Sunday, December 31, 2006

Godless bigots

Criticism of Islam is often held to be "hate speech". Even the most swingeing criticism of Christianity never is. How strange! Both are large and influential religions. The column below is by Christian philosopher Bill Muehlenberg and is a reply to a Christmas-day article by columnist Jill Singer in the Melbourne "Herald Sun".

THANKS, Jill Singer, for picking Christmas to launch your atheist jihad. You have not only offended millions of Australian Christians, but those of other faiths as well. By celebrating Richard Dawkins' new book, The God Delusion, you show how out of touch you are with the overwhelming majority of the world's population.

The God Delusion is a 400-page attack on religion. It is one of the most narrow-minded, intolerant and bigoted books I have read in a long time.

Singer claims she is concerned about religious intolerance. The real worry is intolerance coming from unbelievers. Singer and Dawkins are quite happy to offend and ridicule the majority of those who do not share their narrow atheistic crusade. Dawkins is contemptuous of all religions, so he is an equal-opportunity offender. But it is Christianity that he especially savages. He says the Bible is just plain weird and systematically evil. He speaks of God's acts as God's jealous sulk, God's maniacal jealousy, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Yahweh is simply a cruel ogre and a monster according to Dawkins.

So much for tolerance and open-mindedness. In Dawkins' view, and presumably Singer's, religion is the source of all evil, while atheism is the path of enlightenment, brotherhood and liberation. Never mind the millions of people killed in the name of atheistic utopias, be they Stalin's, Hitler's or Mao's.

And never mind that even non-religious academics, such as Prof Rodney Stark, have claimed with massive amounts of documentation that Christianity created Western civilisation. Prof Stark points out that most of the benefits of the West, such as freedom, democracy and prosperity, are largely due to the Christian religion.

Another secular author says that for all the slaughters in the name of religion over the centuries, there is another side of the ledger. Every time I travel in the poorest parts of Africa, I see missionary hospitals that are the only source of assistance to desperate people. God may not help amputees sprout new limbs, but churches do galvanise their members to support soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics that otherwise would not exist. Religious constituencies have pushed for more action on AIDS, malaria, sex trafficking and genocide in Darfur. Believers often give large proportions of their incomes to charities that are a lifeline to the neediest.

I am not aware of any hospitals or charitable works set up by atheists.

And never mind that many noted philosophers have pointed out that it was the Christian emphasis on reason that gave rise to modern science. Singer and Dawkins are way out of their depth, showing their ignorance about the gospel accounts in particular and theology in general. They really should keep silent on subjects they clearly know so little about. As one Marxist commentator put it, "This is why (atheists) invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince". The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be.

Singer says we should all worship at the altar of reason. That is just what the revolutionaries argued in the French Revolution when churches were ransacked and believers were sent to the guillotine. The truth is, a lot of open minds need to be closed for repairs. The nasty diatribes launched by Dawkins and Singer are examples of secular fundamentalism and intolerance. Indeed, they seek to make a sharp distinction between faith and reason, between religion and science. They claim that science gives us truth, but faith is simply myth. But more sober minds on both sides of the debate recognise these to be false polarisations. Faith, at least in the Christian religion, is informed by reason. It may at times go beyond reason, but it does not run counter to it.

And the scientific enterprise is also characterised by faith commitment. There are all kinds of unproven assumptions and presuppositions which may or may not be testable. The myth of complete scientific neutrality and objectivity has been countered by many important thinkers. Singer is free to engage in her simplistic thinking and crude materialism, in which only matter matters. But for billions, non-material things such as truth, beauty, justice, love and even God are very meaningful realities, which the narrow world of atheism will never fully enjoy nor understand.


The nuke train is getting up steam in Australia

Australians are more likely to be attacked by a shark or hit by lightning than die from a nuclear power plant disaster. In releasing a report commissioned on the viability of nuclear power in Australia, Prime Minister John Howard said there were no sound reasons to not go nuclear.

The final report from the Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy review board said the risk of implementing nuclear power is of an acceptably low level. The risk of dying in a nuclear disaster was below that of dying from smoking, driving, owning firearms, drowning, fire, electrocution and snake bites, the report said. There have been 31 direct fatalities from nuclear reactors since 1969 - including the Chernobyl disaster - compared to more than 25,000 fatalities in the coal industry. This did not take into account the estimated 4000 people who could eventually die from cancer caused by radiation exposure from the Chernobyl meltdown.

The report also stated that the particles spewed into the atmosphere by traditional forms of power generation resulted in an estimated loss of life expectancy of 8.6 months for the average European.

Mr Howard said the Government would respond quickly to the board's recommendations. "Nuclear power is part of the solution both to Australia's energy and climate change challenges," Mr Howard said. He agreed nuclear power was not a "silver bullet" and wasn't economically feasible at the moment. "It's not going to come immediately because it's not economic at present, but it will become increasingly economic as we clean up the use of coal," Mr Howard said. He said the Government would, in the short term, focus on the report's recommendation that skilled personnel for nuclear power and uranium mining industries be trained and recruited.

Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd rejected the need for nuclear power and said Labor was committed to renewable sources. "We think the right way involves clean, green energy," he said. "Mr Howard's solution is too expensive, it's too dangerous and it's too slow to bring about real results on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the immediate term."

The review board, headed by former Telstra chief Ziggy Switkowski, was established six months ago to investigate nuclear power as an alternative to coal-fired power plants in the face of growing concerns about climate change. The country's demand for electricity is predicted to more than double by 2050.

Greens Senator Christine Milne said nuclear power would not halt the effects of climate change. "The Government is now scrambling to create a perception that it is doing something, knowing full well that nuclear power is too slow, too expensive and too dangerous to provide any answer to global warming," Senator Milne said.


The Australian environment needs a nuclear China

We walked west into a fiery red sunset in St. Kilda last night, on our way to pick up some yogurt for dinner. On our way back, the moon rose before us in the east, nearly as dark and orange as the sun setting behind us. We turned sideways with one celestial body on each hand and enjoyed the beauty and symmetry for a few quiet seconds, looking at the skyline of Melbourne in front of us, caught between a nuclear source of light and the dead moon reflecting it. Then we took off our poetry hat and put on our thinking beanie and our brain began to boil.

The Chinese are going to burn enough coal in the next fifty years to make every Melbourne sunset look like the end of the world. For instance just this week China's Huaneng Group launched the country's first 1,000 megawatt coal-fired power generating unit. A little info-mining tells us that a 500 mega watt coal-fired power plant provides about 3.5 billion kilowatt hours of juice per year. That's enough to power a city of 140,000 people and enough to consume about 1.4 million tons of coal.

Sit down for a second and consider the following. China's great migration or rural farmers to urban enclaves means relocating 400 million people into new or existing cities. Those people will live in buildings that need air conditioning and work in factories that use electricity and eat in restaurants that cook with electric appliances and refrigerate with electric freezers. Where will the power come from? If it comes from coal, China will have to build a staggering 2,857 500 mega watt coal-fired plants to meet the demand. This would produce-without cleaner-burning technology-around 10.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year. A 500 mega watt coal-burning plant spews nearly 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year.

We don't know what a ton of carbon dioxide looks like, or how you would carry it on your back. Neither do we know if it causes the earth's temperature to rise. But we do know that when you burn coal you also produce what are called particulate emissions. These include sulfur and nitrous oxides and other pleasant by products like lead, mercury, and arsenic.

We know that all this coal-burning must excite the Australian coal industry. But if China burns this much coal in the next twenty years, its neighbors in Japan and Korea are going to borrow a phrase from Australia and ask, "Where the bloody hell are you?" They'll ask because they won't be able to see each other through the thick pall of smog blown west from China.

Last night's orange moon didn't come from Chinese pollution. It came from bush fires and the normal pollution of hundreds of thousands of cars burning petrol on the way home to watch the beginning of England's second innings in the Adelaide Test of the Ashes. And atmospherically speaking, the jet stream probably prevents Australia from having to bear the brunt of Chinese energy consumption habits, at least directly. But what could Australia do about it if a big orange cloud descended from China? Would the border patrol try and turn it back? Would customs arrest it? Would A Current Affair find someone to blame?

Japan and Korea have complained bitterly to China about the black cloud, but with little effect. It wouldn't surprise us to see the Japanese build giant coastal fans, nuclear powered of course, to blow the smog back. But that wouldn't really solve anything. To solve this problem, we have to get at its root causes. One of the biggest causes is the aversion to nuclear power by the lunatic fringe of the political and environmental world.

You never hear anti-nuclear forces whinge about the sun. But by all rights, if they're being consistent, they should. After all, the sun's radiation causes skin cancer. And the sun itself is a giant nuclear fusion reactor, ceaselessly bombarding the Earth and the other planets in the solar system with heat, light, and energy that is stored in Earth's plant life. This fossilized plant life eventually turned into the oil and natural gas the industrial world has been living off of for the last 200 years.

Why not go straight to the source and nuclear? This would be good for cleaner for global energy needs, in addition to unleashing a "Uranium Rush" in Australia. Yesterday's report by the House of Representatives on Australia's nuclear future emphasized the economic benefits of expanded uranium mining. It also concludes that nuclear energy is the "only means" for cutting green house gas emissions. The 700-page report, which sits on ominously on our desk, is entitled "Australia's Uranium: Greenhouse friendly fuel for an energy hungry world."

And here is our main point. The nuclear debate in Australia isn't so much about Australia as it is about China and India. Australia, like every other major Western economy, ought to develop a safe, efficient, and clean nuclear industry for the day when conventional hydro-carbons like oil, coal, and gas, are no longer plentiful and cheap. That day is fast approaching, and is probably already upon us. But the main reason Australia ought to encourage nuclear power use is that if China and India don't go the nuclear route, the world will soon be a dirtier, sweater, and more dimly lit place. The sunsets might be romantic. But if you can't breathe, you won't be able to enjoy them all that much.

More here

Landowners standing up for their rights in NSW

The natives are getting restless. On February 11 there will be a rally in Hyde Park to protest against the State Government's long-running assault on democracy and private property. At a meeting at Rouse Hill just before Christmas, about a dozen community groups decided to join forces for what they hope will be a big event. The political ramifications could be interesting. Some of the groups are small, but others have previously organised demonstrations of thousands of people in their own areas. They have a range of issues, but as a coalition they are calling for three things.

1. Fair compensation when government legislation, such as rezoning or native vegetation law, reduces the value of private property.
2. An end to developer donations to political parties.
3. Restoration of the planning powers of local councils, possibly by entrenching councils in the constitution of NSW.

Most members of the coalition are in one of three broad categories. The first opposes the way the State Government has taken planning powers away from councils to enforce urban consolidation on municipalities that, as the Herald's front page showed on Tuesday, are unsuited to it and don't want it. This category includes the Coalition Against Private Overdevelopment, which is fighting the replacement of the Royal Rehabilitation Centre at Putney with 795 flats.

The second category of groups is located in western Sydney, often representing people with blocks of land from two to 10 hectares, of whom there are many thousands, who are protesting not against urban consolidation but the way government is going about releasing more land on the fringe. One common complaint is that the process is being done to assist big developers and disadvantage smaller ones. Here, too, the State Government has crushed obstructions from councils. This category includes Hands Off Private Property in the north-west, formed last year when the Government proposed to turn properties zoned as awaiting urban development into green zones. The group managed to stop what would effectively have been the state theft of a big proportion of landowners' assets.

The third group involved in the rally are farmers, many of whom have seen their livelihoods and assets devastated by the State Government. The biggest cause of this is native vegetation legislation, which prevents farmers clearing even woody weeds. Farmers are, naturally, upset and this year have been blockading properties in western NSW to prevent officials from the Department of Natural Resources from entering to investigate suspected illegal clearing of woody weeds. (Officials have the right to enter properties at will.) Another big rural issue at the moment, as reported by Daniel Lewis in the Herald on December 16, is the Government's theft of water that irrigators have been promised and have paid for.

The legal situation regarding compensation for the state theft of property rights was considered in a 2003 paper by Bryan Pape, a senior lecturer at the University of New England's law school. The State Government is legally obliged to pay just compensation if it takes property, but has no obligation at all if it only goes halfway, as it were, and reduces a property's economic value by taking away some of the usage rights previously attached to it. These might be the right to remove scrub on a farm, or in the case of a heritage listing, the right to build another storey on a house (subject to council approval). Pape wrote that "there appears grounds for characterising an uncompensated taking as an unchallengeable tax. Such an implicit tax may be regarded as invalid."

One farmer who will be at the rally is Peter Spencer, who lost the use of about 90 per cent of his property because of native vegetation law. Backed by a new group called the Constitutional Property Rights Association, he is pursuing legal action against his council, because the rates it charges him are still based on the assumption his land is economically productive. He also hopes to take on the Federal Government in the High Court. Although native vegetation law is a state matter, Canberra contributed a great deal of the money used to implement it and now takes credit internationally because affected farms such as Spencer's are carbon sinks. The Federal Government is possibly more vulnerable to legal action than the states for uncompensated "regulatory takings", the term used for the modern version of what was once called the nationalisation of private property.

Regulatory takings have been the subject of successful counterattacks by the community in parts of the US, starting in Oregon, the home of urban consolidation, when landowners found the value of their properties under attack from restrictive rezoning by a state government in pursuit of the urban environmental vote. Some other countries, such as Britain, have long taken a much fairer approach: farmers are paid "stewardship fees" as compensation if they suffer financially in order to achieve an environmental outcome desired by the wider community.

It is the way of democracy that governments can get away with a hell of a lot, but eventually they go too far and the people turn on them. The big question is how far is too far. Turnout at the February 11 rally could provide an indication.

Here are the groups supporting the rally so far: the Aboriginal Housing Company, Alex Avenue Residents Action Group, Anti-Transmission Tower Action Group, Coalition Against Private Overdevelopment, Hands Off Private Property, Friends of Ku-ring-gai Environment, Keep Our Property Private, Land and Asset Protection Group, Marsden Park Schedule Lands, North-Western Railway Alignment Injustice Lobby, Property Rights Association (NSW), Rally Ku-ring-gai, Riverstone Release Area Scheduled Lands, Rouse Hill Heights Action Group, and Save Our Suburbs.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

Aunty's anti-Western bias is a dangerous political tool

Ignorant and ideologically biased ABC staff need re-educating. ("Aunty" is a common nickname for Australia's main public broadcaster -- The Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Those concerned about ABC bias may be disappointed in the ABC's new director of editorial policies, Paul Chadwick. "During the selection process I made it clear that if the ABC wanted a chief censor, I did not want the job," Chadwick said after news of his appointment last week. "The fact that it was offered and the fact I accepted reflected the understanding that this is not a chief censor role."

There has been hope among critics of ABC bias that the new director of editorial policies role, which attracts a salary of at least $280,000 a year, would redress fundamental concerns over ideological bias among ABC staff. But Chadwick's emphasis - indeed, his insistence - on the point that he will not act as a censor at the ABC raises the concern that such hopes are illusory.

Accusations of ABC bias are a problem that will certainly recur in 2007, if only because the partisans of one major political party or the other are unhappy with the broadcaster's coverage. I believe that ABC bias is one of the central problems in our national media. It is a problem I have observed both at close first hand and at the distance of consumption of ABC broadcasting products.

From both perspectives, the problem reveals itself as coming from the same source: the spiritual and metaphysical rootlessness of the tertiary-educated Australian middle class. I have always contended that dealing with this problem at its roots will require nothing less than the complete philosophical re-education of those ABC staff members engaged in intellectual tasks. Short of outright privatisation, this is the only way to arrest the endemic anti-Western bias which, at our ABC, expresses itself as partisan political passion, with the institutions and figureheads of Western liberal democracy as its principal targets.

The ABC represents the Australian intellectual class in miniature. The journalists, writers and artists who make up that class suffer broadly from the confused values that have characterised Western intellectual elites since the late 19th century. There is political passion without historical knowledge. There is philosophical scepticism, without the well thought-out metaphysical beliefs to make that scepticism useful. There is a nihilistic tendency that goes beyond the call of reason, and summons those afflicted with it to a fundamentalist rejection of the society in which they live, and which on the whole treats them very well.

This is the sort of problem that I talk about when I talk of ABC bias. It is not the problem of whether seven minutes or 12 minutes are given to Liberal and Labor spokesmen on the environment in the course of a tedious ABC interview. Much more important than such technical trivia is the question of the underlying and perhaps unconscious attitudes of those doing the interviewing, the editing and the production work on the program.

In a sense, the problem is not the creation of ABC culture as such. It is rather a problem of the Australian tertiary-educated middle class. As flag-bearers for that class, media workers naturally carry most of its baggage. In most social situations, this does not matter at all. A journalist riding the train or ferry to work in the morning is no more dangerous or offensive than another kind of office worker, or the person driving the train or boat. But once at work, ensconced in a position of command over the tools of mass communications media, the ideas at the back of a journalist's mind become more significant, and potentially threatening.

Where commercial market forces impose the disciplines of punchiness, topicality and brevity in news, the menace factor is correspondingly reduced. Where journalists in this country have the liberality to do their thing, as at a commercial-free ABC where ratings are irrelevant and the only professional issue of importance is the estimation of one's peers, the danger from their philosophical disconnectedness from society correspondingly increases. Given the attitudes of the Australian tertiary-educated class, ABC bias is the inevitable consequence of having a public broadcaster that does not operate on commercial principles.

Some say that the ABC board, with all its Howard Government appointees, ensures that the ABC cannot be biased. I have always contended that the ABC board is virtually irrelevant to the broadcaster's operating culture. The board could become, to a man and woman, more right-wing than Keith Windschuttle in his most right-wing moments. This will never affect the Monday-to-Friday newsroom thinking of an ABC journalist whose day-to-day contact is with other ABC journalists. If anything, the persistent stacking of the board with right-wing figureheads is likely to merely reinforce the crusader mentality of those excitable ABC staff members who have come to believe that their own positions, and perhaps the future of civilisation as they understand it, are under threat from the Howard Government.

Similarly I do not predict any great change in ABC operating culture as a result of the creation of any number of so-called opinion programs loaded with predictable voices from various spots on the ideological spectrum. Opinion programs, particularly if they are labelled as such (and one hopes they will be), are unlikely to carry much persuasive value one way or the other. The impact of the programs will depend entirely on the quality of work done by presenters. Like the opinion pages of newspapers, opinion programs on the ABC may provide a forum for the nation's salient political ideas. But in and by themselves, they will not change the content of any overwhelming bias that lies within the hearts and minds of our intellectual class.

Perhaps those making the coffee at ABC staff cafeterias may be excused from the need to learn the basic outlines of Western metaphysical discourse: the tension between utopian political ideologies and the doctrine of original sin, for example. But any staffer who is paid to write, record, edit or in any other way contribute to the production of verbal output through the media of ABC TV and radio should be trained to recognise the key elements in historical Western intellectual discussion. Re-education, leading to a broadened view of the traditions of Western civilisation itself, is the only way to counter the deep-seated anti-Western hostility that characterises our intellectual elites in the modern era.

Note: Just because Leftists use the term "re-education" in an Orwellian way, it does not mean that everybody does. Sometimes it means only what it says!


Your government will protect you

More bureaucratic "child welfare" incompetence -- this time in South Australia

South Australian authorities did not investigate thousands of reports of suspected child abuse in the past year because they believed fewer than one in five could be substantiated. Figures obtained by The Advertiser also show that of the cases followed up, thousands were not investigated within set timeframes. Nearly 45 per cent of cases in which children were considered at risk of some harm and almost 10 per cent of cases in which a child was determined to be in immediate danger, were not investigated within the timeframes. Another 12,584 reports were deemed not worthy of any investigation.

The revelation has outraged child abuse advocates, social workers and MPs, but Families and Communities Minister Jay Weatherill and Families SA chief executive Beth Dunning yesterday defended the department's processes. "Of course, we still investigate the most serious cases urgently, but we are deliberately attempting to move our resources away from investigating all cases, to supporting families," [whatever that means] Ms Dunning said. "Child protection agencies around Australia are moving away from investigation and focusing on intervention."

The founder of volunteer organisation Children in Crisis, Nina Weston, said every report not urgently investigated could place a child's life at risk. "I am very concerned about that, obviously, because it means these children are not getting the help that they need because they are still at risk," she said. "If no one is seeing them, it is possible they are being re-abused."

Ms Dunning said less than 20 per cent of child abuse reports were substantiated. Investigations strained relationships among the department, parents and guardians found not to have abused their children. "When reports are incorrect, it often leads to families becoming less receptive to accepting help," she said.

Nearly 3500 cases in 2005-06, in which children were determined to be at risk, were not investigated within the target of seven days. The cases of 57 children considered to be in immediate danger were not started within the target 24 hours of notification. In 4228 other cases, families were contacted and invited to meet officials after it was determined the child was at low risk of harm in the short term.

Mr Weatherill supported Families SA's policy change, suggesting spending money on investigations could exacerbate problems. "Other states have gone down the path of pouring billions of dollars into investigations for no benefit in terms of keeping children safe," he said. "There's an argument to suggest it's actually made things worse."

Opposition families spokeswoman Vickie Chapman said she was appalled by the department's handling of child abuse cases. She blamed a lack of funding and resources for putting children's lives at risk. "Here we have a situation where even at the acute end of the cases, the Government is failing these children," she said. "They are not delivering on it. They are not supplying resources. They would rather build a tramline than look after children."

Family First MLC Dennis Hood called for mandatory investigations of all child-abuse reports. He said further funds were needed and shifting resources from one area to another was unsatisfactory. Independent MP Nick Xenophon said the emphasis on prevention would be "cold comfort" for children being abused. "It's also very disturbing so many cases are not being investigated on time," he said. "It has to be an absolute priority." The National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect state president Richard Bruggemann said the number of cases investigated promptly needed to improve.


Greenhouse gases 'not to blame' for Australia's partial drought

The drought gripping southeast Australia is due to natural variations in climate rather than the greenhouse effect. The finding, based on CSIRO research, undermines claims by South Australian Premier Mike Rann at a water summit in Canberra last month that Australia was in the grip of a one-in-1000-year drought. "It is very, very highly likely that what we are seeing at the moment is natural climatic variability," researcher Barrie Hunt told The Australian, saying the CSIRO's model of 10,000 years of natural climate variability put the current drought into perspective. "When people talk about it as a 1000-year drought, they haven't got the information. They don't understand that according to natural variability we could get another one in 50 years or it might be another 800 years, and there's no way of predicting it."

The CSIRO's global climate model incorporates measurements of air pressure, temperature and wind at different levels of the atmosphere, sea surface temperatures and rainfall. Mr Hunt's research focused on three 500 sq km sites in Australia: one on the Queensland-NSW border, going down to the coast; southeast Australia, which included Melbourne, Sydney and much of the Murray River basin; and southwest Western Australia, including the Perth region. He looked at the frequency of dry sequences lasting eight years or longer. "In each of those places there are about 30 occasions over 10,000 years where you get one of these eight or more years sequences," he said. "The longest sequence was 14 years in Queensland-NSW, 11 in the southeast and 10 in the southwest."

Mr Hunt said the Queensland-NSW area had had an 800-year period without an eight-year dry, "but there is another period of 462 years where you get five of these". Mr Hunt said the onset, duration and termination of the long dries could not be predicted because they were due to random processes. He said the current drought was an example of a dry sequence that began with an El Nino weather system. "It starts a drought and you get sea-surface temperatures flickering backwards and forwards a bit. The rainfall may go back to fairly near normal but it is still below average, and then you get another El Nino," he said. "This can go on for a decade. Eventually it breaks. You don't know why, it is a random thing. This is just part of the beauty of the climatic system."

Most of Victoria is in a 10-year dry sequence, the Murray River is in its sixth year of drought, while Brisbane and much of NSW are also experiencing a six-year dry.

"It is important that people realise that natural variability says it will break. It may not break next year, because one of these things went on for 14 years, but it will break," Mr Hunt said. Mr Hunt was previously leader of the CSIRO's climate modelling program. He said a problem in assessing droughts -- and giving them titles such as a one-in-1000-years drought -- was that Australia did not have extensive records. Mr Hunt said climate change due to increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere built on naturally occurring patterns and would be felt in the coming years. "At the moment I think natural variability dominates. Increasingly, over the next few decades you would expect to see the greenhouse effect start to dominate, particularly with things like temperature," he said.

Mr Hunt said the dry sequence in the southwest was different, with a decline over 30 years, which included the odd year of above-average rainfall. "It isn't violating what I am saying, but it is a very unusual sequence of events there," he said.



On Sunday night, 2006 will be farewelled with bells, whistles and more than a few drinks. It's what we do. The inclusion of a chosen tipple or two in our festive and year's end celebrations is the norm; to not down a few yourself or offer a drink to a guest on New Year's Eve is still considered unusual, even in this era of health concerns.

Alcohol has always been a part of our culture. We use it to celebrate achievements, mark milestones and when we are enjoying the company of friends. Our high-quality alcoholic products [wine, beer and rum] are world renowned. Alcohol adds to our economy and culture.

Why then are we so shocked when teenagers drink? For generations, sneaking and sipping has been the way of youth. For generations it was snickered about and older people shared a wink and a nod when a young one nicked a mouthful and got caught. But the red flag had been raised on teen drinking, as well it should.

Australian Secondary Students Alcohol and Drug Survey 2005 data released this month showed that while tobacco and cannabis usage were down on similar surveys on 2002 and 1999, anti-drinking ad campaigns had done nought. Teens' drinking behaviour in Australia has remained relatively unchanged since the 1990s. Almost all 16- and 17-year-olds have tried alcohol, with more than half of those surveyed describing themselves as current drinkers and revealing they had consumed alcohol in the week before the survey. Commonwealth Government statistics show one in 10 teens drink at harmful levels in Australia. About seven in 10 boys and girls aged 14 to 17 drink alcohol and a third engage in high-risk behaviour at least once a month after binge drinking. Oh, yes. Teenagers are certainly drinking.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, underage drinking accounts for 20 per cent of all alcohol consumption in the US. It's hard to imagine the consumption would be very different here in the land of beer and booze-ups.

How to address this issue is complex and thorny, but what is startling in recent times is the propensity to see it as linear: blame the parents and blame the teens. Alcohol consumption by 17-year-olds during the Schoolies celebrations this year was blamed squarely on parents for providing their children with booze. Forget about context, or that most parents realised their teens would obtain alcohol and wanted to have a say in what was consumed; forget that most parents agonise over the drinking dilemma; or that by-and-large this generation of mums and dads have swung away from the autocratic approach of their parents and try to listen and be fair: Critics are quick to judge the parents of teens as bad, bad, bad.

It is clear drinking excessively is unhealthy and dangerous. The National Health and Medical Research Council says male teenagers should have no more than six standard alcoholic drinks on any one occasion and teenage girls should have no more than four. Go beyond these limits and the chances of being involved in drink driving, unwanted sexual advances and physical and verbal abuse increase. Their bodies suffer, too.

The solution to teenagers binge drinking or drinking alcohol at an age that is dangerous to their development and safety will not be found in blaming parents, or the teens themselves. The solution can only lie in making the whole of society take an interest. It is our social behaviour that feeds the problem, our embracing of getting "sloshed", our rules governing the promotion and advertising of alcohol, our inclusion of alcohol in everything special and important. We all must bear the consequences of our choices and we must share the load of responsibility for this problem.

Most of those who bellow loudest about the culture of underage drinking must not have adolescents themselves, as this is a group like none that has gone before. They are savvy, aware, bold and stressed: the way in which alcohol is pitched and presented could be just for them. The fact is that most teens, even if they do drink, are heeding the warnings. Most consume moderately and deliberately. Still, urban myths grow and one-off tales of alcohol abuse and teenage misbehaviour are expanded on to create the impression of a damned and dark generation.

In June, the Government launched its National Alcohol Strategy for the next three years. It said it was developed as a response to the prevalent high-risk alcohol consumption in the nation. Each year, about 3000 people die as a result of binge drinking and about 65,000 people are admitted to hospital. The annual cost to the Australian community of alcohol-related social problems was estimated to be $7.6 billion. All this and more could be waiting for some of our teens unless we take collective responsibility and get real about expectations. We need to get serious about offering real help instead just extending real judgment and real criticism.


Friday, December 29, 2006


Brisbane's "Green Bridge"

Rationality is in short supply in anything Greenies touch and the new "Green" bridge over the river in Brisbane (Queensland, Australia) is no exception. It has a cycle path, a pedestrian path and two road lanes that mostly empty buses trundle over but the road lanes are not open to cars. It is an anti-car bridge! Since there is little additional car-parking close to the bridge, it seems unlikely to be much used -- despite its cost to the taxpayer of $54 million.

The idiocies do not end there, however. It does not encourage pedestrians either. Have a look at the photo above and note the partial awning over the pedestrian path. It is situated on the South of the path but Brisbane is South of the tropic of Capricorn so the sun always comes from the North. So the awning is totally useless as a sunshade. And you can see that it is little use as a rain-shelter either. Someone must not have told the architect that the rain rarely falls straight down!

My previous post about the bridge was on December 17th (scroll down).

Australian government tackles Islamic bigotry

The Howard Government is to roll out a pilot program in schools in Muslim areas of western Sydney that will address the compatibility of Islamic and Australian values and the wearing of religious attire, including headscarves. The $1 million federally funded three-year program to improve understanding of other faiths and cultures will be run at schools in the suburbs of Lakemba, which has a large Muslim population, and Macquarie Fields, the site of youth riots last year. The move comes amid broader efforts to reshape Australia's ethnic affairs policies to put a greater emphasis on integration and English-language skills.

The pilot, which will run in up to 16 schools, aims to "reduce isolation and alienation felt by some students" and to "support Australian Muslims to participate successfully in the broader Australian society", according to a government-issued request for tenders to establish and manage the program. Education Minister Julie Bishop said the pilot, to be rolled out next year, would investigate the "challenges facing students in a range of school environments, and will seek to establish best practice which will help us to further encourage tolerance and social cohesion through school education". "It is important to help all Australian schools educate our children about values which support our democratic way of life and our capacity to live in harmony with each other, regardless of individuals' circumstances, backgrounds or beliefs," she said.

But some Islamic community leaders said they were concerned that some of the material being developed for the pilot could create negative sentiment about Muslim students wearing headscarves and other religious attire. Controversy about the wearing of headscarves by young girls has raged throughout Europe since the France banned public school students from wearing them in 2004. Belgium adopted a similar ban and Germany and Denmark banned public school teachers from wearing them. In October, the debate flared when British Prime Minister Tony Blair described full-face veils as a "mark of separation". Several Liberal MPs have indicated they support banning headscarves in local schools.

Material being developed for the pilot includes questions about whether religious/cultural attire creates challenges in schools. The material developed for the pilot must also "identify a series of challenges faced by Muslims and non-Muslims in schools, i.e. the compatibility of Islamic values with Australian values and cultures ... gender relation issues and cultural/religious attire," the request for tender said.

Islamic Friendship Association spokesman Keysar Trad, who is based in the Lakemba area, said he was concerned that debate about religious attire would be reignited as a result of the pilot. "I am worried that this could result in greater fears rather than something constructive or positive -- the last thing we need is to reinvent the wheel when it comes to religious attire in schools." Ameer Ali, former chair of the Prime Minister's hand-picked Muslim Reference Group, said the program should have pilots in each state rather than just in Lakemba and Macquarie Fields.


Global cooling in Queensland

If an unusually hot summer in London proves global warming, surely an unusually cool summer in Brisbane proves global cooling!! Or don't the colonies count?

It still hasn't broken the drought, but more good soaking rain across much of the state yesterday seemed to wash away our concerns - at least for a moment or two. As a southerly air stream brought more record cold December temperatures and unseasonal drizzle, many swapped the traditional post-Christmas day at the beach for a rare stroll in the rain....

There were smiles too on the Darling Downs, where the light drizzle was just enough follow-up to storm rain a fortnight ago. Graingrower Frank Stenzel said the 8mm of light rain that had fallen since Christmas Day at his Greenmount property, 25km south of Toowoomba, was a welcome boost for his 120ha crop of sorghum. But Mr Stenzel said he would need a further 100mm in coming weeks to ensure a reasonable harvest. "The cool weather has allowed the rain to soak in and hopefully well get more by the weekend," he said.

The bureau has forecast cloudy skies and patchy rain for today in a band from the northwest to the southeast of the state, slowly clearing northwards. Tomorrow, rain is expected to ease and clear northwards, with temperatures climbing but still generally below average. The highest rainfall recorded yesterday was 29mm at Baralaba, 200km southwest of Gladstone.

Bureau senior forecaster Geoff Doueal said record low December maximums had been recorded at several places, including Brisbane Airport (19.1C), Toowoomba (13.9C), Ipswich (18.4C) and Oakey (15.5C). Emerald's maximum of 16.7C was the lowest December maximum for a century. The previous lowest December temperature was 18.3 in 1907.

More here

And it is indeed a remarkably cool summer here in Brisbane. There is a distinct nip in the air at night. Usually, at this time of the year, I am accustomed to having a warm shower by turning on the cold water only!

Another defence equipment bungle

Days after the Defence Department launched an inquiry into fears that criminals have gained access to army shoulder-fired rocket launchers, the Auditor-General has found it cannot adequately account for inventory and "repairable items" worth $3.9 billion. An annual investigation of government agencies by the Australian National Audit Office concludes that Defence has breached federal financial management controls.

The Auditor-General, Ian McPhee, also criticised the $8.7 billion Defence Materiel Organisation, the body responsible for managing defence equipment. The audit office found the DMO had opened and operated foreign bank accounts without official approval and had "inadvertently" allowed one such account to go into the red. The DMO had also "artificially fixed" the exchange rate when buying equipment for Australian troops overseas, a practice that caused the value of projects to be "misstated". The value of one such project, the Australian light armoured vehicle capability, was overstated by $23 million. The project was subsequently transferred from the DMO back to the Defence Department. The practice has since ceased.

The ongoing problems with Defence accounts follow two recent controversies involving the possible theft of specialist military equipment. Defence Minister Brendan Nelson last week called in ASIO and the secretive Defence Security Authority to carry out a security audit, after concerns that criminals may have gained access to shoulder-fired 66-millimetre rocket launchers from army stores.

The audit office's conclusions on defence accounts are contained in its yearly review of the financial statements of government businesses and agencies, which was released just before Christmas. The auditor says Defence has made some important improvements in its record-keeping and accountability during the past year. But the audit office warns that despite recent improvement, which has seen Defence accounts cleared as "true and fair" apart from the inventories of general and repairable items, there is still much that should be done. "Notwithstanding the significant reduction in uncertainty over some Defence balances in 2005-06, there remains significant uncertainty in relation to the two material line items within the Defence financial statements," it says. The audit office says Defence will need to maintain its current commitment to improving accountability in order to secure a clean bill of health.


Brits flocking to Australia

Amusing the reason given below: Sun and sand. No doubt that is a factor but might it not be that escaping high taxes and the high rate of black crime are important too?

Australia welcomed more than 130,000 immigrants in the last fiscal year, most of them swapping the cold of Britain for sun and sand down under. Figures released by the Department of Immigration show Australia welcomed about 8000 more immigrants than the previous year, with the majority choosing to settle in New South Wales.

While many of the new settlers arrived and stayed in Sydney, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said immigrants were finding it easier to settle outside the city. "A network of support services has now been established in regional NSW and throughout Australia and this has made it more attractive for migrants to live and work away from the big metropolitan centres of Sydney and Melbourne," she said.

The biggest increases in immigration were in South Australia and the ACT. South Australia welcomed 9099 new immigrants, an increase from 6364 in 2004-05, while the capital territory became home for 1372 new Australians, up from 1217. A building boom, low unemployment and the aesthetics of Canberra were all behind the ACT's attractiveness, Senator Vanstone said. "The Canberra community is to be congratulated for welcoming these people into their lives so readily and willingly." [Really! Poms are a universal feature of Australian life. Completely unremarkable]


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Labor Party to get tough on welfare

Australia's new Leftist leader would be a "blue dog" Democrat in the USA. And the comparison with Britain is even more amusing. Not only is Rudd to the Right of the British Labour government but he is also to the Right of Britain''s nominally "Conservative" Opposition

Kevin Rudd is pledging to push welfare change harder than the Howard Government if elected next year by encouraging many of Australia's 700,000 "forgotten" people on disability pensions to find work. In a move expected to enrage welfare groups, federal Labor is planning to keep tough criteria for new disability pensioners introduced by the Government in July. Opposition workforce participation spokeswoman Penny Wong signalled Labor would go further than the Government, saying she wanted to create thousands of new training positions so people on disability pensions could find work.

Under the Government's tightening of eligibility for the disability support pension, people will no longer get the payment if they are judged able to work 15 hours a week - a halving of the previous 30-hour limit. The 700,000 people on the DSP before July are not affected by the revised work-hours test. The Government's welfare changes outraged welfare groups including the Catholic Church, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Uniting Care Australia because they considered the measures too harsh.

Labor wants to provide incentives to existing DSP recipients whom it believes would work if given a chance. According to Labor, these people have been neglected by the Government as too hard to handle politically, and because involving them in work programs could bring an unwelcome boost to unemployment figures. Senator Wong said Labor wanted to be known as a "work-first" party and not one of welfarism.

While the policy was formulated during Kim Beazley's period as Opposition leader, Senator Wong, a member of the party's Left, continues a trend adopted by Mr Rudd. Since being elected to the Labor leadership this month, Mr Rudd has moved to reposition the party on a raft of issues to cast it as economically responsible and avoid being wedged on contentious left-wing issues. Mr Rudd has signalled there will be no repeat of Mark Latham's disastrous Tasmanian forestry policy, and Labor's immigration policy will encourage learning English and getting a job, with integration into Australian society emphasised over cultural diversity. Campaigning on federal-state reform, Mr Rudd has called for an overhaul of responsibilities between the commonwealth and states to improve services in health and education.

Senator Wong said Labor supported moves to cut the DSP rate further, although she confirmed the party's approach would not force people off pensions. Rather it would lure them off benefits by offering training places. "We think those who can work should work," she said. "If we can further reduce welfare payments and get people into work, it'sbetter for everybody. We are and should be a party that understands the value of work. We want to reduce the numbers of people who are long-term welfare-dependent."

The number of people on DSP benefits rose by 21 per cent over the past five years to 700,000. But according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, their labour market participation rate is just 46.5 per cent, compared with 70 per cent in most OECD countries.

The Howard Government reneged on one of its core welfare reform promises, to provide a guaranteed 4000 places for disabled people in its Welfare to Work programs. Senator Wong said Labor would offer places to anyone on the pension who wanted them. Welfare recipients could study at TAFE or university courses instead of having to look for work. The changes would apply to people receiving the disability support pension or the sole parents' pension, and who are considered capable of working between 15 and 30 hours a week.

The only training they can now undertake as part of their mutual obligation requirement is short-term and must be run by a member of the JobNetwork or an organisation approved by the agency. Instead of work-for-the-dole projects, eligible welfare recipients could do training, vocational or tertiary courses, as long as they could prove this would increase their chances of work, Senator Wong said. Labor's concession to the welfare lobby will be to ensure that while the disabled and single mothers wait for jobs they receive higher rates of support through boosted welfare payments.


Australian government points out the high cost of "green" power

THE switch to "clean green" energy sources will cost households up to 40 per cent more on their power bill, Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has said. Mr Macfarlane said it was inevitable there would be "big jumps" in power bills, but said most people were unaware of the looming increases. "I don't think the consumers fully understand the price tag associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions," he told The Courier-Mail in an exclusive interview. "There is no doubt that if we are going to lower greenhouse gas emissions then electricity is going to cost significantly more - for consumers it will be anywhere between 20 and 40 per cent."

Mr Macfarlane said the price rise would occur during the next decade as the nation moved to cleaner, but more expensive energy sources such as clean coal technology. His estimate of a jump of up to 40 per cent in power bills is at the high end of industry expectations. But with the average annual household electricity bill in southeast Queensland about $1300 to $1400, a 40 per cent price rise would add more than $500 - or $125 a quarter - to the average power bill.

Last month, nuclear advocate Ziggy Switkowski said the increase in power bills would probably "not be noticeable" for consumers. But Mr Macfarlane said the cost of electricity production from coal-fired powered stations would almost double from $35 a megawatt-hour to more than $60 as gas emissions were cut. Coal is the main source of electricity and delivers 90 per cent of Queensland's power.

Labor's climate change spokesman, Peter Garrett, yesterday accused the Government of failing to take action on global warming and said it was impossible to make predictions about future energy prices. "In the absence of any targets, timelines and any certainty in greenhouse gas reductions the Government effectively leaves the issue of prices up in the air," Mr Garrett said. Prime Minister John Howard has refused to ratify the Kyoto agreement that sets targets for cutting emissions but earlier this month set-up a taskforce to examine a global emissions trading system.

Mr Macfarlane angrily rejected the accusation the Government has failed to act and said more than three years ago it began pursuing technology-based solutions. He believes it is time for a detailed debate about the impact of cutting emissions and is highly critical of those who promote wind and solar power as a potential solution to future energy needs. He said solar power was four to five times more expensive than electricity from coal and that wind power was twice as expensive - even though it was heavily subsidised. "While the energy source is free, converting that to electricity is expensive," he said of wind and solar power. The Government believes nuclear energy can be a future source of clean energy, but Labor has ruled it out as too dangerous.

All nations, including Australia, are under pressure to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as a blanket of carbon dioxide around the earth and is blamed for heating up the atmosphere. Labor's industry spokesman Kim Carr says the longer the nation waits to change energy sources the more it will cost.


Government "Child Welfare" abuse never stops

A woman who lost her job after her husband was wrongly accused of child sex abuse says she will continue to fight for justice despite waiting nearly a decade for the Beattie [Queensland] Government to act on recommendations she be compensated. The former family day care carer and mother of three has spent $117,000 on legal costs and faces losing her family home. But she wants to be compensated for the loss of her carer's registration and for the pain and suffering caused to her and her husband. The woman said she wanted to know why the Government would not implement the Ombudsman's compensation recommendations. "Justice will prevail. It must," she said.

The Courier-Mail first wrote about the woman's plight in 1998, when it reported the former Families Department had illegally shredded child abuse investigation documents, after her husband had been wrongly swept up in abuse allegations involving a child she was looking after.

Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney said the family deserved better treatment. "It's hard to imagine why the Government has not acted on the Ombudsman's recommendations," he said. "There is a case to be looked at here to ensure justice is done."

Her fight for justice has involved some of the state's most senior bureaucrats and politicians, including Peter Beattie who, in September 1998, as fledgling Premier, declared himself an "honest broker" in ensuring a "speedy resolution" of the matter. Deputy Premier Anna Bligh also was involved as then families minister. After a 3 1/2-year investigation, former ombudsman Fred Albeitz found "there were severe deficiencies in the management of the case" by the Families Department. Then departmental director-general Allan Male accepted the agency should enter into "meaningful negotiations ... to achieve an acceptable compensation package".

The woman later received an "unreserved" written apology from Mr Male's successor, Ken Smith. But the woman said little or no negotiations eventuated and, after her lawyers activated a Supreme Court writ which they advised was necessary to protect her legal right to claim damages, she was "frozen out". The woman's Supreme Court application seeking leave to proceed with her case was unsuccessful, as was a 2003 appeal, with the State Government engaging Queen and Senior counsels to fight the case.

The woman said she was continuing to pursue the matter with Linda Apelt, the Director-General of the new Communities Department, which has taken over the old Families Department files.


Chaplains must not preach religion???

What a nutty idea. It can't last

School chaplains will have to sign a code of conduct that prevents them from touching students and bans the preaching of religion, under a controversial $90 million government scheme. Chaplains who refuse to sign the code will not be allowed to take part in the National School Chaplaincy Program, which provides grants of up to $20,000 a year for public and private schools to run chaplaincy services.

The code states that school chaplains must avoid physical contact with a student unless it is "strictly necessary", such as if the student is injured. Chaplains must acknowledge that proselytising is not appropriate, and avoid using theological language that "assumes people have the same beliefs". The details were released last week by the federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, who said chaplains were "an invaluable service to the spiritual and emotional wellbeing of school communities".

The guidelines state there must be extensive consultation with the school community, especially parents, about the need for a chaplaincy service, and the religious affiliation of the chaplain. Schools are required to provide information to students and parents, such as through newsletters or handouts, emphasising use of a chaplaincy service is voluntary.

