands chairman James MacKenzie.

In the paper, the groups cite the case of one major resources project that took more than two years to get environmental approvals, involved more than 4000 meetings and presentations with interest groups and prompted a 12,000-page report. The project was approved with more than 1200 state conditions and 300 federal conditions, with a further 8000 sub-conditions.

The BCA estimates that a 12-month delay to a 10 million-tonne coking coalmine in Queensland would cost the state $170 million in royalty revenues.

Last night, BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said all businesses were "absolutely on the same page" about the need to cut business costs. "With the economy in transition and many businesses struggling to stay competitive, it is vital COAG is helped to look at all of its reforms through the lens of what is going to make it easier to do business, and reducing unnecessary business costs so the economy can grow faster."

The move is all the more significant as it is a rare show of unity by the business groups.

The BCA spans the top 100 chief executives, ACCI represents 350,000 large and small businesses and the AI Group represents more than 60,000 businesses. The politically sensitive small business lobby also provided input into the paper. It comes as the Gillard government attempts to improve its relations with the business community.

Corporate Australia's relationship with the government has been at a low point after disagreements over key policies, including the carbon tax, mining tax, industrial relations and the threat of new taxes on business in next month's budget.

Yesterday, Australian Securities Exchange chief executive Elmer Funke Kupper, who used to run gaming company Tabcorp, said his clients the 2223 sharemarket-listed companies were rendered less competitive because of the stalled reform agenda. "I'm a great supporter of my clients. National businesses and international businesses demand the most efficient model in Australia and there's no excuse for not having it, particularly in an environment where the economy is slowing and our competitiveness is under threat from the high dollar."

Mr Peever, the managing director of Rio Tinto Australia, said the COAG business advisory forum had to increase competitiveness and tomorrow's meeting should help establish a "proper framework" to develop a more effective way to create policy.

"Australia needs a proper policymaking process to ensure key reforms are delivered in the right way," he said. "A lack of proper process can inhibit good policy development and hold back the reform drive crucial to creating a more competitive Australia."

ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said tomorrow's meeting should give political leaders a "reality check" on the regulatory reform plans.

The paper by the business groups signals they will escalate their campaign against green tape.

Business wants to avoid the situation where Canberra knocks back assessments conducted under bilateral agreements with the states that are supposed to reduce the duplication in green approvals. It wants the federal government to commit to making a decision within six months of state approvals, and for the states to reserve areas for certain activities such as exploration.

"These reforms are essential to removing the double-handling of environmental assessments that do nothing to improve environmental outcomes but risk the cost-effectiveness and competitiveness of Australia's unprecedented investment pipeline. There are around $900bn of committed and prospective investment opportunities in large-scale projects, mostly in resources and economic infrastructure," the paper states.

On development assessment reforms, business wants the states to commit to a target where 50-70 per cent of applications for low-risk residential and light industrial developments are exempted from the process, with Canberra to consider reviving reward payments to states that update their planning systems.

The Productivity Commission has estimated this reform could deliver $225m in benefits to the economy.

Business figures cite the lengthy approvals and consultation processes that have hindered coal-seam gas projects, potentially adding to the costs of energy.

This could also be on the agenda at tomorrow's meeting as one participant is Origin Energy boss Grant King, who has accused the Greens of ignoring scientific consensus in its attack on CSG.

Wesfarmers's Mr Goyder is also likely to be well versed on the issue as the company's Coles supermarkets chain has raised concerns previously about inflexible and outdated planning controls on the size of stores.


New Qld. government  to slash real estate "green"  tape

SCRAPPING real estate red tape will be the Newman Government's first legislative priority as it aims to kickstart Queensland's ailing property industry.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney yesterday confirmed laws to jettison sustainability declaration forms would be the initial legislation introduced by the new administration when Parliament resumes in mid-May.

The controversial mandatory forms aimed at tackling climate change have dogged home sellers since their introduction in 2010.

Despite revisions and a fine amnesty, the real estate industry has argued vehemently for the forms to be scrapped, insisting they add nothing to what is already a testing time for buyers and sellers.

The Newman Government will also streamline home sale contracts, as well as reinstate the $7000 residential stamp duty concession, in a bid to breathe life into the industry that has not fully recovered since the global financial crisis.

It comes as Premier Campbell Newman's Cabinet meets formally for the first time today to map out a broad first-term agenda after the LNP annihilated Labor at last month's election.

Other priorities for the Government's first month in office include freezing vehicle registration and commencing the introduction of the flood inquiry recommendations.

Mr Newman will also travel to Canberra on Friday to attend his first Council of Australian Governments meeting.

Mr Seeney yesterday told The Courier-Mail that the declaration form had become symbolic of all that was wrong with the Bligh Government.  He said the forms added red tape without providing any real benefits to buyers.  "It was just about feel-good green preferences rather than any sort of outcome at all," he said.

Mr Seeney said the LNP had recognised the importance of helping the property sector to aid the recovery of the overall Queensland economy.

Along with ditching red tape, Mr Seeney said getting more efficient decision-making would also help the sluggish industry. "What the industry wants is timely decisions," he said. "If it is 'yes' let them get on with it, and if it is a `no' then let them know so they can get on with something else."

Originally proposed in 2008, the sustainability declarations were pitched as a way buyers could easily compare the energy efficiency credentials of competing properties.

However, amid threats of fines of up to $2000 for failing to complete the forms, the former Bligh Government was forced to ditch some of the confusing questions amid an outcry from sellers and the real estate industry.

The initial two-page form required sellers to detail everything from the star rating of appliances to the width of hallways before they could put their property on the market.

Questions, such as one requiring sellers to detail whether "at least one entry from outside to inside the dwelling is provided by either a level entrance, no more than three steps, a ramp or a lift", were later erased.

However, even the current simplified version continued to court controversy with questions about the number of east and west-facing windows, the colour of the roof and the star rating of toilets.

Property Council Queensland executive director Kathy MacDermott said the measures promised by the LNP would help restore confidence in the residential market.

Ms MacDermott also backed plans to establish a Cabinet sub-committee and a "go to" person for the industry.  "That will help interstate investors know who to go to so there is a clear direction," she said.

However, Ms MacDermott urged the Newman Government to go further by eliminating the temporary land tax surcharge introduced after the GFC and scrapping stamp duty from off-the-plan sales.

"If the property industry is allowed to operate at its full potential through great transparency and certainty in processes, it will go a long way to helping restore Queensland's balance sheet," she said.


Salvation Army opposes carbon tax

CHARITIES will be forced to cut back essential services for needy families as the carbon tax adds millions of dollars to operating costs.

In the latest challenge to the Gillard government's carbon tax, the Salvation Army estimated it would add $3.5 million to the annual landfill costs for charitable organisations.

The Salvation Army says it is bracing for an avalanche of useless household goods, dumped by people unwilling to pay higher rubbish tip fees as a result of the carbon tax.

In a confidential briefing note, it labelled the carbon tax "unjust and unfair" and said it would lead to "more dumping from a price-sensitive public".

Federal Finance Minister Penny Wong has assured charities that government assistance will be available to help them deal with the impact of a carbon tax which comes into effect from July 1.

"We have put in place a fund for charities to help them with the transition to the carbon price," she told ABC Radio today.

Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt said it was absurd that programs such as support for victims of domestic violence and the homeless could be at risk.

"This hit on charities shows the stupidity of this carbon tax and exposes it as a policy failure," he said in a statement.

The Salvation Army warns the new tax will encourage struggling families to use the charity shops as a dumping ground for their unsaleable furniture and clothing rather than pay the cost of rubbish tips.

From July 1, the cost of going to the local tip will rise as the carbon tax hits landfill facilities.

About 25 per cent of pre-loved furniture and clothing collected by the Salvos, St Vincent de Paul Society and other charity organisations ends up at local rubbish tips.

"It is of considerable concern to us," National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisations executive director Kerryn Caulfield said.

The Salvos said they would be paying between $687,000 and $1.25 million in additional landfill fees after July 1.

While the charity had about $300 million in annual revenue, Salvos Stores chief operating officer Frank Staebe said it was "another impost on our bottom line".

"What that really means is that less goes into social programs," Mr Staebe said.

St Vincents is also working out the costs of the carbon tax on its network of outlets and other services.

While charities would be hit inadvertently by the carbon tax, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the government's Community Energy Efficiency Program would be used to lower the energy use of community organisations.

Charities are preparing to open a new front in their campaign against the tax, warning it would lead to a reduction in services to the community's most vulnerable.

"The underlying issue here is that this is not waste which we generate," the Salvos said in the internal document.

"The carbon price is based on a 'polluter pays' philosophy and yet, once again, charitable recyclers will face soaring costs."


10 April, 2012

Labor on the nose in every state

THE Gillard Government is on the nose in every state in Australia, according to the latest Newspoll in The Australian newspaper today.

The poll shows federal Labor is languishing behind the coalition on primary vote and on a two-party preferred basis in every state.

The paper says the Government's electoral standing has sunk well below its 2010 election result, with its support in every voting group and every state lagging behind the election day vote that stripped Labor of its parliamentary majority and forced it into minority rule.

The poll, taken between January and March, shows the Government is down from between three and six percentage points on primary vote and two to five points after a distribution of preferences.

Its nightmare state remains Queensland where there has been a three percentage point swing on the two party-preferred vote against the ALP since August 2010.

It would wipe out all but one or two of the eight federal Queensland MPs in an election.


Labor party politician distances himself from the Labor party

Even he admits that after all the lies, the Labor party brand stinks.   Gillard promised no carbon tax and Qld. Premier Anna Bligh promised no sale of State assets.  Both broke their promises.  Who could now believe anything they say?

The Brisbane city council covers a huge area so is the biggest municipal prize in Australia.  Brisbane apparently has a bigger budget than Tasmania

LABOR'S big hope for wresting Brisbane's City Hall from the LNP has asked voters to judge him on his policies and not by the "challenged brand" he represents.

The ALP has only seven seats in State Parliament, down from 51, after an election thumping by the LNP last month.  Speculation is rife that voters are not done with punishing the party just yet.

Labor lord mayoral candidate Ray Smith acknowledges he and his team are fighting an uphill battle for votes at the April 28 council poll.

But Mr Smith said he believed voters would look to local issues when deciding who they want to run the city.  "Seventeen months ago, when I quit my job as CEO of my own business ... to run for the lord mayoralty, the (Labor) brand was challenged then," Mr Smith said. "Seventeen months later, the brand is just as challenged, if not more.

"What I have always hoped for after 17 months and what I hope for even more now is that the people of Brisbane will judge me on my merits, they'll judge my policies on their merits and they will judge the team on their merits. If they do that we are a very good chance."

Lord Mayor Graham Quirk has also asked voters to judge him on his record and policies and has highlighted his good relationship with Premier Campbell Newman.

But he would not speculate yesterday on what impact the state election would have on the LNP's chances of retaining or increasing its majority on a local level.

"I will be putting out there a very positive plan and vision for our city and then people can judge that on April 28," Cr Quirk said.

Labor holds 10 Brisbane City Council wards and just three with a margin of more than 4 per cent  Morningside, Wynnum Manly and Deagon.

These wards are within electorates traditionally held by Labor on a state level, but which fell to the LNP on March 24. The party's most marginal wards include Central, Doboy, Karawatha, Northgate and The Gabba ward, which is within former premier Anna Bligh's electorate of South Brisbane.

The Gabba councillor Helen Abrahams faces going into an election where her constituents have to number their third ballot paper in a month following the resignation of Ms Bligh.

The LNP holds only two of its 15 wards by a margin of less than 4 per cent  Enoggera and Jamboree.


Unseasonable cold in Australia

Due, no doubt, to global warming.  Warming causes cold, don't  you see?  It's like the socialist Hitler being a Rightist or the ban on plastic bags saving trees:  Easy

IF you ducked outside this morning for coffee and mistook your quiet Australian street for an icy plain in Siberia, there's good reason.  Today is cold. Really cold. Especially if you live in Canberra.

But first, let's back up a bit.

1. This is Australia. This is not England. Australia is meant to be warm. England is meant to be cold.

2. It's April. The average temperature is supposedly 22.4 degrees in Sydney, 20.3 in Melbourne and 17.3 in Hobart.

3. Hobart is in Tasmania, which is further away from the equator than mainland Australia, so it gets pretty cold down there.

With these three irrefutable facts in mind, we ask: why is it so pitifully freezing today, on Tuesday April 10?

Sydney commuters confronted a wintry chill of just 12 degrees this morning, re-enforced by nasty, nasty winds.

