Friday, August 31, 2007

Howard attacks religious `insults'

John Howard last night condemned two entries in the nation's top religious art competition, labelling them "gratuitously offensive" to Christians. A statue of the Virgin Mary shrouded by a Muslim burqa and a holographic image of terrorist Osama bin Laden that morphs into Jesus Christ submitted for the Blake Prize have drawn a furious response from politicians and church leaders.

Yesterday, Mr Howard said the pieces were insulting and lacked any artistic merit. "The choice of such artwork is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians," Mr Howard said. He was backed by New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma who said the inclusion of the artworks was extremely questionable. "I haven't seen either of these pieces but from what has been described to me, it's a pity they were not stolen instead of the Dutch masterpiece," Mr Iemma said, referring to the recent theft of a painting from the Art Gallery of NSW.

Last night, the Uniting Church minister who chairs the Blake Society defended the pieces. The Reverend Rod Pattenden, who awarded the $15,000 prize to the competition winner in Sydney yesterday, said his mission was to spark debate about spirituality in a world that was "cynical, degraded and in crisis". Mr Pattenden said he did not expect controversy to result from the exhibition at the National Art School Gallery "because the Christian community doesn't look at art a great deal".

Artist Luke Sullivan's entry, The fourth street of Fatima,which is on display at the gallery in Darlinghurst in Sydney, is a statue of the Virgin Mary with a rosary and a burqa - for many, a potent symbol of female oppression. Priscilla Joyce Bracks' Bearded Orientals, Making the Empire Cross is a lenticular image in which the viewer can flip between portraits of Jesus and bin Laden by shifting slightly from side to side.

Mr Pattenden said the Virgin statue embodied "iconic representations of two different religious traditions". "He (the artist) is making a comment about gender in a religion dominated by men," Mr Pattenden said. "I find it unsettling and unfamiliar and I think that's always an opportunity for new insight." As for Bracks' double image of Christ and bin Laden, Mr Pattenden said the artist was questioning "the idea that you can have absolute good and absolute evil. Life's a bit more complicated than that".

The Australian Christian Lobby said placing Jesus in the same artwork as Osama bin Laden was "a big mistake". "Jesus brought a message of love and forgiveness that has nothing to do with terrorism," spokeswoman Glynis Quinlan said.


Small businesses want more immigration

Small businesses in Western Australia and other parts of the country are being forced to close because they can't find enough skilled people with trade and technical experience, reports Perth's Sunday Times. Both local authorities and the federal government recognise that immigration is the only answer to the labour shortage. The owner of a steel security company, Ian Saggers, told the Sunday Times he was closing his business because he has not been able to find anyone to train his staff to use the equipment. This is despite owning what is potentially a multimillion-dollar turnover business. Skilled tradespeople such as machine operators are being lured to the high-paying jobs offered by mining operations in the north. Many trades are on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (Australian MODL), entitling applicants for an Australian visa to extra points.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews recently acknowledged: "The reality in Australia today is we've got the lowest unemployment rate for 33 years, in states like Western Australia and Queensland in particular, it's almost impossible to find some workers, in particularly skilled areas, and we're crying out for workers, without which we wouldn't be able to continue to run the economy of Australia."

Western Australia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) chief executive John Langoulant told the Sunday Times they are calling for increases in the number of skilled workers being brought in from overseas. "The chamber has been working with government and employers to develop innovative ways to solve the problem,' he said. "The chamber advocates the use of skilled immigration schemes to help industry and business meet their growing short-term labour needs. However, improvements can be made to the present system by allowing more overseas skilled workers to enter the country.'


Making an ambulance service "free" has caused huge over-use

How surprising! Result: Really urgent cases are slow in being attended to

FRUSTRATED ambulance officers say lives are still being put at risk despite taxpayers pumping more than $400 million into state coffers through a levy on electricity bills. The crisis, which has been exacerbated by a massive increase in the number of call-outs, is so severe that ambulances with less urgent patients on board are diverting to more serious cases.

One northside paramedic, who defied a media ban to speak out, revealed it took almost 20 minutes to answer a recent top priority call-out. And he claimed one major Brisbane station was left unattended on a Sunday night because of staff shortages. "I don't want people to get hurt or die," he said. He said it was not unusual for several stations to be unattended on any given night.

Taxpayers hand over $97.99 a year for a special levy, collected through electricity bills, which replaced an old subscription service that raised about $80 million in its final year. The levy raised $99 million in its first full financial year, in 2003-04, but the total ambulance budget that year rose by only $27.8 million.

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said QAS funding had grown significantly in recent years. "The ambulance levy replaced a very unreliable subscription scheme," he said. Both ambulance officers and the State Government say the situation has been exacerbated by a huge jump in demand. Overall, call-outs have increased about 10 per cent every year since the introduction of the ambulance levy in 2003, with a record set this year.

Queensland Ambulance Union's Steve Crow confirmed response times were getting longer as crews struggled to attend as many as 700 code-one call-outs a day. "It used to be 68 per cent of cases took under 10 minutes, but now it's more like 62 per cent and that figure's even worse in the regions," he said. Prebs Sathiaseelan, president of the Emergency Medical Service Protection Association, which represents paramedics, said the ambulance levy was behind a jump in trivial calls. "We go to things like stubbed toes," he said. "People have got an appointment at the doctor's - they want the ambulance because it is covered under this levy. It's being abused." But Mr Sathiaseelan said the levy was not behind code-one increases. He blamed that increase on an ageing population and "phenomenal growth" in Queensland.

Mr Roberts also blamed Queensland's "growing and ageing population" for the increased demand for services. "In the 2006-07 financial year, the Queensland Ambulance Service attended 10,757 (or 9.7 per cent) more code one incidents than for the 2005-06 financial year," he said. But he said the extra demand was being addressed with the recruitment of 250 new ambulance staff this year and the purchase of 16 new vehicles. He was not concerned that some stations were unattended at night, describing the QAS as a "mobile service delivered by paramedics in vehicles".


Empty talk on climate policy from Australia's Left

NEXT week's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum meeting in Sydney won't be its last, but if we accept Kevin Rudd's view of the world then, like John Howard, its days may be numbered. The press release accompanying Rudd's speech to the Australian Institute of International Affairs on Monday bore the headline, "APEC'S Future: Confront the Economic Challenge of Climate Change" . According to Labor's Great Helmsman, if it fails to embrace "real action" on climate change, APEC has "little future".

What does real action mean? To quote Rudd: "APEC must set concrete emissions targets, as it languishes behind the European Union and the G8 on tackling the economic impact of climate change." This is an interesting comparison, for reasons I will come to in a moment. But we already know that setting action plans in concrete is not APEC's modus operandi. China and the other Asian developing economies don't want anything to do with Kyoto-style targets, which would cripple their economic growth. Bringing their living standards up to those of the West is their greatest economic challenge, not climate change.

A leaked draft of the Sydney Declaration to be released at the end of next week's APEC meeting speaks only of a long-term aspirational target for emissions reductions. So presumably one of the early actions of a Rudd government will be to withdraw from APEC, an institution with little future. Or is Rudd just bluffing? His speech implies a readiness to compromise his policy ideals. After all, as he says, a Labor government helped create APEC.

The ambiguity is typical of the approach to climate change by all governments, for which we may be duly grateful when it becomes apparent the planet isn't on the brink of becoming uninhabitable without immediate, drastic action to stop global warming. The European Union and the G8, Rudd's exemplars of climate action, fall decidedly short when it comes to meeting commitments they have undertaken, notably in the Kyoto treaty (the US, of course, never ratified it). And several of the new eastern European members of the EU are refusing to accept emissions caps imposed by Brussels, for the same reason China and India don't want a bar of them: they inhibit economic and social development.

Yet on Monday, Rudd repeated that one of his first acts if he becomes prime minister will be to ratify Kyoto. This is just one more illustration of the fact that when deliberately created global warming hysteria takes hold, silliness isn't far behind. Kyoto is dead. It was never going to make any real difference to global warming anyway, and its most vociferous supporters will miss their emissions reduction targets, or meet them by fraud. Two weeks ago The Guardian newspaper reported a secret briefing to ministers that Britain had no hope of meeting the EU's target of 20 per cent energy from renewables by 2020. Former prime minister Tony Blair, an ardent climate change believer, signed up to the target only a few months ago.

However, the problem isn't missing these targets but that efforts will be redoubled to impose harsher ones to make up for backsliding, because despite claims of a scientific consensus, the science of climate change is not settled. For a start, the predictions of what is going to happen to the Earth's climate over the next 100 years are based on climate change models that are the subject of considerable dispute. Reputable climate change scientists such as Richard Lindzen and economists who specialise in forecasting have strongly criticised them.

For example, Scott Armstrong from the Wharton School in the US and Kesten Green from the Business and Economic Forecasting Unit at Monash University checked a set of forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change against 88 principles of sound forecasting and found the scientists had breached 72 of them.

The assumptions underlying the climate forecasts have also been frequently challenged. Critical assumptions about the role of clouds and water vapour, for example, are disputed by other scientists.

The economic modelling used to predict the economic costs and benefits of curbing greenhouse emissions, most notably in the British Stern report, has been widely challenged by leading economists. William Nordhaus, a world expert on the economics of climate change, has recently looked at the proposals by Al Gore and Stern to dramatically cut emissions of greenhouse gases. He found that the costs in both cases substantially exceeded the benefits. In the case of the Stern proposals for deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, Nordhaus found the benefits totalled $US13 trillion and the costs $US27 trillion.

As for the science, it is evolving and some assumptions made in the exercises carried out by the IPCC are being questioned and found wanting. One example is the so-called hockey stick, which was at one stage at the centre of IPCC findings on global warming, but has since been discredited. Recently, earlier findings that the behaviour of Atlantic Ocean currents, which climate change was reportedly causing to alter in ways that would bring a mini ice age to Europe, have been overturned. There are other examples.

Equally disturbing, there is evidence that some key IPCC scientists have been witholding data from independent reviewers wanting to look at their work, which goes right against the idea of how good science is done. There have also been cases of discrimination against scientists who don't toe the IPCC line.

In some ways most damning of all, there is a deliberate attempt to close down any public debate on climate change issues and brand those questioning the orthodoxies of the IPCC as climate change deniers, comparing them with Holocaust deniers or painting them as in the pay of big oil, big coal, or some other vested interest. While the suppression of dissenting views by the scientific establishment is hardly new, the increasingly shrill tone in the face of growing questioning of the work of the IPCC and the data and models it relies on is disturbing.

In the face of this, whatever its faults, Howard's cautious approach to climate policy looks much more sensible than the alternative, however unpopular it might be in the opinion polls.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

New Leftist workplace policy to wrap economy in red tape


WORKPLACE Relations Minister Joe Hockey yesterday hit back at Labor's new policy, labelling it "a disaster for the economy". Mr Hockey said the policy was confusing, tangled in red tape and detrimental to real wages and employment levels. "The red-tape burden, including the transitional arrangements, means that an employment arrangement for eight people could end up with eight different employment contracts," he said.

Speaking from Hermannsburg in the Northern Territory, John Howard joined the attack and said the announcement offered "no hope" for small business. "If reports are to be believed, and I have not seen the detail, then there is no hope for small business in it because they are going to bring back the unfair dismissal laws that will produce higher unemployment in the future," the Prime Minister said. Mr Howard also predicted that Labor's policy would "fall a long way short of what is needed, to maintain the very low levels of unemployment we have at the present time".

Mr Hockey said Labor failed to offer anything more in real terms than what was announced at the party's national conference in April. He also said the policy demonstrated the extent to which the Opposition was under the thumb of the unions. "Nothing was added today in real terms to what the Labor party expressed in April, (and what) the business community and employers of Australia reacted so strongly against," Mr Hockey said. "All he did was set off a smoke machine, hoping that Australians would not see the ugly side of his industrial relations policy. "What this policy says is that Mr Rudd wants to keep the union bosses happy but at the same time ensure that the people of Australia are not aware of the damage his policy will do to the economy.

"The union bosses don't need to worry about going in the back door because they'll be coming in the front door under Kevin Rudd. "Kevin Rudd will be reversing the formula that has delivered a strong economy, not just today, he'll reverse it in 2010 and even in 2012 after what he's announced."

Vocational Training Minister Andrew Robb extended the Government's criticism, saying that a Labor government would exacerbate the skills shortage. Speaking at the Skilling Australia Summit in Melbourne, Mr Robb said the 21 new technical colleges established by the Government had faced serious denigration by the Labor Party and would be undermined by the education union movement. "It's a disgrace what the Labor Party has done for crass political purposes: they are trying to destroy these colleges," Mr Robb said.


Bureaucrats want to curtail cardiac surgery in private hospitals

Even though there are no nearby government hospitals to do it! They hate private hospitals because the private hospitals show them up

The Gold Coast's 600,000 residents could be stripped of any cardiac surgery services, forcing locals with heart conditions to travel to Brisbane for treatment.

Queensland Health has advised the Coast's two private hospitals it could withdraw their approval to offer cardiac services. Queensland's chief health officer Jeannette Young is considering withdrawing approval because neither hospital performs the amount of work required under official guidelines to maintain staff competency and patient safety. Residents will not be able to turn to the public system because the local hospital has not been funded for cardiac surgery.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said while no decision had been made, the review was about ensuring cardiac services were safe and sustainable.


Rural Australians are climate atheists

Because climate is important to them, rural people know from experience and tradition that climate fluctuations are normal

ABOUT 98 per cent of rural people do not believe climate change exists, according to engineer Steve Posselt. He is paddling a canoe through inland waterways from Brisbane to Adelaide. Mr Posselt, who is delivering a message about the impact of climate change to rural communities on his nine-month adventure, said yesterday the strong anti-climate change beliefs might in part explain the lethargy of conservative politicians to the issue.

"About 98 per cent of adults I've met along the river say there's no such thing," Mr Posselt said. "They think it's just a short-term cycle and everything will soon be back to the way it used to be. "I've suggested to some councillors that maybe they should learn about the issue but they just say it's a load of crap. "They say, 'how can scientists get that right when they can't even tell us when it's going to rain'."

Mr Posselt, an Australian Water Association convener, sensed the beliefs were tied to the inherent conservatism of bush people who liked to work things out for themselves. The exceptions were schoolteachers and children.

Mr Posselt said his trek, which had taken him to Wentworth, at the confluence of the Murray and Darling rivers near the Victorian border, had also taught him that the level of water harvesting in the system was unsustainable. "There's not enough understanding of science behind things," he said. "To a man they think all you have to do is divert the Clarence River inland and everything will be all right. "It's just like in Queensland you get people saying the old Bradfield scheme (of diverting rivers inland) should go ahead. "Even people on the land do not make enough of the link between what you do on the surface and how this affects underground water supplies."

Four months into his trip Mr Posselt has so far walked 1011km, dragging his wheeled canoe, and paddled more than 1300km. Wentworth is 590km northwest of Melbourne and was once NSW's busiest inland port. He said he would be able to paddle the rest of the way to Adelaide.


Pressure on Australian PhDs to meet grade

STUDENTS may have to defend their PhD theses orally and examiner panels could be audited for quality under reforms being considered by elite universities. The ideas floated by Group of Eight executive director Mike Gallagher come amid claims that the once respected qualification lacks relevance, suffers from dubious quality and gives candidates false hope of employment. These claims have dominated a lively debate on the HES website after Curtin University of Technology academic Richard Nile declared the PhD "a dinosaur from a previous age of elite education" in an HES online article.

Mr Gallagher told the HES that the PhD had undergone so much change it was high time for a fundamental review. "There are a lot of PhDs going into universities that don't have much of a performance record in research, and that's a worry," he said. "I don't know what level of confidence there is in the community any more." The Go8, not expecting much help on standards from politicians or the Australian Universities Quality Agency, was carrying out its own fact-finding survey.

Yesterday, federal Education, Science and Training Minister Julie Bishop said it was the responsibility of universities to work with industry to give graduates the skills they needed and to "focus on the quality of their programs, including their PhD programs, to ensure the sector is able to compete internationally for students and academics". "It is up to individuals to decide whether a particular qualification has relevance for their career prospects, whether in the private sector or academia," she said.

AUQA executive director David Woodhouse said: "Just like the Go8, we are concerned about standards." Although AUQA looked at processes for enrolling, supervising and examining research students, the agency had not yet carried out "a sample check" on the standing of overseas examiners. This might be done during a 2008 second-cycle audit. But as yet no institution had suggested the relevant audit theme of research training, despite the advent of the research quality framework.

Mr Gallagher said it was possible the Go8 would audit examiners to make sure they represented centres of strength in the fields examined. This would underpin quality and include an element of public accountability. "If your PhD examiner panels are made up of people from second-rank institutions in that field (under examination), then that will be known," he said. "There's (also) a lot of discussion of panels reverting to the viva voce, (which would mean) you have to demonstrate that you can actually defend your propositions."

As part of a broad review of the PhD, the Australian National University was looking at a logistically manageable viva, according to pro vice-chancellor Mandy Thomas. Professor Thomas said it would not be feasible to fly in all the international examiners. (ANU had about 500 PhD completions a year.) A few months before they submit, candidates might defend their work before a panel of supervisors and experts in the field. But if this practice were adopted it would be as an "internal quality measure" and not part of the examination.

Nigel Palmer, president of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, said: "Students are always going to be cautious about anything that looks like a viva. "Particularly towards the end of their candidature, PhDs are close to exhaustion. It's a very daunting proposition to come out and give a stunning presentation. Also, (a viva) disadvantages international students." Mr Palmer said a key issue was the unrealistically tight time frame for PhDs imposed by the federal research training scheme and scholarships. "The pressure of shorter completion times has had an impact on quality," he said. "The message from supervisors is: forget this being your life work, forget this being an original contribution to the field, it's just got to be good enough to get you across the line and ... in time."

Mr Gallagher also criticised the research training scheme: "The Government's timing of 3 1/2 years is at least one year tooshort." Professor Thomas said it was possible completion times might get longer as the university put more emphasis on skills. "We're boosting professional training within the PhDs; that is useful for people who will become academics as well as for those who will leave the university and join industry or government," she said. This training might involve dissemination of research results, commercialisation, journal editing or conference organisation.

Within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Australia had very short completion times; the longer PhDs of the US were thought to be one reason for a decline in domestic candidates. It was possible that the duration of PhDs in Australia and the US would converge. Mr Gallagher said Australia's leading universities were struggling to find domestic PhDs in essential fields such as mathematics. He was not a critic of trends such as the professional, work-focused PhD; it was a matter of striking a balance between depth and breadth and re-establishing the relevance of the qualification. "You hear reports where people say: 'I didn't disclose in my job application that I have a PhD.' In the labour market it's seen as a nerdy thing to have," he said.

Even if the thesis were given less weight by examiners to make room for more coursework, the essential nature of the PhD had to be preserved. "I think the capacity to undertake original research and to demonstrate that you are in command of your field, that you can critically evaluate the literature, that you can construct a hypothesis and defend it, the discipline of it, in the old academic sense, is fundamental," Mr Gallagher said.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The last of Australia's pygmies?

At 3'7" tall, she sure is a pygmy

IN a "heartless" move, the 105-year-old elder of Australia's "lost tribe" of Aboriginal pygmies faces eviction from her far north Queensland home. Lizzy Woods - who relies on a wheelchair, is blind and suffers dementia - is the mother of 10 children and the oldest surviving matriarch of the Jirrbal rainforest people. She has been classified as a "living treasure" and is the sole surviving link to the pygmy "white cockatoo" tribe - most of whom stood less than 122cm (4ft) tall - of the Misty Mountain region near Tully.

Sitting in the humble three-bedroom Ravenshoe house she has called home for nearly 25 years, she told The Courier-Mail yesterday she was angry at the impending eviction. "They are making me homeless," said the 110cm-tall elder, surrounded by some of her five generations of offspring. "I was born in the rainforest. I grew up chasing kangaroo and picking berries off the trees. I belong here. This is my land. "The pygmy tribe - that is my mob. And this is the place I have chosen to die."

Outraged locals have condemned the move as "heartless". The Cairns and District Regional Housing Corporation, which owns the house, served notice on Mrs Woods and her carer son, Warren, to leave by August 6. But that has been stayed, pending a complaints panel decision, until September 4.

Corporation chief Jack Szydzik said Mrs Woods was living in a "high-risk" environment. "This is one of those horror-story drunken brawling party houses and, after three years of warnings, we have had enough," Mr Szydzik said. He said up to 25 people stayed and partied at the house, where $90,000 had been spent on maintenance in four years. "It's a terrible thing for the old lady; but we can't get the others to modify their behaviour. And it is not fair that the rest of the whole neighbourhood is held to ransom," he said.

Anthropologists of the 1930s investigated reports of a lost pygmy-like tribe living in the Misty Mountain rainforest. Photos emerged of child-size adults, carrying wooden swords and shields. Experts have been divided as to whether the tribe are true pygmies, with prehistoric links to African rainforest dwellers, or simply small people.


Rudd to keep ban on union site visits

A RUDD government would keep all of John Howard's tough limits on unions entering worksites, as part of a commitment to be business-friendly if Labor wins the federal election. The Australian has confirmed that full detail of Labor's industrial relations policy will include no change to the existing laws on the union right of entry to workplaces. Labor affirmation of the Howard Government's policy -- to be released with other details later this week -- is certain to upset many unions, which say restrictions on access to worksites have seriously disadvantaged them.

But according to sources connected to policy negotiations, Labor wants to quash business fears that militant union officials such as Western Australia's Joe McDonald could once again have carte blanche to enter worksites, causing disruption and jeopardising investment. Restrictions on union access to worksites were introduced last year under the Coalition's Work Choices laws. Confirmation that there would be no change to union right-of-entry rules comes as ABC Radio's PM program claimed last night that workers earning more than $100,000 a year would be excluded from the minimum conditions contained in awards under Labor's policy.

Following similar speculation last week, the program said all awards under a Labor government would have a "facilitative provision" allowing individual work arrangements for employees to exclude specific award conditions, providing the overall result met a "no-disadvantage test" for the workers. The ABC's report was disputed by Labor sources last night. But setting a threshold for high-income earners above $100,000, if correct, would be Labor's way of trying to satisfy mining industry concerns about the party's promise to abolish Australian Workplace Agreements, the Howard Government's legislated individual employment contracts.

Labor is proposing individual common-law contracts if employers do not want to make collective agreements, but such contracts are currently underpinned by the awards. Under Labor's policy to maintain the Coalition's workplace-entry rules, a union official would have to be judged a "fit and proper person" to be granted an entry permit allowing access to work premises. Union officials would be allowed entry in three circumstances: to investigate breaches of industrial law, to hold discussions with employees who were union members or eligible union members, and to investigate alleged breaches of occupational health and safety. At all times, union officials would be required to follow "reasonable directions" from employers while visiting sites, including arrangements to meet eligible workers. While union officials would not be allowed to abuse the process, responsibility would also fall on the employers not to hinder them when permits had been granted. Judging union officials as fit and proper, and the issuing of entry permits, would be left to the existing Industrial Registry.

Labor deputy leader Julia Gillard first flagged that Labor might be willing to keep the Government's restrictions on union worksite access in late June, after an address to the Melbourne Press Club. Ms Gillard admitted then that the Government's existing right-of-entry provisions recognised "in some ways" the balance needed between the rights of employers and the rights of the unions. She said at the time that a Labor government would not want to see changes that brought disruption to work performance.

Kevin Rudd and Ms Gillard released the main planks of Labor's industrial relations policy at the party's national conference in April, declaring that collective bargaining would be at its "heart" and unions would play an "important" role. But the policy was silent on the Government's rules for union rights of entry, apart from a union role in keeping workplaces fair and that employees should be free to seek their advice. While employers will almost certainly welcome Labor's promise to remain tough on union access, they will be keen to see how it is implemented in practice. The concern of many employers is that unions could once again have a green light to enter worksites where they have few or no members and press for collective negotiations that put the unions centre stage. They also fear that health and safety inspection provisions of union access rules might be abused by unions as a tool to recruit members.

New Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Jeff Lawrence and his predecessor, Greg Combet, now a Labor candidate, are among leading union figures who have bitterly complained about the Howard Government's right-of-entry rules and how they have seriously constrained union operations. The key details still to be spelled out by Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard this week are Labor's concessions for high-income workers on AWAs, details of its "fair dismissal code" and proposed sanctions for illegal strikes and secondary boycotts.


American pollster shocked at Australian bluntness

JOHN Howard says things about Kevin Rudd that George W.Bush would never even think of saying about his Democratic opponents, says American conservative academic and pollster Frank Luntz. In fact, Mr Luntz finds the Prime Minister's rhetoric so aggressive, he rates him as a world leader for invective. "He is using the most blunt terminology that I have ever seen a leader use," Mr Luntz told The Australian yesterday. "Howard is almost Nixonian."

Mr Howard was a polariser in his language and while it worked with lesser opponents such as Kim Beazley, Simon Crean and Mark Latham, Mr Luntz said it was harder to see the strategy succeeding against the Opposition Leader. "What Rudd has tried to do is bear-hug Howard on so many issues: 'We agree in principle but I'll do it better'." "He is absolutely blurring the lines so that it becomes a choice of personality rather than a choice of policy. Rudd is the Bill Clinton of Australian politics."

Mr Luntz will gauge the mood of swinging voters in Australia this week using his so-called perception analyser in a four-episode series, The Voters' Verdict, on Sky News. The series, co-sponsored by The Australian, runs from tonight through to Friday. The Luntz device is his version of the worm, the people meter that registers when a word, phrase or mannerism from a politician registers a response, either good or bad, from a voter.

While careful not to prejudge what his research will show, Mr Luntz felt Mr Howard was finding it difficult to get Mr Rudd's measure. He said it was too late for Mr Howard to reinvent himself, "which is why I believe he is going after Rudd as personally and directly as he is". "The question is not what you think of John Howard. He is trying to make (a vote for Labor) an unsafe vote."

The paradox is that Australians don't take their politics as seriously as Americans or Europeans. Our leader, it seems, does not reflect the temperament of the nation. Yet he is the second-longest-serving prime minister in history. Mr Howard still enjoys, after 11 1/2 years in office, a robust approval rating when compared with his American counterpart. Mr Bush has only 32 per cent of voters satisfied with the job he is doing, compared with 63 per cent who are dissatisfied. Mr Howard, by contrast, is near break-even, with 43 per cent in favour and 45 per cent opposed, according to the latest Newspoll.

Mr Luntz observed that Australians worried more about interest rates, and were less exposed to the shock of the September 11 terror attacks than voters in Britain. "Interest rates are so important here; in America, we don't follow them. An interest rate rise in the States is on the front page of the business section. An interest rate rise here is on the front page of thenewspaper."

Mr Luntz worked on successful Republican election campaigns in the 1990s. And his polling technique was credited with helping David Cameron win the leadership of the British Conservatives in 2005.


More faulty military equipment

Australia's Steyr could not be as bad as the jam-prone American M16, though. I have seen reports from Iraq saying that American troops who have seen it regard the Steyr as better

AUSTRALIAN troops are being sent to war in the Middle East with faulty weapons that malfunction under extreme conditions, army reports reveal. Dozens of Australian-made F88 Steyr assault rifles have also been fitted with incorrect parts that cause them to misfire, further placing Australian troops in jeopardy. Reports on defective or unsatisfactory materiel (RODUMS) between March 2005 and March this year show 44 serious failures of war stocks of ammunition during the two years from March 2005 to March this year. These included faulty smoke grenades, hand grenades, bullets and rockets.

In another case, six out of six main weapon mounts on SAS long-range patrol vehicles were faulty and eight 50 calibre machine guns were supplied to SAS troops with key parts missing altogether.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws by Channel 7 News reveal fault rates of up to 20 per cent for the Steyr and other weapons. They also show that snipers were provided with incorrect cleaning fluid that degraded the accuracy of their rifles. The weapon problems come despite record defence spending and the Howard Government's commitment to provide troops with the best equipment money can buy. In December 2005 Prime Minister John Howard said: "It is just not acceptable for a country as wealthy as Australia to send men and women into the field without them having the best possible equipment - and we certainly intend to ensure that happens."

But according to army records, as many as 20 per cent of Steyr rifles on operational duty were rated "unsatisfactory". The army owns more than 70,000 of the 5.56mm assault weapons. In one case the working parts of the firing mechanism were faulty because they had incorrect return springs. "In most cases they (springs) are around 30-45mm shorter than the new kits when first installed," a RODUM states. "It is essential that this problem be given a permanent repair method as soon as possible as this problems seems to be affecting peoples' confidence in the weapon."

Defence spokesman Andrew Nikolic said: "No organisation of our size can have a zero fault outcome." The Prime Minister last night denied there were systemic weaknesses or faults with the weapons issued to Australian troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It's contrary to what I've been told, not only be the generals but by the blokes on the ground," he said. But Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said there should be an audit.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Invention of Territorium Nullius

by Michael Connor (Pic below)

Land rights were given to Australia's indigenes by the High Court some years ago. In making its decision, the court appears to have been under the impression that the legal authority over Australia originally asserted by the British government (and subsequently passed on to the Australian government) was based on a claim of "terra nullius". That understanding however was sourced only from the work of propagandizing Leftist historians and the court apparently carried out no legal research of its own -- an amazing omission for a body that takes precedent seriously. Michael Connor was one of those who subsequently pointed out that there was in fact no mention of any "terra nullius" doctrine anywhere until over 100 years after British authority was established. The judges, lawyers and historians have been wriggling ever since. Michael Connor replies below to the most recent wriggles

In "Evidence tailored to fit an argument" published in the Higher Education Supplement (March 15, 2006) Sydney University academicAndrew Fitzmaurice challenged my book The Invention of Terra Nullius.

Fitzmaurice made three major criticisms. Firstly, that I have misunderstood, and misused, the terms territorium nullius and terra nullius. Secondly, that in my use of an International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion I have been guilty of a "distortion of history". Thirdly,that I failed to find the first usage of the term terra nullius - which he claims to have discovered.

Of these charges the first especially is a serious accusation.Fitzmaurice accuses me of misunderstanding and misusing the terms territorium nullius and terra nullius, charging me with "fabrication"and "word substitution". Not guilty. Territorium nullius and terra nullius are the same thing. My discussion of terra nullius begins with international lawyers in Lausanne in the 1880s working out concepts of what they called territorium nullius. I point out this use of language and as I proceed I treat this as terra nullius.

Andrew Fitzmaurice objects. He claims these phrases are very different in meaning. In Fitzmaurice's analysis, "Territorium nullius was coined in 1886 to codify rules for the carve-up of Africa. The very different contexts lent the respective terms different meanings, not the least of which is that one refers to territory (a political entity) and the other to land (a material entity). Territorium nullius describes an absence of sovereignty whereas terra nullius describes an absence of property.

"Is he correct? Are territorium nullius and terra nullius different concepts? No, they are not, they mean the same thing and Fitzmaurice points to no international law text to support his inventiveness. The law cases he uses, which he thinks support his argument, deal with sovereignty. Legal writers Elizabeth Evatt and Mark Lindley both wrote texts (much used in discussions of terra nullius) in which they used the term territorium nullius to discuss sovereignty. Justice Brennan in Mabo, and Henry Reynolds in his books, rightly interpreted this as terra nullius. Likewise associate professor Bain Attwood, he noted that Mark Lindley was "the author of an oft-quoted text on the subject [terra nullius]", then cited a page in which Lindley used the words territorium nullius - as Lindley does throughout his book.

Will Andrew Fitzmaurice also accuse Justice Brennan, Henry Reynolds, and Bain Attwood of "fabrication" and "word substitution"? As Fitzmaurice argued that terra nullius is to do with land as property, not sovereignty, he referred to Professor Ernest Scott saying that he "made the much-cited first use of the term applied to Australian history".

In Scott's first paragraph he defined terra nullius as "land not under any sovereignty".Not apparent from Fitzmaurice's account is that the word "invention" in my book title refers to the confused meanings which have been loaded onto the words terra nullius. Terra nullius is not a myth, it is a real term in international law theory, and it means land without sovereignty.

In my book I show that other meanings were invented - land without tenure, unpopulated land, sparsely populated land, uncultivated,"a land where nothing exists", "Captain Cook's law", etc.. I suggest invented meanings have created such confusion that shared understanding and accuracy have been destroyed. Just as confidently as he now puts forward his latest idea on terra nullius, Fitzmaurice told Radio National listeners in 2004 that, "Terra nullius means - or res nullius - refers to - uncultivated. It's as simple as that." Having published my book I hadn't expected that a senior academic would come forward, at this late stage in the life of terra nullius, to give a public demonstration of my thesis.

Fitzmaurice accuses me of misusing the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on Western Sahara: "It is a strange distortion of history to represent, as Connor does, the ICJ's 1975 western Sahara advisory opinion as the source of modern discussions of terra nullius."

Not guilty. My book is specifically about terra nullius in Australian history. I note earlier usages in this country and my then narrative traces the influence of the ICJ opinion in Australia because it had a clear impact on our law and history writing. - other usages in international law reports were less relevant. Using it I point out that the international judges discussing sovereignty stated that terra nullius had "a very precise meaning".

The progress of the Western Sahara Advisory Opinion through our courts is a fascinating story, with illuminating sub-plots. In 1993 ChiefJustice Sir Anthony Mason said, "the rejection of the doctrine of terra nullius [in Mabo] is entirely consistent with the rejection of that doctrine in the Western Sahara case." Some years earlier he banned its use in his own court because, "it has no relevance to the domestic or municipal law of Australia based on the Constitution which this Court is bound to apply."

Fitzmaurice accuses me of not finding the first use of terra nullius: "What Connor's research failed to turn up was that the term terra nullius was first used in 1909 in the debate over the status of the polar regions."

Not guilty. I traced its origins to the use of territorium nullius in the1880s. But if he is seriously concerned about finding the first use of the exact phrase terra nullius then he has overlooked at least one earlier reference in the nineteenth century. In 1899 the term appeared in The Times in a report on theVenezuela Arbitration then taking place in Paris - and it was used inrelation to sovereignty. The date, and the importance Fitzmaurice attaches to the exact wording in his analysis, negates his claim that the term was invented in the twentieth century - and suggests that more searching of international law cases could prove interesting.

This piece of research is not even my own; my story is about the meanings which have been invented for terra nullius and I did not use it in my book. The citation was sent to me by a non-academic, a person interested in terra nullius, who did a better research job than my academic critic. Fitzmaurice's vivisection of my book was carried out with blunted perceptions of exactly what The Invention of Terra Nullius is about. He says I argue "that the term of terra nullius was never employed in the 18th and 19th centuries and is another case of historical fabrication. For Connor, Reynolds is again the historian the most culpable."

I argue that the term was never applied to Australian colonialism in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, but I do not apply the word "fabrication" since I show it being used in the 1880s, and I suggest that it has a very real meaning in international law theory. I do criticise Henry Reynolds, in part because the influential definition of terra nullius he gave in his book The Law of the Land is flawed.

Fitzmaurice charges that, "Connor's inevitable conclusion is that if terra nullius were a myth the legal foundations of the High Court's Mabo judgment look wobbly (although this would assume that the term was indeed important for that judgment)." In my Mabo chapter I show that the judges were confused in their usage of the term, and I criticise their handling of it. The historian best known for calling terra nullius a myth is Bain Attwood - he also called it a lie.

Fitzmaurice asserts that "Terra nullius was certainly not reinvented in the 1970s and '80s by Australian historians motivated by the politics of land rights." I don't say this. I demonstrate that terra nullius entered the Australian High Court in the 1970s and then made its way into our history books and public discussion. As it did so I show that new meanings were invented for it.

Many words in Fitzmaurice's article were devoted to the place of natural law in the dispossession of the Aborigines. My book is about two words and the role they have played in modern Australia. In my index there are more page references to "Fitzmaurice, Andrew" than "Locke, John". When I deal with the history of colonialism I do so to disperse the fog of terra nullius, and consider how the newcomers spoke of and justified their enterprise.

Fitzmaurice claims lawyers "coined" terra nullius to summarise "the natural law understanding of property" and "this is why terra nullius, although crude when used historically because it is anachronistic, was accepted by most Australian historians and by the wider community as a description of the arguments employed to dispossess indigenous peoples."

This particular argument is considered in my book. I suggest it was seized on by historians, to protect their earlier work, only after the usages they had made of terra nullius were questioned. Australians were taught that terra nullius was the language of the eighteenth century, used to dispossess the Aborigines. As late as 2002 historian Richard Broome claimed the "pertinent fact" was that theAborigines were dispossessed "by settlers invoking terra nullius". Meanings were invented for terra nullius which have nothing to do with either international law, or natural law notions. A writer, an example among many, who called it a "land of no people", was hardly referring to natural law theory.

Fitzmaurice's new errors compound his old one about terra nullius meaning "uncultivated" and need to be corrected. The saddest part of Fitzmaurice's defence of the indefensible suggests the crippling of academic enthusiasm and curiosity: "The fact remains that the words terra nullius are absent from the 19th-century historical record. Before the 20th century no person would have recognised the term. Should we, therefore, wipe the slate clean and rewrite the story of Aboriginal dispossession as Connor suggests?

Certainly, but any account of the justification of dispossession is not going to look dramatically different. We would be better off dealing with the history of colonialism and Aboriginal dispossession in English, going back to the sources and telling the story again. Professor Greg Melleuish, in an article in the Higher Education Supplement (January 11 2006) which indicated he had actually read my book, suggested the story could be told in terms of "power and land hunger" - which does not seem unreasonable.

Future histories which explore the cultural clashes and the cultural merging of real people meeting throughout this continent will be a different story to the dull narratives the old historians have attached to a misunderstood legalism. Not guilty of the charges Fitzmaurice brings against me may I, politely, suggest they reveal serious problems with his own work -research into terra nullius supported over three years by a large ARC grant, and conducted within the history department of a leading Australian university.


Illegal fishing sunk by new rules

This is something that should even make the Greenies happy -- if there is such a thing as a happy Greenie. Australia's very extensive territorial waters are heavily protected from overfishing by Australian laws and therefore ensure extensive habitat preservation for marine species. But Australia's Muslim neighbours need heavy pressure before they will pay any attention to Australia's right to control its own waters and resources. They have negligently fished out their own extensive waters and see no reason why they should not steal fish from Australian waters. The Australian government does however now seem to have got the attention of most of them

MORE warships and planes, greater co-operation from Jakarta and tough new rules allowing the navy to "shoot to sink" the vessels of suspected poachers has led to a 90 per cent drop in the number of illegal fishing boats this year. And those boats that are spotted are more likely to be seized, with a doubling of the apprehension rate, defence spokesman Brigadier Andrew Nikolic said yesterday.