Public school teachers and principals have strongly criticised the federal scheme. The Australian Education Union believes it will subsidise the work of private schools, while the Australian Secondary Principals Association described it as inflexible and "fundamentally flawed". The union's Victorian president, Mary Bluett, said the Government should instead target the funding to public schools, and make the money available for all types of welfare workers - not just chaplains. "It's discriminating against those school communities who believe that a chaplain is not the best resource for their community."

Existing child protection regulations for schools in NSW already prevent teachers from inappropriately touching students. The president of the NSW Secondary Schools Principals Council, Jim McAlpine, said the scheme was a waste of public money which could be spent targeting counselling services for schools. "I just see it as another way of John Howard transferring taxpayer money to private schools," he said. The deputy president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Angelo Gavrielatos, said the chaplains policy was "misguided and divisive".


Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Police in Melbourne fear the emergence of militant street gangs of young African refugees who have served in militia groups in their war-ravaged homelands. A growing gangster mentality among young African men is worrying community leaders, who blame boredom, unemployment and drugs for turning young immigrants living in Melbourne's inner north towards violence and crime. Police sources have told The Australian that while gang-related activity had not reached epidemic proportions, "it is a serious concern".

Young African leader Ahmed Dini said some Somali, Sudanese and Eritrean men, predominantly aged between 16 and 25, felt disconnected from mainstream society and were either forming or joining ethnic groups for protection and also for a sense of belonging. He said they mainly lived in housing commission estates in the city's inner north - Flemington, Ascotvale and north Melbourne - and some had trained with heavy-duty military weapons while they were serving in militias overseas. "Some of them have used rocket launchers and grenades," said Mr Dini, who is chairman of the community-based youth network Saygo.

He said the migrants were haunted by childhood images of killings, torture and rape, and were constantly on edge. "Violence is not something new for these young people," he said. "And sometimes memories trigger them to do stupid things. "Sometimes they do some bad things ... like probably pick on other people, other groups, pick fights (with other ethnic groups). "They pick fights with Turkish, Lebanese, even with the African communities. "You have the Somalians from Flemington usually pick on Somalians from Carlton, so it's like a territorial kind of thing."

Mr Dini said some of the young men wielded baseball bats during the brawls. "They do have bats and stuff like that, and when they do hear there's a fight they turn up with their bats." He said while he was not aware of any structured African community gangs in the city's inner north, he was aware young Sudanese men from the western suburbs were becoming more established and organised in their gang activities.

But a police source told The Australian the street gangs were not usually structured or organised. "There isn't necessarily a leader and so on." The source said the hierarchy and leadership often comes into play when the gang is faced with some kind of adversity such as a territorial brawl. Mr Dini, who set up Saygo with 12 other young African leaders in September to tackle unemployment, education and criminal issues being faced by his community, said the state and local governments were largely responsible for the street gangs. This was because they had for years ignored the problems of unemployment and the lack of facilities, failing to devote enough resources and initiatives towards alternative activities. "There's no service-providers that help out the young people in the area," he said. "And the population of the youth is growing. And the more boys you have doing nothing, just hanging out, the more likely you're going to have problems that are going to arise."

Mr Dini warned that gang and crime-related problems within the African communities would eventually lead to "race riots" similar to those in France if governments continued to ignore the problem. "It could lead to deaths," he said.


"Civil liberties" perversions

Last week the Victorian Court of Appeal ordered a retrial of Jack Thomas on terror charges. The judges found the interview Thomas gave to ABC television's Four Corners could be used in evidence, as it potentially incriminated him. But here's the bizarre part. A number of civil libertarians were reported as being appalled at the ABC for showing the interview. "They must have known they shouldn't do it," said a past president of Liberty Victoria.

In reading this reaction I was reminded of the contrary opinions of the great English legal and moral philosopher Jeremy Bentham. This is the man who was largely responsible for the first Reform Bill of 1832 that vastly expanded the voting system; Bentham lobbied for such a broadening of the democratic base for many years. He also pushed for prison reform and was a progenitor of the John Howard Society (that's the prison reform group named after the long-dead Brit, not a fan club of the Prime Minister).

Bentham, who lived from 1748 to 1832, also played an important role in advancing the cause of women's voting rights. But my point is only this: Bentham had impeccable 18th-century reformist credentials in all sorts of important areas that affected real people. And yet he had a near pathological dislike, indeed loathing, of what we today would call civil libertarians.

Here's how Bentham saw it. This crowd of people forget that criminal trials are basically about getting at the truth. What is needed is a way to determine if an accused person actually did what the police are accusing him of. So relevance and truth are the key factors in any set of procedures. Yes, we'd all be better off opting to have a system that deliberately lets 10 or even 100 guilty persons go free rather than convicting one innocent person. That's why, contrary to the way newspapers often portray things, a not-guilty verdict does not in any way equate to an innocent verdict. Many guilty people are acquitted. It's the price we all willingly pay to keep the innocent out of jail, as much as is practically possible. But notice how you can admit all that and still believe that the point of a criminal procedure system is basically to find out the truth. That's certainly how Bentham saw it.

The problem with the civil libertarian mind-set is that any desire to find the truth -- to convict people who actually did what they are accused of -- seems to get brushed aside in the headlong rush after moral abstractions. Bentham caustically portrayed such thinking as a sort of fox-hunting game. Their goal, he said, was to ensure convicting accused criminals resembled a jolly good day of hunting. That means you can't catch too many. You'll need lots of irrelevant rules which will be sure to trip up the police on occasion, to make sure a few foxes get away. And you want to make sure these rules don't have anything much to do with determining guilt or innocence. The goal is always to keep the game nice and entertaining, with a fox here and there slipping away for the sake of the game itself.

Bentham went further. He saw the mind-set that, say, would exclude evidence when it clearly and undoubtedly points to guilt as part of a typical lawyer's world view, one where a person can be earning a huge salary and yet see himself as doing God's work. It's fox-hunting without any blood on one's hands; nice work if you can get it.

Now let's go back to Thomas. He either did or did not accept cash from al-Qa'ida. If he did not, or if the jury has a reasonable doubt he did not, then he should be acquitted. But if it is clear that Thomas did what he is accused of, then how, precisely, is there any injustice done if this is proved through his own words on an interview he freely gave to the ABC?

There is no obvious rationale for saying our criminal procedures should ensure the stupid don't get convicted. Nor are there any immediate grounds Lfor saying that the press should cover up admissions. Even if the ABC had promised not to show the interview until after the trial, I cannot see why that should stop the police from forcing the public broadcaster to hand over the tapes of the interview.

Confessions are sometimes suspect because we know as a matter of experience that innocent people sometimes confess to things they did not do. In other words, we're worried about the truth of the confession and fear coercion and pressure. We only should accept a confession after it's plain the confessor is telling the truth. But those civil libertarians last week weren't worried about truth. They were worried about the conduct of the ABC (not an obvious candidate for Right-wing monster organisation, truth be told). And they worried about Thomas's legal representation. You see, a smart person wouldn't have admitted anything, and so a smart lawyer would have ensured he shut up.

And so on and so forth. Not one iota of concern for whether the system works reasonably well in getting at the truth and actually takes off the streets dangerous people who do bad things: some of whom, luckily for all of us, are just plain dumb. Maybe Liberty Victoria should have its members read a little Bentham.


What Greenie dam-hatred has achieved in Australia

Water restrictions have cut consumption by Australian households to 1950s levels, but a chronic failure by state governments to invest in infrastructure will force further crackdowns on use in 2007 unless the nation receives significant rain.

Research by national water utilities has found water consumption per head has been driven down to 1950s levels by the tough restrictions. Up to 20 per cent of the cuts in household consumption were reported since 2001, when severe restrictions were implemented as rainfall in the catchment areas began to drop. This is despite a doubling in the average size of houses, with more bathrooms and increased numbers of swimming pools.

According to Water Services Australia, in 1955-56 Sydneysiders used 343 litresper person per day, while Melburnians used 330L. In 2005-06, people in Sydney used slightly less -- 339L per person per day -- while Melbourne residents used 331L. Usage peaked at about 500L in the 1980s. But in the same period, the populations of the cities on the eastern seaboard have more than doubled while investment in water infrastructure has failed to keep pace.

After a post-war boom in developing new dams and water storage, investment in new dams has fallen sharply in the past decade, with little investment in alternative technologies such as recycling and desalination -- with the exception of Perth. The water spokesman for the Australian Council for Infrastructure Development, Graham Dooley, said Australia had enough water but was unable to manage it because of chronic infrastructure failures. "We have a supply crisis and we have an infrastructure crisis. We don't actually have a water crisis," he said. "It's in the wrong place and the wrong quality. It's either seawater or stormwater or sewage, not drinking water." The problem, he said, was under-investment in infrastructure. "You can solve all of these problems by being cleverer."

State governments have continued to take the profits from their water utilities rather than reinvesting in new infrastructure, taking $659 million in 2004/05 from urban water authorities. A report by Marsden Jacob Associates found the capital city water businesses had not increased capital expenditure significantly "and certainly not increased it to the levels required to have avoided the current shortfall in supply". Instead, the water authorities have relied on increasingly severe restrictions to manage supply, as dams fall to unprecedented lows. Only Hobart and Darwin are exempt from the national crisis. Sydney's Warragamba dam is at an unprecedented low of 36.7per cent. Only huge transfers of water from the Shoalhaven system this year have kept the Warragamba above the desalination trigger point of 30 per cent.

Southeast Queensland's Wivenhoe dam is in a worse position, and is now 23 per cent of capacity. "We've never seen it this low in all the time we've been coming here," Ipswich resident Steven Ryder said during a visit with his wife Carla. Melbourne's Thompson dam is at 40 per cent. The city will get more severe restrictions on January 1, but what worries water managers is the possibility of bushfire in the dam's catchment. Mr Dooley said Adelaide had even more severe problems because of its heavy reliance on dwindling inflows to the Murray River for water supplies. "Adelaide is basically stuffed," he said. "Adelaide has no option but to recycle or desalinate." Mr Dooley said Perth was the only city to have a thorough water strategy, although its dams received only a third of the inflows they got before 1974. "They have done everything possible, and even so they haven't got enough, and that is because it is the best example in the world of climate change," he said.

Water Services Association chief Ross Young said bringing back consumption to 1950 levels "is an outstanding achievement if you compare it to electricity, gas or ... petrol, which have all risen substantially over that period".


Education bureaucrats try to stymie religion classes

A controversial new religious instruction form that was to be completed by parents of Queensland state school students next year has been pulped. Education Minister Rod Welford has intervened to ditch the form amid accusations it was being used by the Government to drive faith-based teachings out of state schools by stealth. The highly ambiguous form - drafted by Education Queensland bureaucrats - appears to make parents "opt in" to their religion of choice. This comes despite the Government insisting it would maintain the long-standing "opt out" policy following outrage from church leaders at a planned overhaul of religious education earlier this year.

Mr Welford conceded the new form was "all over the shop" and needed changing. "Obviously it is a bit unclear and I have asked the department to redraft the form so it is consistent with our policy," the Minister said.

The decision to ditch the form came after concerns were raised with The Courier-Mail by one of Queensland's veteran religious instruction teachers. Wondai Baptist Church reverend John Lane said the Government was trying to achieve through policy what it could not through legislation. "I think they are trying to make it as difficult as possible for churches to continue with religious education," Rev Lane said. "I think, and I may be wrong here, that there is a whole anti-religion push behind this." Rev Lane, who has taught in schools for 36 years, said he was determined to continue despite having to submit a detailed curriculum for the first time.

The template form, which was sent to some schools in November, was to be completed by parents of all new enrolments. It asked parents to agree to send their child to religious education classes and gave them the option of the faith of their choice, if available. It gave parents the option to withdraw, but only children who identified with a religion being offered would be sent to the classes if the form was not completed.

Coalition education spokesman Stuart Copeland said the Government had been "caught out". "It certainly looks like they were trying to confuse the issue and hope RE falls over," he said. However, Mr Welford said parents were supposed to be told about their ability to withdraw children from RE, but this had not been happening in many schools. He said parents would receive a new form through the school which would clarify that they could withdraw their child from RE with a written request. "All children will stay in religious instruction unless the parent requests for them to be withdrawn," Mr Welford said.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Immigrant farmer to be deported because of drought

If you are a welfare-dependant Sudanese you can stay as long as you like, of course

A DROUGHT-hit migrant market-gardener is to be deported because he is not producing enough tomatoes and zucchini. John Lai, from Taiwan, and his wife Su-Mei and three children have lived in Australia for nine years. But the Department of Immigration has ordered them out by January 5. A Migration Review Tribunal decision last week gave Mr Lai just two weeks to leave the country because he wasn't meeting the department's strict criteria, including a minimum business turnover.

The cruel decision comes despite an extraordinary display of support from people in the Lais' home town of Cowra, New South Wales, including 100 individual letters and petitions with hundreds of signatures. Cowra Council development manager Graham Apthorpe said he hoped Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone would overturn the decision. "We want him to stay," he said. "And the people want him to stay. "He has always paid his way, he is no drain on taxpayers, he sends his kids to the local Catholic school and pays the fees."

Mr Lai owns his own block of land and his market garden business would be on track if not for the drought, Mr Apthorpe said.

Mr Lai arrived in Australia in 1998 on a long-stay business visa that required him to employ people and use technology. But the drought has cut into his organic farming enterprise and the dam on his little farm has no water.

Mr Lai's children, Ray and Howard, aged 16 and 15, have grown up in Australia, and the third child, Angel, nine, was born here. Mr Apthorpe said the Government should show compassion and review its policy on special visas. "There's got to be some facility to decide on who stays here, rather than leave it right to the death knock."



SEVEN-YEAR-OLD triplet Tabitha Burgess will eat her first Christmas lunch today after the removal of a five-cent coin that had been stuck in her throat for most of her life. Born with a defective oesophagus, Tabitha spent the first six years of her life breathing through a tracheotomy and being fed through a gastrostomy peg. The Hobart girl had been expected to be able to eat soft food at age two, but for unknown reasons could not swallow without regurgitating.

It was not until March this year that doctors at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital identified a foreign object in a throat X-ray. The object had been missed in an X-ray at the same hospital 3« years earlier. Tabitha's father Bruce Burgess, of Blackmans Bay, said the coin was clearly visible in the first X-ray, done in 2002 during a pneumonia check, but doctors assumed it was a piece of medical equipment. "Because it was near the tracheotomy, they assumed that another doctor had put something else there," he said.

The coin was spotted when Tabitha returned to the hospital for the removal of her tracheotomy. "The doctor called me in and showed me the X-rays on the board and asked me what it was," Mr Burgess said. "I said I had no idea, so they did surgery. Her throat had grown over the coin, so they had to cut it out. "When the doctor came out, I asked if they'd found gold but it was only five cents."

The removal of the coin has seen a dramatic turnaround in Tabitha's health. While she still has the gastrostomy peg, she is enjoying different foods for the first time and is looking forward to today's feast. "Most other Christmases she has been in hospital and unable to eat," Mr Burgess said. "This Christmas she will be able to sit down and eat with us and eat what we eat."

It is not known how long the coin was in her throat, but given her inability to swallow at the age of two Mr Burgess suspects it may have been there more than five years. While he could not believe how long it took to identify the problem, he said he was not planning legal action. "Do you sue the hand that feeds you?" Mr Burgess said. "We do have the legal right to sue them up to seven years from now, but we are just grateful to have her."

The coin exacerbated a rough childhood for Tabitha health-wise. The day after her birth she was flown by helicopter to Melbourne to be treated for oesophageal atresia, a birth defect that causes the oesophagus to end in a blind-ended pouch rather than connecting normally to the stomach. It was a year before Tabitha returned to Tasmania and another nine months before she went home from the Royal Hobart Hospital. She has had about 20 operations and in 2002 her life was threatened by pneumonia.


Eat, drink and be merry

By Christopher Pearson

Health ministers, state and federal, are of one mind on the question of obesity. Lack of exercise and poor diet (known in the trade as the Big Two) are to blame. Recent articles in the International Journal of Obesity tell a different story.

Pathways, an obesity prevention program associated with the Johns Hopkins school of public health, ran a three-year study on Native American children. Improved diet and more exercise did not lead to any significant difference in body mass index between the youngsters who participated in the program and the control group. As well, there's a marked paucity of experimental evidence to support the proposition that lack of exercise and too much junk food cause obesity. Not for the first time, medical science has been artlessly assuming that which had to be proved.

The trailblazing IJO article (by S. W. Keith, D. T. Redden et al) concludes that: "Undue attention has been devoted to reduced physical activity and food marketing practices as postulated causes for increases in the prevalence of obesity, leading to neglect of other plausible mechanisms and well-intentioned, but potentially ill-founded, proposals for reducing obesity rates." They suggest no fewer than 10 other possible causes.

Given that being overweight is usually attributed to the sins of gluttony and sloth, these are tidings of comfort and joy just when we needed them, on the eve of a protracted period of feasting. If you've been feeling guilty in advance about all that succulent ham on the bone, roast pork with extra crackling and Christmas pudding with brandy butter, forget it and let your joy be unconfined. Thanks to the IJO, those of a fuller figure can confidently tell the Fat Police to mind their own business and eat to their heart's content. I've been doing so for years now, on the grounds that it's not what you eat or the exercise you miss out on for the festive season but year-round habits that make the difference. But this Christmas there'll be 10 more strings to my bow.

The first blameless cause of obesity is lack of sleep. The evidence from the First World is that since 1960 the average amount of sleep we get has declined by about 90 minutes The researchers say unhealthy sleeping habits potentially have as much effect on our body weight as junk food. There's solid evidence to demonstrate the connection between lack of sleep and BMI, not only in rats but in human beings. Levels of leptin, the hormone that tells the brain that the stomach is full, decrease in the sleep-deprived, and ghrelin, the hormone that prompts hunger, increases. If you want to lose weight, the trick might be not to engage in strenuous exercise but make sure you get a good eight hours of shut-eye.

Another blameless and well-established cause of obesity is man-made poisons that have found their way into the food chain. One indicator the research identifies is polybrominated diphenyl ether. Apparently it almost doubled every five years in Swedish mothers' breast milk between 1972 and 1998. DDT, which is known to increase the fatty tissue in laboratory rats, is also a contender, known to affect human hormone systems.

Natural hormonal changes are responsible for puppy fat in young children and for post-menopausal women's weight gains. There are also various medications that can drastically affect fluid retention and BMI. If you've put on weight recently, it may well have been because of new drugs for diabetes, blood pressure, depression, allergies or oral contraceptives. If, like a good many middle-aged people, you suffer from more than one of those afflictions, it's quite likely they compound the weight problem. Beta-blockers induce a mean weight gain of approximately 1.2kg. One study of oral contraception estimated a mean weight gain of 5kg after two years.

If taking medications is an example of blameless weight gain, then giving up smoking must surely count as conspicuous virtue. Yet there is no surer way to put on weight. Nicotine is a powerful appetite depressant. The best estimate on offer is that between 1978 and 1990, stopping smoking was responsible for about a quarter of the increase in the prevalence of overweight in men and about one-sixth of the increase in women.

Another factor contributing to obesity, in which none of us has any say, is the age at which our mothers bore us. A study of 10-year-old girls found that the odds of obesity increased by more than 14 per cent for every five-year increment in maternal age. Sociological factors such as the propensity to spoil late-arriving children may play a part but there's a biological correlation in sheep between maternal age and fat deposition related to uncoupling protein levels. The mean age of mothers at birth has been inexorably increasing globally since 1960. Another cause for increased obesity levels in the US lies in changes in the distribution of ethnicity and age. "Compared with young European Americans, middle-aged adults, African-Americans (when comparing women only) and Hispanic Americans have a markedly higher obesity prevalence." The increase of Hispanic American adults as a proportion of the population from 5 per cent in 1970 to about 13 per cent in 2000, and a 43 per cent increase in adults aged between 35 and 44 over the same period, argue for a small but statistically significant factor.

Air-conditioning is one explanation for the obesity epidemic, which is very much a late 20th-century First World phenomenon. Exposure to ambient temperatures either above or below the comfort zone "increases energy expenditure, which, all other things being equal, decreases energy stores that is, fat". If you've ever felt that extremes of hot or cold were enervating and left you hungry, that's why.

The most obvious of the blameless components to stoutness is heredity. The heritable component "is well supported by animal breeding studies and human twins, family and adoption studies with an estimated heritability of approximately 65 per cent". There is also a compounding factor over the generations. There's evidence that fatness is associated with greater reproductive fitness, which leads to natural selection of obesity-disposed genotypes.

Last but not least, Father Ephraem Chifley, sometime food reviewer at The Adelaide Review, has drawn my attention to another IJO article (S. D. Vangipuram, M. Yu et al). The human adenovirus Ad-36 causes obesity by reducing leptin expression and secretion and increasing glucose uptake by fat cells. As Chifley remarked: "The moral vanity of the authoritarian and lean is far from being the answer to obesity. It is gratifying for some to think that the fat problem can be solved by boot camps and by the stigmatisation of the overweight. The idea that you might be able to catch obesity as easily as you can the common cold should give us all pause for thought."


Monday, December 25, 2006

A conservative foreign policy: The thinking of one of the world's longest-serving democratic leaders -- John Howard

Conservatives are guided by circumstances and basic values rather than ideology (See "Inside Right" by Britain's Ian Gilmour) and Australia's Prime Minister embodies that well. One summary below from a journalist who has monitored Howard for many years

When John Howard came to power 10 years ago he was a foreign policy amateur, yet imbued with deep foreign policy attitudes, and the story of the past decade is how he revised his policy but kept his attitudes untouched. There is a multitude of criticism of Howard's foreign policy but little analysis of what he tried to achieve, a bizarre omission.

The answer to this question is that Howard aspired to give effect to his foreign policy attitudes. Rarely articulated in his early years, such attitudes have always been the key to his policy. From the start Howard believed that the US would grow only more influential in the world and that our bond with the US was a prized national asset, an unconventional view at the time. He believed the foreign policy establishment was wrong in its reliance on a faltering multilateralism and that the UN's utility had been exaggerated. He saw foreign policy as being about state-to-state relations and was sceptical about regionalism, whether in Europe or Asia.

Howard believed that Japan was our best friend in Asia, China was our greatest opportunity, Indonesia was a flawed giant that should not monopolise our attention and Israel should be defended for its values and its history. He believed that globalisation was a golden moment for Australia, that a strong foreign policy depended on a strong economy and that Australia's world reputation would be determined by the quality of its economy and society, not by moral edicts from the human rights industry.

There was never any grand plan to Howard's policy. It was a case of trial and error and, at the start, there were many errors. But Howard had a framework. He sought an ongoing synthesis between realpolitik or the national interest and being a values advocate seeking a populist domestic affirmation for his foreign policy. It was a task loaded with tensions. And what were his values?

For Howard, Australia is part of the Western liberal tradition. He assumed no conflict between our cultural heritage and our Asian geography. He presented himself to the region and to the nation as a cultural traditionalist and asserted that this was the foundation for Australia's relations with the world. It was his deepest instinct and a break from Paul Keating. It meant Howard's Asian engagement was based on shared interests and different values.

Values became the instrument Howard used to tie foreign policy to domestic politics, a technique he refined with more success than any PM since R.G. Menzies. It was on display in Howard's judgment that Asia's financial crisis confirmed the superiority of British-derived systems of governance (such as Australia's) and his unswerving belief that 9/11 was an attack not just on the US but on the liberal values that Australia also embodied. Yet such cultural rigidity was often the cause of trouble; witness his appeasement of Hansonism, his rhetoric on regional pre-emption and his miscalculation in allowing theUS "deputy sheriff" line such oxygen.

Howard is best grasped as a foreign policy response agent. He is a classic counter-puncher. He saw foreign policy not as an exotic art form but as an exercise in professional political judgments. His distrust of much academic foreign policy analysis was visceral. The world altered fundamentally on Howard's watch, presenting him with vast opportunities not available to many of his predecessors.

Consider these changes: the Asian financial crisis decisively altered regional views in Australia's favour; the China boom reached an intensity that compelled far closer bilateral ties; the demise of president Suharto led to a democratic Indonesia and the chance to change East Timor's status; the arrival of George W. Bush and the 9/11 attack enabled Howard to realise his goal of a closer strategic nexus with the US; and the failed state syndrome in the region saw Howard reinterpret Australia's role as a regional leader. He was ever an opportunist.

The most contentious of his decisions was his realignment towards the US. This was radical because he embraced the revolutionary Bush doctrine in the invasion of Iraq (though Howard unlike Bush was never a revolutionary) yet remained traditional in that Howard upheld the unbroken Australian practice of going to war alongside the US. Howard's view of the alliance is based in long-range calculation. He is convinced of two things: that in 100 years the US will remain the pre-eminent global power and that Australia gains far more by being closely associated with the US rather than by keeping its distance. Staying aloof from Iraq would have defied Howard's values, instincts and character. It was never going to happen.

The Iraq legacy, however, is unavoidable, a debate about whether in the 21st century a new alliance bargain is needed that rejects Australia's automatic participation in US-led wars, given Australia's growing neighbourhood and regional responsibilities. It was tempting at stages over the past decade to think that Howard and Alexander Downer were trashing the Australian foreign policy tradition. Tempting but false. With a decade's perspective it is apparent they have altered priorities and adapted policy to radical new events (it would be amazing if this had not happened) but that they did not change the underlying strategic basis of Australia's policy.

This is apparent from Howard's 1996-97 decision that sound relations with China were necessary for a successful foreign policy, his acceptance ofAustralia's entry into the East Asian Summit, his successful engagement with a changing Asia defined by an assertive Japan, a democratic Indonesia, an emerging India and a China whose power is transforming theregion. It was tempting a few years ago to argue the essence of Howard's policy was realignment towards the US. But this is no longer accurate. The essence of Howard's policy is obvious: to move closer to the US and Asia simultaneously. This reflects the Australian tradition.

Howard's main legacy as a pro-US conservative leader may become the entrenchment within the Liberal Party credo of a pro-China stance. This reflects an independent Australian perception of China, different from the US's, along with an optimistic belief in Australia's ability to reconcile its US alliance and its China engagement.


Update: I should have noted that well-known American conservative Russell Kirk also stressed that conservatives are guided by circumstances and basic values rather than by any ideology. The Gilmour book I quoted seems to be out of print but Gilmour was a prominent Conservative in the British parliament. He was in fact at one time Lord Privy Seal under Margaret Thatcher.

Dame Edna's Christmas message

Every year as Christmas approaches my phone rings and, more recently, my Blackberry bleeps. "It's Lil," comes the girlish yet cultured voice. It's a voice I wish Julia Gillard would at least try to emulate when someone tells her that Labor Party is two words. "Lil" is, of course, the Helen Mirren lookalike Lillibet, my friend, the Queen. Sometimes I wish the monarch would not lean on me so heavily or seek my advice and nurturing about practically everything.

"Do you think it might happen next year?" asks the anxious yet assured voice. I know she's referring to the republic. Poor lamb, she has been praying for Australia to become a republic for years, and so have all the other royals. She hates the trip out, the boring speeches and the grovelling wives of our rough-hewn politicians and civil servants. I have to disappoint her. "Royalty has never been more popular, Lillibet," I tell her, bluntly yet tactfully. "Princess Mary of Tasmania is regarded as a saint, and her face on the cover of women's magazines sells almost as many copies as yours."

"Princess who?" she queries, with that wonderful sense of humour that Rolf Harris' portrait abysmally failed to capture. "Help me with my message to the nation PUL-EESE Edna!" she begs, and I know by the way she says "pul-eese" that Kath & Kim is a big favourite on the home entertainment system at Balmoral.

Naturally, I agree to write her Christmas message for the umpteenth time, but I think to myself: What about my message to Australia? Shouldn't that be my priority. With the Queen on the phone I'm struck by a brilliant idea that could make the New Year a landmark in troubled Anglo-Australian relations. I recall my mother telling me that during the war, our home in Moonee Ponds was a Fat for Britain depot. All the neighbours used to fill old jars and tins with dripping and we shipped it off to England. It was an Australia-wide campaign and tonnes of the scrumptious congealed fat deposits from the Sunday roast went across the oceans to nourish our pale and famished Pommy cousins.

Occasionally, a Jap torpedo intercepted the precious shipments, and I believe there are still nooks and crannies of the Pacific bearing a historic dripping slick: the greasy residue of a million roast lamb, potato and five veg Sunday lunches. We never got a word of thanks for all that dripping, and I even heard that a lot of people in England threw it away in disgust just because there might have been a few bits of charred parsnip embedded in that wholesome Australian fat.

So when the Queen asks me what I want for Christmas I think - typically - of the needs of others. "What we need is water Lillibet - and lots of it! Could you organise a Water for Australia campaign? Your subjects could leave bottles and other receptacles at Buckingham Palace. I will arrange collection at this end. It doesn't even matter if it's grey water from English nursing homes. We can use it to make Earl Grey tea," I add whimsically but wittily.

The Queen loves the concept. "Done deal, Edna! I'll fire off a royal command pronto and you'll be flooded by the response. The British love Australia, particularly icons like you, Rolf, Bindi, Kylie and Tassie's Brant and Todd." For a woman who, apparently, hasn't even heard of Princess Mary, the Queen then shows that she has her finger on the pulse and her ear to the ground in other respects.

"Will Shane and Simone get together again?" she enquiries caringly. "And Schapelle. Will she be publishing another riveting volume of her memoirs?" Above all, she anxiously asks: "Has that nice Naomi Robson saved little Wah-Wah yet? Or will he be replacing the turkey and mince pies at his family's Christmas dinner in New Guinea?"

I put down the phone, a bit tearful and emotional. It's a long time now since my husband Norm passed away and I recall our last Christmas in his private suite at the Dame Edna Memorial Prostate Foundation. Together we decorated his ducting with holly and fairy lights. My wonderful new mega-production, Back With a Vengeance, is dedicated to Norm's memory and I want to take this opportunity to invite all of those brave firefighters and their loved ones to be guests at my show. It's a tiny token of gratitude for their bravery and dedication. I wish all of my possums everywhere a joyous Christmas and a very wet New Year.



By Bettina Arndt

The battle was supposed to be won more than 30 years ago when the women's movement pushed for the right to make informed decisions about their health care.... Women emerged determined to no longer be passive recipients of over-medicalised health care, particularly during childbirth. But those of us old enough to remember those days are blown away by what's happening in today's obstetric care.

Recently a 50-something Sydney midwife spent a few days working in a Sydney private hospital. She was amazed that of the 30 to 40 new mothers she cared for, only a handful had vaginal births and many chose elective caesarean with no medical indication. How can so many women have been hoodwinked into thinking that a caesarean is the best option for them and their babies?

What's happened is the doctors have been burnt. There have been some major payouts for medical negligence over cases where it was argued obstetricians should have done a caesarean, or done one sooner. The result is obstetricians are fast losing the skills to handle the difficult cases.

This all gives the impression that caesareans are a safer method of delivery, for women and their babies. Yet, a recent French study suggested caesarean delivery more than triples a woman's risk of dying in childbirth compared to vaginal delivery. Luckily these risks are small, but they rise significantly with each caesarean. These babies are more likely to suffer respiratory distress; labor prepares babies for breathing by massaging respiratory organs and aiding elimination of mucus from their systems.

Yes, there are horror stories but many women are being conned into thinking caesareans offer an easy way out. Even the broken coccyx I experienced during my son's natural birth was nothing compared to the ordeal of recovering from my two caesareans. For every mother on the internet claiming the caesarean was a breeze, there are others talking of horrible post-surgery pain, the problems looking after a new baby with a painful scar, difficulties with healing, long-term complications.

It's hardly surprising there is evidence caesarean births mean mothers are more likely to have early parenting difficulties and post-traumatic stress. Yet our caesarean rates are soaring. The caesarean rate hit close to 30 per cent in 2004, increasing to 38 per cent for women in private hospitals, according to figures released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. If these figures keep rising, it may spell the end of normal vaginal births. There simply won't be the skilled obstetricians or midwives available to help if the going gets tough.

And more mothers and babies will die as a result. Countries like Brazil, which have already gone down that route, are showing increases in maternal and child mortality. In affluent areas of Brazil, there are hospitals with more than 80 per cent caesarean rates. Across Australia, maternity hospitals are already feeling the strain, as elective caesareans add to the burden on theatres, surgical and nursing resources.

Women contemplating elective caesarean, without good medical reasons, need to understand the risks to themselves and their babies. The majority of Australian women believe women's bodies were made to give birth without a knife.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Sexy beach?

Politics as usual. Byron is where the politically correct and self-rated wise ones go

Only one Australian beach has made it on to a US travel website's list of the world's 25 sexiest beaches. Byron Bay was the sole Aussie beach to get a nod from Forbes Traveller, which compiled the list based on research by their own journalists, and other industry experts including tour planners, meteorologists, hotel owners and marine biologists. The far north coast NSW beach was lauded for its "chalky-white sands, deliciously temperate weather and occasional visits from dolphins and migrating whales". Byron Bay's cosmopolitan population, local festivals and nudist beach were also given the thumbs up.

Forbes Traveller journalist Bruce Kluger said it was difficult to narrow the field to just 25, and that the criteria for the sexiest beaches was a special combination of "sensuality, sassiness and scenic beauty - both geographic and human". It's a description that would fit many of Australia's beaches. However, no other part of the country's coastline made the exclusive list....

Byron Bay ranked alongside other stunning destinations such as Eleuthera in The Bahamas, Lover's Beach on the Baja Peninsula, and Fiji's Natadola Beach. Rio took two of the top 25 places, with Ipanema Beach and Copacabana recognised for their hedonistic atmosphere and plethora of bronzed bodies, and two of Hawaii's iconic beaches, Ka'anapali and Kauapea, also made the grade. Europe also featured highly, with the Greek Islands, France, Spain, Cyprus and Italy rating a mention.

More here

Seven years for killing an Aborigine

Why are crimes alleged to be "hate" motivated penalized heavily while other negligent but unintentional killings in Australia get just a slap on the wrist? The victims are equally dead

A man has been jailed for 7 1/2 years for shooting dead an Aboriginal woman and wounding another man in a racially motivated attack. Bradley Stuart Burge, 33, was today sentenced to seven and a half years in jail for the January 2000 drive-by shooting in Port Hedland, in Western Australia's north. He had pleaded guilty to murder and causing grievous bodily harm.

Burge, originally from country NSW, admitted using a 12-gauge shotgun to fire a single shot at people gathered in a park. The shot hit a 39-year-old woman in the leg and she bled to death. The blast also hit a 32-year-old man in the leg, leaving him with a permanent disability. Burge's brother Kerry James Burge, who was allegedly driving the car at the time of the shooting, has pleaded not guilty to the same charges and will face trial next year.

Burge's lawyer Josephine Pepe today told the West Australian Supreme Court her client had not meant to kill or harm anyone, only to frighten them. "They were out to do a prank that went horribly wrong,'' Ms Pepe told the court. But prosecutor Carolyn Moss called the attack "cowardly''. "This is a clear cut case of a racially motivated offence,'' she told the court. "It was pure chance and pure luck that no one else was hit . . . and there were no further fatalities,'' she said.

Justice Ralph Simmonds sentence Burge to a minimum of seven and a half years in prison, backdated to his arrest in September last year. "These are matters of grave community concern,'' he said. "The results were deeply and doubly tragic.'' But Justice Simmonds said he accepted Burge had not intended to kill anybody. He said the attack had been out of character for Burge and was not part of a pattern of violence or racism. Burge was made eligible for parole.


Greenie water hysteria

Greenies are great at turning a problem into a panic

From the country that brought you KD Lang and little else comes water warrior Maude Barlow. The celebrated thinker is legendary in her native Canada for transforming water shortages into the apocalypse. She's in Australia this week, claiming that Sydney will be reduced to having only drinking water within three to five years. "I want to say to people in Australia you have a limited amount of time before you're going to have to evacuate your country. I mean that," she said.

Well, just because you mean something Maude, it doesn't necessarily make it so. The Sydney Catchment Authority concedes the water shortage is dire, but encourages Australians not to abandon their homes and make tracks for Port Moresby just yet. Official forecasts predict that current supplies would last 4 1/2 years on current usage - and if existing rainfall patterns continued.

Before Maude starts charging like an Alberta steer, this does not mean Sydney will run out of water in 2010. If it doesn't rain between now and then we may have to put the cottage garden on hold, but it's hardly cause for national evacuation. The Sydney Catchment Authority's latest figures - gathered last Thursday -- have the Sydney, Blue Mountains and Illawarra dam systems at 37.1 per cent capacity. That is an historic low, but the authorities insist alternatives like desalination and recycling are still being viewed as a last resort. The SCA has done some calculations on what it would take to restore the dams to 100 per cent capacity. About 70mm of rain every day for five days across the system's 1600sq m catchment area would do the trick, but it's unlikely. The last time the dams were full to the brim was not between the wars, as you might have presumed from Maude's hysterics. It was in 1998.

Now, Maude is undoubtedly an authority on water, but in the face of these raw statistics she's coming off sounding a little shrill. Maude reckons Sydney is on a par with Beijing and Mexico City to be the first major city in the world to run dry. She covers such predictions in her book Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of The World's Water, a copy of which should be in every Christmas stocking. "Blue gold" once referred to office Cabcharges, but that's a different kind of corporate theft.


More on the science teaching disaster

Astronaut Andy Thomas has warned that primary schools are failing to inspire young students to study science and follow in his footsteps. "Students getting hands-on experience doing science experiments is not happening because of liability and safety issues," Dr Thomas said in his home town of Adelaide yesterday. "You have to plant the seeds in their minds, usually before they're aged 10 - before the seventh grade."

His comments follow a scathing review of the teaching of science in the nation's schools, with The Australian reporting that laboratory experiments are being squeezed out of classrooms by tight budgets and health and safety laws that require risk-assessments in some states.

While Dr Thomas did not excel at school in Adelaide, he sees science and maths teaching in primary school, and experiments in particular, as crucial to inspiring future scientists. "If you haven't sparked some interest before the seventh grade you have lost them, you ain't gonna get them," he said. His comments came as he was awarded an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Adelaide, for his career as a research scientist.

University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor James McWha backed Dr Thomas's call for better teaching. "Maths and science teaching in schools has been diluted," he said. "There has been a huge demand for engineers and scientists, and as a consequence not enough of them are going back into school teaching. "You need to get more scientists teaching, otherwise we're going to end up with a society which has a complex technology but doesn't understand it."

Dr Thomas's honorary doctorate goes with the first-class honours degree and PhD in mechanical engineering he earned while studying at the University of Adelaide in the 1970s. A specialist in high-speed drag and fluid dynamics, the young Dr Thomas was immediately hired by aircraft maker Lockheed, the maker of some of the US military's most revolutionary aircraft, including the stealth fighter. He later headed its flight sciences laboratory. In 1989 he went to work for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and in 1992 he entered the astronaut training program. In 1996, he fulfilled a childhood dream by flying into space on board the space shuttle Endeavour. Dr Thomas, Australia's only astronaut, completed three shuttle missions and more than four months on the Russian Mir space station. He lives in Texas with his wife, NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, and works on the ergonomics of the next generation of spacecraft, which will go to the moon by 2020.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

DPP's defiance over Queensland killer cop is a declaration of war: Mundine

Black Leftist against white Leftist, in other words. The DPP (Leanne Clare) is hiding behind the fact that Aboriginal witnesses are easily derailed in court. It sounds like the police have got dirt on our Leanne. As she appears to be a lesbian and is a political appointee, that is not hard to imagine.

Indigenous leader Warren Mundine last night accused Queensland's Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare of declaring "war on Aboriginal people" after she defiantly ruled out any review of her decision not to lay charges over the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee.

Mr Mundine and Palm Island spokesman Brad Foster said Queensland Premier Peter Beattie must introduce legislation to make the justice system more open after Ms Clare yesterday failed to give any reasons for her refusal to call a review. Her action will not relieve any of the political pressure on the Beattie Government, although Mr Beattie said yesterday the Government would change the way the police force investigated indigenous deaths in custody.

The Queensland Police Service will now treat every indigenous death in custody as a suspicious event, meaning that it will be automatically investigated centrally by the ethical standards branch instead of through a local investigation.

Last week, Ms Clare ruled that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley would face no charges over Doomadgee's death in a police cell on Palm Island in November 2004. This was despite a coroner's finding that Sergeant Hurley was responsible for the death. Yesterday Ms Clare said she was aware of the controversy over her decision not to charge Sergeant Hurley but "it does not change the fact that the evidence does not support a prosecution". "The firm assessment of my office was that the evidence fell considerably short of that which would be required to put anyone on trial," she said in a statement, ending a week of silence on the issue. "Prosecuting is not about being popular. It is about acting on the admissible evidence without fear or favour and doing what is considered in good faith to be the right thing."

But Ms Clare again failed to disclose any of the "new evidence" she had considered in coming to her decision. The Australian reported this week that the initial investigation into Doomadgee's death was handled by police officers who were friends of Sergeant Hurley. After Doomadgee died in custody, police from Townsville flew out to investigate the matter later that day, and spent the evening socialising with the police they were investigating.

The changes announced yesterday will mean that such events could not be repeated and Mr Beattie described them as a "major change" in the way police operated, even though he did not expect the changes to be "universally applauded by police".

Mr Mundine, the federal Labor president, said last night that Ms Clare had effectively "declared war on Aboriginal people" with her decision to refuse a review. "Peter Beattie must step in now before race relations in the country completely fall apart," he said.

Ms Clare released her statement late yesterday after receiving a letter from the Attorney-General noting Mr Beattie would "strongly support such a review, if this decision was made". "If she makes that decision, then I will strongly support her, and if she doesn't, that's her decision," Mr Beattie said earlier yesterday. But Ms Clare said a review would "pose a fundamental issue" about the independence of the DPP. "A carefully considered decision was made in this matter," she said. "The proper exercise of the independent statutory function of the DPP should not be overriden by another agency."

In the letter, Mr Beattie urges Ms Clare to meet members of the Doomadgee family to explain her decision. Ms Clare said she "would be happy to meet again" with the family. Mr Mundine said he had defended Ms Clare in the past, but her decision in this case showed there needed to be a proper appeals process in Queensland. "She has more power than the High Court - the coroner can make one finding and she can make another, but she doesn't have to explain why." he said. "It's up to Peter Beattie to change the law so the DPP (can) be more open and transparent." Mr Mundine said the indigenous community would not let the matter rest, and warned there would be a continuing campaign against the decision.

Mr Foster said Ms Clare's decision to meet the Doomadgee family placed enormous pressure on them, as they would become the only people to know the full reasons behind her decision.

In the city centre of Perth yesterday, a small crowd gathered to protest against the Queensland Government's failure to deliver justice to Doomadgee, whose death sparked riots on Palm Island in 2004. "I felt sick to my stomach when I heard about the decision the Queensland DPP handed down," WA Deaths in Custody Watch Committee chairman Marc Newhouse said. "Police and prison officers arethere to serve the public, andwhen something like this happens, it creates an issue of concern for all Australians because it shows a serious flaw in our democracy."


Killer cop decision faces review after all

Pressure does the impossible

Queensland's Attorney-General Kerry Shine will commission a review of the decision by the state's top prosecutor not to charge a policeman over the death of an Aboriginal man in custody on Palm Island. Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Leanne Clare has stood by her decision not to pursue Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over the 2004 watchhouse death of Mulrunji Doomadgee. This was despite the deputy state coroner Christine Clements' ruling in September that the officer caused his death. Ms Clare last night said she was aware of the controversy surrounding her decision but insisted "the evidence does not support a prosecution".

But Mr Shine said today she had agreed to provide him with her file on the case - allowing the attorney to commission an independent review. "Once I have received the file, I will refer it to the Crown Solicitor to commission an independent review of the material provided by the DPP, in the public interest," Mr Shine said. He said Ms Clare has also provided to him a summary of the file. "I have asked Ms Clare to consider releasing, to the greatest extent possible, the contents of that summary in the public interest," Mr Shine said. "I believe the information should be provided to the family of Mulrunji Doomadgee during a second meeting with the DPP, which Ms Clare has agreed to. "The DPP's offer to provide the file offers an opportunity for an independent review of the matter, but I would urge everyone to let the process run its course. "I want to thank the DPP for making the offer to provide the file."

