Monday, December 31, 2007

Flannery says Japan's whaling is 'sustainable'

Coming from one of Australia's top Greenies, this is going to put a spoke in a few wheels. And for once I think that there is little doubt that Flannery is right. The objection to whaling (which I share) is sentimental rather than scientific

ENVIRONMENTALIST and 2007 Australian of the Year Tim Flannery has declared his support for the hugely unpopular Japanese whaling program. As Australia prepares to monitor the whaling fleet in Antarctica amid rising diplomatic tensions with Japan, Professor Flannery says there is nothing unsustainable about its annual cull of up to 1000 whales - particularly the common minke whale. "In terms of sustainability, you can't be sure that the Japanese whaling is entirely unsustainable," Professor Flannery said. "It's hard to imagine that the whaling would lead to a new decline in population."

But the staunch environmentalist, influential scientist, author and climate change crusader said he was pleased Japan had decided to ditch plans to kill up to 50 threatened humpbacks this summer. "I'm very relieved to see the humpback whale quota dumped," he said.

But the 935 minke whales that Japan aims to kill each year under its so-called scientific whaling program should not threaten the survival of that species. Professor Flannery said there were much bigger threats to marine biodiversity and sustainability, including to the future of krill, small crustaceans essential in the sea food chain - and the main sustenance for whales in the Southern Ocean. Krill populations are declining as a result of over-fishing and because rising sea temperatures are killing off their food sources.

Professor Flannery said he was more concerned about those issues "where our future is most under threat, which is not the minkes". However, he is worried about how the whales are slaughtered, saying he would like to see them "killed as humanely as possible".

Professor Flannery's views have not changed since his comments on Japanese whaling back in 2003. In a paper published that year in Quarterly Essay he argued that smaller-brained whales could be hunted sustainably. "If these animals are closer in intelligence to the sheep than the dog, is it morally wrong to eat them if they can be harvested sustainably?" he wrote. Japanese whalers have begun their hunt in Antarctica and plan to harpoon almost 1000 whales, including 50 endangered fin whales.


Teacher standards slip again

MORE than 50 West Australian high school leavers will be able to study teaching without qualifying for admission to university. In an effort to combat the dire shortage of teachers, Edith Cowan University has asked principals to recruit suitable Year 12 students who have not sat the tertiary entrance examination to train to become teachers.

The move has the support of the Education Minister Mark McGowan and the teachers' union, which hopes to recommence negotiations this week over a stalled pay deal for the state's 20,000 teachers. Mr McGowan said he supported ECU's efforts to attract good candidates by taking other factors into account, including interviews and experience. "I think there may be people who have not done TEE who may become great teachers," he said.

Mr McGowan also extended the olive branch to the teachers' union yesterday, offering to relaunch negotiations on Wednesday over a second pay offer the union rejected before Christmas. "I want to reward teachers properly, that is the Government's aim and ambition," Mr McGowan said.

It is believed the 52 non-TEE students will qualify for direct entry if they have As and Bs in their final year subjects and have a level five in Year 12 English. Level eight is the highest English level attainable.

People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes, the group that campaigned heavily against the controversial outcomes-based education framework, is concerned about the move. President Greg Williams said the students who did not sit the TEE were generally those who struggled at school. "I am just wondering whether the kids who struggle at school should be the ones we want as the next generation's teachers," he said. "I still think that a teacher should be a person who has a great love of academia." Mr Williams, a former school principal, said he had been asked to identify potential student teachers from among non-TEE students 10 years ago, but said ECU was now more transparent about selecting students outside the academic stream.

The State School Teachers Union has put the teacher shortage at 600, but claims there are more teachers who are teaching subjects for which they were not trained, so the total figure could be higher. Senior vice-president Anne Gisborne said she was interested in restarting pay talks with the Government as soon as possible. Although supportive of ECU's direct entry for non-TEE student teachers, she said that the university and principals would have to make sure teaching standards were maintained.


Censorship threat

That comes easily to a Leftist government, of course

AUSTRALIANS with internet connection could soon have their web content automatically censored. The restrictions are planned by the Federal Government to give greater protection to children from online pornography and violent websites. Under the plan, all internet service providers will have to provide a "clean" feed to households and schools, free of pornography and other "inappropriate" material. Australians who want uncensored access to the web will have to contact their internet service provider and "opt out" of the service.

Online civil libertarians yesterday warned the freedom of the internet was at stake, while internet providers were concerned the new measures could slow the internet in Australia to a crawl. They said it was a measure usually associated with oppressive regimes and was no alternative to proper parental monitoring.

But Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said everything possible had to be done to shield children from violent and pornographic online material. "We have always argued more needs to be done to protect children," he said. Senator Conroy said the clean feed, also known as mandatory ISP filtering, would prevent users from accessing prohibited content. "We will work with the industry to get the best policy," he said. "(But) Labor is committed to introducing mandatory ISP filtering." Senator Conroy said the Australian Communications and Media Authority would prepare a "blacklist" of unsuitable sites. It is unclear exactly what will be deemed inappropriate material.

The adoption of mandatory ISP filtering comes on top of the former government's offer of free internet filtering software for home computers. Chairman of internet user group Electronic Frontiers Australia, Dale Clapperton, said mandatory filtering eroded freedom and would not improve online safety for children. "China, Burma and Saudi Arabia and those type of oppressive countries are the only ones that have seriously looked at doing something like this," he said. "In Australia, which is supposedly a liberal democracy, the Government is saying that the internet is so full of this material that it must protect us from it by trying to block it."

Mr Clapperton feared that parents would be lulled into a false sense of security. "Parents should not allow their children to use the internet unsupervised," he said. "Stuff that should be blocked will inevitably get through and stuff that should not be blocked will not."

Family First senator Steve Fielding, who has campaigned for ISP filtering, said he would be watching the Government "like a hawk" on the issue. "Australian families want more (internet protection) and deserve more than they are currently getting, and this is a real test for the Rudd Government," he said. A report by the Australia Institute in 2003 showed 84 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls using the internet had experienced unwanted exposure to sexual material.


Sydney's high cost of living shows

SYDNEY is shedding 22,000 citizens a year to all parts of Australia, and for the first time the people deficit covers all key groups, from students and young singles to families and retirees. The nation's biggest city is the only capital to lose more people aged 15-34 than it gained from interstate migration between 2001 and last year, and is the only capital apart from Adelaide to also go backwards for both professional and blue-collar workers. But for every Sydneysider who is forced out by the cost of living, another two are replacing them from the overseas migration program.

New official data eveals a dramatic realignment in the nation's make-up as young and old alike criss-cross the continent from Perth to Melbourne and from Sydney to the "rest of" Queensland - everywhere outside the capital city. Hobart is the surprise packet, rising to third place behind Brisbane and Perth as the most popular city destination for interstate migrants, while the rest of Tasmania has leapt to second behind the rest of Queensland on the regional growth ladder.

The rest of Victoria and the rest of NSW are also in the black - breaking the past pattern in which they gave up more people to Queensland than they received in seachange and treechange retirees from Melbourne and Sydney. The bigger picture shows that the rest of Queensland has replaced the state's capital as the nation's top people magnet, gaining 14,000 people a year compared with Brisbane's 10,000 a year. The customised tables were extracted from the 2006 census, and track interstate migration over the past five years by age and qualification.

Demographic experts said the cause of the drift away from Sydney could be explained in part by its high property prices but also by its slowing economy.....

But Sydney's loss is most acute in the youth belt, which is the group providing the best gauge of a city's health. Almost one in 10 departing Sydneysiders was aged 15-34 - 10,000 out of the total 111,400. Sydney had previously been a net importer of youth, with 14,000 recruits from the rest of the nation between 1996 and 2001. The reversal over the past five years suggests cost of living pressures are pushing out Sydney's young and discouraging others from settling in their place.

The top "beneficiaries" of Sydney's youth drain were the rest of Queensland (5900), Brisbane (4600) and Melbourne (1800). ... Traditionally, Sydney and Melbourne received more professionals from Brisbane than went the other way. But the tables flipped in the past five years, although Melbourne lost 400 professionals to Brisbane, compared with 1700 who moved north from Sydney.

More here

Sunday, December 30, 2007

His Eminence promotes climate skepticism

Article below by Cardinal archbishop of Sydney George Pell

ANOTHER year has passed quickly; too quickly for those who will run out of time before they run out of money. Undoubtedly, the most important event in the Australian year was the election last month of a new federal government. The transition was smooth, and the new Prime Minister is striving to avoid antagonising the various elements of the broad coalition that brought him to office.

The unions are impatient about the proposed pace of change to workplace regulations, while the maverick ACT Government's proposals to downplay marriage are causing apprehension among Christians.

The Bali summit on the Kyoto Protocol and climate change was a public relations triumph, although I'm hopeful the new government will not impose major costs on the people for dubious versions of climate goals. We need rigorous cost-benefit analysis of every proposal and healthy scepticism of all semi-religious rhetoric about the climate and, especially, about computer models for the future. It is difficult to predict what the weather will be like next week, let alone in 10, 20 or 100 years. We hope the drought is coming to an end in country areas, but Australia will always be susceptible to recurrent droughts until the arrival of the next ice age.

There is little reason to be optimistic about peace in the Middle East despite the Annapolis meeting, and unfortunate, suffering Lebanon teeters on the edge of another disaster. Australian troops will remain in Afghanistan, probably for years of struggle, and will slowly withdraw from Iraq, where fragile signs of an improving situation have been appearing.

US President George W. Bush survives as the only continuing head of government from the major allies of the "coalition of the willing". Tony Blair has resigned as UK prime minister, although his government is still in office. One of the most remarkable politicians of his generation, Blair possesses communication skills rivalling those of Bill Clinton. Apparently a religious man, Blair remains an enigma at many levels. He has attended Mass every Sunday for many years with his wife and family, and has just become a Roman Catholic. Yet he implemented and personally supported anti-Christian legislation over the years.


What stupid paternity laws do

INFERTILE couples desperate to have children are facing agonising waits for donated sperm. The Royal Hospital for Women has had no new sperm donors for more than 12 months. Reproductive specialists say attracting enough men to satisfy demand has always been difficult, and waiting lists are longer because of the growing number of childhood cancer survivors rendered infertile by treatment. The dwindling stocks are also sought by single women and same-sex couples.

The director of the hospital's department of reproductive medicine, Stephen Steigrad, said at least 20 men who had undergone aggressive cancer treatments requested donor insemination for their partners every year. Without new donors, the service would have to be stopped within six months. The Centre for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick says one in 900 Australians aged between 16 and 45 has survived childhood cancer.

Changes to NSW legislation this month requiring donors to register their names on a mandatory central register had turned potential donors off, said Professor Michael Chapman, from IVF Australia, which has a waiting list of two years. The Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill guarantees children access to their father's name, date of birth, education and medical information once they turn 18. It may also require details of the donor's partner and other children to be listed. "Previously men could donate knowing there was no way they were going to get a knock on their door," Professor Chapman said. "Now men are less likely to donate."

Dr Anne Clark, from Fertility First Hurstville, said the sperm shortage would be compounded by the new laws, which legislate that one man's sperm can go to only five families, down from 10.


A few secrets among friends

Comments on the Australian media by Andrew Bolt -- at his sarcastic best

EVERY week I get emails from readers asking me how on earth I do this job, filling endless pages with columns as wise as they are brilliant. Take this latest email from reader Geoff: "I don't know how you get away with that bulls---." Or this, from Mary of Fitzroy: "It just amazes me you can print that f---ing stuff in the paper week after week."

And not just the paper, Mary. As the man officially voted Australia's "most influential public intellectual" confided in awed tones to Age readers: "Bolt has a Herald Sun blog-site . . . (that) took my breath away. Thank you, Professor. (And apologies for cutting your quote. Words such as "omissions" and "distortions" are too bloated for newspapers. Short and sharp, please!)

So how do I do it, dear readers? First of all, by having a thick skin, of course. After all, if I let all this praise get to me, my head would swell to Tim Flannery dimensions and I'd lose the common touch that has made me the talk of so many academics expert in such matters. ....

And so many options to consider. Shouldn't I really help out The Age's editor, still tearing out his hair at being unable to find a single conservative columnist in his entire staff of 1599 journalists and tireless reviewers of the perfect cappuccino? How well I remember the poor man earnestly discussing his woes as sweat sogged his Scottish shirt, the air-conditioning of his office having been turned off to save the planet. How uncomfortable I still feel, having left him to slip all alone into his office bath, over which hangs a framed copy of his bracing editorial of January 18: "Our consumer society has long abandoned the fan or the cold bath as the way to keep the summer at bay."

But don't I also owe it to Channel 9 to take over from Ray Martin, now so hopelessly lost to the Left that he this week confessed not only that he was a friend of anti-American hysteric John Pilger, but that "most positions he takes I agree with"? You might actually have gathered that already from Martin's documentary this year, Caged Animal David Hicks - A Nation's Shame, one of the segments that explains why Sunday now gobbles like a Christmas dinner.

Or should I instead listen at last to the pleas and promises of the ABC's managing director, so short of conservatives that he's been forced - against his will, of course - to hire the eighth straight Leftist in a row as host of Media Watch? How often has he privately confessed that if he could but find a witty, cultured and modest conservative willing to leave, say, Australia's biggest-selling daily, he'd hire him like a shot. A shot of rat poison, I thought he added under his breath, but he assures me I heard wrong.

I mean, haven't ABC radio listeners, for example, earned a break from yet another season of Jon Faine complaining yet again about people richer than him, even asking our new Prime Minister: "What do you do about people making too much money?" Shoot them, perhaps? But, hey, we deserve all that money, Jon. It's not as if it makes us happier than you, dear boy. No, that's something else entirely.

So I know that before I pack, I should leave behind a few tips for my successor, if such is needed and can be found. Jill Singer, perhaps, re-educated and redeemed? Such secrets of success as I possess must not be lost with me, and so here they are, as pinned to my empty chair last night: Here are my top tips to writing opinion pieces guaranteed to amaze and inform.

A word of caution, though: I have left out the boring stuff that you might think obvious, but which in fact barely seems now to matter. Sure, I'm as much as stickler as you for the facts, but I can see now that accuracy is no longer a qualification for a modern columnist, providing their views are sufficiently fashionable.

A for instance? Well, here's Age columnist Tracee Hutchison just last Saturday demanding forgiveness for David Hicks: "He was certainly not the only Australian who considered the warmongering activities of George Bush and his allies to be abhorrent and worthy of opposing." See? It doesn't matter that Hicks actually joined al-Qaida before the September 11 attacks, and before Bush went to war in response. Doesn't matter! Who cares, as long as it feels right.

Likewise it doesn't matter that the Australian's Mike Steketee can claim there were 100,000 "stolen" children without being able to name one; 60 Minutes' Tara Brown can claim global warming is wiping out the polar bears that are actually, uh, increasing; the ABC's Phillip Adams can claim "no nation has a more bloodstained history than the US"; and historian Christopher Shiel can write "Menzies led the Liberals to defeat in 1941" - setting a personal best of three errors of fact in just eight words. A lack of facts hasn't hurt any of them, so I've scrubbed from my list any Gradgrinding advice about facts, facts, facts. I have far more practical tips.

Don't go out. You'll only meet people you've offended, and grow tired of speaking blunt truths.

Thrive on insults. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote an essay on 38 ways to win an argument, with abuse at 38 - so when someone starts screaming "fascist" you know he's run out of all other ways to prove you wrong. Enjoy your victory.

Name and shame. "Ow" is still the best proof you've hit a target. Second, even villains move when stung. Third, the unrighteous deserve a little smiting, and blood sports are always more fun for the viewers. So make an example of Profit of Doom Al Gore or of Alarmist of the Year Tim Flannery. A proper example.

Repeat yourself. Say it once, and people will forget, when you actually want them to remember, years later, who it was that said the Y2K bug was exaggerated, Melbourne was running out of water, GM crop bans were insane, the stolen generations was a myth and global warming was hot air. I mean, there has to be reward one day for the abuse today. And one bang of the hammer never drove home a big nail.

Never drop the key. Have I mentioned often enough that the world has actually not heated since 1998? That Professor Robert Manne, our leading "stolen generations" propagandist, cannot name even 10 children truly stolen just for racist reasons? That a new dam for Melbourne would give us more water at a third of the price of the Government's desalination plant? One sharp fact can cut through a mountain of waffle.

Lastly, don't forget your real friends. Those friends are not your contacts. Not your fellow journalists. Not the judges of media awards. They are you, dear reader. If I please you, I'm safe. Please you, and I'll be back next year.


Governments are great friends of car manufacturers -- it seems

NSW train faults quadruple, report says. Not a good way to get people out of their cars

The number of faults on Sydney's trains has nearly quadrupled, and there were nearly 1,000 collisions, a public transport watchdog has found. The report says the NSW government faces a major challenge to upgrade the network to allow for both the planned new CityRail fleet and large freight trains.

On Sydney's trains last year 436 faults were found but this year there were 1,693 faults, according to the Annual Transport Industry Safety and Reliability Reports. The Sunday Telegraph reports the majority of the incidents related to faulty doors and included 120 broken rails. There were 1,000 recorded brake faults, 706 on passenger trains, the report said.

The safety report also recorded 217 incidents of drivers passing a red light, 337 cases of signal failure and 181 train fires. In terms of safety 366 passengers have been seriously endured and seven of eight fatalities arose from injuries to trespassers. Overall 2,439 incidents were reported.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

No ambulance: Woman in agony forced to take taxi

Only tears saved her life -- and that was with the taxicab company. Nothing worked on the government ambulance service

MELBOURNE'S overloaded ambulance service has been forced to apologise to a woman it refused to help. Michelle Couling had her appendix removed in an emergency operation in hospital. But the 29-year-old almost didn't get there after being refused an ambulance when she called 000 for help. "I consider myself pretty lucky," she said. "It's difficult to think that they wouldn't believe me and they were going to try and diagnose me over the phone. "(My appendix) could have ruptured and I would have been here by myself without help."

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said the health system's failings were now being exposed daily. "For this young woman, it put her life at risk," she said. "If we had enough ambulances on the road, paramedics wouldn't need to make medical assessments by phone."

Metropolitan Ambulance Service general manager operations Keith Young admitted an ambulance should have been sent. "The preliminary information is that it was human error," he said. Mr Young said it appeared checks built into the secondary triage system, which diverts about 26,000 low-priority calls a year to alternative services, had failed.

Mr Young said MAS had called Ms Couling to apologise and explain after being contacted by the Herald Sun. He said the matter was being investigated to ensure similar mistakes did not occur again. [So they always say]

Ms Couling was home alone when she fell ill about noon on Saturday, December 15. By 2am, she knew she was in trouble with sharp abdominal pain. She called her parents in Traralgon for advice. "They told me I needed to call an ambulance," she said.

Ms Couling rang 000 and was told an ambulance would be sent, but there would be a delay as ambulances were busy. She was told to call back if her pain got worse. "I hung up thinking someone was on the way so I rang my parents to reassure them that it was going to be OK." But 25 minutes later Ms Couling was in extreme pain and rang 000 back. After being put on hold for about four minutes, Ms Couling's call was transferred to a paramedic. "After a three or four minute conversation he said: 'We're actually not sending anyone out - it doesn't sound like it's an emergency to me, it sounds like you might have gastro'." The paramedic said Ms Couling should still see a doctor and suggested she get a lift or call a cab.

Not wanting to wake friends at 3am, she called a cab. "The lady said: 'Look, we're not an ambulance service - there's a delay here, too'." When Ms Couling broke down in tears, the call-taker relented. A taxi arrived about 10 minutes later and took her to the nearby Austin Hospital. Ms Couling needed three morphine doses and anti-nausea drugs to dull her pain. She was operated on at 12.30pm and is now recovering.

Ms Couling's father said the response to his daughter's call for help was "pretty ordinary". "It could have been life-threatening - they didn't know that at the time. "A system where you can ring up and get a diagnosis over the phone - I just think that's a joke." Health Minister Daniel Andrews said a doubling of MAS funding since 1999 had put 489 more paramedics and 56 extra ambulances on the road.


How we were

By Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Australia's pre-eminent historian

THE woman on the mobile phone explained - to everybody in earshot - that she was off to Rosebud on New Year's Day. "Camping!" She said that in an excited voice that we all heard.

Camping around the bayside used to be a hallmark of Christmas and New Year, in the era when few families travelled far for their holidays. The bayside tent-towns were so prominent in the summers of the 1930s - just before World War II - that newspapers often sent a reporter and photographer down to see what was happening. One family had camped in the same spot at Dromana for 21 years, they reported. And the girl from Northcote was engaged to marry the Hawthorn boy, from just two tents away. They had first met at this very camping ground!

There were no portable fridges, but an ice man did call. Campers who did not even own an ice chest kept their fresh meat in what was called a safe. Firewood was widely used for cooking meals and boiling water. There were no days of Total Fire Ban. It didn't exist.

At that time most Victorians who went away for a summer vacation stayed with relatives. Most went by train. My first memory of the Christmas holidays is of a train coming in. We were standing on the crowded Leongatha railway station and waiting for our grandfather to arrive. The little station was packed. The excitement was overpowering. More people seemed to be waiting on the platform than coming in the train.

Few Victorians owned a holiday house, at the sea or in the country. If they wanted to holiday at the sea they either camped, or they stayed at what was called a guest house. Victorians then lived in the shadow of the Great Depression of the early 1930s, and most were wary of spending extravagantly. It was cheaper to kill your own Christmas chook and pluck its feathers. Poultry was a luxury, and eaten at only one meal of the year.

Alcohol was not yet essential for New Year's Day. Victoria had just staged a referendum on alcohol, and more than 30 per cent of the voters wanted to close every single hotel and drink-outlet in the State. Many other Victorians tolerated alcohol but did not let it pass their lips, to quote the popular pledge.

Christmas was then more Christian. Even New Year's Eve was seen by many as a time for reflection rather than roistering. In Melbourne in 1938 arose that remarkable festival, Carols by Candlelight. It was the bright idea of the 3KZ radio announcer and football broadcaster Norman Banks, who had once intended to be an Anglican clergyman. The Myer Music Bowl did not exist, and on Christmas Eve in the descending darkness the crowds gathered on the lawns of the Alexandra Gardens, close to the river. Most who came knew the Christmas carols and hymns by heart: the candles supplied the magic and atmosphere.

Community singing was still a favourite pastime, and the enthusiastic singing by the crowd rather than by individual performers appealed to a radio audience. On Christmas Eve, all over Victoria, and eventually in other states, people twiddled the dial on their radio until they picked up Norman's voice or the sound of Away in a Manger.

The way in which people celebrated Christmas and the New Year was about to change. World War II came, and unemployment virtually ceased. By the mid-1950s the country was prosperous as never before. Christmas became expensive. Families added ham to their roast poultry, which by now was rechristened as chicken. A few tried a turkey. The leftover food lasted for days. The feasting was becoming lavish. Alcohol - perhaps Quelltaler Hock or Barossa Pearl or even Ballarat Bitter - was seen on tens of thousands of dinner tables where strong drink had once been banned.

Even in the 1960s, Christmas Day was still like an old time Sunday, and hotel bars were mostly closed, as were picture theatres. Restaurants and coffee shops were few and were mostly closed.

People who did not dream of sending Christmas cards before the war now bought two or three dozen. The postmen carried heavy sacks of mail and worked long hours in the week before Christmas. Some were still delivering mail after 7pm. It was the period when the postie, like the garbageman, was seen by many householders as being entitled to a tip of at least 10 shillings, or a glass of cold beer or Tarax or Marchants lemonade - if December 24 proved to be blazing hot.

By 1960 most families, for the first time, owned a car. The great day for motoring was Boxing Day. The roads to the beach were jammed. On the way home they probably saw at least one traffic accident. There were no blood-alcohol tests in those days. At the beach a tanned skin and complexion was craved, as never before. Whereas holiday-makers on Boxing Day in the 1930s wore a hat to the beach and favoured a shirt with a collar and long sleeves, and usually sat on the sand beneath a beach umbrella - if they could afford one - their children now wore skimpy shorts and sleeveless shirts and no hat. They revelled in their brown faces.

While this was the era of the family car, it was not yet the era for long-distance motoring. Motorists who decided to venture along the Great Ocean Rd reached the end of the bitumen soon after passing Lorne. Cars that pressed on, past the Wye River, were coated with fine dust before they reached Apollo Bay. Those post-war motorists who set out for Sydney in their secondhand Jowett Javelin or their new Holden, and had no wish to camp beside the highway for the night, were wise if they booked accommodation in advance. There was hardly a motel along the Hume Highway. To go interstate - unless by train - was a luxury.

In the mid-1950s the Gold Coast was still in its infancy, and the Sunshine Coast was not yet in the property developers' diary. North Queensland was too far away, except for the family who was reasonably well-off. In any case Cairns was not yet a tourist town and Port Douglas was a sleepy spot in the mangroves.

A young Victorian family whose relatives lived in WA was lucky to see them once in every five Christmases. Unless they were amateur motor-mechanics they did not yet think seriously of driving across the Nullarbor. The train, day after day of it, was their only option.

As for air travel, whether on TAA or Ansett-ANA, it was simply too expensive for most Australians. When I worked as a luggage loader at Essendon airport at Christmas 1948, there were not many suitcases to load. Air travel initially displayed a style, a sense of spaciousness. Air hostesses were glamorous and much admired. It was much later, in 1975, that Reginald Ansett in a moment of exasperation described some of them as a batch of old broilers. By then air travel was becoming cheap.

At Christmas and New Year the unbelievable was happening. Many people who in their youth had camped at Rosebud or Anglesea were now taking their holiday in Thailand or London, and not even marvelling that such a momentous change had occurred in the space of their own life time.


Another influential Australian Leftist who is keen on the navy

Sub fleet should be doubled says Kim Beazley -- even though new ones are already planned. Tony Blair recently ordered two big new aircraft carriers for Britain so maybe the moderate Left is going back to a Theodore Roosevelt mentality. But big Kim always did like military hardware

AUSTRALIA may need to double the size of its submarine fleet tocounter the growing and deadly threat posed by rival submarines in the region, former defence minister Kim Beazley said yesterday. His comments come after The Australian this week revealed that Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon had ordered planning to begin on the next generation of submarines to replace the six Collins-class boats when they are retired in 2025.

Mr Beazley also called on the Rudd Government to urgently tackle what he said was a "glaring weakness" in Australia's anti-submarine warfare capabilities. "This weakness comes at a time when (the navy) will soon be producing the best submarine targets in the region with the new air warfare destroyers and amphibious landing ships," Mr Beazley told The Weekend Australian.

Mr Beazley, who ordered the Collins-class submarines when he was defence minister in the 1980s, said the strategic scenario facing Australia had changed and that a larger submarine fleet was needed. "I think we need to have up to 12 submarines because of the numbers of submarines being developed elsewhere," he said. "This project will be of vital significance to Australia at a time when submarines are increasingly becoming multi-purpose platforms (for warfare)."

The 17-year submarine replacement plan will be the longest and most expensive defence project undertaken in Australia, potentially costing up to $25billion. It comes at a time when rival navies in the region are acquiring submarine capabilities or expanding them. China, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore, Bangladesh and South Korea are planning to acquire modern, conventional submarines.

In September, Russian leader Vladimir Putin visited Indonesia to sign a deal to sell two advanced Russian Kilo-class submarines to Jakarta, with the possibility of selling eight more in the future.

Mr Beazley said six submarines would no longer be sufficient to combat this regional growth or protect the navy's new surface ships from enemy torpedos. "The Russians and the Chinese are going for big numbers of submarines," he said. "We are a bit boutique at the moment and we will have to give serious consideration to the numbers which we acquire. We will certainly need more than six submarines. "If I look back on mistakes I made as defence minister, one was that I should have signed up to another two Collins-class (boats)."

Mr Fitzgibbon has said the new submarines will be built in Adelaide and all options remain open in relation to the design and the capabilities of the boats and the weapons they will carry. Studies will begin immediately within Defence, with the aim of winning "first pass" approval for the design phase from cabinet's National Security Committee in 2011. Although Defence will examine the option of nuclear submarines, Mr Beazley said Australia should opt for deisel-powered vessels. "I think we should go conventional because the main advantage of a nuclear submarine is speed, and the manner in which we use our submarines, closer to shore, means this (advantage) is not applicable," he said. "You also need a substantial nuclear industry to support nuclear submarines and there is no way Australia is going to have such an industry."


Tax cut opportunity

FORMER Treasury secretary John Stone said the Rudd Government could slash taxes without harming the economy. Mr Stone said the economy could handle a cut in income tax scales from four rates to two - 15 and 30 per cent - and could even go further once those rates were achieved. And Mr Stone said the federal budget had the capacity for the capital gains tax to be eliminated altogether.

Most economists are urging the new Government to be cautious about fuelling inflation with tax cuts. But Mr Stone, who ran the Treasury during the early 1980s, said an overhaul of the tax system was necessary, because government continued to be awash with cash. And he has dismissed fears of the "interest rates bogeyman", arguing that the Reserve Bank should have been tougher in its interest rates policy.

In a paper in the latest National Observer, Mr Stone criticised his former Treasury colleagues for getting budget numbers wrong. "The once-in-a-generation opportunities for genuine tax reform have simply gone begging," Mr Stone said. He called for a tax review and for major changes to personal income tax structures in the next budget on a staged basis, starting from next July 1. "This review should take as a basic assumption that the federal budget should continue to be balanced," Mr Stone said. "However, it should also take as a basic assumption that, commencing with the 2008-09 financial year, there is no longer any basis for continuing to run significant budget surpluses."

Mr Stone said that warnings about interest rate rises from tax cuts were exaggerated because overall economic policy was askew. The Federal Government's fiscal policy had been too restrictive while the Reserve Bank's interest rate policies had been too soft, leading to speculation. "As a general principle, there is no virtue in taxing people too heavily so that other people may enjoy lower interest rates than would otherwise be appropriate," Mr Stone said. "That is particularly true when a high proportion of those enjoying those lower interest rates are speculators, either in the stock market or the housing investment market."

During the election the Labor Party promised tax cuts and a "tax goal" over the coming six years, which would flatten Australia's income tax system by reducing the number of personal income tax rates from four to three - of 15, 30 and 40 per cent. But Mr Stone called for a 15 and 30 per cent personal income tax structure, which he said would deliver more cuts so that the two scales would become over time 14 and 28 per cent, then 13 and 26 per cent and eventually 12.5 and 25 per cent.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Why private health insurance is a good idea

The government health system could simply not have afforded many of these procedures and would have covered it up by putting you on an interminable waiting list. The high cost of cardiac procedures is probably the real reason why the Queensland government has recently closed down or curtailed cardiac units

A claim of more than $300,000 for neurosurgery to repair a complex aneurysm has topped the 10 most expensive benefits paid by Medibank Private in the past financial year, setting a record. The fund will release its "chart toppers" today, which climbed to $2.3 million for the top 10 across Australia, representing an annual increase of 8.3 per cent. The highest benefit paid, of $304,119, was on behalf of a 59-year-old person from NSW, up from the previous financial year's top benefit of $276,247 for a coronary artery bypass on a 59-year-old person.

It was followed by a 46-year-old Victorian - the youngest person on the list - who required removal of a tumour from their adrenal gland at a cost to the fund of $283,211. The oldest patient was 83 and needed cardiac surgery, costing the fund $230,876. Last year, the largest benefit paid was $276,247 for a coronary artery bypass. Five of the 10 claims were for heart-related procedures.

The fund paid $1.95 billion for hospital, medical and prosthesis benefits in 2006-07, representing 750,000 hospital admissions. The five most common overnight procedures claimed for were natural birth, at an average cost of $5234, followed by caesarean ($7601), rehabilitation ($8546), knee replacement ($19,065) and keyhole surgery for gall bladder removal ($5120). The five most common same-day procedures were colonoscopy, at an average cost of $1321, chemotherapy ($547), renal dialysis ($351), gastroscopy ($924) and cataracts ($3096).

Medibank's industry affairs manager, Craig Bosworth, said the "chart toppers" showed that medical care was increasingly expensive. "The odds are at some point in our lives we will need to go to hospital. The other certainty is that health care costs will continue to rise and, as the chart toppers list shows, can hit incredibly high levels," he said.

NSW patients were paid a total of $485 million for hospital, medical and prosthesis benefits. The top 10 claims in NSW totalled $1.73 million, the same as Victoria, compared with $1.25 million for Western Australia, $1.69 million for Queensland, $1.14 million for South Australia, $787,000 for Tasmania and $529,000 in the ACT. In the NSW top 10, four claims were for cardiac surgery, two were for aneurysm repair, two for stomach surgery, one for vascular surgery and another for a complex fractured thigh which ranked seventh with a benefit paid of $134,435.


Cricket transcends politics

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd took me-tooism to the next level when he spent a day at the cricket and had a stint in the commentary box at the MCG. While he described Bob Hawke as a cricket nut, and John Howard called himself a tragic, Mr Rudd declared himself a "cricket hopeful" with "abysmal" talents but a reasonable knowledge of the game.

Accused throughout the election campaign of mimicking the policies of his vanquished predecessor, Mr Rudd matched Mr Howard's affection for cricket when he attended the second day of Australia's first Test against India. And he followed Mr Howard and former Labor prime minister Mr Hawke behind the ABC and Channel 9 microphones. He told Nine viewers he grew up loving cricket, like any Australian kid, and was given a cricket set for his 10th birthday, but "I was no good at it". "I was abysmal, I had absolutely no talent, ability or timing," he said of his skills as a wicketkeeper for his school team in Queensland.

He was just as bad behind the stumps, he said, while playing for the Australian embassy in the embassies cricket competition during his time in Australia's mission in Beijing, but he insisted his skills were no worse than Mr Howard's off spin. "I think Mr Howard did for spin bowling what I did for wicketkeeping, which is not a lot," he told ABC Radio. He recalled his memories of catching the train from Nambour to Brisbane to sit on the hill at the Gabba as a 17-year-old watching Dennis Lillee and a current constituent, Jeff Thomson, batter England in the 1974-75 Ashes series. "I spent a day mesmerised by those two, it was extraordinary," he said.

Unless Mr Howard left his collection of green and gold tracksuits in the wardrobes at The Lodge and Kirribilli House, Mr Rudd received his first piece of official national sportswear today when he was presented with an Australian one-day shirt - number "07 Kevin", of course. And he said it would come in very handy to again emulate Mr Howard in his "morning or evening walk attire".

But he also addressed serious cricketing issues, saying he would soon speak to Cricket Australia officials about the March tour of troubled Pakistan and relations with strife-torn Zimbabwe. "On all these contentious tours, my approach is let's sit down with Cricket Australia and get the best solution," he told ABC. "Sport should be able to conduct its business where you can play the game safely ... I'm not into getting in the road of the game unnecessarily." [That politics should be kept out of sport was once a conservative catchcry. Rudd seems to have some respect for that view]


Call for alcohol-free flights

ALCOHOL should be banned from flights if airlines cannot control drunken and aggressive passengers, anti-drug campaigners say. Incidents involving drunk and drug-affected airline passengers were behind almost a third of the 110 cases of disruptive behaviour reported to federal aviation authorities in the past two years.

Australian Drug Foundation spokesman Geoff Munro said yesterday that too many passengers were being served excessive amounts of alcohol and airlines which did not follow responsible serving regulations should face bans. "If the airlines can't ensure that their staff will serve alcohol in a responsible and legal manner then the ultimate sanction should be to withdraw the airline's licence to serve alcohol," he said. "After all, there can be no more dangerous place for people to be intoxicated. "It is extraordinary that air crews would be serving people to that degree because you would think safety would be their number one priority."

Last February, a Brisbane magistrate took a swipe at airlines for the way they manage passengers' alcohol consumption, while sentencing a man for his drunken mid-flight antics. Magistrate Jim Herlihy said airlines had strategies to deal with disorderly passengers and should take some responsibility for mid-air drunks. "Let's face it, the airlines fill them up with grog . . . and then tell them they're abusive," Mr Herlihy said.

A Qantas spokeswoman responded to the criticism, saying the airline took the supply of alcohol on flights seriously. Melbourne resident Gavin Wilson recently complained to Qantas and liquor licensing authorities in three states claiming his October 25 flight from Brisbane to Melbourne was ruined by three drunken passengers who became violent.

Federal Transport Department figures show 110 disruptive people on aircraft incidents were reported between January 1, last year and September 30, this year. Of these:

31 incidents involved intoxicated or drug-affected travellers.

13 per cent related to unruly or abusive behaviour.

Seven cases involved smoking on board.

Six people were removed from aircraft because of conduct.


Quolls rule 'Island Ark'

THE endangered northern quoll may have escaped extinction after some were moved offshore in a landmark experiment that kept them away from the deadly cane toad. Dubbed "Island Ark", the $300,000 Northern Territory Government program to save the carnivorous marsupial with a taste for frogs has proved a "huge success". Rangers and local Aboriginal people gathered 65 quolls from Kakadu and rural Darwin. They were weighed and fitted with radio collars before being released on to the uninhabited Astell and Pobassoo islands, off North Eastern Arnhem Land, in 2003. Almost five years later the number of quolls has jumped to about 2000.

"It was a risky venture," said scientist Brooke Rankmore. "We were releasing a predator on to islands where it doesn't occur at the moment. "The populations are now considered to be about a thousand for each island, so we are just ecstatic at how well they are doing. It's been a huge success."

Cane toads have ravaged the world heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, killing everything which eats them, from crocodiles to quolls, as they move north to Darwin. Millions of goannas, snakes, birds, dingoes and other native creatures are believed to have died after eating the poisonous cane toad, since its arrival in Australia in the 1930s. The warty reptiles have spread from Queensland, where they were originally introduced to kill pests in the cane fields, to northern NSW and across into the NT.

"(Island Ark) is aimed to establish safe refuges for some mainland quoll populations on islands," scientist Tony Griffiths said. And both the islands' wildlife and the quolls appear to be doing well. "The animals appear to be healthy and are obviously thriving," said Dr Griffiths, relying on data obtained during a monitoring trip this month. "We were pleased to note that the translocated quolls have had no significant impact on the islands' conservation values."


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holiest day of obligation for young and old at MCG

The abiding cricket religion in Melbourne. Many Indians will tell you that cricket is their religion but some Australians are not far behind. There are too many local and cricket allusions below for me to explain but readers from benighted non-cricket nations should still get most of it. Note that the great occasion was celebrated in India too. And there is a summary of what actually happened here and here and here

LIKE all pilgrims, the Boxing Day faithful streaming under a sky of brilliant blue toward the G [cricket ground] knew their creed's rites and wrongs. Things change, time moves on, Melbourne evolves, but in the city on the Yarra the articles of a Test crowd's faith never vary. There's the women who don't come, for starters, and how even blokes pushing retirement still relish a day off the leash.

"Nora and the girls, they're off shopping," said one as he emerged from the Crown car park and headed toward the G. "Mine too -- bloody women!" responded his companion of similar vintage with the daggy red shorts and sun-spotted, matchstick legs. "Reckon they'd get enough of spending money before Christmas!" "Too right," said the first, chuckling as they walked on the Southbank promenade, where their childhood memories would have been of factories and the old Fruit Tingle sign you could see from the platforms at Flinders St. Gone now, all gone.

In their place, the new Melbourne -- the sprawling pokies palace where they had left the car, chic bars, and the Eureka Tower's top-dollar pile of soaring glass. However the cricket, well, that is what they had come for, what they relished and recognised as constant and forever. The folks who run the game can drape its celebrants in trendy vestments, the multi-hued one-day uniforms that make the Indians and Windies look like licorice all-sorts, but in creams or colours the essence never changes.

On any Boxing Day in Melbourne, what we witness is as much a celebration of culture as it is of sharp eyes, razor reflexes and the slashing hook that lifts hearts higher than the flagpole while a red ball rockets toward the fence. It was that culture that converged yesterday from all points of the compass and reached a critical mass in Jolimont. A culture, mind you, that has inspired a deluge of school-marmish warnings over recent months and weeks. No racist comments. No mexican waves. No yobbish antics and, just to be sure, no return to the full-strength beer that might fuel the yobbish impulse.

The authorities would have professional eavesdroppers in the crowd, the cricket congregation was warned, so there would be no disparaging of subcontinentals with dismissive references to their dietary staples. Maybe the warnings worked, or perhaps they need not have been quite so stern, because yesterday, on a day when the stadium was packed, only a few dozen ratbags and ruffians needed to be shown the door.