Operation Resolute -- the name given to fisheries protection -- combines the resources of the Australian Defence Force, Customs and Quarantine and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Orion spy planes, mine hunters, a missile-armed frigate and Armidale class patrol boats can be called on to enforce the vast northern fishery zone, Brigadier Nikolic said. In the 12 months to June 30, the navy alone had boarded 235 suspected illegal fishing boats, he said. Area surveillance had increased by about 10 per cent.

The figures indicate new federal government strategies to tackle the scourge of illegal fishing were beginning to work, a spokesman for Fisheries Minister Eric Abetz said. "In the 18 months since the ramped-up budget package came into place with an extra $390 million, we've seen a decline (in illegal fishing boat sightings) of around 90 per cent," he said. At the weekend, three Indonesian boats equipped with sophisticated diving gear were seized off Evans Shoal, 320km northwest of Darwin.

Last year's budget measures paved the way for a big boost in patrol hours and the deployment of additional maritime resources for cracking down on illegal fishing. A total of 365 illegal fishing boats were caught last year, compared with 281 in 2005. Still of concern to authorities were the estimated 6700 sightings last year of illegal vessels in Australian waters. While many of these are likely to have involved the same boat, the number is still high and according to federal Labor justifies its policy of a national coast guard service.

The cost for the (Indonesian) owners of losing their fishing boats has proven a decisive factor in the fall in the number of sightings this year, the minister's spokesman said. Relaxed rules of engagement also allow warships to fire on illegal fishing boats if they fail to heed warnings to stop. Education programs in poor Indonesian fishing communities and better co-operation between Australia and Indonesia since the 2006 Lombok Treaty were also helping stem illegal fishing.


Citizens must score 60pc in Aussie values

A PASS mark of 60 per cent will be enough to became an Australian under the citizenship test to be introduced later this year. The draft Citizenship Test Resource Book released yesterday by Immigration and Citizenship Minister Kevin Andrews contains little that is likely to frighten civil libertarians. To become a citizen, applicants will need to correctly answer 12 out of 20 questions in the test, expected to be introduced later this year after legislation has passed through parliament.

The booklet from which questions for the test will be drawn stresses cultural diversity, freedom of religion, a society governed by the rule of law and a nation of proud sports traditions. Sample questions contained in the 40-page book include: What is the floral emblem of Australia? and, In what year did Federation take place?

"It is important that people wishing to become Australian citizens demonstrate an understanding and commitment to Australia and our way of life," Mr Andrews said yesterday. "A citizenship test provides the means of ensuring that prospective citizens have such an understanding. "Before becoming a citizen it is reasonable to expect that a person will understand the core values that have helped to create a society that is stable yet dynamic, cohesive yet diverse. Respect for the free-thinking individual and the rule of law are the foundations of the Australian liberal democratic tradition."

The new test applies only to those seeking to become citizens, not those migrating and settling in Australia on permanent or provisional visas. Special arrangements will be made for those with low levels of literacy or with special needs.

In a section on freedom of religion, the booklet says: "Australia has secular government with no official or state religion. Religious laws have no legal status in Australia." It also tackles the concept of mateship, saying: "Australia has a strong tradition of mateship -- where people help and receive help from others voluntarily, especially in times of adversity. A mate can be a spouse, partner, brother, sister, daughter, son or friend. A mate can also be a total stranger."

In the section Introducing Australia, the guide describes Australia as a nation of immigrants and says the country's history has been built by the efforts of millions of immigrants from 200 countries. Migrants have added to the rich tapestry of Australia, the booklet says, and have become a vital part of our society.

The ANZAC legend is covered, and so is the vexing history of Aboriginal people and their treatment by European settlers. "There has been great debate about how many Aboriginals were killed in the frontier battles. Many more Aboriginals than settlers were killed," it says.

Intending citizens are warned that Australia is also a "sports-crazy" nation and that of all our sporting heroes Donald Bradman is the best-known. While Australian rules is the dominant style of football in four states -- Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania -- more recently soccer has started to attract a larger following among young people.


Threats as a way to improve hospital standards??

A LABOR government would seek to slash GST payments to states if they failed to improve public hospital standards by 2009, triggering Kevin Rudd's threat of a commonwealth takeover. The Labor Leader's office confirmed last night his plan to wrest control of state hospitals would involve a reduction in commonwealth payments to the states "from all sources" of funding.

The admission sparked a prediction by Peter Costello that the premiers would never agree to part with GST revenue. "They will agree with Rudd for an increase in the GST rate to make up the difference," the Treasurer said. Under current arrangements, states spend up to $25 billion a year on public hospitals, including about $9 billion in commonwealth funding. The remainder is funded from their own income, which includes about $40 billion in GST in 2006-07. This is expected to rise to $47.8 billion by 2009-10.

Although the Opposition Leader's office made no further comment, any push to seize GST receipts from the states would almost certainly spark a serious battle between the two levels of government. When the new tax was introduced in 2000, states were guaranteed the entire proceeds of the 10per cent consumption tax and the rates were legislated into existence after months of wrangling. News of a possible GST clawback emerged last night after Mr Rudd had earlier committed a Labor government to spend $220million to provide incentives to general practitioners, specialists, nurses and other health professionals to establish "GP super-clinics" in areas poorly served by doctors. And it also followed a promise from Health Minister Tony Abbott that a re-elected Coalition Government could take over more state hospitals, using its controversial takeover of Devonport's Mersey hospital in Tasmania as a template.

Health policy has been a key pre-election battleground in the past week, with Mr Rudd promising that if elected he would offer $2billion in incentive payments to states for lifting public hospital standards in accordance with agreed benchmarks to be established in his first 100 days in office. But, insisting voters were sick of the inter-governmental blame game, Mr Rudd also said last week that if states failed to deliver improvements by the middle of 2009, he would stage a referendum in 2010 seeking approval for a commonwealth takeover of all public hospitals.

Mr Costello said last night the states would not agree to hand back the money, which he said was more than $16billion in today's terms. Instead, they would demand that Mr Rudd increase the rate ofGST, which now stands at 10per cent. Mr Rudd was unavailable last night to discuss the issue. But his office released a statement saying he hoped to improve hospitals in consultation with states, making a takeover unnecessary. He also repeated his promise to act if states did not lift their game. "This will involve a parallel reduction in the commonwealth outlays to the states and territories from all sources for these hospitals," the statement said. "This includes the Australian Health Care Agreement, specific purpose payments and other such funding arrangements." The response did not directly mention the GST, despite The Australian explicitly asking Mr Rudd's press secretary whether a takeover would require a claw-back of GST receipts.

Asked to clarify last night, the spokesman said no one was available. Earlier, Mr Rudd said Labor's new GP super-clinics were particularly aimed at regional and outer-metropolitan areas unable to attract doctors. The $220million fund would run for four years and include incentive payments to encourage groups of doctors and other health professionals to put all their services under one roof to enhance patients service and convenience. The centres would include consulting rooms for visiting specialists and teaching facilities for medical students and specialist trainees. Incentives would include grants of between $50,000 and $25million to build the centres or renovate existing buildings, plus payments of up to $15,000 for doctors prepared to relocate to work in the centres. "The criteria mean the clinics are most likely to be located in regional towns and outer-metropolitan areas, which are currently poorly served, particularly for commonwealth-funded services," said Mr Rudd's policy document. "Along with incentives to pay for administrative and nursing support, funds could be used to provide for teaching rooms and facilities to make the super-clinics attractive to new graduates, trainees and GP registrars."

Mr Abbott accused Labor of "making up policy as they go". He said Labor was proposing to replace programs that already existed under current arrangements. Earlier, he rejected Labor criticism that his Government's decision to bail out the Mersey Hospital was piecemeal and aimed at securing the marginal seat of Braddon, rather than improving health policy. If the intervention worked, it could be expanded "quite significantly", he told the Nine Network's Sunday program. "The Mersey is the first step. It's not necessarily the last step," he said.


Monday, August 27, 2007

More Greenie foot-shooting: Must wash clothes in cold water

But you would probably have to use more detergent in that case and we know how evil that is. And to get the extra detergent out afterwards you would probably have to use more water and we know how evil that is! The usual Greenie lose-lose situation

THE Victorian Government has launched a new campaign encouraging people to wash clothes in cold water to help cut household energy use. Minister for Climate Change Gavin Jennings today said it was important to encourage cold water washing, as water heating accounts for about 20 per cent of the average home's greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's small and simple actions like washing full loads of clothes in cold water that can make a big collective difference to our environment," Mr Jennings said. "Energy used for heating water for showers, washing and other household tasks costs the average household about $300 each year. "People need hot water to have a shower, but not necessarily to clean their clothes," he said. "By switching to a cold wash, you can cut 80-90 per cent off the running costs of doing a load of washing, and reduce your water heating by almost 10 per cent."


Government indifference to dangerous school bullying

A BOY bullied to the brink of suicide has seen his tormentor follow him to a new school. The boy, now 14, tried to kill himself in the schoolyard when bullying by another Year 5 student became too much. After counselling and psychologist sessions, he enrolled at a secondary school in Mt Eliza. But this week he discovered the bully had changed schools and joined his class. The teenager has penned a plea for help in the hope his plight will be reconsidered by school officials, police and education authorities.

His mother has pulled him out of class and is seeking an intervention order to keep the boys apart if her son returns to the school. She said the situation had brought years of fears flooding back for her son's safety. "When he was at primary school, every time the phone rang I thought it was someone saying he was dead," she said. "That left when the boys went to different schools, but now that feeling is back again."

The boy's mother said the family was seeking legal advice, but felt "hamstrung" by the lack of help it had received. "The police can't help us, the courts won't help us and the school won't do anything - we're helpless," she said. "It seems my son has to be beaten to death before they will actually help him."

In his letter, the boy says: "I want him (the bully) out of my life forever because I don't want what happened in Year 5 and 6 to happen again. "I want him in the past, nowhere near me, not even talking to me." The school this week ruled out any chance of the bully being removed.


Halal meat for prisoners

What's happened to the advice: Don't do the crime if you can't do the time

ALL prisoners at Brisbane's Wolston Correctional Centre are being served halal meat - whether or not they are Muslim. Halal meat is blessed and slaughtered by a Muslim slaughterman and cooked and stored in accordance with religious laws. "Wolston prison provides all prisoners halal meat as it can be sourced at the same price as non-halal meat," a Corrective Services spokesman said. However, only about 10 of the prison's 570 inmates currently request a halal diet.

Last year a Muslim child-sex offender was awarded $2000 compensation because he was not given fresh halal meat while he was in prison. The Anti-Discrimination Tribunal found that the State Government had directly discriminated against Sharif Mahommed while he was in Wolston and Palen Creek correctional centres. The Government appealed against the decision, with Corrective Services Minister Judy Spence saying it could open the floodgates to prisoners requesting "all manner of special diets". The Government lost its appeal.

Special diets given to Queensland prisoners include vegetarian; no pork, ham or bacon; no seafood; Asian; diabetic; soft food; no mushroom; low fat; low salt; no salt; gluten-free; no curry; no pineapple; no lactose; high fibre; and vitamised.


Testing times for migrants

MIGRANTS will face a tough new citizenship test obliging them to endorse the values of mateship and the fair go, as well as learn the English language. For the first time, the Federal Government has laid out what it regards as the 10 essential Australian values every citizen must embrace.

A draft copy of the pamphlet Becoming an Australian Citizen, which will be given to all new citizenship applicants before their test, will be released by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews and Prime Minister John Howard today. It describes Australia as a nation at ease with the world and itself, but lays down a firm obligation on aspiring citizens to respect the nation's core values.

Questions in the citizenship test will range from the types of official flag, the national flower and colours, to sporting heroes, national days, military achievements, convict history and the fate of Aborigines. Migrants can even be asked where the origin of the word Digger comes from, along with the well-known expressions such as Anzac and battler. Migrants will face a 20-question test drawn at random from a list of 200. They must correctly answer 60 per cent.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Don't mention the trousers!

I am told that most people who meet Big Mal have trouble keeping the word "trousers" out of the conversation. I certainly would. I did meet him once but that was when he was still PM

IT'S one of Australia's most enduring and mysterious political scandals. How did Malcolm Fraser end up in the foyer of a seedy Memphis hotel - popular with prostitutes and drug dealers - wearing nothing but a towel and a confused expression? The former prime minister has always refused to comment on his wild night in October 1986, except to offer the Kevin Rudd-like excuse that his drunken American adventure was a blank. Even this week, when questioned about Mr Rudd's 2005 misadventure at the Scores gentleman's club in New York, Mr Fraser would not elaborate on the events of that night.

But 21 years on, the mystery of the Memphis trousers affair has become clearer, with the pants-wearing Fraser -- that is, the ex-PM's wife, Tamie -- speaking for the first time about the scandal. Mrs Fraser says that rather than being angered by her husband's rumoured dalliance with a prostitute, she felt nothing but sympathy towards her "poor old boy". "I wanted to protect him. My heart bled for him. He's such an innocent in some ways," Mrs Fraser says in a soon-to-be released book Stand By Your Man, which profiles the wives of three Australian prime ministers.

Mrs Fraser tells author Susan Mitchell that although she does not believe that her husband spent the night with a prostitute, she would not have been particularly bothered if he had. "He might have gone off with someone here or there at some time but he wouldn't go to a bar to meet someone on the off chance -- they were setting him up. Poor old boy. It's really horrible. He was so embarrassed. And still is."

Mrs Fraser claims that her husband, who was in Memphis in his role as the head of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, was probably "set up" by his fellow delegates. "They were having him on. Poor old boy. Someone must have slipped him a mickey finn as soon as he walked in. He rang me up and told me about it when he got back to his own hotel. There was this awful voice."

At the time, Mr Fraser told a Sydney newspaper he had no recollection of the night, before adding: "I wish I'd never been to bloody Memphis." For his part, Mr Fraser last night declined an invitation to remark further on the incident at the Admiral Benbow Inn. "I'm not making any comment on that," the 77-year-old said.

The Memphis episode has gained mythical status in Australian political circles over the past two decades, ranking alongside the 1987 passing of former Liberal party leader Billy Snedden, who famously died while "on the job", and the long-running affair between the Whitlam government's treasurer, Jim Cairns, and his secretary, Junie Morosi.

Last year, The Weekend Australian revealed that 61-year-old Snedden suffered a fatal heart attack while having sex with one of his son's former girlfriends in a Sydney motel. And while it is yet to be seen if Mr Rudd's trip to a New York strip club retains any kind of notoriety in the years to come, some entrepreneurs are already profiting from the nocturnal adventures of Australia's alternative prime minister. Stand By Your Man, which includes profiles of Tamie Fraser, Janette Howard and Sonia McMahon, is published by Random House and will be released on October 1.


Uluru drink ban hits tourists

Sheer idiocy. Why punish everybody for the alcohol problems of a few?

ENJOYING a cold beer or wine while watching the sunset at Uluru will be banned from next month as part of the crackdown on alcohol on Aboriginal land. The tradition of a chilled "sundowner" will be banned as part of the Federal Government's intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities to stamp out alcohol-related child abuse.

Chairman of the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association Steve Rattray said the ban would spoil the experience for many travellers, thousands of whom gather each day to watch a sunset over Uluru. The ban is sure to prove particularly annoying for the growing number of "Grey Nomad" tourists, who spend much of their time in the Top End and Western Australia travelling through areas similarly affected by the alcohol bans.

"What has happened is that under the restrictions of alcohol on Aboriginal land you will be able to drive through Aboriginal land with alcohol but you can no longer drink it or dispose of it," a spokeswoman for Parks Australia said. "Uluru is on Aboriginal land which is why the bans affect people who are visiting the Rock." The ban will not apply to the nearby Ayers Rock Resort. The new rules come into effect on September 14.


Greenie mythology gets expensive

HOUSEHOLDS will have to pay up to $6.5 billion extra from 2012 to replace their electric hot water systems under a Labor plan to impose an effective ban on the appliances as part of its strategy to cut greenhouse emissions. Under the ban, up to half of all Australian households will have to switch to expensive solar hot water systems when their old electric tanks fail. Each solar hot water system will cost about $2800 more than a standard electric system replacement.

Labor will offset this higher cost by extending the $1000 solar rebate already promised by the Howard Government. It will also offer low-interest loans in the hope that projected energy savings of up to $300 a year will help households pay for the transition. But the Master Plumbers Association has warned that the scheme will need to be backed by a rigorous assessment process before each system is changed to ensure households do not simply install the cheapest possible system, which may deliver almost no greenhouse and cost benefit.

Every year there are about 800,000 hot water system replacements in Australia, with about 45,000 of these new solar systems. About 5 per cent of Australian households have solar hot water installed, while about 40per cent are able to install gas hot water systems that will comply with Labor's new energy efficiency standards. Taking into account homes exempt from the ban -- such as some apartments -- and the solar rebate, it will still cost households up to $650 million a year to switch over to solar energy. It will take about 10 years to replace the entire stock of electric water heaters. The cost to households may be reduced by the extension of existing state and local government rebates for solar systems. The national solar rebate proposed by Labor could cost the commonwealth up to $4 billion over the life of the scheme, with other subsidies only transferring more cost from households to taxpayers.

The switch to more expensive solar systems will be more common in NSW and Queensland because of lower rates of gas reticulation, while electric systems in Tasmania may be exempt because the state's high use of hydro electricity means its mains energy supply is likely to meet the required greenhouse emissions standard.

The ban is also likely to affect some property investors who will meet the cost of shifting to solar energy but will be unable to benefit from lower energy bills paid by their tenants.

The national ban announced this week by Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett goes beyond the phase-out of greenhouse-intensive electric hot water systems in new homes already introduced in South Australia and Queensland, and in Western Australia from September 1 this year. In Victoria, new homes already require either a solar hot water system or a rainwater tank. Labor's national electric hot water ban will begin in new houses from 2010, with exemptions for multi-storey apartments as part of its Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards that will be applied to a range of household appliances. Heating water accounts for about 28 per cent of household energy consumption. Shifting from electric to solar or gas hot water is considered one of the best ways of improving energy efficiency in households, although solar systems still require a supplementary gas or electric heating source.

Master Plumbers Association training manager Gary Workman expects the industry will manage the jump in more time-consuming solar installations after 2012, with about 5000 of Australia's 60,000 plumbers already trained under a green plumbers program.

Mr Garrett said the implementation of the new standards would be done in close co-ordination with industry and state and local governments. "Australians want to embrace climate-friendly solutions and we think that this policy will be well-supported by the public," he said.

Labor has already flagged amore comprehensive energy rating scheme for major household appliances and a tighter review of standards. Its offer of low-interest loans worth up to $10,000 per household can be used to install water and efficiency measures including insulation, rain tanks and solar panels.

In February, the Howard Government announced it would ban the sale of incandescent lightbulbs from 2009 and in May it doubled the rebate for the installation of rooftop photovoltaic cells. Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull last night said the Government had already committed $252 million to help subsidise the replacement of electric hot water systems. He said the Government's existing Minimum Energy Performance standards already apply to hot water heaters, refrigerators, airconditioners and other household appliances. "This is yet another example of Labor playing catch-up on the federal Government's policies," he said.

Mr Workman said the high cost of installing solar systems meant there was a risk a ban on electric systems could see households simply switch to the cheapest compliant system without factoring the longer-term cost or greenhouse benefits. "The reason 95per cent of Australians do a like-for-like replacement is because it's the quickest and cheapest to do," Mr Workman said. He said Labor's proposal needed to take into account specific local conditions that would make the installation of solar systems expensive and inefficient.


Dear Mr Burglar, please be good

This does sound pretty absurd but it has some logic to it

POLICE are set to unveil their latest weapon in the fight against burglary -- asking crooks to stop. In a new scheme to be rolled out statewide, police will visit or write to repeat offenders asking them to come forward and seek help. Acting assistant commissioner of police region five Gavin Barry said the plan was aimed at persuading people to confront whatever caused their offending. He said those who responded could be helped into counselling programs aimed at curbing drug, alcohol, gambling or any other addiction generating their need to steal.

Letters have been sent to recidivist burglars in Frankston, which is part of region five. "It outlines we're aware they've got some issues," Mr Barry said. A high percentage of burglaries in Victoria are caused by offenders trying to get money to feed their addictions. Mr Barry said Victoria Police would always try to catch those who committed burglaries but it was also important to try to stop them happening in the first place. "It's to try to break the cycle of offending or dependency," he said. "It's really a proactive strategy. We can go on locking people up ad nauseam but that's not dealing with any of the underlying issues."

Mr Barry said the strategy had been launched in Frankston six weeks ago and was expected to spread statewide. "It's an example of police taking the initiative to try something different," he said. Mr Barry conceded the idea might not appeal to all recipients of a letter or visit from the police asking them to change their ways. "Obviously, not everyone will take up the offer," he said. Mr Barry said it might have its critics in the wider community but fresh strategies had a track record of success in things such as road toll reduction.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Stupid accusations of racism from the arty-farties

They are so pathetic that they need to denigrate ordinary people in order to feel good about themselves

NATASHA Puatjimi doesn't fit the script. Well, not the script that's waved at us by film director George Miller. Miller, you might recall, claims there's a very good reason Australian films bomb at the box office. "Australia at its heart is so racist that I don't think we can stomach it." It's odd that being bored through the floor by angsty films such as Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Bubby - blurbed as the story of "a 35-year-old man-child, confined his whole life by his domineering mother, who uses him for sex, to a two-room tenement apartment" - should be hailed by Miller as proof of racism.

That seems about as strange as .... well, as a Tiwi Islander girl like Natasha this week beating 170 boys to be voted best and fairest of the Yarra Junior Football League under-13 competition.

But the even greater mystery is why Miller and so many other artists and ideologues insist on believing we really are sick-makingly racist. How glibly - and often - that preposterous claim is made. "Racism is as Australian as lamingtons," sneered art critic Robert Hughes, author of the bad-us history The Fatal Shore. We're so racist we "invite the region's contempt", sniffed former diplomat and arts bureaucrat Alison Broinowski.

Racist! What a cop-out that gleeful slur has been for those who'd rather abuse than understand. Who'd rather preen than confront an awkward truth. Here's how it's worked.

Pauline Hanson's one million votes? All racists, you were told. And don't dare ask who those voters were truly rejecting. (Hint: think not poor blacks but powerful whites.)

The "stolen generations"? Oh, just priests, nuns, welfare officials, police and politicians being as racist as always, school textbooks preached. Don't even start to look at what hell those children were "stolen" from.

The Cronulla riot? Yet more racism, you silly person. And if you ask what so provoked the crowd, you must be a racist, too.

And now again, yet more lines from this same tatty Miller script. Listen to them. The National Sorry Day Committee dismisses the Howard Government's $500 million intervention in the Northern Territory's sickest Aboriginal communities as just proof of "the intent for the dog of 'white supremacy' to return to its vomit". Muriel Bamblett, of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, waves it off as politicians "blowing the dog whistle of racism" because - note - "the Australian public are too racist and too uncaring of indigenous children" to give real help.

As I said: straight out of Miller's script. But now the big question: Is there actually a part in that script for Natasha Puatjimi? Can Miller fit in a part for a girl who is in fact one of those very same "indigenous children" from the Territory, who we are supposedly "too racist and too uncaring" to help? I'm sure you know of Natasha already. After all, we at the Herald Sun thought you'd be so glad to hear of her success that we ran her picture and story on our front page yesterday. As did The Age. The television stations, led by men with an anxious eye on what makes viewers reach for the remote, similarly decided - unanimously - Natasha's was a story the public would love.

Believe me, if these ratings-driven robots shared Miller's venomous view of Australians, they'd never show so much eager footage of a black girl making good. Not to a land fierce with rednecks. But while you've heard Natasha's story, you may have missed some details that help to make my point - that in her trophy we see reflected an Australia brighter than is modish to admit. Take, for instance, how she came to be in Melbourne. A Melbourne woman, Fiona Hogan, met Natasha's parents while working at a Tiwi Islands medical clinic and was asked if Natasha could stay with her in Melbourne to get a better education.

Think, also, of the other goodwill Natasha has been given. Her Ivanhoe club last year offered her an exchange, and now that she's in Melbourne gave her a chance to shine as ruck-rover. How much goodwill? On trophy night, said Natasha, "everyone was looking at me and when they read out that I got 27 votes I heard the most cheering ever". By the next morning she was on radio, confessing that her favourite player was Essendon's Adam McPhee, and within hours she was at Windy Hill, having a kick with him and a chat to coach Kevin Sheedy, who has done so much for Aboriginal players.

Tell me again, Mr Miller, that ours is a country sick with racists and show me in your script where Natasha fits in. How many other signs have there been of our essential good nature? Only the wilfully blind could miss them.

Many of you will have your small proofs, as I have mine - like the day Danny, my best friend at Tarcoola Primary, was made captain of our sports team and carried in triumph on the shoulders of my father and another teacher when he sealed our win in the carnival against Cook and Kingoonya. Oh, I forgot a small fact that was then inconsequential: Danny was Aboriginal.

But almost every day come more stories - usually underreported - to show that for every racist you could drag out to damn, there are dozens of the decent you could instead praise. Here's one of the latest: when the Government said it was going in to help the Aboriginal children of the NT's worst camps, more than 500 doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, surgeons and the like rang a hotline to see if they could help. Free. More than 100 volunteers have already now gone to the Outback to serve - in this intervention vilified as a "genocide" and a proof of our "racism".

So a plea: can our artists stop pinning on us this badge of undeserved shame? Can our preachers stop celebrating a wickedness that isn't really ours? Can our writers define us by the many, not the few, and write instead a story that sees us more as we truly are: not perfect, but not that bad, either? In that revised script for Mr Miller, let's have that scene in which Natasha holds up her trophy to a cheering crowd. And let's have Miller, with all his art, shoot it in a way that makes clear the truth of that happy moment. Which truth? That it wasn't Natasha alone who won that trophy for the best and the fairest. A small bit of it - the base, maybe - was shared by us all.


No-debate abortion law changes in Victoria

ABORTION is a divisive issue, and rightly so. It compels us to interrogate matters of life and death. It is silly to say that it provokes just intense feelings. Abortion usually provokes the most intense feelings. It is also wrong to assume that voters are irrevocably separated into two camps. While individuals disagree about what the law should allow, no one can deny that we are at least united in the belief that abortion is important.

However, whether you are pro-choice, pro-life or undecided, if the politicians get their way there will be no choice for voters regarding Victorian abortion law. This is because, pending the outcome of a Victorian Law Reform Commission review announced this week, John Brumby's Government will change the Victorian Crimes Act so as to decriminalise abortion.

The Liberal Opposition supports this attempt. Such a move would represent the most serious disturbance of abortion laws in almost 40 years. We are right to ask, then, what led to this historic shift in policy? Certainly, you would never have known about the proposed changes if you had relied on the Victorian ALP and Liberal websites in the lead-up to the most recent state election. Keyword searches of both returned zero matches. Abortion was also not mentioned in any public campaign material or major policy documents.

Why not? Who decided that one view in this fraught debate was the right view for all voters? The electorate has certainly never unambiguously agreed to a change in the law along these lines. Perhaps it is a pragmatic matter, something like "now or never"? It is not hard to guess why a politician might prefer to attempt radical change by stealth.

The US state of South Dakota voted in February 2006 to ban all abortions, followed by the African nation of Kenya. Isolated instances, sure, but in many places, for the first time since the turbulence of the 1960s and '70s, clear majorities have indicated a deep unease about abortion. Even in liberal New York state, Hillary Clinton, usually billed as a pro-choice warrior, has said that "every abortion is a tragedy".

Many Australians who once supported, or still support, the idea of a "woman's right to choose" now find their certainty challenged by the modern abortion industry. Some cannot believe that at certain large hospitals abortions outnumber live births. Many others are unwilling to accept that abortion is a "routine medical procedure", pointing to its harmful effects on women. Many of these people are feminists. Others are pro-lifers newly sensitive to the suffering of that other putative victim of abortion: the mother.

Also increasingly, voters, especially young Australians, find the argument for the sanctity of human life compelling. Abortion is wrong, they maintain, because it is the wilful murder of an innocent human being. Even pro-abortion advocates usually agree that a move towards less regulation is a step in the wrong direction. Comparable jurisdictions are introducing tighter restrictions. Britain is reducing the time allowable in line with medical advances with premature babies. Other places are adding parental consent and other notifications. In a 2004 interview with the Sunday Herald Sun, Governor-General Michael Jeffery expressed these mainstream sentiments when he said 100,000 abortions a year in Australia were too many and that "we all have to work together to keep it at an absolute minimum".

Whatever your stance, this clearly makes a lie of Brumby's claim to be motivated by the need to bring Victorian laws into step with "community sentiment". The sentiment is against an increase in abortions. Certainly, it would be wrong to conclude, as Brumby's actions imply he has, that the abortion debate has somehow ended. It remains as contentious as ever. Similarly, the fact that senior ministers just this week refused to support a private member's bill that would have wrought a similar change on the law reinforces that public attitudes are not as settled as Brumby's move implies. If they were, no member would be scared of the backlash his vote (either way) might unleash. It also indicates that politicians have serious doubts about the issue on the level of conscience, surely something that must not be arrogantly side-stepped.

If there is indeed growing public sentiment against abortion, or at least against any move that might increase the number of abortions in Victoria, and a majority of parliamentarians are unwilling to vote for the change, why is it still being considered, let alone treated as a foregone conclusion? This situation cannot stand. Brumby must allow the voters to express their will through the ballot box, or at least allow members to vote with their conscience on the private member's bill. If the initiative fails either test, and so far the move to decriminalise abortion in Victoria has failed both, he must shelve his plans. Not least because any shonky Victorian change along these lines would, presumably, provide a precedent for similar changes across the country.

Indeed, at this time, the law in NSW and in Queensland is almost identical to the Victorian law on abortion. The unfairness visited on Victorian voters could spread across borders. Such an outcome would represent, surely, one of the most anti-democratic outcomes in Australian history and it would apply to an issue that most of us consider crucial. This is not a scenario anyone, regardless of his or her views, should prefer.


The Leftist solution to health-service shortages: More bureaucracy

Kevin Rudd has started to show his interventionist side. The toon below notes that the State governments would be glad to unload responsibility for their problematical hospital systems onto the Feds

VOWING to take personal responsibility for fixing Australia's public hospital system, Kevin Rudd has given away his administrative bent, backing it up with a small carrot and a big stick. In dollar terms, a pledge to spend an extra $2billion over four years is small change in the context of the total healthcare budget. The potential meat in Labor's plan is the establishment of a National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission to sort out the cross jurisdictional healthcare mess that allows each level of government to blame the other for its shortcomings. The proposed reform commission will negotiate a framework to clearly define the state and federal responsibilities in healthcare.

On one hand, the Opposition Leader's plan could amount to no more than an election-year promise that lacks substance and is designed to foil John Howard's opportunistic pledge to prop up a small Devonport hospital in Tasmania as part of a strategy to muscle up against Labor state governments. On the other hand, Labor's plan could represent the first concrete evidence of the highly interventionist style we could expect from Mr Rudd.

Mr Rudd has a history of heavy involvement shaking up health and education bureaucracies from his time as former Queensland premier Wayne Goss's top public servant. As well as cutting back public sector spending, Mr Rudd helped create a 10-year plan to refurbish Queensland's major hospital buildings. His process-driven reform pedigree is showing in the proposed reform commission, to be established in the first 100 days of a Labor win. Labor has pledged to provide financial incentive payments to state and federal governments who deliver better outcomes to patients. The big stick is the threat of a commonwealth takeover of Australia's 750 public hospitals if state and territory governments can't agree to a national reform plan by mid-2009.

Mr Rudd has proposed a referendum to secure a public mandate for any takeover, after which local communities would have a direct say in management of public hospitals with responsibility for the quality of patient care and funding resting with the commonwealth. In a Whitlamesque refashioning of commonwealth responsibilities, states would effectively be cut out of the loop on health. Mr Rudd says this would put an end to the blame game between Canberra and the states on health and hospital funding.

Mr Rudd has taken personal responsibility for the plan, declaring that as prime minister the buck would stop with him. While Queensland Premier Peter Beattie was quick to welcome a commonwealth takeover of what has been a continuing political train wreck for his Government, other state leaders were not so quick to embrace it. West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter rejected the plan, saying he did not believe the federal Government could do the job better than the states. South Australian Premier Mike Rann pledged to work with Mr Rudd to eliminate duplication and plug gaps in service delivery but stopped short of endorsing a commonwealth takeover of responsibility. So did Victorian Premier John Brumby, who said it was a good plan but a takeover would not be necessary. NSW Premier Morris Iemma said he welcomed a more results-based funding system.

While another bureaucracy is the last thing Australia's already cumbersome public health industry needs, properly focused, a reform commission might well be necessary to find what has proved to be an elusive solution to an obvious problem. As it is, the commonwealth is accused by the states of avoiding its responsibilities in aged care, leaving elderly people stranded in public hospital beds. The states are accused of shunting hospital costs from hospital budgets onto commonwealth-funded GPs. The public is wise enough to know that however healthcare is delivered, the full cost comes from the public purse.

The sensible thing is to make the healthcare system as streamlined and efficient as possible. This includes encouraging those who can afford it to take out private hospital insurance to take pressure off the public system. It includes making sure the public properly understands that the Medicare levy at its present level funds only a small fraction of the total healthcare bill and that, because of the enormous sums involved, no system will ever be capable of providing full treatment on demand for any ailment.

No one understands the political ramifications of taking the eye off the public hospital ball more than Mr Beattie, which probably explains why he was quick to support Mr Rudd's plan for a commonwealth takeover of responsibility. Queensland's health dilemma is made more acute by the fact it has a rapidly growing population, including many retirees to remote coastal locations where few if any health services are available. The reluctance of other state leaders to lose direct control will hopefully ensure they will co-operate with the reform commission process.

Traditionally, health is recognised as a strong suit for Labor. Mr Rudd appears to have embraced the challenge and deserves encouragement to get it right. It would be disappointing, however, if Labor's promise turned out to be little more than the creation of a new body designed primarily to strengthen Canberra's hand when it comes to indulging in the blame game with the states over health.


Absurd government water-storage failure

Greenie-influenced Leftist politicians have repeatedly backed away from plans to build badly-needed new dams

DESPITE the best winter rainfalls in eight years, southeast Queensland's dams have barely registered an increase in storage levels. The strong winds that have buffeted the southeast coast eased today, but rain continued to fall, particularly on the Sunshine and Gold coasts. Since 9am (AEST) today almost 40mm fell at Maroochydore and over 50mm at Noosa Heads on the Sunshine Coast. However, the Wivenhoe, Somerset and North Pine dams received an average of just 1mm of rain overnight and today, SEQWater said. Since rain began falling in the southeast region on Saturday, the storage levels have risen by just 0.05 per cent to 16.77 per cent. "It appears we have once again got to a stage where our catchment received a solid soaking, but follow-up rain needed to trigger significant inflows has not eventuated," SEQWater operations manager Rob Drury said. Since June 1, almost 150mm was recorded across the three dams, the best falls since 1999.

"On the positive side, this winter has delivered a major unexpected bonus - the best winter rainfall in eight years, adding an extra one-month supply to our dams," Mr Drury said. State Emergency Service (SES) crews are continuing the clean up after this week's strong winds, which gusted to more than 100km/h in some parts. More than 200 SES volunteers spent today clearing fallen trees and debris, and repairing leaky roofs on the Sunshine Coast, although heavy rain in the area slowed their progress. Electricity provider Energex said up to 4000 homes on the Gold Coast remained blacked out today, with crews working to restore power as soon as possible.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Patients walking out of government hospital emergency rooms untreated

After many hours of waiting. Some are just too ill to sit it out any further

PATIENTS are more likely to leave the Sunshine Hospital's emergency department before treatment than any other Melbourne ER. Figures tabled in State Parliament show 4657 patients walked out of the Sunshine emergency department last year, a rate of 7.6 per cent. The average across Melbourne during 2006 was 5 per cent, or 31,437 people. This was an increase from 30,152 patients in 2005. The official figures show fewer than 1 per cent of patients walk out, against medical advice, after treatment has started.

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said Melbourne's major hospital emergency departments were not coping. "People are giving up and walking out," Ms Shardey said. "Of more concern is the fact we don't know what happened to these people." Ms Shardey said the figures were in contrast to claims by Health Minister Daniel Andrews that Victoria had a first-class health system. "He is failing to recognise that Victorians are just not getting the treatment they deserve in urgent situations because our major hospitals are simply not coping," Ms Shardey said.

Australian Medical Association Victorian president Doug Travis said hospitals lacked the resources to cope with demand. "(Patients) wait half an hour, one hour, two hours, and they walk out," Dr Travis said. "What we need is a commitment from the Government to understand the fact we don't have enough capacity in the system."

A spokesman for the Health Minister said Victoria's emergency departments were rated as the best in Australia. "More than half of all patients were seen by a doctor or nurse in a Victorian hospital within 19 minutes of arrival compared to the national average of 24 minutes," spokesman Tim Pigot said. [What amazing bull! The wait is 3 to 8 hours]


At last: Three-months' jail for persistent graffiti vandal

A GRAFFITI vandal has been jailed after a judge overturned a court's decision not to convict him over a five-year wave of attacks that caused $50,000 damage. Noam Jason Shoan, 25, was yesterday sentenced in the County Court to three months' jail over 42 counts of criminal damage carried out on Melbourne's public transport network between 2001 and 2006. Judge Tim Wood said a magistrate's decision in March this year not to convict Shoan and to place him on a community-based order was "totally inadequate".

Shoan's relatives cried loudly and one relative accused Judge Wood of "wrecking our family" as Shoan was led from the dock. Judge Wood said Shoan needed to take responsibility for the destruction he caused. "It's not a case of a young person in a moment of madness damaging property," he said. "It was not your right, in the name of art, to damage the property of others."

The jail term was imposed after the Director of Public Prosecutions won an appeal against a sentence imposed on Shoan in Melbourne Magistrates' Court. It is believed to be the first time in Victoria a graffiti vandal has been sent to prison for such a stretch. This year, NSW vandal Derek Allen spent one day in custody after he was caught breaking into a Carrum Downs train holding yard and spray-painting anti-nuclear slogans on several trains. Allen was fined $1200 and freed the next day.

Residents Against Graffiti Everywhere president Steve Beardon praised Judge Wood for being tough on graffiti vandals, saying it would send them a clear message.

The County Court heard Shoan, of Mt Eliza, was part of a graffiti group dubbed 70k - for '70s Kids - that defaced Melbourne's train network and several CBD buildings with tags such as "Renks" and the notorious "Stan and Bonez" signatures. The wave of vandalism, which included 8m murals of Shoan's markings sprayed on countless trains, caused more than $50,000 damage. He was arrested in July 2005 after police raided his father's St Kilda flat and found 46 spray cans and artwork featuring his "Renks" tag.

In March, magistrate Sarah Dawes chose not to convict Shoan because she said it would interfere with his prospects of working overseas as a graphic designer. "You are a talented artist and I accept you are genuine in your remorse," she said. Shoan was "a hard-working young man who pulls his weight at work and at home", Ms Dawes said back then. She ordered Shoan do 250 hours of community service and pay $30,000 restitution to companies, including Connex, Yarra Trams and V/Line.

Judge Wood yesterday overturned the ruling, saying it was far too lenient. He said Shoan had set out to commit a "sustained and relentless project of damaging property" and deserved jail. "(It was) so prolific that it required a special police unit to put an end to your activities," Judge Wood said. Shoan was convicted on each of the 42 criminal damage charges.

Police set up the transit safety divisional response unit seven years ago to tackle the graffiti scourge and other transport safety problems. The unit has been responsible for catching some of the state's most destructive vandals, including Shoan, "Vosco" tagger Simon Nelsen and several interstate vandals in Melbourne on "graffiti tours".

Mr Beardon said the community would welcome the tough stance against vandals. "It shows this is a crime against the community that costs us a lot of money and will no longer be tolerated," Mr Beardon said.


Australia Stocks Climb for Fourth Day as Subprime Concern Fades

Australian stocks rose for a fourth day, wiping out losses this month. BHP Billiton Ltd. led gains by companies with growing earnings, while Macquarie Bank Ltd. surged on signs the U.S. subprime housing crisis is easing. BHP, the world's biggest mining company, rallied 5.8 percent after saying second-half profit rose to a record. Macquarie, Australia's biggest securities firm which lost money on subprime investments, surged 5.7 percent after the biggest U.S. mortgage lender received an infusion of capital.

``The reporting season has been reasonably good, there haven't been too many disappointments,'' said Jason Teh, who helps manage $6.5 billion at Investors Mutual Ltd. in Sydney. ``Sentiment works both ways, and it looks like sentiment today is coming back into the market in a positive way.''

The S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 159.50, or 2.7 percent, to 6,164.50 as of 11:45 a.m. in Sydney, as more than 12 stocks climbed for each that fell. The gauge advanced 5.9 percent in the past three days, after falling as much as 7.7 percent from the end of July. The S&P/ASX 200 Index's futures contract for September rose 2.4 percent to 6,166. The broader All Ordinaries Index added 2.6 percent to 6,155.40.

BHP rose A$2.02, or 5.7 percent, to A$37.42. The company reported an eighth consecutive record profit of $7.2 billion yesterday on continued global demand for commodities.


Students warned against APEC protests

The Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting next month will include many heads of government, including George Bush, so it is a big occasion (for hot air and not much else) and Australian Leftists are planning to parade themselves in big "protests" at the time. And, in their usual way, they will try to rope in naive school students

NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca says parents should not allow their school-aged children to participate in major APEC protests because they could find themselves in a potentially "dangerous situation". Mr Della Bosca says major protest groups such as Resistance, Mutiny and the Stop Bush Coalition were actively recruiting students to attend APEC protests early next month.

Other recent major protests in Australia and overseas showed they were often not peaceful events, despite organisers' assurances, he said. "Experience has taught us that while the intention of students may be to take part in a peaceful protest, there are some people in the community and some activists groups with anti-social intentions," Mr Della Bosca said. "They have in the past manipulated such protests and put the well-being of young people involved at risk. "Students have found themselves suddenly in the middle of a dangerous situation or a clash with police for which they were not prepared, did not want, and could not control."

Mr Della Bosca said a major protest was planned for Wednesday, September 5, and this was a school day. He said students should remain "at school during school hours under the supervision of their teachers and principals where they are safe". "If students learn their friends or classmates are planning to attend these protests, they should warn them of the dangers involved or discuss the situation with their teachers and principals," Mr Della Bosca said. He also said he had written to the state's school principals and they would also seek to emphasise to parents the risks posed by the protests.

Stop Bush Coalition spokesman Alex Bainbridge said students had a right to voice opposition and concern over global issues such as the war in Iraq and global warming and, domestically, on industrial relations. "They might be missing a day's school but really in the scheme of things, that is a very small price to pay when the issues at stake are saving people's lives in Iraq or global warming, like the future of humanity," Mr Bainbridge said. "I think young people have opinions, they're quite entitled to express them. "It is a lot of speculation and hype really," he added. "I think the government has really hyped up the threat of violence at our protest when the real violence is coming from the Howard government."


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Andrew Bolt on Rudd's hypocrisy

Or, to put the above heading into broad Australian: "Bolty thinks Rudd is bunging on an act and not being fair dinkum" ("Bunging on an act" is a great sin in a traditional Australian scale of values. Fair dinkum = sincere, genuine)

THERE'S an even funnier joke than the one about the drunken Christian socialist who walked into a strip joint. It's the joke Labor leader Kevin Rudd has made of his defence. How we've laughed. And how we should again wonder if Rudd is all spin and no traction.

Like most Australians, I suspect, I barely care that Rudd when blind still got an eyeful at Scores, which ABC newsreaders at first delicately referred to as a New York "gentlemen's club". After all, nothing Rudd did reflects much on what kind of Prime Minister he'd make, and so much of it seems out of character, anyway. I'm sure he's not a regular drunk, and drank himself paralytic this time only to impress the famously gregarious Col Allan, the powerful editor of the New York Post who was not only his host but is said to have the ear of our boss, Rupert Murdoch. Same story with the lap-dancing dive. I'm sure Rudd just tagged along, and Allan thought he'd give this eager bloke something to steam his glasses.

I'm just speculating, mind. Just as I'd guess Allan wouldn't dream of doing the same to John Howard. So, all that we worldly types can gather from this jaunt - as we did from Rudd's busy courting of the disgraced Labor numbers man Brian Burke - is that perhaps Rudd is a little too eager to impress, and a little less sure of himself than he pretends.

Yet that's not the real political damage done to him by this frolic. The true problem with this self-confessed "old-fashioned Christian socialist" winding up blotto in a strip joint is that it's a category error. Like an elephant in tap-dancing shoes, something doesn't quite fit. Either Scores didn't really seem like a strip club - which has been Rudd's hilarious defence. Or Rudd isn't quite the pure package he's wrapped himself to be - which may for many voters become the real question, even if subconsciously.

Just who is this man? Take away the flimflam, what do you really have left, other than an aching ambition? That's a noose that Rudd makes even tighter with each of his increasingly odd explanations of when exactly he figured he was surrounded by strippers, and should be leaving.

Which gives us another category error: a man who this month preached to evangelical Christians about his faith and is again boasting of "levelling completely with the Australian public" is actually telling a string of porkies [lies]. Indeed, Rudd is demonstrating the truth of what any PR pro would tell him: It's not the stripping that hurts you, but the covering up afterwards.

Observe: Scores not only has a spotlit stage with strippers, but is crawling with tectonically-arranged women who sit topless with you for a drink and will dance in your lap for dollars. Even Ray Charles would have noticed. Yet, Rudd says for the life of him he can't remember any ... you know. Here he is with Channel Nine's Laurie Oakes:

Oakes: Were there semi-naked women there and what were they doing?

Rudd: Well, Laurie, because I had actually drunk a fair bit, I don't have a completely clear recollection . . . We can't actually recall anything that you wouldn't see at most pubs across Australia . . .

Huh? Most pubs now have lapdancers? Or is Rudd really insisting he was too blind to see bared breasts? Kerry O'Brien of the ABC's 7.30 Report got much the same mendacious answer from Mr "Levelling Completely":

O'Brien: Can we just get this straight - you can or you can't remember things from being in that club?

Rudd: What I can absolutely recall is that there was nothing inappropriate as far as my behaviour was concerned . . .

(Gee. Too drunk to remember the strippers, but not too drunk to remember not touching them. How does that work?)

O'Brien: But can you remember seeing lap dancers performing?

Rudd: Look, what I can recall in terms of the actual venue itself was that not much more than you would see in the last 20 years in certain of the pubs in Australia, I've got to say.

O'Brien: But . . . you don't see lap dancing in most pubs in Australia. Can you recall seeing lap dancers performing while you were there?

Rudd: No, I can't.

Whew. Glad Rudd finally cleared that up. Or did he? Because despite saying he saw nothing inappropriate - certainly no lap-dancers - he still says he should have left as soon as he saw he was in, er, a lap-dancing club:

Oakes: I suppose the question is why, when you saw what the club was like, you didn't leave again straightway?

Rudd: Well, that's true, and that is a fair question. I think when you are there with a couple of blokes and you've already had a few too many drinks, which I had had on that evening, then I think it is always better to see these things with hindsight. I should have got out of there.

So, did Rudd see strippers or not? Rudd even says he rang his wife the very next day to apologise for ... for what? For having been in a bar with not one lap dancer in sight?

Rudd: Well, I spoke to Therese the following day ... and said that I'd been out with Warren and with Col and ended up at a club, which is a place I shouldn't have been.

Hmm. Sounds like he damn well knew where he'd been and was in a panic. No thanks for the mammaries. There's much more of this laughable same, but you get the centrefold picture. The issue isn't the utterly trivial one of whether Rudd saw naked strippers or not. It's how frantically he'll spin, in order to mislead - even on something so minor. And how obvious that spin is. Again and again Rudd hammers the line that his pollsters have clearly told him works best - whether true or not - in drawing a contrast with soiled Howard. Here it is: "My responsibility is simply to be upfront and accountable for my own actions." And repeat this.

Straight from the focus group. No doubt it will work for the many who lazily buy spin, and don't check for substance, but too much such spinning may soon make Rudd seem too slick and insubstantial. Even now, I wonder how much more can he get away with. Look already. He poses as so tough with Labor's union thugs he kicks out one for swearing, yet promises laws that the same tough gloats will let him "coerce" bosses. Likewise, he's the leader who's put Left-wingers in his key economic portfolios, yet claims he's an economic "conservative".

On it goes. He's the mini-Howard who claims there's not a "slither (sic) of light" between his budgetary policies and the Prime Minister's, yet voted against almost every Howard reform. He's the planet saver who promises to slash our greenhouse gases by 60 per cent by 2050, yet offers not a single voter-scaring policy that comes close to meeting that $2 trillion-plus aim. He's the tough-on-bastard-bosses workers' friend, yet has no criticism of his own millionaire wife for stripping employees of basic conditions for just 45 cents an hour. He's the man who calms business leaders by making Sir Rod Eddington his chief business adviser, yet releases a recklessly pro-unions workplace policy without letting Eddington see it.

Spin, spin, spin. Say what's in your interests, not on your mind. Talk tough to those who want tough, and soft to those who like cuddles. But at some stage it won't all fit - like that drunk Christian with the strippers. Like the Mr "Levelling Completely" who can't be sure he saw the lap-dancers who made him say sorry to his wife. Who agreed to play along with Channel Seven's fake dawn service. Who embroidered a tragedy of his boyhood. You will then wonder: just who is this man, so very eager now to please, and what will he really be like if we make him Prime Minister? Will he still remember us in the morning?


Green/Left paranoia about the Brethren continues

The Green/Left are determined to "get" conservative Christians who campaign against them. And when the Prime Minister meets with the Elect Vessel, the paranoia becomes full-blown. I suspect that, in their heart of hearts, Leftists feel that these religious guys might really have powers not available to ordinary men

JOHN Howard has held a private meeting with the most senior leaders of the Exclusive Brethren, including a man under investigation by police over his massive spending on the Prime Minister's 2004 election campaign. In his parliamentary office two weeks ago, Mr Howard met Sydney pump salesman Mark Mackenzie, whose former company, Willmac, funnelled $370,000 into pro-Howard advertising at the last election. Willmac's spending was later investigated by the Australian Electoral Commission's disclosure arm, and then referred to the Australian Federal Police for a criminal investigation, which is continuing. Also at the August 8 meeting were the secretive sect's world leader, or "Elect Vessel", Bruce D. Hales, his brother Stephen and elder Warwick John.

A Brethren spokesman confirmed to The Age yesterday that the meeting had taken place, but emphatically denied they had asked for Mr Howard's help on the police investigation or offered him support for his campaign against Maxine McKew in Bennelong.

Mr Howard's office said only that he had met members of the Brethren, as he did with a "wide range of groups", and would "continue to do so".

The Brethren spokesman said the elders had "assured the Prime Minister that they were praying for him". "There was absolutely no dialogue concerning Willmac, just as there was no discussion about . Bennelong," he said. "The members of the church primarily assured Prime Minister Howard that they were praying for him, as the leader of the Government, and then went on to discuss the economy. "This was a last-minute opportunity that presented itself. There was no agenda or pre-arranged discussion topics, simply an opportunity to greet Prime Minister Howard. "These mysterious campaign plans being suggested are wild speculation and the reality is they aren't there."

The spokesman also said that the Brethren's private schools, which benefit from millions of dollars of federal funding, were not discussed, nor was the Government's policy to exclude unions from Brethren workplaces. The spokesman added that, in the context of Mr Howard and Kevin Rudd addressing Christians across Australia the following day, "the particular meeting with the Brethren church group seems very unremarkable".

The Age believes the Brethren are likely to be substantial donors to the Liberal Party in the lead-up to this year's election, and that some donations will help fund the Bennelong campaign. Stephen Hales ran the Brethren's pro-Howard drive in Bennelong at the last election, authorising a number of the group's controversial print advertisements using the address of the Brethren school and helping find Brethren members to campaign for Mr Howard.

One Greens campaigner in Bennelong, Matthew Henderson, told The Age the sect was already working on Mr Howard's campaign. At the Prime Minister's recent walk-through at the Eastwood Plaza shopping centre in his electorate, "there were a bunch of people I went to school with . I recognise them as Brethren - and they appeared to be more than familiar with the Liberal Party supporters' group". Greens senator Bob Brown said yesterday that Mr Howard should reveal the "full nature of not just these discussions but his whole ongoing relationship with the murkily mysterious Mr Hales and the Exclusive Brethren". "I am concerned that the Prime Minister should be so guileless and desperate that the access to potential money from this cashed-up sect should be so important him," he said.


Useless female police

Men and women are NOT equal. Female police should not be on general duties

PASSERSBY have come to the aid of two female police officers under attack from an allegedly drug-affected man in Sydney's west. The Bankstown constables attended a Woodville Road car dealership at 3pm (AEST) yesterday after receiving reports of a man causing problems. Police said the 28-year-old man became aggressive and violent towards the officers but when they tried to subdue him with capsicum spray, it had no effect on him.

The man, who police believe to have been affected by the drug ice, then allegedly assaulted them and tried to remove one of the constable's guns from her holster. He then pushed the other officer into a parked car, causing her to hit her head and drop her baton which he then picked up. The man was about to strike the officer with the baton when he was restrained by up to 10 passers-by, including one motorist who stopped his vehicle and ran across six lanes of traffic to assist police.

Police arrested the 28-year-old and took him to Bankstown Hospital for psychiatric assessment. It's expected he'll be charged when he is released.

Bankstown Local Area Commander, Superintendent Dave Darcy praised the officers involved for their courage and tenacity and thanked the public who intervened. "This was a particularly nasty incident and could have ended very differently had it not been from the brave intervention of those passers-by," Supt Darcy said. "It's very positive for us to see this courageous show of support from members of our local community."


Some life in Australian mathematics

The University of Wollongong has defied the sector-wide trend of cutting back mathematics and has more professors and honours students in the field than ever. Departing deputy vice-chancellor for research, Margaret Sheil, said a combination of "opportunity and strategic planning" had given the university eight full professors and 21 honours students. The eight includes three professors recruited in the past year and a half. One of them, Iain Raeburn, bought a whole maths team with him from rival the University of Newcastle.

Professor Sheil, who started as Australian Research Council chief executive officer last week, said the school of mathematics and applied statistics' beefing up had been driven partly by a need to be prepared for the RQF and by a sponsorship from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a popular graduate destination. "We are looking to build maths more generally; it's going to come back," Professor Sheil said.

A report released last month painted a bleak picture for the discipline across the nation. The National Tertiary Education Union found that at least seven universities had cut maths staff in the past 18 months. Melbourne, La Trobe, Macquarie, Flinders, RMIT, James Cook had all cut staff. The University of New England had made two maths and stats staff redundant but they won their jobs back on appeal.

At a time when enrolments in maths have fallen by 34 per cent (from 1989 to 2005, according to the Australian Councils of Deans of Science) Wollongong has three times as many honours students as normal. "That's because of a combination of our reputation and the fact that we've got a really dynamic group in maths," Professor Sheil said. The university had a history of strength in the discipline, mainly because local industry needed good graduates, and a more recent association with the ABS had kept that strength.

Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute executive officer Jan Thomas said it was good that Wollongong was expanding but other universities needed to do more.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Federal Leftists to phase out electric hot water

This is crazy. Offpeak heating uses operating reserve at the power stations. Nothing will be saved

LABOR plans to rid Australian homes of off-peak electric hot water systems, in a move it claims will cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 7.5million tonnes each year. Half of all systems currently sold are the off-peak electric variety and Labor believes their removal from the market would be equivalent to taking almost two million cars off Australian roads.

The federal Opposition announced yesterday that in government it would work with the states to implement tough new greenhouse and energy minimum standards for hot water heaters. Labor's climate change spokesman, Peter Garrett, said greenhouse-intensive electric hot water systems accounted for 28 per cent of the average home's greenhouse gas emissions and produced three times the pollution of solar, heat-pump or gas systems.

At a housing project in Adelaide, Mr Garrett said Labor's aim was to phase out installation of the off-peak "greenhouse intensive" electric systems from 2010 in new homes or those with access to reticulated gas. By 2012, it would not allow them to be installed in new or existing homes. Off-peak systems already in use will not be affected until they need to be replaced. Mr Garrett pledged to work with industry to make the policy work. "It will be a phase-out over time, which will allow industry to plan for that phase-out," he said.

Mr Garrett said the current federal rebate of $1000 a unit announced last month by the Howard Government would be continued to be offset by the higher cost of solar hot water systems. The Energy Supply Association of Australia yesterday reported increased energy demand last year equal to a new power station, with the biggest growth in demand tracking population and resource booms in Western Australia and Queensland at 4.8 and 4.5 per cent respectively. South Australia also reported a 4 per cent increase in residential demand fuelled by increased installation of air conditioners.

Australia's largest hot water system manufacturer, Rheem Australia, said there would be substantial impact from the move. Rheem national marketing manager Gareth Jennings said the company was digesting the plan, but "understands these sorts of measures need to be taken". Labor will keep existing rebates to encourage take-up of alternatives and believes its plan can save households $300 a year.


Another twisted Muslim doctor

An Indian-trained doctor allegedly plied an intellectually disabled patient with alcohol and told her he had always aspired to a porn star career before having sex her, a tribunal has heard. The attack came only hours after Shamshulhaque Shaikh had treated the 27-year-old, who suffers from epilepsy, a bipolar disorder and intellectual difficulties, at the Toowoomba Hospital emergency department on September 28, 2005.

The Queensland Health Practitioners Tribunal has struck Dr Shaikh, who moved overseas last year, off the registry for five years for conduct "seen as being discreditable to his profession". A scathing judgment of the doctor's conduct was delivered yesterday by judge Kerry O'Brien. "In the tribunal's view, (his) conduct has fallen far below the standards reasonably expected of him by the public or by his peers," Judge O'Brien said.

In an interview before he left Australia, the doctor said he met the woman in a restaurant by coincidence, and they did not have sex. However, Judge O'Brien said Dr Shaikh's account of events was unsworn and he agreed with the board, finding the submissions "are not accepted as a full and truthful account of events".


Researchers start trial of 'world's best' flu jab

RESEARCHERS in Adelaide have developed a vaccine they believe could be the world's best defence against an influenza or bird flu epidemic. The Flinders Medical Centre's influenza vaccine which is in its early trial stage has been boosted by a natural sugar adjuvant. Adjuvants amplify the immune system's response to the virus to increase the effectiveness of vaccines.

Leader of the research team Director of Diabetes and Endocrinology Professor Nikolai Petrovsky says the sugar-based adjuvant is safe. "Our data already shows our adjuvant enhances the immune response against the common flu virus and we expect it to work equally well for an avian (bird) flu vaccine," he said.

Head of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Professor David Gordon said the addition of an adjuvant is critical for providing protection and conserving vaccine supplies in the event of a pandemic. "Traditional vaccines can cause pain for a few days, but another major advantage of our vaccine is that many people have experienced no pain from the injection," he said.

The team is looking to test the vaccine on healthy people aged between 18-70 years who have not received a flu vaccine this year.


Watchdog pulps super-juice claims

PRICEY "superfruit" juices touted as possible cures for cancer, diabetes and other diseases may not be so super after all. Consumer watchdog Choice tested the exotic juices -- which cost up to $85 a litre -- and found people can get the same health benefits from eating an apple. It has asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and state food authorities to take action against juice sellers who make the outrageous claims.

The so-called super juices are made from tropical fruits and berries including acai, goji, noni and mangosteen. They are usually only available in health food stores, gyms or via internet and mail order.

Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn said the juices may offer false hope to sick Australians. He said the juices could also be dangerous if ill people believed the hype and used them as substitutes for conventional medicine. "You get a novelty fruit, call it a super-fruit, throw in a secret Himalayan mountain or Chinese valley with mist on it, or a Pacific island with traditional healers that live to 150, and it's a very potent brew. Then if it costs a lot, people assume it must be rare and very good for you," Mr Zinn said.

Some brochures for juices sold in Australia claim mangosteen juice is better than chemotherapy for cancer and also outperforms drugs routinely prescribed for anxiety, arthritis and heroin addiction. One noni juice seller claims its product can cure cancer and diabetes while improving your golf game. "It's the claims they make that are concerning. They're making therapeutic claims, which are not backed up by science," Mr Zinn said.

He said Choice tests found people could get the same antioxidants from red apples and other cheap fruits available at any supermarket or greengrocer. "If you want to spend $85 on these juices and you like them, that's not bad for anything but your wallet. But it's the misleading claims of curative and preventative powers around the juice of these berries that's a concern and a breach of the Food Standards Code."


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Australia's Leftist leader gets the Bill Clinton treatment

Women's groups refuse to criticise behaviour in Kevin Rudd that they normally deplore. If he had been a conservative, they would have been shrieking to high heaven. Some of the nightclub "girls" below

Voters were divided yesterday on the moral and political implications of Kevin Rudd's admission that he went to a strip club one drunken evening in New York four years ago. But his Labor colleagues - including deputy party leader Julia Gillard - remained tight-lipped on their leader's September 2003 outing. "He's acknowledged he made an error, and I think that's all that needs to be said about it," Ms Gillard said. Opposition spokeswoman on women Tanya Plibersek did not return calls yesterday.

One male frontbencher, who did not wish to be named, said the story could work in Mr Rudd's favour. "It might humanise him a bit. People see him as too much the bookworm and diplomat," he said.

Women's organisations and church groups remained particularly silent on Mr Rudd's night out. "If we hanged every bloke who was stupid, there wouldn't be many left," National Foundation for Australian Women spokeswoman Marie Coleman said. Women's Electoral Lobby spokeswoman and prominent feminist Eva Cox said Mr Rudd had a generally good attitude towards women. "It's not something that represents his usual behaviour," she said. [Fat old Eva Cox nee Hauser -- pic below -- is far to the Left so her defence of a Leftist from behind her thick glasses is to be expected. I gather that Cox cleared out years ago but she still uses his surname. A strange feminist!]

Labor strategist Bruce Hawker said he did not think Mr Rudd - a staunch Christian - would lose popularity among voting women. "People, whether they be women or men, aren't going to be particularly fussed about this," Mr Hawker said. "I think people are much more concerned about how the parties' policies are going to affect them. "I don't think he's demonstrated anything that can be construed as bad character."


Drive for Indian trade deal

Jai hind!

AUSTRALIA will attempt to negotiate a free trade agreement with India as part of a historic shift in relations with the emerging economic powerhouse of South Asia. The new strategic approach towards India has been endorsed by federal cabinet and is considered as important as the embrace of China in the 1980s and '90s and Australia's earlier engagement with Japan. The submission by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer went to the full cabinet, unlike the decision to allow the sale of uranium to India, which was considered by the national security committee.

Analysts believe an FTA would be a substantial challenge, but no more so than pursuing an agreement with China or Japan, which Australia is doing. Trade pacts with India, China, Japan and the US would give Australia almost a complete hand of interlocking treaties with its most important partners, and the world's most dynamic economies. These agreements also provide an important defensive barrier for Australia against any rise in international protectionism, and they are an important advance in trading opportunities for Australian companies in the absence of a successful conclusion of the Doha Round of World Trade Organisation negotiations.

Government figures have been surprised at how rapidly the Indian economy has grown, although the country is experiencing political problems. The Indian Government lurched towards crisis over the weekend as left-wing parties threatened to walk away from the ruling coalition unless the country's civilian nuclear deal with Washington was scrapped. Apart from the obvious synergy in energy trade, the familiar common-law system in India, and its dazzling success in IT, mean that an FTA should also provide enormous opportunities for Australian companies in the services sector. This could be worth billions of dollars to Australia.

The submission regarding India contains a raft of specific initiatives, and is designed to elevate the India relationship to a core element in Australia's international orientation, along with the US, Japan, China and Indonesia. As well as attempting to negotiate an FTA with India, Canberra will continue its fully fledged engagement in the quadrilateral talks involving the US, Japan and India, despite Chinese opposition.

The cabinet submission recognises India's growing importance to Australia, given its growing economic and strategic power. It also notes India's increased engagement with East Asia and the Pacific and Australia's rapidly growing trade ties. The submission contains a series of specific proposals to enhance relations. Apart from allowing the export of uranium -- approval for which was announced last week by John Howard -- these include formal and active diplomatic support for India's bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

This is a move that indicates Canberra's elevation of India to core relationship status. Australia has been a long supporter of Japan becoming a permanent member of the Security Council and the Howard Government in the past has also suggested Indonesia should acquire such status. The other two core relationships are with countries that are already permanent members -- the US and China.

Much of the submission is devoted to the sale of energy to India. Given India's rapid economic growth, energy security is becoming as important to India as it is to China and Japan. The submission envisages elevating the joint working group on minerals and energy to ministerial level, as a key tool in managing the energy relationship.

The submission contains a wide range of proposals for enhanced security co-operation. Chief among these are joint naval exercises, as well as intensified co-operation in counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, all aspects of maritime security and greater engagement on border and transport security. A permanent presence in New Delhi by the Australian Federal Police is also being sought. All these recommendations were accepted by cabinet.

Australia is also looking at establishing an Indian studies centre that would parallel the American Studies Centre, which is being set up at Sydney University. Similarly, it is giving consideration to the establishment of an Australia-India forum for government, business and other leaders to promote bilateral co-operation. This would follow the example of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue. The Government will move to provide more legal co-operation mechanisms. It wants to strengthen the education, training and science relationship, including the provision of more scholarships for Indian students to study in Australia.

Federal cabinet does not yet believe Australians fully recognise the dimensions of Indian economic growth, nor their vast implications for Australia. According to cabinet figures, India will this year become Australia's fourth-largest export market, and Australian exports to India have been growing at more than 30 per cent a year throughout this decade. India is Australia's fastest growing export market, growing faster even than China. India is also Australia's second largest source of overseas students and long-stay business visitors.

The Government has identified mining, agriculture, services and investment as sectors for potential large-scale expansion in Australian trade with India. Similarly, the cabinet submission recognises that India is increasingly central to global issues such as climate change. The raft of actions to which cabinet has committed has the potential to transform the Australia-India relationship.


Muslims feel cut off, left isolated by fear

The poor little petals! They are probably projecting their own hostility onto others -- or maybe it's just guilt at being part of such a hostile and destructive religion

FEAR is isolating Australian Muslims, leading to distrust of the Government and driving them outside the country in their search for information and community, the first national fear survey has found. The survey set out to look at how Australians viewed their safety after the events of September 11. 2001 but the pilot study found Muslim reacted very differently to the wider population. "The trial was quite stark," said Mark Balnaves, of Edith Cowan University, who co-authored the nationwide survey. As a result of the early indicators, Muslims, who make up 1.5 per cent of the population, were treated as a special sample, to clarify the early results. [It's not the first time they were given specially favourable treatment either]

"For Muslims it wasn't a generalised fear," he said. "Where non-Muslim Australians may have a fear of travel on planes, Muslims had a fear of going out of the house, of going out into the community. "There is a fear of government, distrust of the media and the [consequent] closure of the [Muslim] community is quite worrying," Professor Balnaves said. The research showed that Muslims were much more likely to have kept the "Be Alert Not Alarmed" packs and had a sense of needing to defend Australia. "Then they realised they might be the very people who were seen as a threat," he said.

Kuranda Seyit, the head of the Forum on Australian Islamic Relations, said mainstream Muslims were a little more cautious about going to public events, but it was not going to stop them going about their business. "With young Muslims, the level of fear is lower, but they are more upset with what is going on. The older generation are more fearful," Mr Seyit said. He knew of people anglicising their names to avoid discrimination when applying for jobs.

The survey comes as Pauline Hanson and another would-be Queensland senator, James Baker, promised to campaign on the issue of Muslim immigration. Mr Baker proposed banning Muslim immigration for 10 years and putting other measures in place "to ensure Australia's Muslim population is in no doubt we mean business in stopping extremist attacks". Those measures included revocation of citizenship and deportations of the families of convicted immigrant terrorists and suicide bombers.

The interviews, where anonymity was guaranteed, revealed Muslims were suspicious of connections between government and the media, believing the media may be controlled by the Government. "So they are going to extreme sources, outside Australia," Professor Balnaves said. "To Al Manar [the Hezbollah-backed website], to blog sites with groups that would be counted as highly radical" in search of information they see as less biased against Muslims.

The fear, which has led to a loss of trust in their own society, has policy implications for the government, Professor Balnaves said. "If they end up being a ghettoised community, they will end up with psychological consequences in these communities. They are very careful now about what goes public and very concerned about their own safety going out in public," he said.

The National Fear Survey, funded by the Australian Research Council, interviewed 750 participants and covered urban, regional and rural areas. Its aim was to help the Federal Government in policy deliberations on how to assist communities that are in fear.


Urgent need for nurses in government hospital

Tiny babies endangered

THE agonising wait is over for the parents of four-week-old Ryan Kelly, who last week received lifesaving heart surgery after two operations were cancelled. The Prince Charles Hospital blamed bed and intensive care nursing shortages for the delay.

But Ryan's father, Damien, said he was angry at the abusive treatment he witnessed towards hospital staff, who were bearing the brunt of public frustration. "It's ridiculous. Yesterday, I saw a nurse getting abused by a relative of one of the patients," Mr Kelly said. "I walked out with this nurse . . . and she burst into tears. Why should these people cop it for bed shortages? It shouldn't be directed at them. Let's direct it at the Premier (Peter Beattie) and his Health Minister (Stephen Robertson)."

As Ryan lies in intensive care after nine hours of surgery, eight-month-old Elijah Nganeko is still waiting for a bed. Elijah, who goes blue when he cries, was born with a hole in his heart. He's been on the waiting list for almost three months. His mother, Jackie, said without surgery, her only child would die, but doctors at the Prince Charles Hospital had been unable to say how long they would have to wait. "They said it could be days, weeks or months," Mrs Nganeko said. "The reason he hasn't had his surgery yet is a lack of intensive care nurses. "They're doing the emergency cases first and then the children that basically come after that."

Mrs Nganeko said the uncertainly over Elijah's operation was putting huge stresses on her and her husband Aaron. "We just don't let him cry at all. I don't get much sleep," she said. "If he cries, within a minute of starting he'll be blue." Despite the strains, Mrs Nganeko said she was not asking for Elijah to jump the queue. "We're saying that we want other people in the same situation to come forward so that Peter Beattie knows how bad it really is," she said.

Prince Charles Hospital acting medical services director Don Martin said children were prioritised for surgery on the basis of medical need. Last week Matthew Kuhne received surgery after a wait of nine days at the Princess Alexandra Hospital with severe spinal injuries also because of nursing shortages.


Monday, August 20, 2007

The word about the NASA backdown is getting out in Australia

Australian columnist Michael Duffy, writing in the mass-circulation Sydney Morning Herald, reports on the recent NASA correction of their global warming figures. Duffy goes on in the excerpt below to note the really big emerging issue in the matter -- the dubious accuracy of the basic data. So Australians at least have the latest available info in their papers. Mainstream papers in Britain and the USA have now reported the NASA backdown but accompanied it with heavy spin about the changes being unimportant. They did not however mention the matters Duffy mentions below, as far as I saw

Strange as it might seem in a scientific field that spends some $6.4 billion a year on often abstruse research and computer modelling, the integrity of the basic temperature data is emerging as a serious problem. The Goddard Institute claims to correct data from poorly sited stations, but McIntyre says it refused to tell him how it does this in sufficient detail for him to check its results. When he obtained some of the raw data from specific sites and compared it with the processed temperatures created by the institute, he found problems. In one case data from a good site, at the Grand Canyon, had been changed to make the 1930s colder than they were.

Across the Atlantic, the British mathematician Douglas Keenan has claimed that two important academic papers on the reliability of Chinese weather stations are wrong. This is a major issue because one of the papers is cited by the IPCC to support its position that measurement errors owing to urbanisation and the "heat island effect" - which makes cities warmer than their surroundings - are insignificant. Keenan claims to have discovered that some of the Chinese stations have been moved a lot. One, for example, had five different locations from 1954 to 1983, over a distance of 41 kilometres. This makes the data largely useless.

It took several years to gain access to the information needed to reveal this fault with the papers, because the academics involved refused to release it. Keenan finally obtained it by the creative means of using Britain's Freedom of Information Act, on the grounds that an academic who had the information was a public servant.

The climate change establishment is represented by the website Its response to McIntyre's success in getting the Goddard Institute to reduce US temperature figures for the period since 2000 has been to say that the implication for global averages is imperceptible, since the US is only a very small fraction of the global area. Strictly speaking this is correct, although America's figures are more important than its land area might indicate because they go back so far in an unbroken line, which is fairly unusual.

Since the break-up of the USSR, the number of weather stations in the world has declined by half. Many of them used to be in cold areas. The scientists who compile global averages presumably try to take this into account - although in light of some of the above stories you have to wonder just how well they succeed.

Whatever the scientific implications of McIntyre's revelation, the rhetorical one is huge. America is the centre of the global debate on climate change. No longer will Americans or anyone else be able to say the hottest year on record in their great nation was 1998. Looking at the new top 10, it's hard to see any signs of global warming. The ranking, starting from the hottest year, goes: 1934, 1998, 1921, 2006, 1931, 1999, 1953, 1990, 1938, 1939. It's a sad thought, but maybe we and our weather are not as unusual as some want to believe.


Leftist fantasies about Australian blacks finally slide into irrelevance

By Christopher Pearson

LAST year, some of The Australian's commentators contributed essays to a book called The Howard Factor, published by Melbourne University Press. I wrote a piece on the culture wars. Its main focus was on the ways John Howard's opponents have - with varying degrees of success - deployed the zeitgeist and its values against him and how he, in turn, has defied, neutralised or harnessed the spirit of the age to his own advantage and, in doing so, helped to change it.

The spirit of the age is fickle and ever-changing. How politicians manage to position themselves in relation to it and contribute to the dynamics by which it changes are not simple matters. But it seems to me that one of the most useful markers in the ebb and flow of Australian politics is the contest for the high moral ground on Aboriginal policy. In the book, I argued that the Hindmarsh Island affair had been a significant paradigm shift. Labor, under the leadership of Paul Keating, had committed itself to a brand of symbolic politics: backing without question a sacred site claim based on "secret women's business" that couldn't be divulged to any man. The Coalition realised the claim was not based on any ancient tradition and, as the Stevens royal commission in due course found, had been fabricated for political convenience in the mid-1990s.

The ACTU, the ABC, the Fairfax press, the Australian Council of Churches, the minor parties and the conservation movement all strenuously asserted the unquestionable validity of the claim, at vast but largely unconsidered risk to their own reputations. Then four female elders of the Ngarrinjeri tribe came forward to support the anthropological record, denying the claim's authenticity and testifying that the story had originally come from a group of men, some of them white.

It was immediately apparent that the high moral ground belonged to the dissident women and that the claim's supporters, long accustomed to hegemony on indigenous issues, had forfeited it. This only made them shriller as they went into a protracted state of denial, while public opinion turned against a government reckless enough to accept on trust an obviously problematic claim that couldn't, viewed on its own terms, be properly tested or falsified.

There is a perennial tendency for suburban Australia at large - and the soft Left in particular - to romanticise Aborigines and their cultures. Many of the same people also tend to pride themselves on being pragmatic and sceptical and to resent any perceived attempt to trespass on their good nature or dupe them. During the Hindmarsh Island saga, the claim's supporters continually insisted that Aboriginal people would never lie about sacred traditions and for anyone to say otherwise was racist and an assault on indigenous culture. Because in this instance the accusations of racism and cultural insensitivity were rhetorical strategies for evading the crux of the matter - a fabricated claim - the charges suddenly lost a lot of the force with which the zeitgeist had previously invested them.

Two other Aboriginal issues, the report into the so-called stolen generations and the Peter Gunner and Lorna Cubillo case, characterised the changed landscape of the Howard ascendancy. The report was an exercise in advocacy research, designed to create a climate in which a large class of claimants could expect automatic compensation for having been removed from the care of their mothers by the state. It didn't clarify the various categories of removal, from benign welfare intervention at one extreme to draconian enforcement of assimilation policy at the other, and most of the evidence it gathered was untested and anecdotal.

None of these flaws might have proved fatal had it not been for its authors' ill-considered use of the term genocide. Perhaps every generation is susceptible to being flattered into imagining that it is more enlightened than its forebears. But most of us are also level-headed enough to know that we aren't the repositories of all wisdom and can remember enough about our grandparents and their cohort to know that they weren't monsters. The invitation to agree that policies in force as recently as the early '60s could reasonably be described as genocidal was a counterproductive affront to the common sense of the general public, and was widely resented as such.

Having lost the battle in the court of public opinion, the white activists espousing compensation for separated children proceeded in slow motion to lose the two court battles that were meant to be test cases. Normally, such cases would be chosen on the basis that they exemplified the problems associated with child removal and the justice of claims on the state to compensate victims of bad public policy. The Gunner-Cubillo case didn't succeed. Few observers expected it to do so because both instances were easily justified as welfare interventions and there was clear evidence that Gunner's mother had consented to his removal.

By way of an overview, what was happening in Aboriginal policy debate was that there was an increasing disparity between the grand narratives put forward to embody the old rights, reconciliation and self-determination agenda on the one hand and, on the other, the facts in the actual cases. There had always been gaps between the rhetoric and the reality, but they grew to the point where the oratory was no longer sustainable.

Not surprisingly, the first people to understand that dilemma were the younger Aboriginal activists who intuited that, while some people would accept at face value almost anything they were told, rhetorical incoherence was a disaster when it came to persuading middle Australia. Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine in particular saw that a conservative critique of passive welfare and the rights agenda, which focused instead on individual and collective responsibilities, was long overdue, as well as a way of regaining the attention of a federal government and an electorate that were increasingly sceptical and conservative in their thinking.

Although Pearson and Mundine are in some sense men of the Left and Mundine is a former national president of the ALP, both have recognised the damaging consequences of the Left's capture of indigenous issues. They see land rights as important, but want individuals as well as collectivities to hold title to land. They want their people to participate in the real economy and children to get a regular education, neither of which are high on the Left's wish list. Their most urgent priority is effective intervention in those dysfunctional communities where normlessness, violence and the rivers of grog hold sway. The emphasis has moved from self-determination to revisiting the fundamentals of self-control and adult responsibility.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, a long-time supporter of Pearson's work on the ground in Cape York, began a rhetorical bridge-building exercise by calling for "a new paternalism" that addressed problems such as the epidemic of physical violence and sexual abuse involving Aboriginal children. Although commentators on the Left were predictably dismissive, Pearson responded by saying he had no doubt that the terrified kids, huddling in corridors during all-night binge-drinking parties and then too tired to attend school, were entitled to a little more paternalism in their lives.

Two months ago, the federal Government finally lost all patience with Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin's dilatory response to the Little Children are Sacred report and decided to implement a planned intervention in the NT that had been under longstanding consideration. The passage of 500 pages of legislation through the House of Representatives in a day, with barely a dissenting murmur from the political class, shows how comprehensively the zeitgeist has changed.

Pivotal to the passing of the bills were the cumulative effect of Pearson's columns in Inquirer and Mundine's last-minute interventions to stare down a number of Aboriginal spokesmen and the Left of the ALP. Mundine noted, on the eve of the debate, that "many of today's outspoken indigenous leaders had held positions of responsibility while widespread child abuse was taking place and the first task of leadership was to accept responsibility". He also said that he was disgusted by those who described the Government's intervention as an invasion and called on Labor's Left to get real and support the plan. "Some people are caught up in the politics of the past. Everything we've done in the past hasn't worked. I like the intervention because we are putting people's power bases aside and ensuring infrastructure is going in there. We need to ensure these communities are functioning. There's nothing human rights about living in poverty."


Drugs for sadness?

Doctors were too often mistaking common blue moods in their patients for clinical depression and prescribing drugs for normal emotions, a leading Sydney psychiatrist has said. Professor Gordon Parker, the executive director of the Black Dog Institute, wrote in the British medical journal BMJ that the threshold for diagnosing clinical depression had become too low and the definition too broad.

"It's normal for human beings to be depressed," Professor Parker told the Herald yesterday. "Normal depression to my mind means you certainly feel depressed and you feel deflated and you're pessimistic and your self-esteem drops but it's a transient state. After a few minutes, hours, a couple of days, you bounce back."

He said that over the past 20 years diagnostic models had taken "an extreme position" and ran the risk of treating normal emotional states as an illness. "There's been a blurring of clinical depression into normal depression and the consequence of that has been to strain credibility and for many people to have been delivered a bouncing cheque [when drugs do not work]," he said. "There's often an automatic reaching for the prescription pad. People are not looking at the cause." He said the prevalence of depression had increased mostly due to "the incredible broadening of its definition". It was also due to destigmatisation and, to a lesser extent, an actual increase in disorders, he said.

At the opposite end of the debate, published in BMJ yesterday, Professor Ian Hickie, the executive director of the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Research Institute, said that it was wrong to say depression was being overdiagnosed. Professor Hickie said there was also no evidence of overprescribing. He also said that a study conducted in 27 countries 2003, published in BMJ, showed an increase in the use of antidepressants had led to a decline in suicides. "The answer is do the body count ." he said "In order to save lives you have to treat the mild and moderate cases." He said "the continual demonising of the medicines just plays into the stigma" of mental illness.

"I think it's time the specialists got over it and we got on with the public health issue of identifying those who are likely to benefit and make the wide range of treatments, medication and psychological treatments available," he said. "We're still providing so little treatment to those whose lives are at risk that we hardly need to concern ourselves with overtreatment." Treatment for depression has become more widespread since the early 1990s with the advent of drugs such as Prozac.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says one in five Australians will experience a mental illness. It estimates that there were 10.2 million general practitioner encounters involving mental health-related problems in 2003-04, more than a third of which were about depression.


Australian patients going private in emergency

MORE patients are turning to private hospitals for emergency treatment as pressure on public hospitals mounts and queues to see GPs lengthen. Although there are only a handful of private hospitals in each state with emergency departments -- which usually charge between $150 and $200 per visit -- many say they are busier than ever, with patient numbers rising 10 per cent or more in the past three years. In one case, numbers rose by nearly 30 per cent in five years. The increases are evident in the "graveyard shift" from 10pm to 6am, when many better-off patients are willing to pay extra to avoid having to wait for hours in a public emergency department while staff attend to more urgent cases.

The Howard Government's report on public hospitals, published last month, found patient numbers at public emergency departments were soaring. The percentage of patients seen within recommended times fell in five of the eight jurisdictions. At the same time, GPs are abandoning after-hours services, with more than half referring patients to a deputising service or emergency departments. Although 24-hour GP clinics were common 10 years ago, a clampdown in the late 1990s on the Medicare rebates they could charge reduced profitability, and many folded or cut their hours.

Andrew Singer, president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, said the increase in private emergency patients was caused by the combination of difficult access to after-hours GP services and the problems people experienced when they attended public emergency departments. "In the main, private hospitals provide a pretty good service -- there's usually a lot less waiting, and you usually get a reasonably experienced doctor, if not a specialist-level doctor," Dr Singer said. "Patients tend to prefer it, if they can afford it. "I know people who work in private emergency departments, and a lot of them think things are getting busier these days," he said. "The reality is that all EDs are getting busier."

A spokeswoman for Brisbane's Greenslopes Private Hospital -- the biggest private hospital in the nation, with 580 beds -- said its emergency attendances had risen 10 per cent in 2004-05 on the previous year. They rose a further 8 per cent in 2005-06, and a further 5 per cent in 2006-07. The spokeswoman said the latest increase would have been even higher had the figure not been artificially lowered by a change in the contracting arrangements for military veterans, which meant fewer received free treatment at the hospital.

A spokeswoman for Melbourne's 530-bed Epworth Hospital said it was "certainly seeing more patients", and that annual numbers had jumped from about 22,000 in 2002 to about 29,000 this year. And patient numbers at the emergency departments of the John Flynn Private Hospital on the Queensland Gold Coast and the Hobart Private Hospital have risen by about 10 per cent in the past three years. Numbers at Perth's St John of God, Murdoch Hospital have risen by more than 20 per cent, from 20,540 in 2004-05 to 24,898 in 2006-07, although numbers at its sister hospital in Ballarat, Victoris, have climbed only slightly.

Leon Clark, chief executive of the 452-bed Sydney Adventist Hospital on Sydney's upper north shore, said although numbers of emergency patients had remained stable over the past three years at about 20,000 patients annually, the doctors were much busier because patients coming in had more complex care needs. "Our staff are much busier than they were three years ago because of the increased complexity," Dr Clark said.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

African refugee numbers slashed for Iraqi intake

Hallelujah! The do-gooding Australian Feds created a previously unknown problem in Australia by allowing large numbers of unassimilable African refugees in over recent years, many of whom are Muslims. It now seems that the Feds have finally woken up to some extent. There is of course a great veil of silence over the high rate of crime and welfare dependancy among Africans (Americans will recognize the pattern) but official admissions do sometimes leak out. And Christians from Arab lands are certainly a most endangered and most deserving group with every prospect of assimilating successfully. Lebanese Christians have a long history of prospering in Australia. It is a credit to Australia that it has moved to the forefront in rescuing the Arab Christians

THE Federal Government will dramatically cut its intake of refugees from Africa, while lifting the number of refugees from the Middle East, including large numbers of Christian Iraqis. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews yesterday announced the Refugee and Humanitarian Intake for 2007-08. It will cut the number of immigrants from Africa by 30 per cent. Only a few years ago Africa accounted for up to 70 per cent of the entire humanitarian program. But integrating African refugees, particularly from war-ravaged Sudan, has been very expensive. It is believed the Government is hoping to help consolidate the African communities and families who are already here.

"The intake from the Africa region reflects an improvement in conditions in some countries and an increase in the number of people returning to their country of origin," Mr Andrews said. The overall number of refugee places will remain stable at 13,000. But the intake from the Middle East and Asia will increase to about 35 per cent each.

Mr Andrews said the increased intake of Iraqis who had fled their country follows an international conference on Iraq convened by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in April. The conference discussed the plight of refugees from Iraq, many Christian.

The most recent Budget saw an additional $209 million over four years allocated to helping refugees settle into Australian life. Mr Andrews said the increased intake from Asia was largely because of resettlement programs for Burmese refugees in Thailand and Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.


Australia relaxes its immigration rules to persuade skilled young Britons to emigrate

Australia is making sweeping changes to its immigration policy in an attempt to attract skilled British workers to move Down Under. The changes - which will target workers in the medical profession, the IT sector and tradesmen and women - will result in the country's points-based immigration system being adapted to make it easier for fluent English-speaking professionals between the ages of 30 and 35 to gain work visas.

Under Australia's Skilled Migration Programme, points are awarded to potential immigrants according to their age, ability to speak languages, occupation, skills and experience. Immigrants who gain a total of 120 points are automatically fast-tracked through the migration process. Previously, however, British professionals aged 30-35 often struggled to gain work visas, losing out on precious points because to their age. Under the new scheme, five extra points will be automatically awarded to anyone who passes an "optional standardised English-language test", making it simpler for English speakers to achieve a perfect score. The new recruitment drive is reminiscent of the country's "Ten Pound Poms" scheme, when British migrants paid a mere œ10 fare to move to Australia to plug gaps in the economy in the 1950s and 1960s. The programme prompted about one million Britons to up sticks and head for a place of work in the sun.

Then, as now, the problem was an acute shortage of skilled labour. Australia has huge gaps in an economy which continues to grow and the government is looking for more immigrants than ever before. It has already increased targets for this year - 102,500 new residents, from its original target of 97,000.

Chris Cook, spokesman for the Australian Visa Bureau, said: "The implications of these changes are vast. The Australian government realises it is lacking workers in many professions which it desperately needs to fill, so the country is throwing its doors open to huge numbers of skilled and experienced British people and making it easier for them to meet the minimum eligibility requirements."

Professionals who are being sought by the Australian government include doctors, teachers, accountants, plumbers, nurses, carpenters, dentists and IT managers. The country's weekly list of migration occupations in demand currently includes 38 managerial and professional jobs, one associate professional position, 10 posts in computing and 46 positions in trades. Australia's capital, Canberra, is experiencing a record-breaking boom in its construction industry, but local unemployment is the lowest in the country meaning that there is a mass shortage of skilled builders.

Between July 2001 and 2002, the total number of Britons who settled in Australia was 8,749. By last year, of the 150,000 foreigners who were granted permanent visas to live in Australia, 24,800 were British, followed by 15,865 Indian nationals and 14,688 Chinese. Two-thirds of the total were skilled migrants. The majority of migrants last year listed their occupations as accountants, computing professionals and registered nurses. Their average age was 31.


"Wogs" OK in Australia

We read:

"Australia becoming a country of wogs - and it is OK to say so. The federal Arts Minister, George Brandis, said yesterday that calling someone a "wog" is no longer considered offensive or racist because Australians are better at laughing at themselves. "It is a badge of arrival when a racial group can tell a joke against itself," he said.

But the Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro, the Assistant Minister for Immigration whose parents hail from the southern Italian region of Calabria, said using the word depended on the situation. "I wouldn't like a complete stranger to call me a wog. I think I'd be quite offended then."


Senator Brandis is probably best known for pointing out how similar Greenie policies are to the policies of Hitler. See also here on that.

Historically, the term "wog" was applied to poor immigrants from Southern Europe but people from Southern Europe are now so prosperous and well assimilated into the general Australian society that they actually run the parliament of Australia's most populous State (NSW). And some Australians of Southern European origin do now cheerfully describe themselves as "wogs".

All of which goes to show that for an ethnic description to be derogatory and offensive, there has to be some adverse reality behind it. If there is in fact nothing inferior or discreditable about the group concerned, words describing that group ("Redneck" is a good U.S. example) will have little power to offend.

Australian Federal Parliamentary report derides 'Global Warming'

There has been quite a media blackout on this so I am pleased to have finally found a lead-in to the report

The Australian Federal Parliament's Standing Committee on Science and Innovation recently completed a report entitled Between a Rock and a Hard Place, on the subject of "Geosequestration of Carbon Dioxide". However, four members of that committee have issued a "Dissenting Report" which devastates the Committee's major premise-that mankind causes global warming.

The dissenting MPs are former CSIRO scientist Dr. Dennis Jensen, Hon Jackie Kelly, Hon Danna Vale and Mr. David Tollner. Their report was compiled with the assistance of a number of leading scientists, including climate scientist Dr. John Christy, former lead author of the IPCC. It is a must read for anyone concerned with the subject.

They state at the very outset that, "We disagree with the report's unequivocal support for the hypothesis that global warming is caused by man-so-called anthropogenic global warming (AGW). We are concerned that the Committee's report strays well outside its terms of reference. In fact, the committee did not take any evidence relating to anthropogenic global warming."

Some of the chief points of their refutation include:

* Global warming is observed on other planets or moons, including Mars, Jupiter, Triton, Pluto, Neptune and others. Did man cause this?

* That the so-called "overwhelming consensus" embodied in the IPCC report has nothing to do with science, nor does such a consensus even exist. It is in fact drawn from its "Summary for Policymakers" which was written by politicians, not by scientists, and its supposed "90% certainty" is backed up by nothing in the report, but is merely a "consensus opinion arrived at by IPCC bureaucrats"; and, in any case, so-called "democratic consensus" is entirely opposed to scientific method. "Consensus", for instance, once held that the earth was at the centre of the universe, and that it was flat.

* That the "Stern Review" upon which the Committee based its majority report, was drafted by a man who "acknowledges that he had zero understanding of the issue less than one year before the Stern Review . It is staggering that someone with essentially no scientific knowledge on greenhouse effect, within less than one year, had acquired the scientific knowledge to state that the 'scientific evidence is now overwhelming'."

"Indeed, if one paragraph clearly illustrates the one sided nature of this report," the dissenters say, "it is paragraph 5.59. Here, we have a captain of industry (Rupert Murdoch), who, by his own admission is not a scientist, quoted regarding his view on anthropogenic global warming and the need to take action", citing Murdoch's claims that "climate change poses clear catastrophic threats."

There is much more, on glaciers, rising sea levels, Australia's rainfall patterns, etc., and the report is extensively footnoted. It may be accessed here


Ambulance men being used instead of doctors in New South Wales

Another government health system downgrading its services because it cannot provide enough doctors and hospital beds

AMBULANCE officers will be trained to treat non-critical patients and take them to GPs or non-hospital services under a controversial plan. The shake-up of health care roles, kept secret by the NSW Health Department, is aimed at easing the workload of hospital emergency departments. It is part of a growing trend to generalise health care, as seen in the creation of practitioner nurses, community health and hospital-in-home teams.

A draft Ambulance Service of NSW document, obtained by the Herald, said ambulance officers could "safely assess and manage certain conditions in the home without the need to convey patients to hospital for care". Like regular ambulance officers, extended-care paramedics would respond to emergency calls and treat critical patients. However, they would also be required to administer simple drugs such as antibiotics and arrange x-rays and other diagnostic tests as well as make direct patient referrals to GPs and community nurses. "It is becoming increasingly recognised that the emergency department may not necessarily be the most appropriate . destination for the patient to have their health care needs met. However, [it] is often the only current option provided," the draft said.

But emergency experts say the plan is a stop-gap measure in a failing health system, while GPs are concerned the plan may add more pressure to practices.

Extended-care paramedics will be chosen from the ranks of the NSW Ambulance Service and undergo eight weeks of training. Program trials are due to start next month and will involve 12 ambulance officers from western Sydney, where attendance at emergency departments rose more than 9 per cent last year. About 20 per cent of NSW emergency calls attended by ambulances do not result in the patient being taken to hospital, according to the draft proof of the concept document.

Modern ambulance services were facing challenges which included an ageing population, the rise of chronic disease, unpredictable delays at hospital emergency departments and increased demand due to the reduced availability of after-hours GPs, the draft document said. Dr Tony Joseph, chairman of the NSW faculty of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, said the new system could put pressure on paramedics to keep patients at home or refer them to non-acute care instead taking them to hospital. "If you delay someone going to hospital who needs to go, when they do eventually get admitted . they are often sicker, they stay longer in hospital and there will be increased cost to the community," Dr Joseph said. "If we are going to do it right, do it the first time."

Dr Joseph said the program appeared to be another "stop-gap measure for a failing health system". The chief executive of the Nepean Division of General Practice, Michael Edwards, said the plan would "extend an already over-extended workload" for GPs.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Labor plastic bag ban 'wacky'

A LABOR plan to ban plastic bags if it wins the election has been labelled "wacky" by the Government. Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett today told parliament a Labor government would deliver a "legislative ban, if necessary," on plastic bags. Mr Garrett criticised Assistant Environment Minister John Cobb for failing to tackle the problem. "The assistant minister has an extra five advisers ... you have to wonder what the assistant minister does," Mr Garrett said.

But the Government declared the proposal "wacky". Liberal backbencher Don Randall said the Government had done plenty. "We have had a very proactive campaign about not using plastic bags," Mr Randall told parliament. "The Opposition is duplicitous on this. How wacky, you want to ban plastic bags, he (Mr Garrett) is away with the birds again."


$8m Navy flight deck useless

CHOPPERS have been banned from using an $8 million helicopter flight deck fitted to the the navy's biggest ship. The 37,000-tonne fleet oiler and replenishment ship HMAS Sirius, a converted Korean-built tanker, can carry more than 20,000 tonnes of fuel including volatile aviation fuel. The ship has a crew of 60 but in an emergency a helicopter would only be able to land and take off if the vessel was fully laden and in calm seas, with little or no wind. In any other conditions, it would be too dangerous to land on the ship.

The Sirius last year replaced HMAS Westralia as the navy's biggest replenishment ship. She was previously a Greek-owned double-skinned oil tanker named Delos. Bought for about $60 million, it underwent a $70 million refit by the ship builder Tenix. It included construction of a "helicopter landing facility" which was second on the list of five "important requirements" for the ship. "Desirable requirements", later dropped, included a helicopter hangar and maintenance facility. The navy also conducted trials to establish the feasibility of landing on the ship but detailed analysis has only just started.

According to Kim Gillis, the head of systems with the Defence Material Organisation, airflow analysis by Murdoch University revealed problems with helicopter operations even before the refit. Mr Gillis said if the vessel was unloaded or there was any movement, helicopters would be restricted to lowering cargo to the flight deck. Such operations are too risky above the forward part of the ship where the fuel is stored. Mr Gillis said plans to have a helicopter attached to the ship were never seriously considered. The landing deck was engineered to carry all Australian military helicopters except the twin-rotor Chinook. Early graphic images of the Sirius on Defence websites featured a Sea King helicopter parked on the landing deck.

Opposition defence spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon described the landing deck issue as an "incredible bungle". "Unfortunately, bungles such as this are typical of the Howard Government's record on Defence procurement, where lessons aren't learnt and the expensive mistakes just keep coming," he said


Who cares about punctuation?

If punctuation guru Lynne Truss had intended to make the title of her new book ambiguous, then she has succeeded brilliantly. Forget Eats, Shoots and Leaves the surprising international bestseller. This time, Truss has lined up apostrophes for her special attention. The new book is titled The Girl's Like Spaghetti. This is confusing. What the book's title is intending to say is the girl is like spaghetti. It all comes down to the placement of an apostrophe. But for a child looking at the cover, which is pitched for junior primary aged children, they could be forgiven for thinking that The Girl owns something. The point illustrates the need for clarity with punctuation. More than this it is how it is taught that makes it meaningful.

While Truss may find apostrophes pesky little squiggly things, it seems that the apostrophe, like so much punctuation and grammar, is abused. A casual look around any city's signage will find apostrophes missing, floatingly homelessly over a word ending in "s" or placed incorrectly. Then again you'd have to know what is correct to notice.

Understanding apostrophes is just one of the skills in determining a literate child. Others include correct spelling, clear sentence construction and a full suite of punctuation marks. The reality is something very different. On recent state literacy testing, one in four Queensland children at Year 7 level failed the state benchmarks for agreed acceptable minimum literacy standards. Let's be absolutely clear here. The operative word is "minimum". Students who do not make the cut on Queensland's literacy tests are effectively illiterate. This is in no way acceptable.

This uncomfortable reality is one of the reasons why the Federal Government from 2008 will introduce national literacy and numeracy tests at Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Queensland parents need to know if their children compare favourably with children in the other states and territories. If they do not do so, then the reasons need to be understood and necessary action taken.

As uncomfortable as it may be for some, the literacy buck stops with teachers. Sure it is unhelpful if shops and advertising appropriate apostrophes, spelling and punctuation for effect. It is up to schools to correct it. On Queensland evidence, 25 per cent of Year 7 students are not performing at even a very basic literacy level. So who teaches them and how are they prepared?

When research was being undertaken into the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy in 2005, chairman Dr Ken Rowe found that many university students were receiving literacy instruction while they were learning how to be teachers. At the time, Rowe observed: "Many university faculties of education are running remedial English classes for their trainee teachers. Their basic grammar and spelling is that poor." Add to this that up to 30 per cent of students in schools were "simply not achieving to the extent they could or should", Rowe said.

The Queensland Government in the June state Budget promised $35.6 million over four years to improve literacy. That's a lot of apostrophes. Moreover, $10 million over four years has been set aside to meet the literacy and numeracy needs of indigenous students. But unless students can confidently understand how the English language works, apostrophes and all, then this will be money of limited impact. Already the school curriculum, particularly at primary level, is awash with socially based subjects masquerading as a rigorous curriculum. The result of schools looking at animal care, bike safety, dental hygiene and financial management, perhaps all good in themselves, is "literacy lite".

This is why the draft Primary School Charter, released earlier this month by the Australian Primary Principals Association, has recommended four core subjects are essential with art, sport, music and languages in a supplementary role. The core includes: English literacy, Maths and numeracy, Science and Australian history. This makes sense. By uncluttering the curriculum, more time can be given to the inculcation of basic skills in literacy and numeracy. A view expressed by APPA president Leonie Trimper, who has warned that currently, the curriculum is compromising the acquisition of core skills. "Primary schooling marks a cultural milestone in the lives of all young Australians so we must get it right. Children only get one chance to establish a solid foundation on which to build a future," Trimper said on release of the draft Charter.

While Lynne Truss has identified the need for a book about apostrophes, the pity is that it is needed at all. The aim should surely be that all Queensland children know how to spell, punctuate, read and write clearly - let alone amend a rogue apostrophe.


Norf'k language may soon disappear

The unique language spoken by Norfolk Islanders has been recognised by a United Nations body for its distinctiveness. Norfolk Island Chief Minister Andre Nobbs said today the so-called Norf'k language had been included by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in the next edition of its Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing.

Inhabitants of the Australian territory have been seeking greater recognition of the language for many years. The language has survived from the days of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian companions. The mutineers' descendants became the first free settlers of Norfolk Island and their creole language has been kept alive to the present day.

Mr Nobbs said the island's government had made a submission to UNESCO, setting out the case for recognition and protection of the language. "The advice from UNESCO is a significant step in building recognition of the unique language and culture of Norfolk Island,'' he said.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Stars and gripes over US loans

This American family's mortgage is one of the reasons you face a home loan rate rise - regardless of what the Reserve Bank does. To purchase their four-bedroom, 3«-bathroom custom-built home in Little Rock, Arkansas in the south of the US, Ron and Doris Smith were forced to go to a subprime mortgage lender.

These are the reckless organisations being blamed for the US housing crisis - record mortgage foreclosures, loan defaults, mortgage company collapses, and falling house prices. The ripple effect from the US crisis is causing a global credit crunch that has now hit Australian shores. At the end of the chain is the Seed family from Rockdale, in Sydney's south, who have taken every precaution to insulate themselves financially, but now face the prospect of further rate rises.

Australian mortgage lenders - including the Commonwealth Bank, which posted a record $4.47 billion annual profit - have said they could be forced to lift their variable rate by 0.25 per cent in coming months, regardless of the Reserve Bank of Australia's action on interest rates, because of the problems in America. The Commonwealth Bank has no direct exposure to the troubled US subprime sector but says the cost of lending money has risen. "The fact of the matter is the price of credit in the market internationally has risen, so there will, at some stage, be some increase in rates," Commonwealth chief executive Ralph Norris said. Australian lender RAMS Home Loans is one of the companies caught up in the US loans debacle and is warning of higher costs. The company sources almost half its funding for Australian home loans from the US market.

But in Little Rock, Mrs Smith said she was angered by the bad publicity and blame being heaped on US borrowers who are forced to go to subprime lenders when the banks refused to give them a loan. The banks would not lend to them two years ago because, Mrs Smith said, it was hard to calculate her husband's income. Mr Smith, 34, owns a removalist company and his wage fluctuates.

But in Rockdale, Commonwealth Bank customers Karyn and Mark Seed said they were working to ensure their home loan was paid off and could not be held responsible for the actions of mortgagees halfway around the world. "It's not our fault, what is happening in America; it shouldn't have anything to do with what is happening to us. We're in a totally different country," Mrs Seed said. "I've got two young children - I've still got to go out and work four or five days a week to help pay my mortgage."


Axe Muslim immigration - Pauline

PAULINE Hanson says she will run on similar policies to those that won her international notoriety a decade ago when she vies for a Queensland Senate seat at the upcoming election. The main difference will be that this time the former fish and chip shop owner, who claims credit for forcing the Howard Government to adopt a harder line on immigration controls, will target Muslims.

"We need to have a look at our immigration levels and I'd like to have a look at putting a moratorium on any more Muslims coming into Australia," Ms Hanson said yesterday. As revealed in The Courier-Mail yesterday, the former One Nation leader has applied to the Australian Electoral Commission to register Pauline's United Australia Party. If successful, the party's abbreviated name, Pauline, will appear above the line on the Senate ballot paper, making it easier for people to vote for Ms Hanson.

The 53-year-old won the seat of Oxley as an Independent at the 1996 election after being expelled from the Liberal Party because of her explosive views on immigration. In her maiden speech, she warned against Asian immigration and went on to launch One Nation which eventually foundered, but not before it grabbed a swag of seats at the Queensland state election. She lost her own seat at the next federal election.

Ms Hanson said "nothing's changed" with her policies. "I think that we need to look at getting out of the 1951 convention of refugees, and not being forced into taking refugees in this country that bring in diseases, who are incompatible with our lifestyle," she told ABC Radio. She said tariffs should also be raised to protect local industry and manufacturing from "cheap imports".

Of Queensland's six Senate spots up for grabs at the election, five are held by the major parties, with the remaining seat held by Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett. Ms Hanson will be up against Senator Bartlett, the Greens' Larissa Waters and Family First's Jeff Buchanan for the required 14.5 per cent of the vote to gain a Queensland Senate seat.


Labor party doing its usual self-destruct act: Internal bickering

One of Labor's most powerful factional bosses has rebuked party leader Kevin Rudd and ordered federal Labor candidates to back off in their confrontation with Queensland Premier Peter Beattie over council amalgamations in the state. Bill Ludwig, a leading union figure in Labor's Right faction, said Mr Rudd and some candidates had been wrong to conclude that the amalgamations could cost the party the federal election. The Queenslander, who is the Australian Workers Union national president and Labor national executive member, said federal Labor was becoming "spooked" over the issue.

New state legislation has slashed the number of councils to 72, but some Labor strategists are concerned that widespread community opposition to the amalgamations could cost the party key seats in the poll. John Howard has attempted to capitalise on the row by promising federal funding for plebiscites on amalgamation proposals on federal polling day. Mr Rudd supports Mr Howard's view that amalgamations should not proceed without local referendums.

But Mr Ludwig said he believed the issue would not cost Labor seats. "I don't think we're going to lose one vote over this. It's not worth worrying about. We will win government with or without this amalgamation business," he said. He said Labor had "allowed themselves to be spooked on council reforms by the National Party, for God's sake". "The National Party shouldn't be capable of spooking a pussy," he said.

But last night, Mr Rudd pledged to continue opposing the council plan. "Mr Beattie has got it wrong when it comes to compulsory amalgamations," Mr Rudd said. "Federal Labor will continue to campaign against them."

Mr Ludwig's intervention is likely to spark a renewed attack from the Coalition over the union movement's power within the ALP. But the controversy has also renewed tensions between Mr Rudd and Mr Ludwig. Both come from Queensland, but Mr Ludwig, arguably the most powerful factional figure in the state's Right, supported Kim Beazley for the leadership over Mr Rudd. At the time, Mr Ludwig said: "I've been bagging Rudd to anyone who will listen." Mr Rudd also stared down Mr Ludwig in December, after he became leader, when, over the union leader's objection, he secured Craig Emerson's elevation to the front bench.

Mr Ludwig said yesterday he had told his Right faction federal candidates in Queensland to "pull their heads in" and not to support Coalition attacks on Mr Beattie over the amalgamations. "I've sent the word out to the candidates. What the state Government has done is fair," he said. "There was an independent commission which looked at the issue. To have 156 councils in Queensland in 2007 is ridiculous."

However, the former Labor MP for the key marginal seat of Hinkler, Brian Courtice, said the amalgamations would hurt Labor at the poll. Mr Courtice said anti-amalgamation sentiment was so strong in some areas that it could cost Labor four seats: Hinkler, Flynn, Leichhardt and Petrie. "Polls show these seats are winnable, but Peter Beattie is guaranteeing they won't fall to Labor," he said. "It's not a question of a big anti-Labor swing. It's the capacity to stop Rudd from winning enough seats to get across the line."

Queensland Local Government Association president Paul Bell said 15 to 20 councils had resolved to hold ballots on amalgamation proposals. This could get them sacked for breaching the new legislation's ban on ballots. Mr Beattie said this week he regretted the timing of the amalgamations and any impact it might have on the poll, but would not back down.


Left unable to face the challenge of black problems that it helped to create

INDIGENOUS Affairs Minister Mal Brough yesterday politicised the intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, arguing that Labor would never have stood up to the NT Labor Government. Mr Brough said the "sweeping", "breathtaking" and "bold" changes to fight child abuse in 73 of the Territory's indigenous communities would never have been made by a Labor government. "Would a Rudd-led Labor government have taken on Clare Martin, another Labor minister or chief minister, taken her on and said, 'You have failed the people of the Northern Territory?"' he asked.

In a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra, Mr Brough said seminal land rights moments, such as the stockmen's strike of the 1960s and even the High Court's 1992 Mabo native title decision, had impoverished Aborigines, not freed or empowered them.

Mr Brough promised to make sure that while the commonwealth would own the land in the 73 targeted communities for five years during the intervention, sacred sites would be respected. "I've heard that message and I will ensure that all of my managers on the ground ... will be given advice from elders about the significance of things in their communities and that they do not trample over significant issues unintentionally," he said.

He said the Mabo decision -- overturning terra nullius -- and the High Court's Wik judgment of 1996 -- which found native title was not extinguished by pastoral leases -- were very important, but building on the Land Rights Act of 1976 had locked indigenous people into collective tenure. "What got lost in the debate was people thought it was the holy grail, that releasing land would free people and empower people," he said. "It's done just the opposite. It's actually impoverished them. "We need to actually recognise that communism didn't work, collectivism didn't work. It doesn't work to say a collective owns it and you don't have anything."

Mr Brough responded to concerns that the Territory's National Emergency Response Bill offered communities "a reasonable amount" rather than the "just terms" compensation enshrined in the Constitution for the temporary lose of title to their land. Handing down on Monday a majority report on their day-long inquiry into the most dramatic shift in Aboriginal affairs since the 1967 referendum, the four Liberal and three Labor members of the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee called on the Government to clarify as soon as possible the compensation issue. Mr Brough said yesterday the commonwealth's drafters had told him the legislation -- set to pass the Senate this week -- was drafted in line with the Constitution, but if he received sound advice to the contrary, he would heed it. "It is done in good faith. We've made it very clear, the Prime Minister and I, that this is about just terms and we will honour that. There is nothing to hide here," he said.

Mr Brough also said kava, as well as alcohol and pornography, would be outlawed in communities by the end of the week. Kava was introduced from the Pacific islands to Aboriginal communities in the early 1980s in the hope that it would curb alcohol abuse. Mr Brough brushed aside resistance to the ban on the intoxicating brew, illustrated by the ejection this week of a federal survey team by the Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala.

Rejecting Mr Brough's attack, Opposition indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said federal Labor was absolutely determined to fight child abuse in Aboriginal communities. "All sides of politics have failed indigenous children. Nothing can be gained from blaming federal Labor or the states for what is everyone's failure," Ms Macklin said. She said federal Labor had moved amendments in the Senate this week to ensure that just-terms compensation was paid when the Government acquired an interest in land. "But the Howard Government refused to support our amendments, despite government senators raising concerns," she said.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

An American perspective on Australia

Radio listeners in Sydney last week were treated to some good ole Aussie plain talk on the war on terror. "It's not all negative and nobody pretends that it's easy," Prime Minister John Howard told talk show host Ray Hadley. "Pulling out will guarantee a descent into civil war and chaos and a victory for terrorism and we're totally opposed to that." And what of the much-maligned President Bush? While he's "under pressure at home," Mr. Howard retorted, "he's not a person who succumbs easily to pressure, and he's right."

Mr. Howard could just as easily have been describing himself. A man who's been fighting political trench warfare since the 1960s, the 68-year-old prime minister is dug into what he dubs "the toughest election I have had in the last decade or more." After 11 years in power at the helm of the ruling conservative Liberal Party, the straight-talking John Howard may finally be on the outs and Australia leaning left.

Polls show Mr. Howard trailing his challenger, the Labor Party's Kevin Rudd, by around 10 percentage points, with an election expected to be called in late October or early November. The so-called "Howard battlers," the blue-collar workers who swung the 1996 election decisively for the conservatives, are now seen as swing votes, particularly in Queensland and Tasmania.

A few decades ago, an Australian election wouldn't have mattered outside Asia, where Canberra occasionally intervened to put out fires in Pacific Island spats and kept tabs on Indonesia. Since taking office in 1996, however, Mr. Howard has carved out a global role for his country, proving himself a pragmatic and powerful ally in the war on terror. Australian troops are deployed in more hot spots than at any point in the country's history, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. Back at home, he's kept Australia's economic engines purring; the federal government is wholly debt-free and unemployment is at a 33-year low.

This is still a fresh vision of Australia, a nation where "tall poppies" get cut down--a popular phrase for compatriots who succeed too much and need to get taken down a notch. Talk to most Aussies, and they'll tell you they're just a middling-size nation that's largely dependent on mining resources. In fact, they have the world's 15th largest economy and boast some of Asia's most sophisticated services companies and a top-notch military.

Mr. Howard has had such a successful run that most political pundits attribute his polling numbers not to policy blunders but, first, to fatigue and, second, to Labor having finally found an electable challenger. (In good Aussie style, Mr. Rudd also comes in for his share of ribbing. One comedian asked earlier this year, "Do we want a Prime Minister named Kevin?")

It's hard to overestimate the fatigue factor. Mr. Howard is the second-longest serving prime minister in Australia's history. His core team, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Treasurer Peter Costello, has been in place since 1996. It's easy, too, to get complacent when the majority of Aussies now own their own homes, have stocks in their investment portfolios, and watch the war on terror from a comfortable geographic distance.

After a few leadership debacles, the Labor Party found Mr. Rudd, a 49-year-old fresh face. He styles himself a new left "economic conservative" who would keep the budget balanced. He spouts the odd non sequitur--he'd "keep interest rates low" while "preserving central bank independence"--and panders to the trade unions, threatening to roll back the Liberals' program of flexible work contracts. But other than that, Mr. Rudd largely echoes Mr. Howard's free trade, conservative economic management--something the prime minister acknowledges with relish. "I think it's a bit of a risk electing a bloke who doesn't have a plan of his own," Mr. Howard told radio host Mr. Hadley.

It's on the "fear issues" such as climate change, job security and foreign policy where Labor wants to distinguish itself--and where the election, if Mr. Rudd wins, could impact the U.S. and its allies. The opposition leader wants a phased withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq, playing to local fears that the war on terror has "made Australia a target." He advocates humanitarian aid for, and dialogue between, opposing factions--unsurprising positions for a man who spent seven years as a foreign service bureaucrat before entering politics. Under a Rudd government, Australia would maintain its close U.S. alliance, he says, but plump for a stronger United Nations and nurture its relationship with China. Mr. Rudd also supports ratifying the Kyoto Treaty.

Mr. Howard has responded by rounding up his troops and getting prepped for a grass-roots tussle. That includes a dash of populist politics--most notably, a wash of money for projects in key constituencies. It hasn't, however, stopped him from pushing ahead with controversial national reforms. In June, after the release of a report of sexual abuse in aboriginal lands, he announced the government's most ambitious reform of policy toward its native population since the 1960s. Mr. Rudd supported it.

Mr. Howard's strengths lie in his record of economic growth and foreign policy successes. Mr. Rudd's strengths lie in distracting voters from that record and focusing them on peripheral issues. But as long as Mr. Rudd doesn't make any major gaffes, the thinking goes, Australians are ready for a change. Or are they? As an Aussie friend once told me, of Mr. Howard, "Every time his critics give him the kiss of death, it amounts to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; he revives and bounces back with incredible force." Mr. Howard has a long way to bounce in a short period of time. But don't count him out just yet.


Wimpy "modern" teacher backed up by official body

Any real man would have tried to break up a student fight. And are teachers "in loco parentis" or not? What parent would not try to break up a fight between children in his care?

Should school teachers jump in to separate brawling students? Teacher Peter Moran didn't think so, and instead hung back and watched a ferocious "bitch fight" involving eight girls. Mr Moran, a senior teacher and football coach, stood behind about 50 students crowded around the 16-year-old girls as they threw punches at each other and pulled out clumps of hair. He yelled for them to stop and waved his arms. But he did not intervene. "I'm here to teach, not to break up fights," Mr Moran told a distressed and injured girl afterwards. She told him to "f--- off, c---".

The headmaster of Langwarrin Secondary College, Robert Loader - a teacher with 40 years' experience - contacted the Education Department's conduct and ethics branch. He thought his teacher had a duty of care and should have "moved into the students" during the fight. The Education Department, which was later supported by the Industrial Relations Commission, dismissed Mr Moran and the Victorian Institute of Teaching cancelled his teacher registration.

But in a decision with far-reaching ramifications for Victorian teachers, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal recently overturned the decision to cancel Mr Moran's registration and attacked the lack of guidelines available to teachers on how to deal with physical fights. "There is no immutable rule that a teacher should physically intervene in a fight between students," VCAT ruled. "There are many occasions when it would be physically dangerous to the teacher or to one of the students to do so. "A teacher is not required to risk his physical safety or that of another student in the discharge of his professional responsibility."

VCAT said the teaching profession needed guidelines on how to handle fights and should educate teachers on appropriate strategies. "Teachers have a responsibility to protect students. However, we do not consider that extends to placing himself or herself physically in harm's way or taking the risk of harming another child," VCAT said.

Mr Moran, who started teaching in 1979 and spent 12 years at the Langwarrin school, hired a senior barrister and went to VCAT to appeal against a finding of serious incompetence by the Victorian Institute of Teaching, which registers teachers. VCAT brought down its decision on July 31. It concluded that only luck had prevented the fight from assuming "catastrophic proportions". But it found that Mr Moran's lack of intervention was an error that did not warrant deregistration. It found he was incompetent in not ascertaining the extent of one girl's injuries despite seeing handfuls of her hair on the ground.

VCAT ruled that suspension until January 1 next year was more appropriate than deregistration. "It is conduct that took place during only a few minutes of this teacher's career," the tribunal said. Mr Moran, who declined an interview with The Sunday Age, was directed to undertake courses on student discipline and professional development.

Despite VCAT's decision, Mr Moran will be unable to teach in the state system due to his earlier dismissal by the Education Department. Unemployed since his dismissal in 2002, he now will be able to apply for teaching jobs in the private sector. Mr Moran - tall, well-built and winner of several football coaching awards - was on yard duty on July 23, 2002, when students started streaming towards an area known as W6. Up to 100 students were crammed into a yard around eight girls who were arguing.

Mr Moran was about six metres from the girls, in a corner and out of sight of a surveillance camera. He says he told the students to "break it up" and "go, leave" and waved his arms. He claims he asked two boys to get the vice-principal after the teacher assigned to the area did not appear. (Due to an administrative error no teacher was assigned to the area that day.)

In evidence to the VCAT hearing, one student said Mr Moran told her, "(girl's name) is a smart chick and she knows what she's going to get herself into". Mr Moran denies this. Another student said he seemed to enjoy the fight. However, VCAT found it more likely that he "looked discomforted and smiled awkwardly". "Our impression from watching the video is that (Moran) appears inexplicably absent from the centre of the action for the three minutes of video footage prior to the occurrence of the fight itself," VCAT says. Mr Moran made no move towards the action during the 30-second fight. After it was over, friends of an injured girl abused him for not intervening.

Mr Moran told the hearing he was waiting for the teacher rostered on yard duty to arrive and was standing back so he could see the two entrances to the area. He thought early intervention could inflame the situation. In May 2004, Mr Moran told a separate inquiry that the principal, Mr Loader, had instructed teachers not to touch students under any circumstances. He also said the crowd of students was threatening and that he was terrified. The inquiry dismissed both arguments. In February last year, Mr Moran told a hearing by the Victorian Institute of Teaching that he could have been accused of assault if he had touched a student. He told the institute's panel he believed he had been made a sacrificial lamb.


Union comeback will kill economy

Any resurgence of union influence over government would not only reverse the gains of John Howard's workplace reforms, they would also undermine the "positive framework"for boosting productivity being championed by Kevin Rudd. Reserve Bank board member and BlueScope Steel chairman Graham Kraehe yesterday offered a stark warning that Australia's ability to compete and nurture innovation was at risk if workplace reforms were undone. Mr Kraehe said he was not being partisan or talking about promoting individual contracts over other agreements. It was in the nation's competitive interest, he said, to promote the benefits of greater choice and flexibility that had developed over the past 20 years, including the Work Choices of 2006.

"The industrial relations reforms of last year are an essential step in securing the kind of workplace performance Australia needs to meet the challenges of international competition,'' he told the Australian Industry Group's annual conference in Canberra. "The threat of major changes to the reforms that have been made fuels union expectations of a resurgence of their power and undermines the confidence of business. That is not an environment that would encourage the ongoing investment and innovation that we need.''

Speaking after the Opposition Leader outlined his commitment to boosting education, skills and innovation -- including $100 million for manufacturing innovation centres -- Mr Kraehe said he was not being political in making his pitch for greater understanding from Labor. "While we support and welcome Labor's commitment to Australian manufacturing, there is a real danger that the ambitious and positive agenda outlined this morning to secure the nation's future prosperity will be stalled by union attitudes that harken back to the past,'' he said. "All working Australians deserve better than that. "I think the challenge for Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party is to detail how its industrial relations policies will meet these very serious business concerns about the reintroduction of union power.''

The Prime Minister's former chief of staff, now merchant banker, Arthur Sinodinos, warned Australia was in danger of succumbing to a growing anti-globalisation sentiment and a feeling of fatigue that could ultimately undermine the nation's competitive edge. He said stalling reform at a national level could have implications across society. While his first concern was industrial relations, Mr Sinodinos warned that sending a message that it was all right to "put up the barriers to change'' could have a "chilling effect on our risk and innovation across the board''.

State governments already had crucial services, such as electricity, which were "no-go'' areas because of union opposition to change. And the recent US mid-term election backlash against the Republicans was as much the result of union-backed opposition to change as it was of the Iraq war. Mr Sinodinos nominated greater reform of the technical and further education system as a key challenge to be addressed in the future.


Private university does well

(Private universities are rare and recent in Australia)

Bond University has outscored universities from around the country in a report card of Australia's tertiary institutions. The privately run Gold Coast campus earned the maximum five-star rating in 10 key performance indicators in The Good Universities Guide 2008 to be released today. University of NSW was the second-best performer with five-star ratings in nine categories.

Bond's closest Queensland rivals were Central Queensland University, with a five-star rating in six key areas, and the University of Queensland, which scored top marks in five categories.

Bond - with 3000 students - scored five stars in graduate satisfaction, staff-to-student ratio, graduate starting salaries, staff qualifications and positive graduate outcomes. However, it scored poorly - one star out of five - in the area of research.

The University of Queensland scored five-star ratings in the key categories of getting a job, staff qualifications, research grants, research "intensivity" and toughness to get a place at the university's St Lucia campus. Griffith University and Queensland University of Technology fared well in attracting research grants and international enrolments.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New High Court judge appointed

I am pretty sure that this will help maintain the conservative orientation of the court. She comes from Cairns and that is definitely "no nonsense" country. I went to school there and views such as mine are common there. The appointment does at any event just squeak in to prevent a Leftist appointment by the Leftist government we shortly appear likely to have.

FEDERAL Court judge and Queenslander Susan Kiefel has been appointed to the High Court, marking the first time that two women have sat on the bench of the nation's highest court. Justice Kiefel, who rose through the ranks of the judiciary despite leaving school at just 15, was last night appointed to replace fellow Queenslander Ian Callinan. Justice Callinan retires at the end of the month, just before he reaches the statutory retirement age of 70. The 53-year-old Justice Kiefel becomes the 46th High Court justice and only the third woman to join the male-dominated institution since its creation more than 100 years ago. She will sit alongside Susan Crennan on the seven-member bench, earning $377,230 a year. Mary Gaudron, the first woman to serve on the bench, left the court in 2003.

The Cairns-born Justice Kiefel, currently a Federal Court judge, left school at 15 and in 1971 started working as a secretary in a law firm. Two years later, she found work as a legal clerk and soon after completed her bar exam. She became a silk in 1987 and was appointed to the Queensland Supreme Court in 1993. A year after that, she was appointed to the Federal Court. She is married to academic Michael Albrecht and does not have any children.

Justice Kiefel was tipped to rise to the High Court bench in 2003 but was beaten to the position when the federal Government appointed John Dyson Heydon. Yesterday, she beat Queensland Court of Appeal judge and former solicitor-general Pat Keane QC to the post. Attorney General Philip Ruddock said yesterday Justice Kiefel had received "very strong support" among those with whom he consulted. He denied gender had anything to do with the appointment. "She will make an outstanding judge, it is a factual matter that there are five male judges now (and) there will be two female judges. They are both people who were appointed on their merits, worthy of the appointment. "Any suggestion that this appointment was to secure two female appointments would be quite wrong. The way she came to qualify as a barrister initially ... is a very significant achievement."

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, who last week warned the federal Government it risked offending Queenslanders if it did not appoint a Queenslander to replace Justice Callinan, supported the decision. "She was one of our nominees and we're absolutely delighted with the decision," he said. "It's a good decision. Full credit to the federal Government. They'll be stunned to hear me saying something nice about them for a change."

Mr Ruddock said while he considered the fact that Justice Kiefel was a Queenslander, ultimately it was not why she was chosen. "I do look at these matters, in the end you come to the view that appointments should be made on the basis of merit," he said. Mr Ruddock also responded to claims by former High Court chief justice Gerard Brennan that he had compromised the integrity of terrorist cases and canvassed lawyers' political opinions before recommending them for judicial office. "It is regrettable that they have been made, because both accusations are wrong," the Attorney-General writes today in The Australian. "I make clear that I neither interview nor, in doing so, canvass the opinions of potential candidates for judicial appointment. I am very firmly of the view that politics has no place in the law."

Australian Bar Association president Stephen Estcourt welcomed Justice Kiefel's appointment. "It's an entirely expected and welcome appointment. Justice Kiefel has a first-class mind and a proven record of appellate judicial service, and she'll bring further balance to the High Court." But he said the appointment did not ease his concerns about the lack of consultation during the selection process.

West Australian Bar Association president Ken Martin also praised the selection and said he was not surprised by the appointment. "The favourite got across the line," he said. "The betting was on a Queenslander to replace Justice Callinan and she has an excellent reputation, over ... 10 years as a judge on the Federal Court, so she's a very tried and tested and well- respected model."


Sydney's Archbishop Jensen bans publicity-seeking Spong

Spong plays well with non-Christians because he too is not a Christian in any discernible sense of the word. Unlike most Anglicans today, Sydney diocese is very clearly committed to a New Testament faith -- and is flourishing because of it. That one diocese comprises a third of all Anglicans in Australia. Note that in the official pic below, Archbishop Jensen is NOT wearing vestments -- in accord with the evangelical orientation of the diocese. Spong, on the other hand, IS normally pictured in clerical garb -- to create an illusion of Christian identity. Jensen has no need of such aids

A row has erupted within the Anglican Church over a visit to Australia by an American cleric who has being accused of modernising Christ to the point of stripping him of all divinity. Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen has taken the extraordinary step of banning John Shelby Spong, a fellow member of the Anglican communion who arrives in Sydney this morning, from churches in his diocese.

By contrast, Anglican Primate Phillip Aspinall has invited Bishop Spong, a leader of the church's liberal wing, to deliver two sermons in Brisbane's St John's Cathedral. The retired Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, Bishop Spong will also give a public lecture at St Aidan's Anglican Girls School in Brisbane.

At the direction of Dr Jensen, the current edition of the Sydney diocese's newspaper, Southern Cross, has devoted two pages to an attack on Bishop Spong and his new book, Jesus for the Non-Religious. The book questions biblical references to the nature of the birth of Jesus Christ, his ability to perform miracles and the Resurrection.

Speaking on behalf of Dr Jensen, Bishop of South Sydney Robert Forsyth said Dr Aspinall was wrong to welcome Bishop Spong to Brisbane. "The judgment of the primate is, in our view, ill-advised," Bishop Forsyth said. "It is a mistake. It is the wrong thing to do." He said many in the church were distressed by Bishop Spong's latest book, the promotion of which was a major reason for his Australian visit. "He is attempting to reconstruct Christ to make him acceptable to the modern community but it is disastrous," Bishop Forsyth said. "Jesus ends up as a non-divine entity in this attempt to find a human Jesus. The result is a gutting of the Christian faith."

Dr Aspinall defended his decision to welcome the American bishop. "Bishop Spong speaking at St John's Cathedral is not particularly extraordinary," he said. "That Bishop Spong holds views which some Anglicans might find challenging is no reason to exclude him from speaking. "Our church has thousands of members and widely diverse views on a wide variety of subjects. "I am sure Anglicans willlisten respectfully to the bishop's views and make their own minds up."

One of the organisers of the visit, Brisbane priest Greg Jenks said Bishop Spong's critics were overreacting. "His new book is a good summation of how many people understand the place of Jesus," Dr Jenks said. "It is not dramatically new information. Bishop Spong has shown courageous leadership in our church of a kind we are in need of."

During a 2001 visit to Australia, Bishop Spong was banned by the then Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, Peter Hollingworth, from Brisbane diocesan churches. But during a 2003 visit, he was a house guest in Brisbane of Dr Hollingworth's successor -- Dr Aspinall. While Bishop Spong has been barred by his own church in Sydney, the Uniting Church has welcomed him to the city. The Australian launch of Bishop Spong's book will be held on Thursday at Sydney's Pitt Street Uniting Church, where he will attend the Common Dreams Conference this weekend.

Bishop Spong, a prolific author and longtime supporter of female and gay priests, retired as bishop of Newark in 2000. Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Choir will perform for the bishop at a farewell service in the Spirit of Life Unitarian Fellowship church at the completion of his Australian visit next month.


Leftist disparages what Australia's troops are doing in Iraq

Kevin Rudd's attempt to undermine John Howard's integrity over the Iraq war suffered a setback yesterday when an ALP candidate was accused of offending Australian troops in Iraq by saying they were engaged in a flag-waving exercise. Mike Kelly, a former army colonel who served in Iraq as a military lawyer and is running for Labor in the seat of Eden-Monaro, made the comments in a morning radio interview during which he questioned the value of Australia's troop commitment in southern Iraq. "Our troops are not the primary security provider in the south, in the location they are based in at the moment," Mr Kelly told ABC Radio. "There has already been a handover to the Iraqi security forces. "Principally, they are there now really as a flag-waving exercise by the Government."

Australia has about 900 military personnel in Iraq, including 515 in the Overwatch Battle Group, based at Tallil in Dhi Qar province in the south. While Mr Kelly said the troops were "professional and wonderful", his comments outraged Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who seized upon them as evidence of disrespect. "I do not know how that (the comment) has gone down this morning with the Australian soldiers in Tallil, but I would like the house to know that there are a lot of us who think that is a deeply offensive thing to have said about Australian soldiers," he said. "They do a dangerous job and they do a critical job."

Mr Rudd also appeared to rebuke Mr Kelly, insisting that no-one should demean the role of the Australian military. "I have nothing but respect for our troops in the field and the job that they do," he said. "This is a tough and dangerous operating environment."


Banned drug was given in high dose

Now we hear it: Another case of regulatory failure

THE osteoarthritis drug withdrawn from sale on Saturday after the deaths of two patients was approved for use in Australia at double the dose allowed in more than 50 other countries. Australia is the only country in the world where patients have died while taking Prexige. The 200mg dose was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in 2004 to treat osteoarthritis, while other countries recommend a 100mg dose.

The TGA received eight reports of liver damage, including two deaths and two patients who required liver transplants. Five of those were taking 200mg daily, one person was taking 200-400mg daily, one person 400mg daily and the TGA is yet to determine the dose for the eighth patient.

Doctors told The Australian yesterday that the recall highlighted the need for continuing trials into the safety of newly approved drugs. Prexige was first sold in Australia in November 2005 but it was not widely used until it was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in August last year, despite concerns from medical groups about its safety.

Lynn Weekes, president of the National Prescribing Service -- an independent medication advisory agency -- said pharmaceutical companies should conduct "post-marketing" studies on new drugs, even after they won approval, to detect side-effects that become apparent only once a medicine is widely used. "There were studies done initially on Prexige with doses up to 400mg, and there was no evidence of liver damage," she said. "That's why post-marketing studies are really essential, not just in terms of a drug's safety but also usage."

The NPS warned last July that there was insufficient information about Prexige's safety to support its listing on the PBS. "We are warning all GPs that its long-term safety hasn't been proven yet," an NPS spokesman said at the time. Prexige, used by 60,000 Australians, was one of the new generation of painkillers, called Cox-2 inhibitors, thought to cause fewer side-effects, such as gastric bleeding, than other anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen. However, the drugs fell out of favour in 2004 when pharmaceutical giant Merck withdrew Vioxx, a Cox-2 used to treat arthritis, after it was found to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. In April 2005, drug company Pfizer withdrew its painkiller Bextra amid concerns that it also was linked to heart disease.

Dr Weekes said doctors were aware that Prexige belonged to a class of drugs linked to cardiac side-effects, but it was not known that they caused serious liver damage. "We were aware of cardiac risks associated with this class of drugs. But these effects in the liver have really come out of the blue," Dr Weekes said. A spokeswoman for Novartis, which makes Prexige, said liver damage was a rare side-effect of the drug. "Serious liver side-effects have been reported rarely, for all Cox-2s and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. It is a known but rare side-effect for this class of drugs," she said. "What we found is that in a very short period of time, the adverse events that were reported were higher than we would expect, so we made the decision to withdraw the product."

The TGA approved the 100mg dose of Prexige last June.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Your government will protect you -- again

Would YOU buy a car and drive around in it knowing that it had faulty brakes?

A botched contract saw Melbourne's troubled Siemens trains begin passenger service with brakes that didn't work properly in the wet. Brake problems were discovered in early 2003, before the trains went into service. The extraordinary contract oversight was detailed in documents obtained by the Herald Sun under Freedom of Information law. Melbourne's rail system was plunged into chaos earlier this year after a series of brake failures. A Herald Sun investigation has found:

* THE original $500 million Siemens contract required trains to be tested in the wet, but did not set minimum braking standards in those conditions.

* INITIAL complaints by train drivers about brake problems were dismissed as teething problems.

* THE trains started passenger services in 2003 on the basis of theoretical tests by Siemens.

* A PEDESTRIAN crossing at Williamstown station was moved after a Siemens train overshot the platform in 2004, the year Connex took over Melbourne's entire rail.

Former operator M>Train wrote a scathing letter to Siemens on April 22, 2003, complaining of poor braking in wet weather. "In some cases drivers are reverting to the emergency brake in order to stop at stations without overshooting the platform," M-Train wrote. "This situation poses a significant safety risk and will not be tolerated. "Our drivers have raised the issue during commissioning, however the claims were always along the lines that the trains were still being set up."

State Government rail officials, who received a copy of that letter, ordered the trains out of service until August that year. [After which they went back into service] On July 16, 2003, M-Train wrote to the Department of Infrastructure, admitting the trains entered service on the basis of theoretical testing not reflected by real life. M-Train said drivers had raised concerns about the brakes during tests in the wet. "Siemens were requested to produce test results and calculations, which indicated that the theoretical performance was acceptable," M-Train said. On the basis of this advice, the trains were allowed to begin passenger services. "On commencing 'real' wet running conditions, actual performance did not reflect this, and the units were removed immediately from service as soon as this became evident." M-Train said subsequent tests found stopping distances were up to twice as long in the wet....

Brakes were modified in mid-2006 after a number of incidents in which trains overshot stations in the wet during May.

Despite the problems, Siemens has been invited to tender for 10 new trains, worth $360 million, due to begin service in 2009.



A man paddling and pulling his kayak from Brisbane to Adelaide to promote the need for action on climate change says he is disappointed with the sceptical nature of outback Australians. Steve Posselt, who is pulling his kayak along the Darling River road due to a lack of water, says that many rural people do not believe in climate change. He says he did not expect so many people to doubt what the majority of climate scientists agree on. "I've been astounded by the actual lack of belief on this trip," he said. "Many people want to argue the issue about whether there is such a thing as global warming. "You can talk to blokes in the pub and they say yep winters aren't what they used to be, they're a lot shorter. "And you say, 'well do you believe in climate change? No, mate its just a cycle'."


Elite maths 'discouraged'

SCHOOLS have been accused of discouraging average maths students in an attempt to boost their academic results. As the number of year 12 students enrolled in advanced and intermediate maths continues to slide, the chairman of the national committee for mathematical sciences, Hyam Rubinstein, said because maths was viewed as a difficult subject in schools, only the best and brightest were encouraged to pursue it at an advanced level. "If a school wants to maximise their performance, they may feel that 'if we encourage weaker students not to take maths, our results will look better'," he said.

Professor Rubinstein's concerns precede the release of a report ordered by federal, state and territory governments on numeracy teaching, learning and assessment practices. The report is due later this month. Last year 10 per cent of students took advanced maths and 21 per cent took intermediate maths compared with 14 per cent and 27 per cent in 1995


Small business exemption still on cards for Labor

It will be disastrous for jobs unless they do this. The present direction would put Australia in the same league as France

LABOR is still considering exempting small businesses from unfair dismissal laws despite strong opposition from the union movement. The final version of Labor's industrial relations policy has yet to be released and the idea of placating small businesses on one of their burning economic issues is still alive.

No decision has been reached and the official position is that there is not going to be any shift. But senior figures, including federal leader Kevin Rudd, have been testing views in the party to gauge the mood for an approach that goes back to the pre-Work Choices position.

The ACTU remains opposed to the existing policy and has told Labor's leadership that unions would not support any change. Some, however, believe that if Labor gets the process right -- getting the lawyers out of the process, focusing on reinstatement, and having employer-friendly hours for mediation -- it will represent a significant advance on the Howard Government's approach.

The internal debate comes as the Howard Government presses its attack on waste by the states, claiming that the Labor-controlled provinces have spent $22 million fighting the Coalition's workplace laws. Despite the states' increasingly tight budgets, and public concern over the standard of services and infrastructure, the spending includes $1.6 million on a failed High Court challenge. Federal Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said the states have embarked on "the best-resourced and most misleading fear campaign in the history of Australian politics".

Council of Small Business Organisation of Australia chief executive Tony Steven said exemption from the unfair dismissal laws was "extremely important" to small business because it had given them the confidence to hire. Mr Steven noted that most of the jobs created since the laws were introduced in March last year were permanent full-time -- proof, he said, of the confidence the new regime had created. "If there is any inkling of a movement on this issue I would strongly urge them (Labor strategists) to support a full exemption for small business from unfair dismissal laws," he said. "I strongly encourage members of the ALP to adopt this as good policy."

Mr Rudd will today address the Australian Industry Group, which has been one of the most vocal organisations criticising the first half of Labor's industrial relations package released during the party's national conference in April. Labor announced then it would abolish John Howard's unfair dismissal laws, which exempt businesses with up to 100 employees. The party said it would introduce a system for all businesses where employees earning less than $98,000 would be covered by the laws. Any claim must be made within seven days, and the employees should be seeking reinstatement.

Fair Work Australia, a workplace watchdog to be established by a Rudd government, would mediate any unresolved claims. Labor will develop a fair dismissal code to help these employers meet their obligations under the law. An employee of a small business would not be able to make an unfair dismissal claim until after 12 months. For all other companies it would be six months.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Federal Leftist leader faces pressure to dump another far-Left unionist candidate

FEDERAL Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd is under pressure to dump another rogue union candidate in a row that threatens Labor's chances in a seat it must win to take office. Mike Symon, a protege of disgraced Electrical Trades union boss, Dean Mighell. is facing claims he donated money to the Greens - a direct breach of Labor Party rules, which attracts automatic expulsion.

Mr Symon is the endorsed ALP candidate for the marginal Liberal-held seat of Deakin in Victoria. Mr Mighell, Victoria's secretary of the ETU, admitted in July that his union had donated $50,000 to the Greens and intended to donate another $50,000. Asked at the time whether the union executive had signed off on the donation, Mr Mighell told the ABC's Sunday Profile program: "They unanimously supported it. I was actually quite surprised at the level of support."

Mr Symon was the union political officer on the ETU state council at the time and endorsed the decision, a revelation which puts pressure on Mr Rudd to dump him. Mr Rudd's brother Greg was forced to resign from the ALP last month after The Sunday Mail revealed his donations in similar circumstances to the Liberals and Nationals.

The above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on August 12, 2007

Rudd's $20m security for Jewish schools

That should wrap up most of the Jewish vote for him. The Australian Labor party has however long been supportive of Israel so the latest policy is in accord with party traditions

Jewish schools are set to become the main beneficiaries of a $20-million security plan announced by Kevin Rudd in Sydney on Friday. Rudd, together with his education spokesman Stephen Smith, also offered an extra $16 million in general funding to Jewish schools and committed to the Howard Government's changes to the socioeconomic status (SES) funding appeals process.

The joint announcement came on a red-letter day for Labor, which is also set to benefit from the Greens' announcement on Friday it will hand preferences in the key seat of Wentworth to ALP candidate George Newhouse, who was present for the funding announcements at Sydney's Moriah College.

Rudd told the gathered media that if elected, the ALP would assist any school with a particular security risk, but emphasised the funding is for "predominantly the Jewish schools". "This will be funding which will be available immediately. We are very conscious of the particular needs of the Jewish community in regard to security," Rudd said. "We are not talking about regular acts of vandalism, because they occur at schools right across the country, [but] where because of national security considerations there are particular threats to particular school community, we believe nationally we have a responsibility to act."

Smith added that a Rudd government would fund security so that Jewish schools would not have to direct resources away from education. "We would actually [prefer] the schools to be spending money on educational outcomes and so those schools which are assessed to be at risk will be eligible to apply for assistance," Smith said.

Member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby, Australia's only Jewish federal MP, made the trip to Sydneyfor the important announcement. Danby has been lobbying against the government's controversial SES system, which disadvantages some "poorer" Jewish schools, for nearly 10 years. "The announcement today is, as far as I am concerned, the biggest political achievement I have been involved in since being elected in 1998," Danby said.

Last week, Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop announced an amendment to the SES funding appeals process, which the Coalition has promised Jewish schools it would address for almost a decade. The Howard Government also announced a plan that will see donations towards funding Jewish community security become tax-deductible.

The security spending announcement was followed by confirmation that a Labor government would support the government's amendment. Under the new appeals process, Jewish schools have already begun to appeal their SES rating based on a calculation that will take family size into account.

In addition, Labor said it would also throw an extra $4 million per year for the next four years in the direction of the Jewish schools, particularly ultra-Orthodox schools such as Kesser Torah College in Sydney and Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Colleges and Adass Israel School in Melbourne.


Leftist dishonesty about Iraq

A LEAKED letter from Kevin Rudd to Prime Minister John Howard shows the Opposition Leader backed Australia's involvement in Iraq in the aftermath of the invasion. The letter is at odds with Mr Rudd's current position that Iraq is "the greatest failure of national security policy since Vietnam" and will embarrass him in the run-up to the federal election.

In the letter, obtained by The Sunday Mail, Mr Rudd briefed Mr Howard on how to win in Iraq. Mr Rudd's November 2003 letter to the PM reveals that, far from opposing Australian involvement, he supported it. "Now that regime change has occurred in Baghdad, it is the Opposition's view that it is now the responsibility of all people of goodwill, both in this country and beyond, to put their shoulder to the wheel in an effort to build a new Iraq," Mr Rudd, as Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, said in the letter. He went on to recommend five policies. But he made no mention of troop withdrawal, even though three months later, then-Labor leader Mark Latham announced he would have the troops home by Christmas. The recommendations included:

* "An immediate review of protective security arrangements for all Australian staff in Iraq".

* "Deploying an appropriate number of trainers for capacity enhancement of the New Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police Force."

* Public employment measures to soak up the idleness of young men from joining terrorist groups.

* Using the Australian Electoral Commission to help Iraq stage elections.

* A smooth transition of the Oil for Food program to ensure Iraqis had proper food and medical supplies.

All of these measures were eventually adopted. Mr Rudd's letter was sent just as the Iraqi insurgency was gathering momentum, and after a visit to Baghdad. But in a speech last week, Mr Rudd outlined a different approach. "Despite the professionalism of the Australian Defence Force, the prosecution of the Iraq war has failed all key objectives set for it by the Howard Government," Mr Rudd told the Australian Security Policy Institute in Canberra.

Mr Rudd said no weapons of mass destruction were found, democracy had not spread in the Middle East, terrorism had blossomed and Iran's power had been enhanced. Labor now wants to pull out Australian combat troops if it wins this year's federal poll.


Extraordinarily stupid diet

Anyone subjecting kids to it could undoubtedly be charged with child abuse -- and the whole "detox" idea is a crock anyway

A 10-DAY detox diet consisting of only lemon juice, water and tree sap syrup is being sold to children as young as six. The popularity of the Lemon Detox Diet has soared in Australia, with more than 40,000 sales through the internet in the past six months. It has become a hot diet/cleansing treatment for Hollywood celebrities such as Angelina Jolie.

Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton is "horrified" by the cleansing diet. "There really isn't any proof this works," Dr Stanton said. "It is quite hazardous to put children on something that is unproven. "Children are growing and their bodies need protein. A diet like that will force their bodies to break down their own body protein. "It is dangerous and the wrong way to go."

The diet was designed by Hawaiian naturopath Stanley Burroughs 30 years ago. It involves drinking nothing more than a mixture of fresh lemon juice, cayenne, water and Madal Bal Natural Tree Syrup for seven to 10 days. The syrup is being sold through the internet for $79 a bottle. The Australian distributor, Sydney-based Andre Saade, said the product was suitable for children, while the company's website states it is "absolutely" safe for children. The syrup is made from the sap of trees -- one part maple, five parts south-east palm syrup, and tastes sweet and sour.

Dr Stanton said the internet was not the place to go for health advice. "People are simply spending money on something that they are not sure works," she said. "The body has its own detox system and that is the liver and the kidneys."


Australian native food fights disease?

It's all very well if you are of the antioxidant religion. That taking antioxidants can shorten your life must not be mentioned, of course

SPREADING Kakadu plum jam on your toast or seasoning soup with native Tasmanian peppercorns could curb the effects of free radicals and soothe the ravages of time, a study has found. For the first time, Australian native fruits have been shown to contain "exceptional" levels of disease-fighting antioxidants, a result scientists hope will boost Australia's fledgling bush-food industry, worth $14 million annually.

Researchers at Food Science Australia, a joint venture between CSIRO and the Victorian Government, compared 12 fruits, including brush cherries, red and yellow finger limes, riberries and Kakadu plums, with blueberries, renowned as a "super food" for its strong antioxidant properties. Native fruits were found to be a rich source of phytochemicals, with Kakadu plums and Burdekin plums containing about five times the amount of antioxidants found in blueberries.

The harsh Australian landscape may account for the findings, according to study co-author Izabela Konczak. "Australian plants had developed in complete isolation from the fruits from the northern hemisphere, with some plants, such as the Tasmanian pepper, associated with hardy Antarctic flora," Dr Konczak said. "If we expose plant cells to stress they produce compounds which protect the plant, and these work in humans as well and can protect us from nasty free radicals." Dr Konczak said eating antioxidants could prevent the development of chronic diseases and stem the ageing process.

Native fruits have been eaten by indigenous Australians for thousands of years, but with scant scientific data about their nutritional value, most people eat native fruit for their piquant taste, said Brunswick East-based CERES Bushfood and Permaculture Nursery manager Antoinette Celotti. "Mountain pepper, for example, has a spicy taste and there are advantages to growing the native fruit in relation to water usage," Ms Celotti said.

Using bush fruits as a source of phytochemicals could also interest the health food industry. "Finding unique food ingredients and flavours with health-promoting properties is a key market requirement these days," Dr Konczak said. So should we be eating Cedar Bay cherries on our breakfast cereal in a bid to stay youthful? "Yes, definitely," she laughed. "The development of minimally processed native fruits - a kind of convenience food - is the best way to use them for health benefits."


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Another pathetic Muslim

A teenager who groped a breastfeeding mum at a shopping centre has been sentenced to community service. Mohamed Chkhaidem pleaded guilty at Broadmeadows Magistrates' Court to indecently assaulting the woman as she nursed her week-old baby. The court heard he was traumatised over his girlfriend's abortion when he fondled the woman in a parents' room at Broadmeadows shopping centre on April 30.

Prosecutor Sgt Kevin Ellis said Chkhaidem "invaded an intimate moment between mother and child". Magistrate Robert Kumar imposed an 18-month community-based order, including 200 hours of unpaid community work. Chkhaidem, 18, of Broadmeadows, will not be added to the sex offenders' register. But he will continue psychological treatment, and join sex offenders' programs.

Defence lawyer Zarah Garde-Wilson said Chkhaidem had been ridiculed in custody because of media attention to the case. She said he had served three weeks' pre-sentence detention, and had apologised to police when he surrendered himself on May 3. Ms Garde-Wilson recommended a community-based order so Chkhaidem could continue counselling and a new job as a car detailer. "He was suffering a dramatic episode as a result of his partner's abortion several months earlier, which led to his conduct," Ms Garde-Wilson said.

Sgt Ellis said Chkhaidem told police he had frequented parents' rooms for more than six months. Chkhaidem said it made him feel better to watch women breastfeed. Sgt Ellis said Chkhaidem drew back a privacy curtain and started a conversation with the mum. He told her his wife had given birth, and touched her on the left breast and nipple before fleeing. "She was fearful, and felt she contributed to the incident," Sgt Ellis said. He said security footage showed Chkhaidem loitering in the corridor before the attack on the mum. Character references from his former employer at a car wash, his girlfriend and his psychologist were tendered to the court


Two deaths apparently caused by pain treatment; drug banned in Australia

Correlation is not causation. The liver damage observed may NOT have been due to the drug. Why, for instance, did the other 59,992 users NOT get liver damage? I have head of renal failure being "caused" by Keflex (cephalexin), a mass-prescribed antibiotic. Should we ban Keflex too? All drugs should be prescribed with caution as there may be individual sensitivities but banning a useful drug when vast numbers use it safely is plain crazy. ALL drugs have some side effects in some people. Even penicillin and its derivatives can kill you if you are sensitive to it. If we banned all drugs that appear to have rare side-effects we would have no drugs. Perhaps I shouldn't laugh but Canada has recently announced EXPANDED use of the same drug. That should produce some amusing gyrations

TWO people are dead and two others have undergone liver transplants from a drug, used by 60,000 people in Australia, which was urgently recalled today by the Federal Government. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said patients prescribed the drug Prexige, used to treat osteoarthritis, should stop taking the medication immediately and seek medical advice to get an alternative prescription.

Prexige was first approved by the TGA in 2004, but has only gained widespread use since being listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme last year. Novartis Pharmaceuticals produces the drug, which is listed under the technical name Lumiracoxib. Approximately 60,000 people take Lumiracoxib in Australia, which is prescribed for relief of osteoarthritis, post-operative pain, pain related to dental procedures and painful menstruation.

The TGA has received reports of eight people taking the drug who suffered serious liver reactions, including two deaths and two liver transplants. "The TGA has taken this advice to cancel the registration of Lumiracoxib in order to prevent further cases of severe liver damage," TGA medical adviser Rohan Hammett said. "It seems that the longer people are on the medicine, the greater chance of liver injury."


Fruit fanaticism

Nobody is even interested in proof of benefit. The wonderful powers of fruit seem to be a worldwide article of faith

VICTORIAN school children will get free fruit every Friday under an $11 million plan to help prevent obesity and diabetes. Launching the program today, Premier John Brumby said 35,000 prep to grade two students at 300 schools would take part in Free Fruit Friday under the first stage of the scheme. "It's all about trying to build a healthier population, educating kids, educating families and making sure that their diet is as good as possible,'' Mr Brumby said.

A study of a similar scheme in England found providing free fruit to young school children had limited benefits. The scheme promoted an increase in fruit intake after three months, the effect reduced at seven months and returned to baseline in year two when pupils were no longer part of the scheme, researchers found. There was a small impact on the intake of some nutrients across the children surveyed, researchers found. The study was published last month in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Mr Brumby said the Victorian scheme was more comprehensive than the one tried in the UK and would be more successful. "This is part of a broader strategy which is also linked through programs like Go For Your Life,'' Mr Brumby said. "I think if you just did this in isolation from a whole range of other initiatives, you might say: 'Well, is it going to work?'''

Mr Brumby said the program would create behavioural change. "I think it'll work. We'll, obviously, evaluate the program but we're making a big investment and we need to do that because we do have a diabetes and obesity epidemic in Australia.'' Schools will be encouraged to buy their fruit locally.


Australia growing impatient with Iraq: Downer

The Australian government is getting impatient because the reconciliation process in Iraq is not moving as fast as it would like, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says. The comments come after Prime Minister John Howard wrote to his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki, warning that unless there was faster progress towards resolving Iraq's political differences, Australian and other Western troops could withdraw.

"I think we are getting impatient because the process of reconciliation is not moving as fast as we would like," Mr Downer told Sky News on Saturday. But he said it was not just Australia that was worried about the slow progress, other countries involved in Iraq were also concerned. "I think we would all like to see the process of reconciliation moving forward a bit faster," he said. "I'm under no illusions about how difficult it is and we're certainly not naive in our commentary on the situation there, but there is no doubt that the process needs to move a bit faster."

Mr Downer said he had made Australia's position known when he met with Mr Maliki recently. "I made it very clear to the Iraqi prime minister that whilst the surge was having some success, the process of reconciliation in our view, and I think in the international community's view, wasn't moving forward fast enough," Mr Downer said. He said Mr Maliki needed to realise how controversial Australia's commitment to Iraq was. "Public opinion ... is pretty fragile on the issue of Iraq and he needs to be conscious of that public opinion and the implications that could flow from the reconciliation process not being successful."

But Mr Downer would not commit Australia to any specific date to withdraw troops from Iraq. "I think it's a mistake to lay down dates, even if you privately have in mind dates - we don't particularly - but even if you did, I think it would be a big mistake to make that public," the minister said. "The experience from history is that if you set a date for withdrawal, without attaching it to conditions, it gives the impression you're setting a date for defeat and that will lead to the insurgency intensifying."

There needed to be significant improvements made in the region before any withdrawal was possible, he said. "I think most people now realise that if there was a sudden withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq the consequences would be completely catastrophic," Mr Downer said. Only once the Iraqis prove they can govern their country effectively can the Australian troops fully withdraw, he said. "Obviously eventually once the Iraqis can maintain security, and they feel confident they can, foreign forces should withdraw and that's the object of the exercise - but it must be conditions-based, not time-based."


Saturday, August 11, 2007

IQ test comeback for Australian university admissions

IQ tests always were a good way of circumventing social disadvantage and were promoted as such by Leftist psychologists (such as Sir Cyril Burt) for many years -- until the low average IQ of blacks made the tests politically incorrect. The new test is not of course called an IQ test but it amounts to the same thing. The new test is designed as a predictor of academic performance and predicting academic performance is what IQ tests do best

MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY will offer places to some school-leavers using a combination of the students' HSC results and other tests - and at least five other universities may follow in a sign of their lack of confidence in the present admissions system. Macquarie's vice-chancellor, Steven Schwartz, has railed against using a single entry mark as the sole determinant of a student's ability because it is unforgiving of students who have experienced hardship in their final year or attended disadvantaged schools. The university will allow students who did not qualify on the basis of their university admissions index to sit a supplementary aptitude test, known as uniTEST, the results of which will be considered, along with their HSC results and an application letter, in a pilot initially limited to a few faculties.

"If you look at the data, you will find that ... the kids who go to private schools, the kids who have private tutoring, they're the ones who get high UAIs," Professor Schwartz said. "And the likelihood is, there might be kids who might be smart enough, but because they don't go to those schools don't get high enough UAIs." But there would still be a minimum UAI, he said.

UniTEST was developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research and the University of Cambridge and is already being used by the Australian National University, Monash and seven British universities. It assesses problem-solving, comprehension and reasoning skills.

Six Australian universities, including Macquarie, had expressed interest in piloting the test since the Federal Government announced funding for a national year 12 aptitude test in the May budget, said Deirdre Jackson, the director of assessment services at the Australian Council for Educational Research. "I think everyone's been aware of it as a concern, that there's a group of students who for one reason or another have the skills to go to university but don't, and they're often the ones who go back at a later date as mature-age students."

Professor Schwartz, who chaired a British taskforce on university admissions while he was vice-chancellor of Brunel University in London, said research showed 5 per cent of students who did not do well in their A levels - the British equivalent of the HSC - scored highly in the uniTEST. "And they're the interesting ones, because if you only [selected students on] the UAI, they wouldn't even be on the radar."

Several universities already accept students with university entrance scores lower than their official cut-off marks if they have done well in subjects relevant to their course, including the University of NSW, which will formalise the practice for 2008 entrants in a scheme called HSC Plus. The ANU, which tried uniTEST for the first time this year, plans to use it again next year because the pass rate of students who came in via that method was "quite good", said the university's registrar, Tim Beckett.

Andrew Stanton, the managing director of the Universities Admissions Centre, which manages the university admissions index, said he had no problem with universities using supplementary measures in choosing who to admit, but he rejected the idea that the UAI had been devalued. The vice-chancellors' body Universities Australia decided last month to commission a study on equity and access to university for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.


Legal scrutiny of postmodernism

John Hookham and Gary MacLennan, the two Queensland University of Technology academics suspended for their criticism of the project, have lodged a complaint about their treatment with the federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. They argue that QUT punished them because of their political opposition to post-modernism, the ideology they see behind the PhD project. Political opinion is one of few grounds for discrimination prohibited by federal law. "They say that the most recent and disturbing expression of this theory is that you can laugh at the disabled," their solicitor, Susan Moriarty, told the HES. "Our case is very strong."

Adam McBeth, deputy director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University, said there was "very little (case law) on what's political and what's not. "I don't know that you could point to anti-post modernism as a political movement, it's probably at best a cultural idea. "It's certainly arguable and it would be interesting to see it run."

HREOC is expected to call QUT managers to a conciliation meeting with Dr MacLennan and Dr Hookham. A date for this has yet to be set. If the meeting fails to resolve the complaint the academics have the option of litigating the human rights point in the Federal Court. They already have on foot a separate court challenge limited to the fairness of the procedure leading to their suspension. QUT said it was aware of the HREOC complaint but would not comment while there was litigation.

The Hookham-MacLennan complaint to HREOC quotes from their article published in April by the HES under the headline Philistines of relativism at the gates. "When we say it is morally wrong to laugh at the afflicted, our colleagues seem indifferent to the truth of this statement. Presumably, for them, it is just our `narrative'," their HES article says. "They can take this position because in the post-modern world there are no theories, no knowledge and no truth; there are only narratives, fictional stories, all told with bias. "(But) if we are to take meaningful political action, if we are to act morally, if we are to teach our students how to live, how to act in an ethical fashion and how to make progressive and powerful art, then we need to be able to determine what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false."

The QUT position is that Hookham's and MacLennan's criticism of the PhD student Michael Noonan went beyond civil academic discourse. The university's code of conduct says differences of opinion must be met with rational debate, not vilification or bullying, and forbids behaviour that "may be distressing, offensive or humiliating".

Mr Noonan says his reality TV-style film project -- given the go-ahead by QUT under the changed title Laughing with the disabled -- is an attempt to give the disabled a voice. Its stars are two young intellectually disabled men. Mr Noonan points out that he has ethics approval for the project as well as the support of the men, their families and guardians, and the disability organisation Spectrum.


The Only Time White is All Right

Post lifted from Gates of Vienna. See the original for links

Australian television is running a series of ads on domestic violence called "Violence Against Women: Australia says no!" These commercials are funded by the Australian government to address a serious issue - some guys beat up on women they profess to care about.

Every culture attempts to find ways to channel aggression constructively. Australia is no different. However, according to The Age, only white men have a predilection for violence against women. If you look at the VAW website and peruse the pages of an "Australian government initiative" you'll make a fascinating discovery: no other ethnic group suffers from this problem. All of the "brown people" have been airbrushed out of the picture.

As The Age points out, Down Under is a multicultural utopia. Thus you won't find Lebanese, Nigerian, Vietnamese, or aboriginal aggressors. Just those rotten old white guys who like to beat up their women when the occasion arises:

Strangely, though, while the website says that all these examples are "based on people's real-life experiences", police and hospital records don't pick up this shocking truth: that marauding Caucasian brutes are the real problem. But then, the cops and medical folk aren't peeing their pants in terror at losing votes in those delicate multicultural seats. Mind you, the website does say that the "people in the photographs used in this booklet are models". It just doesn't say they are white models.

Having done crisis counseling with women ranging in age from fourteen to eighty-two, I can tell you that this is a bunch of horse manure. Men of all races, backgrounds, and ethnicities are capable of violence against one another, against their wives, against their parents, and against their children. In the Western world white men can't jump; however, they sure can hit. And don't forget, the same thing holds true for some women: they think it is legitimate to use violence in order to achieve their ends.

First we emasculate men, and then we accuse them of being "too" aggressive. It's no wonder some of them have anger management problems. This is the perfect recipe for making someone crazy: put them in a double bind and then criticize them for not being able to get out of it. According to Kermit the Frog's lament, it's not easy being green. And sometimes, especially for men, it's downright hell being white.

US cops say get tough on hoons

CALIFORNIA police are urging their Australian counterparts to embrace a zero tolerance policy against illegal street car racing and crush the cars of offenders. Officers from specialist squads dedicated to busting street hoons said tougher measures including seizing cars, night curfews for minors, increasing fines and arresting drivers and spectators had significantly reduced the number of illegal race meetings and lowered the death toll. Police departments across southern California, where the culture of illegal street racing has been prevalent for decades, have the toughest policies in the country and crush dozens of cars each month - often in front of their distraught owners.

Rialto police department traffic superintendent Chris Heiss said Australian police should crush the hotted-up vehicles to send a strong message to offenders, who are usually young males. "This is what makes them stop - when you destroy their cars," Corporal Heiss told The Daily Telegraph yesterday. "They spend up to $US30,000 making modifications on their vehicles and that loss is overwhelming for them - they are not going to do it again. "These young kids are scraping their money together to put into their main asset and some of them break down when they see their car being crushed."

Over the weekend, 185 people and 85 cars were detained by California's Drag-Net Regional Task Force at a morning race meeting in a deserted street in Ontario, a small industrial city of about 160,000 people. Police arrested 10 people on suspicion of illegal racing, impounded 16 cars and charged 18 people for illegally modifying their emission systems. Offenders face fines of $3000 when they front court and will likely lose their licences for at least six months.

During the operation - which came after a five-week investigation - police charged 171 people at the scene for being spectators at a street race, which is a crime in Ontario punishable by a $120 fine. Drag-Net Task Force spokesman Corporal Jeff Higbee said Australian authorities should increase penalties and the number of officers dedicated to the issue if they hoped to deter offenders from street racing. "They need to take a zero tolerance approach," he said.

The task force - comprising police officers from 12 southern California counties - was launched in July 2005. Corporal Higbee said the death toll from street racing in Ontario county had significantly dropped since the task force was formed. Seven people died in street racing in the county in 2004, six in 2005 and one last year. None had died this year. But Corporal Higbee said US authorities still had a long way to go to curb the problem, with 15 people killed in street races in southern California between the start of March and end of June this year. Among those killed was a 10-year-old boy who hit by a piece of debris while on a walk with his parents in suburban Florence when two cars collided nearby. And a woman in a wheelchair was hit by a car driven by a 16-year-old.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Plan to encourage Ozlit in schools

This is an improvement on studying the back of the Kellogs cornflakes packet but, much though I love the classics of Australian literature (NOT including Patrick White), English literature from Britain is a much richer resource. It should be literature in English generally that kids are introduced to

CONTEMPORARY writers such as David Malouf or Helen Garner could help to compile reading lists for students, and publishers could be given cash incentives to reprint Australian classics under a plan to encourage more Australian literature in schools. And according to recommendations from an Australia Council education forum yesterday, the study of literature would form a core element of English courses in schools, and include a component of Australian literature.

Under the proposals, a group of distinguished writers, teachers and scholars would build a list of Australian literary works that would form part of the "intellectual inheritance of all Australians". "Wouldn't it be good to see David Malouf, for example, on such a panel?" [Malouf is of Lebanese Christian ancestry but deserves better than being regarded as a token Middle-Easterner] Imre Salusinszky, the chairman of the Australia Council's literature board, said yesterday. "He's just the kind of person to be part of that conversation. People like John Tranter, or Frank Moorhouse, Helen Garner, they could certainly participate in the group that would turn its mind to what is the core literary canon that we would like to think that all students who pursued Australian literary studies to an advanced level might be encouraged to learn about."

Dr Salusinszky was among the "education roundtable" of 20 publishers, critics, academics, writers and scholars, including former NSW premier Bob Carr, emeritus professor of Australian literature at Sydney University, Elizabeth Webby, literary critic Peter Craven, English teacher Sarah Golsby-Smith and publisher Robert Sessions, who met in Canberra yesterday.

The panel recommended a survey of Australian literature teaching in universities and teacher-training courses as a way of encouraging more Australian contemporary and classic writing in high school and university curriculums. It also recommended an inquiry be held to discover the most effective way to prepare teachers of literature in the primary and secondary school systems; that Literacy and Numeracy Week give a greater emphasis to Australian literature; and education ministers consider establishing a scheme to assist publishers to keep Australian classics in print.

The roundtable was convened yesterday to discuss concerns within state and federal governments that the influence of local literature and Australian writers has declined in recent years. "The excellence of Austalia's literary culture depends on a thriving literary education in our schools and universities, which will produce the writers and readers of tomorrow," the roundtable said in a statement yesterday. "The decline in such teaching, particularly in universities, has contributed to a situation in which many Australian classics are out of print." Dr Salusinszky last night described the meeting as "very productive". "There was a real spirit of consensus and co-operation", he said. He said teacher representatives at the meeting "felt we need to give teachers a bit more space just to explore literature for its own sake, for its imaginative value, for what they (readers) might find in it, and for the dialogue it generates".



The head of the world's leading climate change organisation has backed the Howard Government's decision to defer setting a long-term target for reducing greenhouse emissions until the full facts are known. Despite widespread criticism of the Government's decision last month to defer its decision on cutting emissions until next year, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said yesterday he agreed with the approach.

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri, in Canberra to meet government officials, said it was critical that policies to address climate change be rolled out only after informed debate based on rational thinking and rigorous analysis of the impact of different options. "Otherwise one might come up with a lot of emotional and political responses that may or may not be the best, and I think in a democracy it's important to see there is an informed debate in officialdom as well as in the public," Dr Pachauri told The Australian yesterday. "One would also have to look at the macroeconomic effects - will that result in a decline in jobs and economic output?"

The Coalition and Labor have committed to the introduction of emissions trading from about 2011, based on a long-term reduction target. However, the scale and timing of the cuts have emerged as key differences between the major parties, with Labor committed to a 60 per cent cut in greenhouse emissions by 2050, while the Coalition will wait until next year for detailed analysis to be completed.

Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull last night welcomed Dr Pachauri's endorsement of the Government's approach. "We make no apology for taking care to carefully assess the economic impact of different levels of emissions reductions and different techniques of achieving them," Mr Turnbull said. "I don't criticise Labor for saying there has to be a big cut in emissions. "The big question is how do you get there?"

Dr Pachauri was more downbeat on the prospects of the APEC summit in Sydney next month being able to deliver any concrete outcomes on climate change. He suggested more significant reforms may come from a climate change forum, announced last week by US President George W. Bush and to be held at the end of next month, which appears increasingly likely to upstage any "Sydney Declaration" being proposed out of APEC. Dr Pachauri, one of the world's most respected climate change policy experts, said APEC was unlikely to deliver any concrete commitments on climate change reductions. "If there is an (APEC) declaration that demonstrates an intent to do things and some agreement on the kind of destination that we are seeking, that might be useful," he said. "I doubt if you will get a declaration that involves any concrete actions."

By contrast, he said, the involvement of Mr Bush in the US forum for major emitters, including China and India, could drive progress in key UN negotiations to establish a strategy to reduce emissions. The UN talks will resume in Bali in November. "If we can get all the participants in that (the US) meeting to agree to some kind of a long-term vision ... that would be a major achievement."

Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett said Labor agreed with Dr Pachauri's comments and had already commissioned analysis by economist Ross Garnaut to guide future policy. "Dr Pachauri's comments broadly affirm what Labor has been saying about the UNFCC meeting and the importance of the Bali conference," he said.


Melbourne Jewish cricketers abused

Melbourne has a fairly visible Jewish community so cowardly envy has an easy target. A Jewish community press release on the matter is here

A WEBSITE urging cricket players to post racially abusive messages to Jewish cricket team Ajax has appalled Jewish groups. The website, created through Facebook, encouraged guests to post comments on Ajax players "without fear of censorship. Swearing and abuse is encouraged". The F.U. Ajax Cricket Club site, which has now been removed, showed images of players from the McKinnon and Beaumaris cricket clubs alongside postings of racist comments.

One man who said he was the "Deputy Vice-President in charge of Holocaust References" called on the group to "Install A F---ing RHEEM". Another man wrote: "Being of German heritage, I think I need to apologise for ACC to still be in existence, my grandparents tried to get them all . . ." A third man said: "I've never played against Ajax but I did see their 3rd XI play McKinnon last year. They should have won easily but they nearly choked . . . probably on the gas." Another contributor hoped members of the Jewish community saw the website, if not he would "accidentally" forward a link.

The website comments have rocked the Victorian Turf Cricket Association, which the clubs play in. And Cricket Victoria is investigating, with a range of sanctions set to be discussed. McKinnon Cricket Club officials met last night to decide the best course of action.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Anton Block was disgusted by the comments. "This kind of sledging by mindless racists is unacceptable," he said. "No member of any sporting club should be subject to abuse such as this, no matter what their race or religion. It is simply unAustralian." Ajax president Jamie Hyams said he was stunned. "It's the sort of thing you would expect to find in the most vile Nazi websites rather than a bunch of guys we play cricket against," Mr Hyams said. "The Holocaust references especially were very disappointing and if they think the Holocaust is a joke they should have a look at the Holocaust museum and we'll see how funny they think that is."

McKinnon president Stuart Hamstead said he knew nothing about the racist comments until being contacted by the league this week. "I don't condone it whatsoever," he said. The comments come after the Herald Sun revealed in June that children as young as 11 were racially abusing Jewish players at junior footy games.

Source. One of the abusive commenters has now apologized profusely. See here

High-risk Leftist judges

Kirby (below) is an open homosexual who was appointed in the dying days of a Leftist government. He dissents from around half of the judgments of the court. Fortunately, he reires in 2009 when he turns 70

SINGLE-HANDEDLY, Justice Michael Kirby disproves Alexander Hamilton’s aphorism that the judiciary is the “least dangerous” branch of government. Fortunately, there is only one Kirby on the High Court. Accordingly, his refusal last week to uphold the Howard Government’s control orders is just another meaningless whistle in the wind from our most senior court’s great dissenter. But Kirby’s 94-page judicial yawn at the need for anti-terrorism laws provides a timely lesson on why filling the next High Court vacancy with a sensible judge is such a critical issue.

As with most things, it’s all a question of numbers. A few more Kirby-style judges on the High Court and we risk turning our Constitution into what US justice Robert Jackson once described as a suicide pact. In this case, it would be a pact brimming with civil liberties but offering little security from those who rely on those liberties to plot mass murder and dream of an Islamist regime that would extinguish all liberties and deal with gay judges rather differently. No grand invitations to speak out on gay rights. Just the occasional public execution to keep the masses entertained.

And so, those looking for the perfect case study about judges ensconced in ivory towers need only read and contrast the judgments of Kirby and his fellow judge, Ian Callinan, in the case brought by terror suspect Jack Thomas. Thomas, who allegedly trained with al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan, was placed under a control order after the verdict in his first trial was overturned and pending a retrial. Last week the High Court upheld the constitutional validity of control orders.

On the side of reason sits Callinan, delivering one of his final judgments before he retires next month. That judgment is a template for the next generation of judges who will undoubtedly be called on to decide the validity of anti-terrorism laws. Callinan said control orders were valid under the defence power of the Constitution because, let’s face it, we’re at war with a group of homicidal and ideological jihadists. He trawls through the evidence just in case anyone missed September 11. He cites intelligence reports that confirm Australia was treated as a target by al-Qa’ida prior to 9/11 and “continues to be viewed as a legitimate target”.

He recalls that in February 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri declared war on the West and implored all good Muslims to “kill the American and their allies - civilians and military”. He lists the terrorist attacks in Bali, Madrid, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Aden, Mumbai and London and the plots to blow up Western targets, including the Australian High Commission in Singapore and the Australian Embassy in Bangkok.

Callinan also remarks on the vulnerability of people to modern terrorism where “modern weapons, and not just such horrific ones as nuclear bombs, germs and chemicals, are more efficient and destructive than ever before”. He adds that it is “blindingly obvious” that Islamists exploit international travel and use modern communications to recruit and train terrorists. Callinan spends page after page listing what those in the legal world call “notorious facts”, meaning facts judges can rely on to determine that control orders are constitutional.

And contrary to the claims of Kirby and his civil libertarian cheer squad, Callinan has not trashed the decision in the Communist Party case. The cases are different. Notorious facts about the dangers of communism were not established in that 1951 case.

In 2007, the facts about the dangers of terrorism are undisputed. Which is why most of us would agree that the majority of the High Court was right to decide that a control order to monitor a man suspected of weapons training with al-Qa’ida was not an unreasonable response by a national government charged with protecting its people.

Not Kirby. This High Court judge, who recently said he wants to be remembered as a “loving man”, seems to be sending all his love in an unrequited direction: towards those suspected of supporting the slaughter of Western infidels. It’s hard to know where to start with Kirby’s long judgment. But hypocrisy is as good a place as any. For Kirby, an interim control order involves a “serious and wholly exceptional departure from basic constitutional doctrine unchallenged during the entire history of the commonwealth”.

To hear Kirby talk about settled constitutional doctrine is rather amusing given that he is the first to trounce settled doctrine and dabble in a bit of judicial activism when it suits. And in any case, the majority opinions are not exceptional. They are grounded in legal precedents that say the Government’s defence power waxes and wanes. When Australia is threatened, the power broadens. In peace, the power shrinks.

Which brings us to Kirby’s Wizard of Oz view of the world. Like Dorothy, Kirby seems to think he need only click his shiny loafers and return safely home to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. He could have spared his overworked associate and shortened his judgment to, “It’s all a bad dream. It’s not real. We don’t need these nasty laws.” Cementing his place as poster boy for the civil libertarians, Kirby says terrorism is too hard to define. For him, the danger of Islamist terrorism “is not a matter upon which I would be prepared to speculate ... (given) the sometimes coloured, emotional and disputable public media coverage of such issues.” This is Kirby at his most hilarious. The man who on other occasions thinks he inhales community values (at least the ones he favours) as easily as he breathes in the crisp Canberra air on his morning walk to chambers refuses to open his eyes to the growing threat of terrorism.

And given his disdain for the media on “such issues”, he may have ignored the British Prime Minister a few weeks ago saying in The Guardian there had been 15 attempted attacks in Britain since the 2001 attacks in Washington and New York. Gordon Brown warned we would be fighting al-Qa’ida-inspired terrorism for a generation.

For the same duration we will also be fighting the lawyer class that refuses to take terrorism seriously. A lawyer class that invents nebulous and self-serving views about civil liberties, dressing them up as eternal human rights so lawyers can elevate them above laws made by elected parliaments. A lawyer class that knows it will attract juicy headlines in the media by describing the real terrorists as those in the ranks of a government entrusted to protect us. A lawyer class adored by terrorists for making their job of jihad that much easier.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Australians have never had it so good

For younger readers, the heading above is a reference to a famous 1957 remark by British Conservative PM Harold Macmillan -- who won the subsequent election

THE necessities of life are making a smaller claim on the weekly household budget as rising wealth and income leave many with more money for luxuries. Rising living standards have been underwritten by incomes and wealth rising much faster than the cost of goods and services, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics survey of social trends. Incomes have risen at an average annual rate of 5.1 per cent during the past two decades, while inflation has risen by an average of 3.7 per cent. Rising housing prices and booming share markets have lifted the average net worth at an annual rate of 6.6 per cent, giving many people the confidence to spend more.

There has been a dramatic change in the way people spend. Households spend four times as much on household, electronic and sporting goods as they did 20 years ago, after allowing for inflation. Many people now spend as much on recreation, including everything from iPods to gambling, each year as they do on food, whereas 20 years ago they spent only half as much. Spending on communications services has risen more than fourfold.

The number of houses with an airconditioner has doubled in the past decade to 60 per cent, while the number with a dishwasher has risen from 25 per cent to 42 per cent, and the number with two or more refrigerators is up from 24 per cent to 33 per cent. People have taken to pay television, which now reaches 21 per cent of homes, compared with just 3 per cent a decade ago.

Of the essentials - food, clothing and housing - only housing costs more of the average budget than it did two decades ago. And for all the concern about housing affordability, its share of the average family budget has gone up only slightly from 16.2 per cent to 16.7 per cent. Spending on food has fallen from 14.8 per cent of the household budget to 10.7 per cent over the same time, while clothing is down from 5.1per cent to 3.8.


Schools in push for Catholic-only rule

Cardinal Pell is waging an heroic fight to save his religion from degenerating into just a splodge of conventional secular pieties

THE Catholic Church wants to discourage non-Catholic families from enrolling their children in its schools under a return to strict religious values. Church leaders headed by Cardinal George Pell yesterday issued an edict to all Catholic schools, demanding that students and their parents be more devout and outlining a plan to lure back thousands of poorer families who have left the system. The Church will not ban non-Catholic students from enrolment - it says it considered, but rejected, plans for a formal "downsizing to accommodate only those who are committed to the faith". But it wants to introduce a new four-way selection test to give preference first to children from the school's local parish, then to other Catholics, other Christians and finally children from other religions.

The state's 585 Catholic schools have been urged to "re-examine how they might maximise enrolment of Catholic students". The edict also tells Catholic schools to increase the proportion of school staff who are "practising and knowledgeable Catholics". Catholic families will be urged to "maximise their participation". Students and younger teaching staff will be encouraged to take part in religious events such as World Youth Day.

Church leaders want more people at Sunday Mass and deeper involvement in the life of the local church by students and ex-students. Fears that the drift of Catholics away from the Church's schools is seriously "watering down" numbers of the faithful has forced Cardinal Pell and other Catholic leaders to take action in a bid to reverse the trend. Enrolment of students from a non-Catholic background in Catholic schools across the State has more than doubled to 20 per cent over the last two decades.

In a rare pastoral letter, "Catholic Schools at a Crossroads", the Bishops of NSW and the ACT admit changes in enrolment patterns have "radically affected the composition and roles of the Catholic school..." The letter, with Cardinal Pell as head signatory, said: "Half the students of Catholic families are enrolled in state schools and a growing proportion go to non-Catholic independent schools. "Another enrolment trend of particular concern has been the decline in representation in our schools of students from both poorer and wealthier families."

The letter reveals church leaders faced pressure to "downsize" the Catholic school system to include only students and staff who embraced the religion. But the bishops decided against such a radical change. Catholic schools educate about 240,000 students and employ 15,500 teachers across the state. Cardinal Pell was not available to comment yesterday, directing inquiries to the Bishop of Broken Bay, David Walker. Speaking at the launch of the pastoral letter at the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel, Bishop Walker said it was time to reassess the future of Catholic schools


Australian wine success

AUSTRALIAN wine exports have topped $3 billion in a year for the first time, triggered by surges in demand from the US and China. About 805 million litres of wine - valued at $3.007 billion - was exported in the 12 months to July, figures from the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation state. The value of the Chinese market has risen 125 per cent, and the US is poised to overtake the UK as the most lucrative market.

The corporation's chief executive Sam Tolley said increased bottled wine sales helped the industry surpass the $3 billion mark. China now buys $51 million worth of Australian wine, and will soon be the fifth largest market for Aussie wine exporters. "Clearly, China is developing in its sophistication through the growth of its cities, and coming with that is a desire for wine - and Australian wine is in that mix," Mr Tolley said. "The scale of the opportunity is enormous."

The UK remains Australia's most lucrative market, valued at $974 million -- ahead of the US ($972 million), Canada ($273 million), New Zealand ($102 million) and Ireland ($71 million). In volume terms, the UK remained top with 285 million litres, ahead of the US (222 million litres), Canada (51 million litres), Germany (41 million litres) and New Zealand (35 million litres).

Mr Tolley said water and drought remained challenges for the 2008 vintage, which is expected to be as small as the 2007 vintage of about 1.34 million tonnes -- the lowest this decade. "The drought has been managed well. The question intensifies for the next year, though, in view of the very small allocations of water," he said. "It's critical that we get adequate winter rains and that we have a careful approach to the use of that water for the next vintage. "Water is certainly one of the major issues facing the wine industry. Access to water in our productive regions is the most important production issue."


Compensation case shows that the "stolen generation" is a myth

Is Bruce Trevorrow, awarded $525,000 in the Supreme Court, the proof of the so-called stolen generation? It is the opposite that is true. Bruce Trevorrow, a part-Aboriginal now living in Bairnsdale, was stolen from his parents after being raced to hospital on Christmas Day 1957. Yes, stolen. Over the next few years the little boy was mentally destroyed. Said an Aboriginal woman who tried to foster him in his teens, it seemed he'd never known love. That loss near drove him mad and broke him, and it was for such suffering that Justice Tom Gray of the South Australian Supreme Court last week awarded him $525,000.

The media reports all hailed this as a breakthrough not just for Trevorrow himself: " 'Stolen Generation' Aborigine wins test case", was a typical headline. But is this - the first court case won by a member of the so-called "stolen generations" - really proof at last that what I've so often called a "myth" is true? The opposite, perversely.

Trevorrow won not by proving there was indeed a government policy to steal black children from good homes for racist reasons. He won it by actually proving there was not - or at least not in South Australia.

First, a reminder of what "stolen generations" means. Historian, Professor Peter Read, who invented the phrase, said it refers to the 100,000 or so children our governments allegedly stole in an "attempt to put an end to the Aboriginal people of Australia". Political scientist, Professor Robert Manne, the myth's greatest propagandist, says these were actually 25,000 children, stolen by governments that "wished, in part through the child removal policies, to keep white Australia pure". Insisted Manne: "It was not from harm that the mixed-descent children were rescued, but from their Aboriginality".

So, was there really a government policy to steal Bruce Trevorrow from his parents just because he was black? Just to keep white Australia "pure"? Here's what Justice Gray found really happened. It was Christmas 50 years ago when Joe Trevorrow left his hut of scrap iron and sacks on the Coorong to ask his neighbours - relatives of his partner, Thora - to drive his sick baby to Adelaide's children's hospital. They had a car; he didn't.

Neither Joe nor Thora - who'd stormed off to Tailem Bend after a family argument - went with their child, or visited him in the two weeks he was kept in hospital. Who knows what Thora's relatives told the doctors, but the hospital's notes say the baby, Bruce Trevorrow, was a "neglected child - without parents", suffering from "malnutrition" and "infective diarrhoea"'. The notes add: "The other two children are neglected. Mother has cleared out and father is boozing." This is the baby that just two weeks later was given to an Adelaide family, which were told its mother had "gone on a walkabout".

Unforgiveably, Joe and Thora were never asked for permission to give away their baby. And they were lied to when, six months later, Thora wrote to the Aborigines Protection Board, the official guardian of all Aboriginal children, asking to know when she'd get Bruce back, "as I have not forgot I got a baby in there". The reply, from the APB's Marjory Angas, claimed Bruce was "making good progress but as yet the doctor does not consider him fit to go home". What Bruce's parents did not know is that it seems to have been Angas herself who'd already given away their baby - and that she'd done this against the law.

As Gray ruled: "Mrs Angas may have been well-intentioned ... but was well aware, or ought to have been aware, that the removal of the plaintiff from his family, and his placement with the Davies family, was undertaken in circumstances that were understood to be without legal authority, beyond power and contrary to authoritative legal advice." That illegality, said Gray, was why Bruce Trevorrow deserved a payout.

The picture the judge paints over many pages is compelling: South Australia never had any laws -- or policies - authorising anyone to steal Aboriginal children for racist reasons. Gray noted, for instance, that in 1923, as South Australia passed a law to help neglected Aboriginal children, the then treasurer assured Parliament: "The dictates of humanity forbid the state to deprive mothers of their infant children in cases where their mothers desire to keep them." The treasurer added: "(T)he provision in the Bill (to remove older children) is designed only to be used in cases where an illegitimate child is ill-cared for by its parents."

But there was a hitch. In 1949, the Crown Solicitor confirmed that the law did not let APB officials take Aboriginal children from their parents. That was the job of the Children's Welfare and Public Relief Board, which looked after children of all races, but wasn't so keen to remove neglected Aborigines. It found them hard to help. In that standoff, Aboriginal children seem to me to have been less in danger of being stolen than left to rot. Justice Gray gives examples - like the baby brought to Port Augusta Hospital in 1955 in "an advanced state of malnutrition". Her mother was shown how to look after her child, yet it came back again "in a shocking state". Despite the pleas of doctors to take her into care, this baby was not "stolen", but sent back home to God knows what fate.

In 1958, the year after Bruce Trevorrow was taken, the APB's secretary described the tragedy he confronted. "I feel sure that a higher mortality rate is evident among Aboriginal children than those of other descent," he wrote to a colleague. "Unfortunately, there is a considerable amount of undernourishment, malnutrition and neglect. "In fact, quite frequently (Aborigines) do not seem to worry whether the child is fed or not." Yet "there is not a high proportion of aboriginal children who are wards of the state, simply because our legislation does not provide that neglected children can be removed".

Still, his officials couldn't always stand by and do nothing. Admitted the secretary: "Again in confidence, for some years without legal authority, the Board have taken charge of many Aboriginal children, some are placed with Aboriginal institutions, which by the way I very much dislike, and others are placed with foster parents. "As often as possible we arranged for this type of child to be adopted, necessarily of course, with the authority of the parents."

How many children had the APB removed? Some 300 over the years, taken because they were - Gray found - "thought to be neglected". Note: not because Australia had to be kept "pure". This practice seems to have stopped by the end of the 1950s. So why did Marjory Angas, in 1957, decide to steal Bruce Trevorrow? So, if there wasn't a policy to steal black children for racist reasons, does Angas show that APB officials still had racism in their hearts?

Angas is dead, and cannot defend herself. But Gray suggested she was just "relatively inexperienced" and "unwittingly prejudiced" against the baby's parents. Gray didn't explain that "prejudice", but assumed it from such scraps as a letter Angas wrote in mid-1957 in an inquiry into Joseph's daughters by his first wife. "We understand (Joseph) is illiterate and an habitual drunkard," Angas wrote. "Conditions in this camp are reported as most undesirable for children." What's more, Joseph had no job and Thora often had to beg for help for her children.

Gray has ruled that almost all of this is false. Joseph may have drank, but was no drunk, and he often worked. "The children were adequately clothed and fed. Thora was a loving mother who cared for children and the home." She hadn't "cleared off " for good. What's more, Gray found that the doctors who thought Bruce had suffered from malnutrition had probably been confused by his weight loss from diarrhoea. In fact, Gray even praised Joseph and Thora as "good parents", who raised their three remaining children so well they "learnt to cope with life's adversities and flourished". Had Bruce been left with them, the judge bravely suggests, he could well have flourished too. Certainly, it's impossible to think the boy could have done worse.

His new family loved him, but at three he was already losing hair in what now seems an early sign of depression. At eight he was stealing, and soiling his pants nearly every day in the walk back from school. His adoptive mother, under some apparent mental stress herself, often threatened to send him away. Psychologists were called in, and at 10 he was introduced back to his real mother, Thora (Joseph had died). After a couple of hurried visits, he was asked to decide which family to choose. He didn't really know. No wonder he turned out a wreck, chronically anxious. But back with Thora and several boisterous and older half-brothers and sisters, he seemed overwhelmed. After several tense months, he stole from his teachers and was beaten up so badly by an enraged Thora that a policeman had to take him away for his safety. She didn't want him back.

So by 11, Bruce found he was not wanted by either of his two families. He stayed for most of the rest of his youth in institutions and on tranquilisers and anti-depressants. Not surprisingly, his adult life has been deeply troubled, marred by booze, crime and even jail. It is easy for us now to moralise about how wicked Marjory Angas was to even think of taking Bruce from his parents. But should Gray have been quite that glowing of the parenting skills of Thora, and so sure she'd have raised her baby so much better?

Angas acted unlawfully, immorally and unwisely, but she may have had some reason to think Bruce was better off adopted. Consider: Thora, it seems, was indeed set to clear out when Bruce was taken, despite what the judge said. Just four months later, she'd left her family and married a wife-bashing drunk. A welfare officer later reported she was living with her children in a shack in "shocking circumstances" and, when she was reunited with Bruce, she gave him up within a year. It was in that same year that one of her other sons was sent to a boys' home after Thora was convicted of failing to send him to school.

And Joseph? One of his children by his first marriage went to a home for young offenders and another was jailed. His two sons with Thora had their own battles with booze and the law. When Thora walked out, Joseph left his two young sons with a local woman who was, police warned, too old for the job and had "mental troubles", which could "endanger the lives" of the boys. Nothing was done to help them until months later, when the woman told police to send the boys to an institution - which Joseph refused to allow.

There's more - not enough to excuse the taking of Bruce, but enough to make the cautious wonder how a young boy, already slightly brain damaged and sensitive, would have coped with being left where he was. Was Angas so wicked - so racist - to want better for him, however terribly her dumb gamble turned out? I excuse nothing, of course. A tragedy as monstrous as this is hard enough to understand, let alone to judge. But when the eager look at this case and shout, "Aha! Proof of the stolen generations! Of a plot to destroy Aborigines!", I know enough to know they know little.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sydney public hospital patients pay up to beat chronic health queues

PATIENTS are paying up to $600 for private treatment to avoid queues at crowded public hospital emergency departments as the state's casualty crisis deepens. Baulkham Hills Private Hospital and Sydney Adventist Hospital, two of three Sydney private hospitals with emergency facilities, reported a 30per cent rise in the number of admissions this year. On Thursday it was reported that most patients were forced to wait an average of eight hours in public hospital emergency rooms.

The nurse unit manager at Baulkham Hills Private, Lea Mitchell, said the number of patients visiting its emergency department had risen by nearly one-third compared with the same period last year. "There are patients who come here because they're not prepared to wait," she said. "We get that all the time. Patients are seen very quickly by the nurse and then they may have to wait a short while for the doctor. The longest anyone has had to wait is three hours." Ms Mitchell said that at the busiest periods, there would be between four and six people waiting. "That's when we're really, really, really busy."

State Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said the numbers flocking to private hospitals were a reflection of the lack of community trust in the public sector. "It's a degree of the frustration of the community," she said. "They know that sometimes you are stuck in an ambulance or a waiting room for hours."

At Sydney Adventist Hospital, which has the state's largest private emergency section, doctors see 21,000 patients a year. Its director of emergency care, Greg McDonald, said most patients pay between $300 and $350 for treatment, with Medicare giving a rebate of about $100. Fees can reach $600 in cases such as heart attacks, which require specialist care and invasive procedures. "People ring us up from the public hospitals and they go, 'I've been waiting here five or six hours and it doesn't look like I've got a chance', and we say, 'Come here. You'll be able to see a doctor sooner'," Dr McDonald said. "We are more generous, more liberal in the way we deal with patients, in the way we try to find them beds."

But in winter, the emergency department is 10 per cent busier, mostly with patients aged older than 75 or younger than 16. Dr McDonald said the hospital treated the same extensive range of emergencies as a public hospital, and often saw trauma cases even though they were officially not meant to. "Sometimes the ambulance brings them to us because they think they need more urgent attention," he said. Dr McDonald is lobbying the Federal Government for funding of the private emergency sector so that they could better supplement the public health system.

However, a spokeswoman for Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott ruled it out, saying hospitals should talk with the State Government instead. Meanwhile, elective surgeries have been postponed at public hospitals in northern Sydney and the Central Coast due to staff shortages caused by a flu and viral outbreaks. The acting chief executive at the region's area health service, Terry Clout, said surgery would be rescheduled as soon as possible.


Right to tribal law scrapped

Multiculti loses out

ABORIGINAL offenders in the Northern Territory will no longer be able to use customary law to get softer sentences for serious crimes, under the Howard Government's radical intervention into Aboriginal communities. And federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough revealed yesterday that the "just terms" compensation to be offered to Aboriginal traditional owners who have their land taken from them for five years could be provided in many forms, not only in cash. Mr Brough said "rent and improvements", including infrastructure programs, could count as compensation. And he conceded some traditional owners might have to wait a long time until they received any compensation. "What I'm saying is that traditional owners will discuss with the Government, and if ... a particular group ... can't come up with a decision, then there is recourse to the courts," he said.

Mr Brough said the Government would introduce the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill into parliament today, with plans to have the legislation passed by the end of the week.

Labor held a special briefing last night with Kevin Rudd and a caucus sub-committee that included the two Labor MPs from the Territory who have opposed elements of the Howard Government's intervention. The issue has been sensitive in Labor ranks, with the Left opposing crucial elements of the Howard package. The Australian understands that Labor is likely to support the legislation while still articulating the view that the abolition of the permit system for entry to communities is unnecessary. Labor will decide at this morning's caucus meeting how it will respond to thebill.

Mr Brough said the Government's intervention would cost $587 million in the first 12 months, as revealed in The Australian yesterday. Of this, $64.7 million will be spent on policing alcohol bans and pornography, $83.1 million on health checks for indigenous children, $205.8 million on welfare changes and employment initiatives, and $32.8 million on enhanced child protection services and more safe houses, an expansion of alcohol diversionary services for youth and additional childcare.

Mr Brough said the customary law changes were included because the Territory Government had failed to change its laws. "COAG agreed in 2006 that no customary law or cultural practice excuses violence or sexual abuse," he said. "Jurisdictions agreed to amend their laws to reflect this decision. The Australian Government has amended commonwealth law. The NT has so far failed to do so."

The Howard Government's plan contains legislation authorising alcohol bans, the takeover of remote community land under five-year leases and audits of public computers for pornography. Other bills will provide for welfare changes, both in the Territory and nationwide, and the removal of the permit system for Aboriginal land, which restricts access to communities.

The Territory Government said it opposed some of the measures, including the land acquisitions and the removal of the permit system. Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin said her Government only supported measures that would directly result in the protection of children. "Providing unrestricted access to communities by removing permit requirements, leasing land for five years and compulsorily acquiring town camps does not meet these criteria and does not have the support of the (NT) Government," Ms Martin said.

The Howard Government also announced that for the duration of the five-year intervention, all native title land claims would be suspended.

Indigenous people who have their welfare money quarantined by at least 50per cent for wasting their payments on alcohol, drugs or gambling, or failing to send their children to school, will not have the right to appeal against the decision. If they fail to send their children to school, all their welfare payments could be quarantined. Other Australians who face welfare controls will be able to appeal.

Mr Brough yesterday admitted that not all Aboriginal children were turning up to health checks. His office said they had offered a visiting delegation of Territory Aboriginal leaders opposed to the intervention a meeting yesterday afternoon but they had refused the time offered to them.

In other changes to the law, people who try to smuggle alcohol into remote Territory indigenous communities will risk up to 18 months' imprisonment and a $75,000 fine. Those caught with alcohol for personal use will face a fine of $110 for first offences and double that for any subsequent offences. Anyone caught in prescribed areas with more than the equivalent of 1350ml of alcohol will be presumed to have an intent to supply and the maximum penalty will be up to 18 months' jail and $74,800 in fines.

Mr Brough defended the initial $587 million cost of the plan, saying anyone who criticised the expenditure was "either not a parent or doesn't have a soul". "What price do you put on ... a baby of six months of age with gonorrhoea?" Mr Brough said. "Let's say it as it is: that is the price that we're willing to pay to try and prevent that from occurring, to ensure that children actually do have a future."


Doubt cast over "carbon offset" tree planting

TREE-PLANTING schemes promoted by businesses and rock bands alike to offset carbon emissions do little to combat climate change, according to a think tank. A paper by The Australia Institute released yesterday accuses governments and businesses of exploiting such "fads" to avoid the need for real cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. "By diverting people's funds and attention to projects that are unlikely to reduce emissions significantly in the long term, some offset schemes could ultimately do more harm than good," Christian Downie, the author of the report, said. "Tree-planting is the most popular type of carbon offset promoted in Australia but it is, in fact, the least effective for dealing with climate change. "The evidence indicates that offsets from renewable energy are the most effective, followed by those from energy efficiency projects, with forestry projects ranked last."

The comments are a blow to companies that have supported tree-planting to offset their carbon footprints, including BP, Sainsbury's, British Telecom, Orange, Avis and MTV. British rock band Coldplay bought 10,000 mango trees for villagers in Karnataka, in India, to offset the greenhouse gases released as a result of the production of their album A Rush of Blood to the Head. Dido, Atomic Kitten, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kylie Minogue, Kevin Keegan and the Rolling Stones have also promoted tree-planting schemes.

Mr Downie said Australia needed a compulsory accreditation scheme for carbon offset projects. He said there were strong grounds for excluding forestry-based offsets from an emissions trading system in Australia, or at least restricting their use. "Tree-planting, or forestry, cannot secure real, measurable and permanent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions because sooner or later the forest will be felled, burned or destroyed," Mr Downie said. "When (people) buy offsets from a forestry project with their airline ticket, for example, they are actually buying a promise that the immediate emissions from their flight will be gradually offset over the next 100 years. "There can be very little, if any, guarantee that this will actually happen."


Navy forced to ring triple-0

Armies and navies are bureaucracies and anyone with experience of them will not be surprised by this

An Australian warship was forced to call triple-0 to airlift an injured diver to hospital after it failed to reach anyone at a nearby naval training base, a military board of inquiry has been told. Leading Seaman Timothy Wildin, 24, was airlifted to safety after a near drowning accident on March 27 while stationed on HMAS Parramatta. The board of inquiry also heard it took three attempts and a delay of up to 18 minutes to raise the dive boat where Seaman Wildin was being revived.

He and another diver were attempting to free entangled fishing buoys from one of the ship's propellers about 22km east of Jervis Bay on the NSW south coast when he encountered difficulty. Seaman Wildin was pulled to the surface where he was "vomiting and limp", the ship's on-duty watch commander Lieutenant Megan Fowler told the inquiry.

About 5.40am (AEST), the watch crew observed a flashing light attached to a water buoy about 275m off the right side of the ship, prompting an order to change course. But the attached fishing lines and buoys caught the ship's hull, forcing the crew to stop the engines and commence the dive operation around 6.20am.

The inquiry has yet to hear the details of what happened to Seaman Wildin while under water, but Lt Fowler witnessed the attempts to winch the dive boat onboard the ship. She told the inquiry that conditions were favourable on the day with clear skies, slight seas and 18km/h winds. Giving evidence from her officer-of-the-watch notebook, Lt Fowler said it took multiple attempts to raise the dive boat. The dive boat crew had difficulty connecting the hook from the crane and the boat was initially overloaded with crew and equipment, requiring a number of people to climb aboard via the ship's ladder. "It had been taking a while to raise the boat," Lt Fowler said.

The ship's captain, Commander Lee Goddard, the second witness to appear at the inquiry, agreed the sea and weather conditions did not pose enough risk to postpone the dive operation. But statements he provided prior to the commencement of today's inquiry reveal HMAS Parramatta had offloaded most of its dive equipment in Newcastle during a six-month re-fit operation of the ship that concluded last December. Cmdr Goddard was assigned captain of the ship immediately following the re-fit and was informed about the missing dive equipment in January. He was also told the ship did not have the required dive supervisor. "To be frank, we didn't have a dive capability in January 2007," he told the inquiry. It was not until late February that the problems were rectified and the dive team commenced so much dive training that some was done during off-duty periods. But Cmdr Goddard said an assessment in mid-March determined the dive team was qualified and capable of carrying out operations.

When asked why his crew rang triple-O for civilian rescue assistance, he said they attempted to raise someone at HMAS Creswell naval training base at Jervis Bay but were unsuccessful. "I wasn't surprised triple-0 had been called," Cmdr Goddard said. He said his crew made the logical decision as he ordered the ship towards land in a "sprint to Jervis Bay". Seaman Wildin was eventually airlifted from the ship by NRMA CareFlight to intensive care at the Prince of Wales of Hospital and has since returned to duty. Up to 40 witnesses are expected to appear over the next three weeks of the inquiry.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Soldiers' alcohol binge OK, says Howard

Good to see that Australia has a level-headed PM who does not buy in to Leftist hysteria. Drinking is part of life in Australia and overdoing it from time to time is normal too

JOHN Howard and Brendan Nelson have defended the conduct of drunken soldiers in a video posted on internet site YouTube, saying the young men were just letting off steam. The 3-minute video, titled My Experience in the Australian Army, posted by an ex-soldier but now removed from YouTube, shows a group of young men getting extremely drunk during a drinking game. The soldiers, from Robertson Barracks in Darwin, are shown sculling alcohol through a long tube and then vomiting.

The brief appearance of someone in a Ku Klux Klan outfit has caused widespread comment but the Prime Minister said the soldiers were letting off "a bit of steam" and urged the public not to overreact. "I have some understanding of the disposition of people in these situations to let off a bit of steam," Mr Howard said. "I just think people can overreact with these things. People get into a lather and sweat and so on ... Let's be sensible about this."

Mr Howard said any discipline was a matter for the army. "Let the military deal with those things in their own way," he said. The Defence Minister said he would wait for the army's report into the incident. "Let's just wait until the Chief of Army and the military investigate the matter before we start jumping to conclusions and start to criticise the men who appear to have been involved," Dr Nelson said. "I suspect a lot of it is ... a bit of larrikin irreverence and I also suspect some of it has crossed the line and is quite inappropriate."

Brigadier Craig Orme, commander of Darwin's 1st Brigade, said the video was shot by a now former member of the Australian Defence Force about three years ago. He said the conduct was "abhorrent and inappropriate" and "not in the least" common, and the army would launch an inquiry to determine what action if any should be taken.


Klan footage a 'bucks prank'

A FORMER soldier who appears in a video of Australian troops binge drinking, with one apparently dressed as a Ku Klux Klansman, says the footage was a bucks party prank, not a racial slur. Identified only as Rico, the former soldier said he could understand why people were upset about the footage but it wasn't meant to be offensive. "I can see why people find it offensive but the reason why it was done was a mate's bucks party that we were having," he told the Seven Network. "We had a surprise made up for him so we went and pretty much kidnapped him and we needed a costume so he couldn't find out who it was. "The cheapest way to do it was to put a bedsheet over our heads, it wasn't in any racial terms."

The military is conducting an inquiry into the "abhorrent" video, shot three years ago and recently posted on the YouTube internet site. Rico said alcohol was a big part of army life while he was there and a way of letting off steam. "Every weekend pretty much that kind of drinking went on, most of the footage in that video was pretty tame compared to a lot of things that used to go on," Rico said. "We did our duty to the best of our abilities, we didn't drink while we were on duty."


That wonderful government "planning" again

Delay in autopsy reports on SIDS

DISTRAUGHT parents of children who have died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are waiting up to a year for final autopsy reports due to a chronic shortage of forensic pathologists. The shortage is also causing increasing delays for relatives waiting for adult autopsy results through the coroner's court system.

Doctors specialising in SIDS say the situation is causing anguish for parents who desperately need emotional closure after a child's death. But they would speak only anonymously because their area of highly specialised work depends entirely on state and federal funding.

The latest figures from the Royal College of Pathologists Australasia show there is one pathologist for every 15,500 Australians. The situation for child forensic pathologists is much worse: 10-12 pathologists for the entire population. About 30 per cent of these pathologists are aged 60 and over. To train a pathologist takes five years on top of a regular medical degree and one year's hospital experience.

Professor Roger Byard of the University of Adelaide told The Sunday Mail: "There just aren't enough pathologists, full stop. It's a workforce issue that's only going to get worse." Dr Debra Graves, CEO of the Royal College of Pathologists, describes the situation as "woeful". She said a 2003 Australian Medical Workforce Advisory Committee report, signed off by both state and federal health ministers at the time, recommended an extra 500 training positions over five years. But to date only 80 positions have been created, well short of the 400 traineeships that should have been in place by the beginning of 2007. According to College data, the Commonwealth has committed to funding an extra 30 positions in the private sector.

But it is the states that are dragging the chain. To date Queensland has committed to 21 positions, the ACT two, Western Australia 11, South Australia two, Tasmania one, and Victoria and New South Wales six each. The number of SIDS deaths in Australia has fallen from 500 a year to around 100 annually since the "safe sleeping" campaign began in 1991.


Qld. hospitals stretched to limit

A moronic government was not prepared for an upsurge of winter flu -- more of that wonderful government "planning"

With a burning forehead from a raging fever and his tiny chest heaving with every cough, Tyson Penrose slumped into his dad's lap. As exhausted Matthew Penrose, of Petrie, tried to make himself comfortable on the cold steel seat, he wrapped his arms around his sickly 11-month-old son and waited . . . and waited. "We were told there would be a two-hour wait when we got here," Mr Penrose said as he took his late-night place among the scores of other anxious parents who cradled their sick babies in the emergency room of Royal Brisbane Children's Hospital. By midnight, the wait time was nearly three hours. By then the children were drained by their illness and exhaustion, their desperate parents willing to do anything to get their kids better again.

The hospital staff are understanding of each parent's plight, those in the wait room said, but they are chronically undermanned and the flood of patients sickened by the current flu outbreak appears overwhelming. And this is a scene repeated in emergency rooms and hospital wards across the state as Queensland plunges into its worst flu crisis in six years.

Influenza A killed a four-year-old boy at Mater Children's Hospital last week and nurses yesterday flew home yesterday with 48 children stricken with the influenza A virus during a school trip to Canberra. The Year 7 students from Marymount College on the Gold Coast were required to wear face masks as they boarded a bus in Canberra which left for Sydney airport early yesterday morning. Two of their classmates remained in hospital in Canberra, but are reported to be satisfactory.

At the Gold Coast Hospital 23 children have been diagnosed with suspected Influenza A virus in the past two weeks, 10 of them requiring admission. That's five times the number of flu cases among children in the same period last year, a trend doctors say is occurring across the state. "It's strikingly unusual. I assume it has something to do with a change in the strain (of the virus)," said Professor John Gerrard, the Gold Coast Hospital's director of medicine.

Dr Steve Hambleton, a GP spokesman for the Australian Medical Association, agrees the current strain of influenza is unusually virulent. "It also spreads very easily. The virus can actually be transmitted within two hours of shaking hands with an infected person," he said.

The flu crisis is taking a staggering toll across the state. A Queensland Health source told The Sunday Mail that on Monday the state had run out of intensive care beds, coronary care beds and higher dependency beds - although a spokeswoman for Queensland Health disputed that. Queensland Nurses Union secretary Gay Hawksworth said critically ill patients were being dumped on trolleys in hospital corridors because there were no beds.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Smart kids wise up to useless education

Record numbers of Queensland high school graduates are snubbing university to chase "instant cash in the strong labour market. The rush to work comes as new research shows the number of Year 12 students who have decided to defer tertiary study has risen sharply in the past two years. Students admit they are weighing up the costs of taking out loans from the Government for tertiary courses when some high school graduates are earning up to $1200 a day in parts of north Queensland as bricklayers.

Universities face the long-term challenge of competing for a "relatively static pool of potential students", experts say. Professor Kerri-Lee Krause, director of the Griffith Institute for Higher Education, told The Sunday Mail: "It's no longer just a given that Year 12 students see university as the obvious pathway. "Universities need to be mindful of how they market themselves and we're seeing evidence of that even now with more flexible options with courses."

Education researcher David Phillips, from KPA Consulting, analysed tertiary admission applications and found that there had been no increase in Queensland Admissions Centre applicants fot the last 15 years despite Queensland school leavers growing more than 20 per cent in that time. There were 9000 more applicants for universities in 1993 than there were in 2006," Mr Phillips said.

University campuses are continuing to grow only because mature-age and overseas students make up the shortfall. Also concerning for universities is the trend of deferring study, with about 600 Year 12 students taking a break in 1993-94 compared with 2700 in 2005-06. "This number has risen very sharply, especially in the last two years," Mr Phillips said.

Mandy Coles,l7, of Varsity Lakes, was accepted by Bond University for a Bachelor of Business, but has opted to pursue a management career with fashion store Supre. Ms Coles estimates her two-year, full- time course at the private university would have cost $74,000, less about $300 per week in study assistance. "As soon as I turn 19, I'm on more than $12 an hour (at Supre). It's a lot better than the cost of going to university," she said.

The above article by Paul Weston appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on August 5, 2007

Patient dies in hospital hallway

A 43-YEAR-OLD woman has died on a stretcher at Brisbane's Logan Hospital because no beds were available. The Woodridge woman was brought in by paramedics suffering shortness of breath. She waited more than four hours but died before being admitted.

Queensland Ambulance sources said the woman's life could have been saved but a shortage of beds at the hospital, in Brisbane's south, meant she had to wait in a hallway for treatment that never came in time. "Logan Hospital is always at capacity - we take patients there and wait and wait, sometimes four, five, six or seven hours," one paramedic told The Sunday Mail yesterday. "This woman was taken in and she died on the stretcher waiting for help. It's wrong."

Queensland Health refused to comment. The Queensland Ambulance Service yesterday issued an unprecedented public statement yesterday about the death, saying it had referred the case to the Coroner for investigation. Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins said the woman was taken to Logan Hospital on July 18. While waiting at the hospital, she became unresponsive and resuscitation attempts failed. "This is a sad incident and I extend my condolences to the family of the patient," said Mr Higgins. "Such cases are always fully investigated. "The cause of the death is unknown and that's why this matter has been referred to the Coroner. "Until the Coroner makes a determination in this matter it would be inappropriate to comment further. "However, I can say that the patient was under the care of paramedics at all times." Mr Higgins said he had also referred the death to the independent watchdog, the Health Quality and Complaints Commission.

The ambulance source said Logan Hospital had been at capacity almost every night for the past fortnight. Gold Coast and Tweed Heads hospitals were on bypass - which meant no beds were available and ambulances were directed to take patients to the already over-stretched Logan Hospital.

The woman's death was similar to that of father-of-four Greg Hayes, 47, who died in June after being turned away from Tweed Heads Hospital and paramedics were forced to transport him another 22km to the Gold Coast Hospital. Health and ambulance officials tried to absolve themselves of blame over the death of the heart attack victim, saying a radio fault caused the tragedy.


Heart discovery to save millions of lives

AUSTRALIA'S top heart specialists believe they have found a treatment to stop heart disease in its tracks, potentially saving millions of lives worldwide. Experts from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital will today unveil the groundbreaking discovery which involves using adult stem cells from patients to repair their own hearts. The world-first treatment has been shown to generate new blood vessels and repair dead tissue in the heart. Importantly, the changes appear to be permanent.

Heart disease is the world's biggest killer, claiming 17 million lives a year. In Australia, there are 3.5 million sufferers and 50,000 die annually, 35 per cent of all deaths.

The new treatment involves injecting patients with a hormone to release beneficial stem cells from their bone marrow into their bloodstream. Then the patients are put on a treadmill to encourage the cells to travel to the heart, where they create new blood vessels to restore circulation and boost heart function. Evidence has also shown the hormone -- Granulocyte Colony Stimulating Factor -- can also actively rescue and protect struggling heart muscles from dying. It has passed safety tests and entered the second phase of human trials last week.

Professor David Ma, head of blood and stem-cell research at St Vincent's, said the development of the treatment was amazing. "It's amazing because a few years back when we started this study our whole hypothesis was different," he said. "It's quite exciting -- it's given us a new direction to attack the situation. "Because of the study results and more evidence coming out in the past couple of years, we have changed our emphasis." He explained how the hormone could stimulate blood vessels to grow in the heart as well as protecting and rescuing heart muscles from dying.

Prof Ma said the findings were significant because heart disease was already a huge problem in developed nations, like the US and Britain, but was also rapidly growing in developing countries, like India and China.

Professor Bob Graham, head of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, said the early findings were "very promising". Speaking from the US, where he was meeting international specialists last week, Prof Graham said: "At the moment we are restricting it to the most severe patients but if it works and is safe for those patients, hopefully we can broaden it. "The nice thing about this trial is that the drug is already on the market -- although it hasn't been used for this application." The hormone is commonly used to help cancer patients recover after chemotherapy.

Dr Sharon Chih, cardiology research fellow at St Vincent's, is co-ordinating the trial. Forty patients with severe angina -- or chest pain from a lack of blood and oxygen supply to the heart -- are being tested with the treatment against a placebo in a double-blind, crossover trial. They will be treated for three weeks and checked with MRI scans to assess the treatment's effectiveness. Poor diet and lack of exercise, as well as smoking, are major contributors to heart disease in Western countries. But the incidence is spreading to developing nations.


Muslims upgrade one Australian industry: Car theft

AT 8am the wait was over. The detectives were standing ready to strike and when the signal came they moved quickly, swarming through the residential streets in a series of simultaneous raids on homes in the Perth suburbs of East Cannington, Bedford and West Perth. They found what had the neighbours worried, front yards full of twisted car wrecks. The perpetrators had done little to disguise their operations. "There were vehicles parked everywhere. In the garden, up the driveways, in the street out the front," says Detective Senior Sergeant Neville Dockery, officer in charge of the West Australian police motor squad.

Seven people were charged as a result of the raids on Wednesday last week and police seized about 40 cars. Most of the cars were family sedans allegedly either damaged or stolen in NSW. They'd been trucked to Perth and repaired with stolen parts ready for sale to unsuspecting buyers. The operation was the result of other raids in Sydney a week earlier, in which riot police and detectives from the NSW Middle Eastern organised crime squad arrested six men for allegedly stealing cars from the city's affluent eastern suburbs.

These arrests, almost 4000km apart, demonstrate the national scale of what investigators call the criminal car rebirthing industry, where cars are stolen to order. The cars' identities are then disguised or they are stripped of parts to repair legitimate wrecks. While the number of car and light-commercial vehicle thefts nationwide has fallen dramatically since 2000, rebirthing is on the rise and proving fiercely resistant to police efforts to stamp it out. According to police, traditionally most were stolen for joyriding. But improved security, including the mandatory installation of engine immobilisers on all new cars since 2001, has cut joyriding and thefts overall.

According to industry and government figures, there were more than 127,000 thefts across Australia in 2000. Since then, that number has almost halved, to a 30-year low of about 64,000 last year. But dig deeper into these figures and you find this collapse is disguising a worrying trend. In 2000, there were 15,000 unrecovered stolen cars: those that were stolen and disappeared. Six years later, this number is down only slightly, to 13,200. As a proportion of total thefts, the rate of unrecovered vehicles has increased during this time. In 2000, one in eight stolen vehicles disappeared. Last year it was one in five.

According to Detective Superintendent Nick Bingham, commander of the NSW police property crime squad, the number of unrecovered thefts indicates the grand scale of car rebirthing. "It's a constant problem," he says. "Whenever police act to circumvent it, the criminals come up with innovative ways to get around us."

Analysis by the University of Western Sydney, presented at an international conference on vehicle crime in Melbourne last month, suggests that of the 13,200 unrecovered vehicles last year, 50 per cent were dumped in bushland, most likely after joyriding; about 20 per cent were rebirthed; and almost 30 per cent were stripped for parts. A small percentage of the total were illegally exported to the Middle East, the data showed.

In WA, police believe the rebirthing syndicate nabbed last week had sold about 40 cars to unsuspecting buyers through weekend newspaper advertisements. For the criminals, rebirthing is a lucrative source of funding. The most popular cars are also those that dominate the legitimate market - Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons - but rebirthing gangs also specifically target luxury models, which provide greater financial return. "It is organised crime," Bingham says. "The syndicates or individuals prepared to do the rebirthing are the same people who do drug supply, who do prostitution, armed robberies, fraud."

Police say that during the past five years the car rebirthing business has changed. Once criminals would buy a wrecked car, typically the result of a road accident, then find and steal a matching make and model from the street. By transferring a few details, crucially the 17-digit vehicle identification number located on the chassis, they could disguise the identity of the stolen car by re-registering it with the identity of the wreck. Even if the result was recovered by police, it was almost impossible to trace the vehicle's true owner.

Since the introduction of the Written-off Vehicle Register in 2002, however, statutory write-offs - those vehicles that are physically beyond repair as opposed to those written off by an insurance company but which can be repaired - cannot be re-registered in Australia. Police say this has effectively killed the traditional rebirthing racket.

But the criminals changed tactics and kept going. Ray Carroll, executive director of the industry and government-funded National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council, says criminals now buy up insurance write-offs at auctions, steal matching vehicles and strip them of the parts they need to repair the original. Under the law nothing exists to stop these being re-registered. "They will have a workshop somewhere in the industrial suburbs, where there will be a panel beater's shop. They will take the wrecked car there, then take in the stolen car and put it alongside, then strip it down and build the original," Carroll says. "They are experts, they can strip it down to the bare bones. A team of good guys can easily do that in half an hour. Remember, they are not doing it like a mechanic, who wants to put it back together, they go in with metal saws and hack out what they need." The resulting carcass is often either dumped on the street or sold as scrap, which effectively destroys the evidence of the crime.

Carroll says according to Roads and Traffic Authority figures, about 100,000 vehicles were written off last year nationally, 70 per cent of which were written off by insurance companies, providing the raw commodity for the rebirthing syndicates. Intelligence gathered by police suggests NSW is the national hub of the industry. National intelligence agencies have investigated possible funding links between the export of stolen cars and car parts and terrorist groups in the Middle East. Last year, a Victorian court was told that 13 men accused of planning a terrorist act in Australia had planned to finance the job partly through car rebirthing.

While NSW may be its hub, car rebirthing is a national - and indeed international - problem aided by the fact that cars are moveable assets. Car rebirthing was only made a crime in NSW last September. It is still not a crime in WA, although draft legislation is being considered. Andrew McKellar, chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, suggests the solution may lie not in the courts but in the private sector, with the insurance companies. "You still have so-called repairable write-offs and I think we would call on the insurance industry as a whole to reconsider these because there is still rebirthing as a result," he says. NSW police want legislation making it impossible to re-register insurance write-offs, effectively closing the loophole that allows these vehicles back into the market, although detectives do not believe responsibility lies entirely with insurers.

Investigators say the wider problem remains that it is impossible to trace cars or car parts that have been rebirthed. Last November, the Australasian Police Ministers' Council endorsed a proposal from the police services to develop a system of "whole of vehicle marking", with a car's components each being marked with an identification number allowing them to be traced individually. The proposal has stalled, however, because of opposition from the motor industry and concerns that the technology does not yet exist to implement the system commercially. "It's been looked at, it's been evaluated and in a logistical sense it's difficult to apply in a manufacturing point of view," McKellar says. "I don't think there are grounds to contemplate mandatory whole-of-vehicle marking."

The New Zealand Government has announced that microdot marking - the application of indelible identifying dots on most car parts - will become mandatory on all new cars from 2008, however, a move the country's Ministry of Transport estimates will cut car theft by up to 50 per cent. The cost of this - about $NZ88 ($78) per car, according to ministry figures - will be passed on to the consumer. In Australia, a number of car companies are running trials using microdot technology developed by the Sydney-based firm DataDot Technology. Since 2003, car manufacturer Subaru has used DataDot machinery to spray 1mm microdots containing the vehicle identification number on to the component parts of every new car brought into Australia. As a result the company has experienced an 86 per cent drop in thefts, according to figures from the NMVTRC.

DataDot chief executive Ian Allen says the company, which employs former WA police officer Jim King, will next month launch a new robot that is able to spray the microdots in less than a minute, which he hopes will help overcome industry objections that the process will hold up production lines. Yesterday, Allen met the WA Police Minister John Kobelke and commissioner Karl O'Callaghan to discuss breaking the stalemate and introducing the technology in that state. "We're out there on a world stage by ourselves," Allen says. "It's really an Australian-led technology which will give police all over the world a weapon they have never had before."


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Coral bleaching on Great Barrier Reef in record cold snap

Hey! Wasn't coral bleaching supposed to be caused by global WARMING?? And what's this about record cold? Another case of heads I win, tails you lose, it seems

A RECORD cold snap across southern Queensland has triggered coral bleaching normally associated with the extremes of hot weather linked to climate change. Scientists say the bleaching has been caused by a combination of cold waters, winds and air temperatures hitting exposed reefs around the Capricorn-Bunker group of islands at the southern end of the reef.

While other sections of the reef appear to have been spared by being fully submerged or far enough north to avoid the worst of the cold snaps in June and July, bleaching has been recorded by University of Queensland researchers on Heron Island, near Rockhampton. The area is regarded as having some of the most pristine sections of accessible reef. Coral expert Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, from the University of Queensland's Centre for Marine Studies, warned researchers along the reef to look for bleaching after Townsville experienced one of its coldest days on record, on June 20.

Strong and sustained southerly winds that brought heavy rain to much of southeast Queensland in June and July exacerbated the chilly conditions for coral exposed at low tide and weakened the algae on the coral needed to keep it healthy. Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said the comfort zone for coral was between 19C and 27C but temperatures had fallen to 8C. While bleaching from extreme heat affects entire reefs, the cold bleaching appears to be isolated to the tips of wide areas of coral exposed to the chill. Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said the extreme variation in temperature might be more common as climate change caused hotter summers and colder winters. [Really? Funny warming then. Sounds like no warming at all on average]

CSIRO oceanographer David Griffin said the only noticeably cold currents were further south, around Fraser Island, suggesting water was being cooled at the surface by the air temperature.


The Australian far-Left still preoccupied with their old obsessions while blacks suffer

Kevin Rudd's support for the Howard intervention to combat child abuse in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities faces a major challenge from growing opposition within Labor's Left faction. The rumbling in Labor ranks came as Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said yesterday that the health checks conducted on Aboriginal children in the past month had led to a small number of referrals to child-protection authorities.

Numerous Labor Left MPs told The Weekend Australian yesterday they could not back all elements of the legislative package and would press Mr Rudd for change when parliament resumed next week after the winter break. While Mr Rudd has backed John Howard since he launched the intervention in June, Labor critics raised concerns about two of its tenets: the temporary acquisition of title and the abolition of the permit system controlling entry to indigenous land.

Territory Labor senator Trish Crossin could not vote for the changes to the Land Rights Act. "I may not cross the floor but I won't be in the Senate chamber voting for it," she said. "I could not face my indigenous constituents again if they knew that I had voted for something I knew they were so passionate about." She said nobody was convinced that "taking the title of the land off people and compulsorily removing the permit system will actually stop the child abuse".

A Labor MP, who did not want to be named, urged the ALP to take a stand on title. "We know it's not right and we know it has nothing to do with child abuse. I'll be raising it in caucus and I know others will," he said. Another MP said Mr Rudd's caution on the issue had been initially respected. "We can support the health checks and extra police but the changes to land rights don't stack up," she said.

Their concerns follow those expressed earlier this week by shadow parliamentary secretary Warren Snowdon, who holds the Territory seat of Lingiari. Mr Snowdon had been swamped by concerns about the five-year acquisition of title and the abolition of permit, which he will raise in caucus.

Mr Rudd said on Thursday he was concerned at the time the Government was taking to draft the legislation. With the Government yet to reveal the legislative underpinning of the intervention, Mr Brough offered the Labor leadership a briefing on Monday.

The Weekend Australian understands the intervention will be dealt with in three bills with welfare reform -- the sequestration of payments for food and rent -- being dealt with separately from the land issues.

Opposition indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said Labor would not declare its hand until it had seen the legislation. Pressure was exerted on Mr Rudd from the other side of the argument by Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce chairwoman Sue Gordon, who challenged Labor to commit to the intervention. "The federal Opposition has said they've given bipartisan support but ... here in the Territory Warren Snowdon said he is not overly keen," she said.

In response to Dr Gordon's call, Ms Macklin said federal Labor was absolutely determined to fight rampant child abuse in the communities. "We are in this for the long haul because children deserve an innocent childhood."

Labor vice-president Linda Burney, the first Aboriginal minister in the NSW parliament, was concerned child abuse was being used to "mask" a "land grab". "I personally don't see the connection between the scrapping of the permit system and changes to what is the most iconic piece of land rights legislation in the country. I don't see the connection between that and addressing child sex assault," she said.


An unusual Leftist politician -- a food realist

LABOR'S push to banish cartoon characters from promotions of food to children have given one of the party's candidates a mild bout of indigestion. George Colbran, who is standing for the ALP in the Queensland electorate of Herbert, operates nine McDonald's restaurants, making him one of the fast food chain's biggest Australian franchisees. He argues that childhood obesity has been over-simplified by those who blame "junk" food. "Junk food: I get upset about that," Mr Colbran told the Herald. "How can a piece of meat put into bread with lettuce and cheese, eggs and muffins and so forth, be considered junk?"

Mr Colbran says voters in the Townsville electorate are far more concerned about the parlous state of local roads and poor access to broadband. He reckons plans by the Opposition health spokeswoman, Nicola Roxon, for restrictions on advertising food to children will never become Labor policy. This week Ms Roxon expressed concern that the character of Shrek was being used to sell everything from yoghurt to chocolate eggs as a marketing tool to get children to pester their parents into buying the products.

Mr Colbran said obesity was a complex issue. "There is a propensity for kids to be bigger now than they were when I was growing up, and there are a lot more reasons for that than McDonald's. "It's to do with lifestyles, kids in front of television and computer screens, kids being driven to school and picked up rather than riding their bicycles."

Herbert is important for Kevin Rudd's chances of winning the federal election, which hinge on whether the ALP can make electoral gains in Queensland. Labor has sought to improve its chances by selecting more candidates with business backgrounds like Mr Colbran. Labor believes a crackdown on food advertising will be popular among parents. But Mr Colbran's remarks suggest the plans may alienate another demographic, owners and employees of the estimated 11,000 food retailing franchises around the country.


Your medical regulators will protect you -- again

The regulators are a useless lot in South Australia, too

The Health Department will investigate how a privately run public hospital employed an overseas-trained forensic pathologist as a specialist. The inquiry was launched yesterday after State Coroner Mark Johns found the Iraqi-trained doctor failed to order tests on a patient who died from a brain aneurism despite a written request for a CT scan from the man's doctor.

An inquest into the death of Peter Roy Gillam, 44, of Tea Tree Gully, heard Dr Al-Khalfa had not practised medicine for almost 20 years before he was employed by Modbury Hospital in December, 2004. His curriculum vitae revealed he graduated with a medical degree from Baghdad University in 1984 but only served as a medical intern before studying to become a full-time forensic pathologist. Mr Johns said it was "therefore open" to find he had not practised medicine "in a clinical sense between 1984 when he worked in a Baghdad teaching hospital and 2004 when he commenced working in Modbury Hospital in South Australia". "If that is correct, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that he was a relatively inexperienced clinician when he saw Mr Gillam," he said.

Mr Johns said that, while forensic medicine "is, of course, a most highly skilled discipline, it involves a quite different set of medical skills from those required in dealing with patients in an ordinary clinical setting". "I have considerable reservations about the adequacy of Dr Al-Khalfa's experience as a clinician to perform the role assigned to him at Modbury Hospital," Mr Johns said. He said coronial police officers had been unable to find Dr Al-Khalfa to question him about Mr Gillam's death.

Modbury Hospital did not keep records on doctors' movements after they resigned. "It has been assumed by Modbury Hospital that Dr Al-Khalfa is no longer in Australia," he said. "I believe that is a reasonable assumption. "It is most unfortunate that Dr Al-Khalfa was no longer in Australia and could not be called upon to explain why he acted as he did on 17 December, 2004."

The inquest heard Mr Gillam first was taken to Modbury Hospital by his father, Thomas, after 5pm on December 16, 2004, after he had been to his GP, who wrote a note requesting a brain scan. A male nurse, however, told the pair the X-ray department was closed and they would have to pay for it to be reopened or return the next morning.

Mr Gillam returned to the hospital and was seen by Dr Al-Khalfa who, rather than ordering a brain scan, told him he was suffering from depression and said he should see a psychiatrist. Mr Gillam saw his GP again on Monday, December 20, before collapsing the following day in his bedroom. He was again taken to Modbury Hospital before being rushed to the Royal Adelaide Hospital. He died there following emergency surgery for internal brain damage.

Mr Gillam's father last night said the recruitment procedures for overseas-trained doctors needed to be overhauled. "This bloke had many qualifications but, unfortunately, they weren't the right ones to be working where he was," he said. "All doctors have certain basic training and it doesn't matter which field they follow, they are still doctors. "But 20 years as a forensic pathologist isn't the type of person who should be working in the emergency department of a public hospital. "He just shouldn't have been in that job."

Mr Gillam said he had received a letter from Modbury Hospital detailing changes it had implemented following his son's death. A Health Department spokeswoman said Dr Al-Khalfa had been employed at Modbury Hospital when it was operated by a private contractor, Healthscope. "Given that the employment of this doctor occurred when the hospital was run by the private operator Healthscope, the SA Health Department will need to investigate the reasons behind Healthscope employing the doctor, as recommended by the Coroner," she said.

The adverse findings against Dr Al-Khalfa come amid intense national scrutiny of the recruitment of overseas-trained doctors following last month's detention of alleged terrorism suspect Dr Mohamed Haneef in Queensland.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Ban on same-sex adoptions

The Federal Government says its bid to stop same-sex couples adopting from overseas is designed to give heterosexual couples in "typical family arrangements" priority over the limited number of children available. But gay rights campaigners have slammed the move, saying it shows the Government believes a child is better off in an Asian orphanage than with a loving same-sex couple. The Government plans to introduce a bill into parliament in the spring session, which begins next week, that will mean overseas adoptions by same-sex couples will not be recognised in Australia. If it becomes law, the child would not be granted a visa to enter Australia.

Rodney Croome, from the Australian Coalition for Equality, said the legislation was disappointing but not unexpected as the Government had unsuccessfully tried to introduce similar laws just before the 2004 election. "For a government to deliberately set out to stigmatise same-sex couples and their children to win a few votes in the lead up to an election is beneath contempt," he said. "The Government clearly believes children are better off in a Chinese orphanage or on the streets of Manila than in the care of a loving same-sex couple in Australia." The legislation could also harm children already in the care of same-sex couples "who are effectively being told by our government that their family is second rate and potentially dangerous".

The Family Law (Same Sex Adoption) Bill is listed for introduction in the 2007 spring sitting period. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock's office yesterday said there was no guarantee it would be debated before Parliament finishes for the year in December or before an election is called. The timing of debate would depend on the urgency of other legislation. "It does apply to overseas adoptions where there is competition for a very small number of available children," Mr Ruddock said through a spokeswoman. "The measures will ensure that priority is given to those in typical family arrangements." The change would override the states and territories, which currently have responsibility for overseeing international adoptions.

The move follows the landmark adoption in June of a boy by two Western Australian gay men who did not know the mother. WA moved in 2002 to allow same-sex couples to adopt, the ACT passed similar legislation in 2004, and Tasmanian law allows gay couples to adopt where one of the partners is a parent of the child.

Mr Howard has previously said he is against gay adoptions because children should be given the opportunity of growing up with a mother and a father. A spokesman for Labor's legal affairs spokesman, Joe Ludwig, said the Opposition would examine the bill before deciding whether or not to support it.

Mr Croome said the Government was clearly attempting to wedge the Opposition on gay rights in the lead up to the election. "We can call it orphans overboard," he said, but added that if Labor wanted to claim it was the party of equality and human rights it should oppose the bill, as it did in 2004. Greens senator Kerry Nettle said the legislation was another blow to equality by the "deeply homophobic" Federal Government. "This is a disgraceful move by the Howard Government to pander to homophobic and fundamentally religious interests in the lead up to an election," Senator Nettle said. A Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report released in June also condemned the Government's previous moves to change the law.


Lazy NSW teachers

They already have the shortest working hours of any employee group but they want to work even less

The state's 50,000 public school teachers are demanding to spend less time with students in class because they are "overwhelmed" by their workload. Teachers have launched a campaign seeking extra "release time" from classes in 2240 primary and secondary schools. They will ask the Iemma Government to increase staff numbers in schools, at a cost of millions of dollars, to cover for teachers who are out of class doing other work.

The Teachers' Federation claims too much work is impairing teachers' ability to operate effectively. "Unreasonable teacher workload is debilitating for the profession and quality public education," senior vice president Bob Lipscombe said. "For some it is also impacting adversely on their health. "Teachers have difficulty in accessing such basic entitlements as lunch and morning tea breaks." Among the demands teachers have made are:

* AN extra two hours' release time per week in primary schools;

* AN additional two 40-minute periods release time per week in high schools;

* AN extra hour of release time a week for TAFE teachers;

* EXTRA clerical and support staffing; and

* THE reduction or phasing out of playground duty.

A spokesman for Education Minister John Della Bosca said yesterday most primary school teachers already received two hours of release time every week. "High school teachers receive six hours of release from face-to-face teaching each week," he said. "These arrangements have been in place for years and provide teachers with time away from the classroom to undertake a range of activities, including time to review teaching programs, prepare assessments and work on other planning activities. "Schools also have three pupil-free days a year to enable teachers to undertake planning and professional development. "We support these arrangements and there is no plan to change them."

Mr Lipscombe said teachers were demanding the restoration of minimum lunchbreaks uninterrupted by playground duties or meetings. Teachers earn up to $75,000 a year on an incremental scale based on years of service but increasingly are being required to meet performance standards. Technology, increased professional development and the imposition of new curricula are among the issues teachers say are putting them under pressure.


Now it's the Ambulance service of South Australia in a mess

We have recently heard of the dire state of the Queensland and NSW services

AMBULANCE officers claim crews are not reaching life-threatening emergencies on time because of chronic staff shortages. In another potential industrial relations headache for the Rann Government, the union is planning to refuse non-urgent patient pick-ups and implement overtime bans. Free rides for patients are also being considered.

The Ambulance Employees' Association says crews reached life-threatening emergencies within seven minutes in only 20 per cent of cases during the past three months - a breach of national guidelines. "I'd say the ambulance service staffing was in crisis," Ambulance Employees' Association secretary Phil Palmer said yesterday. It's a mess - a huge mess."

The SA Ambulance Service maintains the response times are similar to the equivalent period last year but concedes several strategies are being examined to increase staffing levels.

The ambulance officers' threat of industrial action comes just weeks after its paramedics unanimously accepted a 25 per cent pay rise over three years, starting with a 16.7 per cent "catch-up". Also last month, teachers, nurses, dentists and psychiatrists were locked in industrial disputes with the State Government. The ambulance union now warns:

THE AMBULANCE service is short by one crew every day, and as many as three crews on some occasions.

SINGLE-OFFICER crews in station wagons are improving response times but potentially increasing risks for officers and patients.

A GROWING reliance on inexperienced student interns is adding to the workforce strain.

OVERTIME is now about 40 shifts per week - it blew out to 120 shifts per week in late June.

PROFESSIONAL development workshops for paramedics have been cancelled to free up staff to work on road shifts.

Mr Palmer blamed the ambulance service's inability to maintain minimum crewing numbers comes on years of poor planning, which had resulted in a dangerous blow-out in response times. "Patients with life threatening conditions - cardiac arrest, unconscious collapse, vehicle trauma - are having to wait longer," he said. "This is not only distressing, it is potentially life threatening."

Industrial action will be discussed at a union shop stewards meeting next week, amid new management plans to double the number of student interns placed with single instructors. There are 54 student interns in the system - about 10 per cent of the on-road workforce - and another 32 are due to begin next January. Instructors are expected to reject the doubling-up plan at a meeting on Thursday, because of concerns their ability to supervise, mentor and teach will be restricted.

Ambulance service director of state operations Ray Creen said response times had improved during the past two years, with arrivals at half of all emergency cases within 9.4 minutes and 90 per cent within 15.6 minutes. In the past three months, response times had remained constant compared with previous years, despite a 16 per cent increase in emergency calls to 000. "We are currently looking at a number of strategies to increase our staffing levels . . . to ensure effective and appropriate measures are introduced," Mr Creen said. "One measure we have recently introduced is the establishment of two extra crews to cover peak periods in the middle of the day in the metropolitan area." Mr Creen said the Ambulance service, "among multiple measures", was looking at increasing the number of student interns taken into the organisation each year.

Health Minister John Hill was unavailable for comment but his spokeswoman said the Government had employed an extra 118 ambulance officers since 2002. "Ambulance officers are a critical part of our health system and they are responding to increasing demand for their services," she said. "And recruitment is being stepped up again with a target of recruiting a further 56 paramedics to be deployed on emergency crews over the next 12 months. "The State Government is also recruiting students to ensure we are building a workforce for the future, but they will be appropriately supervised in their roles."


Breastfeeding mothers protected under new laws

The NSW State Government has announced new laws making it illegal to disciminate against breastfeeding mums. Attorney-General John Hatzistergos unveil the Anti-Discrimination Act changes - aimed primarily at cafe and restaurant owners - this morning. The measures mean it will be illegal for mums to be refused service or asked to move on while they breastfeed.

The issue of breastfeeding in public has long been controversial. Modern mothers have often told how they are discriminated against over what is a basic motherly duty. Skier turned politician Kirstie Marshall created a stir in Victorian Parliament four years ago when she breastfed daughter Charlotte in legislative assembly. TV comedian Kate Langbroek also famously breastfed her baby while live on The Panel.

But many women are embarrassed to breastfeed in public - and a federal inquiry was told in May that mothers are being forced to wean their babies off breast milk too early because workplaces are not "breastfeeding-friendly".

Guidelines recommend infants be fed only breast milk until they are six months - but only about 32 per cent are. Besides work, social pressure, body image and concerns about feeding in public were among other reasons women switched to bottles. Inquiry chair Alex Somlyay said the hearings were trying to establish what could be done to increase breastfeeding.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Torres Strait islands "at risk from global warming"

Groan! Islands -- including Pacific islands -- are rising and falling all the time. It is nothing to do with sea levels. Regard for the facts is a very low priority for the Green/Left. Reality does creep through, however. That the islands are sinking rather than the sea rising is mentioned a couple of times below

Authorities have ordered evacuation and relocation plans for more than 2000 people who face losing their land and livelihood from the invading sea. "These islands are sinking," Torres Shire Mayor Pedro Stephen said yesterday. "People are looking at options of building on stilts or even floating pontoons because of the rising sea levels. "And this is the heartbreaking thing, this generation or the next may have to leave behind all they have ever known, all because of global warming."

Scientists predict warmer sea temperatures (thermal expansion) and the meting of the ice caps will contribute to a sea-level rise of between 9cm and 88cm in the next 50 years. Some parts of the most vulnerable islands - Masig (Yorke), Poruma (Coconut), Warraber, Yam, Saibai and Boigu - are today less than 1m above sea level.

Mother-of-two Helen Mosby, 21, of Yorke Island, yesterday showed Brisbane's The Courier-Mail newspaper the dramatic impact of global warming on her island home. "You can see where the ocean has eaten up the road," said Ms Mosby walking with son Josiah, 5. "It is a big change, and it seems to be getting worse in the past two years or so." [During which time there has been NO global warming. There has been no rise in terrestrial temperature since 1998]

James Cook University's Dr Kevin Parnell, a coastal geomorphologist studying the sinking islands, said they would probably not disappear within a generation, but the threat was "not trivial". "There is the possibility of more frequent extreme events, like storm surge and high tides, causing the water to come up higher on to the land," he said.

The Yorke Island church - more than 50m inland from the high-tide mark -was last year inundated while more than 60m of land on Coconut Island has been consumed since 2000.


Government may appeal "stolen generation" ruling

Nonsensical verdict but VERY interesting evidence. Fostering the black guy out probably saved his life. There was no "generation" stolen but this case highlights very well the circumstances in which some black kids were fostered to white parents. White kids treated as badly would be fostered out too, one hopes

THE South Australian Government will consider whether to lodge an appeal after an Aboriginal man was awarded more than $500,000 compensation for being taken away from his family. The State Government yesterday was ordered to pay Bruce Trevorrow $525,000 for injuries, losses and false imprisonment, a first for a member of the stolen generation.

Mr Trevorrow was 13 months old in 1957 when a neighbour drove him from his Coorong family home, south-east of Adelaide, to the Children's Hospital on Christmas Day, with stomach pains. Hospital notes tended to the South Australian Supreme Court show staff recorded that the child had no parents, was neglected and malnourished.

Two weeks later, he was given under the authority of Aborigines Protection Board to a woman, who later became his foster parent, without the permission of his natural parents. He did not see his family again for 10 years.

In June 1998, Mr Trevorrow sued the SA Government for pain and suffering, claiming he had lost his cultural identity, suffered depression, became an alcoholic and had an erratic employment history after being taken as a child from his family. The court heard the 50-year-old was depressed due to a chronic insecurity and had been treated with antidepressants and tranquillisers since he was 10.

Justice Thomas Gray yesterday ruled in favour of Mr Trevorrow, saying the state falsely imprisoned him as a child and owed him a duty of care for his pain and suffering. Rick Morris, a spokesman for SA Attorney-General Michael Atkinson said the government would read the lengthy judgment and seek legal advice before making a decision on whether to appeal.


The Leftist hatred of people doing well for themselves rolls on

"We have to do something about wealth," Melbourne broadcaster Jon Faine implored Kevin Rudd on ABC radio last week. "What do you do about people making too much money?" For starters, let's give them a round of applause, said Rudd. They must be doing something right. And then thank them for contributing to society by paying taxes that fund our buses, trains, hospitals and schools. Not to mention the many new jobs they create when their business thrives.

Actually, I'm teasing you. That was not Rudd's response. Instead, he fuelled the rich-hating myth that, just as a spot of dancing leads to sex, a booming economy leads to that eighth deadly sin: inequality. The rich get richer and the rest miss out on the spoils. In other words, this economic prosperity thing is not all it's cracked up to be. Unfortunately, those in the media, in politics and academe who feed the populist myth that prosperity is bad and inequality is a dirty word do so by ignoring reality.

As it turns out, in Australia the Howard years have brought a major redistribution of income from the rich to the rest. The average Australian household receives more in cash benefits and government services than it pays in tax. According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 40 per cent of households pay any net tax. The average family pays $360 a week in tax but claws back $375 in cash benefits and government services.

So when people agonise about the wealthy and ask what is to be done about people making too much money, it turns out much is already being done. The taxes paid by the wealthy are used to fund transfers to middle and lower-income groups. Indeed, middle-income earners - those dubbed the forgotten people by Robert Menzies - have been the biggest beneficiaries under the Howard Government.

Late last year, a study by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling revealed that during the Howard decade those in the middle income bracket had benefited more than those at the top. Families earning between $55,000 and $80,000 a year and with children have seen their real incomes rise by 32 per cent, largely through family tax benefits. In other words, the rich may be getting richer, but the rest are also reaping the rewards of the nation's wealth boom. The only group not getting tax breaks and government handouts at the same rate are couples without children and single taxpayers on lower incomes.

So what explains the mythology that says your average family is being dudded? Why the complaints after 16 years of uninterrupted growth and wages rising by 25 per cent compared to a 14 per cent rise in consumer prices over the past five years? Sure, petrol prices are biting and interest rate hikes hurt. But I suspect there is more to the present malaise than the price of groceries and mortgage payments. The problem is human nature. According to studies, if you ask a worker whether they would like to earn $33,000 while their colleagues collect $30,000, or earn $35,000 while their colleagues pick up $38,000, most will opt for the lower wage, so long as they are earning more than their colleagues. In other words, affluence is relative. Arthur C. Brooks points out in the latest edition of City Journal that 56per cent of participants in another study said they would rather earn $50,000 a year when their colleagues get $25,000 than earn $100,000 where their colleagues are paid $200,000.

These surveys explain why in Australia's booming economy, where everyone is reaping the rewards, there is still a sense of being left behind. The problem is that there is always someone doing better than you. Jealously is a more powerful human trait than reason. That's why socialism and its promise of central control of society's wealth continue to have such a powerful hold on the public imagination even though it has failed everywhere it's been tried. And failed to the point of making everyone worse off.

Jealously explains why people such as Clive Hamilton still get traction. The director of the Australia Institute, who rails against capitalism, taps into our sense of unease that others are doing better than us. Working hard and earning more money than we did a decade ago will not make us happier because there will always be a Joe in the next office earning more than us. Inequality is bad, he says. So bad that he wants to convince us that it is spreading a disease called affluenza. And every disease needs a cure. Hamilton's cure, as he wrote in The Age last week, is for the rich to pay more tax and do so with a smile in order to relieve the ache in their philistine souls.

British economist Richard Layard has another solution that would please Hamilton. Slug the rich with high taxes until inequality is cured. Layard thinks the rich are making others so unhappy by earning so much more money that they need to be hit with taxes so high that they will work less and earn less and therefore apparently make everyone else feel much happier. We must all be brought down to the same level lest we earn too much and make those earning less feel unhappy. But there's a hitch. When people start to work less, earn less and pay less tax, where will governments get the money to pay for the services that we all expect and need? And where will the jobs come from as people work less and downsize their business?

Those trying to convince us that inequality is bad secretly dislike progress. Progress is born of competition and inevitably leads to inequality. People with bright ideas, or who work harder to get ahead, are more successful more quickly. Bang, there is inequality. You can just imagine the guys from the Hamilton/Layard school of economics standing around in the Stone Age muttering that no good will come of this new-fangled wheel business, it will just create a two-tiered society: those with wheels and those without.

Attacking the rich is easy politics but lousy policy. Lashing the wealthy might make envious old socialists feel nostalgic about the halcyon days of Soviet Russia and East Germany. But others, such as Rudd, ought to know better. Writing in The Spectator, Ross Clark pointed out that when Tony Blair was asked about inequality during a Newsnight interview in 2001, he responded: "It's not a burning ambition for me to make sure that David Beckham earns less money." Rudd has some way to go before he fills Blair's sensible shoes.


Nutty Steiner schools in the Victorian State system

For more superstitious Steiner thinking, see here

Ray Pereira could not believe what he was hearing. His son's teacher had just said his child had to repeat prep because the boy's soul had not fully incarnated. "She said his soul was hovering above the earth," Mr Pereira said. "And she then produced a couple of my son's drawings as evidence that his depiction of the world was from a perspective looking down on the earth from above. "I just looked at my wife and we both thought, 'We are out of here'." And so ended the Pereira family's flirtation with the alternative schooling method known as Steiner education. After this extraordinary parent-teacher interview, the Pereiras withdrew their son and his brother from the inner-city Melbourne government school that ran the Steiner stream.

They are one of a number of families who have relayed strange Steiner experiences to The Weekend Australian, including claims that AFL football was banned because the "unpredictability of the bounce" would cause frustration among children; immunisations were discouraged; and students recited verses to save their souls in class.

The allegations come as more and more children attend Steiner schools, with the education movement celebrating 50 years since the first school was set up in Australia. There are now more than 44 private Steiner schools across the country, 10 programs in government-run schools and it is one of the fastest-growing education movements in the world. But as Steiner moves into the state education system in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, questions are being raised about the alternative approach. Critics say that its philosophical basis is too religious -- even comparing it to Scientology -- to be in the secular public system. But supporters deny Steiner education is religious and argue it is a holistic approach to learning.

The alternative curriculum is based on the teachings of 19th century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who believed a spiritual world existed alongside our physical one. Steiner founded anthroposophy, which believed that by deepening the power of thinking, people could become capable of experiencing "spiritual truths". Supporters of Steiner are adamant anthroposophy is not taught to children, and that Steiner himself said the spiritual science was only for adults who chose to do it. But parents and religious experts are concerned that Steiner teachers learn about anthroposophy in their training and these beliefs seep into the classroom. "What a lot of people don't get is that Steiner is based on a spiritual system not an educational one," says cult expert Raphael Aron. "The majority of people who enrol their kids don't have a clue who Rudolf Steiner really is."

Dr Aron, who is the director of Cult Counselling Australia, said schools varied greatly in their adherence to Steiner's anthroposophy beliefs because of the decentralised nature of the system in Australia. He said there was a lack of transparency in the schools and often parents were not told about what Steiner believed, making it not dissimilar to Scientology. "We have been contacted by a few people who have come out of the Steiner system and say they are damaged and are seeking help," Dr Aron said.

Mr Pereira said he believed parents at Footscray City Primary School were deliberately misled about the role that Steiner's beliefs played in the classroom. "It is implicit in everything they do," he said. Mr Pereira, who is from Sri Lanka, said his concerns about Steiner's racist beliefs were realised when his children were not allowed to use black or brown crayons because they were "not pure". He said Steiner teachers at the state-run school recommended they not immunise their children because it would lead to the "bestialisation of humans".

But Rudolf Steiner Schools of Australia executive officer Rosemary Gentle said anthroposophy was not taught to children, although teachers were introduced to the subject during their training. "It has nothing to do with what is taught. It is just the approach to teaching," she said. "The teachers are given an anthroposophy background ... and it allows them to look into a child more deeply. You look at children as you would in a family. You strive to understand the child and recognise their emerging personality."

Ms Gentle said the spotlight was on Steiner education because of a "smear and fear" campaign being waged by a small group of people. "Steiner education has been a small, but respected part of the Australian educational landscape for 50 years," she said. Under the system, students have the same "main lesson" teacher for the first six years and textbooks are not used in primary school. Computers are banned in the primary years and television is discouraged to allow children to develop their "senses in the physical world". Reading and writing is delayed until children have developed adult teeth -- at age seven -- to focus on developing the child's healthy body.

Anthroposophy lecturer Robert Martin, who trains Steiner teachers, said being aware of the spiritual side of life enriched the education experience. He said people had many different names for the spiritual world -- arch angels, angels, intelligent beings and presence -- and they existed long before humans. "I want to co-work with the angels," Mr Martin said. "These individuals are very advanced ... Our job is to co-work with the spiritual beings."


Early concern about Steiner method

SERIOUS concerns about Steiner education were raised in a government report seven years before a policy change by the Bracks administration cleared the way for its use in Victorian state schools. The report, completed by the Victorian Department of Education, says Steiner's approach -- in which children learn to read and write after their adult teeth come through at age seven -- was the "antithesis" of the Government's program. The report was completed by two curriculum officers in 2000 for then acting regional director Greg Gibbs after Footscray City Primary School indicated it wanted a Steiner stream.

Mr Gibbs told the school he was unable to "support such a proposal" but the principal introduced Steiner in 2001. The program has caused deep division among parents, and the state Government has been forced to intervene, dissolving the school council last year and establishing an inquiry. Despite this, the state Government last year changed departmental policy, allowing programs such as Steiner and Montessori to be run in state schools.

The report examined Steiner curriculum proposals provided by Footscray City Primary School and information available online about Steiner education. Authors Pat Hincks and Janette Cook say Steiner's ban on computers and multimedia in primary school is in "direct contradiction" to department policies. "Steiner education is based on a philosophy of cocooning children from the world to develop their imagination," the report says. "This is in direct contrast to, for example, the studies of society and environment ... where the emphasis is on study of family as a 'starting point to help them understand the world in which they live'."

A Victorian Department of Education spokeswoman said specialised curriculums had rigorous guidelines.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Refugees face tough new test to get into Australia

Should cut down the problematical inflow from Africa. Refugees already in Australia will apparently be tested too and be denied permanent residence if they fail

REFUGEES and some migrants will have to pass an "integration test" before being allowed to live in Australia, under tough new rules to be introduced by the Howard Government. The new gateway test will assess their ability to adapt to the Australian way of life and factors such as their resourcefulness and ability to cope with the challenges of resettlement. It will examine whether prospective migrant families are cohesive, supportive, and united in their desire to settle in Australia.

Immigration officials will conduct face-to-face tests with up to 13,000 refugees and humanitarian program migrants, as well as some skilled migrant applicants, to assess whether they have what it takes to fit in to the Australian way of life. Applicants will also be tested on their English and their preparedness to learn English once they arrive in Australia.

The new test was forshadowed in a speech by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews last night. The test will operate in addition to the Government's new citizenship and language tests, and a values statement for long-term visa holders. Outlining the plan in a speech to the Sydney Institute, Mr Andrews said migrants and refugees had to be willing and able to integrate. "We cannot assume that the capacity of all of our potential migrants to integrate successfully is the same as their predecessors'," Mr Andrews said. "The Government has decided to put greater emphasis on the capacity of potential migrants to integrate into our community," he said.

Specific questions to be put to prospective migrants will be devised over coming weeks. Training of immigration officials will start shortly, and the Government hopes the new test will be in place by February.

The hard-line immigration plan has the potential to affect refugees from countries such as war-torn Sudan, many of whom have experienced major adjustment problems. Under the plan, Immigration Department officials will have the final say on whether applicants have the capacity to integrate into Australian society. "Because of the importance of migration to Australia, the Government believes it is important that migration continues to be the success story it has been until now," Mr Andrews said. "The migration regulations already make provision for assessing the capacity of visa applicants to settle in Australia. "I have decided that greater emphasis should be placed on this criterion in assessing applications for permanent visas or (for) provisional visas which lead to permanent residence."


Major government hospital turns elderly away

STAFF at one of Queensland's biggest hospitals are being told to reject sick, elderly people transferring from nursing homes, and hastily discharge all other patients. In a further sign the health system is getting worse rather than improving, Princess Alexandra Hospital's emergency department has been likened to a M*A*S*H scene and its chief said the bed situation was "critical". PA senior clinical chief executive officer David Theile warned staff last week the emergency department backlog was putting lives at high risk. "Along with patient risk there is inordinate pressure on staff in some areas," Dr Theile told staff in an email. "Please maximise and expedite discharges, exercise heightened discernment about accepting transfers or admissions from nursing homes and seek to shift elective admissions to day-only where possible."

A day earlier, a report found almost 144,000 Queenslanders were waiting to see a specialist. Some patients' files were marked "never" to see a specialist. Other recent health problems have included a dire shortage of radiographers, with cancer victims forced to wait long times for treatment; and diagnostic equipment being shut down.

One PA source yesterday said the hospital's situation was so dire that the radiography unit was last week converted into a makeshift emergency room; describing the situation as "like a scene from M*A*S*H". While Dr Theile could not be contacted yesterday, a PA spokeswoman said his emails were to ensure staff were aware of the situation and worked together to resolve the issues.

Coalition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said the situation in Queensland hospital emergency departments was now desperate. Some patients might not be getting optimal care if doctors and nurses were being forced to discharge them faster than normal. The Coalition yesterday sought a federal investigation into "never to be seen" patients, claiming the practice might be in breach of the Australian Health Care Agreement.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said Mr Langbroek should be asking about the shortfall in federal funding. "Had the Commonwealth kept pace with the states' funding we would have had another $2.6 billion over five years to spend on health," he said.


Crackdown on politics in NSW schools

EDUCATION chiefs fear thousands of school children are in danger of having their minds poisoned by "political" activity in the classroom. The Daily Telegraph has learned that principals have received a strong warning not to allow their schools to be infiltrated by controversial political issues. A written memorandum issued by a senior education officer tells primary and secondary school heads: "Schools are not places for recruiting into partisan groups."

The memo sent by Hunter/Central Coast regional director John Mather says "issues" for schools had arisen during the state election in March. Referring to the federal poll due later this year, Mr Mather warned principals: "Schools are neutral grounds for rational discourse and objective study. They are not arenas for opposing political views or ideologies. "Discussion of controversial issues is acceptable only when it clearly serves the educative purpose and is consistent with curriculum objectives. "Such discussion is not intended to advance the interest of any group, political or otherwise."

The reminder to principals follows accusations in November last year that schools allowed children as young as five to distribute "political propaganda" against the Howard Government's controversial WorkChoices laws. Parents were outraged and one school principal was "counselled" by the Department of Education for breaching guidelines on political material.

As the latest warning was sent out to principals, bemused parents yesterday criticised a bizarre turf war between the state and federal governments over access to schools. Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop was refused permission by NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca to meet up to 71 principals on the Central Coast. Ms Bishop said yesterday it was the first time anywhere in Australia she had not been allowed to see public school heads. "This was a petty attitude . . . we (the Commonwealth) provide $1 billion a year to NSW public schools," she said. "I think the state Education Minister was frightened of what I might learn (from the principals)."

Opposition education spokesman Andrew Stoner claimed the Iemma Government had been caught "peddling politics in the playground". But Mr Della Bosca's office said Ms Bishop had given just 24 hours' notice of the meeting planned for the first day of the new school term. A request to visit Berkeley Vale Public School to make an announcement about chaplains had been approved, a spokesman said. "Neither Ms Bishop, nor any other Federal Minister for that matter, has been banned from visiting public schools or meeting principals. "Ms Bishop should know better than organising a forum for 71 principals on the first day back at school during school hours. Principals should be looking after their schools and supporting their teachers and students during school hours," the spokesman said.


Lying Queensland cops

One of three Brisbane police officers charged with lying to conceal an attack on a woman in a watchhouse cell faces 14 years in jail after pleading guilty to perjury. Constable Justin Anthony Burkett, 34, pleaded guilty attacking an alleged shoplifter and later lying in testimony during a magistrate's court hearing and a Crime and Misconduct Commission hearing over the incident in April 2004. Fellow officer Constable Nicole Helen Castley, 29, who lives with Burkett at Mt Cotton, had charges against her dropped by prosecutors.

While colleague Senior Constable Craig Stuart Ablitt, 50, of Munruben, pleaded not guilty for allegedly turning off a video camera as Burkett assaulted alleged shoplifter Dulcie Elizabeth Birt.

Yesterday was expected to be the first day of a five day committal hearing, until prosecutor Mark Whitbread revealed no witnesses would be required after discussions with lawyers for each of the three accused offenders. Barrister Paul Brown, for Ablitt, was said his client consented to having the matter committed for trial in the Beenleigh District Court When asked by magistrate Basil Gribbin if he wanted to enter a plea to charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice and perjury, Ablitt replied: ``Not guilty.''

Mr Burkett was the next of the trio called by Mr Gribbin if he wished to enter a plea to Barrister Steve Zillman, for Burkett, said his client was prepared to four counts of perjury, two of perverting the course of justice and one of assault causing bodily harm. ``Guilty, your honour,'' Burkett replied in a loud, clear voice.

Under existing Queensland laws perjury carries a maximum penalty of 14 years' jail. In reading out the charges, Mr Gribbin revealed Burkett allegedly assaulted Ms Birt at Loganholme on April 5, 2004, and that the attack was recorded on videotape. Burkett also gave false evidence at Ms Birt's subsequent summary trail in the Beenleigh Magistrate's Court on December 3, 2004, that she kicked him in the shin, that he never assaulted her or tape recorded the attack. He also sent emails to two fellow police officers, including Ablitt, asking them to falsify their evidence at the hearing.

Despite his guilty plea, Burkett was granted bail and remanded for sentence in the Beenleigh District Court on a date to be fixed. When Mr Gribbin asked what was to be done with Constable Castley's charges, Mr Whitbread rose and said the Crown was offering no evidence and that the charges should be dismissed. Castley had been charged with two counts of perjury for allegedly giving false testimony during Ms Birt's court case and then to CMC hearings in 2005. Castley wept as both she and Burkett were escorted from the courthouse by family and friends and bundled into a waiting car. Ablitt showed little emotion as he left separate to his colleagues


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Another crooked Muslim doctor

A Gold Coast doctor interrogated over his relationship with freed terror suspect Mohamed Haneef has been suspended for allegedly lying about his employment history. Queensland Health privately suspended Mohammed Asif Ali on full pay on Friday as the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions dropped charges against his former flatmate and colleague, Dr Haneef. The shock suspension of Dr Ali again raises questions about the vetting process implemented by the Beattie Government after the Jayant Patel scandal in 2005.

It is alleged that Dr Ali's resume included up to 12 months of hospital work in India that he never performed. The Courier-Mail has learned that at the time of his supposed employment, Dr Ali was attending to family problems and had taken time off. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, who revoked Dr Haneef's visa earlier this month on "bad character" grounds, was last night seeking advice about Dr Ali.

Queensland Police told Queensland Health last week that it had discovered discrepancies in Dr Ali's resume. His medical qualifications are not in doubt and he is still described as being a competent doctor. Dr Ali, who graduated from India's Mysore University in 2001, applied directly to the Gold Coast Hospital after meeting a doctor from the hospital in the United Kingdom last year. It is understood the Medical Board of Queensland checked Dr Ali's certificates from all his previous employers and focused on his qualifications and work history in the UK, which are not in dispute.

Dr Ali has received a show-cause notice from the Medical Board of Queensland and has 21 days to explain. His punishment could range from a warning to deregistration or prosecution, but it is highly unlikely Dr Ali will lose his job.

The State Government vowed vigorous checks on overseas-trained doctors after the Patel scandal. Patel, the former Bundaberg Base Hospital surgeon, was found to have operated outside his scope. An Indian-trained doctor, Patel is facing manslaughter charges in Queensland after performing complex oesophagectomies on patients who later died. Premier Peter Beattie told Parliament in 2005 that he would broaden "the grounds upon which the Queensland Medical Board can cancel a doctor's registration to cover the sorts of fraud that the Patel situation has brought to light". It included up to three years' jail for giving the Queensland Medical Board false information when applying for registration.

The Government also introduced the Medical Board (Administration) Bill in 2006 to deliver an election commitment to create a separate authority to focus solely on doctor registration issues. The Office of the Medical Board will come on line later this year.


No time to lose our nerve

Janet Albrechtsen comments on the Dr Haneef detention

For all the bungling in the prosecution of Mohamed Haneef, one thing is clear. We had better get used to the detention of people with alleged links to terrorism. Our anti-terrorism laws are essential and they are working. The detention of the Indian doctor was right. His links with alleged terror suspects in Britain needed to be thoroughly investigated. That involved a serious, but necessary, incursion on Mr Haneef's civil liberties as the Australian Federal Police undertook the difficult task of checking the equivalent of 30,000 pages of material on his laptop.

We will have to accept further incursions in the future. More people will be detained. Some will be freed without charge. Some will be charged, then acquitted. While the AFP and prosecuting authorities have to lift their game, the mistakes made in Mr Haneef's case are irrelevant to the wider debate about terrorism laws. Nobody thought the laws on murder needed to be changed when Lindy Chamberlain was a charged but ultimately acquitted.

Nor do we want politicians, the police or prosecutors to lose their nerve about taking action for fear of getting it wrong or out of fear of criticism. Mistakes, and criticism of those mistakes will be made and will lead to improvements in practice. Indeed, we may have to accept longer detentions in the future if we are serious about confronting and beating the scourge of terrorism. That is the lesson from Britain where there have been 15 attempted terrorist attacks since 11 September 2001. As reported in The Guardian last week, six suspects have been detained for 28 days under UK laws. Two were charged in connection with the alleged plot to blow up planes across the Atlantic. Another was charged with attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. The other three were released without charge.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is considering the need to strengthen British terrorism laws by increasing detention to 58 days so that authorities have sufficient time to sift through evidence. That will lead to more hysteria from civil libertarians that democracy is doomed, that we have allowed terrorists to destroy our system of justice. But when jihadists are willing to blow up trains and buses and planes filled with scores of innocent people, such claims ring hollow. Protecting our right to catch a bus or a train or a plane without being blown up means impinging on the rights of those suspected of having links with terrorism. Some of those suspects will be innocent. But isn't it better that we detain them and investigate the evidence instead of sifting through the twisted metal of blown up trains and human remains after a terrorist attack if they turn out to be guilty?


Selective schools improve learning

SELECTIVE schools are helping students score an extra 10 marks in the Higher School Certificate. The NSW Department of Education has for the first time released official data which shows that students at selective schools have been achieving on average an additional two marks for each subject, based on their relative performance in year 10.

The department has a database that allows it to compare students' results as they progress from year 3 to year 12. Their marks in the basic skills test in years 3 and 5 are compared. The same is done for the literacy and numeracy tests in years 7 and 8. The department also tracks improvement in students' results between years 10 and 12. This measure is called value-added, and shows that students in selective schools are lifting their performance in year 12 beyond expectations. The value-added index can often be higher in comprehensive schools, which help poor-performing students reach their full potential. But selective school students often perform to their potential in year 10, which leaves little room for improvement.

A spokeswoman for the department said there was "truth to the idea that students in selective schools are close to the ceiling of performance and that it is more difficult for them to demonstrate consistent growth compared with average- or lower-achieving students". "The fact that students in selective schools demonstrate above-expected levels of achievement so consistently is a truly stunning outcome of the selective stream," she said.

Last year the average "value-added per student" for selective schools across the five School Certificate external tests ranged from 2.5 marks in science to 5.8 marks in mathematics. The School Certificate value-added is the number of marks a student obtains above or below what might be expected, based on relative performance in the year 5 basic skills test.

But the Greens MP and education spokesman, John Kaye, challenged the department's value-added data. "Most comparisons between schools are meaningless because of the wide variations in student performance and the spread of improvements within schools," he said.

The Minister for Education, John Della Bosca, said he would establish a working group to help determine which schools would receive the extra 600 selective school places announced before the election in March. He said the composition of the working group was expected to include representatives from parents' and citizens' associations, primary and secondary principals, the Department of Education, and teachers. "Some of the issues it will take into account will include the fair allocation of places in rural, regional and metropolitan areas and the impacts on surrounding school communities," he said. "Our overall objective is to ensure the places are allocated in an equitable and sensible way."


Church says Australians are a mad lot -- so crazies should be trusted (??)

I rather suspect that the trendy Methodists who claim that are not too hot themselves. See the rubric below

Mental illness touches the lives of almost every Australian, according to a report that reveals the condition affects 85 per cent of the population either directly or through the suffering of a friend or relative. The major new report by Christian charity the Wesley Mission also suggests more people than previously thought - up to 36 per cent of the community - may also have direct experience of a mental health problem. Previous estimates had put the figure at 20 per cent.

Despite the higher prevalence, significant stigma continues to dog people with more serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. The report released yesterday made 21 recommendations for improving understanding of mental illness and the lot of people experiencing mental problems. "Mental illness remains a taboo subject for many people, although it touches the lives of most Australians," said Wesley Mission superintendent Keith Garner. "Despite much public discussion and the advocacy of high-profile figures sharing their personal experiences ... there is still a clear reluctance in the community to trust individuals with a mental illness in decision-making roles or in roles where reliability is paramount." [That's a BAD thing??]

For the report, the result of a six-month research project, the authors surveyed 600 people in Sydney and Newcastle to find out more about public attitudes to mental illness. They found that only 46 per cent of people questioned would trust work done by someone with schizophrenia. Only 55 per cent would feel comfortable working alongside someone with the condition and only 23 per cent said they would feel comfortable if their child was sharing a flat with a schizophrenic patient. This is despite 77 per cent agreeing patients with schizophrenia would improve if treated. Attitudes towards people with anxiety disorders were far more benign: 81 per cent were happy to work alongside them and 67 per cent had confidence in the work they produced.

The report's recommendations included the introduction of tax and other incentives to encourage employers to take on people with mental problems, better integration of treatment services and more support for carers.

Ian Hickie, executive director of the Brain and Mind Research Centre in Sydney, who wrote a foreword to the report and attended yesterday's launch, said it was significant that there was continued public fear of people with conditions such as schizophrenia, which reflected the difficulty such patients had in getting adequate treatment.


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