The temp was even lower down south, where Victorians put on a couple extra layers beneath their Snuggies to brace the 9.4-degree wake-up surprise.

Brisbane's 19 degrees, but it's always warm there, and so too the 25-degree anomaly that is Darwin.

But it gets worse. Hobart's finest are rocking around in 7 degrees. And if you're a federal politician, or otherwise a resident of Canberra, it's just 1 degree.


The snow sectors copped it the worst. Thredbo got down to -5.5 degrees overnight. Minus degrees? Why are we talking about minus temperatures, in Australia, in April?

Pesky terms like "cold front" and "wind chill" are partly to blame, which are particularly relevant for Victorians, according to the Weather Channel.

"Cold south-westerly winds in the fronts wake also brought frequent showers to southern districts, which fell as snow above an elevation of about 800 metres," said senior meteorologist Tom Saunders.

"The frigid polar air also produced small hail and thunder over central and eastern districts. The coldest air will move out into the Tasman Sea today, allowing the showers to ease and daytime temperatures to gradually rise over the coming days but overnight minimums will remain chilly for the next few nights."

The Snowy Mountains lived up to their name by delivering the first snow of the season to NSW.

"We usually get some colder outbreaks about this time of year," said a spokesperson from the Bureau of Meteorology.  "It was fairly cool - I know that myself because I rode into work on my scooter."


How to get into university: Go to a poor school

Unpopular or unreasonable regulations will always spark  attempts to get around or exploit them

AFFLUENT students from elite schools are manipulating a system designed to give disadvantaged students a better chance of getting into university.

School and university sources have told The Advertiser that students are enrolling in one subject at a disadvantaged school the year after they complete Year 12 if they fail to gain entry to university.

This gives them access to bonus-points schemes to bump up their scores for when they again try to gain entry to a university course.

Each of South Australia's public universities run bonus-points schemes that provide up to six extra points towards students' university entrance scores if they attended a school where graduates were under-represented at university.

The bonus points apply regardless of whether marks from the subject studied at the disadvantaged school are used to make up the student's university entrance score.

It is understood students must meet the school's attendance requirements, submit all assignments and attend exams to qualify for the bonus points.

A university source said the scam was not considered widespread but admitted it was an issue.  "It's a rort. The university's policy to have students from diverse backgrounds in key courses is being subverted by this action," the source said.  "It's undermining the intention of a good policy and is something the university authorities should address urgently."

A senior private school source said it was understood students from several schools had taken this action when striving to get into competitive university degrees, such as medicine.

National Union of Students president Donherra Walmsley said students undertaking this action were manipulating a system designed to address disadvantage in our education system.

"Giving students from disadvantaged schools bonus points is something we support," she said.  "But the system assumes people will do the right thing and (it) can be exploited if people are dishonest and misrepresenting themselves.  "I would have thought parents being complicit in this behaviour is teaching children the wrong thing."

Ms Walmsley said bridging the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged students was difficult and would be made harder when students misused schemes aimed at reducing that gap.

SA Tertiary Admissions Centre information and publications manager Greg Coote said that, when applying bonus points, the centre only looked at a student's last school of attendance and did not check if the student had completed the majority of their subjects at another school.  "This is a possibility because the code for the last school somebody enrolled in is the code used to judge if bonus points are applied," he said.

"There is no question there are people who have moved out of a school to another and gained from bonus points ... but there are legitimate reasons they could be moving."

Association of Independent Schools of SA executive director Garry Le Duff said he had not heard of students manipulating the system.   "If it is occurring, maybe there needs to be a review of how the (bonus points) scheme is managed," he said.

The University of Adelaide would not comment when asked if it was concerned about the rort and did not reveal if it was doing anything to stop the misuse.

"The Fairway Access Scheme is designed to assist students attending schools not well represented in higher education, with an extra opportunity to study at the University of Adelaide," a university spokeswoman said.  "Its fundamental purpose is to support those students most in need, thereby improving access to, and participation in, university.

"We review all of our pathways on a regular basis, in the interests of both equity and transparency."


His Eminence Archbishop  Pell debates atheist Dawkins

IT WAS a match-up made in Q&A heaven: two pugilists of opposing convictions going head-to-head in a debate about the existence of God.

Australia's highest-ranking Catholic and Sydney's archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, spent an hour with evolutionary biologist and celebrity atheist, Professor Richard Dawkins taking questions covering everything from evolution, resurrection and eternal damnation.

Frustration and something bordering on barely concealed mutual disdain boiled over more than once during the ABC television show.

Charles Darwin was claimed as a theist by the cardinal, because Darwin "couldn't believe that the immense cosmos and all the beautiful things in the world came about either by chance or out of necessity" - a claim disputed by Professor Dawkins as "just not true".

Cardinal Pell won applause when he shot back: "It's on page 92 of his autobiography. Go and have a look."

The clergyman remained unmoved on gay marriage and climate change, but he said evolution was "probably" right, and that atheists could "certainly" get into heaven. Professor Dawkins declared he was "trying to be charitable" by suggesting there was no way Cardinal Pell meant the body would literally be resurrected.

The clergyman's view that people would return after death in some kind of physical form earlier had been dismissed by Professor Dawkins. "The brain is going to rot, that's all there is to it," he said.

Cardinal Pell said: "Mr Dawkins, I don't say things I don't mean.   "I believe it because I believe the man who told us that was also the son of God. He said, 'This is my body, this is my blood'. And I'd much prefer to listen to Him and take his word than yours."


9 April, 2012

Wave of Irish emigration to Australia keeps growing

Despite three very good reasons not to leave his homeland, Kevin Dwyer swapped the economic — and literal — gloom of Ireland for the sunny climes of Australia.

He said financial desperation forced him to part with his partner and two children last October, and travel for an indefinite period to a place where he believed the streets were lined with gold.

Dwyer is part of a modern wave of economic migrants driven from Europe — and from Ireland in particular — by rising rates of unemployment.

America still beckons with promises of high-paying jobs and opportunity, but Australia is growing rapidly as a destination of choice. In particular, an influx of Irish immigrants has arrived.

While not all Australians are welcoming them, most say the immigrants are a boon to the country — especially the Irish, many of whom have found a place in the work force aiding the construction boom.

The numbers are conflicting, as is often the case when illegal immigration is involved. But they speak for themselves.

According to official figures from the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship figures reveal a 68 percent jump in the number of visas granted to Irish workers in the past year — 3095 arrived in 2011, up from 1840 during the corresponding period in 2010. That might not sound like a big number, but adjusting for population it's equivalent to about 45,000 immigrants in US — roughly the size America's fourth biggest immigration group, the Filippinos.

Others see a far bigger influx. A widely cited Economic and Social Research Institute study from 2010 found that 24,000 Irish emigrants had headed to Australia, oustripping those bound for the UK and the US.

Meanwhile, Europe's economic recession has well and truly seized the Celtic Tiger by the tail.

In 2011, Ireland's Central Statistics Office reported that emigration among Irish nationals increased sharply, reaching 76,400 in the year to April 2011, a growth of 11,100 (or 16.9 percent) on the year to April 2010. That means roughly 1,400 people leave Ireland's shores every week.

The Irish have been heading to Australia for centuries. Some Irish immigrants date back to the First Fleet that arrived in 1788 and the earliest convict transports of the late 1700s — a joint venture of sorts with the British. The potato famine of the 1840s and the corresponding Australian gold rush set off new wave of migration to Australia, for those who could afford the fare.

The steady stream of Irish immigrants, any of whom arrive in Australia armed with advanced qualifications, is helping to fill yawning gaps in the work force, particularly in mining and construction industries which are in large part fueling Australia's prolonged economic boom.

The country just capped its 20th consecutive year of growth, and the West Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has forecast that it will need 500,000 extra workers by 2020. Based on recent trends, a shortfall of 150,000 Western Australian workers has been predicted by 2017.

The Irish Independent quoted Western Australia's employment minister Peter Collier as saying last year that his booming state was crying out for skilled workers. Cue the Irish immigrants.

"It's an economic powerhouse," Collier told a recruitment drive in Dublin last July. "With more than [$192 billion] of resource and infrastructure projects planned, Western Australia is on the cusp of a 25-year expansion, which will drive the nation's economy."

Meanwhile, Rob Knight, Northern Territory Minister for Business and Employment, told a recent jobs fair in Dublin that his region of Australia had tens of thousands of jobs to fill and desperately needs skilled workers for the construction, mining and services industry there.

On the other side of the country in the "sunshine state" of Queensland, Des Ryan — owner of a Brisbane-based building company and president of the Irish Australian Support Association — said there was a big demand for Irish workers in the state's mining towns.

After Ireland's own building industry had been decimated in the economic downturn, leaving 300,000 new houses standing vacant, many highly skilled tradespeople joined surveyors, architects, civil engineers and other professionals in transferring their skills Down Under.

"Education has been free in Ireland for a long time, so these are highly skilled people," said Ryan, who emigrated from Ireland 40 years ago. "They're different from the people who went to England and the US in the 1950s."


Another defence equipment bungle

Australian taxpayers can expect to be billed $200 million to keep HMAS Success - the navy's "ship of shame" - at sea because Defence has neither maintained her properly or made provision for a replacement.

Defence has confirmed a "mid-life extension", to keep the 26-year-old oil tanker and refuelling and replenishment vessel operational after its use-by date, will cost at least $200 million.

This would be additional to the $35.8 million spent on the vessel since November 2010, the last time the ship was operational.

There is already confusion over when HMAS Success will reach the end of its life without a major refit. Navy provided two different dates; 2017 and 2018. Both conflict with information provided by a Defence source who wishes to remain anonymous.

"She [HMAS Success] never had a mid-life refit and her end of life is 2016, but there isn't a new ship on the horizon to replace her," the source said.

The original plan was to commission a replacement by 2016, but that hadn't happened. "The Defence Capability Plan presently says her replacement will enter service in 2021-2022."

That can only work if HMAS Success is kept operational long past her original retirement date.

"So how much will it cost to extend the life of HMAS Success until her replacement arrives you might ask? Would it be value for money? Should the government spend more money on an old ship or pay her off and buy a new one?" the source asked.

That option is worth considering. The British, at least partly cashed up with the $100 million Australia paid for the Largs Bay (now HMAS Choules), have reportedly done a deal with Daewoo for four "fleet oilers" at a reported cost of $150 million each.

"Why don't we buy in?" an industry figure said. "It's got to be cheaper [than patching up HMAS Success and then buying a replacement]."

Defence has been quick to say it has not asked the government for an extra $200 million to spend on HMAS Success just yet.

Already a household name for sex scandals and a record number of Defence inquiries, HMAS Success is now headed for a new round of ignominy.

Of the $35.8 million spent on HMAS Success since November 2010, $17.8 million was spent in Singapore to make it compliant with International Maritime Organisation Standards.

A further $13.8 million went on maintenance from June to November last year and a further $4.1 million is now being spent on work to return the ship to operational readiness by July or August.


Metastasizing bureaucracy in the Australian Capital Territory

As the federal bureaucracy plans to shed jobs, the ACT bureaucracy is taking on more staff, adding 674 full-time equivalent positions in 2010-11.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says 402 of the new positions were in education and health, and warns that the territory's equivalent of federal cabinet's razor gang is keeping a close eye on what jobs are created in the ACT public sector.

The ACT Public Service Workforce Profile 2010-11 shows the government had the equivalent of 18,376 staff in June last year, up from 17,702 in June 2010.

Ms Gallagher said a temporary hiring freeze had not applied to front-line positions and it was inevitable the overall size of the service would increase as the ACT's population grew.

"This is a matter that's currently before budget cabinet: what is the right size for the public service in the ACT?" she asked. "Acknowledging that it's going to continue to grow because there are areas of demand, like health and … emergency services. As the city grows, you've got to grow those areas as well."

Ms Gallagher said the Health Directorate was employing an extra 250 to 300 people a year to keep up with demand for services.

"We've done a lot of efficiencies, savings and back-end work and you can never say it's as efficient as it could be, so you've got keep working on that.

"But the ACT government is a pretty lean machine for what it delivers every day."

The workforce profile also showed the pay gap between men and women in the ACT public service shrank from 3.3 per cent to 3 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11. This meant female employees earned an average 97c for every $1 earned by men. The 3 per cent pay gap was much smaller than the 11 per cent gap between all male and female employees in the ACT and the 17.7 per cent national gender pay gap.

Nationally, women earned an average of 82c for every dollar earned by men.