And the rest? They followed the action and cheered and downed a few mid-strengths. And in quieter, conversational tones they put rough-hewn amiability ahead of acerbic nationalism. "F---in' Indians, there's nothing wrong with 'em," said a bloke with a zinc-creamed nose on the edge of Bay 13.

Two Australian wickets fell in short order, and if there was a moment for wringing the acid of racial contempt from raw disappointment, that was it. But no, it didn't happen, at least not in words that would offend anyone but the people who invented the game. "Indians, they're better than Poms!" joked another reveller. And so it went under an enchanted southern sky, the sport's sacramental moments observed and revered.

Outside the G, a trio of kids marked the lunch break with tennis ball, toy bat and a tree trunk for their wicket. "Owzat!" cried the bowler, who couldn't have been older than 13, as ball hit bark. There was no umpire and no argument from the batsman, who handed the yellow lump of plastic to his mate without protest and took up fielding. It was a classic moment. And 50 years from now, like the sixty-something pair from Crown carpark, those kids will be older and balder and maybe a little crotchety. But they'll be back for sure to watch the Boxing Day Test and to honour what is, in Melbourne, one of our holiest days of obligation.


Tsunami aid money spent on Leftist politics

I give a lot of money away but I almost always give it direct to the intended beneficiary. The story below is one of many which shows why. Even though I am a former registered dog breeder, I do NOT intend to remember the local dog's home (RSPCA) in my will for fear that the money could fall into the hands of "animal lib" fanatics.

I used to donate to World Vision until they came out with one-sided criticisms of Israel. I tried to donate to World Vision on condition that the money go to a needy Jewish child in Israel but they would not take my money under such conditions. Because of her huge military burdens, Israel is still in many ways a poor country so there are many needy Jewish families there. I am afraid that ALL the well-known "aid" organizations must be regarded as very dubious conduits for actual aid. There are however Jewish charities which aim to help poor Israeli families and my negative remarks must not be taken as applying to them

THREE years after Australians donated $400 million to rebuild Asian lives devastated by the 2004 tsunami, aid groups are under attack for spending much of the money on social and political engineering. A survey by The Australian of the contributions by non-government organisations to the relief effort found the donations had been spent on politically correct projects promoting left-wing Western values over traditional Asian culture.

The activities - listed as tsunami relief - include a "travelling Oxfam gender justice show" in Indonesia to change rural male attitudes towards women. Another Oxfam project, reminiscent of the ACTU's Your Rights at Work campaign, instructs Thai workers in Australian-style industrial activism and encourages them to set up trade unions.

A World Vision tsunami relief project in the Indonesian province of Aceh includes a lobbying campaign to advance land reform to promote gender equity, as well as educating women in "democratic processes" and encouraging them to enter politics. Also in Aceh, the Catholic aid group Caritas funds an Islamic learning centre to promote "the importance of the Koran". This is seen as recognition of the importance of Islam in a province that has been the scene of a long-running and bloody independence struggle against the secular central Government.

The earthquake on December26, 2004, created the most powerful tsunami in 40 years, killing about 230,000 people in 12 Indian Ocean nations, just under half of them in Aceh. Critics say the aid agencies have exceeded the mandate provided to them by mum-and-dad donors from middle Australia who thought they were giving money to rebuild houses and lives shattered by the tsunami, rather than forcing the ideological views of the Australian Left on traditional Asians.

One critic, Don D'Cruz, wrote at the outset of the relief operation that Indonesian claims of "foreign interference" through Australian NGOs were too often brushed aside. Mr D'Cruz, then a research fellow with the right-wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, wrote "it would be a mistake to ignore the substance of these claims, especially when it comes to the activities of Western aid groups operating in Indonesia. The trend among aid organisations has been to become more involved in politics, although this activism has been largely masked." Going beyond humanitarian and development aid, he wrote, risked alienating Asian governments, which could deny access.

Looking through their websites, the aid groups ventured farbeyond standard aid and development. The Oxfam website describes how $18,690 of its tsunami relief fund is being spent on a theatre production to "help change attitudes toward women in Acehnese society". "In one scene, Apa Kaoy, who cannot cook, grumbles when his wife, exhausted from working in the rice field, has not prepared supper," Oxfam says of the play. "In another, he disapproves of his daughter's ambition to study at university. Instead, holding a newspaper upside down because he cannot read, Apa Kaoy tells his daughter it is important that she learn to cook, clean, marry and have children. "Eventually, though, his attitude towards women softens as other more enlightened men point out the error of his ways."

Oxfam Australia chief executive Andrew Hewett yesterday said his organisation initially concentrated on immediate humanitarian relief, including providing food, shelter and medicine to those affected by the tsunami. It had since then turned to reconstruction, and rebuilding the ability of those affected to earn a living. But Mr Hewett said Oxfam "did not shy away" from its concentration on those less well off and less empowered, including women, indigenous groups and the low caste, saying it was a practical issue of delivering aid for maximum effect. "Women, like it or not, fare least well when it comes to resources and political power, including within a village community, and those who are disadvantaged often suffer most when disaster hits," he said.


Government hospital incompetence kills baby

MAREEBA'S model midwife maternity unit's reputation is being seriously questioned after the death of a baby that hospital staff have said "was likely to have been preventable". The death of the baby at the Mareeba Maternity Unit while a 19-year-old woman was in labour has been blamed on a culture of fear, lack of training and a breakdown in procedure by staff. The incident is being investigated by the Health Quality and Complaints Commission, after an internal investigation.

The Cairns Post has obtained copies of Queensland Health's internal reports and memorandums into the May 2007 death. It found the handling of the birth by staff may have "contributed to the baby not being born alive" and described the death as "likely to have been preventable".

The report is a damning assessment of the teenager's care. In it, the nurse unit manager reported that clinical decisions made throughout the episodes of care were a contributing factor and stated "something should have been done sooner". The report also cited an ill-defined model of care, a reluctance of non primary midwives to take responsibility and a lack of managerial leadership, collaboration and communication as a possible contributing factor to the death.

A source told The Cairns Post babies were dying and mothers were being damaged and placed at significant risk of dying with "full acknowledgement and support of Queensland Health management". The whistleblower said Queensland Health was ignoring the situation. "This unit is allowed to continue to function, despite significant safety concerns raised by the staff working at the Mareeba Maternity," they said. "There is a strong culture of bullying and harassment . midwives and other nursing staff who have raised concerns have not been supported or even listened to by management and have been bullied, encourage to leave, from the workplace. "There have been numerous cases of disasters or near disasters that have been brought to Queensland Health management attention with no interim safety measures put in place to protect this community and its mothers."

Cairns and Hinterland Health Service district manager Angela Beckett said a small number of complaints from staff about unsafe working practices formed part of the complaint made to the HQCC being investigated. "Regarding complaints of bullying and harassment, specialist staff from the Workforce Directorate and the Northern Area Health Service have been working with the staff of the Mareeba Maternity Unit to improve communication and relationships and to ensure that the culture within the unit is open and honest," she said. Mrs Beckett said an internal audit of clinical work practices at the maternity unit and the district found there were no concerns about patient safety. "If the district had any concerns about patient safety, the district would not have hesitated to close the unit down," she said.


Australia/Britain ties still strong

Article below by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor of "The Australian". He notes strong ties at the military level between Australian and Britain. One reason is that there are many British-born people in Australia's armed forces and even some Australians in the British armed forces

IT was good to see Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Aussie troops just before Christmas. That is the right place for a leader to be. Rudd bolstered the troops' morale, showing them that we all care about them. The trip also had geo-strategic purposes. In Iraq, Rudd is withdrawing our combat troops, but he underlined Canberra's continuing commitment to help Iraq, not least through military assets, and indeed help the US project in Iraq. In Afghanistan, Rudd said Australia was committed "for the long haul" to fighting the Taliban.

These are admirable and important statements. They indicate clearly that, contrary to the wishes of some commentators, Rudd is not withdrawing from Australia's global engagement in security matters, including involvement in the Middle East. It also means the US-Australia intimacy of recent years, especially the military intimacy and its all-important intelligence aspect, will continue. It was not an aberration born of the unique circumstances of Iraq but a natural evolution. Although Rudd will rightly put heavy emphasis on Asia, he also cites the US alliance as another of the three pillars of his foreign policy. (The third is the UN.) He also has close British connections and spoke to Gordon Brown soon after his victory.

Last year I wrote a book on the US-Australia alliance called The Partnership. In researching it I was astonished at just how intimate the US-Australian military and intelligence relationships have become. But the most surprising thing I discovered while writing the book did not directly concern the Americans at all. Rather, it was the astonishing, continuing, political, military and intelligence closeness between Australia and Britain. This was surprising in part because we are not big players in Britain's primary sphere of concern, Europe. And London's direct security interests in our part of the world are limited. But we are global players and so is Britain, even more so. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the G8 and NATO, and with renowned armed forces, London doesn't have to punch above its weight to be highly influential. It merely has to punch at its weight.

Everywhere I went in the US-Australia alliance, I found the Brits. Our special forces train with theirs, as we do with the Americans. Our troops on exchange with the Brits can deploy into military operations with them, an extremely rare practice, but something we also do with the Yanks. Australian liaison officers attend the most sensitive British intelligence meetings and vice versa, in arrangements of such intimacy that they are equalled only in our relationship with the US.

Then another thing struck me: that while this was all entirely to the good as we share so much in values and history with the Brits (and I say this an Irish Australian), this was really all happening without any overarching structure to inform the public or even to give top level policy guidance. It was organic.

Now here, dear reader, I have to confess, for the sake of the historical record, an episode of direct personal activism. I have never had any problems with journalistic activism so long as this activism consists primarily of advocating a policy and so long as this advocacy is carried out primarily in print. But in this particular case events moved more swiftly than I could get into print and I also faced some question about the status, in terms of on or off-the-record, of certain conversations. In any event, now that all the politicians involved at the time are retired, here is the story, for what it'sworth.

When then British prime minister Tony Blair visited Australia I was invited to participate in an Australia-UK Dialogue held in Canberra. Given the chance to put in my two bobs' worth, I argued that the two nations were military allies in effect, but there was no formal framework for this alliance and, while economic, cultural and sporting links were well celebrated and understood, there should be some agreement, pact or structure that carried the security relationship. Most attendees at this function were business types and the idea didn't seem to grab them.

That night, there was a reception for Blair at the Lodge in Canberra and those of us who had attended the day's meeting were invited along. Howard introduced Blair around the room and I had a few minutes' conversation with him. Determined not to waste this opportunity, I put my idea to Blair. Blair was quite euphoric about Australia, where he was getting a very friendly reception, but gently joked about my idea, saying (with full irony and no intent to be taken seriously) that perhaps Britain and Australia could team up against China.

Howard reacted politely enough to the idea but had that uneasy quality of the politician cornered by the mad voter from Gulargambone who wants him to turn the rivers back. But if you have a mad policy idea, you mustn't be deterred by mere indifference at the highest level. Around the Lodge that night I buttonholed various senior defence, foreign affairs and intelligence bureaucrats and put the idea to them as well. None had any argument against it, but all were similarly noncommittal. Finally I found Alexander Downer and put the idea to him. He, too, was noncommittal, but he pointed out that Iraq and Afghanistan had intensified Australian-British military and intelligence co-operation from an admittedly already high base. He seemed to chew the idea over.

I was planning to write a column in a few days making the argument in print that I'd been making verbally. But the next day Blair attended an Australian cabinet meeting. In the middle of the meeting, without any preparatory staff work, Downer suggested a new Australian-British body of foreign and defence ministers meeting annually, along the lines of the AUSMIN meetings Australia has annually with the US. Downer apologised to Howard for not having raised it in advance privately. Blair, without consulting his advisers, was generous and enthusiastic in his response. He thought it was a great idea.

Thus was born AUKMIN, which is now the highest level formal strategic consultation we have with the Brits. I felt weirdly constrained about writing about this, as I presumed the Lodge conversations were more or less off the record. Bureaucrats in both countries were taken wholly by surprise, despite what they might tell you. Rudd was also at the Lodge that night. His splendid words in Afghanistan suggest he will make full and intelligent use of AUKMIN, as sound an institution as has ever been created with so little bureaucratic preparation.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Navy to get new submarine fleet

A bit surprising from a centre-Left government. Perhaps they are as conservative as they say they are. Or is this just a pork-barrel project for the faltering South Australia economy? I can see another economic disaster unfolding however. It doesn't look likely but pray to all your gods that Australia buys something off the shelf this time. Buying unproven designs has never worked well: behind time, over budget and lacking capabilities has been the routine result in the past

AUSTRALIA will build the world's most lethal conventional submarine fleet, capable of carrying long-range cruise missiles and futuristic midget-subs, to combat an expected arms race in the region. Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has ordered planning to begin on the next generation of submarines to replace the Royal Australian Navy's Collins-class fleet [which they have just recently finally got working!] with the aim of gaining "first pass" approval for the design phase from cabinet's National Security Committee in 2011.

The 17-year project will be the largest, longest and most expensive defence acquisition since Federation, potentially costing up to $25 billion. It comes at a time when regional navies such as Indonesia's, China's and India's are seeking to dramatically expand their submarine fleets, potentially altering the balance of naval power in the region. "There is widespread agreement that submarines provide a vital military capability for Australia," Mr Fitzgibbon said. "The development of new submarines requires long-term planning and needs to progress quickly, and that's what I have asked for."

Defence planners have examined two key studies this year, one by independent think tank the Kokoda Foundation, which have concluded that strategic shifts in the region will make submarines a more important to Australia's defence than ever before. Defence will study a wide range of futuristic options for the new submarines, which will be built in Adelaide and will replace the six Collins-class submarines when they are retired in 2025. The new submarines will almost certainly be built by the builder of the Collins-class fleet, the Australian Submarine Corporation, once the government-owned ASC has been privatised. "South Australia is the only credible location for the construction of Australia's next generation of submarine," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

The aim will be to create the world's most deadly conventional submarine fleet to allow Australia to maintain its strategic advantage over fast-growing rival navies in the region. Although Defence has not yet ruled out the possibility of Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, this option is considered highly unlikely on strategic, practical and political grounds. Instead, defence planners will focus on producing a larger, quieter, faster and more deadly version of the existing six Collins-class submarines, which, after a troubled birth in the 1990s, have proved to be one of the country's most important defence assets.

It is not known how many of the new submarines will be built. Defence has confirmed that one of the options to be considered for the new submarine fleet will be small unmanned mini-subs that can be launched from the "mother" submarines. "Technological developments such as unmanned vehicles would probably offer complementary capabilities to any future underwater warfare platform," a Defence spokesman said. These unmanned mini-submarines, crammed with high-tech sensors, could travel remotely tens of kilometres away from the mother vessel to conduct surveillance, detect enemy submarines or carry an SAS team.

Another priority for the new submarines will be the new generation air-independent propulsion systems, which allow conventional submarines to stay underwater for longer periods, greatly increasing operational effectiveness. Defence said the new post-Collins submarines will have more flexible designs, allowing them to be quickly reconfigured for different types of missions, from intelligence gathering to strategic strikes. The new submarines will be able to carry a greater variety of long-range weapons, possibly including long-range cruise missiles as well as short-range tactical land-strike missiles. They will also be configured to facilitate the secret transporting of SAS squads into regional hot spots.

In a study earlier this year, the Kokoda Foundation estimated that building, arming and supporting a new, fully modernised submarine fleet could cost between $20 billion and $25 billion, making it the largest defence project in Australia, dwarfing even the $15 billion Joint Strike Fighter project. The Government hopes to complete its initial research into the options for the new submarines by 2011, when cabinet will give "first pass" consideration to the plan. In 2014-15, the Government is due to give "second pass" consideration to the project, resulting in contracts and the eventual construction of the submarines, with sea trials tentatively scheduled for 2024. The submarine-replacement project will be included in the next Defence Capability Plan.


Go Queensland!

I have opened several bottles of champagne recently so I have done my bit towards emitting lots of CO2!

QUEENSLANDERS are the highest producers of greenhouse gas in the world, emitting 38.9 tonnes per person every year - nearly eleven tonnes more than the Australian average, a first-ever audit has found. The audit, undertaken by the Wet Tropics Management Authority between Cooktown and Cardwell, offers stark warning about the threats of climate change.

Scientists have warned the Great Barrier Reef may be dead within 20 years [And pigs might fly] and one of the world's most ancient rainforests in the Daintree faces extinction under just a few degrees of global warming. [Warmth and CO2 is GOOD for trees!]

The audit, based on 2005 figures showed far North Queensland - with its vast tracts of forest and little large scale industrial activity - fared relatively well per capita with 23.6 tonnes compared to Australia (28.2 tonnes) and the rest of the state (38.9 tonnes). It found transport; stationary energy; land use change; and agriculture were responsible for 96 per cent of the region's emissions. Carbon dioxide is responsible for 74 per cent of the region's emissions, followed by methane (17 per cent) and nitrous oxide (8 per cent). Other areas such as Gladstone, with energy intensive industry such as aluminium and steel smelting and coal-burning electricity generators, were cited as a likely hot spot of greenhouse gas emissions.

Tourism and Industry Minister Desley Boyle said the large volumes of air traffic, personal motor vehicle use and electricity consumption in the region added to the high figures. It was a wake-up call about the impact of climate change, she said.


Aussies' wealth up 21 percent

THE financial wealth of Australians has soared 21 per cent in 12 months despite record spending on credit cards. And it could be even higher for many Australians if they bothered to check on their superannuation. About $12 billion remains in unclaimed super accounts, according to the Australian Taxation Office. Queenslanders now earn on average $1033.30 a week and nationally, Australians have an average wealth of about $60,000 each as household assets continue to rise.

According to CommSec's Craig James, the jump in wealth is attributable to a stronger sharemarket and increased inflows into superannuation. Financial assets such as shares and deposits rose by 2.5 per cent in the September quarter to $2.4 trillion while liabilities were also at a record $1.17 trillion. Mr James said in the past three years the average financial wealth of Australians had risen 70 per cent. And although the sharemarket has taken a battering in recent days, analysts believe there will be a strong recovery in January, but that may be the only good news.

Economists still believe that Australians will face a rate rise as early as February. Market analysts Michael Matusik said he expected mortgages to top 9 per cent next year and believed 50 per cent of new loans will be fixed. The impact will be a slowing housing market, he said. But rents were likely to jump another 15 per cent because of a shortage of stock and a continuing fall in new housing starts.

"If were to label 2008 at this stage it might best be called consolidation," Mr Matusik said. "While inflation is rising around the world and the US is in danger of heading into recession, our economy is marching to a different drum. "Once the current credit panic settles down, credit will be repriced and rationed, resulting in fewer housing loans and starts, which in turn will provide a solid floor under the residential market."

A Morgan Gallup poll this week also found 26 per cent of Australians expect unemployment to rise in the next 12 months, while most think it will stay the same or fall.


A Ruddy good Prime Minister

For American readers: "Ruddy" is a polite form of "bloody" -- which is a mild expletive often used to mean simply "very". Tedious to explain a pun but the pedagogue in me comes out sometimes

FOR his first Christmas as Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd went to a morning church service then spent the afternoon washing dishes at the Lodge. Mr Rudd attended a eucharist service with his family at Canberra's oldest church, Saint John's [Anglican], where he married his wife, Therese Rein, in 1981.

He then went to his new home for lunch, but expressed concerns about fulfilling his duties as the Christmas Day dishwasher. The Rudds had given the staff at the Lodge the day off, which left Mr Rudd in charge of handling the industrial dishwasher. "I'm a hopeless cook," he told ABC radio yesterday. "I think [the dishwasher] is designed for a field army."

Mr Rudd went Christmas shopping on Saturday after returning from a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq. It was the first time a Prime Minister has spent Christmas at the Lodge for 12 years, when Paul Keating was leader. Mr Rudd is due to take a two-week holiday from January 1.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Australia is up to 18 hours ahead of the USA in time zones so for American readers this greeting will probably seem a little early -- depending on when they read it. The time here in Australia as I post this is just after 8:30 on Christmas morning

The image above is by talented Australian conservative cartoonist Zeg

A friendly Koala above

An Australian Christmas

For one unlucky person anyway: Victim tells of blue-ringed octopus bite

WHEN 49-year-old Anna Van Wyk went swimming off Stradbroke Island during her annual holiday last weekend she didn't expect to be bitten by a blue-ringed octopus. "I just walked out of the water and saw something on my leg - and instinctively wiped it off," she said. "It didn't swipe off and a looked down and it was a little octopus hanging off my leg."

"I wanted to get a plate to get it so that if something happened to me they could identify it, but by the time I got up there I was history." "I had to sit down because I was fairly sick and I thought I was going to pass out." Mrs Van Wyk said lifesavers on the beach acted very quickly, bandaging the wound and giving her oxygen.

She said she was lucky because the animal was most likely sick, and was not as venomous as it normally would have been. The Energex Rescue helicopter flew to Point Lookout to stablise Mrs Wyk, and took her to the Princess Alexandra Hospital for treatment. Mrs Van Wyk said her lung capacity was tested and she received a tetanus shot before she was released.

The blue-ringed octopus is usually found in shallow waters or rock pools and will appear with small fluorescent blue spots if threatened.


The facts: Education expansion unlikely to do much good

IMAGINE you are Julia Gillard. As the new federal Education and Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, it's your job to reform the Coalition's Work Choices legislation and to implement Labor's election promises on education. You are itching to get started, but wading through the paperwork on your desk you discover two other pressing problems demanding your attention. First, employers are complaining about a skills shortage. After 15 years of sustained economic growth, we are running out of skilled workers. Forecasters predict a shortfall of 250,000 by 2016.

Second, unskilled workers are finding it difficult to get jobs. Official unemployment is at its lowest for 30 years, but many jobless people have been transferring to the Parenting Payment or Disability Support Pension. Many of these people could work but relatively few of them have formal qualifications and most of the new jobs created today are for graduates.

As you ponder how you may solve these two problems, there is a knock at the door and in come representatives of the business community, the education profession and welfare organisations. Speaking with one voice, they demand that you expand education and training. The business groups want an increase in the number of youngsters completing high school. In 1980, one-third of Australian pupils completed Year 12. Today, three-quarters do. But this upward trend has stalled in recent years. The Australia Industry Group says the Year 12 retention rate should be raised to 90 per cent. The educationists agree with this and add that you should expand the universities, too. The number of university places has doubled since 1980 and 40 per cent of young people are in higher education, but the delegation tells you we need more if we want to be a smart country.

The welfare organisations want more training for the unemployed. The Coalition emphasised getting people off welfare and into work. The thinking was that any job was better than no job. But the welfare lobby says jobless people should not be required to take dead-end jobs. They should be trained and given new skills so they can compete for well-paid jobs in the new skills economy.

Relaxing in the bath later, you mull over what you've heard, then: Eureka! You realise you can solve both your problems with the same bundle of policies. Increase Year 12 retention rates, expand university numbers and boost training for jobless adults, and the result will be an increase in the supply of skilled labour and a fall in the number of unskilled, jobless people on welfare. What's more, expanding education and training will be popular. The pressure groups will love you and the voters will get a warm glow. Nobody will criticise you for increasing education spending.

Next morning, you summon your bureaucrats and set out your plans. "First," you tell them, "I want Year 12 retention rates raised to 90per cent." There is some coughing and shuffling of feet before one brave soul outlines the evidence. Pupils doing vocational courses beyond Year 10 receive no benefit when it comes to getting jobs. And while bright students who remain at school improve their earnings and their employability, this is not true for low-ability students. Their risk of unemployment increases with two additional years of schooling and their earnings fall. If you push retention rates beyond their present level, a lot of children will end up taking courses for which they are not suited and that may even damage their prospects.

"Well," you respond, "we can still expand the universities. This country needs more graduates." Another awkward silence. It turns out that 500,000 graduates (more than 20 per cent) are unemployed or doing jobs for which a degree is not required. There are shortages in some specialist areas, but the country is drowning in arts graduates.

You throw your final dice. "Surely," you say, "it makes sense to train jobless people on welfare. Employers report skills shortages, let's train the unemployed to fill these jobs." The same deathly hush. Someone pushes an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report across the desk that shows training jobless adults rarely does any good. Middle-aged women returning to the labour market after rearing families do benefit from training; they are motivated and they have skills that just need brushing up. Few others get anything out of it.

"If you want to solve the skills shortage," one adviser tells you, "it makes more sense to delay early retirements, increase skilled immigration and attract more women back into work. All these people already have skills. "Training unskilled welfare recipients doesn't work."

You send the bureaucrats away. It seems this government lark is more complicated than it appears. Policies that sound attractive don't necessarily work. But how do you break this to the PM? You take a deep breath and pick up the phone. "Hi Kevin, it's Julia."


Sometimes we hate price rises too much

IT'S surprising how often a feel for the insights of behavioural economics can help conventionally trained economists understand the way politics and the economy really work. As a general rule, the people with an intuitive understanding of behavioural economics are the marketers and the politicians. It's the economists who need to study the subject, to overcome the misconceptions they've acquired in their training.

But, as Brian Loughnane, federal director of the Liberal Party, demonstrated last week, sometimes even the pollies' thinking can get muddled. Loughnane admitted that one of the reasons for the Howard Government's defeat was its failure to acknowledge the dissatisfaction people were feeling over the rising cost of living - particularly the higher prices of food and petrol and rising mortgage interest rates. He could have added the higher price of child care.

Kevin Rudd and company made a lot of sympathetic noises about these discontents - which they must have picked up in their focus groups - even though there wasn't much they could promise to do about them. The Coalition's response was generally dismissive. Sure, the cost of some items households buy was up, but the cost of other items was down. Overall, the consumer price index had not been rising strongly (notwithstanding the build-up of underlying inflation pressure).

What's more, real wages were still growing - had been growing strongly for a decade, in fact - with the strong growth in employment meaning that many families had a lot more income to play with. So, whatever the rise in the cost of living, it wasn't stopping continued improvement in living standards. In which case, it's pretty perverse - churlish, even - to ignore all the good stuff and focus on a few things going the other way. That was the Howard Government's perfectly rational attitude, and most of the economic commentators tended to agree (including yours truly).

Trouble is, it's too rational by half. One of the insights of behavioural economics - which is the study of the way people actually think about economic issues, not the way they should think - is that, unlike economists, most people don't add pluses and minuses together to get a net result. Rather than focus on the overall position, they look separately at each component of the sum. An even more important finding is that people hate losses about twice as much as they love gains of the same size. So when the government (or the economy) takes with one hand but gives back with the other, people don't think of themselves as square. Rather, they focus more on the loss and end up feeling hard done by.

It's thus hardly surprising that people who were better off overall were more conscious of negatives such as rising food and petrol prices and rising interest rates. The Coalition would have been better off had it more freely acknowledged these discontents. Part of their problem was a point their pollster, Crosby Textor, understood, but they seemed never able to grasp. It's that the public is focused on the "personal economy", not the macro economy. That is, people focus on their own economic circumstances, not on the national average. So there's a limit to how impressed voters are by the endless repetition of the excellent results achieved on economic indicators such as the consumer price index, growth in gross domestic product and the unemployment rate. They just don't identify with that stuff.

While we're on the subject, behavioural economics does much to explain why so few people believe the CPI - they think bureaucrats make up the figures in a Canberra office - and most think inflation is much higher than the government admits. When people focus on bad news - big price rises - but tend to forget good news - prices that fall or rise only modestly - not to mention probably being oblivious to prices that don't change, it's hardly surprising they end up with an exaggerated impression of what's happening to prices overall.

The public's unwillingness to aggregate gains and losses helps explain another thing economists could never understand: the punters' long-standing suspicion of proposals for a goods and services tax. To economists it was all very simple: sure the GST would raise prices, but this would be offset by a big cut in income tax. In fact, since the whole tax package was significantly "revenue negative", it was obvious most people would be better off in net terms. To this the public's response was predictable: I don't mind a tax cut, but I'm worried about those price rises. Let's forget the whole thing.

Finally, the public's refusal to aggregate and its tendency to weight losses more heavily than gains explains its objection to inflation - even in the days when wages were indexed to consumer prices. To an economist, if wages are being raised to keep up with the rise in prices, wage earners don't have a lot to complain about. Economists' objections to inflation run deeper than that.

The punters, however, never saw it that way. From their perspective, the pay rises they got were richly deserved and hard won, but when they got to the supermarket they discovered the greedy B's had jacked up prices again. Whatever their reasoning, it's just as well the public hates inflation. We'll be paying a high price to keep it under control next year - including, paradoxically, higher interest rates.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Top doctors failed meningitis boy

They may have seen him but they did not look too hard

FOUR of the state's top doctors failed to give eight-year-old meningitis victim Isaraelu Pele the one test that could have saved his life. As a full investigation into Isaraelu's death was announced, the Children's Hospital at Westmead admitted the boy was not given a test for meningitis during his nine hours under its care. The revelation came as almost 300 mourners farewelled the talented rugby union player at a moving memorial service.

The Children's Hospital at Westmead CEO Tony Penna admitted four senior doctors failed to recognise the symptoms of meningitis that killed Isaraelu last Tuesday. He said the boy had been seen by "all the senior staff", including the resident registrar and consultant fellow, during his time at the hospital. But he revealed the battery of tests run on the Year 2 Punchbowl Public School student did not include a lumbar puncture - the one test that would have diagnosed his condition.

Less than 24 hours after doctors told Isaraelu's family he was merely dehydrated, the child was dead. [If he was dehydrated, he should have been put on a drip] Dr Penna announced a full investigation, headed by an external expert and with the input of Isaraelu's grief-stricken family, would be held. "This is a tragic event, we really do need to look into this objectively with a proper investigation," he said. "I stand by the competence and expertise of my staff." Dr Penna said it would be inefficient to test every child who presented at hospital for meningitis showing symptoms such as vomiting and headaches. The disease could progress rapidly from general symptoms to a serious condition, he said. All tests conducted on Isaraelu, including a blood count, came back normal.

But that was of little comfort to mourners who packed the Congregational Christian Church at Moorebank yesterday. In a moving tribute to his young brother, Andrew Pele, 19, joked that Isaraelu had been the favourite and that he was "a very good kid". Mourners included the schoolboy's parents Lila and Fai, who watched as Andrew played the guitar and was joined by other friends and relatives in a tribute song. Outside the chapel a family friend was scathing of the hospital staff, saying that, in his belief, if four senior doctors failed to even consider meningitis as a possibility "they should not be practising medicine".

"This is not a woman who came with her first newborn," the friend said. "She's a mother of six who knew something was really wrong with her child. The way this family has been treated is disgusting." Isaraelu's body was last night at the family's home where a vigil was held in his bedroom ahead of a funeral today.


A small victory for private property in South Australia

CHARGES against a man accused of resisting arrest and refusing to give police his personal details have been thrown out because officers were trespassing on his property when they arrested him.

The Supreme Court upheld a magistrate's decision to dismiss charges against Seaton man Alexander Dafov, who police had followed home after detecting him allegedly driving at 78km/h in a 60km/h zone. Police had appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing officers had authority to be on Mr Dafov's property and were not trespassing. But Supreme Court Justice Michael David upheld the decision, saying police misinterpreted the law they used to justify being on Mr Dafov's property.

The court heard in October, 2006, police allegedly detected Mr Dafov travelling 18km/h over the speed limit on West Lakes Boulevard at Hendon. They activated their lights and sirens and followed the vehicle to a Seaton address where the car stopped. The officers approached Mr Dafov in his driveway and asked him for his personal details but Mr Dafov told them to "get off my property" and they were trespassing. They attempted to arrest Mr Dafov and there was a struggle.

Justice David said the law had to state clearly if police were allowed onto someone's property and the section they relied on in Mr Dafov's case, relating to asking a driver to stop and answer questions, did not do so. "It means that if a person is on private property and does not consent to police presence, and the police wish to use this provision to obtain information, they need to wait until the person leaves the property to question him," he said. "However, one would think that in the circumstances of this case, the police could have used the vehicle's registration number to obtain the details of the vehicle's owner." South Australian Council of Civil Liberties president George Mancini said the judgment reflected the "private rights of the individual".


Queensland: A child safety crackdown at last?

BESIEGED Child Safety Minister Margaret Keech wants bad parents to attend court-ordered parenting classes or lose their children. She also wants to stop dysfunctional parents from regaining custody of their children, even if their lives are back on track.

Mrs Keech will next year ask Cabinet to approve tougher legislative measures, including more proscriptive definitions for the judiciary. Children who continually have lice in their hair or are sent to school without food could be subject to early interventions under radical changes.

Mrs Keech told The Courier-Mail she would discuss with Attorney-General Kerry Shine how courts could be empowered to force bad parents to attend parenting courses. "I have asked my department to prepare options that would strengthen our case if, say, we were applying for a long-term care order," she said. "It might be that the court could give weight to whether a parent or parents had refused, or failed, to complete a parenting, anger-management or possibly a substance abuse course in determining whether their children should remain in the home," she said.

Premier Anna Bligh and federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin announced a trial last week requiring indigenous families to meet basic responsibilities in order to receive welfare payments. Separate to the announcement, Mrs Keech said her proposed child safety initiatives were not a reaction to the public outrage over the case of an indigenous girl who was pack raped in Aurukun. Mrs Keech said she was looking at ways to lower the threshold to allow child safety officers to investigate suspected child abuse earlier.

Asked if that could dramatically increase the workload of an already stretched department she said: "If it means more notifications, then that's what will happen. "If it means more resources I will go to the Treasurer and the Premier and put a strong case forward . . . for more resources."

New guidelines will be developed for investigating officers under the cumulative harm program. "It could be a bruise on the head or a sore shoulder or dislocation. Minor health issues, not coming to school with lunch/breakfast, lice in their hair, more neglect issues." She said child protection would always be a major issue in Queensland because of a surging population, but the welfare of children had to come before the wellbeing of parents. Bad parents who turn their lives around should not always regain custody of their children, she said. "In the past there's been too much of the kids drifting backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards . . . if the child is well and happy and attached to the foster carer, that's exactly where they should stay," Mrs Keech said.


Australia to stay in Afghanistan

THE Prime Minister has given an open-ended commitment for Australian troops to remain in Afghanistan as he revealed he fears more fatalities. Kevin Rudd met Australian troops at Tarin Kowt in Oruzgan province before flying to Kabul, where he held a press conference with the President, Hamid Karzai. It was the latest stop in Mr Rudd's tour of the Middle East with his Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, and the Chief of Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, to thank military personnel and meet political and military leaders.

Mr Rudd said it had been a difficult end to the year and worse could be to come. "I fear what the new year might bring," he told soldiers in central headquarters at Kabul air base on Saturday. "But our advice and our conviction is that this is a job worth doing."

Three Australians have been killed in southern Afghanistan since early October: Trooper David "Poppy" Pearce by a roadside bomb; an SAS veteran, Matthew Locke, by a sniper; and a commando, Luke Worsley, shot dead at close range during an attack on a Taliban bomb-making complex.

Earlier, Mr Rudd had committed an additional $110 million in aid to Afghanistan over the next two years, taking the total to about $270 million. "Australia is here in Afghanistan for a long haul," Mr Rudd said, without offering a time limit on the involvement of Australian forces. He urged NATO countries to lift their contribution after Afghanistan suffered its bloodiest year of fighting since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. "There are important meetings coming up over the next several months," Mr Rudd said. "I would also be encouraging other friends and partners and allies in NATO to continue their commitment to this country and where possible to expand that commitment."

There are about 60,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan, many undertaking only training roles rather than front-line fighting. The US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, has said at least another 7500 troops are required, while some analysts say troop numbers need to be doubled to combat the resurgent Taliban. The Rudd Government has not ruled out sending more troops to Afghanistan as it draws down from Iraq, but will probably require similar action by other NATO countries first....

Mr Rudd's visit was part of a flurry of trips by world leaders. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Italy's Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, both flew into Kabul within 24 hours of Mr Rudd.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Boy dies after repeated public hospital misdiagnosis

Ignoring grave symptoms and failing to do any tests is just incomprehensible. And what was wrong with giving precautionary antibiotics in such grave circumstances?

AN eight-year-old boy was sent home by two Sydney hospitals before dying of meningitis a week before Christmas. Isaraelu Pele, a year two student at Punchbowl Public School, was told by medical staff at Bankstown and Westmead Children's Hospital he needed only to take painkillers and drink lemonade, despite pleas for help from his family. Now, instead of watching him in his church's Christmas Eve musical tomorrow, his parents will bury the gentle young boy they call Elu.

He became the latest victim of the NSW hospital crisis after falling ill on December 13 and then being passed from one medical professional to the next without a correct diagnosis. When he first became ill, complaining of nausea, headaches and vomiting, his mother took him to Bankstown Medical Centre. "The doctor told us to give him Gatorade and he prescribed him anti-nausea medication," his mother, Fai Pele said. When her son was still sick last Saturday, suffering severe head and neck pain, Mrs Pele took him to their family general practitioner, who prescribed him Panamax.

On Sunday afternoon, the family were attending carols at Wiley Park when Elu started vomiting blood and Mr Pele immediately rushed him to Bankstown Hospital around 6pm. "He was vomiting in front of the van and the blood came up from his mouth," Mrs Pele said. Elu recorded a temperature of 39 degrees and was initially placed in a hospital bed for tests, but asked to vacate for another patient at 8pm. He lay on his mother's lap in the waiting room from 8pm until 11pm when doctors discharged him, telling Mrs Pele there was nothing wrong with her son.

"He was still complaining of neck and back pain, he couldn't keep his head up," Mrs Pele said. "We were sitting there from 8 to 11. They discharged us from the waiting area, they said to give him Panamax and lemonade." However, Elu's condition worsened overnight. He could not eat, continued to vomit blood and complained of extreme pain in his head and neck. He stopped being able to walk.

On Monday at 10am, his parents took him to Westmead Children's Hospital, where they remained for 12 hours. "His head was rolling around, he was vomiting blood, his fever was 38 degrees. he couldn't even look at us," Mrs Pele said. But at 10.30pm, doctors told Mrs Pele, who works as an aged-care nurse, to take her son home. "The registered nurse came up to me and said, 'You are free to go home'," Mrs Pele said. "They said they couldn't find anything wrong with him.

"Telling us to go home was not fair. He was still sick, he wasn't eating, it was really painful for us. "I said 'Look at him, he's still sick.' They tried to force him to walk and sit up, but he couldn't. He kept falling on me. They said give him Panamax."

On the following evening, Mrs Pele panicked when Elu's forehead grew cold while he was sleeping about 6pm. The family rushed him to Bankstown Hospital. Little Elu still had a pulse when he arrived at the hospital. However, about 40 minutes later, doctors told Mrs Pele her son had died. "The doctors came in and said, 'Your son is dead'," Mr Pele said. "They showed no respect for the family. They didn't even say it in a polite manner."

The family said a coroner had phoned them the next day to tell them Elu had died from meningitis, a serious illness that is curable if treated promptly. Elu lived with his five brothers and sisters, aged five to 19, at his family home in Bankstown.

Health Minister Reba Meagher said the child's death has been referred to the Coroner for investigation. "The death of a child at any time is extremely tragic and our thoughts and sympathies are with the child's family, particularly so close to Christmas," she said. Mrs Pele said she was considering legal action against the hospital. "I feel so angry, I want to sue them, It's the loss of my little boy," she said.


Police 'hindered' investigation of racist assault

To protect one of their own

An off-duty policeman deliberately hindered the investigation of an attack on a Jewish man in Balaclava last year, a statement by a fellow officer implies. The statement, by a St Kilda policewoman, was yesterday described as "the smoking gun" by Menachem Vorchheimer, the man abused and punched in the face by drunken Ocean Grove footballers travelling home in a minibus from a day at the Caulfield races in October last year. The statement was obtained from the Office of Public Prosecutions after freedom of information requests over several months were denied by police.

In another development, two versions of a statement by a witness who came to Mr Vorchheimer's aid have been viewed by The Sunday Age - showing that the original was edited to remove material suggesting the off-duty policeman tried to take offenders from the scene before police arrived. Leon Yuhanov, the passer-by who blocked the minibus with his car when he saw Mr Vorchheimer being attacked, said that the bus driver, off-duty policeman Terrence Moore, told him: "Don't be a fool; don't call the cops, you idiot." But these words were removed from the original statement made by Mr Yuhanov. Mr Yuhanov was unaware his statement had been altered until he was shown both versions by The Sunday Age last Thursday.