Last night, Ms Clare said Snr Sgt Hurley couldn't be prosecuted regardless of whether an external review was ordered. "The prosecution guidelines prevent a prosecution where the evidence offers no reasonable prospects of a conviction," she said in a statement. "The firm assessment of my office was that the evidence fell considerably short of that which would be required to put anyone on trial. "Therefore, no-one in my office could prosecute this case regardless of any position adopted by an external review."


Walls tumble on NSW police secrets

Brick by brick, the wall erected by the NSW Government to shield aspects of the management of NSW Police from scrutiny is crumbling. This has come at great cost to the public and little credit to the State Government, which has had its attempts to protect material from disclosure serially overruled by Supreme Court Justice Peter Johnson. Indeed, if it had not been for determined action taken by the NSW Opposition, with the support of the Greens, in the Legislative Council, critical material relating to inquiries into police management may never have been brought to light.

It is now more than five years since former NSW police officer Tim Priest, who served from 1983 to 2002, brought a suit against the State Government seeking damages for negligence and breach of contract. He claims he was disciplined around June 1999 for failing to obey a command not to make drug-related arrests; that after making a complaint to the NSW Crime Commission in July 1999 he was harassed and victimised by or at the request of senior officers; that he assisted another police officer to complain to the Police Integrity Commission in November 1999 about a senior officer and was isolated and ridiculed at Cabramatta police station and became the subject of further complaints; and that in February or March 2000 he complained that he was refused overtime to properly investigate a murder at Cabramatta.

Challenged at every turn, the case came to Supreme Court Justice Johnson, who considered argument from June 23, 2005, to January 31 this year before ordering the Crown to produce material including files relating to Operation Retz, an investigation into the Endeavour Regional Command. He also ordered the production of diary entries for the years 1997 to 2001 made by former commissioner Peter Ryan, former deputy commissioner Jeff Jarrett, former assistant commissioner Clive Small, former superintendent Peter Horton and former Inspector Deborah Wallace relating to Priest, drug crime in Cabramatta, Cabramatta local area command and internal affairs. Nothing was produced.

On June 5, the Crown objected to the order, claiming that there was "no legitimate forensic purpose" for Retz and other material to be produced. However, Priest and his lawyers had a lucky break on June 15, when they found by chance and read a copy of a separate investigation, the Tunks report, in material the Crown had agreed they could see. Prepared by Chief Inspector Jeff Tunks in 2003, it is a review of what is known as the Newling Investigation into Cabramatta from 1991 to 2001.

On November 2, the Crown gave an indication of the problems it faced obtaining the sought-after diaries, with QC John Maconachie telling the court: "We will continue to make enquiries to determine from people who are no longer in the service and some of whom are very antagonistic. Mr Jarrett doesn't come into headquarters for a cup of tea every Thursday. Mr Ryan, I might say, might not be a dancing partner of (current Commissioner) Mr Moroney either. There is a real practical problem to this."

Two days later, on November 4, two lever arch file folders containing about 300 pages from Retz were delivered to his court. All were undated except for a 151-page report dated November 2002, which would have supported the Crown's argument that Retz took place after Priest left the service.

Justice Johnson, on November 28, rejected the privilege claim on Tunks and the call to withdraw Retz from disclosure. Had not the Upper House moved on November 15 to demand that the Retz files be produced to Parliament, that's where things may have rested. Within three weeks, Retz material was dumped at Parliament -3000 documents running to some 35,000 pages were delivered in response to an order almost identical to that issued by Justice Johnson.

Given the similarity in the requests, the discrepancy between the responses to the Supreme Court and Parliament without further explanation is absolutely staggering. However, Liberal MLC Charlie Lynn, who has made a preliminary study of the dumped files, believes that more than 20 files - including a crucial report on convicted paedophile Robert "Dolly" Dunn -- are missing in breach of the parliamentary order.

In a report to Opposition Leader Peter Debnam, he said the material he had seen provided an insight into the leadership and management practices at the highest levels of the NSW Police Service. Following the release of the material to Parliament, Justice Johnson has ordered the Crown to hand over all Retz files for examination by January 30, before a further hearing on February 7. But the genie is out of the bottle; the Retz files are being read by Legislative Councillors who claim the material could damage the State Government irreparably. Before next year's state election, the public should have the opportunity to read the papers and reach its own conclusion.



Scott and Natasha McIntosh know a thing or two about lifestyle change. In addition to welcoming their first child, Xavier, the Brisbane couple have bought a two-bedroom holiday home on North Stradbroke Island.

"We weren't suffering from seachange or anything like that, we just wanted a holiday retreat similar to what we had when we were growing up," he says. Somewhere by the beach where you can get away, where your phone doesn't work and where you can just relax."

After spending two years searching for the great escape - as far south as Byron Bay and as far north as Rainbow Beach - the couple realised their dream home was "on our backdoor". "North Stradbroke is a very laid-back environment and it's close to Brisbane," Scott says. "You offset the $80 ferry ride with the fact the journey acts as a cleansing phase and you can unwind by the time you get over there. "I also like the idea of having an asset that has finite competition - being an island, there's only so many houses that can be built."

The couple say sporadic rent cheques during the winter months are not a concern. "Rents are at a premium in the peak seasons for obvious reasons to offset the quieter times," Scott says. "It's just a matter of understanding what your market is. In our case, holiday renting gives us a better return than a permanent renter."

But he says it is vital to seek financial advice before signing any contracts. "It comes down to what you can actually afford and why you're doing it. Are you in it for capital growth or the tax benefits?" he says. "The ideal acquisition is one that gives you both and I believe we've achieved that." More importantly, they have achieved the great Aussie dream. "We can finish work on Friday afternoon, catch the 6 o'clock ferry and have a beautiful weekend away."


Friday, December 22, 2006

Comrade Rudd is a closet Leftie

Kevin Donnelly examines the new federal Opposition Leader's record in the battle of ideas on education

Who are the authors of the following quotations?

l. "I have a plan... a national crusade for education standards representing what all our students must know to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century."

2. "Our goal: to make Britain the best educated and skilled country in the world ... education, education education."

3. "We [need to] turbo-charge our national education system to create the knowledge base for the future of the Australian economy" and "We need to lift our vision and start to imagine an Australia where we turn ourselves into the most educated economy, the most educated society in the Western world."

The answers are: former US president Bill Clinton. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and new federal Labor leader Kevin Rudd respectively. It's significant that Blair and Clinton saw education as vitally important in their quest for power and as a powerful weapon in the policy arsenal of their governments. Rudd, in signalling education as a key issue in what he terms the "battle of ideas for Australia's future", is doing nothing new. As demonstrated by Blair and Clinton, concerns about education are central to aspirational voters. And calling for higher standards, accountability and a curriculum based on core knowledge resonates with the broader public.

As illustrated by the response to Mark Latham's hit list of non-government schools, taken to the last federal election, the old-style politics of envy and class war has outlived its usefulness and an essential element of the Third Way is for social democratic parties to seek the middle ground. Coupled with the destructive impact of ALP-inspired experiments such as outcomes-based education at the state level - witness the demise of Paula Wriedt as Tasmania's education minister and the slow political death of Ljiljanna Ravlich in Western Australia - it's understandable why Rudd and Stephen Smith, Labor's education spokesman, are so eager to mimic a conservative agenda on this issue.

Will Rudd be able to win the battle of ideas in education? One obstacle in copying the Howard Government's agenda on issues such as teacher accountability, defining educational success by measuring outcomes and supporting parents' right to choose non-government schools is that the ALP will antagonise its traditional supporters such as the Australian Education Union. At the 2004 federal election the AEU mounted a campaign, costing $1.5 million and targeting 28 marginal seats, to unseat the Howard Govern-ment. The AEU, evidenced by a series of speeches by the union's president, Pat Byrne, favours a cultural Left agenda in education and is opposed to the types of initiatives being put forward by team Labor.

Rudd's new-won adherence to a socially conservative view of education is also very much at odds with his track record as chief of staff to former Queensland premier Wayne Goss and his role as director-general of the state cabinet office. While it is true that during the Goss-Rudd partnership the premier argued against using the term "invasion" in relation to the arrival of the First Fleet, the period under the Goss government saw education in Queensland gain the reputation of being a bastion of the dumbed-down and politically correct approach to curriculum represented by outcomes-based education.

During the early 1990s, Queensland was given the task of writing the Keating government's national studies of society and the environment syllabus. In the words of Bill Hannan, a Victorian educationalist close to the ALP, the Queensland material was little more than a "subject of satire" and "a case of political correctness gone wild".

In 1996, after Goss lost government, I undertook a review of the Queensland Education Department for Bob Quinn, the incoming minister. The report concluded that during the Goss-Rudd partnership education in Queensland suffered from "provider capture", a situation where unions ran the agenda and schools were stifled by a rigid and insensitive centralised bureaucracy. The curriculum, as a result of educational experiments such as the new basics, critical literacy and drowning history and geography in "Studies of society and the environment", led to falling standards and to students becoming culturally illiterate.

While Rudd seeks to re-badge himself and the ALP, recently stating "I am not a socialist. I have never been a socialist and I never will be a socialist", three years ago he declared himself " old-fashioned Christian socialist". On reading his first parliamentary speech as Opposition Leader, there are elements of this socialist vision for all to see. He argues that "families are such a basic social institution that they deserve special protections" and that they should be "protected from the market".

Rudd argues, as does Byrne, that education is a public good. Those familiar with the campaign being waged against parental choice in education will understand that statist expressions such as "public good", that families deserve "special protections" and should be "protected from the market", are left- wing code for maintaining government control and denying families choice.

Ignored is the overseas evidence that charter schools, where local communities manage their schools and vouchers, where the money follows the child and more families are in a position to choose, lead to increased equity and social justice, especially among those less fortunate. While Rudd, in his parliamentary speech, seeks to differentiate himself from old-style Labor politics, the danger is that beneath the rhetoric about equity, sustainability and compassion and the argument that Labor has a monopoly over "a fair go for all, not just for some" beats the heart of Comrade Rudd.

In relation to education, this means that the initiatives guaranteed to turbo-charge the system - benchmarking curriculum to ensure that it is world's best, freeing schools from provider capture and giving more parents the right to choose - will be ignored and, while on the level of rhetoric the arguments are appealing, little of substance will change.

The above article appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on Saturday, December 16, 2006

Beware the ecosexual

I'm not sure whether to blame it on the Stern report on climate change or Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, but being green has never been more fashionable nor annoying. The competitiveness by some to be an eco-warrior is so out of control that it now extends to the world of dating and the birth of the "ecosexual". Good looks, a sense of humour, education and high income count for zilch these days if you don't eat organic, wear organic and recycle. To get lucky, you have to think globally and act locally in your day-to-day living.

But while being ecosmart may "turn on" the ecosexual, don't presume that slipping between the allergy-free sheets with one will mean happy ever after with loads of children. Oh no, because if you truly live by the Three Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) you should also belong to the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, a group of people dedicated to phasing out the human race in the interest of the health of the Earth. I kid you not. They exist and their slogan is "May We Live Long and Die Out" (apologies for not knowing the Latin translation). To think I have been congratulating myself for separating my rubbish.

The movement's American founder Les Knight, who had a vasectomy in the 1970s when he was 25, believes humans are inherently dangerous to the planet and inevitably create an unsustainable situation. "As long as there's one breeding couple, we're in danger of being right back here again," he says. How's that for logic?

But while VHEM and its members may be the extreme fallout of global warming, there are plenty of ecofriendly people bordering on the obsessive. As one friend recently lamented after a blind date from hell: "Give me a man who loves a beer and a steak any day." She went out (once) with Mr Blind Date after mutual friends sold him as Mr Long-Term. But her summary of him the morning after was very different to the guy they had talked up the week before. His first mistake was mentioning his ex-wife within the first five minutes - then referring to her about another 10 times over the course of the evening: Always a turn-off. His second was the revelation he was a non-drinking vegan. Carnivores, it seems, are a dying breed. But the third cross against his name, and which seemed to be the clincher, was the fact he lived in a cave for a year after his divorce - something about getting back to nature.

Meanwhile, a colleague told me last week of a friend who broke up with her boyfriend when she discovered he didn't recycle his newspapers. She felt she couldn't continue to see a man who didn't realise we all have a responsibility to the environment. Another has a mate who was dumped by a farmer because of the drought. How can you compete with an act of God, she asked. A raindance perhaps? In hindsight the stresses of "the drought" may have been a furphy, given it's now worse than ever and the farmer has found himself a Russian "friend" he met over the internet.

The true ecosexual is a frightening evolving breed who mainly resides in the city and not surprisingly uses the internet to meet like-minded "sexy-conservationists". In the US, there are sites for vegans wanting more than just to exchange tofu recipes such as Earth Wise Singles, which promises to help "green-living and environmentally responsible adults" meet their "soulmate". There's also Green Passions, which is particularly popular on the West Coast, where it seems being green is an obsessive trend like aerobics was in the '80s.

It also doesn't take long to come across horror testimonials from people who claim to have been led up the organic garden path by fake ecosexuals. San Francisco designer Rachel Pearson, 33, who owns a successful line of children's clothing made from organic cotton writes: "For a while I was happily dating a film producer from Los Angeles who I thought was definitely on my eco-wavelength. But one morning we went out for breakfast and he ordered an all-meat meal and doused his coffee with several packets of Equal. "I was dumbstruck. I think I ate my entire meal in silence. Pork plus NutraSweet? That was definitely our last date."

Another, a stockbroker-turned-acupuncturist, revealed his dark secret of dating a woman who once admitted to eating half a chocolate cake for dinner. "Not exactly a mindful way to eat," he wrote, before warning others "that's a red-flag". While it's good to know that there are people out there doing their bit to try and stop the melting polar ice-caps, it's disheartening to discover that perhaps love can't conquer all. That if you eat meat, or occasionally wear nylon, or buy takeaway in plastic disposable containers, you are destined for a loveless life. I do however, take solace in the fact that groups such as the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement really are a dying breed


PROGRESS? The ABC now has a regulator who refuses to regulate!

The man responsible for ensuring ABC programs adhere to editorial standards of fairness says he does not intend to be a censor at the public broadcaster. ABC managing director Mark Scott yesterday announced the appointment of former Victorian privacy commissioner Paul Chadwick as the ABC's inaugural director of editorial policies. Mr Scott created the position to coincide with the adoption of revised editorial policies in October. Mr Chadwick, 47, a former journalist and lawyer, won a Walkley award for outstanding contribution to journalism in 1997 and pioneered the use of freedom of information laws in the 1980s. He also helped revise the code of ethics for Australian journalists in the 1990s.

Mr Chadwick vowed yesterday not to use his new role to censor ABC content, and said criticism of the broadcaster by conservative commentators and politicians was nothing new. "I made it clear I didn't want this job if the job involved a role akin to a chief censor," Mr Chadwick said. "The ABC is nearly 75 years old and any student of its history will know that there's been criticism of it for almost all that time." Mr Chadwick said he wanted to administer ABC editorial policies, foster understanding of the revised guidelines and promote the benefits of self-regulation. "The reason that matters to all of journalism is that failures of self-regulation lead to cries for statutory regulation that's harmful to freedom of expression," he said.

Friends of the ABC spokeswoman Glenys Stradijot welcomed Mr Chadwick's appointment. "He . . . understands journalistic practice and the issues that would be involved, and we have confidence in somebody of Paul's standing," Ms Stradijot said. [In other words, he will let the rot continue]

Mr Scott said Mr Chadwick was an ideal candidate for the new job. "Mr Chadwick's experience as a journalist and as a lawyer in public policy development and as a thinker on key ethical issues affecting the media made him the ideal candidate to take up this position," he said. "His role will be to work with editorial staff and management on the consistent application of editorial policy across radio, television and online." The ABC was committed to "courageous and ground-breaking" journalism, Mr Scott said. Mr Chadwick will take up his position on January 8.


Harmed in NSW public hospitals: 500 errors a record

Almost 500 medical errors in NSW public hospitals either seriously harmed patients or could have done so in 2005-06 - the highest number in the three years the statistics have been collected. Problems with diagnosis, treatment and specialist referral topped the list of incidents judged to be in the most serious category, followed by 137 suicides that occurred outside hospital within a week of the person having been seen by a mental-health professional. Birth problems and avoidable falls also figured prominently, and 36 operations or X-rays were either performed or planned for the wrong person or part of the body. Instruments were left in the body after 11 operations. There were four serious problems with medication or intravenous fluids in the reporting period to June 30.

In a separate notice distributed to area health services in April, the Health Department informed doctors and managers of a "near miss" involving the leukaemia drug vincristine, which is intended for intravenous injection and is almost always fatal if injected into the spinal canal.

The Minister for Health, John Hatzistergos, said the increase - to 499 serious incidents from 429 the previous year - did not mean hospitals were less safe, and instead reflected an increased willingness by health workers to record incidents they witnessed. As well, the reporting program had been extended to the ambulance and prison health services.

Cliff Hughes, the chief executive officer of the Clinical Excellence Commission responsible for analysing the cases, said the increase in reports "tells us the system has a desire to improve". "The aim is to be proactive in preventing serious adverse events from harming our patients," he said. The reports demonstrated health workers' confidence in bringing dangerous incidents to light in a no-blame environment, he said, and represented "a huge culture change".

The commission was formed as a supervisory body for public hospital treatment standards after a group of nurses at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals revealed numerous medical errors. Its analysis found policies and procedures were to blame for a quarter of the errors and near misses. These included inadequate training requirements for some staff. Another quarter were attributable to communication problems, particularly when patient care was handed over to a different medical team or between shifts. Incompetence or outdated skills were behind almost 100 cases, and inadequate ratios of medical staff to patients, or rostering of junior doctors into senior roles, was at the heart of about 70 of the problems. Equipment failure was much less common.

Some improvements could be made by basic changes to practice, Professor Hughes said. Hospital infection rates had been reduced after the provision of bedside alcohol-based gels for cleaning hands, instead of requiring health workers to go to the sink to wash. New protocols were being developed to identify people most at risk of falls - the over-65s and those taking multiple medications - so they could be given extra assistance in hospital.

But Mr Hatzistergos said a certain level of human and system error was unavoidable. "We haven't reached a stage where we have infallibility or perfection in medical science," he said. The collection of data would be further expanded to take in private hospitals in NSW, which perform the majority of colonoscopies and some other procedures.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bikini party forbidden

A win for the wowsers and feminists -- an unholy alliance these days. Victoria does seem to have a lot of both

A nightclub bikini booze-up has been sunk by public [one small part of the public, to be precise] outrage. Amber Lounge management yesterday scrapped plans for a Christmas bikini party where women wearing bathers would have received unlimited free drinks at the CBD bar on Friday night. In a two-hour meeting with the director of liquor licensing, Sue Maclellan, and Victoria Police yesterday, both the management and promoter WTF Productions decided it was in their best interests to dump the party. Ms Maclellan had threatened to stop the event going ahead if she concluded that it failed to meet the legal requirement for responsible serving of alcohol. The bar will now host a Hawaiian summer party night offering two free drinks for all who attend.

Rape crisis counsellors and alcohol experts slammed the bikini party, claiming that it reduced women to sexual objects and exposed them to the risk of extreme intoxication and sexual assault.

Ms Maclellan said the result was good for all those involved. "Following a meeting between Amber Lounge management, the promoter of the Christmas bikini night, and liquor licensing and Victoria Police, the club manager and the promoter have decided to withdraw the bikini party promotion following liquor licensing concerns about whether the event met licence requirements to serve alcohol responsibly," Ms Maclellan said.

Centre Against Sexual Assault manager Helen Makregiorgos - who had condemned the proposal for reducing women to sexual objects - said the decision was fantastic. Premier Steve Bracks weighed into the controversy yesterday, saying people could dress as they chose, but clubs had to ensure they served alcohol responsibly.



Brisbane Tattersall's Club was in uproar last night after members voted to maintain its ban on women members. In doing so the members went against the wishes of seven of their 10 committee men who sought to overturn the 141-year-old ban. The vote came after a passionate debate in which president Peter Carroll and other committee men were criticised for supporting the "yes" case. The committee's motion to allow women was lost by 106 votes - 1683 to 1577.

Mr Carroll is understood to be considering quitting. "Of course I'm disappointed," he said. "It's a private club and it was a democratic vote. "If that's what they want you have to abide by that." A number of committee men can now expect to face a challenge. There were rousing cheers last night in favour of speakers proposing a "no" vote.

The membership includes 17 judges, 219 managing directors, 481 accountants, 38 stockbrokers, 149 doctors, 97 architects, 510 solicitors and 140 barristers. Tattersall's on the Queen Street Mall was founded in 1865 in an age when women could not vote. Although women cannot become members, they already enjoy club facilities as guests of their partners.

The vote was a resounding victory for vice-president Jonathon Bloxsom, who staunchly opposed the entry of women. One member, who voted against the motion, said: "Many of the members felt under siege from women and they certainly weren't going to have outsiders tell them what to do in their private club." Leading businesswoman Sarina Russo waited outside the club during the vote. She was turned away when the membership voted to exclude women.


We've got a real intellectual against us now

Both the lady concerned and the journalist writing below seem unaware that the normal label on woollen garments is "Pure new wool" and that garments made of Australian wool are almost all made in China (or the Third world generally). Wool is a global commodity. It is produced in Australia but making it into anything is little more than a boutique operation in Australia -- mainly for tourists who want a memento of their visit

American pop star Pink is leading a gruesome new global campaign against Australian wool. The outspoken singer has joined with US animal rights activists in calling for consumers worldwide to boycott products made with Australian wool. The campaign, accompanied with images of sheep having their throats cut and undergoing the controversial mulesing technique, was strategically launched in the Christmas gift-giving season. If successful, it could have a devastating impact on the Australian wool industry.

Pink called for consumers around the world to check labels on clothing before buying the item. If the label listed "merino wool" or "made in Australia", the singer asked consumers not buy it because of Australia's treatment of sheep. "I am calling on consumers to check labels on sweaters before buying them, and if they're merino wool or made in Australia, to leave them on the racks," Pink said in the video released around the world today by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The launch of the video was preceded by a press conference Pink held today in the fashion capital Paris. Pink, whose real name is Alecia Moore, will be repeating her boycott call during her world concert tour, which ends in Australia in April. In the graphic PETA video Pink narrates, viewers see footage of Australian farmers using the mulesing technique, which involves cutting flesh from the rear ends of sheep. The technique is to prevent maggot infestation in the animal and the potentially fatal flystrike. Pink describes mulesing as the "cheapest, cruelest and crudest way" to combat flystrike.

The 27-year-old pop star also calls on Australia and other countries to ban the live export of sheep to the Middle East. The video shows footage of sheep being beaten, having their throats slit and in one scene it is alleged a sheep has its leg cut off while alive. "If you're like most people, you already refuse to wear fur because of the obvious cruelty involved, and like me, you may even look for the stylish alternatives to leather, Pink says in the video. But what about wool? Most of us have never thought about it. "Sadly, like any other industry that uses animals, the wool trade uses methods so sadistic that it makes you consider clearing your closet of any animal products."

PETA has been waged in a public relations war with the Australian wool industry for three years over mulesing and live export.


Lab work being squeezed out of science teaching

Thus taking away most of the fun that enthuses kids for science

Science experiments are being squeezed out of school classrooms by tight budgets and health and safety laws that in some states require risk assessments for all laboratory work. Leading science educators say many schools no longer have specialised science laboratories, and teachers with insufficient class hours are often forced to drop experiments to ensure they finish the large amount of content they are required to teach.

The introduction of Occupational Health and Safety laws in some states is turning more students away from studying science. While Bunsen burners have not been outlawed yet, the laws particularly affect the use of chemicals in science experiments, the way they are handled and teachers' exposure to dangerous chemicals. Even an experiment to calculate the amount of calories by heating peanuts is no longer possible because peanuts are banned in many schools because of allergies.

Senior lecturer in science education at Edith Cowan University, Vaille Dawson, said practical experience of science was crucial to attracting students to the subject. "In some lower secondary classrooms, there's no practical work at all," she said. Dr Dawson said the crucial stage in arresting the falling numbers of science students was the end of primary and start of high school, when research showed students were turned off science. "When kids are 12 or 13 years old, that's when they decide not to continue with science and maths. And that's about making science practical."

A comparison of school science curriculums by Dr Dawson and colleague Grady Venville found only one state, NSW, specified the time students spend on practical experience -- 50 per cent in that state. But Dr Dawson said requirements specified in a curriculum did not necessarily translate into the classroom. Dr Dawson said science was the most expensive subject to run in schools after computer science. "Some schools are being designed without labs, or have multi-purpose rooms for art and science and other wet activities," she said.

The president of the Australian Science Teachers Association, Paul Carnemolla, said the pressure on teachers for students to pass external examinations and a crowded curriculum also affected the ability to conduct experiments. "There's been increasing emphasis on preparing students for external examinations and that can lead to a tendency to concentrate on theory," he said. "Students aren't discovering aspects of science through experimentation quite as readily and we all know through the research in science education that it's the most effective way for students to learn."

The Australian Academy of Science, funded by the federal Government, is developing a high school science course called Science by Doing to address some of the problems with the way science is taught. The course is in its early stages but is based on a pilot study of about three years ago, which found that a focus on students conducting their own investigations guided by their teacher was more effective than traditional teaching. The study, run by Denis Goodrum and Mark Hackling, found students gained a better understanding of scientific concepts when based on experience. Professor Goodrum, now at the University of Canberra, said teachers were forced to cover so much in lessons that practical experiments seemed an inefficient way of teaching. "The result is that learning is rather superficial and not deep and meaningful," he said.


Trans fat worries irrelevant to Australia anyhow

Some small amounts of trans fat occur naturally in red meat and dairy products, but it's the artificially concocted version that has health officials worrying most. Formed by bubbling hydrogen through polyunsaturated vegetable oil, trans fat is a more solid, stable fat than a regular oil. It has a longer shelf life, can be reused and reheated without spoiling, is ideal for deep frying and gives food a crunchy, crispy texture. Those are also the same characteristics that make trans fat particularly dangerous. The stiffer a fat is, the more likely it is to stick inside your artery walls and stay there. A review of trans fat published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April found that a 2 per cent increase in trans fat increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 23 per cent (2006;354:1601-1613).

New York's ban was the latest action in response to a wave of concern over the negative health effects over the fat. Earlier this year the US Food and Drug Administration began enforcing a requirement that food manufacturers include information about trans fat on labels there - a step other countries such as the UK are also considering.

Australia is also looking into ways to lower the amount of trans fat people are consuming - a joint effort by the National Heart Foundation of Australia, the Dietitians Association of Australia, the Australian Food and Grocery Council and Food Standards Australia New Zealand. These groups will meet early next year to discuss issues and make recommendations to the government.

Whether trans fat should be labelled is among the issues that will be discussed. Currently manufacturers only have to list trans fatty acids if they're making a health claim about the product, such as "no cholesterol'' or "low in saturated fat''. Also on the agenda of next year's meeting will be possible healthy replacements for the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that are the main source of trans fats.

In the meantime, an increasing number of companies and food manufacturers are reformulating their products to remove trans fat in the face of mounting public concern. In November McDonald's announced it would reduce the trans fat found in the food in all 740 of its Australian franchises, by about 85 per cent, by switching to a healthier canola sunflower blend that has less than 1 per cent trans fat and is high in monounsaturated fat (a good fat).

Brands such as Nestle, Woolworth's Home Brand, Arnott's and others have made similar decisions to reformulate their products to reduce trans fat, or get rid of it completely where they can. But some people are pushing for a ban like that in New York. Last week the Greens announced they would be drafting a bill with a similar objective to put before the Senate, but it's a plan that has received little support from the groups on the collaborative, or from the Government itself.

For one thing, there's just not the same scale of problem here, says Lydia Buchtmann of Food Standards Australia New Zealand. "There's not a huge percentage of trans fat in the Australian diet. We've been carrying out a formal review with dietary modelling, and the preliminary findings have been that 0.6 per cent of our total kilojoules come from trans fat, which is well below the World Health Organisation's maximum limit of 1 per cent,'' she says. By contrast, Americans are consuming 2 to 3 per cent of their daily kilojoules from trans fat. One likely reason is that Australian manufacturers tend to use canola blends, which are more readily available here than the partially hydrogenated soy bean oil so prevalent in America, says Dave Roberts, technical director of the Australian Food and Grocery Council.

Experts say that focusing too much on trans fat could blow things out of proportion and misdirect our attention from saturated fat, which is actually the bigger culprit of heart disease in Australia because we consume so much more of it. "It's an issue if you're a fast food consumer and you're eating at one of the fast food establishments that still uses oil with trans fat in it - but there's not much of it is any more,'' says Peter Clifton, director of CSIRO's Nutrition Clinic which conducts nutritional research and trials on cholesterol, oils, fats and other topics. "Saturated fat is more of an issue. The average consumer would have 20g to 30g of saturated fat a day, compared with two to three grams of trans fat.''

It's a point echoed by the Heart Foundation, among others. "Trans fat is as harmful, if not more so, than other types of fat. However, Australians consume considerably more saturated fat,'' says the foundation's national nutrition program manager Barbara Eden. More than 13 per cent of our daily kilojoules are currently coming from saturated fat while the Heart Foundation recommends that no more than 8 per cent of our total kilojoules come from unhealthy fat - saturated and trans fat combined. "If the focus is on lowering trans fat, what could happen is companies will just swap to an oil that has no or very little trans fat - but could still be very high in saturated fat,'' Eden says.

Take KFC for example. The chain has been vocal about its use of a trans fat-free oil, but that turns out to be palm oil - which contains more than 50 per cent saturated fat. nutritionist Catherine Saxelby says there's one other problem with focusing too much on removing trans fat from food: "They occur in foods that we don't want people to eat too much of anyway,'' she says. "If people just ate basic staple foods they wouldn't have a problem.''


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Leftist leader ignores the Greens

Kevin Rudd has infuriated green groups by shutting them out of a key national environment debate, the formation of Labor's Tasmanian forest policy, and pledging strong support for the island state's forest industry. In one of his biggest policy moves since assuming the Labor leadership, Mr Rudd has rejected the party's previous position on Tasmanian forests and backed existing deals between the Howard Government and the pro-logging Lennon Government. Stopping in Tasmania on his national "listening" tour, Mr Rudd declared that former Labor leader Mark Latham had got it wrong with his pledge on forestry conservation before the 2004 election - which was blamed for Labor losing two seats. In rejecting the Latham policy, Mr Rudd confirmed that there was no place for the conservation movement in shaping Labor's new policy on Tasmania's forests.

Green groups reacted angrily, with the Wilderness Society saying Mr Rudd had paved the way for a sell-out on forests. Mr Rudd also came under fire from Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown and conservationists for not taking new Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett with him on his trip to Tasmania.

But the local forest industry warmly welcomed Mr Rudd's pledge to support the existing Regional Forests Agreement and Community Forests Agreement, negotiated between the state and the Howard Government. Mr Rudd's statement on forests came days after he pledged to push for relaxation of Labor's restrictive policy on uranium mining - a move that has put him at odds with Mr Garrett.

On Tasmanian forests, Mr Rudd said Labor's guiding principle was that it wanted to see a long-term sustainable industry, based on three pillars:

* Close consultation with the State Government, unions and forest industries.
* No overall loss of jobs.
* Consultation with the State Government over conservation and protection of old growth forest areas.

Mr Rudd said he was in Tasmania to listen carefully to local communities, but confirmed that he had spoken to no-one in the forest industry on his visit. He said he would talk to the conservation movement from time to time. "But when it comes to the architecture of our forests policy here in Tasmania, it is as I've described before, based on those three principles and two sets of agreements which we support." Labor's loss of two seats in Tasmania at the last election, Bass and Braddon, was attributed to Mr Latham's $800 million package that would have secured [locked up] nearly all remaining contested old growth areas.

Industry and unions instead backed the more modest Howard conservation package in what was widely portrayed as a poll-eve political coup by the Prime Minister. Mr Rudd followed his predecessor, Kim Beazley, in distancing himself from the Latham policy. "Labor got it wrong. Part of the reason it got it wrong was that it didn't listen to the local community," he said.

His statement yesterday was welcomed by the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania. "We support and endorse the approach that Kevin Rudd has outlined," said executive director Terry Edwards.

The conservation movement, which has fought for more than 20 years for the protection of the state's old growth forests, came out swinging. "The policy Kevin Rudd is set to adopt is the one endorsed by the Lennon Labor Government which is destroying our forests," said the Wilderness Society's campaigns manager, Geoff Law. "It is desperately ironic that it comes almost 20 years to the day after Peter Garrett came to the Lemonthyme forest in Tasmania, and stood beside Bob Brown and said these forests must be saved."

The Australian Conservation Foundation said it was surprised that Mr Rudd was closing doors during a "listening" tour. "I think he should be certainly talking to the wide range of environmental stakeholders to get a full picture of issues as complex as these," said Matt Ruchel, Manager of Land and Water for the ACF.

Mr Rudd deflected questions about Mr Garrett, the former rock star and ACF head who now holds the Climate Change and Environment portfolio on Labor's front bench. In 2004, Mr Garrett described the Tasmanian timber industry as logging gone mad and carnage in the forests. Mr Rudd said that he was now leader of the party, and Mr Garrett had a job to do on climate change. Mr Rudd was speaking on a visit to bushfire-ravaged areas of Tasmania's east coast, where he said he had seen no indication of any gaps in the federal response to the fires. The main east coast fire has burned more than 20 homes and 25,000 hectares of land.


Science courses mystify teachers

School science curriculums are poorly written, unnecessarily complex and so laden with jargon that experienced science teachers and academics struggle to understand the intent of the courses. Education researchers from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia argue that science curriculums are overwhelming for newly qualified science teachers and the growing numbers of non-specialist teachers forced to teach science because of the shortage in expert teachers.

In an article published in Science Teacher, the journal of the Australian Science Teachers Association, Grady Venville and Vaille Dawson compared science curriculums for Years K to 10 in every state and territory. Professor Venville and Dr Dawson say the benefits of having tailor-made curriculums for each state and territory "were not immediately apparent". They were surprised by the complexity of the curriculum documents. "Although we are both experienced science teachers and academics in science education, some of the documents were extremely long (over 200 pages), the language dense, jargon-laden and exclusive," they said. "The documents were complex and difficult to interpret without assistance."

Dr Dawson said yesterday the language used to describe the science to be taught was understandable; the problem was the jargon associated with education that was difficult to understand. "There's a need for a single national curriculum, but not in the sense that we want all schools to teach the same thing because that's unrealistic," she said. "But a national curriculum would be easier to work with." The comparison says that all curriculums are structured around discipline-based learning areas, including science, except Tasmania, which lists essential learnings as desired outcomes of education in a "distinct move away from disciplines".

The Tasmanian Government is in the process of revising its essential learnings curriculum, and Education Minister David Bartlett has said disciplines with syllabuses for specific subjects, including science, will form the basis of the new curriculum framework.

The NSW curriculum was also substantially different from the other states and territories, particularly in the K-6 syllabus, which includes technology in the science curriculum.

The researchers remarked that while the curriculum documents gave guidance to teachers, "the nature of the document cannot guarantee good teaching".

Professor of education at the University of Canberra, Denis Goodrum, who is heading a report for the federal Government to identify the key issues facing science education, said 90 per cent of science curriculums across the states and territories were the same. Professor Goodrum said the main differences were within states rather than between states. "The differences between a school in Killara on Sydney's north shore and City Beach in Perth is less than the difference between a school in Killara and one in Wilcannia in western NSW," he said.



It's a lottery what you'll get when you go to a public hospital. The "regulators" say almost anyone with some sort of medical degree is OK. It's the only way they can find "enough" doctors. Paying more and training more are too hard

Coroner Tina Previtera, inquiring into suicides, will report the actions of an overseas-trained doctor to the Queensland Medical Board. Coroner Previtera said yesterday she would provide information to the board on Errol Van Rensburg, who discharged a severely depressed patient, Patrick Lusk, from Cooktown Hospital in April 2005 without adequate assessment. Lusk, 66, a taxi driver, committed suicide two days later.

Ms Previtera, who inquired into the deaths of Lusk, Yarrabah resident Charles Barlow and Kuranda teenager Emily Baggott (Dr Van Rensburg only treated Lusk), also made strong recommendations that Queensland Health, as a matter of priority, "actively implement" its own policies and guidelines for reducing the incidence of suicide. "What the situation now dictates is that everything cannot stay the same," said Ms Previtera. She said Barlow, 36, who hanged himself an hour after being refused a transfer to the Cairns Mental Health Unit, had not been assessed at all "due to pressure on resources". Baggott, 16, and Lusk had been inadequately assessed.

Ms Previtera said Lusk had gone to Cooktown Hospital with his ex-wife, Cheryl Prigg, on the advice of his GP who also provided Cairns Hospital records of his treatment for a previous major depressive illness. "Not only was Dr Van Rensburg's assessment inadequate, but no written referral to the mental health service was made or actively pursued," Ms Previtera said. She also said Dr Van Rensburg had been unable to recall Lusk's death in a sentinel review less than a month after the death. Ms Previtera said Dr Van Rensburg, appearing in the coroner's court, had been observed to be "disoriented, confused, evasive, obtuse, avoidant and vague during his evidence".

She said Dr Van Rensburg had been granted "special purpose registration" by the Queensland Medical Board after moving to Australia in 2002. He had relocated from Cooktown to Cairns on June 14, 2005. On June 30, a doctor wrote to the Cairns Base Hospital medical director expressing "significant concerns" about Dr Van Rensburg's capacity to practise "competently and safely". A Cairns Base Hospital spokesman said Dr Van Rensburg continued to work there under supervision.



The ACT [Canberra] Government is considering resettling five Sudanese refugee families spurned by Tamworth City Council, whose mayor has refused to resign over comments that residents and politicians have called racist.

Weeks before welcoming hundreds of overseas musicians and fans to its country music festival, Tamworth's mayor, James Treloar, told the Herald the council had rejected the families partly because of community mistrust. He said eight of the 12 Sudanese people already living in Tamworth, which was recently awarded a "friendly town" prize, had been before the courts "for everything from dangerous driving to rape".

Community leaders have questioned the accuracy of his claim, and Tamworth police have reportedly denied any Sudanese people have been charged over a matter of a sexual nature.

Cr Treloar went on to say that the Sudanese people did not respect authority or women. By accepting more of them, the town risked a repetition of the Cronulla riots.

A spokeswoman for the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, Jon Stanhope, said he had been disappointed by Tamworth's decision because "it had been made on race grounds rather than resource grounds". "If those Sudanese families wanted to come to Canberra, they would be very welcome. Refugee families have settled here very successfully in the past."

Residents have written to the local newspaper, The Northern Daily Leader, demanding that Cr Treloar resign, but the mayor has refused to comment. The town's church leaders have also denounced the council's decision, which three councillors will attempt to overturn with a rescission motion in the new year. The Reverend Ken Fenton of St Peter's Anglican Church in Tamworth said he knew of at least one family of six that had had no problems with the law, "so how [Cr Treloar] got eight out of 12, I don't know".


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


(A recent study has shown that the Brits do not match what they do to their alleged environmental concerns. It seems to be similar in Australia. Holden is the Australian tentacle of General Motors. Their biggest-selling model is the Commodore, available as a straight six or a V8)

Australians bought a record number of V8-engined cars last month despite growing fears of global warming and uncertainty over petrol prices. One in four Commodores and Statesman/Caprices sold in November had a 5.7-litre V8 under the bonnet. As a percentage of total Holden sales, it was the highest number of V8-engined cars sold since the company began keeping reliable records in 1991. Holden spokesman Philip Brook said V8s usually made up less than 20 per cent of sales. More than 1440 V8-powered cars were sold by dealers last month -- the highest number sold since 2002.

"It's certainly something we're happy about and those figures are driven by private sales, because fleets don't tend to buy V8s," Mr Brook said. "They're not designed to be just basic transport. If you love driving, the V8 is the sort of car you'll be attracted to." Holden also believes the fuel price issue has died off in the past few months. "The sort of customers who buy V8s are a bit less price sensitive, both with the price of the car they are buying and the running costs, but people have also got used to payingover $1 a litre for fuel," Mr Brook said.

Josh Budd, 26, of Bellevue Hill, bought a new HSV R8 ClubSport last week. "It's the Aussie way - buying a big V8," he said. "I love the sound, the look and the performance I've always loved Bathurst and the whole V8 thing."

It's a similar story at Ford Performance Vehicles, the majority of which are powered by V8 engines. The company smashed its all-time annual sales record in November, with a month left to set a new mark.


An old-fashioned school system shows its worth

Though the PISA criteria are rather weak

Teenagers in NSW are outperforming students from all other states in reading, mathematics and science and are among the best in the world. Landmark analysis of test results has enabled experts for the first time to compare the Australian states on student academic achievement, taking account of differences between the education systems. Leading academic researchers Gary Marks and John Cresswell have found that differences between the states are "larger than generally assumed" and cannot be attributed to socio-economic and demographic factors.

For NSW the analysis - based on the Program for International Student Assessment for 15-year-old students in 41 countries - is good news. Mr Marks is Principal Research Fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research and Mr Cresswell works for the OECD based in Paris. "Generally, student achievement in reading, mathematics and science is higher in NSW than the other states once demographic and grade differences are taken into account," they said. "Of concern is the increased likelihood that students from Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania have in only reaching the lowest OECD proficiency level in reading.

The analysis emerged as 66,185 students across NSW this week prepare to receive HSC results. Australian students consistently have scored well in the PISA tests, only being outperformed in literacy by Finland. But a valid comparison of the achievements of the individual states has not been available until now because researchers have not factored out the differences in education systems. About 12,500 Australian students are tested under PISA for their logical thinking and application of reading skills, mathematics and scientific understanding to everyday problems.

NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said yesterday the state's success had not happened by chance. "The model of schooling that has been developed in NSW is based on consistent and enduring principles," she said. Within NSW, test data shows Catholic and independent schools are outperforming public schools in literacy and numeracy in Year 3, Year 5 and Year 7. But the Department of Education claims direct comparisons of the sectors have limited value because public schools have a more diverse student population.


Poor Australian civics education

The Howard Government says people who want to be Australian citizens should sit a test. The test would cover history, symbols, values and our system of government. But how would Australians do in the same test? Did you know the national floral emblem is the golden wattle or that the national gemstone is the opal? Can you do more than mutter our national anthem? Most of us remember that "We've golden soil and wealth for toil" and that "Our home is girt by sea", but what about the mysterious second verse? I'll give you a hint, it begins "Beneath our radiant Southern Cross, We'll toil with hearts and hands". Then we get to the hard stuff. Try answering these questions:

DOES Australia have a written Constitution?

WHAT is the top court in Australia?

DOES Australia have a Bill of Rights?

WHEN did Aboriginal people get the vote?

I'll give the answers later. Many, if not most Australians, would fail a test on our history, law and government. Even when we think we know, what we do know comes from the United States: from their TV shows such as Law and Order. I see this first-hand through teaching Australia's best and brightest law students. They may get over 99 in their final school exams, but they can fail to answer some of the most basic questions. Now, to the answers.

Yes, we do have a written Constitution. This is despite a survey taken in 1987 for the Constitutional Commission that found that 47 per cent of Australians were unaware of it.

Australia's top court is the High Court. Unfortunately, a 1994 report on citizenship by the Civics Expert Group found that more than a quarter of those surveyed nominated the Supreme Court instead. This is, of course, the name of the top court in the US.

Australia does not have a Bill of Rights, yet most of us think we do. A Roy Morgan poll taken for Amnesty International last July found that 61 per cent of us thought so. If the US has one, it seems people think we do.

This survey revealed more mistakes than earlier surveys. If anything, our knowledge of ourselves is worse.

Most Australians think Aborigines got the vote in 1967 after a referendum that changed the Constitution. That referendum did delete sections of the Constitution that discriminated against indigenous people, such as one that stipulated Aboriginal natives could not be counted in the census. However, they got the vote five years before. The law was changed by the Menzies government in 1962.

If you are like many Australians, the odds are that you have done poorly on this test. And this shows why more education is needed about government and history.