Ms Gallagher said the narrowing pay gap between male and female employees reflected the increasing number of women taking on senior and managerial positions.

"Where you see good results is where there are more senior women than men, or the same number," she said.

Female public servants who were likely to earn more than their male colleagues included ambulance and correction officers, executive officers, nurses and midwives, trainees and apprentices and vocational education teachers.

The number of people with disabilities in the ACT public service rose from 327 to 375 between 2009-10 and 2010-11.

The number of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the service increased from 176 to 215.


Jailbird survey shock as inmates quizzed on quality of life

JAIL chiefs have surveyed many of Victoria's vilest criminals to see whether they are happy with life on the inside.

Almost 1700 prisoners were asked to rate food, activities and other services behind bars, and quizzed on whether they felt safe, listened to, and respected.

Asked to describe "What I like about this prison is ... ", a fifth replied "nothing", "nothing at all", "not much, it's jail", "stupid question", or gave a similar response.

A team of five staff from the Office of Correctional Services review took 26 days to visit 15 jails, surveying about 40 per cent of inmates.

The Herald Sun obtained the results of the survey - completed last financial year - under Freedom of Information laws after months of wrangling.

Jailbirds used the survey to moan about boredom, bad food, thin mattresses, low pay, and delays in waiting for medical treatment.

Other gripes included the cost of computer games, broken gym equipment, expensive phone calls, drug dealing and poor ventilation.

But many praised life on the inside, complimenting their cells, the meals, the gardens, the relaxed environment, access to phones and the recreation on offer.

The statement "I am safe" got the third-highest score overall.

Comments from satisfied inmates included "the cells are spacious and easy to keep clean", "it is peaceful", "it is a very relaxed prison," and "I find this (jail) like paradise".

Others praised the gym equipment, the education opportunities and the proximity to family.


8 April, 2012

Parents feel the pinch as childcare squeezed by new federal laws

But it's "for their own good", of course.   One size fits all, don't you know?

This will just lead to more  informal childcare  -- e.g. where some lady looks after a few neighbourhood kids in her own home -- with none of the safeguards of the formal sector

That happened in Britain so they passed draconian laws about informal childcare -- but they had to back down because it criminalized friends looking after another friend's kids

PARENTS face a tougher fight for childcare places - and a bigger bill when they find a centre - as tough new federal laws squeeze 8400 places from the system.  The cost of child care will rise by up to $13 a day per child as rules requiring an increased staff-to-child ratio are enforced.

Federal Government figures show a quarter of Queensland children are in childcare, with more than 155,000 children from 120,000 families in long day care at childcare centres.

Childcare Queensland says centres across Queensland will close as increased staff ratios, soaring power bills and fears of a massive 30 per cent wage claim force an already stressed sector close to the brink.

Childcare Queensland says the new regulations alone, the first phase of which started in January, will cost the state 8400 places.

President Peter Price said the average price of long day care in Queensland was between $60 and $80 a day, but that would go up under the new laws that require more staff to children and university degrees for some positions. [How absurd!  Will you have to have a degree to become a mother soon?]

While changes to ratios that were causing massive spikes in fees down south would not affect Queensland for another two years, he said centres were already having to put on extra staff to cover paperwork and training.

Mr Price said the industry had no problem with raising standards but said the contradiction with existing minimum room sizes and the required floor space per child means fewer places will be available in existing centres.

Industry research tips childcare costs will rise by $13 a child per day, which will create an exodus of families from already struggling centres in areas like the Sunshine and Gold coasts, as well as in Brisbane's eastern suburbs.

Mr Price said a survey of centres shows those around Caboolture, Wide Bay and Cairns are already at risk of falling through the 70 per cent occupancy level, which is break-even, and could dip in to the red under any other stress.

He said some centres on the Sunshine Coast were already half empty and parents would soon start feeling the pinch as more tried to organise their childcare after the school holidays. "It's happening now but there's still a lot more to come," Mr Price said of the cost increases.  "For the average parent looking for a place, there are going to be less places  available."

But C&K chief executive officer Barrie Elvish, whose community group operates centres across the state, said he did not expect any massive price rise.  He said C&K centres had raised prices by $4 or $5 a day at the beginning of the year to cover rising bills but the ratio changes would not affect them.

Federal Child Care Minister Kate Ellis said children deserved the best start in life.  "All of the research shows us that the first five years of a child's life are critical to shaping future outcomes and will play a major role in their long-term health, education and development," she said.

"With record numbers of families using childcare in Queensland and across the country, it is essential that we ensure that children in care are getting the quality early educational opportunities that they need.

"That is why the rest of the world is acting and it is why the Commonwealth and every state and territory  government, of all political persuasions, have agreed that the National Quality Framework is the best way forward for Australian families.

"These reforms are being introduced gradually, over a number of years so that the sector has time to adjust.  "The only changes that have come into effect in 2012 are a ratio requirement of one staff member for every four children aged under two  as is already the case in Queensland  and a harmonisation of national regulations....

Tewantin Early Learning Centre owner John Keast said private operators were under pressure from rising utilities and red tape.

He said he would like to be able to provide healthy fruit as a snack to his kids, but he can't without complicated and expensive licensing.  "We can't supply fruit to our children, but if they bring it in, we can cut it up and serve it to them," he said. "It's ridiculous."

He said his two Sunshine Coast centres turned a profit but there were plenty of others that were badly stretched and at risk of folding.


Power-mad bureaucrats

The owner and the chef of Cafe Garema just asked for advice. Now they have a large red closure sign on the window of their popular cafe in the heart of the city centre.

The ACT Health Protection Service rang owner Johnny Yang on March 30 at 3pm and told him to close the business after conducting an inspection at lunchtime.

At 4pm, health inspectors, accompanied by two police officers, turned up to the cafe and issued Mr Yang with 12 orders to be carried out before the business could reopen.

Mr Yang and chef Glenn Tranda, who has worked in the restaurant and cafe trade for about two decades, did not expect to be closed, as they had been given no warning at previous inspections.

They believe an inconsistent message from ACT Health Protection Service is partly to blame.  "They should have given us a warning, especially given that we asked for their advice," Mr Yang, who took over the cafe in June last year, said.

A health inspector had visited Cafe Garema in December. Mr Tranda said he told the inspector about a rotting floor in the upstairs food preparation and storage area - a result of rival kitchens being located underneath - and advised that it would be fixed by mid-March.  "They gave us three months to replace the floor," he said.

Then in mid-March, two weeks before the cafe closed, an inspection was conducted and Mr Yang was issued with a notice about a continued cockroach problem and a stainless steel splashback.

"They didn't find cockroaches," Mr Tranda said.  "He asked, 'How's the cockroach situation?' I said, 'Well, all the traps are still in place. I'm changing them every three days. We're spraying every day and I'm still bombing.'  "He didn't say anything further.

"Bar maybe a dirty knife on the bench, some breadcrumbs on the floor and something had spilt in the cool room just before lunch … we assumed they were the only problems we were going to have."

Mr Tranda believes the service should have provided more timely advice and given the cafe two weeks to fix many of the "five minute jobs" contained in the orders.

"Why last Friday did they make all of these decisions, when the gentleman had been here two weeks before and it says on [the notice] cockroaches and a stainless steel splashback," he said.

He said the installation of two handbasins - not raised as a problem until the day of the closure - would take a few more days as they were being ordered from Melbourne. A replacement for a broken upstairs ceiling fan would also take several days because local stores did not have the correct size.

Mr Yang and Mr Tranda hope to reopen as early as Wednesday.


A policy in need of rehab

Nicholas Cowdery

Australia 21's report on drug law reform restarts a public conversation that has been dormant for many long years while the problem has persisted. It is not a blueprint (although such blueprints exist), nor a list of recommendations. When we have that conversation, the public will be able to take proposals to the politicians for their responses.

For decades we have pursued a policy of drug prohibition, with the exception of alcohol and tobacco (and caffeine). It really began in 1903. Then the US president Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs" on June 17, 1971 - as an election campaign ploy. In 1985 Australia adopted the National Drug Strategy, built around supply reduction, demand reduction and harm reduction - all worthy pursuits - and we have had real success in reducing some harms from drugs.

But the policy of prohibition has failed. It failed in the US when they tried it for alcohol from 1920 to 1933; all that did was eliminate the beer market in favour of bootleg spirits. It failed when alcohol was prohibited to Aborigines between the 1850s and 1960s. As long as there is a demand for something - as there always has been and will be for mood-altering drugs, including alcohol and nicotine - there will always be a supply.
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Suppliers of prohibited drugs take risks and they charge for that. If they are successful, they make enormous profits. So prices are inflated and consumers often steal to obtain the money with which to pay them. Criminals engage in turf wars and the corruption of law enforcement to protect their markets.

In a black market there are no product standards. Buyers do not know the quality or quantity of the drug they are buying. Because the drugs are illegal, they are consumed clandestinely - underground. The equipment used and conditions of use are often unsanitary. Users do not openly discuss it - children cannot discuss it with their parents. Support is bypassed.

The prohibition of drugs itself breeds disease, death, crime and corruption. No matter how much we have thrown at it over the decades, drugs now are more plentiful, more available, more potent and cheaper than ever before. Every large seizure just opens up a business opportunity for another criminal.

Make no mistake - drugs can be had by anyone with the price. So much for "prohibition".

When a policy is failing to produce its intended effect, what should we do? Change it, of course! But to what? That is the question.

Different drugs have different effects, are consumed in different circumstances and should be treated in different ways. That's the first problem - it is not a case of "one size fits all". We deal with alcohol and nicotine, both very harmful drugs, openly and officially. Only by legalising, regulating, controlling and taxing them can we secure any benefits.

We are having success with nicotine - the death rate has been halved in 25 years and we have yet to go to plain packaging. We have small successes with alcohol by restricting opening hours and consumption - but there are still serious harms. Bringing other drugs out into the open might not eliminate all the harm the drugs can do but it will help to address them and it will eliminate the additional harm caused by prohibition itself.

Heroin could be prescribed in Australia until 1953 - it still can be in Britain and parts of Europe, where it is used for the relief of otherwise intractable pain and for weaning addicts away from it. Better that an addict gets clean, regulated, affordable doses (a dose can be made for about $2 and we grow it in Tasmania) in an environment of support and assistance.

Cannabis also has pain-relieving properties and naturally grown marijuana is less harmful than nicotine. Regulated supplies could avoid the hydroponically enhanced and more dangerous weed - linked with mental disturbance because of its altered chemical balance.

Then it gets tricky. What to do with ecstasy? Cocaine? Amphetamines? That is why we need to have this conversation. Until we do, those drugs will also continue to be used without controls.

No responsible commentator is suggesting that all drugs should be available to everybody at the supermarket (although that would be a safer outlet than the lottery played by buyers at present). But the only way to reduce the harm presently caused by prohibition (on top of the harm of drugs) is to take the profit out of the market. The only effective way to do that is to have the state take it over.

Licences for production and distribution would be difficult to obtain and easy to lose. Control would be stringent. Age limits would apply (yes, minors do get their hands on alcohol and nicotine - no system is foolproof). Quality would be assured. Price would be cost plus marketing plus modest profit and tax (and the tax could be directed at treatment).

There would still be bootleggers, of course - chancers out for a profit. So the criminal law would still have a job to do but it would be much reduced. About 10 per cent of tobacco in Australia is bootlegged and there are laws to deal with that.

So let's get talking about it! Maybe a good starting point is to consider the Portuguese decriminalisation model. It works.


New Qld.  Government at odds with dam bosses over flood inquiry response

The one irrefutable fact is that if the dam had been managed as designed there would have been no flood.  Instead of 50% of it being kept empty  for flood prevention, 100% was used for water storage

THE Newman Government has fallen out with Seqwater bosses over their planned response to the flood inquiry.

The Courier-Mail can reveal that after the inquiry handed down its report last month, the dam operator drew up a press release that refuted some of the inquiry's findings and made no mention of the inquiry's referral of two of the organisation's employees to the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

Senior Seqwater officials last week took the document to Treasurer Tim Nicholls seeking his endorsement so they could make the document public, but he refused.

"The Government did not agree with certain elements of the draft media release, including the version of events put forward by Seqwater given the findings of the commission and testimony at the commission hearings," a spokesman said.

"The draft media release provided no mention of the fact that staff from Seqwater were referred to the CMC for investigation, meaning the release was not balanced.

"We don't think it's appropriate for a government authority to refute the findings, which the Government has accepted in full."

