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31 August, 2006

A pretty good speech about the media and Israel from Australia's foreign minister

Excerpt from a speech given 28 August by Alexander Downer

From our own public diplomacy strategies, I now want to talk about how the media's own reporting of issues can affect Australia's interests and the responsibilities of the media. The first dimension to this issue is how Australians get their news about overseas events. On the whole, we get a good standard of writing on many of the key topics that shape our international relations, including developments in the US, UK and Europe and with our Asian neighbours. However, I have to say I have been disappointed with some of the recent reporting out of the Middle East, which I believe has brought discredit upon the Western media.

Let's not dwell on the shock-horror headlines surrounding the Australian Government's efforts to evacuate more than 5000 Australian nationals out of a war zone. I think it is widely accepted today that the early assertions that the Government and its diplomats were too slow to react were ill-founded, not to say grossly unfair, to many of my officials who worked under extremely arduous and gruelling conditions to get all Australians who wanted to leave out of Lebanon.

What concerns me greatly is the evidence of dishonesty in the reporting out of Lebanon. For example, a Reuters photographer was forced to resign after doctoring images to exaggerate the impact of Israeli air attacks. There were the widely-reported claims that Israel had bombed deliberately a Red Cross ambulance. In subsequent weeks, the world has discovered those allegations do not stand up to even the most rudimentary scrutiny. After closer study of the images of the damage to the ambulance, it is beyond serious dispute that this episode has all the makings of a hoax. Yet some of the world's most prestigious media outlets, including some of those represented here today, ran that story as fact - unchallenged, unquestioned.

Similarly, there has been the tendency to report every casualty on the Lebanese side of the conflict as if a civilian casualty, when it was indisputable that a great many of those injured or killed in Israeli offensives were armed Hezbollah combatants.

My point is this: in a grown-up society such as our own, the media cannot expect to get away with parading falsehoods as truths, or ignoring salient facts because they happen to be inconvenient to the line of argument - or narrative - that particular journalists, or media organisations, might choose to adopt on any given controversy or issue.

This is not just a politician complaining. The public is onto this. Your readers and viewers are not fools. They talk about these things in pubs and clubs. And I would venture to say that these lapses in accuracy, the distortion of images and the failure to report the straight facts, has made it that much harder a job for the Western media to restore its credibility in the public mind.

Sixty five per cent of the department's 10,000 annual media enquiries with the media relate to consular issues. And while I can understand the demands on journalists and editors to get the story, I also make no apology for the fact that my first responsibility is a consular responsibility for the Australians affected. We run a consular service, not a media service. And we have privacy concerns that must be respected. What we can do sometimes is help the process by working with the family to get a statement or a well-chosen photo that can be used in the press, while at the same time ensuring that they are afforded the decency and respect we all deserve in times of crisis.

Foreign policy is a complex area and it's important to Australia that the media get the story right, which is mostly the case. To help accuracy, senior Departmental staff last year gave more than 130 background briefings to individual journalists and 20 general media briefings. We can't always give a briefing when we're asked. For example, in the lead-up to sensitive negotiations we can't publicly reveal our hand. But where we can give a briefing, we will. We also make a big effort to ensure that the material on our website is comprehensive and up to date.

And for the sake of clarity, let me reinforce what I've said already, a free media, whatever its shortcomings, is as important to society as the executive, legislature or judiciary. But that freedom comes with responsibilities. Standards of decency and respect for others and self-restraint are clearly important elements for the media to consider. Freedom cannot be unqualified and cannot operate without regard to the effect on others. We see this in restrictions on reporting of matters before the courts, for example.

In my view, the Danish cartoons of last year crossed those boundaries. Now, I absolutely defend the right of publishers to print this material. But publishers also need to be mindful of the implications of their actions. In this case, I think it was unfortunate that the Danish newspaper published these offensive cartoons in the first place. I was glad to see that only one or two Australian papers re-published the cartoons. Of course I utterly condemn the violent reactions to the cartoons.


To conclude my remarks, I'd like to come back to my main point, that the values that underpin a free press also underpin our wider foreign policy. As a free press, you will claim the right to report it as you see it, unsentimentally, even when that might cause problems for the execution of our foreign policy, or for our image abroad. But we who have responsibilities in government also have the right to call it as we see it - and to point out that, even in the most free of societies, the first duty of a responsible media is to get the facts straight, and to get the story right, even when that story might not necessarily conform to your own opinions or prejudices.


Police chases forbidden by the Leftist State government of Queensland

Police have been ordered not to chase some suspected drink drivers under a trial that forbids police from using "gut feeling". The strategy, aimed at reducing dangerous high-speed chases, will also force police to abandon pursuits once they enter the trial districts of Redcliffe and Toowoomba. Under the 12-month trial from October 1, police will no longer be "justified" to chase a driver who fails to pull over for licence, vehicle or street checks; impromptu random breath tests (excluding RBT sites); suspicious or suspect behaviour "based on officer instinct alone"; and all simple offences.

The new safe driving policy, sparked after concerns raised by state coroner Michael Barnes and a report by the Crime and Misconduct Commission in 2003, has infuriated some traffic police, who believe the trial will put lives at risk. One unnamed veteran officer said once "grubs" worked out that police could not give chase they would drive straight to Toowoomba or Redcliffe. He argued many serious offenders had been arrested and charged from routine police checks sparked by gut feelings.

Although police will be able to pursue a driver "reasonably suspected" of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the policy stipulates it must be to such a degree that the "suspected impairment has or will create circumstances that pose an imminent, significant risk to public safety". The trial could go statewide if successful.

Coalition police spokesman Vaughan Johnson accused the State Government of interfering in operational police duties and putting people's lives at risk. "This is the Government playing with the lives of ordinary Queenslanders by not allowing police to be police officers," Mr Johnson said. "Instead they are being ordered to be social workers by this current Labor administration. "This shows again how politicised the police service has become and that is certainly not what the equation of police and government is all about."

A police spokesman said all officers working within the two trial districts would be required to comply with the policy. "During the trial, however, if an officer in a non-trial area is engaged in a pursuit which moves into a trial area, they must also comply with the trial policy," the spokesman said. "The main objective of this trial is to find the right balance between ensuring that laws are upheld and public safety remains paramount." In 2003, a CMC report found that traffic/driving offences were the most common reasons for pursuits. Almost all of the pursued drivers were male, at least three-quarters were under 30 years old and a substantial proportion were unlicensed and had consumed alcohol or drugs.


Leftist Australian State governments are desperate to placate the Greens

When you see a pack of suits in the midday sun on Sydney's Bondi Beach it's safe to assume they are either real estate agents or politicians. Either way, they're selling something. And so it was when NSW Premier Morris Iemma and Victorian Deputy Premier John Thwaites were joined by South Australian Premier Mike Rann to launch a discussion paper on a state-based greenhouse gas emissions-trading scheme. In hindsight, they might have been better off parading their latest green credentials in the grungy inner-west of King Street, Newtown, or its parallel universe on Brunswick Street in Melbourne. Because their carefully weighted support for emissions trading is pitched squarely at the inner-city latte belt of Australia's two biggest cities, where the Greens are eating Labor alive.

Arresting and reversing this urban greenslide without causing collateral damage to their suburban heartland is a tricky but increasingly important objective for the Steve Bracks and Iemma governments as they head to the polls. As social commentator and author Bernard Salt observes, the social, economic and environmental aspirations of the suburban majority and the vocal minority of the progressive inner-city elites are diverging at such a rate that it is becoming impossible for any one political party to appeal to both. "By the next decade I think the divisions would have (become) too big," Salt says. "The weight of numbers over time will mean the two will make uncomfortable bedfellows, and that means there must be divorce. This can only augur well for the Greens."

This divide is no more apparent than on the landmark environmental issue of climate change. However you cut it, reducing greenhouse emissions will increase the cost of energy. Lower-emission energy sources and technologies are all more expensive than existing ones. If they were cheaper we would switch today. The discussion paper estimates the price of capping emissions to 1997 levels will result in higher domestic electricity bills of more than $100 a year. Beyond these household impacts, the national impact of emissions cuts is likely to be uneven: acute in industrial regions such as the La Trobe Valley and Geelong, the Hunter and Illawarra, and less noticeable in the inner cities.

Largely bereft of airconditioners and mostly detached from industrial Australia, the relatively affluent progressives from the inner city are demanding accelerated action on greenhouse gases, among other issues. They are venting at the ballot box and switching their allegiance from Labor to the Greens. As ABC election analyst Antony Green points out, the Greens are hurting Labor in a multitude of ways. Their primary vote in both states is tracking at nearly 10 per cent. In the mortgage belt it is in single digits, but in inner Melbourne and Sydney it is nearly 30 per cent. Labor candidates in these seats are fending off the Greens as their No.1 rival or dependent on Greens preferences to get over the line. Green said that as the Greens devour Labor's inner-city heartland, they are also siphoning active and educated Labor members and campaign workers while delivering a big chunk of the votes needed to establish themselves as a genuine force in each state's upper house.

Election analyst Malcolm Mackerras predicts the Greens will win three seats in the next Victorian Legislative Council and four in NSW. So while Bracks (almost certain) and Iemma (increasingly likely) appear set to be returned to power, both face the uneasy prospect of seeing the Greens holding the balance of power in their upper houses. Green says the Greens are likely to be increasingly prickly customers to deal with because their policy positions are simultaneously unfettered by having to govern and contrary by nature. "They are the party of permanent opposition," he says.

An added concern is the optional preferential voting system in NSW which means that Green preferences do not automatically flow back to Labor, as they tend to in other states. Sustaining sufficient appeal to these dissatisfied Labor voters to hang on to their preferences will be an important part of Labor's election strategy. Former Labor national secretary Bob McMullan observed the best way of marginalising the rise of independents and minor parties was to maximise the difference between the major parties on defining issues, including climate change. "When people say there is no difference between Labor and Liberals then this is a good climate for independents and minor parties," McMullan says. "If the contrast between Labor and Liberal on global warming is so stark then being the third force becomes less relevant."

Which brings us back to Bondi. While implementing a state-based emissions-trading scheme would be complex, dependent on protracted negotiations over a number of years and not without considerable political and economic pain, talking about one is a lot easier. For Iemma and Thwaites, the elegant political theatre of Bondi was all about staging a noble defeat. Without the support of Canberra, implementing such a scheme at the state level would require the unanimous backing of every state government. Even one dissenter would be enough to ensure the discussion would be short. The blueprint of a state-based scheme took the National Emissions Trading Taskforce more than two years to develop, and the two resource-rich fast-growth states of Queensland and Western Australia less than four hours to kill.

Cue WA Premier Alan Carpenter. With the very first dorothy dixer in his parliament's question time that afternoon, he threw the switch. "If it is regarded as disadvantaging Western Australia, we will not be a part of it. I believe there is at least one other state that has the same view," he said. "I would want an assurance that any trading scheme would not negatively affect the state's capacity to rely on energy sources such as coal ... I have not seen that level of support indicated so far."

The other state was, of course, Queensland. Premier Peter Beattie, already a self-confessed troglodyte on the issue, said that afternoon that he supported emissions trading in principle, but only on the impossible proviso that clean coal technology was in place and would mitigate against electricity price increases and therefore job losses for Queenslanders. Beattie neatly sidestepped the practical reality that clean coal technology is still under development, with 2015 touted as its earliest commercial start date possible in Australia. He also carefully ignored the other fundamental about clean coal: that like all other lower-emission technologies, its use would still cost considerably more than Queensland's present electricity supply. As politely as he put it, that was still another no.

The Greens are causing headaches for Labor in the run-up to the September 9 Queensland election. On Sunday they announced they would deny preferences to Labor in key marginal seats because of their displeasure over some headline environmental issues. Optional preferential voting in Queensland means the Greens vote in these seats will not flow to Labor. In 1995, a similar tactic contributed to the defeat of the Wayne Goss government.

Of course, the states had already played their hand at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in July. To ensure the issue wasn't going to awkwardly bind any state government position, the original emissions-trading green paper owned by them had been downgraded to a more theoretical discussion paper owned by the taskforce. Timing was also key. Comments on the paper are due before Christmas, just after the Victorian poll in November and before the NSW election in March. Enough time to have a discussion but nowhere near enough time to make a decision.

The politicisation of emissions trading in Australia has elevated it to watershed status in the present environmental vernacular. Like the Kyoto Protocol before it, there is a perception that support or opposition casts protagonists on to either side of some apparent greenhouse policy divide. This is somewhat overstated. Placing a cap on emissions and trading the right to emit them is widely considered the most efficient and lowest cost method possible to achieve a specified national rate of emissions.

Prime Minister John Howard does not oppose emissions trading in principle. After presenting his energy plan at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia lunch in Sydney last month, he said what he was opposed to was Australia heading down this policy path without the rest of the world. This was echoed by the Allen Consulting Group report in March in its assessment of the impacts of deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions commissioned by the Business Roundtable on Climate Change. The report stated that "any large-scale unilateral action by Australia would constitute bad policy in that it would impose significant costs on the community while having a negligible impact on climate change".

As the European Union has discovered the hard way, getting political support for emissions trading is a snack compared to the operational difficulties of making it work. In 2000 the EU voted to start trading in January 2005. At least, that was the idea. It was hoped trading would help EU member states meet emissions targets, but while it is early days, its scheme has to date proved both expensive and ineffective. In the first three-year phase, national laws have been implemented piecemeal, while the complex regime of registries to track and monitor the emissions and trades are still, at best, partial. Several member countries arbitrarily increased the number of emissions permits to such a degree that allocations exceeded emissions in 2005.

The big loser was Britain, which was silly enough to set tough targets from the outset while its continental neighbours have been far more lenient. As a result, it is estimated Britain will need to spend pound stg. 1.5billion ($3.74billion) over three years to buy surplus permits from across the channel.

Compliance with the administrative and regulatory targets for the second phase, supposed to start in 2008, is also falling behind schedule. There have been further concerns about the high administrative cost of the scheme, particularly for smaller companies, and complaints from all sides about how the emissions permits have been allocated. Architects of the domestic states-based scheme claim they have had the benefit of learning from Europe's many mistakes in drafting their model. Importantly, both industry and environmental groups agree that whatever the political motives behind its release or its likelihood of success, the indigenous discussion paper has served to advance thinking about how Australia might manage its greenhouse gas emissions in the future.


Australia now educating lots of Brits

That their own government cannot afford to educate

For most British youngsters, Australia and New Zealand are unbeatable places to while away a gap year. But now increasing numbers are being lured Down Under to further their education. Since 2002 the number of British students seeking to study at under and postgraduate level there has risen by more than a third, with more than 6,250 studying there last year alone. This year, as 53,000 students look unlikely to gain places at British universities, five leading antipodean institutions are offering scholarships to encourage them to look farther afield.

Sports sciences, health sciences and Asian studies have attracted British students in the past, but now people who want to study medicine or veterinary science but have failed to gain a place at a university in Britain are considering the move, says Kathleen Devereux, from the Australian Trade Commission. "You'd think of the UK market as being a fairly mature market, but we have had 12 per cent year-on-year growth from 2002 to 2005, which is extraordinary," she said.

With Australian fees averaging between 4,800 and 10,000 pounds a year, payable each term, the courses are more expensive than those in England, which has 3,000 pound fees payable on graduation. Fees for degrees in medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences are higher still. But with lower living costs, a strong pound, and thirteen Australian and three New Zealand universities in the world top 200 universities, according to the Times Higher Education Supplement, they are a big draw. "Tuition fees bring into parity the cost of going to a British or Australian university at undergraduate level. The fees in Australia are higher, but the living expenses are much less, so it's an attractive alternative," Ms Devereux said.

Of the 3,888 British students in Australia last year, more than half were undergraduates. By June this year 3,328 students had registered.


30 August 2006

Politically correct Play School exploits kids

It's no exaggeration to say that generations of Australian children and young parents have grown up with the ABC's Play School. Whether it was Big Ted, Little Ted, Noni or Benita, Lorraine, John or Don, viewers of all ages found some character they could identify with over the 40 years of its existence. But the harmless happy-family content has fallen victim to the nauseating politically-correct agenda that drives so much of the ABC's news and current affairs programming on radio and television.

ABC Children's Television head Claire Henderson says Play School owes its success to the fact "we respect the child, we respect the audience. We don't patronise, we don't exploit them, we don't preach to them, we don't talk down to them. We will always have the nursery rhymes and things children know and love, but the program will always be a program for today."

Except it isn't. The show does patronise kids, it does exploit them, it does preach to them, it does talk down to them and it doesn't have the nursery rhymes the children know and love, it has bowdlerised humbug that the ABC's in-house ideologists know and love. Take Play School's recent treatment of the classic nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep, for example, as rendered by Christine Anu and an associate, which began:

"Ba Ba Woolly Sheep/Have you any wool?
Yes, O, Yes, O/Three bags full. One for the jumper/And one for the socks," etc, etc.

You get the drift. Black sheep are out, as probably are diminutive people of the male gender, but the reader who sent this in was so bemused by the attempt to scour any possibly offensive material from the nursery rhyme that she didn't pay attention to the rest of the verses. But if black sheep have been magically erased, it seems likely that words such as "master", "dame" and "sir" have also been banned for fear of upsetting the sensitivities of the ABC's young audience.

This sort of hamfisted attempt to induce culturally anodyne thinking into the minds of youngsters would be laughable were it not of a piece with the efforts of the trade union movement and the ALP to ensure that organised Labor's messages, too, are pushed upon malleable young minds. Having exposed Labor's "real life" cases campaign against the Howard Government's industrial reforms as bogus, The Daily Telegraph can also reveal that the union movement is asking teachers to assist it in wooing school students to its cause with a campaign based on xenophobia and outdated class war materials.

Just as parents should pay more heed to Play School's rewriting of the classics of nursery, it would also pay them to monitor the "factsheets", "case studies" and other resources provided for teachers on Labornet's UnionTeach website. With union membership rapidly eroding, the diehards are trying to staunch the flow and save their jobs by pandering to youthful insecurities with scenarios designed to create fear and insecurity. In a "case study" of "globalisation, redundancy and Australian workers", for example, "Ben", a network administrator in his 50s who has been in the telecommunications industry for the past 20 years is advised by a new manager that all jobs in his team's field are to be declared vacant and staff must reapply for their positions. At the same time there is also an announcement that about "300 jobs in the company are going to be performed from India". The discussion points suggested for the lesson include "What are the advantages and disadvantages of union membership in a call centre?" and "How could the union assist in dealing with workplace conflict?"

Suggested activities include calling the ACTU for a call centre charter on workplace rights and responsibilities, designing a brochure promoting the role and benefits of a union in a call centre, developing a pamphlet or poster showing how to contact call centre unions, and watching a video titled Working it Out: ACTU. In the proposed group activity, the teacher role-plays with the students as the call-centre employer and changes the conditions of work by setting time-limits or quotas on simple tasks, "students complete tasks and teacher pressures them. Conflict is created."

There are laws designed to protect the young and impressionable from perverted adults who target them for sexual abuse. This campaign and the pap served up by the ABC's Play School would suggest that there should be laws protecting them from adults who want to rape them intellectually. The new workplace reforms contain specific protections for young workers, in addition to those which cover employees generally, and concerned parents can contact the Office of the Employment Advocate.

The ALP's media arm, the ABC, is well-known for its ducking and weaving whenever its core ideologies are challenged, from its recent biased Behind the News program on Hezbollah's attacks on Israel, to its four-year refusal to admit that the Palestinian groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah are terrorist organisations. ALP or ABC, it doesn't matter. The exploitation of young people is rife with misinformation, disinformation and blatant untruths and propagandising being foisted on unsuspecting minds. The young must be able to learn without having their minds mortgaged to politically-correct causes by their teachers and agenda-driven institutions.


The current education system is hard on teachers too

The quality of teaching has seriously deteriorated in the most critical areas of literacy and numeracy. As a school head I have seen for myself that teachers are not as literate as they used to be. I have given up as teachers continually make errors in written communications to students and parents, and in school newsletters. In speech, fuzzy thinking results from their confusion of subject and verb, illogical prepositions and no longer amusing malapropisms. Vocabularies bled and logic was wounded.

Now we have evidence I am not just a boring old pedant. Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan's welcome research, which appeared in these pages yesterday, has done education a great service by providing an evidence base for what school heads and employers already know: the quality of teaching has seriously deteriorated in the most critical areas of literacy and numeracy, and therefore in primary education, science, technology and other subjects.

Let me defend teachers. They too are victims of deteriorating school systems. Only a handful remains whose school education predates the 1960s and '70s, when teaching was overcome by a fashion for coddling children. Don't correct errors: you might damage their little psyches and destroy their self-esteem. Don't tell them what to write about: it's undemocratic. Let them express themselves. We call their efforts creative.

The distinction between self-expression and communication was lost. Self-expression can take place without an audience. Communication requires compliance with the niceties of spelling, punctuation (including apostrophes) and diction that are also understood by the audience. The ability to structure a line of thought is gained through lots of writing practice to establish clear thinking: it requires knowledge about the subject. That is, communication requires discipline, academic and personal. Today's teachers cannot teach what they have not been taught.

Younger teachers also copped postmodernism. Before they had learned to read thoroughly and carefully and to love reading (whether fiction, history or science), they were taught to be sceptical of everything and wary of giving it value in their own lives. They were made to see literature, history and science through "frames" of feminism, Marxism, racism and who knows what else. The frame mattered but there was not much of a picture in it as syllabuses lost content and no longer required students to have substantial knowledge of facts, names, dates and events.

A young person's search for vicarious human experience and understanding was distorted by the views of others before they learned to follow story and character development effectively. The view was through adult frames rather than the framework of childhood or adolescence. Teachers cannot now teach what they do not know. Many complain of the difficulty of finding a "good secretary like we used to have". Teachers, like secretaries, are traditionally women. I celebrate that women now have the full range of career choices but one consequence is that we no longer can rely on a large enough supply of talented women to populate our teaching positions.

Leigh and Ryan have shown the impact of what is otherwise a welcome social change. And men? Men are a valuable but rare species in education; it takes courage to be a male teacher. A closed door can ruin a career. An adolescent girl might make allegations that will never wash away. Suspicion lurks. Can a male teacher comfort a crying child? How do you teach gymnastics or tennis without touching? It is difficult enough for women in this climate of lewd suspicion. Wouldn't you rather be an accountant?

Schools are no longer havens. Guns and knives are not common, but regrettably they are far from unknown in schools, whether brought by students or by invaders of the premises. Students who threaten teachers directly or by innuendo prevent effective teaching and obliterate the teacher's motivation. Almost any reaction from the teacher or school head will be wrong by the time it gets to the front page. Failure to break up a fight is a failure of duty of care. If a teacher physically separates two warring children, they might reap a charge of assault with the possibility of never working with children again. After victory in court, who will resurrect the career and reputation of the teacher? Wouldn't you rather be a lawyer?

Teachers are increasingly powerless and vulnerable. Some parents defend their children no matter what the allegation and the evidence. It is extraordinarily time-consuming, emotionally taxing and increasingly difficult to help children in trouble or investigate alleged misbehaviour. The school can't search lockers or school bags, can't question students without parents being present and can't separate presumed malefactors. By the time action is taken, the problem has blown out of all proportion and parents have called in lawyers. It is easier to avoid the challenge; behaviour in schools gets worse. Wouldn't you rather be a doctor?


Sugary drinks pulled out of schools

Soft drink manufacturers will remove sugared drinks from school canteens and stop advertising directly to children in a major overhaul of beverage marketing. The Australian Beverage Council today unveiled tough new guidelines in response to increasing pressure to alleviate childhood obesity. The policy was signed by almost all major bottlers of non-alcoholic carbonated, non-carbonated, juice and water-based drinks, and will be introduced over two years. Measures include the removal of all sugar-sweetened drinks from primary school canteens and supply to high schools only on request. The companies also propose to not advertise any such products directly to primary school-age children or in TV programs watched primarily by children. So-called diet drinks would not be included in the bans.

The companies also would relabel products to declare kilojoule content on the front and additional nutritional information on the back. Australian Beverages Council chief executive Tony Gentile said the changes were designed to help manage the complex public health issue of obesity. "With this document, the beverage industry is flagging to both consumers and Government that we see ourselves very much as part of the solution in assisting consumers in making informed choices," Mr Gentile said. "Through these policies, I believe that the Australian Beverages Industry is now clearly and unambiguously indicating to the community its commitment to both its customers and to the wider community."

The document, called Commitment Addressing Obesity and Other Health and Wellness Issues, includes nine major initiatives. Others include increasing the range of low calorie products, encouraging downsizing of portion size to avoid over-consumption and boosting educational programs. The companies also pledged to conduct independent research on consumer behaviour to encourage healthier lifestyles


Criminal doctors OK by the "regulators"

It was a brutal crime, committed by a drug addict with a long history of erratic behaviour. The accused had already lost several jobs as a result of his drug addiction, and he was allegedly becoming increasingly violent. On November 3, 2000, the Queensland man dragged a woman into a bedroom, bashing her as she screamed and attempted to escape. He forcibly removed her clothes and raped her. In 2002 he pleaded guilty to rape, deprivation of liberty and assault and was sentenced to five years' jail.

However, the case stands apart from other cases of sexual assault because the rapist is a doctor, and last month the Medical Board of Queensland renewed his registration. James Samuel Manwaring had previously been struck off the register in the mid-1990s after a psychiatric evaluation found "he constitutes a significant danger to any patient he may have to look after".

However, Manwaring is not the only doctor in Australia with a criminal conviction. Two weeks ago, another Queensland doctor had his registration cancelled after it was revealed he failed to disclose a previous rape conviction. In 1981 Eugene Sherry and two other doctors were convicted of raping a nurse in the US. Sherry was imprisoned for six months and moved to Australia in 1984, and worked in Sydney for 20 years. His 2004 application to work in Queensland was approved under a process that allows doctors to be mutually registered in other states. Sherry disclosed the conviction to the NSW Medical Board, but when he moved to Queensland the NSW board did not inform its Queensland counterpart, and nor did he.

The cases illustrate weaknesses in Australia's fragmented medical registration system and raise the question: should doctors convicted of sexual assault be allowed to practise? In many instances, medical boards allow doctors found guilty of sexual assault to continue to practise if they are closely supervised, or a "chaperone" is present during consultations.

The NSW Medical Board decided last year that a cosmetic surgeon charged with aggravated sexual assault on a patient could continue to practise as long as a nurse was present when he examined female patients. However, Joanna Flynn, president of the Australian Medical Council - which assesses overseas-trained doctors and accredits medical colleges - told The Australian that doctors who cannot be trusted to treat patients unsupervised should be struck off the register. Flynn, who also is president of the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria, says "if a determining body believes it is necessary to have a doctor chaperoned because they are not confident the patient would be safe, in my view that doctor should not be registered. "Patients must be able to trust their doctor. They may want to question the doctor on medical information, but they need to be able to trust they won't be mistreated by the doctor."

The Australian Medical Association's Queensland president Zelle Hodge says the idea of supervising doctors with a criminal past is fine in theory, but almost impossible to implement. She says medical boards and organisations that employ medical staff don't have the time to consistently monitor doctors. "The medical boards simply do not have the resources to go out and police these restrictions," Hodge says. "It's up to the doctor's employer to monitor the doctor's performance and make sure they are supervised, and sometimes that doesn't happen."

In a case currently before the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria, a GP is facing suspension for a second time over allegations he conducted a pap smear that was more "sexual than medical", while making sexually suggestive comments to the patient. The GP, Richard George Young, had his licence suspended for 15 months in 2001 after engaging in sexual relationships with two vulnerable female patients. His licence was renewed on the condition a chaperone be present when he examined female patients.

NSW Medical Board chief executive Andrew Dix defended the use of chaperones to monitor doctors who had committed serious offences. But he admitted the system did not guarantee the doctor would not re-offend. "We have a comprehensive chaperoning protocol which requires the regular submission of the chaperone's reports to the board," he said. "But if doctors are determined to be dishonest, some will manage to get away with things." Dix says it's a balancing act to ensure the patient's right to the best possible care and the right of doctors to be given the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. He says each case is assessed individually and there are no offences that automatically lead to a doctor being struck off the register. "There are doctors who have been struck off a long time ago who periodically apply for restoration who are denied. "But historically the system has been based on the idea that people are able to redeem their character. And there are no black and white rules about what constitutes good character."

However, some argue that while doctors may have the right to a second chance, the public has a right to know if their doctor has a criminal record, or restrictions placed on their registration. Merilyn Walton, an associate professor of ethical practice at the University of Sydney's school of medicine, says patients should be notified if their doctor has been disciplined by a medical board. "Doctors should be required to put a notice in their waiting room saying they are supposed to be supervised," she says. "If I was a patient of that doctor, I would want to know."

Flynn believes all the details of a doctor's registration should be easily assessable to the public. However, Australia does not have a national medical register. Rather, each state has its own slightly different system of assessing and registering medical staff. In April 2004 all the state health ministers announced that a nationally consistent medical registration system, called the Australian Index of Medical Practitioners, would be introduced. The ministers agreed the new model should provide greater public access to medical register information, including an online index of medical practitioners. Two years later the states still operate independently and there's been little progress in improving public access to medical board information. Currently only the medical boards in Queensland, South Australia and the ACT have websites that provide detailed information about doctors' registration.

Walton says most medical boards have failed to inform patients about the medical registration process. "The big challenge for medical boards is to improve the level of transparency of their processes so the community understands how and why they make decisions. The public need to be engaged in the discussion about what standards they want."

The failings of the state-by-state system were highlighted in March this year, when it was revealed that the Hunter New England Area Health Service in NSW waited almost 18 months before investigating an overseas-trained doctor banned elsewhere in the state for misdiagnosing 208 patients in 2004. Farid Zaer, a pathologist trained in India and the US, was banned by the Illawarra Area Health Service in April 2004 after a review of 6300 patient records found he had failed to correctly analyse tests for many diseases, including cancer. In late 2004 it notified the Hunter New England Area Health Service, where the doctor had worked between 1999 and 2001, that it was investigating him. The Hunter service did not begin to review the records of 7300 patients diagnosed by Zaer until March this year.

The doctor has since moved to Queensland, where he is registered to practise unsupervised as a GP and as a pathologist under strict supervision. The case again prompted calls for the establishment of an Australian index of medical practitioners that would record whether doctors have been disciplined by any of the state medical boards, or had any restrictions placed on their practice.

Walton believes the mutual recognition process allows doctors of questionable character or ability to move interstate and continue to practise. "We have mutual recognition, but it caters to the lowest common denominator," she says. "So if one state is weak around disciplinary matters, then that person can be registered in other states based on a weak disciplinary structure. There is also a lack of exchange between regulatory boards and the community. I can't believe we don't have a national registration system yet."

In July, the Council of Australian Governments meeting announced medical boards would be abolished and replaced with a single national registration scheme covering nine health professional groups. For the plan to proceed, each state and territory would have to introduce legislation. The proposal overrides the Australian Medical Council's plan to revamp the existing medical board registration system. The AMC had wanted to give every doctor an identifying number that would allow their details to be accessed through a national register.

Flynn says she is unclear about the details of the proposed specialist registers and what impact they would have on the AMC's plan. Whatever plan is eventually implemented, she is adamant that it must give patients better access to doctors' details. "The public has a right to know if there are conditions on a doctor's registration or if there have been serious disciplinary or criminal offences proven against the doctor," Flynn says. "It's long overdue."


29 August, 2006

Australian teachers getting dumber

Teachers are not as smart as they were 20 years ago, an Australian-first study concludes in a finding that will reinforce concerns over declining classroom standards. An analysis of literacy and numeracy tests confirms the standard of student teachers has fallen substantially and that dwindling numbers of the nation's brightest students are choosing teaching as a career.

The academic calibre of teachers has been shown to have a direct effect on students' results, with US research finding that a shift to smarter teachers raises student performance. The Australian study by economists Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan from the Australian National University finds the failure of teachers' pay to keep pace with other professions and the fact that teachers are not paid on merit are key factors in the decline of standards.

The biggest change has been in the number of smart women becoming teachers. The study says the academic achievement of women entering teaching has declined substantially. While 11 per cent of women who scored in the top 25 per cent of literacy and numeracy tests in 1983 chose to become a teacher, this had dropped to 6 per cent in 2003. The average woman entering teaching in 1983 was in the top 30 per cent of test results and this dropped to the top 49 per cent by 2003. Overall, in 1983 the average teaching student was drawn from the top 26 per cent of the nation's students but this had widened to the top 39 per cent by 2003.

Dr Leigh said using literacy and numeracy tests was the best proxy available for assessing teachers' academic abilities. "Academic results aren't everything in a teacher; we all know good teachers who aren't academic," Dr Leigh said. "But if all else is equal, you'd rather have the people standing at the front of the classroom being the ones who did well in literacy and numeracy tests. If they do very badly on these tests, it's hard to see how they can teach children the same things."

Dr Leigh said teaching had lost its status as one of the best paying careers for women. While 49 per cent of female university graduates became teachers in the 1960s, by the 1990s only 12 per cent chose it as a career. The rise in salaries of high-ability women in alternative occupations is believed to account for about one-quarter of the decline in teacher quality. The study says that over the 20-year period, the average starting salary of a teacher fell in real terms and compared to other professions. Teachers' pay fell 4 per cent for women and 13 per cent for men in real terms but relative to graduates entering other professions, starting teachers' pay fell 11 per cent for women and 17 per cent for men.

The study suggests that the solution lies in introducing merit-based pay for teachers, which would be more cost effective than across-the-board pay rises to make teaching a more attractive career. Dr Leigh said that the rest of the labour market paid according to ability and was further away from uniform pay schedules than ever before. "Governments have grasped that when it comes to paying senior public servants. They created SES (Senior Executive Service) because government had to compete with businesses for the best management talent and they understood what businesses were doing had an impact on government," he said. "We haven't grasped the same parallel with teaching."

National president of the Australian Education Union Pat Byrne said women had less scope for careers 20 or 25 years ago, when teaching was one of the best paid jobs open to women. Ms Byrne said the answer was to raise teachers salaries across the board rather than introduce merit-based pay.


Muslim fear of femininity again

A Melbourne Muslim girl condemned by Islamic leaders for entering a beauty pageant has defied protests to be shortlisted for the Victorian final. Ayten Ahmet, 16, advanced to the top 26 of Miss Teen Australia yesterday despite an outcry from Victoria's senior Muslims. The Year 11 student said she entered the pageant to fulfil her modelling ambition, and was surprised by the objections. Parents Salih and Sarah Ahmet said their daughter was a typical teenager, and her faith was irrelevant to the contest.

Miss Ahmet, from Craigieburn, beat hundreds of hopefuls at an open casting session at Federation Square. A spokesman for Melbourne cleric Sheik Mohammed Omran last week branded the competition, which involves swimsuit parades, as a "slur on Islam". And Victorian Islamic leader Yasser Soliman said the contest did not conform with the teachings of the Koran.

Ms Ahmet, who plans to combine modelling with an accounting degree, said the criticism was disappointing and unnecessary. "I thought it would be good experience and an opportunity to have a bit of fun," she said. "The cameras are something I love."

Sherene Hassan, executive committee member of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said Sheik Omran's comments were unfair. "He is entitled to his opinion, but people should be aware he does not represent the mainstream Muslim community," she said. Ms Hassan said she felt beauty contests were exploitative, but she supported Ms Ahmet's right to make her own choice. Ms Hassan said she never judged women by the clothes they wore.

Mr Ahmet said the family respected their religion, but his daughter was entitled to participate. "We are not flying any flags, we are Australians first and foremost," Mr Ahmet said. "We live in a democracy, we respect the religion as well, and they are good kids and come from a good upbringing."

Two girls from next month's Victorian final will go on to the national final. The winner will represent us at Miss Teen World. Miss Teen Australia Victorian manager Carley Downward said she was surprised by the uproar.


Now it's a radiology scandal in Queensland public hospitals

Peter Beattie's major health promise of the election campaign - a new $700 million children's hospital - has been marred by a fresh scandal affecting thousands of patients. Mr Beattie yesterday said a re-elected Labor Government would build a new 400-bed children's hospital next to the existing Mater Children's, with most of the services now offered by the Royal Children's Hospital to move to the new facility from 2011.

But the announcement has been overshadowed by news that a prominent doctor who starred in Government advertising on plans to fix Queensland's ailing health system has now turned whistleblower, exposing deep flaws in the state's radiology services. Royal Australian College of Radiologists president Liz Kenny has revealed thousands of X-rays, ultrasounds, MRI and CT scans ordered for public hospital patients are never seen or assessed by a radiologist. Dr Kenny, who works for Queensland Health, has told The Courier-Mail that critical radiology workforce shortages mean thousands of X-ray results are only seen by GPs, most of whom are untrained at assessing and diagnosing the results. The situation means patients are at risk of having conditions, such as cancers, tumours or fractures left undiagnosed.

The revelations about the state of the hospital system threatens to derail Labor's so-far trouble-free election campaign. Coalition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said the situation was putting lives at risk. "With these sorts of numbers going through you are going to miss things that cost people their lives," he said.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said there was an international shortage of specialists, especially radiologists. "But through the $1 billion worth of salary improvements, Queensland is now competitive in the recruitment market for radiologists and Queensland Health is working to fill vacant positions," he said.

Dr Kenny said about 500,000 scans were "unreported" at any one time and the extent of those never seen by radiologists only became evident in the past three months. "The magnitude of what is unreported is staggering." Dr Kenny said patients whose scans are not seen by a radiologist did not benefit from their expertise. "It leaves a substantial hole in the management of the patients," she said. Official hospital figures obtained by the Coalition reveal the problem is widespread in both urban and regional areas.

Toowoomba Hospital is the worst in the state with 80 per cent of x-rays and other scans never reported on by a radiologist. Other hospitals which have significant numbers of unreported scans include Gold Coast (56 per cent), Hervey Bay (66 per cent), Royal Brisbane Womans Hospital (49 per cent), Townsville (35 per cent) and Warwick (50 per cent).

A recent survey of 270 Queensland Health radiographers also found 63 per cent plan to resign within six months, a move likely to cause a blowout in waiting times for routine X-rays by Christmas. "With the staffing levels already under pressure, this reduction in professional numbers will result in significant cutbacks in all services, such as x-rays, breast screening and diagnostic imaging for cancer at the majority of Queensland public hospitals," he said. One radiographer said: "We just don't have the people to help all those trapped on the waiting lists."


Hate speech trial now underway in Australia

Is it hate speech to quote what the Koran says? The State of Victoria seems to think it is

It is impossible to vilify Islam without also vilifying Muslims, because the two are indistinguishable, the Victorian Court of Appeal was told yesterday. "If one vilifies Islam, one is by necessary consequence vilifying people who hold that religious belief," Brind Woinarski, QC, told the court. Mr Woinarski was appearing for the Islamic Council of Victoria in the appeal by Christian group Catch the Fire Ministries and pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot against a finding under Victoria's religious hatred law that they vilified Muslims in 2002. The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act defines vilification as inciting hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule against a person or class of persons.

Cameron Macaulay, for the pastors, argued that the act explicitly confined the prohibition to vilifying persons, not the religion - otherwise it could operate as a law against blasphemy. Instead, it recognised one could hate the idea without hating the person.

Justice Geoffrey Nettle asked Mr Woinarski: "There must be intellectually a distinction between the ideas and those who hold them?" "We don't agree with that," Mr Woinarski said. "But in this case it's an irrelevant distinction, because Muslims and Islam were mishmashed up together." Justice Nettle: "Are you saying it's impossible to incite hatred against a religion without also inciting hatred against people who hold it?" Mr Woinarski: "Yes."

Mr Macaulay said orders by Judge Michael Higgins against the pastors to take out a newspaper advertisement apologising and not to repeat certain teachings were too wide, and beyond his powers under the act. He said it was surprising that the pastors could hold the beliefs but not express them. "They are restrained by law from suggesting or implying a number of things about what in their view the Koran teaches: that it preaches violence and killing, that women are of little value, that the God of Islam, Allah, is not merciful, that there is a practice of 'silent jihad' for spreading Islam, or that the Koran says Allah will remit the sins of martyrs. "Contentious or otherwise, these are opinions about Islam's doctrines and teaching. Statements of this kind are likely to offend and insult Muslims but their feelings are not relevant under the act." Mr Macaulay said the act burdened free speech, contravened international treaties Australia had signed and breached the Australian constitution.

The act, amended in May, has been controversial. Opponents rallied against it outside Parliament earlier this month, and some Christians vowed to make it an issue at the state election. This case has been monitored by Christian and Muslim groups overseas, and at one point Judge Higgins had to assure the Foreign Affairs Department he was not considering jailing the pastors after a flood of emails from America.


28 August, 2006

Cosmetic surgery ban: More Leftist paternalism from the government of New South Wales

Teenager will be banned from having Botox or collagen injections under sweeping changes aimed at reining in the burgeoning cosmetic surgery industry. The Sunday Telegraph can reveal the State Government is planning to introduce regulations making it more difficult for people under 18 to undergo purely cosmetic procedures.

The changes have been personally driven by Premier Morris Iemma, who was disturbed when Big Brother contestant Krystal Forscutt, 20, promoted her breast-enhancement surgery. His intervention follows instances of teenagers as young as 15 turning up in cosmetic-surgery clinics across Sydney, requesting "Jessica Simpson" noses, breast implants, liposuction and Botox and collagen injections. Under the proposed changes, teenagers will be required to obtain a referral from a GP before seeing a plastic surgeon - and to undergo counselling. Surgeons will require the consent of the teenager's parents and will be forced to offer a minimum one-month cooling-off period before a procedure can be undertaken.

Mr Iemma said serious debate was needed about whether cosmetic surgery was appropriate for teenagers. "As a parent of a young daughter, I have become increasingly concerned that society's obsession with the perfect female body is influencing too many, too young," he said. "We need to send a strong message that young women will be valued for who they are, not what they look like. It used to be the case that the biggest question parents faced was whether to give their children permission to have their ears pierced. "Then it was tattoos. But, increasingly, parents are being asked to fund breast implants or a nose job as birthday or graduation gifts."

No figures on procedures are kept in Australia, but surgeons say the trend is on the rise.According to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, 326,000 cosmetic procedures in 2004 were on teenagers. They included 13,000 ear pinnings (otoplasty), almost 52,000 nose reshapings (rhinoplasty), nearly 4000 breast implants and 3000 liposuction procedures. In NSW, teenagers pay as much as $10,000 for breast implants and from $4000 to $7000 for nose jobs. Surgeons contacted by The Sunday Telegraph were concerned at the trend, which they said had been driven by "airbrushed" teenagers in magazines and reality shows. One surgeon said schoolgirls often arrived at his clinic clutching magazine clippings of celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez. Some teenagers viewed cosmetic surgery as an answer to low self-esteem and schoolyard bullying, he said.

The surgeons, all members of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, said most reputable doctors would not perform cosmetic surgery, other than otoplasty and rhinoplasty, on teenagers. But they conceded there were "cowboys" in the industry. Sydney plastic surgeon Tim Papadopoulos said the number of teenagers booked in for consultations for cosmetic surgery procedures had risen from one a month five years ago to one a week. Double Bay cosmetic surgeon Kourosh Tavakoli has received e-mails from girls as young as 13 pleading to have surgery. He said more parents today tended to encourage surgery. "I've also had a 15-year-old wanting breast augmentation. I won't do it on anyone still at school, but there are doctors who will."

Former Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons president Norm Olbourne said most of the teenagers who visited his Chatswood clinic wanted breast reductions and nose reshapings. "There are girls wanting breast enlargements, although I've never seen a girl under 18 wanting one who didn't come in holding her mother's hand," Dr Olbourne said.

Krystal Forscutt, who was 19 when she appeared on Big Brother, said she supported Mr Iemma's proposal for counselling under-18s. "I get young girls asking about my boob job. Some of them want me to recommend a doctor," she told The Sunday Telegraph. "But what I say to them is you can't get self-confidence from an operation. It comes from within." Ms Forscutt said she did not want to be seen as a poster girl for plastic surgery, despite having had a breast enhancement at 19. "It's a minute part of who I am. I'm more than just a pair of fake tits," the 20-year-old said. "It's major surgery, and there are side-effects. Because I got mine done so young, this isn't the end of it for me. I'll have three or four more operations as I get older."

People going overseas for cheap plastic surgery have been issued with a warning by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Australian embassies have reported a rise in calls from patients who suffered infections or complications after procedures.


Australian men are the good guys with women

They're obsessed with footy, love a beer and enjoy hanging out with their mates, but Aussie blokes are also among the most faithful in the world. An international survey of 40,000 men has revealed 60 per cent of Australian men have never strayed, ranking just behind the Germans and Poles at 62 per cent. The poll, for Men's Health magazine found Britons spent the most time on foreplay, but flopped when it came to endurance, with Mexicans coming first for stamina in the bedroom. South Korean men are having sex more times a week than anyone else in the world, while hot-blooded Brazilian men are at it with a wider range of women.

On average, South Koreans said they were having sex at least four times a week, while Filipinos were world-beaters at masturbation, doing it almost six times a week. Brazilians topped two categories, with 19 per cent saying they had had a threesome, which might help account for them having clocked up the most lovers, the internationally published fitness magazine said. British men spend or claim to spend an average of 17.44 minutes on foreplay per sex session, longer than Australians (17.2 mins), Germans (16.92 mins) and Mexicans (16.91 mins). But British men last only 18.64 minutes from foreplay to climax, far behind the Mexicans (23.17 minutes) and the Dutch (22.42 minutes).

Women might want to keep an eye out for an Italian lover 60 per cent of Italian men said they made their partner climax every time.


Do-gooder idiocy

Childcare workers have been instructed not to use the words "no" and "don't" because it is feared they will stunt a child's development. The terms "good boy" and "good girl" are also frowned on as they are considered sexist. The rules -- taught to childcare students -- have angered Australian Family Association campaigners, who say it's another example of out-of-control political correctness. And some childcare workers fear the guidelines are not allowing "children to be children" and refuse to obey them.

The controversial rules are part of the nationally-accredited TAFE Certificate III in Children's Services. A Gold Coast childcare worker, who did not want to be named, said staff were told to use alternatives like "stop" to discipline a child so "we don't stunt a child's mental growth". "We also say 'good work' or 'congratulations' when a child has done well to avoid discriminating between sexes," she said. "I think it's absolutely ludicrous, and a lot of childcare workers are secretly refusing to follow the rules."

Australian Family Association state secretary Angelique Barr said: "I think people are always looking for new rules to bring in to justify their jobs. My son's first words were 'no' and 'don't', and he's a well-adjusted child. "I don't think it hurts a child at all to be told 'no', particularly if you explain to him or her why they shouldn't do something."

A childcare worker in Brisbane said: "Every childcare worker in Australia knows that you can't say certain words to a child, because that's what they teach us as part of our work ethics. It's just one of the many things that has been taken over by political correctness, and sadly it means that children are not really allowed to be children any more."

Brisbane mum-of-three Kath Terry, 37, said the rules were ridiculous. "I say 'good girl' and 'good boy' to my children all the time -- sexual discrimination just doesn't come into it."

A spokesman for Employment and Training Minister Tom Barton said TAFE Queensland taught childcare workers to use positive instructions, instead of the words "no" or "don't". "Instead of saying 'don't run' they would say 'remember, walking inside'," he said. However, "no" or "don't" were appropriate for extreme behaviour, such as biting. Instead of "good boy" and "good girl", specific behaviour was praised to reinforce it and let children know why they were being praised.

However, childcare workers said the rules were the latest in a long line of changes forced on the industry including an "obsessive" new hand-washing policy and anti-discrimination classes for toddlers.


Underqualified nurses recruited by a desperate government hospital

Hundreds of British nurses due to start work in Queensland hospitals as soon as October may be not be up to scratch by standards here.

In a massive recruitment drive, executives from Cairns Base Hospital are scouring Britain for nurses, offering thousands of dollars in relocation assistance. And they say they'll take on anyone who applies. "There's no way I'll be turning anyone away," Cairns Base Hospital nursing director Glynda Summers said.

However, a former Cairns Base nurse who now works in the UK said British nursing standards were not a patch on those practised in Australian hospitals. She said many of the British nurses would not have had the same basic training. Skills such as intravenous drug administration, catheterisation and the use of cardiographs were standard requirements for Australian nurses, but in Britain they were considered extra qualifications. "Most of them won't have that training. Basically, skill levels are much lower," she said.

The nurse said she believed many of the workers entering Queensland hospitals would be those deemed not good enough for the British National Health Service. "Many new recruits may fall short of the proficiency mark," said the nurse, 40, who did not wish to be named. "The British National Health Service has drastically reduced the number of nursing positions, but it would be fair to say any good practitioner who wanted to remain working in the UK wouldn't have a problem. "There will be a few who want a lifestyle change, but what about the others?"

After placing advertisements in the UK press, Ms Summers leaves for Britain tomorrow with nurse manager Denise Wilds and intensive care nurse Carol Martheze on a three-week recruitment campaign. "We'll take them all. The opportunities are limitless because we're recruiting for the state," Ms Summers said. A Cairns Base Hospital statement said more than 180 applications had already been received. The hospital has 51 nursing vacancies and a further 90 nursing jobs expected to open up soon. Telephone interviews have been conducted and new recruits had been enticed with packages including $3000 toward relocation costs, visa application expenses, salaries of up to $53,000 and free medical cover.

Admitting she was capitalising on widespread nursing job losses throughout Britain, Ms Summers said: "Why not?" "It's good for us and it's good for the nurses who don't have jobs." A Queensland Health spokesperson said all checks and procedures would be followed before applicants could register with the Queensland Nursing Council.


27 August, 2006

An Italian crook was running the West Australia police

West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter has sacked his former police minister John D'Orazio from the ALP, citing "serious misconduct" and "grossly inappropriate behaviour". The sacking came after Mr D'Orazio was exposed through phone taps and video surveillance discussing traffic infringement problems with Perth panel beater Pasquale Minniti. Mr Minniti is at the centre of a Corruption and Crime Commission probe into alleged abuses by police and others accused of having traffic infringements withdrawn.

Three months ago, Mr D'Orazio, the Labor member for the inner-city seat of Ballajura, was stripped of his police portfolio after crashing his ministerial car while driving without a licence. He became disability minister for a day but was forced to resign from the ministry amid a public outcry.

Mr D'Orazio said last night he would continue to serve the people of Ballajura as an independent MP. "The Premier has made a call and I have agreed to go along with that call," he said.

Mr Carpenter - who once labelled Mr D'Orazio a "rising star" and an "outstanding minister" - said his position was untenable. "Mr D'Orazio showed appalling judgment by agreeing to meet Mr Minniti and discuss his traffic problems, no matter what the outcome of those discussions," the Premier said. "Mr D'Orazio's subsequent phone call to a police officer referred to him by Mr Minniti was also grossly inappropriate. "His actions left him exposed and showed a complete disregard for the Government, the Labor Party and his colleagues." The Premier said Mr D'Orazio - still a minister at the time - should have rejected outright any approach from Mr Minniti.

Mr Carpenter was forced to defend his own judgment in backing Mr D'Orazio during his initial controversies, which included failing to pay superannuation to some employees at a pharmacy he owned. He said he had called Mr D'Orazio to his office late yesterday and asked him to resign from the Labor Party. He said there was a 15- to 20-minute discussion before Mr D'Orazio agreed.

Opposition Leader Paul Omodei said Mr D'Orazio should have departed long ago. He also called on the Premier to sack his former community development minister Sheila McHale for her refusal to act "while dozens of children died under her watch" - a reference to the scandal over the deaths of children in the care of Western Australia's Community Development Department.

At yesterday's Corruption and Crime Commission hearing, a clearly annoyed Mr D'Orazio described Mr Minniti as "one of those people that never leaves you alone". He said Mr Minniti, the husband of a long-time family friend, was a name-dropper who talked incessantly about his proposal to allow citizens to become "special constables". He liked to be called "Inspector Minniti". Mr D'Orazio said he agreed to meet Mr Minniti the day after he lost his police portfolio "because he was so insistent", not because Mr Minniti had told him: "Trust me, I've got something good up my sleeve, very good." Mr D'Orazio sighed and told the commission: "That Pasquale, he's always got something good."

In one phone call Mr Minniti made to Mr D'Orazio on May 10, the former police minister urged Mr Minniti not to interfere in his licensing woes. "Don't do anything," he told Mr Minniti. But when Mr Minniti claimed earlier in the conversation that he had asked a contact within the licensing section of the Department of Planning and Infrastructure to search for a missing document that could exonerate him, Mr D'Orazio expressed gratitude. "The thought that Pasquale could help me was stupid," he said. "I was trying to be nice."

According to a transcript of the taped conversation, Mr Minniti told Mr D'Orazio he had spoken to someone "high up in the licensing department and he's going to start looking for me so he can find it" to which Mr D'Orazio replied; "Okay, excellent." Mr D'Orazio told the inquiry he had no explanation for why he telephoned a senior sergeant Mr Minniti knew, except that he did so at Mr Minniti's request. "I remember making the phone call and thinking 'Why am I ringing this guy?'," Mr D'Orazio said. Counsel assisting the inquiry, Brett Tooker, said that Mr D'Orazio had been "sucked into the inquiry with all the collateral damage that that brings with it".


Child welfare department negligence left little Wade to die

Almost four years ago, an unassuming but increasingly desperate Perth grandmother wrote to then West Australian premier Geoff Gallop, pleading for his help to protect her two grandchildren. Margaret Jakins told him the children were in danger. In the letter - dated November 20, 2002 - she said she was writing to him only after exhausting all other avenues. "I hope my fears for the two little ones are only that and that it does not end in tragedy," she wrote.

Ms Jakins's letter rang alarm bells about the safety of Wade Michael Scale and questioned the Department for Community Development's plan to return Wade's brother into the custody of the boys' drug-addicted mother, Angela Jakins, and her de facto husband, Kriston Scale, a known drug user and convicted child-basher.

On December 2, 2002, the former premier replied to Jakins with a three-sentence note thanking her for bringing her concerns to his attention, and adding that he would pass them on to the minister responsible, Sheila McHale. Two weeks later, McHale sent a five-paragraph letter advising Jakins that the department "has been focusing on reunification for some time" and suggesting Jakins contact a case worker with her concerns.

The full extent of the horrors that faced baby Wade and his brother became known to the public only three weeks ago, when state Coroner Alastair Hope released a 24-page report on Wade's death, a chilling summary of the events that continue to defy explanation. On July 30, 2003, at 4.44pm, aged 11 months and 10 days, Wade was pronounced dead after frantic but futile efforts by ambulance officers and later hospital staff to revive him. He had drowned in a bath left filled from the previous evening. His body contained the adult prescription drug diazepam. Angela Jakins and Kriston Scale denied any knowledge of how he came to ingest it.

The coroner said the only explanation was that he was deliberately given it or was able to access it at a location within crawling distance, although a worrying feature of this was that both parents claimed not to have noticed any behavioural change in Wade over the preceding 24 hours. Angela Jakins denied leaving Wade alone for more than "a matter of minutes". The coroner found he had lain immersed in the water for at least 20 to 30 minutes. While these facts of Wade's death are sad and sordid, equally scandalous are the events that led up to his death.

The coroner's report reveals how Wade's grandmother and other relatives repeatedly tried to get help for Wade and his brother, contacting the department, the minister, the then premier, their local MP - anyone they could think of - in the months leading up to the tragedy, all to no avail. The coroner refers to evidence from Kriston Scale's brother, Glenn, about used syringes and baby bottles full of congealed milk in a cot left behind by Jakins and Scale when they moved house.

Glenn Scale and his wife, Clementina, were among the very small group of people the coroner praised. Following the tragedy, they now have custody of Wade's brother, who cannot be identified for legal reasons. There is absolutely no doubt the Department for Community Development knew the danger Wade and his brother were in. It was warned repeatedly by extended family members.The department knew Kriston Scale had an appalling history of violence. He was convicted and jailed in 1999 for three separate assaults on toddlers. Two of the victims were Wade's sisters. All were hospitalised with extensive bruising to the face and head. In one case, the child's eyes were so swollen he was unable to see. The department knew this, yet allowed Wade and his toddler brother to live with Kriston Scale. The department knew both parents were drug users. Urinalysis tests before and after Wade's birth tested positive for amphetamines and opiates.

A few months before his death, Wade was briefly removed from his parents but was quickly returned. The only explanation the public has received is a stumbling comment by Premier Alan Carpenter this week that Wade was returned "because the environment was, um ... err ... conducive to his return to his parents".

The report by Mr Hope shows that the department conducted its last home visit by a case worker three months before Wade died.

It arranged for Wesley Mission's family counselling arm, Wesley Hearth, to have continuing contact with the family but Angela Jakins often did not attend the planned sessions. The department was informed of each non-attendance. The evidence indicates that on July 22, after Jakins missed a session with Wesley Hearth, the department's team leader directed a case worker to undertake a home visit as a matter of urgency. The visit did not occur. This was followed up and the case worker was told to drop her other cases and do the visit. Again, it did not happen.

On July 23, Jakins missed another planned session with Wesley Hearth. The same day, Margaret Jakins wrote to the department again expressing her concerns that Angela Jakins was using drugs. "Unfortunately, this letter did not prompt a home visit or other positive action to protect the deceased," Mr Hope said. From July 24 to July 26, Jakins apparently went missing, with only Scale at the house caring for the children. On July 27, Glenn Scale's wife, Clementina, rang the department, adding her concerns about Jakins's drug use to the growing clamour raining down on the department. She was told it would be followed up. Nothing happened. On July 30, Wade died.

The coroner said the case highlighted worrying failures by the department to protect Wade and his brother. "The family history clearly indicated that drug abuse in the past had resulted in neglect and serious physical abuse to children," Mr Hope said. He said there was evidence the local branch office of the department was in crisis, seriously understaffed and lacking experience. He also said it was clear Wade's family was misled by the department, directly and indirectly, about the extent of supervision being provided. "Family members were given false comfort and led to believe there were management practices in place which were secure and intensive, whereas in fact the supervision was very limited," he said.

And in a final kick, he recommended the department review its practices to ensure future advice to the minister and correspondence provided in response to family concerns was reliable and accurate. The almost unbelievable display of incompetence, blunders, negligence and disregard that preceded Wade's death has snared two premiers, one minister, backbenchers, bureaucrats and an entire department. Mr Hope's report not only reveals the department's disastrous failings, it also exposes the then minister, Sheila McHale, who has since moved to the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, as a minister who was at best badly advised.

Margaret Jakins, the grandmother who tried so hard to save Wade, told The Weekend Australian "a hundred different people were at fault, it was never one. I would have welcomed any help but that's not what happened". She now just wants to be left alone to care for Wade's two sisters.


Incitement to terrorism ignored

NSW Premier Morris Iemma has urged Islamic extremists behind Sydney pamphlets calling for a holy war to destroy Israel to leave that sort of hatred overseas. A radical group with alleged links to the London bombings is reportedly distributing pamphlets through suburban Sydney calling for a holy war. The leaflets, from the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahir, call for a jihad to destroy Israel and use key dates in the Muslim calendar to signal the coming destruction of the Jewish state, News Limited newspapers report.

Mr Iemma said legitimate debate, free speech and opinions were welcome in Australia. "However, the sort of inflammatory language about conflicts in wars overseas, leave them behind. "Leave the conflicts, the old wars and the hatred behind."

The group is banned in Germany and British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for Hizb ut-Tahir, which has alleged links to last year's London terrorist attacks, to be outlawed in the UK. But it remains legal in Australia despite calls for it to be banned. Security agencies here are "very aware" of the pamphlets, a spokesman for Attorney-General Philip Ruddock's office said.


Another incompetent foreign doctor in a government hospital

Up to six people might have died because a pathologist in northern New South Wales misdiagnosed their tests, the state government said today. NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos and the chief executive of Hunter New England Health, Terry Clout, today announced the results of a review of 7350 anatomical pathology tests taken by Dr Farid Zaer. The review was conducted in March this year after concerns that Dr Zaer, who worked at Tamworth Hospital from 1999 to 2001, may have failed to correctly analyse tests for diseases, including cancer.

Mr Clout said that of the 7432 tests re-examined, 38 cases had significant variations which would have a serious impact on patient care. Of these, he said, five or six people had since died. "It may or it may not have been the case (that the misdiagnosis caused death) and because we don't have a parallel universe we will never know," Mr Clout said.

Mr Hatzistergos said he would willingingly refer the matter to further authorities if the families of the deceased wanted him to. "Obviously this is a dreadful thing to have happened," Mr Hatzistergos said. "I am very concerned by the results that have been revealed."

Three independent pathology laboratories conducted the review and advised the government that 97 per cent of Dr Zaer's tests were accurate. Of 217 people who were found to have had variations, Mr Clout said all but four had been contacted. "Those doctors have confirmed that in 179 of those cases there was no impact on the care provided to the patients," he said. "But that does regrettably leave some 38 patients where the significant variation in the test has meant that there was a less than desirable treatment provided." As a result of the misdiagnosis, the patients had either been over-treated or under-treated, including a small number who underwent unnecessary surgery. "We have undertaken a few operations that were not necessary, I have been quite clear about that," Mr Clout said. "Regrettably there have been cases where there appears to have been an error in the original diagnosis, (that) if known at the time, might have meant the patient received different care." But he refused to say if patients had lost arms, legs or breasts as part of the procedures, saying he did not want to identify people in a small rural community who "have already gone through anxiety in relation to this issue".

Dr Zaer, who was trained in India, has been banned from practising as a pathologist in NSW. Mr Hatzistergos said Dr Zaer was no longer working in that field, but was believed to be working in Queensland, possibly as a general practitioner.

Mr Clout said there was no way of knowing if the five or six people who had died in the past seven years had done so because they had been "significantly misdiagnosed". "We can't draw conclusions from that," he said. "Just because two things happen in the same window of time does not mean that one is a causal link to the other." But Mr Hatzistergos said he would refer the matter to the coroner for further investigation. "I am happy to refer anything to any further authority if required to," he said. Asked if he anticipated action by distressed family members, he replied: "We neither expect nor rule it out, it's obviously a matter for the families to make a decision in relation to that."

Concerns about the quality of Dr Zaer's work first surfaced in 2004 while he was working at the Illawarra Health Service. Despite this, thousands of patients were not tested until this year. Mr Hatzistergos said he was disappointed it had taken so long to get the results. "The only thing I do regret is that it has taken as long as it has," he said.


26 August, 2006


Two current articles below

Government dentist HIV positive

Up to 500 people are to be tested for HIV after a female dentist working for Queensland Health tested positive for the virus. Clinics at Bowen and Collinsville hospitals will be open from today to test people treated by the dentist since December 15. The dentist, employed by Queensland Health last year, was the only public dentist employed in the region. She worked in clinics in both hospitals and also treated a small number of patients at school dental clinics in the region and a small number of patients at Ayr hospital.

Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said the HIV test being offered would give people a response within 48 hours. Dr Young last night reassured patients that the risk of contracting HIV from the dentist was "very very low". She said there was no known case of transmission of HIV in Australia between a dentist and patient.

Queensland Health last night revealed few details of the dentist who started work for Queensland Health "some time last year". Dr Young said it was believed she contracted the disease in late December and ruled out that it was caught from one of her patients. Queensland Health yesterday began going through all medical records to trace former patients who will be contacted and offered a HIV test. A 1800 hotline has been established and more information is available on the Queensland Health website.

Dr Young said Queensland Health required all staff who undertook exposure-prone procedures to be aware of their HIV, Hep C and B status. "Dentists put their hands into people's mouths . . . They could potentially cut themselves and there is a risk blood could go into a patient's mouth."

Dr Young said Queensland Health protocols required dentists to wear gloves and a mask when treating patients and all medical equipment was sterilised after use.

Australian Dental Association Queensland president Dr Robert McCray last night said former patients of the dentist should not be alarmed as the risk of infection was "almost zero". "Dentistry within Queensland is performed under a set of guidelines," Dr McCray said. "The likelihood of transmission from patient to dentist or dentist to patient is very low in the extreme unless standard operating procedures were not followed. There has been no known case in Australia. "The public should have total confidence that the likelihood of transmission from dentist to patient is virtually zero."


Truth penalized by corrupt government

A health whistleblower who was demoted after exposing the "Jayant Patel" of dentistry is demanding his job back, claiming he has been vindicated. Former Gold Coast Health Service District principal dentist Dan Naidoo was disciplined last year after speaking out about the alleged rogue dentist and the poor state of public dental services on the tourist strip. The dentist he exposed - accused of botching procedures and "torturing" patients to the point of tears - had strict conditions placed on his practice by the Dental Board of Queensland and has since been sacked. One female patient was left with a hole in her jaw and needed nasal reconstruction after a procedure in what she described as the dentist's "torture chamber".

But after suspending the dentist and alerting the media, Dr Naidoo was demoted and sent to a suburban dental clinic in what former health inquiry commissioner Tony Morris described as a classic case of Queensland Health's "shoot the messenger" culture. Now working for NSW Health, Dr Naidoo says he has been vindicated and wants his senior Gold Coast job back. "I just feel cheated and I feel a great sense of injustice," he said yesterday. "I stopped this dentist from torturing patients and yet I was punished and demoted."

An internal Queensland Health email obtained by The Courier-Mail reveals a decision was made in April last year to remove the dentist from clinical work "in the interests of patient safety". But Dr Naidoo said the dentist was allowed to continue operating despite complaints from patients and staff. He later suspended the dentist after hearing one of his patients "screaming in pain".

Surfers Paradise Liberal MP John-Paul Langbroek, himself a dentist, has raised Dr Naidoo's plight in State Parliament and said he should have had whistleblower protection. "He was trying to protect patients and he was cast adrift by Queensland Health," Mr Langbroek said.

But in a letter to Mr Langbroek, Premier Peter Beattie said Dr Naidoo was disciplined for making "inflammatory and untrue" statements which had "undermined public confidence" in Gold Coast dental services. Mr Beattie said Dr Naidoo had been warned that he could be disciplined for speaking out, and was given an opportunity to defend himself. Dr Naidoo had not appealed against the decision or sought legislative protection afforded to "true whistleblowers", Mr Beattie said.


Science education in Australia

Some works of literature have titles so powerful that it seems unnecessary to read the work itself. E.M. Forster's Two Cheers for Democracy is like that for me. Democracy may be a poor system of government, but it is the best we've got. It is always struggling and its results are not always inspiring. One of the deeper purposes of education in a democratic country must be to help merit the third cheer. A democracy has millions of decision-makers, some wise and well informed, many who think they are, and some who don't even try, but all vote. One of the outcomes of education is that children are indoctrinated in their social and political heritage.

Anyone who knows schools knows this indoctrination will happen by default; it is better if it is controlled. It should be intentional, purposeful, and should develop Forster's two cheers: critical minds and a variety of thinking. Sound education can also earn democracy my third cheer: for good decision-making, the sine qua non of a strong and ethical government.

This was a big week in Canberra for education and good decision-making. First, speaking as the Minister for Science, Julie Bishop, who is also Minister for Education, made the important statement that intelligent design should not be taught in science classes. Pointing out that ID does not belong in the science curriculum at all, she has taken a firm stand and given leadership that will strengthen our science teaching.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Australian Council for Educational Research held its 11th national research conference, this year focusing on science teaching and learning. On Thursday was the history summit, attended by the Education Minister, former "history premier" Bob Carr and an impressive list of historians and history teachers. The two conferences were tied together by themes: Science for Citizenship in one and History for Citizenship in the other. I see the two coming together in a wonderfully productive symbiotic relationship.

Science for Citizenship is a research focus of Jonathan Osborne, a professor at King's College, London, who gave the first keynote address. He sees the early specialisation of science teaching to cater for potential career scientists as deadening to the majority, who have needs as future citizens but will not study science after secondary school.

What plagues democracy is that pesky tradition of involving everyone in decision-making. As Osborne told the science conference: "Society is confronted with a dilemma that the majority of people lack the knowledge to make an informed choice."

Having strongly suggested that science is the greatest cultural achievement of Western society, he argues that science must attempt to communicate "not only what is worth knowing, but also how such knowledge relates to other events, why it is important, and how this particular view of the world came to be".

It does not take much science to understand the water cycle and that H2O is H2O, yet the good people of Toowoomba recently decided they could not drink purified used water. It is worth knowing what water is and the role it played for millennia before it came into our brief lives. This is just one example of how good science teaching can make people better voters and citizens.

It is important to understand science that explains the case as it is, not as we might prefer it to be. Gravity is inconvenient to a child falling out of a tree, just as global warming is to all of us today. Scientific research and political decision-making share the need for rational, evidence-based argument. The science classroom is one place where these higher-order thinking skills can - indeed, must - be effectively taught to young citizens of our democracy. To be effective, we must start with the young. Our primary schools, almost without exception, miss the boat completely.

Science might be in the primary curriculum, but what is taught is usually warm, fuzzy and concentrates more on what is cute than on developing disciplined thought. This is not surprising as almost no Australian primary teachers have studied science as part of their university degree and not many have been interested enough to have studied it in the last two years of secondary school. They are monumentally unprepared to teach facts (or understand what a fact is in science - think of phlogiston (more later) - and even less prepared to help young minds develop sound scientific thinking. A survey of how many primary teachers go to a homoeopath or care what their star sign is gives a quick indication of the parlous state of science teaching in our primary schools.

Yet young children observe the world very closely and ask questions. They poke and probe and experiment: scientific behaviour that is often mistaken for naughtiness. They love to count and take surveys. They are young scientists. As they see patterns emerging in the world around them, they discover where they fit. Science makes sense. We urgently need full-time specialist science teachers who are given time, rooms and resources to teach our children from kindergarten to Year 6. After such an introduction, science might be able to compete in high school with "fun" courses such as design and technology or drama, which are fun because they teach children how to explore aspects of life hands-on, just as science does.

Back to phlogiston. Joseph Priestley, one of the best late 18th-century scientists, discovered phlogiston and knew that it assisted combustion and respiration better than air. Dephlogisticated air, known to us as carbon dioxide, suffocates fire. The phlogiston theory was the best theory going until Lavoisier offered oxygen and started a battle with Priestley and a revolution in chemistry. Against the backdrop of the French Revolution, whereby Lavoisier ended up on the guillotine, what story could offer more: excitement, science, revolution in chemistry and politics, and impact on our lives today?

The phlogiston story is one among many that demonstrate how science searches for evidence-based explanations and can change its mind when evidence is compelling. The competition for glory, the sharing of ideas, the influence of one person's work on another, the impact of events outside the science laboratory: all are common themes in the history of ideas that shaped our world.

Is the phlogiston story science or is it history? Of course it is both, but open to study through the prism of each discipline in a somewhat different mode. History and science are not so far from each other; both require a chronological framework, knowledge of facts and development of skills for their full power to be appreciated and the importance to our lives to be convincing. Recent television programs on the history of science, for example on Darwin's The Origin of Species, penicillin or the introduction of sewers in London, show vividly the human drama that accompanies great developments in science. Knowing such stories, the science behind them and its impact on our daily lives leads to citizens better prepared to use their judgment.

Osborne called for "the study of the history of ideas and the evidence on which they are founded" to be the core of the curriculum. In such a curriculum we develop critical thinking and evidence-based decision-making. We can earn the third cheer for democracy.


Shameful inaction: Children must be rescued from wicked parental neglect

And to hell with the politically correct social-worker doctrine that children must stay with their parents

The tragic death of 11-month-old Wade Michael Scale in Western Australia is another sad reminder that not all parents have the best interests of their children at heart. Equally shocking, but not unexpected, is the state Government's response, to hide the full extent of its own incompetence.

Baby Wade was found drowned in a bathtub with the adult prescription sedative diazepam in his blood. West Australian Coroner Alastair Hope could not tell if the drug-addicted parents had given Wade the drug to keep him quiet. But the Coroner heard enough to criticise state welfare for failing to offer protection in light of repeated warnings of parental neglect from the child's grandmother.

Wade's death appears to be the tip of a nightmarish iceberg. But we do not known how big because the West Australian Government has suppressed details of an investigation into other children who died while being monitored by the Department of Community Development. Wade's case has echo's of the death of a three-year-old boy in NSW who was raped and then electrocuted by a pedophile his mother had met at a train station. In that case, complaints of abuse by the boy, and his six-year-old sister, were ignored. As were repeated warnings of neglect despite the mother's documented history of handing her children to predators.

This issue clearly haunts all state governments. In Queensland, after campaigning in the 2004 state election to fix its appalling record on child welfare, the Government admitted that 4544 of the 11,896 child abuse reports received last year had not been passed on for investigation. In NSW, dozens of children, many known to be at high risk, die each year because authorities are too willing to accept promises by mothers that things will improve.

In Western Australia, the evidence is that wicked acts have thrived on inaction. A common theme remains the wrong-headed policy of keeping children with their natural parents at any cost. The rights of the parent must give way to the safety of the child and state governments must be accountable for the terrible things that happen because of their inaction. Public exposure is the first, necessary, step.


25 August, 2006

Lodhi is our enemy: Long jail sentence for would-be Muslim terrorist sends a signal to all those who wish Australia harm

The 20-year jail sentence imposed on Faheem Khalid Lodhi sends important signals to all sorts of Australians. For a start, it is a welcome wake-up call for those who refuse to accept we are all on the front line in the war on terror. Lodhi planned an attack on the electricity grid, to wreak havoc on a country that he professed to call home.

His conviction also sends a clear message that individuals in our midst with murder on their minds cannot use the legal system as a shelter from the consequences of planning or committing evil acts. Certainly, self-confessed al-Qa'ida footsoldier "Jihad" Jack Thomas was acquitted of terror offences last week because of police errors in the way he was interviewed. But Lodhi is now convicted, and sentenced to two decades in prison.

The job of the police and the courts is to justly protect us from the mad and the bad. And this sentence shows how it can be done according to law. Lodhi's imprisonment may not deter the most adamant of the enemies of all Australians from taking his place. But some may consider his fate and think again before they plot against us. Lodhi will rot in prison for 20 years, knowing that Australians of all and no faiths despise him for what he planned. Their contempt is a message he deserves to hear loudly and often and for many, many years.

There is also a message for other Australians in Lodhi's conviction and sentence. Despite years of mass murders by Islamic terrorists all over the world, there are still some who say the war on terror is a political contrivance designed to frighten us all. They should consider the judgment of Justice Anthony Whealy in sentencing Lodhi when he warned that even though the plan was amateurish and ill-conceived, it could have caused death and damage.

It is an essential argument. From Bali to London, mass murderers have demonstrated it does not take any special ability to kill innocent people and to shatter the social cohesion and trust that democracies depend on. "Australia has, to this time, not been a country where fundamentalist and extreme views have exposed our citizens to death and destruction within the sanctuary of our shores. One has only to think of the consequences on the national psyche of a tragedy such as the Port Arthur massacre to realise how a major terrorist bombing would impact on the security, the stability and wellbeing of the citizens of this country," Justice Whealy said.

Nor was Lodhi acting to address any grievance that could ever be addressed in a democracy. As Justice Whealy put it: "The extremist views, which he must in truth be taken to have espoused, are not representative of the true nature of his Islamic religion. Rather, they are a distortion of it." In his duplicity and his intent, Faheem Lodhi is our enemy. His conviction will not end the danger of attack, but in removing the risk from a bad man, and reminding us all of the dangers we face, it is a victory in the war on terror we needed.


Abortionist guilty

A Sydney doctor faces a lengthy jail term after being convicted for an illegal abortion in the first case of its kind in NSW in 25 years. Suman Sood was tried in the NSW Supreme Court on two counts of unlawfully giving abortion drugs to a young woman in May 2002 and for the manslaughter of the woman's premature baby boy. Sood, 56, who ran the Fairfield Women's Health Clinic in Sydney's southwest, pleaded not guilty to three charges at the start of her five-week trial.

After three days' deliberation, the jury of eight women and three men today acquitted Sood of manslaughter. She was convicted of the two illegal abortion charges, each of which carries a maximum 10-year jail term.

Sood was consulted on May 20, 2002, by a 20-year-old woman who had just discovered she was five months pregnant. Several clinics refused to terminate her pregnancy after 20 weeks but the woman was told the procedure could be done at Sood's clinic for $1500. The jury heard Sood inserted a prostaglandin tablet and gave her two more pills to swallow, in preparation for a termination procedure the next day.

But the woman delivered a baby boy on the toilet at home overnight. The baby died five hours later. Born at 23 weeks gestation, the baby's lungs were underdeveloped and he was pronounced dead about five hours later, the jury was told.

Abortion is legal in NSW if a doctor forms the genuine belief, based on reasonable grounds, that continuing the pregnancy would endanger the mother's life, or physical or mental health.

Prosecutors said Sood acted illegally because she did not question the patient about her medical, social or economic circumstances or why she wanted the abortion. They claimed she therefore could not have judged whether the abortion was necessary to preserve the patient's wellbeing.

The jury rejected Sood's defence that she never intended to terminate the woman's pregnancy and only gave her painkillers, not prostaglandins. Defence barrister Phillip Boulten, SC, also argued there was insufficient evidence that the baby was born alive, meaning a manslaughter charge was not applicable.

The ambulance officer who retrieved the newborn from the toilet said he was blue, was not breathing and had no heartbeat. The mother and baby were taken to Westmead Hospital, where he was observed with a pink colour and a "fluttering" heartbeat, gasping for breath every two to three minutes. But the jury heard conflicting medical evidence about whether these were conclusive signs of independent life, and Mr Boulten said they could not convict Sood of manslaughter if they were satisfied the baby had not been alive.

Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi, QC, alleged Sood was motivated by greed to perform the abortion, and "was more intent on maximising her income than she was on the welfare of her patient". The last person tried in NSW for an illegal abortion was also a doctor, George Smart, who was convicted in 1981 of unlawfully procuring a teenage girl's miscarriage. Sood was granted bail ahead of sentencing next month.


Public hospital negligence kills in New South Wales

The family of a Sydney teenager have demanded to know why health officials said she did not need medication that might have prevented her death from meningococcal disease. Jehan Nassif, 18, from Yagoona in Sydney's south-west died from the disease in Bankstown Hospital last Friday.

Her boyfriend George Khauzame had recently returned from a holiday to Greece with his cousin Elias. Elias was diagnosed with meningococcal upon returning to Australia, while Mr Khauzame was given antibiotics as a precaution. Worried his girlfriend might also contract the disease, Mr Khauzame today said he asked a public health official if Jehan was at risk. He said he was told she would be fine. "I asked the lady at public health should Jehan be treated because I had made contact with her for three hours on Monday nights," he told reporters. "She said Jehan was safe and didn't need to be treated. "I asked again and she said she she would be fine."

Mr Khauzame said his concerns for Jehan's health were further inflamed when the pair went to visit Elias in hospital. He said Jehan had asked if she needed a face mask but was told by the nurses that she didn't need to wear one, even though the nurses were.

Jehan's father, Tony Nassif, is now demanding to know what happened to his daughter. "I want to know why she died," he told reporters. "She was beautiful, she wanted to be a teacher." Mr Nassif said his daughter wanted to go to hospital last Friday morning but was told by ambulance officials it would be a two to three hour wait at Auburn Hospital. After she lost her vision, her ability to walk and a purple rash broke out on her body, the family called the ambulance again and she was rushed to Bankstown Hospital, where she died a short time later.

NSW Ambulance operations director Michael Willis today said ambulance officers who were called to Jehan's home at about 3am on Friday had said she refused to be transported to hospital. "The two officers that attended that case have recorded that they found a female patient suffering with vomiting and diarrhoea and after an examination with the family, in fact that patient refused transport," he told reporters. The ambulance officers had not been aware Jehan had been in contact with a person with meningococcal and had not diagnosed her with the condition, Mr Willis said. "They were unable to detect any signs of meningococcal at that stage," he said.


A truly Irish Australian

Her surname must have helped. It's about as Irish as you can get. Having plenty of Irish blood myself, I am delighted by this story. It does a sentimental Celtic heart good

A trainee teacher from Brisbane has become Ireland's sweetheart after winning the Rose of Tralee contest. Millions of Irish TV viewers tuned in to see Kathryn Feeney, 23, become this year's Rose in a glittering ceremony in County Kerry.

The competition, which celebrates the Rose of Tralee folk song, aims to find the most charming and beautiful women in Ireland and Irish communities around the globe. Kathryn, whose grandfather was Irish, won the Queensland heat earlier this year. Her whole family, including some from the US, joined her in Dublin and yesterday they toasted her triumph with a few pints of Guinness.

Noela McCormick, of the Queensland Irish Association, was with them in the audience as Kathryn was declared the 2006 Rose. "She couldn't believe she had won, but I'm not surprised. The Irish fell in love with her right from the start," she said. "All of the girls in the contest have been treated like movie stars. They've been on TV all week and people have been scrambling for their autographs.


Heroic country people

They breed 'em tough out Roma way. A seven-month survey by ambulance officers in the southwest Queensland town found 97 patients made it to hospital under their own steam despite serious injury or illness. Ambulance officer in charge at Roma, Karl Radford, said patients drove themselves or loved ones up to 80km over "goat track" roads rather than call Triple-0.

Patients made the journey suffering heart attacks, broken bones, migraines and asthma, Mr Radford said. "It's not just one or two people here and there," he said. But he warned that resourceful country Queenslanders risked their lives by taking medical transport into their own hands. "Something like asthma, that just goes bad in the blink of an eye - you could be literally dead in three minutes," he said. "I'm astounded that we haven't had an accident because somebody was rushing themselves to hospital. "Somebody who's having, for example, a heart attack, they run such a terrible risk."

Mr Radford, who has been in charge at Roma's ambulance station for four years, urged locals to take advantage of the state's free ambulance cover. "They need to realise the services that are available to them. Here in Roma, we've got a four-wheel-drive ambulance," said the father of two. "Even if it was a really remote and isolated property and there was an airport or landing strip, there's the option of getting aircraft in there. "All my family have been told call Triple-0 - if I didn't think it would work, I wouldn't tell my own people."

Rural Doctors Association Queensland president Christian Rowan said selfless rural Queenslanders often made the hazardous drive to hospital rather than tie up an ambulance needed elsewhere. "I can think of a fellow who was lighting up a grass fire and his trousers caught fire," Dr Rowan said. "He basically burned one leg with third-degree, full-thickness burns. "He drove himself and that would've taken at least half an hour. "He was in a lot of pain but he was one of those tough old bushies who thought to himself, 'Oh, I won't need an ambulance, there may be someone else in greater need than me'."

Dr Rowan also advised Queenslanders living outside urban areas to call for help. "Sometimes a particular health situation really requires assistance. They should ask for it and not feel guilty about it." Roma Mayor Bruce Garvie backed the calls. "People are tough in the bush because they have to be to survive through the elements," he said. "It's bred in them. But they probably do need to reach out more than they do. "Often they take things on themselves and don't realise how serious it is


24 August, 2006

Callgirl enters Einfeld fray

The legal fallout from Marcus Einfeld's speeding ticket now threatens to engulf his solicitor, Michael Ryan, after a spurned prostitute gave police a suitcase full of documents. The papers were handed over by Marie Christos, a former legal secretary who claims she was regularly paid for sex by Mr Ryan.

She said she became involved in the Einfeld affair during the bitter break-up of her six-year relationship with Mr Ryan, a partner in McClellands Lawyers. The relationship allegedly started soon after Ms Christos left a secretarial position with a top Sydney silk. She said she met Mr Ryan in a brothel and had begun a relationship with him in which he paid her up to $500 for sex. To seek retribution against Mr Ryan after they broke up, Ms Christos said she rifled through his garbage looking for information to use against him.

She has since been quizzed by police about a draft statement she said she found, which appeared to have been prepared on behalf of Mr Einfeld. The statement was believed to have been about who was driving Mr Einfeld's silver Lexus on the night the luxury car was picked up for speeding in January. Ms Christos said yesterday that police had told her that when they interviewed Mr Ryan last week he had denied any connection with the draft statement, which Ms Christos later supplied to The Daily Telegraph newspaper in Sydney. "He has told police it was a set-up," she said.

Mr Ryan has refused to respond to a number of requests for comment from The Australian. Ms Christos said yesterday that she has since given police other versions of the draft statement that she had had found in Mr Ryan's garbage. Those extra documents, while torn and crumpled, had been placed in plastic bags by police and taken away for finger-printing, she said. Daily Telegraph editor David Penberthy said last night that his newspaper had made a formal statement to police on Monday.

Ms Christos's involvement in the Einfeld inquiry is the latest twist in the bizarre chain of events that was triggered by Mr Einfeld's decision to fight a $77 speeding ticket. Mr Einfeld, a former Federal Court judge, is facing a fraud squad investigation into evidence he gave to Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court that allowed him to avoid the speeding fine. He told the court that at the time of the offence in January this year, he had lent his car to Teresa Brennan, a professor who had been visiting from the US. After the court proceedings it emerged that Brennan had died in 2003, and that two doctorates held by Mr Einfeld had been conferred by institutions which some claim are little more than "diploma mills".

This follows complaints last year that, before he left Federal Court, one of his judgments had failed to acknowledge material that was identical to work by Sydney University academic John Carter. Mr Carter said this week that the material had been identical to that contained in one of his books. "I recognised my own work," he said. Mr Carter had put the matter in the hands of his publisher, and Mr Einfeld later said that a footnote had been accidentally omitted from the judgment.

Mr Einfeld was a Federal Court judge at the time his two postgraduate degrees were awarded. The Californian university that gave Mr Einfeld a PhD - which cost $3413 at the time it was awarded - has since conceded that it is trying to rise above claims it was a "diploma mill" in the past and become an accredited academic institution. Pacific Western president Ronald Detrick admitted the university's chequered history was a stumbling block in its efforts to win federal accreditation. He said Pacific Western's reputation was so bad that he recommended to the new owner, Florida-based chiropractor Steven Warfield, that it be closed down.


States' stand against history teaching weakens

The states' opposition to teaching history as a stand-alone subject faltered yesterday with Queensland Premier Peter Beattie pledging to introduce a compulsory Australian history subject if re-elected. The West Australian and Tasmanian governments also indicated they would look at how history was taught in schools, with the Carpenter Government not opposed to teaching Australian history as a separate, compulsory subject in years 9 and 10. But West Australian Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich dismissed the importance of students knowing historical dates, saying they could use the internet.

The history summit last Thursday, attended by 23 distinguished historians and commentators, urged the states to replace the subject Studies of Society and its Environment, under which history is now taught, with a traditional teaching of history, including making Australian history compulsory in years 9 and 10. Only NSW and, from this year, Victoria teach history as a stand-alone subject, with the remaining states teaching it under SOSE ["studies of society and environment"] with geography, environment, political and other social studies.

Mr Beattie's support for a separate Australian history subject overruled his Education Minister, Rod Welford, who is strongly opposed to the idea. On the campaign trail yesterday, Mr Beattie said he believed Australian history should be taught more thoroughly in schools, with particular emphasis on Aboriginal history before white settlement. "If re-elected, I want to ensure that there is a stand-alone compulsory unit on Australian history," he said. "When I went to school, I was taught lots about British history, German, Russian, but so little about Australian history, which I picked up by reading after I left school and when I went to uni."

After the summit, Mr Welford said it would be "educational vandalism" for the federal Government to force the separate study of history on the states. "To talk about history as a stand-alone subject, as a list of events, is an educational absurdity," he said. But a spokeswoman for Mr Welford yesterday said Mr Beattie's support for the subject was under the umbrella of SOSE. The spokeswoman said not all teachers taught Australian history under SOSE and Mr Beattie wanted to ensure it was a compulsory unit not separate to SOSE.

Ms Ravlich dismissed the knowledge of key historical dates as unimportant and was reported yesterday as saying it was akin to not knowing "the internal workings of a computer". She said the advent of the internet and search engines, such as Google, meant students had those dates at their fingertips. But Ms Ravlich went on to say that in terms of making Australian history a compulsory subject in years 9 and 10, "I don't have a problem with that necessarily". Tasmanian Education Minister David Bartlett did not rule out reinstating history as a separate subject but said it had been taught as part of SOSE for 25 years. "I'm happy to look at how we go about teaching in all our curriculum areas. We always want to continue to improve our curriculum framework and therefore what's taught," he said.


A wonderful story

And a testimony to the desirability of accelerated education

Terry Tao was just two when he stunned a family gathering at home in Adelaide by giving a maths and spelling lesson to friends' children who were up to five years his senior. Using blocks, and knowledge he had gleaned from television, Tao showed the children how to add up and to make words.

Tao's father, Billy, an Adelaide pediatrician, remembers his son's party-stopper. "The children were playing and the adults were talking ... suddenly, we found the children had gone very quiet," Billy Tao says. "We found that Terry was teaching them numbers and the alphabet. The other kids were a lot older. He was showing them how to add and so on. I said 'how do you know all these numbers and alphabet?' and he said 'From watching Sesame Street'."

It was an early indication that the boy would become a world-beating genius with a 221 IQ: he had two university degrees by the age of 17, was made a professor of mathematics at 24 and, last night, the 31-year-old Tao was presented with the world's highest prize in mathematics, the Fields Medal, regarded as the discipline's Nobel prize. He is Australia's first winner.

The International Mathematical Union, which bestows the award, cites Tao as "a supreme problem-solver whose spectacular work has had an impact across several mathematical areas". "He combines sheer technical power, an other-worldly ingenuity for hitting upon new ideas and a startlingly natural point of view that leaves other mathematicians wondering, 'Why didn't anyone see that before?'."

Tao himself is modest about the honour: "I don't really know how it will affect my career. I haven't had an award like this before. I'm trying to focus on continuing my research and other work, such as advising graduate students."

An early mentor and academic supervisor, the director of the International Centre of Excellence for Education in Mathematics, Garth Gaudry, says Tao is a phenomenon. While most leading research mathematicians work on two or three projects at a time with collaborators, Tao juggles 10 to 15, Gaudry says. When Gaudry took on the 12-year-old Tao at Billy Tao's behest, the youngster had already exhausted several private tutors. Then a maths professor at Flinders University, Adelaide, Gaudry taught Tao on Wednesday afternoons. He remembers "a tiny little boy, a delightful kid" with staggering "insight and brilliance", who was "completely off the scale". "By age 14 he was doing very advanced mathematics, the sort of thing in US first-year graduate study, and I gave him the hardest stuff," Gaudry says. "He was just so creative. I'd give him some really esoteric problems and he would just invent things and he was absolutely spot on. The creativity was like flashes of lightning in front of my eyes. I've never had a student like this." Gaudry says they both loved the sessions. "He was just such a happy person who enjoyed every moment of what he was doing. It was a great relationship from the beginning and that has continued to this day," he says. Gaudry was in Madrid last night to witness Tao's investiture into the maths hall of fame.

With backgrounds in pediatrics and maths teaching, Tao's parents, Hong Kong Chinese who came to Australia in 1972, were well-placed to plan their first born's schooling. After a premature start at primary school, Tao went back to Bellevue Heights Primary School in the Adelaide hills at age four. His parents and principal Keith Lomax designed a staggered schooling for him. At age six, Tao was studying some classes in grades two and three, and maths at grade six and seven level. His father says: "Some education people think that accelerated education is the way to go with all gifted children. But my concept is you have to design courses according to people. Don't accelerate beyond what is good for the child."

Tao started classes at Blackwood High School at Eden Hills in Adelaide at age seven but he remained in some classes at Bellevue Heights. By eight he had finished primary school and, while he was studying such subjects as geography, biology and chemistry at Year 7 and 8 level, Tao was already devouring Year 11 and 12 maths and physics. "His subjects were never strictly according to the timetable of the curriculum. It was always very loose," Billy Tao says. "This allows him to develop academically according to his intellectual ability but kept him normal socially."

Tao was always in good company. Parents Billy and Grace produced three nodes of extreme intelligence. Brother Trevor, 29, is an autistic music savant and chess champion with degrees in music who last year earned a PhD in applied mathematics from the University of Adelaide. He works for the Defence Science Technology Organisation. Youngest brother Nigel, 27, has degrees in computer science and economics and works for the internet search company Google in Sydney.

Tao's next step into higher education was also a mixed one. He was enrolled at Flinders at the age of nine while still studying at Blackwood High. By 16 he had completed a bachelor of science degree and the following year he wrapped up a masters of science degree with honours. A PhD in maths at Princeton University in the US followed at 21 and, at 24, Tao was made professor of mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles. Apart from stints at the University of NSW in 1999 and 2000 and the Australian National University in Canberra from 2001 to 2003, Tao has lived full-time in the US since starting his PhD. It was Gaudry who encouraged Tao to leave Australia.

"It worked out well for me as I was exposed to different types of mathematics that I didn't encounter in Australia," says Tao. "I think I am going to stay over here (in the US) more or less permanently, though I do plan to visit Australia about once a year." He lives in LA where he is married to Laura, an American of Korean background, and they have a son, three-year-old William, whom Billy says is "very smart, reading by himself".

Tao's work, like that of many mathematicians, is esoteric, understood and appreciated by very few, although its applications power the hi-tech modern world. He works in a theoretical field called harmonic analysis - an advanced form of calculus that uses equations from physics - as well as non-linear partial differential equations, algebraic geometry, number theory and combinatorics. He has also made mathematical descriptions of wave motions of light in fibre-optic cables. His latest breakthrough, in a collaboration with Ben Green of Cambridge University, is to show that it is possible to compile any sequence of evenly spaced prime numbers. This is called number theory and it has challenged, confounded and entertained mathematicians for centuries. Euclid in 300BC was the first to prove that there are infinitely many prime numbers. Number theory is at the heart of the encryption codes that organisations such as banks use to protect electronic information from hackers.

But Tao and Green's work is so new and so advanced that even they don't know what its uses might be. "Ben and I are investigating these tools further and it looks like they are going to have many applications though of course it's hard to say at this point," Tao explains. The under-appreciation of maths is not lost on Gaudry. "People don't appreciate that there is an enormous amount of maths research going on," he says. "The problem for maths is that some of the most famous and wonderful advances in our subject are hidden inside the technology that we enjoy." Compact discs, mobile phones, MP3 players and special effects in movies are all products driven by maths research.

But under-appreciation of maths is not limited to the uninitiated. Maths is struggling in our universities. A recent survey by the Australian Mathematical Science Institute of job ads in The Australian's Higher Education Supplement found that in an 18-month period, 70 mathematicians had quit academic posts but only 18 ads had called for replacements. "It's a disaster (but) the effects are not immediate," says ANU professor of mathematics Neil Trudinger. "In time they'll be translated into disadvantages in the whole scientific, technological effort in keeping up with the rest of the world."

Earlier this year, the maths department at the University of New England in northern NSW was cut from seven positions to four. "There's an expectation that four faculty members can deliver an entire academic program ... at a place that calls itself a university; it's pathetic," Trudinger says. AMSI director Philip Broadbridge says Tao was fortunate to have studied when he did. "The time when Tao was taught and mentored you could go to virtually any university in Australia and think you could receive an education of that quality," he says. "These days, I'm not so sure."


Bad food coverup in Sydney

They are made public in New York, London, Toronto, Copenhagen, Los Angeles and dozens of other cities, but Sydney has ruled that the addresses of restaurants caught breaching food safety regulations must remain secret. Clover Moore, the independent MP and the Lord Mayor of Sydney, has long fought for stronger laws to protect the public's right to know, but her chief executive, Monica Barone, has refused a Herald appeal filed under freedom of information laws for access to the addresses where staff issued 78 fines over the past year. The council has released a list with the date and amount of fines imposed, but has blacked out names and street numbers, defying a worldwide trend towards disclosing such information.

In customer-focused New York, a website carries the results of inspections and will send you for free the results of any five restaurants you nominate. In Toronto restaurants must display a sticker in the window that reveals the results of health inspections with similar systems operating across the US and increasingly in Britain. Ms Barone dismissed any relevance such overseas practices might have for Sydney on the grounds that any publication of results was done "presumably in accordance with legislation which is applicable in those places". In NSW, she said, the Privacy Act prohibited her from revealing the names of the individuals fined.

While the street address of restaurants are in the phone book and available to passers-by, they remain secret on the grounds they are "information concerning the commercial or business affairs of a person". Revealing them could "reasonably be expected to have an unreasonable adverse effect", she said.

Similar fears were expressed in Europe and North America before the names of offending restaurants were published, but there have since been reports that many restaurants now prefer these details to be public as it becomes another way they can distinguish themselves from competitors and attract customers.

But Ms Barone said she could not release the information as it would be "reasonable to expect that advertising of the locations of these food premises may give a false representation of the condition of each of the premises, which could lead to a downturn in custom, thus reducing income and causing possible hardship for the proprietors". [But would that not be deserved?]

Besides, the imposition of fines had fixed the problems permanently in a way that did not seem to happen overseas. 'I am informed that following the issue of a [fine], City [of Sydney] staff return to the premises to ensure hygiene standards are being complied with," Ms Barone said. "I am also informed . all premises were complying [with one exception, which was then prosecuted]."


23 August, 2006

Odd! A Left-supporting God is beyond criticism

When Bruce Baird declared that he could not support a Liberal Party bill for the first time in a 19-year parliamentary career, he did so for religious reasons. The Sydney Liberal MP and former NSW Liberal frontbencher could not get out of his head the experience of visiting those in detention centres across Australia and the recurring Christian rejoinder: "These are your brothers, these are your sisters."

An openly religious and caring Christian, Baird did not abstain from voting on the Coalition's bill to excise the Australian mainland from asylum-seekers arriving by boat because he was a member of the Liberal Left; he never joined the Left faction in all his years in the NSW Parliament. No, he did so because his conscience, informed by his Christian beliefs and experience, directed him. "Whether or not we use a Christian analogy, certainly we know that we are encouraged to look at the weak and vulnerable as a starting point. While we build our riches as a nation, the danger for us is that, in this process of collecting a glittering prize of materialism, we lose our soul," Baird told parliament. "We have had conscience votes on RU486 and other things. This is a conscience vote."

Other Coalition and Labor MPs cited religious beliefs and support of the churches for refugees, particularly those seeking to come to Australia from Indonesia's West Papua. Labor's Peter Garrett declared his own Christian position and his colleague Duncan Kerr praised the role of the Catholic Church in helping Papuans. Crucially, in the Senate, the Nationals' Barnaby Joyce and Family First's Steve Fielding cited Christian compassion for not being able to support the bill. Because Liberal senator Judith Troeth had decided to vote against the bill, the opposition of Joyce and Fielding meant John Howard had to kill the bill.

In opposing the bill, Joyce used the Christian image of the holy family: Mary, Jesus and Joseph, fleeing the persecution of Herod and being turned away from modern Australia. Fielding's party represents family values and has strong support from church groups of all descriptions, including many evangelical churches. When the bill was pulled, the Coalition rebels and Fielding were praised for their courage, for acting on conscience, for the quality of their decisions and standing up to bullying.

This is a lovely, warm tale, a positive example of a victory of conscience, principle and parliamentary strength triumphing over the executive and party bullies. But there's something missing, something that is illogical and contrary to the prevailing political mood and a golden thread that joins this act of conscience with others on a range of moral issues: Where are the attacks on all these people for acting on religious beliefs? Where is Australian Greens senator Kerry Nettle's sectarian T-shirt mocking Joyce's Catholicism and urging him to keep his "rosaries off our refugees"? Why isn't Australian Democrats leader Lyn Allison deploring Fielding's links with "Hillsongy types"? Was this not a conspiracy between the churches and proselytisers of the US Bible Belt and our home-grown bible bashers?

It seems that it's OK to have God in politics as long as he's on the so-called progressive side. It's fine for Greens leader Bob Brown to campaign for Tibet and the Dalai Lama and against China's persecution of the spiritual movement Falun Gong, but not to start parliamentary business with the Lord's Prayer. It's fine for Catholic nuns to help refugees on the run or for Catholic justice groups to help West Papuans, but it's not OK for them to attempt to influence politicians on abortion or embryonic stem cell research. A bishop's remarks against industrial relations laws are used widely, but bishops who speak out against abortion are decried as men in dresses who should keep their hands off women's ovaries.

The Catholic Church, Uniting Church and evangelical groups that support resettling refugees using religious ties are praised, yet Family First is accused of belonging to the neo-conservative religious Right with its roots in the US, and of threatening democracy. Baird confirmed to The Australian this week that he'd received no criticism from other MPs and senators about his religious stand on the refugee bill, not even from those who bitterly attack and campaign against his harmless organisational role in a multi-faith parliamentary prayer breakfast. "You're right," he said. "They tolerate it when you are being nice to them."

But when Nationals' Senate leader Ron Boswell mounts an anti-abortion campaign or warns against accepting the Lockhart recommendations for creating human-animal hybrid embryos for research, he's dismissed as a Catholic scaremonger. Allison argues Tony Abbott should not be Health Minister because he's a Catholic, and the Democrats have criticised Howard and Peter Costello for addressing the Hillsong church.

Allison has gone further in her anti-religious crusade, establishing a God and Government website aimed at fighting the "undue influence" of religion in politics. Setting aside Allison's lack of irony in not recognising that the MPs who have taken a stand on moral grounds against the abortifacient RU486 and allowing embryonic stem cell research have lost parliamentary votes in recent years, she allows her conspiracy theories to fabricate arguments.

Earlier this week I contacted her office about a claim on the God and Government website that the Prime Minister said "immigrants who don't share Christian values should leave" Australia. Allison stood by her claims but, after two days and an angry demand from Howard in parliament that the Democrats change their website, she relented. Allison told The Australian she was sure Howard had said it and had gone further, demanding, at the height of a terrorism scare, that immigrants who didn't support Christian values should be removed from the country. Then she said Costello, "who had addressed Hillsong", had said it.

She admitted later neither had said it and that it appeared she'd made it up. She had indeed. The Democrats' confused campaign to rightly maintain a separation of church and state is being misdirected against the equal right of individuals to hold religious beliefs and use them in exercising their parliamentary duty.

After all, it is inarguable that those MPs representing religions and voting on conscience represent millions more Australians than do the dead men and women walking of the Democrats, a husk of a party reduced to an asterisk in political terms, which aggressively attacks opponents on deep moral issues on the grounds of their religion. The right to express a religious view in politics without harassment depends on which way you vote. It seems that God in politics is OK as long as he's on your side.


Some hope for the ABC?

Credit where it's due. As a long-time critic of the ABC's endemic culture of ideological bias, I've been surprised and encouraged by just a few recent signs of sanity, balance and intellectual openness in the national broadcaster's presentation of important issues.

Not that we should get carried away. Clearly some taxpayer-funded staffers still have trouble deciding who's the most evil person in world affairs today - the Pope or George W. Bush. And clearly some still think that presenting "both sides" of a case means getting one interview with the ALP Left and another with the Greens. After all, who could forget that Four Corners report into the Tasmanian forest industry in 2004? The report, by journalist Ticky Fullerton, was so biased in favour of the greenies that the Australian Communications and Media Authority ruled it failed to meet the ABC's own code of practice on impartiality.

Nevertheless, the sensible treatment by ABC news and current affairs of this month's visit to Australia by provocative conservative thinker Mark Steyn is a good sign that senior figures in ABC news and current affairs recognise a world of ideas that extend beyond the outer ideological limits of the Ultimo/Southbank staff cafeterias. And that this is a world well worth reporting. Within a day of being in Australia, the Canadian columnist was invited as a guest on the ABC's PM, Lateline and Counterpoint programs. His discussion with fellow conservative Owen Harries at a Centre for Independent Studies event on Monday night is scheduled to be broadcast early next week on Radio National.

This has been excellent coverage - especially given that this is a media institution notorious not only for opposing intelligent conservative viewpoints but, even worse, pretending that they don't exist. Perhaps new ABC managing director Mark Scott - who has diplomatically pointed out that there's a distinction between issues that interest the ABC newsroom and issues that interest the Australian people - is changing the culture as no MD has done before. Or perhaps the new board of directors is asserting itself.

A curious recent incident involving "censorship" allegations against the ABC's Helen Razer was, in a perverse way, a further positive sign for Aunty. Writing in The Age earlier this week, ABC Triple J regular guest Melanie La'Brooy claimed the ABC's Razer had censored a guest interviewee, film-maker Bob Weis, when he tried to call ABC board member and writer/publisher Keith Windschuttle a "Holocaust denier" over his published views on Aboriginal history.

Understandably, Razer killed the Weis interview, mid-sentence, because she feared it would be defamatory: a pretty safe assessment from any responsible live broadcaster, one would have thought. Yet Razer now stands accused, in print, by staff cafeteria types of censoring "reasonable" views. But this is not censorship. If anything, the Razer incident shows that ABC broadcasters are showing more signs than ever of understanding intellectual debate in the real world. Calling someone a "Holocaust-denier" because you disagree with them on Aboriginal history, and when they are not present to defend the charge, is not debate but defamation.

But back to Steyn. I do not single out the ABC's recent coverage because I regard Steyn himself as infallible. To the extent that I'm a conservative, I rebel at the line run by Steyn, and like-minded right-wingers, that the Iraq war was a terribly clever idea that only leftist loonies could oppose. I opposed it too: any strategic threat did not justify a preventive war; no clear links were established between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden; and democracy can't be exported by military force to such an ethnically and tribally divided society in the heart of the Muslim world. Still, Steyn's general world view, including his depiction of the West's cultural, moral and social decrepitude, deserves to be heard - and the fact that his ideas have been brought to us at length by the ABC, of all the unlikely institutions, is cause for celebration.

But the ABC's main problem goes beyond news and current affairs. It's also about lifestyle and entertainment shows, where there is no charter requirement for impartiality, such as theoretically holds sway (very theoretically, you might say) in news and current affairs. Unfunny jokes about setting fire to the Pope on The Glasshouse, gay kisses on Spicks and Specks and extended Andrew Denton interviews with eccentric Christian "peace campaigners" who attack military bases are all standard in ABC entertainment.

Interestingly, it's the Australian-made and ABC-made programs that are the problem, while quality international imports like British satirical series Absolute Power, starring Stephen Fry, are not only funny, but succeed in making you think. But, like Steyn, that must also be brought in from overseas. When ABC entertainment starts breeding its own local quality, I'll give three cheers.


Governments raid home-buyers

Crippling State Government taxes make up more than $160,000 of a $550,000 new house and land package in Sydney, official figures reveal. The staggering sum supports Treasurer Peter Costello's argument that state tax grabs are pushing the Australian dream of home ownership out of the reach of ordinary wage earners. The levies and taxes, described by Housing Industry Association managing director Ron Silberberg as extortionate, include the charging of stamp duty twice during development. Stamp duty is then levied a third time, when the buyer purchases the total package. On a $150,000 block of land, developers and builders pay:

* up to $10,000 in stamp duties at stages of development;
* $15,000 State Government roads levy;
* $15,000 state services charge;
* $120,000 in two lots of state development and infrastructure levies.

The addition of local government charges and taxes raises the cost of the block of land to $350,000 - even before the house has been built. By contrast, the only tax paid on the purchase of a $550,000 established house in NSW is the stamp duty, at $24,750.

In the past three years the price of a land block in Sydney has skyrocketed 300 per cent. The revelations come in the wake of claims by outgoing Reserve Bank governor Ian Macfarlane that State Government land release policies and upfront levies on new homes were making it harder for people to enter the housing market. Authorities want state governments to accept financial responsibility for building community infrastructure. Infrastructure levies are pushing the price of an average block up by $120,000, which is then passed on to buyers.

"It is grossly unfair," Peter Rich, general manager of house and land for property group Clarendon Residential, said. "The person who buys that house and land package is contributing to the cost of setting up the infrastructure, but the benefits go way beyond the use of that buyer. "It isn't user-pays - it's user pays for future generations."

After the GST, revenue from housing taxes provides the biggest source of tax receipts for state governments. In 2003/04, states and territories collected more than $10.47 billion in stamp duty and $3 billion in land tax. Purchasers of new homes believe they're only paying stamp duty once on the final purchase price," Mr Silberberg said. "In reality, the final purchase prices includes stamp duty levied on a range of taxes, compounded at each stage by the collection of that stamp duty".

Official figures released last week revealed that national affordability for first home buyers fell 5.3 per cent during the June quarter and average mortgage repayments topped $2000 a month for the first time.....


18,000 patients harmed by hospital mistakes in NSW

Thousands of patients a year are being harmed by often avoidable mistakes such as being given the wrong drugs, incorrect treatment or falling down while in the care of public hospitals or other parts of the health system. An analysis, to be released today, of the first full 12 months of data from a NSW program designed to encourage reporting of so-called "adverse events" has found there were 125,000 notifications in the year to July 2006, of which 18,750 resulted in some level of injury or harm to patients.

NSW accounts for about one-third of the healthcare episodes across Australia, so on a national basis the figures could be expected to be three times higher. But because reporting events to the system is voluntary, the true level of mistakes and problems in the public hospital system is likely to be higher still. Falls represented the biggest category of adverse events, accounting for 26 per cent of all notifications or 32,500 incidents. Medication errors -- patients given the wrong drug or the wrong dose -- came next, accounting for 18 per cent of notifications or 22,500 incidents.

Incorrect clinical management -- in cases where the patients' conditions may have been misdiagnosed, diagnosis was delayed, or the wrong treatment given -- accounted for 13 per cent of notifications, or 16,250 incidents. The figures were compiled by the NSW Clinical Excellence Commission, whose CEO Cliff Hughes will present some of the findings at today's Australasian Conference on Safety and Quality in Health Care in Melbourne. Professor Hughes told The Australian that all but about 400 to 500 incidents a year resulted in minor or no harm to the patients. About 37,000 of the 125,000 notifications were of a non-clinical nature, such as lost or stolen property, or complaints over how a patient was spoken to. However, he conceded many incidents could be prevented by better hospital procedures, and said the data was being used to change the times at which some common yet potentially dangerous drugs were given.

An example was the blood-thinning drug warfarin, which is commonly used to reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks or for patients with irregular heart rhythm. Too large a dose could cause haemorrhage, while too small a dose meant the drug would not work, Professor Hughes said. For historical reasons, such as the fact the results of blood tests ordered in the mornings would only be available in the evening, warfarin was usually given to patients at about 8pm to 9pm. But the figures showed a three-fold spike in adverse drug events at about that time. NSW was changing procedures to have the drug administered at about 4pm, when more staff would be on duty to monitor effectiveness and handle adverse consequences, he said. "That's a pretty good example of how this data can be used to drill down and look at the trends, and make changes in healthcare to make it safer for patients."

Professor Hughes said analysing the figures showed inadequate knowledge or skills on the part of doctors or nurses was linked to about 56 of the 500 or so serious adverse events. Over three times more (170) were due to communication issues -- for example, when key details about the patient's condition were not transferred to another ward or hospital department. "Any adverse event is the end-point of some deficiency in the system," Professor Hughes said.


22 August, 2006

Crucifix banned

A Christian teenager has been banned from wearing a crucifix by her school. Jamie Derman, 17, told News Ltd newspapers she was stunned when told to remove her crucifix or she could be suspended. A Sunbury Downs Secondary College student, Ms Derman's cross is outlawed as part of the multicultural college's new rules on jewellery and dress. But churches have criticised the ban, saying it discouraged students' religious aspirations.

Ms Derman said she felt discriminated against. "I am angry, confused and upset," she said. "I honestly believe I should be allowed to acknowledge (my Christianity). Being told to take it off hurts. It cuts really deep." The cross had sentimental value because her baptism gifts were missing, Ms Derman said. "I can't understand why it is not all right for me to wear a cross," she said. "I honestly felt like crying."

Her father, Gordon, said the ban was the equivalent of ordering a female Muslim student to take off a religious head dress. "Nobody should take offence to anybody wearing a religious sign," Mr Derman said. "She has a right to wear it. I believe it is discriminatory. If we had a Muslim girl come wearing a headscarf, nobody would say `boo' about it."

A reasonable demonstration of one's faith was something Australians should rejoice in, said Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne auxiliary bishop Christopher Prouse. "People's religious aspirations need to be respected," Bishop Prouse said.

Sunbury Downs principal Brett Moore said teachers had enforced the new dress code. "It is not my decision, it is the policy," he said. "Necklaces should not be visible."


Leftist calls for merit pay for teachers

At midnight last night, Australia lost another of our youngest and brightest teachers to the British education system. Luke Hall, 23, a maths and science teacher from country Victoria, hopped on a jet for a new life working in London. His departure and that of thousands of other teachers each year has led to calls by Labor backbencher Craig Emerson for a model that would allow all state school principals to pay teachers more money for good performance instead of seniority.

According to previously unpublished data obtained by Dr Emerson, Australia is experiencing an exodus of teachers, with 8400 teachers leaving our shores in 2004-05, twice the number who left a decade earlier. Even after taking account of foreign teachers coming to the country, Australia has lost more than 18,000 teachers in the past decade, whereas before then there had been a small net gain.

Dr Emerson says that to stem the trend, Australia must introduce performance pay in all state schools. Under his model, which will anger unions, principals would get more money to attract and retain the best teachers. "The principal could offer extra money to a teacher or teachers that the principal wants to retain, or offer extra money to teachers that the principal wants to attain from other schools," he said. "The principal knows who the best teachers are because other schools are after them."

Under Dr Emerson's plan, the state education departments would enter into an arrangement with principals to give them "greater discretion to pay the best teachers more". Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has already proposed granting cash bonuses to teachers who produce outstanding results. But Dr Emerson opposes her model, arguing it is too bureaucratic. [Good to hear from a Leftist]

Emerson's book Vital Signs, Vibrant Society, launched in April, contains a suggestion that extra money be given to needy schools to attract teachers at higher wages, but he did not go as far as to suggest that all school principals be given more.

After six months working at Bright P-12 College, 310km northeast of Melbourne, Mr Hall will join a growing number of teachers leaving for better pay and different experiences. Mr Hall said he felt teachers were undervalued in Australia. "When I got the contracts I thought 'Jeez, that's all right'. It's much better than what I get here," he said. [He might get a shock when he finds what unruly pupils he gets sent to work with in Britain -- "inner-city" students] I think it would get more frustrating (the pay) as I go into it longer. I think that's why a lot of people tend to drop out of it after a few years."

Dr Emerson said at a time of acute skill shortages, Australia could not afford the ever-worsening exodus of teachers. Most teachers start on a salary of about $43,000 to $45,000, with NSW teachers receiving slightly more, averaging $48,000 to $50,000. The incremental rises stop after eight or nine years, reaching a top salary of about $68,000.


Federal bias against sick men in Australia

Men are being denied free access to a cancer drug, even though it is available to female patients. Women fighting breast cancer can get the chemotherapy drug Taxotere (docetaxel) free on prescription under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. But men with prostate cancer who don't have private medical insurance have to pay almost $3000 for each treatment. Some patients need up to 20 treatments, making it impossibly expensive for many. Taxotere is the only chemotherapy drug proven to extend the lives of men with incurable prostate cancer.

Leading urologist Prof Tony Costello said 3000 men died every year from the disease in Australia. "A significant proportion would be candidates for the drug," he said. Tony Gianduzzo, Queensland chairman of the Urological Society of Australasia, agreed: "It would be nice to have it available for those men who would benefit."

They agreed men were victims of their failure to lobby as effectively as women did. "Men have been pretty poor advocates for their own cancer," Prof Costello said. "It's up to people like us who have to look after these folk to lobby for the drug to be made available on the PBS."

Taxotere was made available for breast cancer patients in 1997. Two years ago, it was discovered that it could also be used to treat men with malignant prostates - the biggest cause of cancer deaths in males. The treatment has been found to extend the lives of prostate patients by an average two months more than standard treatments, and up to two years in some cases. For breast cancer patients, the average increase was 2.2 months.

Federal Labor frontbencher Wayne Swan, who was successfully treated for prostate cancer five years ago, backed the push for the drug to be made freely available. "There is a strong case for the listing of this drug. I would give the doctors all the support I possibly could," said the Member for Lilley, on Brisbane's northside. "It certainly looks like there is a double standard in its use, and you can only assume the decision was financial, not medical."

A spokeswoman for Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said an application by the manufacturers of Taxotere for it to be added to the PBS for prostate cancer treatment had been rejected. "It's up to them to try again," she said. "The Government doesn't go touting for drug companies to apply." The Federal Government spent $157 million in 2004-05 subsidising several breast cancer treatments.


Taxpayers pay to re-create a swamp

Taxpayer funds will be used to buy back environmental water flows from irrigators to help restore one of Australia's most environmentally significant wetlands. Federal Parliamentary Secretary Malcolm Turnbull yesterday announced the allocation of $13.4 million from the Water Smart Australia scheme to free about 15,000 megalitres of water for the internationally recognised Macquarie Marshes in central NSW. The funding will be matched by the NSW Government, which in July allocated funds to buy back 30,000 megalitres of water for the marshes.

The marshes have become little more than semi-arid bush as water flows have dwindled through the 150,000ha of river red gums and reeds since 2001. They are the victim of competition for land and water from the nearby grazing and cotton industries coupled with drought. As the drought has worsened, the two primary producers have been feuding over who is to blame for the environmental mess. Graziers are accused of over-stocking and siphoning off water for their own use without paying for it, while cotton growers are accused of coveting an over-allocation from the upstream Burrenjong Dam.

Mr Turnbull was joined yesterday by local MP and former National Party leader John Anderson to seek a compromise that will effectively mean taxpayers fund the water flows needed to help the marshes. Mr Turnbull said the scheme would provide a model for the Water Smart program to address other environmental problems around the nation. "Our landscape is designed to cope with significant fluctuations in rainfall, but there is no doubt we are going through a drying and heating period that means we are going to have the problem of coping with less rain. We've got to be careful not to exacerbate it."


21 August, 2006

Another crooked overseas doctor found in a Queensland government hospital

Labor was embroiled in a new health scandal with revelations that a grandmother died after an overseas-trained doctor failed to treat her properly. Lillian Shaw, 67, died last year in Lowood, west of Ipswich, after Indian-trained GP Dr Jaideep Bali failed to diagnose a perforated stomach ulcer despite visiting her three times in 36 hours. A coronial inquest also found Dr Bali had given the mother-of-seven a potentially fatal injection of morphine 2« hours before she died, and later tried to cover it up.

Mrs Shaw's family and the Coalition yesterday said the Beattie Government had to share responsibility for the tragedy. "It's another Dr Death," said Mrs Shaw's son Karhl Earnshaw. "It goes all the way up to the Beattie Government and the Health Minister. "To say we are furious would be an understatement. If you knew the agony we've been through over the last 18 months . . ."

Mrs Shaw died on the evening of January 13, 2005, two days after she began suffering abdominal pain and vomiting. She was visited at her home in Lowood three times in 36 hours by Dr Bali, a GP from the Lowood Medical Centre. Mrs Shaw's husband, Ian - described by the coroner as "an impressive and intelligent witness" - said the doctor did not examine his wife during any of the visits.

The inquest heard that Dr Bali did not make any record of having administered morphine during his last house call and continued to tell Mrs Shaw's family for some months that he had not done so.

Coroner Matthew McLaughlin concluded that Dr Bali was not a reliable witness and said he strongly suspected the GP had "deliberately been untruthful" and, initially at least, did his best to conceal the fact he had given Mrs Shaw morphine.

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said tragedies such as Mrs Shaw's death were "the Beattie Government's real record on health". He said: "The Government has run the health system down so much they have driven away Australian-trained doctors and are desperate to fill the void by giving substandard people licences to practise." Health Minister Stephen Robertson said he had directed Queensland Health to forward the coroner's report to the Medical Board for immediate assessment.


That wicked sugar and salt again

Alarming amounts of sugar and salt are being added to breakfast cereals, new tests reveal. Food experts have found five popular cereals contain more than 30 per cent sugar, while some were saltier than a packet of potato chips. Even cereals that appear to be nutritious are laced with sugar and salt, according to Australian Consumers' Association food policy officer Clare Hughes.

ACA experts examined 150 brands of cereal and found just 40 of those would make a healthy everyday breakfast. "It was quite disappointing to see that a lot of cereals targeted at children weren't the type of the things we should be giving kids every day," Ms Hughes said. "Many consumers don't think about the salt content of their breakfast cereal because they may not taste overly salty." Ms Hughes said any cereal that had more than 27g of sugar per 100g was considered high in sugar. "Eight of the kids' cereals had very high levels of sugar (more than 40g)," she said. A suitable cereal would have more than 3g of fibre, less than 27g of sugar per 100g, and less than 600mg of sodium per 100g.

The Sunday Mail found popular breakfast cereal Honey O's contained 42.2g of sugar per 100g - a higher proportion of sugar than a Cadbury Picnic bar (36.1g).


Australian safety survey kills feminist distortions

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey has finally emerged and along with its appearance, the statistical myths of feminist's victimhood and women's class oppression - particularly those relating to claims of epidemic violence against women - have immediately vaporised. Their silence is deafening.

The survey reveals a picture of what any rational person should have assumed about life simply by observation of the world around them and their day to day existence in it. The survey reveals what most people should have known or should have suspected about the facts of social violence - it is men rather than women who have the most to fear regarding their personal safety. It further reveals that the perpetrators of violence, in all their ugly forms and diversity, are not just men, and that the domain of perpetrators includes a significant percentage of women.

There are few surprises in this survey other than it seems to have been conducted with appropriate propriety. A refreshing breath of fresh air given the lies and spin of so many preceding studies and surveys conducted on this subject. But before delving into some its facts and figures, there are a couple of points that should be clarified about the survey itself.

As surveys go, it seems to have been done responsibly. It has encompassed a sizeable sample of the population - 16,300 adults in total, about 0.1% of the Australian adult population - so its findings could be seen to be a reasonable reflection of what's really going on in Australia today. That's excellent. However, for some peculiar reason, over twice as many women were surveyed than men - 11,800 women compared to only 4,500 men.

Why? Aren't men's experiences of personal safety as valid as those of women? Did they expect that women's experiences of violence would be more valid, diverse or significant? Or was it simply a matter of funding as is implied in the survey's notes? Whatever the reason for it, and there is no fair or justifiable stance that could possibly be taken for this glaring discrepancy, the question remains, why were men relegated to being less than second class respondents?

Who will provide an answer? No one, you can bet, and you can go figure it for yourself, but perhaps we can hope this imbalance will be addressed in any further surveys where the sex of the respondents is relevant.

For now though, when digesting the results, it must be realised that the men's data should be seen to be less accurate than that of the women. In fact, in some cases, reflected in the ABS tables, the data for men is so shabby that annotations have been made indicating that the data are of dubious reliability. Given the importance and far reaching social implications of this survey, this exclusion of men's experiences is a travesty of their rights as taxpayers and citizens of the nation. Especially as it turns out that men are singly the most severely effected members of society where personal safety and violence are concerned.

This treatment of men is a clear statement by the John Howard Liberal government that they see Australian men as being second rate and less than half as important as the women of the nation. Yet, in the Liberal's defense, it must be argued that they are the first government in Australia to include men in such a survey - previous Labor governments simply didn't care about the safety of men and only ever conducted safety surveys for women. That development in itself is at least some consolation for Australian men and is a positive step forward.

The other glaring concern about the production of this ABS survey was the sexist exclusion of men as interviewers. 100% of the interviews were conducted by women. The survey does point out that male interviewers were available upon request for those respondents who may have been so inclined, however, it reports that all those interviewed accommodated the default female interviewers. It is therefore important to realise that the 100% use of female interviewers could possibly have led to an underreporting of spousal and partner violence of men by females due to personal embarrassment in front of women interviewers.

Despite these sexist anomalies however - in a national survey of this significance, one could have at least expected squeaky-clean adherence to equal-sex political correctness - the survey reveals for the first time much important information about personal safety and the victims and perpetrators of personal violence. A subject, which has long been obscured by the murky fog of feminist advocacy.

This survey has revealed some very important truths about social violence and has exposed feminist lies. The following statements, derived directly from the ABS survey, are just our initial findings and a fuller investigation by readers of the finer detail is encouraged. Unfortunately, the ABS has presented its findings in a way that may not be readily interpreted by men's rights advocates in the form they are used to seeing them, therefore we have represented them, expressed in a way with which our readers will be more familiar.

Our statements below compare the freshly published data to the often colloquially quoted rhetorical statistics of feminist propaganda and remember this, these are official Australian government research figures and not some trumped up biased university faculty's data or those of some politically biased independent non government organisation. Facts - the ABS survey has revealed that -

* Men are more than twice as likely as women to be the victims of violence and are being physically or sexually assaulted or threatened at the rate of up to 2 incidents per second

* Women are not the victims of family (domestic) violence as often as the quoted 1 in 4, nor even 1 in 8, nor even 1 in 10, but actually 1 in 100

* Women are not being raped every 26 seconds, nor even every 90 seconds, as feminists frequently claim, but are in fact experiencing sexual assault - not necessarily rape - including both reported and all unreported incidents, at a rate of less than 1 per 5 minutes. This is a rate 91% less than that which feminists have previously claimed

* The ratio of female to male family (domestic) violence victims in a home is not 99:1, nor 9:1, nor even 5:1, but is actually closer to 2:1

These statements above are all calculated from the ABS survey data without corruption. They are the figures. Of course there will be some deviation from the survey compared to real life figures, just as in all studies (read the fine print of the survey) but, remember, the data for women is more than twice as likely to be accurate as it is for men and the data for men may have been tainted by the use of default female interviewers, some of whom may even have been staunch feminists, possibly resulting in underreporting of men's experience of family violence as victims.


An interesting Leftist comment on Australia's Federal environment policies

With its strongly pro-business orientation, the Howard Government has found it difficult to gain credibility for its environmental policies. It has nevertheless made considerable headway through the use of a clever and aggressive strategy of dividing the environment movement by cultivating friendly organisations and individuals and punishing those that refuse to fall into line.

WWF (formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature) is the foremost of the friendly organisations. It is close to the Government, providing a stream of favourable commentary on its policies and bestowing several awards for the Government's environmental achievements, including three "Gift to the Earth" awards, which the Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, displays in his office. In return, the Government has been generous, sending tens of millions to the fund for various programs.

The force behind the emergence of the organisation as the leading group backing the Government's environment policy is the businessman Robert Purves. He has made a very large donation to WWF and is now its president. Purves has drawn Tim Flannery into the orbit of conservative environmentalism by funding the preparation of Flannery's book on climate change, The Weather Makers. Flannery, who came late to the climate change debate, has eloquently summarised the work of hundreds of climate scientists and his book has undoubtedly raised public awareness and understanding of the threats posed by global warming. Purves is said to have spent $1 million promoting Flannery's book, including costly backlit billboards outside Qantas Club lounges around the country.

But isn't there an inconsistency here? Why would Purves, sympathetic to the Government, spend large sums funding and promoting a book that rings alarm bells about climate change, which can only make life more difficult for the Government? The answer is that Flannery's book does not make life harder for the Government, but sends the sort of message the Government wants us to hear.

Flannery is an advocate of individual consumer action as the answer to environmental problems. Instead of being understood as a set of problems endemic to our economic and social structures, we are told we each have to take personal responsibility for our contribution to every problem. Flannery concludes his book by arguing that "there is no need to wait for government action" - voluntary action by well-meaning consumers is the only way to save the planet. "It is my firm belief that all the efforts of government and industry will come to naught unless the good citizen and consumer takes the initiative, and in tackling climate change the consumer is in a most fortunate position." He then lists 11 things concerned citizens can do to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions, urging each of us to "do the right thing" in the belief that these noble appeals will transform the market: "If enough of us buy green power, solar panels, solar hot water systems and hybrid vehicles, the cost of these items will plummet."

This is music to the Government's ears. The assignment of individual responsibility is consistent with the economic rationalist view of the world, which wants everything left to the market, even when the market manifestly fails. Yet it is at best a naive, and at worst a reckless, approach to the looming catastrophe of climate change. The world did not eliminate the production of ozone-depleting substances by relying on the good sense of consumers in buying CFC-free fridges. We insisted governments negotiate an international treaty that banned CFCs. We did not invite car buyers to pay more to install catalytic converters, the greatest factor in reducing urban air pollution. We called on government to legislate to require all car makers to include them.

When pressed, Flannery will call on government to act, too, but his consistent headline message is an appeal to consumers. Thus, when accepting a prize for his book recently, he gave a four-word acceptance speech: "Install a solar panel." Green consumerism such as that advocated by Flannery privatises responsibility for environmental decline, shifting blame from elected governments and industry onto the shoulders of individual citizens. The cause of climate change becomes the responsibility of "all of us", which, in effect, means nobody. It is obvious why a government that wants to do nothing finds such an approach appealing: it can pretend to be concerned while protecting powerful business interests.

Flannery's "firm belief" that we can be saved only if consumers take the initiative is one he shares with the ideologues of the right-wing think tanks who argue that environmental problems should be left to the unfettered market. If consumers don't make green choices then it is obvious they don't care much about the environment. But it is not just his advocacy of do-nothing green consumerism that endears Flannery to the Government. Alone among Australian environmental advocates, he has declared his support for the development of a nuclear industry. The Prime Minister, John Howard, now regularly buttresses his nuclear push by saying that even some environmentalists "like Tim Flannery" support nuclear power.

Even Howard knows it would be folly to build nuclear power plants in Australia, a fact that his nuclear inquiry will conveniently affirm. The Prime Minister's game is to provide cover for his plan to expand uranium mining and get an enrichment industry established. Flannery is now part of the climate change debate, and whether he likes it or not, has become a trump card in Howard's hand.


20 August, 2006

Prominent do-gooder becomes further unglued

The pretensions of righteousness hide a fraud and a liar

Former judge Marcus Einfeld obtained a PhD degree from a university that has been debunked in the US Congress as a "diploma mill". Pacific Western University, which awarded one of the two doctorates claimed by Mr Einfeld, was investigated by the USGovernment Accountability Office and named in Congress in 2004 for handing out doctorates for the flat fee of $US2595 ($3413). The other doctorate is from the Century University in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is not accredited with the relevant American legal bodies. University of Sydney law dean Ron McCallum said he had never heard of the two universities, but said doctorates issued by degree mills "are not worth the paper they are written on".

Mr Einfeld, a former Federal Court judge, is facing a fraud squad investigation into evidence he gave to a Sydney magistrates court last week that allowed him to avoid a $77 speeding fine. He told the Downing Centre Local Court that at the time of the offence in January, he had lent his car to professor Teresa Brennan, who had been visiting from Florida. It later emerged that Brennan, an Australian-born academic, had died in 2003.

He will be interviewed by fraud squad detectives next week. The NSW Police State Crime Command has been called in to investigate whether he gave false evidence in the case. "Detectives attached to Strike Force Chanter have spoken with the retired judge's lawyers and now expect to interview him during the week commencing Monday, August 21," a NSW Police statement said yesterday.

In correspondence with the court, Mr Einfeld, who retired as a judge in 2001, styles himself as"The Hon Justice Marcus R.Einfeld AO QC PhD". The accountability office told US Congress that Pacific Western University sold its PhD degrees for $US2595 ($3390). It offered academic credit for "life experience" and did not require any classroom instruction, the office said. Pacific Western University, which is based in San Diego, is not accredited by the American Bar Association or the Association of American Law Schools. Century University, where Mr Einfeld says he holds a doctorate of law, is also unaccredited with the ABA or the AALS. ABA accreditation is granted to law schools only after inspections and assessments of factors including staff-student ratios, academic research and law libraries, according to the chairman of the Council of Australian Law Deans, Michael Coper.

When Mr Einfeld was invited yesterday to discuss his recent troubles, he said: "You have got to be joking. Thank you for calling. Goodbye."

More here

Australia's fishery protection policies must be biting at last

Forgive the pun

Indonesian fishermen are demanding the right to work in Australian waters. They said Australia's 200 km exclusion zone should be reduced to 100 km from the mainland, a report in today's Northern Territory News says. The fishermen believe they should be able to fish within sight of the Tiwi Islands. And they have claimed Australia's isolated Ashmore Reef is actually Indonesian territory.

They say their families have been working in what are now Australian waters for hundreds of years and it is unfair of Australia to stop them now. The fishermen also deny they are overfishing. "We don't know anything about that," said 32-year-old Jambrin. "We fish only to feed our families. If we don't fish, we go hungry. It's as simple as that."

The fishermen, based at Papela on the island of Roti, say about 175 boats operate inside Australian waters from their village. Mandra, 28, who spent three months in Darwin prison for illegal fishing, said the Australian Government was being "too harsh". But he said he had been treated well in jail in Darwin - the guards did not beat him and the food was "very good". "My wife and children went hungry while I was away," he said.

Lagingu, 25, spent one month in Darwin prison. "I was treated very well - Australia is a good country," he said. Lagingu said his experience would not stop him working in Australian waters again. "Give me the money to equip a boat and I will go tomorrow," he said. "There are many sharks near Australia."


Greenie-inspired land-use restrictions under fire

State governments must release more land or housing affordability will remain a problem, Prime Minister John Howard says. Mr Howard said state governments are using the housing development process as a money-maker. "The cost of land is the problem," Mr Howard told the South Australian Liberal Party annual general meeting in Adelaide today. "Until state governments around Australia start releasing more land and stop using the development process as a method of raising revenue, we are going to continue to have a problem with the affordability of housing.

"I don't suggest that interest rates are irrelevant, not for a moment. "But if we are to have a proper debate about the cost of housing, state governments have got to face the need to release more land." Mr Howard said security for families depended on good job prospects and housing affordability. "Having interest rates at a low level are important to that," he said. "But even more important is to make sure that the ordinary economy of supply and demand are in better balance than they are at the present time."

He said unless state governments addressed the issue "we will continue to have this difficulty with the affordability of housing". "I do worry about that," he said. "I worry about the affordability of housing for young Australians, it's all right for those of riper years but it's not good for young people. "It's very important we give attention to this issue and it's very important we have an honest debate and an honest discussion about the fundamental causes of the problem."



Three current articles below:

PM takes a strong position on history teaching

John Howard has issued a personal declaration to the states that he wants reform of the teaching of Australian history in all schools and feels "very strongly" about it. Speaking a day after the national history summit in Canberra, the Prime Minister played his trump card to increase the pressure on the states - the supportive stance of former NSW premier Bob Carr.

But the states have signalled they will fight the pressure from Canberra and leading historians. South Australian Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said yesterday she had absolute confidence in the way history was taught in the state. Queensland, criticised at the summit for having "no prescribed curriculum" for history in its Studies of Society and its Environment course, also remained defiant. Dr Lomax-Smith said she was impressed by the knowledge students demonstrated in the area. "We teach history. It may not be called history, it may be called Studies of Society and the Environment, but I can tell you it's certainly history," she said. "It's irrelevant what you call it, whether you call it society and environment or history and geography or history."

But a paper presented to the summit by Monash University associate professor Tony Taylor reveals the "learning outcome" specified for South Australian SOSE in the senior years of high school is: "Students critically analyse continuities and discontinuities over time, and reflect upon the power relationship which shape and are shaped by these."

Mr Howard criticised the fact that there was "no structured narrative" to the teaching of schools in most Australian schools. "I think we have taught history as some kind of fragmented stew of moods and events, rather than some kind of proper narrative," he said.

Historians who attended Thursday's meeting said yesterday the summit, combined with pressure from parents, would leave the states with little room to manoeuvre if they tried to resist a return to traditional Australian history subjects in years 9 and 10. "I think the teaching of Study of Society and its Environment is on death row," Mr Carr told The Weekend Australian.

University of Wollongong academic Greg Melleuish also criticised the summit last night, saying a day was not enough, there were too many delegates and the results delivered "the lowest common denominator of Australian history". "In a way they (the delegates) threw up their hands in horror because it was becoming too hard," he told ABC's Lateline.

The summit set up a five-person working party, chaired by LaTrobe University professor John Hirst, that will develop a set of "open-ended questions", along with a chronology, that federal Education Minister Julie Bishop will present to the states as a model curriculum. "I think a lot of fears will be allayed when they see ... the approach we're suggesting, which won't take quite the form that they fear," he said.


Our history in disrepair

The Howard Government's decision to re-establish history as a core academic discipline in all schools opens a new contest about education and rights in the battle of ideas in Australian politics. This decision is a direct response to the postmodernist and progressivist grip on the humanities in schools and universities. One consequence has been the degrading of history and the study of Australian history. The aim of federal Education Minister Julie Bishop, as she told this week's history summit in Canberra, is to "see a renaissance of Australian history in our schools".

Why is this aspiration so contentious? Why does it provoke outcry from several states and attacks from the academic community? The answer is because it seeks to overturn the prevailing educational ideology heavily identified with the Labor Party. The tactical dilemma facing Labor, state and federal, is whether to fight this reform, which is likely to have intellectual merit and public support on its side. Labor's dilemma is acute because the history debate highlights in miniature Labor's educational dilemma: that it is locked into backing producer interests (the education professionals) too often at the cost of the consumers (children and parents).

It is significant, therefore, that Opposition education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin described this week's history summit as "an important opportunity to do something lasting and positive for the teaching of Australian history". The summit had nothing to do with the laughable notion of imposing a John Howard British Empire view of Australia on our children. Nobody at the summit would tolerate such an idea, certainly none of the professional historians. It was never entertained and it was never discussed. Any claim about a return to a content-only single historical narrative is nonsense.

The communique produced by the summit enshrined the proposal that Australian history "should be sequentially planned through primary and secondary schooling and should be a distinct subject in years 9 and 10" as an "essential and required core part of all students' learning experience". The summit said that Australia's history was unique in many ways. A knowledge for students of their own nation was vital when many of our public debates invoke this history. For the record, the communique repudiated any idea of "a single official history" and affirmed that "history encompasses multiple perspectives".

The summit wanted a co-operative approach. It urged the commonwealth to work with the states and territories to achieve these changes. It was explicit about the need to carry teachers behind the project, saying that the changes had to be teachable, that they had to be doable, with a feasible time allocation within the curriculum, and they had to be sustainable. This involved "quality curriculum resources, professional learning for teachers and national profile events such as Australian History Week in schools".

One of the important conclusions was that history should be based on a "clear chronological sequence" so the big Australian stories of democracy, identity and economic progress were seen in their narrative sweep.

Summit participant and former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr, who saved Australian history as a mandatory discipline in his state, went to the core issue. "History should be taught as a stand-alone discipline," Carr said. "It shouldn't be absorbed in other subjects." Bishop put this more bluntly: "We should seriously question, for example, the experiment of mushing up history in studies of society and environment. There is a growing body of evidence that this experiment is failing our children."

That evidence came in a summit paper prepared by Monash University associate professor of education Tony Taylor. After a study of each curriculum, he concluded: "There is no guarantee that the vast majority of students in Australian schools will have progressed through a systematic study of Australian history by the end of Year 10. Indeed, the opposite is almost certainly the case. By the time they reach leaving age, most students in Australian schools will have experienced a fragmented, repetitive and incomplete picture of their national story."

This is a polite way of stating the failure. It is documented by Taylor in his analysis of each state and territory system. Herein lies the significance of this week's summit: it is bringing transparency to the system. Just as tariffs could not survive once their true cost was tabled on the bar of public opinion, so the present educational ideology cannot survive once its true nature is exposed in sunlight. This will be a long struggle....

More here

The new reactionaries: Education ministries are the last bastion of the history haters

The tide of postmodern education is receding in Australia. At this past week's history summit, a diverse group of thinkers and historians including Geoffrey Blainey, Bob Carr and Reconciliation Australia's Jackie Huggins issued a communique agreeing that history teaching needs to be reformed, that the subject should be taught as a separate and stand-alone course and that students learn best from a narrative, chronological approach to the past. If this sounds like common sense, it is. Yet it continues to elude most of the country's state education departments, which have spent years dismantling old history curriculums (which were far from perfect) to construct in their place a new postmodern establishment where history is sublimated within broad fields such as "Studies of Societies and the Environment", or SOSE. Just as in English courses where Shakespeare is forced through Marxist paradigms of race, sex and class, in such watered-down history courses students quickly learn to parrot approved ideas. Thus in opposing the narrative teaching of history as a stand-alone subject, education ministry bureaucrats have become an elite gang of establishment reactionaries, barricading the door against parents and historians revolted at what children are taught today.

While the state education ministers of Queensland, South Australia and West Australia all vociferously opposed what they believe is commonwealth interference in their respective patches, it was Queensland's Rod Welford who best summed up the arrogance of this group. Complaining of the summit's "educational vandalism", the Sunshine State's education minister said: "To talk about history as a stand-alone subject, as a list of events, is an educational absurdity." But if anyone is guilty of educational vandalism, it is Queensland's curriculum developers. Students in Years 4-10 spend just 60 hours a year on SOSE. There, history must compete with a laundry list of other "studies" that fall under the SOSE umbrella ranging from politics, sociology and anthropology to environmental sustainability, gender and peace. Similar outrages are committed in virtually every other state and territory by bureaucrats keen to protect their fiefdoms.

Speaking at the summit, John Howard was quick to point out that the reform is not about creating an "official" history. Nor should it be. But what could be wrong with teaching, as Gregory Melleuish lays out in today's Inquirer section of The Weekend Australian, a narrative of the country tracing our development from penal colony to free society to a federation and democracy? This is not about denying negative aspects of our past, as suggested by the witless wags of yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald. As this newspaper has repeatedly argued, knowledge of history is important for individual students and for the nation as a whole. Insisting that it be taught as a stand-alone subject is not an imposition, it is common sense. Those in the education industry who disagree should consider just whom they are in business to serve.

Above is an editorial from "The Australian"

19 August, 2006


Three current articles below

States told to reinvigorate history teaching

Three state governments risk losing billions in schools funding after dismissing the finding of a summit of historians that recommended postmodern subjects be replaced with a traditional history course. The history summit communique foreshadowed a massive shift in the teaching of history, as well as a new level of commonwealth interference in state and territory education systems.

But the Queensland, South Australian and West Australian education ministers yesterday dismissed the need for a stand-alone subject. Apart from NSW and Victoria, the states and territories have replaced stand-alone history offerings with cross-disciplinary, outcomes-based subjects with titles such as Studies of Society and its Environment. Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford said it would be "educational vandalism" for the federal Government to force on the states the separate study of history. "To talk about history as a stand-alone subject, as a list of events, is an educational absurdity," Mr Welford said. "It will do absolutely nothing to students' understanding or interpretation of their place in the world."

Speaking on behalf of the 23 participants in the event, held in Canberra yesterday, former NSW premier Bob Carr said: "History should be taught in our schools, in Year 9 and 10 especially, as a stand-alone discipline. "It shouldn't be absorbed in other subjects. It should be taught as history." Urging state and territory governments to join in "a nationwide revival in the teaching of Australian history", the summit communique said that "the study of Australian history should be sequentially planned through primary and secondary schooling and should be a distinct subject in years 9 and 10. This would be an essential and required core part of all students' learning experience to prepare them for the 21st century".

The summit, also attended by historian Geoffrey Blainey and the co-chair of Reconciliation Australia, Jackie Huggins, formed a five-member working group to develop a standard Australian history curriculum, including a chronology and set of "open-ended questions", which federal Education Minister Julie Bishop will urge the states and territories to adopt. If they do not co-operate, Ms Bishop has refused to rule out using the upcoming quadrennial funding agreement, worth about $13 billion in commonwealth money for state schools, to force their hands....

Launching the summit, the Prime Minister threw down the gauntlet to the states and territories, announcing he wanted them to reinstate history as "astand-alone subject in our school system". "We want to bring about a renaissance of interest in and understanding of Australian history," Mr Howard said.

Yesterday's summit was called following concerns raised by Mr Howard in January that the orderly teaching of Australian history had been "replaced by a fragmented stew of themes and issues". Rejecting the current approach, the summit said "development of history study needs to be firmly based on a clear chronological sequence of key events spanning indigenous presence to recent decades".

More here

Leftists grumble that the new history courses might be politically biased!

The have the hide to complain about replacing Leftist bias with facts

History is set to become compulsory in Australian high schools. The debate now is whose history is it? The one-day History Summit in Canberra ended yesterday with an agreement for the development of "a clear chronology of events" shaping Australia. The summit agreed history should be a stand-alone and "essential and required" discipline for Years 9 and 10. And otherwise reluctant students will be encouraged by the possibility of a $100,000 prize.

Prime Minister John Howard made the surprise announcement of a new history prize as he addressed the summit yesterday morning. The "Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History", judged by academics, will be for a for a "substantial written work or a documentary or film". The prize and the summit are part of a long-running bid by the ruling Coalition to reshape the history curriculum, which it believes has been dominated by the political Left.

Mr Howard denied he was advocating a regression to a more nostalgic historical narrative, which celebrates the achievements of colonialism and lessens the emphasis of Aboriginal dispossession. He told the summit, attended by academics Greg Melleuish and Tony Taylor - who will flesh out recommendations on curriculum improvements - that history students needed a solid foundation from which to work. "I do not believe . . . that you can have any sensible understanding and, therefore, any sensible debate about different opinions of Australian history unless you have some narrative and method in the comprehension and understanding of history," Mr Howard said. "How you can just teach issues and study moods and fashions in history, rather than comprehend and teach the narrative, has always escaped me."

Education Minister Julie Bishop denied the government was trying to create an "official" version of Australian history. But Labor, the Greens and the Democrats fear the Government is about to re-fashion Australia's past into a reflection of its own world view. "The teaching of history is very important in our schools but the last thing we want is John Howard pushing his ideology down the throats of our children," Opposition education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said.

More here

Let's understand our Western institutional heritage

Excerpts from the speech of Prime Minister John Howard, at the history summit yesterday

We do want to bring about a renaissance of both interest in and understanding of Australian history, and that must involve a greater focus on the disciplined teaching and understanding of history in Australian schools. My assessment is that it varies enormously around the country. In some parts of Australia, the school curriculum has a welcome emphasis; in other parts I don't believe it does.

I want to make it very clear that we are not seeking some kind of official version of Australian history. We're not seeking some kind of nostalgic return to a particular version of Australian history, although I do not believe, and the Government does not believe, that you can have any sensible understanding, and therefore any sensible debate, about different opinions of Australian history unless you have some narrative and method in the comprehension and understanding of history. How we can just teach issues and study moods and fashions in history rather than comprehend and teach the narrative, have a narrative, has always escaped me.

I don't think you can have a proper teaching and comprehension of Australian history, of course, without having a proper understanding of indigenous history and the contribution of the indigenous experience to Australia's development and the Australian story. Equally, I don't believe that you can have a proper understanding of Australian history without some understanding of those movements and attitudes and values and traditions of other countries that had an influence on the formation of Australia. And obviously we need an understanding of those institutions we inherited from the British and the other European influences on Australia.

We need to understand the influence of religion in the formation of attitudes and development in Australia. We obviously have to see Australia as heavily influenced by the Western intellectual position, the Enlightenment and all that's associated with it.

I don't want to give The Australian newspaper a free plug, but I know Education Minister Julie Bishop in her speech last night (see Cut & Paste yesterday) quoted that (opinion page) article by Roy Eccleston about the experience of his daughter in having been taught in the American school system and been taught a little bit about some of the formative events in American history. And whilst I don't necessarily suggest we pick that up root and branch and transplant it, obviously we have our own way of doing it, but I thought it made a good point.


Permissive doctor regulation rejected

Surgeons insist that a trainee neurosurgeon will never operate again despite a medical board clearing the way for his return to medicine next year after being convicted on child pornography charges. A Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria inquiry into Abraham Stephanopoulos found his proclivity for downloading and storing "large amounts of child pornography" - including images of children between the ages of four and seven - did not make him a pedophile.

The 31-year-old doctor was suspended from practice for being caught with having 1400 pictures at his home, in his car, and on computers at Monash Medical Centre, in Melbourne's southeast, of naked children. The board said he would be able to return to medicine in March next year, but that he would be banned from treating patients younger than 18 for the following eight years.

But the Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Mark Yates, attacked the board's decision yesterday, saying it would bring the medical profession's image into further disrepute. "The board is there to protect the public, it says, but it's not there to maintain the good standing of the profession necessarily," he told The Australian. "Clearly this person has acted in an unethical way, has brought the profession considerable discredit."

Dr Stephanopoulos received a five-month suspended jail sentence in July last year on three charges of knowingly possessing child pornography between 2000 and 2003. A spokeswoman for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons said the 31-year-old would not be able to practice surgery in Australia again. "He's been dismissed from our training program," she said.

Dr Stephanopoulos justified his obsession with child pornography as an avenue for coping with a heavy workload, the medical board said in the 44-page report of its inquiry, published on its website on Wednesday. It found his reason for saving the downloaded pornographic images onto his computer was because it was "exceptionally easy - just one mouse-click". "He emphatically denied that he has an attraction to children," the board inquiry said. "He noted that he also saved images of adult males and made the point that he also had no attraction to them. "He emphatically denied receiving any sexual gratification from the illegal images which he viewed and downloaded onto the hard disc on the work computer." But the board ruled the misconduct was "abhorrent". "By his addiction to such material ... he provided encouragement to the producers and purveyors of illegal material that violates the innocence of children," it said. "As a consumer of their product, he has taken his place in the chain of their criminality."


Farmers campaign to reverse knee-jerk Greenie bans

Farmers in the Nyngan, Cobar and Tottenham districts of western NSW are celebrating a win in their campaign to sway public opinion about the clearing of native invasive scrub in order to have native vegetation regulations changed. A national current affairs television program aired a story filmed in the far west yesterday morning which challenged claims by green groups that land clearing is damaging the environment.

The chairman of the Regional Community Survival Group, Doug Menzies, says it was a real victory for farmers. "I think it should go a long way to debunking the myth that western New South Wales or the so-called hot spot for clearing in western New South Wales is not tearing the environment apart or anything and quite the contrary, in fact," Mr Menzies said.

The Opposition spokesman on Natural Resources, Adrian Piccoli, says he is hoping the revelations about flaws in land clearing policy will mean a return to science-based decisions. He says locking up land that is now being invaded by woody weeds was driven by emotion because the Labor Government has had to mould policy to secure Green preferences. Mr Piccoli says the story on the Sunday program has now taken the debate to a wide metropolitan audience. "Farmers have had a lot of difficulty getting the message across to the media about the good things that some of those farm practices achieve and what are some of the negative consequences of current government policy," he said. "I think the Sunday program illustrated that this sentimental notion that you can just lock up areas of land and it will return to some sort of pristine environment is not in fact correct."

Mr Menzies says his group will maintain its community-funded PR campaign until next year's state election. "I think it's going to take us a little while, the Greenies have been working on this for 30 years so we're not going to catch up overnight," he said. "But we've got to keep plugging, keep telling the truth, you know, we've got problems that we can demonstrate but that's something the other side doesn't have, they've got to rely on rhetoric and nonsense."


18 August, 2006

Australia in the club

The Bush administration has indicated it will support Australia developing a uranium enrichment industry, despite the White House's policy to restrict new entrants to the world nuclear club. In response to John Howard's campaign to ensure the existing nuclear powers do not lock Australia out of future nuclear development, a senior US official has said "special rules" apply to Australia and Canada. Dennis Spurgeon, assistant secretary for nuclear power at the US Department of Energy, said Australia and Canada were likely to be given special consideration because they would play a pivotal role in a new nuclear suppliers club the US is trying to establish. "I think Australia, and Canada for that matter, play a special role in world nuclear affairs because obviously you are two countries that have the majority of economically recoverable uranium resources," Mr Spurgeon said in an exclusive interview with The Australian yesterday.

Asked if this gave Australia and Canada a strong bargaining chip in negotiating their entry into a new nuclear club, he replied: "Exactly. So in any discussion, you have to take into account the facts as they lay." "I think Australia is viewed as a totally reliable and trustworthy country, so I don't think there is any issue there whatsoever."

The Government has launched an inquiry, headed by former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski, to examine the economics of expanding Australia's uranium mining sector, becoming involved in uranium enrichment and establishing a domestic nuclear power industry. It comes after the Bush administration unveiled last year the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which is designed to restrict the number of countries enriching uranium to existing players such as the US, Britain, China, Russia and France.

But under the GNEP, nuclear fuel would be shipped to feed energy-hungry developing countries and the spent fuel taken back to the supplier so it could not reprocessed and used for weapons. Its clear aim is to prevent nuclear proliferation as witnessed in rogue states such as North Korea and as fears grow that Iran's civilian nuclear push is simply a cover for nuclear weapons manufacture. It is also designed to promote a fuel source that does not produce greenhouse gases.

But the plan caught the Howard Government off guard and it was one of the main issues the Prime Minister raised with US President George W.Bush on his trip to Washington in May. Mr Howard then travelled to Canada to discuss the GNEP program with counterpart Stephen Harper. Last month, Mr Howard told The Australian he was not suspicious of the initiative "but I'm keen to keep an eye on it and keen to ensure it doesn't damage Australia's position".

The GNEP policy, as it stands, would freeze Australia out of the enrichment club and presents an awkward policy conflict between Australia and the US. Mr Spurgeon admitted the GNEP policy as envisaged presented an "unusual situation" in relation to Australia and Canada. "Any time you make a general rule you always find maybe it doesn't apply in all circumstances," he said. "The United States depends on, and wants to continue to have, a very close partnership and working relationship with Australia. "We end up with a little bit of an unusual situation here because the policy is really designed to try to help countries like Vietnam, for example, to be able to have the benefit of nuclear energy without needing that kind of enrichment plant and without needing a reprocessing facility."

Keen to assuage fears that Australia would not be dealt a bad hand in the program, Mr Spurgeon added that future discussions with Australia "comes down to the way in which we might jointly agree on a path forward for implementing the principles contained in GNEP". "But it is just that. It's a discussion. It's not a dictation in any manner of speaking. "We are pleased Australia is looking at nuclear energy and does want to be an active partner as we attempt to increase the use of nuclear energy worldwide in a responsible way." He stressed he was not in a position to make a definitive comment on what the administration's position would be on Australia enriching uranium, saying that was for the State Department to comment on. However, a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Non-proliferation declined to comment.



Australian history teaching has been labouring under decades of Leftist neglect and misrepresentation so the Federal government is pressing the State governments to restore some balance. Three articles below:

Feds threaten: Restore history study or lose funding

State governments will be under pressure to reinstate history as a compulsory separate subject in schools or risk losing nearly $13 billion in federal funding as a summit of experts meet in Canberra today. But in launching the history summit last night, federal Education Minister Julie Bishop told the 23 participants she was not in favour of "creating some form of an official" history. "We start, however, with a strong view that Australian history should be a compulsory stand-alone subject during some period of high school," she said.

The history summit, which was flagged by The Australian last month, has been convened by Ms Bishop in response to John Howard's call in January for a "root and branch renewal" of the teaching of Australian history. "Debate is healthy, but too often in the past decade the extremes in the history debate obscured the sensible centre and left others - not the least our children - to simply switch off," Ms Bishop said. "But let me assure everyone that we are not in the business ofproducing some form of official history."

The Government is worried that school students are losing any sense of Australian or world history as a result of the rise of cross-disciplinary subjects with titles such as Study of Society and its Environment. The Prime Minister and Ms Bishop want compulsory history subjects taught from kindergarten to Year 10, with Australian history the focus of Years 9 and 10.

Participants in the summit include former NSW premier Bob Carr, conservative commentator Gerard Henderson, historian Geoffrey Blainey and The Australian editor-at-large Paul Kelly. By inviting what she calls the "sensible centre" of the history debate, Ms Bishop hopes to avoid the summit becoming hostage to the "history wars".

But in an opinion article in a Melbourne newspaper on Tuesday, Melbourne University history professor Stuart McIntyre, who was invited to the summit but cannot attend, suggested it would endorse the view that "only one story can be told and that it should be drilled into all young Australians".

But Henderson dismissed that argument yesterday. "I think the presence of Geoffrey Bolton or Bob Carr or Inge Clendinnen indicates this is going to be a discussion which will focus on the importance of narrative history, but also looking at different traditions," he said. "Both the conservative tradition and the social democratic tradition have an interest in getting our history right and seeing it is not captured by ideologues."

The summit should give Ms Bishop the ammunition she needs to make stand-alone history a condition of the next four-year education funding agreement with the states - expected to be worth nearly $13 billion for state schools and $29 billion for private schools. Those at the meeting will also advise her on the additional resources that will be required, which could include online curriculum materials and brush-up courses for teachers. In a pointed reference to the school syllabus in Queensland, Ms Bishop said: "History is not peace studies. "History is not social justice awareness week. Or consciousness-raising about ecological sustainability. History is history, and shouldn't be a political science course by another name."


History should be compulsory

Another report of Ms Bishop's remarks:

Australian history should be a compulsory, stand-alone subject at some stage during high schooling, Education Minister Julie Bishop said last night. Opening Australia's History summit, Ms Bishop said she hoped the meeting would help to define the body of historical knowledge that should be taught to all Australian students. "Yes, there will be controversy but I would hope we can find agreement on the main currents and big themes in our national story," she said. "I believe that students should be given a good grounding in key dates, facts and events of Australian history. "They should be organised within the framework of a narrative or story. "Big themes like the role of enlightenment values, such as scientific progress, religious freedom and secular government in shaping our colonial experience. "The development of parliamentary democracy, up to and including Federation, should be taught.

"So too should the impact on our national consciousness and social institutions of involvement in global conflicts - including the first and second World Wars. "I want to echo what the Prime Minister said in January about the importance of indigenous history as part of the whole national inheritance. "We need to think seriously and speak honestly about how we bring this inheritance to life and weave it into the national story."

Ms Bishop said Australians also needed to ask themselves why so few children knew the nation's rich and unique national story. "Whatever the reasons, the situation is not good enough," she said. Ms Bishop added that "by the time they reach leaving age, most students in Australian schools will have experienced a fragmented, repetitive and incomplete picture of their national story". Many teachers at primary and secondary school level were left floundering in a "local patchwork curriculum where Australian history is often regarded as an optional extra".

The Canberra summit is being attended by some of Australia's leading historians including Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Professor Geoffrey Bolton, chancellor of Murdoch University; Ms Jackie Huggins, deputy director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit at the University of Queensland; and former NSW Premier Bob Carr


The past is prologue: Australian history should not be taught as tragedy or farce

An editorial from "The Australian" newspaper below

Addressing the dinner opening today's Australian History Summit last night, federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said: "History is not peace studies. History is not social justice awareness week. Or consciousness-raising about ecological sustainability. History is history."

She is exactly right. Yet for too long Australian history, when it is taught at all, has been used as an excuse to indoctrinate students in politically correct fads rather than give them a solid grounding in the factual and narrative history of their nation. In many states, Australian history is taught as part of something called Studies of Society and the Environment. In the ACT, "gender equity" is a key "curriculum component" informing what the territory's educators call the study of "time, continuity and change". Most other jurisdictions are no better, replacing history with outcomes-based education gobbledegook.

The end result is students turned off by history who graduate without any concrete sense of how Australia became the nation it is today. The only exception is NSW, where, thanks to former premier Bob Carr, history is taught as a discrete subject in secondary schools by teachers who have actually studied the stuff. In bringing together a raft of historians and thinkers in Sydney today to discuss the teaching of history, the Howard Government is sending a clear message: our history matters, has been ignored for too long and deserves to be taught as a stand-alone subject to every Australian child.

From the moment it was announced, the summit has been targeted by left-wing historians fretting that the push for the teaching of narrative history - names, dates and context - is a plot to indoctrinate unsuspecting children with Liberal Party orthodoxy. Nothing could be further from the truth. And in attacking the summit, these critics reveal much about themselves. Guy Rundle laughably wrote on the Crikey website that the summit's participants were strongly biased toward the conservative Right. But Mr Rundle is so far to the Left that when he looks to his right he sees 95 per cent of the population polishing their jackboots. He even derided Mr Carr, as well as this newspaper's Paul Kelly, as "right activist(s)", something that was surely news to them.

Meanwhile, the University of Melbourne's Stuart Macintyre complained that the history controversy stemmed from a "pernicious campaign" waged by The Australian against postmodernism and moral relativism. To that we plead guilty: the teaching of Australian history is indisputably taught from postmodern perspectives. Mr Macintyre, a former communist and intellectual father to a generation of postmodernists, bears partial responsibility for this. It was, after all, Mr Macintyre who once famously applauded the overthrow of "the tyranny of the fact".

Parents and their children deserve better than curriculums guided by historians whose motto is to never let the truth get in the way of a political agenda. There is no golden age of Australian history teaching to harken back to. Fifty years ago, Australian history was taught very much through a British prism, and children in suburban Sydney or Melbourne were taught more about the Stuart kings than the prime ministers of their own nation. And the experience of Australia's original inhabitants, both good and bad, was written out of the history books completely.

But the movement to correct these errors and injustices that began in the 1980s was fundamentally flawed. In replacing the British perspective with an essentially postmodern one, Australian history as it is now taught is simply a story of victims and oppressors. Thus James Cook's landing is no longer the finish line of a historic voyage but rather the beginning of a long and shameful narrative of invasion and dispossession. And Anglo-Saxon Australians, while treated as the ignoble conquerors of a 40,000-year-old civilisation at home, are overseas portrayed as little more than cogs victimised by the greater evil of the British imperial war machine. A relentless and negative focus on the "stolen generations" ignores the fact that many Aborigines received education and training as a result of their removal, which itself was part of the standard practice of Christian churchmen of the time. And indigenous culture is sentimentalised to the point where its more brutal or negative aspects cannot be taught. These are all flawed efforts to impose today's values on yesterday's events. Australia and the world finds itself in a uniquely dangerous moment in history; one that the students of today will inherit. They will be far better equipped if they understand the present cannot change the past, but that knowledge of history can help build a better future.


Blacks get private property rights

Three decades of watertight Aboriginal land rights ended in the Federal Senate yesterday in a revolution expected to impact on Queensland indigenous communities. Northern Territory Aborigines will now be permitted to "sell" off entire townships on 99-year leases after the overhaul of the historic NT Aboriginal Land Rights Act introduced by former prime minister Gough Whitlam. The new regime is designed to kick start an enterprise culture in Aboriginal communities and may pave the way for the Queensland Government to introduce similar measures.

But James Ensor from global community aid organisation Oxfam has described the legislation as "deeply unpleasant". And the Federal Opposition said it displayed a fundamental lack of respect for Aborigines and their property rights.

Queensland Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Mickel said he wanted to look at the new federal laws more closely before commenting. However, both Mr Mickel and Premier Peter Beattie supported Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson's calls for more private land ownership among Aborigines as the path to economic empowerment.

The laws, still subject to minor amendment, allow NT Aborigines to lease parcels of land to an NT Government entity which in turn can sub-lease the land to others. Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough says the laws are voluntary. But critics fear land grabs by developers and bribery by governments who could demand a lease in exchange for essential services.

Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation fear a precedent has been set for states to follow. "The real difference between these laws and the laws of the past 30 years is that NT Aborigines do not support them," a spokesman said. Labor's Indigenous Affairs spokesman Chris Evans said the Government had displayed a fundamental lack of respect for traditional land owners.


17 August, 2006

A good idea: Sue the school if your kid can't read

A mother has won a confidential payout from a top private school for failing to teach her son how to read properly. In a case that raises questions about the extent to which schools are liable for what they teach, the Melbourne mother reached a settlement with Brighton Grammar School yesterday after alleging the school breached the Trade Practices Act. Yvonne Meyer, who cannot discuss the confidential deal, took action against the school because she believed it had failed to deliver on its promise to address her son Jake's reading problems.

Ms Meyer claimed Jake, now aged 13 and in a private secondary school, made it all the way to Year 5 without being able to read properly. Until then, he had been guessing and memorising words. Jake struggled with reading and writing from Preparatory grade when he was enrolled at the government-run Albert Park Primary School. By Year 1, he was a year behind his classmates. He did two terms of Reading Recovery, and despite passing reading tests, little changed.

Ms Meyer, who works in the film and television industry, went to specialists who diagnosed Jake with a significant range of learning difficulties. What none of the experts picked up was that Jake could not read and that he was memorising. At the start of Year 4, Ms Meyer moved Jake to Brighton Grammar, where he stayed for three years.

In her civil action, it is understood Ms Meyer claimed she received assurances from Brighton Grammar that it had the resources to identify her son's problems, and could fix them. But it was not until the end of Year 5 that Ms Meyer worked out that he was memorising words rather than reading them and a solution was found: traditional phonics. Ms Meyer hired a tutor, who dealt with his problems in six weeks.

In December 2004, then federal education minister Brendan Nelson asked Ms Meyer to be one of 10 members of the Government's national inquiry into literacy teaching. Ms Meyer subsequently took civil action in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, alleging Brighton Grammar had breached the act because it failed to deliver the service it promised. It is believed she sought to recoup some of the fees paid, which were up to $15,000 a year. Brighton Grammar headmaster Michael Urwin said: "As far as the school is concerned, the matter is now over."


Four decades of loss: The reality of the Wave Hill walkout does not pass muster

Leftist fantasies about a real-life disaster

The story of how Northern Territory Aboriginal stockmen were robbed of their future by well-meaning but misguided thinking is an abject lesson that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. As Nicolas Rothwell has reported in The Australian, 40 years after the watershed walkout by black stockmen at Wave Hill - who were demanding equal pay for blacks and whites - the first glimmer of economic self-improvement is only now apparent. There is no guarantee it will succeed and it in no way compensates for four decades of loss.

In the end, the walkout served only to help incubate living conditions among indigenous communities that are a national scandal and an international embarrassment. As explored in the book Distance, Drought and Dispossession, by horse-breaker-turned PhD Glen McLaren, the plight of the Territory's Aboriginal stockmen was sealed by impatience and a fatal miscalculation. Impatience because the walkout followed an arbitration commission ruling in favour of a sliding pay scale over time, with the best black stockmen paid well for their labour. And miscalculation because the equal-pay campaign ignored the fact that in addition to paying wages, the pastoralists were also providing for large extended families, effectively providing an economic lifeline through which an association with traditional lands could be preserved.

After walking out, Aboriginal stockmen were effectively left out in the cold. The commonwealth, through welfare, was forced to pick up the financial burden and, without work, the remote communities spiralled into the tragic circumstances brought about by too much time and too little money or productive opportunity. These are the stark realities not readily acknowledged in urban celebration of the land rights struggle, epitomised by former prime minister Gough Whitlam's symbolic 1975 pouring of soil into hands of Vincent Lingiari, the man who led the walkout.

It is the same sentiment in which Lingiari is immortalised in the pop ballad From Little Things Big Things Grow, by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly. But symbolic gestures and catchy tunes have never been enough. There is still no evidence of the "big things" that are supposed to have grown from the walkout. The Daguragu cattle property set up for the strikers has been deserted for 15 years. The delivery of land rights was never dependent on the walkout. And instead of self-determination, a succession of well-meaning but misguided government policy has left the former stockmen and their children stranded.

That a small number is now showing an interest in joining the cattle industry is cause for optimism. So too are belated efforts to kick-start a viable indigenous cattle industry. But as the land rights warriors of the 1970s meet to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the walkout, they should acknowledge the unnecessary loss suffered to satisfy the stubborn idealism of others.


Lax doctor registration again

More than a year after the State Government toughened doctor registration in the wake of the Jayant Patel scandal, a Google search has revealed another surgeon with a questionable past. Eugene Sherry has been stood down from his job at Rockhampton Hospital after it was discovered he had served six months in a US jail in 1982 for raping a nurse along with two other doctors.

Dr Sherry, who trained in New Zealand and worked in Mackay for six months before moving to Rockhampton three weeks ago, twice failed to reveal the conviction to Queensland authorities. The Medical Board of Queensland, which was tipped off to his past by the Australian Medical Association, has now asked him to show cause why his registration should not be cancelled. The Crime and Misconduct Commission is examining the case.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson yesterday ordered criminal history checks to be conducted on all 14,000 doctors working in Queensland. Mr Robertson said Dr Sherry had been working in NSW since 1983 and was automatically registered in Queensland under an agreement between the states. "We don't think it is appropriate that doctors with these serious convictions should continue to practise," he said.

Premier Peter Beattie announced that the medical board would again be overhauled to focus solely on the registration of doctors, with a police representative added to ensure there was a thorough check of credentials.

Liberal leader Bruce Flegg yesterday criticised the Government for again failing to ensure proper checking of doctors. "At the end of the day, the Government is the employer. It is up to the Government to check the staff that they employ," Dr Flegg said.

In the wake of the Patel saga, new checks were introduced to ensure overseas-trained doctors seeking registration in Queensland had not been deregistered elsewhere. The checks include a Google search, but it is understood this was not done on Dr Sherry because he was trained in New Zealand and had already worked in NSW for 20 years.

Meanwhile, federal Nationals MP De-Anne Kelly has made a series of further allegations against a Mackay Hospital doctor. Ms Kelly accused Egyptian-trained surgeon Abdalla Khalafalla of falsifying surgical notes during procedures in which he operated alone. Dr Khalafalla, whose competence is being reviewed by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, is supposed to be prohibited from operating alone. "The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons was well aware that the operating notes for that particular operation were false," Ms Kelly said, when referring to a particular case.


WWF Too Close To Tim Flannery & Government?

Post lifted from Jennifer Marohasy

Clive Hamilton, Executive Director of The Australian Institute, has written a rather pointed piece for today's Sydney Morning Herald suggesting that Tim Flannery, author of a recent book on global warming, is "a trump card" in Prime Minister John Howard's "nuclear power play". It also suggests that the government has bought off environment group the WWF:

"WWF (formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature) is the foremost of the friendly organisations. It is close to the Government, providing a stream of favourable commentary on its policies and bestowing several awards for the Government's environmental achievements, including three "Gift to the Earth" awards, which the Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, displays in his office. In return, the Government has been generous, sending tens of millions to the fund for various programs.

The force behind the emergence of the organisation as the leading group backing the Government's environment policy is the businessman Robert Purves. He has made a very large donation to WWF and is now its president.

Purves has drawn Tim Flannery into the orbit of conservative environmentalism by funding the preparation of Flannery's book on climate change, The Weather Makers. ... Purves is said to have spent $1 million promoting Flannery's book, including costly backlit billboards outside Qantas Club lounges around the country."

This is not the first time Clive Hamilton has thrown mud at WWF, his first shot was perhaps publication of a report titled 'Taming The Panda' just a couple of years ago.

16 August, 2006

Former Leftist leader slams fake history

Some historians have been guilty of "political correctness" in romanticising nomadic Aboriginal life before the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, according to former NSW premier, Bob Carr. Speaking last night on ABC radio's Sunday Profile program, Mr Carr said that some historians had "eliminated unattractive features of nomadic life of our accounts of pre-1788 Australia" out of a desire to avoid offending Aborigines.

Mr Carr's comments come just days before a national summit on history teaching in schools, revisiting the decade-long culture and history war over how Australia views its past. He will take part in the summit, along with others such as leading conservative historian Geoffrey Blainey, who coined the phrase "black armband" view of history - for the views that lament Australia's past rather than recognising its achievements.

In an article in the Education supplement of The Age today, Professor Blainey says that Australia is one of the success stories of modern history. "You would not gain that impression if you read some books used in schools and universities," he writes. Professor Blainey said too many university courses taught "handkerchief-size" topics based on lecturers' own research, rather than broader areas that might be helpful to future history teachers.

Thursday's summit comes in the wake of Howard Government criticism of the way history is taught in schools. In this year's Australia Day address, Prime Minister John Howard called for "root and branch renewal" of the way history is taught. Last month, Education Minister Julie Bishop called for a renaissance in the area, arguing there was too much political bias and too few pivotal dates and facts were taught.

Mr Carr, who made studying Australian history compulsory for secondary school pupils during his time as premier, also said last night that history was not just a matter of dates and facts. "History should . have controversy and confusion and argument and bloodshed," he said. "Haven't you got to know that Australia once had a White Australia policy? And that it was changed?"

Professor Blainey told The Age that historians were more conscious of how they viewed the past than a decade ago. "(Historian) Keith Windschuttle's writing has shown that the people who were most interested in the areas he was writing had too much agreement amongst themselves, therefore tended to run a line, which . was stronger than the evidence supported," Professor Blainey said. Mr Windschuttle has claimed that the frontier massacres of Tasmanian Aborigines were exaggerated.

But Monash University historian Bain Attwood said it was unhelpful to frame the history summit around "black armband history" or the history wars. "This (summit) is an attempt to put the history wars aside," he said. "Anybody who does not put those history wars aside, including Geoffrey Blainey, is not contributing to the process."


Part of the reality behind government hospital statistics

On the day Premier Peter Beattie called an election, this picture is a reminder that one of Queensland's most pressing problems - its health system - is far from fixed. Mr Beattie was pressing the flesh at The Ekka yesterday, and presided over what was probably his last Cabinet meeting before announcing a snap poll today. This while the parents of one-month-old Deisha Magic-Stevens were hoping their gravely ill baby did not become the latest victim of the state's health system.

Baby Deisha needs an urgent operation to repair a hole in her heart, but three times in the past two weeks doctors at Brisbane's Mater Children's Hospital have had to cancel her life-saving operation because of a lack of intensive care beds.

In desperation, her father David Stevens, 42, has written a letter on Deisha's behalf to Mr Beattie expressing dismay at the current state of Queensland public hospitals. In his letter Mr Stevens said another seven babies have "had to have their operations cancelled this week for the same reason". "They now tell me that may be next week, but they just don't know. I have been told I am a priority because I need heart surgery. Priority must have a different meaning in your state," Mr Stevens wrote. "One thing that has been positive is the support and care factor from the nurses and doctors who, I might add, quite often have to work double shifts due to staff shortages. Mr Beattie, this is not a good way to bring a new Queenslander into the world," Mr Stevens said in his letter.

He said he had read about the problems in the state's public hospitals but "it is not until it affects you that you realise how bad it is". "The doctors and staff have bent over backwards. The frustration is in their face each time the surgery is put off."

In March, The Courier-Mail revealed the unnecessary deaths of several infants because of inferior pediatric cardiac services in Queensland. A review identified shortcomings in the intensive care facilities of the three major public hospitals providing the service. In response, Health Minister Stephen Robertson set up a taskforce to assess the review. Queensland Health yesterday confirmed a further eight pediatric cardiac procedures had been postponed in recent weeks.


Farmers vs. Greenies

My mother is from a West Australian farming family, so we all grew up believing farmers to be the ultimate environmentalists. They know the land better than anyone and are motivated to care for it because they depend on its health for their livelihood. True to her roots, my mother was recycling, conserving and composting for years before it became fashionable. She walks around the house turning off lights and wears layers of jumpers before turning on a heater. She can't venture into the street without picking up litter and pulling up stray weeds. And yet she is completely alienated by the big city green movements.

It has dawned on me, from talking to green group spokespeople over the years, that the feeling is mutual. Greenies feel towards farmers the way Hezbollah does towards Israel. No mercy, no compromise. Farmers are environmental vandals who must be driven off their land - compensated, if need be, with taxpayer money, like the loggers driven out of once thriving timber towns.

There is no better example of this attitude than the Wilderness Society's campaign on land clearing, complete with heart-tugging posters of trees and the slogan: "It's like bulldozing Waltzing Matilda". It claims farmers are damaging the environment by illegally clearing the equivalent of six cricket grounds every hour in western NSW. It has been pressuring the Government to introduce increasingly draconian regulations controlling native vegetation, to the point at which farmers can't work their land any more. The result has been an effective state seizure of private land on the western plains to create cheap national parks.

Apart from the injustice to farmers, the problem is that much of the native vegetation is invasive scrub, what farmers call "woody weed", which has smothered other species, including native grasses that had held the soil together for thousands of years.

Aborigines used to manage the land by periodically burning it, to keep the invasive scrub at bay. But now, with the greenies in charge, the weeds are on the march. So instead of buying a new tractor this winter, the farmers and small businesspeople of Nyngan and Cobar have hired a Sydney public relations firm to run a counter-campaign they hope will save their farms.

The Wilderness Society shows aerial photos of the western plains showing what looks like thriving new tracts of native vegetation, while, on the ground, the farmers respond with press releases and photos to show the reality - parched, bare and badly eroded soil. As Cobar farmer Alastair McRobert told Channel Nine's Sunday program last week: "They're not forests. They're weeds. They have encroached on beautiful native grasslands and taken it over, smothered them out and they're degrading the soil."

Farmers such as McRobert have to fill out 70-page forms and work through all sorts of bureaucratic green tape to beg for permission to rehabilitate their own land and stop the soil erosion. It is a surreal situation, but the purpose of the native vegetation regulations was never really about the environment. It was all about winning Green preferences in inner-city seats. And as long as they get rid of farmers, true greenies don't care if they wreck the environment in the process.


DNA tests bank up in Queensland

Justice delayed is justice denied

About 12,000 DNA samples are languishing in freezers at the state's main forensic lab, Brisbane's John Tonge Centre, almost one year after the State Government promised to fix the backlog. Health Minister Stephen Robertson said last October that drug and DNA cases would be dealt with by the end of this year after an $8.7 million cash injection. He also promised to hire more staff and outsource some testing.

But Queensland Health yesterday admitted it still had 11,920 DNA cases awaiting testing, down only 700 on late last year, because of skyrocketing demand. "Current projections are that the DNA backlog will be eliminated by the end of 2007," a QH spokesman said. "There are currently 57 clandestine laboratory cases that are greater than three months old, which has reduced from 92 cases in December 2005." He said staff numbers had risen 50 per cent since last year to nearly 100. But demand for DNA services had grown 23 per cent a year, twice its forecast.

The outsourcing plan was axed in October last year on advice from an evaluation committee because it thought it would present an "unacceptably high level of risk". Money was instead spent on John Tonge. Queensland Police Union acting president Denis Fitzpatrick said the union was "shocked and dismayed to hear it (the situation) has not substantially improved". Opposition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said the situation was leading to constant delays in court cases and the risk of some court cases being thrown out.


15 August, 2006

"Vilification" confusion in Victoria

In multicultural Victoria, it's quite a feat to infuriate the Jewish and Muslim communities at the same time. Yet that is precisely what Liberal leader Ted Baillieu has done this week with his jumbled stance on racial vilification laws. He managed to find himself wedged on the issue even though the laws were passed five years ago and last amended more than three months ago.

The catalyst for his woes was a rally outside parliament led by firebrand Christian cleric Danny Nalliah, who was found to have vilified Muslims after his church dubbed them demons. liars and terrorists. On the eve of the rally, Baillieu reportedly decided to drop his predecessor Robert Doyle's opposition to the laws.

The problem was, Liberal justice spokesman Andrew McIntosh was scheduled to address the rally of evangelical Christians, who had been worked into a lather by Nalliah's fiery rhetoric. At the rally, Mclntosh was heckled over his party's new stance; before long, he declared, the Liberals would "repeal and rewrite" the relevant act. His comments, although short on specifics, satisfied the 400 or so people on parliament's steps, sparked concerns within the Muslim and Jewish communities.

In a rare example of unity, Jewish and Muslim leaders told The Australian this week they shared deep concerns about any move to repeal protections against religious vilification. Both communities rushed out statements condemning the Liberals' apparent backflip.

Baillieu's problem is that once again he has tried to walk both sides of the street in a bid to please sectional interest groups. It suits the Liberals to oppose the laws in the outer suburbs, where evangelical churches are gaining popularity. But the Liberals are also anxious to court the Jewish community to secure the seat of Caulfield - held by Baillieu ally and health spokeswoman Helen Shardey - as well as some much-needed campaign donations from Jewish business leaders.

The Jewish and Muslim communities regard the laws as a vital bulwark against racial and religious hate attacks, while the evangelists believe they stifle free speech. So, Baillieu found himself sucked into a battle over an issue that was only a small blip on the political radar. After some tortuous internal wrangling over the issue, Baillieu's stance appears to be that the laws have flaws and the Liberals will alter them in government, but he refuses to say which sections he will scrap.

However, doubts persist. The Australian asked Jewish and Muslim leaders, as well as one of Baillieu's MPs, whether they were clear on what the Liberal position was. All said no, although the community leaders were clear in their view that Baillieu's support for the laws appears to be wavering.

If the issue has cast fresh doubts on Baillieu's judgment, it has also thrown new light on the judgment of federal Treasurer Peter Costello, who has lent his support to Nalliah, even though the preacher has been found guilty of vilification and believes Muslims are taking over Australia. Nalliah, fellow preacher Daniel Scot and the Catch the Fire Ministries were found to have breached the racial vilification laws in 2004 after Muslims were labelled as demons, liars and terrorists at a seminar and in several publications. They are appealing the ruling.

In a letter dated August 7 that was read out at the rally, Costello tells Nalliah: "I applaud your effort to repeal the offensive parts of this act." It's perfectly acceptable for the Treasurer to share Nalliah's belief that the laws stifle free speech, but he has failed to distance himself from Nalliah and Catch the Fire's more controversial beliefs.

The above article appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on 12 August, 2006

Another scum foreign doctor yawned at by Queensland authorities

Queensland Health failed to protect a vulnerable female patient following allegations of serious misconduct by an overseas-trained doctor. Toowoomba health service district allowed Indian-trained Shamshulhague Shaikh to continue working at the hospital following the accusations, transferring him to another ward where he again came in contact with the woman. He was deregistered by the Medical Board of Queensland for "unsatisfactory professional conduct" on July 20 and a brief of evidence containing the serious sexual allegations against him will be forwarded to the Health Practitioners Tribunal in the coming weeks. Police are also investigating the doctor, but would not confirm the nature of the allegation.

Under the terms of his working visa, Dr Shaikh must leave Australia within 28 days - today - or be in breach of immigration laws. Medical Board of Queensland executive officer Jim O'Dempsey said the board "will allege unsatisfactory professional conduct by an ex-registrant in connection with a vulnerable person he treated". A spokeswoman for the board said actions against the doctor would proceed if he were overseas.

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said the district was advised of the complaints last March. No action was taken by the district until they were advised by the doctor himself in June and the district manager and executive director of medical services advised the Ethical Standards Unit. "Once the district was notified of the serious nature of the allegation, arrangements were made to transfer him and interim working conditions were put in place," she said. "At this stage there had been no determination by the (Medical) Board as to whether the allegations were substantiated."

Member for Toowoomba South Mike Horan raised the matter in Parliament last week, questioning Health Minister Stephen Robertson over the "serious complaints" originally made in 2005 and why he was allowed to continue working at the hospital in contact with the woman. Opposition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said for the doctor to have remained working while the investigation was underway was "very, very disturbing" and called for the Minister to declare what he knew.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the matter had been referred to the Health Practitioners Tribunal and Dr Shaikh was no longer authorised to to practice in Queensland. "Both the board and Queensland Health are taking a very active interest in this matter to ensure all of the actions that were taken in relation to this doctor were timely and appropriate," he said. A spokesman said he became aware of the allegations in July and would not comment further. "The appropriate action was taken by the District and he supports that action - he doesn't politically intervene in these things," he said.


Another government computer meltdown -- this time in Queensland

A new police computer system has been labelled a $100 million "nightmare" that is too complicated for officers to use. The QPRIME system is designed to provide a massive database of all incidents police attend. But internal documents reveal a state-wide review found officers didn't know how to use the system.

Chief Superintendent Mick Hannigan told far northern police region staff there were "great concerns" about poor quality data being entered into the system. "The overall quality of data being entered on the system was of a sub-standard or erroneous nature," he said in documents obtained by The Sunday Mail. In Cairns district, 88 out of 110 traffic accidents and 12 out of 13 coronial matters were entered incorrectly. In Innisfail, there wasn't a single accident or coronial matter entered properly. Problems included officers failing to record times, locations and names. Officers-in-charge had failed to pick up on the deficiencies, Chief Supt Hannigan said.

The concerns are backed by the Queensland Police Union, which says the system is "too complicated" and taking officers off the streets. "I would like to publicly apologise for the unavoidable delays the public are experiencing when they request police assistance," union acting president Denis Fitzpatrick said. "An incident that might require police attendance for one hour will now require two to three hours of data entry. "Even minor tasks take an extraordinary amount of time." He said officers had been given inadequate training.

Canadian officers using the same type of system say they are experiencing similar problems. Winnipeg Police Association president Loren Schinkel said 68 staff had suffered repetitive strain injuries from the additional data entry. "We are currently in our 42nd update version, and to say that it continues to be a nightmare is an understatement," he said. Traffic accident reports in Winnipeg had dropped from 120 a day to 50 a day. Officers were apparently too overwhelmed to bother entering the information.

The Queensland Police Service has denied there are serious problems. "No major problems have been encountered, and the system has been found to be functional and stable," a spokeswoman said. The spokeswoman confirmed $94.4 million had been set aside to buy and implement the system over four years. "QPRIME will replace 234 existing systems, providing officers with a single system and giving police a greater capacity to detect, prevent and solve crimes."


History teaching in Australia under scrutiny

Every once in a while, Tony Taylor likes to go back to the coalface. So Taylor, an associate professor in education at Monash University and Australia's leading authority on history teaching, abandoned the ivory tower for two afternoons a week in 2001 and taught a Year 10 modern world history class at a rural Victorian high school. And to find out what his students knew in the first place, he gave them a simple written quiz, including this question: "What do you know about Lenin? How come he was famous? How do you know this?" And here's one of the answers Taylor got back: "Singer in the Beatles. Made good music. Listen to their music."

Taylor is quick to point out that the study of history is not, or ever should be, about memorising facts: facts about Lenin, or Lennon or anybody else. It is about learning "historical thinking", gaining "historical literacy" and "using that understanding to develop an informed moral, political and social view of the world we inhabit". But he concedes that such literacy can barely get off the ground unless students are given "narrative context"; that is, unless they are taught the great periods and events of the past and the great characters who inhabited them, in chronological sequence.

Along with 21 other luminaries, including former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr and economic historian Geoffrey Blainey, Taylor will play a leading role in Thursday's history summit in Canberra. The summit has been organised by federal Minister for Education, Science and Training Julie Bishop as part of the Government's campaign to pressure the state education systems into reinstating history as a compulsory subject in Australian schools.

Federal-state politics aside, the summit grows out of a sense, shared by many teachers on the ground, that the narrative context of history generally, and Australian history particularly, has been lost in our schools and that the subject, to quote John Howard in his Australia Day speech this year, "is taught without any sense of structured narrative, replaced by a fragmented stew of themes and issues." "Too often," Howard told the National Press Club in Canberra, "history has fallen victim in an ever more crowded curriculum to subjects deemed more relevant to today. "And too often, history, along with other subjects in the humanities, has succumbed to a postmodern culture of relativism where any objective record of achievement is questioned or repudiated."

Bishop wants compulsory, stand-alone history subjects from kindergarten to Year 10, with Australian history the focus in the final two years. If the states hear the message, well and good. If not, it will be amplified through the megaphone of the next quadrennial education funding agreement, which will deliver them about $40 billion of commonwealth money. Just as it has with report cards and flagpoles in school grounds, the Howard Government is prepared to micro-manage the way state education systems do history.

To strengthen Bishop's arm, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the confusion of Taylor's 15-year-old student regarding the identity of the leader of the Russian revolution, is widely repeated as far as our own history is concerned. Mike Goodwin, an inspiring and national award-winning history teacher at Mackay North State High School in Queensland, says that while most students come into senior years with some knowledge of the First Fleet and Australia's European origins, their grasp of 20th-century Australian history is skimpy at best.

Far from understanding the complex ways the Australian experience has been shaped by two world wars, for example, many students in high school cannot distinguish between those wars at all. "Apart from what they've learned from Anzac Day, the facts of our role in all conflicts are patchy and inconsistent," Goodwin says. "They don't have a big understanding of the social impact the wars had." It is with a view to conveying that impact, in the most vivid terms possible, that Goodwin has organised three overseas tours with his history students. They visit sites such as the Thai-Burma Railway, where nearly 3000 Australian prisoners of war died in 1942-43; Gallipoli, where 8000 Australians laid down their lives in World War I; and the main battlegrounds of the Western Front, where a further 40,000 fell. Students seek out graves with a Mackay connection and deliver eulogies to the fallen Diggers. It has given Goodwin a rare chance to witness the transforming power of historical consciousness.

"They just grow as people," he says of his students. "Not only does it enhance their understanding of the sacrifices of past generations, but as individuals they become more whole. They start to understand just what is important in life. "If the mobile phone doesn't work, it's not the greatest problem in the world, not if you've just lost your 18-year-old brother to war."

In one of the two papers prepared for the history summit, a survey of how Australian history is being presented now, Taylor provides plenty of evidence of why most schoolchildren, less fortunate than Goodwin's, are historically challenged on facts and understanding. Quite simply, history is not being widely taught, except in a vaguely postmodern sense. Until the two final years of high school and, with the partial exceptions of NSW and Victoria, it has been allowed to dissolve into a pomo porridge that throws together elements of history, geography and social studies into amorphous subjects with titles such as Time, Continuity and Change or Study of Society and the Environment.

So obscure are the outcomes-based descriptions of these subjects, says Taylor in his paper, "It is frequently very difficult to discern in several of the curriculum documents where exactly the teaching of Australian history may be found." What does the South Australian curriculum stipulate about history in senior high school? "Students critically analyse continuities and discontinuities over time," it propounds, "and reflect upon the power relationships which shape and are shaped by these."... What Taylor and history teachers on the ground repeatedly stress is that within such vague parameters it becomes all too easy for teachers without any interest or training in history to avoid the subject altogether.

When he inherited the education levers in NSW, Carr decided he was not prepared to accept the situation and its long-term threat to public culture. Since 1999, all NSW students from years 7 to 10 have been taught history as a distinct academic subject. In years 9 and 10 there are 100 mandated hours of Australian history, assessed by public examination. "I saw history as a superior intellectual discipline," Carr tells Inquirer. "It assesses how human beings have actually behaved in different circumstances, with a rigorous look at the oral and documentary record. "In an information age, the skills produced by studying history are more, not less, relevant. An employer will want a recruit who can go out and find the evidence and then, faced with a mass of it, think his or her way through it. "All of us have got to make decisions based on reports. How well are they written? Can you rely on the footnotes? The whole debate about Keith Windschuttle's criticisms of Aboriginal massacres draws our attention to this challenge of weighing evidence and being honest with readers. Look at the footnotes: do they justify the argument?" ...

To avoid setting off a spot fire in the so-called history wars, Bishop has been careful to convene what she calls the "sensible centre" and has left out hardened warriors such as Windschuttle, author of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, and his chief antagonist, Tasmanian historian Henry Reynolds. But Carr remains cautious. "We've got to be careful about specifying content," he says. "It might be useful to recognise some of the choices, some of the spread. I go there a little cautious, however, about embracing an agenda from one school of history writing. I'm not prepared to see the egalitarian strand in Australian history junked in a bit of neo-con spring cleaning." But whatever specific historical narratives people think should be taught, they all seem to agree there should be more of it...

More here

14 August, 2006

Truganini replica removed

The National Museum of Australia has denied bowing to political correctness in withdrawing a bust of Aborigine Truganini from an international exhibition. A wooden bust of Truganini, once claimed to have been the last "full-blood" Tasmanian Aborigine, was to be part of a visiting show displaying beads from across the Commonwealth. The bust would have been used to display a shell necklace.

Museum public affairs director Dennis Grant said the bust had been removed from the exhibition, which began in Canberra yesterday, partly because of fear it would cause offence. "People said Truganini was the last Tasmanian Aborigine - that's insulting to Tasmanian Aborigines because what does that make them?" [It makes them half-castes -- which is what they are, though even that is overstating it. Most so-called Tasmanian Aborigines today have only a tiny amount of Aboriginal ancestry] Mr Grant said. "That's where we are coming from."

Tasmanian Aborigines believe the memory of Truganini, who died in 1876, has been misused by non-indigenous Australians to create and perpetuate the myth their people died out on the island. Mr Grant said it was also decided that the bust of Truganini, who remains arguably Tasmania's most well-known woman, was out of place being used as a mannequin to display beads.

The legal director of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, Michael Mansell [who has blond hair and blue eyes], said local Aborigines would be outraged to learn the work was included in the show. He said no museum should contemplate using the bust, crafted by Queensland sculptor John Vink in 1990 and modelled on a work by 19th-century artist Benjamin Law displayed in Hobart. Mr Mansell said the replica should be destroyed, as Truganini's death had been falsely but potently used as evidence of the end of Aborigines in Tasmania.


Another health coverup

"Queensland Health's Code of Conduct prohibits staff from releasing information to the media that has been obtained in the course of their duties without appropriate clearance. As well, there are a number of legislative and policy requirements that prevent staff from releasing information about Queensiand Health clients, staff and business affairs"

[Above is an excerpt from the] document that has gagged health staff across Queensland. While the Beattie Government boasts of a new "commitment to transparency" in Queensland Health, employees are terrified to speak out about problems for fear of losing their jobs. The Sunday Mail has been inundated with calls from doctors and nurses who want to raise concerns but say they are too afraid. Bosses insist they adhere to a code of conduct that states: "Only staff authorised by the director-general can speak on behalf of Queensland Health."

In contrast, a new Government "Keeping Our Promise" brochure, delivered to Queensland residents at a cost of $300,000, states: "We have delivered commitment to transparency."

But doctors warn the concealment culture that enabled Bundaberg surgeon Jayant Patel to botch so many operations still exists. The Australian Medical Association said staff needed to be able to speak out for the safety of patients. Queensland president Zelle Hodge said: "Despite what the Government says in its brochure, our members are telling us that this closed culture is still there. "In any organisation there is a degree of commitment to that organisation, but in health the over-riding commitment is to the patients. "If there is some adverse event happening and clinical staff are too frightened to talk about it, then obviously there is a risk to patients."

One doctor said: "The Government is hypocritical to say that Queensland Health is a transparent organisation when employees are being gagged. No one will speak out about any problems because they are running scared. Some people even think bosses will go as far as to trace calls to the media."

Queensland Nurses Union secretary Gay Hawksworth said she had been in discussions with the Government about the brochure. "We want our members to know that they can voice any concerns about patient care with us," she said.

Last year's inquiry into the Bundaberg Hospital scandal found that a "concealment culture" had influenced staff to shelve concerns to protect the Government. It resulted in vital information about hospital waiting lists and key data on the performance of health facilities being concealed. A spokesman for Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the Government was providing the public with "more information on hospitals than ever before". "That's why hospitals employ PR people. We are proving we have a commitment to transparency.


Preschool food Fascism

Preschool teachers are inspecting lunch boxes and decreeing which ingredients are acceptable in birthday cakes in a dramatic escalation in the war against childhood obesity. Chocolate frogs, lollies, cakes and fruit roll-ups are among foods banned at some NSW preschools and kindergartens. If daily lunch-box checks reveal such foods, they are sent home uneaten. And parents who send in a cake to mark their child's birthday are being left in no doubt: small plain cakes are in, big creamy chocolate cakes are out.

The crackdown in preschools comes as junk food is being officially phased out of canteens at the state's primary schools. But some experts, including leading nutritionist Rosemary Stanton, say lunch-box inspections take the healthy eating strategies too far. "There is no direction from anyone in an official position to examine children's lunch boxes or to forbid any child to eat any food and I would not support such draconian measures," she said. Dr Stanton said efforts to cut junk food from lunch boxes should be a group decision made by parents. But kindergartens say they are doing it with children's health in mind.

At Red Robin Kindergarten in Eastwood, parents had been told that birthday cakes should be as simple as possible, preschool teacher Jess Karhu said. "For birthdays we encourage a vanilla cupcake," Ms Karhu said. "It should be something little, not too big." And lunch boxes at the 40-child centre, which provides fruit platters for the children, do not escape scrutiny, with regular checks carried out. "If it is not appropriate it goes back in the lunch box," she said.

Council of Catholic School Parents executive director Danielle Cronin - who has a daughter at Red Robin Kindergarten - said the lunch-box checks and healthy birthday cake recommendations were helping youngsters develop good habits. "Preschools are probably leading the way with healthy-eating strategies in schools," Ms Cronin said, admitting lunch-box inspections could prove controversial. "Parents want to make sure that their kids are not hungry at school and they have the tendency then to load up the lunch box with all sorts of things," she said. "There is a sense that it is their right as a parent to fill their child's lunch box with whatever they choose or whatever their child is telling them they want. It possibly could be a bit a bit controversial. Some parents might object and some kids might object."

Ms Cronin is tackling the task of creating a healthy, but tasty, birthday cake that her daughter Virginia, who will turn five this week, can take to kindy to share with her friends. "The healthy cake option for us will probably be a plain homemade vanilla cake. We may put Smarties on top but we won't be doing the icing and cream option," she said.

Food and recipe writer Anneka Manning runs in-school cooking classes. She said parents of preschool- and school-age children must take responsibility for what goes into a child's lunch box. "It is just as much about educating parents as it is the children," she said.


A model success

Model Megan Gale is now feted in Australia every time she jets in from Switzerland and makes an appearance on the catwalk, as she did last week at the David Jones fashion parade. But before the 180-centimetre, Perth-born brunette was appreciated at home she had to make it big in Italy, where she is described by journalists as the hottest model since Sophia Loren.

Gale, who turned 30 last week, is a living reproach to that childish Australian knack of respecting our own only if their worth has been validated by outsiders. In Gale's case, it was the droves of Italian men driven to nirvana by an advertisement she did for telephones. She had been forced to look overseas for work because Australian modelling agencies kept ignoring her - they reportedly didn't like her exotic look. Now they can't get enough of her. She's David Jones's secret weapon - Our Megan, a Gale Force.

Even with her belated recognition at home, Gale still had to share the spotlight last week with special guest Mischa Barton, the emaciated former starlet of The O.C., whom David Jones inexplicably flew in from Los Angeles. But Gale had the grace to rise above the competition - and about 20 extra centimetres helped.


13 August, 2006

Security pact to deepen Japan ties

The Howard Government proposes to deepen Australia-Japan relations with a bilateral security agreement for new military and security co-operation between the former World War II enemies. The proposal was advanced by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer during his recent talks inTokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the likely next prime minister, Shinzo Abe. In an interview with The Weekend Australian this week, Mr Downer said Australia-Japan security ties were undergoing "a complete transformation".

Cabinet's National Security Committee has recently approved a submission by Mr Downer on a negotiating framework to advance Australia-Japan bilateral ties. The proposed agreement is not an ANZUS-type treaty but similar to the agreement the Howard Government now seeks with Indonesia. Mr Downer did not rule out joint exercises in Australia with Japanese Self Defence Force troops but drew a distinction with the "aggressive military training" the ADF undertook with the US military. "We talked about a security agreement during my recent visit," Mr Downer said. "This was by far the best trip I have had to Japan as Foreign Minister. We are now seeing a complete change in Japan's attitudes to where they were previously. We believe a security agreement is something to explore."

The upshot is that the agreement is being negotiated by officials from both countries. As part of his campaign for office, Mr Abe, a nationalist supportive of the US alliance and critical of China, has called for Japan to adopt closer strategic ties with Australia and India. Mr Downer was also upbeat about the prospects for a bilateral free trade agreement between Australia and Japan.



Two current articles below

Little improvement at Queensland Health despite increased funding

Queensland public hospitals are continuing to report insufficient staff numbers, staff fatigue and reduced and restricted services, says leaked internal Queensland Health documents. The documents, dated July 21, not only identify current shortages being experienced in public hospitals, but predict these will continue into next year. In response to questions about likely future impact of current employment status and vacancies, hospital administrators have written "lack of physicians is compromising surgery; service unsustainable in current form; insufficient medical officers to support ongoing total services and sustain safe roster; and significant fatigue of core staff". Another question asking whether shortages of medical staff are anticipated in January 2007 finds that little improvement is expected.

At the beginning of the year, Premier Peter Beattie said he would quit his job by the end of the year if the crisis affecting the state's hospitals was not fixed. This pledge was later withdrawn by Mr Beattie, who in March declared his Government had "turned the corner" in its efforts and had "made very significant advances".

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said yesterday the figures, contained in minutes and attachments to Queensland Health's Central Area Medical Workforce Advisory Group, were "in line with what the Government has been saying publicly for months". "We continue to recruit aggressively, but we need more doctors as there are several vacancies that still exist. That is why the Premier and I led two separate overseas recruitment drives this year," Mr Robertson said. "Latest figures show there are 4863 doctors in our public health system - that is an increase of 311 on June 2005. "As our recruitment efforts progress, we continue to target the key medical vacancies that exist in our hospital such as emergency medicine, mental health, obstetrics and surgical specialties."

Deputy Coalition Leader and health spokesman Bruce Flegg said the documents were very significant and "remove any doubts that nothing has changed". "Mr Beattie has not fixed the system and continues to cover up the real position," Dr Flegg said. "There is a threat to services across the board because the Government has failed to reform the culture of Queensland Health. It is far too bureaucratic and there is enormously low morale."


One victim of negligent Queensland Health regulators

Jack McDougall thought he was one of the lucky ones after federal Nationals MP De-Anne Kelly's claimed in Parliament that Mackay Base Hospital had allowed a surgeon to undertake operations he was not fit to perform. Mr McDougall, 45, was in pain for almost a year after about 10mm of mesh was left rubbing against his abdominal muscles.

Abdalla Khalafalla performed a double hernia operation on Mr McDougall on February 15 last year. Despite repeated post-op consultations with Dr Khalafalla, during which he was advised to "wait it out", Mr McDougall opted to pay for a private surgeon. "When they went in to do it they saw about 8 to 10mm of mesh was rubbing . . . so they nipped that, pulled the extra mesh out and I was as good as gold," he said. Mr McDougall said he considered himself lucky because his affliction was relatively minor. "Some of the other cases she (Ms Kelly) talked about sounded a lot more serious. It makes you wonder."

The Courier-Mail tried to contact Dr Khalafalla yesterday, but a Queensland Health spokeswoman said he was still "too upset" to speak publicly about the matter. But Craig Margetts, the district executive director of medical services, said the hospital had responded correctly to concerns raised by Dr Khalafalla's peers. Dr Margetts said the situation in Mackay was far removed from that of Jayant Patel in Bundaberg. "There are a number of differences (to the Patel case), the first and probably most important difference is that Dr Khalafalla himself has been very co-operative and has been working very strongly with us in terms of making sure that his range of practices are limited to very safe procedures," he said.

Dr Margetts said he was not aware of any problems with Dr Khalafalla's competence before he arrived in Mackay. Bundaberg Patients Support Group founder Beryl Crosby yesterday urged patients to come forward with their experiences at Mackay Base Hospital.


A slippery do-gooder

Embattled judge Marcus Einfeld has reneged on a promise to identify who was behind the wheel of his speeding car - and blamed police inaction for the silence. Despite earlier claiming the announcement of the "actual driver" was imminent, Mr Einfeld's legal team yesterday refused to reveal that person's identity. The silence comes after Mr Einfeld gave three different versions as to who was driving the 67-year-old's silver Lexus when it was clocked at 60km/h in a 50km/h zone at Mosman on January 8 this year.

Barrister Winston Terracini SC yesterday said Mr Einfeld's legal team had not been contacted by NSW Police's State Crime Command. He said this prevented the disclosure of the person he had earlier claimed had been driving Mr Einfeld's speeding car. "In light of what Police Minister (Carl) Scully announced yesterday, we will fully co-operate with any inquiry," Mr Terracini told The Saturday Daily Telegraph. "As soon as the police contact us - we feel that it's far better that we release any information to them (rather than the media)."

On Thursday, Mr Terracini said he had been in contact with "a person in the US". "(We) hope to be in a position in the next few days to reveal the details of the actual driver," the senior barrister said. Mr Einfeld flew back into Sydney from a speaking engagement in Adelaide yesterday afternoon and headed directly for a meeting with his legal advisers.

As controversy mounted with the release of the ex-federal court judge's shocking driving record, police who will interview Mr Einfeld about his controversial evidence would not reveal the status of their investigation. State Crime Command operations manager Detective Chief Superintendent Peter Dein refused to answer a series of questions posed by The Saturday Daily Telegraph about the inquiry. "There is a current investigation being conducted by the State Crime Command. We will not be commenting on the investigation at the moment," he said.

It is understood detectives plan to interview Mr Einfeld next week about the controversial evidence he gave to the Downing Centre Local Court on Monday to beat a a $77 speeding fine. Mr Einfeld told the court he had been in Forster on the day of the offence and that he had loaned his car to Professor Teresa Brennan. The Daily Telegraph had learned Florida-based Professor Brennan died in January 2003 - three years before the speeding offence.

Mr Einfeld then claimed he had loaned his car to a second Professor Brennan - with the first name of Terese or Therese - who had died this year, also in a car accident. He later claimed he had given his car to a third person, who he refused to name. Mr Einfeld continued his silence yesterday, with calls to his mobile phone going unanswered. The respected human rights activist was also uncontactable through his city offices. "We haven't seen him all day," a spokeswoman said.


The perils of solecism

How vulnerable you are if you don't understand how English spelling works. Last week, the venerable Justice Peter McClellan of the NSW Supreme Court was caught by the poor spelling of another. He was quoted in another daily newspaper: "The most troubling aspect of memory - be it a child's memory or an adult's - may be its venerability to suggestion."

I am sure he said no such thing. Venerability is another word for venerable, "commanding respect in virtue of years and high personal qualities" (Oxford English Dictionary). Our language has enjoyed this word unchanged since 1480. It comes from the Latin venerare, to reverence, worship. In light of extensive research and experience, the word hardly applies to memory.

Much more likely, McClellan said vulnerable, from the Latin, vulnus, or wound. Today, as in 1605, the word means "open to attack or injury", including physical or non-physical wounds (OED). Vulnerability makes sense when talking about memory. Vulnerable is a word that has survived since 1605, unscathed until recently when English speakers have found it too demanding to pronounce correctly. Instead of vul-ner-a-ble, with the accent on the first syllable, it has become vun-er-a-ble. I cringe every time I hear this solecism (from the Greek, speaking incorrectly). Swallowing the L before an N or M and then pronouncing a doubled N or M is a common shift, as in salmon, which has become accepted as correct English.

McClellan may well have pronounced the word correctly but was heard incorrectly. A typo coming up as a spelling error may have provoked the wrong correction. If the reporter, or the editor, or the spellcheck had thought about or included the roots of words, all the information was there to make the meaningful choice. Attention to spelling really does matter, and using the building blocks of our language to say what we mean and mean what we say is not only fascinating but empowering.


12 August, 2006

Army expanding

The Howard Government will hire an extra 3000 soldiers to reinforce the army as it fights a growing number of campaigns around the world. Defence Minister Brendan Nelson will next week ask his cabinet colleagues to approve the expansion as a matter of urgency. He will also seek approval to completely overhaul the methods used to hire troops and their pay and conditions in a bid to attract new members and to keep those already in uniform. It is understood the extra troops will be based at either Townsville or Darwin.

More than 4200 military personnel, or 8 per cent of the 51,000 strong force, will be posted overseas by November. That will include 2000 in East Timor, 1400 in Iraq and the Gulf and 650 in Afghanistan. In addition, more than 430 Ausralian federal and state police are also working in overseas trouble spots.

A total of 1500 soldiers will be hired as part of the program to "harden" the army and up to 2000 further soldiers will be recruited to fill operational shortfalls. Dr Nelson, who has taken direct responsibility for recruiting, wants a complete overhaul of the system used to hire military personnel. Extra pay is only part of the equation and according to well placed sources other issues such as longer postings, educational facilities, spouse employment and more relaxed health requirements will also be implemented. "We are very busy and one of the things that I'm looking at, along with the Prime Minister at the moment, is the size of the Australian Defence Force and whether we need to increase it, but I can assure you that we still have additional troops to send to our region or our borders or other parts of the world if we need to do it," Dr Nelson said.

The army has an infantry company on permanent 24 hours' notice to move, with another on a week's notice. About 10 per cent of the army's 25,000 personnel are deployed offshore. Given that 10 per cent will replace them and another 10 per cent are getting ready, that means 30 per cent of the nation's Diggers are tied up with offshore deployments



Two current articles below from Queensland and two from Victoria

MP accuses Egyptian surgeon

North Queensland hospital has been accused of allowing an incompetent surgeon to perform unauthorised operations, with dangerous consequences for a host of patients. In a case certain to draw comparisons with Bundaberg's Jayant Patel affair, it has been alleged that an Egyptian-trained surgeon, known only last night as Dr Khalifallah, performed operations at Mackay Base Hospital against expert advice.

Federal Nationals MP DeAnne Kelly told Federal Parliament last night that Dr Khalifallah was employed by Queensland Health in 2004 and by July last year the hospital's credentiality committee determined he must be supervised during all major surgery. "Within four weeks he undertook three major surgical cases without supervision, with complications arising," she said. Ms Kelly said that in one case the removal of a bowel tumour resulted in faecal matter entering the intestinal cavity.

In November last year, the hospital wrote to Dr Khalifallah directing him to cease performing elective abdominal surgery altogether and emergency abdominal surgery unless he had consulted superiors. Ms Kelly said duty of care to patients was overlooked because the hospital reversed its position out of fear that Dr Khalifallah would lose his job. Earlier this year, Ms Kelly said the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons contacted the hospital again, listing a host of operating and clinical errors.

The cases detailed included: botched keyhole surgery; performing a procedure in a ward which should have been done in an operating theatre; wrongly ordering "no further visiting" for a patient, who subsequently - after intervention from staff - required five to six operations; claiming a cow kicking a patient was the cause of post-operative complications and tampering with surgical notes to "cover up" that he had operated alone.

Despite being backed by the hospital's director of surgery Raad Almehdi to return to full duties, Dr Chris Perry from the college wrote to the hospital on July 19 this year warning of serious concerns about Dr Khalifallah. A spokesman for Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson last night said: "We are aware of the case and appropriate undertakings have been put in place. The doctor is working under close supervision by senior doctors and he has been on restricted practice since February."


Intensive care shortage in Queensland

The Queensland Government has conceded that hospital intensive care units had too many patients and not enough beds in the state's southeast on Monday night. Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg yesterday quizzed the Government in Parliament over claims that after 8pm Monday not one intensive care unit bed was available in any ward south of Nambour on the Sunshine Coast. Mr Springborg said patients on life-support systems were put in corridors and ambulances were put on bypass. "Minister, if that is the present situation in our hospitals, isn't there going to be a major crisis when the flu season strikes in earnest and what will happen if a major incident occurs?" Mr Springborg asked.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said he had been advised that only two patients in the whole of southeast Queensland could not immediately access a hospital intensive care bed. But he said it was true that all available staffed ICU beds in both public and private hospitals in southeast Queensland were full on the night. He said the two patients at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital who could not immediately access an ICU bed were kept ventilated and cared for in the emergency department.


Melbourne ambulance service deteriorating

Health Minister Bronwyn Pike is under fire for claiming ambulance emergency response times are on target. The claim comes just weeks after Herald Sun reports highlighting growing delays and a state Budget report that found emergency response targets had been missed by an average of two minutes. Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey accused Ms Pike of misleading Victorians and Parliament. Ambulance Employees Association boss Steve McGhie said all the evidence from paramedics and data seen by the union showed response times were getting worse.

Responding to a question from a government MP on improvements to ambulance services, Ms Pike said Melbourne's ambulance service now ranked among the best in the world. She said money provided had more than doubled to add 652 extra paramedics, 54 extra ambulances and to upgrade and build new ambulance stations. "While caseloads are up -- 64,000 additional emergency services in metropolitan Melbourne and 30,000 extra emergency services in rural areas -- response times are on target," she said.

The May Budget reported that the ambulance response time for 90 per cent of code one emergencies in metropolitan Melbourne was two minutes slower than the 13-minute target for 2004-05 and was expected to be 14 minutes in 2005-06. Statewide, response times were also two minutes slower than the 15-minute target for 2004-05 and were expected to be 16 minutes in 2005-06.

"If the Minister is referring to the past then I'm astounded she is claiming the response times have been on target because clearly they have never been met by this Government," Ms Shardey said. "And if she's referring to this current year she must looking into her crystal ball because we are only six weeks into the current year." A spokesman for Ms Pike said when the impact of lengthy industrial action in 2004-05 was allowed for, the target had been met.

In May the Herald Sun revealed ambulances called to emergencies took at least 20 minutes to respond on more than 900 occasions in Melbourne last year. Documents seen under Freedom of Information revealed Sunbury was the worst-hit suburb, with 60 delays, including one 77-minute wait for a patient with breathing problems. Leaked ambulance figures revealed that just 68 per cent of metropolitan Code One emergency calls were reached within 14 minutes in March, 74 per cent in February and only 72 per cent in January.


Hospital waiting lists in Victoria

Health Minister Bronwyn Pike has attacked the Liberals for using sick people as political pawns -- but conceded the tactic could get them treatment sooner. Her comments came amid growing political controversy over the number of people on hospital waiting lists.

Ms Pike defended the handling of the case involving 11-year-old Georgia Duncan, who suffers a life-threatening illness and is fed through a tube. Georgia's family say they were told she would have to wait from six to 18 months for surgery to improve her mobility, but Labor and the Royal Children's Hospital say she had only been on the waiting list for nine days and would have to wait for up to three months.

Her case has sparked a political row, and Ms Pike accused the Liberals of using Georgia and her family as political pawns -- but then admitted the strategy could help her get treatment sooner. "When people draw public attention and the Government's attention to their particular plight it does give an opportunity, as it does when you go to your doctor, to have a reassessment," Ms Pike said. "We genuinely care that people do have the opportunity to be reassessed if they are in pain."

The Opposition has set up a phone hotline for Victorians who have been left languishing on hospital waiting lists. But Ms Pike said the Liberals are giving false hope to sick people and called on them to release the details of those who had called the hotline. "It's not up to the Opposition to set themselves up as some kind of quasi-triage operation," she said. "I . . . am open and accountable about the fact that our system doesn't always provide the most timely care for some people. "We know we have to improve it. We are committed to improving it . . . but there is a lot more work to be done."

Royal Children's Hospital spokeswoman Julie Webber said Georgia was always listed as a category two patient. "Before this time, Georgia was not on a surgical waiting list and therefore not classified," she said. Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said Georgia's case was systematic of a public health system in crisis, but she refused to detail what policies the Liberals would put forward.


Ignorant Pom

Sydney is racist, sexist and backward, according to a British newspaper columnist. The columnists writes that the events of the past week or so - Dean Jones labelling a Muslim a terrorist and Mel Gibson unleashing an anti-Semitic tirade - have done nothing to dispel Britain's perception of Australia as a nation of Sir Les Pattersons.

Evening Standard writer Hannah Pool criticised Australia as homogenous and its national mood as smug. "Forget about popping out to the corner shop and coming back with a feast of Polish bread, Turkish cheese and Indian vegetables," she wrote of Sydney. Pool clearly did not take the time to visit one of the many Italian restaurants in Leichhardt, enjoy a Lebanese kebab, sample the city's plethora of south-east Asian cuisine, or take advantage of the fact that sushi in Sydney is extremely fresh and affordable by London standards.

Further weakening her argument was her admission that she had been to Australia about five years ago with her then boyfriend who was on a business trip. They stayed at the Observatory Hotel near Sydney's CBD and she began to form her opinions after a couple of days.

"Far from being a hip, modern city, I found Sydney racist, sexist and deeply backward," she said. "I couldn't wait to come back home to London. On the journey from Heathrow to Hackney I saw a greater mix of people than I would in a lifetime in Australia." Her views are presented to readers of a newspaper with a circulation of more than 300,000 - many of whom may not have been to Australia to form their own opinion.

More here

Australian Taliban Feted Again - Via the Medium of Dance

Post below lifted from Daily Ablution

News of a Sydney theatrical production called Honour Bound - during which "in a vast steel cage, six performers, choreographed superbly by Garry Stewart, are surrounded by projected texts and video, enveloped in sound and voices, and awash with light …as they fly, hang or turn in the air" - recalls to our attention the case of David Hicks, an Australian Guantanamo detainee described in promotional material for an earlier film as "a freedom fighter for Islam".

Needless to say, the appeasers and apologists are fawning over the piece - the heady combination of dance, aerial performance and support for Taliban freedom fighters is obviously irresistable to those in certain circles, among them the editor of the Australian arts publication RealTime:
"The quest for national security as part of the 'war on terror' has become an excuse for a radical reduction in human rights by governments around the world, most blatantly in the case of the US incarceration of David Hicks."
"Most blatantly"? What's under discussion is the incarceration - for the duration of a war which is ongoing - of an admitted Taliban recruit fighting to bring about the time when "the Western-Jewish domination is finished, so we live under Muslim law again" (whither RealTime, come that glorious day?). If this is the "most blatant" case of the alleged assault on our rights, it would seem as if we don't have terribly much to worry about.

Such thoughts would be incorrect, however, as our dance-reviewer-cum-moral-philosopher reminds us:
"Hicks has become a living symbol of what could happen to any citizen given the draconian nature of Australia's anti-terror legislation..."
Why yes - "any citizen" could be sent to Guantanamo! The unfortunate Mr. Hicks just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; specifically, Kunduz, Afghanistan, where he was captured fighting alongside the Taliban in December, 2001. We must all be vigilant in ensuring that none of us is as unlucky as Mr. Hicks - his fate could easily await any one of us. Especially, it need hardly be said, those of us in the arts:
"... and that includes the special place it holds for journalists, cartoonists and artists, all less than assured by John Howards' 'trust me.'"
Rather humorously, the editorial immediately undermines its own argument by pointing out that:
"Australian artists of many kinds and in many media have kept their audiences alert to the issues pertaining to refugees, political spin and the escalating erosion of social democracy. Filmmaker Curtis Levy's documentary The President versus David Hicks has been widely seen. Now writer-director-designer Nigel Jamieson, with ADT's Garry Stewart, sound designer Paul Charlier, video artist Scott Otto Anderson and co-designer Nick Dare, brings a multimedia performance perspective to one man's plight and the ramifications for social democracy."
It's nothing short of astonishing that, "given the draconian nature of Australia's anti-terror legislation", these brave voices remain unsilenced. For now.

Although insignificant on an individual level, the views of the unnamed RealTime editor are worthy of passing note in that they mirror those which characterise a particular mindset on the left. As he's more influential, those of Chris Levy - director of the film about the noble "freedom fighter for Islam" - are perhaps more interesting. To examine them brings us even greater insight into the mentality of the terror-apologist - and the willful blindness and the contorted justifications are quite literally jaw-dropping.

Those with strong stomachs are directed to the complete 2004 interview with the World Socialist Web Site, in which Mr. Levy describes the Australian Taliban member - who "became a fervent Muslim because he saw it as a way of redressing the injustice he saw in the world" -- as "a caring and considerate kind of person", an "ordinary person", who was "misled into supporting undesirable groups".

It's admittedly unusual to hear the likes of Mr. Levy describe the Taliban with such strong language as "undesirable " - but he hastens to point out that this harsh description in no way applies to Mr. Hicks, despite his proud boasts of Taliban membership:
"I don't see him as undesirable or anything remotely like that. I find him a fascinating character and hope to meet him some day."
Not even remotely undesirable - certainly not! But what of those remarks about the "Western-Jewish domination"? Isn't that just a tad less than completely attractive? Well, maybe. But Mr. Hicks, a manipulated childlike figure, is not to blame - as Mr. Levy explains:
"That's true. But from my reading of the letters [to his father], he always seemed to retain a fairly innocent or naive outlook—someone caught up in something he didn't fully understand."
In the finest liberal tradition, Mr. Hicks' trivial misdemeanors are construed as not his fault, as being the acts of a naive, exploited innocent previously victimised by "a difficult family situation". This characterisation is evidenced by a poem he wrote in 1998 - quoted in Mr. Levy's film - which contains the line:
"Mohammed's food you shall be fed/To disagree, so off with your head."

Need it really be said yet again? Must we really continue to call attention to the utter moral bankruptcy of a "progressive" mindset so warped by blind anti-Americanism that it views people like Mr. Hicks as "not even remotely undesirable"?

Given the adulatory reception of such work as Honour Bound, the sad answer seems to be an unqualified "yes".

Postscript: David Hicks was granted British citizenship in December, 2005.

11 August, 2006

Unemployment drops to low of 4.8 per cent

But Howard is cautious about claiming the credit he deserves

Australia's unemployment rate has slipped to a generational low of 4.8 per cent, new figures show. The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the total number of people in work increased 50,000 to almost 10.25 million during July, pushing the unemployment rate down 0.1 percentage point. Total unemployment fell 14,100 to 513,900. The number of people looking for full-time work fell 8,200 to 363,900. The improvement in the jobless rate came even though the participation rate - the number of people looking for work - increased to 65 per cent.

Among the states, unemployment was down in NSW (to 5.1 per cent from 5.4 per cent), Queensland (to 4.5 per cent from 4.6 per cent), Western Australia (to 3.1 per cent from 3.5 per cent), Tasmania (to 6.1 per cent from 6.5 per cent), the Northern Territory (to 4.7 per cent from 5 per cent) and the ACT (to 2.8 per cent from 3.0 per cent). It remained steady in Victoria at 5.1 per cent, while it rose in South Australia (to 5 per cent from 4.7 per cent). Total full-time employment soared by 20,000 positions in WA alone and another 10,000 full-time jobs were created in Victoria.

Low jobless rate shows strength of IR laws: Howard

Prime Minister John Howard said the fall in the unemployment rate showed the strength of the Government's industrial relations laws. Seizing on the figures, which showed an extra 50,000 jobs created in July, Mr Howard said it showed a campaign against the Government's IR changes were simply wrong. "Whilst I'm not at this stage able to claim, and I won't claim, that the new jobs are directly attributable to the abolition of the unfair dismissal laws, it's too early to make that claim," he told reporters.

"It is not however, too early to refute completely on the basis of these figures the outrageous claims that were made by the Labor Party at the time and by the unions at the time, that this new legislation would lead to mass sackings. "We now have unemployment at 4.8 per cent. It's the lowest since August of 1976. It's a wonderful thing that the key social economic indicator in Australia should be so strong."

Mr Howard said the low jobless rate was a reflection of the overall strength of the economy. Mr Howard said he had no more plans for sweeping changes to Australia's industrial relations system. "Don't try and ... suggest to me that I have further industrial relations reforms in mind,'' Mr Howard told reporters. "I regard these industrial relations reforms as very much the needed package and I don't have any more in contemplation so let me make that very clear." His comments come after he announced Human Services Minister Joe Hockey had been appointed to help Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews sell the Government's WorkChoices law.


Abject failure of "modern" primary schooling

Fewer than half of all Year 7 students could identify verbs or adjectives and only 7 per cent could spell "definitely" in a literacy test sat by all NSW students entering high school this year. The results of the English Language and Literacy Assessment, run in March, show that a majority of students have difficulty with spelling, punctuation and grammar. Only 27 per cent of students knew where to put the apostrophe in "children's excitement" and 35 per cent were able to put the apostrophe in "can't".

When asked about the phrase "made Nick's eyes water", only 40 per cent of students identified the word water as a verb and just 44 per cent knew the words "calm", "still" and "unexpected" were adjectives. When given misspelt words to correct, one in four students was able to spell "accommodation", 37 per cent could spell "scaly", 47 per cent could spell "razor" and 53 per cent could spell "paid". But almost one in five students was unable to correct the sentence, "Then Ron and me had lunch", while only 35 per cent corrected "could of" to "could have".

Senior lecturer in the school of languages and linguistics at Melbourne University Jean Mulder said the specific teaching of grammar had been dropped from school curriculums around the nation and the poor literacy results showed that this approach was not working. Dr Mulder designed the English language course in Victoria for Year 11 and 12 students, which teaches grammar as part of a study of literature and language. Dr Mulder said most students who were familiar with grammar had learnt it from studying a second language, where grammar was specifically taught. "It's time to rethink the way grammar and language is taught, but not just simply repeating the traditional grammar approach of being taught by rote," she said. "It needs to be taught in context, by looking at the way words are used, not just their function, and in doing that to be able to name things, like this word is a verb, this word is a noun."

The ELLA program was introduced in 1997 as part of the NSW Government's literacy strategy and is compulsory for all Year 7 students, with a voluntary follow-up test in Year 8 that is normally taken by about 97per cent of students. Students are assessed on their writing, reading and knowledge of language, and are required to write two passages, answer questions after reading a piece, and identify grammatical components, correct spelling and punctuation mistakes. The NSW Education Department said this year's results were "exceptionally good", with the overall results for reading, writing and language combined the best since the test was introduced. In the language assessment, the results were comparable with previous years. The tests are marked within a range of 45 to 120, and the average score this year was 88.8, the same as last year's average and equivalent to the high point of 88.9 in 2004. [Which shows how dumbed-down the testing is]


Medical Board faces multi-million-dollar payouts over bogus psychiatrist

About time

The advisory board that allowed rogue surgeon Jayant Patel to operate is now facing multi-million-dollar lawsuits over the treatment of hundreds of patients by a bogus Russian psychiatrist. In the first court case against the Medical Board of Queensland arising out of the so-called Dr Death scandal, three patients of Vincent Berg are seeking damages over his counselling and the medication he prescribed for their conditions. The lawsuits were filed this month. Mr Berg, 54, is undergoing treatment at a psychiatric ward on the Gold Coast.

A teenager who is one of the claimants in the civil action was diagnosed as having a mental condition by Mr Berg during a home visit to his mother. Mother and son have claimed they were prescribed dangerous and inappropriate drugs by Mr Berg, who treated 259 patients during his year's employment at Townsville hospital in 2000.

Despite hospital authorities learning that Mr Berg's Russian qualifications were fake in late 2002, his former patients were informed only through the Morris and Davis inquiries that arose out of the Dr Death scandal. The inquiries heard that authorities took the decision not to tell patients about Mr Berg because they feared it could lead to them stopping their medication and counselling or even attempting suicide. A Queensland Health spokesman said an immediate review was launched of "all of MrBerg's patients that could befound".

The three former patients - one of whom claims she has attempted suicide three times as a result of Mr Berg's treatment and medication - are seeking more than $1 million in damages. It is understood more of Mr Berg's former patients are also considering legal action. Any payouts would come from Queensland Government's insurance fund. The patients have been forced to file the court actions after being excluded from the special mediation process extended to former patients of Dr Patel, who is now living in the US.

Earlier this week, Queensland Attorney-General Linda Lavarch said 86 claims for compensation by patients of Dr Patel had already been settled. Almost three hundred patients are understood to be involved in the out-of-court mediation.

In the court action, the Medical Board has been accused of failing to check that Mr Berg's qualifications, purportedly from a Russian university, were "true and not forgeries". The Medical Board is charged with checking doctors' qualifications before registering them for practice. A spokeswoman for the board, which is funded by registration fees, declined to comment because the matters were now in "the hands of the insurer". The lawsuit claims that Queensland Health also failed to supervise Mr Berg adequately. Tia Cox, whose firm Connolly Suthers is representing all three alleged victims, declined to comment.


No duck-hunting in Queensland?

Long-awaited legislation banning duck and quail hunting was introduced to State Parliament yesterday and hailed as a victory over animal cruelty. It will bring Queensland into line with NSW, Western Australia and the ACT, although the Bill is likely to be stalled by Premier Peter Beattie calling an election as early as next Tuesday.

Activists had hoped the Liberals would also oppose hunting on animal cruelty grounds, thereby isolating Nationals who had opposed a ban. But new Liberal leader Bruce Flegg yesterday joined the Nationals in opposing the legislation. A spokesman said the legislation would be appropriate only if there was a threat to bird populations.

Environment Minister Desley Boyle told Parliament her decision was based mainly on animal welfare grounds, with RSPCA advice that up to 90 per cent of shot ducks suffered slow and painful deaths.

Sporting Shooters Association state president Geoff Jones said Ms Boyle had no scientific evidence to support her position. There had been no consultation and he hoped an election would be called to allow time for the decision to be reviewed, he said.

Ms Boyle said the issue was investigated by the Primary Industries Department animal welfare advisory committee, which found the likely rate of wounding, instead of direct kills, was unacceptable. RSPCA chief executive Mark Townend said the move was an animal welfare breakthrough. "It's not just a victory for animal welfare and conservation; it also proves that ordinary Queenslanders can make their feelings known and that the Government will listen," he said. Wildlife Preservation Society spokesman Des Boyland said he was elated at the win after a three-year battle.

The amendment will not affect the rights of primary producers to shoot ducks under permit to protect crops. Hunting of feral animals such as pigs, deer, foxes and rabbits would continue as it was considered more humane because of the higher number of direct kills. Ms Boyle said there also was a conservation dimension to ending duck shooting because of a drop in bird numbers from land clearing, lost wetlands, the extent of existing shooting and drought.


10 August, 2006

Your ABC of bias

Monica Attard says bias is more about the views of the complainers. Not so fast, sister. Not all opinions are equally valid, writes Andrew Bolt.

They can change the hosts of ABC's Media Watch, but they can't change its taxpayer-funded agenda. The show is now hosted by Monica Attard, who follows five Leftist predecessors, and on Monday it did what it always does in our war on Islamist terror. That's right: it ignored or excused a savage media bias that makes the West seem the real villain in this war. Here are examples of that bias from just the past fortnight -- not one of which Media Watch mentioned:

A REUTERS photographer has been sacked for doctoring pictures (one run by the ABC) to make Israeli attacks on Lebanon seem worse than they were.

HARROWING pictures from Qana, bombed by Israel, seem now to have been staged for the newspapers, with the corpse of a dead girl being paraded by several men at several locations.

THE Age gave over part of its opinion page for a piece by a spokesman for the Hezbollah terror group.

CHANNEL 9 reported from a tour of Beirut bomb sites, which a CNN reporter said was a "heavily orchestrated Hezbollah media event" -- and made the very points about civilian casualties Hezbollah wanted made.

But the rankest example of this bias came from Sunday Age columnist Terry Lane. Two Sundays ago Lane wrote he'd seen video evidence of a former "US Army Ranger", Jesse Macbeth, who had "served in Iraq for 16 months" like someone "who joined the SS" and had "orders" to "do whatever it takes in the field to make them (civilians) fear you". Macbeth had said he'd gone into basements during raids to "make sure everything was dead": "Whether they were women or children . . . we had to finish them off." But a quick check on Google confirmed that this anti-war porn was, of course, a hoax. Explained a mortified Lane: "I fell for it because I wanted to believe it." And of course he did. Lane is a Marxist with such loathing for America and its allies that during the Iraq war he wrote: "I want the army of my country, which is engaged in an act of gross immorality, to be defeated".

How deeply this loathing affects his judgment still. By last Sunday, Lane's apology had morphed into this bizarre defiance: "The Macbeth fraud is plausible because it fits the facts." Really? Which facts could possibly fit this tale of SS-style US death squads with orders to shoot civilians? Said Lane: "In the place of Macbeth's lies about shooting survivors in basement bomb shelters, I should have quoted from the BBC report in March: Recent figures from the campaign group, Iraq Body Count, put the minimum number of civilians killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion three years ago at between 33,710 and 37,832."

Oops. You did it again, Terry. In fact, Iraq Body Count in no way says what you imply -- that mass-murdering US troops, just like Jesse Macbeth, have killed 37,000 Iraqi civilians. Look at the IBC's website to see its own description of how those people (and not only civilians) died. You'll find pages of accounts like these: "street sweepers (killed by) roadside bomb", building laborers killed by "suicide minibus bomb", a Baghdad University security chief shot dead, worshippers at the Al-Qubaisi mosque killed by a bomb and even a "sheep seller killed by booby-trapped head of girl".

Terry, are you so hate-blinded that you can't even see that the overwhelming majority of these deaths are caused not by US troops, but the terrorists they fight? US soldiers have orders not to kill civilians, but save them. We couldn't get a better example of how bias messes with a journalist's grasp of the facts -- one that helps us understand so much of the coverage of this war. Yet Media Watch ignored Lane and -- typically -- tried instead to defend the bias of the ABC's children's program Behind the News.

BTN had tried to "explain" the fighting in Lebanon to children like this: "When Israel was created in 1948 many Palestinians were forced from their land and some went to southern Lebanon. This led to the formation of groups like Hezbollah . . . Hezbollah has been fighting with Israel to reclaim lost land and to remove foreign troops from Lebanon."

Attard on Media Watch at least conceded this report contained "mistakes" which were "profound". For a start, Hezbollah is Lebanese, not Palestinian, and was formed in the 1980s, not the 1940s. But she then smacked the ABC for saying these "mistakes" meant BTN "failed to meet the requirements of balance and impartiality". What was bias anyway, Attard seemed to ask. And she got several commentators to give conflicting views on the bias of BTN, as if all their views were equally valid. She concluded: "Complaints of bias often say more about the views of the complainer than the media". So no bias at BTN then. Just "mistakes". Like Lane's?

But not so fast, sister. First, not all opinions are equally valid. And certainly not the views you sought. You see, to prove the BTN report could also be seen as biased against Hezbollah, Attard put on Keysar Trad -- but didn't tell viewers things about him that might make them doubt his judgment. Attard didn't say Trad was the former spokesman of the pro-Hezbollah Mufti of Australia, the extremist Sheik Taj Al-Din Al-Hilaly. She also failed to say he had been a translator for the pro-Osama bin Laden and pro-jihadist Nida'ul Islam magazine, where he wrote: "The criminal dregs of white society colonised this country . . . and the descendants of these criminal dregs tell us that they are better than us." If viewers knew that, would they think Trad's view of "balance" was . . . balanced?

But is Attard's view any better? If she criticises any reporting on Islamist extremism it is to attack those who at least ask hard questions -- and to defend those trying to dodge them. It's bad enough that Media Watch long ago stopped being -- or never was -- an impartial judge of media sins. But far worse is that it now serves as an apologist not just for bad journalism, but for the toxic ideologies such journalism defends with its shameless "mistakes".


Rogue union caves in

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has paid tens of thousands of dollars to a building firm to avoid being sued for urging its members to take unlawful industrial action. The union has paid the money to John Holland Construction but is refusing to reveal details of the out-of-court settlement.

John Holland launched Supreme Court action last year claiming the union was responsible for workers calling in sick en masse, a practice that is commonly known as 'blue flu'. The company's human resources manager, Stephen Sasse, says the industrial landscape has changed and he doubts the company will have to take similar action in future. "It's unlikely given that we now have a comprehensive legislative regime in place that affectively prevents this sort of unlawful action," he said. "If it occurs it's now policed by the ABCC [Australian Building and Construction Commissioner], so I can't see any need for us, in our capacity as an employer to take that sort of action again."

IR laws 'working'

The Federal Government says the case is proof its new workplace laws are working. Senator Ian Campbell says it is rare for the union movement to make such a payment. "It shows they feared a worse consequence if it went further in court," Senator Campbell said. "It's not unusual for settlements but it's very unusual for the CFMEU to settle. "I think it demonstrates the Howard Government's workplace relations legislation is working, these major projects are not delayed by the sort of blue flu and other outrageous rorts that this rogue union has practised over the years."

But the union's West Australian secretary, Kevin Reynolds, denies the compensation payout is a victory for John Holland or the Federal Government. "I concede we won it," he said. "We saved a lot of members' money from arguing in court. "The people who paid an absolute, hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs was John Hollands."


Lying do-gooder

Former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld is the subject of a NSW police inquiry that could lead to perjury charges and end his legal career. The inquiry will consider if Mr Einfeld, an eminent Queen's Counsel who has practised as a barrister since retiring from the bench in 2001, should face legal action over evidence he gave to a Sydney court that enabled him to avoid a $77 speeding fine.

Mr Einfeld, 66, gave sworn testimony that he had not been driving his silver Lexus on Sunday, January 8, when a police speed camera detected the car travelling at 60km/h in a 50km/h zone at Mosman, on Sydney's north shore. He told the magistrate at the Downing Centre Local court on Monday that he had loaned the car to a friend, Teresa Brennan, a visiting academic from Florida. It has since emerged that Professor Brennan had in fact died three years earlier.

"It was either being driven by her or by a friend or family member of hers," Mr Einfeld said in a letter to the court. "She did not tell me where or with whom she had been driving or that she had been photographed speeding before returning to the US where she was unfortunately involved in a motor vehicle accident and died, so I cannot get any more details."

Police said yesterday that prosecutors would prepare a brief on the case for the director of police legal services, Assistant Commissioner Lee Shearer. "The prosecution has been asked to provide a briefing to the director of legal services confirming the evidence given before the court prior to making a determination on whether the matter should be further investigated," a NSW police spokeswoman said.

One of the nation's leading authorities on the ethics of lawyers, Ysaiah Ross, said that if the inquiry led to perjury charges, it could end Mr Einfeld's career. Mr Ross, who is the author of Ethics in Law, said former US president Bill Clinton had been struck off the roll of legal practitioners in Arkansas for perjury over the Whitewater affair. "The same thing could happen here," Mr Ross said.

Mr Einfeld had named Professor Brennan as the person driving his car when he gave evidence in court on Monday. But when later confronted by Sydney's The Daily Telegraph with the fact Professor Brennan had died in 2003, Mr Einfeld said he had been referring in court to another Professor Brennan. He said this Professor Brennan had also died since returning to the US. The first name of the second Professor Brennan was Therese or Terese and he was unsure of where she lived in the US. He did not know her occupation "except that she was in academia".

During Monday's hearing, Mr Einfeld gave evidence that he had completed a statutory declaration saying his car had been on loan to Professor Teresa Brennan of Florida at the time of the offence....

Outside the courts, Mr Einfeld enjoyed a reputation as one of Australia's leading human rights activists and was foundation president of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. He is the senior member of the legal team seeking at least $10 million in compensation for wrongly deported Australian woman Vivian Alvarez, who was sent to The Philippines by the Immigration Department in 2001 after suffering amnesia in a car accident....

More here

More food dictatorship in Melbourne schools

What's the point of restricting the diet of the great majority of the kids who are NOT overweight by any criterion? And ideas about what is "healthy" change all the time. Carbohydrates were really bad for a long time. Now they are really good. It is food fads that are being enforced, nothing else. And don't forget that salt is good for you

Fast food has been banned from a school to stop up to 20 parents delivering it to their children each lunchtime. The school's ban covers McDonald's, pizzas and other calorie-laden meals, including those from outlets such as KFC and Red Rooster. The school has also brought in a fitness instructor to help teachers keep healthy, and is reviewing the canteen menu.

Principal Leonie Fitzgerald said the ban was proving successful, drawing a positive response from parents and children. Ms Fitzgerald said the school had decided to ban fast food after it became a serious problem. "We had an issue with parents dropping off fast food, like McDonald's, KFC and Red Rooster, for treats for their kids," she said. Ms Fitzgerald said at one point up to 20 parents were coming to the school a day.

She said time-strapped parents often got fast food for their children because it was more convenient. "Sometimes they've been too busy in the morning . . . so they get something quick and easy," Ms Fitzgerald said. She said she also approached parents when they came into the school foyer with fast-food lunches. "That was the most effective way to explain it."

Ms Fitzgerald said parents had responded very well to the ban, taking the school's advice to prepare healthier lunches. "We have turned it around," Ms Fitzgerald said of the problem. "It only happens very rarely now, which is great." The school has other initiatives, including a fitness program for staff before and after school. A nutritionist will also talk to students, staff and parents next week.

Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal praised Dandenong South PS. "It has been brave and changed people's eating habits and attitudes to food," Dr Haikerwal said. He called on the Government to ban fast food from all primary schools. "In the current climate of obesity in the community, all steps must be taken to make people aware of wrong food choices," Dr Haikerwal said. "There a lot of reasons to ban junk food at primary school, because children at that age are often unable to make informed food choices."

The State Government has already announced it will outlaw soft drink from schools and is looking at restricting the sale of lollies and chips. But a spokesman for Education Minister Lynne Kosky said there were no immediate plans to ban all high-calorie fast food from schools.

Nutrition Australia spokeswoman Kelly Neville said over a third of a child's food intake is consumed in school hours. "A healthy lunch, snacks and drinks are therefore very important," Ms Neville said. Victorian Principals Association president Fred Ackerman said the Government should help by funding programs and nutritious canteens. Parents Victoria's Gail McHardy said it was great to see school and community working together. Statistics show about 10,000 Victorian children become obese or overweight every year. The Department of Human Services said that up to 25 per cent of Victorian children are overweight or obese.


9 August, 2006

Australian political leadership

John Howard, the prime minister, declared on July 31st that he would stay on to contest a fifth election as party leader in the general election due late next year. Since Mr Howard has led the party to four successive victories in ten years, most Liberal members of Parliament applauded his decision.

The applause died a little two days later, however, when Australia's central bank announced a 0.25% rise in interest rates, to 6%. Ian Macfarlane, the bank's governor, said it was needed to dampen rising inflation and increased borrowing. It was the third such rise since the last election, in 2004. Mr Howard won that poll by appealing to voters to trust his conservative government to "keep interest rates low". It was a rash promise: the central bank operates independently of government. Its latest rate rise has unnerved heavily indebted Australians. It has also sent jitters through the Liberal Party.

The subject of Mr Howard's retirement plans has dogged him ever since he once suggested he would consider his future when he turned 64. Last month he turned 67. Peter Costello, the treasurer (finance minister), deputy Liberal leader and heir-apparent, confirmed a press report in July that Mr Howard had given him a private undertaking in 1994 that he would hand over the leadership to Mr Costello after one-and-a-half terms of a Liberal government. Mr Howard denied it.

Having already become Australia's second-longest-serving prime minister, Mr Howard always had an option to retire well before the 2007 election with his impressive record of economic management intact. The bitter public row with Mr Costello over the succession killed that option, since he would have appeared to be standing down under pressure. As it turned out, Mr Howard telephoned Mr Costello on July 30th to say he would fight the next election as leader, then faxed his decision to his parliamentary colleagues.

A downcast Mr Costello said he accepted that most Liberals did not want a leadership change now, and pledged to stay on as treasurer. This means the budget Mr Costello is due to deliver before the 2007 election will be his 12th (seven years ago, he said he had only "another budget or two in me"). Mr Howard and Mr Costello have formed perhaps Australia's most formidable political partnership ever, delivering strong economic growth, a series of budget surpluses and falling unemployment during their decade in power.

But little personal warmth exists between them. Mr Howard has no time for Mr Costello's liberal social agenda. And, as he turns 49 on August 14th, Mr Costello must contemplate that Mr Howard has now in effect wrecked his leadership ambitions. Even if Mr Howard wins the 2007 election and then retires, a clutch of equally ambitious Liberals is already elbowing forward to compete with Mr Costello for the crown. First, though, the Liberals have to win again. Rising interest rates won't make that any easier.


Lying unions

The ACTU [The Australian equivalent of the AFL/CIO or Britain's TUC] is seeking legal advice after it was accused by a government department of misrepresenting the background of workers featured in a campaign against new workplace laws. The independent Office of Workplace Services (OWS) found that claims made by five of eight sacked workers who appear in ACTU television commercials attacking the laws do not add up. The OWS report also found the ads had depicted the sacking of workers in circumstances that would have been legal under the old workplace laws, despite ACTU suggestions to the contrary.

ACTU secretary Greg Combet said he had written to the OWS asking it to explain why the workers were investigated and a summary of the report released to the media. He said he was completely confident the stories of the workers featured in the advertisements were true. "They have not lied, the ACTU stands by the ads and stands by the claims that have been made," he said. "The whole thing stinks of dirty-tricks political attacks on the integrity of ordinary working people."

Mr Combet said the publication of the information might have damaged the sacked workers' reputation and breached privacy laws. "It's clear the (investigation was) used for political processes and in the process people's personal information has been put into the public realm and we are very angry about it," he told ABC radio. "We are taking advice about a number of things and we will consider that when the advice comes in. "People have had the courage to come forth and tell their story of how they've been treated under the new laws." He said the workers did not deserve to be subjected to "unfair and flawed investigations", and the leaking of personal information to the media.

But Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews said the findings showed the ACTU could not be trusted. He said the OWS report was not leaked to the media, but had been provided following claims by the ACTU and the media that the new workplace laws were failing workers. The independent OWS had investigated the claims and provided its findings to the media and others who had been inquiring about them, he said. "What Mr Combet is doing is now attacking the umpire because he doesn't like the outcome of the investigation into these matters," Mr Andrews said.

He said the OWS had the responsibility to decide whether the full report into the investigation should be released. "The main point here is it's exposed a phoney political campaign on the part of the ACTU and it shows that one can't trust anything the ACTU says about these things," he said. He said the ACTU had returned to using actors in their latest round of TV commercials because the so-called real cases didn't stack up


Rogue police in Victoria

A driver wrongly identified as the first in the world to return a positive roadside drug test has won a major legal victory. A judge has ruled John De Jong, 41, can pursue a defamation lawsuit against Victoria Police. He is claiming substantial damages.

The Ballarat courier-driver was tested and identified during a police-organised media stunt on the first day a drug bus took to the road, in December 2004. Justice Bernard Bongiorno said his claims, if proved, would show police invited the media to attend and then said Mr De Jong had twice tested positive for illegal drugs.

An independent laboratory later cleared Mr De Jong -- a result confirmed by the police lab. Mr De Jong says police refused to apologise. Mr De Jong's lawyer Katalin Blond, of Slater & Gordon, said yesterday he was relieved. "John is very stressed by this still," she said. "By calling the media . . . by parading John before them, what else did they think would happen?"


Aussie booze popular

Australia is exporting more wine, but prices have dropped. Australian wine exports grew 9 per cent in the year to the end of July, but average prices fell 8 per cent. The 743 million litres exported in the 12 months to July was valued at $2.79 billion, the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation says.

Sweden has developed taste buds for Australian cask wines and was the largest contributor to value growth -- up 33 per cent to $50 million. Exports to China also grew, but were offset by a 65 per cent drop in the average price a litre, to $1.64.

"The key driver of the price decline was an increased share of bulk wine in the mix," the corporation's July 2006 wine export approval report says. The report says 80 per cent of Australian wine shipped to China is bulk wine valued at $0.66 a litre.

The United Kingdom remains the number one destination for Australian wine. Despite a one per cent drop in volume and three per cent price slump, the market was valued at $958 million for the year to the end of July. The US ranks second with $899m, followed by Canada ($244m), New Zealand ($91m), Germany ($76m), Ireland ($55m) and Sweden ($50m).


Logging on private land heavily restricted in NSW

Local timber industry workers and landowners have called on the NSW Government to get rid of its draft code of practice for private native forests. Around 500 people attended a protest rally in Grafton yesterday. Many have complained that there has been little public discussion on the code, and they want an extension to the submission period.

Sue Doust, of Timber Community Australia, says the code, if adopted in its current form, will cause big financial losses to landowners and the timber industry. "It is another harsh hit on the industry that I frankly don't believe the industry is going to be able to recover from anytime soon," she said. "Landowners will take full financial and legal responsibility for the logging arrangement on their property. "Now, if you're a mature landowner or an absentee landowner you're going to take one look at that and you're going to shut the door."


Leftist nut silenced

Radio station ABC 774 has censored criticism of controversial ABC board member Keith Windschuttle. On the Sunday Arts program, host Helen Razer was interviewing film director Bob Weis about his documentary Women of the Sun - 25 Years Later, charting the stories of Aboriginal women. Razer noted the film compared his family's history as Holocaust survivors to the contemporary situation of Aborigines in Australia. Weis said he would like to make one more "conceptual leap", to which Razer replied "be my guest".

Indigenous actress Justine Saunders sat beside Weis and encouraged him as he said: "That while David Irving - the Holocaust denier - sits in prison . ", before he was cut off. Mr Weis said yesterday he uttered the words "the Australian Government", but that did not go to air. Razer hit the dump button, saying on air: "I can't possibly let you say that", before switching to pre-recorded audio.....

Weis yesterday revealed he was going to say: "That while David Irving - the Holocaust denier - sits in prison, the Australian Government put our chief Holocaust denier on the board of the ABC." Weis was alluding to Mr Windschuttle, the author of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History that claimed massacres of Tasmanian Aborigines had been exaggerated....

Local radio manager at ABC Victoria Steve Kyte yesterday said... "The program team felt the guest had said something potentially defamatory... We reserve the right to dump guests and callers for legal reasons."

More here

8 August, 2006

The poor are OVERfed in Australia

Report from Melbourne

Almost a quarter of women from wealthy Brighton, Hawthorn and Malvern are overweight - but people in poorer suburbs and country towns suffer most. Living the high life in the upper-class belt clearly puts pressure on the waist line. But when it comes to obesity, Victorians living in poorer suburbs and country towns suffer most.

Broadmeadows, Sunshine and Dandenong have the state's highest percentage of obese men. Morwell tops the list for obese women, followed by the outer-northern suburbs of Bundoora, Thomastown and Lalor. Surprisingly, men outnumber women almost two to one when it comes to being overweight. More than 40 per cent of Victorian men and 20 per cent of women are fighting the battle of the bulge. Men in affluent eastern suburbs were more likely to be overweight. But the worst examples of overeating were in the outer suburbs.

Statistics analysed by the Herald Sun reveal where the obesity epidemic has struck hardest in Victoria. The data from the University of Adelaide's Public Health Information Development Unit is based on self-reported height and weight statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey. The statistics, which have been adjusted to account for variations in age groups living in different areas, show your address could explain a lot about your weight....

VicHealth chief executive Dr Rob Moodie said the number of overweight women in the wealth belt was something of an anomaly. He said research typically supported the theory that people living in poorer areas were more likely to be overweight or obese than those in well-to-do areas. "Generally, people in the outer suburbs, where the land is cheaper and the housing is cheaper, are poorer," he said. "They have to get around in a car, are less likely to use public transport -- and we know that people who use public transport are twice as likely to get the recommended level of exercise." He said people living in less affluent areas were also more likely to be living close to fast-food restaurants.


Education: New-age ways miss the mark

William Spady's approach to learning - outcomes-based education - is full of flaws and contradictions, writes Kevin Donnelly

After listening to US academic William Spady - the father of outcomes-based education - at last month's Australian Primary Principal Association 2006 conference in Alice Springs, I can see no doubt about Spady's views on education. The more traditional approach to education is labelled as educentric by Spady and he condemns it for being competitive, academic, having right and wrong answers, being rational and logical and, as a result, instilling fear and an either-or mentality. In Spady's words: "The curriculum box, time box, grade-level box, opportunity box, testing box, marking box, achievement box, school box and classroom box all severely constrain how teachers and learners function and think about outcomes."

In opposition to the more conservative approach, Spady argues in favour of what he terms transformational outcomes-based education, described as a paradigm that embraces empowerment, divergent, lateral thinking, holistic and spiritual unity and a win-win approach imbued with love and synergy. While acknowledging it is difficult to properly implement OBE, Spady argues that teachers and educational leaders should strive to embrace an "inner realisation" paradigm of educational reform, involving "expanded consciousness of one's spiritual nature-potential", "one's intuitive connection to universal wisdom", "meditative exploration by quietening the conscious mind" and "learner-controlled timing group-enhanced experience".

In arguing the case for "a total learning community", Spady further suggests: "In a total learning community, no one has to prove anything to anyone else to be accepted for who they are and what they cancontribute."

While it might be tempting to dismiss Spady's views about education - blending, as they do, new-age managerial speak and age-of-Aquarius psychobabble - the reality is thatSpady has had and continues to have asignificant impact on Australian education. Not only were the original national curriculum statements and profiles developed during the 1990s under the Keating government, based on an outcomes model, but all states and territories, to various degrees, are also implementing curriculums founded on atransformational, outcomes-based approach.

The result? Competition and failing is considered bad for self-esteem, the focus of learning shifts from teaching subjects such as history and literature to instilling new-age and politically correct values, dispositions and attitudes, teachers facilitate instead of teach and students are described as knowledge navigators or adaptive, lifelong learners.

The flaws in Spady's views about education are many. First, Spady's description of the more conservative model of education, labelled as educentric, is misleading and simplified. Since the time of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, learning has always been about outcomes. Those familiar with Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy and the educational writings of T.S. Eliot will also know that a liberal humanist approach places at its centre the need to educate young people to be critically aware, to read with sensitivity and discrimination and to value the best that has been thought and said.

While such outcomes might not be the ones Spady prefers, the reality is that the type of learning associated with Western civilisation has a noble history and a proven record in benefiting mankind. The way advocates of OBE repeat the mantra of change, or what Spady terms the prevalence of "constant change and continuous discovery", is also wrong. As suggested by Eliot, education must acknowledge continuity as well as change and holding on to what is lasting is equally as important as embracing the new.

In belittling academic subjects and the need for memorisation and rote learning, Spady also makes the mistake of favouring one form of learning over another. Creativity and the ability to master higher order skills requires structured, formal learning and, on occasion, students need to learn by rote and be told they have failed. While OBE rightly promotes values such as tolerance, openness and respect for diversity and difference, such beliefs are often used as code for imposing the cultural Left's agenda on schools. Especially in areas such as multiculturalism, feminism, the class war and gender issues, the curriculum is often one-sided.

Thankfully, there is evidence that OBE's impact on Australian education is open to scrutiny and there is a willingness to admit mistakes. In Western Australia, after the debacle caused by Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich's attempts to force OBE into years 11 and 12, Premier Alan Carpenter was forced to intervene in an attempt to ameliorate some of its worst excesses. In Tasmania, after Paula Wriedt nearly lost her seat at the most recent election and was subsequently replaced as education minister, the new minister, David Bartlett, has agreed to review Tasmania's OBE-inspired essential learnings.

At the federal level, Prime Minister John Howard has spoken out against OBE gobbledygook and its impact on history and literature teaching, and the NSW Education Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, has publicly condemned OBE and argued that teachers need a clear road map of what is taught, associated with a more traditional syllabus approach to curriculum.


Food rebellion in Melbourne schools continues

Students are ignoring healthy canteen initiatives by turning to nearby milkbars for their junk food fix. Some senior students are also offered money to buy junk food for younger students not allowed to leave the school grounds. Secondary school students across inner Melbourne told the Sunday Herald Sun how they turn their back on healthy canteens.

Northcote High School year 12 student Nicole, 18, said a nearby milkbar was more than happy to sell fatty fried foods such as spring rolls and hot chips. Nicole thinks these foods are popular because they are cheap. A spring roll at the milkbar costs $1.70, while the school canteen charges about $4 for a salad roll.

Princes Hill Secondary College student Natina, 13, said the milkbar near her school was cheap and had a wider range of junk food and good healthy options.

Northcote High School has one of the state's healthiest canteens, yet VCE students choose to buy junk food from a milkbar. Principal Gail Davidson said it was disappointing, but added that VCE students were young adults and able to make their own choices.

State Secondary Principals Association president Andrew Blair said many schools were concerned about milkbars. Mr Blair said some principals had even resorted to asking milkbar owners not to serve students. Nutrition Australia dietician Kelly Neville said milkbar owners often weren't aware of healthy eating guidelines.


Council scuppered over tea break

The traditional Aussie cup of tea has won a reprieve. Over-zealous bureaucrats demanded that an amateur dramatics group had to pay a $210 fee and submit a food safety plan before they could serve cups of tea and biscuits during a show's interval. But council workers have now backed down.

Last month the Sunday Herald Sun reported the story of the Southern Peninsula Players Theatre Group and its run-in with the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council. The council insisted the group and another local amateur dramatics society had to comply with regulations. "Possibly as a result of pressure brought to bear by your story they have waived the fee and given us the go-ahead to serve hot drinks and biscuits -- provided the biscuits are in a packet," Geoff Brown, a member of the Players, said. "Let's face it, how can you poison someone with tea or coffee? "We will be taking full advantage of this at our next performance in November," Mr Brown said. "Appropriately enough we are planning a production of Fawlty Towers."


7 August, 2006


Three stories below:

Effort-averse Queensland police finally forced to investigate double murder

A woman shoots "herself" three times according to police -- making it a "suicide". Sure saved them the time and cost of a murder investigation! It took a nationwide TV program to move them off their behinds

Police have re-opened investigations into one of Queensland's most controversial and long-running murder cases. Mother-of-four Julie-Anne Leahy, 26, and her best friend Vicki Arnold, 27, were found dead in Leahy's 4WD on a remote track near Atherton in north Queensland in July 1991. They had been missing 15 days. Leahy was bashed with a rock, had her throat slashed and was shot twice. Arnold, whose hand was resting on a sawn-off .22 rifle, was shot three times. Police wrote it off as a murder-suicide - a view supported later by two inquests in 1992 and 1999.

But relatives of the women refuse to accept Arnold killed her mate before turning the gun on herself, and inquiries by journalists and government-appointed investigators have raised doubts over the rulings. Queensland police yesterday confirmed detectives were again reviewing the case after revelations from key witnesses. Arnold's mother Vida said yesterday: "It's about time they did something. I've been waiting 15 years." Late last year, Tablelands MP Rosa Lee Long presented a 1364-signature to State Parliament, calling on Attorney-General Linda Lavarch to appoint independent, interstate investigators to report to a coroner.

But Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes has asked Ms Lavarch to hold off while police continue their work. Mr Barnes declined to release any further information. But a police spokeswoman said yesterday: "Police are reviewing information received as a result of the 60 Minutes program."

In the Nine show, which was screened in September, Leahy's sister Vanessa Stewart - aged 15 at the time of the women's disappearance - said Leahy's husband Alan had coached her in what to tell police. Ms Stewart said Mr Leahy had begun a relationship with her just before the women vanished but there was no sex until after she turned 16. "I was coached, so to speak, in what to say about what happened that night," she said. "I wasn't allowed to say what was actually happening that night between him and I, and a story was concocted."

Mr Leahy - who stood to benefit from a $121,000 insurance policy and later successfully sued to get $45,000 from Arnold's estate - has always denied being involved in the deaths. He is now believed to be in Alice Springs and could not be contacted yesterday. One of the first two police officers at the scene, former senior constable Bill Hendrikse, last year told investigative journalist Robert Reid he was convinced the women were murdered by a third party. But he said the investigation was killed at the time because of concerns over the cost of a full murder inquiry.

Lawyer Philip Bovey, who represented the Leahy family at the second inquest, said: "It's long overdue. I said after last inquest that in 20 years of being involved in criminal law, it's probably the most disappointing decision I have experienced."


"No go" zones in Queensland

Queensland police bosses just let it slide

They are the no-go zones: areas of Queensland even some police fear to tread. A Sunday Mail investigation has uncovered the most dangerous streets, parks and beaches in the state, where the threat of violence is a nightly reality. By day, places such as Brisbane's Queen St Mall and Surfers Paradise beach are filled with families, office workers and tourists. By night these areas are ruled by drug dealers and addicts, pimps, muggers and murderers. Backpackers who have travelled through some of the world's most dangerous cities say Brisbane rates as the worst.

"I wouldn't take my family into Queen St Mall after nine o'clock at night," a police officer told The Sunday Mail. Taxi drivers said the State Government-enforced 3am nightclub lock-out was to blame. "The top of the Mall near the casino is the worst," a taxi driver said. "It is just full of people fighting because they have nowhere to go after 3am and they all end up outside the casino. There is no public transport for them so they just end up in fights."

Another officer said he feared entering Alden St in Fortitude Valley's nightclub district. Officers on patrol at night often refused to get out of the police car. "You can't pay me enough to go into that area," he said. "It's a pretty scary place. You never know what is lurking around the corner."

The pedestrian underpass at Kemp Place between All Hallows School and Marshall St in Fortitude Valley is also off-limits. Young travellers to Brisbane have told of being terrified as they negotiate the tunnel, which locals rarely venture down at night. The 22-year-olds, who have backpacked through Delhi, Calcutta, Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok, were chased by a gang of men as they used the tunnel. "Brisbane is the most dangerous city we have travelled in," one of the backpackers said. "Everyone at the backpackers was talking about how scary it is."

Rapes, muggings and stabbings have turned the City Botanic Gardens and Goodwill Bridge into danger zones. A man, 20, was recently attacked by a knife-wielding gang while attempting to cross the dimly-lit bridge at 11.30pm. He was cut and bruised and robbed by the thugs.

The streets of Surfers Paradise have long been renowned for assaults in the early hours of the morning, but now the beach has also become a hot spot for trouble. Lifesavers on patrol early in the morning warn the worst time is between 4am and 5am. "That's when all the people spill out of the clubs. It's extremely dangerous," a senior lifesaver said. "People have been assaulted on the beach. There is little lighting in the area. It's the worst place."

Drunks have driven some retailers to despair at Southport's Scarborough St. "We've had people who have urinated in the shop," said a retailer, who sold out recently. Area councillor Dawn Crichlow has led a campaign to rid the area of public phones being used for drug deals. Kirra's Marine Parade has gone through a building boom which has forced the homeless from parks to the beach. Nippers at training sessions are regularly confronted by vagrants. Bikie gangs also use the area as a meeting spot.

The area is improving, but not fast enough for locals who believe more policing will be needed. In Cairns, parts of Westcourt and Parramatta Park have become flashpoints for random violence. Sources say the latest area of increasing concern is Lake St, which bisects the CBD and extends along the tourist city's fringe. As recently as February, two police officers were hurt when up to 40 drunken louts turned on them during a street fight.

In Townsville, police say trouble continues to erupt at Flinders St East nightclub strip, where drunkenness and brawls have plagued police for years.

On the Sunshine Coast, many women refuse to walk in Noosa National Park because of the area's violent history. They say residents often warned female tourists to complete the 15km walk before dusk. Aleaha Jade Schipper, then 18, and lesbian lover Sarah Fotini Bird, 17, attacked New Zealand grandmother Dulcie Brook in the national park on June 30, 1998. Ms Brook was stabbed 26 times. A Japanese tourist was raped after being kidnapped as she walked through the park on Christmas Day 2001. Gympie residents said the band rotunda in Memorial Park was dangerous after dark. A local said people gathered in the park to drink alcohol and often became verbally and physically abusive


The rot goes to the top in the Queensland police (As ever)

(Queensland is the only State that has ever had to jail a Police Commissioner for corruption)

A police officer has slammed his bosses for not supporting frontline staff but doing deals to benefit defendants. Ipswich Senior Constable Ian Leavers said it was no surprise police on the beat felt they were "on their own" because of their bosses' silence. The Queensland Police Union southern region representative was commenting on a controversial case in which an Ipswich mother of five was fined for abusing police. Yvette Veronica Green, 38, of Riverview, was arrested and handcuffed for double-parking outside a school in January. She allegedly called one officer a "pedophile" and "fat" during a tirade of four-letter words. She pleaded guilty to being a public nuisance and was fined $300. Two more serious charges were dropped.

Writing in the QPU Journal, Sen-Constable Leavers said Green enjoyed more support than the officers involved in the case, Sen-Constables Anthony Brett and Kathrine Stafford. "What was disgusting was that while the defendant was obviously enjoying her new-found stardom and notoriety, the police involved had to endure great personal stress as a result of simply doing their job," he said. "The police union came out and defended the police involved, however the Queensland Police Service hierarchy were conspicuous in their absence." Sen-Constable Leavers also criticised police prosecutors for withdrawing charges against Green. "It is apparent the service is not prepared to fight anything any more."

Sen-Constable Leavers told The Sunday Mail this week that frontline staff felt as if they had been let down by the bosses in many cases, from Commissioner Bob Atkinson down. "This is happening all the time. If there is any incident, they are ready to kick us . . . " he said. "It is a minefield out there. Senior police have got no idea how things have changed out there. "The disappointing part of all this is that even after police had been found to have acted correctly, the hierarchy remain silent. "Is it any wonder many police out there feel that they are on their own . . . They (the bosses) are too frightened to support them," he said

A police service spokeswoman said Mr Atkinson issued a media release in January soon after the controversial incident and backed his officers. The statement said the media had publicised only one side of the story.



Two stories below:

Drunken police riot

Police Commissioner Ken Moroney was forced to introduce a curfew at the Goulburn police college yesterday, after a drunken rampage involving as many as six off-duty officers in the town. One officer has been issued with a court appearance notice, after being caught urinating in public during the early hours of Friday morning. Another officer is being investigated for an alleged assault after an altercation with a member of the public, and a third faces action for allegedly refusing to leave a bar when asked to. The incidents took place between 9.30pm on Thursday and about 2.30am on Friday after a group of officers left the college for a night on the town.

Mr Moroney also announced the appointment of Christine Ronalds, SC yesterday to help reform "gender-based policy" and codes of conduct within the NSW Police. The move follows revelations of widespread sexual harassment within the force, and inappropriate sexual contact between students and instructors at the police college.

Mr Moroney said last week's antics were the last straw in his decision to impose an 11pm curfew on Sunday to Thursday nights, and midnight for Friday and Saturdays. "It's just a case of people going into the city of Goulburn to celebrate," he said. "Some appear to have celebrated too much."

Breath tests conducted at the college the next morning returned positive results for seven out of 113 officers. All 101 students tested returned negative results.

Several other incidents involving police officers or people "claiming" to be police officers also occurred during the drunken spree, including two further alleged assaults. Goulburn police are reviewing CCTV footage and seeking witness statements. Six of the seven officers who tested positive to alcohol have been removed from the college and returned to their local area command, where they face further sanction. The seventh, an instructor at the college, faces disciplinary action there.

Police Minister Carl Scully denied there was a systematic culture of alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct at the college, saying the majority of teachers and students lived up to the high standards expected of them. Those who misbehaved would now face harsher penalties than in the past, Mr Scully said.


Israeli killed -- disgusting lack of information from NSW police

The police have obviously been given enough information to issue an ethnic description of the attackers below so their failure to do so is very suspect. Bondi being Bondi, the attackers are most likely to have been Maoris but the silence and the "carload" mentioned suggest Lebanese Muslims. It would make a big difference if people knew whether they were looking for Maoris or Lebanese. They look very different. Maoris look like large, fat East-Asians. The report below is from a newspaper but the police site is in fact even less informative

Police are trying to establish the motive for the stabbing murder of an Israeli left for dead outside a shop in Bondi after a brutal attack by a carload of men. The 36-year-old victim was set upon by the gang whom witnesses say bashed him with a pole or something similar and left him with multiple stab wounds about 9.45pm (AEST) last night.

When police arrived at the scene outside a convenience store at the intersection of Glenayr Avenue and Beach Road at Bondi Beach, the man was slumped on the footpath. He was treated at the scene and taken to St Vincents Hospital for emergency surgery but died shortly before 4am (AEST) today. Superintendent Mark Walton said detectives were trying to contact the man's family who live overseas. He said the man, an Israeli citizen, had lived in the area for some time and was helped following the attack by about six people who are currently being interviewed by police.

Police say the motive is not known, although it is not believed to be racially motivated or related to the continuing conflict between Israel and the Hizbollah in Lebanon. Nor is it clear how many people were involved in the attack or if they knew their victim.

Police have issued descriptions of two men they wish to interview over the murder. One man is described as 178cm tall, of medium build with shoulder length dark hair and clean shaven, wearing jeans and a black top. The second is 170cm tall, of medium build with dark short hair. "We are trying to determine how many people were involved but at this stage we are focused on those two men," Supt Walton told reporters outside Bondi Police Station. "We have neither recovered or have a good description of the weapon." Detectives are also hunting for a green Mitsubishi Pajero with NSW registration SVJ 201 which was seen driving away from the area immediately after the attack.

"The motivation in relation to this incident is unknown at this stage," Supt Walton said. "We are very open minded but there is nothing in relation to information or evidence that it is connected to this man's nationality or religious background."

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff said witnesses to the attack told him the group of men had also used a pole. "There was a car load of people who stopped and they got out and they assaulted him pretty brutally and some of them were hitting him with a pole or something and there was multiple stabs," he said.



Should police investigate police? A police corruption watchdog's report on the way police investigate complaints against its members in one state force has raised serious concerns about the "willingness" to do the job properly. Western Australia's Corruption and Crime Commission says WA Police has handled a number of serious complaints "very poorly" and displayed a lack of willingness to investigate, supervise or control the quality of investigations.

The criticisms were in a CCC report released yesterday into progress on reforms being made by WA Police following that state's royal commission into police corruption. It pointed to continuing problems with the "cultural attitudes" of police officers towards conducting internal investigations against fellow officers. "There is still a fair way to go before the various reforms motivate all police officers to willingly challenge the unethical, criminal or unsavoury behaviour of their colleagues," the CCC said. The report found that problems with internal investigations included:

* An avoidance of decision-making about whether allegations are founded;

* A consideration of specific allegations in a narrowly focussed, discrete manner without considering the individual officer's history;

* A focussed attack on the complainant rather than circumstances of the complaint; and

* Inconsistent decisions across the agency about suitable outcomes

It presented five case studies that it said displayed a "a lack of willingness and investigative competence". In one a female police sergeant had a string of complaints made against her in 2002 and 2003, including drug taking, drink driving, harassment and misusing the police data base. An internal investigation also uncovered evidence of the sergeant's involvement in criminal activity. But instead of being sacked, as some senior officers wanted, she was put on disciplinary charges. In May 2005 she was charged with drink driving after being involved in a collision, The process of sacking her was started, but this time she was saved by the intervention of an assistant commissioner. In September 2005 she was back under investigation again, this time for lying to the Chief Commissioner and during disciplinary interviews. Her future is still being decided by the Chief Commissioner.

"In the Commission's view, the case study illustrates the reluctance of senior and local managers to take decisive and appropriate action against errant officers," the CCC report said.

The report has again raised the issue of whether police can be trusted to investigate their own. In WA, as in other states, the vast majority of complaints against police are handled internally and reviewed by various corruption watchdogs. But is this system a case of the tail wagging the (watch)dog? Should police complaints be independently investigated?


6 August, 2006

Seventy three year old man bashed by Muslim thieves -- news censored

Note the usual cowardly choice of targets

Police are appealing for witnesses to a violent robbery at Merrylands in Sydney's west overnight. A 73-year-old man was walking along Chetwynd Road about 10.30pm yesterday (Monday 31 July), when he was confronted by two men who demanded money. The elderly man handed over a sum of cash; however, the men asked him for more.

The victim was repeatedly punched to the head after telling the men he didn't have any more money. The offenders then ran from the scene and were last seen heading north along Chetwynd Road, towards Merrylands Road. The victim sustained head lacerations and was treated at the scene by ambulance personnel. Police from Holroyd Local Area Command attended and conducted inquiries.

The first offender has been described as being of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean appearance, 25-30-years-old, 160cm tall with solid build. He was last seen wearing khaki-green shorts and a blue jumper. The second offender has been described as being of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean appearance, 25-30-years-old, 180cm tall with slim build. He was wearing an orange T-shirt and trousers at the time of the incident.

The report above is from a police website. Media reports -- e.g. here -- omitted the details of the appearance of the offenders!

Leftist dithering on fuel problems

Labor has reversed its outright opposition to biofuels such as ethanol, with Kim Beazley now embracing it as the panacea to Australia's petrol price woes. The Opposition Leader adopted a scare campaign against biofuels in the 2001 federal election. But as the Howard Government considers ways to increase the take-up of ethanol, Mr Beazley is now calling for a long-term strategy to end Australia "being hooked on Middle East oil". Labor's alternative fuel strategy comes as government MPs are preparing to confront John Howard on Monday over the rising costs of petrol, particularly in regional communities.

Coalition MPs want the Government to consider measures to cut the price of fuel in the bush, a plan likely to be resisted by Peter Costello and Treasury. The Prime Minister has nominated high petrol costs - caused by the spike in the world oil price - as his biggest worry going into a tough election year. Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is working on a plan to cut the price of ethanol at the bowser, in a move the Government hopes will lead to a small cut in the overall price of fuel, which is approaching $1.50 a litre in the capital cities.

Mr Beazley yesterday signalled Labor's support for an alternative fuels policy, reversing Labor's previous criticism of the ethanol industry. "The price of oil from the Middle East is going to stay high for a very long time, probably forever. And what we need is an alternative from being hooked on Middle East oil," Mr Beazley said. "Short-termism won't work any more." Australia's plentiful gas reserves should be used to develop a new alternative supply of fuel for cars and business, Mr Beazley argues. "When we have got gas coming out of our ears in this country, we've got the makings here of a massive gas-to-liquid conversion operation," he said. "It's not a technology that isn't proven; the technology is proven. A number of countries now do this - countries like uswhich have enormous reserves of gas."

Labor previously has castigated the Government for offering support to ethanol producer Dick Honan, whose Manildra company has a large share of the nation's production capacity. But Mr Beazley is now more supportive of supporting the ethanol "possibility" as part of a broader push on alternative fuels.

Mr Howard, meanwhile, rejected calls from the Nationals to beef up the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's powers, despite the watchdog saying it is powerless to quash profiteering. "Let's not get into the foolish situation of thinking we can cut the price of petrol by some amendment to a law when the manifest reason for the high price of petrol is the high price of crude oil," Mr Howard said. "We can only have cheaper petrol in Australia if there is cheaper crude oil around the world ... and I'd be misleading the Australian public if they pretended otherwise."


Windmills versus birds -- the right decision for the wrong reason

The Australian government banned a windfarm because it might kill a rare parrot. But Greenies want their windmills back and who cares about the parrot? The parrot was probably not endangered but so are many of the things that Greenies want to protect. Maximum disruption is all that the Greenies really want

So, the Orange-bellied Parrot might yet be forced to fly the gauntlet of the deadly wind turbines of Bald Hills. Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell yesterday set a course for abandoning the quixotic avian rescue mission he launched in April by blocking the $220 million Bald Hills wind farm. But, with his legal defence looking ever more wobbly, the minister yesterday invited the Bald Hills developers to resubmit their application to build 52 wind turbines in South Gippsland.

Campbell's dilemma illuminates both the dangers of belief politics and the end of certainty within the environmental lobby. The minister's problem is that he really seems to believe at least one or two of the rare parrots will be sliced and diced by the twirling blades of Bald Hills.

Had Campbell merely been wedging species-green against climate-change-green against renewable-committed state government, then John Howard might well be preparing to strike a medal in his honour. Instead the PM could soon be looking for a replacement. Because, whatever the outcome of his ministerial review, Campbell looks as endangered as his pretty parrot.

If, in the name of the parrot, Campbell sticks to his ban, then he will cop it from state governments committed to ambitious renewable energy targets and the developers riding on that policy. Less predictably, Campbell will also get it in the neck from elements of the environmental lobby who now reckon solutions to climate change take precedence over limited species protection.

For example, Greenpeace has called for the parrot-saving minister to be sacked. And not because he has opened the way for the extinction of the parrot. No, Greenpeace says Campbell must go for the flimsy evidence supporting his stand against wind power taking its proper place on the national energy horizon. The irony of Greenpeace's position will be naked to all those who, over the past 25 years, have spent millions defending projects from environmental challenges based on similarly gossamer evidence.

But a Campbell backflip, for all its intellectual necessity, will make him look even sillier than he did in April. Not only will he look weak but the Howard Government will become politically liable for every chopped-up parrot found at the foot of a Bald Hills turbine.

The sad twist in the debate is that the minister made the right decision but for all the wrong reasons. The Government should stop Bald Hills but only because it, like any other wind farm, fails any test of economic viability. Australia's commitment to wind power is little more than an expensive expression of feel-good politics. And power consumers will directly pay the price of the renewables policy.

There is no particular government subsidy available to the wind power industry. Rather, there are federal and state government targets that force power distributors to take whatever wind power is produced. This means the wind generators sell their power into the grid at the going price paid to all other generators. The renewables producers then receive a credit for each megawatt hour they produce. That credit is then sold for about $43 a megawatt hour to the distributors. That is then added to our power bills.

That is the untold story of wind power. In June, Access Economics estimated Victoria's then policy of producing 10 per cent of the state's power from renewables by 2010 would add about 10 per cent to the wholesale price of power. And yet, even in those states with the most ambitious renewables targets, South Australia and Victoria, the net effect of wind power on carbon dioxide emissions will be negligible, if not illusory. According to another recent study, if Victoria reaches its target of 1000 megawatts of renewable generation capacity by 2016 (the state currently boasts about 120MW of wind capacity), its share of national greenhouse gas emissions will fall from 32 per cent to 28 per cent by 2020. But in raw numbers, Victoria's power plants will be pumping out 24 per cent more carbon dioxide by 2020 than they do in 2006 because, quite simply, Victorians will be using much more power.

Interestingly, that same report, prepared for Sustainability Victoria, found flaws in the Government's greenhouse gas abatement model because the Government was assuming wind power would replace, predominantly, brown coal fuelled electricity. But the flukey nature of wind power, combined with the low-cost base of brown coal, means wind is far more likely to replace gas and black coal fired power. Both, but gas in particular, produce lower emissions than Victoria's brown coal. "Thus, a more sophisticated approach is required to estimate the level of abatement from wind generation," the report suggests. I would argue that a greater level of sophistication is needed at all levels of this debate.

Because the answers to our national greenhouse challenge do not lie in the wind. There is no way either wind or solar power can produce the levels of base load electricity capacity we need. The big solutions lie elsewhere and can only emerge from a broad and cohesive national energy policy directed at finding cleaner ways of producing base load power from known technologies. That means embracing the work being done on clean coal and low-emission power plants. And probably investigating nuclear options.


New UK ban on 'bloody' advertisement

Tourism Australia's TV advertisement faces a new ban in the UK, where it will no longer be shown before 9pm. The 'So Where the Bloody Hell Are You?' advertisement has been deemed inappropriate for children by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority, according to a report in the Creative Bulletin.

The new ban has resulted from the objections of 36 viewers, including 16 who were concerned that children might see the ads and eight who believed they should not be shown before 9pm, the Creative Bulletin said.

The ad was initially put under a blanket ban in the UK because the word bloody was deemed offensive, but that ruling was overturned in March. In making this latest decision the ASA said that parents were entitled to expect that TV advertising should not appear to endorse or encourage swearing


5 August, 2006

The (digital) camera lies

School photos digitally 'fixed'

The class of 2006 will be the best lookers yet, with parents getting the option to digitally remove pimples and marks from their teenagers' school photos. For $8, parents can buy a touch-up option for official school portraits. Even parents of grade one children are asking for blemishes to be airbrushed.

The company offering the service said it was popular with many parents and children. National School Photography services state and private schools across Melbourne. Owner Peter Gillahan said the pressure to look good was growing. "People are very conscious of their image these days. They're bombarded with beautiful people in the media who all look fantastic and parents and students want to look like that themselves," he said. Mr Gillahan said many parents asked for the touch-up because they didn't want a permanent reminder of their children's pimples. "They say 'get rid of that pimple, it's not going to be there forever it's going to come and go, so it's not really part of their personality'," he said. "One mum said in 20 years' time her son is going to be different and she didn't want to be looking at that forever."

The digital make-over option was tested at one school last year before being offered to all students photographed by the company. For $8, the company will remove obvious pimples, scratches or other blemishes, even going the extra mile for children suffering severe skin problems. "It's pretty hard if you've got a young lad with acne all over his face, so the retouchers will do more than what we charge for it because we want a nice photo to go out to our customers," Mr Gillahan said.

But teen health experts were shocked to hear of the touch-up service. "My immediate reaction is that I'm appalled," said Susan Sawyer, director of the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Royal Children's Hospital. "It's suggesting that this is not normal, that you should not look like this, that no one should have pimples. "I think it gives a very unsavoury message that you are not OK." Prof Sawyer said that the pressure from media on both parents and children was behind the push for perfection. "What we see around us is airbrushed perfection in every magazine," she said. "If we accept that it is fine for celebrities to cut inches off their bottoms and thighs and upper arms . . . then should we be surprised about this?" Prof Sawyer even questioned whether the use of electronic photography aids would end at smoother skin. "First pimples, next teeth, next ethnicity or colour of the skin -- who knows?" she said.

But Mr Gillahan said more sophisticated digital alterations were too complicated to be offered on a widespread basis. "That would become a minefield because then people would want you to whiten their teeth and remove the braces," he said. But digital imaging allows photographers to manipulate school portrait images like never before. "We often open eyes by swapping eyes from one photo of a student to another photo of the same student . . . if they've blinked in one we'll swap the eyes over," Mr Gillahan said. "It's the same in the class photos . . . we'll combine a number of photos to make it the best one we can. "Pull the socks up, plant a tree in the background if a car has pulled up when it shouldn't have."

Mr Gillahan said no photos were retouched without consent. "It's a parent's choice, we don't just retouch because sometimes students have a birthmark on their face . . . that is part of them." Mr Gillahan said he expected plenty of repeat customers from the digitally perfect class of '06. "It will only grow because if you've had Jimmy's or Jenny's photo done this year, when they go to school in following years they will have to have them done then as well," he said. Basic school portraits start at $18. But some parents were taking the desire for perfection to extreme levels. "When we get requests for a retouching on a six-year-old you think what can you do to a six-year-old?"


Windy idea blows itself out

The company behind the South Gippsland wind farm that fell victim to the orange-bellied parrot has scrapped plans for one near Ballarat. Wind Power has axed plans for a 14-turbine farm at Haddon, 15km west of Ballarat, known as the Bo Peep wind farm. The company yesterday cited lack of financial viability and local opposition as among the reasons for the about-face. Wind Power is fighting federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell in the Federal Court over his controversial decision to blackball the Bald Hills project.

Wind Power director Andrew Newbold said a pre-feasibility study found that Bo Peep would not make money. "The studies show it could only sustain three or four (turbines), which is not commercially viable," he said. "This is just part of what we do, (it is) a decision we take quite often." The wind farm would have had turbines almost 100m tall with blades up to 55m long.

Mr Newbold said the company was conducting pre-feasibility studies for two sites in the Lexton area, about 47km northwest of Ballarat. He said Wind Power had considered local opposition against the Bo Peep farm. "It was not a determining factor, but certainly a factor we took into account," he said. A study found the area could only take three or four turbines, a big reason for ending the project. The State Government would not comment on the axing of the Bo Peep farm yesterday. Bo Peep would have generated less than 30 megawatts of electricity, which means that Ballarat Council, not the State Government, considers the planning permit.

Wind Power's fight against Senator Campbell will return to the Federal Court this month. It is seeking to overturn a decision that banned construction of the Bald Hills wind farm, about 20km southeast of Inverloch, because of the danger it posed to the orange-bellied parrot. But a report showed the wind farm would possibly threaten one parrot every 1000 years.


Prison ship uproar

The bleeding hearts don't like it

Two centuries ago you were sent to the prison hulks for stealing bread ? today you might get a berth for stealing fish. The original convicts from England and Ireland were incarcerated for paltry crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread, but the modern day convicts will be detained at sea for stealing fish. Customs plans to use the armed, purpose-built prison ship to hold up to 30 asylum seekers and illegal fishermen for a month at a time under Customs' new border security provisions. The Australian Customs Service is seeking to lease a civilian vessel - for $10 million a year - to act as a floating detention centre for extended periods, The Australian newspaper reported. The paper reported that Customs' concerns that its patrols had to make long voyages returning to port after intercepting illegal boats prompted the move.

However, Opposition customs spokesman Joe Ludwig said detaining illegal fishermen aboard the floating prison for a month would be "cruel". "The tender put out by Customs seems to be another stop-gap measure to protect our northern shores,'' Senator Ludwig told reporters today. "It seems to be a patchwork solution to what seems to be a very serious problem of illegal fishers entering our northern waters.'' "What you are going to have is illegal fishers being held in detention on a boat out at sea for 30 days in the ship's brig. "It seems a little bit cruel to me, quite frankly.''

Customs said the ship would be converted, at further cost, to hold up to 30 detainees, plus a full crew and 30 government officials "for a minimum of 30 days" and would be fitted with heavy machine-guns, inflatable dinghies, a quarantine zone, isolation area and exercise deck. "The new vessel will provide significant additional support to Customs and navy patrol boats already engaged in responding to and apprehending illegal vessels," Customs Minister Chris Ellison told the newspaper. "It will have the capability to remain at sea for extended periods and operate independently in all waters around Australia."

The opposition has criticised the ship as being a "patchwork approach" to border protection. "A major concern is the presence of civilian crew in an operational environment where weapons like firearms could reasonably be expected to be used," the paper quoted opposition Customs spokesman Joe Ludwig as saying. "We want to know whether there will be an Australian crew who will be given access to special training for law enforcement weapons (and) protective gear."


Australia as a target

The federal government will investigate claims that South-East Asian suicide bombers are on a mission to attack Jewish interests in Australia. Human Services Minister Joe Hockey today said the government was taking seriously media reports that hundreds of bombers had been dispatched around the world with orders to attack countries that support Israel, such as Britain, the US and Australia. The plot is believed to be funded in part with cash donations from two unnamed Australian-Indonesian businessman.

"I can tell you that the minister for foreign affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs are investigating what is reported in the papers today and we are treating it very, very seriously," Mr Hockey told the Seven Network. But Australia had been a terror target for some time, he said. "That has no impact in so far as these people have targeted us for a long period of time," Mr Hockey said. "You only need to look at Bali and that was before any major escalation of the conflict in Lebanon and Israel. "We are a target, we always have been a target and we will be for a very long period of time."

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said the threat was a new one that warranted concern. "I am concerned that this has sprung up without earlier evidence of action between the (Australian and Indonesian) governments," he said.

The Asian Muslim Youth Movement (AMYM) claims it has thousands of jihadists who are prepared to join the fight against Israel. A newspaper report said that about 200 of these supporters will be immediately sent to attack Jewish targets in countries that support Israel. AMYM leader Suaib Bidu said his group would also be closely monitoring Australia's reaction towards Israel's current military occupation in southern Lebanon. "We have a lot of support, including in Australia, from people who don't believe Israel's attack (on Hizbollah) is just," he said. Terrorism experts have warned the AMYM was possible of organising such an attack.


4 August, 2006

Australian Muslims like Hezbollah

The Federal Government's Muslim Community Reference Group will decide today whether to ask Prime Minister John Howard to remove Hezbollah from a list of terrorist organisations. The group of Muslim leaders is to meet today to discuss whether to write to Mr Howard seeking the controversial change.

But any call for the Government to alter its position on Hezbollah, which has been at war with Israel for the past three weeks, appears to be futile. Mr Howard made it clear yesterday the Government did not intend to remove the militant arm of Hezbollah from its official list of terrorist groups. "No chance, full stop. No chance at all," Mr Howard said.

But Ameer Ali, chair of the Muslim reference body set up last year after the London bombings, said Hezbollah should not be lumped in with groups like al-Qaeda. He said Hezbollah is a legitimate part of Lebanese politics, and Australia's assessment of Hezbollah is clouded by the US and Israel. "They should not condemn Hezbollah as a terrorist group," Dr Ali said. "I don't think they should judge that they are simply a terrorist organisation like al-Qaeda."

On its national security website, the Government said ASIO believes Hezbollah's military wing is continuing to plan activities involving threats to human life and serious damage to property. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the decision to ban Hezbollah, first listed in 2003 as a terrorist organisation, was not made lightly. But he said the Government would be willing consider any new information which could prompt it to reassess the listing.


Australia not just a deputy sheriff to the USA

It is time we completely reconsidered our thoughts about ANZUS, the US-Australian alliance, especially as it has functioned during the past 10 years. The accepted view is that the Howard Government has been a loyal and passive follower in the alliance. At best, John Howard's critics may allow that he has played the politics of it shrewdly, gaining electoral advantage from quite small military deployments.

In a new book, The Partnership: The Inside Story of the US-Australian Alliance Under Bush and Howard, I argue a completely contrary theory. It's my contention that Howard, not George W. Bush, has made the running in the alliance. This is an unusual interpretation in Australian history. Most of our writers tend to acknowledge only brave John Curtin defying Winston Churchill by bringing the troops home as almost the lone pre-Keating Australian PM to act decisively in foreign policy to protect Australia's interests.

In fact, most of our leaders have had a very clear-eyed understanding of where our interests lie. But in any context the past six years or so have been remarkable in the history of the US-Australian alliance. The suggestion that Howard has made the running in the alliance is not so counter-intuitive as it may seem. In an asymmetric relationship - one giant power and one middle power -- the absolute power lies with the bigger player but the initiative lies with the smaller player. The big power has a million other things to worry about. The smaller power can concentrate on getting what it wants from the relationship.

When Howard and his Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, learned that Bush would finally win the disputed 2000 presidential election, they opened a bottle of champagne in Howard's office. They thought Bush offered them much more opportunity than Al Gore would have done and they plotted how to take advantage of this opportunity. Howard came to office in 1996 saying he would intensify the alliance with the US. Although he developed a serviceable modus vivendi with the Clinton administration, it was nothing to write home about and it is hard to see it as closer than the relationship Paul Keating enjoyed with the Clintonites. The advent of Bush changed things. Howard and Downer put a lot of personal effort into cultivating Bush before he was elected. But it was really the terror attacks of 9/11 that gave them the opportunity to change things in the alliance.

So what extra did Howard want from the US connection and what did he get? He wanted: a free trade agreement; enhanced defence co-operation; a much deeper intelligence relationship, including much greater access for Australia; greater Australian influence in US policy-making, especially on Asia; increased US involvement in Asia, particularly Indonesia; the greater prestige for an Australian government in Asia that comes from demonstrating access and influence in Washington; and, of course, Howard also wanted a domestic political pay-off from the relationship.

The fascinating thing is that Howard got all of these results, in greater or lesser degree, and at very little cost. The Howard Government made small but significant military commitments to Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan the US had plenty of allies and if anything it was hard for the Australians to get a guernsey. But in Operation Anaconda, in Afghanistan, the Australian Special Air Service saved the bacon of a large group of Americans. The performance of the SAS changed the US attitude to the Australian military. The Americans had always respected our soldiers, but now they wanted them involved as a priority.

In Iraq, the US had few allies. (Britain and Poland were the only others.) There was great art from the Australian Defence Force in designing an Australian contribution that was meaningful, involved the three services but kept the risk of Australian casualties fairly low. This was achieved in part by concentrating on the SAS. The Australian services are all highly professional, but when you see the exploits of the SAS you are forced to the conclusion that they just may be the finest special forces unit in the world. Certainly they did magnificent work in Iraq.

From the Bush administration's point of view, the Howard Government had demonstrated shared values, shared objectives, a willingness to share political and military risk, and relevant capabilities. There is no doubt that in this period Australia has moved up several notches in its alliance with the US, to a level of intimacy and influence it has not enjoyed before. Because most people who write books about this issue are so hostile to the alliance, many incredible stories have been ignored or only partly told.

Canberra has not taken a back seat in the alliance. It has pushed Washington hard for the things it wanted, from a free trade agreement to modifications to US policy on Indonesia. Sometimes it prevented the US from making bad mistakes, as in the case recounted in The Weekend Australian of Australia vetoing certain targets and the use of certain weapons in Iraq. At other times it has lobbied hard but been unsuccessful, as in its efforts to get the Americans to focus more coherently on post-war planning in Iraq.

But Australian policy has been consistently active and ambitious. Examining the Bush-Howard years, four central themes emerge: the Australians have had the initiative in the relationship; ANZUS has gone from being a regional alliance to a global alliance, with Canberra seeing its interests as global and wanting to make a contribution and have an influence in several distant theatres; the Howard Government got most of what it wanted from the US at little cost; and the US alliance greatly enhances Australian national power.

A sub-theme is the concurrent amazing closeness, at the military and security and political levels, with London, and the formation of an effective three-way partnership between Bush, Tony Blair and Howard.

The Howard Government has also tried hard to institutionalise much of the new closeness with Washington, through intelligence-sharing arrangements, placing unprecedented numbers of Australians in US agencies and military commands, the free trade agreement, the habit of US presidential visits and much more. This is an attempt to make the new arrangements survive the eventual departure of Bush and Howard. The finest Australian military, diplomatic and political minds have worked determinedly on the US alliance throughout this period. They have produced fascinating results.


Fewer procedures, longer waits in Queensland public hospitals

The number of elective operations performed by major Brisbane public hospitals has fallen 16 per cent in the past five years as new figures released yesterday showed a 150 per cent jump in people waiting longer than required. During the past five years, the Beattie Government says it has spent more than $200 million on reducing waiting lists on top of claims it has spent record amounts on health in every budget. Yesterday's figures show the increase in elective surgery funding has delivered fewer operations and longer waits.

According to the latest "Elective Surgery Waiting List Report", 314 people were waiting more than the specified 30 days for urgent category 1 surgery, up almost 150 per cent from 128 people at the same time last year. There were 2703 people waiting more than the prescribed 90 days for semi-urgent category 2 operations, up almost 110 per cent. The 6462 people waiting longer than 365 days for less urgent operations represented a 7 per cent increase on the same period last year.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson was not available to answer questions about the report yesterday. However, in a statement Mr Robertson claimed "a significant increase in demand for life-saving emergency surgery saw the total number of Queenslanders waiting for elective surgery rise by 791". "What these statistics reflect is that our hospitals are busier than ever and are treating more patients than ever before," the statement said. "However, significant on-going growth in patient demand for life-saving emergency surgery continues to affect elective surgery opportunities in our hospitals. "The Beattie Government has undertaken a number of steps to address the challenges facing public hospitals to improve elective surgery performance. "And we're starting to see positive results from the extra $20 million we provided in March to support long wait reduction initiatives."

AMA Queensland president Dr Zelle Hodge said the 16 per cent reduction in surgical activity was "consistent with what our members are telling us". "Royal Brisbane Hospital is cutting 30 elective surgery lists a week because they have insufficient theatre nurses," Dr Hodge said.

Opposition health spokesman Dr Bruce Flegg said the latest figures showed more Queenslanders are waiting for surgery and fewer operations were being done compared to last year. Dr Flegg said, compared with last year, there are 1953 more people on the waiting lists, 1336 less operations and 1970 people waiting beyond the medically recommended time for treatment. "The Government claim to have increased spending on more doctors, more beds and more operations but the figures show less operations," Dr Flegg said. "The money is being spent on appalling management and waste. They have not fixed the system in Queensland and nothing has changed."

One waiting list client, former truck driver Annette Taylor, 41, said yesterday her two-year wait for back surgery was becoming unbearable. Ms Taylor, of Thornlands, said twice in the past two months, her pain has been so severe her local GPs have called ambulances to take her to hospital for urgent treatment and on both occasions she was turned away. "I believe nobody should have to wait more than six months for any operation. I would never have felt this pain this bad if it had been done in six months," she said.


Australia's most Leftist newspaper at work again

But this time they were rumbled

The future of Sunday Age columnist Terry Lane is in limbo after he re-published a discredited internet hoax. In his column on Sunday, Lane supported internet claims that American troops in Iraq were engaged in the officially sanctioned murder of civilians and ignoring the Geneva Conventions. The claims were debunked as a hoax months ago. Lane wrote that the Iraqi war had killed "probably more than 100,000 innocents", which should be investigated rather than the death of Aussie soldier Private Kovco.

"It's one almighty stuff-up," Sunday Age editor Peter Fray said yesterday. "I mean, there's no other way of looking at it. "Myself and Terry are embarrassed by the mistake."

Lane has offered to resign and told a newsletter website he was guilty of the "unforgivable sin . . . of failing to check the facts". "In my case I fell for it because I wanted to believe it. That is inexcusable," he said.

Mr Fray said he was considering Lane's future. "I need to speak to him first before I speak to anyone else about it," he said. "I'm worried about our readers. "We have a duty, just as the Herald Sun has a duty, to publish facts. "Clearly no one is trying to run away from the fact that there was an almighty stuff-up. ". . . It's what is the appropriate punishment for the crime. "The punishment could be that we accept his resignation, or that he explains what happened to the readers, and we apologise to the readers." Lane could not be contacted yesterday


3 August, 2006

Deadly delay for public hospital victim

A Central Queensland woman diagnosed with cancer requiring urgent treatment was put on a waiting list at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital and not offered help until after she died. Lynette Williams, 46, of Rubyvale in Central Queensland, died on June 29, a month after her Emerald-based GP told her that tests revealed she had suspected cancer and needed urgent treatment in Brisbane.

Mrs Williams's husband Russell said yesterday the GP made an appointment for her at RBWH on May 31 and she took the scans and medical reports to that meeting. Mr Williams said the doctor at RBWH rang the hospital's cancer unit and was told to book her in for a liver biopsy. "We never got to see the cancer specialists at the Royal. I kept ringing every day to find out when they were going to do the test. They said 'you would get a letter'," Mr Williams said.

The RBWH also put Mrs Williams on a waiting list for an endoscopy and sent her a letter on June 16 scheduling the procedure for July 16 - two weeks after her death. Mr Williams said the hospital eventually contacted him two days after his wife's death to arrange a time for the liver biopsy.

Mr Williams said he wanted to know why doctors at Queensland's largest hospital did not provide urgent care or offer any assistance with pain management. A spokeswoman for RBWH confirmed that Mrs Williams had been referred to the hospital and "scans indicated that when Mrs Williams presented to the RBWH she had progressive secondary cancer". A communication breakdown led to a delay in the biopsy being performed. The hospital apologises to the family for this delay and has offered to meet with the Williams family to discuss the issue."


Ties that should bind

The paradox of anti-Americanism is that it stems from the French, a civilisation with which we have little in common, writes Mervyn Bendle

The proposal for a new US Studies Centre in Australia should be welcomed ("Study centre to target anti-Americanism in Australia", HES, July 26). The proposal evokes two vivid childhood memories: my mother bursting into my bedroom, sobbing, "president Kennedy has been shot, he's dead", and the making of the nuclear apocalypse film On the Beach in Melbourne. Burned into my memory are the scenes of thousands of doomed Australian families singing a plaintive Waltzing Matilda on the banks of the Yarra as they picnic and play under the lethal clouds of atomic fallout. On one hand a future of hope, on the other of annihilation - and visions of the US were at the centre of both. Any assessment of contemporary Australian anti-Americanism must recognise this deep-seated cultural ambivalence in our attitudes towards the US.

In the early 1960s, the US led by the young president with his glamorous wife and young family represented a vision of the future that an increasingly affluent and suburbanised Australia could eagerly embrace, one of the reasons why the Victorian government erected a memorial to John F. Kennedy. His death cut this moment short and signalled the onset of a sinister era of political assassinations, presidential conspiracies and cover-ups. This created the space into which the widespread fears of global conflict and nuclear holocaust could find their freest expression. This was compounded by the intensification of the Vietnam War, leading to Australia's involvement as an ally in "someone else's war" and the introduction of military conscription. Ironically, prime minister Harold Holt's promise in 1966 to president Lyndon Johnson that we would go "all the way with LBJ", triggered the end of an era as city streets soon filled with anti-war protesters.

The baby boomers came of age during all this, and the attitudes towards the US that they formed in this period continue to dominate political debate and our culture generally. The present wars in Afghanistan and Iraq evoke these deeply rooted fears and suspicions, and these are not likely to be easily overcome. The problem was compounded by the takeover of radical and progressive thinking by French Theory. Initially, theories from both the US and Britain informed the intense debates of the 1960s, whether it was about war and peace, education, the workplace, sexuality, feminism, literature, music, film-making or the counter-culture.

By 1974 these were being swept aside as an entirely new radical discourse took hold, one that was militantly anti-American. Whatever its merits, this was characterised by a commitment to a theoretical opacity that denied access or participation to anyone outside a small number of university-based elites. These had only tenuous links to the masses of the Australian people whose character, nature, moral worth and future they nevertheless proceeded to determine theoretically.

The phobic anti-Americanism of this discourse reflected the identity crisis and cultural agonies of postwar French history. As Phillipe Roger shows in The American Enemy: The History of French Anti-Americanism, the US was perceived as leading a "conspiracy against intelligence" in promoting a mass market in popular culture that was beyond the control of the intelligentsia. The French Communist Party, ever opportunistic, placed itself at the head of this cultural reaction, denouncing everything American, including even comic books and cartoons, protesting vigorously against "cartoons that draw laughs from the tortures inflicted upon Donald the duck or Pluto the dog". Others complained of "a vast undertaking to pervert art and degrade culture". The US offered only a "mix of pornography, sadism and everything that calls up the baser human emotions".

Jean-Paul Sartre explicitly adopted a double standard in evaluating the respective actions of the US and Soviet Union, applying an "ideological kit that was a mixture of deliberate bias and justification of this bias". Eventually, "America" ceased to mean just a nation or a people and became a global abstraction, "a certain 'being-in-the-world' that had become planetary". This in turn reflected the influence of Martin Heidegger, who negatively compared American individualism to the organic community aspirations of the Nazis. This attitude continues to prevail.

For the French, existentialism served as the first line of resistance, but American culture quickly appropriated and assimilated this. The problem, it was alleged, was humanism, with its "bourgeois" emphasis on the individual, and in the end it was the self-proclaimed anti-humanism of structuralism, poststructuralism and postmodernism that carried the day, advancing far into the intellectual heartlands of the US itself, Australia and Britain, where, as "Theory", it continues to serve as the discourse of the intellectual elites dominating policy-making and education.

Consequently, we have a bizarre situation in which a great deal of contemporary anti-Americanism is informed by intellectual weapons designed to enhance the status of a fading French civilisation with which we share little. This blinds the Australian intelligentsia to threats that are very real while promoting a reflexive anti-American posturing that achieves little and encourages our enemies.

A much better alternative is to recognise that Australia and the US have their own intellectual traditions to draw on. These tend to be much more pragmatic and committed to empirical inquiry than Theory allows. Consequently, they promote the pursuit of factual understanding of complex situations instead of the politicised moralising that characterises so much intellectual commentary on the US and Australia's relationship with it.

Finally, it should be recognised that Australia and the US are very alike and that by studying the US we can come to a better understanding of ourselves. For example, we are frontier societies developing on a continental scale, we share liberal democratic political systems that we had to battle to put into place, and we are largely committed to free trade and against agricultural protectionism. We are egalitarian and global leaders in the ongoing enhancement of the rights of women and of our various minorities. We share an omnivorous appetite for new technologies and the transient delights of popular culture (and this is especially true among recent generations, for whom Theory has little resonance). Importantly, Australia and the US are the two most multicultural societies in the world.

Australia and the US share unique ties and these require a much more sophisticated form of analysis and understanding than they now receive. The proposed US Studies Centre couldn't come at a better time: it has much work to do.



Two articles below

ABC sorry for bias on children's show

The ABC has apologised to the Jewish community for presenting biased, anti-Israeli information to school children during an episode of Behind the News. The educational program described Hezbollah terrorists as "soldiers" and as "refugees" whose land had been "taken by Israel". In a letter to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, which lodged a formal complaint with Communications Minister Helen Coonan, the ABC admits the information presented on the program was "inappropriate". Audience liaison manager Denise Musto said the ABC acknowledged "that the content failed to meet the requirements of balance and impartiality". "In its attempt to be simple and concise, the story did not represent key relevant viewpoints," she said. "Some of the descriptions were over-simplistic and inappropriate."

Behind the News is a news program designed for school students. The episode on the Middle East crisis was shown on July 25, with the transcript removed from the ABC website this week. Ms Musto said the "errors of judgment" were "regrettable and not indicative of the program's overall high standards". She said the content removed from the web was being reviewed and revised.

Council president Grahame Leonard earlier this week wrote to the ABC and Senator Coonan about "errors and lack of balance" in the program. He said Hezbollah could not accurately be described as a "Palestinian refugee organisation". "It is an extremist Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim organisation," he said. "Its ideology is the same as that of Iran and includes the destruction of the state of Israel."

ECAJ director Geoffrey Zygier said it was "difficult to reduce a complex issue such as the Middle East to a few simple phrases". The program said the UN "wants the two groups to stop fighting but Israel says it'll continue to fight until Hezbollah is destroyed", Mr Zygier said. "It did not say Hezbollah would not stop fighting until all Jews are out of Israel. "It's just wrong, straight out wrong." Mr Zygier said the report said Israel was proclaimed a country for the Jewish people in 1948, "taking much of the land from the Palestinian Muslims". He said that that statement "would not make sense to anybody who had read the Bible".


Hezbollah for kids

Below is an editorial from "The Australian"

Never let it be said that the ABC ever let the facts stand in the way of a good smear. Take the public broadcaster's "high energy (and) fun" current affairs program for students, Behind the News, which on July 25 delivered a potted history of the last half-century of Lebanese life that sounded almost as if it had been scripted in Tehran. According to the show's presenter, Andrea Nicolas, Hezbollah "soldiers" sparked the present conflict in the Middle East in an innocent bid to prompt a prisoner exchange with Israel gone awry. The report (hastily scrubbed from the ABC's website) also claimed Hezbollah was just a small group of Palestinian extremists who fled to Lebanon because their land was "taken over by Israel"; that in 1948 "Israel was proclaimed as a country for Jewish people, taking much of the land from Palestinian Muslims"; and that in 1967 for no apparent reason Israel "took over" Gaza and the West Bank. These were only a few of the many howlers delivered without regard to context, balance or fact to an audience lacking the historical knowledge to spot the many errors.

Given this, one would think the ABC might pause before criticising others for their coverage of Islam and extremism. Yet Monday night's Media Watch attacked an Arabic-speaking reporter on The Australian over an article last year that mistakenly suggested that Sydney sheik Abdul Salam Mohammed Zoud had delivered firebrand anti-Western and pro-jihadi sermons at Sydney's Lakemba Mosque. The only problem was that it was not Sheik Zoud who gave the sermons but rather one of his deputies. Fair cop: the cleric was out of the country and this newspaper reported our error months ago. But here's where it gets interesting. Media Watch also accused The Australian of inciting "anger" in "the Muslim community" through a more recent article that included claims that Sheik Zoud and his counterpart Sheik Omran of Melbourne preached under different names to avoid media scrutiny. Yet the claim of "phony" names was made by a member of the Prime Minister's Muslim Community Reference Group, while the ABC's suggestion of Muslim "community" outrage came from unnamed sources. So who is really casting aspersions on Muslims? The Australian, with its named sources and quoted denials from the sheiks, or the ABC, which relies on anonymous tipsters to indulge the implication that all local Muslims are offended by claims about Sheik Zoud?

The ABC's wilful ignorance of the deeper issues involved in the Behind the News segment should be seen as part of a progressive campaign to recast terrorist groups such as Hezbollah as nothing more than social service agencies with attitude. But had Behind the News strived for balance, it would have noted that the terrorist group was not born out of Israel's formation but was founded by the radical Shia theocracy that deposed the shah of Iran in 1979. And that it is committed to using terror anywhere in the world to advance its cause of destroying the Jewish state. Behind the News also might have noted that Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 after being encircled by five mobilised Arab armies looking to drive it into the sea.

Meanwhile in the case of Sheik Zoud, the ABC neglected to engage with the fact that the sermons were still given at the Lakemba Mosque and that the French judge who tried terror suspect Willie Brigitte has said the clergyman is "the recruiter in Australia for . . . jihad". At our public broadcaster, it seems, Hezbollah are the freedom fighters, the Israelis are the aggressors and all Australian Muslims stick up for extremists.


Aboriginal girl faces race-hate trial

She won't face any significant penalty, of course

An Aboriginal teenager today will become the first person to face trial on charges laid under Western Australia's new race-hate laws.The 14-year-old girl was one of three Aboriginal girls who allegedly assaulted a 19-year-old non-indigenous woman in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, in the WA Goldfields region, in April. All three girls were charged with assault.

The 14-year-old was later additionally charged with making racist slurs, under new racial vilification laws which came into effect last year. She will face trial in the Kalgoorlie Children's Court today. It will be the first time a racial vilification charge will be tested in a WA court.


2 August, 2006

Surgeons 'horrified' by long waits in Australian public hospitals

Surgeons say they have watched with horror as the hospital waiting lists have grown and in some cases doubled over the past decade. President of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Russell Stitz said yesterday the latest figures showed patients were waiting a third longer than they did 10 years ago. The study, by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, showed that in some areas, such as neurosurgery, the average waiting list had doubled, while the wait for vascular surgery had increased by 64 per cent.

"It is with some degree of horror that surgeons are watching waiting lists continue to climb nationally, and there are real concerns among the medical profession that governments have no interest in bringing them down," Dr Stitz said. "It is unbelievable that someone with a brain injury is being forced to wait double the time they used to; and just try telling that to your patients -- it's heart-wrenching." Coupled with a shortage of surgeons, "to say there is a crisis in the health system is an understatement", Dr Stitz said.

Surveys by the college earlier this year showed the nation's 7100 surgeons spend at least 60per cent of their time in private hospitals and are ageing, with almost half aged 55 or older. "There are solutions," Dr Stitz said. "Public hospitals need to be adequately resourced, and these resources need to be used efficiently to treat more patients and provide adequate training for future surgeons. We need to employ more nurses, open more beds and start training more doctors to become surgeons." With demand for surgery expected to grow by 50per cent in the next 20 years, he said, at least 30 per cent more surgeons were needed, but "we are nowhere near this number".


Funding shortfall in Tasmanian public hospitals too

I guess the Tasmanians did not want to be left out

Staff at the Royal Hobart Hospital have rejected the Tasmanian Government's assertion that the hospital receives sufficient funding. The hospital overspent its budget by $6 million last year and Health Minister Lara Giddings says there will not be any more money if the hospital exceeds this year's budget of $255 million.

The chairman of the hospital's Staff Association, Dr Frank Nicklason, says the Government is asking the hospital to provide services it cannot afford. "There isn't a recognition that the Royal is a tertiary university teaching hospital, that we're funded for around about half the State's health budget, but we are doing the complex and obviously the much more expensive cases on a state-wide basis," he said.

Meanwhile, the Greens want an independent inquiry into the Government's handling of hospital funding. Acting Greens leader Nick McKim says two years ago the Government commissioned the Richardson Report into the operation of hospitals in Tasmania. "It's time, in the view of the Greens, for there to be a performance review of how the Government has gone in implementing the recommendations in the Richardson Report," he said. "There were over 50 recommendations made by Professor Richardson and I doubt very much that the Government has done half."


Spelling fad cost kids 14pc drop in results

Dumping 1970s methods of teaching spelling, which included primers and graded workbooks, in favour of the "whole language" method caused primary school students' reading scores to fall about 14 per cent over 15 years. Despite a move back to teaching phonics and devoting more time to spelling, students are yet to catch up to their peers of 30 years ago.

A study of spelling scores among South Australian school students over 26 years showed the need for the direct teaching and testing of spelling skills, and the inclusion of phonics in teaching children to read, write and spell. South Australia was the most ardent of the states in rejecting the need for the direct teaching of spelling and teachers were discouraged from teaching phonics in the 1980s and 1990s. Phonics is the understanding of the sounds that make up words, while whole language teaching believes students will "catch" spelling and reading through their daily exposure to books and writing.

The study, published in The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, analysed the results of three large-scale studies of spelling tests sat by more than 40,000 South Australian students aged six to 15 in 1978, 1993 and 2004. The biggest difference was among children aged 7 1/2. Between 1993 and 1978, their scores fell about 14 per cent. The difference at 6 1/2, seven and eight fell between 10 and 14 per cent.

Study authors, Peter Westwood of the University of Hong Kong and Kerry Bissaker of Flinders University, said the most plausible explanation for the fall was that less attention had been given to the direct teaching and testing of spelling skills. This was because of the implementation of "whole language" philosophy. The traditional teacher-directed methods of the 1970s based on the use of graded primers or workbooks was rejected in the 1980s for "a freer and more developmental or child-centred approach", the study said.

While teachers are increasingly embracing a more systematic approach that combines the best of whole language principles with explicit instruction in literacy, students in 2004 were still behind their 1978 peers.


43rd Papuan asylum seeker granted protection visa

The last of the 43 Papuans whose bid for asylum in Australia triggered a diplomatic row with Indonesia has been granted a protection visa. A spokesman for Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone has confirmed the Refugee Review Tribunal has set aside her department's decision to refuse the 29-year-old man a protection visa. The spokesman highlighted the tribunal decision was independent and final.

The Immigration Department's decision has been based on the grounds that Mr Wainggai had the right to live in Japan. But the Tribunal found that was not the case and it said he could face human rights abuses if he returned to Papua or any part of Indonesia. Mr Wainggai's lawyer, David Manne, says he is incredibly happy that justice has been done. "We would hope now that he'd be granted a visa as soon as possible and be brought to Melbourne to be reunited with the other 42 in his group and to be able to get on with his life in safety and security," he said.

The Papuans arrived in Australia in January and 42 of them were granted protection visas in March, but David Wainggai remained in detention on Christmas Island off Western Australia. His supporters are reportedly celebrating the decision.


1 August, 2006

Government dishonours war veterans and South Vietnamese

War veterans are outraged at a Federal Government requirement that the Dandenong RSL never fly the flag of former ally South Vietnam or else be punished by losing a $40,000 grant. Former Diggers and the Vietnamese community were stunned when their application for funds to maintain the state's main Vietnam War memorial was met with a demand that the red-and-yellow flag many fought under be taken down.

They believe the clause in a letter from Veterans' Affairs Minister Bruce Billson stemmed from persistent pressure by the Vietnamese Embassy in Canberra, which opposes any recognition of its defeated southern foe. The head of the committee in charge of the spectacular memorial, John Wells, said the minister could "stick his grant wherever he likes". "We're not playing any politics: this flag is historical fact," he said. South Vietnamese army veteran Andy Nguyen and memorial committee member Phong Nguyen labelled the letter "a deep insult".

Mr Billson's letter linked the grant to the 2006 budget allocation for the 40th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Long Tan on August 18. "Payment of this grant is contingent on you agreeing not to fly the flag of the former South Vietnam," the minister wrote. Mr Billson said it was policy that only the official flags of nations recognised by Australians should be flown. "Therefore, the flying of flags of former regimes, or countries not recognised by Australia, in conjunction with the Australian national flag would not be appropriate," he wrote.

The letter follows pressure from the Vietnamese Embassy on the City of Greater Dandenong to prevent the flag being flown when the $400,000 memorial was officially opened last year -- 30 years after the war ended on April 30, 1975. The memorial committee was forced to compromise by not showing the flag until Governor-General Michael Jeffery -- a decorated Vietnam veteran -- had left after unveiling the monument.

Mr Billson has sent similar letters, also containing the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advice, to committees planning monuments in Adelaide and Brisbane. Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer wrote to Dandenong council in 2004 expressing the same view.

Mr Wells said the flag was now a historical symbol, but all four Victoria Crosses from Vietnam were won by Australians fighting under it. It did not fly alongside the Australian flag but beside those of five other Vietnam War allies. He said Treasurer Peter Costello was aware of the flag issue but had advised Mr Wells not to worry when conferring tax deductibility on the project. Mr Wells, a Vietnam veteran and former secretary of the Dandenong RSL, said: "To say we should hide a symbol like that flag, which means so much to Vietnamese Australians and Australian veterans, for the sake of trade makes me very sad."


Why teachers must teach spelling

Failure to teach spelling is a failure of duty of care, argues teacher Judith Wheeldon

Are you proud of your good penmanship or embarrassed by your messy chicken scratches? Handwriting matters to us as a reflection of ourselves. Yet we sometimes purposely cultivate bad handwriting to fudge uncertain spelling. Deep down we know that spelling matters. Poor old spelling is the butt of almost as many jokes as mathematics. Spelling is boring. Most think spelling is no more than rote learning of long lists. Teachers treat spelling with disrespect by consigning it to "the wallpaper method", expecting learning by osmosis from words stuck up on the wall.

But spelling is important. Our written language, including our spelling, represents us as individuals in public, whether that public for a child is grandmother receiving a birthday card, the class at school or a job application. Fair or not, a piece of writing that contains spelling errors will never be taken as seriously as one that does not.

A child who does not spell well is likely never to be able to express themselves with confidence in writing. Don't take refuge in spell check. It's a Trojan horse from Microsoft that requires first-class spelling and grammar skills to avoid making horrendous errors. Without good spelling your child will go through life with poverty of expression and understanding that is largely avoidable through good syllabuses and teaching from kindergarten to Year 12.

Judging from the results of testing released this week by Educational Assessment Australia at the University of NSW, our schools are not doing the job. On the whole, our children don't spell English as well as Mandarin-speaking children in Singapore. Australian teachers and employers have plenty of anecdotal evidence that corroborates this view. These results cannot be a surprise since we stopped serious teaching of spelling, grammar and sentence construction decades ago, with the consequence that most teachers cannot analyse errors in speech and writing. If you want good spelling and grammar, find someone over 55.

We have wandered into a general belief that spelling has no intellectual content or feature that is intrinsically interesting. Even Peter Knapp, of EEA, said in The Australian this week that "spelling is not a high-order cognitive skill such as sentence construction". Is spelling anything more than letters in a prescribed, arbitrary order? Charles Perfetti, of the Learning Research and Development Centre at the University of Pittsburgh, defines spelling as a human literacy ability that reflects language and non-language cognitive processes. Spelling, he says, is the use of conventionalised writing systems to encode language. Acquisition of good spelling develops as the child's brain reaches new stages of physical development.

Small children begin to be spellers when they make marks with crayons on paper in imitation of adult writing. Muscular control and planning are used to make what adults see as scribbles. Preliterate writing is an intellectual task performed for pleasure at the child's own will. "Reading" aloud what they have written, young children show that they have made a cognitive leap in associating writing with sounds of speech.

Spirited singing of the alphabet song and naming the letters with pride is a highlight of this stage of language development. The child cannot yet separate discrete sounds accurately. Nor have they learned conventions of spelling. Writing of words begins but with a lot of errors that often evoke smiles from encouraging adults. From preschool to early primary, growing within-word pattern recognition leads to acquisition of sight words, essentially words that have been memorised. Wide reading, word games, spelling games and poetry will increase sight vocabulary and correct spelling.

Children use invented spelling to explore their ideas and to expand their new skills. Praise and encouragement help, but so does gentle teaching to replace inventions with accepted conventions. Children do not like mistakes and will learn quickly how to spell the grown-up way. Allowing incorrect spelling does not do justice to the child's desire to learn. The growing repertoire of sight words enables the child to generalise about how meanings are conveyed in spelling. Relationships between words are discovered; for example, that adding a "t" or "d" sound "ed" to the end of an action word pushes it to the past tense. The child who used to say correctly, "he ran" may now say, "he runned", attempting to follow the newly discovered pattern. Simple grammar and vocabulary lessons will explain to the child what they are grappling with and give early tools of language analysis that later will solve much bigger problems in language manipulation.

By the middle of primary school the child can break words into syllables and learns rules such as that doubling a consonant changes the pronunciation of the preceding vowel. Say "little" and "title" aloud to hear the difference. Rules such as "i before e except after c" and "add e to make the vowel say its name" as in hat/hate become helpful guides to speed up correct spelling, but the rules need to be taught and practised. Systematic grammar and spelling lessons are essential to allow the child's intellect to acquire the skills of controlling language. It is unfair not to help in this complex cognitive development.

By late primary school, many children are ready to build vocabulary, reading and spelling through noticing patterns that relate to the roots and origins of words. Incredible, credit, creed, credo, credulous. Chronological, chronology, chronic, chronometer. Children love word games. They enjoy building the power of their language. Latin study would not go amiss at this time. If French, German or Spanish is being taught in the school - and it should be - that language can be mined for discoveries.

Good spelling is for all children. Good spelling, vocabulary, grammar and reading make the passport out of poverty and joblessness. They build self-esteem based on achievement and foster the ability to face greater challenges later. Every child has a right to be taught these skills. A systematic program of grammar and spelling lessons consistently taught through all the years of school is essential to help the child's intellect acquire control of language. Teachers have the specific task of helping in this complex cognitive development. Parents have the task of ensuring it happens in their own child's school.


More rottenness at Queensland Health

Protecting themselves -- by concealment, gags, persecution and coverups if necessary -- is all that bureaucrats care about

There was this good-natured, quietly spoken guy with whom I once worked and who has since moved to distant shores. I knew he was leaving, something to do with his wife's work, but I was out of the office when he left and I never did get the chance to say goodbye and wish him well. Preoccupied with the distractions of my own immediate world, I did not spare him another thought until last week when amid the clutter of the email in-box appeared a message from him.

He had been reading this newspaper online and had emailed to compliment me on a piece I had written, a kindness which was typical of this likeable, affable bloke. It was a brief message but the sting was in the tail for in the last paragraph he revealed his reasons for leaving Australia. It had, as I had vaguely heard, been because of his wife's work. She had, not, however, been offered a better job. A health professional employed by Queensland Health, she had bravely, if naively, written a letter to the government voicing her concerns about certain practices within the department. I don't know the contents of the letter, only that it was critical of the department.

Her reward, for placing her concerns for the public ahead of self interest, was to be hounded out of her job. Her career, and the lives of her husband and young children were trashed. They were, effectively, driven out of their own country and became political refugees.....

The ripples in the pond of disasters that is Queensland Health, however, continue to spread. The president of the Australian Medical Association, Zelle Hodge, has said the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital was operating at 130 per cent capacity, making conditions unsafe for patients by pushing staff beyond their limits. Staff tell of patients being left on trolleys for 24 hours before a bed can be found and of people suffering cardiac arrests in hospital corridors while waiting for treatment.

Earlier this month the CEO of RBWH, Dr Thomas Ward, was removed after five weeks on the job when he all but brought the hospital to a standstill after summarily sacking the executive director of nursing services. How did he pass the selection process? How can someone who apparently had little or no understanding of how to run a hospital be placed in charge of one of the largest of such facilities in the country? Would this not indicate that the interviewing process is seriously flawed or that those conducting it should be replaced? We'll never know the full story because Queensland Health slammed a cheque for $100,000 into his hand and bundled him on to a plane and out of the country less than 24 hours after his contract was terminated.

Over the past few weeks it has been revealed that Queensland Health placed the lives of thousands of north Queensland women in jeopardy by covering up problems with breast cancer screenings. A suggestion last August, when the problem of incorrect diagnoses was revealed, to establish a hotline was rejected by Queensland Health because it could "create unnecessary anxiety". Asked to choose between anxiety and death, I'm reasonably certain most women would choose the former.

Another ripple followed the revelation that a report by an independent medical investigator employed by Queensland Health into the death of a child was censored and references critical of the department deleted. Yet another ripple was caused by the leaking of a memo from RBWH which said that "there have been ongoing elective operating sessions cancelled due to insufficient nursing and anaesthetic technical staff to provide safe patient care". Another leaked memo from the director-general of Queensland Health, Uschi Schreiber, said that in relation to lengthy waiting lists for surgery cases, "despite the additional funds in 2005-2006, the available data indicates no substantial improvement".

While this memo was being written, the Government was spending $300,000 mailing letters to householders telling them what a wonderful job it had done in creating more hospital beds and shortening waiting times, part of $2 million spent on a public relations campaign to paper over the deep fault lines running through Queensland Health. Maybe one day, someone will have the guts to truly take on the well paid bureaucrats who run the department. Then, perhaps, my quietly spoken ex-colleague and his wife and kids can come home.


Victorian kids and parents resisting food fascism

Students are getting pizzas and Big Macs delivered to their schools after turning up their noses at healthy new canteen food. Some schools are offering students raffle prizes to get them to eat nutritious lunches, and other canteens are in danger of closing. Some parents are also defying the move to rid canteens of junk food by dropping off "treats" to their children.

Schools across the state have been introducing healthier menus after concerns over childhood obesity. Salads, sushi, sandwiches and fruit are replacing pies, chips, hot dogs and doughnuts. The State Government has announced it will ban soft drink from schools and is also looking at restricting the sale of lollies and chips. But parents, teachers and unions say there have been some challenges in the transition from junk food to more wholesome alternatives. Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said she knew of some "entrepreneurial" students who were ordering pizzas and having them delivered outside the school gate. "Students themselves have buying power," she said. Ms McHardy said many had part-time jobs and disposable income.

Ms McHardy said that while most parents did the right thing, some working parents dropped off food to get around canteen menus. "Some parents believe a delivered hot lunch to school from the local McDonald's or KFC is OK, too," she said. Ms McHardy said it was up to parents, students and schools to work together to get kids eating healthy canteen food.

Australian Education Union state branch president Mary Bluett said many canteens were struggling financially with the change. She said the "double whammy" of healthier food's higher production costs and some children's reluctance to buy it was having an impact. "Some are doubtful their canteens will survive," she said, "because kids will bring food from home rather than buy it from the canteen." Ms Bluett said many schools relied on canteen revenue to pay for activities and amenities. She called on the State Government to subsidise healthy eating. "It would be good if the Government would be prepared to cover the gap for a short period of time," she said.

Victorian Principals Association president Fred Ackerman said some transitional support would help schools introduce healthy food. But a spokesman for Education Minister Lynne Kosky said the Bracks Government already supported initiatives to encourage healthy eating habits in schools.

Box Forest Secondary College in Glenroy is one school that offers students prizes in a raffle as a way of tempting them to eat healthy food. Canteen manager Sheryle Hind said students got a raffle ticket every time they bought a nutritious item from the menu and their names went into the draw to win a donated DVD player. She said the initiative was going well.