One of the reasons governments fail to do their job is because people simply don't know enough to hold politicians to account. That makes it easier for our elected representatives to avoid scrutiny and deflect blame. It would be good for new citizens to know all this, but before we ask them, we should take a hard look at ourselves. New citizens should know how our systems works, but so should we. We need more investment in education so we all know how to be good Australians.


Australian sun and lifestyle lures the Brits

With at least 1.3 million resident Britons, Australia is the leading destination for UK expats. And many of those who go say they won't be coming back. Australia is a lifestyle superpower. The stunning climate, the celebrated beaches, the foaming surf, the carefree joy of tossing a marinated shrimp onto a glowing barbeque. No wonder that so many Brits dream of making the fabled 'Lucky Country' their adopted home.

Australia certainly has it problems. There are water shortages, surprisingly high rates of depressive illnesses and a real gambling habit. But they do not appear to loom large in weighing the well-known pros of an Australian existence with the less-publicised cons.

Better still, the Australian government is being particularly welcoming right now to Brits with the right qualifications wanting to live the Aussie dream. With a population of just 20 million people, the economy faces a chronic skills shortage. To sustain its present levels of growth, the economy needs an influx of skilled workers - skilled workers who ideally speak fluent English. With Britain offering that pool of labour, it is a win-win for both parties. So Australia has been welcoming British skilled workers in record numbers over the past three years. In 2005, 21,780 UK nationals left Britain to settle in Australia, a 30% rise on the year before. The number has doubled over the past three years. Three out of every four migrants who arrive here from Europe are British, and for the past three years the United Kingdom has been the major source country for migrants coming to live in Australia.

Australia's point-style system of immigration, soon to be adopted by the UK itself, acts both as a bridge and a barrier. Workers with trades and skills, from electricians and plumbers to doctors and mechanical engineers, are given additional points and priority processing by the Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). Workers lacking the correct skills - like journalists, for instance - have to find others routes of entry, such as being sponsored by an Australian company or falling in love with an Australian partner or spouse. Immigration laws have also been relaxed to allow foreign students at Australian universities to settle in the country if they can arrange a job for themselves after graduating.

Shaun Quigley and his wife Rachel emigrated to Cairns, Queensland, almost five years ago, and have not regretted it for one moment. With a family of three, they are convinced Australia is the ideal place to bring up their children. Shaun works as an air charter broker for Independent Aviation, a position he describes as his dream job. Rachel is a physiotherapist.

"Rachel first came here when she was in her early twenties as a trained physio," says Shaun. "She got about the maximum score under the points system. She literally walked into a job and got residency in Australia." Rachel's hospital has been particularly active in recruiting Brits. This October, when a hospital in Stoke-on-Trent announced job cuts, it moved quickly to offer posts to laid-off staff. After placing advertisements in the local paper, which attracted a hundred applicants, 84 people were eventually offered posts.

"Cairns is hardly the big smoke but it's pretty idyllic," says Shaun. "There's no graffiti and you never hear about knifings and stabbings. We even made the mistake of leaving our front door open when we went home for five weeks to Britain. "When we got back things were just as we'd left them."

Dr Peter Logan moved to Australia in March last year. An accident and emergency consultant, he had grown increasingly disillusioned with the National Health Service back in Britain and decided on a new life in Queensland. His wife, Sarah, an intensive care nurse, is Australian, and they now plan to spend the rest of their lives in her homeland rather than his.

Thanks to his qualifications, getting a job in Australia was straightforward. Queensland welcomes British medical care staff with open arms. Only the other day, Peter was working in the Accident and Emergency Department of the Royal Brisbane Hospital alongside three other Brits. "There's definitely been a marked increase in UK doctors showing up in Queensland," says Peter. "I think my peer group is pretty disillusioned with the state of things at home [in the NHS]. "The pay is about 15-20% better and that buys you significantly more. Back home, all we could afford was a box on a housing estate. "Recently, we have just bought a big plot of land, 20 minutes from the centre of Brisbane, where we now plan to build a house with its own pool. We can even afford a private education for our two children."

He admits there are downsides to living in Australia. "Obviously, we are a long way from home, and even though I get to see more of the children now, the children don't get to see much of their grandparents. "The culture here is slightly homogeneous. You can't nip off to Paris for the weekend. And I really miss old architecture, walking past a medieval church."

Relaxing at his home overlooking the ocean just after completing a round of golf, Andy Griffiths described how his new life differed from his old. He worked as a youth and community manager in Derby, where he was the victim of assault in the workplace and a victim of crime at home. He is now an assistant manager at the National Geographic store in a Sydney suburb. "Compared to life back home, this is idyllic," he says. "We sometimes look at the website of the local paper back home and see all the assaults and all the vandalism. You don't get any of that here."

Andy's wife, Lesley, is a nurse, and interviewed for a job on a four-way conference call while sitting in her dressing gown on a cold night in Britain. Some 80% of the nurses that she works alongside at her hospital in Sydney are immigrants. And the most interesting thing to about all of the people we interviewed? None of them plan to return home.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Far-Left Education wrecker finally out

Embattled West Australian minister Ljiljanna Ravlich has been demoted as part of a major frontbench reshuffle announced by Premier Alan Carpenter. Ms Ravlich has been removed from the education portfolio, which goes to Environment Minister Mark McGowan. The environment portfolio will shift to junior minister Tony McCrae, who also takes on responsibility for the new portfolio of climate change and retains disability services. Ms Ravlich has been given the more junior portfolios of multicultural interests and citizenship, youth and government enterprises.

Mr Carpenter acknowledged 2006 had been a tough year for Ms Ravlich but denied she had been out of her depth in education. "Nobody stays with portfolios forever,'' Mr Carpenter told reporters.

John Bowler has lost the resources portfolio to Francis Logan, who retains responsibility for energy and also takes on industry and enterprises. Mr Carpenter said Mr Bowler was not demoted because of perceived links to disgraced former premier Brian Burke, which Mr Carpenter characterised as ``smear and innuendo''. Mr Bowler has been given responsibility for local government, employment protection and racing and gaming.

Sheila McHale lost the indigenous affairs portfolio to Michelle Roberts, but retains tourism and culture and the arts. Eric Ripper [Ms Ravlich's "partner"] retains the deputy premiership and treasury and takes over responsibility for state development from Mr Carpenter. Mr Carpenter took on responsibilities for trade, innovation and science.


Lara Bingle in Strife over Married Footballer

Lara Bingle was the face of a big and controversial Australian government tourism promotion recently so she has become something of a household name. Now we may be seeing where fame leads. She appears to fancy a controversial Australian footballer. The footballer concerned -- Fevola -- has (or had) a very nice looking wife (below)

But it looks as if Lara has had a boob job (before and after pictures below?) so he might have been tempted.

Interesting that the two ladies look a lot alike. Story here


News that the University of Sydney will soon possess the sole remaining chair in Australian literature signals a genuine crisis in our literary culture. In Australia we seem to be witnessing a disinheriting of the national mind - the alternately rapid and gradual, wilful and accidental disappearing of our literary heritage, from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf. I say "our" advisedly, for this heritage, which stretches back to medieval times, is certainly ours, as much as Henry Lawson or Patrick White is. The language of Milton's long poem Paradise Lost is still the tongue of people living today in this country. Milton's works are the birthright of anyone who understands English.

The state of literary education in Australia may be even more dishevelled than Rosemary Neill's sorry story, "Lost for words" (The Weekend Australian Review, December 2-3) made out. That article pointed up a lack of commitment to the teaching and professional study of acknowledged classics of Australian literature. I suspect, however, that the formal study of literature generally is imperilled at most levels of the educational system. How much classic English literature of any kind is now vigorously and creatively taught by well-trained experts anywhere in Australia? If Christina Stead and A.D. Hope are becoming invisible in many schools and universities, the picture is unlikely to be different with Chaucer or Shakespeare, Blake or Wordsworth, Austen or the Brontes, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Sylvia Plath, Derek Walcott or Toni Morrison. I mention only English-speaking authors. I doubt Euripides, Dante or Chekhov are faring any better than English-language ones. How many graduates can enjoy foreign authors in the original? How many children have had opened to them the wonderful Aladdin's cave of our myths and fairytales, rhymes and stories?

Explaining what has led to the disarray of literary education in this country is difficult. I offer one explanation, which takes me back to my epigraph. Milton gambled that, should he write a great poem, succeeding generations would "not willingly let it die". They would feel a responsibility to introduce new readers to this awesome example of the power of theimagination. During perhaps the past century, schools and universities were places in which this attitude of care for the cultural monuments of the past was cultivated. But, worryingly, and for complex reasons, the commitment of our society to the project of tending the cultural and literary heritage seems to be waning. We are in danger of losing that attitude of care that all authors who hope to be read in the future rely on, the attitude that transmits works of literary genius to future readers and writers. Our educational institutions need firmly and confidently to rediscover their role as indispensable stewards of the literary and cultural heritage. Nothing less than the future of Australian literature is at stake.

For if the formal study of great literature, ancient and modern, is neglected, the outlook for literary creativity here is dim. A significant literary culture needs educated readers, discriminating and cosmopolitan critics, informed editors and sound scholars. Every substantial creative writer was once an enthusiastic reader. No readers, no writers. And knowledgeable, passionate readers do not just happen. They are formed by schools and universities that know their mission to include the expert teaching of the best that has been written.

Milton trusted Paradise Lost would survive. People would understand its value and not recklessly let it fall into oblivion. But contemporary Australian poets, novelists and playwrights have reason to be pessimistic about the long-term survival of their works, no matter how excellent those works may be. For we seem to be shrugging off our curatorial responsibilities towards the literary tradition. We can hardly, then, expect "after times", as Milton put it, carefully to study and teach the works of our present-day writers.

Reversing the disappearance of our literary heritage will require wise and bold leadership from university administrators, politicians, educators of all kinds and public servants, and the support of all who love imaginative writing. A first step should be a comprehensive audit of the state of literary education in Australia.


An anti-family tax and welfare system

Working mothers are a bunch of mugs. That's the only conclusion I could reach after filling out the Government's 20-page childcare rebate claim form to find I'd save $1.20 a week off my childcare bills. It was the first and only taxpayer-funded family welfare benefit I had ever applied for and I decided I would be insulting myself if I went ahead with my claim.

Last week a House of Representatives committee on work and family balance found that Australia's shambolic childcare subsidy system was the reason up to 20 per cent fewer mothers work in Australia than overseas. And the families punished the most by this ridiculous system are those 640,000 middle income families who earn between $60,000 and $100,000 a year. If the father in these households in Sydney earns the average wage of $1217.28 per week, it is not worth his wife going out to work. She could earn $591.84 per week if she worked for three days at the average wage. But after tax and childcare costs for two children are taken out of her wage and her family tax benefits are reduced because of her earnings, the family is only around $54 per week better off. That's right, she gets to keep 9 per cent of her earnings.

And the reason she ends up with so little is that Government subsidies only cover about 15 per cent of her childcare bill. If she waits another 18 months, she might be lucky enough to get the Government's 30 per cent childcare rebate, but a subsidy that turns up 18 months late is not much help when she's actually paying the childcare bills. Proof of this is the fact that two thirds of the families eligible for this rebate, promised at the last election, haven't even applied for it. The only reason most women using childcare are working is to keep a foot in the office door so they'll have a job when their kids reach school age and work becomes an economic proposition again.

The House of Representatives committee says the remedy is to make all childcare fees, including nanny wages, tax deductible. And it has called for the fringe benefits tax to be removed from childcare so employers have an incentive to deduct childcare fees from their employees' income before tax. Quite rightly, the report attacks a tax system that lets you salary package a mobile phone, a car and a laptop computer, but doesn't recognise childcare costs as a necessary work related expense.

Aegis Consulting, which gave evidence to the committee, has a model which shows that a working mother's tax and childcare bill could be slashed by up to $8000 a year if she were allowed to salary sacrifice her out-of-pocket childcare costs after receiving childcare benefit. This is based on a family income of $80,000 with two children in care. It shows that the Government would make $586 million in extra taxes if such a move encouraged even a modest 50,000 extra women back into the workforce, as it did in Britain.

The Prime Minister's response to this inquiry is to claim that childcare costs are already close to fully tax deductible under his 30 per cent rebate system. Eighty per cent of taxpayers pay no more than 30c in the dollar tax, he says. But what he and his Treasurer Peter Costello refuse to see is that their 30 per cent rebate, which turns up 18 months after you pay your childcare bills, is too late. Childcare centres bill parents every fortnight or every month - they need their subsidies then, not 18 months down the track, and not as a lump sum once a year.

Removing the fringe benefits tax from employers who contribute their staff's childcare bills is much better than a simple childcare tax deduction. It helps families on middle incomes, not just the super rich, who will be the only ones who will benefit from making childcare tax deductible. Lower income earners, those families on less than $34,000 a year, are still likely to be better off under the current childcare benefit system. This inquiry has defined the problem with the current system and suggested a range of solutions - but don't hold your breath waiting for action.

Daily Telegraph reader Mary Lou Carter this week asked what was the point of having women MPs if they didn't get off their bums to help working mothers? The only times women MPs had crossed party lines to act as a group was on anti-family issues like abortion, she said. "When do you think one of the many women in Parliament will see her way clear to bringing a private member's Bill with a view to easing the lot of working mothers of young children?" she wrote.


Conclusions of Australian Gun Law Report disputed

Below is a press release from CLASS -- the Coalition of Law Abiding Sporting Shooters (Australia) -- dated December 14, 2006. It refers to a research report that was also criticized on this blog on 15th.

The results of a recently released report into Gun Law Reform in Australia since 1996, prepared by Philip Alpers and Simon Chapman and published in Journal of Injury Prevention, have been vigorously disputed by a pro-gun activist group, whose membership includes Doctors, academics and researchers. President of CLASS Action, Peter Whelan summarised the complaints:

"When Prime Minister John Howard forced through his Gun Control Laws, he admitted, "I can't guarantee that these laws will prevent another mass murder." For the Prime Minister and others, to now claim otherwise in retrospect is the height of audacity and arrogance", commented Whelan.

Since 1996, there have been several mass murders, such as the Childers backpackers' fire, the Snow Town murders and several cases where parents killed their children and themselves, by car exhaust." "The fact that those mass murders were not carried out with a firearm, makes them no less a tragedy, but this report ignores such events", explained Whelan. "To credit the 1996 Gun Laws with a drop in death by firearm is to blatantly ignore all the other influencing factors, which have occurred in Australia, during the past ten years!"

Whelan referred to a report issued by the Australian Institute of Criminology, (Facts and Figures 2005) which highlighted that Serious Assaults have been increasing at 6% per year, since 1995, which was FIVE TIMES the population increase! A.I.C report no. 46, Homicide Monitoring, stressed that advances in emergency medical care had helped serious assault victims who would otherwise have died. Whelan explained that, "To claim that the gun laws saved those lives, is an insult to those in the Medical Profession, who work so hard to efficiently save the lives of victims of crime." "Furthermore, the OECD report 2005, found that Australia ranked number one among developed countries, in crime victimisation.

Australia now has an estimated 200,000 private security guards, most armed with handguns, on patrol at our railway stations, clubs and shopping centres. The report makes no reference to the effectiveness of those armed guards, on having reduced the likelihood of mass murders."

Other conclusions referred to in the report are also in error, claimed Whelan. "To say that taking a semi-automatic (multiple shot) firearm from someone intent on suicide, will somehow stop that person committing suicide, is bordering on stupidity! Firstly, suicide with a firearm involves a single shot! Secondly, a depressed, suicidal person will find another method, be it rope or car exhaust, if a firearm isn't available.

The many reports of suicides, following the 1996/97 buy back, as gun owners witnessed their family heirlooms, or favourite shotgun crushed, are confirmed in the figures contained in the Alpers and Chapman report. Whelan explained, "Non-firearm suicide rates increased dramatically, in the years 1997 and 1998. The rate per 100,000 pop. had been around 10.00, but in those two years it increased to 12.91 and 13.09! We would expect that those who supported the gun crushing program would spare a thought for the families of those who died so needlessly after having been accused of being criminals." "If the $One Billion wasted on gun crushing had been spent on improvements in Mental Health and Suicide Prevention programs, the Australian Community would have been a lot better off", claimed Whelan.

CLASS Action, along with other shooting groups, also disagree with the reference contained in the report to "removal of 700,000 guns", which were destroyed during the buy back. "Most gun owners who had to hand in an old banned, semi-automatic rabbit rifle, or fox gun, received over-valued amounts in payment. They simply used that money to buy a new gun and in many cases bought two or three new guns, so they could continue to enjoy their sport." explained Whelan.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Four articles below on a disgraceful attempt to prevent an apparent murder from going before a judge and jury

Outrage in the black community where the death occurred

Police officer Chris Hurley faces a potential million-dollar civil law suit despite being cleared of criminal charges over the death-in-custody of Palm Island man Mulrunji. Furious family members and community leaders last night vowed to fight for justice and called for calm on the island. "We want to dig deeper," said Mulrunji's sister Claudelle Doomadgee. "There is something about this whole thing that stinks."

Emotions are high after the state's top prosecutor, Leanne Clare, ruled there was no evidence to prove Senior-Sergeant Christopher Hurley was criminally responsible for Mulrunji's death. The Director of Public Prosecutions overturned a two-year coronial inquest finding that the police officer struck the fatal blow that led to the death of Mulrunji in November 2004. Ms Clare [who obviously thinks she is judge and jury] instead ruled the father-of-one, 36, died from a "complicated fall" in a "terrible accident" inside the police station.

Extra police are today on standby in Townsville amid fears of a repeat of rioting that led to the Palm Island police station, barracks and jail house being burnt down a week after Mulrunji's death two years ago. Acting mayor Zacc Sam, who goes to the polls today in a mayoral by-election on the island, said he had appealed for calm among his fellow islanders. "We need to stand together on this," Mr Sam said. "We are awaiting legal advice on if we can take civil action against Hurley and what other options we have got." Lawyers for the family and the Palm Island council are investigating the legal options of pursuing civil action, including an independent review and suing Sen-Sgt Hurley for millions in damages for wrongful death....

But the shockwaves of Ms Clare's decision to clear Sen-Sgt Hurley continued to reverberate through the tight-knit community. Most expressed "sadness, anger and disbelief" over the ruling. "This is a bewildering decision," said Brisbane-based lawyer Andrew Boe, representing the Palm Island council. "This man's liver did not split almost in half by itself. Mulrunji's crime, if there was one, was to say a few words to which a police officer took offence." He said he was investigating the possibility of an independent review through the Attorney-General's office. The family expects a response from the lawyers as soon as Monday on the prospect of a civil damages claim.


'White justice' ruling puts heat on State leader

National tensions over indigenous justice erupted yesterday as the Howard Government and Aboriginal leaders demanded an independent review of the decision not to charge a police officer over a death in custody. A day after authorities announced no criminal or disciplinary charges would be laid against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over the death of a drunk Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island two years ago, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough urged Queensland Premier Peter Beattie to arrange for a review or second opinion in the case.

Mr Brough, a Queenslander, pointed to the "stark differences" between state Deputy Coroner Christine Clements's findings that Sergeant Hurley caused Doomadgee's death, and Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare's decision on Thursday not to lay any charges over the incident. "This strikes me as a reasonable case for a second opinion, and the matter may not be resolved in the minds of concerned people unless that occurs," Mr Brough said.

Senior indigenous Labor figures Warren Mundine and Linda Burney immediately rounded on the state Government for letting the decision stand. But Mr Beattie refused to intervene yesterday, instead suggesting Ms Clare use her powers to initiate an independent review, as she had done in a similarly contentious case in the past. "That's her decision. We will not have any political interference either from my Government or from Mal Brough," he said. Ms Clare refused to comment last night. And her office would not detail the extra evidence she considered, in addition to that raised at the inquest into Doomadgee's death, in deciding not to prosecute.

The coronial inquest was told that Doomadgee, who was drunk and had been arrested for swearing, struck Sergeant Hurley in the face at the Palm Island watchhouse and a "scuffle" ensued. Sergeant Hurley said he landed on the concrete floor of the watchhouse beside Doomadgee. However, the prisoner suffered four broken ribs and his liver was torn in two. In findings delivered in September, Ms Clements said "these actions of Senior Sergeant Hurley caused the fatal injuries" and the officer's failure to check on Doomadgee in his cell was "callous and deficient".

An initial autopsy report on Doomadgee's injuries sparked riots on the island in December 2004. Alleged riot ringleader Lex Wotton yesterday called on Mr Beattie to go to Palm Island, explain what had occurred and "hear our cries". "This will traumatise a whole generation of indigenous people," he said. Doomadgee's former partner, Tracey Twaddle, and his grieving sisters plan to launch a civil action against Sergeant Hurley.

Mr Beattie's stance was supported by federal Opposition indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin, but Labor Party president Mr Mundine said the law had "turned its back on Aboriginal people". "The Beattie Government need to bloody do something - they can't just can't sit there and do nothing while this is going on," Mr Mundine said. "They need to stop bullshitting and sitting on their hands. "There's been a number of incidents in the last few years in Queensland and what's ever been done about them?"

Ms Burney, ALP vice-president and a NSW state Labor MP, said the Queensland Government must hold an independent review of the DPP's decision. "On the basis of community concern, there is probably justification for another look at it," she said. But Ms Macklin said "the important thing is for us all to recognise that the DPP is independent of politics"[Rubbish!].

Prominent Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson accused Ms Clare of "driving indigenous people to depths of despair" and called for her NSW or Victorian counterparts to undertake a review. "Ms Clare's competence has been under question since day one," Mr Pearson said. "She has been appointed DPP in an orgy of political correctness by the Queensland Labor Government. "Nobody in Queensland can have confidence in her judgment, and the Government should forthwith, for the confidence of the indigenous people in this state's legal system, seek a second opinion from a Director of Public Prosecutions in another jurisdiction."

A spokesman for Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine said last night the Government was powerless. "The DPP is independent and free of political interference and it is up to the DPP to seek any review," he said. But indigenous lawyers plan to meet Mr Shine next week to discuss their options. The south Queensland principal legal officer of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Legal Service, Greg Shadbolt, said while a referral to an interstate DPP would be sought, other options might include filing a private criminal complaint to a magistrate to determine if there is a prima facie case against Sergeant Hurley. "Given the findings of the coroner, one would have thought there is sufficient evidence to put before a jury for a jury to decide," he said.

Palm Island Acting Mayor Zac Sam said the council was also investigating whether a civil case could be brought against Sergeant Hurley. Sydney lawyer Stewart Levitt, who is representing several alleged Palm Island rioters, said he intended to file a complaint against the Queensland Government to the UN. Mr Levitt said the DPP's decision not to charge Sergeant Hurley provided further "evidence that a black life if not worth the same as white life in Queensland".

But Police Minister Judy Spence said she supported Ms Clare's decision and could understand why it was difficult for people to see how two arms of the judicial system could come to two different conclusions. "It's really a different test of evidence in each jurisdiction. I just remind people that it is common for judges to disagree." Mr Brough said it was possible that both Ms Clare and Ms Clements were correct in law. National Indigenous Council member Wesley Aird said the Beattie Government, by not intervening, was sending a message that police officers were more important than vulnerable Aboriginal people. "This community is just getting kicked while they are grieving. This wouldn't happen to a non-indigenous community," he said. Former Fraser government Aboriginal affairs minister Fred Chaney, co-chair of Reconciliation Australia, called on Mr Beattie to "restore confidence in the administration of justice". Doomadgee's sister, Valmai Aplin, said she did not know whether she could be strong enough to carry on without achieving justice for her brother. "In my heart I feel that my brother's soul will never rest until the person who did that to him is behind bars," she said.


Police reaction

Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson conceded yesterday the decision not to put Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley on trial over the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee would inflame tensions between the police and indigenous community. Mr Atkinson made the comments after announcing that Sergeant Hurley was expected back on duty within two weeks - although not at an indigenous community - and as disciplinary action was being considered against police involved in the arrest of Doomadgee and the investigation into his death in November 2004.

In her findings delivered in September, Deputy Coroner Christine Clements found Sergeant Hurley "caused the fatal injuries" of Doomadgee. She was also scathing of police action on Palm Island before and after the death in custody. During the inquest, it was revealed the detectives who investigated Doomadgee's death - one of whom was a friend of Sergeant Hurley - shared a meal with the officer at his home on the night of the death and later failed to mention the allegation of assault in their report to the pathologist conducting the first autopsy. "It is reprehensible that the initial police investigations into the death were so obviously lacking in transparency, objectivity and independence," Ms Clements said.

The role of the Queensland Police Union also remains in question, with president Gary Wilkinson facing a contempt charge over his criticism of Ms Clements's findings and his deputy, Denis Fitzpatrick, yesterday criticising federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and Queensland Speaker of Parliament Mike Reynolds for questioning state Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare's decision not to go to trial. The criticism comes on top of outrage over heavy-handed police tactics - including holding children at gunpoint in nighttime raids - while searching for rioters who had firebombed the courthouse, police station and police living quarters after the first autopsy results for Doomadgee were released on November 26, 2004.

It also emerged that police asked the army in Townsville to send soldiers in helicopters in the aftermath of the burning of their police buildings. The request was refused. Police were later found by Queensland's courts to have conducted illegal interviews, including extracting confessions from unrepresented teenagers, during the riot investigation. In one case, a 16-year-old, deemed to have an intellectual maturity of 11, was dragged from bed at 6.30am and interviewed without proper representation.

Mr Atkinson said the events had damaged relations with the state's indigenous population. "Clearly this whole matter has not been helpful ... and has put us back," he said. "There's always room to improve, but I think across the board that police are not racist and they are sympathetic to Aboriginal people." On Thursday, Mr Atkinson rescinded the self-imposed suspension order against Sergeant Hurley. The Commissioner said Sergeant Hurley was unlikely to return to duty in an indigenous community such as Palm Island, not because of the death, but because there were few stations serving Aboriginal areas where a senior sergeant was required.


Equal rigour would have avoided disgrace

If the Queensland Police Service had applied just a percentage of the rigour and enthusiasm to investigating the horrific death of Mulrunji Doomadgee that they did to arresting people who had burnt their buildings on Palm Island, the disgraceful injustice that has been perpetrated on Aboriginal people could have been avoided.

Incredible as it may seem, they requested the army in Townsville send Black Hawk helicopters and soldiers when the buildings were torched and their 18 armed police ran to the hospital for protection. Then more than 80 police arrived with riot shields, taser guns, automatic shotguns and Glock pistols - and arrested more than 20 people suspected of property damage.

Contrast that with the investigation of Doomadgee's death. Mates of the arresting officer, Chris Hurley, were appointed to handle it. He picked them up at the airport, took them to his home, cooked a meal for them and shared a beer or two. The next day the "investigation" began. But contrary to standing rules, they did not declare it a "homicide situation". In fact, the original police statement to the pathologist conducting the autopsy on the body of Doomadgee did not mention allegations of an assault.

Deputy Coroner Christine Clements, after hearing months of evidence and cross examination, commented that some of the investigating officers were "wilfully blind" and that Hurley's treatment of Doomadgee was "callous and deficient". She found Hurley had lied and that his actions were responsible for Doomadgee's death. Yet the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crime and Misconduct Commission could not find enough evidence on which to charge Hurley with anything - not even a disciplinary issue.

Premier Peter Beattie said his Government was working to improve the lot of indigenous people in Queensland, and particularly on Palm Island. That is bunkum. After his election win this year - due more to the Opposition's ineptitude than the Government's achievements - he did away with the indigenous affairs portfolio. Beattie's protestations that he wants to help indigenous people have been too hollow for too long and this latest disgraceful incident dashes the credibility of his Government.


Queensland: A useless "Green" bridge

It's in the middle of the suburbs, it won't take cars and there is little parking at either end of it so whom do they think will use it?

The Eleanor Schonell Bridge will be officially named and opened tomorrow but it already has an interesting history. The 520m cable-stayed bridge deck, which links Brisbane's Dutton Park and St Lucia, is Australia's first dedicated pedestrian, cycle and bus bridge. It will open two months ahead of schedule and $1 million under the original $55 million budget, and was built to ease the stress on the CBD by providing an alternative route to the University of Queensland's St Lucia campus. UQ is 7km from the city and 70,000 vehicles enter the area every day, much of it through the CBD. It is hoped [No harm in hoping -- except to the taxpayer's pocket] many UQ travellers will instead use the bridge.

In July 2004, Lord Mayor Campbell Newman announced 69 per cent of Brisbane residents wanted the bridge and four months later, developer John Holland was awarded the contract. Accompanying the opening will be three new bus services, which will be theoretically linked to 120 existing services. The bridge, known as the Green Bridge, has been designed to withstand earthquake, flood, pedestrian-overload and, in the future, light rail.

Its new name honours Dr Eleanor Schonell, a noted teacher, academic and author. The main road from the CBD leading to the campus is named Sir Fred Schonell Drive, after her husband. During the construction, workers also made some significant archaeological finds. About 600 artefacts dating back to the 1870s were uncovered from the area. These included bottles, ink wells, a World War II US Army issue toothbrush, relics from Brisbane cafe society, and platform shoes and paisley shirts. Then two prominent Brisbane poets were provided with historical research and archeological reports from the site excavation to provide inspiration for the poetry that is now embedded on the steel handrails and footpaths.


Saturday, December 16, 2006


Pauline Hanson was charged and convicted over such a trivial matter as her definition of "membership" but an apparent murderer will not even face court. The cop appears to have kicked the black so hard it ruptured his liver -- and yet the matter will not even be considered in court

The furious family of Palm Island death-in-custody victim Mulrunji last night said they had been "treated like animals" over a shock decision to clear the police officer accused of his death of any criminal charges. "I feel like my heart has been torn from my chest," said Valmai Aplin, a sister of the victim speaking on behalf of the family. "I wanted to hear he was guilty and being charged with murder. But today he is walking free and will probably get paid a heap of compensation for stress."

Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare [who also sent Pauline Hanson to jail on specious charges that were overturned 11 weeks later. As I mentioned in the article linked at the head of this post, Clare is an "affirmative action" appointment and thus politically "reliable"] yesterday told a packed press conference in Townsville that charges would not be laid against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. She overturned the findings of a two-year coronial inquest which found Mulrunji died from being struck by the police officer and ruled the death had been due to a "complicated fall" and was a "terrible, terrible accident". The incident led to riots on the island.

Mulrunji's family rejected Ms Clare's decision. "When we heard the decision we just broke down and cried," Ms Aplin said. "We feel like we're being treated like animals . . . we are just lost." In September, deputy state coroner Christine Clements found that Snr Sgt Hurley struck Mulrunji and caused his fatal injuries on November 19, 2004 at the police station on Palm Island, off Townsville. Riots erupted on the island seven days later after an autopsy found Mulrunji suffered four broken ribs, a ruptured liver and a ruptured portal vein in a watchhouse scuffle.

Ms Clare said autopsy results [not now to be tested in court. What would other pathologists say?] showed neither kicks nor punches caused Mulrunji's death. She said Mulrunji died from internal injuries caused "by a crushing force to the front of his abdomen" when he and Snr Sgt Hurley fell together through the open door of the police station [What a tall story!]. Glen Cranny of Gilshenan & Luton lawyers said Snr-Sgt Hurley was yet to decide his future as a police officer, adding that his client was also considering possible legal action of his own. Snr-Sgt Hurley has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. The Crime and Misconduct Commission reached the "inevitable conclusion" that no disciplinary action could be taken against Snr-Sgt Hurley. Police Minister Judy Spence said the police ethical standards command would now conduct its own probe.


A Queensland government has once again bowed before the police union. I guess the cops know too much. More on the Hanson conviction here

'Case should have gone to jury'

Townsville MP Mike Reynolds has launched a stinging attack on the decision not to test the case against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley before a jury. An angry Mr Reynolds also launched a tirade against police, public servants and governments, including his own, for failing indigenous people. The former academic said allowing the case against Sen-Sgt Hurley to be tried before a jury would have been a superior way of ensuring justice was done. "I think this could have been well and truly tested by the jury," he said.

While insisting he was not criticising the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Reynolds said the findings were in "complete contrast" to those of the Deputy Coroner. He accused police of being ignorant of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 and said questions remained about whether Mulrunji should have been arrested in the first place. Mr Reynolds claimed "culturally incompetent" bureaucrats were advising ministers and the Government had to re-establish an indigenous advisory committee.

Premier Peter Beattie urged everyone to accept the "umpire's decision" and said it was time to build a new future for Palm Island. "Can I say to Mulrunji's family and the wider Palm Island community, I know this is not the decision you were hoping for . . . but we all must accept the decision of the independent DPP," he said. Police Minister Judy Spence said police would now resume their examinations to consider several aspects of the case. But Ms Spence appeared to defend the actions of police officers in the case, saying they had "done all they can to make life on Palm Island a safe place".



A group of Sudanese refugees has been refused residence in Australia's most "Friendly Town" because of fears they could spark a repeat of the race riots that gripped Sydney a year ago. City officials in the NSW city of Tamworth said today they had rejected residency for five Sudanese families because they could stir racial unrest in the city, 260km northwest of Sydney. "We need to change the (refugee) program significantly because of the cultural difference of African people, things such as their respect of women in their community," Mayor James Treloar told Reuters, dismissing fears of a divisive race row.

Tamworth in January hosts Australia's largest country music festival and recently won a tourism award naming the busy rural hub as the country's premier "Friendly Town". But Mr Treloar said local people and some "redneck elements" had aired concerns at a council meeting about 12 other Sudanese already living in the city, saying most had come before local courts for crimes ranging from dangerous driving to rape. "They will not take a direction from authorities, so we've got a fairly significant cultural problem," he said, adding that health services for Tamworth's 40,000 population were already stretched.

Local churches said they would launch a petition calling on the council to reverse its decision, which was a response to an immigration department programme to resettle refugees in regional areas to help reverse a drift of Australians to major cities. Several councillors and business leaders said they would try to overturn the decision, arguing that the arrival of the refugees would not fuel the kind of tensions that led to last December's Sydney beach riots where mainly-white surfers battled Lebanese-Australians. "It will reflect on Tamworth and I feel it will be somewhat of a negative effect. To say that we can't provide for another five families is I think a bit ridiculous," Tamworth Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Max Cathcart said on ABC radio.


New Australian Leftist leader disowns socialism

Even though the Labor party has always called itself socialist in the past

New Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has decisively moved to modernise the Labor Party's view of itself, rejecting socialism as an "arcane, 19th-century" doctrine and defining Labor's values as equality, solidarity and sustainability. "It's critical that when we say to the Australian people that we want to construct an alternative vision for Australia, that they know the values for which we stand. Socialism isn't one of them," Mr Rudd told The Age. "Any political party has to be absolutely confident in the objectives for which they stand. I am not a socialist. I have never been a socialist and I never will be a socialist." In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Rudd also:

* Signalled his support for a debate on an Australian bill of rights, declaring: "We need to begin to look at ways in which we can bedrock basic protections of civil liberties."

* Announced he will consult Aboriginal leaders on how to achieve reconciliation, declining to embrace the idea of either a formal apology for past injustices or a treaty until this process is complete.

* Revealed that he is "relatively relaxed" about the idea of a directly elected president of an Australian republic if that is what the majority of voters want.

* Backed more robust mandatory renewable energy targets, insisting Australia's performance on solar energy was "thin" and "it should be right up there".

* Insisted Labor would present "a broad canvas" to the electorate and not focus on industrial relations to the exclusion of other issues. "That includes our message to those who are in employment and those who are represented by unions that represent a large slice still of the Australian workforce. But we also must develop a message for others as well."

* Vowed that Labor would go further than the Howard Government on foreign aid, without committing to the Make Poverty History target of 0.7 per cent of GDP, and seek once again to play a global leadership role on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

* Denied he had softened Labor's policy to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq.

While supporting a plebiscite on whether Australia should become a republic if he wins government next year, Mr Rudd described the issue as "way down my list of priorities" - behind a strong economy, fairness in the workplace and elsewhere, climate change and a hard line on national security. He said it was crucial for a modern party to be "absolutely confident" in the objectives for which it stands. "And what are those objectives? We believe radically in equality of opportunity, that is that every kid from every working family has a decent start in life. We believe in solidarity, which means that, if you run into one of life's brick walls, that there should be a decent and humane helping hand extended to you to pick you up and bring you back rather than just be cast on the dung heap of the market. "We also believe in sustainability as a form of inter-generational justice. "These are the deep principles for which we stand and separate us radically from market fundamentalists. "I think it's far better therefore we construct our future vision for the party around those principles, rather than some 19th-century arcane view of doctrinaire socialism."

Labor's existing platform has the objective of "the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other antisocial features in these fields". Mr Rudd said: "Most people in the community look beyond the formal language of party constitutions and they look instead to what political leaders of the day stand for and, looking at me over the last 20 years, (they) would say that guy actually isn't a socialist. You know why? Because I'm not."

He described reconciliation and tackling indigenous disadvantage as a "significant priority", expressing admiration for the work to end welfare dependence by [conservative] Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson on Cape York. On reconciliation, he intended to consult the nation's indigenous leadership on what was meaningful, explaining: "I think far too easily we've latched onto a symbolic gesture here, a symbolic gesture there. "I think this requires some sensitive handling. It's got to be meaningful for those who have been so appallingly treated." On a republic, he said: "I am not ideologically committed to an appointed presidency. I'm open-minded on that question. It would be good if we could get to a stage soon where we could say that one of us was our head of state."



It does not feature on many pub crawls, given that the nearest city is almost 900 miles away. But the Birdsville Hotel is probably Australia's best-known watering hole and its name has become synonymous with the Outback. Now its owners have decided to call it a day and have put the property on the market, with a successful bidder expected to offer up to 4 million. "Sometimes you've got to know when enough's enough," said Jo Fort, who has owned the Birdsville with her husband, Kym, for 27 years. "You just have to know when you've done your bit."

Located on the edge of the Simpson Desert in far western Queensland, long considered the gateway to the Outback, the Birdsville is a popular rest stop for travellers tackling the Birdsville Track. About 45,000 travellers visit the hotel every year.

Birdsville, which dates from 1884, was named by a cattle station owner who was amazed by the diversity of birdlife which inhabited the area including seagulls on inland lakes. Brisbane, the nearest city, is 870 miles (1,400km) away.

Mrs Fort said that there had been considerable interest in the sale, given the hotel's legendary status. "People who don't even drink beer have a beer in the front bar here," she said.

The first European explorer to venture into this lonely area was Charles Sturt, after whom Sturt Stony Desert to the southeast of the Birdsville is named. Sturt was unambiguous in his response to the terrain, describing it as a "desperate region having no parallel on Earth".

There has been anxiety among Birdsville's 100 residents about the future of their only watering hole. The next- closest hotel is 124 miles away. "There's a little bit of anxiety because it's their pub, their image, their icon, and a lot of [the locals] have grown up with us," Mrs Fort said. She hopes that the hotel will be bought by someone with a passion for the Outback. "It's a big responsibility there to make sure that the image of the Outback is retained," she said. "I really hope it's an Australian with the enthusiasm and energy and the guts - because they'll need them - to take on this challenge." She warned prospective buyers not to be under any illusions as to what they would be taking on. "Obviously you don't just live in Birdsville - it takes over your life."

Mrs Fort said that she and her husband, along with co-owners David and Nell Brook, would probably lease the pub if they could not sell the business. She said that the family had fond memories of Birdsville over the years, and of memorable occasions in the hotel's front bar. "Most of the time you just had to be here," she said. The hotel, which includes 27 rooms and two residences, is being sold by tender through Melbourne and Adelaide broking firms.

Peter Moore, whose brokerage firm, MCG, is one of three working to seal the deal, said that four-wheel drive companies and syndicates of small investors had shown interest in the pub. He estimated that the hotelcould attract a price of between $4 million and $10 million.


Friday, December 15, 2006


First one recent research summary:

Half a billion dollars spent buying back hundreds of thousands of guns after the Port Arthur massacre had no effect on the homicide rate, says a study published in an influential British journal. The report by two Australian academics, published in the British Journal of Criminology, said statistics gathered in the decade since Port Arthur showed gun deaths had been declining well before 1996 and the buyback of more than 600,000 mainly semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns had made no difference in the rate of decline.

The only area where the package of Commonwealth and State laws, known as the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) may have had some impact was on the rate of suicide, but the study said the evidence was not clear and any reductions attributable to the new gun rules were slight. "Homicide patterns (firearm and non-firearm) were not influenced by the NFA, the conclusion being that the gun buyback and restrictive legislative changes had no influence on firearm homicide in Australia," the study says.

In his first year in office, the Prime Minister, John Howard, forced through some of the world's toughest gun laws, including the national buyback scheme, after Martin Bryant used semi-automatic rifles to shoot dead 35 people at Port Arthur. Although furious licensed gun-owners said the laws would have no impact because criminals would not hand in their guns, Mr Howard and others predicted the removal of so many guns from the community, and new laws making it harder to buy and keep guns, would lead to a reduction in all types of gun-related deaths.

One of the authors of the study, Jeanine Baker, said she knew in 1996 it would be impossible for years to know whether the Prime Minister or the shooters were right. "I have been collecting data since 1996 . The decision was we would wait for a decade and then evaluate," she said. The findings were clear, she said: "The policy has made no difference. There was a trend of declining deaths that has continued." Dr Baker and her co-author, Samara McPhedran, declared their membership of gun groups in the article, something Dr Baker said they had done deliberately to make clear "who we are" and head off any possible criticism that they had hidden relevant details. The significance of the article was not who had written it but the fact it had been published in a respected journal after the regular rigorous process of being peer reviewed, she said.

Politicians had assumed tighter gun laws would cut off the supply of guns to would-be criminals and that homicide rates would fall as a result, the study said. But more than 90 per cent of firearms used to commit homicide were not registered, their users were not licensed and they had been unaffected by the firearms agreement. Dr Baker said many more lives would have been saved had the Government spent the $500 million on mental health or other programs rather than on destroying semi-automatic weapons. She believed semi-automatic rifles should be available to shooters, although with tight restrictions such as those in place in New Zealand.

The director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, Dr Don Weatherburn, said he was not surprised by the study. He said it showed "politicians would be well advised to claim success of their policies after they were evaluated, not before".


And now a second recent research summary

The risk of dying by gunshot has dropped dramatically since the gun buyback scheme was introduced after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, a new report says. Dr Philip Alpers, a University of Sydney academic who helped write the report, said the buyback saw the number of gun deaths a year fall from an average of 521 to 289, "suggesting that the removal of more than 700,000 guns was associated with a faster declining rate of gun suicide and gun homicide".

The Prime Minister, John Howard, introduced some of the world's toughest gun laws after the massacre, forcing people to surrender semi-automatic rifles, which reload each time the trigger is pulled, and pump-action shotguns.

The new report, titled Australia's 1996 Gun Law Reforms: Faster Falls in Firearm Deaths, Firearm Suicides and a Decade without Mass Shootings, finds that in the 18 years before the gun buyback there were an average of 492 firearm suicides a year. After the introduction of the buyback scheme, that figure dropped to 247 in the seven years for which reliable figures are available. The report also found the rate of gun homicides fell from an annual average of 93 in the 18 years before 1996 to an annual average of 56.

The latter finding contrasts with a report published in October which found that half a billion dollars spent removing guns had virtually no effect on homicide rates. That report - by two Australian academics, Jeanine Baker and Samara McPhedran, and published in the British Journal of Criminology - said gun homicide deaths were falling well before the buyback and the rate of decline hardly changed with the new laws.

Dr Simon Chapman, another author of the latest study, agreed that the rate of gun homicide was falling before the buyback. He said that while the rate had risen since then, the numbers involved were so small they were not statistically significant. The most important impact of the buyback was that there had been no mass shootings. He said 112 people had been killed in 11 mass shootings in the 10 years up to Port Arthur, and removing the semi-automatic weapons used in those shootings was a principal aim of the policy. It was "bordering on academic dishonesty" for Dr Baker and Ms McPhedran not to have included that fact in their paper, he said.

The director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, Dr Don Weatherburn, said that while the two papers might seem to be in conflict, they were not. "Both found that the rate of gun suicide declined faster after the gun buyback and neither found any significant difference in the rate of decline in gun homicide before and after the gun buyback," he said. "The Chapman paper points out that there has been no mass shooting since the gun buyback. The earlier paper should have mentioned this, but didn't. "The results on gun suicide and mass shootings are enough reason to be very cautious about reducing the restrictions on gun ownership."