The row comes as flood victims, insurance companies and class-action lawyers chasing compo payouts watch for signals from the new Government as to whether it will admit fault or force an expensive legal fight. The Premier is under pressure not to backtrack on a pre-election promise to treat flood victims fairly.

His predecessor, Anna Bligh, on receiving the inquiry's report, similarly promised Seqwater would be a "model litigant".

Mr Newman on Thursday said he stood by earlier statements that "all flood victims will be treated fairly and equitably". He would not be drawn on whether the Government would set up an "ex-gratia" scheme to compensate flood victims.

It is understood that Seqwater's own insurers backed the proposed media strategy. They could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars if legal action proved the company was negligent in 2011.

The Water Grid Manager, the parent body for Seqwater, said this week: "Given the circumstances, including the ongoing investigation by the CMC, Seqwater does not presently intend to make any public comment on the Commission of Inquiry Final Report."


7 April, 2012

Children of the rich do better at school, study of NAPLAN test results finds

And so it always  will be.  But some galoot  says low funding for schools is behind it.  In fact of course, being smart tends to help you get rich and IQ is mainly genetically transmitted.  And IQ is the single best predictor of school achievement. Some of the worst schools in America have the highest funding -- but it doesn't help.  If your theory is wrong you won't get the results you expect. 

CHILDREN from higher socioeconomic areas are performing better at school than those in poorer areas, according to an analysis of school figures.

A study of the national literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) test results by The Weekend Australian has revealed the country's top 100 primary and secondary schools have a roll-call of students from well-to-do suburbs.

Director of the Centre for Research on Education Systems at Melbourne University, Richard Teese, says the analysis highlights a geographical concentration of advantage.

"It's not an even playing field in which talent can blossom from whatever location - it's people excelling through social advantage," he told The Weekend Australian.  He said schools in poorer postcodes were under-resourced and found it difficult to attract experienced and specialised teachers.

"We are now at a point where there are no new commonwealth funds available to correct the funding imbalance that has operated for decades..." he said.  "Our potential is not being harvested.  "Public schools educate two-thirds of our kids; they are our nurseries and we are starving them."

The study also found selective schools ranked highest among the country's secondary and primary schools, with government selective schools in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia out-performing many other high schools.

The study highlighted that while independent schools performed highest outside of selective schools, students from the best performing non-selective government schools were also from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

It also found a correlation between students' performances and their family's level of education.  "The large reserves of talent in less well educated families are being denied the support needed to be turned into the large band of high achievers representing all backgrounds that Australia should have," Professor Teese said.

The Weekend Australian performed the analysis by comparing NAPLAN results, based on national testing of Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students, with the Index of Community Socio-Education Advantage, which measures income and education level's of student's families.

It comes after education ministers from across the country met in Sydney on Thursday to discuss major reforms  to the national schooling system.


A premature Aboriginal baby and an African doctor in a rural area -- not a good combination

And only very light taps on the wrist all-round.  Must not make too much of African incompetence must we?  Too bad if a baby dies

THE death of a newborn baby in a Wheatbelt hospital has prompted the West Australian coroner to recommend that overseas-trained doctors be fully informed of the support services available to them.

Baby Sharinka was only 14 hours old when she died of pneumonia on March 20, 2008, after being born five weeks premature in an emergency delivery at Dalwallinu District Hospital, about 250km northeast of Perth.

Coroner Alastair Hope delivered his findings into Sharinka's death yesterday, saying nurses had failed to properly observe her in the hours after her birth and no efforts had been made to treat the condition that took her life.

He has recommended more training for overseas doctors so they are aware of support services available to them, including a transport service that could have taken Sharinka to hospital in Perth.

Mr Hope said it was likely Sharinka would still be alive if the WA Neonatal Transport Service had been used.

He found that Dr Simon Wamono, who was trained in South Africa and Uganda, was not aware of the service and should have ensured nurses were regularly observing Sharinka.

Mr Hope also recommended the WA Country Health Service regularly audit staff notes and observations, finding the one observation note taken in the hours after Sharinka's birth was seriously deficient.

Observations of a raised temperature of 38C and an elevated heart rate had not been followed up, the inquest found.

Sharinka, whose surname has not been used at her family's request, was taken by ambulance from Dalwallinu to Northam Hospital, where she died later in the day.

The Country Health Service says it has put in place new measures to prevent such cases happening again, including improved handover procedures.


Australia  now a nation of enviro-sceptics

SUPPORT for the environment has slumped to new lows and Australians are increasingly sceptical of global warming, new research has found.

Quantum Market Research, which has interviewed 2000 Australians annually since 1992 to track social change, released its latest Australia SCAN in Adelaide this week.

When asked if Australians should all make sacrifices for the sake of the environment, the answer is increasingly "no", Australia SCAN consultant David Chalke says.

The research underscores the problems faced by the Gillard Government as it tries to sell its carbon tax, which takes effect from July 1.

Mr Chalke said there was a clear trend of declining support for the environment, falling from a high of about 50 per cent in the mid-1990s to the current low of about 30 per cent.

"There's a bit of a bump from Flannery and Al Gore in 2007, then Copenhagen," Mr Chalke said.

"You can see why carbon tax isn't particularly popular ... They are confused by the science, they don't understand it, they think it's probably natural, maybe - is the carbon tax going to make any difference? No."

In the environment category, global warming was well down the list of priorities at No. 15, with only 27.7 per cent of people surveyed rating the issue as "extremely serious".

At the top of the list is nuclear accidents and waste disposal (44.4 per cent), followed by a shortage of clean water (44.1 per cent) and loss of habitat for native animals (38.7 per cent).

Australians are making an effort to help the environment, most commonly by recycling newspapers, glass and cans (85.9 per cent), reusing plastic bags or taking their own shopping bags to the supermarket, and washing clothes in cold water.

A CSIRO survey of 5030 Australians on attitudes to climate change published late last year found that while most people agreed climate change was happening, they were evenly divided on the role human activity had on changing temperatures.


It's a bad case of criminal Kiwis in Australian jails

Must not of course mention that we are mostly talking about Maori here.  But no New Zealander would have to be told that

FIVE New Zealand criminals have been booted out of the country in just two weeks - and there's more Kiwis in our jails awaiting deportation than from any other country.

As the federal government yesterday sent yet another convicted criminal across the Tasman, it emerged that more than 220 New Zealanders' visas were cancelled between 2009 and last year.

The government can cancel or refuse to grant a visa to a foreigner if they don't pass the "character test".That's what happened yesterday when, after 14 months of appeals, the government was finally able to remove 26-year-old Hayden Tewao from our shores.

Nicknamed "Tiny", the 2.1m Kiwi was sentenced to jail in 2010 for aggravated robbery, resulting in the cancellation of his visa.

He became the fifth New Zealander kicked out of the country in two weeks after immigration officials deported four criminals on a specially arranged charter flight, because of security concerns that could have led to commercial pilots refusing to carry them.

The four high-risk criminals included one with more than 80 convictions to his name, as well as a man who had a violent history involving knife crimes, an armed robber and an arsonist.

The government has refused entry to 115 New Zealanders at the border since last July because they neglected to declare their criminal records before flying here.

In 2010-11 the government refused 175 Kiwis entry, up from 115 in 2009-10. In 2008-09 it was 160.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship spokesman Sandi Logan said the department "takes very seriously the role of protecting the Australian community from unacceptable risk of harm from foreign criminals or other serious conduct by non-citizens".

Australia doesn't just deport criminals but also frequently removes visa overstayers, illegal workers and foreign fishers.

In 2010-11 officials ordered 1270 people out of the country, with most of them from China, Malaysia and India.  That included foreigners who had landed here and were turned back on the next plane out because information emerged while they were en route to Australia.

"That is not uncommon because our layered border security approach never stops checking on the bona fides of people coming to Australia," Mr Logan said.

In 2010-11 the federal government cancelled the visas of 132 people who failed the character test - most of them criminals.

Officials also refused visas to more than 100 foreigners who wanted to come to Australia.

"So character can be used if someone is here, or if they want to come here," Mr Logan said.


6 April, 2012

From tragedy to farce:  NSW hospitals

In the last 15 years, there have been four major revisions of the governance structure of NSW Health in a futile effort to address longstanding dissatisfaction with the centralised Area Health Service administrative system.

Originally, there had been 23 metropolitan and 23 country area health services in the mid-1980s. The Carr government cut the number to nine and eight respectively in 1997.

In 2005, then Minister for Health Morris Iemma further cut the number of area health services from 17 to just eight, covering the entire state.

Under all configurations the same complaints have been made: management is too remote and bureaucratic and local management of public hospitals needs to be restored.

The 2007 Garling report reiterated these criticisms and recommended that managerial authority be devolved to the local level. But before the NSW Labor government could act, state initiatives were swamped by the Rudd-Gillard government’s national health reform agenda.

In return for extra Commonwealth funding, states and territories agreed to establish Local Hospital Networks (LHNs). In NSW, this meant 17 Local Health Networks replaced NSW’s eight Area Health Services. This re-established a structure virtually identical to one that had been discredited and abolished a few years before.

In the year since its election, the O’Farrell Coalition government has managed to turn tragedy into farce.

The centrepiece of the O’Farrell government’s health policy is yet another largely cosmetic administrative reorganisation. This has re-established an administrative system consisting of the same number of Local Health Districts (LHDs) with precisely the same boundaries as the Local Health Networks the Keneally Labor government established in 2010.

Both the state and federal governments are still eager to claim that their ‘reforms’ have put local communities back in charge of health services. To understand how chimerical this is, you have to understand that NSW Health has retained its position as ‘state-wide system manager.’

Ultimate responsibility for service planning, and most critically, control over state-wide industrial relations in health remain centralised in the remit of the state health department.

Command and control management by NSW Health will also remain the norm, with the department retaining a high level of involvement in operational matters to prevent Local Health Districts from blowing their budgets.

This key point is overlooked amid all the talk from both sides of politics about restoring local management. This rhetoric is meaningless unless their policy insists on stringent financial accountability.

Hospital administration was centralised in the mid-1980s to establish greater financial control over the system. Prior to the introduction of the area system, the local boards that ran public hospitals were prone to overrun their budgets and then lobby government for a bail-out from the NSW Treasury. They could do this with relative impunity because their financial accountability was diffuse – and because financial risk (or ultimate responsibility for their debts) was held by the state government.

If the governance riddle is to be solved, then health policy needs to combine genuine local management with real financial accountability by challenging the greatest taboo of all. The privatisation of the delivery of public health services needs to be embraced by policymakers as part of a comprehensive micro-economic reform agenda.


Qld. Engineers split over flood inquiry's referral of colleagues to half-asleep watchdog

QUEENSLAND engineers have split over the flood inquiry's referral of three flood engineers to the Crime and Misconduct Commission for their conduct during the 2011 disaster.

The peak professional body, Engineers Australia, which represents about 19,000 Queensland engineers, has come out in defence of its three members, but some senior engineers, including one whose home was flooded, said its stance was "ill-advised".

The Courier-Mail can reveal that two weeks after the CMC referral investigators have yet to approach Wivenhoe Dam operator Seqwater, which holds crucial evidence of the engineers' actions.

Steven Goh, chairman of the Queensland division of peak body Engineers Australia, told members in a letter last week that he and EA's executive director Ian McEwan had "been in contact with the members directly involved to express our personal encouragement for them at what must be a very stressful period".

But chartered engineer Wayne Land, an EA member whose Chelmer home was damaged in the floods, said Mr Goh's and Mr McEwan's support for the flood engineers was "ill-advised".

"I think they should stay out of it. I really don't see what they can add," he said.

"It's a legal matter and it's inappropriate for the professional body to be helping them."

Hydrologist Max Winders, who warned in January of unresolved problems with the dams' operating manual, has also written to Mr Goh to complain.

"While I understand your concern about the reputations of the three engineers referred to the CMC, further inquiry would show that several other engineers should share the responsibility of what happened," he wrote.

"There were bureaucrats from other disciplines who should bear most of the responsibility.

"I suggest that EA should stand aside from what is likely to be a complex legal process unless it has new evidence to offer rather than opinions".

Mr Goh said the dam engineers had not been convicted of any charges and the CMC had not found they acted inappropriately in managing the dam.

"Every individual deserves the right to be considered innocent unless proved otherwise," he said.

EA has set up a subcommittee to review the inquiry's final report. "Any comments or feedback from members will be considered," Mr Goh said.

The CMC said it was still "reviewing" the referral from the floods inquiry of dam engineers Terry Malone, John Tibaldi and Robert Ayre over the alleged falsification of records of what they did in January 2011.