The deletions clearly cast Senior Constable Moore in a better light. The police statement naming Senior Constable Moore was written by Constable Karli Hawkins shortly after the assault on October 14 last year. Constable Hawkins was one of several police called to the scene in Carlisle Street after Mr Vorchheimer clashed with the footballers, who yelled anti-Jewish abuse as they passed in the minibus. Her statement says that Senior Constable Moore, on hearing Mr Vorchheimer say that a man wearing a pink tie had punched him, had immediately reboarded the bus and spoken to his passengers, mostly Ocean Grove footballers. The passengers had immediately removed their ties, she stated. This meant Mr Vorchheimer could not identify with certainty who had hit him.

Mr Vorchheimer, dressed that day in traditional clothes for the Jewish Sabbath and pushing two of his young children in a pram, had been punched in the eye and had his hat and skullcap snatched while remonstrating with the footballers over the racial abuse. Several witnesses said they had seen and heard the footballers abusing Orthodox Jews in the street.

Mr Vorchheimer's brother, David, last week obtained Constable Hawkins' statement from the Office of Public Prosecutions after being denied it by police despite many FOI requests.

Mr Yuhanov, 25, an Elwood IT consultant, was at traffic lights at the corner of Hotham and Carlisle streets when he saw the footballers shouting anti-Jewish abuse at a group of Orthodox Jewish boys crossing the road. He saw Menachem Vorchheimer remonstrate with the bus driver and passengers and saw one of the men snatch his Sabbath hat and skullcap. Mr Yuhanov pulled his car in front of the bus to prevent it leaving the scene before police arrived. He also asked the driver to get the passengers to return the hat. Mr Vorchheimer, who had a bloodied left eye, asked him to call police. Mr Yuhanov states he was then abused by the bus driver, who made remarks such as: "Don't be a fool; don't call the cops, you idiot." In the meantime, he said, the driver attempted to drive the bus onto the kerb to escape.

Mr Yuhanov later wrote his account of the incident for the police officer in charge of the investigation. He quoted the driver's remarks about not calling the police and his attempt to drive onto the kerb. He emailed this statement to the station, and the investigating officer emailed back a "tidied" version on a police form. At that stage, the "Don't call the cops" remarks were still in it.

In December, Mr Yuhanov was asked to sign a copy of his statement at St Kilda Police Station. At the time he did not realise that the statement had been shortened by several paragraphs. Among the deletions were details of the driver's behaviour - including the "Don't call the cops" comments and the driver's attempts to drive onto the kerb to leave the scene. "I should have looked at the statement more closely," Mr Yuhanov told The Sunday Age. "I am not happy about it. But I never thought to doubt the police."

Mr Vorchheimer and his family are now living in New York. No one was convicted over the punch that bloodied his eye. In April, one man was convicted of using insulting words and last month two men were fined for offensive behaviour and using insulting words. The court was told that an unidentified attacker had "smacked" Mr Vorchheimer in the face with a fist.

Speaking from New York on Friday, Mr Vorchheimer said Mr Moore had prevented him from identifying his attacker. "The tie was the central piece of evidence. In my mind, when I was grabbed and punched, this is what I mentally focused on to remember the perpetrator. Had the ties been on the boys, the positive ID would have been made," he said.

Senior Constable Moore said he could not comment. A Victoria Police spokesman said the ethical standards department had investigated Senior Constable Moore's behaviour and he faced internal disciplinary charges for taking an unauthorised second job. [But no charges for attempting to obstruct the course of justice??? He should have been fired!]


Students so much more than future cogs in the great GDP machine

WHAT is the purpose of education? Judged by the Australian Labor Party's education policy and subsequent comments by Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard, the answer is straightforward. In a recent interview in this paper, Gillard, on being asked the core purpose of her portfolio, replied: 'So while my portfolio can be a mouthful, I'll be happy to be referred to simply as 'the minister for productivity'.' Such a utilitarian view of education is mirrored by Labor's policy document entitled Establishing a National Curriculum to Improve Our Children's Educational Outcomes, released last February.

The opening paragraph, in justifying the need for a nationally consistent curriculum in core areas such as mathematics, the sciences, English and history, argues: 'For Australia to succeed in a highly competitive global economy, our children need to have the best education possible. 'Better education outcomes deliver a real and tangible benefit to our nation's economy, lifting productivity and allowing people to get better jobs that pay more.' Referring to a speech by Productivity Commission head Gary Banks, Labor's national curriculum paper justifies investing more in education by linking raised standards to increased productivity and building human capital. Another paper released early this year, Federalist Paper 2: The Future of Schooling in Australia, written on behalf of state and territory governments, also justifies the needto strengthen standards by linking education to higher economic efficiency and workforce participation.

In justifying his offer to buy computers for all Australian senior school students -- ignoring the fact the overwhelming majority already have access to computers -- and to provide internet connection, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd repeats the mantra that students need to be information-rich and computer-literate to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.

For many years the cultural Left, represented by groups such as the Australian Education Union, the Australian Council for the Deans of Education and the Australian Curriculum Studies Association, has argued that a competitive, academic curriculum is elitist and guilty of reinforcing disadvantage. The solution? Force the education system to be more socially inclusive by promoting equality of outcomes and enforce a politically correct curriculum.

Gillard is also Social Inclusion Minister and it is here that one finds a second justification for Labor's so-called education revolution. Put simply, and harkening back to Gough Whitlam's wasteful disadvantaged schools program, the purpose of education is to remedy economic and social inequality. That social inclusion is central to the Rudd Government's education revolution is evident by a speech given by Gillard at an Australian Council of Social Service conference just before the federal election. Gillard said that education was critical to social inclusion and that a Rudd government would quickly establish a social inclusion board, with a social inclusion unit placed within the PM's Department.

There is an alternative to defining the value of education by its ability to increase productivity and reduce social inequality. Instead of restricting the work of schools to economic objectives and what often amounts to utopian social engineering, the true value of education lies in its cultural dimension; its ability to cultivate and enrich the moral, emotional, spiritual and intellectual aspects of individuals and the society in which they live.

David Green, an analyst at the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs, summarising an address to the Mont Pelerin Society given by English historian Max Hartwell, describes this cultural view of education as embracing 'civility, morality, objectivity, freedom and creativity. By civility he (Hartwell) means respect for other people; by morality, the elementary maxims such as honesty and fairness; by objectivity, belief in the disinterested examination of facts and arguments, without fear or favour; by freedom, the principle that children should be equipped to exercise personal responsibility; and by creativity, belief in the advance of knowledge, not the perfectibility of man, but the possibility of progress.' Music, literature, history and art may not have any immediate application or practical use, but to ignore them is to give students an impoverished, superficial and largely barren education. It should also never be forgotten that much of contemporary culture is driven by the need to make a profit and to entertain, and thus provides little of lasting or real value.

US writer and child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim and American academic Joseph Campbell argued that literature, especially those myths, fables and legends associated with the Western tradition and classic texts such as Euripides's Medea, Homer's Iliad and the works of Shakespeare, deal with human nature in a profoundly moving and illuminating way. Such works also introduce students to archetypes and emotional and existential challenges that define what it is to be human.

The purpose of studying history is not only to learn about the past to better understand the present and to predict the future; equally as important is the way history allows individuals to partake in a narrative that provides meaning and a sense of belonging to something larger and more enduring than one's day to day routine.

Music and art, especially that of the great masters, helps cultivate a sense of the spirit and the sublime and, once again, while not of immediate economic use, can enrich one's character and, to use poet William Blake's phrase, cleanse the doors of perception; allowing a richer and more nuanced understanding of the world. With schools being forced to embrace a managerial approach to education, where accountability and testing prevail, the dangers of ignoring and undervaluing a cultural view of education are plain to see. As shown by research sponsored by the Australian Scholarship Group and released last October, one-third of those students interviewed felt stressed and unable to cope with the demands of school and peer relationships.

Melbourne-based adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg also suggests all is not well, observing that many young people feel disengaged, and lack resilience and a sense of purpose in life; hence the rising tide of youth suicide, street violence and the endemic drug culture associated with city nightlife.

Although there is no guarantee that the type of liberal education associated with studying literature, history, music and art will address such concerns, it is also true that education represents a powerful humanising force and, as suggested in the Bible and epitomised by the Christian ritual of Christmas, man does not live by bread alone.


Politically correct swimming pools in Melbourne

Political correctness has made a splash at swimming pools - instructors have been told not to touch their students. Several swimming teachers have told the Sunday Herald Sun of the edict that came after parents complained their children's personal space had been invaded. One instructor from Maribyrnong Aquatic Centre said: "It's ridiculous. How can you teach someone to swim without occasionally touching them?"

"Sue" did not want to be identified for fear of losing her job. "I used to enjoy teaching swimming classes, but now I'm not so sure. Some of the magic has gone out of it," she said. Another teacher, "Mark", said: "The bottom line is that the parents are paying for these lessons and if they want their kids to learn to swim they need to let us hold and guide them occasionally."

A spokesman for Maribyrnong Aquatic Centre confirmed a complaint had been received from a parent and had been acted upon by staff at the centre. Mr Sahil Bhasin, operations manager at Melbourne City Baths, said it was ridiculously impractical to try to teach a child to swim without physical contact. "You're asking for a drowning if you try this," Mr Bhasin said. [The neurotic parent should have been told that they were unable to help her kid in the circumstances]


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Prohibition for blacks?

Once condemned as "racist" by Leftists, it is a Leftist government that wants to bring alcohol prohibition back. Up until the 1970s it was a policy of long standing -- based on the readily observable difficulties that Australian Aborigines have with alcohol. But Leftists were wiser than all that of course. I myself believe that totally equal treatment of blacks and whites (including abandonment of all "affirmative action" programs) is the only way forward for blacks but it is amusing to see a clear example of how our "compassionate" Leftists really do not have a clue

PROMINENT indigenous leader Noel Pearson says Queensland's Alcohol Management Plans have failed because of poor management by the State Government. Mr Pearson has backed Premier Anna Bligh's call to consider prohibition after she this week acknowledged the AMPs had failed. Mr Pearson said "taking grog off the black fella" would make communities and leaders responsible for their own actions, with AMPs initially succeeding and then failing only because of poor management. The Government had failed to address demand reduction strategies like addict treatment centres and loopholes exploited by sly-groggers.

"The other part of the solution is Aboriginal people and leaders facing up to problems in the community and, to date, we have not done that," Mr Pearson said. "In Hope Vale, bootleggers have been using back roads to dodge police, and young ones have written F- - - Off on signs warning of alcohol restrictions. We can't have the law being mocked like that."

Mr Pearson did not see prohibition as an unfair law imposed by whites on blacks. "White fellas don't live with 800 relatives in the same township. Black fellas in these communities have got hundreds of relatives living around them, and when you add grog into a kinship system, it becomes a very ugly, dangerous thing."

But evidence detailed in Alcohol Management Review reports obtained by The Courier-Mail shows banning alcohol is unlikely to work, with drinkers prepared to go to extreme lengths to get their liquor of choice. One review states young men in five communities are endangering their lives by going on "grog runs" to Thursday Island and returning drunk at night in boats overloaded with liquor. On Mornington Island residents are brewing alcohol in unsanitised bins and charging up to $50 for a two-litre bottle. In Napranum residents are carting banned liquor across crocodile-infested areas.

The town is one of seven communities which connect an increase in petrol sniffing among children with introduced alcohol restrictions. A spokeswoman for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Partnerships Minister Lindy Nelson-Carr said the Government had taken many initiatives to bolster the effectiveness of AMPs in indigenous communities. She cited the introduction of a night patrol on Mornington Island. But a community spokesman said the patrol was infrequent.


Incredible shrinking bureaucracies

It seems that it can happen

QUEENSLAND'S fire service has been put on notice, with a review of bureaucratic fat coming only days after the ambulance service was overhauled. In an attempt to ease union concerns about frontline firefighter shortages, Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts has revealed he will investigate whether resources are being used appropriately across the other arm of his department. The move comes after similar concerns about QAS staffing allocations, including a recent safety audit finding fire crew numbers in one region dropping below the accepted "safe" ratio more than once a week.

Mr Roberts last night said he would not pre-empt the review by speculating on possible staffing changes similar to the QAS, where 100 office positions were axed this week to fund 100 new paramedics. While the ratio of QFRS frontline personnel to desk staff is more favourable than the top-heavy QAS, Mr Roberts is attempting to heed Premier Anna Bligh's mantra of finding problems before they get out of hand. "Like any emergency service, the QFRS must continue to focus on the front line," Mr Roberts told The Courier-Mail. "I want this review to also consider how the QFRS will respond to Queensland's continued growth, climate change, advances in firefighting and rescue technology."

The United Firefighters Union has welcomed the review, insisting unnecessary pressure on the frontline has been felt across the state for too long. "There has been a feeling for some time that the place may be overloaded with bureaucracy and we are always complaining about a shortage of staff on the frontline," UFU Queensland president Henry Lawrence said.

However, Opposition emergency services spokesman Ted Malone said the method of the review was flawed in a similar way to the QAS audit. The QFRS review will be conducted internally by director-general Jim McGowan and Fire Commissioner Lee Johnson with no involvement from those who audited the QAS. "This is long overdue . . . but my concerns are they just reviewing themselves," Mr Malone said. Like the QAS, the QFRS was allocated a record budget this financial year with a $36 million increase to $360.1 million.


Rudd takes control to new highs

SOME of Australia's major institutions will have their media releases vetted by the Rudd Government to make sure they reflect Labor's "key messages". A directive was issued this week by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research to about a dozen statutory agencies. Recipients include the CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, the Australian Research Council, the Co-operative Research Centres and Invest Australia. Even the Questacon science museum in Canberra was sent the directive.

It says the Prime Minister's office has instructed that "all strategic media releases which relate to the Government's key messages" must be forwarded to the department which will then submit them to the office of the minister, Kim Carr. If necessary, Senator Carr would send the release to the Prime Minister's office. The department would contact the agency "regarding required changes". The directive says releases "of a more pedestrian nature" need not be vetted but anything to do with climate change, industrial relations policy, education and science reform, tax policy, national security and health must be submitted. It has caused concerns within the statutory authorities which were never subject to such conditions under the Howard government.

One former Liberal minister called the Rudd Government "control freaks". "The CSIRO sent out a lot of things that were quite contrary to our position on climate change. We just gritted our teeth and wore it," he said.

A Government spokesman said vetting the releases was a temporary measure until ministerial staff were in place. The secretary of the department, Mark Paterson, said there was nothing unusual about the directive, especially in the early days of a new government. Only 30 per cent of the public service had experienced a change of government and a number of agencies had sought "guidance on how to deal with media release issues", he said. Mr Paterson said statutory authorities should not be immune. "There's a mindset with some that statutory authorities are independent for all purposes. They're not," he said. "They are created to undertake a particular task. That doesn't give them free range or nor should it."

Meanwhile, the head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Peter Hendy, will resign and become the chief of staff to the Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson. Mr Hendy helped draft the first round of industrial relations changes in 1996 when he worked for the then minister, Peter Reith. He was also implicated in the children overboard scandal. While at the chamber he led the business advertising campaign attacking unions and supporting Work Choices.

Relations between Labor and the chamber reached such a low that Kevin Rudd called Mr Hendy a Liberal Party operative. On taking office, Labor sent several veiled messages to the chamber. In the first weeks , Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan gave speeches to the chamber's rival, the non-partisan Australian Industry Group. Dr Nelson has agreed to abandon Work Choices but has hinted he will not let Labor abolish Australian Workplace Agreements.


National literacy exams planned for all schools

If Rudd doesn't overturn them. But Leftist State governments have agreed to it all so the only immediate peril is dumbing the whole thing down

SPELLING, grammar and punctuation will be assessed nationally for the first time next year with the introduction of uniform tests for students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The national literacy and numeracy tests, to be held over three days in May, will include an extra test on language conventions in the literacy assessment, in addition to reading and writing. The language conventions test will comprise about 50 questions, half on spelling, half on grammar and punctuation.

Sample tests show that Year 3 students will be asked to correct misspelt words in sentences such as "we jumpt on the trampoline", choose the correct tense of a verb to insert in a sentence and show where quotation marks or capital letters should go. By Year 9, students will be asked to correct misspellings such as "apreciate" and "seperate", place apostrophes and identify whether "a" in the sentence "a product" is a noun, definite article or indefinite article.

The national testing regime includes separate tests on reading, writing and numeracy, with students in years 7 and 9 to sit two for maths, one using calculators and one without. In reading, students will be given several passages of writing of different styles, varying in number from six for Year 3 students to eight in Year 9, and asked to answer mostly multiple choice questions. The writing task next year is to compose a narrative, with students in all years given the same brief. The sample question is based on discovery, and gives students half a dozen sentences about people discovering new ideas, objects or secrets, from which they are expected to write astory. Previously, states and territories set literacy and numeracy tests in years 3, 5 and 7. Results were manipulated to compare students in different jurisdictions against national benchmarks.

Under pressure from the Howard government, the states and territories agreed to replace their tests with common literacy and numeracy tests and include Year 9 students in the assessment. University of Western Australia professor Bill Louden, who has written reports on literacy education, said constructing a separate test for spelling and grammar was a better way of assessing students' skills than marking it as a part of a writing assignment. Professor Louden, head of the graduate school of education at UWA, said parents, teachers and employers tended to regard students' spelling and grammar as markers of their quality. "Students may not be aware people draw all sorts of inferences from the general ability to spell and construct grammatical sentences, so tests are important to draw students' attention to that," he said.

Australian Education Union acting federal president Angelo Gavrielatos had concerns that a national testing regime was being introduced before the development of a national curriculum. "We appear to be going at this the wrong way; we're talking about reporting first then assessment before we've had a conclusive discussion about curriculum," he said. "Curriculum must be centre stage."

Terry Aulich, executive officer of the Australian Council of State School Organisations representing government school parents, said the tests should be trialled on adults as well as on the students to ensure they were an accurate reflection of ability. Mr Aulich expressed concern about the sophisticated language skills required in the sample tests, with the use of words such as "dugong" and "habitat" in the Year 3 reading test, which he said were not part of the average eight-year-old's vocabulary


Friday, December 21, 2007

Universities get tough on bad English

This is a sensible measure but how long will it be before we hear shrieks of "discrimination" and "racism"?

INTERNATIONAL students, Aborigines and newly arrived migrants face tougher English language requirements to get into Victorian universities after institutions complained they were not performing as well as local students. The Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre has allowed universities to raise the entrance scores required for students who have completed English as a second language instead of English in their final year of school.

Secondary school students who have been in an English-speaking country less than seven years, are here studying from another country or Aborigines whose first language is not English are entitled to study ESL, which was previously worth the same marks as English. But under the changes to start in 2009, ESL students will have to get five points higher than students studying English to meet university entrance requirements.

The move came as Swinburne University decided to test the English language skills of incoming international and domestic students. Those who perform badly will be required to undertake extra English classes as part of their undergraduate degree. The University of Melbourne, the Australian Maritime College, Monash, La Trobe and Deakin universities have indicated they will increase ESL scores for course selection, making it five points higher than the minimum score needed for English. But RMIT University, Victoria University and the University of Ballarat have decided against the increase for 2009 entry and Swinburne University is waiting for the results of its new English testing project before deciding whether to raise ESL scores.

Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre director Elaine Wenn told the HES VTAC did a review of VCE English and ESL scores after requests from universities. She said institutions had done their own research and discovered ESL students often could not compete with local students who had studied English. "They found that students entering university with ESL were not doing as well, some even had a higher rate of failure than the students who had the same study scores in English," Ms Wenn said.

She said the VTAC study compared five years worth of VCE English and ESL results with general aptitude tests taken by the students. The research found there was a difference in the way the English and ESL students performed on aptitude tests. "It was telling us that a higher score was required for ESL to get the same score in English," Ms Wenn said. "We are just trying to be fair," La Trobe University admissions and selection chairman Peter Stacey said. He said the aim was to establish equivalent standards.

Monash University demographer Bob Birrell backed the move, saying there was strong anecdotal evidence international students with poor English skills enrolled in Australian high schools as a way of getting into university.


A few posers for Rudd's green team

By Barry Cohen -- a former Labor Party environment minister. Barry is a great guy (His book "The Yartz" is hilarious) but forgive his grammar. Why the subbies on "The Australian" let pass "who" for "whom" is a mystery, however. The "Wayne, Penny or Peter?" reference below is a mockery of the way Rudd does not seem to be able to find a single competent spokesperson on "Green" issues

Kevin Rudd's magnificent victory and the smooth transition to power have been impressive, with the enthusiastic response in Bali to Australia's decision to ratify Kyoto a triumph. It won't get any better than this. The problems will start with the hard decisions, particularly in the area of climate change.

In days of yore when you wanted to besmirch someone's good name, you called them a communist or a fascist. Nowadays, climate change sceptic will do. That's certainly the first lady's response whenever I question new scientific "research" predicting plague and pestilence will be visited on us by 2050. I doubt Rudd will be around then.

My scepticism is based not on the threat as such but on the waffly solutions proposed to stop global warming. Instead of chanting the mantra Kyoto and Bali, the environmentally committed might try abracadabra. It won't help, but it wouldn't hurt either. Sample the vagueness of Labor's pre-election promises.

* Restore Australia's international leadership.

* Develop a carbon market.

* Lead by example.

* Drive a clean renewable energy revolution.

* Invest in cleaner businesses.

* Prepare for future impacts on climate change.

Heady stuff, isn't it? Such verbiage is the politics of the warm inner glow. Feelgood phrases that are short on specifics. Fortunately, there's no shortage of money. The price tag for the Government ranges from $100 million to $500 million. No surprises there. There will be no personal pain as we all live happily ever after in a carbon-free environment.

It was too much to expect either party to be giving us, before the election, the bad news, but if Australia is serious about global warming, everyone will have to make sacrifices. It won't be cheap and it will sort out the sceptics from the true believers. Governments can subsidise the battlers but the rest of us will have to pay up and change our lifestyles. Sweeping generalisations about the changes the purists are demanding are fine until you examine what they want abolished. At climate change rallies, the signs proclaimed: "Clean coal is a dirty lie". That should go down well in coalmining towns.

Question to Wayne, Penny or Peter?

Oil is out not only because of its emissions but because it enables Middle East thugs to hold us in thrall. Hydro is the ultimate clean, green energy source, or was until they flooded Lake Pedder and threatened to do the same to the Franklin River. It is a five-letter word no longer used in polite society.

Wayne, Penny or Peter?

Which brings us to nuclear energy, which has no carbon emissions. Here Australia takes a very moral position. It's fine for everyone except Australia, because we can make billions out of selling uranium to customers who don't make bombs with it, just as Iran isn't. It makes me very proud to be a nuclear-free Australian.

Wayne, Penny or Peter?

Finally, there is wind and solar. Wind is exciting until you see the windmills. Bats and birds can't stop bumping into them. Apparently they can see trees but not windmills.

Wayne, Penny or Peter?

Solar is definitely a winner but as it presently provides about 1 per cent of the world's energy needs, it has a long way to go. Incidentally, it's disappointing so few solar enthusiasts have got around to installing solar themselves. Who'd believe it?

To its credit, the Labor Party is placing great store in its program to solarise every school and provide loans and rebates to encourage "energy-efficient insulation, solar power panels and solar hot water systems". It's a step in the right direction, if only a small one. We'll learn a lot more when the Garnaut report surfaces.

There is also Labor's proposal to "establish a $500 million green car innovation fund". Fine, but surely the time has come for a really serious attempt to wean us off the motor vehicle? Spending billions on roads and almost nothing on public transport raises questions about our priorities. In 1972 I convinced Gough Whitlam to include in his policy speech a commitment to build a national highway system. It's almost finished. Now we need a national urban transport system to reduce cars and make our cities livable.

What is extraordinary is that successive federal governments have encouraged the use of private cars by making car expenses tax deductible while denying it to public transport commuters. Having it the other way around would be environmentally responsible and socially equitable.

While on the subject of cars, when will government phase out gas-guzzlers by taxing them out of existence? Labor has promised to "make half of all commonwealth cars environmentally friendly by 2020". Why only half?

Wayne, Penny or Peter?

With all the rhetoric about climate change, few make the connection between increased population and increased carbon emissions. All political parties propose increased immigration, baby bonuses, preschool and child care. All noble objectives, if the aim is to expand our population. If that's what Australia wants, so be it; but let's not pretend that 10 million more people won't affect the environment. It's about time we had a serious debate about the size of our population. All these issues will be raised in parliament, but who will the questions be directed to? Guess who the Opposition will be targeting?


Leftist judges go back a long way

A little more than 100 years ago a court ruling was delivered that gave us what became known as the basic wage. The Harvester Judgment, delivered by Justice Henry Bournes Higgins in the Arbitration Court, established the living wage to be paid to a man, his wife and three dependent children in order to keep a family in what he termed "frugal comfort"....

As a reading of the Harvester Judgment makes clear, Higgins was dismissive of what he termed the "higgling of the market". This even though, in the first decade after Federation, Australia was exporting on world markets. Also he did not understand the difference between the private and public sectors. He did not comprehend why a private business, which depended on selling goods and services, operated in a different way to state subsidised "public bodies which did not aim at profit".

The flaw in the living wage concept even became evident when, in the 1909 Broken Hill Mines Case, Higgins declared that it was better for an employer to go out of business than to pay employees less than the prevailing basic wage as determined by the taxpayer funded and tenured judges on the Arbitration Court. Strange as it may seem, this position still engenders support today. In Choice for Whom? (Catholic Social Justice Series, No 58), Tim Battin supports the view that "if employers could not pay, perhaps they had no business being in business". Battin's pamphlet, published last year, is endorsed by Bishop Christopher Saunders, the chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.

The problems with the Harvester Judgment went beyond Higgins's refusal to consider the ability of employers to pay. He declined to acknowledge geographical differences - namely, that it was more expensive for a worker to bring up a family in, say, Sydney than, say, Geraldton. In addition, Higgins overlooked the fact that not all male labourers were married with children and that life was no more expensive for a single man than it was for a single woman.

The economic historian W.K. Hancock, in his book Australia, maintained that - due to the Harvester Judgment - in 1920 Australian businesses were being forced to support 450,000 non-existent wives and over 2 million non-existent children. Today it is fashionable, especially in academic circles, to praise - even toast - the living wage. However, Higgins's contemporaries were more realistic in their assessments - especially during the economic crisis of the 1930s. The basic wage was cut during the Great Depression and only partly restored when prosperity returned. Industrial tribunals began to focus on the capacity of industry to pay - a phenomenon Higgins simply refused to consider.

In time, governments accepted the responsibility of ensuring a social safety net. Initially child endowment payments were a principal means to this end. In more recent times the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments focused on generous payments and tax concessions to families with dependent children. As the Rudd Government scales back Work Choices and moves to implement Fair Work Australia, it is important to remember that good will, of the Higgins kind, does not necessarily result in good policy. A century after the Harvester Judgment, Higgins's legacy is all over bar the toasting.


Kiwis are Australia's poor relations

(And they hate it. Rivalry with Australia is the main thing that pushes economic rationality there. Kiwis are otherwise very socialistically inclined -- like the Scots from whom many of them originated.)

A FORMER New Zealand prime minister [Muldoon] once joked the migration of his citizens to Australia increased the IQ of both countries. But a study shows the joke is on NZ. Australians are far more productive and earn much more than their Kiwi cousins.

This is intriguing, because both nations enjoyed the same level of income for most of the 20th century, according to a report by the Centre for Independent Studies. The study, Why is Australia So Much Richer than New Zealand?, was written by Phil Rennie, an analyst for the CIS NZ policy unit.

It revealed Australia's GDP was $41,760 a head compared with NZ's $31,668. A leading hand on a major construction site earned up to $73,000 in Australia compared with $48,000 in NZ, the study said. Senior Australian accountants fetched up to $183,000, at least $50,000 more than NZ counterparts.

Mr Rennie ruled out laziness as the reason for NZ falling behind. "Australians don't necessarily work harder than New Zealanders, but they do work more effectively,'' he said. "Every hour they do produces an extra 37 per cent of output.''

Australia was more productive because its companies had invested more money in machinery and technology than NZ. "Prosperity does not come by accident,'' Mr Rennie said. "Australia has a stronger political consensus around policies for growth, which contributes to investor confidence.''


Kiwis head across the Tasman to Oz

ALMOST 41,000 New Zealanders packed their bags to live in Australia during the past 12 months in the biggest net exodus for 19 years. The figures from Statistics New Zealand showed a flood of people had left New Zealand. In total, 76,000 people permanently left New Zealand, with nearly 41,000 departing to live in Australia.

Dr Lockwood Smith, from the main opposition National Party, said the exodus to Australia was up 70 per cent since 2003. "Last month, the 75,000 permanent and long-term departures were the highest for a decade. One month on, and the record's been broken again," Dr Smith said.

The figures showed the net outflow to Australia was 27,200 in 2007, the highest level for a November year since 1988. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark this morning said there was a "brain exchange" going on between Australia and New Zealand. "Some people go to Australia of course. There's also quite a disproportionate number of retired people going now because over the years as families and working age people have gone, their mum and dad tend to follow. That's life. "Coming back to NZ the other way we are getting people who are more skilled on average than those leaving NZ, and over time their families come with them as well," Ms Clark said.

In the past 12 months 6600 more people arrived in New Zealand than left, although the trend is falling, with a gain of 14,800 a year ago. About 4.2 million people live in New Zealand.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Only one year in jail for anal rape of a child??

But he is black so that is OK, apparently

TWO adults and two teenagers will each spend between one and 15 months behind bars for sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy at a remote Top End Aboriginal community. Rejecting pleas for wholly suspended sentences, Northern Territory Supreme Court judge Trevor Riley yesterday described the anal penetration of the boy between April and August last year at Maningrida, 500km east of Darwin, as "opportunistic" rather than predatory.

However, he said the males had taken advantage of the young victim, who was assaulted on three separate occasions at the community, as he sentenced the four offenders to a total of 32 months in custody. "The future of the victim remains uncertain and of significant concern," Justice Riley said.

The Territory's top prosecutor, Richard Coates, yesterday attributed the reluctance of Aboriginal children to give evidence as an explanation for the decision by the Crown not to pursue more serious rape charges, which could have led to jail terms of 20 years or life. The four offenders pleaded guilty to a total of eight charges, including sexual intercourse without consent. Justice Riley said he would have imposed higher sentences if they had claimed innocence.

The revelations in The Australian last week that nine males who gang-raped a 10-year-old girl in the Queensland Aboriginal community of Aurukun had escaped jail sentences has triggered nationwide debate about indigenous justice. Unlike the Aurukun gang-rape case, Justice Riley rejected pleas from defence lawyers to impose wholly suspended sentences on the offenders. But the sentences were still criticised as inadequate. "For Centrelink fraud and property damage, they'll send people to jail for three times that," Queensland indigenous human rights activist Gracelyn Smallwood said. "We've got to start getting serious about sexual abuse right across the country."

Indigenous activist Boni Robertson said it was important that courts sent a message to thepublic that sexual intercourse with children could not be tolerated. "And why did they call it sexual assault and not rape?" she said. "There's a responsibility to send a message that if you are going to interfere with a child then you are going to face the sternest wrath of the law."

Child sexual assault advocate Hetty Johnston said the sentences appeared to treat abuse as a "misdemeanour". "The length of time they're in jail is not as important as knowing whether they have had time to complete a treatment program and knowing whether they are safe to be released," she said.

The victim of the Maningrida assault has been living in Darwin since charges were laid last year. The court heard yesterday that he could be blamed in the community for any sentence imposed on his abusers. "The boys did bad things to me," he said in his victim impact statement.

Claevon Cooper, 20, was sentenced to three years and nine months behind bars, suspended after 15 months. Isiah Pascoe, also 20, was sentenced to two years and eight months, suspended after 10 months. An 18-year-old boy was sentenced to two years and six months in jail, suspended after six months. Justice Riley ordered a 14-year-old boy who breached bail conditions earlier this year to spend eight months in juvenile detention - suspended after one month - for gross indecency. The judge did not record a conviction against the fifth offender, 17, who fondled the victim's buttocks, instead imposing a 12-month good behaviour bond. He acknowledged defence claims that pornographic movies had influenced the behaviour of the males, but said: "Those matters do not excuse or justify what took place."

Mr Coates said the NT Director of Public Prosecutions had opted for section 127 of the Criminal Code, which made it unlawful for anyone to engage in sexual intercourse or gross indecency involving a child under 16 years. This did not require the Crown to prove the victim consented to intercourse, unlike section 192 which attracts a possible life penalty for sexual assault without consent. In 2006-07, the DPP laid 30 charges under section 127. Mr Coates conceded the reluctance of indigenous children to testify may be responsible for more lenient sentences than would have otherwise been the case. "With this charge, consent is not an element of the offence," he said. "The child is incapable at law of consenting. The prosecution do not have to prove a lack of consent to prove the charge."


School reduced to cartoons and PC self-loathing

A youthful voice of intelligence below

As one who recently graduated from one of Queensland's best private schools, I view the Rudd Government's promise to consult a team of education experts in drafting a national curriculum with trepidation. These so-called experts, remember, inflicted on us entire terms of work on Queen Kat, Carmel & St Jude Get a Life and The Simpsons, not to mention long assignments on designing advertising campaigns and the front covers of teenage magazines. The justification for The Simpsons was that it contains myriad references to Dante. Too bad hardly any of the students knew what he'd written before or after that term. My five years of high school English were dominated by some of the most vapid aspects of our culture. In history, meanwhile, we took a suffocatingly PC approach that emphasised all that is wrong about our nation's past and identity.

Studies are repeatedly showing that standards in literacy and numeracy are slipping. Regrettably, the Howard government failed to halt this trend. But at least it, unlike Labor, recognised the link between falling standards and the time spent analysing the values espoused by, say, a Vegemite jar.

Luckily, many Australian children are indeed articulate and well-read. But this is in spite of their schooling, not because of it. They are fortunate to have parents who see the problem, correct their spelling and grammar and guide them towards better literature than Harry Potter. As for the young people who dispute that this is even an issue, in many cases their education has been so inadequate that they don't even realise its deficiencies. Even if most students can read and write at what the government deems an appropriate standard, the question remains: could they do better?

At high school, I can remember a grand total of five English lessons on language. In Year 8, we had one on synonyms, which was so puerile it was insulting (for example: "big, enormous"), and in Year 11, noticing that many students were still making mistakes in elementary punctuation, our teacher endeavoured to explain the difference between "its" and "it's". Oh, but I'm forgetting, we learned these things in primary school, didn't we? And apparently, grammar and spelling were better taught integrated into all our subjects. Perhaps my (first-rate) physics teachers should have taught me some French as well?

I read seven novels in my five years of English classes. We did study a few works from the canon: four of Shakespeare's plays, A Room with a View and Pride and Prejudice (though we tended to watch the cinematic adaptations to analyse film techniques).

However, since everything is a text (even a table, one teacher told us), and all texts are of equal merit, it didn't matter whether we were reading Macbeth or watching Australian Story. We still churned out essays on dominant discourses, foregrounding, privileging and marginalisation. I recycled these essays from one year to the next, and still ended up with good grades.

All I learned from five years of English was that "texts" can have multiple "readings", and that it is not necessary to choose the one the author intended. What a profound observation. Never mind the subtle nuances of our beautiful language, as employed by Blake, Hardy or Steinbeck. "Critical literacy" taught me to become a critical thinker: critical, that is, of what the education authorities disapproved of.

Subsequently, I became an authority on the marginalisation of the working classes in Pride and Prejudice. I became well-practised at disparaging the West. After a term studying racism, my understanding of American and Australian history surely lacked nothing, except perhaps some knowledge of the oldest constitution in the world, or the war with fascist Japan. I knew plenty about the binding of women's feet in ancient China. But was I aware of the beginnings of democracy in Greece?

After a term on the Vietnam War, everyone had grasped that Americans are stupid. What a shame we never studied the Cold War as a whole, and that nobody mentioned the millions of people who died under Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin. How about the Holocaust, the foundation of Israel and the subsequent turbulence in the Middle East?

It gets worse. Of my eight terms of history, one was spent on popular culture, one on foot-binding, one on East Timor, and one on racism. In selecting only those periods in history to study, our teachers made it clear what their views were. Yet surely it is inappropriate for them to show political affiliations of any persuasion. Their task should be to provide students with the facts (yes, the facts), discuss arguments on both sides, encourage us make up our own minds and to aspire to great things. At the moment, though, we're made to feel ashamed of most of our history, and to wallow in the cultural mire that is postmodernism.

We were continually being told at school that we were getting a world-class education. Frankly, though, I feel cheated in the humanities. The teaching of other subjects was excellent. Other young Queenslanders may protest that their own experience was nothing like mine. If that is the case, they were fortunate not to attend a school that boasted of "leading the way" in progressive education. Unless Julia Gillard has significantly more influence over the teachers' unions and the state bureaucrats than her predecessor, I am certain that all students will soon have to endure the same boredom that I did.


Immigration Minister grants residency to wrongfully detained refugee

This is mere justice for a man who has been so badly hurt by official bungling

Tony Tran, a refugee whose health and family life was blighted after he was wrongfully detained 5 years ago, has been granted permission to live in Australia. The resolution of his case marks the first step by the new Labor Government to resolve the cases of 247 people found to have been unlawfully detained by immigration authorities in recent years. The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, announced yesterday that he had granted Binh Van Tran, known as Tony Tran, permanent resident status.

Mr Tran was detained for breaching immigration laws. It was later discovered that the Immigration Department had failed to notify him that his visa had expired. After being detained, he was separated from his wife, who returned to South Korea, and from his young Australian-born son, whom officials sought to deport. During his detention, Mr Tran was stabbed and bashed by another detainee and still suffers from health problems as a result. His case was aired by ABC television during the election campaign and was one of 247 cases referred to the Commonwealth Ombudsman by the Immigration Department in 2005 and last year.

Mr Tran had lived in Australia for seven years, married and had a mortgage before his detention. He was detained months after coming to the attention of immigration officials, when he inquired about a spouse visa for his wife. Mr Tran, who was born in Vietnam but had grown up in the United States as a refugee, had come to Australia on a visa. He had believed he was on a valid visa at the time of his arrest in Brisbane for being an illegal resident.

"I am committed to resolving outstanding issues I have inherited in this portfolio," Senator Evans said. "Part of the process of resolving these outstanding issues is my decision today to grant Mr Tran permanent residence. This is a longstanding case on which the Ombudsman has reported, and which my department has been working on to reach a resolution. "We need to continue to resolve these outstanding cases so that we can rebuild confidence in the system."


Amazing: A shrinking health bureaucracy in Queensland

Only a tiny shrink, though. Nobody is actually fired. Horrors, no!

TWO senior bureaucrat positions have been cut from the top of the state's struggling ambulance service. It includes the abolition of one of nine assistant commissioner posts among 100 head office jobs to redirect $12 million to pay for an extra 100 paramedics. Assistant commissioner for strategic development Arthur O'Brien will move to the vacant role of chief financial officer, still earning about $130,000 a year. Another senior position worth about $100,000 a year in the office of Emergency Services director-general Jim McGowan also will remain unfilled.

The moves come after some lower-level staff were unhappy management positions remained untouched in the fallout from an audit examining why record funding was resulting in worsening service. Estimating savings of $230,000 from axing the two jobs, Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts yesterday said tough decisions had to be made. "The audit is doing the things we need to do, not the things it would be good to," Mr Roberts said. "This means the Government has had to make some tough decisions." [How awfully tough!]


Australians very dubious about having Muslims around


Police were forced to block the entrance of a public meeting in Camden last night when up to 800 people showed up to attend a protest against plans for an Islamic school in the suburb. Officers were required to control around 100 people who were prevented from entering the Camden Civic Centre last night, because the hall reached capacity within half an hour of the doors opening, police said.

Commercial radio reported that members of the crowd were carrying signs and banners bearing racist slogans and that a number became rowdy when they realised they would not be able to enter the meeting. There were reports of mounted police waiting nearby in case the protest meeting got further out of hand. The meeting was also attended by Fred Nile of the Christian Democratic Party.