One look at the graph reproduced above tells you all you need to know. Despite clever use of colours, it is clear that the red line (gun deaths) could best be summarized by a straight line -- in other words no effect of the new gun restrictions. So the major conclusion of the research summarized immediately above is simply a statistical fiddle.

The secondary conclusions -- that gun suicides have declined -- tells us nothing useful unless suicides overall have declined -- and that is carefully not mentioned. If people now are more likely to suicide by jumping in front of trains, is that an improvement?

The third point about mass murders is based on a very small sample size and such samples very often produce unreplicable results. In my own research, I have seen hugely high (and statistically significant) effects drop to negligibility by moving from a small sample to a large one.

I might add that this study adds further to the reputation for medical journals in general and British medical journals in particular to publish results on the basis of their political correctness rather than for their statistical rigor. My Food & Health Skeptic blog repeatedly draws attention to dodgy medical statistics and it was another British medical journal that published the scientifically ludicrous estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths.

It might be noted that generalizations about guns from the USA to Australia and vice versa are risky. Unlike the USA, Australia does not have a large violence-prone black population so few Australians feel the need to own a gun for personal protection. Gun ownership or not does therefore not prove much in Australia. It might also be noted that the Australian gun laws have large loopholes so that anyone who really wants to own a gun can in fact do so legally. A certain Australian person I know owns three Browning machine-guns legally! Beat that!

The Australian Left moves Right on Immigration

Only days after Tony Blair did much the same in Britain

Learning English and getting a job will be the cornerstones of Labor's new approach to multiculturalism, which will emphasise integrating into Australian society over celebrating cultural diversity. Settlement services more tailored to new arrivals' needs, greater recognition of overseas skills and strategies to ensure skilled workers aren't forced into unskilled jobs are among the ideas being considered by the new Labor leadership.

The latest plan is another sign that new Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd is methodically dealing with potential political wedges that John Howard would have planned for him on issues of race or on Australia continuing to have troops in Iraq. Mr Rudd yesterday confirmed a more flexible version of Labor's commitment to withdraw troops from the troubled nation, laying out a timetable of up to six months if Labor wins the election due late next year.

In a speech to the Fabian Society in Melbourne last night, Labor's immigration, integration and citizenship spokesman, Tony Burke, said more needed to be done to make multiculturalism work. "The recognition we're making is that simply promoting diversity on its own isn't enough," Mr Burke said. The Government had "dropped the ball on integration", which was vital to the success of a multicultural society, he said. "The Government has been talking about integration as though integration and multiculturalism are mutually exclusive," Mr Burke said. "This is wrong. Integration is the way to make a multicultural society work. "There is an alternative to integration - and it's called disintegration."

The strategy comes as the Prime Minister pushes for stricter rules on citizenship and follows revelations in The Australian last month of government plans to scrap the use of the term "multiculturalism".

Mr Burke, whose southwestern Sydney seat of Watson includes the suburbs of Kingsgrove and Lakemba, said multiculturalism as a policy had changed significantly since its introduction. "A multicultural Australia has never been about people living in cocoons," he said. "It's about taking the benefits of the richness of people's diverse backgrounds and building a stronger community."

Mr Rudd said he supported the idea of putting integration and citizenship under the responsibility of the immigration portfolio and thought people should become citizens a reasonable time after coming to Australia. The move came after Mr Burke, Labor's immigration spokesman under Kim Beazley, suggested to Mr Rudd when he became leader last week that the title "integration" be added to the portfolio. "The shadow immigration minister, Tony Burke, is now the shadow minister for immigration, integration and citizenship, that is our position," Mr Rudd said in Melbourne.

Mr Rudd defended Labor's policy on multiculturalism, saying he did not believe that integration and having pride in your heritage were contradictory. "We also have a shadow minister for multiculturalism, we don't see these things as contradictions of one another," he said. "When I look at this great City of Melbourne what I find exciting about the city is its multicultural mix, its wonderful contribution from cultures from all over the world," Mr Rudd said in the suburb of Box Hill against a backdrop of Asian restaurants. "Mr Howard might see these things in absolute contradiction of one another, I do not."

The Labor leadership is wary of having the ALP divided over its policy of protecting people's right to maintain their national heritage and customs, while the Coalition is demanding more of immigrants on the question of citizenship and accepting Australian values. Although Mr Rudd on Tuesday formally dumped Mr Beazley's proposal for all visitors to sign off on Australian values before entering the country, he has not rejected the Government's plans for a tougher citizenship test demanding more knowledge of Australia and its history. In promoting integration as a pillar of the immigration portfolio, Labor has signalled that it supports the idea that migrants should expect to adopt citizenship and be involved in society.

Mr Burke also argued the Government was creating barriers to integration through its temporary protection visa scheme, which gives some asylum-seekers a three-year visa with an option to reapply. He has pledged he will try to scrap the scheme from Labor policy at next April's national conference. "The Government's use of consecutive temporary protection visas has sent a message to the visa-holders to not integrate," he said. "Labor believes it's better for Australia to make a decision ... if someone's leaving, they should get on a plane; if they're staying they should get on with a new life as part of the Australian community." Settlement programs also needed to be reviewed because they were run on a "one-size-fits-all model", which failed to address many needs of new arrivals


Banned for a George Bush T-shirt

Leftists don't like it when their "must not offend anybody" gospel is applied to them

An Australian was barred from a London-Melbourne flight unless he removed a T-shirt depicting George Bush as the world's number one terrorist. Allen Jasson was also prevented from catching a connecting flight within Australia later the same day unless he removed the offending T-shirt.

Mr Jasson says Qantas and Virgin Blue were engaging in censorship but the airlines say the T-shirt was a security issue and could affect the sensitivities of other passengers. "The woman at the security check-in (at Heathrow) just said to me, 'You are not wearing that'," Mr Jasson, 55, said yesterday.

Mr Jasson, who lives in London and was flying to Australia to visit family on December 2, said he was first told he would need to turn the T-shirt inside-out before he would be allowed to board the Qantas flight. "I told her I had the right to express my opinion," he said. "She called other security and other people got involved. Ultimately, they said it was a security issue . . . in light of the present situation." After a prolonged argument about freedom of speech and expression, Mr Jasson said a Qantas gate manager said he could not fly at all unless he wore another T-shirt. Mr Jasson said his clothing had already been checked in and he was forced to buy a new T-shirt - this time with London Underground written on it - coincidentally the site of a terrorist attack last year. "I felt I had made my point and caved in," Mr Jasson said.

But after arriving in Australia, Mr Jasson said he put his Bush T-shirt back on and was again banned from boarding a connecting flight - this time a Virgin Blue plane from Adelaide to Melbourne. "It was argued other passengers could be offended," Mr Jasson said. "I said it was most offensive that I would be prevented from expressing my political views." Mr Jasson said the T-shirt often sparked comment from people in the street.

A Virgin Blue spokeswoman said the airline had a policy to ban offensive clothing and bare feet. "Most people use common sense and don't go out of their way to offend people," she said


Blast from the past: Catholic conservative party (DLP) comes back from the dead

The Democratic Labor Party (DLP) has lost one of its Victorian upper house seats to Labor following a vote recount overnight, leaving it with one seat, its last anywhere in Australia. But the ALP has still failed to return a majority in the Legislative Council with the party losing another seat to the Greens.

The Victorian Electoral Commission announced early today DLP candidate John Mulholland had been replaced in the northern metropolitan electorate by the ALP's Nazih Elasmar. But Labor's Henry Barlow, who provisionally won the western metropolitan seat, conceded defeat to the Greens' Colleen Hartland after a recount.

The DLP held on to one upper house position in the electorate of western Victoria, which is the last seat the once powerful conservative party holds anywhere in the country.

The result gives the ALP 19 of 40 seats in the upper house, against the Liberal Party's 15. The National Party has two, the Greens has three and the DLP one. Ms Hartland said it had been an anxious wait. "We had no sense of what was going to happen and I think too because, you know, this has been such a rollercoaster the last two weeks, that I had really put myself in a mind that, you know, this was probably not going to happen," she told ABC Radio. "It is incredibly exciting."

The DLP originally claimed two upper house seats in a shock result that brought the party back from the political wilderness. A recount was ordered in the northern metropolitan and the western electorates after the ALP challenged the result amid concerns around 6,000 Liberal votes may have been double-counted. The Liberal preferences helped elect the DLP's John Mulholland ahead of a Labor candidate.

Recounts were also held in the western metropolitan region and the western region because "critical exclusions" - where candidates are eliminated - had occurred where the margin between candidates was 100 votes or less.

The ALP has come under scrutiny for its deal with the socially conservative DLP which helped former lawyer Peter Kavanagh win a berth in the western region with less than three per cent of the primary vote. Premier Steve Bracks, whose father was a former DLP supporter, sought to distance himself from the DLP deal yesterday, saying the result was an unexpected outcome of preference flows in new proportional voting system.


Australian mathematics education lagging

Australia's ability to win contracts for drug research trials, logistics and other high-tech causes is at risk due to a looming shortage of mathematicians, a new report has warned. An Australian Academy of Science review released today says underinvestment in maths and statistics is jeopardising the competitiveness of Australian industry and could see Australia become a low-end provider. University of Melbourne professor Hyam Rubinstein, who chaired the review, said industry submissions to the inquiry revealed Australia was in danger of losing its competitive advantage in fields like data analysis, forecasting, finance and banking systems, IT and national security.

Prof Rubinstein said Australia's reputation as a leader in maths and statistics had drawn international experts here. "But this reputation ... is only being upheld by a handful of mathematical scientists who are now near retirement," he said. "When they are gone, our world-class reputation will likely crumble. "In universities, there are almost no permanent academic staff aged under 30 and few under 40 to continue the level or breadth of research required." Mathematics and statistics departments at Australian universities had lost a third of permanent staff since 1995 and were now producing less than half the OECD average of graduates, he said. Young researchers were discouraged from staying in teaching and research positions because of a lack of resources and because of better opportunities overseas. "The commonwealth [government] course contribution to universities is close to $5000 per student for mathematics and statistics while for most other sciences and engineering it's $12,300 per student," Prof Rubinstein said. "This is killing our departments - we can't run our programs on the available funding and Australia will be the loser.

"The real key to rebuilding our mathematical skills capability is providing permanent university teaching and research positions, so we have basic research to solve problems and teachers to teach three-year maths courses to skill primary and secondary school teachers."


Thursday, December 14, 2006

God now big in Australian politics

Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are Christians in a generally irreligious country

After a decade of John Howard, who has been attacked for bringing religion into politics, the Labor Party has elected in Kevin Rudd a leader who declares this to be his duty. These are not good days for secularists who aspire to remove the bogy of religion and religious superstition from politics. They are fighting a losing cause. Despite the decline of the hierarchical churches, Australia has two political leaders who are declared Christians and believe in the influence of religious ethics in politics.

Contrary to claims, Australia is not following the US path, where the decentralised, populist, market-based evangelical impulse embedded in America's soil and psyche has led to the rise of the Christian Right, much exploited by George W. Bush. It is an irony, however, that after 10 years of Howard's appeal to conservative, traditional and Christian values amid howls of outrage from his secularist opponents, that Labor has elected as his opponent a declared Christian conservative with a religiously inspired social philosophy based on the gospel.

This would surprise only those who miss the big global trends or who are seriously out of touch. God's comeback is one of the dominant world stories of the past decade. Rarely reported in Australia, it is usually presented as an Islamic manifestation or a pathetic sign of US dysfunction. The Pew Forum's Timothy Samuel Shah and Harvard University's Monica Duffy Toft conclude: "The belief that outbreaks of politicised religion are temporary detours on the road to secularisation was plausible in 1976, 1986 and even 1996. Today the argument is untenable. As a framework for explaining and predicting the course of global politics, secularism is increasingly unsound."

This constitutes one of the radical messages of the age. During the past 40 years the main religions - Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam and Hinduism - have grown faster than the world's population. From covering 50 per cent of total population at the start of the 20th century they will cover close to 70 per cent by 2025. The trend is apparent in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

It is driven not only by demography. As Samuel Huntington says: "A global phenomenon demands a global explanation. The most obvious cause of the global religious resurgence is precisely what was supposed to cause the death of religion: the process of social, economic and cultural modernisation that swept across the world in the second half of the 20th century." It is apparent from Russia to India, from Nigeria to the US.

Australia is only on the periphery of such trends and has its own story. The decline of the Australian churches is documented with Anglican bishop Tom Frame recently saying: "Christians no longer enjoy political, social or moral ascendancy. Many clergy feel besieged or ignored. Whereas previously the church's position meant a great deal in national affairs and Christian thinkers were accorded a prime place in the public square, Christians can no longer presume they will even be heard, let alone heeded, in an increasingly indifferent and hostile society."

Yet there are contrary trends apparent in politics. There is a growing revolt against the secularisation of public life. Howard's prime ministership captures this trend in its explicit quest to restore values and ethics and mobilise the Christian vote. Howard recognises the public's mood for a reassertion of standards. Although this does not necessarily involve religion, the revival of tradition, unsurprisingly, usually does contain religious elements.

Rudd's arrival, however, highlights another trend: that political leaders seek to define themselves by religion and Christian action. Rudd presents himself as a leader to restore the ethical balance in Australia. He embraces a dynamic and assertive view of the Christian role in politics that goes beyond anything Howard propounds. As far as I am aware, it goes beyond any Christian vision advanced by any other federal political leader of a main party for many decades. Bob Menzies, during the Christian age of the 1950s, did not talk like Rudd.

In his recent article in The Monthly magazine, Rudd declared his personal hero to be German theologian, pastor and peace activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who defied Adolf Hitler and was executed. Rudd quotes Bonhoeffer in 1937 prophetically saying that "when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die". Rudd upholds Bonhoeffer's rejection of the two kingdoms doctrine: that the concern of the gospel is the inner person, as opposed to the realm of state affairs. Bonhoeffer railed at a church for which Christianity was "a metaphysical abstraction, to be spoken of only at the edges of life". For Bonhoeffer, the church must stand "in the middle of the village".

So Labor has a leader who champions Bonhoeffer's muscular Christianity and finds him in the tradition of Thomas More, who defied the king and paid with his life. Why did Rudd write this article? Not because he had spare time on a rainy day. It was part of Rudd's campaign to establish his philosophical credentials for the Labor leadership. For Rudd, what counts is how the individual Christian should relate to the state. His answer is unequivocal. They should relate by Bonhoeffer's principle of action, and that means taking the "side of the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed". Rudd says the church's role "in all these areas of social, economic and security policy is to speak directly to the state". He wants the church to fill the moral and political vacuums. There is no compromise. In case you missed the point, Rudd gets specific: "We should repudiate the proposition that such policy debates are somehow simply 'the practical matters of the state' which should be left to 'practical' politicians rather than to 'impractical' pastors, preachers and theologians."

It would be hard to imagine a more comprehensive rejection of aggressive secularists seeking to keep religion and church out of politics. For Rudd, religion has an important and constructive role to play. The state, in turn, has an obligation to listen, if not to endorse. Rudd lectures politicians on how to deal with the church. He puts secularists on notice: Christian views should be heard and respected. They should not be "rejected contemptuously by secular politicians as if these views are an unwelcome intrusion into the political sphere". That would diminish our civic life.

Rudd knows that Howard operates on the reality that religion is involved in politics. His response is not to deny this but to embrace it. In political terms, Rudd's target is Howard. In religious terms, Rudd's targets are those Christian leaders and Christians who allow their faith to be turned into the handmaiden of the conservative political establishment. By arguing for a Christianity based in social action, Rudd hopes to rebuild links between the Labor Party and the churches.

Frankly, it is long overdue, given the mass Christian defection to the Coalition. For Rudd, this seems to be a political strategy and an expression of his Christianity. The symbolism of Howard and Rudd as rivals is hard to avoid. The message is that while the church and its membership is in decline, the role of religious values in politics is undergoing a revival. This is driven by deep currents unlikely to dissipate any time soon.


Logging 'would have lessened fire threat'

Australia is in the midst of its annual wildfire season and it is looking like one of the bad ones

Tasmania's bushfire crisis would not be so severe if the state's forests had been logged rather than protected, Federal Forestry Minister Eric Abetz said today. Senator Abetz said today the severity of the bushfires, which have destroyed 14 homes in Tasmania's east, called into question the value of making forests off-limits to logging and grazing. He blamed a build-up of fuel in wilderness areas for the severity of the fires. "Many Australians are starting to feel cheated that they were sold a line that you could simply lock up our forests and keep them forever," Senator Abetz said on ABC radio. "And then fire comes through and destroys the koala habitat, the alpine plant species and, in Tasmania ... those areas that people have argued to be locked up are now just there in ashes."

Firefighters have prepared a control line on the edge of the Wielangta State Forest, which is the subject of a court battle by Greens leader Bob Brown who wants to prevent the area from being logged.

Senator Brown rejected Senator Abetz's arguments. "The majority of the forest that we've been talking about in the Federal Court wasn't burnt in the fire," he said on ABC radio. The areas that had been burnt would recover quickly and remain an important habitat for key species, Senator Brown said.


Not enough nurses in NSW hospitals

Note how the Left-leaning newspaper quoted below tries with its opening words to let a Leftist State government off the hook

Caught in the midst of a worldwide nursing shortage, the Government has been forced to close hospital beds and defer elective surgery because there are too few staff to care for patients, a NSW Auditor-General's report says. [Getting nurses to nurse instead of doing paperwork all the time will not be considered of course] At the same time, an ageing population and a surge in chronic health conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease is placing enormous strain on hospitals, it says.

Although the number of nurses had increased by 5500 in the past four years and resignation rates had fallen from 16 per cent to 14 per cent, there was still a chronic shortage, said Peter Achterstraat in his performance audit of NSW Health. [Because they are all busy doing paperwork]

The report acknowledges NSW Health has used a number of successful strategies to increase nurse numbers, and overall has "done well to attract and retain nurses". "The department improved nurses' wages to make them the highest paid in Australia, recruited over 1000 nurses from overseas and attracted nearly 1500 ex-nurses back to the public health sector," it says. "These are all positive initiatives, but it is too early to judge whether they will ensure that the nursing workforce in public hospitals will be adequate in the future." While more nurses have been employed, 45 per cent of them work part-time, forcing the department to rely on overtime and agency nurses to fill the gaps, the report says.

The general secretary of the NSW Nurses' Association, Brett Holmes, said the Government was seeking to recruit 1200 nurses to fill vacancies. "Thirty per cent of our nursing workforce are over 50, so there needs to be a long-term plan for their replacement and a large proportion . need to be registered nurses," he said. "We can further improve recruitment. There are clearly still more nurses who have maintained their enrolment but who aren't working. The Government has been successful in getting more than 1500 of those back already."

The Minister for Health, John Hatzistergos, laid the blame at the feet of the Federal Government, saying more than 2000 extra university places were needed to keep pace with demand. "We are going to be substantially short on nursing numbers, and we will have to go overseas to recruit," Mr Hatzistergos said. He dismissed claims by the Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, that the Government had inflated the increase in nurse numbers by double counting agency staff. Only permanent full- and part-time staff had been included in the figures, he said.

Problems in recruiting and retaining nurses would remain difficult to resolve unless both federal and state governments reviewed the role of all health-care workers, including nurses, doctors and allied health workers, said the executive director of the College of Nursing, Professor Judy Lumby. She said other health sectors had been affected, indicating a need to move away from old structures and divides. "We have to rethink the way in which we care for people, with more focus on primary care and preventative health," Professor Lumby said. The Auditor-General recommended NSW Health improve its monitoring of the nursing shortage, reduce reliance on overtime and agency nurses and develop better plans to manage its nursing workforce.


Australia's academic women less likely to breed

Given the characteristic academic love of authoritarian government, perhaps it's a good thing. The less that mentality is reproduced the better

Some of Australia's best and brightest women are the most reluctant to breed, with female academics far more likely to be single and childless than their male peers. The reason, it seems, is that women are less able to combine the demands of academia with parenthood.

Research shows that 70 per cent of the female academics and other staff in one NSW study have children, compared with 83per cent of the men. Eighty per cent of male academics have spouses, compared with just 63.5per cent of female academics. Also, 90 per cent of the spouses of female academics worked full-time, compared with just 57 per cent of the spouses of male academics, whose wives tended to work part-time, or not at all.

Professor Hilary Winchester, pro-vice chancellor at the University of South Australia, said: "For women to be successful, they were less able to maintain a partnered relationship than men. The comments you get from women are, 'I just couldn't fit it all in."' Professor Winchester gave evidence to the House of Representatives standing committee into the work-family balance, chaired by Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop, which tabled its report last week.

Liberal MPs are leading the charge for better childcare arrangements, with Mrs Bishop describing the current system as a "mishmash" and backbencher Jackie Kelly saying childcare is a "shambles". Mrs Bishop's report recommended full tax deductibility for childcare fees, including nanny wages. Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Melbourne University Belinda Probert has researched women at the professorial level, "and what it showed up was that academic women are particularly likely to be not partnered". "That is a very high rate of marriage breakdown," she said. "Women have primary responsibility for children. Men tend to have wives that work part-time. Women have partners who have full-time (work), and are quite likely not to have partners. "We found women had given up because they had teenagers who were home alone, smoking dope, or children who needed help with homework. They say, 'I'll give up doing research', and that (research) is the key to promotion."

ANU demographer Peter McDonald said educated women "always have had fewer children". "They have a lower marriage rate," he said. "There's a tendency for men to marry down, of course, to marry someone not quite as intelligent as them, but it's also that educated women may focus more on a career for longer."

Elizabeth Watkin, a leading academic trying to "have it all", is a senior lecturer in microbiology at Curtin University and a mother of 12-year-old twin girls, Mahsa and Kimia. "It's extremely difficult," she admitted. "My husband pulls his weight, which is important, but I do feel I've been held back," she said. "I haven't been published as much as I might have been. But I want to spend time with my children."

The evidence regarding academia is troubling because Australian universities have some of the most generous maternity leave entitlements in the world -- up to 36 weeks, paid. Carolyn Alport of the National Tertiary Education Union said the entitlement, won during collective bargaining in 2003, was important. She said: "A big demographic blip is about to hit universities, with senior people getting towards retirement, and we want to be ready to meet the needs of the younger generation." Dr Watkin said tax deductibility and on-site childcare would be helpful. She agrees that women at the level of senior lecturer and above "either just aren't there, or often don't have children, and perhaps that's because they are older, and there wasn't that choice, previously. You did one, or the other".


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Migrants put to test

Migrants striving to be Australian citizens will be forced to sit a test and sign a pledge committing themselves to Australian values that could include the idea of "mateship" and "having a go". Prime Minister John Howard yesterday released new details of the proposed 30-question examination and an accompanying statement of "shared Australian values". The statement - that must be signed - will include a commitment to freedom, fair play and equality, as well as respect for "parliamentary democracy" and "the rule of law". But Mr Howard went further and said most people would agree that Australian values included mateship and "the concept of having a go".

All migrants aged between 18 and 60 applying for citizenship will have to sit a computer-based test which will contain between 30 multiple choice questions randomly chosen from a selection of 200. Mr Howard strongly denied the new procedures were aimed at stopping some people from gaining citizenship. "It is not designed in any way to keep some people out," he said. "It is designed not as some kind of Trivial Pursuit, but it is designed to ensure that people understand and have a working capacity in the national language, which is English."

Mr Howard's undersecretary for immigration, Andrew Robb, said migrants could sit the test as many times as they needed to, and anyone found to be illiterate could apply to be assessed in different ways. "A practical, commonsense test will serve to enhance the value of Australian citizenship as something worth striving for," Mr Robb said.

In a surprise move, the signed statement on Australian values will also need to be filled out by people coming to Australia on temporary visits where they could stay longer than 12 months. This means that foreign students, and others coming for more than a year, will need to sign the commitment. It will also have to be filled out by people seeking permanent residency. Mr Robb said before leaving their home countries, migrants will be given material outlining the values and laws of Australia.

The concept of a citizenship test was first revealed by Mr Robb in September but has been refined and approved by Cabinet after more than 1600 responses to a citizenship paper. Mr Robb says the new procedures will go into place as soon as legislation is drawn up and passed by Parliament. Opposition leader Kevin Rudd said last night he wanted more details on the proposal before deciding his stance on it.


Howard defends citizenship test

A new citizenship test for migrants was not a step towards reintroducing a racially discriminatory immigration policy, Prime Minister John Howard said today. The Federal Government announced yesterday that migrants who wanted to become Australian citizens would have to sit an English test and a general knowledge test on Australian society. The 30 test questions, drawn from a pool of 200, will cover topics such as history, system of government, sporting traditions and mateship.

But the election-year policy, announced a year to the day after racial violence exploded at Sydney's Cronulla beach, already faces opposition from moderates on the Government's back bench. Mr Howard said today the test was needed. "I think there is a view in the Australian community, a very strong view, that we need a greater emphasis on the things that unite us rather than the things that make us different," he said on ABC radio. "By all means, respect cultural and ethnic diversity. We will retain a non-discriminatory immigration policy. We will not be discriminating on the basis of race or ethnicity or nationality when choosing new migrants."


What a laugh: "Public pupils excel in VCE results"

So pupils at one school do well in their final high school exams and that is credited to the government school concerned. No mention that it was Asian kids who did well. They tend to do well in ANY school in Australia. But we can't mention race, can we?

A suburban public school has rocketed up the VCE tally board, with four of its year 12 graduates achieving the "perfect" tertiary ranking of 99.95. The result puts Glen Waverley Secondary College second in the state for perfect ENTERs, behind Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School, where five students had the top ranking. Glen Waverley's quartet of perfect ENTERs also places it ahead of elite private schools, including Xavier College, Ivanhoe Grammar and Melbourne Grammar.

Principal Gerry Schiller said while the school had produced many bright students in recent years, they had fallen just short of the 99.95 mark. "After five or six years of being near but not quite there, to achieve it four times over is a wonderful result - for the school and for the students," he said.

One student, Ashray Gunjur, was still in bed yesterday morning when his mother logged on to the internet for his results. "My mum had sort of 'stolen' that letter which has my student number and my PIN," the 18-year-old said. "I looked at the score and my dad was there. He said: 'What happened to the other .05?' I think he was joking." Ashray's method of celebrating his results was perhaps a little unorthodox - the teenager headed straight back to bed. "It probably hasn't sunk in. I don't think 99.95 was ever in my spectrum of possibilities. I don't think I'm like these other geniuses here."

The other "geniuses" among Glen Waverley's class of 2006 include Aaron Chock, whose anxiety over results day woke him up at 1 o'clock and 3 o'clock yesterday morning. When he accessed his score at 6.47am, it was "a dream come true". Srigala Navaratnarajah attributed part of her success to choosing subjects that she enjoyed. "If you really love your subjects, then you will succeed because it keeps motivating you." The 18-year-old, who achieved a perfect study score of 50 in international studies and physics, said the friendly competition within the school was also a factor. "Every year we see people do extremely well, and we don't think anything is out of our reach."

Classmate Tianhong Wu, who read Japanese Manga books during the year as a break from schoolwork, said she looked on her 99.95 as a good start for university. "It just gives me a lot of confidence and I feel there isn't anything that's too hard, as long as I try." The four star Glen Waverley graduates want to study medicine at university next year, and Tianhong, Aaron and Ashray have all been offered scholarships to study at Monash University.


Reality debunks myths about Australian private health insurance

Some comments by a health insurance spokesman. Health insurance in Australia is normally taken out by individuals directly in Australia -- rather than through the employer, as in the USA

With the introduction to Parliament on Thursday of the Government's legislative changes aimed at broadening the scope of care for which private health insurance funds can pay, it is a good time to reflect on what benefits broader health care may provide, and why things need to change.

The National Health Act was introduced 50 years ago, but medical practice has altered dramatically (for the better) over those 50 years. However, until now this Act has constrained the health funds from providing some of the most appropriate care options for members. People who are opposed to improvements in the system are acting against the interests of those 10.2 million Australians who have chosen to take out private health insurance. The consumer expects to receive the most appropriate health care in the most appropriate setting. It is common sense that expanding the opportunity for an efficient private health insurance industry to cover the full range of modern treatments will result in improvements in clinical outcomes. Innovative care options, offering perhaps a substitute for expensive hospital care, or a shortened length of time spent in hospital - or even preventing people from going to hospital in the first place - could be introduced.

The truth is that the proposed private health insurance legislation allows for all these options, thus providing a modernised framework to deliver the most exciting advances in health care in 50 years. However, myths abound, which promote a different story. So, what are these myths about the present and the proposed systems?

The first, and most common, myth about the present system is that the 30 per cent rebate offered to Australians who have taken out private health insurance is a waste of public money, providing no benefit to the public system. The facts tell a different story. Figures showing the number of public beds available per 1000 uninsured Australians (ie those Australians reliant on Medicare), indicate that the 30 per cent rebate has freed up 1.3 beds per 1000 people (see chart). These "extra" beds are now available in the public system for Australians without private health insurance to use -- a direct benefit flowing from the 30 per cent rebate.

Equally, those Australians who have chosen to take out private health insurance in fact are utilising their insurance (thus relieving pressure on the public system), with an additional 900,000 operations per annum being performed in private hospitals since 2000 (the year the rebate was introduced). All Australians know the public system could not cope with another 900,000 admissions each year.

Another myth is, of course, that those people having private insurance, and undergoing treatment in the private system, don't really need that treatment. In fact, private health funds pay for more than 50 per cent of the surgical procedures performed in Australia. This includes 54 per cent of major procedures for malignant breast conditions, 55 per cent of chemotherapy treatment, 64 per cent of major joint replacements and 68 per cent of same-day mental health treatment - procedures that can be life-saving. Without the 30 per cent rebate, there would be an immediate influx of these non-discretionary surgical procedures into the public system.

In the face of criticism as to whether the "value proposition" of private health insurance is accepted by Australians, one needs only to realise that over the last 12 months the number of Australians taking out private health insurance has grown by 220,000. Pleasingly, the most recent figures show the percentage of 20 to 35-year-olds with private health insurance (traditionally a market regarded as rejecting private cover) has grown by 2.1 per cent in the September quarter. Another myth debunked.

So, what of criticism - such as that from Stephen Leeder (Weekend Health, November 25) - that the broader health care legislation will advantage those with private health insurance over those without? This is another myth ripe for debunking. Leeder and other critics of private health insurance would be interested to know that the Advanced Community Care Association of South Australia (an organisation delivering excellent out-of-hospital care in the public system) spoke at the annual conference of the Australian Health Insurance Association, and it was lauded for its initiative. There is a strong possibility that a model used in the private sector may emulate a model such as this from the public system. The fact that such a system is already operating successfully in South Australia's public hospitals is not only a credit to the organisation, but also a direct rebuttal to the claim that such options will be available only in the private sector.

However, if such an innovative program were implemented, allowing privately insured patients being treated in public hospitals to be treated in a more appropriate setting under a broader health care initiative - and in the process, freeing up resources and beds for other public patients with myriad other illnesses - most would judge this to be a good thing, both for the privately insured patients and for the public system which will have more resources available. To suggest otherwise seems perverse. Via these newly introduced legislative reforms, private health insurance will be provided with a great opportunity to advance the health care of Australians, and the benefits will flow to both components of the mixed health care system that operates in Australia. The private health insurance industry is excited about the possibilities. The changes are positive, and are worthy of widespread support. If people look past the rhetoric of the myths they will find a private health insurance industry which is capable of, and intent on, delivering improved health outcomes for consumers.


Who is to blame if Australian blacks die young?

According to the article below, it is the fault of white Australians. No mention that large numbers of Australian blacks (Aborigines) destroy their own health from childhood on. As kids, many sniff dangerous substances for the "high" and as adults many spend most of their days blasted out of their brains with alcohol.

In the usual way, the article also conflates Aborigines with Torres Strait Islanders -- Australia's other black race. But Islanders have no more problems in Australia than whites do. They are not remotely in as bad a way as Aborigines. Both races were primitive when the white man came but the Islanders (Melanesians) were gardeners, whereas the Aborigines were hunters and gatherers.

The article below is implicitly a call for behaviour modification -- very authoritarian. Aborigines are to be prevented from making "bad" decisions about their own lives -- even though those decisions are perfectly reasonable within their own culture and background. Even many decades under missionary supervision did not give Aborigines "white" values. Both Lenin and Hitler originally presented themselves as do-gooders. Do gooders are never very far from Fascism

The figures paint a staggering reality. Indigenous men and women die 17 years earlier than other Australians. Indigenous children are dying at almost three times the rate of non-indigenous children. Many indigenous people suffer chronic diseases, which are entirely preventable and have virtually been eliminated in the non-indigenous population. Indigenous access to primary health care remains extremely poor.

These are not mere statistics. These people are real Australians who are suffering and dying daily. They are someone's grandparents, parents, children, brothers or sisters, aunties or uncles. Indigenous Australians want the situation to change, but we need support and encouragement to make this change.

The situation is perverse and illogical for a country of Australia's social and economic standing. How can the majority of the Australian population enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, and yet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples endure a health situation comparable with many Third World countries?

For many Australians, out of sight is out of mind, or their view of indigenous Australia is clouded by negativity in the media. Politicians wax lyrical about human rights injustices throughout the world, but seem to disregard what is taking place in their own back yard. How can such inequality and injustice take place in a country where everyone is supposed to be treated equally and given a fair go?

Because make no mistake, the health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a national shame. We stand diminished as a nation and as individuals by ignoring the plight of our fellow Australians. It is simply not acceptable for governments to continually state that the situation is tragic, then to say it should be treated with urgency and then fail to put in place targets, funding and timeframes to address the issue.

More here

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

NSW: Must not call a student a terrorist -- even if he behaves with the same petulance and aggression that they do

Racial tensions have erupted in the school system, with a teacher facing an anti-discrimination board complaint after branding a Muslim student a "terrorist". The classroom confrontation, revealed by The Daily Telegraph on the anniversary of the Cronulla riots, shows that race tensions in parts of southern Sydney are close to boiling point. The clash exploded at Blakehurst High School when legal studies teacher Michael Seymour told Lebanese student Wagih "Zac" Fares "I don't want to negotiate with a terrorist" during a minor incident during lessons.

Outraged by the slur, Wagih, 16, punched the classroom wall and door before running from the school pursued by Mr Seymour in his car. Wagih shouted: "I'm not a terrorist. How can you call me a terrorist? Do you know what is happening around the world?" He said Mr Seymour replied: "I'm sorry, Zac. Please don't run. I'm sorry, just calm down." After returning to the school Wagih picked up tables in a hallway and threw them, again screaming: "I'm not a terrorist."

Mr Seymour, a teacher for 20 years, was reprimanded and ordered to attend a multicultural sensitivity course. It was found Mr Seymour had not intended to shock, embarrass or humiliate Wagih but his family claim Wagih he has lost all confidence and his self-esteem. Unhappy about the school's handling of the matter and concerned about Wagih's future treatment at the school as he enters his HSC year, the Fares family, of Brighton-le-Sands, has lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board. They want Mr Seymour kicked out of the school.

Fallout from the incident comes as the Iemma Government and police are desperately trying to avert a resurgence of racial and cultural violence. Sensitivities among communities of Middle Eastern background - particularly in the Sutherland Shire and the areas around it - are still running high a year after the riots. Wagih's sister Zena said yesterday the family wanted Mr Seymour, a highly regarded teacher, transferred out of Blakehurst High because her brother was now "frightened" of him and his presence would affect his work. In a statement to the Anti-Discrimination Board - a copy of which has been obtained by The Telegraph - she said: "My brother was already dealing with difficult issues as this incident happened during the time of the war in Lebanon - we didn't even know if our family was dead or alive."


New Testament Christianity a "cult"?

The Anglican diocese of Sydney [comprising mainly evangelicals] is in danger of acting more like a cult than a church in its attempts to suppress dissent and diversity, says one of its ministers. The Reverend Keith Mascord, acting minister for the South Sydney parish, has urged reform and an immediate change of direction for the church in an unprecedented open letter to the diocese's clergy and lay people. His letter reveals concern about a speech to ordination candidates given by the Dean of Sydney, Dr Phillip Jensen, in which he was said to have declared it sinful for women to preach to men. The dean, an opponent of women becoming priests, was also said to have declared it sinful for men to allow women to preach.

The letter calls for seven changes, including a new way to deal with grievances and a relaxation of restrictions on non-Sydney ministers coming into the diocese. It will be considered by the diocese's policymaking body on Monday. Dr Mascord said there was an emerging culture of fear and a trend towards "censorship of thought" within the diocese when it should be motivated by love, humility and openness. "People are increasingly afraid to voice alternative views, to argue a different case than the dominant line, for fear of being verbally abused and/or socially isolated," Dr Mascord wrote. "People are afraid to go public through fear of being crushed. This is appalling, more characteristic of a cult than a church."

The Bishop of South Sydney, Rob Forsyth, said there was no suppression of dissent. "There are strongly held views in the diocese and I will admit that it sometimes takes courage to disagree with them. This has been true of the diocese for the past 100 years." The bishop did not share the dean's position that God did not wish women to preach in church. "Phillip's view is held by a good number of people in diocese but it is not an official view because there are genuine differences about what the scriptures mean. The Archbishop of Sydney licenses women to preach in mixed audiences. No one's been refused ordination because they have a different view on women."

Dr Mascord said his intention was not to burn bridges but to encourage a more "Christlike" diocese that lived out the values of the gospels and was a place of lively and respectful debate. He understood going public carried some risk but he felt the issue was too important to remain silent. Dr Mascord said his concerns were distilled from "countless conversations" with people in the diocese, including many who "feel voiceless and powerless". He had received more than 100 letters of support.

Criticism of the church's uncompromising theology is not new but has been mainly limited to progressives from outside the diocese opposed to its position on women and homosexuality. Rarely has such internal criticism surfaced publicly. James McPherson, the president of Anglicans Together, said Dr Mascord's overall thesis "all rings true".


Media bias against men

Despite years of activism, education, research and even government intervention, men and women are still not portrayed equally or fairly by the media, new research shows. Men are overwhelmingly described as either villains, aggressors, perverts, philanderers, or, in rare positive stories, as metrosexuals, a study into news and current affairs stories about men reveals. The findings are supported by research into stereotypes of men in advertising, which found they are commonly represented as insensitive, stupid or incompetent.

Jim Macnamara of the University of Western Sydney, studied more than 2000 articles and TV stories about men over a year. He found 69 per cent were unfavourable, compared with just 12 per cent favourable and 19 per cent neutral or balanced. Out of 100 stories about fatherhood in the nation's six most popular newspapers and magazines, only one was written by a man. Many did not even quote a man, Dr Macnamara said.

When men were portrayed positively - in shows such as Queer Eye For a Straight Guy - it was often because they had "embraced their feminine side". He said this further demonised men by reinforcing feminine traits as positive and masculine as negative. Although the "metrosexual craze" was largely created by advertisers to sell products during the time of the study - mid-2004 to mid-2005 - it was uncritically embraced by newspapers, magazines and television, Dr Macnamara said.

He found 99 per cent of stories about violence portrayed men as the aggressors, though this view was not supported by statistics. "You can watch Sunrise and it's common to see a woman say that men are 'commitment-phobic'. That's just not true. You can see from the men volunteering to fight bushfires or join the army or going through the Family Courts to get access to their children that men are attracted to commitment."

Dr Macnamara said the impact of the negative representation of masculinity was being seen in social policy. "Men are already being excluded from jobs working with children, Family Court decisions are overwhelmingly made against them," he said.

The findings, published earlier this year in a book based on Dr Macnamara's doctoral thesis, mirror ongoing analysis of television commercials by Mike Morrison, the chief strategist for the advertising firm George Patterson Y&R. Mr Morrison has studied men in TV ads and found they are often shown as incompetent or ignorant, particularly in commercials for household products. He said that when society accepted stereotypes, advertising often adopted them. He said such advertisements were often the product of lazy writing. "You might see an ad for sanitary napkins with a young man in it who does not even know what they are," Mr Morrison said. "That's not only wrong, it's boring. It might be an easy ad to write, but that doesn't make it a good ad."


South Australian public hospitals failing too

The rot is not confined to Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria

An extra 80 patients a day were admitted to public hospitals in the past year while more people were forced to wait longer in emergency departments as health system demands intensified. The Health Department's annual report, tabled in Parliament this week, shows on a daily average 1035 patients were admitted to hospitals, up from 955 in the previous financial year. Thirty-seven per cent of patients waited more than four hours in emergency departments before being seen, up from 30 per cent in 2004-05.

Each day, an average 1358 people were treated in accident and emergency departments, compared with 1300 the year before. A total of 328,572 people attended emergency departments, up from 310,661 in 2904-05. There were 896 on an elective surgery waiting list for more than 12 months, down from 1045 in 2004-05.

Health Minister John Hill said the demands on public hospitals were at "their greatest level", mainly because of SA's ageing population. Opposition health spokeswoman Vickie Chapman, who is waiting on Freedom of Information data on each hospital, said it was "pointless to conceal individual hospital information when it is important to identify which of the hospitals are really struggling".


Monday, December 11, 2006

Australian soldiers in Iraq silenced by military bureaucrats

The Australian Defence Force has banned soldiers from writing online journals and has deleted blogs from troops serving in Iraq. Critics say the soldiers are being denied the very freedoms they are fighting for.

The blogs were destroyed in September, hours after pictures of Australian soldiers playing with guns surfaced on the internet in the days before the inquiry into Private Jake Kovco's death in Baghdad.

Australia's leading defence think-tank, a civil libertarian and an internet expert have blasted the move as heavy-handed, saying it denied freedom of speech and destroyed Australian history. "This shows how far behind the times the ADF is," Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman said. "If the American army allows blogs, why doesn't the Australian army? If it does not pose a security threat, why are these soldiers being denied the rights of democracy that they are fighting for?"

Milblogs -- the online term for military weblogs -- emerged as warfare's latest phenomenon. Across Iraq, soldiers sit at computers typing out their fears, concerns and first-hand accounts of life, sometimes moments after returning from battle. The Pentagon harnessed the power of milblogs for positive publicity and recruitment. There are more than 1600 milblogs from 28 countries, according to but Australia has none.

A 26-year-old Sunshine Coast soldier serving in Iraq was placed under review and his milblog "Iraqi Letters" was deleted during the ADF's move to silence servicemen online. The soldier's writing was positive of the army and at times poetic, detailing the taste of cold water on a dust-parched throat and the friendly ribbing soldiers received after the Socceroos lost to Kuwait.

Minutes after "Iraqi Letters" was destroyed, Brisbane IT consultant and blogging expert Mike Fitzsimons salvaged it for safe-keeping. "I think it is a valuable piece of Australian history," he said. "Look at how today's historians revere letters from Gallipoli. "Deleting the blogs was a total over-reaction from the top. "It was a heavy-handed political reaction without any further thought."

Neil James, the executive director of independent lobby group Australia Defence Association, said milblogs should be allowed provided they were risk-assessed and any potential security violations censored. "(Blogging) is not going to go away and the Defence Force is going to have to face up to this," he said. "It is not something that can be ignored." Federal Opposition defence personnel spokesman Mark Bishop said: "Any mechanism that advances freedom of speech, the exchange of ideas or commentary on relevant matters should be encouraged, provided it does not breach laws, security matters or is offensive."


The incorrectness of photography --again

Note previous posts on Oct 22nd (4th post down) and July 26th about other Australian instances of this mania. There have also of course been a lot of similar instances in Britain and the USA

The 1937 photograph of a bronzed sunbather by Max Dupain is the most famous image of Australia's beach culture - but so suspicious have authorities become of cameras on beaches that his photographer son, Rex Dupain, was threatened with arrest while working on a new book about Bondi. After pulling out his $8000 Hasselblad to snap a couple of backpackers sleeping on the sand, Dupain - one of Australia's most celebrated photographers - found himself surrounded by four police officers who confiscated his camera. Although it is legal to photograph anyone in a public place, Dupain found himself questioned for 25 minutes by the police.

"Lifeguards and the police are taking the law into their own hands and they regard anyone with a camera as a potential pervert," Dupain said yesterday. "We sit at home and watch the close-up of people's lives on disturbing television reality shows but someone taking pictures at the beach is seen as a threat. Our days as a free society are completely over."