A senior Seqwater source said the company was surprised it had not yet received any requests for information from the CMC.


'Protection racket' shielding MP: Tony Abbott

TONY Abbott says Fair Work Australia's failure to provide prosecutors with a brief of evidence on the Health Services Union may be part of a deliberate "obstruction of justice" orchestrated by allies of the Gillard government.

The Opposition Leader said that if after waiting over three years for the workplace watchdog to complete its investigation into the HSU and Labor MP Craig Thomson's alleged misuse of union credit cards and funds, no charges were pursued, it would send an “appalling message” to the Australian people.

“I think the public are concluding that basically a protection racket has been at work here inside officialdom to look after Craig Thomson and the Gillard government,” Mr Abbott told Sydney's 2GB.

Julia Gillard today rejected the Coalition claims, saying Fair Work Australia worked independently of government.

The Coalition is demanding action after FWA's 1100-page report into allegations of financial mismanagement by the HSU and its former federal secretary, Mr Thomson, was yesterday referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The report details 181 contraventions of workplace laws and HSU rules by three former or current HSU officials and a fourth person, none of whose names have been released.

However CDPP Chris Craigie, SC, said the FWA report is not a brief of evidence from which charges can be laid, and the CDPP is not able to conduct its own criminal investigation. It is considering what action to take next.

Mr Thomson said today he was “encouraged” by the latest developments in the saga.

The Coalition has now called for FWA to compile a brief of evidence and, if necessary, hire lawyers to do the job.

“A whole lot of bureaucratic devices seem to have been employed to ensure that this investigation could never come to a successful conclusion and a successful prosecution,” said Mr Abbott said.

“You'd have to conclude on the basis of what we know that Fair Work Australia has never wanted this investigation to lead to a possible prosecution.

“It's almost as if they have deliberately gone about this in a way that would ensure that no successful prosecution could ever take place.

“If, after all of this, the whole thing hits a brick wall, I think you have to come to the conclusion that there has been an obstruction of justice orchestrated by friends of the current government, that there has been a perversion of the course of justice orchestrated by friends of the current government.”

FWA general manager Bernadette O'Neill said yesterday she had referred the report to the CDPP as specified in the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act, and according to legal advice.

Ms Gillard brushed off any suggestions FWA was trying to protect the government by concealing any wrongdoing by Mr Thomson, whose departure from parliament would threaten Labor slim's parliamentary majority.  She said the workplace watchdog was wholly independent. [Even if it is run by old Labor mates]

FWA's investigation centred on financial mismanagement in the HSU national office during the years Mr Thomson was national secretary, from 2002 to 2007, and specific allegations that he used his union credit card on more than $100,000 of private spending, including on prostitutes.


Could we refill the Great Artesian Basin with floodwater?

    If we can tap the Artesian Basin to take water out, why can't we pump water back into it in times of flood?

It's a temptingly simple idea that in times of flood we can inject surplus water back into the Great Artesian Basin.

But while reinjection is technically feasible, the trick is to collect that water and inject it into the right locations, and the sheer size of the artesian basin makes that difficult, says Dr Vincent Post, from the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training.

The Great Artesian Basin underlies 22 per cent of the continent stretching across Queensland to the south east corner of the Northern Territory, north east corner of South Australia and northern New South Wales.

But it is not just one big underground lake. The water is confined and pressurised within a massive geological formation of porous sandstone, known as an aquifer, where it flows and is stored in different ways.

When a bore is sunk in an aquifer, artesian water flows to the surface and can be extracted. But when looking for places to extract water, and for that matter to re-inject it, Post says its necessary to look for rock layers that have high storage capacity, but are also permeable enough to transmit the water.

"The water needs to be able to move through the rock because otherwise you can push or pull all you want but the water isn't going anywhere."

Aquifers are recharged when rainfall and streamflow infiltrates down through exposed permeable rock and refills the underground storage spaces. Water moves through sandstone extremely slowly, at a rate of between one and five metres a year.

Radioactive dating indicates that some of the water in the Basin is over one million years old, but it's still uncertain exactly where it comes from and where it goes to.

"The classic model says recharge happens mainly along the eastern border of the Basin," says Post, "The question is does that water from the Great Dividing Range make it south to Lake Eyre in one uninterrupted flow system, or does the Basin consist of various compartments that each have separate recharge and discharge areas?" He says there is some evidence of more localised recharge in a recent study of the Finke River in central Australia, which showed changes after wet winters and floods.

Pressure problems

Underground water has been in demand since the first bore was sunk at Bourke in New South Wales in 1878. More recently mining activity has added hugely to that demand. So can scientists come up with an equation that shows whether we are taking out more water than is flowing in?

"In principle we could," says Post. "[But] much of the area that it underlies is not densely populated, so there are very few observation wells or places where there is the necessary infrastructure to take measurements."

Without more information about recharge areas and rates it isn't possible for scientists to come up with a meaningful equation.

But scientists are concerned by the declining pressure of water in the Basin, which can be measured by the state of the mound springs in northern South Australia, where water is forced naturally to the surface.

"With any aquifer the size of the Great Artesian basin, the age of the water is so old, and it flows slowly and recharges slowly, so if you take something out it will take a very long time, maybe thousands of years, for the water levels to restore to their original levels."

As with all water problems, he says, it's not a matter of there being too little water, but the distribution in space and time that's causing the problems.

"If it rains in Queensland and the water levels are dropping in South Australia then no one is going to pay for a pipeline to ship all that stormwater from Queensland to South Australia and reinject it there. And there's not a lot of merit in injecting it into the aquifer in Queensland when water levels are critical in South Australia because it might take a million years to get there."


5 April, 2012

Democracy at work

The comments are addressed to Anna Bligh, the now ousted leader of the ALP in Queensland

People just don't like supposedly "healthier" food

JUST one per cent of purchases are from McDonald's healthy range of foods.

The research, conducted by the Cancer Council, is the first to confirm that healthy options are rarely being purchased by eat-in diners.

"Australians are mainly purchasing unhealthy fast foods, despite healthier options being available in fast food stores," the authors said in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia.

The researchers compared purchases at 20 McDonald outlets over a two-week period.  There were 1449 meals purchases observed, but just one per cent was healthy.  No more than two healthy meals were observed in any store.  A total of 65 per cent were deemed unhealthy.

Nutritionist and chef Zoe Bingley-Pullin said it was not surprising that most people were not opting for the healthier choice.  "McDonald's is an indulgence food and the majority of people that go there are buying something because they see it as a treat," she said.

She said that it was positive that McDonald's offered healthier choices, but that it was not going to sway the majority of its customers to switch to salads.  "It is not the first point of choice when you are thinking of healthy food," she said.

A McDonald's spokesperson said it would not offer healthier options on its menu if they didn't sell.  "The introduction last year of a choice between salad or fries with extra value meals shows that there is a demand for choice," she said.

"Are salads as popular as fries?  "We don't claim that they are, but they are being chosen by our customers and we expect the number will grow."

Obesity Policy Coalition spokeswoman Jane Martin said fast food outlets like McDonald's would be better off making their high turnover products like burgers and fries healthier.

"There should be ways of making the mainstay of their business healthier because that is obviously what is being marketed heavily during shows like My Kitchen Rules and that's what people are buying," she said.

She said providing a healthy menu was getting rid of the protest vote in the group and meeting the company's corporate social responsibility policy.


S.  Aust.: Government hospital burns woman to death

Through faulty equipment and lack of supervision

A WOMAN died after receiving serious burns to 75 per cent of her body from hot water in a hospital shower, a court has heard.

Jan Mary Proctor, 56, was admitted to the Flinders Medical Centre in February 2008 after she had collapsed at her home several times in the preceding week.  Deputy State Coroner Anthony Schapel is hearing evidence about the circumstances of Ms Proctor's death on February 22 - a week after she was first admitted.

The court heard Ms Proctor was suffering from multiple illnesses including alcoholic liver disease and her mobility was severely restricted by the time she was hospitalised.  She required assistance to move.

Counsel assisting the Coroner, Naomi Kereru, said before being transferred from one ward to another, a nurse took Ms Proctor to a shower and put her in a shower chair.  The nurse left the area and returned up to 10 minutes later to find the bathroom filled with steam.  "Ms Proctor was slumped in the shower chair and her skin was noted to be peeling from her chest and stomach," Ms Kereru said.

Ms Proctor sustained burns to 75 per cent of her body and she was transferred to the burns unit at the Royal Adelaide Hospital that day. After going into septic shock, Ms Proctor later died from multi-organ failure.

Ms Kereru said the hot water could reach temperatures of up to 60C but a thermostatic regulator was not operating in that shower at the time and the emergency alarm also encountered issues.

The level of assistance Ms Proctor received while showering was also a concern, Ms Kereru said.   "(There is a question as to) whether it was appropriate for Ms Proctor to be left in the shower on a chair for the period that she was," she said.

In giving evidence today Ms Proctor's sister, Karen Fitzgerald, said she was shocked to see her loved one experience so much difficulty in moving the day before the accident.  Ms Fitzgerald said she helped her sister move from a chair to her hospital bed, but it was a "gruelling" process and Ms Proctor required constant breaks.

"My view was that if something had gone wrong when she was in the shower chair, I don't think she would've had the capacity to sort it out," Ms Fitzgerald said.  "I wouldn't have trusted her level of mobility ... I wouldn't have thought she could be unattended at all."


More public hospital negligence

A Queanbeyan woman has had her life "turned upside down" after suffering permanent damage from an antibiotic administered at Canberra Hospital, a court has heard.

The ACT Supreme Court was told the territory "fell woefully short of its obligations" when doctors failed to warn Marjorie Freeman about the risks of the drug gentamicin.

Ms Freeman, 64, is allegedly housebound and cannot work after she was given repeated doses of the gentamicin in 2005 and 2006.

She is suing the territory for compensation, alleging that doctors at the hospital did not warn her of the risks and administered the drug despite the fact that safer alternatives were available.

Yesterday the court heard Ms Freeman, a former nurse, was given gentamicin during an operation to insert a stent in one of her ureters in November 2005.

She was given the antibiotic again in January 2006 after going to Canberra Hospital with pain and received a third dose later that month during a 13-minute operation to remove the stent.

The court heard Ms Freeman suffered permanent damage to her vestibular system, which encompasses the inner ear and controls balance and spatial orientation.

She could not walk steadily, was "essentially housebound" and could not do much work around the home.

The court heard the third and final dose of gentamicin in late January 2006 was "the straw that broke the camel's back" and led to the damage to her inner ear.

Ms Freeman's legal team, led by Catherine Henry Partners, argued that the gentamicin was administered as a preventive measure, rather than to treat any actual infection.

The practice was described as "misguided" and the court heard it would have been more appropriate not to give patients any preventive antibiotics, because any infections that did occur later could be treated with safer drugs.

Ms Freeman also had a personal aversion to gentamicin after learning about the drug's side effects during a refresher course on medications for her nursing job.

She also believed gentamicin had been a key factor in her father-in-law suffering hearing problems after being hospitalised in 2001.

Ms Freeman's father-in-law died a year later.

The court heard doctors at the hospital helped Ms Freeman fill out patient consent forms and paperwork before the operation to remove her stent but there was no discussion of any possible complications and no discussion about any drugs that might be administered.

The trial continues before Justice Hilary Penfold today.


Qld. Premier Campbell Newman orders own probe into health payroll fiasco

CAMPBELL Newman has used his first week in office to launch four major audits into state affairs, including a probe into Queensland's much-troubled health payroll system.

In a show of distrust in the former Bligh government, the Premier ordered his own investigation into what went wrong with Queensland Health's payroll amid ongoing glitches and overpayments.

The probe, which was launched last Wednesday, is designed to identify faults within the system.

Since March 2010, Queensland Health's payroll fiasco, one of the Bligh government's biggest disasters, left thousands of health workers underpaid, overpaid or unpaid, often for weeks on end.

Almost $220 million has so far been spent fixing the system, while the Government continues attempts to claw back about $75 million in overpayments.

Mr Newman, who set himself a seven-point action plan for his first seven days as Premier, also launched a major audit into the state's finances amid concerns Labor had cooked the books.

He ordered the state's Auditor-General to review Racing Queensland, with Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney yesterday taking additional action to secure the future of the state's racing industry.

Mr Seeney directed the Office of Racing to undertake a second audit under the Racing Act to investigate how racing rules are administered and ways to improve industry licensing.

"Under our LNP election policy, racing integrity functions are to be transferred to government, and will continue to be funded by industry," he said.