The final decision on the development application for the 1200-student Al Amanah Islamic College at Camden is expected to be made in March next year. Nearly 2500 submissions have been received from residents - 1829 against, 649 in support. Council staff recommended that the development - a primary and secondary school, a 30-place child-care centre with two residences for caretakers, a reception and convention hall, a sporting hall and an indoor pool - be refused. In making the recommendation they relied on information from the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority and the NSW Department of Education and Training.

A police spokeswoman said that the organisers of the meeting had sent out 1600 flyers despite being aware that the civic centre only catered to around 650. "Organisers had met with police and council officials and it was agreed that once seating capacity was reached, the venue would be closed to those seeking entry,'' the spokeswoman said. "The forum passed without incident, no one arrested and no move along orders were issued.''


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

GP fights bureaucracy to get emergency help

A Queensland rural doctor, voted Australia's best GP for this year, was refused an emergency helicopter for a patient who suffered a heart attack. Dr Rachel Yarvey of Glenden, a mining town 180km west of Mackay, was 'told to ring around hospitals herself to find a bed for her patient on December 4 before the helicopter would be dispatched.

"It's just outrageous, an absolute disgrace ... that's not the doctor's job ... it could have been the difference between life and death," said Dr Harvey, 39. She said she spent about 35 minutes arguing on the telephone with Queensland Health and Queensland Ambulance Service. She then called a senior Queensland Health officer at Townsville Hospital and was again given the run-around but eventually got the helicopter and her cardiac patient was transferred to Mackay hospital and her life saved.

"It was all about politics - not patient care," she said. Dr Harvey said the first priority should be getting the patient to hospital before asking questions.

The article above is by Darrell Giles and appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on December 16, 2007

"Haphazard" treatment at public hospital leads to toddler's death

SYSTEMIC failures in the treatment of Ryan Saunders at the Rockhampton Base Hospital were likely to have contributed to the toddler's tragic death. The Courier-Mail has learnt an internal investigation by Queensland Health heavily criticised the hospital's haphazard approach to the two-year-old's care. It found necessary blood tests were not undertaken and Ryan should have been in intensive care but was sent to a ward because the unit lacked pediatric staff.

Ryan died after a harrowing and painful ordeal in Rockhampton when a Group A streptococcal infection went undetected and he developed toxic shock syndrome. The circumstances of Ryan's death, first revealed in The Courier-Mail last month, have outraged the community in his hometown of Emerald and horrified people throughout the state.

The findings, which were not released at the request of Ryan's family, have prompted a significant overhaul of procedures in every Queensland public hospital. The case also has been referred to the Health Quality and Complaints Commission for further investigation.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson met with Ryan's father Terry in Rockhampton yesterday to express his sympathies. "Terry Saunders is just one of the most decent people I have met in my life and for this to happen to his family, your heart goes out to them," Mr Robertson said. Mr Robertson said he felt an obligation on behalf of the family to prevent a repeat of the tragic circumstances. The Saunders family declined to comment.

Ryan, who would have celebrated his third birthday earlier this month, was originally thought to have died on September 26 from a twisted bowel. He was sent from Emerald Hospital to Rockhampton for an ultrasound but instead spent the night in severe pain in a ward bed. His infection was not discovered until 24 hours after Ryan arrived at Rockhampton but it was too late.

There have been 32 cases of Group A streptococcal infections in children aged under five years in Queensland over the past two years but it is unknown how many of these developed toxic shock. The team investigating the tragedy recommended more extensive blood tests for all children in Queensland hospitals and a review of Rockhampton's intensive care unit roster. It also called for the introduction of new observation rules for children and toxic shock education for pediatric staff at all hospitals.


Leftist broadcasters vent their predictable hatred of drug companies -- to dangerous effect

DOCTORS have condemned ABC television's The 7.30 Report over a story about bone drugs, which they claim was alarmist and inaccurate. According to professional group the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, the story, broadcast last Wednesday, may cause worried cancer and osteoporosis patients to stop treatment. "We want to set the record straight," said the society's president, Philip Sambrook, a rheumatologist with the University of Sydney and Royal North Shore Hospital.

The contentious story - presented by Nick Grimm - stated that so-called bisphosphonate drugs can cause the jaw bone to dissolve, a disfiguring condition called osteonecrosis of the jaw, or ONJ.

But the society said the claims were misleading, and warned that if cancer patients stayed off bisphosophonate medications such as Zometa and Aredia for prolonged periods, their disease could more easily spread. Further, if people with osteoporosis stopped drugs such as Aldomet and Fosamax, they could suffer serious fractures of the spine and hip. "Patients have been contacting practitioners and I've had emails from people around the country I haven't seen," Professor Sambrook said. "They were scared, having heard thereport."

He said the story incorrectly implied that all patients were at risk and that they were not warned by doctors or advised of simple alternatives such as calcium supplements. "Not uncommonly in cancer sufferers, but in rare cases with osteoporosis, bisphosphonates can interfere with the normal bone healing of the jaw, resulting in ONJ, or death of the bone," Professor Sambrook said. "However, the risk of this rare side effect can be significantly reduced by good dental care."

He added that calcium and vitamin D supplements might be sufficient to treat mild cases of osteoporosis, but they were ineffective against severe osteoporosis. Professor Sambrook was also critical of the claim that "bisphosphonates are a booming business for drug companies", which downplay side effects and exaggerate benefits. And he said it was factually incorrect to claim, as the report did, that the drugs had been listed on the Public Benefits Scheme only last December. "They were listed 10 years ago," Professor Sambrook said.

In a letter seen by The Australian, Professor Sambrook wrote to The 7.30 Report's executive producer, Ben Hawke, outlining these and other problems. In response, the full interview with Professor Sambrook has been posted on the program's website, along with others used in the story. However, he has not had a formal reply from Hawke. The Australian was unable to obtain comment from Hawke or ABC staff.


Child abuse checks ignored in South Australia

THE State Government failed to investigate thousands of reports of child abuse within set timeframes last financial year. Figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws by The Advertiser show many of the most serious allegations of child abuse were not investigated in a timely manner. In 2006/07, 37 cases in which the child was deemed to be in immediate danger were not investigated within the department's required 24-hour period. More than 4600 cases, or almost half, where children were considered at some risk of harm were not investigated within one week. A further 7969 cases were not investigated at all.

In those cases a "different kind of response" such as a referral to another agency was undertaken. The figures were released as a commission set up to investigate child protection measures in NSW began its first public hearings yesterday. The commission was established after a spate of shocking child deaths plagued the NSW Department of Community Services and a report showing 114 children who died in 2006 were known to authorities.

The SA State Government was condemned yesterday by child abuse and victims advocates and state MPs. The National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect state president Richard Bruggemann said it was unacceptable child abuse reports were not being investigated in a timely manner. "For them not to be seen in the time that is suggested I think is very poor," he said.

Opposition Families and Communities spokeswoman Vickie Chapman said more funding needed to be provided to investigate abuse allegations. "A failure to even respond means they are not even doing the reactive let alone the proactive," she said. "The most tragic consequence is what you get - 119 children dead last year and 30 of them were known to the department."

Victims of Crime Commissioner Michael O'Connell said early intervention was the best approach but was concerned many child abuse claims were not being investigated promptly. Family First MLC Dennis Hood accused the Government of failing to protect children. Families and Communities Minister Jay Weatherill said only 10 per cent of reports could be substantiated and resources were being directed towards early intervention.


Australia exports cars to the USA

It's not quite coals to Newcastle but ....

THIS car - a Pontiac G8 - represents the future of the GM Holden plant at Elizabeth and its 3400 workers. It's one of the first Pontiacs off the production line and is ready to be shipped to the U.S. today. The Pontiac G8 is based on the Elizabeth-built VE Holden Commodore but has been re-engineered, especially in the front end with its traditional Pontiac twin-nostril grille and bonnet scoops. "It's an awesome looking car," said 20-year Holden worker Bruce Mahlknecht of Wynn Vale, who gave the car its final check yesterday.

GM Holden has declared that its future as a manufacturer relies heavily on exports. That has become even more important with the decline in large-car sales on the Australian domestic market. This year it is sending about 31,000 cars to the Middle East, carrying the Chevrolet badge, as left-hand-drive versions of the Commodore and the long wheelbase Statesman-Caprice. It is expected about 30,000 Pontiac sedans each year will go to the U.S.

GM Holden has said that by next year half its production will be for export. With Pontiac now coming down the line, the Elizabeth manufacturing facility has reached maximum capacity of 620 cars a day, using two Monday to Friday shifts. The first shipments will be officially farewelled at the plant today by federal Trade Minister Simon Crean, SA Deputy Premier Kevin Foley and GM Holden chairman and managing director Chris Gubbey.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

This debacle is what the Greenies wish on everybody

TRAIN commuters are being ferried on buses and in taxis for free because of a massive spike in the number of scheduled Citytrain services that never turn up. New figures have revealed there were more than 1500 unscheduled cancellations of Citytrain services in the first four months of this financial year - a five-fold increase in the overall rate of cancellations in the previous financial year.

A significant factor in the cancellation blowout has been Queensland Rail's failure to employ the additional drivers needed to operate new trains ordered several years ago. CityTrain's woes have added to the meltdown occurring in public transport services throughout southeast Queensland. Buses routinely leave passengers behind because they are full, while the system's co-ordinating authority, TransLink, is clueless about on-time performance.

Transport Minister John Mickel yesterday admitted the number of cancelled trains was "completely unacceptable", while the union said Queensland Rail could blame nothing but its own poor planning. Rail, Tram and Bus Union state president Bruce Mackie said there had been no increase in the number of drivers and guards as the amount of rolling stock grew and extra services were added. "There is simply more work to be done and the same amount of people to do it, so you eventually run out of people," Mr Mackie said.

Mr Mickel said he was dissatisfied and was doing something about it. He vowed train passengers would continue to receive free alternative transport, such as buses or taxis, if they were left at a station. ["Alternatives" that often add hours to journey times!]

The figures show cancellations peaked in July at 469.9 compared to 70.5 the previous year. The six-fold increase has previously been blamed on a flu outbreak in QR's ranks. However, there were more than 300 unscheduled cancellations in each of the following three months - twice as many more than occurred in any month in 2006-07. The figures do not include the planned cancellations cut from Citytrain's 800 scheduled services a day.

Coalition transport spokesman Tim Nicholls said the number of cancellations meant more than 5000 commuters a day were left behind. Mr Nicholls said there were experienced train crew in regional Queensland wanting to work on Citytrains but they were being forced to wait three years to be transferred. "This is just another example of Labor's failure to plan for growth in southeast Queensland," he said.

Mr Mickel confirmed new drivers had not been ready for the extra services but would not say when he expected the fast-tracking of additional staff to cut cancellations.


More on the government response below: Tough talk but no action yet, even though the problem goes back a long way

STATE Transport Minister John Mickel has issued a blunt message to Queensland Rail: improve services and hire more staff. Mr Mickel says he has ordered Queensland Rail to speed up the employment of almost 100 extra train crew, including drivers and guards, to work on the Citytrain network in the state's south-east.

"I have been appalled by the number of trains either running late or being cancelled due to a shortage of guards," he said. "I have told QR that we need to deliver to the passengers travelling on the Citytrain network." He said 24 new drivers and 24 guards had now been employed to start work on Christmas Eve with an additional 48 to start early next year. Guards will also be diverted from low patronage services to peak services to improve reliability during busy times. Passengers pay for a service and they deserve to be getting the service they pay for," he said.

Mr Mickel said services needed to be improved for commuters to take public transport. "If we are going to get people out of their cars and on to public transport, it has to be reliable, accessible and affordable," he said. [He got that right!]


The un-stolen "generation": There's nobody to apologise to

CONVENTIONAL wisdom now accepts that the Rudd Labor Government will make an apology to the so-called stolen generation and, indeed, demands are being made that this apology will also claim that the removal of Aboriginal children from their families was "evil" and "cruel". But who exactly will this apology be made to, given that just one member of the so-called stolen generation has been identified in any legal sense and, even then, his later emotional problems were more directly related to attempts to return him to his natural family than to any experience with his adoptive family?

Ten years after the highly emotive but legally unreliable Bringing Them Home report was launched amid a chorus of sobbing sympathisers, only Bruce Trevorrow, a 50-year-old South Australian, has been awarded any compensation, winning $525,000 from the SA Government when Supreme Court judge Thomas Gray found the state had breached its duty of care. Mr Trevorrow had been admitted to hospital suffering stomach pains as a "neglected child without parents" when he was 13 months old. The hospital's notes say he was suffering from "malnutrition" and "infective diarrhoea". They add: "The other two children are neglected. Mother has cleared out and father is boozing."

After two weeks treatment, he was fostered into the home of Martha and Frank Davies, a white couple with two children of their own. Young Trevorrow spent nearly 10 years with the Davies family but has little memory of those days. His foster sister Carole Malinda, who was 15 when her parents brought the young Aborigine home, remembers him as "one of the family". She has said: "He was just our brother. We were told that he had been abandoned, which was a lie but we didn't know that, of course. He was just a person who needed a home."

Then the state changed its policy on removed children, and he began to visit his natural mother Thora Lampard (she had remarried), finally returning to her for good. His adoptive family found his departure wrenching. "We weren't told he was going away, so it was quite traumatic," Ms Malinda has said. "My mother cried her eyes out. She had lost her son and we didn't know why. He wasn't allowed to take any of his things ... He actually tried to walk home, back to us."

In fact, Mr Trevorrow found he no longer fitted into his natural family (his mother bashed him) and soon he went into institutional care. In hindsight, he might have been served better had the authorities let him remain with his adoptive family.

To publicly state such a thing is heresy to those who champion the sorry business and the apology, but it is a fact that Mr Trevorrow is the only person out of the hundreds of thousands claimed to have been "stolen" to have succeeded in any manner in any court. Mrs Lowitja (formerly Lois) O'Donoghue, a patron of the Stolen Generations Alliance (along with former prime minister Malcolm Fraser) was not stolen and nor was the late Charles Perkins, who was also hailed as a representative of this near mythical group. Ms O'Donoghue used to claim she had been stolen but admitted to my colleague Andrew Bolt six years ago that her white father had dumped first his eldest two children, Eileen and Geoff, at a missionary-run home for abandoned and sick Aboriginal children in Quorn, South Australia, and come back years later with three more, including Lois, who never saw him again. "He wanted to move on," Ms O'Donoghue told Bolt. Only the youngest of the six children stayed with their Aboriginal mother, who'd agreed to send the others away, and she has lived a harsh life.

The late Mr Perkins told me his mother had placed him with missionaries hoping he would get an education and greater opportunities and he rose to the challenge, attending university and rising within the federal public service to become head of the Aboriginal Affairs Department.

Ms O'Donoghue has warned the Rudd Government's Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin that not only must an apology harshly condemn the removal policies of state governments, but the apology would be meaningless without compensation. The figure she has in mind is $1 billion or the apology "won't settle anything", according to a report in The Australian.

Ms O'Donoghue should reconsider her position. While most Australians feel a sense of despair at the plight of disadvantaged Aboriginals, they would prefer that something practical be done to ensure that those condemned to live in dysfunctional remote communities or fringe settlements by generations of misguided left-wing policy makers are offered an opportunity to improve their lot through genuine programs, not just a series of hand-outs demanded by a group making dubious claims that don't meet any legal tests.


Statutory rape OK again

Whatever has happened to the age of consent?

A SEX abuse victim is shattered after a judge ruled he had consented to his own assault as a 13-year-old. The deaf victim, who summoned the courage to face his abuser in court, has now had his faith in the justice system destroyed, his family says. The victim's stepfather today joined condemnation of a judge for summing up the sexual assault by a 24-year-old man as adolescent "experimentation" and releasing him on a suspended sentence.

Yesterday, Judge Michael Kelly said the the 13-year-old deaf boy consented to his own sexual abuse and described the sexual assault by a 24-year-old man as adolescent experimentation before releasing him on a suspended sentence. Judge Kelly said the young teenager and his attacker -- the only deaf people in their country community -- were both victims of "experimental lust". "There was not the difference in their levels of maturity that their physical age would suggest," Judge Kelly said.

The young victim's stepfather today said the refusal to jail the abuser was an insult that had angered, upset and bewildered the victim. "I don't know how he will cope with it ... this could haunt him for 40 years," the stepfather said. "I just know that he was very, very, upset last night. "I just know that he's lost faith in the court system," he said on Southern Cross radio.

The stepfather said he was horrified when the abuse came to his attention. His stepson had spent four years going through the legal system and bravely opted to face his abuser in court rather than by video link, only to be dealt a cruel blow. "He wanted to confront this guy and show him he wasn't beaten," the man said.

The stepfather said his stepson's life had not been the same since the assault. He had lost two jobs and was now considering leaving another.

Australian Childhood Foundation chief Dr Joe Tucci said the judge's comments were offensive. "It is indefensible and . . . continuing to perpetrate a misunderstanding of how children cannot give consent and cannot in any way be responsible for their own sexual abuse," he said. "He actually has minimised the violence against this young boy and he has also, I think, given voice to those who think sexually abusing 13-year-olds is OK." "He is not discharging his responsibilities as a community leader . . . the Government should move immediately to suspend him or force his retirement."

Hetty Johnston, founder of child advocacy group Bravehearts, said the judge was an absolute disgrace. "We have to get rid of these dinosaurs from our benches," she said. Calling for an appeal, Ms Johnston said community standards were not being upheld and victims needed to be respected. "It takes away the power of all victims everywhere."

Ms Johnston and Dr Tucci both called for the abolition of suspended sentences in underage sex assault cases and clearer standards in sentencing. Judge Kelly was rebuked by a senior prosecutor last month during the offender's plea hearing when he said the victim impact statement was a "waste of time". The victim "wouldn't have done well in a British public school in the '30s", Judge Kelly said at the time. "The majority of people who suffer this kind of incident at some stage in their life simply get over it and think no more of it."

Addressing those comments yesterday, Judge Kelly said he'd fallen into legal error and hoped the victim's despairing predictions for the future proved false. But he went on to say: "The complainant . . . gives a horrific account of his perception of the effect upon him and his life of the crimes committed upon him by the prisoner, notwithstanding that he consented to the whole of the conduct and that it appears to be common ground that he initiated it."

The County Court heard that in March 2001 the older man began a relationship with the young teenager while on a camp for people with hearing disabilities. They had been long-time friends and shared a close bond because of hearing problems. The sexual relationship continued until October 2003 when the victim's brother caught them in bed. The man pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual penetration and one of an indecent act with a child under 16.

The court heard the man was pathologically lonely and lived in a silent world because none of his family had learned sign language. A psychologist gave evidence that the man's inability to properly communicate had left him socially starved and naive.

Judge Kelly said: "I accept the view that this offending grew out of friendship, curiosity and immaturity, was an isolated exercise of very poor judgment, and is much regretted," he said. The man was sentenced to two years and nine months' jail, wholly suspended for three years.


100,000 patients on hold in South Australia

MORE than 100,000 patients were not seen on time in the state's emergency departments last year, the latest Health Department figures show. Almost 18,000 more people sought emergency treatment last financial year compared to the year before, putting pressure on overloaded staff. Only about two in three people were seen within the ideal waiting times. While almost all patients requiring resuscitation were seen to immediately, emergency departments are still failing to meet targets for other urgent cases.

Health Minister John Hill said waiting times were improving despite the "enormous extra workload". "The most significant insight from these figures is that despite the massive increase in the number of people going to EDs, our hospitals are improving in terms of waiting times - not going backwards," he said. "But we know there is more work to do and that's why the Government launched SA's $2.2 billion Health Care Plan this year, designed to reform the health system and make it work better for patients and expand capacity at our hospitals."

Opposition health spokeswoman Michelle Lensink said the health care reforms were the "worst decision" the Government had made. "The fact they want to centralise everything into the new Marjorie Jackson-Nelson Hospital will make things much worse for people who live in areas like the west or the north-east because there's an increase in ambulance transit times," she said.

Mr Hill, who wrote to his federal counterpart, Nicola Roxon, yesterday with proposals to increase elective surgery numbers, said besides opening 250 beds and expanding emergency departments in the hospital system, the Government was working to keep people out of hospital through its GP Plus Health Care Centres and hospital at home programs. "Importantly people should be reassured that if they are suffering a life-threatening condition they will get immediate treatment in our hospitals," he said.


Teachers 'bullied more' in public schools

TEACHERS at government schools are bullied more frequently than their colleagues in the independent and Catholic sectors, with a survey suggesting the problem is rife in Western Australia and Queensland. Preliminary findings from a national survey conducted by the University of New England found government teachers were commonly criticised for their work, excluded from decision-making, threatened, intimidated, shoved and sexually harassed.

The voluntary internet survey attracted more than 800 responses, with 99.8 per cent reporting they had been bullied at school by fellow teachers, principals or parents. Senior lecturer in business, economics and public policy at UNE, Dan Riley, said the results showed that a disturbing proportion of teachers were being bullied regularly. "Government schools are not very attentive to bullying," he said. "Claims made (by bullied teachers) often take a long time to be investigated or are ignored altogether."

The survey found bullying was less common in Catholic and independent schools. The most common instance reported at independent schools was insulting emails. Most complaints were made by teachers in NSW, about 40 per cent, but teachers in Western Australia and Queensland were over-represented in the survey.

The acting federal president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, stressed that the survey was voluntary. "It needs to be recognised that the respondents had self-selected to participate in the survey ... although the issue of bullying is of concern in any workplace, and this is no exception," he said.


Monday, December 17, 2007


Five current reports below

That wishy-washy NT judge again

No jail for man who had sex with girl, 13. Once again, abuse of young black girls is fine, apparently. Amazing that a "blame the woman" defence was believed and accepted. See more of judge Martin's deplorable sentencing history here

A MAN who got a 13-year-old girl pregnant in a remote Northern Territory community has escaped a jail sentence. The 22-year-old man has been publicly "flogged" and shunned by his East Arnhem Land community and family for having sex with the teen, the NT Supreme Court heard this month. In sentencing the man, Chief Justice Brian Martin told the court the man's "public arrest amounted to great shame" for him and he had been publicly punished by his brothers in front of relatives. "As the principal of the community education centre has explained, this punishment by your own family has been given so that the other family will not be so sad," Chief Justice Martin said.

The court heard the girl "kept asking" the man to have sex with her, and despite resisting initially, they had sex earlier this year. The girl became pregnant and the pregnancy was terminated. Chief Justice Martin said this was "not a case" of an "older, intelligent man seeking out a young child for the purposes of sex". He said the man, who did not drink alcohol or smoke marijuana, spoke little English and was "unsophisticated". "This is a case of a young uneducated man, unsophisticated in terms of the modern world, who has reached the age of 22 without getting into trouble and being a respected, young member of a very remote community. This young man ... gave into the temptation at the urging of the young girl."

Chief Justice Martin said the case had put him "in a very difficult position". He sentenced the man to a 13-month suspended jail term, on the condition that he lived at an outstation with his aunties.


Police coverups in South Australia. No surprises there

POLICE are being accused of "excessive secrecy" for taking a year to release sparse details of individual cases of serious misconduct by officers. Details of the 29 officers' cases, proved before the Police Disciplinary Tribunal, are contained in a written response to an Opposition question asked in November last year. It reveals little extra detail to the brief summary provided in police annual reports, further intensifying pressure for greater scrutiny of police misconduct.

The data included officers found guilty on two occasions of "improperly obtaining benefit or advantage" and, in six instances, of breaching "confidentiality of information". The 2005-06 details show misconduct charges were withdrawn against five officers because they either had resigned or had retired.

Opposition Upper House leader and police spokesman David Ridgway yesterday accused police of "excessive secrecy" for taking so long to provide the details and not publishing it in annual reports. "I'd like to know why police think the hearings need to be kept secret," Mr Ridgway said. "The legislation is something we would look at. We are prepared to have a debate about the need for greater transparency and the public's right to know about what happens in these hearings." He said legislation should be reviewed to determine if hearings could be more open but with mechanisms to keep certain matters confidential if required.

Police say they are satisfied with the current arrangements and there is "scope" for some members of the public, with an interest in the case, to attend tribunal hearings. Hearings for serious professional misconduct are held in secret before a police disciplinary tribunal, unlike hearings for such professions as lawyers, doctors and teachers, which are open to the public. The tribunal, governed by the Police (Complaints and Disciplinary Proceedings) Act, hears cases referred by the Police Complaints Authority. The tribunal is chaired by a senior magistrate and, by law, must operate in strict secrecy.

Police Association president Peter Alexander yesterday said the tribunal always had been "treated differently because of the nature of the issues raised". He said the association had an "open mind" about a push for greater transparency. "If Parliament wants to examine the processes of the police employment tribunal and the issues out of that, such as onus of proof and not beyond reasonable doubt, then that's fine," Mr Alexander said. "We are prepared to discuss this with the Opposition and the Government. We would welcome a public debate about what is appropriate and what is not."

Police Minister Paul Holloway's spokesman, Owen Brown, yesterday said answering part of the Opposition's question involved a large amount of administrative work. The Government was "constrained by the Police Act on how much information it could provide". "The Police Act was supported on a bipartisan basis under the previous Liberal government," he said. The tribunal hearings required an element of confidentiality because matters related to breaches of the code of conduct, rather than criminality. "There are legitimate reasons to have a level of confidentiality because no officers have broken any laws, they have just been charged with disciplinary breaches, which are still independently examined by a magistrate," Mr Brown said.

A spokeswoman for Police Commissioner Mal Hyde, in an emailed statement, said: "The Commissioner is satisfied with the current legislation, which does have scope for members of the public to be present."

The individual case details supplied to The Advertiser were contained in a written response by Mr Holloway to a question in Parliament from Opposition Upper House MP Rob Lucas. On November 15 last year, Mr Lucas asked Mr Holloway to provide details of the 29 cases found proved and five where officers resigned or retired, before the Police Disciplinary Tribunal last financial year. Mr Lucas yesterday said he only received the written reply on November 13 - almost one year later.


Bureaucratic feuds harm children

POLICE and child safety officers Queensland's far north are accused of engaging in "inter-agency politics" that harm children. The claim was made in the final report of a team reviewing the Department of Child Safety's case management of the 10-year-old girl in Aurukun at the centre of last week's rape sentencing controversy.

In a December 14 letter to Premier Anna Bligh, obtained by The Courier-Mail, Crime and Misconduct Commission head Robert Needham said the review team had found no evidence to support claims made to it by a Cairns detective, Sergeant David Harold, that Government ministers had ordered child safety workers not to report abuse cases to police. But it had made findings "reflecting on the apparent poor relationship between (DOCS) officers and police at the local level".

He said the review team - whose work was supervised by the CMC - found that "on the balance of probability there is a level of 'inter-agency politics' which is harmful to the best interests of children". "It would appear that these politics include the department's response to input from other agencies and officers of other agencies attempting to 'ambush' the department," he said.

Mr Needham said the review had also found that departmental officers had failed to comply with legislation, policy and procedural frameworks when managing the Aurukun girl's case.

The case hit the headlines early last week when it was revealed that none of the nine males who pleaded guilty to raping the girl in Aurukun in early 2006 had been given jail terms. Ms Bligh sought input from the CMC on Friday after reports in some media that Government ministers were involved in a cover-up of child abuse cases in the state's far north. She said the December 2006 review report recommendations had dealt with the need for improved relations between police and child safety officers. "Those have been implemented and as I understand it they are operating much better than they used to," she said.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who met Aboriginal leaders in the Northern Territory at the weekend, said he continued to support the Commonwealth's controversial intervention program there. But he ruled out its extension to other states until the effectiveness of the measures - which included the Commonwealth's takeover of Aboriginal lands - had been assessed.

Meanwhile, new figures released to The Courier-Mail show that, contrary to some media reports, Cape York sexual abuse cases recorded by DOCS do not number in the hundreds. Data from 2006-07 for the Cape Torres office, which services a population of about 20,000 in 18 remote indigenous communities, showed there were a total of 564 notifications of abuse - including 208 for neglect, 170 for emotional abuse, 122 for physical abuse and 52 for sexual abuse. Of the 564 reports, 96 were proven. Five sexual abuse cases were substantiated


Child abuse: Who cares? Nothing urgent about that!

Or so it seems

A COMMISSION set up in the wake of some horrific cases of child neglect and deaths in New South Wales has begun and ended already, adjourned after only a couple of hours until February. At the commission's first public hearing today, retired judge James Wood said the inquiry would focus on the management structure of the child protection system in NSW and would not provide any findings about individual cases.

But he said the terms of reference for the inquiry were wide enough to investigate the child protection system in NSW, including the Department of Community Services (DOCS). "The terms of reference are exceedingly wide and encompass virtually every aspect of the child protection system, including the arrangements for early intervention and for responding to child abuse and neglect, inter-agency cooperation, out of home care and the role of courts and the oversight agencies," Mr Wood said.

The inquiry was announced by the NSW Government in November after a spate of deaths involving children known to DOCS, such as that of two-year-old Dean Shillingsworth. The little boy was allegedly killed on October 11, six days before his body was discovered inside a suitcase in a Sydney pond. His mother has been charged with his murder.

Mr Wood called for public submissions to the inquiry, saying it could be a unique opportunity to examine the troubled system. "This may be the one and only chance to do something in this critical area," he said. He adjourned the hearings until February, saying he expected to hold the first public forums then.


Cowardly Cowdery finally confronted

NSW Chief prosecutor Nicholas Cowdery is not mentioned by name below but his obstructive attitude to crime prosecutions has long been notorious

FRUSTRATED police will today launch an unprecedented campaign to force the Director of Public Prosecutions to end plea bargaining which they claim favours criminals rather than victims. The Daily Telegraph can reveal police are threatening to ban court work for the DPP unless the Government puts an end to "sleazy" backroom plea deals between lawyers. Police prosecutors will be directed to abandon an informal agreement whereby police cover for DPP solicitors in pre-trial court mentions. And as a last resort police will also refuse to refer hundreds of indictable offences to the DPP office - and take the prosecutions on themselves - to protect victims and their families from being "ripped off" by the backroom plea bargains.

The campaign, led by the NSW Police Association which represents 15,000 officers, comes after a spate of court sentences imposed on police killers and attackers. Two men were last week sentenced to seven years jail over the killing of Constable Glenn McEnallay under a backroom deal between lawyers that had the men plead guilty to manslaughter instead of murder.

The campaign will begin today with workplace meetings in all police stations across NSW. Police cars will also fly blue-ribbons to alert the public to their plight. It is believed a review has the informal backing of Police Minister David Campbell.

The deals are often used by the DPP in order to secure convictions in cases which may not clear cut. However, police claim the deals had gotten "out of control" and victims were now being ignored by the DPP under a system that rewarded conviction rates at the expense of justice. Police prosecutors have admitted to already keeping back some less serious indictable offences in the local court to prevent the charges being lowered by the DPP in the higher District Court.

"NSW police officers are demanding a full review of the plea bargaining system with a view to fundamental reform to end the culture of backroom deals between lawyers at the expense of victims and their families," Police Association president Bob Pritchard said. "It is not just the treatment of those who attacked or killed police officers that concerns us. "It is that hundreds of hours of preparation and investigative work by officers in a range of other cases that is being traded away in sleazy backroom deals."

Police officers will also be selected to lobby their local MPs to push for an official review of the system. The association has also said it would direct police prosecutors to stop appearing in court mentions on behalf of the DPP, as a last resort. This means the DPP solicitors would have to work longer hours, appearing in court for every stage of proceedings, with police refusing to cover for them. And it wouldn't stop there.

There is a mandatory requirement all serious indictable offences such as murder and rape be referred by police to the DPP. However, police prosecutors have discretion in less serious indictable offences. And it is these, they claim, they will refuse to refer to the DPP if a review is not undertaken by Attorney General John Hatzistergos. The Police Association claimed it "no longer trusted" the DPP to act in the best interests of victims.


Sunday, December 16, 2007


A few years ago, the subscription-based Queensland ambulance service was taken over by the Leftist State government and made "free" to all. The resulting steep decline in standards of service accompanied by an explosion of bureaucracy was of course predictable. See three articles from just one day below. The first two articles below are by Darrell Giles and appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on December 16, 2007

Ambulances "too busy" for heart attack victim

Family members say they have been let down by the Queensland Ambulance Service after paramedics did not arrive before their rugby league legend father died of a heart attack. John and Leanne Fleming, of Beaudesert, south of Brisbane, called Triple-0 after John Fleming Sr, 70, a former Kangaroos league manager, suffered a cardiac arrest late on Friday, December 7. No ambulances were available and firefighters were sent to his home instead. The fire crew gave oxygen and tried to resuscitate Mr Fleming Sr, but he died before paramedics arrived about 23 minutes after the initial emergency call. "It was such a long time ... he was gone before they got there," his son said yesterday. "The firemen, the ambu- lance officers, they were all great. But it was the system which was at fault. The system let us down."

It was at least the third such death in southeast Queensland this year. An exclusive Sunday Mail report in June revealed that a 28-year-old Sunshine Coast man died from a heart attack after firefighters had to go to an emergency call. Peter Crane, 76, died at his Bribie Island home in similar circumstances in February.

Mrs Leanne Fleming called Triple-0 at 11.54pm about her father-in-law. She was told the closest ambulance was about. 20km away. "When you call and ask for an ambulance you expect an ambulance, not the fire service," Mr Fleming said. "They said upfront they couldn't get there quickly." Mr Fleming said even when the paramedics arrived at 12.17am, they said they could only stay a matter of moments because they were so busy. "l don't know whether they could have saved his life, but he might have had a better chance," he said.

A QAS spokesman said "at the time of the call there was a high demand for ambulance services in the region".... The Department of Emergency Services has set a 10-minute benchmark for ambulances to arrive in life- threatening cases. Recent Queensland Ambulance Service figures showed paramedics met the mark in about 60 percent of cases - well below the 68 per cent expected by the Government [What about 100%?]. The latest death is likely to speed up the installation of defibrillators on fire appliances so crews can try to save the life of heart attack victims. It is planned to have hundreds of defibrillators on fire trucks next year.

Attempted ambulance service coverup

The Queensland Ambulance Service withheld a damning accident investigation report despite repeated attempts by a crash victim to obtain a copy under freedom of information laws. The QAS twice sent Keith Murr incomplete versions of the report -- although the paperwork had long been completed and placed the blame for the accident on an ambulance driver.

Mr Murr, 72, and his wife Yvonne, 68, were in their car when it was hit by an ambulance responding to an emergency in Toowoomba on March 17, 2005. Mrs Murr, who was driving, suffered severe head and upper body injuries and now has permanent impairment. The QAS initially blamed her for the crash but the ambulance driver was at fault -- he was found to have ignored the QAS driving code and went through a red light at a busy intersection on the wrong side of the road about 40 km/h too fast, according to the report.

The conclusion was missing from copies of the report sent to Mr Murr in 2006 and 2007. The truth finally emerged when he asked the State Ombudsman to investigate. The completed accident investigation report, obtained by the Ombudsman in October, said the ambulance officer failed to meet the requirements of QAS policy.

Mr Murr said the release of the report was too late, since they had not been properly compensated from personal injury claims and the officer could no longer be charged. "The crash was bad enough but the administrative nightmare and bureaucratic bungling which followed just added to our personal injuries," he said. He said it had been a frustrating process: "We are just trying to find the truth, trying to untangle it all. We will keep going until we do."

The department's executive manager of ethical standards, Craig Rosenthal, said in a letter it was "regrettable" the complete version was not released for the original FOI requests. The ambulance officer was placed on a one-year driving performance plan.

Amulance bureaucracy to be cut?

Believe it when you see it

PREMIER Anna Bligh has given the crisis-hit Queensland Ambulance Service a massive shake-up, with bureaucrats to be axed and more people sent to the front line. Ms Bligh, whose first decision when she took over from former premier Peter Beattie in September was to order an audit of the service, yesterday vowed to "cut the fat" and make emergency staff a priority. She promised 100 more paramedics would be employed as soon as possible, on top of the extra 250 ambulance officers already allocated in the June State Budget. Ms Bligh said non-essential services - such as some patient transfers and first-aid courses - would be scrapped, with the resulting $12 million savings redirected to the front line.

Details of the internal review - released exclusively to The Sunday Mail yesterday - revealed a top-heavy bureaucracy that had not used record funding properly. Ms Bligh said more than 100 senior public servants would be retrained, redeployed or lost through natural attrition. A tough-talking Premier said she wanted fewer "bums on seats" at QAS headquarters at Kedron in Brisbane and more paramedics out on the road saving lives. "We need the QAS to get back to the basics - less people at head office and more on the front line," Ms Bligh said.

She also signalled an end to QAS bosses taking numerous overseas and interstate trips at taxpayers' expense. A Sunday Mail report last month revealed Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins and his deputy Neil Kirby had enjoyed four years of jet-setting, costing the public more than $150,000. Ms Bligh dumped emergency services' then-director-general Fiona McKersie in September, and effectively put Mr Higgins on notice with the hard-hitting audit.

Mr Higgins was given an extra $50 million in June, taking his annual budget to $405 million. But announcing the audit, Ms Bligh questioned whether additional funds were flowing to front-line officers. There was also widespread public concern about where $450 million raised from the controversial ambulance levy had been spent. "I expect, with the added resources from the Budget and the audit, to see a much better performance," Ms Bligh said. She rejected a recommendation by the audit panel to abolish the levy and introduce a user-pays system. "Access to emergency services is a basic right, and I will not see Queenslanders priced out of getting an ambulance," she said. She was concerned that Queensland spent more per person on ambulance services than any other state - $81.50 annually, compared to a national average of $68.75.

The audit found the QAS corporate support staff of 453 was double the number of the next highest state, New South Wales, which had the largest ambulance service in Australia. It recommended more than 100 head office positions be slashed.

Private and community groups would be used to provide first aid training. Ms Bligh said fines of up to $3750 would be implemented to clamp down on "shocking waste" caused by nuisance calls. "One in six Triple-0 call-outs for emergencies don't even result in a patient having to be taken to hospital," she said. "Our paramedics are working their guts out, and it's plain to see why they are getting frustrated. "Queenslanders have to realise that ambulances are a last-resort emergency transport. We call on the ambos 30 per cent more than the national average, and demand for emergency call-outs is increasing at six times the rate of population growth. "Under the present system, paramedics in a fully-equipped ambulance can respond to an emergency call only to find out someone has a minor cut they are quite capable of treating, but they are often required to take them to hospital."

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said staff, union and ambulance committees would be consulted on potential savings: "There will be no forced redundancies in achieving these savings. Staff will be redeployed, retrained or lost through natural attrition." The besieged Minister said $4.3 million would be redirected from non-essential services and $7.9 million saved through cuts in bureaucracy and discretionary spending such as supplies, service, travel and consultants.

The audit revealed there were "no signs of improvement" in ambulances getting to life-threatening emergencies in under 10 minutes. It said the QAS had the highest level of absenteeism and sick leave in the Queensland public sector, and one of the worst rates of staff retention.


A totally irresponsible school system

It has been dubbed the roughest school in NSW. Gangs of marauding students beat one another up and even assault teachers. Staff at Queanbeyan High have threatened to take legal action after the latest brawl left teachers and a student with broken bones. Students have also set upon staff with sticks, refused to go to class and threatened teachers with violence outside school hours. The school is so dangerous, teachers recently took the extraordinary step of moving a no-confidence motion in the principal and his deputy. Talks are also under way about taking legal action against the NSW Education Department for failing to provide a safe working environment for staff and students.

The latest incident involved two separate attacks that left two teachers and a 15-year-old student seriously injured. The student's father told The Sunday Telegraph his son was king-hit from behind by a Year 12 student. "Three male teachers and one female teacher went to help my son, and were escorting him to the office when they were attacked by seven other students," he said. "One male teacher broke his ribs, another has possible fractures - and the female teacher got elbowed in the temple. "My son ended up with a broken nose and broken ribs."

The father, who asked that his name not be published, has accused the school of failing in its duty of care to protect his son. Despite the seriousness of the injuries, the school had refused to call an ambulance, he said. The school suspended all eight students, although the seven involved in the attack are believed to have been allowed back to class.

The father has written to Education Minister John Della Bosca and the NSW Teachers Federation seeking an explanation. According to staff statements obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, the incident was one of many at Queanbeyan High, described by federation officials as the roughest school in NSW. In May, seven teachers tried in vain to stop a brawl between Year 9-10 students and Year 11 students. In a statement, one of the teachers involved said a student had warned the deputy principal that a brawl was brewing. "This information should have been passed to staff on duty," the teacher said. "The deputy principal's response was that boys will be boys, and that they generally tire themselves from punching and stop before too long."