Dupain started taking shots at Bondi three years ago for his new book, The Colour of Bondi, and wanted to capture the authentic look of the beach by photographing people who were relaxed and unaware they were being snapped. He was questioned by lifeguards and the police on at least half a dozen occasions while working on the project, but said the final confrontation was the most disturbing. "They thought the Hasselblad was some sort of trick camera because they couldn't find a display screen," he said. "They wouldn't believe it wasn't a digital camera."

The photographer said catching people unaware was "how we learn about ourselves". Dupain approached the local Waverley council for a permit of the type issued to people filming television commercials so he would not be harassed. "They said, 'Sure, it will only cost you $160 an hour'."


Give working mothers a break

If we want more babies, we need to make it easier for mothers

It's about time that well-paid, hard-working parents got a tax break on childcare. They ought to be able to claim all their childcare costs, including the wages paid to nannies. How are parents supposed to go to work, if they don't have childcare? It's obviously a work-related expense.

The government provides funds to mums who want to stay home, in the form of Family Tax Benefit, A and B. It also provides funds to mums who put their children in long day care centres. But the women who have stormed the workforce since the 1970s work as police officers, firefighters, surgeons, anaesthetists, pilots, lawyers, judges and flight attendants. They don't have 9-5 rosters. They work on weekends. They can't use childcare centres.

Some mums have one child at school, another still a toddler. They need nannies, too. There's an idea-a stupid one-that only rich people have nannies. Actually, it's the highly-educated, taxed-like-crazy, hard-working class that have nannies. At the moment, the nanny industry is all black market, unregulated and unsatisfactory.

Professional women contribute a massive amount to the economy, both in personal taxes and in spending power. Their taxes are doled out to mums who don't work, and that's fine; or to mums who use childcare centres, and that's fine, too. But it's time to give them something, as well. A tax break is a good start.


Dumbed-down science "education"

Nobel prize-winning scientist Peter Doherty has attacked the way science is taught in Australian schools, with some students studying the lyrics of classic pop songs as part of the subject. In Queensland, Cat Stevens' song Where Do The Children Play? and Midnight Oil's hit River Runs Red about environmental degradation are studied in Year 8 and 9 science classes as part of an examination of science and society. Teaching resources prepared by the Queensland Studies Authority, responsible for the curriculum, include an analysis of song lyrics from the 1970s, '80s and '90s to explore "historical and cultural factors (that) influence the nature and direction of science which, in turn, affects the development of society". Science and society is one of five strands in the Queensland junior science syllabus, compulsory to the end of Year 10, which asserts that "science is a 'way of knowing"'.

But Professor Doherty, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1996, rejected the idea that science was "just another body of knowledge". "Before science, you have to go back to before 1500; so people who think science is just one way of knowing the world should go back and live then before we had a cure for things like plague," he said. "Science is evidence-based. It isn't perfect but it's based on experiment and observation and repeating findings," Professor Doherty added. "It's a specialised way of looking at the world. It isn't just a matter of discussion; it's a matter of looking for evidence, which is the difference between science and philosophy."

Other prominent scientists and educators said the Queensland syllabus was indicative of the way science was taught in schools around the nation, with curriculums reflecting a relativist philosophy that undermined the evidence-based approach central to the subject's study. Australian Council of Deans of Science president John Rice joined Professor Doherty in lamenting the creep of relativism into science curriculums. "Relativism is misplaced and it doesn't do justice to the real philosophical thinking; it's a shallow understanding of that philosophy," Professor Rice.

Professor Rice, dean of science at the University of Technology, Sydney, said the trend in school science syllabuses around the nation was a move away from specifying the knowledge students should understand. Instead, curriculums focused on the processes students should use, forgetting that in maths and science "these things are learned simultaneously". "They focus terribly on pedagogy, and the way knowledge and content is described is flawed," Professor Rice said. "Content turns out to be a list of topics instead of an understanding of what you want students to learn." A modern science syllabus might include a topic on the physics of amusement parks rather than specifying an understanding of motion and how you predict what's going to happen to moving things.

Peter Ridd, senior lecturer in physics at James Cook University, was a member of the subject advisory committee for science that oversaw the development of the new Queensland syllabus, to be introduced from 2008 for junior and senior students. Dr Ridd, with a group of university physicists, prepared a list for the senior physics course of fundamental concepts central to an understanding of physics in mechanics, waves and optics, electricity, magnetism, heat and matter. But he said the syllabus lacked content, had insufficient detail to instruct students on physics and failed to include maths as part of the course. The use by Galileo and Newton of maths in scientific thinking revolutionised the discipline but Dr Ridd said school syllabuses today excluded maths in the study of science.

A Queensland Studies Authority spokesman said the new science syllabuses to be introduced from 2008 would specify core content and reflect national standards agreed to by federal and state education ministers.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

The voice of the people?

There are certainly many who agree with her

Former One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has branded her critics as out of touch with ordinary Australians. Fresh from announcing a political comeback, Ms Hanson refused to back away from her latest attacks on minorities. In comments this week, Ms Hanson criticised Muslims and said she was worried black South African immigrants were bringing diseases into Australia.

Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd yesterday said the former MP was unlikely to win support with such views. But Ms Hanson angrily defended her stance. "They are not in tune with what the average person is saying, or they don't care," she said. "I am not anti-people, I am very pro-Australian. And if you want to be a member of Parliament, that's what it's all about."

Ms Hanson said she felt hurt by the criticism and believed she was being unfairly singled out for being a woman. "I just feel I am under more scrutiny than any other politician, and also because I am woman," she said. "And I get upset about it."

Ms Hanson plans to stand as an independent MP at next year's election, but is yet to say if she will run for the Lower House or the Senate. A Herald Sun voteline showed signs of support for her return to politics, with 1780 readers backing the move, and 281 opposed.

Ms Hanson stands to make a six-figure sum even if she fails to make it into Parliament. If she gains 4 per cent of the vote, she will get $2.05 a vote for campaign expenses. Ms Hanson, an MP from 1996 to 1998, reaped $190,000 after standing for the Senate in a failed 2004 comeback. She said yesterday her latest tilt had nothing to do with the money. "If you think I stand for money it's an absolute insult and a slap in the face for me," the former member for Oxley said.

Mr Howard said Australians had moved on from Hanson. "I don't believe that people are very interested in what she is saying now," he said. Mr Howard said he was critical of "zealous multiculturalism", but did not believe people should be singled out for their race or religion.

Mr Rudd said Ms Hanson had failed to come up with any positive policies. "I think Ms Hanson has in the past always been good at identifying what she sees as being problems, but I've never seen Ms Hanson come forward with any practical solutions for the long-term," he said.

Ms Hanson has said she was concerned at the ease with which people were able to gain Australian citizenship, especially Muslims and Africans. "We're bringing in people from South Africa at the moment," she said. "There's a huge amount coming into Australia who have diseases; they have got AIDS." But immigration authorities said migrants were subject to stringent health checks.

Ms Hanson refused yesterday to elaborate on her vision for Australia, saying she would declare her position on other issues closer to the election. "I'm not going to discuss that at this stage," she said. "I'll make my comments next year."


Useless government "child welfare" bureaucracy again

A malnourished baby girl died while under an intense supervision order of the Department of Child Safety. The child's mother, 35, will appear in the Brisbane Magistrate's Court today charged with the manslaughter of the four-month-old girl on the grounds of parental negligence for failing to provide adequate care and nourishment. Police will allege the baby gained only 500g in her four-month life and weighed 3300g when she died from bronchopneumonia at her mother's Brisbane home in July 2004. Her death was believed to be have been the result of complications from being malnourished.

The baby was underweight when she was born at 2800g and suffering from methadone withdrawal among other medical problems. She gained the 500g in the first five weeks of her life in hospital and did not put on any more weight while living with her mother under departmental supervision, government sources said yesterday. Upper Mt Gravatt detectives also charged the baby's father, 39, with her manslaughter and he will face court later this month.

Medical experts contacted by The Courier-Mail said the average growth rate of a normal baby was between 150g and 160g a week. It is understood police will seek a meeting with the Crime and Misconduct Commission over the Department of Child Safety's handling of the case. The department had left the baby in the care of her mother, who was placed under an intensive management plan and the supervision of a case worker. Government sources told The Courier-Mail last night that, under the plan, case workers were supposed to conduct random weekly visits, ensure the mother maintained medical appointments, as well as involve a community health worker. It is understood case workers instead often made pre-arranged visits with the baby's mother and, in the weeks when they could not attend, spoke to her over the telephone.

The sources said the mother had allegedly failed to keep some medical appointments and the department's last contact with her was a telephone call in the week before the baby died. They said a case worker's file notes show she had recorded the baby as "thriving" but they did not contain any information that showed the baby had ever been weighed. A spokesperson for Child Safety Minister Desley Boyle said an external review found no reason to conclude the department's actions in any way impacted on the child's death. He said allegations made to The Courier-Mail were at odds with departmental information.


The Australian Left wants education reform too

Postmodern bu**sh** may have finally had its day

Kevin Rudd will demand "quality control" from the nation's schools to guarantee the children of working families a good education. Setting out his broad guide to beating John Howard at next year's election, the new Opposition Leader said yesterday he would not allow the Commonwealth to shovel billions of dollars in education funding to the states without schools performing to adequate standards.

As Mr Rudd wrestled with the final places on his new front bench, expected to be announced over the weekend, he promised a review of all party policy over Christmas. He said Labor's industrial campaign would be extended "beyond the workplace", saying the most critical aspect of fairness from the party was in "educational opportunity".

"I mean educational opportunity for kids from working families to have a high quality of education with high standards applied to it, and that means a strong emphasis on the quality control of education outcomes," he told The Weekend Australian. "I am not interested in simply investing and providing greater investment into education in the absence of guarantees of quality outcomes for working families." Mr Rudd's new approach will put the states on notice that a future Labor government will demand strong results from its financial investment in schools.

In a veiled swipe at Kim Beazley, Mr Rudd said yesterday that while it was "early days yet", he would be reviewing all Labor policies and wanted to do away with the "mixed messages" of the past. "The problem often in the past has been message confusion, too much on offer and distinctions not clear enough. I intend to reduce it down and make it clear," Mr Rudd said.

More here

Far-Left education-wrecker to go

A nasty piece of goods all-round. Her chief talent seems to be in bed. Her boyfriend is the Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Eric Ripper

Besieged West Australian Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich is set to be dumped from her crisis-ridden Education portfolio within days. But she will not be sacked from cabinet, after a parliamentary committee investigating her conduct failed this week to recommend any action against her. Premier Alan Carpenter yesterday ruled out dropping Ms Ravlich from Cabinet. He said the Upper House committee's report was "non-conclusive" but he refused to back her retaining education in a reshuffle expected next week....

Ms Ravlich was tarnished earlier this year by her mishandling of curriculum changes which were to have been implemented in 2007 but have now been delayed. A public outcry forced the Premier to intervene in the push to enshrine outcomes-based education.

She was also tainted by her contact with disgraced former Labor premier Brian Burke, who brokered a meeting for her with the editor of The West Australian to discuss her negative publicity. But the death knell sounded when a damning Corruption and Crime Commission report on her department's failure to investigate sexual misconduct complaints against teachers was released in October. The parliamentary inquiry examined Ms Ravlich's claim that she didn't know about the 10-month CCC probe, which was why she did nothing about the problems in her department. The issue escalated when former Education Department chief Paul Albert said he told her about the probe four times.

On Thursday, a majority finding by the committee said she probably did know and also found she had misled parliament. But Mr Carpenter said "probably" was not definitely and there was still considerable doubt about how many times the matter was referred to the minister....

Opposition education spokesman Peter Collier said the Premier should move Ms Ravlich immediately. He said the education sector had been crippled by disenchantment and lack of confidence. "Wherever she goes she will take with her a baggage of incompetence and that's a shame for her next portfolio," Mr Collier said.

More here

New Testament Christianity gets an airing

Occasionally someone fights back against the huge pagan element in orthodox Christianity. The two greatest "Christian" celebrations, Christmas and Easter, are both pagan and Christians even have the Day of the Sun as their holy day!

A pastor has slammed Santa as a false god who teaches children to be greedy and selfish. Pastor Steve McNeilly of the New Life Christian Church has accused the jolly fat man of being a blasphemous stand-in for God who makes liars of parents and causes confusion among children. The Santa story created commercial rivalry and encouraged materialism and selfishness in children's hearts, Mr McNeilly said. "Santa has usurped the love and devotion and faith of little children," the Warrnambool pastor said.

Mr McNeilly's comments, first made in a country newspaper column, have sparked a storm of protest. Santa yesterday had time for only one brief comment: "I am too busy filling snacks, feeding reindeer and working out routes for our big night on Christmas Eve." Senior church leaders and a child psychologist branded the attack on Father Christmas absurd and undeserved. Catholic Monsignor Les Tomlinson said Christmas was a time for parents to teach children the joys of gift-giving. "What we are celebrating in the birth of Jesus is the manifestation of the infinite love of all humans which is reflected in our concern for the needy and the sharing with others," Monsignor Tomlinson said. "Parents have excellent opportunities in acknowledging aspects of the sharing of gifts to foster in children the joy of both giving and receiving."

Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said Santa Claus was a crucial part of a child's Christmas celebration. "These claims are an absolute outrage for the vast majority of children who are healthier and happier because of their vast memories of Christmas," he said. "It is well documented that kids do much better when they have ritual, tradition and spirituality in their lives. "Were the comments true, we would have generations of children who are just greedy little consumers. "Kids love Santa coming down the chimney and they adore the idea of leaving a bowl of milk out for the reindeer."

But Pastor McNeilly defended his beliefs even though he admitted they initially caused consternation among his own relatives. "They initially argued strongly against it, saying Santa is an important part of childhood and that we were robbing our kids of that aspect," he told the Herald Sun. "But they have since come to agree with us that you can still have Christmas with all the presents and all the trimmings but with an emphasis not on Santa." Father Christmas detracted from the "true message of Christmas that God sent his son to save us from our sins. "Instead, it's about making lists of `what I want' and building up expectations about what they will get. "It creates inequality among children who may not understand why the child across the street got a new bike and they didn't. "It makes them ask: `Why does Santa love other kids more than he loves me?' "


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Australian flag banned at Australian soldier's funeral

Leftist clergy hate patriotism

The Uniting Church [formerly the Methodist church] has again sparked outrage by refusing to fulfil a Digger's [Australian soldier's] dying wish to have the Australian flag draped over his coffin. The Highfield Rd Uniting Church in Canterbury banned the flag at the funeral of long time congregation member and war veteran Geoff Bolton on November 15. It is believed the family were only told of the church's policy on the morning of the funeral and were forced to have the RSL service in the church's foyer.

Essendon Uniting Church minister Wes Campbell outraged many by refusing dead World War II veteran George "Dick'" Vipond a flag on his funeral casket in March last year, forcing the Digger's family to move the funeral to a nearby Anglican church.

State RSL president Major-General David McLachlan said he was disappointed as he thought the issue had been resolved after working with former Uniting Church moderator Sue Gorman last year. "It is an incredible insult to the family and also to Mr Bolton himself," told 3AW. "He was a veteran, he wanted to be buried under his national flag that he'd fought under and he his family has agreed to the RSL service. "I think it's just unacceptable. Here are people wishing to have the final ceremony conducted in the church where Mr and Mrs Bolton were married some 50 years ago. "The churches at the moment are crying out for membership, but those that have been faithful members of the church get treated this way and I just don't think it's right."

Former Uniting church moderator Sue Gorman issued a statement in June last year stating "the Synod Standing Committee gives strong affirmation for the use of the national flag within the Christian funeral liturgy." "The majority of Uniting Church of Australia Ministers... allow the coffin to be covered with the national flag during the funeral service (of a returned Service person) and they can continue to follow this practise," she said. However she cautioned all parishoners consult carefully with ministers to make sure funeral wishes and arrangements were clear, "with all ministers to devise a way forward when the reasonable requests of bereaved families with respect to the flag on the coffin conflict with the understanding of the Minister." A statement from the Uniting Church is being prepared and will be released shortly, spokesman Rev Kim Cain said.



If only because unmarried mothers are mostly poor and dumb. Excerpt from a comment below by Australian relationships columnist Bettina Arndt

Children in single-parent families are getting less of just about everything that we know leads to successful adulthood. That's the conclusion of a powerful new book by Kay S. Hymowitz, Marriage and Caste in America, which argues that family structure underpins the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots in America, which is a disturbing trend applying equally in this country.

For all the talk about Murphy Browns -- elite, professional women choosing to become solo mums -- it rarely happens. Talk to well-educated, professional women, who could afford to have children on their own and you'll find few would even consider it. As Hymowitz shows, the old-fashioned, married-couple-with-children model is doing quite well among better-educated women. It is primarily among lower-income, less-educated women that it is in poor health.

The figures show that here, as in the US, it is largely low-income, less-educated twentysomethings who are having babies without a wedding ring. In 2001, only 3 per cent of women aged 25 to 29 with degrees were single mothers compared with 30 per cent of women with no post-school qualifications, with the latter's higher divorce rate swelling the numbers. Most educated women marry before they have children because they are preparing their children to carry on their way of life, suggests Hymowitz. They know that marriage significantly increases their chances of doing that. Kids with two parents are more likely to have two incomes cushioning them during their developing years. More money means more stability, less stress, better day care and schools.

While educated women still believe in marriage as an institution for raising children, that's dropped off the radar for women who lack their advantages. Hymowitz argues this means disadvantaged women have lost a reliable life script, a traditional arrangement that reinforced the qualities they and their men need for upward mobility, one of their few institutional supports for planning ahead and taking control of their lives. And they've lost a culture that told them the truth about what was best for their children.

There's no question that culture has disappeared. Just look at the soaps, such as Neighbours and Home and Away, which regularly feature young women becoming pregnant. Because of their early-evening slot, abortion is rarely mentioned. So bingo, the women become single mothers. In the women's magazines, there's a passing parade of celebrities having children on their own, with never a question asked about their choices.

According to last year's Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, 70 per cent of Australian women and 84 per cent of females aged 18 to 30 now believe single parents can bring up children as well as a couple. But educated women still have the good sense not to do it. Most choose to provide their children with the extra security of a two-parent family. It is those who can least afford to take the risk who have been sold a pup, which condemns the women and their children to a lesser life.


A strange politically correct Christmas season in Melbourne

BAH, humbug! What has become of a jolly old-fashioned Christmas when a radio commercial yesterday earnestly implored everyone to place their orders for an organic turkey and a gluten-free pudding? Call me Scrooge but we are entering a very confused, plastic and politically correct Christmas season. If we don't watch out, it may soon become an offence to burp.

And what was that about celebrating the birth of Jesus? Has he been transformed into a Wombat Divine? Scrooge himself, before he was converted to let his hair down and really enjoy Christmas, was a "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner". Those were Charles Dickens' immortal words in A Christmas Carol.

Christmas was once a time when you ate too much and drank too much and did good works and embraced family. This old sinner went wandering through Melbourne's CBD yesterday, seeking the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Dickens described the original ghost, clothed in a simple green robe, bordered with white fur and sitting on a kind of throne made up of "turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreathes of sausages, mince pies, plum puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth cakes and seething bowls of punch".

Imagine trying to set that up in the heart of the city today. The inspectors wouldn't let you near a space without a building permit and animal welfare groups would set up a picket line. Instead, an environmentally safe artificial Christmas tree made of green, red and silver-frosted plastic stars stuck on the end of metal rods inserted into a green mesh cone now stands in the centre of the city. How lovely.

The tree, of course, has a commercial sponsor. A plum pudding on sale in a city store's food hall contains a health warning: "3.1 per cent alcohol by volume". The ingredients, also listed by law, are: "currants (10 per cent), raisins (10 per cent) sultanas (10 per cent), breadcrumbs (wheat flour), water, yeast, salt, soy flour, vegetable oil (canola), emulsifiers (471, 481), vinegar, vitamin (thiamin), butter (cream, water, salt), brown sugar, fresh eggs, flour, dates, mixed peel, Australian brandy, water, spices, lemon essence (contains colour 101), vanilla essence and baking soda". Yummy.

Please, pass Scrooge another slice of the delicious emulsifiers 471 and 481 with a dab of the colour 101. The accompanying brandy butter container, of course, tells Scrooge he is getting exactly 199.44 kilojoules of energy with each serve. Is that supposed to make Scrooge feel guilty enough to go for a brisk bicycle ride to burn off the brandy butter?

This Scrooge wandered on, joulelessly and sadly, past the five Myer windows, past the ghosts of Christmas past. No jolly Ghost of Christmas Present here either, but a crowd of somewhat confused human beings staring into caverns full of glassy-eyed, nodding and jerking replicas of Australian native animals. Mothers were trying to explain the show to their children. It was a difficult task. "Wombat Divine", said large signs, with a star overhead.

The story began: "For as long as he could remember, Wombat had wanted to be in the Nativity. "Now, at last, he was old enough to take part. "So, with his heart full of dreams, he hurried along to the audition." A strange theological tale then unfolded along the length of the windows. In short order, we learnt that Wombat was "too heavy to be the Archangel Gabriel", as well as being "too big to be Mary", "too short to be a King", "too sleepy to be Joseph", and too short, again, to be a shepherd. Instead, Wombat gets to play Baby Jesus. In the final window, the animals were in somewhat of a nodding frenzy as a panel explained: "On Christmas Day, when everyone was opening presents and eating pudding, they all agreed it was the best Nativity ever. " 'You were divine, Wombat!' said Emu, and Wombat beamed."

Don't tell the Archangel Gabriel, but those emulsifiers in the pudding can have the strangest side effects. How different to the abandoned days of Dickens' Mrs Cratchit and her pudding, "like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half a quatern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck on top". The pudding was enjoyed by Tiny Tim whose words, at least, endure to this day: "God bless us every one!"


No money for frontline police in Victoria

While the police bureaucracy just grows and grows

A police station protecting 120,000 Victorians could become a nine-to-five operation as a staff shortage sends officers' morale plummeting. A secret, high-level memo seen by the Herald Sun outlines a plan to cut 24-hour-a-day Werribee police station's operating times to between 9am and 5pm on weekdays and reduce its weekend operating times. Police say it is just one of several key stations in high-crime areas buckling under financial strain.

In the memo, Insp. Shane Dowling tells his superiors urgent action is needed to avert the danger of officers walking out. He writes that a police district management team has recommended Werribee - which covers a booming population of 121,000 - work shorter hours. About 70 people work at the station, a figure criticised as 30 to 40 short of what is needed. "Due to the low staffing levels, my members are exhausted and if action is not forthcoming, I advise that industrial action will occur," Insp. Dowling wrote. "This is having a real effect on morale."

Police officers at Werribee have been frustrated for years at what they say is a lack of numbers and heavy workload. The memo states the ratio of police to population in the Wyndham police district covered by Werribee is one to 1078, compared to one in 368 statewide. There were 6900 crimes in the area covered by Werribee last year. They included seven murders, 146 rapes and sex assaults, 918 burglaries, 407 car thefts and 1064 cases of property damage. Sources said domestic violence was widespread and a factor behind 483 assaults last year.

Insp. Dowling, a former mayor of Geelong, wrote that short-staffing was causing "welfare issues" for officers and the condition of the police station didn't help. "An absolute bloody disgrace. Nothing more needs to be said," he wrote. Divisional Supt Kevin Casey said he was confident the station would not have to go nine-to-five. "We'll continue to provide a 24-hour policing service for Werribee," he said. Supt Casey said he didn't know whether Insp. Dowling would face disciplinary action. He said extra staff had been provided this year and the crime rate had fallen in Werribee in the past 12 months.

Wyndham Mayor Shane Bourke said he had been told Werribee was "30 or 40 police short". "There's no way it can continue like this," he said. Police say the Werribee crisis is echoed at several other major stations, including Frankston, Ballarat, Dandenong, Geelong and Bendigo. Police Association secretary Paul Mullett said the Bracks Government had put on an extra 1780 police since 1999, but they were not being deployed to troubled areas like Werribee. "Werribee police station is one of a large number of stations across the state that are basket cases," he said. "Our dispute is with the Chief Commissioner - where is she deploying them, because they're not out on the front line."


Friday, December 08, 2006


Former One Nation leader Pauline Hanson says she'll stand for Parliament at the next federal election. She didn't say whether she would run for the lower house or Senate. Asked why she wanted to return to politics, the former federal MP for the Queensland seat of Oxley said, "Why not". "I feel I want to have another go at it, and I'm putting my hat in the ring for the next federal election," she told the Ten Network news.

Ms Hanson said: "It's up to the people of Queensland, or wherever I decide to stand, to decide whether they want me to have a voice in parliament for them". "And you know what, they feel they haven't got a voice and someone out there asking questions on their behalf. "So I have every right to stand for parliament, like any other Australian, and I'm raising my issues, I'm raising my concerns. "So it's up to the people."

Earlier yesterday, a decade after warning Australia was being swamped by Asians, the right-wing firebrand voiced concerns about Muslims and said diseased Africans should be barred from the country. Last night, she said the main issues she would be campaigning on were the industrial relations laws and the nation's water crisis. "I've been on about water for many, many years - but also immigration," she said.

"Why shouldn't Australians know that the people we bring in to this country are there for the right reasons, and we bring them in for the right reasons? "Why do we have to bring people in who are of no benefit to this country whatsoever, who are going to take away our way of life, change our laws? "And I'm asking these questions. And it's about time someone dam well did, because the federal government is not addressing the concerns of the Australian people."

Ms Hanson earlier said she was concerned by the ease with which people were able to gain Australian citizenship, especially Muslims and Africans. "We're bringing in people from South Africa at the moment, there's a huge amount coming into Australia, who have diseases, they've got AIDS," Ms Hanson said. "They are of no benefit to this country whatsoever, they'll never be able to work. "And what my main concern is, is the diseases that they're bringing in and yet no one is saying or doing anything about it." A Department of Immigration spokeswoman rejected the claims, saying stringent health checks were carried out on all permanent and temporary residents.

Refugee groups were angered by Ms Hanson's comments, calling them "fanciful", damaging and hurtful to Africans who were simply trying for a life in Australia. But Ms Hanson said politicians had gone too far in affording rights to minority groups and she was angered at the loss of Australian traditions because of Muslims. "Our governments have bent over backwards to look after them (Muslims) and their needs, and regardless of what the Australian people think," she said. "You can't have schools not sing Christmas carols because it upsets others, you can't close swimming baths because Muslim women want to swim in private, that's not Australian. "Surely, can't we look at what's happened in other countries around the world with the increase in Muslims that are there ...?"

Ms Hanson also objects to the Howard Government's industrial relations laws, and said she had been encouraged to consider re-entering politics by the public who wanted her to represent the average "Joe". Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said that although he disagreed with Ms Hanson's ideas, he supported her democratic right to run. Ms Hanson failed to win re-election to parliament in 1998 and unsuccessfully stood for the Senate in Queensland three years later.

She served a short stint in a Queensland prison for electoral fraud in 2003 before the charges were overturned. She again tried a comeback in 2004, standing as an independent for the Senate, but failed to win a seat. However, she was awarded almost $190,000 funding from the Australian Electoral Commission after earning more than four per cent of the primary vote. Ms Hanson says she plans to release a book early next year about her political life and time in jail.


Vile legal barriers to the truth about fatherhood

For those who can, having a child is probably the most important thing they will ever do in their life. Quite rightly, myriad laws impose legal and financial obligations on parents.

The public reaction to the recent case of Magill v Magill has rightly centred on the need to remove any obstacles preventing an alleged parent from ascertaining whether they are the parent of a child. In an era of unobtrusive DNA testing, common sense should prevail to allow an alleged parent the automatic right to have access to modern technology to ascertain the parentage of a child.

Currently, an alleged father's obligation to pay child support and the distribution of assets following a family break-up is determined by reference to various factors, including the number of their children. If alleged fathers can have DNA testing as early as possible, it may avoid unnecessary emotional trauma and a man being required to make payments under a mistake. At present, where DNA testing proves a child was not fathered by the man alleged, judicial discretion can still prevent him from later recovering child support and other amounts mistakenly paid or given over.

Under the present system, a mother can place an obstacle in the path of an alleged father by not giving her consent for a DNA test. The mother should not be permitted to hinder the process because she will often have a vested interest in seeking to prevent the DNA testing. Recent cases have shown there is reluctance on the part of judges to grant men permission for DNA testing. This is often under the justification that it is not in the best interests of the child to ascertain with certainty who the father of the child is.

This logic is totally flawed. There can be no doubt it is in a child's interest to know who their biological parents are. It is an essential part of any person's identity. The case of Magill v Magill has not only excluded men, who have been deceived about parentage from suing a former partner for such deceit, it goes further. The no-fault provisions of divorce would appear to have been used to justify permitting a man to be deceived and continue to be deceived as to paternity. Non-disclosure of adultery should not be held more important than prevention of emotional and financial damage inflicted upon a man who has been deceived into believing he is the father of a child. There are no consequences for a woman deceiving a man in such a cruel way.

This approach will only encourage the Family Court to be even more reluctant to exercise its discretion to allow an alleged father access to DNA testing. It has even been put to me that if we allow alleged fathers to have such easy access to DNA testing, they will not be liable to pay child support and the Government will have to pick up the bill. This of all the arguments is the most morally bankrupt. A government should not shift the cost of raising a child on to a man just because he had a relationship with, or was married to a woman, who had a child that was not his.

Having said that, if DNA testing were readily available, I suspect a significant majority of alleged fathers would choose not to access it and that would be their choice. It's time for the relevant laws to be changed to reflect fairness and common sense.


No one is served by covering up Islamic outrages

An editorial from "The Australian" below

It is precisely because the act was so stupid that level heads need to be kept about what happened last week during a school expedition run by Melbourne's East Preston Islamic College. According to a report of the incident filed by the school, a group of teenage Muslim boys on the outing defiled a Bible by urinating on it, spitting on it, tearing its pages and setting it alight. The boys involved have, appropriately, been expelled, and it is hoped they will grow up to be responsible Australian citizens who will look back and be horrified at the actions of their youth. Far more pressing is the need to root out the climate of intolerance described by non-Muslim teachers at the school, an atmosphere fostered by radical videos shown to students at the college that describe Australian Christians as "evil people". Here it is clear the school's principal, Shaheem Doutie, needs to do much more to prevent students from graduating into the wider community with such attitudes.

This incident once again focuses attention on the relationship between Islamic and non-Islamic communities in Australia, and the media's role in covering conflicts between the two groups. The issue came up last October when this newspaper reported that Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, imam of Sydney's Lakemba Mosque and Australia's senior Muslim spiritual leader, had delivered a rambling sermon which, among other things, suggested that if women walk the streets like "uncovered meat" they have only themselves to blame if they are sexually assaulted. The report had several effects. On the plus side, it gave Australia's moderate Muslims a chance to stand with the wider community and condemn the sort of retrograde thinking demonstrated by Sheik Hilali. This is something we would like to see happen again in the case of East Preston Islamic College.

But the reporting on Sheik Hilali also flushed out a number of people who were horrified by The Australian's coverage, and who wished the whole story would go away. Chief among them was self-styled Muslim advocate Irfan Yusuf, a young lawyer of Pakistani extraction, who accused this newspaper of committing an "editorial lynching" of the sheik in its news and opinion pages. This is simplistic thinking. Rather than condemn the newspaper, Mr Yusuf should have put his shrewd legal mind to work considering whether he would really prefer to let intolerant attitudes fester in the shadows before exploding and catching Australia unawares, as has happened in countries such as England, Denmark, Spain and The Netherlands. A far more responsible and thoughtful sort of thinking was demonstrated by the likes of Waleed Ali and Tanveer Ahmed, two Australian Muslims who saw the publicity surrounding Sheik Hilali's offensive statements as a chance to promote their own thoughtful messages about the need for Islam to modernise to remain relevant. Likewise, the reporting of the desecration of a Bible by Muslim students presents another opportunity for moderate Muslims to condemn extremists and point the way forward.

By its very nature, Australian society rejects the sort of intolerance demonstrated by Sheik Hilali and the EPIC students, and revels in deflating fundamentalisms of all stripes. A perfect example is this weekend's "Great Australian Bikini March", in which women are being urged to parade past the Lakemba Mosque in swimwear to protest against Sheik Hilali's comments. Lebanese Muslim Association president Tom Zreik has been quoted as describing the plan as "hilarious", showing he has the right idea. The more of this attitude, and the more light shone on extremists in Australia's Muslim community, the better.


The Australian Immigration bureaucracy at work

A one-year-old Australian boy was detained for seven months after immigration officials failed to check his citizenship. Another, aged four months, was held in detention for 149 days before authorities accepted his birth certificate as genuine. The cases are among 20 new wrongful detentions identified yesterday by the Commonwealth ombudsman.

In a series of damning reports, the ombudsman found some immigration officers did not understand citizenship and immigration laws. Others failed to realise that children could hold different citizenship to their parents, ombudsman John McMillan said.

The highly publicised cases of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez triggered investigations into 247 immigration detention cases. Ten of the cases checked involve mentally ill people being put in detention, despite being Australian citizens or lawful visa holders. Several of those wrongfully detained are seeking compensation from the Federal Government, including mentally ill man, "Mr G". A permanent resident born in East Timor, he was detained for 43 days.

Of the 10 children wrongfully detained, eight were Australian citizens or lawful visa holders. One-year-old "GN" was detained in Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre in 2002 for 214 days. Prof McMillan found immigration officers did not interview GN's mother until three weeks after the family's detention, and it took another six weeks before authorities acknowledged he was an Australian citizen. The boy was then kept in detention for another five months as a "visitor" with his mother. Four-month-old "LP" was held at a residential unit at the Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia until authorities accepted his birth certificate and citizenship.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the Government had already overhauled the immigration system to avoid similar problems. The overhaul included keeping children out of detention centres except as a last resort. "They're not happy stories, I understand that," she said. "But I want to emphasise that I'm pleased they've been dealt with, and particularly pleased with the acknowledgment from the Ombudsman of how much has already been done in terms of repairing things that need to be repaired and upgrading things that needed to be upgraded." She said no immigration officers would be punished over the detention cases. [Why not??]


Thursday, December 07, 2006

OK to mock Catholicism but not Islam

The verdict below is from the same body that ruled it offensive to laugh at Koran verses

Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Mr Abbott, get your rosaries off my ovaries" does not amount to the religious vilification of Catholics, a Victorian tribunal has ruled. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has struck out a case brought by pro-life campaigner Babette Francis, who had sought to have the T-shirts banned.

The T-shirts were produced by the YWCA during last year's public debate over who should control access to the RU486 abortion pill and refer to federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, a practising Catholic. One of the T-shirts was worn in Federal Parliament's upper house by Greens senator Kerry Anne Nettle.

VCAT senior member Rohan Walker has ruled that while "many ordinary people would find the slogan to be distasteful", it did not constitute religious vilification. "I do not think that the sale and distribution of T-shirts containing it (the slogan) incite hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of Mr Abbott, Mrs Francis or any other Catholic," he ruled.

The ruling, dated December 1, also says: "The slogan might generate a more negative response towards those who wear the T-shirts bearing it than towards Mr Abbott or any other devotee of the Catholic faith".


The Muslim culture of hate

Two Muslim students have been expelled from an Islamic school in Melbourne for urinating and spitting on a Bible and setting it on fire. The explosive incident has forced the East Preston Islamic College to call in a senior imam to tell its 650 Muslim students that the Bible and Christianity must be respected. Anxious teachers at the school have also petitioned principal Shaheem Doutie, expressing "grave concern" about an "inculcation of hatred and radical attitudes towards non-Muslims" at the school, including towards non-Muslim teachers.

The Bible desecration took place last week at a school camp held near Bacchus Marsh, about 50km west of Melbourne, attended by 33 teenage Muslim boys ranging in age from Year7 to Year 10. A school report of the incident, obtained by The Australian, says it happened late at night and involved three students and another two watching. "The main perpetrator (a Year 7 student) urinated on the Holy Bible, tore some pages from the Holy Book and burnt them then finally spat on the Holy Book," the report says. The second boy, from Year 9, "tore pages from the Holy Book and burnt them", while a third student, from Year 7, "tore pages from the Holy Bible and then he rolled it up like a cigarette and pretended to smoke it". The boys come from a variety of ethnic Muslim backgrounds - one is believed to be an Albanian/Malaysian, another Lebanese and another Indonesian.

Mr Doutie, whose school receives about $3.9 million in state and federal government funding each year, told The Australian yesterday that both he and the school community were appalled by the Bible desecration and that he had expelled the first two boys and suspended the third. In a letter to all staff on Monday, Mr Doutie wrote: "The school unconditionally apologises for this horrible act as conducted by some illiterate and ignorant students while under the care of EPIC teachers. "We regard the desecration of the Bible in a very serious light and therefore we have taken serious action against the offenders. "The Bible is an important book both for non-Muslims and Muslims and should be treated as a holy book by all religions."

Mr Doutie said he did not believe that the boys realised the significance of their act. But to ensure it did not happen again he had called in the assistant imam of the Newport Mosque, Oman Haouli, to tell the students that the Bible was a sacred book. "My lesson to them was to respect their neighbours and respect all religions," Mr Haouli said yesterday.

But the desecration incident has shaken the nerves of the school's teachers, about half of whom are non-Muslim. A petition signed by 22 teachers expressed "anguish and dismay at the grave incident of the desecration of the Holy Bible". "This whole incident implies a deep hatred inculcated in the students towards the Christians/non-Muslim teachers," it says. The petition said there had been "previous incidents of students misbehaving towards non-Muslim teachers". It called on the school to "take steps to rectify this explosive situation" to ensure the safety of teachers.

Mr Doutie said the school had tried to contact the parents of the expelled boys to find out why they had desecrated the Bible. But he said the school had not received a response.

EPIC is an eight-year-old primary and secondary school in Melbourne's north that caters mostly to the children of working-class immigrant Somali and Lebanese families. The Bible desecration comes at a time of heightened tension among Australia's 300,000-member Islamic community, many of whom believe their religion is being unfairly discriminated against because of terrorism fears. Many Muslims remain angry about the public humiliation suffered by their spiritual leader, the mufti Taj al-Din al-Hilaly, after the Sheik likened female rape victims to pieces of meat who brought the attacks on themselves.


Muslim hate again: A prominent young Muslim who acts like an Australian attacked

New South Wales's most promising young Muslim leader has become the victim of a hate campaign because she celebrated with a glass of champagne after being named the state's Young Australian of the Year. Iktimal Hage-Ali, 22, has been targeted on Muslim websites for drinking alcohol and declining to wear the traditional hijab. Her anonymous attackers condemned her after she drank the champagne to toast her award at the Art Gallery of NSW last Thursday.

"It's true, I was celebrating. Bloody hell, I had a glass of champagne in my hand - so what?" Ms Hage-Ali told The Daily Telegraph.

The Islamic youth website Muslim Village posted dozens of messages berating Ms Hage-Ali. "A person who drinks champagne, especially unabashedly, cannot represent the Muslim community," one member wrote. Another added: "She knows we don't appreciate her representing us - but it's the power that drives her. Drinking champagne, that is sick." Her accusers also berated Ms Hage-Ali for wearing "revealing" clothes, nail polish and make-up. "Her matching nails, eye shadow and top were not how Islam would like to portray a Muslim female to the wider community," one said.

Yet while the majority criticised her, a few did come to her defence. "It is wonderful that a young Muslim woman has won the award and that is a cause for celebration, not denigration," a chatroom member wrote.

Ms Hage-Ali, who is a finalist for the national Young Australian of the Year to be named next month, said she was shocked by the tirade, but refused to tone her comments down. "I'm proud of what I have done, my family is proud, my friends are proud, my colleagues are proud," the NSW Government public servant and tireless community worker said. "They're not looking at the fact that a young Muslim person has won a prestigious award - they are looking for the negatives."

Ms Hage-Ali is regarded as one of the Muslim community's most progressive young voices since joining Prime Minister John Howard's Muslim Reference Group. She did not claim to speak on behalf of all Muslims.


The disgrace of bad teachers

Failure to sack bad teachers is a scandal that has festered in our schools for decades, writes Judith Wheeldon

A shock headline in last Monday's The Daily Telegraph in NSW is good news: "104 teachers sacked, staff criminal and inept". Those who value good teaching for their children will be encouraged. The efforts and reputation of good teachers, the overwhelming majority, are undermined by the negative attributes of a small number of their colleagues. Given that there are almost 50,000 government teachers in NSW alone and there have been few successful sackings in the past, clearing a backlog of 104 government teachers is not a big achievement and more might be welcome. But it is a good start.

The need to remove non-performing or dangerous teachers is not exclusively a NSW issue. Other states have suffered the same difficulties in maintaining standards by terminating the employment of those who cannot or will not mend their ways. Nor is this a government school issue. It applies to faith-based, independent and government schools equally. There are about 60,000 teachers in non-government schools and about 144,000 in government schools nationally.

Removing bad teachers from our schools is a national issue of great importance. It is obvious that we fail our children if we make them spend a precious year trying to learn under the influence of a bad teacher or one who may damage them for life, but there are other reasons as well. English-speaking countries are facing a shortage of teachers and especially of school leaders. The threat to education systems is so significant that teacher poaching has become common, but stealing good teachers from each other is no solution to shortages.

Anecdote and research repeatedly demonstrate that good teachers suffer from the bad reputation easily given to their schools and their profession by a few poor performers. Many school leavers who would make splendid teachers are discouraged from taking up the challenge by their own justified lack of respect for the teachers who inflicted unprofitable lessons on them and by the low social status accorded a profession that is not allowed to assert standards and weed itself out.

When teachers fail, their students carry tales of their malfeasance home. Parents complain but school authorities, knowing it is extremely difficult to terminate a bad teacher, must find a modus vivendi. Parents then form an impression that the principal lacks resolve or judgment. The principal cannot commiserate with parents or student because of defamation dangers. The school loses credibility.

Loss of trust in a handful of teachers leads to undervaluation of them all. This undervaluation becomes a short-sighted excuse for a depression of salaries, which of course lowers the quality of intake of new teachers, and so the spiral goes on. Now we do not have enough teachers to teach our children, largely because of our inability to terminate those who have lost our confidence. Sack the bad ones, pay the good ones professional salaries. Give teachers respect. Then stand back and watch intelligent people, including men, line up for a very rewarding career.

Why have schools been powerless to sack bad teachers, child abusers and thieves? In government schools, where principals have few powers to hire and fire, teachers may eventually be transferred to another school. In non-government schools, heads can try to terminate persistently poor teachers. A principal concerned about a teacher's performance or behaviour may in a very circumspect and careful way begin a process of discussion and counselling, aiming first to improve the teacher's performance. Many careers have been rescued by a well-focused program of counselling and professional development. Termination of employment becomes the logical goal if rescue doesn't work.

Inevitably, the union steps in with vigorous defence. It is certainly valid for the union to ensure that any process that may threaten employment is fair. Too often, however, unions defend the indefensible. They claim to have rescued a poor, victimised teacher from the jaws of a marauding school principal. But the damage done by over-exuberant defence of incompetent or even pedophile teachers has already done great harm to individual children and to our school system.

Threats of legal challenge, publicity for the child as well as the school, and great expense mean schools have learned not to try. Courts seem to believe that teachers have a right to keep their jobs in spite of refusal to update skills, for example by learning to use a computer, or threatening children through abuse, physical, psychological or sexual.

Whether the grounds for termination are based on incompetence or child abuse, in the few arguments non-government schools win against unions, the mechanism for terminating a teacher requires a kind of no-fault agreement, a favourable reference for the should-have-been-disgraced teacher and a significant payout that could amount to a year's salary. A confidentiality agreement signed by both parties is somehow binding on the school but often ignored by the teacher, who with impunity talks about the dismissal and how unfair it is. The school, upholding the agreement, has no right of reply.

Schools do not have to agree to the above conditions and could proceed in an industrial court to press the case for outright dismissal, but legal advice too often takes the coward's way, pointing out that the chance of success is slight and publicity will be damaging to the school and in some cases to children who could be locally identified through the reported circumstances. With a school to run and lacking support from the school's legal advisers, the principal reluctantly joins the game of pass the parcel, sending an incompetent teacher out to a job at another school. It seems more certain, quicker and better for the school in the short run for the teacher to leave gracefully. The price seems cheap: a payout and a good reference. The real price is in the lower quality of our schools.