4 April, 2012

Politically correct court puts toddler  in danger

A MOTHER with a troubled past has won access to her daughter, 2, after a court ruled concerns for the girl's safety had to be balanced against her right to know her indigenous culture.

The girl has been cared for by her non-Aboriginal father since she was five months old, after her Aboriginal mother was admitted to hospital with drug-induced psychosis.

Three other children of the woman, who has a history of drug abuse, violence and mental illness, live with a previous partner and his family.

"(The father) continues to hold many concerns about the mother's mental health and her propensity to abuse a wide variety of substances ... to help her deal with stresses and problems in her life," the Federal Magistrates Court said.  "He believes the mother has a flawed level of insight into the responsibilities of being a parent.

"More importantly, he is fearful there will always remain the possibility the mother will have a relapse of her mental illness and this (could) pose a significant threat to (the girl's) wellbeing, both in a psychological and physical sense."

The mother argued the father was once also a heavy user of cannabis, and was "controlling" and had used a family violence order to shut her out of her girl's life.

The court ordered the mother have access to her daughter for four days a month, rising to six days when she turns three.

Magistrate Stewart Brown said he had reservations about the stability of the mother's home and the durability of her recovery from substance abuse.

"The essential nub of the case is how best to balance (the girl's) need for security and safety ... with her right to maintain and enjoy strong cultural connections to the indigenous peoples to whom she is matrilineally related," Mr Brown said.

"The mother ... argues that (the girl), as an Aboriginal child, needs to be with other relatives who similarly identify, so she can be exposed to strong role models who will assist (her) to understand who she is culturally.  "Given the contemporary history of this country, these are significant and compelling concerns."

Mr Brown said changes to family law in 2006 recognised racism was prevalent, particularly towards Aborigines.


Auditor attacks Gillard government competence over TV tender saga

They gave a TV contract to the Left-biased ABC instead of a more neutral contractor recommended by advisers -- and had to hand the recommended contractor millions in compensation. 

Cabinet's deep distrust of former foreign affairs minister Kevin Rudd has been laid bare with the release of a scathing audit report into the bungled tender for the Australia Network.

And in an unusual step, the Auditor-General has questioned the ability of the Gillard Government to handle sensitive decisions, pouring scorn on the shambolic processes that led to permanent control of the television network being handed to the ABC.

The Australia Network is a taxpayer-funded broadcaster that beams news, sport and drama to Asia and the Pacific.

In November 2010 the Government opened up the contract to run the service to competitive tender but Cabinet twice overruled a panel of bureaucrats that recommended Sky News over the ABC as preferred operator.

In November last year the Government abruptly scrapped the tender and handed the network to the ABC, complaining media leaks had corrupted the process.

The audit report released yesterday showed how Cabinet appeared suspicious of the panel process Mr Rudd had set up as foreign affairs minister to decide the tender.

Auditor Ian McPhee warned the processes for deciding the tender were never clearly spelt out and the saga had cast the Government in a "poor light".


Or as The Australian summarizes it:

THE Auditor-General has driven a stake through the heart of Julia Gillard's claims of cabinet competence and exposed a government that is prepared to manipulate, dissemble and scheme to defeat honourable commercial and public service processes to advance Labor's political prejudice.

In a scarifying inquiry into the tender process for the $223 million contract for the Australia Network international TV service, the audit office has condemned the Gillard government for acts of incompetence and a lack of due process that have endangered Australia's commercial reputation.

Feds reducing Climate Dept. staff

MORE federal public service job cuts are expected to be announced today after the Department of Climate Change said it would shed a third of its staff.

Department secretary Blair Comley reportedly wrote to staff yesterday calling for voluntary redundancy applications due to the "conclusion of a range of programs".

Mr Comley said the Federal Government's efficiency dividend - a measure to generate savings - was one of the reasons for the cuts.

The Gillard Government imposed an extra efficiency dividend of 2.5 per cent on public departments in the 2012/13 financial year, on top of an existing dividend of 1.5 per cent.  The measures are forecast to save the Government $1.5 billion over three years.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) expects government agencies to announce more job cuts today and tomorrow.

The Federal Government's promise to bring the Budget back into surplus in 2012/13 was one of the reasons behind this, CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said.  "I think we're going to see further job losses and it's going to be pretty tough," she told ABC Radio.

Staff at the climate change department were shocked by news of the cuts.  "Cuts of this scale are going to have an enormous impact on the department's capacity to lead our efforts on climate change and obviously have a very major impact on staff," Ms Flood said.


Gillard propaganda campaign snookered by radio talkers

NBN Co pulled advertising from radio station 2GB after Ray Hadley and another presenter prefaced paid "live reads" with negative comments about the government's broadband project.

Mr Hadley repeated criticisms last week about the project's "cost to the Australian taxpayer" before disclosing that he was about to live-read a scripted commercial.

"NBN Co has asked me to read a commercial - not about how wonderful it is, which I would not do - but [because there is] some confusion about how it is going to work."

Andrew Moore, filling in for Alan Jones, prefaced his ad with: "This is a paid announcement on behalf of NBN Co and in no way reflects my views and I am most definite that it in no way reflects the views of Alan [Jones] but this is a paid announcement on behalf of NBN Co."

NBN Co commissioned five days of commercials from 24 announcers around the country last week, but pulled advertising from Hadley's and Moore's shows after two and three days respectively.  It had no problems with other presenters.

The live-reads stated NBN Co was building a wholesale-only network and would improve competition in the telco sector.

However, 2GB's owners, the Macquarie Radio Network (MRN), said that NBN Co was warned the announcers might editorialise. Presenters did not have to "stick literally to a script" for NBN Co or any other advertiser and 2GB could not ask Mr Hadley to change his editorial tone, MRN's executive chairman, Russell Tate, said. Other advertisers had pulled out because of negative editorial comments over the years, he said.

"If you pay Ray Hadley to do a live-read, Ray does a live-read the way Ray does a live-read," Mr Tate said.

NBN Co and 2GB were yet to sort out payment for the live-reads, MRN's sales manager, Mark Noakes, said.

The radio advertising campaign continues this week with pre-recorded ads on AM and FM stations.


A very distinguished appointment to the Roman Catholic Archbishopric of Brisbane

THE Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane will be led by a bishop from outside the state for the first time in nearly 50 years.

Melbourne-born and educated Mark Coleridge, 63, currently Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, is to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Brisbane's Archbishop for 20 years, John Bathersby, in November last year.

Bishop of Lismore Geoffrey Jarrett took on the caretaker role of Apostolic Administrator of Brisbane from November 14.

Brisbane's last non-local archbishop was Irish-born Patrick O'Donnell, leader of the church in Brisbane from 1965 to 1973.

Archbishop Coleridge was ordained in 1974 and had a number of early appointments in Victoria, including a year as the media spokesman for the Archdiocese of Melbourne in the mid-1990s.

He is said to be very well regarded in the Vatican, where he served as an official in the Secretariat of State before he was appointed Bishop in 2001.

He served as chairman of the international editorial committee responsible for the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which came into use in Australian parishes last December.

Archbishop Coleridge said in a prepared statement he was, "heartened that Pope Benedict and others have chosen me as Chief Pastor of the Archdiocese of Brisbane."

"I will be following in the footsteps of some remarkable men," he said.

Archbishop Coleridge will be formally installed at a mass at St Stephen's Cathedral on May 11.


3 April, 2012

Gillard rejects carbon tax review

She's got the brains of a fowl.  Can't she read the polls?  Plenty of her party colleagues can.  Only a major backdown has any chance of saving her and her government.  But maybe she has just given up

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has rejected criticism by a dumped minister that she needs to review the carbon tax and that voters are getting fed up with the government's "spin".

Robert McClelland, who was sacked from cabinet in the last reshuffle after becoming the most senior advocate for Kevin Rudd's ill-fated pitch for the leadership, has used a series of interviews to call for a rethink of the government's direction.

The carbon tax was a "burning issue" that needed to be resolved, and the broken election promise went to the "legitimacy of government decision-making".

His comments were backed by former Queensland Labor premier Peter Beattie who told Sky News on Monday night the carbon price was too high and a review was warranted.

Mr McClelland also said voters were repulsed by a sense of political spin and wanted their MPs to be decent people who spoke with sincerity.

Ms Gillard told reporters in western Sydney on Tuesday she understood there was anger in the community about carbon pricing, but she would not be changing her position.

"I made the right decision in the nation's interest and in the interests of seizing a clean energy future," she said.  "It will enable us to better support families with tax cuts, family payment increases and pension increases and we will see ... clean and renewable energy for the future."

Ms Gillard said her government was getting things done, such as the national broadband network, hospital reform, a national disability insurance scheme and taxing the profits of big mining companies to share with the rest of the nation.

"It's not about words, it's about action," she said. "It's not about spin, it's about substance.  "That's the way in which I work and that's the way in which the government works."

Cabinet minister Chris Evans told reporters in Canberra, where he launched the MyUniversity website, the government was rolling out "solid policy".  "There's no spinning involved in the sort of things the government's focused on," he said.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon also rejected Mr McClelland's assessment.  "He is entitled to his view, (but) I think it is our job as members of the government to constantly engage with the community ... to talk to people about what it is we are doing to make their lives easier or better," she told ABC TV.  "That's what we are elected to do."


Earth to Gillard: Watch Bob Brown

BOB Brown's kooky speech to his "fellow Earthians" deserves greater scrutiny. Apart from providing an insight into the Greens plan for a universal world government, it makes clear the dilemma confronting the Gillard government.

With fewer than three in every 10 people now identifying Labor as their political party of first choice, Julia Gillard has two options: she can continue chasing the votes of her fellow Earthians to the left, or she can rejoin the contest for the mainstream Australia.

When Brown took the Hobart Town Hall stage to enthusiastic applause 10 days ago, he said: "Never before has the universe unfolded such a flower as our collective human intelligence, so far as we know." We are told he also joined in singing his own composition, the Song of the Earth.

Apparently a local ABC television crew covered the event for the Tasmanian news but it is worth pondering why the ABC, which usually pays great attention to the Greens, has failed to seriously analyse and discuss this speech in its national political coverage.

Still, all intelligent life forms can have a close encounter with the text of the third annual Green oration on the Greens leader's website.

Just a few days earlier Brown described mining magnate Clive Palmer's comments about the CIA bankrolling the Greens anti-coal campaigns as "stupid". Foreign Minister Bob Carr said he expected the US to contact him "expressing bewilderment that someone so close to Tony Abbott, the alternative prime minister, is raving about a CIA plot to wreck the Australian economy".

Palmer's comments were loopy but given Brown is in a formal alliance with the government, and he controls the balance of power in the Senate, we might expect our great and powerful friends to be more interested in his ravings.

Brown described the 20th century as a battle between "capitalism and communism" but he now sees the way forward as "some of both" -- so there's something in the speech for Beijing and Washington; McCarthy and Marx.

More importantly foreign diplomats might be perturbed by his plan for a global democracy -- which he tells us came to him like a comet under a starry night sky.

He suggests one vote one value in Earth's parliament, which should suit the Chinese and the Indians -- although on my calculations if there is a seat for the people of Tuvalu (population 9800) there will need to be more than 130,000 seats for China (population 1.33 billion). Some parliament.

And, thinking just like a senator, Brown also wants an upper house where every country will get one seat. This will make the UN General Assembly seem, well, replicated.

Brown listed four goals for the Earth parliament: Economy, Equality, Ecology and Eternity.

"The pursuit of eternity is no longer the prerogative of the gods," said the Greens leader, "it is the business of us all, here and now." It is not a bad ploy for a politician: promise eternity and who can prove you failed to deliver it?

The most alarming aspect of the speech was the cataclysmic view that underpinned it.

"We have to manage the terrifying facts that Earth's citizenry is already using 120 per cent of the planet's productive capacity."

Brown suggested that other intelligent life forms may have "come and gone" in the cosmos but "have extincted themselves". He says we faced an "accelerating catastrophe" of our own making.

"Let us have the comet of global democracy save life on Earth this time," he decreed.

Australian voters should read this speech and not just as sport. Given the Greens are in effective coalition with Labor and have unashamedly dictated government policy in crucial areas, we should all be informed -- if not alarmed.

This is particularly so for people who support the Labor Party or its old values.

The election result in Queensland and last week's devastating national Newspoll result demonstrate how the Greens are sucking the life out Labor.

And like the beautiful victims in the vampire movies, the ALP is willingly offering up its neck.

The Greens rejected Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme, triggering a crisis of confidence and political belief that culminated in his demise.