In October, a teacher helping a special-needs student who had fallen over was hit across the head with a large stick by a female student after she was told to go to class. A department spokesman said the issues raised by the union were being looked at. "The department has a zero-tolerance policy towards violence in schools," he said. [What good is a "policy"? Action is needed]


Your government will protect you

A CORONER has criticised police for failing to charge a man before he gunned down his former fiancee - despite repeated assaults and breaches of a restraint order. Stephen Montague Pugh murdered Andrea Lee Wrathall, 25, next door to her Brighton home in June 2005. Her family said Pugh, who also died when he later turned the rifle on himself, had hounded his former fiancee in the weeks leading up to her violent death. Her father Merv Wrathall told the Mercury soon after her killing that police had visited eight times after a restraint order was taken out against Pugh. He questioned how Pugh had gotten a gun so easily and described how Ms Wrathall would get obsessive calls from him in the early hours of the morning.

Coroner Olivia McTaggart said police failed to follow family violence protocols and had failed to lay charges for all of Pugh's assaults or breaches of the restraint order. They had not made every effort to formally interview Pugh for alleged offences every time police spoke to him, the coroner said. And she noted they had not submitted a domestic violence incident report or conducted a risk assessment on one occasion. She said there was also an unexplained oversight by the counselling support service to follow up a report of violence a month before Ms Wrathall's murder.

Coroner McTaggart said while the failure to follow procedure was not to be condoned, it did not contribute to Ms Wrathall's death. She added that when Pugh appeared on assault charges a month before Ms Wrathall's death, the police prosecution had opposed bail. She said neither the police nor court could have predicted his state of mind or ultimate intentions. While the threats and telephone harassment could be seen as sinister, she said Pugh's recent conduct had not escalated into violence. "In addition, Ms Wrathall indicated that for the most part she did not fear for her safety," she said. The coroner also said Ms Wrathall should not have undermined the integrity of the initial restraint order when she let Pugh move back into the house.

She warned gun owners to secure their weapons after finding that Pugh had borrowed the rifle used in the killing from a friend. Pugh said it was going to be used to shoot crows and the friend did not try to verify whether he had a licence. "Licensed persons who allow use of their firearms by unauthorised persons seriously undermine public safety," she said.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Telstra/Bigpond arrogance

Some readers may vaguely recall that I have been having something of a "war" with Telstra over the execrable services that they provide. As part of trying to get some sort of civilized and intelligent response fom them, I have been using their own "Bigblog" blogging facility to post criticisms of them. BigBlog was always a primitive affair but I have just found out that it is even more primitive that anyone could have imagined. They turn it off at night! That's right: It is only available during Australian daylight hours! Amazing that Australia's largest provider of internet services cannot keep its own blogs up and running 24 hours a day -- but that is the reality, folks.

Now that I have discovered that, I have of course moved camp and am now blogging about Telstra/Bigpond on blogspot. See here from now on. I have already transferred to there the more recent posts on the BigBlog site.


When Connor Wilson was turned away from after-school care because his name wasn't on the list, he took matters into his own hands and decided to walk home - all 15km. That threw his mum, his school and police into a panic. Police found the six-year-old walking along Geelong's busiest road, the Princes Highway, more than 6km into his journey to his Whittington home.

Mum Ruth Wilson was furious with Corio South Primary and has pulled Connor out of the school. Ms Wilson said Connor could have been abducted or hit by a car.

On Wednesday morning last week, she organised for him to attend care that afternoon. But when he arrived for the after-school session, the carer told him his name was not on the list and he left. The school contacted police when they realised Connor was missing after 5pm. Ms Wilson said it was the second time in two months Connor had left school after being turned away from care. "I am extremely angry that this has happened again," she said. "Anything could have happened to him."

Ms Wilson said Connor's name was put on the care list for the following morning, Thursday, by mistake. Principal Neil Lynch said the school had apologised for the mistake. All students were routinely told to go to the school office if their parents didn't turn up to collect them, Mr Lynch said. Ms Wilson said Connor was familiar with the route home from the daily drive to and from school. "He is a smart little boy but he certainly won't be doing that again," she said. Ms Wilson said that Connor now knows that if there is a next time he is to go straight to the office.


More high quality government medical care

A BLEEDING pregnant woman was twice told by a doctor in a Sydney hospital that her baby was healthy when the fetus had been dead for a month. It is the second botched handling of a miscarriage to rock the NSW hospital system after a woman miscarried in a toilet at Royal North Shore Hospital earlier this year, prompting a parliamentary inquiry.

In the latest case, Amy Bennett was rushed to Campbelltown Hospital in Sydney's southwest on Sunday after she started bleeding. Ms Bennett told Network Ten a doctor at the hospital had told her in heavily accented English that the bleeding was normal before sending her home. She said she returned to the hospital the next day when the bleeding worsened, but the same doctor diagnosed dehydration and sent her home again. "I woke up the next morning, there was blood everywhere," a distraught Ms Bennett said. "I didn't want to go back to Campbelltown Hospital and have them tell me nothing was wrong when I knew something was wrong. "I've never miscarried before, how was I meant to know?"

Ms Bennett instead went to her GP, who immediately diagnosed a miscarriage. Scans later revealed the baby had been dead for a month. Sydney South West Area Health Service said it had reviewed Ms Bennett's records and found no evidence of inappropriate treatment. [???!!!!]


Pay cuts fund fat-cat rises

Leftist governments look after the little guy -- right?

THE [NSW] State Government has slashed the wages of frontline disability workers in order to create three new levels of bureaucratic fat cats, in yet another public service pay outrage. Confidential documents obtained by The Daily Telegraph reveal secret plans to cut the pay of those who care for the disabled by up to $14,000, while at the same time creating three new management positions of up to $100,000-plus a year.

Existing management salaries have also been bumped up by thousands, while a grade one support worker gets just $31,000 a year - a massive $10,000 cut. The proposed top rate for a grade three disability support worker is now just slightly over $50,000 - barely the average wage and reduced from more than $64,000 under the old system.

Yet at the same time the Government "restructure" has created a new role of "senior business support co-ordinator" on a $106,000 annual salary and a "practice support co-ordinator" on $67,000 a year. And another two new management positions have been created - "team leader 1" and "team leader 2" - replacing a previous single position of "house manager" and bumping up their salary by between $3000 and $5000.

The move directly contradicts the Government's claim to be focusing on boosting frontline services while cutting back on bureaucracy. Already the Department of Ageing Disability and Home Care is struggling to attract disability support workers. One worker told The Daily Telegraph morale among workers was at an all-time low and the quality of care was being threatened. She said Premier Morris Iemma had been hypocritical in supposedly campaigning for workers' rights and claiming to protect frontline workers.


Premier refers coverup claim to watchdog

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has asked the state's corruption watchdog to report to her on claims that government ministers ordered child welfare workers not to tell police about hundreds of cases of suspected child abuse and neglect on Cape York. A north Queensland police officer made the allegations following outrage over the gang rape of a 10-year-old girl in the Cape York indigenous community of Aurukun in far north Queensland.

A team led by the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) was ordered to investigate why the Department of Child Safety took the girl from a safe foster home in Cairns and returned her to Aurukun, where she was gang-raped for a second time last year, and then failed to report the crime promptly to police.

Cairns-based child protection investigator Detective Sergeant David Harold told the team that details of child safety cases were not being passed on to police. "It got to a political level at that stage where I believe ministers got involved and certain people were told not to speak to police," he said in the investigation report revealed in The Australian newspaper. Health clinics also were told not to advise police of any reports they had made of abused or raped children and which had been sent to the Department of Child Safety, the newspaper said.

The police union later said police officers stationed in Cape York had backed claims that officers from Queensland's Department of Child Safety routinely withheld information of child abuse. Union deputy president Denis Fitzpatrick said the officers from remote Aboriginal communities had spoken of a "systemic problem" with the relay of information from the department to police. He said the department had failed in its primary duty and called for anyone responsible for withholding information to be sacked.

"It seems amazing and remarkable to me as a police officer that an organisation that is set up with its paramount intent of looking after child safety does not relay information of child sexual and physical abuse to the police - it just defies belief," Mr Fitzpatrick told reporters in Brisbane. "If these kids are physically and sexually abused and the option is available to remove them from that environment then that has to be done in the interests of the safety of the child."

Mr Fitzpatrick suggested the government may have been suffering from "a stolen generation hangover" but also placed the blame on former child safety minister Mike Reynolds, who is also a north Queensland MP. "At the time, he made public comment about police," Mr Fitzpatrick said. "He showed disdain, distrust for police and I'm just saying that it may be the case that that sort of intent flowed through this particular organisation."

Ms Bligh told reporters she had asked for advice from the CMC. "I have asked them to advise me of their response to these allegations," she said. Ms Bligh expected later to make public parts of the CMC's initial report dealing with the police officer's allegations, but some details of the report could not be released because of privacy issues.

She said she had spoken to current Child Safety Minister Margaret Keech and former minister Desley Boyle, who denied they made any such directive. But she said she had not yet spoken to former child safety minister Mike Reynolds.

Ms Bligh described the allegations as "very serious", but said they were yet to be substantiated. "These allegations at this stage are just that - allegations," she said. "I am not aware of any evidence that has been bought forward to substantiate them." Ms Bligh noted that the current child safety minister and her immediate predecessor had denied issuing such advice to child safety workers. "Both ... advised me that they never made any such directive, and in fact (with both of them) there is evidence of them issuing directives to the contrary," she said. Ms Bligh said the government would release as much of the initial CMC report as possible.

The opposition wants the federal government to replicate the Northern Territory indigenous intervention in other states. Indigenous affairs spokesman Tony Abbott said uproar about the gang rape of a 10-year-old girl demonstrated the urgency of such a move. Mr Abbott told Sky News it had been impossible for the former coalition government to attempt an expansion of the intervention to the Labor-run states before the federal election. "Now that we have a new government which is supposed to have a good relationship with the states, I think it's very, very important that they try to ensure that the same actions which were put in place in the territory are put in place urgently elsewhere," he said.

Mr Abbott called for a stronger police presence in remote indigenous townships along with tougher action to get rid of alcohol, welfare quarantining and mandatory school attendance. "I think that's what we have to be moving towards as urgently as possible right around Australia in these remote indigenous townships," he said. Such measures were part of the Northern Territory intervention. "It really is a situation which requires national attention," Mr Abbott said.

He also called on the Queensland and federal governments to clarify a report that state government ministers ordered child welfare workers not to tell police about hundreds of cases of suspected child abuse and neglect on Cape York. "I find it almost incomprehensible that the Queensland government could have given such instructions to child-safety workers," he said. "If in fact these reports are true the Queensland government appears to be telling its workers to break the law. "If there is something in it, well frankly, I think heads would have to roll."

But the Queensland premier rejected the call for the federal government's intervention in Northern Territory indigenous communities to be extended into Queensland. "When you talk about a Northern Territory-style intervention, much of what is being done in the Northern Territory is already operational here in Queensland," Ms Bligh said.

The premier will meet with federal indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin next week and raise the issue at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in Melbourne. Ms Bligh said she expected the federal government to increase its support of remote indigenous communities in Queensland. "There are areas where the federal government can and should be doing more, and they, I believe, will take further action," she said.


Justice catching up with lying do-gooder judge

Judging from the photo he has suffered huge but well-deserved stress over his chronic lying finally being shown up

FORMER Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld will face a jury and a possible jail term after being committed yesterday to stand trial on perjury and traffic offences. The 69-year-old faces a maximum 14 years' imprisonment for allegedly swearing false statements that other people were driving his car when it was caught committing traffic offences between 1999 and last year.

Deputy Chief Magistrate Helen Syme yesterday dropped a hindering investigation charge against Einfeld, but ordered the former judge and human rights campaigner to stand trial on 13 remaining counts of perjury, perverting the course of justice and making a false statement. He is accused of swearing, both via statement and on oath in court, that other people, including a friend he knew to be dead, and a seemingly fictitious person, were driving his car when it was caught speeding and running a red light.

There was standing room only in Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court to hear the magistrate's ruling. Ms Syme found there was "ample evidence" and a prima facie case that a jury would find him guilty. He and his co-accused, Angela Liati, will appear in the District Court on February 1. Liati was committed to stand trial accused of making a false statement.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Tell a big enough lie often enough and people will believe it

As the article below shows, Dr Goebbels has able heirs among the Greenies. That corals FLOURISH in warmer waters is not mentioned. The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 1500 miles from North to South along Australia's East coast -- from quite cool to distinctly warm waters. And corals become MORE abundant moving Northwards -- i.e. as the waters get warmer

It is probably too late to save the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs from global warming. Even if governments implement far-reaching measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, they will not prevent the annihilation of coral reefs around the world. These are the conclusions of analysis by leading marine scientists to be published today in the prestigious journal Science. "There is a terrible future in front of us for the reefs," said Canada-based United Nations University professor Peter Sale, one of 17 authors from seven nations of the Science paper.

On Wednesday, Kevin Rudd told the UN's Bali climate change conference that global warming was threatening Australian natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park and rainforests, killing rivers and exposing people to more frequent and ferocious bushfires.

The scientists present three scenarios for the future of coral reefs - the world's largest lifeforms - under different climatic conditions. If current conditions continue, with the stabilisation of temperatures and emissions at today's level of 380 parts per million (ppm), reefs will survive but undergo fundamental changes. However, scientists agree that stabilisation of current conditions is not possible. The paper warns that if emissions rise to between 450 and 500 ppm, with an associated temperature rise of 2C by 2050 - the most optimistic outcome predicted by the landmark study by British economist Nicholas Stern - reefs will suffer "vastly reduced habitat complexity and loss of biodiversity".

But if they rise above 500ppm, the minimum emission level forecast by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climage Change by 2050, reefs will become "rapidly eroding rubble banks". "These changes will reduce coral reef ecosystems to crumbling frameworks with few calcareous corals," the paper says. "It is clear that coral reefs as we know them today would be extremely rare." The scientists determined that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere of 380ppm was 80ppm higher than it has been for 740,000 years, and probably for as long as 20 million years.

Professor Sale, who is in Brisbane this week for a World Bank-sponsored marine science conference, said there was no point speculating about the outcome for reefs in the worst-case scenarios outlined by the Stern and IPCC reviews, of temperature rises as high as 6C. "In the best-case predictions, with temperature rises of 2C by 2050, the outlook can hardly be more dire," he said. However, he said some damage could be averted if radical measures were introduced to curb emissions. "There is a ray of hope, but it is fading fast."

Climate change sceptic Bob Carter, a James Cook University researcher, said while he was not familiar with the Science paper, caution needed to be exercised about "alarmist" climate modelling. "Too often these climate models are basically PlayStations which have not been validated scientifically," Dr Carter said.

But the lead author of the Science paper, University of Queensland professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, said the $7billion Great Barrier Reef tourism industry was at risk. "With conservative estimates predicting emission levels exceeding 500ppm, coral reefs will dwindle into insignificance," Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said. "These changes dwarf anything that happened in the Ice Age transitions and they are happening faster than Stern and the IPCC predicted. The outlook is very grim."

Note that Hoeghie has also blamed coral damage on COLD weather. Heads I win, tails you lose


Rudd fends off climate ambush with a nod to Howard

KEVIN Rudd has avoided an ambush at Bali. It was an ambush prepared by green groups using false expectations and perceptions to lock a 10-day-old Government into unrealistic and binding targets on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. He has done well to avoid the ambush and keep his climate change credentials intact.

The frenetic expectation of dramatic results from the UN climate change conference was based on a misreading of the Rudd Labor Government's climate change policy and the Prime Minister's own position. There is an almost wilful, certainly a wishful, misinterpretation of the new Australian Government's attitude towards targets for cutting carbon emissions. Such a misinterpretation stems from demonising the Howard government's approach, a misleading emphasis during the election campaign and an unfulfilled expectation that Labor had to do anything to get elected and would just change its position after the poll.

Just so that no one is in any doubt about Australia's aim to set medium-term targets for cutting carbon emissions, the Prime Minister spelt it out clearly at the conference this week. The Australian Government is committed to cutting greenhouse gases; such action cannot be unilateral and must be global; developed as well as developing countries, such as China and India, must be committed to binding aims; Australia will introduce a carbon trading system; there is a commitment to mandatory renewable energy targets until 2020; there will be a commitment to medium-term emissions cuts by 2020 and the targets will depend on how they will affect the Australian economy.

All of this is perfectly reasonable at every level. Yet, before Rudd arrived in Bali and before Climate Change Minister Penny Wong had spoken, the expectation was that the Bali conference would lead to targets involving a reduction in emissions of 25 per cent to 40 per cent by 2020. In the long process of international climate change negotiations, the consideration or inclusion of a new set of parameters can shape and direct the international architecture and must be acceded to with great caution.

Green groups complained publicly that Australian officials were obstructing this aim and they hoped things would look up once the ministers arrived. However, when Wong arrived in Bali, things got worse from the green groups' perspective. It was no longer nameless bureaucrats who opposed the adoption of such extreme targets but the minister herself....

In his press conferences and in his speech to the conference, Rudd made it clear Australia would not act on setting targets, which could have a disastrous effect on the nation's resources-led economy, until the economic analysis was completed. By ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, Rudd set himself apart from the Howard government's refusal to do so, but apart from that Australia's approach hardly changed at all....

Rudd's emphasis on ratifying the Kyoto Protocol kept the focus on the pre-2012 climate change debate and gave him a powerful symbolic advantage. Yet - and Rudd made this crystal clear during the campaign - the ALP had the same approach as the Coalition. Howard was not dissembling or exaggerating when he described Rudd's adoption of the Coalition's post-2012 policy as the most stunning turnaround of the election campaign, after Labor's then environment spokesman Peter Garrett had stumbled. Rudd supported the policy and believed in it; he just didn't want to talk about it during the campaign.

But in Bali, in rejecting the international pressure to embrace extreme targets, Rudd had no difficulty in speaking about the post-2012 policy. "It requires a multilateral solution. Unilateral action is not enough," he said bluntly. "Action to tackle climate change will not be easy. It will require tough choices. And some of these will come at a political price," he acknowledged.

Then he outlined that he - not just Wong or the bureaucrats - was prepared to use the Garnaut report to head off the ambush or a panicked reaction. "We commissioned a major study to help us to set shorter-term targets along the way. This study, the Garnaut review, will report in mid-2008. Together with modelling under way in the Australian Treasury and, also critically, informed by the science, this review will drive our decisions on short and medium-term targets," the Prime Minister said.

"These will be real targets. These will be robust targets," he declared, but he wasn't committing to any targets before the analysis was completed and without the developing nations being part of the solution. "We expect all developed countries to embrace a further set of binding emissions targets, and we need this meeting at Bali to map out the process and timeline in which this will happen. And we need developing countries to play their part, with specific commitments to action," he said. That's Rudd talking. Rudd's right, and he believes in what he is saying. It could have been Howard.


Little girl endured six weeks of sex attacks

THE little girl who was gang-raped in the Cape York community of Aurukun was subjected to a six-week reign of sexual abuse by her attackers. The story of the attacks on the 10-year-old is told in sparse but chilling detail in a police statement presented in court to Sarah Bradley, the District Court judge who failed to jail the attackers. The document also reveals that apart from the gang rape, the little girl was raped at least six times over a period of six weeks by the nine males who pleaded guilty to attacking her.

Steve Carter, the prosecutor who has been stood aside pending an investigation into the case, did not give details of the gang rape during the sentencing hearing in Cairns District Court, which was sitting in Aurukun. Instead, Judge Bradley apparently relied on the statement of facts Mr Carter presented to the court, and released to The Australian yesterday. The statement says the gang rape was committed by Raymond Woolla, 26, Ian Koowarta, 20, Michael Wikmunea, 19, and a number of juveniles at a house in Aurukun on an unknown date between May 1 and June 12 last year.

One of the juvenile offenders told police he went to the house with another boy to see the girl. "The complainant asked this accused if she could have sex with him," the statement says. "Initially, he said he couldn't because she was just a little kid, but she kept asking him so he put a condon (sic) on and had sex with her." Another boy who was in the house told police the girl did not want to have sex, but one of the juvenile offenders forced himself on her. "He had sex with the complainant ... The complainant was telling him to stop."

Koowarta told police Wikmunea had forced him to go to the house. They went there with Woolla. "He said the four of them had sex with the complainant. Michael (Wikmunea) went first, then (a juvenile) then Raymond (Woolla) ..." One of the boys confessed to police that apart from the gang attack, he raped the girl twice, once at a house after a disco and once behind a bank a few days later. Another boy told police he raped the girl the night of someone's 21st birthday party. "They went to her aunty's house on their bike and had sex there," the documents say.

The girl had been living with a foster family in Cairns but against Department of Child Safety advice stayed in Aurukun after being returned to the community for a funeral. Her family and the department had agreed to return her to Cairns, but failed to act soon enough to prevent further attacks in Aurukun shortly after her return last year.

The victim's aunt told The Australian this week the now 12-year-old was a "little girl who has had the light turned off in her life". And her mother claimed the girl had been raped in the past by some of the same Aurukun boys who attacked her after her return to the community last year.

In a record of interview last year, obtained by The Australian, a police officer who had questioned the victim told a high-level investigative review team that when he first met the girl, he suspected she had been sexually abused. "One thing that stood out when she came in, she shaved all her hair off and there's a couple of girls that I've seen and it's always ... been the case that they ... have been the victims of sexual abuse. It's one of the indicators that I've noticed that stands out, the acts of violence in the community, being armed and then out of some sort of shame or whatever they shave their hair." When asked whether that was to "make themselves less attractive", the officer said: "Yeah, and she had, like, a jumper on her head but wrapped up like a bouffant type of ... which - I knew I wasn't dealing with an ordinary child".

The officer said it was difficult putting the child at ease enough to speak with police. He said it was difficult to even get her into the interviewing room. Once they did "build rapport", the officer said the girl had "openly volunteered that she had had 'sex with four or five men', the oldest of whom she thought was 18 and the youngest 19". "The child stated that the boys 'like sex a lot' and that she 'little bit liked having sex'," he said. The officer said the girl was found to be "very talkative in comparison with other children of her own age in that community". "It is understood that this child is intellectually impaired as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome and is known for frequent violent outbursts."

He said the girl had a history with the Department of Child Safety and detailed one outburst when the girl was nine, where she had "gone to the local shop with a stick and wanted to bash the shopkeepers and had done something to a forklift and she'd been in regular trouble in the community". He said she had committed a series of break-and-enter offences in the community.

The department is now caring for the child. "She is currently in a safe place with indigenous carers, maintaining cultural links with her community," the department said last night. "She continues to receive long-distance education, counselling and other therapeutic support, including music and dance lessons. It is hoped she will be able to attend school in 2009."


Police claim suspected child abuse cases covered up

While there have been numerous cases where child safety officers had failed to pass evidence to police, Det-Sgt Harold said: "It got to a political level at that stage where I believe ministers got involved and certain people were told not to speak to police. My job was to track down each (medical) clinic in the Cape and I got that under way ... but then there was some political issues where a directive came from Brisbane (that) 'You are not allowed to talk to the police - don't tell them anything'."

Det-Sgt Harold said that even the clinics were eventually told not to advise police of any reports they had made of abused or raped children and which had been sent to the Department of Child Safety. The alleged political issues and the ministerial directive came soon after senior Northern Territory prosecutor Nanette Rogers exposed the horror of indigenous violence, sparking widespread outrage in Australia and ultimately leading to the Howard government's intervention in Territory communities. At the time, the Queensland Government was at pains to stress that it did not have the same level of crime in its indigenous communities. Even after a public outcry over the handling of the Aurukun case by the justice and child safety systems, the state Government has rejected the need for a Territory-style intervention.

Det-Sgt Harold also revealed he and other police had insisted that social workers at Aurukun fly the 10-year-old girl to Cairns on June 8 and June 9 last year after she told medical examiners that she had been raped by many men and had contracted gonorrhea. However, two child safety officers did not agree, saying arrangements had been made for the child to spend the weekend with family members on an outstation. The girl did not go to the outstation and on that weekend was raped again in Aurukun by a 15-year-old youth who pleaded guilty to the offence on October 24 last year.

The director-general of the Department of Child Safety, Norelle Deeth, confirmed the girl's family and child safety officers had agreed to move her to Cairns. "Tragically, this safety plan was not enacted prior to further sexual assaults," Ms Deeth said. In a rare statement, Ms Deeth also said the girl was taken out of the Cairns foster home only to attend a funeral in Aurukun, but refused to return and remained in the community with a family member. "Against this backdrop, staff made what they thought at the time was the best decision," Ms Deeth said. "Sadly, this decision subsequently proved to be wrong."

Speaking about the subsequent arrest of the girl's rapists, Det-Sgt Harold said: "All of them made full admissions as well as provided statements nominating - and in a group situation where there were five or six or more raping her - they also provided ... there were other witnesses as well who provided statements nominating other people." Det-Sgt Harold said the girl had gone to the Aurukun clinic on May 5 last year requesting a pregnancy test and told the doctor she was having sex. After the girl was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, the Aurukun director of nursing, Peter Fenton, sent a fax message on May 15 to Child Safety. It was never acknowledged.

When Det-Sgt Harold visited Aurukun on June 6 last year, he was told about the girl, and he asked why a report had not been sent to him, as was the normal procedure. He had the girl and her carer, her aunt, brought to the police station, and she told him of the rapes. That was when Det-Sgt Harold instructed that she be taken to Cairns. But it did not happen, and within the next 24 hours, she was raped again. He said that when the girl was flown by the department to Cairns the following week, she was put in the control of an Aurukun woman, and he questioned whether she was appropriate to look after the girl.

"(The woman) had only just got out of jail for an extremely serious stabbing ... so whether she was an appropriate person to be caring for (the girl), I have concerns," Det-Sgt Harold told the review team. He outlined in detail his frustration with the two child safety officers who he said resisted moving the child to Cairns.

An official involved with the review team said they had been instructed that they were not allowed to speak to any government minister, including the then child safety minister Mike Reynolds, who is now the Speaker of the Queensland parliament. Mr Reynolds is overseas and not available for comment, and the two child safety officers did not return calls.


Yet another case of negligent discharge from a Queensland public hospital

There was a similar incident involving the same hospital a year ago. And "reform" was promised after another similar incident at another hospital several weeks ago

A HOSPITAL patient was forced to use his shirt to make primitive shoes to protect his feet when he was left to walk 13km home from Atherton Hospital during a thunderstorm. Malanda man John Edwards was rushed to Atherton Hospital by ambulance at 11.30pm in early December with a serious cut to his arm. But after he was treated, the hospital left him to find his own way back to Malanda about 2am.

The 38 year old told The Cairns Post of the indignity he felt at being forced to walk home during a thunderstorm and heavy rain. "The bitumen was like glass and every step was agony," he said. "The hospital said it was a bad enough wound to get infected but they let me walk home in the rain and mud. "I fell over a couple of times, wore out my walking stick. "It made me feel like no one cared about me."

The hospital gave Mr Edwards a pair of plastic theatre shoes and offered him blankets so he could sleep in the waiting room on a plastic chair. "When I went to the desk and said I was going to walk home the nurses said OK," he said. "If they had told me a taxi would be available at 6am, I would have waited but they didn't, so I thought I had no other way home except to walk. "The theatre shoes were no good and I had no choice but to rip my shirt because when I was taken to hospital the ambulance crew didn't tell me I would need shoes to walk home. "I was in a state of shock. I just didn't think about it." Mr Edwards had walked 13km of the 20km journey home when a good Samaritan gave him a lift.

Tablelands MP Rosa Lee Long said yesterday Health Minister Stephen Robertson had some serious explaining to do. She said Mr Edwards' case was not an isolated incident and patients should be provided with the means to get home. "I will be writing to the minister and asking for an explanation," she said.

A Queensland Health spokesman said Mr Edwards did not tell staff he was walking home and nurses had provided blankets. "They are in the business of providing acute medical care and are not a transport service," he said. A spokesman for Mr Robertson said yesterday the minister would investigate the matter after he received Ms Lee Long's letter.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Girl gang-rape warnings ignored by Left-indoctrinated social workers

You would have to be a Leftist moron to put the welfare of criminal black men ahead of the welfare of brutally-treated little black girls. Those, however, appear to be the sick priorities of political correctness

THE family of a 10-year-old gang-rape victim have revealed they had warned child safety authorities she would be attacked if taken out of a Cairns foster home and returned to their remote Aboriginal community of Aurukun.

Amid a continuing public outcry over the Queensland Department of Child Safety's failure to protect the girl and a Queensland District Court judge's controversial decision not to jail her attackers, her family has told of a community in crisis and "a little girl who has had the light turned off on her life". They expressed outrage at the sentence the nine males received, and claim some of the offenders had first raped the girl when she was seven. "She should never have been allowed to come back from foster care while those boys were still here. We told that to welfare. (Some of) those boys had raped her in the past," the girl's mother said.

In October, judge Sarah Bradley decided not to record convictions against six teenage attackers and gave three others, aged 17, 18 and 26, suspended sentences over the rape. The sentences will be appealed and dozens of other sex abuse cases from the cape reviewed after the lenient sentences in the gang-rape case were revealed. The prosecutor in the case, Steve Carter - who described the rape as "a form of childish experimentation" of which the victim was a willing participant - has also been stood down pending an internal investigation.

The girl's aunt said she was deeply offended by Mr Carter's claim that the victim had consented to the rape, and said suggestions underage sex was a fact of life in cape communities was abhorrent. "That's not right. It's not traditional to have sex without parents' consent. Something is not right. She is a little girl who has had the light turned off on her life," she said. Her uncle, the family patriarch, said sexual assaults, family violence and drugs had become so bad in the community he would support a Northern Territory-style intervention. "The violence happens all the time. Something needs to be done, we shouldn't have to live like this," he said.

Cape York Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson last night described the case as "just the tip of the iceberg" of dysfunction in indigenous communities. Mr Pearson blasted the notion that indigenous children taken into care and placed with non-indigenous foster carers were "another Stolen Generation" - as social workers in the Aurukun case believed. He said that where children's welfare was under threat, the placement should be "one of safety, whether it is whitefellas or blackfellas". "Those child protection practices that have sought to place Aboriginal children exclusively with Aboriginal carers have resulted in a great deal of harm for the individual children under care," Mr Pearson said.

"This is a case of children in urgent need of protection. As long as Aboriginal society is so dysfunctional that we have to take children into care and protection, we should never hear people bleat about some Stolen Generation. "Today children on communities are living in dysfunctional situations where their welfare is under threat. There should be no hesitation in taking them out of those threatening circumstances and placing them with carers - whitefellas or blackfellas."

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has vowed to take radical action and work with federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin if the review of sex abuse cases finds systemic problems. "What's not clear until we look at all of these cases is, is it a systemic issue where the standard of justice is somehow different or lower in these communities?" Ms Bligh said. "Or is this a one-off aberration from one particular officer?"

The girl's family speak to her once a week by satellite link because she is housed in a secret location in north Queensland. "She sleeps with the light on. She gets jumpy when they get new case workers," her uncle said.

The uncle said no authority had contacted the family since the story was reported. He first heard about it on the radio, and he welcomed the opportunity to speak to the media. Authorities had neglected to inform the family the case was being heard in October in a courthouse less than 100 metres from the victim's former home.


Child victims of political correctness

Jenny Macklin had better get out her red pen: there's a lot more to say sorry for than the actions of social workers more than 40 years ago. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs hailed the 10th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report on Tuesday with the news that she was busy formulating a national apology, "from the heart", for the stolen generation. While she's at it, she should start formulating an apology to all those children murdered, raped and abused in the past decade as a direct result of the report, which, in the name of cultural correctness, has put so many obstacles in the way of removing indigenous children from unsafe homes.

Take, for instance, the case of the 10-year-old girl gang-raped in Aurukun, in remote Cape York, last year. In a decision that made headlines around the world, from The New York Times to Al-Jazeera, the Cairns District Court Judge Sarah Bradley allowed all nine attackers to walk free because the girl "probably agreed to have sex with all of you". She released six teenage males with no conviction and gave three older males, aged 17, 18 and 26, suspended sentences. She did, however, give them a stern talking to: "It is a very shameful matter and I hope that all of you realise that you must not have sex with young girls."

It was not the first time the little girl - described by a former foster carer as "just a skinny 10-year-old . not even developed"- had been raped. Reportedly "mildly intellectually impaired", having been born with foetal alcohol syndrome to an alcoholic mother, she had been gang-raped by five juveniles at the age of seven in 2002 in her hometown of Aurukun. According to The Australian newspaper, the girl was then moved between foster placements before going to a non-indigenous family in Cairns in July 2005, who ensured she went to school and received counselling.

But she stayed only nine months before being removed by social workers from the Orwellian-sounding Child Safety Department, which believed that placing an indigenous child in a white foster home was creating a new stolen generation. The girl was sent back last April to Aurukun, where she had contracted syphilis and gonorrhoea, and within a month was raped again.

The moral compass of so many authority figures in this tragic story is so out of whack with universal community standards, you wonder if they are in the grip of a sort of group delusion, in which theoretical compassion is more real than people's suffering. Only the much-maligned local police, according to Queensland's Premier, Anna Bligh, "took the matter very seriously", pursuing the charges and making sure they went to court. But there, those on the comfortable side of the bench let down the victim.

Even the prosecutor in the case, Steve Carter, who might be expected to be the girl's advocate, produced no victim impact statement, despite being asked by Bradley. Yet he offered all sorts of mitigation for the perpetrators, requesting they not receive custodial sentences. He told the court on October 24 that the attackers were "very naughty" but had just been indulging "in a form of childish experimentation [which was] consensual . in a general sense", despite the fact one of the attackers was 25 at the time. Carter gave an intriguing insight when he told the judge: " It'd be arrogant of me to stand here and start seeking [harsher sentences]." He has been stood down this week pending an appeal and a Queensland Government investigation into the case.

Bradley, too, has come under fire this week, with calls she be removed from the bench. But you can hardly blame even her, as she, too, is a model product of her culturally correct times. As recently as January this year, she gave an insight into her thinking in a speech in Perth at a judges' conference titled "Using Indigenous Justice Initiatives In Sentencing". Indigenous offenders should be treated differently, in a more "culturally appropriate" way, she said, because of their "gross over-representation in the criminal justice system". Just 2 per cent of the population, they comprised more than 22 per cent of the prison population.

She said "legislative and informal initiatives" were needed in sentencing so that "penalties can be more creative, meaningful and appropriate". She is singing from the sentimental songbook of the progressive left so perfectly it is no wonder the 1976 law graduate has been the golden girl of the Queensland Government's affirmative action program for women lawyers. The aim of lenient or "creative" penalties is to reduce incarceration rates of indigenous men, as recommended by the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. But as one Cape York worker said yesterday: "You've got this spiral of dysfunction in these communities - of course the rate of imprisonment is going to increase."

To choose not to enforce the law in such dysfunctional communities only renders them even more dangerous for their most vulnerable members: children and women. Suspending the state's laws when dealing with Aboriginal offenders is what the Melbourne University academic Marcia Langton describes as the "ultimate race-hate practice", which rewards "serial rapists and murderers".

It is the behaviour of such people which prompted the former federal government's Northern Territory intervention, an attempt to stem the epidemic of child sexual abuse. There are encouraging reports trickling out of early successes, with school attendance rates up and violence down. To his credit, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has vowed to keep the intervention going, for a year at least. But there are signals of the watering down of key aspects - such as reinstating the scrapped permit system, which had so much to do with maintaining secrecy around child abuse.

Even this week, when asked about the case of the little Aurukun rape victim, Macklin indicated she is a prisoner of culturally correct thinking when she claimed at the 10th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report that there was no connection with child protection policies today.


WA dumps Leftist Outcomes Based Education (OBE)

WESTERN Australia has officially dumped the controversial Outcomes Based Education (OBE) program with the introduction of a new syllabus. WA Education Minister Mark McGowan today announced the reintroduction of a kindergarten to year 10 syllabus at the beginning of the 2008 school year. In a reference to the controversial OBE program, which was heavily criticised by teachers, Mr McGowan said the new content would mark the end of ``content free and woolly objectives in education''. "We want to assure parents that students are being provided with the highest standard of course content possible,'' Mr McGowan said. "The fad of the 1990s to dispense with syllabus caused considerable anxiety among teachers, many of whom were left without any clear guidance about what to teach or how to assess students.''

The minister said the new syllabuses were developed in consultation with more than 6,000 teachers, administrators and academics. Among the changes, the new syllabus places a greater emphasis on history teaching, and the importance of play for kindergarten to year three children. State School Teachers Union of Western Australia president Mike Keely welcomed the move, saying it would bring certainty and support to teachers.


Orwellian Left quick to unveil totalitarian heart

...the tale of confessions and executions went on, until there was a pile of corpses lying before Napoleon's feet and the air was heavy with the smell of blood ... - George Orwell in Animal Farm (1945).

CALL off the dogs. I confess. I am a conservative. Apparently this is enough to warrant an execution in the minds of some leftists who resemble George Orwell on speed with neither the sense of humour nor skill for satire. By calling for a purge of this conservative columnist and all like her, Crikey contributor Guy Rundle has compressed Animal Farm by going straight to the last chapter and skipping the irony.

Animal Farm subtly portrayed the big risks of totalitarianism. Over time, the pigs who had overthrown the human oppressors (remember the motto: "four legs good, two legs bad,") became the two-legged tyrants. At least Orwell's classic allowed the passage of time to obscure the pigs' hypocrisy a little. We could enjoy the slow descent into anarchy.

Deeming themselves the brainworkers, the pigs keep all the milk and apples for themselves. They steal the puppies and raise them as their vicious secret police, allowing the pigs to finally take over the farm declaring that "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others".

Rundle and his friends who are petitioning The Australian for my dismissal - and that of other conservatives - have not bothered with even the fig leaf of a few months' quiet preparation. Barely two weeks after the election of the Rudd Government, those so recently cheering the authors of Silencing Dissent have risen on their hind legs to demand the silencing of dissenting conservative columnists at the Oz.

After my colleague Tom Switzer's Monday morning defence of pluralism on this page, Rundle responded in the afternoon edition of email gossip screed, Crikey. Rundle said Switzer, this newspaper's opinion editor, and its editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell needed to "clean house". While it was acceptable to keep "one such contrarian columnist", he argued, the bosses needed to rid this newspaper of all the rest of us conservative columnists because we "have no dialogue with the times".

Now, Rundle does a wickedly good pig impersonation of Orwell's Napoleon, the Berkshire boar who solemnly believes that all animals are equal provided he gets to call the shots, intimidating and executing the animals who disagree. His snorting is hard to take seriously. This newspaper ran a long piece by Rundle in the current edition of the Australian Literary Review, paying him a very handsome sum - even after he repeatedly railed against Mitchell in Crikey. Ain't plurality grand? If it were only Rundle engaging in this kind of tyrannical madness, we could put it down to the accidental, but glorious, lunacy that is Crikey.

But some of Australia's most distinguished left-wing thinkers have been assailing the Oz with these totalitarian demands. Accordingly, one can draw some conclusions about the prevailing currents of left-wing thought. In particular, that this mob does not really fancy free speech. Unless you agree with their sentiments.

Switzer did an admirable job dealing with the intellectual defects in the "muzzle the conservatives" mantra. But being a genteel chap, Switzer was too polite to those calling for a mass sacking of News Ltd conservatives such as myself, The Herald Sun's Andrew Bolt and The Daily Telegraph's Piers Akerman. He declined to point out just how rank is the hypocrisy of those so recently, and so quickly, converted from complaining that John Howard stifled dissent to advocating that the editors at The Australian embark on some serious strangulation of conservative voices.

Switzer was too polite to note that those who now say a change of government justifies a purge of out-of-favour columnists failed to express a similar view in 1996, or 1998, 2001 or 2004. Or to point out the inconsistency in believing that the left-of-centre press typified by The Age should remain forever true to its constituency, while the right-of-centre press should apparently find a brand new one after each election. Or to wonder why a 53 per cent to 47 per cent election win for Labor should mean that the 47 per cent lose any right to read like-minded opinion.

To argue, as Robert Manne does in The Monthly, that the culture wars are over is fallacious. We are talking not about a war where one side declares victory, but about a continuing debate. Nothing more, nothing less. There will be future debates on issues such as a republic, a charter of rights, an apology to indigenous people, to name but a few.

Of course, we can afford to be flippant about those calling for a pogrom of conservatives at The Australian. The prospect of it happening is sufficiently negligible to allow us a chuckle at their expense. Not so funny, though, is the knowledge that this kind of mentality will come to the fore in many other places: in our universities and schools where such calls may be successful. Those who doubt this need only recall the disgraceful treatment meted out to Geoffrey Blainey by the academic community in 1984.

Blainey, Australia's greatest living historian, dared to voice concerns over immigration when he was dean of the faculty of arts at the University of Melbourne. Free speech and genuine inquiry were tossed off campus when Blainey was picketed by protesters and ultimately hounded out by academics who thought he had no right to express misgivings about immigration. Similarly, if Rundle and his friends were in charge, it's hard to imagine Keith Windschuttle being allowed to air his courageous and painstaking expose of the shameful manipulation of Aboriginal history. And will there be room for dissent in our schools?

The blatant political indoctrination pursued by national teachers' unions will presumably be ramped up to ensure those nasty conservatives don't get back in power. Pat Byrne, the Australian Education Union federal president, who crowed about progressive educators who "had succeeded in influencing curriculum development in schools, education departments and universities" may feel even freer to peddle politics in the classroom.

And what about Wayne Sawyer, the former chairman of the NSW Board of Studies English curriculum committee, who castigated teachers after the 2004 federal election for failing to produce a more "questioning, critical generation" of students because they had voted for a Howard government? Will he and his ilk now be openly reminding teachers of their job to keep moulding a new generation of progressive thinkers?

Ultimately the proof of free speech is to be found in what is actually published and said. The Howard government was spectacularly bad at oppression. Criticisms flowed freely, as they should. Shelves in every bookstore groaned under the weight of books with titles such as Silencing Dissent, The War on Democracy and Not Happy, John. Don't count on Rundle and his Animal Farm friends being so inept


Wednesday, December 12, 2007


That's what the Child Welfare authorities said, what the prosecutor said and what the judge said. And Andrew Bolt has part of the explanation why. Details below

Child safety failed raped girl

QUEENSLAND'S Child Safety Department knew that a 10-year-old girl had been gang-raped but did not report it to police, despite the girl also contracting a sexually transmitted disease from the encounter. The child - who had been living in a Cairns foster home before the department decided to return her to Aurukun, in Cape York - has been diagnosed as "mildly intellectually impaired" and suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, having been born to an alcohol-dependent mother.

The Australian yesterday revealed nine males who pleaded guilty to gang-raping the girl had escaped a prison term, with sentencing judge Sarah Bradley saying the child victim "probably agreed" to have sex with them.

An eight-month investigation was conducted into the April 2006 multiple rape and submitted to the Department of Child Safety, resulting in one senior officer being sacked and two others suspended for 12 months on full pay - a situation that still exists.

A senior departmental official yesterday told The Australian that the child involved was sexually abused at age seven and, as a safety measure, was put with various foster families, eventually ending up in 2005 with a non-indigenous family in Cairns. But she was returned nine months later to Aurukun, where she was gang-raped by the nine males.

"These non-indigenous people were fantastic - ensuring she went to school, and the father actually took a year off his work to personally supervise this girl," he said. "But two new social workers were appointed to the north and they expressed the view, which was repeated many times to the investigating committee, that putting an indigenous child with white foster parents was another stolen generation.

"They convinced the department with this rubbish and the girl was taken from Cairns to Aurukun - back to where she was being abused previously and where she had contracted syphilis as a little child - and she was unsupervised, with the result that she was constantly raped.

"The report sets out how every step of the way the Child Safety Department did everything wrong, and all because they weretold that a safe, white environment was `another stolen generation'."

A report of the rape in The Australian yesterday sparked an immediate response, with Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine announcing he would lodge an appeal against the sentencing of the nine attackers.

But Mr Shine admitted the appeal would be hampered by the fact the prosecutor in the case, Steve Carter, did not recommend jail. Mr Carter yesterday refused to speak to The Australian about the sentences, referring questions to the DPP's office in Brisbane.

The Queensland Government also ordered a review of every sentence handed down in every sexual assault case in Cape York communities in the past two years. Premier Anna Bligh said the purpose of the review was to examine whether the sentence in the Aurukun rape case was part of "system-wide" problems in the Cape....

The official report produced following the eight-month investigation states that a senior Child Safety officer was told on May 11 last year that the child had gonorrhea. It was revealed after the girl attended the Aurukun medical clinic on May 5 last year asking for a pregnancy test and condoms.

That information was immediately relayed to Child Safety, but the senior Child Safety officer did not pass the information on to police in line with her statutory obligations, and when questioned about it said she had spent several weeks making inquiries if gonorrhea was contractable through means other than sexual transmission. The investigating committee also reported that the Child Safety officers took no remedial action when the girl threatened to commit suicide.

The committee's findings of failures by the Child Safety Department included possible non-reporting of other criminal offences against children to police, other possible early returns of indigenous children to their communities without sufficient prior consideration, and failure to record a suicide risk alert regarding the raped child's threat to suicide and whether this is indicative of a broader problem.

The report's findings also highlighted a loss of departmental documents including the child's Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) file and other SCAN files; a lack of knowledge by staff of what diseases constitute sexually transmitted diseases; and a lack of knowledge by staff of what may constitute a criminal offence on a child.

The committee also found the child had first contracted syphilis in April 2002 when she was aged seven and was raped by five juveniles in Aurukun, receiving severe genital injuries....


Girl gang-rape prosecutor stood down

QUEENSLAND Crown prosecutor Steve Carter was stood down last night after court transcripts revealed he had described the males who gang-raped a 10-year-old girl in a remote Aboriginal community as "naughty" and not deserving of a jail sentence. Mr Carter told Queensland District Court judge Sarah Bradley - well-known in Aboriginal communities for her efforts to keep people out of jail - that the rape in the Cape York community of Aurukun was "a form of childish experimentation" and the victim a willing participant.

Judge Bradley's decision not to impose jail terms, revealed by The Australian on Monday, will be appealed by Attorney-General Kerry Shine, while the Queensland Government will review other sexual abuse cases and work with the federal Government on possible child-protection reforms.

Mr Shine last night confirmed that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Leanne Clare SC, had informed him Mr Carter had been stood down pending an investigation into his handling of the case. Transcripts of the sentencing on October 24 reveal that Mr Carter described the gang rape - in which the girl contracted a sexually transmitted disease - as "consensual sex", saying: "To the extent I can't say it was consensual in the legal sense, but in the general sense, the non-legal sense, yes, it was."

Mr Carter suggested a non-custodial sentence for all the accused, including the three aged 17, 18 and 26. In his brief submission on sentencing to Judge Bradley, Mr Carter said the Crown would not be asking any more than "for some form of supervisory order, form of probation, or some similar order to that". He added that there was no victim impact material that could be considered by the court.

"My submission in relation to this particular offence (rape) is the same that I make in relation to children of that age - of similar or the same age - is to quote, well, they're very naughty for doing what they're doing but it's really, in this case, it was a form of childish experimentation rather than one child being prevailed upon by another," Mr Carter told the court. "Although she was very young, she knew what was going on and she had agreed to meet the children at this particular place and it was all by arrangement, so for that purpose."

Later in the proceedings Mr Carter said he had been given instructions in relation to the sentencing and that none of the penalties he had been instructed to seek involved a custodial penalty, and he specifically asked that if the adults were sentenced to prison that the terms be fully suspended.


Gang rape appeal to be heard 'swiftly'

AN APPEAL against a decision not to impose prison sentences on nine males who raped a 10-year-old girl will be handled swiftly and fairly, Queensland's chief justice says. Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Jersey said the matter was likely to be brought before Queensland's Court of Appeal on January 30 and any decision would be made according to the law, not emotions. "This case at the appeal level will be dealt with dispassionately, in accordance with due process, and as expeditiously as may be," he told reporters in Brisbane.

"I can give an absolute assurance that this process will be taken forward in accordance with law, which is the time honoured charter of the courts, which has served the community for so long, so well." ....

Judge Bradley's decision not to impose jail terms, revealed by The Australian on Monday, will be appealed by Attorney-General Kerry Shine, while the Queensland Government will review other sexual abuse cases and work with the federal Government on possible child-protection reforms.


Pack-raped girl sacrificed to the "stolen generations" myth

By Andrew Bolt

Another week, another proof that that the "stolen generations" myth is devastating black children: A senior departmental official yesterday told The Australian that the child involved was sexually abused at age seven and, as a safety measure, was put with various foster families, eventually ending up in 2005 with a non-indigenous family in Cairns. But she was returned nine months later to Aurukun, where she was gang-raped by the nine males.

"These non-indigenous people were fantastic - ensuring she went to school, and the father actually took a year off his work to personally supervise this girl," he said. "But two new social workers were appointed to the north and they expressed the view, which was repeated many times to the investigating committee, that putting an indigenous child with white foster parents was another stolen generation..."

This is the girl who was pack raped at 10, with a judge letting her nine rapists - one a 26-year-old - walk free because the girl, she said, had consented.

As I've shown again and again, the propagandists behind the "stolen generations" myth have blood on their hands. Oh, just so that you know what this girl's wicked white foster carers had saved her from:

The committee also found the child had first contracted syphilis in April 2002 when she was aged seven and was raped by five juveniles in Aurukun, receiving severe genital injuries.


Anger reader Rob Hill protests in comments below that there is no comparison between this case and the "stolen generations". My response:

You are utterly wrong. A direct parallel should show you why. I asked Professor Robert Manne to name me just 10 of the 25,000 children he claims were stolen for racist reasons, not welfare ones. In his second attempt he named two girls - Topsy and Dolly.

I looked up those cases and found they were girls little different to this girl who has been raped at Aurukun. Topsy was brought in for protection by a station owner because she was just 12, fatherless, a half-caste in a black tribe - and already had syphilis. Dolly was about 13, but was already seven months pregnant and penniless, working for nothing on a station, when she was rescued.

These are cases that Manne himself handpicked as clear proof of the "stolen generations". Your accusations are false.


Alarm as teachers dwindle

How suprising that the phasing out of effective discipline has made classrooms into blackboard jungles that no capable person would want to teach in!

ENTRY scores for future teachers are predicted to fall despite criticism they are already too low, as demand for teaching places plummets across the nation. Applications for teaching places had plunged by 30 per cent over two years in Queensland, and Western Australia is unlikely to fill places for the coming year.

A leading educator, University of Queensland academic Ken Wiltshire, said teaching wasn't "attracting enough knowledgeable or intelligent people". "It's a crisis. The tertiary entrance ranks are too low. The status of the profession is too low. We need to be talking it up and offering performance pay," said Professor Wiltshire, who ran the Queensland Government's curriculum review.

Latest figures for Queensland show applications this year were down almost 23 per cent on 2006, on top of a 7 per cent to 8 per cent drop the previous year, adding up to a total drop of 30 per cent. In Victoria, applications for entry in 2007 and 2008 were down 12 per cent, after increasing by 2.5 per cent the previous year. The numbers in WA fell by 15per cent between 2006 and this year, and there is a further 2per cent decline in entrants for next year, which means the available places cannot be filled. At the University of Western Australia, teaching is reportedly at 75 per cent capacity. In NSW the picture is mixed: some institutions have indicated double-digit drops in applications, while others are holding steady.

Steve Dinham, research director (teaching and leadership) at the Australian Council for Educational Research, described the latest figures as "quite startling", as demand had been building strongly in the previous five years, and this was reflected in rising entry requirements. Potential student teachers were sensitive to media portrayals of the profession, especially press reports about violent and disengaged students, he said. He suggested the ABC's hit drama Summer Heights High might have promoted a "that looks too tough for me" effect.

UWA education dean Bill Louden said there had been numerous government inquiries into teacher education since 1979, but to surprisingly little effect. "Teaching is looking less attractive as a profession than it has been in the past. The profession and employers will have to work much harder on persuading the kinds of altruistic young people who have always entered teaching that it's a worthy occupation," Professor Louden said. He said key research had shown that the proportion of women from the top 40 per cent of ability entering teaching had halved during the past two decades as they chose other professions, and the proportion from the second lowest 20 per cent going into the profession had doubled.

Australian Council of Deans of Education president Sue Willis said the most important thing Education Minister Julia Gillard could do was to read the report of the inquiry into teacher education, tabled in parliament last February, and "use that as a starting point". Professor Willis also hoped Ms Gillard would revisit the embargo on variable HECS for education and boost the base funding for teacher education.

ACER chief executive Geoff Masters said it was well known that "if you really want to makea difference in schooling, you need to improve the quality of teaching by attracting more and better teachers, and keeping them". "Under present arrangements, they hit a ceiling at about $60,000 to $70,000, and go into management or go outside teaching," Professor Masters said. "But we need to pay our better teachers to stay in the classroom (and) to continue to develop as highly accomplished teachers."

The Business Council of Australia has called for an increase in top teacher salaries to $130,000. Barry McGaw, former Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development education director and now director of the University of Melbourne Education Research Institute, said "the barrier to entry isn't the cost of training, it's the reward upon graduation. Maximum pay is reached (by) about age 30 and is only 1.7 times the starting salary


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Burmese Muslims granted asylum by new government

A first signal that the gates are being thrown open to millions of "refugees"? The world is full of oppressive countries. Do all the oppressed now sail to Australia?

SEVEN Burmese men held in detention on Nauru for more than a year have been granted refugee status and will be resettled in Australia, Immigration Minister Chris Evans said yesterday. The men, who have been held on Nauru since being found on Ashmore Reef, 610km north of Broome, in August last year, sought asylum because they are Muslims from Burma's persecuted Rohingya minority. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship said yesterday that it had determined the men had been assessed as having a well-founded fear of persecution if they were returned home.

The decision heralds the new Labor Government's first move towards delivering its promise to dismantle the Coalition's offshore processing regime. "We are moving quickly to resolve the status of the people on Nauru as the first step in ending the Pacific Solution," Senator Evans said yesterday. "There is no reason why the Burmese should not have been finalised and resettled by now."

Immigration officials left for Nauru yesterday to finalise the Burmese applications and to begin working out resettlement arrangements. The group of seven, who took the previous government to the High Court to get their applications considered, will arrive in Australia before Christmas and will be resettled in Brisbane.

Senator Evans said the Pacific Solution had been a "costly failure". "The vast majority of those people sent to Nauru and Manus (Papua New Guinea) ultimately settling in Australia highlights the bankruptcy of the Pacific Solution," he said.

However, a far greater political challenge to realising the end of offshore immigration processing will be how the new Government deals with a group of 82 Sri Lankans also held on Nauru. The group includes 74 men who have been found to be genuine refugees but not resettled and seven other Sri Lankans who have been charged over the alleged rape and sexual assault of a local woman. Their case is believed to be returning to court on Nauru this month. Senator Evans said the remaining Sri Lankans would be processed "in accordance with normal arrangements".

Department of Immigration and Citizenship secretary Andrew Metcalfe signalled progress on the matter was imminent. "Further decisions will be made soon about the arrangements for the 74 Sri Lankans in Nauru who have also been found to be refugees," he said. "Decisions on a further eight Sri Lankans on Nauru are pending. One of these people is having a refugee refusal decision reviewed and seven are facing criminal charges in Nauru."

Lawyer for the Burmese refugees, David Manne, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said he was "delighted and relieved" that the new Government had moved so decisively to resolve "what has really been anightmare with no real end insight". "The process has been so unnecessarily drawn out and damaging to those detained," Mr Manne said. "This is a policy that has caused profound suffering and abuse and ridiculous expense to the taxpayer - all of which has been completely unnecessary. "This is a commonsense, fair decision and we can only hope that such a damaging and unnecessary process is not inflicted on anyone in the future."


An obstetrician who hates babies!

Sounds like he needs a sea change

A West Australian medical expert wants families to pay a $5000-plus "baby levy" at birth and an annual carbon tax of up to $800 a child. Writing in today's Medical Journal of Australia, Associate Professor Barry Walters said every couple with more than two children should be taxed to pay for enough trees to offset the carbon emissions generated over each child's lifetime.

Professor Walters, clinical associate professor of obstetric medicine at the University of Western Australia and the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth, called for condoms and "greenhouse-friendly" services such as sterilisation procedures to earn carbon credits. And he implied the Federal Government should ditch the $4133 baby bonus and consider population controls like those in China and India.

Professor Walters said the average annual carbon dioxide emission by an Australian individual was about 17 metric tons, including energy use. "Every newborn baby in Australia represents a potent source of greenhouse gas emissions for an average of 80 years, not simply by breathing but by the profligate consumption of resources typical of our society," he wrote. "Far from showering financial booty on new mothers and rewarding greenhouse-unfriendly behaviour, a 'baby levy' in the form of a carbon tax should apply, in line with the 'polluter pays' principle."

Australian Family Association spokeswoman Angela Conway said it was ridiculous to blame babies for global warming. "I think self-important professors with silly ideas should have to pay carbon tax for all the hot air they create," she said. "There's masses of evidence to say that child-rich families have much lower resource consumption per head than other styles of households.

But the plan won praise from high-profile doctor Garry Egger. "One must wonder why population control . . . is spoken of today only in whispers," he wrote in an MJA response article


Conservative Australian kids

KIDS are turning away from marijuana and more of them are abstaining from sex as today's youth become more conservative. Previously unreleased data from the State Government's biennial YouthSCAN report has revealed the number of people aged between 10 and 17 who smoke marijuana has fallen from 36 per cent in 2003 to 23 per cent in 2007.

The report, compiled after three-hour interviews with 600 young people across NSW and Victoria, found nicotine use had also dropped slightly. Just 37 per cent of young people reported smoking cigarettes, compared to 38 per cent of those surveyed in 2003.

The report reveals young people are also waiting longer before they have sex. Less than two-thirds of sexually active young people reported having sex before they were 16, compared with more than three-quarters of youths questioned in the previous survey.

Members of the NSW Youth Advisory Council - staffed by young people and founded to advise the State Government on youth policy - said high-school students were becoming more aware of the dangers of drugs and more empowered to say no. "Young people are just so aware now,'' said council member Samantha Dawson, 20. "You can say, without doubt, young people are more mature, more aware and definitely more educated, whether that education has come from a school, or from parents, about drugs.''

Ms Dawson said better education about sexual relationships removed the pressure some young people felt to have sex. "The thing young people do now is to discuss these things with people,'' she said. "Then they can make informed decisions on whether they are ready.''

NSW Minister for Youth, Linda Burney, said young people in NSW had successfully overcome peer and commercial pressure and were making their own decision on the issues of drugs and sex. "Since becoming Minister for Youth I have come into contact with so many young people, and I've been very impressed,'' she said. "I think young people today have more pressure on them than any past generation. "So I'm really pleased with these results, and I'm very proud of young people across the State.''

The YouthSCAN report also found young people measured success by material possessions. For 19 per cent of young people, money is more important than character when measuring success.


Leftist call to silence conservative dissent

Comment below by Tom Switzer, the opinion page editor of The Australian

SOMEONE asked me recently, in a voice that suggested a certain smug confidence that it represented truth and justice, whether The Australian would continue to publish conservative columnists and contributors in the new political environment. Just as Janet Albrechtsen and Keith Windschuttle occupied precious opinion-page real estate during the Howard years, he suggested, did we not need more commentators on the Left to reflect the Rudd era? "Given that everything has changed," he asked, "can't you, as oped editor, finally get rid of these right-wing ranters who've corrupted the national conversation in recent years?"

Well, leaving aside the unattractive tone of these remarks, the argument is fallacious for two reasons. For one thing, it amounts to a request for the curtailment of free speech and public debate. In the never-ending battle of ideas, a lively opinion page should provide provocative, thoughtful arguments for points of view on a wide range of topical subjects: from what passes for Left and Right, as well as from writers whose politics are difficult to pigeonhole. When governments change, decent opinion pages should still accommodate contrary views. Otherwise, the cultural landscape would become as flat and unvaried as the proverbial Australian sheep station.

During the past 12 years, the press rightly saw its job as one of keeping John Howard accountable. The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, for instance, still published Alan Ramsey, Adele Horin, Kenneth Davidson and Tim Colebatch. Indeed, Robert Manne, a leading intellectual critic of the Howard government, penned a regular column in both the Age and Herald for many years. Fair enough, but why should the rules change now? Calls to silence or limit conservatives in the Rudd era, in effect, would amount to a one party-state in the media and, dare one say it, the silencing of dissent.

Australia became a more conservative place in the Howard era, but The Australian still regularly published Phillip Adams, not to mention my colleagues Mike Steketee and Michael Costello, both of whom have political views quite different from those of Alan Wood or Greg Sheridan, to name but two of the alleged "right-wing ranters" we publish on this page every week. Nothing particularly virtuous or unusual about this. It is what good newspapers do, whatever their political orientation.

During the Clinton era, the moderately liberal Washington Post continued to publish syndicated conservative columnists such as George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Bob Novak. And its longtime editorial page editor Meg Greenfield also filled her pages with regular contributions from former Republican officeholders and advisers such as Henry Kissinger and Bill Kristol. Not much kowtowing to the Democrat White House here.

Likewise, during the Blair-Brown era, the London Daily Telegraph and The Times have felt no need to sack longtime conservative columnists such as Charles Moore, Simon Heffer, Boris Johnson and Matthew Parris as a way of genuflecting to New Labour. So, why should Australian newspapers be expected to behave any differently? Which brings me to my second point: calls to silence or limit conservative voices in the Rudd era fundamentally misread the political and cultural terrain. As much as Labor partisans and the liberal intelligentsia may hope otherwise, the truth is Australia is a much more conservative nation today than it was, say, during the Keating era. And notwithstanding some adjustments to Howard policies on Kyoto and an apology, the centre of political gravity will remain well to the right of where it was a decade ago.

Labor, remember, won last month precisely because its leader sold himself as a conservative on virtually everything from his support for big income tax cuts and anti-terror laws to his opposition to gay marriage and illegal immigration.

To scan the broadsheet newspapers in the 1990s is to understand how Australia has indeed changed. Back then there was almost universal consensus in the media about the virtues of Aboriginal welfarism, separatism, a politicians' republic, zealous multiculturalism, activist judges rewriting our Constitution. And it appeared that the black-armband view of history was the politically approved order of the day. Today, however, things are very different. On the battlefields of history, economics, citizenship, national sovereignty and values generally, conservative ideas always compete and often prevail. Who, for instance, still believes that welfare should be an unconditional right? Or that cultural diversity is enough to sustain a nation? Or that traditional culture alone can rejuvenate indigenous Australians in remote communities?

Look at the opinion formers. Phillip Adams remembers a time in the 1970s when the Left had almost total control of print opinion. He recalls Graham Perkin, the longtime editor of The Age, saying: "We really must get a right-wing columnist." And during the Keating era, only a few well-known conservatives or free-marketeers such as Paddy McGuinness and Gerard Henderson existed in the national media. Today, by contrast, the ranks of the Right have swelled to include Albrechtsen, Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Miranda Devine, Sandra Lee, Michael Baume, Terry McCrann, Michael Duffy, John Roskam, Tim Blair, Christopher Pearson, Paul Gray, Neil Mitchell and best-selling author Paul Sheehan.

Robert Manne has argued that Albrechtsen, Bolt and Akerman represent an interesting new phenomenon. "Even 20 years ago," he laments, "Australia did not have journalists like this in the mainstream press." He is hardly alone in fretting that the Left's near monopoly over the institutions of opinion and information is crumbling.

As Adams himself has written on this page: "Our population in the press is so small as to constitute extinction. We are dead parrots ... giving the illusion of life because we are nailed to our perches." The point here is that we live in conservative times and, if Kevin Rudd governs as he campaigned, he is unlikely to change that much. In any case, the main function of a decent oped page should be not to provide overwhelming support to one political party or ideology but to provide a broader, richer, deeper national debate. And polemicists should always bear in mind John Stuart Mill's warning that he who knows only his own position knows little of that.


Monday, December 10, 2007

No prison for statutory rape??

It pays to be black in this day and age. The idea that a 10-year-old girl is capable of informed consent to sex is thoroughly rejected by the law but that is apparently for whites only. Below is a pic of the stupid female judge concerned

NINE men who pleaded guilty last month to gang-raping a 10-year-old girl at the Aurukun Aboriginal community on Cape York have escaped a prison term, with the sentencing judge saying the child victim "probably agreed" to have sex with them. Cairns-based District Court judge Sarah Bradley ordered that the six teenage juveniles not even have a conviction recorded for the 2005 offence, and that they be placed on a 12-month probation order, The Australian newspaper reported this morning.

Queensland's attorney-general is meeting with the state's prosecutions boss to consider the possibility of lodging an appeal against the sentence. The appeal period has lapsed, however it has been reported that the state could apply for an extension.

Judge Bradley sentenced three men over the age of consent of 16 - aged 17, 18 and 26 - to six months' imprisonment, with the sentence suspended for 12 months. Judge Bradley said from her Cairns home yesterday that she considered the sentences "appropriate" in the case because they were the penalties asked for by the Crown prosecutor. "I am not in a position to comment and I refer you to my sentencing remarks," Judge Bradley told The Australian.

Family supporters of the child victim warned that violence and murders could follow the judge's decision not to jail any of the offenders, and they questioned what message the ruling sent to the community. When sentencing seven co-accused on October 24 at Aurukun, Judge Bradley noted: "The girl involved was not forced and she probably agreed to have sex with all of you."

The four juveniles are aged 14 to 16 years. They and the adults come from some of the most prominent and powerful Aboriginal families on Cape York. Two more juveniles pleaded guilty on November 6 to raping the child, and were also given probation with no convictions recorded. The child victim, now aged 12, does not enjoy the elevated family status of her attackers, and has had to be removed from Aurukun and put with foster parents.

News of the non-custodial sentences has added to the violent hatreds that exist in Aurukun between families and tribes and which have played a part in recent brawls involving dozens of assailants, many armed with sticks and spears.

Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine said last night he had called for an urgent meeting this morning with state Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare, who, it is understood, was not told of the submissions made by her prosecutor for non-custodial sentences for the rapists. Mr Shine said he needed to receive a clear picture of the circumstances surrounding the sentencing, including the prosecutor's submissions. "I have been made aware of this tragic event this afternoon and have had an opportunity to read the sentencing remarks," Mr Shine said. "I'm truly horrified by the circumstances of these offences. The circumstances of this case have not previously been brought to my attention, and nor has there been any communication with my office with regard to an appeal. "Rape, particularly of a 10-year-old girl, by numerous offenders, is to my mind horrific in the extreme. "It therefore appears to me that what I consider to be a particularly lenient sentence needs explanation."

One of the adult rapists is on the Australian National Child Offence Register following a conviction on March 29 last year for unlawful carnal knowledge of a female child - an offence committed after he was charged with the rape of the 10-year-old girl. Judge Bradley said the man was the oldest and should have known a lot better. "You cannot have sex with anyone under 16," she said. "However, as I said before, I am not treating anyone any differently in terms of being a ringleader, and in your case, again, I will impose a sentence of imprisonment but it will be wholly suspended so you do not go to jail today. "But if you get into more trouble in the next year, you could end up in jail." The man had been arrested on August 7, 2006, and the judge said the 14 days he spent in custody awaiting his sentence was to count as "imprisonment already served".

When sentencing the juveniles, Justice Bradley said: "All of you have pleaded guilty to having sex with a 10-year-old girl and (one of the juveniles) has pleaded guilty to having sex with another young girl as well. "All of you have to understand that you cannot have sex with a girl under 16. "If you do, you are breaking the law, and if you are found out, then you will be brought to court and could end up in jail. "I accept that the girl involved, with respect to all of these matters, was not forced, and that she probably agreed to have sex with all of you. "But you were taking advantage of a 10-year-old girl and she needs to be protected, and the girls generally in this community need to be protected. "This is a very serious matter. It is a very shameful matter and I hope that all of you realise that you must not have sex with young girls. "Anyone under 16 is too young. Some of you are still children yourselves. Others of you are adults but I am treating you all equally in terms of the behaviour. "I am not treating any of you as the ringleader or anything like that."

She asked each prisoner to stand up and said she hoped they would realise it was wrong to have sex with young girls. Justice Bradley then offered them probation and when each agreed to accept that, she said she would not record a conviction. To one of the juveniles, she said: "You are still a child. You have pleaded guilty to one offence of rape. "You have been in a lot of trouble in the past, though, and you still have some community service to do. "You have not been doing that well. I am prepared to offer you probation but you have got to stick with the rules of probation." The juvenile agreed and was then placed on 12 months' probation, with no conviction recorded.


Labor swift to dump Access Card

A sensible move. National ID databases are a recipe for disaster

THE Labor Government has moved quickly to scrap the Howard administration's controversial $1.1 billion Human Services identity card. The federal Government has shut down the Office of the Access Card and closed its website, honouring its election promise to scrap the controversial program. The $1.1 billion project - intended to provide every Australian with a unique health and welfare number and biometric photo on a smartcard - opened a year ago, with two key tenders attracting strong bids from IT and card supply companies keen to secure a role. The project has languished since mid-year, after an all-party Senate committee rejected the draft enabling legislation as wholly inadequate and lacking in protections against the card's use as a de facto identity card.

Bidders are understood to have spent millions on preparing their tenders for systems integration and card issuing; while the department spent more than $50 million on consultants, administration and advertising. The Howard government also spent an undisclosed amount on establishing the Consumer and Privacy Taskforce to manage public consultation; its resulting reports provided recommendations that were ignored by the then minister, Senator Chris Ellison. One participant notes with frustration the "diverted efforts from other agencies' activities, and the time wasted by people responding to the disordered consultation process".

However, the bulk of the cost lay in completing the processing and registration of some 18 million Australians while the card was rolled out over two years to 2010, and Labor plans to use these savings elsewhere. The deadlines for the technical and administrative parts of the Access Card regime were widely seen to be highly ambitious and driven by a political timetable rather than a scheduled nationwide rollout.

The scope of the project and card capabilities also varied wildly as former Employment and Workplace Relations minister, Joe Hockey, talked up plans for the private sector to piggyback applications on the smartcard for secondary, "consumer friendly" purposes.


Do-gooder judge a liar

Former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld lied under oath about a traffic infringement as he was in danger of losing his driver's licence, the District Court heard today. Einfeld and co-accused Angela Liati are facing a committal hearing for perjury and traffic matters.

In a statement tendered to court, the Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor Wayne Roser, SC, said that on two separate occasions Einfeld had lied by saying he was not driving his silver Lexus when it was caught speeding in a Mosman Street on January 8 last year. In the statement, Mr Roser also said that Einfeld's long-time friend Vivian Schenker had initially lied to police about the car Einfeld claims to have been driving that day. She later agreed to tell the truth after being given an undertaking by police that any information she provided would not be used against her in any criminal proceedings. The court heard "she made the statement she did on 22nd August 2006 because she thought it would be helpful to Einfeld. And that it was not the truth".

Einfeld's committal hearing has been stood over until tomorrow. However, the committal hearing of Liati, who is alleged to have given a false statement on Mr Einfeld's behalf, will continue today.

The former judge is accused of lying under oath about a friend driving his car when it was caught speeding on Sydney's North Shore. The friend, US university professor Teresa Brennan, was Einfeld's alibi on a number of occasions dating back to February 4, 2003, Mr Roser today told the court. "Unfortunately for Einfeld, Professor Teresa Brennan had died the day prior to that offence ... in the United State of America as a result of a hit and run accident," Mr Roser said.

Einfeld's use of Professor Brennan was uncovered during the widely publicised police investigation of the speeding offence at Mosman. Einfeld swore on oath in August that year that he was in Forster on the NSW Mid North Coast that day and that Professor Brennan had been driving his car. Mr Roser said mobile phone records and credit card receipts show he was in Sydney that entire day and had lunch with Ms Shenker on the city's northern beaches. CCTV footage and E-tag records would support this claim.

Ms Shenker would tell the court Einfeld picked her up that day in his silver Lexus but told her to say he was driving his mother's car prior to her first statement to police, Mr Roser said. "When she did her first statement she knew what she had said in relation to the vehicle Einfeld was in was not true," Mr Roser said . "She made the statement she did ... because she thought it would be helpful to Einfeld. "It was not the truth." Ms Shenker agreed to give evidence in exchange for immunity from prosecution, Mr Roser said.

Einfeld had conspired with Ms Shenker and Liati to avoid penalties which included loss of his licence or a good behaviour bond, Mr Roser said. "He intentionally lied ... and said that not only he was not driving his vehicle but that he was in Forster on January 8, 2006," Mr Roser said. "He was successful in his endeavour because, relying upon Einfeld's evidence that he was in Forster on that weekend and was not driving his vehicle, the magistrate dismissed the charge against him." Einfeld was present in court today but he and his counsel Ian Barker QC were excused until tomorrow.

Liati allegedly swore a statement saying she was in Einfeld's car with Theresa Brennan - a different person to the deceased professor - on January 8. Mr Roser said she did this in support of Einfeld's version of events and it was an attempt to pervert the course of justice.


Army can't even supply good boots

How dead in the head can you get? Is there ANY intelligent defence equipment procurement?

THE Defence Department is spending $375,000 on a product review to tell itself what the troops and other experts already know -- their combat boots are substandard. Soldiers are up in arms about inferior boots, with one angry senior Digger this week saying, "Who will we sue over foot damage, the army or the boot maker?"

Some service personnel are paying hundreds of dollars from their own pockets to buy overseas-made boots because of damage and medical downgrading caused by the standard-issue Terra boot made by Redback Australian Boot Company.

In response to questions, the Defence Department revealed that the giant American consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton is being paid $375,000 of taxpayer money to conduct a review of combat boots. Due in October, the review has been extended after several interim reports were returned to BAH by the Defence Materiel Organisation marked "unsatisfactory".

The standard issue Terra boot, which is the subject of many complaints due to the damage caused by its rigid sole and lack of lining, costs taxpayers about $148 a pair. For under $200, the troops could be wearing a world-class boot such as the Australian-designed Crossfire Peacekeeper Plus, which is now the standard infantry combat boot for the US Army. Crossfire has sold 380,000 pairs of the hand-stitched and lined boots, including 150,000 this year alone to the US Army.

Troops damaged by the Terras have bought several thousands pairs of Crossfires, which are lined and made using Goodyear welt technology to help mould to the foot. Unlike other workers, infantry soldiers have to carry heavy loads and run and walk long distances across rough terrain in all weather.

"Why doesn't Defence just buy what works," said one Digger currently deployed to the Middle East. "Boots are the most basic things that we own." As one soldier wrote about the saga on a credible military equipment website, "It is the story of . . . bureaucratic infighting, incompetence, neglect, contempt for soldiers and failure in duty of care."


Sunday, December 09, 2007


Australia's Centre-Left is now sounding very much like George Bush -- much though they would loathe that comparison

Trade Minister Simon Crean says developing countries like China and India must set tough binding emissions targets before Australia agrees to a new Kyoto agreement beyond 2012. Last week the Australian delegation indicated it supported a 25 to 40 per cent cut in emissions for developed countries beyond 2012. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said it was not the Government's position.

Mr Crean, who is in Bali for trade talks today, says developing countries must agree to binding targets before Australia commits. "Australia's task is at the appropriate time to commit to targets but it's also to try and secure binding commitments from developing countries," he said. "We all know the environmental imperative of facing up to the challenge of climate change." Mr Crean said Australia was not going to sign up to any binding commitments on battling climate change until they had the results of a report commissioned by Mr Rudd's climate change economic specialist, expected next year.

The European Union, developing countries led by China, and environmental activists are urging the rich world to commit to reducing their polluting greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020.

But Mr Crean said that promises by rich countries alone to cut carbon dioxide emissions would not solve global warming. Environment ministers will arrive in Bali at the end of next week, while trade and finance ministers and representatives have begun gathering on the sidelines of the summit. "The meeting of trade ministers emphasises the point that it is not just an environmental imperative that we're dealing with, but the economic opportunities that come from solving climate change," Mr Crean said.

Mr Rudd will confirm Australia's position when he arrives in Bali next week.



Kevin Rudd will need all his diplomatic skills in Bali, as the sides have already squared off fiercely at the climate change talks, writes Marian Wilkinson. There is a simple but powerful equation that was being thrown at officials and reporters from the developed nations in Bali this week. Almost 70 per cent of the greenhouse gas pollution already causing climate change was put into the atmosphere in the past by rich countries as they built prosperous economies for fewer than a fifth of the world's population.

Officials from China, India, Africa and the small island nations argued, at times acrimoniously, at the United Nations climate talks that this inescapable reality means rich countries must shoulder much of the burden in the fight to slow climate change and pay much of the bill to weather the damage that will continue for decades.

This is the harsh diplomatic reality facing the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and his Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, when they arrive in Bali early next week. While scientific necessity, and the developed world, demand that heavily polluting developing countries such as China and India must rein in their own soaring emissions, the fight over who pays most and who sacrifices most underscored every discussion in Bali this week.

The crucial talks that began on Monday have one main aim: to agree to begin formal negotiations that will produce a new global climate change agreement by 2009. The outcome in Bali is not supposed to determine targets for rich or developing countries. But as officials from more than 180 nations ground out proposals for the "road map" to this agreement, the debate over what targets the rich countries would meet was impossible to ignore.

Led by China's formidable delegation, the developing world asked explicitly whether developed countries were trying to walk away from a consensus reached in Vienna earlier this year that they should take the lead in making deep cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. This proposal emerged from the hard scientific facts put together by the UN's peak scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If the world is going to avoid dangerous climate change, it needs to halve the soaring level of emissions by mid-century. To do that it must start now. The UN recognised that industrialised countries have the technology and government institutions capable of taking the lead. Under the principles of the Kyoto Protocol, that is expected.

As a newly ratified member of the protocol, Australia is now aligned with that position. But this week, developed countries under the protocol, such as Japan and Canada, appeared to want to water down the Vienna consensus. After a week of basking in plaudits for Australia's ratification of Kyoto, Rudd suddenly found Australia's position on the Vienna proposals under scrutiny. Where did Australia stand on developed countries cutting their emissions between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020?

Critically, the so-called Vienna Declaration does not commit individual developed countries to these cuts now. And how they can be achieved is up for debate. But in Bali this week, the developing world demanded that the Vienna proposal be recognised.

Europe and New Zealand confirmed their support for the Vienna Declaration, and by Wednesday night the Australian delegation did as well. But immediately, Rudd at home had to confront accusations from the Opposition that he had committed Australia to reckless cuts in emissions that would damage the economy. He was quick to insist that the Vienna Declaration was not a commitment.

"The target that you referred to, 25-40, is in fact contained in what is described generally as the Vienna Declaration," he explained. "Many states have publicly recognised the work of the IPCC in putting together that report but, in so doing, states have also indicated that they do not necessarily accept those targets, nor do they accept those targets as binding targets for themselves. That has been a reality since the Vienna Declaration was issued in August of this year. That is also the position of the Australian Government."

He repeated, as he did before the election, that Australia will not set any 2020 target until the report by the economist Ross Garnaut is delivered next year. That, he said, "is to ensure that those targets are meaningful environmentally and responsible economically. And that's the way ahead".

But in Bali, Rudd will not so easily duck this issue. As he spoke in Brisbane, in Bali the head of the UN climate negotiating team, Yvo de Boer, told reporters he had just come from a meeting discussing the Vienna proposals. And he said: "I think it is clear to everyone that industrialised countries will have to continue to take the lead. All countries, all governments, realise that industrialised countries will have to reduce their emissions somewhere between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020. So that's an agreed range for industrialised countries."

Australian and UN officials are anxiously stressing that these targets do not have to be signed or sealed in Bali or, indeed, until some way down the track. The Kyoto Protocol's first targets do not expire until 2012. Under these, Australia has an easy ride. While many developed nations agreed to cut their emissions by up to 5 per cent on 1990s levels, Australia was allowed to increase its emissions by 8 per cent of 1990 levels. Unfortunately for Rudd, this deal, and a decade of inaction by the Howard government to slow Australia's soaring emissions, means that making deep cuts by 2020 will be difficult.

While Australia can correctly insist the 2020 targets are not up for discussion in Bali, they are now deeply colouring the debate as officials move behind closed doors to nut out a deal on the road map.

Put simply, the Bali talks have divided the developing world and the developed. And among some developing nations, especially India, there is a very hard line emerging that there should be no concessions until the developed world takes the lead on cutting emissions, agrees to technology transfers and puts up serious money to fund the world's adaption to climate change.

On the other side, Japan among others wants to see serious proposals from China and India on emissions reductions before it agrees to commitments after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol's first round expires. The new global agreement that follows this cannot give its two biggest competitors, the US and China, an unfair advantage.

The hope is that a consensus will prevail. It is possible there will be a commitment to begin negotiations on two tracks: one will continue down the Kyoto track to pursue commitments from nations which have ratified the protocol. The other will be under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, called the dialogue track. This would include the developing countries and the US, which remains outside Kyoto and opposed to binding targets. By 2009 these two tracks could come together in a final agreement.

By the time Rudd attends the Bali talks early next week it will be clear whether a consensus is emerging. Along with the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, he will be performing on the main stage. This week, Rudd said he wanted to act as a "bridge" between the developed and developing world, especially between China and the US.

But when he stands to make his statement on the floor of the talks, many in the developing world will be listening to what the new Prime Minister will say about the burden Australia and the developed world are willing to take in the battle to save the planet.


Perth Muslim school raided and shut down

A MUSLIM school in Perth has been raided by police and shut down by WA Education Minister Mark McGowan. The school's head faces a stealing charge. Mr McGowan said he had taken the extraordinary step of closing Muslim Ladies' College in Kenwick because of allegations, including fraud and the use of unregistered teachers who were focusing mainly on religion, rather than the WA curriculum.

The school's acting director, Zubair Sayed, appeared in East Perth Magistrates Court charged with stealing. The court was told the charge related to an alleged theft offence - of $355,934 - in April, when Mr Sayed, of Sarah Close, Canning Vale, was a company director of Muslim Links Australia Ltd.

It is alleged the school was overclaiming for state and federal government funds for students. Police prosecutor Sgt Scott McCormick told the court that detectives had discovered the money had been sent to Pakistan. "This is a matter which is of extreme seriousness, whereby Mr Sayed obtained public money from the commonwealth by deceit," Sgt McCormick said. "The state wishes to put on the record that this is a very serious charge."

The court was told that Mr Sayed wrote a Commonwealth Bank cheque for money from the Federal Government that was meant for the Muslim Ladies' College to educate students. At the time, Mr Sayed's brother was principal of the college. Magistrate Vicki Stewart granted Mr Sayed bail, with conditions he surrender his passport, not be within 1km of international sea or air ports, report to a police station each Wednesday and reside at his home address. He was released on $100,000 bail and a $100,000 surety to reappear in Perth Magistrates Court on January 2 next year.

On Friday, Mr McGowan said: "I want to make it clear that this decision (to close the school) has not been made because this is a Muslim school. "This decision has been made because this is a school that is not educating students properly. "An investigation into the operations of the college by the Department of Educational Services began in December 2006 - following complaints about the conduct of the principal-administrator, staffing of the college and the educational program.'' Key areas investigated included whether teachers were registered, the appropriateness of qualifications of teachers, inadequate educational leadership and standard of education, and the sufficiency of the school's resources.

Mr McGowan said other concerns were about the college's governance structure, the condition of buildings, and facilities and enrolment, and attendance procedures. He said it was found that teachers were inexperienced in teaching and understanding the curriculum framework, and students weren't being taught all required subjects. "The college has employed a number of unregistered teachers and many with limited authority to teach,'' he said. "Teachers are not spending 50 per cent of the school day on literacy and numeracy, as required. "Instead (they) spend a large amount of time on religious studies. This is clearly unacceptable and seriously damaging to the student's academic well-being. "The school is not being properly led because the director of the college (Anwar Sayed) is in Afghanistan and has been for most of the year."

Mr McGowan wrote to the school's governing body to notify them of his decision, which took effect from Friday. He said enrolments had declined in the past year, from about 90 students at the beginning of 2007 to about 50 or 60 students currently.


Oz troops to remain in Afghanistan

AUSTRALIAN troops will remain in Afghanistan until at least 2010, doubling the original two-year commitment. But the decision for troops to stay has not been formally announced or debated, Fairfax newspapers said. Instead, the Dutch government has broken the news about the Australian troops staying on for several years. The Netherlands has decided to extend its Afghan deployment until August 2010, in part because Australians will also extend their stay, it confirmed.

Last year, the Howard government said its reconstruction troops, sent to Afghanistan in August last year, were going for two years. The news reveals Australia's deployment has blown out to at least four years, and defence chiefs say securing Afghanistan, by defeating the Taliban, could take at least a decade.

It is unknown who decided to extend the Australia's troops' stay in the war-torn country. A spokeswoman for Labor Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, said "no formal decisions" had been made about extending Australia's involvement. "Labor has indicated for some time that we would consider further reasonable requests for military assistance in Afghanistan," the spokeswoman said.

Australia's extended commitment was revealed in Dutch parliament on November 30.

Source (Note: This story has changed a bit since I downloaded it)

Muslim Turk beauty defies critics

THE Muslim teenager who generated a wave of controversy by entering last year's Miss Teen Australia beauty contest has made this year's finals. Then aged 16, Melbourne schoolgirl Ayten Ahmet was condemned by Muslim leaders when she entered last year's competition, with Melbourne cleric Sheik Mohammed Omran branding participation by Muslim girls as "a slur on Islam".

However, this year reactions had been more low key for Ayten, who was one of 12 Miss Teen Australia finalists at the Gold Coast's WhiteWater World yesterday. "It hasn't really been a big deal this year," she said. "At the time last year I said it (religion) wasn't really relevant to me entering the competition."

Being the centre of a raging debate on Muslim values was difficult for the teenager, but it did not dissuade her from entering again. "My family has been very supportive," she said. "It was made into a big issue by some people last year but I didn't see it as anything wrong."

Former Gold Coast Islamic Society president Naseem Abdul said Ayten was free to make her own decisions about entering modelling or beauty competitions. "It is her life," he said. "She is an individual, she can decide for herself if she wants to do that sort of thing, it doesn't affect or offend me in any way."

The winner of this year's pageant was due to be crowned last night.


Saturday, December 08, 2007


Two current reports below

Lazy and indifferent public hospital staff (1)

QUEENSLAND Premier Anna Bligh is demanding to know how a woman was left to give birth in a hospital car park north-west of Brisbane. Jennifer Gold said nurses watched as she gave birth to her son Sonny last Friday morning in a car parked outside the Miles Hospital on the Darling Downs. Ms Gold said that instead of being admitted, she and her partner were left outside. "Malcolm ran inside and pressed the buzzer to try and get some help and one of the staff has said we weren't allowed to go in there because they weren't a midwife," Ms Gold told Network Ten news.

"Malcolm finally came out, they gave him a towel and he delivered the baby himself," she said. "I just watched and it was very scary. "I don't know whether he (Sonny) was going to be alive." Photographs taken by her partner showed Sonny was born in the footwell of the family's four-wheel drive and that the boy was blue. He and his mother were finally allowed inside the hospital but left later the same day because Ms Gold said she felt unwanted.

She took her child home and an ambulance later took both mother and baby to Toowoomba Hospital, 200km away, where the child has since been in intensive care. "I think in another day he would have been gone because he got so dehydrated from the stress and the trauma," Ms Gold said.

An angry Ms Bligh said the matter would be investigated thoroughly. "This issue will be the subject of a very thorough investigation, I can assure the people involved," Ms Bligh said. "We take these sorts of issues very seriously." The child was expected to be able leave hospital within the next few days.


Lazy and indifferent public hospital staff (2)

HEALTH authorities have been accused of not properly checking the credentials of two Pakistani-trained doctors who failed to save a woman's life. Coroner Michael Barnes yesterday handed down the findings of his inquest into the death of Deborah Burgen, a 49-year-old mother at the Mount Isa Hospital on February 28, 2005.

Ms Burgen was operated on for a twisted bowel but died of complications as she was pumped with fluids two days later. The inquest, which opened earlier this year, followed a long-running public inquiry into the "Dr Death" scandal surrounding Indian trained Dr Jayant Patel. Dr Patel has been linked to the deaths of 17 patients at Bundaberg Base Hospital where he was director of surgery until he fled to the United States in April 2005.

Mr Barnes said in his report that had Ms Burgen been operated on before the obstruction caused her large intestine to perforate "her chances of surviving the procedure were quite good". "Ms Burgen should not have died," Mr Barnes said. The inquest had been told that when she was admitted to hospital on February 25, 2005, Ms Burgen was in the care of general surgeon Frederick Rowland, who was a consultant specialist with the British Royal Navy and had worked in Saudi Arabia and Fiji.

Mr Barnes' report found that Queensland Health did not adequately scrutinise the qualifications and experience of Pakistan-trained Dr Naseem Ashraf and Dr Anilkumar Tirumalai. All three doctors have since left the hospital.

The inquest heard that Ms Burgen died in excruciating pain after her weight ballooned 31kg in two-and-a-half days after her admission to the hospital. "Mt Isa Base Hospital (MIBH) clinical managers failed to provide Dr Ashraf and Dr Tirumalai with any orientation in relation to the policies and procedures at the Mt Isa Base Hospital and failed to have their scope of practice delineated by a credentialing and privileging committee in a timely fashion," Mr Barnes said. "None of the doctors who saw Ms Burgen on the six occasions that she attended the MIBH Emergency Department between February 16 and 25 adequately responded to her complaint. "By failing to operate on Ms Burgen for two days after her emergency admission, Dr Rowland allowed her large intestine to perforate."

Mr Barnes said the inquest had been told Dr Ashraf was apparently the Director of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care but neither he nor Dr Tirumalai had post-graduate training in anaesthesia that would be recognised in Australia. "The Medical Board of Queensland did not adequately scrutinise the suitability of Dr Ashraf and Dr Tirumalai before registering them to practice."

Mr Barnes said there was no basis to suspect that doctors trained in countries other than Australia were any less competent than those trained here. "However, the Medical Practitioners Registration Act 2001 also creates another pathway for registration for those seeking to practice in a geographic region that the minister for health has decided is an area of need. "This assessment is made on the basis that there are insufficient medical practitioners practising in that area to meet the needs of the people living there. "Prior to Ms Burgen's death, Mt Isa had been stipulated to be such an area and Drs Rowland, Ashraf and Tirumalai were registered under the area of need regime.

"Because such registration is not dependent upon the doctor meeting the Australian Medical Council standards it is essential that the employer, in this case Queensland Health, and the Medical Board ensure that the proposed registrant has appropriate qualifications and experience for the position under consideration."

Source Further details here.


Three current reports below

Police thugs hurt elderly Asian lady

TWO police officers handcuffed a 64-year-old pensioner, threw her to the ground and then searched inside her bra and underpants on a busy suburban road in the mistaken belief she was a drug dealer. The ordeal left an ailing Leentje McDonald, of Maroubra, in hospital and severely traumatised. But she did not receive an apology from police. Rather, she has been charged with assaulting an officer.

While it is unusual for a pensioner to be mistaken for a 40-year-old drug dealer, as was the case here, civil libertarians say such aggressive searches, and the charging of people for assault or resisting arrest if no drugs are found, are a common and disturbing feature of modern policing.

In her case, Ms McDonald resisted the intrusive search because longstanding nerve damage in her right shoulder meant she was in excruciating pain when the two police officers handcuffed her during the full body search on Maroubra Road. "I started screaming, screaming so loud because it was extremely painful. It was so painful I could feel it in my spine. I had a blackout. I thought I was going to die from a heart attack," Ms McDonald told the Herald at her small Department of Housing flat, where she lives alone.

October 18 had began like any other pension day. Ms McDonald went to the shops to buy some ingredients for a "nice dinner" and stepped into the Maroubra Junction Hotel to play the pokies for a few minutes while she waited for her bus. As she left the hotel, two plainclothes police officers, a man and a woman, approached. "They said, 'Are you dealing drugs.' I said, 'No, never in my life. I don't even like smoking,' " she said. Ms McDonald says the two officers said they were looking for an Asian woman in her 40s.

"I said, 'You must have a mistaken identity. I have never done this in my life. I'm 64, a grandmother of six, please.' I said, 'You can't search me like this on a busy road. I beg your pardon, no.' "

The police grabbed her bag, finding only her wallet, some bills and two cans of coconut cream. But they were not satisfied. While Maroubra police station was directly across the road, about 20 metres away, the officers moved to handcuff and search her on the street. "I said, 'Please don't do this, I have a frozen shoulder,' " Ms McDonald said. In terrible pain, she lashed out, scratching one of the officers. They finished handcuffing her and threw her to the ground.

"They did a full body search. They put their hands inside my bra, inside my pants. I said, 'My God. Why is this happening to me?' Then the officer, she says to me, 'Stand up.' But I couldn't stand up. I was crying. Then they said, 'Put your shoes on.' My handbag was everywhere, my glasses, my coconut cream. "They had no drugs, no nothing. But they arrested me and put me in the truck. They take me to Maroubra police station. That's just across the road!"

The commotion drew a large crowd of onlookers, intensifying Ms McDonald's humiliation. One witness, Josephine Chen, who worked at a nearby photo studio, said: "Everybody stopped to look. "She kept screaming 'My shoulder, my shoulder' but the police kept ignoring it. She was struggling to free her arm. She wasn't trying to hit anyone."

In the past 10 years, NSW police have been granted increased powers to search people, culminating in the decision last month of the Premier, Morris Iemma, to extend indefinitely the powers given to police to deal with the aftermath of the Cronulla riots. These powers mean police need only have a "suspicion" of illegality before they undertake an intrusive body search in an authorised area.

Cameron Murphy, of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said: "We get hundreds of complaints about this, more than any other issue, particularly when it involves police sniffer dogs at train stations or outside nightclubs. "If you get upset about what is often a degrading and humiliating experience and they don't find drugs, the police charge you. Some people get what we call the trifecta: disobeying a lawful direction, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer."

A police spokesman from Eastern Beaches command, Chief Inspector David McBeath, would not comment before Ms McDonald's scheduled appearance at Waverley Local Court on December 19. However, he said police would take into account any comments from the magistrate before determining if any action would be taken against the officers.


Only two years for police rapists

THE young woman was terrified. Already having had a rough night on a bunk in the Maroochydore Watch-house she was roused by a buzzer going off in her cell at 2.45am and the voice of the watch-house chief, Sgt Zane Slingsby, telling her there was "some paperwork" that needed doing.

Earlier, Slingsby's junior, Sen-Constable Peter Anthony Buxton, had taken her from her cell and into the vehicle holding bay of the watch-house, where there was a security camera blind spot, and had forced her to expose her breasts. Later during a shift change, Buxton had again taken her from her cell, saying she had to have a photo taken. Slingsby was in the garage when she arrived and Buxton had left her alone with him. "He (Slingsby) said 'you're the one who's going to show us your tits for cigarettes'," the woman later told investigators. Scared, she had done as she was told - allowing Slingsby to rub her breasts - and then she had been taken back to her cell by Buxton.

But it was just Slingsby on his own when he called her before 3am, and took her into the vehicle bay, closing and locking the door behind him. Putting on some bravado she asked him: "Do you do this to all the girls?" Slingsby replied with a smile: "No, only the ones we can tell have got good breasts." Then, as she shivered with fear, he fondled and groped her as well as putting his hands down the front of her pants - ignoring her frightened pleas to be left alone.

That feeling of helplessness, of not being believed if they did complain - was a common thread repeated in the statements of all three women molested by Slingsby, and the six women Buxton attacked over several months in 2005, when the two were on duty at Maroochydore watch-house.

Buxton, 54, was sentenced to six years' jail in July for his role, after pleading guilty to 24 charges of sexually assaulting women prisoners including one count of rape. He will be eligible for parole after two years.

And this week the book was finally closed on the sordid affair when Slingsby, 51, was sentenced to four years' jail on 10 charges, suspended after serving two years. The charges included sexual assault, common assault, procuring a sexual act by intimidation and attempting to procure a sexual act by intimidation.

Their crimes were uncovered after a painstaking eight-month investigation by the Police Ethical Standards Command after one of the women confided in a correctional centre nurse.

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson described the actions of the two police officers as "disgraceful and an abuse of authority and trust". Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Paul Rutledge said the offences had been "persistent, premeditated and calculated". "This was no fleeting succumbing to passing temptation," he said during Buxton's sentencing. "This was a clear pattern of control over female prisoners. "If you were a female going in to that watch-house while that officer was on duty, there was an almost one in 10 chance you would be interfered with."


Your government will protect you

A VIOLENT rapist has been released from jail three years short of his maximum term. Described by one police officer as the most unpredictable and vengeful criminal he has ever dealt with, Antonio Christopher Loguancio, 34, has been granted early release despite a shocking history of violence in and out of jail. Nicknamed "Mad Dog", Loguancio was jailed for a maximum 12 years in December 1998 for a string of brutal attacks and depraved rapes committed over 19 months.

His attacks ranged from punching, kicking and slashing his female victim to beating her with wood, shooting arrows at her and choking her with a belt. One time, while armed with a pump-action shotgun, he forced her to her knees and pulled her head back by her hair while telling her she was dead.

Some of Loguancio's rapes were so sickening the Herald Sun has chosen not to publish details. During his trial, a doctor said of the victim: "She exhibited multiple bruising . . . almost all across her body."

Despite his shocking history, the Victorian Adult Parole Board says Loguancio's early supervised release is in the interests of the community. "Releasing offenders on parole allows the board to impose a strict supervision regime and other conditions to support the reintegration of the offender into the community, and to minimise the risk of recidivism," parole board general manager David Provan said in a statement.

Friends of Loguancio's victim now fear for her and other women who may cross his path. Loguancio already had a long list of convictions when sentenced in 1998 on 30 counts including six of rape, five of intentionally causing injury, four of making threats to kill and 12 of common assault. At the time he was sentenced he was already serving a jail term.

Loguancio's lawyer, James Montgomery, tried to explain his client's pathological violence in court. "He recalls in his childhood being punched, kicked and strapped often by his father," Mr Montgomery said. "He recalls on one occasion his father pulled a gun on him. "His father had the view that . . . violence solved everything."

Judge Mervyn Kimm described Loguancio's attacks as "depraved, appalling and quite callous". "I am quite satisfied that you have no remorse whatsoever," Judge Kimm said when sentencing him. Court of Appeal judge Frank Callaway went further. "I do not propose to summarise the evidence of the 30 offences of which the applicant was convicted," Judge Callaway said. "Some of them were of such a depraved character that a description in a judgment that will go on the internet and may be reported would be contrary to public morals."

While in jail Loguancio was able to complete engineering and hospitality courses. He served just five months more than his minimum term of 8 1/2 years.


Friday, December 07, 2007


Reality hits Australia's Leftists

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd last night did an about-face on deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, days after Australia's delegation backed the plan at the climate talks in Bali. A government representative at the talks this week said Australia backed a 25-40 per cent cut on 1990 emission levels by 2020. But after warnings it would lead to huge rises in electricity prices, Mr Rudd said the Government would not support the target.

The repudiation of the delegate's position represents the first stumble by the new Government's in its approach to climate change. Mr Rudd said he supported a longer-term greenhouse emissions cut of 60 per cent of 2000 levels by 2050. But the Government would not set medium-term targets until a report by economist Ross Garnaut was completed next year. "I think speculation on individual numbers prior to that is not productive and I would suggest it would be better for all concerned if we waited for the outcome of that properly-deliberated document," Mr Rudd said.

The electricity industry yesterday warned it may not be able to meet growing consumer demand and comply with the 2020 target. Energy Supply Association of Australia chief executive Brad Page said a 17 per cent power price rise in Victoria would seem "pretty modest" compared with the cost of complying with the target. An ESAA report released this year found cutting carbon emissions by 30 per cent of 2000 levels by 2030 wold push up power costs by 30 per cent. Mr Page said the cost of meeting the higher target by 2020 would be much more as low-cost, green-generation technology would not be available for more than 10 years. "You are dependent on yet-to-be delivered technology," he said. "The community needs to be aware cuts of this magnitude will come at considerable cost and it's difficult to know how exactly it will be delivered."

Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson said the suggested cuts would have "devastating impact" on Australia's economic development. "It will have serious consequences for electricity bills and many other burdens borne by working families in day-to-day life, and pensioners," Dr Nelson said.


An old, old story: Government + Trains = BUNGLEDOM. This time in NSW

New tunnel can only accomodate old trains

TRANPORT Minister John Watkins and RailCorp chief Vince Graham have confirmed that one in 12 CityRail trains have been banned from using the Epping to Chatswood tunnel because of a design bungle. It also appears that the 12.5 kilometre tunnel was designed and was well underway to being built years before the problem was known. The Daily Telegraph exclusively revealed the design bungle, which was initally met with denials from authorities.

However Mr Graham today admitted the Tangara trains - around eight per cent of the CityRail fleet - could not be used on the tunnel because the 4km incline from under the Lane Cove river would cause the train's traction motor to burn out too quickly. Instead the tunnel will be serviced by trains up to 30 years old and special outer-suburban trains intended for inter-city routes. However the pair claimed services would not be affected. Mr Graham said he had known the Tangaras would be unsuitable for the tunnel since 2004, however design for the tunnel was completed in 2001 and construction began the following year.

The Opposition said Mr Watkins and Premier Morris Iemma "deserve gold medals for stupidity". This latest scandal topped one of Premier Morris Iemma's worst days in power as he staggered from one crisis to another. He now faces a growing list of dilemmas including two damning reports into DOCS and our health system and attacks from the businesses threatening to derail plans to privatise the $15 billion power industry.

The 12km Epping to Chatswood link was billed as the crowning glory of the Labor Government's infrastructure program. The Epping-Chatswood fiasco can be traced back to 2001, when pressure from residents forced the abandonment of a planned bridge over the Lane Cove River in favour of a tunnel. The design change created Sydney's steepest 3.5km section of track. The "big dipper" debacle has emerged amid an embarrassing three weeks for RailCorp in which corruption watchdog ICAC exposed $6 million in rorts by managers and executive pay packets doubled to a combined $10 million.

Transport Minister John Watkins will fly to Europe and Hong Kong today where he will "inspect Euro-style" metro train systems.


Labor Party sends Indonesian "refugees" home

SIXTEEN Indonesians detained on Christmas Island are to be returned to Indonesia after interviews and health checks, Immigration Minister Chris Evans says. Their claim to be economic refugees has been rejected as a legitimate reason for refugee status. The three men, three women and 10 children were rescued from a leaking fishing boat in the Timor Sea on November 20 after their stricken vessel pulled up alongside the Jabiru Venture oil ship, 600km west of Darwin. The families, from the Indonesian island of Roti, said they had been suffering economic losses from Australia's crackdown on illegal fishing in the region and had no choice but to flee their homeland.

But Senator Evans said his department had carefully explored with the group their reasons for travelling to Australia. "On the information provided, my department is satisfied that they have not raised issues which might engage Australia's protection obligations," he said. "This represents a firm but fair approach to the orderly migration of people to Australia."

Senator Evans said the asylum seekers had been treated fairly and been dealt with appropriately. "They simply have not engaged our protection obligations under the Refugees Convention," he said. "My department is making arrangements to return the group in coordination with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Indonesian government as soon as possible." Senator Evans said he was a great supporter of the Refugees Convention and Australia was among the top three resettlement countries in the world. "However, people from other countries do not have a right to stay in Australia just because they would be economically better off here," he said.


Aussie to run Murdoch's Wall Street Journal

Murdoch has been very good at spreading Australian journalists worldwide

Expatriate Australian Robert Thomson is to become publisher of Rupert Murdoch's recent acquisition, The Wall Street Journal. Thomson, whose journalism career took off when The Sydney Morning Herald dispatched him to Beijing at the age of 24, is the editor of The Times. He has been an adviser to Murdoch in his pursuit of the WSJ. His appointment is expected to be announced today.

According to Patience Wheatcroft, editor of Britain's Sunday Telegraph, who worked under Thomson for nearly four years, the two men are "very close". "Robert worked in China, Japan and America, and Rupert is completely global in his perspective so that enabled them to get on well from the start," she told The Australian in August. "It's been remarked upon that they're both Australian, they're both married to Chinese wives and they have children not that far off in age, so there's a strong personal relationship as well as a strong business relationship."

In other News Ltd developments, Rupert Murdoch has stepped aside as chairman of BSkyB to be succeeded by his son James, currently chief executive.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Study gives nod to ceremonial Sikh dagger (Kirpan) in school

At least the kirpan is a genuine religious requirement, unlike the various forms of garb that Muslims sometimes adopt. I personally know Sikhs well and see no danger in it. Like most Indians, Sikhs would rather talk than fight -- and give me Guru Nanak in preference to Mohammed any day. "Sikh" means "student" and Sikh Gurdwaras (temples) are open to all, regardless of religion, background, caste or race. I actually have a very pleasant young Sikh living with me in my house so I put my money where my mouth is

SIKH students would be allowed to carry small daggers to school under a plan that has outraged teachers and principals. A Victorian parliamentary committee has also given the green light for Muslim students to wear hijabs in the state's classrooms. The inquiry into uniforms found all schools should accommodate clothing or other items that are religiously significant. The Education and Training Committee report recommended that schools should work with the Sikh community to allow male students to carry a kirpan - a small, curved ornamental steel dagger carried by all initiated Sikh men.

The committee found there were concerns from principals and teachers about students carrying the kirpan - which is hidden under the school uniform - but the item was important to the Sikh community. Victorian Association of State Secondary School Principals head Brian Burgess said kirpans should not be allowed in schools. "It is potentially very dangerous and should not be brought to school," he said. "If it was misused, it could hurt kids. And it may not be the students that bring it to school but others who know about it and misuse it." Mr Burgess said other weapons were not allowed on school grounds and the kirpan should not be the exception.

The Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria did not want to comment but previously told the committee that only a small number or Sikhs have been initiated and an even smaller number of students carry the kirpan. The kirpan, carried in a sheath and worn on a strap, is one of five articles of faith that initiated Sikh males have to carry. It is not allowed to be used as a weapon. The council rejected suggestions by the Department of Education that students carry a replica or pendant to school


US envoy gets on well with Rudd's team

THE top US government representative to visit Australia since Kevin Rudd's election has welcomed the Prime Minister's promise of continuing close co-operation on global and regional security issues, including Iraq and Afghanistan. US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said yesterday he had "excellent discussions" with senior ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.

"We are very much looking forward to working with this Government. The alliance with Australia for the US is one of our greatest international priorities," Mr Burns said after a breakfast meeting hosted by US ambassador Robert MacCallum at the embassy in Canberra. "I think we are going to work very well with this new Government. We look forward to constant interaction with the new Government. These are very impressive people, very skilful."

Mr Burns's three-day visit is focused on the latest round of the Trilateral Security Dialogue involving US, Japanese and Australian officials, as well as bilateral talks with Australian ministers. Mr Burns said Washington was well aware of the Rudd Government's commitment to withdraw Australia's battle group from southern Iraq by mid-2008. "Those specific discussions about timetables and so on are ahead of us, but obviously there's a continuing job that needs to be done," he said.

"There is the priority effort of trying to help support the Government of Iraq to develop its capacities of governance and to deal with all the significant issues that the Government in Iraq has to deal with. "There's the effort to give political support ... to give economic support, to see greater support from the Arab countries as well as European countries."

Mr Burns said he had discussions with Mr Fitzgibbon and Mr Smith about what Australia and the US could do to assist the Afghanistan Government. "We're working well together on the military side. I also sense in the new Government a great interest in working with the Afghan Government," he said. "I sensed in our conversations over the past two days a great interest by Australia in maintaining its military commitment, but doing a lot on the economic side as well, and we welcome that."


Conservatives slam Leftists for education buckpassing

The Opposition yesterday accused Education Minister Julia Gillard of taking the lazy option of blaming Howard government neglect for Australia's fall in international reading and maths tests, instead of holding state Labor governments accountable. Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop, the former education minister, said Ms Gillard had to recognise state governments ran schools and set curriculums and as a result were responsible for educational standards. "If Ms Gillard continues to refuse to recognise that state governments are responsible for standards in their schools, then standards will go backwards," she said. "If this is her best response, it's a warning sign that Ms Gillard is not up to the task of managing her own super portfolio."

Ms Gillard said on Tuesday that the decline in Australia's international standing in reading and maths tests reflected the decade of neglect by the Coalition government. Her comments were in response to the OECD's latest Program for International Student Assessment of 15-year-olds in 57 countries, which showed reading and maths skills among Australia's top students were falling.

Ms Bishop said the Coalition government had provided $1.8billion to the states and territories since 2005 to improve literacy and numeracy standards. "It's critical Ms Gillard ask state governments to account for how they have invested that $1.8 billion," she said. Ms Bishop said teacher unions and professional associations had some responsibility for falling educational standards. "Over the past 20 years, the influence of the education unions on school curriculum has led to the embrace of fads and political agendas rather than on the core skills of literacy and numeracy," she said.

But teachers' organisations blamed the falling standards on the Coalition government, accusing it of a decade of underfunding public schools compared with private schools. The Australian Association for the Teaching of English said the PISA results should be welcomed by parents and teachers because Australia's overall position remained high. AATE president Karren Philp said: "Care needs to be exercised in how the PISA test data is interpreted. It is wrong to immediately assert the results indicate declining standards of literacy in this country."

Ms Philp said the test results backed Australia's approach in the teaching of literacy rather than the "back to basics" initiatives adopted in Britain and the US, which rank well below Australia. She told The Australian the fall in performance among top students was of concern, but she was not sure if it represented a drop in standards. "I'm not sure yet. We're going to look very closely at the report," she said.

But the Australian Education Union, representing government school teachers, and the Independent Education Union, representing teachers in the private sector, agreed the results suggested a decline among top students. AEU acting federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said yesterday: "Based on the results released by the OECD, we have been overtaken, and we are at risk of seeing our international education ranking decline." Asked if he stood by earlier comments on standards made by AEU president Pat Byrne, Mr Gavrielatos said: "Teachers have always been and will always remain concerned about standards in our schools. We don't get into hysterical and deceitful debates advanced by the previous government wanting to divest its funding responsibilities."


Murdoch glorified at the Sydney Morning Herald

Praise for a media genius in an unlikely place

NEWS Corporation chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch has taken over The Sydney Morning Herald. In the latest hilarious stuff-up at its so-called "newsroom of the future", the Herald has installed massive pillars at its new Pyrmont office depicting a huge etched image of the News Corporation chief. And the fractious Herald staff, whose dislike of Mr Murdoch - who owns News Limited - is eclipsed only by their hostility towards their own bosses, Fairfax and Rural Press, are furious.

There are about 25 of the Murdoch pillars throughout the editorial floor, where Herald managers are making much of the company's attempts to become an integrated media company. The company spent millions on its move from Darling Park to Pyrmont, and one source said outside consultants were paid "a vast sum" to design the pillars to "make some sort of statement about modern media." The broadsheet ran a cocky editorial last month where it invited Mr Murdoch to visit the Herald while he was in Sydney to see what an integrated newsroom looked like.

Now the joke is on them, with Mr Murdoch keeping a watchful eye over everyone from David Marr to Adele Horin. "It's just typical of this place at the moment with Rural Press, the whole thing has been a disaster," a source told The Daily Telegraph. "The new building is a joke. It's got no public transport, there's no mobile reception, none of the staff were asked about any of the changes, and now we've got these Rupert Murdochs all over the place."


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Rudd takes tough stand on boat people

This is not entirely new. Beazley (former Labor leader) also supported Howard over the Tampa incident. The workers who still vote Labor are generally hostile to illegal immigration

Labor leader Kevin Rudd says he will take a tough stance on border security, including turning back boat people. In an interview with The Australian on Friday, Mr Rudd said a Labor government would take asylum seekers rescued from leaking vessels to Christmas Island, but would turn back seaworthy boats. He also said Labor would not lift the current intake of African refugees. The measures bring Labor broadly into line with the coalition's policies.

"You would turn them back," Mr Rudd said of boats approaching Australia. He said Labor believed in an orderly immigration system enforced by deterrence. A Labor government would aim to deter asylum seekers by using the threat of detention and Australia's close ties with Indonesia. "You cannot have anything that is orderly if you allow people who do not have a lawful visa in the country to roam free," he told The Australian. "That's why you need a detention system. I know that's politically contentious, but one follows from the other. "Deterrence is effective through the detention system, but also your preparedness to take appropriate action as the vessels approach Australian waters on the high seas."

Mr Rudd's stand comes as a boatload of Indonesians were pulled from a leaking vessel in the Timor Sea earlier this week.


Environment Minister Peter Garrett gagged on climate change

Former Greenie gets no respect from his colleagues. Not knowing what you are talking about does sometimes matter. The signal clearly is that the new government will be only light green, with tokenism being its main Green feature

First Peter Garrett had the crucial issue of climate change yanked from his new environment portfolio, now the new minister has been sidelined from answering questions on the matter in parliament. In a further embarrassment for Mr Garrett, it was yesterday revealed he will not represent Climate Change Minister Senator Penny Wong during Question Time in the Lower House. Questions in the House of Representatives about Senator Wong's role will instead be fielded by Treasurer Wayne Swan.

Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson said the extraordinary move showed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had no confidence in the gaffe-prone Mr Garrett's ability as a minister. "I fail to understand why in fact Prime Minister Rudd does not have the confidence in Mr Garrett to be taking questions on climate change," Mr Nelson said. "It was always very interesting to see Mr Garrett attempt to answer questions."

Ms Wong leapt to Mr Garrett's defence, saying he had not been gagged: "Peter has a very clear voice in government, he is a Cabinet minister." She argued that climate change was as much an economic issue as an environmental one. "I think it's quite a good thing, if we reflect that in our representing arrangements - but I wouldn't read too much into it."

The Government yesterday defended sending a quarter of its Cabinet to the climate conference in Bali. Mr Rudd and a record four frontbenchers will attend the UN conference, which will attract delegates from around 190 nations and is designed to establish a road map for international climate change action. Ms Wong said the large Australian delegation highlighted the nation's moment in the sun on global climate politics following the Government's historic decision to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. "That gives us a leadership position and we intend to use that," she said. "There are meetings specifically for the trade and finance ministers of the world."

Mr Rudd will lead Australia's delegation. He will be joined by Ms Wong as well as Mr Garrett, Mr Swan and Trade Minister Simon Crean, who will attend separate trade and finance meetings over the next fortnight. "We recognise this as an extremely important conference - Australia has signalled its intention to play a leadership role," Ms Wong said. "That really reflects the fact the world is coming to the view that this is an issue of international economic significance." The new Government has also committed to introducing a green car fleet.


Australian economy grows 4.3 per cent

A great credit to the economic management of the former Howard government. This is one of the highest growth rates among the mature economies. What will it be like in 12 month's time?

The economy grew by a seasonally adjusted 4.3 per cent over the year to September, keeping pressure on interest rates, analysts said today. Over the September quarter, gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 1.0 per cent, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said today. That compared with a downwardly revised rise of 0.7 per cent in the June quarter. The median market forecast was for a quarterly rise of 1.0 per cent and an annual growth rate of 4.8 per cent.

Household final consumption expenditure rose 1.2 per cent in the quarter and was up 4.5 per cent over the year to September, adjusted. Total investment in dwellings increased 1.4 per cent in the quarter, adjusted, to be up 4.8 per cent in the year to September. Domestic final demand grew 0.8 per cent in the quarter and was 5.5 per cent higher over the year, adjusted.

JPMorgan economist Jarrod Kerr said the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) was still likely to raise interest rates in February. "We're still growing at the pace that will be above potential which points to pressure in the pipeline," he said. "We think the RBA - while they left rates on hold today and there's uncertainty in the global outlook and the financial sector - we think they'll have to remain vigilant on inflation. We think their job's not done yet and there's another tightening in February."

The Reserve Bank today left the official cash rate unchanged at 6.75 per cent though it warned of rising inflation. Mr Kerr said economic growth was still growing despite capacity constraints. "Economic growth (annually) is at 4.3 per cent. That's a great number when you consistently grow at 3.25 to 3.5 per cent," he said. "We've had economic growth uninterrupted for 17 years. There's capacity constraints, food prices rising and petrol prices are also surging. The cost of wages are expected to increase. There's inflation coming through on all fronts."


Crooked Victoria police do their best to betray an informant

POLICE have spent an estimated $2 million in a failed legal battle lasting more than a year to force a key underworld witness in the case against slain gangland boss Mario Condello out of the witness protection program. The $2 million is double what Victorian police had agreed to spend on the witness, known only as 166, under its original deal, which was negotiated when he first entered witness protection in 2004. Victoria's Court of Appeal late last week rejected a Victoria Police application that the force be indemnified against having to pay 166's legal costs, believed to be more than $400,000. Police command will also have to pick up the force's own legal bill, estimated at about $500,000, for a string of Supreme Court hearings.

The legal fees are on top of more than $1 million estimated to have been spent by police after they were ordered by the Supreme Court to reinstate an around-the-clock guard on 166 and his partner at a safe house for more than 12 months while the court cases were heard. 166's successful battle to stay in witness protection was the first legal challenge of its kind in Victoria, and highlighted serious flaws in the state's witness protection laws.

166, who was working as a police informer when Condello allegedly tried to hire him as a hitman to murder underworld rivals Carl and George Williams for $300,000 in 2004, was reinstated in the witness protection program in September on the orders of the Office of Police Integrity. 166 and his partner were first told in June last year, four months after Condello was gunned down outside his Brighton home on the eve of his trial on conspiracy to murder charges, that they were being terminated from the witness protection program because they were no longer at risk. But 166 argued that he continued to be a potential target for breaking the mafia's code of silence and turning informer, claiming there was a six-figure bounty on his head.

Around-the-clock protection was withdrawn in June last year, but was reinstated on the orders of a Supreme Court judge while 166 first appealed to Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon and OPI director George Brouwer against his termination. When those appeals failed, 166 mounted a Supreme Court challenge to the decision. He lost that challenge in March, but successfully appealed against the decision in June, with the Appeal Court ordering the OPI to reconsider its decision to terminate 166.

When the OPI upheld the termination in July for a second time, 166 successfully appealed again to the Supreme Court, which ruled the OPI should reconsider the case for a third time. Mr Brouwer ordered in September that 166 and his partner be reinstated, after taking into account new information.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Homosexual marriage still barred in Australia

Incoming Attorney-General Robert McClelland has said that the Labor party is unlikely to block a re-developed proposal to introduce same-sex civil unions in the Australian Capital Territory. The news comes as Attorney-General for the ACT Simon Corbell is planning to submit an amended civil partnerships bill, which would give same-sex couples legal recognition.

In an interview published in the Herald on Friday, Mr McClelland reemphasized that Labor would not be giving full marriage rights to same-sex couples, but would support couples having the same legal rights as de facto heterosexual couples. "I will have a look at what Simon Corbell is proposing and get some advice on it," Mr McClelland said. "We would be prepared to look at it with good faith rather than with the intention of obstructing it. The Labor Party has already resolved not to agree to gay marriage but we are given to examining appropriate forms of registration of de facto relationships, including same-sex de facto relationships."

Previous attempts to introduce same-sex civil union partnerships in the ACT were overturned by the Howard government.


Rudd rules out defence cuts

Australia's military deployments will be exempt from funding cuts planned by the new Labor government's razor gang. During the federal election campaign, Labor promised to take a "meat-axe" to commonwealth spending. But Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd has quashed fears that troops will be affected.

"Those who are at the cutting edge of Australia's military deployments around the world should not be subject to efficiency dividends being yielded through the administrative expenses of Canberra-based departments," Mr Rudd told ABC Radio today. "The military, I think, are under extraordinary pressure given the hot pace of operations in what they're engaged and I won't be party to any government decision which places any further financial pressure on the military."

But he said the civilian component of defence would not be exempt from spending cuts. "They would be subjected to the same disciplines as other administrative expenses of government departments, but there is a clear distinction between the civilian side of the operation and the administrative expenses associated with that on one hand, and the hard edge, the military edge of the defence portfolio on the other."


Muslims tell Rudd to maintain hard line

MUSLIM leaders are urging the fledgling Rudd Government to maintain the hardline stance against extremists, fearing the end of the Howard era will embolden radicals. Sydney-based Muslim cleric Hersi Hilole warned the Rudd administration against being "light and lenient" on radicals. Sheik Hilole said radical Muslims could interpret John Howard's electoral loss as an opportunity to express their ideological beliefs openly and drum up their recruitment drive. "The extremists will try to take every advantage that they think will be possible and available for them and they will most probably try to spread their ideas and recruit more people for their cause," he told The Australian.

But Indonesian Muslim spiritual leader Amin Hady said the Rudd Government must embrace a more inclusive approach when dealing with the Islamic community and not sideline hardliners. He said the previous government's unwillingness to include Islamic hardliners such as Melbourne-based cleric Mohammed Omran on Mr Howard's Islamic reference board was counterproductive because it further distanced an element of the Muslim community that was most in need of integration.

Sheik Hady said Mr Rudd should work with mainstream Muslim leaders to help his Government gain better access into the minds of hardliners. "The Government should use mainstream leaders to approach them (hardliners) and to bring them in line with the rest of the community members," said the former member of Mr Howard's Islamic reference group. "Of course, we acknowledge that there are certain extremist groups in the Muslim society."

The Australian revealed in July that national security authorities were aware of at least 10 hardline clerics around the country, including Sheik Omran, who were propagating a Wahabi ideology espoused by al-Qa'ida leader Osama bin Laden. It was also revealed that Wahabi clerics were potentially radicalising up to 3000 young Sydneysiders alone.

A spokesman for Sheik Omran's fundamentalist Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jammah association said the group was optimistic the Rudd Government would be more interested in hearing about their views and community work. "We are all optimistic of the change of government," said Abu Yusuf. "It opens a new chapter in dialogue between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities."

Sheik Hilole - a respected Somali community figure who has repeatedly attacked Australian Muslims who have travelled overseas to fight jihad - said Mr Rudd needed to learn from Mr Howard's mistake and not "exaggerate" the potential threat of Islamic terrorism in Australia. "Hopefully, the Rudd Government will face the issue in a real way not an exaggerated way," he said. "The Howard Government failed to act on extremism appropriately ... because of the exaggeration and generalisation of the Muslim community and many mistakes that the national security (authorities) have done."


Bias against ability and the rich fading in Australian medical school admissions

A pity about students who have already been discriminated against by these evil processes though. In a rational world admission interviews would have been tested for predictive power BEFORE they were introduced. But evidence did not drive their introduction. Class-hatred did

AUSTRALIA'S biggest medical school is scrapping interviews for student selection as "useless", saying they are too prone to bias and there is no evidence interviewers can pick which applicants will perform well during the course. The decision by the University of Queensland means the 400 students accepted into its medical course next year will be assessed on their academic record alone, without having to face an interview panel. The university expects other medical schools may follow suit -- and the move seems likely at least to reopen a debate about the merits of interviews, which attracted controversy last year over allegations of bias.

There has also been unease over the growth of expensive courses that coach students what to say in interviews to maximise their chances of being accepted. Some universities have already been scaling back the emphasis on interview performance. Adelaide University last year adjusted its assessment procedures to give equal consideration to a school-leaver's tertiary entrance rank and marks at interview, instead of giving most weight to the latter. Earlier in the year the university had been accused by its former deputy chancellor of "unwritten discrimination" against applicants from private schools and medical families -- charges the university strongly denied.

As a graduate-entry medical school, UQ's new arrangements mean applicants will be considered if they score more than five in their grade-point average, the summary of their academic work in their previous degree course. After passing that hurdle, those considered will be ranked for entry according to their marks in the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test, or GAMSAT. Previously, the interview has been the third part of UQ's selection process.

Until this year the University of Sydney also chose students solely on the basis of performance at interview, but now gives equal weight to marks in the GAMSAT. Dean of medicine Bruce Robinson said the university was now conducting a review of the admission procedures, due to report in March.

UQ's decision, recently approved by the university's Senate, came after months of research to find out to what extent the interview scores of candidates were correlating with their subsequent performance during the medical course. "The answer was not very much," said David Wilkinson, head of UQ's school of medicine. The research showed that performance at interview predicted only 10 per cent of the variation in academic performance during the course.

The grade-point average was the best predictor of performance during the course. Although the GAMSAT correlated only slightly with how well students did later on, the fact that the same test was sat by all applicants meant it remained useful for ranking applicants, Professor Wilkinson said. "All the evidence shows that the interview is useless," he said. He said the potential bias of the interviewers was also a valid concern. "Even though we have had very rigorous training programs for interviewers, there's inevitably a level of subjectivity there, and there have been some questions raised about quality control, standardisation and fairness, and defensibility," he said.

Peter Brooks, executive dean of UQ's faculty of health sciences, said the change was "a big deal" and the university now had "data that it (the interview) doesn't really do all that much".


Monday, December 03, 2007

Another sex offender from among Australia's black refugees

The story below by Natasha Robinson appeared in the print edition of "The Australian" on Dec 1st and was briefly online before being taken down. There are several other reports of the matter online but only one other identifies the offender as Sudanese

A Sudanese migrant allegedly infected a woman with the HIV virus just 11 days after a psychologist warned authorities there was a "high risk" he would infect others. But Victoria's Department of Human Services did not take out an isolation order on Lam Kuoth, 27, until after the victim was allegedly infected.

Mr Kuoth faced Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday for a committal hearing, where he faced five counts of' reckless causing serious injury. Mr Kuoth has not yet entered a plea. He is accused of infecting his victim, who cannot be identified, with HIV on April 22, seven months after he was diagnosed with the virus. A police summary tendered to the court said Mr Kuoth first came to the attention of the Department of Human Services in December last year, when various concerned sexual partners contacted authorities.

Between December last year and April this year he was counselled by department nurses. It is not clear if Mr Kuoth was already HIV positive when he entered Australia in May 2006. He was diagnosed as having the virus in September of that year.

Victoria's former chief health officer Robert Hall signed an order requiring Mr Kuoth to wear condoms with all sexual partners and to attend counselling, the police summary said. A psychologist on April 11 wrote a report to the Department of Human Services and concluded that "at this stage, Mr Kuoth would be considered high risk of infecting others with HIV". The department did not move to isolate Mr Kuoth and 11 days after the report was written it is alleged he had sex with a woman and infected her with HIV.

Mr Kuoth's case follows a furore in Victoria that erupted after it emerged that a man charged with intentionally spreading HIV, Michael Neal, ignored health orders for years while allegedly attempting to infect male sexual partners with HIV. The case led to the sacking of Chief Health Officer Robert Hall, who did not use his powers to isolate Mr Neal.

Mr Kuoth's bail was continued last night. His case continues on Monday, when he is expected to plead guilty.

A loss for civilisation

By Mark Steyn

ACCORDING to my Oz-watching pals in Britain and the US, John Howard is not a failure but a victim of his own success. He made Australia safe for the Labor Party: or, at any rate, safe enough that a sufficient number of bored electors were willing to take a flier on a house-trained Labor on the short leash of a quasi-Blairite leader.

That, at any rate, is the spin. Even if it's correct, and accepting that in parliamentary democracies even the greatest generals go a bridge too far, I regret Howard's end. True, I object in principle to Australia's gun laws, and I regard much of the Aussie economy as embarrassingly overregulated after a decade of supposedly conservative rule. But, as the former prime minister put it in one of his most famous soundbites, this is no time to be an 80 per cent ally. I am a 100 per cent ally of Howard.

From my perch several thousand kilometres away, I won't pretend to be an informed analyst of the internal dynamics of the Liberal Party. During my last visit, en route to yet another meeting, there'd usually be someone in the car explaining why the fellow I was on the way to see was on the outs with whichever prime-minister-in-waiting I'd met the day before. I felt a bit like Bob Hope in The Paleface, heading for the big shootout and getting his head stuffed full of contradictory advice: He leans to the Left, so draw to the Right; the wind's in the east, so shoot to the west. What mattered to the world was the strategic clarity Howard's ministry demonstrated on the critical issues facing (if you'll forgive the expression) Western civilisation.

First, the prime minister grasped the particular challenge posed by Islam. "I've heard those very silly remarks made about immigrants to this country since I was a child," said the Democrats' Lyn Allison. "If it wasn't the Greeks, it was the Italians ... or it was the Vietnamese." But those are races and nationalities. Islam is a religion, and a political project, and a globalised ideology. Unlike the birthplace of your grandfather, it's not something you leave behind in the old country.

Indeed, the pan-Islamic identity embraced by many second and third-generation Muslims in the West has very little to do with where their mums and dads happen to hail from. "You can't find any equivalent in Italian or Greek or Lebanese or Chinese or Baltic immigration to Australia. There is no equivalent of raving on about jihad," said Howard, stating the obvious in a way most of his fellow Western leaders could never quite bring themselves to do.

"Raving on about jihad" is a splendid line which meets what English law used to regard as the reasonable-man test. If you're a reasonable bloke slumped in front of the telly watching jihadists threatening to behead the Pope or Muslim members of Britain's National Health Service ploughing a blazing automobile through the check-in desk at Glasgow airport, "raving on about jihad" fits in a way that President George W. Bush's religion-of-peace pabulum doesn't. Bush and Tony Blair can be accused of the very opposite of the traditional politician's failing: they walked the walk but they didn't talk the talk. That's to say neither leader found a rhetoric for the present struggle that resonated. Howard did.

Likewise, Peter Costello. Sympathising with Muslims who wish to live under sharia law, he mused: "There are countries that apply religious or sharia law: Saudi Arabia and Iran come to mind. If a person wants to live under sharia law these are countries where they might feel at ease. But not Australia." It's a glum reflection on the times that such an observation should be controversial.

Yet it stands in marked contrast to, say, the Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner, who remarked that if the electors voted to bring in sharia he'd be OK with that, or the Swedish politician who said that Swedes should be "nice to Muslims while we are in the majority so that when they are in the majority they will be nice to us".

Underpinning those words is the realisation that most of the Western world is very demographically weakened. Immigration adds to the gaiety of the nation, improves the choice of restaurants and makes pasty-faced white folks feel very virtuous about their multiculti bona fides, but a dependence on immigration is always a structural weakness, and should be addressed as such. At a time of unparalleled prosperity and peace, the majority of developed nations have chosen, in effect, to give up on the future. Howard's ministry was one of the first governments to get this and, in contrast to the dismal Euro-fatalism above, to try to do something to reverse it.

Costello's exhortation to Aussie couples - have one for mum, one for dad, and one for Australia - gets the stakes exactly right. The mid-20th century entitlement state was built on a careless model that requires a constantly growing population to sustain it.

When I made this point in a speech in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull passed me a note in which he'd scribbled down various population models based on certain fertility-rate calculations. I confess I've always had a certain antipathy to Turnbull because his republicanism seemed small-minded and unworthy, but in the years in which I've spoken on this subject to political figures on three continents, that's the only occasion in which a key government figure already knew the numbers and understood their implications.

And that brings us to the Coalition's next great strand of strategic clarity. At his 2006 education summit, Howard called for "a root and branch renewal of Australian history in our schools, with a restoration of narrative instead of what I labelled the 'fragmented stew of themes and issues"'. As he explained at the Quadrant 50th anniversary celebration: "This is about ensuring children are actually taught their national inheritance." The absence of a "narrative" and an "inheritance" is a big part of the reason that British subjects born and bred blow up the London Tube, why young Canadian Muslims with no memory of living in any other society plot to behead their own prime minister.

You can't assimilate immigrants and minorities unless you give them something to assimilate to. It's one thing to teach children their history "warts and all", quite another to obsess on the warts at the expense of all else. The West's demographic weakness is merely the physical embodiment of a broader loss of civilisational confidence. Australia should never have had a "department of immigration and multicultural affairs", but, given that it did, Howard was right to rename it the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Government should promote citizenship, not multiculturalism.

The Coalition was all but unique in understanding the three great challenges of the age - Islamism, demography, civilisational will - that in other parts of the West are combining to form the perfect storm. Just as importantly, unlike so many second-tier powers, Australia did not put its faith in the chimera of insipid obsolescent transnational talking shops in which attitudes substitute for policy. I liked to call Alexander Downer my favorite foreign minister, which, in hindsight, was damning with the faintest of praise.

After all, I'm not sure during his long tenure how many candidates there ever were for runner-up: Dominique de Villepin? Britain's Robin Cook and Margaret Beckett? Canada's Lloyd Axworthy and Bill Graham? Colin Powell I never expected much from, but few hitherto clear-headed types have shrunk in office as remorselessly as Condi Rice. I loved Downer for his gleeful mockery of transnationalism and its pointless committees stuffed with representatives of what he called "busted arse countries".

In more genteel mode, he put it like this: "Multilateralism is a synonym for an ineffective and unfocused policy involving internationalism of the lowest common denominator." See Darfur, the Iranian nukes, the UN's flop response to the tsunami. If it's right to intervene in the Sudan, it's not wrong because the Russian guy declines to stick his hand up at the relevant meeting. The Howard years saw the emergence of a regional power that, from East Timor to Solomon Islands, understood its responsibilities at a time when the Euro-Canadian poseurs shrunk from theirs.

As a distant observer of Australian affairs, I had some small personal contact with Howard and co. over the years. Merry, feisty, blunt and fair, they were exactly what we need at this moment: happy warriors. I'm saddened Australians feel differently. But if it's too late to get the US constitution amended in time for them to run for president next November, the savvier candidates ought to snap 'em up as speech writers.


And pigs might fly

More of that wonderful "modelling"!

AUSTRALIA can afford to introduce tough pollution and carbon reduction targets to curb global warming, a new report says. The Climate Institute today released findings which it says show there will be little economic impact if Australia establishes measures to reduce greenhouse gases. The report, by the institute, CSIRO and Monash University, found that if Australia committed to reversing its pollution by 2012, reducing emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, and becoming carbon neutral by 2050, economic growth would not be hampered.

It said that under the required changes economic growth, using GDP as a measure, would be 2.8 per cent annually to 2050 compared with 2.9 per cent if no action was taken. Employment would increase from 9.7 million to 16.7 million jobs by the middle of the century, while energy prices would fall from 6 per cent of average income today to 4 per cent by 2050.

Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said the UN climate change conference in Bali, which started today, would be an early test of the incoming Australian Government's commitment to curb global warming. He said the report showed that drastic action, starting with the two-week Bali conference, was affordable. "Australia's economy isn't just dependent on energy intensive and trade exposed sectors," Mr Connor said. "We can actually manage the transformation there and still have substantial growth across all of the sectors of agriculture, mining, telecommunications - a whole range of sectors will still have robust growth. "If we put in place good restructuring policies, like we have in the past with competition policy, dairy and steel and other reforms, we can really have an economy ready for the 21st century."

During the federal election campaign, new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd committed Labor to a 60 per cent carbon emissions reduction by 2050. However, Mr Connor said a bolder position was needed. "This modelling shows we can afford an investment and become carbon neutral by 2050," he said. Mr Connor praised Labor's new environment team, headed by Environment Minister Peter Garrett, but said Bali would be its first big step. Mr Rudd already has committed the Government to ratifying Kyoto.


Maths skills sink to a five-year low

MATHS skills among Year 7 students have fallen to their lowest level in five years. Unpublished figures to be released next month, and obtained by The Weekend Australian, show that more than one in five Year 7 students failed to acquire the necessary maths skills to progress through school. The proportion attaining minimum standards in maths has fallen below 80 per cent for the first time, to 79.7 per cent, and is down from a high of 83.5 per cent in 2002. The report looms as the first major challenge to confront incoming deputy prime minister Julia Gillard, who has been handed the role of implementing Kevin Rudd's education revolution.

In a further indictment of the national education system, an OECD report released this week shows Australia trailing Estonia and New Zealand in science skills. The OECD Program for International Student Assessment conducted last year among 15-year-olds in 57 countries focused on science skills. It ranked Australia eighth on the students' mean scores, behind Finland in first place followed by Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, Estonia, Japan and New Zealand. The previous PISA test, carried out in 2003, ranked Australia sixth in science, fourth in reading and 11th in maths.

The Australian Council for Educational Research, which administers PISA in Australia on behalf of the OECD, said that when statistical difference was taken into account, Australia tied in fourth place for science with a number of other countries. ACER chief executive Geoff Masters said Australia had maintained its performance from the previous PISA test, in which it ranked fourth out of 41 countries.

The 2006 years 3, 5 and 7 National Benchmark Results were sent to the state and territory education ministers this week for approval before their scheduled public release by the end of the year. The 2006 results show the general trend among Year 3 students is a stable proportion of students meeting the benchmarks with 91 per cent passing reading, 92.7 per cent passing writing and 92.6 per cent passing numeracy. The results for Year 5 students are more patchy, with an increasing proportion of students failing to meet the benchmarks. In 2006, about 12 per cent of Year 5 students failed to meet the reading benchmark, 6 per cent failed to meet the writing benchmark and 10 per cent failed to meet the numeracy standard. By Year 7, the proportion falling behind had widened further, with about 11 per cent failing the reading benchmark, 8 per cent failing the writing benchmark and about 20 per cent failing to meet the numeracy benchmark.

The report seeks to discredit the huge difference in Year 7 numeracy skills, saying the benchmark appears to be too hard. "This apparent drop in progress can in some way be attributed to a concern that the benchmark standard for Year 7 has been set at a higher level than for the other year levels," it says. The Year 7 numeracy benchmark requires students to deal in whole numbers to seven digits, and use decimals with two place values in familiar situations, such as money and measurements. The national benchmark results also highlight the gap between the indigenous community and the rest of the nation.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Victim of sloppy police work still not exonerated

Evidence of this man's innocence has been in the public domain for years but admitting that through their one-eyed approach the police got the wrong man must be resisted to the bitter end, of course

Fresh evidence from three scientists will be the key components of a petition seeking to clear convicted killer Graham Stafford of the brutal 1991 sex slaying of Leanne Holland. The petition for a pardon was hand-delivered to Queensland Governor Quentin Bryce on Friday by members of Stafford's legal team, who had been working on the document since he was freed on parole last year, four months short of the minimum 15-year sentence.

Attorney-General Kerry Shine, who had followed extensive media coverage of the sensational crime and conviction, will initially decide Stafford's fate. "1 can assure you that 1 will closely consider any request on behalf of Graham Stafford, and I will seek legal advice on it," Mr Shine said. The Minister was likely to send the case back to the Court of Appeal, which could either throw out the petition; quash the conviction and clear Stafford; or quash and order a retrial. In the last scenario, police would have to decide whether there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Stafford again, as most of the exhibits have been destroyed.

Sources said homicide detectives recently revisited the files. Stafford, jailed for life for killing his then-girlfriend's 12-year-old sister at Goodna, west of Brisbane, strenuously denied guilt. The Court of Appeal rejected his bid in 1997 on a two-to-one majority verdict, but his legal team has since gathered new evidence which cast doubt on his conviction.

Two forensic entomologists and a biologist will dispute the Crown's key piece of evidence-the alleged finding of a maggot in the boot of Stafford's car, which was said to have come from Leanne's body. They claim it would have been impossible for a maggot to survive away from its food source for the two days after her body was supposedly removed and dumped in bushland at Redbank Plains.

The lone maggot that police claim they found in the boot was longer, fatter and healthier than maggots found on her body. And it was placed in a vial only after the other maggots were collected from the body.

DNA expert Angela van Daal, who gave evidence for the prosecution in the 1992 trial, has provided a statement for the petition which suggests police got the wrong man. She said the fact that tiny drops of Leanne's blood were on items in the boot of Stafford's car was not consistent with him having murdered the schoolgirl.

The petition claims Stafford did not have sufficient opportunity to commit the murder, and it was "highly improbable" that Leanne's body was ever in the boot, it also disputes key section of the case, including a claim there was no evidence that the murder occurred in the Holland/Stafford home and that car tracks near where the body was found were not from Stafford's vehicle.

The petition also seeks to point out that Stafford never lied to police in his interview before being charged with murder.


* Insufficient opportunity to commit the murder.

* It was "highly improbable" that the body was ever in his car boot.

* There was no evidence that the murder occurred in the Holland/Stafford home.

* Car tracks near where the body was found were not from Stafford's vehicle.

* His hammer was never missing - the police had taken it, tested it and found no blood.

* Maggot evidence questionable.

The above article by Darrell Giles appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on December 2, 2007

Major regional hospital needs first aid

Mackay is a lovely small city in the centre of a beautiful tropical area -- but don't get ill there. This report means that all four big hospitals servicing the tropics (Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton) have all recently reported major problems. As tourism is a major industry in the tropics this could well be very destructive economically. Government folly can be very costly even beyond what it takes in taxes

This bursting-apart medical facility is held together with Band-Aids and broken promises. The roof of one operating theatre leaks in tropical storms, damaging vital equipment. Staff cram into shabby pre-1930 buildings and rundown demountables. If it wasn't for dongas, those makeshift construction-site sheds, the place couldn't function for lack of storage. They are everywhere. There's even one on the roof and everyone's worried it will fly off in a cyclone.

Now, this hospital of dongas is not in some remote Aboriginal community or depressed low-growth area of Australia. Not that that would make it any less deplorable. This hospital is the Mackay Base Hospital, the only public hospital that services one of Australia's fastest-growing areas, in this country's most important coal-bearing basins, where they are digging out coal as fast as is humanly possible.

The prosperity and population explosion up there is hard to comprehend. Coalmining in this state employs more than 22,000 people, generating about $15 billion in exports last year and delivering $1 billion in royalties to the State Government. Thousands of miners live in the Mackay district and rely on the hospital.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Ross Cartmill, a Brisbane-based urologist, puts it succinctly: "The Queensland Government's income from the Mackay district in coal equals something like Tasmania's entire Budget." Hard to imagine isn't it? All that money going out. And a hovel of a hospital in return.

Now don't take my word for it. "The people of Mackay are being stiffed." The voice at the end of the phone sounds strained and like a man who's been hitting his head against a brick wall for a long while. It belongs to an experienced senior physician at the Mackay Base Hospital. "What has gone on here is a disgrace. I want to stay in this town. I like Mackay and want to deliver quality health service. But I'm at my wit's end."

Now, having an inadequate hospital has far-reaching effects. Top specialists refuse to work there or even visit. So Mackay patients must travel 381km to Townsville or 978km to Brisbane. Some go to Melbourne. Talented junior doctors in Mackay don't get proper supervision. You can't learn when you have no one to learn from. So, if you don't want your career to stall, you have to leave.

There is no cardiologist, dermatologist, urologist, neurologist or vascular surgeon or ear, nose and throat specialist. You live in Mackay and your child needs grommets, usually a basic, run-of-the-mill ear procedure? Too bad. You'll have to get on a plane to Townsville, Rockhampton or Brisbane.

Cartmill says it is embarrassing to walk through the place. "Australia is supposed to be a First World country but there are employees in the office who work in demountables without plumbing. They have to wash their coffee mugs in a plastic bowl of water on their desk." Bet you don't see too many plastic bowls of dirty washing-up water on the desks in Brisbane's Executive Building.

Now, 20 years ago when I worked at the local newspaper, The Daily Mercury, the weekly headlines were about the appalling state of the Mackay Base Hospital. Various state and federal governments have come and gone. Nothing has changed. The paper is still campaigning. The only thing keeping the Mackay Base Hospital going is its staff. Despite the terrible conditions, there are dedicated doctors, nurses and other health professionals who believe in quality health care and are prepared to pay high rents to work there.

Now, what Mackay residents don't want is more government buck-passing. There is absolutely no bank of trust left when it comes to the base hospital. The people of Mackay and staff at the hospital have been screwed by successive state and federal governments. So, here we are in 2007, with a new Premier and a new Prime Minister, both of the same politics, both banging on about fixing Australia's hospitals. Anna Bligh says she will fix Queensland's health system. Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd has pledged $2 billion to overhaul the nation's health system and vowed to seize control of hospitals if states fail to get reform under way by 2009.

Do you realise how little $2 billion is when stretched across the whole country's neglected health system? Take it from Cartmill. It's peanuts. Just remember, there was $30 billion lying around in the coffers for promised tax cuts alone. And 2009? Forget it. Doctors at the Mackay Base Hospital are desperate right now. They feel completely unsupported. They are driving home from their night shift this morning terrified of what they will find when they return for the next shift. They dread the next emergency that could go wrong, not because of negligence by a doctor or nurse but because of the lack of funding, training, resources and supervision. The blame lies squarely at the feet of the Federal and State Governments.

The Mackay Base Hospital does not need some quick-fix or sporadic dribble of cash for a coat of paint or the purchase of more dongas. Little grey men in suits with clipboards will talk of the "cost-effective" option of redeveloping the present site. It's a joke. There's not enough room to swing a cat on the grounds.

Want to know something jaw-dropping? Years ago a local businessman donated a large block of land that adjoined the hospital specifically for future development. Donated. It was just cow paddocks then. So what happened to it? Queensland Health flogged it off for a quick buck and it's now all houses. Do the words incompetent, short-sighted morons spring to mind? Or is that just me?

Let's not fall for bureaucratic talk of redeveloping this hovel of a hospital. No. That would all be too little, too late. Nothing less than a brand-new base hospital is acceptable. A commitment needs to be made immediately. Cartmill says State Government already owns a perfect piece of dirt, smack bang in the middle of town, the Mackay Showgrounds. It's big, flat, empty, with ideal highway access.

Cartmill's got six months left in his AMA role. "I don't want to leave without knowing we've fixed Mackay's hospital problem. I want no other legacy." Only a Federal/State solution will fix Mackay's hospital woes. Bligh and Rudd don't live far from each other in Brisbane. Maybe they could get together over coffee one morning. They are two smart people. And it's really only one little hospital. If they can't fix that, what hope the rest of the health system?

And the solution is so simple. Do I have to write it in Mandarin? Build the bloody hospital. Or it will forever be known that Anna Bligh and Kevin Rudd, in Queensland's biggest economic boom, were just another couple of politicians who couldn't fix one crooked hospital.


A medical bureaucrat to be finally made accountable?

A FORMER deputy director-general who was protected by then-premier Peter Beattie has been referred to the Health Practitioners Tribunal over the Jayant Patel affair. The newly formed Office of the Medical Board filed a referral notice to the tribunal on Thursday, outlining the case against Gerry FitzGerald, who was the state's chief health officer during the Dr Patel scandal. A seven-page referral notice said that the board believed Dr FitzGerald should face disciplinary action for behaving "in a way that constitutes unsatisfactory professional conduct" between December 16, 2004 to March 25, 2005.

If the tribunal finds against Dr FitzGerald, he faces sanctions, cautioning, fines and deregistration. But former colleagues have asked how he face action when Dr Patel has yet to front a court. Dr Patel, who is living in the US, is facing charges of manslaughter over the alleged treatment of his patients.

The document outlines examples of how Dr FitzGerald was too slow to respond to queries about Dr Patel and failed to assess the serious nature of the allegations put to him. The board said Dr FitzGerald failed to recommend immediate suspension against Dr Patel. It also argued Dr FitzGerald provided a report on the hospital which was misleading and incomplete.

While Mr Beattie sacked former health director-general Steve Buckland in mid 2005, the then premier promoted Dr FitzGerald to deputy director-general despite questions being asked about why it took him so long to act against Dr Patel.

Asked why it has taken more than two years to come to its position, in a statement to The Courier-Mail yesterday, the board said: "The investigation into Dr Gerry FitzGerald followed standard procedures. "It took no longer than other investigations conducted by the Board that have been referred to independent external investigators." Dr FitzGerald could not be contacted yesterday.


Scientists believe they can reverse dementia

AUSTRALIAN scientists believe they have cracked the code to preventing dementia by restoring the decaying brain cells of a 65-year-old to the levels of an 18-year-old. The research, presented to pharmaceutical chiefs at a closed event last week, offers new hope for the 200,000 Australians suffering dementia - a group of degenerative brain disorders that includes Alzheimer's disease.

The scientists have developed two ways to stimulate stem cells and regenerate the brain, boosting mental functions such as understanding and memory. Leading stem cell scientist Dr Rod Rietze and his team at the University of Queensland believe increasing the number of stem cells in young and middle-aged brains will help stave off dementia. "The idea is not to transplant anything - but to stimulate what we have got," Dr Rietze said. "The job of the stem cell is to do two things: keep the body functioning and regenerate the tissue. "It makes sense that if you increase the regenerative cells, the brain lasts longer."

Dementia is a major health burden, costing more than $1.4 billion per year - a figure that is expected to blow out due to a rapidly ageing population and longer life expectancies. As people get older, the number of stem cells in the brain decreases rapidly and brain function deteriorates.

Dr Rietze's first approach to turning back the ageing clock involves injecting growth hormones directly into the brains of mice. The second approach involves using physical exercise on a treadmill to trigger stem cells to multiply naturally and improve brain function. "When people do regular exercise, they age better," Dr Rietze said. "There is a correlative relationship."

Dr Rietze and his team believe sustained physical activity may prevent or delay the onset of age-related dementia as much as injecting growth hormones, restoring stem cell levels of a 65-year-old back to that of an 18-year-old. The scientist, who funded his team's radical research with a $1 million Pfizer Fellowship he won in 2004, has submitted his work to international medical journals. "I think really the next step is to design treatment strategies, and the prevention of diseases," he said.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Australian education as it was

When a newspaper columnist once suggested a contest for the best book ever written, excluding the Bible and Shakespeare's works, I was tempted to nominate the fifth book of The Victorian Readers series. This, in my distant day, was the main teaching aid (it would now be called a resource) in Year 5, other than talk, chalk and the blackboard.

It is hard to think of a better book for teaching nine and 10-year-olds about their country. The class particularly loved Henry Lawson's ballads The Fire at Ross's Farm and The Ballad of the Drover, and his short story The Drover's Wife. There was also John Shaw Neilson's poem Old Granny Sullivan, pieces about the explorer Matthew Flinders, an Adventure with the Aborigines and a poem about the pioneers.

The sixth book had the even more memorable Banjo Paterson's Clancy of the Overflow and Dorothea Mackellar's My Country ("I love a sunburnt country...").

Nor was it all parochial. The fifth book had approximately equal Australian and overseas content and included pieces on Giotto the Italian shepherd boy, Switzerland's William Tell and the apple, Robert Bruce, and the story of King Kaid of India and the spider. While World War II raged far away, about 40 pupils (a few years later it would be more like 50) would read the livelier items rhythmically as a class, sing-song like the multiplication tables of the previous lesson: "Across the stony ridges, across the rolling plain, young Harry Dale the drover. . . "

But each child also had to read aloud before the class, one by one, and few would not do their best and be found out as a weak reader, which would involve being kept in after school for further teaching. (An even worse fate, and thus spur to effort, was to be kept back to repeat a year; but it was effective remedial education if it happened.)

The teacher, Mr Dunell, would walk up and down the aisles of twin-seater desks while children read and rap on the knuckles with his wooden ruler anybody who talked, giggled or dozed off. His favourite poet - who, I was surprised on checking to find was in the sixth, not the fifth book - was William Wordsworth. He introduced us to Wordsworth's Daffodils, which we had again the following year.

The books and curriculum varied from state to state, but the spirit didn't vary much. These and similar verses and short articles were primary school favourites for generations, until the curriculum purges of the reforming 1970s led to their ouster for various reasons, including a move against rote learning and the suspicion that they were remnants of imperial history.

However, when I read now of the debates over the place of history, especially Australian history, in the secondary school curriculum, I wonder if many educators have forgotten, or not known, how much Australian and general history was once packed into the humble primary school. It was not so much taught as infused in the classroom day. The readers and also the monthly School Paper merged reading, literature, history and geography. The black-and-white sketches brought distant times and lands to life and were themselves an introduction to art. Lawson, Paterson and other ballads introduced children to the story of the grazing industries, the battle of squatter and selector, bushfires and inland geography.

Billy Bear was a memorable cartoon figure in my School Paper, a koala-like chap who toured the sources of our food and household goods: Goulburn Valley for fruit, Gippsland for milk, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for tea, Java (Indonesia) and Malaya (Malaysia) for rubber.

History lessons proper devoted much time to the explorers. The crossing of the Blue Mountains built on Captain Cook and the First Fleet. Flinders taught us as much geography as history. The journeys of Edward John Eyre, Ludwig Leichhardt, Thomas Mitchell and Charles Sturt taught us more inland geography and a feeling for the early 19th century, with white adventurers moving into the vast plains and deserts sparsely inhabited by Aboriginal tribes.

The explorers were once heroes. When I moved on to high school, the sports houses were named for them. There is many a Flinders, Sturt or Mitchell street still and three Leichhardt postcodes.

The fairly common belief that imperial history is discreditable and must only be studied harshly, if at all, should be re-examined. In practice, avoiding it means little history is taught at all, or becomes the "fragmented stew" that John Howard complained about. For better or worse, empires were the main way of ruling the world between ancient Rome, if not earlier, and World War I. The British Empire was the biggest and, arguably, the best.

Those who feel that imperial history in Australia insults Aborigines have a point. It needs sensitive, but not evasive, treatment. To ignore pioneering history or to present it only as suffering victims of invasion is to avoid explaining how the society we live in came to be. The Aboriginal reaction to white occupation, where recorded, shows rapid and shrewd adaptation, but with lots of problems.

Though much of what has been written is contested, balanced secondary school lessons should be possible, but it seems too complicated for younger children. On looking back through all eight of the Victorian Reader books, I thought the coverage of Aborigines was not too bad: perhaps seven out of 10 marks. There could have been more, but none of the articles was demeaning or patronising, unless it is perceived as politically incorrect to depict Aborigines other than as guerilla fighters or social workers.

Schoolbooks initiated 90 years ago are unlikely to appeal today, and no doubt were losing effectiveness after 50 years of service. And of course most teachers work hard under difficulties. Nevertheless, though secondary school grabs the headlines, teachers say part of the difficulty is that primary schools today turn out too many pupils who do not know enough or read or spell well enough. Formation in reading, arithmetic, grammar, spelling, poetry, history, geography and nature study should not be too much to ask, especially as it once could be done for a fraction of the present cost and fuss.

The above article by Robert Murray appeared in "The Australian" (Review section) on November 24, 2007

Still alive after 3 heart attacks -- but no thanks to a negligent public health system

Townsville triple-bypass heart patient Syd Dart is considering legal action against the Townsville Hospital and Queensland Health. Mr Dart suffered three heart attacks this month waiting for his open-heart surgery to be rescheduled in Brisbane. His surgery had to be shifted south after Townsville Hospital management took the extraordinary step of closing down its cardio-thoracic unit on November 9.

"The management has a lot to be accountable for," Mr Dart said. "They are going to end up with blood on their hands." Mr Dart said once he had recovered from his surgery and returned to Townsville he would begin exploring the legal avenues open to him. "The duty of care has been broken," he said. "I fully intend to research what I can do about it and what avenues can be taken legally."

Mr Dart bravely spoke to the Townsville Bulletin earlier this month about his plight and was also interviewed for ABC Television's Wednesday edition of The 7.30 Report. "Most people are afraid to speak out," he said. "But somebody has got to speak out and I had already decided to do something." During the television interview Mr Dart called on the hospital's executive director of medical services Dr Andrew Johnson to resign. He was standing by that statement yesterday when he spoke to the Townsville Bulletin. "Instead of blaming the cardio-thoracic surgeons for the entire fiasco, you've got to include the director of medical services. The only honourable thing for Dr Johnson to do is to suspend himself from duty, step aside, resign," Mr Dart said on television.

A Townsville Hospital spokesman said Dr Johnson would not comment on Mr Dart's call for his resignation while investigations were ongoing. The hospital management said on November 9 it had no alternative but to shut the unit down after relations between the unit's staff deteriorated so much that patients' safety was at risk.

Mr Dart had a heart attack in early November before he was admitted to Townsville Hospital. "I was meant to be operated on the first or second of November," he said. "I had two more heart episodes while I was waiting in Townsville. "After the second one I was medivaced out and taken straight into pre-op." Mr Dart was flown by the Royal Flying Doctor Service on November 20 and taken to the Princess Alexandra Hospital where he had another heart attack.

On the morning of November 21 Mr Dart finally had his triple-bypass surgery. He was discharged from hospital on November 26 and is now recovering in a nearby facility in the care of his wife until doctors clear him to fly home. "I am one of the lucky ones who got out," Mr Dart said. "If I had gone home, as they had wanted me to at Townsville Hospital, I could be dead. "The community has been put at dire risk, it's not right. "Queensland Health management needs to step in to do something."

Mr Dart praised the care at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. "It was a quantum difference between the administration at Townsville and the Princess Alexandra. When they said they would do something they did it."


Attacks on Jews reach a record high

It's all those German immigrants, of course

ATTACKS on the Jewish community are at a high, following 638 reports covering assault, vandalism, intimidation and harassment in the year to the end of September. This is twice the previous annual average and 8 per cent higher than the previous record year, 2002.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry meeting in Melbourne this week heard that the attacks mainly occurred in Sydney and Melbourne, the home of the country's largest Jewish communities. "In other cities, you are not going to have large groups of people walking to and from synagogues on the weekend," said former council member Jeremy Jones, who compiled the annual audit. It was not clear what caused the jump in reporting, he said.

Mr Jones has been monitoring anti-Semitic actions and formally reporting them to the council since 1989. In one case this year in Melbourne, an orthodox Jewish man was verbally abused and punched in the face while walking to his synagogue. In another, a Jewish school student was physically assaulted on a public bus in Sydney. Graffiti in inner Melbourne included "F..k Jews", while "Die Juden" and "We hate Jews" were discovered at a Sydney primary school.

Although the rate of abusive phone calls, email and mail was relatively low, there was a disturbing trend towards the use of new communications platforms. "Online communities, Facebook and Youtube in particular, have been the venues of crude and intense anti-Jewish prejudice being expressed openly and unashamedly," Mr Jones said. There was no reason to believe Australians in general thought of Jewish people negatively, Mr Jones said.


Boy died day after child welfare officers came to call

These bureaucratic a**holes don't give a sh*t about the job they are supposed to do

The day before five-month-old Mundine Orcher died, officers from the Department of Community Services went to the home of his carers and delivered a fridge and a washing machine, but did not look at the boy. The Aboriginal boy died the next day, after enduring attacks over the previous four weeks. Yesterday a coroner found one or both of his carers were responsible for his death, while lying to cover up for the actions of the offender. But, for lack of evidence, neither is likely to be charged.

Had DOCS checked their background it would have found the foster father, Eric Orcher, a cousin of Mundine's father, was wanted by police, had "an extensive history of violence including domestic violence", and had served time in jail. But no assessment was undertaken and this "gross breach of departmental procedure" remained unexplained, the Deputy State Coroner, Paul MacMahon, found yesterday.

The findings place further heat on DOCS, reeling after weeks of damaging revelations, including its failings in the case of seven-year-old Shellay Ward, who allegedly died of starvation, and baby Dean Shillingsworth, found dead in a suitcase. This week an Auditor-General's report found DOCS spending per child at risk has almost halved in the past five years.

Mundine's injuries included a skull fracture caused by direct blows, numerous rib fractures due to squeezing while shaking him, as well as bruising, hemorrhages and pneumonia. A pediatrician, Geoffrey Hardacre, found the boy's injuries had occurred at different times. "It wasn't a single loss of temper attack," he told the inquest. "It was a systematic attack. These were very extensive fractures. This is more fractures than I've ever seen in a baby."

Mundine's mother could not look after him for a few months and wanted him cared for by her father or older sister. She objected to DOCS placing Mundine with Mr Orcher and his partner, Elizabeth Waites, her half sister. DOCS conducted checks on Mundine's grandfather, but not the carers it eventually chose.

On November 1, 2003, two weeks after he entered the care of Mr Orcher and Ms Waites, Mundine was admitted to hospital with severe dehydration. DOCS officers were on notice about his health but did not act to ensure he was receiving adequate care, Mr MacMahon found. When officers contacted the carers, four weeks later, this was apparently only to discuss the checks done on Mundine's grandfather and to deliver the whitegoods. "No effort was made to observe Mundine," he said. Even though the last assaults on Mundine only occurred that evening or the following morning, "an astute observer might have seen something that would have led to his removal on the day prior to his death, and such action might have prevented his death", Mr MacMahon found.

"The shortcomings . are primarily a result of a system failure," he said. DOCS had reviewed its actions in this case and Mr MacMahon was satisfied with the department's response. The general attitude in the Brewarrina community appeared to be "what they don't know won't . disturb them", he said. Mr Orcher and Ms Waites told police Mundine was hurt when his cot collapsed and might have been hurt by their 12-month-old son, who was jealous.

While Mr MacMahon was satisfied one or both of them were involved in the death, he said there was not enough evidence to establish beyond reasonable doubt an offence had been committed by a known person, and therefore did not recommend that charges be laid.


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