When the prospective new employer phones, the principal is constrained to support the faulty reference. Sometimes a long silence on the phone or a cryptic comment suggests a problem that cannot be uttered, but too often the penny does not drop. Another parcel has been passed.

The NSW Coalition education spokesman Brad Hazzard has suggested classroom inspections as a means of weeding out teachers and of quality assurance. However, inspection proved to be a false comfort during the 20th century. Many poor teachers can give one good lesson, or even many, when there is an audience. The worst teachers, the pedophiles, are likely to shine during inspection, as pleasing youthful audiences is their stock in trade. It is the long haul we need to judge. We need real thinking about how to rid our schools of poor teachers, not facile headline grabbers.

Now the NSW Department of Education has found ways as well as the courage to take on the unions and terminate teachers who do not deserve to teach our children. I say congratulations to them. Our children deserve a united effort from governments, schools, unions and the media in developing a nationwide strategy to ensure that only the best are given the honour of teaching your child and mine.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has alluded to the need to remove those teachers who drag down the quality of our schools. She is absolutely right. Bishop is the only person who is in a position to bring all parties together to outline a strategy to ensure justice for all: a fair hearing and result for challenged teachers, and termination of those who have failed to be good enough to teach the next generation of Australians. Minister, you will be supported when you take up this challenge.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Unbelievable: Carelessness about meningococcal disease

What harm would precautionary antibiotics have done? A private doctor who failed to prescribe them in a risk situation would be sued for millions

The first rule to help doctors and nurses identify meningococcal disease is "listen closely to patients and friends", says an educational DVD that calls it the most rapidly lethal infectious disease known to man. But when George Khouzame raised concerns he might have passed on the illness to his girlfriend, Jehan Nassif, he was told he had probably only had the flu, the inquest into her death heard yesterday. Three days later Ms Nassif, 18, was dead.

Mr Khouzame and his cousin Elias had been overseas and both felt ill just before they returned to Australia. George's symptoms eased but Elias Khouzame became weak and had a headache, painful limbs and a fever. During a stopover he noticed red spots on his skin and suspected meningococcal disease. Back in Sydney, Elias went straight to hospital, while George attended a welcome-home party, where he kissed and cuddled Ms Nassif.

The next day a public health officer, Carla Ghezzi, spoke to George and his friends about their contact with Elias, who had been diagnosed with meningococcal disease, the inquest was told. George and his friends claim he told Ms Ghezzi he had had similar symptoms a day before his cousin and wondered whether he had passed the disease on to him. Ms Ghezzi allegedly told him: "If you had meningococcal you wouldn't be here now. You probably just had the flu." The inquest at Westmead Coroner's Court was told Ms Ghezzi also dismissed his concerns about Ms Nassif, though Ms Ghezzi had said she did not remember this part of the conversation.

Ms Nassif later briefly visited Elias in hospital, probably without wearing the prescribed face mask. National guidelines say anyone in close contact with a patient with meningococcal for at least four hours in the previous week should get antibiotics to prevent the spread of the disease, the court was told.


Friends of Israel dubious about Australian academe

There are fears our universities will produce a generation biased against the Jewish state, writes associate editor Cameron Stewart

The aftershocks of Israel's war against Hezbollah in Lebanon beginning last July are being felt in Australian universities with ugly consequences. Jewish Labor MP Michael Danby and pro-Israeli groups say students of Middle Eastern studies are being fed an increasingly biased and distorted anti-Israeli view of the region by "Arabist" academics.

Their blunt claims, aired in parliament and in the Jewish press, have prompted one of these alleged Arabists, Andrew Vincent of Sydney's Macquarie University, to hit back at his accusers. "(They) are trying to frogmarch not just the whole Jewish community but the whole community in general into supporting a government which not all Israelis support, let's face it," said Vincent, who heads the university's Centre for Middle East Studies, on SBS's Dateline program last month.

This dispute over academic balance in relation to Israel has been simmering for years on Australian campuses but it is the war in Lebanon that has brought it to a flashpoint. It is a clash that raises raw and sensitive questions about the freedoms and the responsibilities of academe as well as the power of the pro-Israel lobby. "Because of public commentaries about Israel's war in Lebanon in July, a lot of Israel's supporters thought that Israel was being unfairly attacked," Vincent tells Inquirer. "So they circled the wagons and attacked the attackers."

Danby entered the fray in August after hearing a radio interview in which Vincent called on Prime Minister John Howard to de-list Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. It was a provocative comment to make in the heat of the Lebanon war and one that was sharply at odds with both sides of Australian politics at the time. So Danby stood up in federal parliament and let rip: "I grieve for the state of Middle Eastern studies in Australia, and the effect that some poor judgments and poor teaching have had on policy decisions as it affects decision-making in Australia." He was joined by conservative analyst Ted Lapkin of the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, who wrote a scathing piece in Quadrant magazine saying that Australian academe was a "rogue's gallery of anti-Zionists".

This ideological row might be dismissed as an academic storm in a teacup, except Danby and Lapkin believe it could have very real implications for Australian policy in the years ahead. Danby says Australian universities are guilty of producing "endless one-sided propaganda" that "produces graduates who move into the Department of Foreign Affairs and other organs of government with a one-sided view of the conflict in the Middle East". Lapkin is more blunt, warning: "The best and brightest of Australia's youth are exposed to virulent anti-Zionism throughout their university years. It remains to be seen what effect this indoctrination will have on the next generation of Australian leaders."

But what precisely is the basis for these claims that universities are running courses that are pro-Arab and anti-Israeli? Danby's and Lapkin's criticisms are focused largely on the two best known Middle East study courses in the country: Vincent's Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Macquarie and the Australian National University's Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, directed by Amin Saikal.

Lapkin accuses Saikal of pursuing an "anti-Zionist agenda" that decrees that "Israel can do no right and the Palestinians can do no wrong". Among other things, Saikal is said to be highly critical of Israel's conduct in Lebanon while praising aspects of Iranian democracy in an Islamic context. Saikal does not dispute this, but says his criticisms of Israel in Lebanon are not unreasonable and they do not mean he is anti-Israeli. "Most of the things we have said in terms of criticising Israel have been voiced by Israelis themselves inside Israel," he says. "But the (pro-Israel) lobby group here cannot tolerate any form of criticism whatsoever. They don't want an objective assessment of Israel in this country and if you make one then they attack you and call you anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist. "I think at times, particularly in the wake of the Lebanese crisis, they have said some things which could be interpreted as crossing the line."

Saikal and Vincent say hostile emails have been sent to their respective university vice-chancellors calling for them to be sacked. However, ANU vice-chancellor Ian Chubb defends Saikal, saying he has been "attacked personally ... because (his) views are unsavoury to others who have closed their mind. This is a fragile period in world relations, the very time when understanding and reason are needed to prevail over prejudice and ideology."

Danby strongly disputes suggestions that he or other pro-Israel advocates are trying to stifle free speech or otherwise censor debate on Israel and the Middle East. "I encourage debate," he says. "It is through criticism of these courses that the public will arrive at a judgment themselves about their worth. My concern is that you are not getting a full range of opinions on campus, you are not getting a wide range of views." Danby says undergraduate students are frustrated by what they see as a pro-Arab bias in these courses. "Undergraduates feel very disadvantaged, their lectures are often very anti-Israel and very anti-American," he says.

Vincent questions this, saying he has not received any complaints from his students about bias despite having many Jewish students in his course. Australia's Jewish community is politically conservative - often more so than in Israel - and it has long been frustrated with the inherently left-wing bias perceived in Australian universities. It hopes that this public challenge to the nation's universities will ultimately lead to less strident criticism of Israel in academe.

But the pro-Israel lobby also risks overplaying its hand and being perceived as using bullying to impose its own agenda. Their complaints inevitably will be interpreted by some as an attempt to muzzle academic debate rather than simply encourage greater diversity of ideas on campus. Regardless of one's views on the war in Lebanon, which ended in August, the reality is that the conflict has done great harm to Israel's international image. This will naturally be reflected in academic studies, just as it has in the media and in mainstream public opinion. The question is to determine when such views go beyond reasoned argument and into the realm of anti-Israeli bias. The answer, like so many Middle Eastern issues, lies squarely in the eyes of the beholder.

Danby accuses Vincent of selectively inviting guest lecturers who are pro-Arab and anti-Israel. "Speakers at Macquarie University this year have included the Syrian ambassador, (left-wing journalist and author) Robert Fisk, former Australian ambassador Peter Rogers and a United Arab Emirates minister, Sheikha Lubna al-Qassimi," Danby says. "All of these people seem to be putting only one side of the debate."

Vincent argues that his speakers have included "a variety of Israelis who are very much in tune with current Israeli thinking". He says that earlier this year he invited Israeli's ambassador in Canberra to speak but the offer was never taken up. But Vincent has been under growing pressure since NSW schools last year dropped a simulation exercise devised by his centre after parents complained it was creating racial tension and painted terrorists in a sympathetic light. Parents alleged the exercise, in which students played Arabs and Israelis, gave positive descriptions of groups such as Hamas's Qassam Brigades and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad without telling students that the groups were listed terrorist organisations.

Tertiary students who take Vincent's course Introduction to Middle East Politics are also asked questions that some may consider loaded against Israeli and US policy in the Middle East. These include: "Israel is sometimes accused of intransigence, why is this?"; "Should local opposition to (a democratic Iraq) be dismissed as terrorism?"; and "What is the neo-conservative agenda, and is it still in place in President Bush's second term?" Yet the same questionnaire also asks: "Do the governments of the Arab world lack legitimacy? Why?" Vincent fears that this debate, if unchecked, could take Australia down the path of the US, where an aggressive website called Campus Watch asks students to expose academics who they believe are anti-Israel. The website, run by influential Israel supporter Daniel Pipes, admits that it pays special attention to those academics who are up for tenure or promotion. "Campus Watch is frightening," Vincent says. "I am sure some people in Australia would like to have Campus Watch here."

But Danby distances himself from Campus Watch, saying there is no parallel with that organisation and the present debate in Australia. "We need to have a balanced view on the issue of the Middle East. As pressure has been on the ABC (not to show bias), so should it be on these faculties of Middle Eastern studies."


The West is master of slave trade guilt

Europe is becoming an example of how a sense of historical responsibility can mislead present generations, writes Rebecca Weisser. In fact it is Leftist attention-seekers rather than the West as a whole that is ignoring reality

Andrew Hawkins has turned hand-wringing into performance art. In June the youth theatre director took a guilt trip to Gambia, where he donned a yoke and chain, knelt in front of 16,000 Africans in a football stadium and apologised for what he calls the African holocaust. Hawkins claims to be descended from Britain's first slave trader, John Hawkins. "God would consider what Sir John Hawkins did to be an abomination," Hawkins said. "It's never too late to apologise."

The "sorry" movement, which reached its zenith in Australia at the 2000 march for Aboriginal reconciliation across Sydney Harbour Bridge, has gone global. In much of western Europe, the US and Canada, inherited culpability for slavery, colonialism, the treatment of indigenous people and the Palestinian question has merged with modern guilt over Third World poverty in an orgy of muddled self-castigation.

As Britain gears up to commemorate the 200th anniversary next year of the abolition of the slave trade in the former British Empire, it has been difficult to make the point that the anniversary should be seen as the celebration of a great and hard-fought victory. As Patrick West wrote in his book Conspicuous Compassion: "While slavery was not a distinctly Western phenomenon, the campaign to abolish it was. And the West was the first to do so." It is the guilt and shame of the slave trade rather than the triumph of Enlightenment values that has dominated the public domain. Earlier this year, Liverpool councillors debated whether to rename several streets in the city, including Penny Lane of Beatles fame, which had been named after notorious slave traders.

This week, Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote to New Nation newspaper in Britain to express his "deep sorrow" that the slave trade happened. "It is hard to believe that what would now be a crime against humanity was legal at the time," he wrote. "Personally, I believe the bicentenary offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was ... but also to express our deep sorrow that it ever happened, that it ever could have happened, and to rejoice at the different and better times we live in today."

His statement hasn't gone far enough from activists who want "an apology of substance"; in other words, money. "Blair's article is taking a backward step from Britain's official position in 1807 when it abolished the trade and expressed regret for what had happened," says Mawuli Klu of Rendezvous of Victory, a British African-led, and community based lobby group. "This has heightened feelings among people in the African community. We want an apology of substance that addresses the demands for African reparations."

There is a broader dimension to the call for reparations. Beth Herzfeld of Anti-Slavery International calls for states that benefited economically from the slave trade to write off the debts of poor countries harmed by slavery. The push to "drop the debt" for Africa, championed by celebrities such as U2's Bono, is driven by the underlying idea that Africa is poor because it has been exploited through colonialism, of which slavery is the most horrific and graphic example. Britain, along with other Group of Eight countries, has responded by agreeing to double aid to Africa by 2010 and write off debts to the poorest countries.

Yet African countries that participated in the slave trade were enriched by it just as European countries were. In his history of the Atlantic slave trade, author Hugh Thomas notes that the trade was possible only because of the participation of many Africans, such as the rulers of Benin and the kings of Ashanti, Congo and Dahomey, as well as European merchants and politicians. Indisputably, African slave traders were enriched not just with the money they earned selling slaves but by the land they expropriated from those enslaved. Thomas quotes King Gezo of Dahomey, who said in 1840: "The slave trade has been the ruling principle of my people" and "it has been the source of their glory and wealth".

Britain is not alone in struggling with a guilty conscience. The French have been debating whether Napoleon committed genocide on a par with Hitler, trying to wipe out the adult black population of the former French colony of San Domingo (now Haiti) after a bloody uprising at the start of the 19th century. French historian Claude Ribbe, in a book called The Crime of Napoleon, challenges the accepted view of Napoleon as a military genius and founder of the modern French state and presents him as an anti-Semitic racist who reintroduced slavery after its abolition in 1794, ordered the extermination of the Haitian population and founded an empire that could prosper only through slavery.

Even more contentious is whether French history teachers should be obliged by law to teach the positive benefits of colonialism. A law passed in the French parliament stipulates that French history textbooks should "recognise the positive role of the French presence in its overseas colonies, especially in North Africa". The law sought to acknowledge Algerian Muslims who fought on the French side in the Algerian war but provoked so much ire in France and Algeria that talks on a friendship treaty between France and Algeria broke down. French President Jacques Chirac inaugurated a Slavery Remembrance Day on May 10 this year, the fifth anniversary of the passing of a law by the French Senate recognising slavery as a crime against humanity.

The French and British history wars underline the common themes in a debate that is not limited to former colonial powers. Former colonies such as Australia and the US have been caught up in the same debate that has become part of the great Western guilt complex. And along with the guilt come the apologies. Blair has apologised for the Potato Famine, Bill Clinton apologised to the Sioux people, pope John Paul II apologised for everything from the persecution of Galileo and the execution of Jan Hus to Catholic involvement in the slave trade.

Yet the guilt complex seems to be a Western phenomenon. It is often said that Jews invented guilt and Catholics perfected it, but although Muslims are, like Christians and Jews, "children of the book", there have been few apologies emanating from the Islamic world or, for that matter, other cultures. Arabs, Persians, Berbers, Indians, Chinese and Africans were all involved in the African slave trade from the 8th century through to the present, with few proclamations of public guilt or effective action to eliminate slavery that exists largely in Africa and Asia.

Even using the narrowest definitions that exclude bonded and forced labour and servile concubinage, there are estimated to be 2.7 million slaves in the world today. Including bonded labourers, there are estimated to be 27 million slaves, and including all categories of trafficked women and children there are estimated to be 100 million slaves. The Anti-Slavery Society estimates there are 8000 female slaves in West Africa who are hierodules; that is, religious sex slaves. In West Africa children are kidnapped or bought for $20 to $70 in Benin and Togo, then sold into slavery for sex or domestic labour in oil-rich countries such as Nigeria and Gabon for $350. Hierodules also exist in India despite efforts to suppress the practice. Young women who are trafficked to the Middle East and North Africa from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal are sold for $3000 to $10,000. Imprisoned in a room by their owner for the sadistic use of himself and his friends, these women survive on average for about two years.

In response to such shocking statistics, the contrast between practical assistance and self-aggrandising symbolism is striking. While Hawkins is fundraising for another guilt trip, walking in yokes and chains, the Anti-Slavery Society, one of whose earliest members was William Wilberforce, is raising funds to purchase the emancipation of modern slaves and stamp out modern-day slavery. Wilberforce, a profoundly religious and deeply conservative man who fought all his life not just for the abolition of slavery but against child labour, cruelty to animals and discrimination against Catholics, was on his death bed when the bill he fought for, for so many years, was finally passed abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire. He said, "Thank God that I have lived to witness the day in which England is willing to give pound stg. 20 million for the abolishment of slavery." It was one of the great benefits of colonialism, an achievement of which Britain and the West should be proud, and an inspiration to present generations to continue to fight to eliminate slavery and spread the spirit of the Enlightenment throughout the world.


Men fight stereotypes

MENINISM is the catchcry of a movement of males who will storm the streets and burn their ties, rallying against the "all men are bastards" image that has an entire sex pigeonholed as violent, heartless and untrustworthy. This is according to a new study saying there is a competing interest to the feminist struggle for equality; men and boys are now the target of negative stereotypes. The research shows almost 70 per cent of social commentary on the male gender is unfavourable - portraying men as violent, sexually abusive, unable to be trusted with children, "deadbeat dads" and commitment-phobic. In the largest Australian study of its kind, Dr Jim Macnamara analysed more than 2000 media articles and programs and found men were mostly positioned as villains, aggressors, perverts or philanderers.

Yes, well, any women's magazine will tell you that. Male-bashing is a vital part of female bonding; it brings us together, gives us a common point of reference as well as something to complain about. And the much maligned male so thoughtfully gives us so much material to choose from.

Affectionate bitching is one thing - the male bashing is now taking a more serious turn where boys are growing up in a world where they are faced with a distinct lack of role models. According to Dr Macnamara, even the positive images of men in the media are delivered as a backhanded compliment with there being only one version of the "good men"; the sensitive metrosexual who is in touch with his feminine side. Not much to choose from really; the unemotional, aggressive commitment freak or the moisturised, dithering doormat.

The media's limiting rendering of men is alarming says the University of Western Sydney academic because social policy works hand in hand with social stereotyping. "Legislation is developed by government and largely driven by what is being said in society - it is already beginning to affect social policy if you look at child access and child custody issues. "There is overwhelming discourse that men cannot be trusted with children - there is a lot of concern about men being alone in the company of a child."

Despite the tide of opinion positioning men as the perpetrators of crime, Dr Macnamara says when it comes to violence against children - women are often responsible. "What we are doing is creating a society that believes 90 to 95 per cent of violence is committed by men and it's not true," he says. "Research shows violence against children is more often committed by women - I'm not trying to push the blame back to women. I'm saying that as a society we need to look at the image that we are creating for young boys."

University of Sydney media department Associate Professor Catherine Lumby was practically waving a Meninism placard along with Dr Macnamara until she heard that comment. "I'm sorry, if you want better statistics on this go to some experts," she says - a touch aggressively. "The statistics are overwhelming; the majority of sexual violence and domestic assaults is committed by men. That is sad, I don't blame men, I don't think they are some terrible, natural force who are evil. "Yes, some women are violent but for most women the problem is they are victims of violence."

A mother of two young sons, Dr Lumby says the media minefield is littered with unrealistic stereotypes for both males and females - and that rather than counter them by censorship, we should be teaching the youth how to navigate negative cliches. "I'm very, very conscious that there is a set of masculine stereotypes; are they a sports brain? Straight? Gay? "My concern as a parent is that my boys are able to find out who they are and (not) feel constrained by these preset, pre-fabricated ideas," she says.

But Dr Macnamara says the problem is more serious than men contending the "boys don't cry" mentality. The lack of good role models in the media is aggravated by a lack of positive role models in real life. He points to the increasing numbers of absentee fathers and the shortage of male teachers. "They are branded as troublemakers in schools - and they often have no role models in the home because of the high rate of single-parent households - and then in the media the role models they see are overwhelmingly negative."

And the trend towards "demonising, marginalising and trivialising of men and male identity" could turn into a tug-of-war with serious mental health consequences for a generation of young boys. "We are probably having a negative impact on young men's esteem and we are definitely having an impact on young boy's self esteem," he says. "Ultimately such portrayals could lead to negative social and even financial costs for society in areas such as male health, rising suicide rates and family disintegration."


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Risky for an Australian professor to criticize terrorists

Three months after accusing university lecturers of dishonestly skewing the study of terrorism to blame the West for carnage wreaked by suicidal fanatics, a senior Queensland academic believes he is the latest casualty of a campus purge. Merv Bendle, an expert on militant religion and a senior lecturer at James Cook University, has been at the centre of a debate over how terrorism, its origins and outcomes are taught on campuses since he attacked fellow academics for what he saw as their anti-West bias. In his writings, including several published in The Australian, Dr Bendle describes a crisis in history education and criticises academic elites for distorting teaching on fanaticism and avoiding "any facts that might disturb (their) comfort zone".

He now suspects his outspoken views will lead to the loss of his position at the university he has worked for since the early 1990s. A proposal, part of a restructure by Colin Ryan as head of the new School of Arts and Social Sciences, would lead to the scrapping of six of the seven subjects Dr Bendle teaches at the Townsville university. "Why strip me of my teaching load? I'm not toeing the right political line. I'm not anti-American and I'm not anti-West," he said. "The main reason for the antipathy against me is my stand on the teaching of history and my anti-terrorist stand. "People should look at terrorists in the same way they look at pedophiles. How many lecturers do you see defending pedophiles? They don't. But they defend terrorism. I have an intense antipathy to the romanticisation of terrorism. I don't see anything romantic about blowing people to bits because of an ideology that a suicide bomber has become fanatical about."

Dr Bendle's concerns over his tenure were dismissed yesterday by the faculty's pro-vice chancellor, Janet Greeley, who said more than 150 subjects were being reviewed for possible deletion to reduce workload. "We have undergone a restructure and reduced some staff, so we have to remove some of the teaching burden for lecturers," said Professor Greeley, who is married to Dr Ryan. "Unfortunately, it happened that a number of the subjects were Dr Bendle's subjects, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what he has published. Dr Bendle will be given every opportunity to teach and be part of research initiatives that the new school will put forward. "He offers so many subjects across quite a range and that's probably why he might have been hit more than others. "I may or may not disagree with all of his positions but that has no influence on the subjects that he teaches." Professor Greeley, who said her husband managed the school at arm's length from her role as faculty head, said she hoped to persuade Dr Bendle that the proposal to take away about 85per cent of his teaching load was not a conspiracy.

But Dr Bendle said he was singled out for adopting a politically incorrect position at odds with the mainstream. He said he had been previously targeted by two colleagues in an "act of bastardry", leading to an investigation, which found insufficient evidence to support complaints that Dr Bendle or others in the sociology discipline at JCU had been bullying and intimidatory. "Townsville is a Labor Party city and the side of the university that I'm dealing with is radical Labor, far left. But I'm not going to go quietly," he said. "I'll scratch and fight the whole way. All I want to do is get back to teaching what I'm well qualified and good at teaching."

In a paper titled Don't Mention The Terror, Dr Bendle says academic contributions frequently have a political agenda. Academic forums are used to denounce the war on terror, the US, Israel, Australia and their leaders, while insisting that Islam is a religion of peace and is being unfairly targeted, he says. In response, academics including Macquarie University's Goldie Osuri and Bobby Banerjee of the University of South Australia said in a published article: "Australian academe may be better served by Merv Bendle's silence on terrorism."

However, the University of Queensland's Carl Ungerer and David Martin Jones, who lecture in the School of Political Science and International Studies, said the "polysyllabic howl of outrage" from the academic lobby was predictable. They said Australian Research Council funding of social sciences was skewed "to maintain the fashionable line that, despite empirical evidence to the contrary in the form of attacks on Western civilian targets, it is all our fault". "In this Alice in Wonderland world of ... journals read only by participants in this mutually reinforcing discourse, the focus of study is not Islamist ideology and its propensity to violence, but our own long-repressed responsibility for the cause of Islamist rage," they said.

Professor Greeley denied the university had a position on the controversy that arose from Dr Bendle's published stand three months ago. "I was a bit concerned for Merv because he was harshly criticised in the national media by his colleagues," she said. "We all like to see our staff engage in public debate, but one does not like to see them criticised too harshly."


Australian universities abandon Australian literature

Academics receive more funds to study Norse poems than Australian novels; Patrick White is unfashionable; creative writing classes flourish while Australian literature courses disappear. Rosemary Neill charts the abandonment of Oz lit

Peter Pierce is the inaugural professor of Australian literature at James Cook University in Queensland's deep north. He may also be the last. As Pierce, 56, prepares to leave James Cook, questions hover over the position he has held for the past decade. The university's school of humanities is being vacuumed up into a bigger department and - at least in the short term - its chair in Australian literature will cease to exist.

Pierce's departure at the end of this month will leave the number of permanent professorships of Australian literature in the country at ... one. The retiring professor is far from retiring about this. "It's a scandal," he says down the line from Townsville, his voice flaring with indignation.

Three decades after we shook off the colonial hangover, Pierce and others claim a new cultural cringe is infesting our halls of higher learning, encouraging the neglect of Australian literature.

A Review investigation has found:


THE decline of Australian literature is also blamed on funding cuts and the inexorable rise of postmodern theory, a charge that supporters of that theory deny strenuously.

The Oz lit crisis is playing out on campus at a time when Australian books outsell imported ones and our first-rank authors punch above their weight in the Pulitzer, Commonwealth and Booker prizes.

Pierce says: "Sometimes it seems to me that a vigorous interest in and enthusiasm for Australian literature, including the teaching and translation of it, is to be found more offshore thanonshore." Australian literature, he says, is studied from China to Hungary, France to Singapore, because "it has always been the standard-bearer for Australian studies and a very important instrument of cultural diplomacy in this country". "If you were travelling the world, you'd think Australian literature is thriving, but when you come home, you find that the literature is without honour (at universities in) its own country."

The professor of Australian literature at the University of Sydney, Elizabeth Webby, like Pierce, is poised to retire. Asked if she can think of other countries whose academics have so little time for their native literature, she says: "Oh no, I don't think it's true of anywhere else." (As an afterthought, she says it might be true of New Zealand.)

Almost nun-like in her unfussy dark clothes, hands folded in front and feet tucked neatly under her, it is hard to imagine Webby's voice - let alone her hackles - being raised. Yet this mild-mannered woman of 65 reveals that at one point recently, she was steeling herself to go public to defend the country's only chair in Australian literature.

Review understands that rival academics saw Webby's retirement, and falling student numbers, as an opportunity to demand that Australian literature no longer be taught as a separate subject at Sydney. The detractors - whom Webby declines to identify - were unsuccessful. She has a successor in the respected scholar Robert Dixon, and Australian literature lives on as a subdiscipline amid the gothic spires and ruthlessly clipped lawns of Australia's oldest university.

Even so, in her office lined with what must be one of the nation's biggest collections of Australian fiction, Webby says ruefully: "That is what Australian literature is up against. It's also up against other people in the discipline." She confesses that after 16 years in her job, she will retire disappointed that Australian plays, poems and novels still are not regarded as a core discipline by most Australian universities.

Indeed, it seems the cultural cringe Webby encountered 44 years ago when she wrote a thesis on a yet-to-be-famous Australian is still flourishing inside lecture theatres. "I wrote my honours thesis in 1962 on Patrick White, which people believed was an aberration. One of my fellow students said to me many years later, 'Elizabeth, we all thought you were mad'," she says with a knowing half-smile.

Webby's thesis on White was written well before the novelist won the Nobel Prize in 1973. Today, Australia's only literary Nobel laureate is unfashionable again on Australian campuses.

But this indifference doesn't just come from the pincer movement of academics - Eurocentric traditionalists on one flank, postmodern theorists on the other - who have pushed Australian literature to the periphery.

With a rueful chuckle, Webby says the majority of her literature students "find it difficult to get through long novels". By long, she means anything over 200 pages, "which disqualifies most Patrick White".

Then again, if you were a fresher and wanted to study White - or indeed any other major Australian writer - at our other leading sandstone university, Melbourne, you wouldn't get very far. This year, first-year literary studies students at Melbourne were offered just two Australian works of fiction (Murray Bail's Eucalyptus and John Forbes's Collected Poems). There were no first-year subjects devoted to Australian literature, and of 31 second and third-year subjects on offer, three were specifically about Australian writing.

Pierce says of this: "This is the university, along with two or three others, that attracts the best students, and almost completely starves them of Australian literature. The danger is that it will become an accessory." At James Cook, things are no better. This year, the university offered 50 literature subjects, yet second and third-year students could study just one subject devoted to Australian literature.

Pierce declares that the tertiary sector's neglect of our literature exposes a disconnect between the public and academics: "It isn't as if people have stopped reading Australian literature. It's a dissociation of the readership from the formal study of Australian literature."

He says the rot set in when academics who "abased" themselves before the altar of literary theory acquired institutional power and "captured literature departments in the '80s".

Postmodern literary theory - and its near-relation, cultural studies - do not accord canonical works, Australian or otherwise, a privileged place. Such theories hold that everything from Big Brother to Charles Dickens's Bleak House and Peter Carey's Bliss is a text, thus diminishing the role of serious literature as a defining cultural force.

The bitter divisions provoked by the rise of theory are well known. Yale University professor Harold Bloom has attacked cultural studies as an enemy of reading and part of the "lunatic destruction of literary studies". In Australia, what remains largely unexplored is the role imported, voguish theories have played in the destruction of our literature.


PETER Kirkpatrick is president of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, set up in the late 1970s to take on the academy's stifling Anglophilia. Thirty years on, he says the dominance of theory "has put a big dent in Australian literary studies".

Although ASAL's executive now includes fans of literary theory and cultural studies, Kirkpatrick says: "I find cultural studies absolutely excruciating. You can only read so many accounts of the semiotics of shopping malls or Paris Hilton before you think 'Oh, there's got to be more to life than this!"' (He stresses this is a personal view.) Kirkpatrick, who teaches at the University of Western Sydney, explains that as the influence of cultural studies and post-colonial theory grew, Australia's literature was put in the same box as that of other post-imperialist powers.

But there was a crucial - and for Australian literature, a disabling - difference. Former imperialists such as the US, France and Britain had long-established canons that survived the onslaught of theory. But Australian literature, which had only just gained a toehold, was elbowed aside as the new wave of theories washed over campuses from the '80s. The mission to entrench Australian literature in our universities - considered courageous and fashionable in the '70s - was seen as unfashionable and even reactionary a decade later.

Kirkpatrick believes that today the notion that universities should encourage the development of a national canon is "certainly dead". "Canons aren't really very fashionable at the moment," he says. And White? "He's certainly unfashionable." He claims that today there is probably more interest among Australia's academics in "capital-I Indigenous literature than in indigenous literature".

Webby adds that the rise of post-colonial theory - preoccupied with how colonialism impacted on Western and non-Western cultures - has led to a suspicion of nationalism, and so of national literatures, among academics. But John Frow, head of the English department at

the University of Melbourne - soon to be renamed the culture and communications department - says the view that the rise of critical theory has harmed Australian literature "is absolute garbage".

"There is no incompatibility between teaching theory and teaching Australian literature. All our teaching is theoretically informed, and it shouldn't be otherwise," he says.

Frow says it "probably is a scandal" that there is only one chair in Australian literature. And he admits "the University of Melbourne is teaching much less Australian literature than we used to, essentially because student demand has fallen off". "It is a problem that students just seem to be less interested in Australian literature than they were 10 years ago.

"There is an economic imperative there: if student numbers fall off dramatically, we have to respond to that." (In spite of this, Sydney and Melbourne universities plan to introduce a new Australian literature subject from 2008.)

Frow has a point. At a time when universities are expected to be increasingly self-sufficient, academics must compete for students, or rather, for the HECS and other fees they generate. If student numbers fall too far, courses can come under threat, no matter how pivotal they might be to Australian life or culture.

Like Frow, Webby blames the marginalisation of Australian fiction primarily on funding cuts and lack of student interest. She says that at a time when the federal Government spends more money on private schools than on universities, "the main issue, really, is funding".

"When funding is cut, academics have to program for bums on seats, basically, and for various reasons Australian literature is not attractive at the present time to Australian students. The students we have now do not read as much as students did 20 years ago, let alone 40 years ago. That is simply because they've grown up in a culture where there are so many other things competing for their time."

More here

AIDS 'epidemic' among Australian homosexuals

And homosexuals don't seem to care

Forget gay marriage: the real story about homosexual Australians on this World AIDS Day is, once again and shamefully, an HIV/AIDS tragedy. This is because new figures from the University of NSW's National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research confirm a worrying trend. They indicate that 10 per cent to 18 per cent of the inner-city gay population of Sydney is HIV-infected. That means HIV infection rates are still rising.

By comparison, UN figures cited in The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday claimed that Lesotho, a poor African nation, had infection rates of 20 per cent. That makes Sydney's inner city comparable to an AIDS-ravaged African nation.

But you will not hear homoactivists, medical associations, legal institutes or others, some of whom have been very vocal in their support of gay unions, campaigning for a change in the way the gay community approaches the facts of infection, or arguing for a re-evaluation of the tenets of gay liberation.

They are too busy talking about relationship equality and gay marriage, even though the only reliable study of the intentions of gay men and lesbians, the Private Lives survey conducted by La Trobe University in 2006, found the overwhelming majority of gay men did not intend to formalise their relationships at all and that most weren't even in a relationship of any kind, let alone in a union that would approach the mainstream definition of a marriage.

It is time, then, that ordinary Australians - whether same-sex attracted like me, or otherwise - stood up and demanded more from leaders and activists. It is time to clear away the politically correct nonsense, to stop focusing on fripperies such as gay marriage and other diversions and start focusing on something that will really assist gay men and the wider community: an intense campaign aimed at HIV/AIDS prevention.

Twenty five years after Gay Men's Health Crisis, ACT-UP and Australian-based anti-HIV activism first kicked off, someone has to take the blame for this outrageously long-lived, unbelievably reviving, preventable epidemic. It is time to state that a reasonably well-educated, Western gay man who contracts HIV in 2006 because of sex is at least a reckless fool, and if he deliberately brings it upon himself, at best a suicidal sociopath.

Yes, believe it or not, there is a whole gay subculture that rests upon "bug-chasing", or the despicable sport of actively seeking out or passing on HIV infection for the satisfaction of sexual or other perverse fantasies.

A great effort from within and without the gay community is needed to counter these rising infection rates and the lifestyles and political ideas that support them, not least because of the strain they put on the health system. It is time the love got tough.

The situation has become so bad that you won't even hear the local AIDS councils and other prevention or support organisations raising outraged cries or calling for more funding from UNAIDS or other bodies. They long ago resigned themselves to the fact that global and government AIDS organisations with finite resources and a substantial commitment to the African tragedy, have little time and less money for affluent idiots at risk inthe West.

Who can blame AIDS officials, however, for their pragmatic allocation of tight resources, especially if the choice is between more eduction for a fool who ignores 25 years of the same and an innocent African child who is at risk of acquiring the illness via her mother?

What a miserable situation. It must, at the very least, force a rethink of the way governments and citizens, inside and outside the gay community, approach the rising HIV infection rates.

We could start by throwing off the notion of gay pride, for there is nothing to be proud about given Sydney's HIV infection rates.

This would involve a more sober evaluation of the plight of infected gay men. AIDS victims should, rightly, be spared the stigma that too often attaches to their disease. However, unlike the early days of the epidemic, individual responsibility is, often, the key now to whether or not a man becomes infected.

Some AIDS patients are no longer, and have not been for some time, purely blameless victims of this terrible affliction. It may sound harsh to say so but it is the truth. Recognising as much could save lives.

Perhaps it is time, in 2006, to encourage the return of a proper sense of personal and collective shame, for the sake of all of us, or at least to insist upon a more public accountability for the private decisions that are too often the cause of such increases in HIV infections. Because, no matter how one looks at these miserable figures and their depressingly familiar reflections in the infection rates of New York City, San Francisco and other Western cities, pride may literally be killing us.


The above guy talks some sense but still will not name the two things that are needed if any improvement is to happen -- persuading homosexuals to keep their penises out of so many different behinds and quarantining AIDS sufferers

Physiotherapy students victimized by a near-bankrupt health system

Pressure on public hospitals has become so extreme that [Queensland] physiotherapy students are being forced to travel thousands of kilometres at their own expense to secure clinical training. Gold Coast students Lauren McLune and Emma Armfield have spent the past six weeks sharing a cramped room in a Hobart backpacker hostel because Queensland's public hospital system cannot afford to provide the practical training they need to graduate.

The pair had only four days' notice of their Hobart placement - the closest available to Griffith University's Gold Coast campus. They estimate they have each spent at least $2000 on accommodation, food and travel while also maintaining their homes on the Gold Coast. Ms Armfield, 28, had to quit two of her three part-time jobs to take the Hobart placement. "We didn't know whether to laugh or cry," Ms McLune, 25, said. "We entered into this degree knowing that this could happen. However, four days' notice is a bit different to the month that people usually get given."

The students' plight reflects the growing pains afflicting the nation's medical workforce. And it is not just physiotherapy students. Australian Medical Association national president Mukesh Haikerwal said medicine and all allied health professions suffered similar problems because poorly funded public hospital resources were straining to provide patient care, leaving no money for training. "The universities are cash-strapped, the hospitals are cash-strapped and the quality of education is at risk," Dr Haikerwal said. "If you are looking at having 10 students standing around a bed, it's more difficult than having two students. And it wears out the goodwill of both the educators and the patients."

The commonwealth and states agreed to boost medical students numbers this year. Within a few years, the number of graduates will climb from about 1500 to 3200. "But where will they train?" Dr Haikerwal said. He said the inter-governmental agreement was "a furphy" because no consideration had been given to boosting the capacity of hospitals to provide hands-on training and internships.

While politicians had claimed credit for funding more university places, universities were stumped over how to turn out doctors and other professionals with adequate practical experience. Australian Physiotherapy Association president Cathy Nall blamed the commonwealth for under-funding university courses. "There's no subsidy provided for accommodation for physiotherapy students in the way that there is for medical students and no assistance with travel costs," Ms Nall said. She agreed it was common for students to take practical placements in Tasmania because it had no university physiotherapy course. But they usually came from South Australia or Victoria and were given months of notice.


Monday, December 04, 2006


The latest excuse for cancelling Christmas: It "creates pressure"!

There are some miserable bitches in the world

A pre-school has "cancelled Christmas" because it believes traditional pageants put too much pressure on young children. Parents received a letter last week informing them the annual Christmas celebrations at the Maitland Nursery School would not go ahead. The pre-school's director, Megan Filis, blamed the Department of Community Services for acting like a scrooge. In a letter to parents, Ms Filis wrote: "Due to concerns about the amount of pressure put on young children, our funding body, DOCS, has directed all early childhood services to avoid the more traditional types of group performances that we have been used to."

DOCS denied it had made such a directive, but the damage was done. Children were upset and parents were angry. "It's appalling," said Rebecca Crebert, whose daughter, Isabella, had been practising for the December 15 concert. "It's a finale of the work done all year, all the songs and all the actions."

A DOCS spokeswoman said Ms Filis had misinterpreted comments that were made at a recent meeting with DOCS officers. "In this case, DOCS staff were asked whether concerts were too stressful for young children. DOCS advised that the key to a successful end-of-year function was to ensure they were fun and child-focused and not to go over the top," the spokeswoman said. "They're only little children, and it's meant to be about having fun." The spokeswoman said DOCs "encourages centres to enjoy the festive season".

Ms Filis said last year's Christmas concert had "created pressure for children". "We were trying to bring it back to children having a fun day, rather than doing a big performance," she said. Instead of a pageant, Ms Filis will hold three drop-in days, enabling parents to visit their children for an hour. "Our last day will be more relaxed and informal without the group performance," she wrote in the letter to parents.

Ms Filis said Santa Claus would make an appearance, but Mrs Crebert said this was not good enough. "Isabella loves to perform. She was just so disappointed and said: 'Oh, Mum, what's happened? Why won't they let me sing our songs?"' Many of the 120 children, aged three to five, had also invited their grandparents. "It's a kick in the guts for the kids, their parents and their extended families," Mrs Crebert said. "We were looking forward to this, and there's really no pressure involved."


Women pay the price of abandoning all standards

Feminism attacked traditional standards of female behaviour and young women have embraced that with a vengeance. So women are no longer treated with the respect that went with those traditional standards. Men now often describe all women as "Ho's" (whores, prostitutes) -- with the accompanying attitudes implied by that

Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are the stars of a new slew of internet gossip sites, fondly known as the "slagosphere", which run video of celebrity airheads and reams of paparazzi photographs that never make the magazines. Lately the on again, off again gal pals - or "frenemies" as they are sometimes called - have been plumbing new depths of banality and bad taste. They wear no underwear when they go out in their finery and keep accidentally-on-purpose flashing their shaven crotches to assembled cameras as they alight from Hilton's car or some limo. The gynaecological photos, complete with fresh caesarean scars in the case of recently single mother-of-two Spears, have become the talk of the internet.

But they have also unleashed a torrent of misogynistic abuse that is disturbingly violent and unhinged. The words are unprintable but the mouth-frothing hatred is startling. In site after site, from Egotastic! to The Superficial, anonymous writers tell the girls to "put it away" with a harshness that makes your toes curl. In one clip on the website X17, a male friend of Hilton's spews forth the most disgusting comments about Lohan's vagina to the paparazzi, now armed with video, while Hilton laughs up a storm at her frenemy's expense.

There is a terrible misogyny abroad at the moment - that has men walk up to attractive female strangers in nightclubs and hit them - not hit on them but punch them in the head with their fists. During schoolies week on the Gold Coast last month, for example, a 19-year-old man walking down Cavill Avenue king-hit pretty 18-year-old Natalie Montoya in the face, out of the blue, as she was standing on the corner with a group of girlfriends. "F--- off, slut," he said, knocking her to the ground and leaving her with a swollen nose and bleeding face.

After the shootings this year at an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and a high school in Colorado, The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert pointed out, "the killers went out of their way to separate the girls from the boys, and then deliberately attacked only the girls". Herbert describes the attacks in Colorado and Pennsylvania as "hate crimes" against women, "part of a devastating continuum of misogyny that at its farthest extreme touches down in places like the one-room Amish schoolhouse".

From the extreme pornography so easily available on the internet, to rap lyrics that glory in violence against "bitches", to Big Brother's male contestants holding down a woman and "turkey slapping" her, to pedophile fantasy fashions for little girls, the effect is the same. It dehumanises and disrespects women so that any degrading treatment becomes acceptable.

But there is no point in simply demanding that men change their attitudes. It is no coincidence that the rise in misogyny seems to coincide with some women's rejection of any self-respect or modesty. Underwear-eschewing paparazzi favourites such as Hilton, Spears and Lohan have become role models for young girls all over the world, as Shelley Gare points out in her new book, The Triumph Of The Airheads.

When you think about it, the misogyny sparked on the internet by the It girls' latest antics makes a sort of sick sense. Why would a man respect a woman who doesn't respect herself, when most of society's traditional protections for women have been torn down, often by women themselves, in the name of freedom? But freedom to flash your genitalia to the world is not liberating. It's just sad and ugly, reducing womanly allure to the level of a baboon and giving men no reason to behave well.



Three stories from the one day in one State:

Kicked out (1)

A distressed woman was found close to collapse on a highway after hospital staff who treated her for a suspected heart attack refused to help her get home. The woman, 52, tried to walk the 20km from Atherton Hospital to her home near Yungaburra after explaining to staff she had no money and no one to pick her up. A Good Samaritan picked her up as she stumbled along the highway in her slippers and nightclothes in 30C heat. "They just don't seem to care any more," said the woman, who did not want to be identified. "The philosophy seems to be to get people in and get them out as quickly as they can."

An ambulance took the woman to Atherton Hospital after she woke with severe chest pains at 1am on Saturday, November 4. Doctors ruled out a heart attack, but could not identify the cause of her illness. She was told to go home later in the day.

"I went to the emergency counter and asked if they could help me get home," the woman said. "I didn't have any money on me for a taxi, my brother and daughter were overseas and my son was in Iraq. "I asked if an ambulance could take me, but she told me, 'No, the ambulance service is not a taxi service, madam'. I said I would just have to walk home. She shrugged her shoulders and turned her back."

The woman had walked for more than an hour when passing motorist Gail Fleming saw her in distress and offered her a lift. Ms Fleming, 58, from Atherton, said the woman was clutching her chest when she saw her walking up a hill about 4pm. "It was very hot and she was in a lot of stress," Ms Fleming said. "She just started crying straight away."

One Nation MP Rosa Lee Long raised the case in State Parliament last week to try to get more resources for hospitals in her Tablelands electorate. "She would never have made it home," Ms Long said. "These kinds of events cry out for an urgent roll-out of the promised extra funding, not in four or five years or even longer, but immediately."


Kicked out (2)

Grandmother Gaynor Ralph was kicked out of Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital with no shoes, no money and nowhere to go. Mrs Ralph, 75, was put in a taxi in only a hospital gown and her nightie despite telling staff she didn't know her son's new address. She had to be taken to a police station until officers could contact her son Charles. "I was appalled," he said yesterday. "She was told she had to go, even though they knew she had nowhere to go to." Mr Ralph was so stunned by his mother's treatment that he took pictures of her in the hospital gown after picking her up from the police station.

His mother had been in Europe when a medical emergency forced her to return to Australia for immediate treatment. She was flown to Brisbane because that's where her son lives. Mrs Ralph spent 60 hours in transit before being taken to the PA Hospital in a wheelchair with suspected deep vein thrombosis on Saturday, November 4. She was kept in hospital overnight, but a doctor examined her the next morning and told her to go home. Hospital staff gave her a taxi voucher and sent her packing.

"I had moved house and she didn't know where I'd moved to," Mr Ralph said. "Her mobile phone (battery) was flat and she didn't have any money because the hospital told us not to leave her with any valuables for security reasons."

Hospital staff said they were unable to reach Mr Ralph on his mobile phone, but police had no such problem. "I left late the night she was admitted, telling them I'd be back in the morning," Mr Ralph said. "As I arrived at the hospital I got a call from the police station to say that she was there. "I arrived at the station to find her in an ill-fitting hospital gown with no footwear."

His mother was in need of further treatment and should have been allowed to stay in hospital at least until he arrived, Mr Ralph said. "They knew I was coming and they still kicked her out," he said. "They will claim she agreed and she was willing to go. But they told her she had to go. "All she did as a frail old lady was comply to their demands." Mrs Ralph recovered at her son's home until she was well enough to return to her home in Tasmania.

State Opposition Health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek, who has been seeking answers for the Ralph family, said lives were being put at risk because under-funded hospitals were evicting patients too early. "It all comes back to 'bedlock'. Doctors are feeling pressure from above to clear the beds," he said.


Wrong kneejoint fitted -- deliberately

An Ipswich grandmother who waited five years for a knee replacement has been told she needs the operation again -- because surgeons fitted the wrong joint. Marilyn Hohnke, 62, has been suffering pain in her left knee since 1999, when she was first put on the waiting list for surgery at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. She expected the operation in December 2004 would fix her problem, but was disappointed to find it made no difference. Now an examination has revealed her knee joint will never work properly because it is too big for her.

Mrs Hohnke is furious to be back on the waiting list for a second time, and says she feels let down by the health system. "It was terrible having to wait five years for this operation in the first place, but finding out that it was a complete waste of time is just so discouraging," she said. "I don't know how the doctors could have made such a mistake. "I was shocked when they told me that it was the only joint available on the day of the operation so they had to use it. "I am now at the back of the queue again and don't know how long it will be before I get it fixed. "In the meantime, I can't walk properly because it causes me great discomfort."

She has now opted to have the second knee operation at Ipswich Hospital and has been on the waiting list since May. Bosses at the Royal Brisbane Hospital said Mrs Hohnke was considered too young for the knee replacement in 1999, even though it was causing her pain. They said the operation had been a success...


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Government "Child Welfare" system leaving young children to die

One hundred and seventeen children, most of them too young to speak or even crawl away from the horrors of their miserable lives, died last year because our society had more important priorities. All but eight of these children of drug addicted, alcoholic, violent or just plain neglectful parents had been reported to the Department of Community Services by people who cared about them. But in a scathing review, the NSW Ombudsman this week found that these children were left to die by a system where reports of abuse were either never followed up or neglected. Here are just a few examples that make you despair about just what sort of society we have now become:

A SEVEN-month-old baby died in suspicious circumstances because she was left in the care of a drug-abusing mother who ignored a DOCS agreement to stop using drugs and take the child to paediatric appointments;

AN 18 month old died because DOCS took six days to respond to an urgent request to intervene because the parents were refusing to take the sick baby to hospital;

THREE children died from methadone poisoning; and

A NINE year old was skipping school to care for a younger sibling when their mother was drunk and drugged. The younger sibling died.

These children were left in the care of their mother even though DOCS histories showed the mother was mentally ill, attempted suicide and overdosed several times. Half the children who died had parents who were drug and alcohol abusers. Most of the children were under five when they died and two thirds of them were babies not even one year of age. They are stories so horrible and tragic it makes it hard to believe they could occur in a country like Australia. They are stories that underline the failure of a welfare system so obsessed with not repeating the mistakes of the stolen generation [i.e. Most of the kids were black] that it is prepared to let children die rather than remove them from clearly unsuitable parents.

And it shows how the Federal Government's bold new policy to quarantine up to 40 per cent of the welfare payments of drug, alcohol and gambling addicted parents so they can be spent on food and clothing for their children attacks the problem from the wrong end. In many cases these children should never have been left in the care of these parents in the first place.

Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia chief Donna Bull says drug users driven by their addition will not spend welfare vouchers on food and clothes for their kids but will trade them with their drug dealers for drugs. And if they can't do this their drug addiction won't disappear simply because the money dries up, they'll just turn to crimes such as bag snatching, shoplifting and burglary.

While taxpayers are understandably keen to see the $28 billion they contribute to family payments every year is actually spent on children and not drugs, alcohol or gambling, Brough's policy won't deliver the results they want. What's right about the Brough approach is its demand that parents exercise some sense of responsibility in return for their money.

Its true many of these parents are themselves victims of appalling childhoods, but until we demand that they shape up instead of indulging them as victims we'll never break this vicious cycle. Good welfare policy is like good parenting. There needs to be clear boundaries on what is acceptable behaviour and if the rules are breached there must be clear, consistent and sensible consequences. If parents can't quit drugs, alcohol and violent behaviour towards their kids then the children must be removed from their care for their own safety. The NSW Government's new parent responsibility contracts go some way to enforcing such a policy but they are not enough on their own.

The Ombudsman's report shows a lack of staff and resources in DOCS is one of the main reasons many child abuse cases aren't investigated. He says poor judgment by the DOCs officers who get around to investigating these cases means often nothing sensible is done to protect the children. Even when these cases are followed up there's not enough public housing or health and welfare workers to provide the care these kids need.

Donna Bull says the lack of resources doesn't stop there. Even when these drug addicted parents want to turn their lives around, one third of them can't because of a chronic lack of places in drug rehabilitation programs. Forcing parents to spend welfare vouchers on food and clothes won't save these children - they need something much more important than money - they need someone to love them and care for them.


The Australian aristocracy is IQ based

Australia has a new upper class based largely on IQ. It comprises a larger proportion of all people than the old upper class but its members have many similarities with that class, in both their lifestyle and their separation from the rest of the country. The reason for the rise of these "aristos", as I'll call them for want of a better word, has been the development of an economy where IQ is more directly rewarded with high income than ever before. These days you simply won't get into a big firm of accountants or lawyers, or a merchant bank, or the upper reaches of any successful corporation, unless you're smart, as measured by the education system. Family background matters less to advancement than ever before. We live in a meritocracy, a word coined by the British author Michael Young in his satirical 1958 novel The Rise of the Meritocracy.

The wealth of the aristos has been well-documented and is reflected in statistics showing the growing inequality of income in Australia. Less noted is the lifestyle the aristos have been able to adopt with all that money. Many of the following traits are shared by lots of other Australians, but the aristos possess them to a far, far greater extent. The crucial element in the aristo lifestyle is the outsourcing of domestic chores. The new aristos have lots of servants, they just don't employ them directly. They outsource a great deal of the care of their children, their houses and gardens, and their cooking (by eating out a lot). The aristos' lives depend on an army of low-paid child-care workers, dishwashers, cleaners, gardeners, car valets, security guards and drycleaners. Not to mention caterers, tutors, fitness coaches, life coaches, dressmakers, children's entertainers, psychologists and financial advisers.

One of the biggest social changes in my lifetime has been the rise of a group of people (I'd guess up to 5 per cent of the total) whose lives depend on servants in a way that was unimaginable a generation ago. I recall older people telling me in the early 1980s that cafes would never become popular. They couldn't see why people would want to just sit around and drink expensive coffee, and in any case, they believed Australians would feel uncomfortable being waited upon by their fellow citizens. In retrospect, these people were living in an egalitarian Dreamtime that has pretty much passed - although most of us don't like to admit it. Few wealthy people bemoaning child-care difficulties like the suggestion that this is a modern equivalent of the Victorian middle class's "servant problem".

The parallel universe for the wealthy is most obvious in the expansion of private health care and education. Leisure is also important. Thirty years ago, most Australians spent their time off doing the same sorts of things, and where it involved public space or travel, the classes tended to mix. Now the rich live separate lives. That old British feature, possession of a place in the country, is common among the new rich, as is the local variant, a place on the coast.

The aristos are keen on expensive trips abroad, and considerable ingenuity has gone into ensuring they need not mix with ordinary Australians on these occasions. Educated people's disdain for the package tour has been overcome by the development of cultural travel tours, of no appeal to the masses. It's a neat way of social organisation. Well-educated Australians today have more in common with well-educated people from other countries than with other Australians. Was it ever thus? On the whole, no.

We might be acquiring a new upper class not just of money, as in the old days, but of genes. Wealthy men are not only more likely than before to be highly intelligent, they are more likely than before to choose a wife who is also smart, partly for financial reasons (she'll be good earner, too) and partly to give their children the best chance they can of being intelligent, too. So high IQ is being sucked into one small group.

Because IQ tends to revert to the mean (that is, most children of really smart parents will be less smart than their parents, although still above average), the new aristocracy will have to replenish its gene pool from time to time by marrying outsiders, just as the old aristocrats had to boost their money pool by marrying the occasional merchant's daughter. As a consequence, these days poor people with brains and energy are quickly assimilated into the establishment. Today, a young Ben Chifley would not have to leave school early and languish as an engine driver. As an emotionally stable youth of high intelligence, he would almost certainly finish school, study law at a good university and get a job as research officer with a union, or with Macquarie Bank.


No substitute for new dams

As any engineer will tell you, when it comes to water infrastructure, Sydney cannot avoid building a new dam indefinitely. Everything else - desalination, recycling, stormwater retention, rainwater tanks, reducing demand, water trading, ruining irrigators - is tinkering at the edges, buying time until the inevitability of a new dam sinks in, as a growing population outstrips supply. Yet for 30 years politicians of all stripes have been loath to utter the "D" word, for fear of antagonising the green vote.

Debnam [conservative leader] is no exception, refusing to mention dam building as part of any water strategy. Morrison confirmed yesterday that Debnam's shadow cabinet this week ruled out building a dam at Welcome Reef, the Shoalhaven River location identified by water planners of a previous generation. "It is definitely not on the Liberal agenda." By deleting Welcome Reef as an option, Debnam has endorsed a ploy of the former premier Bob Carr to lock up 6000 hectares of land that had been set aside for the dam by our more foresighted forebears. Rather than promising to reverse that shameful decision, Debnam has legitimised easily contested green propaganda which claims Welcome Reef is in a hopeless rain shadow and would destroy endangered species.

The Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, has shown that advocating a new dam, or even two, does not have to be the electoral poison of conventional wisdom. This week he began to make good his election promise by selling the power retailer Energex to raise $300 million towards the cost of new dams.

Even the NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, bowed to the inevitable last month when he announced the first big dam in 20 years would be built at Tillegra, north of Dungog. Existing dams serving the rapidly growing Central Coast are down to a critical 15 per cent. Debnam's response was to dismiss the dam as a diversionary bluff.

At a national level, the Prime Minister, John Howard, and his water tsar, Malcolm Turnbull, have given the appearance of taking water management seriously, with a new Office of Water Resources and the $2 billion Water Fund to deliver infrastructure. But, again, policy appears to be heavily influenced by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, which was founded and funded by the green group WWF (formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature) and is opposed to dam building. While Turnbull has stressed "no option should be pre-censored", last month he released a discussion paper, Securing Australia's Urban Water Supplies, which effectively ruled out dams as an option.

The paper, prepared by the financial and economic consultancy Marsden Jacob Associates, cites the Wentworth Group as its authority, talking at length about why the construction of major dams is "unlikely in the future". It cites environmental damage and cost, claims the "best sites are taken" and says climate change makes dams less reliable. Meanwhile, dissenting voices in water management are being ignored.

Take Peter Millington, who was the director-general of the NSW Department of Water Resources from 1986 to 1995 and now works as a consultant on water management with the World Bank. While not billing himself as a dam fanatic, he says governments need to acknowledge that "probably" dams have to be part of the solution. "We don't want to stuff up the rivers but people want balance . Sooner or later we will have to build Welcome Reef Dam." Millington spends time in developing countries advising on long-term water planning and then despairs when he comes home "and we're doing nothing". He says there has been "no long-term rational water planning here for at least 15 years". The policy he sees is "Band-Aid, ad hoc stuff".

Then there are the Tamworth engineers and dam advocates Michael Firth and Colin Joyce, who managed to get a meeting with the Prime Minister earlier this year to present their ideas for vast projects across Australia, including more than 10 dams, pipelines, weirs, river diversions and recycled water schemes. Buoyed by what they saw as his enthusiastic response, they travelled around the country at their own expense surveying sites for water infrastructure projects - from the Welcome Reef Dam to an ambitious and probably impossibly controversial inland diversion of the Clarence River. The result is an 83-page document they hope will be taken seriously. They say private companies are keen to get involved in building the infrastructure. All it would take is someone in government to acknowledge dam building as part of the solution to Australia's water problems. "There is plenty of water," Joyce says. "We just need to catch the floodwaters and store them. No one has yet found a better way than a dam."

With an election looming, Debnam had a chance to be bold like Beattie, to show real leadership on the state's most pressing problem. But it seems he has squibbed it, and no amount of clever strategy from Morrison will hide that fact.


Australian education: An amusing but revealing rant from a Leftist

He points out that poor kids do particularly badly out of an Australian education but neglects to say why: Because the kids of poor parents go to Left-dominated and dumbed-down State schools. Any Australian with a cent to spare (40% of the population) sends his/her kids to a private High School -- where there is some survival of traditional standards

It is not that schools are turning out dumbos. On the contrary. Our students in general are high performers. Of children from 27 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), Australian 15-year-olds on average ranked second in literacy, sixth in mathematics and fourth in problem-solving in international tests in 2000 and 2003. No, the problem is the system lets down youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds. For all our pride in being egalitarian, our education system and the way it is organised and financed is unfair compared to many others.

Unpicking the test results reveals that who your parents are and how well off your family is counts for more in Australia than elsewhere. School systems in Canada, Ireland, Finland, Korea, Iceland, Sweden, Austria, Norway and Japan have managed to ameliorate the effects of class and social background much better than the Australian system. And they have done so without sacrificing high performance, says Professor Barry McGaw, a former director of education at the OECD, now at the University of Melbourne. While the average Australian student is almost as clever as the average Finn (who topped the literacy test), the Australian from a disadvantaged background is 1« years behind a Finn from similar poor background. (The US is an example of the worst of both worlds - poor-to-middling results on average and inequitable.)

So while our attention is diverted by the latest education furore - a Marxist interpretation of Shakespeare, or the paucity of dates to be memorised in history - the real problem has slipped under the radar. We spend too much money on the elite students who do well, and not enough to lift the disadvantaged who tend to drop out in alarming numbers.

While we were dotting the land with flagpoles, our year 12 retention rate was flagging. It is low by internationals standards, stuck at about 75 per cent for a decade, and falling in some states. Meanwhile, 17 comparable countries surpassed the 80 per cent retention rate years ago. One OECD measure shows our upper secondary school retention has slipped to 20th position while Canada, for example, directly comparable to us, is seventh.

As a result, Australia has a large underclass of alienated early school leavers who can't get full-time jobs. Our teenage unemployment rate is worse than the OECD average. In the midst of a boom we have more than half a million teenagers and young adults neither in education full-time nor working full-time. They are on the dole, or in part-time jobs in retail and hospitality. Employers don't want to hire them full-time, however pressing the skills shortage, because they lack adequate education and training.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence and Mission Australia have both drawn attention in recent reports to the huge economic and personal waste of this pool of alienated youth. As Richard Sweet, a former OECD analyst, has pointed out: "Australia seems to have the worst of both worlds: both a relatively high number of young people without an upper secondary qualification or better, and these young people being at a significant disadvantage in the labour market. The result is that Australia's penalty for not completing year 12 or its equivalent is one of the highest in the OECD."

School has to be interesting to keep more youngsters there [And there is nothing more boring than Greenie and politically correct preaching]. What is taught and how it is taught are crucial though I doubt more rote learning of historical dates will do the trick.

But money is crucial, too, and here, Australia does poorly. In 2003 Australia ranked 18th out of 30 OECD countries for education expenditure as a proportion of gross domestic product. It spent 5.8 per cent compared to 7.5 per cent in Korea and 7 per cent in New Zealand. Government expenditure is actually lower - the 5.8 per cent includes private expenditure, which is the third highest in the OECD. Low government expenditure and high private expenditure have delivered a mixed result - high-performing students at one end and a forgotten ill-educated and underemployed class at the other. We could do better if we directed more resources to those who need it. The nation's failure to spread education's bounty to all is a more serious lapse than a student's inability to explain why the Union Jack is on our national flag.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Labor Party Corruption

Centenary House, the notorious Canberra office building leased by Labor to a federal agency in a massively inflated rent deal brokered by the Keating government, has been re-let for a third of the previous rate. The 15-year lease over Centenary House, which was negotiated in 1992 and has been the subject of two royal commissions, expires in mid-2008, ending a scandal estimated to have cost taxpayers $42 million more than the market rate.

The current owner of the building, Brisbane-based Cromwell Corporation, has negotiated to lease the property to long-term government tenant the Australian National Audit Office frommid-2008 at $385 per square metre - less than a third of the $1300 per sqmrate charged under the original ALP contract. Centenary House was built by the Labor Party for $22 million and leased to the ANAO under a deal that guaranteed rental rises of 9 per cent a year, regardless of market value. The ANAO is currently paying about $1100 per sqm to lease 90 per cent of the building in the suburb of Barton, and that figure will rise to about $1300 per sqm by mid-2008.

Cromwell Corporation bought Centenary House for $35.5 million last year, ending a 13-year thorn in the side for federal Labor. Cromwell national asset manager Paul McDonnell said the group understood when it bought Centenary House that it would be unable to continue charging the ANAO those "well over-market" rents after mid-2008. "We were aware when we bought the property there was going to be a large rental flow for a period of time, and then that would cease when it went back to market levels," Mr McDonnell said in Canberra yesterday.

The original agreement has been the subject of two royal commissions amid Coalition accusations that Labor was fleecing the public service tenants and in turn the taxpayers. Both times Labor was cleared of any wrongdoing, despite royal commissioner David Hunt calculating that the 15-year lease was more than $42 million above market rates.

In a twist to the story, yesterday's Centenary House lease will leave the ALP searching for a new headquarters. Under the new leasing deal, the ANAO will lease all of Centenary House for 10 years, forcing out the ALP which currently leases about 570sqm, or 8 per cent of the building, on a contract that expires mid-next year. Mr McDonnell said the ALP had the option to extend its current lease by one year to mid-2008, but the party had not been given the option of extending that lease further.

ALP national secretary Tim Gartrell said yesterday the party no longer owned the building, but he would not comment further. At the 2004 inquiry into the Centenary House scandal, former ALP national secretary Bob Hogg said the ALP had not received a windfall on the $68million deal. He said high interest rates in the early 1990s led the ALP to lock in a 10-year fixed interest rate deal with the banks at 13 per cent, so the party was unable to renegotiate the rent with the ANAO.


Mainstream clergy often prefer Greenie faith to God

By Christopher Pearson

Last Saturday's column was devoted to eco-fundamentalism, the new deep-green religion. It may have come as a surprise to some readers who had imagined themselves sceptical agnostics or atheists to learn that they were in the grip of an essentially religious enthusiasm. Some have written in to deny it and others have wondered whether I may have been carried away by a metaphor or trying to taint the greenhouse hypothesis by associating it with superstition.

To answer the last point first, I'm not remotely anti-religious and use the term fundamentalism in a diagnostic rather than a dismissive way. There is a vast gulf fixed between the sceptical, rational approach and a religio-magical view of the world. The crucial distinction is that scientific propositions have to be falsifiable, to be capable of being proved wrong. Religious conceptions of what is true come from one or other form of higher authority (gods, prophets, the zeitgeist) and have to be accepted at face value, without question. They are, by definition, unfalsifiable.

The conviction that greenhouse gas-induced global warming is about to endanger mankind's survival is an article of faith rather than an assertion of science. The parallels with previous apocalyptic movements are readily apparent in Norman Cohn's classic, The Pursuit of the Millennium. That the greenhouse scaremongering is endorsed by so many people with science degrees says more about the state of contemporary scholarship than anything else. For, as Nigel Lawson so powerfully reminds us, the science is not settled and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise. Not only is it dishonest; it's also a betrayal of the West's tradition of reason and tolerance and a retreat into irrationality and dogmatic thinking.

How is it that people with no conscious sense of religious convictions should find themselves enthralled by unexamined and, prima facie, outlandish beliefs? It happens quite easily over time if most of your friends and family take what they see on television or learn at school for granted. Anyone beguiled by ingratiating invitations to help save the planet has a primary responsibility to reinforce the fear that, in one way or other, it's at risk.

Lawson says: "It is not difficult to understand the appeal of the conventional climate change wisdom. Throughout the ages something deep in man's psyche has made him receptive to apocalyptic warnings: 'The end of the world is nigh.' Almost all of us are imbued with a sense of guilt and a sense of sin, and it is so much less uncomfortable to divert our attention away from our individual sins and causes of guilt, arising from how we have treated our neighbours, and to sublimate it in collective guilt and collective sin."

There is a further refinement of bad faith that is worth mentioning here. Those most inclined to assertions of collective guilt and sin are usually those with the least to reproach themselves about. So they can enjoy the catharsis of self-denuciation and the inner certainty of being relatively blameless.

Lawson points out the role of weather in religious meta-narratives from the flood onwards. "In primitive societies it was customary for extreme weather events to be explained as punishment from the gods for the sins of the people, and there is no shortage of examples of this theme in the Bible either, particularly but not exclusively in the Old Testament. The main change is that the new priests are scientists (well rewarded with research grants for their pains) rather than the clerics of the established religions, and the new religion is eco-fundamentalism. But it is a distinction without much of a difference. And the old religions have not been slow to make common cause."

How, you may be wondering, could the old religions and Christianity in particular, make common cause with a pagan apocalyptic cult? Are they not completely antithetical? Where even 30 years ago the answer to that question might have been a resounding affirmative, Australian Christianity has undergone a sea change. Readers looking for a timely account of matters should get themselves a copy of Michael Gilchrist's Lost! Australia's Catholics Today (Freedom Publishing). It is especially instructive about the process by which fashionable add-ons such as socialism, environmentalism and feminism have come to colonise Catholicism's religious orders and eventually the church at large. Gilchrist's analysis is also sufficiently broad-brush so that it can be applied pretty much across the board to the other denominations.

Considering the same phenomena, I'm inclined to an explanation that is rather more radical than Gilchrist's. Where he sees mostly bewilderment and educational or leadership failures, I see an explicit collapse of faith. There has been a problem, at least since the Enlightenment, of ostensibly Christian priests and teachers who - with varying degrees of furtiveness - shared a gnosis, a hidden understanding. Their secret conviction was that Christianity wasn't ultimately true and that the best that could be done was to turn it into an engine of political change, redistribution of wealth and even revolution.

The theological modernists the Vatican tried to suppress at the turn of the 19th century went underground until the 1950s. The de-mythologisers in the Protestant churches were far freer to pursue the modernist project, especially in the groves of academe. It wasn't until the "God is dead" ructions in the '60s that it became suddenly clear how many senior theologians in all the churches no longer believed in the resurrection but still thought themselves entitled to their benefices and to speak in the name of the church on anything that took their fancy.

Apart from those Catholic and Anglican bishops who decline to affirm the Nicene Creed when asked, I have no way of knowing which of them are wolves in sheep's clothing. The charitable thing to do is to assume the best. Perhaps the conversion of so many of them to eco-fundamentalism betokens nothing more than theological lapses, scientific ignorance, susceptibility to pagan superstition or the zeitgeist and perhaps the frailties of age.

It is in these terms, rather than bad faith, that we ought to view last year's position paper on climate change on behalf of the Catholic bishops. It was endorsed by archbishops John Bathersby and Adrian Doyle and bishops Christopher Toohey, Christopher Saunders, Eugene Hurley and Patrick Power. It began with a false assertion: "Rapid climate change as the result of human activity is now recognised by the global scientific community as a reality." It concluded that the least the federal Government could do was to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Had the bishops considered Australia's national interest and the relative equity of Kyoto's allocated emissions targets? Had they pondered the possibility that Kyoto may have capriciously or corruptly favoured some classes of nations at the expense of others? Had they reflected on the almost entirely symbolic character of signing up in the face of general non-compliance? We can safely conclude that in each case the answer was in the negative and that they were carried away by posture politics. More recently Bathersby told a Brisbane Walk Against Warming rally: "I don't think we can be Christian unless we are ecologically converted." In terms of sheer fatuity and presumption, it was on par with the former Anglican primate Peter Carnley announcing that he didn't think it was possible to be a Christian and a conservative.

The Anglican communion has no shortage of eco-fundamentalists, but the most egregious is the Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, George Browning. The bishop, who was obliged to resign his see over a sexual affair but was in short order forgiven by a broad-minded diocese where matters of that kind are nowadays deemed not so serious, is, if anything, even more sanctimonious than he was before his lapse became public. In early November he wrote to John Howard and Kim Beazley, telling them that "Australians could not morally vote at next year's federal election for a party that did not have a comprehensive policy on climate change. This is the most serious issue facing global humanity ... We desperately need leaders who can act on this imperative with courage, vision and passion ... We now know that what we are doing is harming the Earth; our living is tilting the balance against life with catastrophic and immediate consequences. We have no mandate to ruin what does not belong to us and our actions are nothing short of apocalyptic." If this is how the bishops talk in public forums, just imagine how much twaddle the average family in the pew must have to endure from younger and less educated clergy.


The pain of a Greenie judge

Justice Nicola Pain's ruling that the NSW Government must consider the greenhouse gas impacts of all new developments before approving them will be recorded as one of the most ill-considered decisions of the state's Land and Environment Court. When she took up her appointment to the bench in 2002, Justice Pain brought with her baggage stacked with green credentials. The judge's background is as an environmental activist lawyer. She was the principal solicitor with the non-government Environmental Defender's Office, effectively the green movement's legal wing, from 1987 until 1992 and a member of its board for seven years up to 2001. When former premier Bob Carr appointed her to the court, Justice Pain was the EDO's acting director. The move made headlines within the international green movement. This is not the first of Justice Pain's rulings that appear to defy common sense. In September, she approved the development of a brothel in western Sydney despite police evidence that one of the brothel's managers was "unfavourably known" to them. The judge said that "the reputation of a person seeking development consent is not generally a matter for the court to consider in an application of this nature".

On Monday, Justice Pain laid her green credentials on the line in a ruling that could prove devastating for the state's coal and many other industries and pose a giant headache for the Iemma Government in the countdown to the March 2007 election. In a far-reaching decision, the judge found that the director general of the NSW Department of Planning had erred in accepting the environmental impact statement for a new mine proposed for the Upper Hunter. This was because the EIS did not consider the greenhouse impact of burning the 10,000 million tonnes of coal expected to be extracted from the mine each year. Justice Pain fell short of rejecting the application for Centennial Coal's Anvil Hill mine. But in an extraordinary move she then proceeded with a landmark ruling that means all planning approvals in NSW may have to include an assessment of a development proposal's future greenhouse emissions. The court's review of the EIS approval followed a challenge by Newcastle student Peter Gray, a member of the climate change group Rising Tide. Mr Gray's applied to the court to overturn the director-general's approval on the grounds that there was no consideration of the mine's climate change effects.

Justice Pain's ruling is problematic from whatever angle it is examined. Does the judge really imagine that one iota less coal will be burned around the globe or one gram less carbon emitted into the atmosphere if her decision makes it harder for NSW to open new coal mines or expand existing operations? Indonesia, one of the fastest-growing exporters of thermal coal in the world, or South Africa will happily fill any contracts Australia is unable to supply. Recognising this reality, the International Energy Agency has reported that fossil fuels will still be the dominant source of world energy in 2030, with global consumption of coal, oil and gas predicted to increase by about 1 per cent a year. Even more concerning is Justice Pain's apparent use of her judicial authority in what looks like an attempt to dictate government policy from the bench. Climate change is a serious global issue exercising some of the brightest minds of governments, industry, science and environmental experts. The debate has long since advanced from alarm to finding solutions to complex problems. Narrow ideological decisions of the kind produced by Justice Pain aimed at closing down the coal industry mine by mine, pit by pit, contribute nothing to finding the solutions.


Australian wheat sales to Saddam were no scandal

If anything, the Cole inquiry has shown that our diplomats, far from being crooks, are heroes, writes foreign editor Greg Sheridan

What a load of nonsense this whole non-scandal about AWB [The Australian Wheat Board] is. The Howard Government deserves serious criticism for its one real mistake in this business: setting up the Cole inquiry. That is no criticism of Terence Cole. He has conducted his inquiry forensically and thoroughly. But the process of a commission of inquiry meant that a minor matter became conflated into the greatest scandal in human history.

Let's get a few basic facts clear. The UN Volcker inquiry into the oil-for-food program found that 2250 companies from 66 countries paid commissions to Saddam Hussein's government as part of the program. Much of this has been characterised as corruption. But those very few individuals around the world who lost their jobs over it were accused of real corruption; that is, illegally putting money in their own pockets as part of the scam. No one in Australia has been accused of this.

Not one other country of the 66 named has set up a full, open, judicial inquiry into the goings-on of its corporate and government entities involved. At one level, as The Wall Street Journal editorial page has pointed out, this reflects well on the Howard Government. Alternatively, it could suggest the Government was profoundly ill-advised to set up Cole.

When the UN set up oil-for-food, it understood that the Iraqi government would get some money out of it. The UN could have set up a system in which it took Iraq's oil, sold it internationally and used the money to provide Iraq with humanitarian goods. But Saddam would not wear such a system. He was happy for his people to suffer under international sanctions unless the system allowed his government to get some money. So the UN set up this system in the full knowledge that the Iraqi government would cream off some money. As Jeremy Greenstock, the former British ambassador to the UN, put it: "It was realised that a certain amount of misbehaviour on the Iraqi side was going to happen if they were going to accept this. But the Iraqi government had to agree or it wouldn't work."

The primary responsibility for vetting the contracts under the program lay with the UN. All of which illustrates that too intimate an involvement with the UN is inevitably corrupting. As the war clouds gathered, nobody, on any point in the Australian political spectrum, suggested we should sacrifice our wheat trade with Iraq. This was not an immoral position. The public thought there was nothing inherently wrong about selling wheat. And if we didn't sell the wheat someone else would, therefore our wheat farmers might as well participate in the market as anyone else. This was an entirely pragmatic, sensible approach, utterly characteristic of the Australian people and not remotely anything to be ashamed of. That 2250 other companies from 65 other countries also paid commissions to the Iraqi government suggests it was nearly the universal method of doing business there. Therefore the Howard Government should have referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police to see if any Australian laws were broken and left it at that.

So far the damage to Australia from the AWB scandal has been slight. We have opened up an opportunity for cynical American politicians, themselves the progenitors of almost infinite corruption of the global wheat market (this is another common use of the word corruption, to mean in effect selling subsidised wheat into our markets) to have a shot at Australia. It is highly unlikely that this will amount to anything concrete. Australia has also lost its traditional position in the Iraqi wheat market and AWB has lost some of its share value. But all of this damage has come from the hysteria and wild allegations surrounding the Cole inquiry (which is of course not the fault of commissioner Cole) and not from the actions of AWB itself in the oil-for-food program.

It is important that the Howard Government not rush to structural change of the wheat market in this atmosphere of political hysteria. The fact Labor dropped off AWB after just a couple of questions in parliament yesterday shows the issue has really run its course. The Government should move slowly, deliberately and carefully in reforming wheat marketing arrangements and not let a confected scandal produce bad policy.

Much of the analysis of this business has been wildly unrealistic and often internally illogical. There are many parts of the world where companies cannot do business without paying some form of local commission. Australian companies are obliged to obey Australian law and the laws of the countries in which they operate. It is an extremely bad principle for countries to legislate beyond their jurisdictions.

Would we like the European Union, say, to make it law that European companies operating in Australia must not co-operate with the Australian Defence Force because of its role in stopping refugees from coming here? It's an unlikely scenario, I agree, but it's a truly rotten principle to legislate for other peoples' countries.

The most mistaken comments of all have concerned the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Over 30years in journalism I suspect I have had as much experience with DFAT as just about anybody. I find them to be an almost universally dedicated bunch. The policy people are nearly uniformly workaholic, obsessively informed about their areas, and the consular people are authentic heroes. As bureaucrats go they are reasonably well paid and they work hard for it. They often work in dangerous and difficult circumstances and I've hardly ever met a career DFAT officer not dedicated to promoting Australia's interests. Think of Lyndall Sachs in Beirut getting nearly 5000 Australians evacuated in a fortnight. Think of the mid-rank Bali consular officer coping with the second Bali bombing, working frantically all night to get Australians evacuated, to make sure they got medical attention, to help in any way he could. Think of the former Australian ambassador to Jakarta, John McCarthy, taking a bullet in his car as he drove around Dili picking up stranded Australians, then not making a diplomatic incident out of it but phlegmatically continuing with his work.

Cole exonerates DFAT. DFAT had every reason to believe AWB was a reputable company behaving properly. DFAT is not an investigative, law enforcement agency. What do the critics really want: that DFAT should pre-emptively investigate in minute detail every Australian company operating anywhere in the world before it gives them any support?

The Howard Government has erred in leaving DFAT grievously understaffed and overworked, and in abolishing too many of the thinking positions within the department, which makes it harder to offer creative policy advice. At a petty level, DFAT can drive you mad with bureaucracy (try getting a single page of a publication from a section of DFAT not involved in its production), but while it's unfashionable to say so, overall DFAT is a magnificent national resource. Slandering it over AWB is absurd. But then this whole AWB saga has been theatre of the absurd from the first. Mercifully, the performanceis now over.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Don't call us Poms, say Poms

The English sometimes refer to Australians as "Colonials", which is clearly derogatory, but now some of them object to being called "Poms", which has no obvious independent meaning

It is the Don Bradman of whinges. A group of thin-skinned English expats wants the word Pom banned, claiming it is a racial slur on a par with the most appalling insults. British People Against Racial Discrimination has gone to the Advertising Standards Board in an attempt to derail the latest Tooheys campaign which mocks the warm-beer-drinking Brits. The ads claim Tooheys' supercold brand is "cold enough to scare a Pom".

The Aussie brewer will fight the complaint, saying BPARDs gripe is as wide of the mark as Steve Harmison's first ball in the Ashes series. "The Oxford Dictionary classes Pom as being derogatory just like wog, wop, dink, dago, coon and abo, it's every bit as bad as the term nigger," BPARD spokesman David Thomason said yesterday.

BPARD, which has a committee of 14 and branches in Perth and Melbourne, does not want Pom banned from general usage but Mr Thomason believes there is an agenda in the media to take the insult to new heights. BPARD has some well-heeled backing from the mother country in the form of the notoriously stuffy English and Wales Cricket Board. ECB chief executive David Collier said in a letter dated October 10: "The ECB continues with our position that we would prefer the terminology not be used".

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission disagrees however, saying it is only the descriptive language used in tandem with Pom that carries offence. "The prospect of the use of the word 'Pom' itself inciting hatred against a group appears more remote than the use of words used to describe other racial groups," commission spokesman Paul Oliver said.

The stink is unlikely to deter Australian cricket fans from roasting their English rivals when the second Test begins in Adelaide tomorrow. But even that battle is skewed against the Poms, according to Mr Thomason. "These songs that the Aussie supporters sing talk about we can't get near you because of your smell, your body odour, your bad breath, your buck teeth, your whingeing, have you got some soap," he said. "The worst you hear from the Barmy Army is that Aussies are sheep shaggers and you all live in a penal colony."


Protecting your right to mock

By Philip Ruddock, Federal Attorney-General

Australians have always had an irreverent streak. Our cartoonists ensure sacred cows don't stay sacred for very long and comedians are merciless on those in public life. An integral part of their armoury is parody and satire - or, if you prefer, "taking the micky'' out of someone.

However, our copyright laws have until now done very little to protect the way people use others works or images to parody and satirise others in the name of entertainment. I have a bill currently before the Senate which will ensure Australia's fine tradition of satire is safe. There will be a parody and satire exception for what the law calls "fair dealing''. In circumstances that are fair, it means that groups like The Fanatics will be able to parody popular songs in response to the Barmy Army. It will mean they can encourage cricketers representing Australia by making a fair parody musical works such The Monkees' Daydream Believer and adding some clever lyrics. I understand the Village People's Go West and Robbie Williams's Rock DJ get the same treatment.

There are other elements to the Copyright bill, that are aimed at ensuring consumers are not treated like copyright pirates and copyright pirates are not treated like consumers. They include:

- Making it legal for people to record TV or radio programs in order to play them at a more convenient time.

- Legalising 'format shifting' of material such as music, newspapers, books - meaning people can put CD's they own onto their iPods or MP3 players;

- Giving schools, universities, libraries more flexibility to use copyright material for non-commercial purposes; and

- Helping people with disabilities access copyright material.

The new provisions in the Bill for consumers and for parody and satire will commence after Royal Assent in mid-December. For parody that will be too late for the second Test, which starts in Adelaide tomorrow, but in time for the Boxing Day test in Melbourne. That means the first place that The Fanatics and other supporters will be able to act without impunity is the Melbourne Cricket Ground. They should be in full voice by the Sydney Test, which starts on January 2. I imagine a few people will be armed with their songbook too.

Given the way the first Test went, the series may be over by then. Either way patriotic Australians will be free to mock the British team without the threat of lawsuits. The Government has ensured the use of copyright material for the purposes of parody or satire will be protected. To retain the law in its current form just wouldn't be cricket.



Three current reports about them below

Police immunity again

Police get kid-glove treatment for their misdeeds

Two policemen have not been prosecuted for shooting a dog after tying it to a tree. An inquiry recommended the men be summonsed under the Animal Welfare Act. But police last night said the officers had been subjected only to "internal disciplinary action".

The first officer fired at the family pet from close range but missed. A shot from the second officer passed through the dog's neck - depriving it of the ability to bark - and cut the rope. The animal ran home to its master with blood pumping out of the entry and exit bullet wounds.

Ombudsman Carolyn Richards, who investigates complaints against Territory Government departments, said she was "appalled". Dog-owning Police Minister Chris Burns said he was also appalled.

The incident happened after police in an unnamed "remote locality" went to a house to arrest a man's son on an outstanding warrant. A struggle started and the family dog bit one of the officers. The police decided the dog was a "vicious animal" and should be put down. The owners said the officers did not fully explain that they were going to kill the animal and they were "coerced" into letting them take it away. The dog was taken into the bush, tied to a tree and shot. After the first shot, the pet was "jumping all over the place". The police found out that the dog had returned home, but decided against seizing it again.

The Joint Review Committee - made up of police and staff from the Ombudsman's office - investigated the case and found the officers had made "misleading" statements and been inhumane. It recommended internal disciplinary action and prosecution.


Police try to gag Brimble witness

South Australian Police Commissioner Mal Hyde has tried to block a key witness from making claims of corruption within his police force when he testifies at the inquest into the death of Dianne Brimble. The witness, codenamed Mr White, is expected to raise allegations that one of the eight "persons of interest" in the 42-year-old Brisbane woman's death was a drug dealer who was protected by police officers and an outlaw motorcycle gang. Mr White, who is scheduled to give evidence in Sydney today under tight security, is also expected to claim that seven of the men of interest were involved in drug dealing in Adelaide nightclubs, some of which were "often" frequented by police.

Lawyers from the South Australian Crown Solicitor's Office wrote to their NSW counterparts after the corruption allegations became public on Monday and said the claims were "irrelevant" to the inquiry being conducted by Deputy NSW Coroner Jacqueline Milledge. They sought an undertaking the allegations wouldn't be raised in court. "We have no reason to believe that the allegations have any foundation in fact," the letter said. "The Commissioner of Police in South Australia is most concerned that the court proceedings may be used as a forum to spread baseless allegations or allegations based on speculation. "Could you please confirm that any witness statement that makes allegations of police corruption will not be placed on the court record and that (counsel assisting the coroner Ron Hoenig) will not lead such an allegation."

Mr Hoenig objected strongly to Mr Hyde's request to suppress Mr White's evidence, describing it as "impertinent" to the court. "I take exception to the suggestion that your honour has no jurisdiction in dealing with a particular matter when there are methods in place to do so," Mr Hoenig told the court.

Brimble died on the P&O cruise ship Pacific Sky in September 2002 from a toxic dose of the drug gamma hydroxybutyrate, also know as fantasy. The mother of three was photographed having sex with one of the men shortly before she died. It has been alleged her drink may have been spiked with fantasy.

Mr Hoenig foreshadowed parts of Mr White's evidence in court on Monday and said the witness would give evidence "that Matthew Slade had the protection of the Jokers motorcycle club and police officers". Mr Hoenig said Mr White would allege that Mr Slade, Peter Pantic, Mark Wilhelm, Dragan Losic, Luigi Vitale, Letterio Silvestri and Charlie Kambouris were involved in drug dealing in Adelaide nightclubs. Mr White had allegedly seen the eighth man, Ryan Kuchel, "self indulging" on ecstasy in an Adelaide nightclub.

Lawyers for Mr Pantic also tried to delay Mr White's evidence and asked for a suppression order to be put on parts of it. Barrister Peter Hayes said Mr Pantic faced being "pilloried before the press", based on untested evidence that might be "double or triple hearsay".

Mr Hyde said yesterday he wanted to hear the details of any claims of police corruption and determine if they needed to be investigated. South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson told The Australian the Crown Solicitor's Office and Mr Hyde were not trying to prevent Mr White from giving evidence. He said that if the allegations were relevant, there was a "proper forum in which to make those allegations".


Police union boss to face court

Queensland Police Union president Gary Wilkinson will face contempt charges arising from comments he made in March about the Palm Island inquiry's findings. Mr Wilkinson labelled Queensland's Deputy Coroner Christine Clement's findings into a death in custody as a "witch-hunt".

Ms Clements handed down her report into the death of Palm Island man Mulrunji on September 27, finding police officer Sen-Sgt Chris Hurley was responsible for his fatal injuries.

At a press conference, Mr Wilkinson launched a scathing attack on the findings. Two weeks later Mr Wilkinson apologised, emphasising he had not meant to question the impartiality or personal integrity of Ms Clements or to reflect upon the Magistrate's Court. However, earlier this month the Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine initiated contempt charges charges against Mr Wilkinson. In a brief Supreme Court application yesterday, Solicitor General Walter Sofronoff QC, appearing for the Attorney-General, and solicitor Michael Quinn, for Mr Wilkinson, agreed on a consent order for an exchange of documents and outlines of their cases. Justice George Fryberg set the hearing down for two days on March 19 and 20 next year.


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