Then after the 2010 election the Greens offered Julia Gillard a path to power. Their price -- paid with too little resistance -- was a carbon tax and the Prime Minister's credibility.

Yet the more Labor gives to the Greens the more they want. And Labor has followed them, chasing its former supporters to the left instead of trying to fight for the middle ground.

All the evidence suggests this will prove fatal, not just to a transient government but to the prospects for the party across the nation for some time to come.

Apart from the carbon tax, Labor has given the Greens a $10 billion green energy fund, undermining the economic credibility of the government's carbon tax package. The ALP has also fallen for the Greens-generated gay marriage push -- not necessarily unwise or unpopular except that a government struggling with the basics is signalling to the electorate that it might have its priorities wrong.

Similarly the Greens have lured the Gillard government into an argument with the media and an ill-advised excursion into media regulation. The green agenda has pushed state Labor governments to favour wind turbines and solar schemes that continue to push up power prices; and desalination plants, obsolete already, that have driven up water rates.

In the Labor-Green alliance it is the Greens agenda that has triumphed but it is Labor that has paid the price.

Just to rub it in, Greens senator Lee Rhiannon told me on Sky News on the weekend that "Labor's problems are of Labor's making; it's like they don't have confidence in themselves and they've lost the confidence of the electorate."

Those words demonstrate clearly that the parasite on the left wing of politics is happy to kill its host. "For a long time Labor has tried to walk both sides of the road," Rhiannon said, shamelessly claiming Labor had abandoned workers for corporations and failed to protect public assets. To cap it off, this senator for the party that forced Labor's hand on a carbon tax, audaciously suggested that Labor needed to focus on cost of living issues.

Earth to Julia Gillard: these Green Earthians are not your friends.


Australian government should legalise and tax drugs, report says

Bob Carr agrees but Gillard has already rejected the advice.  Criminalizing something that most Australians do at some stage seems crazy to me and  I have never smoked ANYTHING -- not even a cigarette.  Sure pot is harmful but so is alcohol

THE war on drugs has failed according to a new report calling for a national debate on the controversial topic of decriminalising drugs.

The report, released today, urges politicians to face the taboo subject. It says a massive re-think is needed to tackle the illegal drug trade that allows organised crime to flourish and is "killing our children".

The report draws on the views of high profile Australians and health experts.  Its verdict is that the tough law and order approach is doing more harm than good.

Put together by not-for-profit think-tank Australia21, the report includes the views of former federal law enforcement officers, health ministers, and premiers, including Foreign Minister Bob Carr, former NSW health minister Michael Wooldridge and former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop.

Former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery is quoted as being "strongly in favour of legalising, regulating, controlling and taxing all drugs".

"A first step towards such a regime could be decriminalisation, similar to the approach adopted 10 years ago in Portugal or an adaptation of that approach," he writes.  But he does not advocate making all drugs available to "anybody wanting them".

Australia21 stops short of directly backing decriminalisation but one former top prosecutor says in the report drugs should be legalised, regulated and taxed to control use.

Ahead of the report's release today, Senator Carr said he supported decriminalising low-level drug use but stressed he did not want illicit substances as readily available as cigarettes and alcohol.

"A bit of modest decriminalisation, de facto decriminalisation at the edges, simply freeing up police to be doing the things they ought to be doing would be a sensible way of going about it," he told Channel 7.

Senator Carr said decriminalisation would enable police to direct their resources elsewhere.  "I was very frustrated, from time to time, when I heard about police with sniffer dogs at railway stations hoping to catch people with small quantities of marijuana or raiding nightclubs hoping to get people with ecstasy," he said.

Senator Carr, whose brother Greg died of a heroin overdose in 1981, said he was proud to have opened a medically supervised injecting room at Kings Cross when he ran NSW.

"As premier I sponsored a medically supervised injecting room so that people who are hooked on this wretched, addictive white powder ... would have a chance," he said.  "While they were there, you could persuade them to give the stuff up and to enter treatment to get off it."

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said there is not yet a lot of evidence that decriminalising drugs would improve the situation.

While a parallel was often drawn with legal drugs like alcohol, there was a valid argument that alcohol regulation was not working when there were high rates of teenage binge drinking.

"The fact that we have challenges in being able to stop illicit drugs doesn't necessarily mean that deregulating it entirely and making them legal is going to prove the right solution," she told ABC radio.

Policymakers had to tread very cautiously in the area.  "As a government we're always interested and happy to engage in debate," Ms Roxon said.  "But there's a pretty high threshold that they're going to have to get over to convince not just the government but the community that this would be a positive step."


Paramedics  can't say why they left a man for dead

AMBULANCE Victoria can't explain how a man was mistakenly declared dead in a car wreck but says the paramedics involved are unlikely to face disciplinary action.

State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers were in the process of removing what they thought was a corpse from the wreckage of a Porsche yesterday when they discovered the man had a "feeble pulse".

Two intensive care paramedics were called back to the scene and the critically injured driver, a 30-year-old Hawthorn man, was treated and taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital where he is fighting for life.

Ambulance Victoria regional manager Simon Thomson could not explain how the paramedics concluded that the man was dead, despite having a "cursory discussion" with them last night.

"Paramedics use a process to assess whether someone has died or not. We're not clear of the exact circumstances on this occasion," he told reporters today.

"However, what we do know is that a man was extensively trapped in the vehicle and that that has been a factor in terms of paramedics being able to access him to assess him."

An investigation has been launched but Mr Thomson said it would take several days to get a clearer picture of what went wrong.

The two highly experienced paramedics are traumatised and did not complete their shifts on Sunday night. They are presently on rostered days off and and would be unlikely to face disciplinary action, Mr Thomson said.

"We need to understand exactly what's happened and, if there are any gaps in our processes, we will review that with the staff," he said.

"If it's an area of clinical judgment we'll deal with it through retraining and supporting the staff."



A CAR crash victim pronounced dead by paramedics but later found to be alive has been taken off the critical list.

The 30-year-old Hawthorn man was critically injured after his Porsche and a four-wheel drive collided near Bacchus Marsh, west of Melbourne, about 2am (AEST) on Sunday.

He was moments away from being taken to the morgue when rescue volunteers disregarded paramedics' advice, discovering he was still alive.

The man has been fighting for his life in the Royal Melbourne Hospital but his condition has improved slightly to serious but stable.

The man had been pronounced dead for more than an hour and covered in a plastic tarp when State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers found a pulse.

They had earlier seen the man's body shudder and twitch as he hung upside down from his mangled car, but were reassured by paramedics that movement from a corpse was not unusual.

An investigation has been launched.


2 April, 2012

Abbott threatens a double dissolution to get rid of the carbon tax

In a double dissolution all seats in both the lower house and the Senate are up for grabs.  A lot of existing Senators would be likely to shrink from that

FEDERAL Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says getting rid of the carbon tax won't be hard to do if he's elected prime minister.

Mr Abbott today  refuted Prime Minister Julia Gillard's claims that his "chest-beating" over plans to unwind the carbon tax would "prove to be incredibly hollow".

"It's not hard to do. You simply repeal the legislation," he told Radio 2SM today.  "I accept that there are various things that the carbon tax is funding that we will have to deal with and that presents some fiscal issues and some political issues.

"But we will deal with that and everyone will know exactly what is going to happen to tax and pensions in good time before the next election."

When asked how his push to repeal the carbon tax was different to Labor's campaign to roll back the GST, Mr Abbott replied: ``It differs because it is different."  "I will get rid of the carbon tax. It'll be gone, lock, stock and barrel," Mr Abbott said. "It's an act of economic self-harm."

He also confirmed the coalition would pursue a double dissolution to secure the end of the carbon tax if Labor decided to "commit suicide twice" by persisting in its support for it.

"If they did, and we couldn't get a repeal through the Senate, yes, we would go to a double dissolution," he said.

"Good governments shouldn't be scared of an election."


Gillard must have a death wish

A large chunk of her vote (what remains of it) comes from middle class people yet she is raiding their pockets!

FAMILIES face further cost-of-living pain as Prime Minister Julia Gillard flags more cuts to "middle class welfare".

In an exclusive interview with The Courier-Mail, Ms Gillard forecast more means testing to cut taxpayer-funded payments to so-called "high earners", as she pushes to get the Budget in the black.

While Ms Gillard has ruled out means testing for the 50 per cent Child Care Rebate, she left the door open for further cuts to Medicare rebates. She fears a backlash from struggling families.

"We make judgments about how best to make our system of payments and support for families work and get into the hands of people who need those benefits the most," Ms Gillard said.

The Government will be forced to announce unpopular Budget cuts in May to meet its pledge to deliver a surplus next year, despite a significant decline in tax revenue.

Treasurer Wayne Swan last week warned entire government programs could be axed and said "welfare for people who don't need it is dispensable".

Ms Gillard referred to the education tax refund, child care rebates, tax cuts funded by the carbon tax and higher family tax benefit payments for families with teenagers, as evidence she was trying to address cost-of-living pressures for families.

She appeared to confirm the Government was looking at further cuts to the Medicare Safety Net that provides 80 per cent refunds for medical costs over $1198 a year and $598 for low-income families.

She said Mr Abbott introduced the Medicare Safety Net when he was health minister and broke a promise not to cut it after the 2004 election because it was "badly designed".

"We've acted to address a number of those problems with the Medicare Safety Net and we're always going to act to make sure taxpayers get value for money," Ms Gillard said.

The cost of the Medicare Safety Net has risen 20 per cent a year recently and most rebates go to high-income earners.

The Government could place further caps on rebates for medical procedures that already apply in areas including obstetrics and IVF treatment for infertile couples. It could also further means test the rebate.

Ms Gillard also warned Queensland's struggling tourism industry that it may go without new assistance if Labor cannot pass its planned company tax cut and small business tax perks.

The PM defended handouts to the car industry, but ruled out any industry-specific scheme for the tourism sector.

She suggested the Government could tweak visa rules and training programs to help tourism operators attract foreigners and get the workers they need.

"What we are trying to do for the tourism industry, which in tourism centres across Queensland is very much a small business industry ... is get them a tax cut," Ms Gillard said.

"The problem with that is that Tony Abbott believes that tourism operators in places like Cairns who are doing it tough because of the high Aussie dollar don't deserve the tax break."

Ms Gillard rejected criticism that taxpayer funds were being used to prop up a dying car industry in the southern states.

She said the one million manufacturing workers and those in other businesses in Queensland enjoyed flow-on benefits from the car industry.

She flagged measures to offset the soaring cost of living in mining areas in Queensland.

"We've got a turbocharged resources sector and it's got its fantastic strengths," she said. "But it can also mean for people who live in mining communities ... that everything they need to make a life is far more expensive than it's been in the past.

"We've understood those cost-of-living pressures and want to respond to them."


Mark Latham's lament on 'liar' PM Julia Gillard

Mark Latham failed in his bid for power but it might be noted that for most of his time as ALP leader he was polling at roughly twice Gillard's current popularity rate -- so his views deserve some respect

LABOR can't go to an election with Julia Gillard as leader and needs to install a "non-liar" into the post, former leader Mark Latham said yesterday.

Raising talk of leadership change only weeks after Ms Gillard beat a challenge from Kevin Rudd, Mr Latham believes there is no way the party would stick with Ms Gillard.

"Well, the only option for the Labor Party is to bring in a non-liar as prime minister," he told Sky TV's Australian Agenda. "And inevitably, as certain as night follows day, they will change leaders before the next election.

"They can't possibly go to the next poll with Gillard. I mean, there's no way of unscrambling the egg, having broken an important election promise like this."

Mr Latham said that aside from structural problems within the ALP, which led to the Queensland election loss, the party needed to heed lessons about the broken carbon tax promise: "There is absolutely no margin for lying."


Alarm bells sound on registration of Chinese medicine

I am a great believer that all therapeutic claims should be thoroughly investgated on an equal basis but the proposals below are not too bad.  There is no doubt that there is some therapeutic value in Chinese medicine.  I once resorted to it myself with beneficial results.  Where I grew up you went to a doctor when you were sick  -- but if you were REALLY sick you went to a Chinese herbalist

THE federal government's decision to register Chinese medical practitioners in the same way as other health professionals is a potentially dangerous endorsement of unproven treatments, doctors say.

From July 1, it will be mandatory for practitioners and students to be registered with the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia, which will also manage complaints and disciplinary processes as well as assessing practitioners trained overseas who wish to practice in Australia.

Registered individuals must commit to maintaining and developing their skills and spending at least 20 hours a year in training, according to standards agreed in January. They must also meet a minimum English language requirement and have professional indemnity cover to the value of at least $5 million in liability.

But a respiratory medicine specialist, Hubertus Jersmann, said it risked misleading patients, who were likely to believe that practitioners' registration was comparable to that of doctors.

"Registration gives people legitimacy," said Associate Professor Jersmann, of Royal Adelaide Hospital. "In the eyes of the public they sound exactly like a GP" who had undertaken 11 years of general and specialist training.

Regulation could help to weed out unacceptable practices, said Professor Jersmann, who has co-authored an article on the issue in today's Medical Journal of Australia.

But this had to be balanced against the risk of giving tacit government support to a field that was not supported by scientific evidence gained through rigorously controlled clinical trials.

"If research is conducted that shows it works, we'd welcome that. We're not emotionally opposed to it," said Professor Jersmann, who wrote the article with a neurophysiologist, Marcello Costa.

Chinese medicine practitioners often argue their therapies have the virtue of a long history of accepted use. But, Professor Jersmann said, "the length of time is immaterial. Where is the evidence people haven't died? We want certainty whether it works or not."

The chairman of the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia, Charlie Xue, has previously defended the new standards, saying they were set "following extensive consultation with practitioners and other stakeholders". The board has called on practitioners to apply promptly for registration to meet the deadline.

Mandatory registration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners, medical radiation practitioners and occupational therapists will also start from July, through boards established under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.


Tim Flannery's like the weather: unreliable

He is a likeable and popular personality but why an expert on  kangaroo fossils  feels qualified to make climate prophecies is not at all clear.  I guess it gives him attention that he would otherwise lack

A QUARTER of Australians say Tim Flannery is an unreliable source of information about climate change, a new survey reveals.

A Galaxy poll for the Institute of Public Affairs found 18 per cent of people regard the country's official climate change spokesman as "somewhat unreliable", while 7 per cent consider him "very unreliable". Less than a third, 31 per cent, found him somewhat or very reliable.

NSW residents are among the most dubious in the nation, with 28 per cent of those polled saying the Climate Commissioner was an unreliable source of information.

"By regularly making predictions that have turned out to be false, Tim Flannery is doing the carbon tax and the Gillard government more harm than good," the Institute's James Paterson said.

Last night, Prof Flannery said [unreliably]: "This issue isn't about opinion. It is about facts. We know climate is changing and if we don't act there is likely to be serious consequences."


1 April, 2012

"Smart" electricity meters toxic for some

They're part of a Greenie idea to cut down electricity usage

A MELBOURNE couple who have slept in their car for almost six months say they have been forced from their home because of debilitating health problems suffered since the installation of their new electricity meter.

But, as the State Government stands by the controversial electricity monitoring devices, reports continue to emerge linking smart meters with new health scares including heart palpitations, chest pains, dizziness and lethargy.

Rosemary and Vic Trudeau said they had abandoned their Mt Eliza home of 22 years since the device was installed in October, causing them nausea, chest pains, tinnitus and insomnia.

"Scientists are saying we have to reduce our exposure to radio frequencies and now they're putting them on our houses," Ms Trudeau said.

"I've had two people from (energy company) Jemena admit to me that about 5-6 per cent of the population are very sensitive to radio frequency, but if you are it's just bad luck."

After five months of fighting, Jemena last week agreed to replace the device.

Meanwhile, Melbourne GP Federica Lamech is moving her family to South Australia after experiencing chest pain, heart palpitations and lethargy since meters were installed in her street in February.

Although Dr Lamech's home does not yet have a device, she said her existing sensitivity to electro-radiation had been exacerbated by the roll-out.

"I felt like I was going crazy," she said.  "I was perfectly healthy the day before with just a mild sensitivity to Wi-Fi and cordless phones, which I could manage. Suddenly I'm disabled."

A spokeswoman for Energy Minister Michael O'Brien said a government-commissioned review had found the meters were safe.


Girl dies after being sent home by public hospital despite being seriously ill

A TEENAGE girl died with swelling of her brain two days after a WA hospital sent her home with Panadeine Forte despite her complaints of "10/10 headaches" and "throbbing pain".

Amy Dawkins' mother Kerry McGlew is now preparing to take legal action against the Health Department claiming that Rockingham-Kwinana District Hospital acted negligently when it discharged her 17-year-old daughter in January 2009.

Adding to her grief, three years later Ms McGlew is still waiting for the WA Coroner to finalise a date for an inquest.

Amy was admitted to the hospital on January 8 with severe headaches, vomiting and a sensitivity to light.

Medical records, obtained by the family under Freedom of Information laws, show Amy complained to hospital staff that she was suffering from "10/10 headaches" and screamed and shouted constantly that night. Doctors performed blood tests, a lumbar puncture and gave Amy intravenous antibiotics to treat possible meningitis.

The records say the teenager, who would have turned 21 on Thursday, was released the next morning despite a "very disturbed night" where she required oxygen to stop her hyperventilating.

A note recorded at 4.30am on January 9 says Amy was given pain killers and ice packs through the night to treat head pain.

Ms McGlew claims Amy showed no signs of improvement in the hours that followed and could not move her neck or back without excruciating pain.

Yet a note recorded later that morning said Amy should be OK for discharge with painkillers.

Ms McGlew said her daughter left the hospital at midday, vomiting.

Medical staff told Ms McGlew Amy should take Panadeine Forte for the pain and it was likely she had viral meningitis, but it would go away in a week.

At 2pm the next day, January 10, the Port Kennedy mother found her daughter not breathing in her bedroom.

Amy was taken to Rockingham Hospital by ambulance where doctors took a CT scan of her brain before transferring her to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital where she was put on life support.

The CT scan found Amy had severe swelling and fluid on her brain.

Her life support was switched off at 8.30pm the next day and Amy was pronounced dead.

"I wish I drove away from that hospital (Rockingham) and went to another one," Ms McGlew said. "I've got the worst sense of guilt."

In a January 2009 letter to the McGlew family, the Office of the State Coroner said that a medical examination had taken place but "it has not been possible to immediately determine the cause of death".

A spokesperson for the Coroner said a date for Amy's inquest would be set for later this year.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Phil Gleeson, who is representing the family, filed a Writ of Summons in the District Court on behalf of Ms McGlew in December. The family will wait for the results of the inquest before proceeding.

A Rockingham Hospital spokeswoman said she was unable to provide comment because Amy's death was the subject of a coronial investigation.


Detention time limits won't work: Morrison

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says capping the amount of time asylum seekers spend in detention will further complicate the system.

A federal parliamentary committee has urged the Government to put a 90-day limit on detaining asylum seekers.

It says asylum seekers who pass initial health, character and security checks should immediately get a bridging visa or be moved to community detention.

The committee's report says detaining people for longer than 90 days makes them vulnerable to serious mental health problems.

The Government has welcomed the report, but stopped short of making any promises on time limits, saying it is not always possible to process asylum seekers quickly.

And Mr Morrison says the Coalition does not think an arbitrary time limit is the answer.

"We don't have a problem with people being processed quickly," he told Insiders this morning.

"What we have a problem with is creating a regulatory standard or requirement that provides another form of appeal that further frustrates and complicates the system.

"By all means people should be processed in an expeditious manner, but to create further regulation around this I think only makes matters worse."

Mr Morrison says the Government would not have to worry about time limits if it had effective border protection policies.

A recent United Nations study showed the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia dropped by nine per cent over the past year.

In comparison there was a 20 per cent jump for the rest of the world.  But Mr Morrison says that can hardly be called success.

The parliamentary inquiry, which made more than 30 recommendations, has also called for the Immigration Minister to be stripped of their role as guardian of unaccompanied children in detention.

It says the move is needed to remove the perceived conflict of interest that exists in having the same person responsible for detaining asylum seekers.

The committee also wants spy agency ASIO to come under much greater scrutiny, including periodic reviews of adverse ASIO findings.

They recommended laws be amended to allow for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review ASIO's security assessments of asylum seekers.

The majority of the report was supported by Labor and Greens members of the committee, along with independent MP Rob Oakeshott.

But the Coalition has supported only 16 of the 31 recommendations and has issued a dissenting report.


Experts give red mark to green home ratings

The Federal Government wants all homes for sale or rent to have an energy efficient rating, but experts say the system used to attain that rating is flawed and will result in unhappy homebuyers.

The rating system is supposed to reveal the energy performance of a building - to inform people whether they could face big power bills to heat or cool a home.

Scores are awarded according to the home's energy efficiency. A score of zero means the building does virtually nothing to protect occupants from hot or cold weather. A score of 10 means occupants may not need a heater or cooler at all.

The scheme would be based on an existing rating system, which has been used in the ACT for more than a decade.

New homes in Australia already have to meet a minimum energy efficiency rating, which is now six stars across most states and territories.

But the Government's plan would require homes for sale and rent to also have a rating.

Some states have made it clear they do not want to see the energy rating scheme expanded to older homes. Victoria's Planning Minister Matthew Guy has publicly denounced the idea, calling it "yet another hair-brained tax idea from the Federal Government".

The rating costs about $150 per home in the ACT - the only state or territory that rates older homes.

The ACT has had mandatory disclosure of energy ratings on all homes for more than a decade.

That is because Canberra has Australia's biggest temperature range for a metropolitan centre - reaching 40 degrees Celsius in summer, and falling to -8 degrees last winter.

Winter heating costs are particularly large and make up the bulk of residential power bills.

ACT-based energy ratings assessor Jenny Edwards supports the idea of rating older homes.  She says it enables the public to make more informed choices when choosing a home, and it can put pressure on property owners to make homes more energy efficient.

But Ms Edwards says there are often differences between the rating, and how the house actually performs.

When she bought her own home in Canberra's inner-south, it was rated at three stars.  On living in it, and with further investigation, Ms Edwards found out it was closer to a one star.  "The first winter was freezing and the first summer was sweltering. (It is an) incredibly uncomfortable house to live in," she said.

There are many reasons why a home fails to perform as well as it is rated, including air leaks and patchy insulation.

But the ratings assessment is only a visual check of the obvious features that would affect heating and cooling bills - like orientation, window size and insulation.

Canberra assessors do not use equipment to test for air leakage, or thermal cameras to check for gaps in insulation.  "We have to assume," Ms Edwards said.      People are certainly finding that they can move into a house and find that it doesn't perform as a star rating might suggest it would.

"We can't take all the lining off the house and check the insulation has been thoroughly and evenly installed or that there are R2 batts and not R1 batts; that there aren't big gaps in the house and assessing for air leakage is not something you can do quickly and superficially."

Ms Edwards says the ratings software used for Canberra's older homes is basic, introduced 12 years ago.  And she says there is another problem with the quality of assessment.  "The level of training has been questionable. The ease with which you can manipulate the outcome, again whether it has been intentional, accidental - due to lack of training no-one can be sure," she said.

"People are certainly finding that they can move into a house and find that it doesn't perform as a star rating might suggest it would."

Ms Edwards says a national rollout of energy ratings to older homes is not straightforward.  "There is a lot of potential for issues. And how we resolve that is complicated," she said.

Public interest in the Canberra system is also lacklustre, according to a leading real estate firm.

Peta Swarbrick from LJ Hooker's city office says energy ratings are not a key concern for her clients.

"The idea is fabulous. It is absolutely a must with the whole notion of energy starting to cost more but ... it is probably the least referred to part of the contract," she said.

"And if you look at it, it looks unimpressive. It's a bunch of numbers and it's got these very sort of black and white quasi-scientific looking table and it doesn't really tell me about my house."
Tone Wheeler, an architect who teaches at the University of New South Wales, says the rating system is imperfect because it is based on science that was never designed to calculate the energy efficiency of houses or star ratings.

Mr Wheeler worked with the CSIRO in the 70s, using the precursor to the computer engine now used to run the software at the heart of the energy ratings system.

He says the computer engine was designed for architectural scientists.  "It was designed to measure thermal comfort... the idea of a comfortable temperature in a room," he said.

Mr Wheeler says in the mid-1990s, the NSW government approached CSIRO scientists to expand the scope of their computer engine.  The government wanted a way of comparing the energy use of different houses.

So the CSIRO scientists adapted the engine to also calculate the amount of energy it would take to air condition a room to a comfortable temperature.

"Then the scientists were asked to give star ratings for various levels of performance, but based on some very arbitrary criteria," Mr Wheeler said.      "I think our politicians assumed that this thing works. I am convinced that we don't have the data to say one way or the other at this stage."


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.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

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.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative