Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It won't wash, Fred

I rather like Fred Nile but there is no doubt that Fred is an old wowser from way back. Blaming it on the Muslims will fool nobody who knows where Fred is coming from

Conservative MP Fred Nile says he wants topless bathing banned in NSW to protect Sydney's Muslim and Asian communities. The Reverend Nile has rejected allegations that prudishness is behind a bill he has prepared to ban nudity, including topless sunbathing, on the state's most popular beaches. Australia's reputation as a conservative but culturally inclusive sociery was at risk of erosion by more liberal overseas visitors, he said.

"Our beaches should be a place where no one is offended, whether it's their religious or cultural views," he said. "If they've come from a Middle Eastern or Asian country where women never go topless - in fact they usually wear a lot of clothing - I think it's important to respect all the different cultures that make up Australia." The practice was at risk of raising the ire of Muslim men in particular, Mr Nile said. "I don't want to have any provocations or disturbances on our public beaches," he said.

Acting Premier Carmel Tebbutt and the NSW Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, have both said that topless bathing is an issue for local councils, not state governments. But Mr Nile said he believed most politicians would come around once all the issues were considered. "I think if you survey Australian women you'll find a lot of women would be uncomfortable if it became the custom [to be] topless at the beach," he said. "Australia's always been a conservative country as far as beachwear goes. "Once being topless is accepted as lawful the next question will be why can't women go totally nude on a public beach and I don't think Australians want to go down that pathway."


Greenie laws create danger for swimmers

The number of man-eating sharks in Australian waters is growing, according to experts, who blame the surging numbers on a ban on killing the predators. Marine biologist Adam Smith said initial research and accounts from fishermen and divers pointed to a rise in the number of sharks in Australian waters. Dr Smith, who has created the Great Australian Shark Count to obtain firm data on numbers, said great white sharks were no longer allowed to be hunted and fishermen faced fines of about $20,000 and a possible jail sentence for breaking the law, The Australian reports. "They were once targeted as trophy fish by game fishermen, or caught by commercial fishermen because they were a nuisance," he said. Dr Smith said globally shark numbers were under threat, but Australian law protected them.

Shark researcher Terry Peake, who established the Shark Research Institute of Australia, agreed that the ban on killing great whites had helped their numbers. "Nobody is fishing for the great white, it has no human predators and commercial fisherman are telling us they're seeing an increase in numbers," he said. Mr Peake also warned that increasing contact between great whites and humans could occur as many of the shark's traditional food sources, including salmon species, are more aggressively fished. "For every one shark attack, there are reports of 20-50 close calls," he said.

The news came as a Western Australian couple reported a close encounter with a 5m shark in the same waters where a 51-year-old man was killed in a shark attack four days ago.


Below is the sort of thing Australians now have to put up with. I think it would chill the bones of most people:

A man has described how a giant shark eyeballed him and his wife while crabbing off the Port Kennedy beach where Brian Guest was killed on Saturday. The Warnbro pair was tending crab pots when the shark -- that they said was longer than their 4.5m boat -- swam alongside and rolled over before swimming off. The terrified couple immediately headed for shore and raised the alarm.

The sighting came just before 9.30am and authorities were quick to get people out of the water and clear the beach. Water police, sea rescue vessels and aircraft were sent to the area and the shark was spotted heading out to deep water.

Paul Vickery and his wife Lesley from Warnbro were fishing and drop-netting for crabs when the shark came out of the water. ``We were about 50m off the beach and pretty close to where the guy (Brian Guest) got taken the other day. ``We had burlied up and had the crab nets down in the water when he came up and had a look at us. ``It was just like Jaws except he had his mouth closed. ``The boat lurched when he rolled over and he either touched it or the displacement of water made us tip. ``It was pretty violent and gave us a bit of a scare. ``He seemed to be curious. I don't think he was going to attack but we weren't hanging around to see if he was coming back. ``It scared the 'bejesus' out of us. ``We got out of there as quickly as we could and a guy on the beach who saw it had already rung the police. ``When we were on the beach the shark started to feed in the shallows. ``We normally go snorkelling but in light of what happened we thought we'd take the boat out. ``My wife didn't even want to go and my name's mud now. She was crying on the beach afterwards.''

Fisheries boat tracks giant shark: ``They've noticed quite a large shark swim under their boat and . . . decided the best course of action was to head back,'' Fisheries regional manager Tony Cappelluti said. ``Our boat then immediately headed in that direction and picked up a shark, which was reported to be about three to four metres. ``They followed it but it went into the weed and disappeared . . . so they then proceeded back to shore to help these people back to the boat ramp. ``About half-way there they saw some swimmers in the water so they thought it prudent that the swimmers got out. ``So the couple (who) had originally seen the shark made their own way back to the boat ramp and our boat then rounded up any swimmers and told them to get out of the water.''


Return of the 1950s housewife?

She sews, cooks, knits, gardens and raises chooks [fowl]. The housewife is back - with younger women embracing traditional domestic crafts in droves, new figures show. Sewing machines have rocketed off shelves in the past six months, with Lincraft reporting a 30 per cent increase in sales. "There has been a definite trend happening and we have also started to see an increase in dress-fabric sales," said Lincraft spokesman Jeff Croft. "Demand for sewing classes has increased - and one of the biggest growth areas has been knitting yarn, with a 10-20 per cent increase in sales compared to this time last year."

Spotlight spokesman Steven Carey said DIY craft kits were its booming sector.

The new housewife also appears to be turning our backyards into vegie gardens, with sales of vegetables and herbs surging across nurseries over the past 12 months, according to the Nursery and Garden Industry Association. Tomatoes are hot, as are beans, peas and herbs.

New data from social forecaster AustraliaSCAN shows home-based activities are the focus for people. The survey shows a 5 per cent increase in the number of people spending time doing craft and a 4 per cent rise in people devoting time to home cooking, DIY and gardening. "There has been a substantial shift in our mindset to a more old-fashioned, frugal lifestyle - that real waste-not-want-not approach," said social analyst and AustraliaSCAN consultant David Chalke. "There are a confluence of forces - the global financial crisis, enviromental concerns and a new cocooning - which are pulling together to form the new homemaker. "That's why we are embracing the domestic crafts again," he said.


Hot air is helping nobody

As this year of global financial turmoil draws to a close, it is timely to look at the penchant of our governments, state and federal, to prick the conscience of the community on the varied social crises confronting the country. Creating a public awareness of the lifestyle impact of these problems - ranging from youth binge drinking, gambling and urban violence to homelessness - is one thing but offering shallow, aspirational, politically based solutions is something else. The reality is that a lot of these problems have been exacerbated by governments opting for political expediency, without considering the long-term consequences of their policies.

We are told, for instance, that the homeless crisis in Australia is largely a product of these troubled times, which have triggered mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and other social problems along the way. No doubt this is a significant contributing factor. But let's not forget that in NSW, for example, it was the government some years ago that changed the law covering public psychiatric care, leading to thousands of troubled people being effectively turned on to the streets. This cost-cutting move dressed up as political correctness also led to the vagrancy laws in NSW because scrapped because they were seen to demean those who chose to sleep in public places.

The effect of this was to take police intervention out of the equation and turn the problem over to charitable institutions offering a voluntary service to those who used to be known as vagrants. The upshot has been a huge spike in the number of people, many of them in their teens, now sleeping rough in our cities and towns, often in the worst of circumstances.

We are told that of the 100,000 people now classified as homeless across Australia, about 16,000 sleep on the streets and in parks. Announcing his multi-billion-dollar 2020 scheme last week, Kevin Rudd said Canberra and the states had committed to providing 50,000 affordable rental homes for low and moderate-income earners, along with 3000 homes for those who were homeless or at risk of being homeless. And those sleeping rough will also be offered accommodation under the scheme. But the problem here is that many of the growing number of people who opt, for a variety of reasons, to sleep rough choose not to have a roof over their heads. Why should that change as a result of the Government's largesse until a deeper core problem of societal behaviour is addressed?

This year also saw the Government wringing its hands at the destructive effects of gambling and binge drinking. The latter led to the so-called alcopop tax designed to make pre-mixed drinks a more expensive proposition for young people. Needless to say this was as effective as the government-inspired, multimillion-dollar, feel-good Grocery Watch scheme, and simply encouraged people to drink something else, perhaps something more potent.

What should have been addressed here was the link between government addiction to poker machine revenue, particularly in NSW and Victoria, and extended trading hours in hotels, which have frequently contributed to anti-social behaviour. After resisting the temptation for years, the Victorian Labor government followed NSW down the poker machine path in the early 1990s as it reeled under an economic crisis brought on by its own mismanagement. The Labor Government in NSW, which is in an even worse financial state, simply cannot do without its regular poker machine fix.

And while all this is going on, law and order in NSW is deteriorating, with increasing levels of urban violence. But in what amounts to an insult to the intelligence of the long-suffering NSW public, the Government of Nathan Rees responded just before Christmas by announcing a three-month amnesty for those who turned in knives and some handguns.

Meaningless gestures such as these are just a waste of time and money. What the Government needs to do is to restore the integrity of, and community respect for, its police force, which it has systematically undermined for years through a policy of political correctness. The bottom line message here is that until governments face up to the real issues at the heart of the many serious social problems confronting the community today, the solutions being touted will amount to nothing more than hot air.

With the economic gloom threatening to worsen, Rudd can use 2009 to show leadership on these issues and take the states with him down a path of real and constructive reform, or lapse back into the blame game he claims to have disowned. The choice he makes could well determine his future.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Private health insurer reports that private hospital surgery includes very complex and costly cases

More than half of the surgery done in Australia is paid for by private health insurance and yet this is still a "drain" on government hospitals? Leftist logic at work again, it seems

High-end surgery in private hospitals, costing health funds $100,000-plus per case, is on the rise, fuelling concerns that it is adding to, not reducing, the strain on public hospitals. Australia's biggest health fund, Medibank Private, which has paid a record $364,859 for a bowel operation, says complex and costly operations, once the preserve of big public hospitals, are being performed increasingly in private hospitals. "Traditionally the high-end surgeries would be borne by the public system. Now we are seeing people electing to use their private health insurance for these types of procedures and enjoying the clear benefits it brings," a Medibank spokesman, Craig Bosworth, said yesterday.

But the drift of advanced cases to private hospitals is disturbing public hospitals because it adding to the difficulties they already face in finding and retaining surgeons and nursing staff. The executive director of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, Prue Power, said there was "great concern" in public hospitals about the trend to private surgery and the demand it generated for scarce medical staff. Staff shortages in public hospitals made it even more difficult to deal with waiting lists and delays in getting treatment in public hospitals, she said

Ms Power called on the Federal Government to rethink the $3.6 billion health insurance rebate and the level of premium increases for health insurance. The rebate was introduced by the Howard government, which forecast that it, along with other incentives, would boost memberships, keep premiums down and, through increased use of private hospitals, relieve pressure on public hospitals. Private hospitals do more than half the surgery performed in Australia, a plus for those with private hospital insurance, who account for less than 45 per cent of the population.

Health funds, already facing heavy increases in costs, have lodged with the Federal Health Department their applications for what are likely to be significant rises in premiums to take effect from April. Ageing of the population and increasing health-care bills and use of insurance cover by members are driving up costs well ahead of general inflation, the regulator, the Private Health Insurance Administration Council, has stated.

Ms Power said each time premiums rose, so did the cost of the rebate to the taxpayer. The growth in expensive private hospital surgery raised "a basic question of equity". "Funding going to the private sector will just exacerbate the workforce shortages in the public sector." Ms Power said she was not against growth in the private sector but it was a matter of getting the public-private balance right [Who says what is right?] and of getting better integration between the two sectors.

Mr Bosworth said that the rising number of high-cost claims paid by Medibank indicated the private health sector "is increasingly carrying the burden of an ageing population and the complex technologically intensive hospital care older people often require". The overall number of very high-cost claims had leapt in the past year, with Medibank covering 149 claims costing more than $100,000 - a rise of 73 per cent. Among the high-cost operations Medibank paid for in NSW was a neuro-surgery case costing $276,595, neonatal surgery and lengthy post-operative care for a newborn child costing $256,452, and arm nerve surgery on a 24-year-old patient costing $164,134. Mr Bosworth said many of the top claims were for people aged 54 and over, showing that private health insurance was not just for "elective surgery lumps and bumps".


Monarchists back 'people's choice' in any republic

The politicians won't like this. They do now have the right to appoint the governor. A republic might cause them to lose that right

The Rudd Government's "softly softly" approach to making Australia a republic will face a major barrier unless it allows for an elected head of state, according to new polling which shows that even monarchists overwhelmingly prefer an elected president rather than one appointed by Parliament. A survey of 2000 voters by pollster UMR Research last month found that 50 per cent supported Australia becoming a republic while 28 per cent opposed such a move and the rest were undecided, consistent with poll findings over several years. But when the entire sample of voters was asked whether the president of an Australian republic should be elected by the people or appointed by the legislature, 80 per cent opted for the direct election model. Only 12 per cent said they would support an appointed president.

By asking both republicans and monarchists for their views on the model for a republic, the survey effectively replicates the two-stage plebiscite the Labor Government plans on the issue. Under this approach, which the Government has signalled it may pursue if it is elected to a second term, the first stage would be a national vote on whether to become a republic. If this favoured a republic, a second plebiscite would then be held on the model for a republic. The main issues in this second stage would be the powers of a new head of state to replace the Queen and how the person to fill that role should be chosen.

The UMR survey, which covered a statistically representative national sample of voters, suggests that republicans would win the first stage and that, in the second stage, support for an elected president would grow to overwhelming levels as monarchists joined republicans in backing the direct election model.

Previous polling on models for selecting a head of state has only asked pro-republic voters for their opinions, showing strong majorities in favour of a directly elected president. The significance of the UMR findings is that it suggests that the third of voters who would vote against a republic in a first plebiscite would then switch behind the direct-election model in any second plebiscite. UMR is federal Labor's pollster but its research on the republic was carried out as part of its general market and political research.


Fake teacher? No problem in Victoria

Your legion of highly-paid bureaucrats will protect you (NOT). And when you do get found out only a slap on the wrist awaits you

THE state education watchdog has been rapped over the knuckles for failing to uncover a fake teacher working at a Melbourne primary school. The Victorian Institute of Teaching registered Renai Brochard, despite conflicting birth dates and signatures on her paperwork. Brochard, 41, was given a suspended jail term for stealing the identity of South Australian teacher Ginetta Rossi, her husband's former wife. She used the name to gain registration in Victoria and taught for several months last year at Melbourne Montessori School's Caulfield campus.

Brochard was exposed only after Ms Rossi tried to renew her teaching status with SA education authorities. It is believed Brochard is now working in a childcare job in Adelaide.

A recent institute of teaching disciplinary hearing heard Brochard was paid an annual salary of $58,828 at Melbourne Montessori. She misspelt Ms Rossi's first name on some registration documents and had whited out her name and replaced it with Ms Rossi's on her birth certificate, the hearing was told.

The Montessori principal approved Brochard's birth and marriage certificates, although not authorised to do so, the institute panel found. In its decision, the panel, headed by Susan Halliday, said thorough scrutiny and cross-referencing of all paperwork by the institute would have revealed the discrepancies. The panel said the institute had tightened checking procedures, but it recommended staff receive more training. The fraud was the first case of its kind to go before an institute of teaching hearing.

Brochard was convicted at Moorabbin Magistrates' Court on April 17 on charges of deception and making a false document. She was given a three-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months.


Some Australian wisdom of the year 2008

This was one of those years. Relieved only by the appearance in the West of an apparent (secular) messiah by the name of Barack Obama. Once again, the past 12 months have been marked by a sense of irrationality in the air along with gross hyperbole and false prophesy aplenty on the ground.

January: The Sunday Age predicts former Labor leader Kim Beazley will be appointed governor-general and declares: "We say, arise, your excellency, your people await." It will be a long wait, since Quentin Bryce took up the gig in September. Meanwhile, from the United States, Australian journalist Tony Walker describes the decision of Hillary Clinton's advisers to ask her campaign workers to sign confidentiality agreements as "a bit Stalinist". Walker seems unaware that the communist dictator Joseph Stalin did not bother with election campaigns.

February: Phillip Adams reports rumours that John Howard is to be awarded the Order of the Garter by the Queen. He wasn't. Writing in Dear Mr Rudd, artistic director Juliana Engberg proposes that if the Prime Minister "really wanted to muck with their heads, Rudd could get Callum Morton to redesign his entire office and turn it into an architectural conundrum, so that when people walk in they find themselves in an entirely different kind of environmental-hotel corridor, lift lobby, West Wing". He didn't.

March: Psephologist Malcolm Mackerras prophesies "Hillary Clinton will be inaugurated as president of the United States". Academic Peter Manning depicts the media in Australia as a "state media" - presumably of the kind that prevails in authoritarian regimes. British journalist Max Hastings alleges that "Australian politics is chronically corrupt". Former Brit Keith Austin sees footage of Australians protesting against the construction of a mosque in Camden and maintains that such "hate . could have been ripped straight out of 1930s Germany".

April Fool's Day: Christian Kerr declares that (then) Opposition leader Brendan Nelson's listening tour "is rather like making a confession to some extent at a Chinese show trial during the Cultural Revolution". In Mao's Cultural Revolution, millions of Chinese were killed. Julian Burnside, QC, later in the month decrees "it is a relief to know that ideas and conversation are once again permissible in this country". Yet he managed to become a living national treasure during the time of the Howard Terror.

May: On the ABC's Unleashed website, Bob Ellis proclaims his "hate" for Hillary Clinton and theorises that she does not engage in a certain sex act. However, your man Ellis concedes that his hate-filled thoughts of Clinton's (alleged) "towering frigidity" are affected by the impact of "some nights of the full moon". Fancy that. But Ellis got into the mood of the year by pontificating that Obama is "the present world's likely saviour". Thank God for that.

June: In the ACT, where there has not been a murder conviction for a decade, Justice Hilary Penfold sentences a defendant, who pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm by stabbing, to nine months' periodic detention. The learned judge advises the defendant he was fortunate that he did not kill the victim. So was the victim, when you think about it.

July: Piers Akerman writes that "Saddam Hussein destroyed the marshes at the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates . and the ALP may soon have to take ultimate responsibility for killing the Murray-Darling". Christopher Kremmer compares Rudd's condemnation of Bill Henson's photography of naked prepubescent children with "Afghanistan under the Taliban [where] images of the human form, even clothed, were banned". Which suggests that governments may change in Australia but exaggeration by moral equivalence continues apace.

August: Australian Olympic supremo John Coates volunteers the observation that Britain has "very few swimming pools and not much soap". Children's author Mem Fox condemns placing young children in long-day care as "child abuse". She announces that such offspring do not want their parents. A Canberra man who the Chief Justice of the ACT Supreme Court, Terence Higgins, found not guilty of murdering his mother because he did not have the requisite intention - despite stabbing her 57 times - is freed after serving 22 months in custody.

September: Age columnist-cum-shouter Catherine Deveny mocks the US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin as "the closest thing Republican strategists could find to man without a vagina". Novelist Kathy Lette links the experience of Western women who camp to "fleeing the Taliban over the Afghanistan mountains". She lives in London. The Canberra Times reports that nine personality types of heavy drinkers have been identified but misses an obvious category. Namely, the thirsty.

October: Former Queensland premier Wayne Goss observes on ABC Radio National that "people don't eat at home any more". ABC1 Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes repeats his view that the action of Australian police in trawling "through people's phone records and homes in pursuit of leakers [of official documents] smacks of Stasiland". The brutal East German Ministry for State Security, the Stasi, spied on virtually all citizens of the communist state. If Holmes believes Australia today is even remotely like the one-time East German dictatorship, he does not know much about either society.

November: Kerry-Anne Walsh claims that Rupert Murdoch's Fox News "only talks to conservatives". She must have missed Bill O'Reilly's interview with Obama. Walsh goes on to argue that "political amnesia is a wonderful thing". Sure is. The fashion-challenged Germaine Greer bags gorgeous Michelle Obama as having worn a "butcher's apron" to her husband's victory speech.

December: Deborah Cameron, the ABC's leading eco-catastrophist, warns that there "could be an ice-free Arctic in 2010". Including during the winter months, apparently. Speaking as a parent, author Sue Cato pronounces that "your children, no matter how gifted and talented, will disappoint you". The year ends with playwright Harold Pinter engaging in one final (life-ending) pause.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Has Woolworths Australia become dangerously complacent?

They are more concerned with "saving the planet" than with selling stuff

Woolworths Australia is one of the world's most successful retailers -- unlike Woolworths USA and Woolworths Britain -- which have both gone bust. But the Australian version only got there by making lots of good decisions and some of the current management seem to me to be making bad decisions. They should reflect that Woolworths USA and Woolworths Britain were once in a strong position too -- until they grew complacent and stopped being self-critical.

Woolworths' ranging decisions (decisions about what to stock) in particular seem to have gone off the rails. I first noticed that when I found that they no longer stock the old incandescent light bulbs. They now stock only the mercury-polluted twisty globes -- even though they are not as yet legally obliged to do that. So people who don't like the twisty globes for whatever reason have to spend their money elsewhere -- as I did. Is that a clever stocking policy? It's certainly not a commercial one. I stocked up on the old globes at Coles.

That was only the start, however. I have now gone three more times to Woolworths and not found what I sought -- only to find what I sought at the little Indian bargain shop just outside my Buranda Woolworths. First I could not find Christmas cards with a Christian theme. Only Santas and reindeer and holly and such secular stuff. But the Indian guy had them. I blogged about that and Christian-themed Christmas cards suddenly made an appearance at Woolworths a few days later. Coincidence? Probably. There are a lot of Christians about so a major retailer has to be pretty dumb to ignore them.

Next I wanted a Thermos flask. Another completedly mundane purchase. You guessed it. Woolworths had nary a one but the Indian guy did. So he again got my money even though I had walked into Woolworths first.

Thirdly, just today I wanted to buy a wall clock. Another mundane purchase. Same story as the Thermos flask.

I really think that Woolworths should put their stocking decisions into more senior or more commercially-oriented hands. My specific recommendation? Cut their huge display of twisty globes in half and put in some clocks and thermos flasks and old globes instead. I am guessing that not all the twisty lines are fast-moving so there would certainly be nothing lost by doing so.

I had a friendly conversation with what seemed a fairly senior person at the local Woolworths and said to him roughly what I have said above. He replied that he too had often had to send disappointed customers to the Indian guy -- even though the Indian guy has only about a tenth of the floorspace that Woolworths has. And you usually don't have to queue up at the Indian shop either. And his prices are VERY reasonable. Jai Hind!

Medi mishaps blowout

Crooked official statistics again

Victorian surgeons and theatre assistants mistakenly left 78 objects inside patients last year - seven times more than official records show. Hospital admission records collated for the Herald Sun show 756 objects were accidentally left in patients after surgery since 2000, far more than reported by health authorities or the State Government. The Government's "sentinel events" reports - which rely on hospitals to notify adverse incidents - show 47 instruments or other materials have been left in patients since 2002-03 that required further surgery to remove.

But figures compiled for the Herald Sun by Monash University's injury surveillance unit indicate more than 550 objects were left in patients in the same period. It is unknown how many of the objects required further surgery, but all patients required further hospital care.

Medical Error Action Group spokeswoman Lorraine Long said it was becoming a major problem. "The Government is not aware how common this is because the sentinel event data relies on people reporting it, and the last thing they are going to do is report something that will expose them to litigation," she said. "There seems to be a failure in the counting back of equipment and materials during surgery. "The consequences of leaving materials inside people can be death if it gets infected, but when patients go back to doctors and tell them they don't feel right they are not believed. "It just gets down to personal responsibility because it is not just the person doing the operation, there are another couple of sets of eyes and it gets down to being accountable, concentrating and following procedures of counting swabs and instruments."

Peter Shanahan, 60, is suing Melbourne Private Hospital after a 22cm surgical pack was allegedly left in his bowel for nine months, leading to agonising pain, the loss of a large section of his bowel and a possibly needless hernia operation after he complained of a lump in his lower abdomen. He claims the alleged mishap during routine bowel surgery ruined a year of his life. "Every time I speak to somebody in the medical field about it, they say it can't happen, that it's an impossibility. But I am proof," he said. "I don't know what the answer is, but it just shouldn't happen."

The Government's official sentinel events report listed only 11 instances where doctors reported leaving objects in their patients in 2007-08 - five involving instruments, wires or clips, five of packs or swabs and one case of a dental plate being retained. In 2006-07, the government report detailed eight retained objects, despite hospital records showing the real number was 85 in 2006 and 78 in 2007. But the biggest discrepancy occurred in 2004, when hospital admissions show 157 patients having treatment for objects left in their body. Government records from 2004-05 show just five cases, while the 2003-04 records list only eight.

Department of Human Services spokesman Bram Alexander said the sentinel events reports only dealt with "catastrophic incidents" where discovery was made after surgery was completed and requiring a new operation. He said some unreported instances may have involved items noticed missing before patients left the operating theatre, allowing surgeons to retrieve the items before recording the reason why the operation took longer on their admission records.


No standards for teachers?

A PRIMARY school teacher accused of swearing at his Year 5 students and allowing them to chase each other around the classroom with a baseball bat has been given the all-clear to continue working with children.

Victoria's top teaching watchdog has found the man, who is referred to only as RJS, may remain registered as a teacher despite being found guilty of incompetence for failing to adequately supervise students, maintain a safe environment or adequately protect students from harm.

It was alleged the male teacher told Victorian Year 5 students, aged about 11, "Don't f..king swear at me" and asked "Why the f..k are you behaving this way in my class and not other people's classes?" A disciplinary panel was also told he said to one class, "You are a pack of arseholes", The Australian reports.

The teacher, who has been working at a school in NSW, admitted during the Victorian Institute of Teaching hearing that the school was not aware of the disciplinary proceedings against him nor the fact that he had had his previous contract at a Victorian school terminated. The disciplinary panel heard the teacher had problems supervising and controlling students at a school that drew pupils from a disadvantaged and culturally diverse community, who had various behavioural problems.

It was alleged RJS started employment as a casual relief teacher before being hired as a PE and environmental studies teacher in May 2006. Soon afterwards, his colleagues complained about his lack of supervision of students. The panel heard this included incidents where the teacher permitted a Year 5 student to climb over a tennis court fence, failed to take action after a fight between two pupils, allowed students to wander off and did not stop Year 3 pupils pushing and shoving while in his class.

The panel was told the teacher allowed Year 5 students to engage in wrestling in class. He said he was showing his pupils the difference between fake television wrestling and real wrestling at the Commonwealth Games. The school's principal told the panel she had concerns about the teacher when she hired him.


Bystander intervention still lives on in Australia: "A passer-by thwarted a bank robbery in Sydney's west this morning after tackling a thief as he fled with a bag of cash, police say. The thief entered the bank on Jersey Road, Plumpton, about 10.50am, telling staff he was armed and demanding money, a police spokeswoman said. However the thief was not believed to be armed, she said. "We've been told he then allegedly took a female staff member hostage," she said. The man then left the bank with cash, but was tackled a short time later by a member of the public, she said. The man was in custody at Mount Druitt police station, and was believed to be uninjured, she said."

New slang for redheads: "Redheads are in for a tough time if "fanta pants" wins Macquarie Dictionary's 2008 word of the year. Macquarie defines it as a colloquial term for a natural redhead: "From the orange-coloured soft drink + pants, with reference to pubic hair as indicator of hair colour." ["Bluey" is the traditional slang term]

Sunday, December 28, 2008

NSW police goons again

A woman who was shot by police in a unit block is seeking money and an apology from those she thought had been sent to protect her. Susie Bandera, 48, claims she was initially relieved when she saw officers had been called out to the North Parramatta address where a man was allegedly assaulting her in the early hours of December 21. "I believe he would have killed me," she said. "I was in the foetal position where he was eye-gouging me and ear-gouging me. Then I saw the police torches coming and I thought, 'Oh good, I'm safe.' "

Instead, the mother of two has a bullet wound to the chest and another police bullet lodged in her spine after it passed through her liver. Doctors have told Ms Bandera it might be too dangerous to remove the bullet. "My right leg is gone, I can't feel it," she said. "How [the bullet] missed my vital organs, I don't know."

Friends said Ms Bandera was "upset and angry" at police and would be seeking compensation and "probably an apology" from the officers involved.

Police alleged Ms Bandera threatened officers with a knife and refused to surrender the weapon after they arrived at the Iron Street units after neighbours reported a disturbance. When Ms Bandera lunged at police, they alleged, a junior female officer fired two shots. Ms Bandera claims she wasn't armed with a knife but a cocktail fork she had taken as protection as she walked an elderly, vision-impaired neighbour home after watching carols on television. On her way back, Ms Bandera had encountered a 23-year-old champion kick boxer arguing on a public phone. She said he demanded to know what she was looking at. He said he followed her to ask her why she had poked him with a fork.

Anne McCabe, 73, a resident who had just returned home from a Christmas party, said she heard a commotion on the drive leading to the units. She went out to her balcony and claims that she saw the man kicking Ms Bandera in the stomach and groin before Ms Bandera sought refuge in her foyer. "He was kicking the hell out of her," she said. "Neighbours were yelling at him to stop. He was choking, strangling her and I am standing over them yelling and yelling."

The kick boxer has denied he had assaulted Ms Bandera and has said in the media he was trying to subdue her and that he had her under control when police arrived and sprayed them both with capsicum spray.

"When I saw the police I ran towards them for help, to help me," Ms Bandera said. "And as I ran towards them she shot me, point blank." Ms Bandera said she first thought she had been hit by a stun gun but realised she had been shot when she saw the bullet casing next to her on the ground. "I thought he'd shot me. I didn't think it was the coppers," she said. Under observation in Westmead Hospital, Ms Bandera said she had been told her attacker had since gone to Queensland without charge, while she has been depicted as a "knife-wielding maniac" by police. "They didn't even get a DNA sample from him, they got one from me," she said.

A police spokesman said no comment would be made until the critical incident team finished its investigations into the shooting. But for Mrs McCabe, who said she was the prime witness and her unit the crime scene, the case was simple. In her view, when the police officer opened fire in her tiny foyer - with a bullet ricocheting into her unit to miss her by inches - she shot the wrong person. "A woman shouted out and I could hear her shouting out, 'You shot the bloody victim,"' she said. "And that's in my formal statement. The policewoman obviously shot in panic, she shot the wrong person."


Businesses reap carbon bonanza

NSW businesses are reaping a bonanza from a new greenhouse fund, receiving more than five times the amount in subsidies from the State Government than they would from the Commonwealth, the NSW Opposition says. Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said the inaugural report of the NSW Climate Change Fund revealed companies and government agencies had received $27 million to reduce their carbon footprint. But the report also confirmed that greenhouse gas emissions had only come down by 127,000 tonnes, meaning the Rees Government was paying emitters $214 a tonne. As part of its new emissions trading scheme, the Rudd Government has capped the cost of greenhouse gases at $40 a tonne for the next five years.

"The Rees Government is subsidising the business sector at a rate of fivefold that of Canberra," Mr O'Farrell said. "Here in NSW, the Government has clearly lost control of this program." Mr O'Farrell calculated the state had spent $27 million to reduce emissions by less than 0.1 per cent. He argued the Government could have achieved the same reduction by buying carbon offsets for about $28 a tonne from commercial websites, saving $23.5 million.

But yesterday, acting Premier Carmel Tebbutt said that suggestion showed Mr O'Farrell had no idea how to achieve emission reductions. "We are transforming the NSW economy to prepare business and the community for a carbon-constrained future. Some early costs are one-off and substantial, and these are reflected in the Government's report."

The report found the major sources of money for the fund were annual contributions from publicly owned water and power suppliers, such as Energy Australia, Integral Energy and Sydney Water. But Sydney Water also received about $3.7 million from the fund to support a water recycling project.

Major property developers and fund and portfolio managers also received public funding, including more than $1.5 million for projects run by EP&T, a company chaired by the former Sydney Olympics chief Sandy Hollway.


Reprieve for "old" maths in NSW

The "old" syllabus is why NSW students learn more than kids in other States

The NSW Government will delay introduction of a long-awaited new syllabus for Higher School Certificate mathematics courses to avoid confusing schools with further changes when a national curriculum is introduced. The new courses were to be taught to year 11 students from 2010. It is about 30 years since the senior maths curriculum has been reviewed.

The Minister for Education, Verity Firth, has asked the Board of Studies to delay the new documents to avoid complicating the national curriculum agenda. "In light of the current work on the national curriculum, the minister has asked the Board of Studies to complete initial work on the senior maths syllabus but to delay implementation while monitoring the progress of the national curriculum," a spokeswoman said. "This is to avoid confusion for students, teachers and parents."

The NSW Board of Studies said it would meet on February 17 to discuss the status of the new HSC maths courses in the context of a national curriculum.

Representatives of the school-resources publishing industry contacted The Sun-Herald about the delay. A maths editor said book sellers who relied on income from the sale of syllabus documents were concerned.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Huge erosion of individual liberties

St Vincent de Paul Society ordered to pay $27,500 to president sacked for not being Catholic. If religious people cannot choose to associate with people of the same religion, what other associations might be forced upon us?

The St Vincent de Paul Society of Queensland has been ordered to pay $27,500 to a voluntary president it sacked because she was not Catholic. The landmark decision in the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal has massive implications for the welfare organisation. State president John Campbell said the organisation was disappointed at the decision and had sought legal advice over whether it should appeal or try to have legislation amended, The Courier-Mail reports.

The $27,500 has been awarded to Kingston woman Linda Walsh for "offence, hurt, embarrassment and intimidation" following the society's decision to stand her down as president of the Migrant and Refugees Logan Centre. According to documents tendered to the tribunal, Ms Walsh's work for the centre was her reason "to get up in the morning". After volunteering for the society in 1997, she first became a president of a St Vincent "conference" - or group of people who respond to calls for assistance in the community, according to the charity's website - in March 2003. By the end of the year, she was working unpaid seven days a week.

But trouble started in January 2004 when objections to her not being Catholic were raised. Ms Walsh said she was asked when she first joined the society whether she was Catholic and there were no objections to her being Christian only. She also was accepted as a conference president in 2003 despite not being Catholic. But, in 2004, the society gave Ms Walsh three options - become a Catholic, resign her position and stay only as a member, or leave the society.

Eventually, Ms Walsh took her case to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. Ms Walsh told The Courier-Mail she felt betrayed by the society to which she had devoted her life. "They put me through the wringer and back," she said. "It hurt, it really hurt." [Does it hurt to take $27,500 out of the mouths of the needy too?]

In its tribunal documents, the society argued its primary function was to "inculcate the Catholic faith in its members" and the charity aspect was secondary for presidents, which meant they needed to be Catholic.

The tribunal found the society did not prove its case and awarded compensation to Ms Walsh as well as court costs. Mr Campbell said that although Ms Walsh did volunteer work, she also was a member and they believed they should have the rights to choose their members, just as a bowling club did. He said the rule that all presidents should be Catholic was "understood", even if it hadn't been written prior to Ms Walsh's membership. He declined to comment further.


NSW police thugs again

BlackBerry seizure an 'abuse of police powers'

A MAN detained and threatened with arrest under the Terrorism Act for filming police on his mobile phone has alleged police abused their powers. Nick Holmes a Court, CEO of web-based media companies BuzzNumbers and ShiftedPixels, was walking to his home near Kings Cross in Sydney about 10pm on December 19. He told that police forcibly took his BlackBerry phone and threatened him with arrest both under the Australian Anti-Terrorism Act and for allegedly disobeying a police directive.

Mr Holmes a Court said he had started filming what looked like a search after he noticed a group of police walking down his street. "I went to one guy and asked what was going on but he told me to move along, and if I didn't they'd be able to arrest me," he said. "So I moved down the street a few hundred metres to where my apartment was, pulled out my phone and started filming."

Mr Holmes a Court said he had stopped filming before two of the police officers approached, demanding he surrender his BlackBerry mobile phone and telling him he had committed a crime if he had recorded them. "It was in my hand, and they were saying, 'Give me your phone, give me your phone,' but I just kept repeating, 'I do not consent to a search of my phone'," Mr Holmes a Court said. "It was pulled out of my hand - it wasn't me handing it over to her - and now I've got this girl looking through my phone and all my content - my contacts, photos, text messages and emails."

Mr Holmes a Court said he repeatedly complained to the police while they tampered with his phone, but was told to "shut up". "They forcefully did it in front of me, wouldn't give me my phone back until they deleted it, and just kept telling me to shut up."

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said police did not have the authority to confiscate cameras or stop people from taking pictures of them performing their duties. "It's not appropriate for the police to be stopping people taking pictures of them," Mr Cope said. "They've got no power to do that, none whatsoever, and they've got no power to confiscate cameras. "Why should they be fighting being scrutinised?"

In August this year NSW Civil Liberties Council president Cameron Murphy was responding to concerns about a similar incident where a student was arrested and pressured to delete footage of a brawl involving police when he said police could seize footage only if it was needed as part of an investigation. "There has been a steady increase in police powers to stop people, search them and move them along," Mr Murphy said. "This is very dangerous and it's the sort of thing that over time will lead to a police state."

Mr Holmes a Court went to Kings Cross police station on Boxing Day to make a complaint, but decided not to pursue it formally after a duty inspector said he would speak with the officers involved. "He said we were in fact allowed to film the police if you weren't hindering or in the way of an investigation," Mr Holmes a Court said. "He said my complaint would be logged as a verbal complaint, and he would get the media training department to come and make police aware that citizens and the media are allowed to film them."

NSW police media were aware of the incident involving Mr Holmes a Court, but would not comment because a formal complaint had not been made. News of the incident first broke when Mr Holmes a Court sent a message out on microblogging service Twitter just minutes after getting his phone back from police. "I got searched and my phone confiscated for filming a police search in kings cross, I was threatened with arrest and detainment. Police state," he said in his tweet.

Independent and mainstream media outlets began to pick up the story after freelance technology journalist Ben Grubb wrote a short article on his website and posted an audio interview with Mr Holmes a Court.


Victoria's public hospitals 'fudging' figures

A Melbourne doctor has blown the whistle on data fraud in Victorian hospitals, claiming staff routinely fudge patient figures to meet Government benchmarks for bonus payments. Andrew Buck, a senior emergency registrar with a decade's experience in the state health system, made the allegations in a submission to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into hospital performance data earlier this month. Dr Buck said senior doctors and nurses were "shifting numbers" to make it look like hospitals were meeting targets for funding and put pressure on junior staff to follow suit. "I am regularly ordered to 'admit the patient to short stay (unit) so they don't blow their time'. This is against DHS (Department of Human Services) policy yet is routine practice in my day-to-day work, and I do it under direct orders from senior medical and nursing staff," he says in the submission.

The revelation comes after a survey of 19 Victorian emergency department directors by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine found nearly 40 per cent of them were "admitting" patients to "short stay" and other units on computer systems when they were languishing in emergency waiting rooms or on trolleys. The doctors, who remained anonymous for fear of repercussions, said the "virtual wards" were used purely for "creative accounting" to receive funding and avoid "performance watch".

Public hospitals get bonuses for reaching State Government benchmarks, including one which requires that 80 per cent of patients be admitted within eight hours of arrival. Studies have shown that patient care is compromised by spending long periods of time in emergency departments.

When The Age published details of the survey in May, Health Minister Daniel Andrews said he would look into the doctors' claims, but then refused to launch an investigation. He said there was no evidence to suggest the alleged practices were happening. In September, the DHS warned hospitals to submit accurate data. As well, earlier this month the Auditor-General's office confirmed an investigation into the allegations.

Dr Buck said in his submission that Government benchmarks had created "perverse incentives" that put unnecessary pressure on overworked doctors in emergency departments. He expressed anger at Mr Andrews' refusal to act on the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine survey and said a "culture of fear" prevented doctors from talking about the real state of the health system. "If he won't accept hard data and admissions of guilt by emergency department directors, what hope have we got and why should I give a stuff about making the numbers look good?" he says.

Dr Buck's submission could affect the new health-care agreements between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments after federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said in August that any evidence of fudged patient data would be of serious concern. A spokesman for Mr Andrews said this week he did not know if the minister had seen Dr Buck's submission but "anyone with an issue should raise it through the proper channels and it will be dealt with". Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said Dr Buck's submission was a "cry for help" that could not be ignored.


Government-run railway runs true to form

$130m subsidy for Brisbane-Cairns Traveltrain. What government-run railway anywhere ever pays its way? Passenger rail is obsolete

TAXPAYERS are paying $900 to subsidise every Traveltrain passenger between Brisbane and Cairns - the equivalent of flying eight people for free. Despite the tough economic times, the State Government has failed to act on its "use it or lose it" ultimatum for the struggling service and will spend $130 million on subsidies this year. But Transport Minister John Mickel has flagged a review, saying the Government was committed to subsidising Traveltrain in "broad terms" but wanted value for money. "The Government wants to be satisfied that taxpayers' money is being well spent, and that these outlays can continue to be justified," he said.

Opposition treasury spokesman Tim Nicholls said the Government had wasted money by failing to run the services efficiently. "The Bligh Government must explain how it will deliver these services and provide better value for Queenslanders," he said.

An analysis of Budget figures has revealed the cost of subsidising each passenger has more than tripled in only six years as the appeal of train travel dwindles against competition from discount air fares. Figures show the subsidy for every passenger per kilometre was 50c in 2007-08, meaning the real cost of the journey from Brisbane to Cairns was an additional $900, compared with the 15c a kilometre subsidy in 2001-02, or $270 extra for the same journey. Without the massive subsidy, a fare-paying adult passenger travelling this route on the Sunlander, which is marketed as "comfortable and affordable", would pay $1112.30 for a basic seat at normal prices. A first-class cabin would cost $1661.20.

The standard adult economy price is $212.30. A discount fare of $170 is on offer at present. Brisbane-Cairns flights were on sale this week for as low as $109, so the Government could fly eight people for free at the same price it forks out for a single Traveltrain traveller. The train journey also takes up to 31 hours. A Brisbane-Cairns flight takes 2 hours 25 minutes. The blow-out in subsidising each passenger has been caused by plummeting passenger figures. A significant number of the remaining travellers have discount concession cards. In 2001-02, 632,000 passenger trips were made on Traveltrain, falling to 425,600 in 2007-08.

Queensland Rail was predicting an additional 150 passengers a week on Traveltrain in 2008-09 but this forecast was made before the recent Tilt Train derailment. Former premier Peter Beattie warned last year that the Government would have to consider withdrawing funding, forcing services to be cancelled, if patronage failed to increase. Mr Mickel said the level of the subsidy would be assessed when the Traveltrain contract was renewed next year. "This will provide an chance for the Government to examine that the level of subsidy being provided is justified," he said. "At the same time the Government will consider funding injections for the upgrade of the trains used to provide these services." Mr Mickel said he was encouraged by the latest Traveltrain figures - a 10 per cent or 20,000 passenger rise compared with the same period last year.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Wacky accusation: Conservatives are "postmodern"

It's not easy being a conservative. Most of the time your colleagues and peers regard your views as embarrassingly old-fashioned. The culturati and the academy love to poke fun at you. And, when you're at a dinner party, there is no more sure-fire way to upset the bonhomie than to express sympathy for a conservative position on any subject matter.

Then, just as conservatism seemed destined to remain decidedly unfashionable, Deakin academics Geoff Boucher and Matthew Sharpe publish their provocatively titled The Times Will Suit Them: Postmodern Conservatism in Australia. Apparently, during the past decade or so, conservative ideas have not only been very much in fashion, they took a decidedly postmodern turn. The vanguard of this latest postmodern conspiracy is neither Jacques Derrida nor Michel Foucault; the culprits, this time, are John Howard and the entire editorial board of Quadrant.

The crux of Boucher and Sharpe's argument is that conservatism morphed into a form of relativism. Under the former prime minister, they claim, universalistic normative principles such as international human rights gave way to nationalistic assertion and cultural particularism. Values were appealed to "not because they are just but just because they are ours". The Howard version of conservatism also cemented in the Australian psyche a "scepticism towards the modern idea that people can make the world" better through "planned political action". In Howard's Australia, everybody was feeling so relaxed and comfortable that commitments to grand projects such as social justice and equality seemed a thing of the past.

Boucher and Sharpe's perverse use of the postmodern label raises an interesting question: What is conservatism and how do conservatives approach the kinds of issues postmodernists have been raising? The first thing to note is that unlike those other two isms of the modern age, liberalism and socialism, conservatism, on the whole, has been defined by its lack of a utopian vision. Keenly attuned to unintended consequences, and the persistence of human frailties, conservatives traditionally have preferred evolution to revolution, custom and habit to fads and fashions, pragmatic approaches and common sense to theoretical speculations and abstract generalisations. Because of the peculiarly change-oriented character of modernity and modernisation, conservatives often have felt the need to remind their fellow citizens of the value of the permanent, that the wheel doesn't have to be reinvented willy-nilly. In these and other respects, conservatives embody a certain postmodern modesty about what philosophy or theory can achieve, although their preference would be for empirical and pragmatic solutions to life's dilemmas. Along with David Hume, they also believe that having a sense of humour is a good antidote to hubris.

Where conservatives differ markedly from postmodernists is in the latter's embrace of romanticism. Postmodernism regards all critical reflection as "ironic play" and suffers from a tendency to see the world in aesthetic terms. In this respect, postmodernism has more in common with aesthetic modernism than it likes to admit. Art becomes a model for all of reality and anybody but a philistine judges art according to nonaesthetic criteria; hence, the outrage of the chattering classes regarding the public's disquiet with the depiction of children in Bill Henson's photographs. For the postmodern culturati, only a complete prude or ignoramus would see these images aspornography.

Here conservatism and postmodernism clearly diverge. Although conservatism has produced its own share of bohemians and aesthetes, conservatives are suspicious of rhetoric that puts the world views of an artistic and intellectual class above those of the much scorned middle-classes. However, it is the conservative approach to questions of art and culture that has been most open to misrepresentation in postmodern times. The conservative position that has received most publicity during the past decade is the one that has challenged literature departments embracing film and popular culture. The dominant image has been one of conservative critics railing against the postmodern tendency to equate Shakespeare with The Simpsons. No such thing as a postmodern conservative on this score.

The problem, though, is that the rhetoric surrounding the so-called culture wars has become the only measure of the conservative position on cultural matters. Conservatives are supposedly cranky, crusty, intolerant types who look down their noses at the culture of the masses. But this is a more accurate description of a circa-1950 left-wing intellectual writing for a journal such as Meanjin or Partisan Review than it is necessarily of a contemporary conservative intellectual.

Another conservative response to the postmodern question has been to admit that indeed postmodernism represents something new or at least something quite challenging for society and culture. In fact, conservative sociologists such as Daniel Bell, Christopher Lasch, Philip Rieff and John Carroll have led the way in demonstrating the kinds of predicaments that postmodern culture represents for individual identity and community wellbeing.

I would argue that these conservative theorists not only beat their leftist counterparts in diagnosing some of these changes; they also understood the unintended consequences of increased affluence, the triumph of a bohemian ethic and the loss of meaning in the sphere of culture much better than more fashionable strains of social and cultural theory.

After all is said and done, the quintessential characteristic of the conservative is that they have a deep need to confront and understand their times. As conservative American columnist David Brooks notes in his book Bobos in Paradise, the past few years have seen the emergence of "blue jean conservatives". He celebrates them as new kinds of conservative who "treasure religion so long as it is conducted in a spirit of moderation rather than zeal", who "appreciate good manners and cherish little customs and traditions" and who "reject grand rationalistic planning" and feel that the world is "far too complicated to be altered effectively by some person's scheme to shape reality". Sound postmodern? Perhaps the authors of The Times Will Suit Them went looking in the wrong places for their postmodern conservatives.


DOCS again: Children taken from parents with no evidence of risk

A judge says it was a "gross abuse of power" for child welfare staff to forcibly remove two babies from their parents' care when there was no evidence they were at risk of harm. Ordering that the children be returned to their parents immediately, Supreme Court Justice George Palmer said the New South Wales Department of Community Services officers' actions had "gravely imperilled" the children's best interests. "My principal concern is that young children who have been well cared for by their parents have been removed from their care for some three months and, if the DOCS officers have their way, will be kept out of their parents' care for another three months, for no good reason," Justice Palmer said.

Although the parents were recreational cannabis users, the judge said there was no evidence that it posed a direct risk of harm to their children - a 15-month-old girl and a month-old boy. He said there was no evidence the children, who were given the pseudonyms Georgia and Luke, were neglected or physically or emotionally abused. Given that the parents were not mentally ill and had no relevant criminal history, he questioned why their children were forcibly removed and why DOCS was pursuing a care plan that would keep them in custody until May. He said there had been "a serious abuse by certain DOCS officers of the department's power to take children into custody".

The court heard that DOCS sought to meet the parents on September 12 but did not respond to their attempts to reschedule. When the couple failed to show up, three officers came to their house. The mother denied her children were at risk but the officers returned with two police officers and removed the children. The parents, who cannot be identified, applied to the Supreme Court to have their children returned, a move opposed by DOCS.

Officers' attitude showed "an intransigent refusal to acknowledge a mistake, regardless of the consequences to the children", Justice Palmer said. A psychologist who assessed the children and their parents noted: "Both parents are well able to provide for the safety, welfare and wellbeing of their infant children."

Justice Palmer last week ordered that Georgia and Luke be immediately returned to their parents. DOCS declined to comment on the case, saying it would carefully examine the judgment and consider whether to appeal.


NSW: More charming police behaviour

Even when they get it wrong you have to sue the garbage to get them to face it

A 64-year-old grandmother who was arrested and strip searched for drugs on a busy Sydney street in a police case of mistaken identity is suing the state for false imprisonment and wrongful arrest. Leentje McDonald was somehow mistaken by police for an alleged drug dealer 24 years her junior and shaken down outside a Maroubra pub in full public view. A statement of claim filed in the District Court alleges officers took her belt off and put their hands underneath her clothes in the middle of the footpath in broad daylight.

When she screamed and tried to stop them they pulled both of her hands behind her back and pushed her to the ground. They then arrested her and charged her with assaulting an officer. Yet apparently Mrs McDonald's biggest crime was to miss her bus and duck into the Maroubra Junction Hotel to play the pokies while she waited for another one. The publican had previously told police that he believed that drugs were being sold by an Asian looking woman on the premises.

When Mrs McDonald got up to leave she was seized by an undercover officer and - despite her explaining they had the wrong woman. She was then searched by a female officer who arrived shortly afterwards and restrained by both of them.

Despite the incident occurring more than a year ago she says she has still not received any apology from the police. "I just want an apology and some recognition that I am suffering to this day," she told The Daily Telegraph. "I am in a lot of pain. I had a frozen shoulder which the police really hurt when they treated me so roughly.

A spokesperson said NSW Police was unable to comment as the matter was before the courts. Ms McDonald's lawyer George Newhouse said his client had offered to resolve the matter amicably but police had refused.


Charming police in South Australia too

A woman who lives close to one of South Australia's most notorious road accident black spots is fuming after being told to speed up - by police. Sharon Green - who says she has helped more than 20 crash victims outside her home on Victor Harbor Rd, Mt Compass - was pulled over by police for doing 90km/h in a 100km/h zone as she prepared to turn into her driveway.

Ms Green says she was branded a "danger and a menace" to other drivers when she was pulled over by an unmarked police car at 12.45am recently after driving home from Victor Harbor. "He said I was a danger and a menace on the road if I have been driving at that speed from Victor Harbor - I didn't know what he was on about," she said.

"We live on the main road and we have scraped about 20 people up off the highway where our house is because it is a terrible part of the road. We are so conscious of the way we drive so carefully when we see the consequences so often in Victor Harbor Road from speeding and drink driving. "I would understand if I was travelling at 60 or 70, but not 90. Nobody here can understand, when they see idiots every day speeding on this road, they are telling people to go faster." Ms Green said the warning and order to drive faster was contrary to the police Christmas safety message.

A police spokeswoman refused to comment on Ms Green's case but said driving too slowly could cause problems on the road. "In general, driving too slowly can be a hazard. It is not an offence in itself, but the manner of driving can cause a hazard, and be dangerous, which can lead to an offence," the spokeswoman said.

Ms Green said she had slowed from 100km/h with "not a soul on the road in any direction" because kangaroos were a known hazard at that time. Ms Green has been living at the same property for 48 years, 11kms south of Mt Compass in an area known as "Cut Hill" or Mt Jagged. "They sped off without even saying sorry after I explained I lived here and had only slowed down to get into the driveway," she said.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas message of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell


Labor Party trying to pull a fast one over political donations

THE Rudd Government has some heavy holiday reading for punters this summer. Last week John Faulkner released his electoral reform green paper, which asks some weighty questions about how best to reform our democracy from the improper influence of political donations. However, genuine reform will require the Labor Party to do its own house cleaning: kicking its addiction to union money and its reliance on union election campaigns. Anything less is window-dressing, at best. And, at worst, reforms that address concerns about the practices of pro-business parties while leaving untouched the abuses favoured by the unions will simply skew democracy in Labor's favour. One-sided reforms will actually damage democracy.

Should we cap donations? Or ban them? If so, donations by whom? Or do we simply require disclosure? If so, at what level do we require disclosure? And what of political and campaign expenditure? Do we cap this? If so, at what level? And the piece of political dynamite for the ALP: how about addressing the tax privileges that allow tax deductions for union contributions used for political purposes while denying tax deductions for contributions to the Liberal Party and other parties?

We know that corporations hand over buckets of money and expect favours in return. For the financial years 1999 to 2002, the ALP received about 19 per cent of its funding from corporate donations while 28 per cent of Liberal Party funding came from corporate donations, totalling $29million during that period. As Faulkner says, even the perception of undue influence is enough to potentially taint our democracy.

But let's be frank. The Rudd Government cannot undertake electoral reform unless Labor looks at the undue influence of unions - the union money that flows into Labor coffers via donations and affiliation fees, and the cashed-up campaigns unions run on behalf of Labor. During the 10 financial years to 2004-05, unions directed almost $50 million into the ALP national office and state and territory branches. And we don't know how much was given by unions directly to local ALP campaigns.

While companies can only hope their money will earn them political favours, unions can count on it happening. Annual affiliation fees unions pay to Labor secure representative rights at party forums. It's guaranteed under the ALP's constitution: union representatives get 50 per cent of seats at ALP state conferences to dictate Labor Party policy.

Indeed, union power is imprinted on Labor Party decisions across the nation. In NSW, unions have dictated criminal standards of proof for employers under NSW occupational health and safety laws. After the 2007 March state election then premier Morris Iemma elevated Paul Gibson to the ministry amid reports the National Union of Workers and the Australian Workers Union threatened to de-affiliate if Gibson was not promoted.

Then there's the botched privatisation of the NSW electricity industry. An elected government approved privatisation in the best interests of the people of NSW. The unions, wanting to secure the interests of feather-bedded union members, took a different view. They threatened to de-affiliate if the government did not cave into their demands. And so the government caved in. If a property developer had given money to a state government in return for a policy that favoured their own special interests, we would call this corruption.

When proposing the green paper, Faulkner promised to consider all options, including a ban on union donations and affiliation fees. "All money received by political parties - quantum as well as nature - will be examined, " he said. But will Labor be brave enough to do something? Labor Party national secretary Karl Bitar was quick to distinguish affiliation fees from donations because, he said, "under our rules, unions affiliate to have a role in the party". How convenient.

Earlier this year, the Rudd Government tabled a bill to tighten disclosure requirements for donations and reduce the threshold disclosure from $10,000 to $1000. But there is no point reducing thresholds on political donations - which are clearly aimed at cutting corporate and small business funding to the Liberal Party - without a broader look at political donations to all parties, whatever the source. And, even then, the thorny issue of third-party campaigns remains. Unions - representing 22 per cent of workers - spent $28 million at the previous election thumping the Howard government over Work Choices. Yet corporate Australia is reticent about engaging in third-party campaigns come election time. Do we stop people exercising their right to express views about government policy? It's a dilemma for anyone committed to freedom of expression.

Yet the nature of third-party campaigns in Australia is such that if we ban or cap donations (except by individuals) and allow third-party campaigns by unions to continue unabated, the political field is skewed against one side: the conservatives. This problem is compounded by Labor's dirty little political secret. Union dues and levies are fully tax deductible. Yet Labor plans to remove the deductibility of donations to the Liberal and other parties. That discrepancy gives Labor vastly increased firepower compared with its opponents. Labor, for example, can count on unions running pro-ALP Your Rights at Work-style campaigns using fully deductible union dues while the Coalition must struggle by on a meagre diet of donations slowed to a trickle by the Rudd Government's abolition of tax deductibility.

If you doubt the Government's sensitivity on this clever scam, read Stephen Conroy's response to Helen Coonan's attempts to get him to address this little earner in the Senate economics committee in February this year. Conroy ducked, weaved and danced. The one thing he wouldn't do was address the double standard. It was a powerful pointer to the way the Rudd Government would deal with electoral reform: the only certainty is that the Government will do nothing to draw attention to, let alone reduce, the tilting of the playing field its way. If Labor's bill to reduce thresholds for disclosure becomes law without any further action, the one-way skew will become even more pronounced.

The green paper on electoral reform is therefore likely to be mere camouflage to conceal these electoral tricks. The best outcome for those who seek an even playing field is that the green paper will be quietly shelved, relegated to the usual Rudd trick of lots of puffed-up promise early on full of rhetoric about securing the nation's future, followed by deliberate inaction. That would be better than more one-sided changes.

If electoral reform is simply a ruse for securing the political domination of Labor, which can rely on cashed-up third-party campaigning by unions then, regardless of your political stripe, it cannot be healthy for our democracy. So-called reforms that favour one party over another will deliver a much more damaging problem than the one we now confront.


Another one of Australia's dangerous creatures

A newly-identified giant cousin of the dangerous Irukandji has been labelled the reigning king of jellyfish. North Queensland-based marine expert Lisa Gershwin on Friday formally identified the jellyfish, a member of the venomous and potentially deadly Irukandji family. The new species, which has a body measuring up to 15 centimetres in height and tentacles measuring up to a metre dwarfs its more common cousins. "It's huge, most Irukandji are one to two centimetres, this guy is massive," Ms Gershwin said.

Ms Gershwin says the species, which she named Morbakka Fenneri, was first discovered in Moreton Bay in 1985 but had not been formally identified. It is named in honour of marine expert Dr Peter Fenner, while Morbakka means Moreton Bay jellyfish. The species has been documented up and down the East Coast, From Sydney to Port Douglas but is most common around Redcliffe and Mackay.

Ms Gershwin said the Morbakka's Fenerri's sting, while not typically fatal, was nonetheless dangerous and had resulted in at least one victim being put on life support. "I don't want to mince words, it is a dangerous animal."

She believed there may be other species of Morbakka waiting to be discovered. "There could be more species of Morbakka and that's something I'm hoping to delve into over the next few years." Ms Gershwin will also embark on an 11 day expedition from Boxing Day to attempt to locate an even larger species of jellyfish which is believed to have a body up to half a metre in height.


Festive feasts 'contributing to climate change'

Wasted food at Christmas time is now being highlighted as an environmental problem. Jon Dee, the chairman of Do Something, says gases from leftover food rotting in landfill are 20 times more potent than the carbon pollution from car exhausts.

Mr Dee says there are simple ways to avoid over-catering at Christmas and damaging the environment. "Australians waste more than 3 million tonnes of food every year and of course a lot of that food is wasted at Christmas," he said. "It's really basic. Draw up a shopping list and stick to it and try and not cook more than you need, and if you do have leftovers you can always put it in tupperware and freeze it."


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Two articles below

AFP chief 'ignored evidence' in Haneef case

A police chief who ignores evidence! Aint that just fine and dandy? I can find no mention of Chief Jabbour on the AFP site but Jabbour is a Lebanese surname and Ramzi is a Muslim given name so I am guessing that Chief Jabbour is a Lebanese Muslim. So his appointment could well have been an affirmative action one -- in which case we must not be surprised that it was a low-quality appointment. Maybe we should be more careful about appointing Muslims as police chiefs. The world has after all had a few other problems from Muslims this century too. There are quite a few things about Muslim thinking that are stupid from a Western viewpoint

The Australian Federal Police's counter-terrorism chief "lost objectivity" when assessing the case against Mohamed Haneef, ignoring or cynically interpreting evidence that strongly pointed to the former terror suspect's innocence. The long-awaited report into the Haneef affair by retired NSW Supreme Court judge John Clarke QC criticises the AFP's lead investigator, the then national manager for counter-terrorism, Ramzi Jabbour, as "unable to see that the evidence he regarded as highly incriminating in fact amounted to very little".

Mr Clarke accuses Mr Jabbour, who was sent to Queensland from Canberra to take carriage of the 700-person investigation, of selectively, even cynically, interpreting the evidence against Dr Haneef. He is found to have downplayed facts that may have weakened the case against the Indian doctor - such as Dr Haneef's attempts to contact a police officer in England after failed terror attacks in London and Glasgow in June last year. Mr Clarke further criticises Mr Jabbour for dismissing the concerns of his junior investigators, who concluded that Dr Haneef's professed ignorance about the British terror attacks was genuine.

The Clarke report, released yesterday, criticises senior bureaucrats and police for failing to pass on information pointing to the innocence of Dr Haneef, who was held in custody for nearly a month, and for viewing the most benign evidence as suspicious.

The report makes 10 recommendations, but does not call for disciplinary action. It was accompanied by a suite of changes announced by Attorney-General Robert McClelland, including a new statutory authority to review terror laws, parliamentary oversight of the AFP and extending the remit of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security to probe the AFP's conduct. The report clears then immigration minister Kevin Andrews of improper conduct in cancelling Dr Haneef's visa, but expresses "mystification" as to why Mr Andrews did it directly after Dr Haneef was granted bail.

The Immigration Department is criticised for failing to directly pass to Mr Andrews an ASIO assessment that found no evidence against Dr Haneef. Instead, the ASIO assessments were conveyed to Mr Andrews via his chief-of-staff, Michael Toby - one of the few witnesses who refused to give evidence to the government-ordered inquiry. Another witness who did not give evidence was John Howard's senior adviser, Jamie Fox, who did not receive permission from the former prime minister to give a statement to the inquiry.

Mr Clarke also finds it "troubling" that Howard government attorney-general Philip Ruddock did not seek to reconcile the conflicting assessments of Dr Haneef by the AFP and ASIO, despite both agencies falling under his ministerial responsibility.

But the report clears the AFP of acting in the service of its political masters and notes the investigation was "bedevilled" by its reliance on overseas information. Dr Haneef was arrested on July 2 last year after his mobile phone SIM card was linked to failed terror attacks in Britain. He was charged with a single count of recklessly supporting a terror organisation, but the charge was withdrawn 25 days later for lack of evidence. Mr Clarke finds the AFP was arguably within its rights to arrest Dr Haneef at Brisbane Airport, given the information available. But he criticises Mr Jabbour for ignoring the concerns of more junior officers.

Dr Haneef, who is expected to seek compensation, said an apology from the Government would be "very welcome".


Arrogant and hostile Federal "regulator" to cost taxpayers $120m compensation for its Gestapo-like behaviour

The arrogant bitches in the TGA who created this problem should be asked to cough up too. I don't blame the TGA for disliking alternative therapies (though some of the things they have approved -- such as statins -- are arguably no better) but that does not excuse ruinous Gestapo-type attacks on a law-abiding businessman and the destruction of his business. And the two devious feminazis at the heart of the TGA action -- Fiona Cumming and Rita Maclachlan -- are apparently still in their jobs! Their involvement in the destruction of records should in fact lead to criminal charges being laid against them

The Rudd Government faces a possible $120 million compensation payout after 165 shareholders, creditors and customers of the collapsed Pan Pharmaceuticals company launched a class action in the Federal Court yesterday. Lawyers acting for clients including retailers and pharmacists began action to recoup huge losses after the sudden recall of 1600 Pan-produced vitamins and health supplements in 2003. The legal firm running the class action says it is confident after the Government agreed to a $55 million compensation payout for Pan founder Jim Selim in August.

Action against the Government follows the largest product recall in Australia and the suspension of Pan's licence by the commonwealth-run Therapeutic Goods Administration. In a statement of claim, lawyers for the aggrieved parties say the product recall went ahead despite the TGA conducting audits in 2003 that revealed no critical deficiencies in products manufactured by the company. The TGA also allegedly had not tested any of the products manufactured by Pan that were the subject of the recall and had not received any consumer complaints. It had been told by an expert advisory group there was no imminent risk of death, serious illness or injury from Pan products. A year earlier, the TGA had given Pan "a very good assessment" of its facilities.

The product recall at Pan, which previously supplied about 70 per cent of Australia's therapeutic products market, led to the company's collapse. Action against the federal Government is being led by litigation funding giant IMF and legal firm McLachlan Thorpe Partners, which also represented Mr Selim.

According to the claim against the Government, the TGA had no rational grounds to consider that any, or alternatively the vast bulk, of the products manufactured by Pan constituted any risk of death, serious injury or illness. The suspension of Pan's products allegedly proceeded "in an environment of suspicion, gossip, improper motivations, irrelevant considerations and a pedantic and unreliable audit of Pan, in 2003", according to the claim against the Government.

Referring to TGA audit reports in February and April 2003, lawyers for the aggrieved parties allege: "The said audit reports were pedantic to the point of bias, lacked rigour, were misleading in material respects, were unverifiable and omitted to record relevant matters, such that no rational reliance could be placed on the audit and the records."

It is also alleged in court-filed documents that some of the TGA respondents to the claim - Terry Slater, Rita McLachlan and Robert Tribe - actively set out to mislead Pan "with respect to their intention to take dramatic action (including the suspension or cancellation of licences) against Pan; and otherwise set out to keep secret that intention so as to ensure surprise, and to ensure that neither Pan nor sponsors would have any opportunity of preventing the action by correcting the TGA's mistakes or otherwise seeking relief available in law". The action is being taken against the commonwealth of Australia and former TGA officers Mr Slater, Ms McLachlan, Mr Tribe, Pio Cesarin and Noel Fraser.

Settlement of the Selim case in August was the first made with the consent of the commonwealth in the area of "misfeasance in public office" and involving such a big payout to an individual. IMF, which usually underwrites litigation in which the total claim exceeds $2 million, has current cases against Centro Properties, Opes Prime, Westpoint and AWB. IMF and McLachlan Thorpe Partners, acting for Pharmacare Laboratories Pty Ltd as the representative party in the proceedings, represent a total of 165 sponsors, customers, creditors of Pan, as well as distributors and retailers of Pan products. The total claim for losses exceeds $120million.


No dissent allowed at Leftist radio station

A radio show broadcast in Wollongong that aired corruption allegations about the ALP, including allegations about the state MP Noreen Hay, has been shut down with the help of local police. The broadcaster Paul Matters, a former head of the South Coast Labour Council, was removed from the station by Wollongong police on Saturday when he arrived at Vox FM in Wollongong to broadcast his program, Struggle Street. Mr Matters had presented the program, which examines issues related to unemployed people, for 12 years. More recently he had aired material about alleged corruption in Wollongong and criticised what he saw as Ms Hay's inappropriate relationships with developers.

Ms Hay, who was named in a wiretap played to corruption hearings into Wollongong council earlier this year but was not named as a person of interest by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, is one of Vox FM's advertisers.

Mr Matters and his supporters claimed he was removed so as to shut down discussion about the ALP's alleged role in corruption. The station's board of directors disputed the censorship accusations, saying Mr Matters's aggressive behaviour was the reason for his removal. No charges were laid against Mr Matters. "Disciplinary action has been taken against a small number of Vox members for behavioural issues constituting unacceptable conduct within the workplace," the secretary of the Vox board, Hanno Stanojevic, said yesterday.

He later told the Herald the board was unhappy with some of the accusations broadcast by Mr Matters. "Paul was moving away from talking about unemployment to talking about corruption, including allegations he made about our dealings with council about our new premises."

Mr Stanojevic said the station called the police because it was worried about what Mr Matters might do, following a rowdy meeting the previous Thursday involving board members, Mr Matters and some of his supporters. Mr Stanojevic said a threat made earlier in the year by Ms Hay to sue Mr Matters, Vox FM and its board of directors, was a concern. "She felt the stories were not correct and she told us to run a correction and to stop more stories being broadcast," he said. "We don't know if the stories were right or wrong but our solicitor and insurers warned us we were in a bit of trouble."

Mr Matters told the Herald the program had always had a political edge but that ALP interests connected with the station had been unhappy with his attacks on the party. "We said the most outrageous things about John Howard and there was not a peep out of [the board of directors]. The problems began when we started talking about the ALP," Mr Matters said. "Hay is a sponsor of the station, which is unusual for a politician," he said.

Ms Hay said she knew nothing about any corruption allegations against her but did write to the station about derogatory remarks Mr Matters had made about her physical appearance. "My letter said to tell [Mr Matters] to desist making personal comments about me," Ms Hay said. "I am still a sponsor of the station and will continue to be," she said.

Mr Matters, who is also a member of the group Wollongong Against Corruption, yesterday vowed to present his program every Saturday morning in the Wollongong mall in front of Ms Hay's office and to "name names".

Vox FM said Struggle Street would return to air in the new year with a different presenter.


Attention-seeking a*holes warn Christmas lights harm the planet

Just for that I am going to leave my Xmas lights on day and night

Scientists have warned that Christmas lights are bad for the planet due to huge electricity waste and urged people to get energy efficient festive bulbs. CSIRO researchers said householders should know that each bulb turned on in the name of Christmas will increase emissions of greenhouse gases.

Dr Glenn Platt, who leads research on energy demand, said Australia got 80 per cent of its electricity by burning coal which pumps harmful emissions into the atmosphere. He said: "Energy efficient bulbs, such as LEDs, and putting your Christmas lights on a timer are two very easy ways to minimise the amount of electricity you use to power your lights." He said the nation's electricity came from "centralised carbon intensive, coal-based power stations" which were responsible for emitting over one third of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. Dr Platt added: "For a zero-emission Christmas light show, you may consider using solar powered lights or sourcing your electricity from verified green power suppliers."


Misbehaving police get slaps on the wrist

Senior police are feeling the heat from the Crime and Misconduct Commission over their allegedly light-handed treatment of rogue officers. On eight occasions in the past year, the CMC has taken action in the Misconduct Tribunal against commissioned officers over their findings in disciplinary matters.

In one case, the CMC appealed against a finding by Assistant Commissioner Peter Swindells that excess force allegations brought against a junior officer could not be proved. Constable Patrick Gardiner was accused of slapping, kicking and punching offenders at the Brisbane City Beat Office and the City Botanical Gardens on 14 occasions in 2004. One charge alleged the constable removed the handcuffs from a man in custody and enticed him into a fight. But Mr Swindells found all but one of the allegations were unsubstantiated and did not impose any sanctions on the officer.

The CMC claimed Mr Swindells was wrong to require proof of the charges "to the criminal standard". It also said his decision not to sanction Constable Gardiner was inadequate and failed to "properly reflect the need for deterrence". The case is ongoing.

In another matter, the Misconduct Tribunal upheld part of an appeal by the CMC against Assistant Commissioner George Nolan, in relation to an officer who allegedly failed to abandon a car chase as directed. The CMC took action when Mr Nolan found the charges against Sen-Constable Dennis Martyn should be downgraded from misconduct to breaches of discipline and found claims he lied in interviews with senior police were unsubstantiated.

Three other matters brought by the CMC were abandoned and two more appeals are continuing.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008


$300 million of taxpayer money wasted, for what? They never stood to recoup a fraction of that anyway. The bunglers thought they were Eliot Ness but ended up being revealed as Keystone Kops. But no heads will roll. You can rely on that. Three current articles below

The nation's largest tax fraud inquiry has been dealt a major blow with the repayment by the Australian Taxation Office of about $1 million to one of its main targets - celebrity lawyer Michael Brereton. The backdown comes after authorities spent six years and millions of dollars investigating Mr Brereton, whose clients have included Kylie Minogue, Men At Work and Mushroom Records. Mr Brereton's offshore dealings sparked the $300 million Wickenby investigation into tax fraud, which has so far claimed onlyone high-profile scalp, that of music entrepreneur Glenn Wheatley.

The settlement between the tax office and Mr Brereton, pictured yesterday with the ATO repayment cheque, relates to arrangements the tax office once believed were part of a massive tax fraud involving millions of dollars being sent offshore. Mr Brereton, once accused of tax fraud, remains under investigation by the Australian Crime Commission. However, despite receiving the large refund cheque yesterday from the authorities, he is planning to sue the "oppressive" tax office and the "venomous" ACC over their actions.

In an exclusive interview with The Australian, Mr Brereton revealed that he had moved overseas after being pursued by "overzealous" investigators, who he believed made fundamental mistakes early in the inquiry. "They probably thought I was acting for Philip Egglishaw just because I knew him," Mr Brereton said. Mr Egglishaw is the Swiss accountant who came to attention following a raid on his Melbourne hotel room in February 2004. His firm, Strachans, organised offshore structures for hundreds of Australian clients. The raid was conducted in an attempt to find documents relating to Mr Brereton, but it unexpectedly resulted in a treasure trove of documents found on a laptop computer. Names of Strachans clients such as Wheatley, actor Paul Hogan and his artistic collaborator John Cornell, and of other lawyers, entertainers and high-profile business people and files relating to their business dealings, were on the laptop. Hundreds of Australians - many from the top end of town - were said to have used Strachans to send money offshore to avoid paying tax in Australia, sparking the Wickenby investigation.

A record $300 million in additional funding was given to the tax office, the ACC, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to work together to combat tax fraud and money laundering. But despite the promises so far, the only Strachans client of any note to be charged and jailed is Wheatley, who pleaded guilty last year to tax-related offences.

"I think I was a terribly small fish," Mr Brereton said. "They went around saying I was low-hanging fruit. If I was low-hanging fruit it can't be a very good crop." Mr Brereton has long fought against the authorities who targeted him, and controversial retrospective legislation was even rushed through parliament after he won a crucial court victory against the crime commission. Those amendments to the Crime Commission Act have subsequently been the subject of a Senate inquiry, which has recommended they be repealed. A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus said the Government was still considering the matter and consulting with state agencies, and hoped to have a response early next year.

Mr Brereton has never been charged with any criminal offence, although a crime commission officer recently told the Federal Court during a separate matter that its pre-Wickenby investigation, which relates to Mr Brereton, continues.

The crime commission told The Australian yesterday that it was still pursuing nine people, or groups of people, as part of Wickenby. Mr Brereton has, however, been the subject of three tax office revised assessments. Two have been resolved and one is still being negotiated. "They just knocked out everything I claimed," he said.

Yesterday, Mr Brereton received a cheque for the disputed amount for two of those years, plus interest. "They have now agreed to refund the money plus interest on the judgment, and over time I intend to sue them on other things," he said.

One of the disputes with the tax office related to the musical theatre production Jolson, which Mr Brereton produced. An offshore company, Westminster Finance, provided the finance but Westminster, set up by Strachans, was alleged to have been a front for Mr Brereton. "I am not Westminster," he told The Australian.

Although Mr Brereton's life once consisted of a brilliant legal career, glittering opening nights with celebrity friends such as Hugh Jackman, and sitting on the boards of various charities, the Wickenby investigation has put an end to that. Mr Brereton is hopeful this week's tax office settlement is the end of Wickenby for him. "We have settled with them (the tax office) and the objection was ruled in my favour," he said.

As for criminal charges, Mr Brereton maintains he has done nothing wrong. "You would think if they had something, they would have done something about it," he said. "In reality, I think it's dead. If it's not dead it should be ... I will make it dead in a legal way."

He also pointed out that none of his celebrity clientele was ever charged. "Not one of my clients has been prosecuted in any way as a result of Wickenby, even though they have had the opportunity to go through each and every one of my clients," Mr Brereton said.

Although he has had a victory against the tax office, he is still fighting authorities on other fronts. ASIC recently disqualified him for three years from being a company director. He is appealing that decision in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. "I would be surprised if we don't do well out of that," he said.

Mr Brereton is also appealing the finding that he misappropriated money from his trust fund account. Again, he is confident of a result in his favour. But despite the fighting attitude - and yesterday's cheque - Mr Brereton says the past five years of his life have been destroyed by the Wickenby investigation. "If they wanted to achieve something they have done it; the operation was successful but the patient almost died," he said. "The career of Michael Brereton as it was is no more and can never be. That's a fact and I would be kidding myself if I didn't see that."


Hoges has a win against the bunglers too

The Australian Crime Commission "exercised exorbitant powers" in pursuing actor Paul Hogan, but did not act illegally and its investigative team could remain in place, a judge ruled yesterday. Although Hogan lost his bid in the Federal Court to have the investigators and lawyers removed -- which if successful would have been a blow to the commission -- he did have a win with regards to the legal costs of the wider court battle.

The commission was ordered by judge Arthur Emmett to pay two years of Hogan's legal costs, which, when combined with its own costs, will probably leave it with a bill of about $1 million. The commission also has to pay Hogan's costs for its unsuccessful defence of an application made by The Australian and Fairfax Media to gain access to documents tendered during the court case.

Hogan, his artistic collaborator John Cornell and their financial adviser, Tony Stewart, are being investigated as part of the $300 million tax fraud probe Operation Wickenby. The three deny any wrongdoing. In Hogan's latest round with the commission, he sought to have investigators thrown off his case because they had seen documents they should not have had access to. The commission said Hogan was trying to deliberately derail the investigation, but his lawyers said they were arguing for an important legal right and that the integrity of the Wickenby investigation needed to be preserved.

Hogan first went to court in 2006 after his lawyers discovered documents had been seized without their client's knowledge from accounting firm Ernst & Young. Hogan's lawyers argued that the commission should not have been using these documents because they were subject to legal professional privilege -- that is, they contained legal advice. The commission spent two years arguing in court that the documents were used to further a crime (tax fraud) and therefore privilege did not exist. But then it mysteriously abandoned these claims in July. The documents have been returned to Hogan, and the commission has destroyed its copies.

Justice Emmett said yesterday the commission had not acted illegally or with any impropriety. "While the commission has exercised exorbitant powers conferred by the (Australian Crime) Commission Act, which override the rights of private individuals to privacy in relation to their own affairs, the commission has not exceeded its powers," he said. The disputed documents contributed to a general knowledge of Hogan's and Stewart's affairs, the judge found, but any advantage gained in seeing them was "ephemeral in the extreme".

The decision by the commission to abandon its case against Hogan "could, in some circumstance, give rise to the inference that the commission acted unreasonably in disputing Mr Hogan's claim to legal professional privilege in the first place", Justice Emmett said, but he ruled that that inference should not be drawn in this case.


The spooks and the immigration authorities should talk to one-another

That seems to be the main conclusion of a just released official report into another big official bungle. ASIO is Australia's "intelligence" (stupidity?) organization, similar to the CIA

The judicial inquiry into the bungled arrest of Mohamed Haneef on terrorism charges has found he should not have been charged and has recommended sweeping changes to the Australian Federal Police, immigration intelligence and the nation's anti-terrorism laws. The inquiry also found it would have been "prudent" to defer the cancellation of Dr Haneef's visa and his deportation.

The report, which is yet to be released, is critical of the prosecution case against Dr Haneef, identifies failures of criminal intelligence, and recommends a standing review of the anti-terrorism laws and sweeping controls for the AFP and the intelligence services in relation to immigration. But the report, commissioned by the Rudd Government, has cleared the Howard government of any improper behaviour, conspiracy or political motivation in ordering the detention and later deportation of the Indian doctor from the Gold Coast in July last year.

While finding flaws in the actions of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, the former immigration minister Kevin Andrews, the Department of Immigration and the AFP, the report finds there was no conspiracy nor political motivation in the decision to cancel Dr Haneef's Australian work visa and send him back to India after the terrorism charges against him were dropped. The report concludes there was insufficient evidence for the CDPP to lay charges against Dr Haneef in the first place.

Former NSW Supreme Court judge John Clarke QC, who chaired the inquiry, has found there should be clearer guidelines for laying terrorism charges, more co-operation between the police and intelligence agencies, direct ASIO advice to the immigration minister on deportation cases and a standing review of the terrorism laws and federal police. Mr Clarke's report is expected to be released this week, with the departments and agencies involved having already received their copies.

While making a key finding that charges should not have been laid against Dr Haneef on the evidence available, the Clarke inquiry recommends the anti-terrorism laws should be clarified on the issue of how charges should be laid. In what official sources described yesterday as a "forensic" and exhaustive inquiry, Mr Clarke recommends changes to the "silo" approach by the AFP and ASIO, suggesting a full-time co-ordinating body for intelligence, and effectively making his style of inquiry permanent to oversee the anti-terror laws and their application. Government spokesmen refused to comment on the Clarke report yesterday.

Mr Clarke finds Mr Andrews did not reflect deeply enough on the Immigation Department's advice about Dr Haneef, but finds he was never given ASIO's report on the case by his department. Another key recommendation is that ASIO advice on deportation cases should go to the minister for consideration before they exercise ministerial discretion in ordering a deportation.

Mr Andrews was roundly criticised last year for his decision to detain and then deport Dr Haneef, "in the national interest", after the terrorism charges against the doctor were dropped. The Howard government was accused of racism and scaremongering over the case.

More here

New Zealand doctors flown in to fill Queensland hospital staff shortages

Where is all that wonderful government "planning". Last minute patch-ups is more like it.

FLY-IN, fly-out doctors from New Zealand and interstate are filling staff shortages in Queensland's public hospital system, paid at a premium. At least nine of the state's public hospitals have employed NZ doctors on a fly-in, fly-out basis in the past year, mostly to fill vacancies in obstetrics and gynaecology, emergency medicine and anaesthetics. Australian Medical Association Queensland president-elect Mason Stevenson said the doctors were paid premiums of up to 50 per cent more than permanent specialists of similar experience. "This actually creates a certain discontent amongst doctors working very hard in the public hospital system when they do work side by side with the fly-in, fly-out locum doctors from overseas who are being paid substantially in excess for doing exactly the same work," he said. But he said fly-in, fly-out specialists were a necessary "Band-Aid solution" to stop Queensland public hospital waiting lists becoming intolerable.

Bundaberg Hospital has had four fly-in, fly-out doctors from NZ acting as its emergency medicine director in the past year, each working for 10 days a month. However, a permanent director will take up the position in February. The hospital has also employed a NZ anaesthetist on four occasions, for about a week at a time, in the past 12 months.

Queensland Health deputy director-general of policy, planning and resourcing, Andrew Wilson, said fly-in, fly-out doctors were only employed as temporary locums to fill staffing shortages. All were suitably registered to work in Australia. "They are employed to fill critical vacancies on a temporary basis while recruitment efforts are under way," Dr Wilson said. "Queensland Health does not have any services or facilities staffed on an ongoing fly-in, fly-out basis." Besides Bundaberg, affected hospitals include Caboolture, Redcliffe, Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Clermont, Mackay, Nambour and Caloundra.

Sylvia Andrew-Starkey, of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, said Queensland Health also employed interstate doctors on a fly-in, fly-out basis to fill senior emergency department positions throughout the state. "I know that Hervey Bay, Bundaberg and Rockhampton are relying on interstate people," she said. Dr Stevenson said the practice was expected to continue for another five to 10 years until recent medical graduates were able to fill specialist shortages. Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson could not be contacted yesterday for comment.


Muddle-headed greens see themselves starring in a Thoreauvian romance

Our age presents itself as a historical hall of mirrors. Every new turning reminds us disconcertingly of somewhere we've been before. New songs on the radio have the obscure savour of melodies from times past; new movies seem to reproduce older ones, like ghostly tableaux vivants. No wonder young people often seem nostalgic for the blurred images of movements that expired long before they were born. After all, they're staggering into this mirror maze unaided. So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the grand spectacle of outrage last week against the Rudd Government's emissions trading scheme white paper had such a familiar appearance.

Uni students in dreadlocks and cheesecloth sandbagged ministers' electorate offices, as if miming the apocalyptic imagery of the unilateral disarmament movement in the death throes of the Cold War. Green leaders called for a human chain to surround Parliament House for the first sitting day of 2009 as if, like those yippies and hippies who encircled the Pentagon 40 years ago, they might cause it to levitate by collectively incanting the word om.

Most strikingly of all, green groups called for a national campaign of civil disobedience, roughly after the manner prescribed by the earliest hippie of them all, 19th-century American solitary sojourner Henry David Thoreau. Like their orange boiler-suited colleagues in Europe, activists plan to shackle themselves to existing power plants or disrupt the building of newones. Then, like the sage of Walden Pond, they can act out the belief that, under an unjust government, "the true place for a just man is also a prison".

Green groups have been channelling the spirit of Thoreau for some time. In September the inimitable Al Gore made headlines by calling for Thoreauian civil disobedience on a global scale. Why, if only he were young again, he told us, he'd be chaining himself to coal-fired power plants, too. Greenpeace's Indian division, inevitably, has invoked the spirit of Mohandas Gandhi, the most famous of Thoreau's acolytes and a well-known enemy to all types of industry.

Now Greenpeace Australia's climate change campaign co-ordinator tells us that, by lamentably failing the planet on climate change, Kevin Rudd has sent conscientious activists everywhere "a clear signal that our political system is not up to the task". This means "people who are demanding action on climate change have little choice but to take matters into their own hands". Thoreau and Gandhi all rolled into one.

No doubt, if you're caught up in our hall of historical mirrors, it's gratifying to gaze into the glass and see in your reflection the image of those noble souls who ended the slave trade in the 1830s, opposed chattel slavery in the decades leading up to the American Civil War or brought down the Goliath of British colonialism. The problem with channelling the past in this purely intuitive way, though, is we necessarily do so through the distorting glass of our imaginations.

For Thoreau, my ineffable human conscience is always the most important thing, and I'm not fully human until I choose freely to express it in all of my deeds and words. However, the mass of men, being mere dutiful citizens, are not like this. Because they refrain from freely exercising their moral sense and subsume their will to the wishes of the magistrate, "they have the same sort of worth only as horses or dogs". At the same time, Thoreau insisted, any and every man could experience this special insight themselves, would they but take the time. Just exile yourself to a lonely pond and the essential truths of life will unfold. This spiritual vocabulary is still alive in the grand oratory of climate change. Simplicity v excess. Purity v impurity and cleanliness v dirt. The moral integrity of the individual v the snares and wiles of the wicked world.

Yet the Thoreauian analogy works only up to a point. You can look into your heart and see that the slave trade and chattel slavery are offences against human nature simply because we're all humans and our god (whichever they may be) has decreed us all to be free and equal. Yet like most Australians, I expect, I have no capacity to judge the scientific debates on climate change and its causes in any fashion that would satisfy my inner voice. In practice, I'm forced to rely on my commonsense intuition that so many scientists and public authorities wouldn't be expending so much time and money on the issue unless they were sincerely worried about something. In Thoreau's terms, I'm forced to subordinate the call of my conscience to the expertise of others, like it or not.

None of the alternatives to this posture are particularly credible. You can lapse into a kind of political mysticism, according to which the voice of Gaia somehow speaks through you, regardless of your personal competence. Or else you can simply echo the instincts of others around you who happen to think and dress much as you do, who have the same tastes in interior furnishings and who choose to live in the same neighbourhoods. But that's hardly an expression of individuality.

In the end, the most troubling aspect of the bluster on climate change policy is that, in its implausible claim to have some private access to the truth, it devalues the currency of truth altogether. Perhaps the most striking table in the white paper is the one that compares emission projections with projections for population growth. If that table is correct, the Government's 5 per cent to 15 per cent targeted reductions are broadly in line with those of the European Union and significantly in advance of the promises of president-elect Barack Obama. I have no idea whether the data in that table is reliable. But I haven't yet seen any of those uttering howls of outrage contesting it.

As it happens, Greenpeace recently commissioned its own proposal for a global energy revolution. Figure seven of the document's executive summary compares energy output from different sources, if Greenpeace's own recommendations are accepted. On these figures, renewable energy sources would almost double as a percentage of output between 2005 and 2020. But coal-fired power output (now with capture and storage, presumably) would stay more or less constant. This sounds plausible but also rather spiritually unsatisfying.

And it's hard to see how exactly it can be reconciled with Greenpeace's other call, the one that asks for a new generation of Thoreaus to chain themselves to the gates of the world's coal-fired power stations. Before they stride out on their private journeys to Walden Pond, I'd suggest those earnest, idealistic young folks prepare themselves a few packed lunches.


Vouchers can boost university student numbers, says official report

This is not vouchers as libertarians usually conceive it. It is just a proposal to give students a wider choice of which government university they attend

Vouchers could give universities the incentive they needed to lift student numbers towards ambitious targets set by the Bradley higher education report. "Scale will suddenly become a positive option and that will drive increased participation rates," according to Simon Marginson of the University of Melbourne. He said deregulation of student volumes, a key proposal in the Bradley report, which will be presented formally today to federal Education Minister Julia Gillard, would offer universities a new incentive to expand, thereby boosting participation rates.

The review, led by former University of South Australia vice-chancellor Denise Bradley, warns that Australia is falling behind in higher education and needs to train and educate more young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to secure future prosperity and wellbeing. "It's not just about universities. This is an absolutely critical economic and social issue for this country," Professor Bradley told the HES. Her report says that by 2020, 40 per cent of those aged between 25 and 34 should have at least a bachelors degree. The present figure is 29per cent. "It's quite a big increase; it would need to come from a mix of improving completion rates and increasing the numbers coming in," Professor Bradley said.

Monash University's vice-chancellor Richard Larkins said he would welcome a system driven more by student demand. "Universities would like more flexibility in relation to the number of students and the distributions between courses," Professor Larkins said. But he and Professor Marginson agreed this reform would put pressure on rural and regional universities.

National Union of Students president Angus McFarland worried there would be a "massive increase" in popular courses, such as law and accounting, at the expense of the student experience and subjects such as education, maths, science and languages. But Andrew Norton, from the Centre for Independent Studies, doubted that deregulation of student places alone would make much difference, given that many universities made a loss on so-called commonwealth-supported places. "The huge weakness in the report is the lack of attention to the issue of pricing places," Mr Norton said.

The report says there is "no general case" to boost investment by increasing the student contribution, a view applauded as a "HECS freeze" by MrMcFarland. He also welcomed a liberalisation of student income support, eliminating the so-called "gap year rort" and targeting payments at needier students.

The report urges creation of a super-regulator for higher and vocational education. This independent national agency would oversee accreditation, carry out quality audits and offer advice to the minister. Universities Australia chief executive Glenn Withers said he wanted to see the detail but it might be "jumping a bit too far too fast" to create such an agency. The report notes state opposition to a national agency but makes a case based on complaints of inconsistency, overlap, complexity and delay caused by a mishmash of state and federal regulation.

University of Melbourne higher education expert Lynn Meek said Australia was too small to justify so many "tertiary education fiefdoms" but he wondered whether the national agency would become just another force for bureaucratic conformity.

Cengage Education general manager Alan Bowen-James said Australia urgently needed a national regime of accreditation and quality control to succeed in a much tougher, more discerning international market. "It will be only a few years before Australian students will be competing for places in Chinese universities," he said. "They are racing ahead in terms of their standards and their investment in education."

Although largely deferring on research to the Cutler innovation review, the Bradley report urged a $300million annual boost in the Research Infrastructure Block Grants program, increasing the contribution for indirect costs from 20c to 50c in the dollar. "This is a very positive step towards the full costing of research by arguably the simplest mechanism available," said Merlin Crossley, acting deputy vice-chancellor for research at the University of Sydney. He welcomed a proposal to increase the postgraduate award stipend to $25,000 and extend the term to four years.

The Bradley report justifies a boost in RIBG money partly to stop teaching funds being taken to pay for indirect research costs. This tendency had helped blow out student-staff ratios and affected the quality of the student experience. Professor Bradley told the HES that students had an "is there anyone there?" feeling. "Students don't necessarily want face-to-face contact but they do want personal attention," she said.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Stupid Leftist Federal government aims to make accommodation for the poor harder to find

More of those "unintended" consequences of Leftist policy. Sounding good is really all that matters to them. Too bad if the results are the opposite of what is intended. The big bugbear for people providing rental accommodation to the poor is bad tenants. So making it harder to get rid of bad tenants will simply drive more landlords out of the business of providing such accommodation and thus reduce the supply. I used to be a provider of such accommodation myself but when difficult tenants got too much for me, I sold all my houses to owner-occupiers. If ratbag Rudd really wanted to help the decent poor he would make evictions EASIER

Landlords could find it harder to evict tenants under a Federal Government plan to halve homelessness by 2020 and better protect lodgers. The Government's $7.3 billion package also includes a brokerage fund to provide mortgage top-ups and extra security for victims of domestic violence.

The joint Commonwealth-state Road Home white paper, released yesterday by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, sets ambitious legislative reforms and interim targets to 2013. It aims to reduce the rate of homelessness in 2013 from 53 to 40 per 10,000; more services and specialist workers. "A country like this should not have this problem. As a nation we can do a lot better than that," Mr Rudd said. About $6.1billion of funding was previously announced but Mr Rudd and the states yesterday pledged an extra $1.2billion over four years - which the Government said would help create up to 10,000 [bureaucrat] jobs.

A key plank is keeping people connected to family networks and in their homes. The Government will review the impact of without-grounds termination clauses on homelessness in state legislation and the lack of legislative protection for boarders and lodgers. Legislation in many states allows landlords to evict tenants even if they have not breached their agreement, which lobby groups argue enables retaliation and discrimination. "Most state and territory tenancy legislation permits without-grounds termination of a tenancy agreement by a landlord," the white paper said. "As a result, a tenant may be legally given notice and forced to leave their rented home through no fault of their own. "In such a circumstance, people become homeless if they are unable to find other housing that is suitable or affordable."

The review has been welcomed by Tenants Union of Queensland co-ordinator Penny Carr, who said without-grounds evictions would remain in new Queensland legislation to be enacted next year. "We think the introduction of just-cause evictions would be a major step forward," Ms Carr said. She denied investors would be markedly impacted by changes.

The Commonwealth and states will also jointly sponsor a brokerage fund to keep victims of domestic violence in their homes. It will help pay for installing deadlocks, screen doors, security lighting and home alarms, plus fund short-term subsidies or mortgage top-ups.


Stressed nurses quit hospitals for prostitution

Exhausted and demoralised nurses would rather work as prostitutes than in Queensland's crumbling hospitals, says one former registered nurse. The mother of two with 10 years' experience as a registered nurse, who wanted to be known only as Jenna, has told how she and at least four of her colleagues have found new jobs working in brothels. "We could no longer work in such an understaffed and stressful environment," she said. "I was overworked, poorly paid and a mistake could have led to charges if I caused a death. "I came to the conclusion the nursing shortage wasn't my problem but it was my responsibility to protect myself from burning out or making a fatal mistake."

Queensland Nurses Union assistant secretary Beth Mohle said the union was aware nurses were leaving the system due to workloads and burnout, and were experiencing record levels of frustration. "A survey of nurses' attitudes undertaken last year found most nurses love nursing but hate their jobs," she said. "There's a tension there that nurses feel they can't deliver the quality of nursing they want to." She said based on population growth projections, Queensland would need an additional 16,000 nurses in the private, public and aged-care sectors by 2014. "Queensland is already behind the rest of Australia in terms of registered nurse numbers and is over-represented in the unlicensed assistant-in-nursing category," Ms Mohle said. "Of the 16,100 nursing assistants in Australia in 2006, Queensland had a massive 7300, or nearly 50 per cent. This points to a serious skill mix problem, as well as a numerical problem, within the Queensland nursing workforce." The QNU survey also found 45 per cent of nurses had experienced workplace violence, which is more prevalent in the public and aged-care sectors than in the private sector.

Jenna said violence was more of a concern in hospitals than in the sex industry. "The security (at the brothel) is wonderful. We have buzzers in our room, there are bracelets we can request if you have a client you're a bit suspicious of." Jenna said she had gone to great lengths to hide her new occupation from her family. "I wear my nurse's uniform to work, I carry my hospital ID. But when I get to work I change. There's a couple of others who do the same," she said.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said it was disappointing some nurses were seeking alternative careers. "Queensland nurses are now among the highest paid in Australia, having benefited from a 26 per cent wage increase since 2006," he said. "This is one of the factors which has helped us to recruit an extra 5834 nurses since June 2005."

Jenna highlighted the "tiny tea-rooms" for nurses and the lack of recognition they received. "After the Bali bomb blasts, the burns unit of the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital treated many additional patients. At the end, the doctor was given an award. The nurses got nothing," she said. She also revealed how doctors at the RBWH referred to nurses as "Libra fleurs" - because they believed the floral tops of their uniforms resembled tampon boxes.

But Mr Robertson said the Government had created a "safe and supporting working environment for nurses". "We'll continue to work ... to ensure we have a strong nursing workforce, equipped to give Queenslanders the first-class health care they expect and deserve," he said.


Consumers given faulty phone advice by government consumer advisers

One in every 10 consumers seeking help over the telephone from the Office of Fair Trading in the past year was given the wrong advice, according to the latest audit of the Government department, while customer satisfaction has dipped to a five-year low. The 2008 NSW Auditor-General's report has attributed the poor result to longer waiting times and insufficient staff knowledge and notes that the department is working on strategies to lift its game. Detailed results published in the NSW Department of Commerce's annual report also show that although Fair Trading exceeded its targets for resolving complaints and successful prosecutions in 2007-08, overall the number of successful prosecutions was down 3 percentage points from the previous year, while 10 per cent of callers had received inaccurate advice.

The results come as the consumer advocate group Choice released its report cards on 12 key federal and state consumer protection agencies, none of which managed to achieve a performance level higher than adequate. NSW Fair Trading, along with its Victorian, Queensland and West Australian equivalents, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, were among those regulators which scraped through with a pass, while the remaining state and territory consumer affairs bodies were below standard or unacceptable. Although analysed as part of the study, the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Australian Communications and Media Authority were not given a ranking, due to insufficient data.

Choice's policy director, Gordon Renouf, said he hoped the forthright analysis would encourage consumer protection regulators to improve their planning, consultation, enforcement and transparency. "Consumer protection laws exist to ensure markets operate fairly but they will not achieve their purpose unless they are effectively enforced," he said. "Our report shows regulators have different strengths and weaknesses but none is meeting good practice across the board."

The NSW Minister for Fair Trading, Virginia Judge, argued that NSW was leading the charge in enforcing fair trading laws. Although down on last year's figures, Fair Trading had pursued criminal prosecutions involving 605 offences and won 92 per cent of those cases, with fines and penalties of more than $1.2 million, she said. "Strong compliance and enforcement activities act as a deterrent against repeat offenders," Ms Judge said in a statement. The minister said that she had nevertheless ordered an immediate review of the department in light of the Auditor-General's findings. "I'm disappointed, I'm not going to gloss over it." She said that a raft of training programs would be implemented for departmental staff early in the new year.

The Opposition spokeswoman on fair trading, Catherine Cusack, said she was alarmed but not surprised by the surge in dissatisfaction from the public. She said 2008 had been "an utterly inglorious year for NSW Fair Trading and its former minister, Linda Burney, whose mishandling of Beechwood typified the avalanche of incorrect advice to consumers". She urged the Premier, Nathan Rees, "to pay closer attention to the current minister, Virginia Judge".


Australia's proposed Warmist laws a big pain for little gain

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model of dangerous, human-caused climate change has failed. Independent science relevant to supposed human-caused global warming is clear, and can be summarised in four briefpoints.

* First, global temperature warmed slightly in the late 20th century and has been cooling since 2002. Neither the warming nor the cooling were of unusual rate or magnitude.

* Second, humans have an effect on local climate but, despite the expenditure of more than $US50 billion ($70 billion) looking for it since 1990, no globally summed human effect has ever been measured. Therefore, any human signal must lie buried in the variability of the natural climate system.

* Third, we live on a dynamic planet; change occurs in Earth's geosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and oceans all the time and all over the world. No substantive evidence exists that modern rates of global environmental change (ice volume; sea level) lie outside historic natural bounds.

* Last, cutting carbon dioxide emissions, be it in Australia or worldwide, will likely result in no measurable change in future climate, because extra increments of atmospheric CO2 cause diminishing warming for each unit of increase; at most, a few tenths of a degree of extra warming would result from a completion of doubling of CO2 since pre-industrial times.

These facts notwithstanding, the Rudd Government is poised to introduce a CO2 taxation bill on doubly spurious grounds. It presumes, first, that dangerous warming caused by human emissions is occurring, or will shortly occur. And, second, that cuts to emissions will prevent significant amounts of future warming. There is, therefore, now a dramatic disjunction between scientific reality and the stranglehold that global warming alarmism has on planned Australian climate policy. Today's public views about climate change are based upon 20 years of promulgation of dangerous global warming by what has become a hugely powerful coalition of self-interested groups and agencies.

Beneficiaries of warming alarmism include individual scientists, managers of research centres, morally pretentious environmental non-government organisations, prestigious science academies and societies, bureaucrats from government greenhouse and climate agencies, big businesses poised for carbon trading (think Enron and Lehman Brothers), alternative energy providers, those in the media who remorselessly promulgate environmental alarm stories, and, last but not least, those uninformed politicians who seek political advantage from cynical exploitation of the public's fear of global warming.

The Australian Government does not possess a national climate policy; instead, it has an imaginary global warming policy, based on sub-prime science, sub-prime economics and sub-prime politics. In dealing with the certainties and uncertainties of real climate change, the key issues are prudent risk assessment and adaptive response. As is the case for other unpredictable and unpreventable natural planetary hazards, policy to deal with climate change should be based on adaptation to change as it happens, including the appropriate mitigation of undesirable socioeconomic and environmental effects. We therefore need, first, to monitor climate change accurately in an ongoing way; and, second, to respond and adapt to any changes -- including long-term warmings, the likely more damaging coolings, and severe weather or climatic events such as cyclones -- in the same way that government and voluntary disaster services now deal with hazardous natural events such as bushfires, droughts and floods.

The main certainty is that natural climate change and variation are going to continue, and that some manifestations -- droughts, storms and sea-level change, for example -- will be expensive to adapt to. Adaptation will not be aided by imprudent restructuring of Australia's energy economy in pursuit of the chimera of "stopping" an alleged dangerous human-caused global warming that can neither be demonstrated nor measured. In reality, too, our lack of understanding of all the climatic feedback loops is such that cutting CO2 emissions is as likely to "harm" as to "help" future climate.

New Zealand already has a national monitoring and response system in place for earthquake, volcanic and flood disasters (GeoNet). This is linked, appropriately, to a parallel compensation and insurance system that recompenses victims of natural disaster (the Earthquake Commission). Even if generous funding were to be provided in Australia towards a similar preparation for climatic disasters (of which drought and flood relief are part), the net cost would still be orders of magnitude less than will be engendered by a fundamentally misconceived emissions trading scheme. To boot, contingent damage to the economy, the standard of living and the world food supply would be avoided.

Attempting to "stop global warming" by limiting CO2 emissions is simply an arcadian fantasy, since making deep cuts to Australia's emissions would at best help to avert or delay warming by about a miniscule one-thousandth of a degree. Australia needs a national climate policy that is rooted in sound science, sensible precaution, prudent risk assessment, and efficient and effective disaster relief. Lacking all such elements, the Australian Government's global warming policy fails the basic test of duty to care for the citizenry.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Claims of public hospital cover-up after fall from surgery table

The NSW Health Minister has ordered an investigation into claims of a cover-up at a Sydney hospital, where a woman had part of her intestine removed without her knowledge. Rachel Hale arrived at Campbelltown Hospital on December 12 expecting routine surgery to have her appendix removed. When she woke up, she was told part of her bowel had also been removed, because "a lump" was detected. But hospital insiders allege Mrs Hale's bowel was ruptured because she fell from the operating table while under general anaesthetic just prior to the operation. They allege the fall also caused a minor head injury. The insiders claim there were no staff in the operating theatre when she fell. They allege Mrs Hale was told "a pack of lies" by hospital officials to conceal the truth.

It is alleged that once she was anaesthetised, a doctor and nurse left her unattended to work on another patient elsewhere in the hospital. When staff re-entered the room, it is alleged they found Mrs Hale hanging head first because her feet had been strapped to the table. When she hit the floor, a trocar - a hollow sharp cylinder used to introduce cannulas into blood vessels - that was inserted in her side had sliced through her bowel. A source said: "It could so easily have killed her. "They had to open her belly up, remove the section of perforated bowel then stitch her back up and rush her to intensive care." Mrs Hale spent five days in hospital.

The Sun-Herald was told an internal critical incident report was compiled hours after the surgery, which stated Mrs Hale's injuries were sustained because she was left "unattended." On December 19, the same day The Sun-Herald began making inquiries, NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca was briefed that no such report existed. The hospital then told the minister, that same day, the report had just been compiled - a week after the incident.

Mrs Hale said she was seeking legal advice. "This is absolutely not what they told me," she said. "I was there because my appendix needed removing immediately. When I woke up, they said there had been 'complications'. They said part of my bowel had been removed because they discovered a small lump. They added it had been sent to a pathologist and it came back fine. I had a bump on my head. They said I hit that on a control panel." Mrs Hale said she wanted the truth. "I need to know what the lasting implications are and how this is likely to affect the rest of my life."

Hospital insiders said they chose to speak out because Campbelltown Hospital was providing the same "sub-standard care" that in 2003 had sparked the state's largest inquiry into patient care and safety standards. "It's become routine practice to leave anaesthetised patients unattended and to cover up negligence using any means necessary," the source said. Royal Australasian College of Surgeons executive director Dr John Quinn said: "I find the episode you are recounting almost non-tenable. Patients in a hospital operating theatre, who are given a general anaesthetic, are not left unattended. It just shouldn't occur."

Australian medical experts meanwhile have cast doubt on the hospital's version of events. Cancer Institute NSW head Jim Bishop said for a complex operation involving the removal of bowel cancer, it would be "very unusual" not to gain the patient's consent first. Professor Bishop said it was common practice for doctors to first perform scans, biopsies and follow-up tests to see whether the cancer had spread and if so, how far. Director of Research at the Sydney Cancer Centre, Bruce Armstrong said: "Best practice would generally be to seek formal consent, from the patient . to inform them of what was found and to conduct further investigations."

Medical Error Action Group spokeswoman Lorraine Long said: "Doctors and nurses are swamping our hotline with stories of negligence that make you want to cry." Mr Della Bosca said the incident was being fully investigated. "If the family has concerns, we would urge them to contact the Health Care Complaints Commission. Alternatively, they can contact my office." Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said: "This is one of the worse examples of patient care. To claim an internal report wasn't compiled until a week later is suspicious, to say the least."


Farmers reject Warmism

They KNOW climate

Many farmers in central Victoria are sceptical that global warming is real, despite the scientific evidence and the world-wide push for a carbon trading scheme.

Hot air hitting the dusty road ahead of Tom Lucas' farm resembles a dirty big puddle, which pools across the dividing line. Far beyond Mr Lucas' stunted wheat crops, soaked by an ill-timed wash of summer rain, the Prime Minister is calling climate change "an inconvenient truth" we can no longer ignore. Eight in 10 Australians believe urgent action is needed to save the planet, according to polls, and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong says Australians have "had enough of the denial and scepticism of the past".

But across the dry paddocks of central Victoria, they are not so sure. "I think it's rot," says Mr Lucas, 72, a mixed farmer north of Bendigo. He stretches his worn hands over a home-made rainfall graph, pointing to the regular cycles of peaks and troughs on his Bridgewater farm since 1962. "It'll be OK," he says. "I think when we go back to a cycle of a few good years, everybody will forget about climate change and say: 'What was all that about?"'

There is a city-country divide on global warming. The Government's carbon emissions trading scheme was denounced by environmentalists, who said that if it was adopted globally it would guarantee the loss of the Great Barrier Reef and the Kakadu wetlands. But out here, many farmers denounce "scaremongers" and ridicule activists such as former US vice-president Al Gore. A new qualitative study of 36 landholders in the north-central catchment area, north and south of Bendigo, found that about half did not believe climate change was real. Many landholders pointed to past droughts and wet periods as proof the current dry spell was part of a natural cycle.

"A lot of them are experiencing a change in the climate and are quite happy to talk about seasons of change - such as having more summer rain and less spring rain. But the term 'climate change' has such loaded meaning for them," says the study's co-ordinator, Dr Rik Thwaites, of Charles Sturt University's Institute for Land, Water and Society.

In Bridgewater, Mr Lucas' neighbour, Andrew Broad, who is vice-president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, likens climate change to the emperor's new clothes. The farmers' group says the Federal Government's new 5 per cent emissions reduction target, which exempts agriculture until 2015, will indirectly hurt farmers by raising costs such as energy. "For Kevin Rudd to say if we don't introduce a carbon trading scheme, the Great Barrier Reef will be bleached and Kakadu lost, and for the electorate to believe it, is surprising," he says. "In Australia, it's almost blind acceptance that this is happening."

At Bendigo's sheep sales, stock and station agent Luke Nevins says the divide between the big city and the bush on climate change is staggering. Bagshot sheep farmer John Vincent, 83 - who recalls how the 1940s' summer dust storms were so dense you couldn't see across the road - reckons the climate will right itself within a year. Newly married Ryan Doak, 23, who works his father's mixed farm in Axedale, east of Bendigo, has not lived nearly so long but is no less passionate. "There's been droughts for the past 150 years; it's just a part of life. I reckon climate change is bull----. I think there's too many greenies out there getting into the Government's ear."

Dr Thwaites says talk of a two-degree average warming across the globe has no meaning for farmers. "You've got to understand how conservative these people are, and that the political baggage of climate change over the years doesn't just melt away overnight. They look at their own patterns and own records and they can't see the trends - maybe because they don't want to see trends," he says. "One farmer told me, 'If I believed it wasn't going to get any better, I'd slash my wrists'. Some are being driven not to believe because they think it means things will get worse and worse, whereas the reality is there will continue to be wet and dry years. But the modelling of climate change suggests the dry years might be dryer and more common."

Non-believers were also more confident in their ability to adapt to a dry climate through techniques such as direct-drilling crops, reducing livestock numbers and growing fodder crops such as lucerne. "There are plenty of people who don't believe in climate change who have managed to respond quite well," says Dr Thwaites.

By the roadside at Dingee, north of Bendigo, grain grower Colin Falls says his philosophy is to "live like today is your last day but farm like you're gonna farm forever". He has switched to sowing fields of wheat and lucerne over more spring rain-dependent crops such as canola. Excess grain is stored within the tall silos he started installing in 2000, to keep stock in reserve for lean years. "I believe God created the earth and one day he's going to let it crash and burn," he says. "I don't think there's anything man can do to control the climate, but you can adapt to it." He gestures from one side of the road to the other. "Country people see it this side and city people see it this side, and there's got to be a balance in between. In the country you're more aware of the earth because it's more than concrete, roads, pollution and noise. Farming is about extremes. We are probably sceptical about climate change because we are used to adapting to seasonal conditions."

And yet, there are signs of change. Bridgewater mixed farmer Chris Pollock says blossoms have started reappearing on the yellow box trees throughout his 647 hectares. He believes the drought is part of a 50-year cycle and doubts humans are to blame for climate change, but admits "something is happening" that he can't explain. "If you asked me 10 years ago about climate change, I would have told you it was bunkum. Five years ago I would have said it was bull----." And now? "You can't say no, can you. I can't farm as I did 10 years ago when I was certain it was going to rain. I used to use the spring flush to finish the feeding of my lambs and now I can't, so I'm lambing earlier."

Climate change was the feature exhibit at this year's Elmore Field Days, north of Bendigo, complete with school kids offering to calculate visitors' carbon emissions at the door - until one farmer told a year 3 student to "f--- off".

Field days treasurer Frank Harney - who last week housed a new load of 10-week-old piglets in RSPCA-accredited eco-shelters next to his grain crops - says farmers should see the opportunities offered up by climate change, such as potentially earning credits by sequestering carbon in the soil or by planting trees. "There was one bloke on the field days committee who helped me put up the sign for the feature and he said, 'You know, I'm dead against this climate change'. And I said, 'It's not about climate change, it's about having an awareness of what's going on in the world around you," Mr Harney says. "They can argue the cyclical thing, but something has changed that's stretching the parameters. Let's accept that and be smart about it. Otherwise you might as well stick your head in the sand and park a bike up your arse."


Warmist laws completely unnecessary

Rudd has failed to see through the vested interests that promote anthropogenic global warming (AGW), the theory that human emissions of carbon cause global warming. Though masquerading as "science based", the promoters of AGW have a medieval outlook and are in fact anti-science. Meanwhile carbon is innocent, and the political class is plunging ahead with making us poorer because they do not understand what science really is or what the real science is.

The Renaissance began when the absolute authority of the church and ancient texts was overthrown. Science then evolved as our most reliable method for acquiring knowledge, free of superstition and political authority. Suppose you wanted to know whether big cannonballs or small cannonballs fell faster. In medieval times you argued theoretically with what could be gleaned from the Bible, the works of Aristotle, or maybe a Papal announcement. In the Renaissance you ignored the authorities and simply dropped cannon balls from a tower and observed what happened - this was science, where empirical evidence trumps theory.

From 1975 to 2001 the global temperature trended up. How do you empirically determine the cause of this global warming? It turns out we can learn a lot simply by observing where the warming occurred: each possible cause of global warming heats the atmosphere differently, heating some parts before others. The pattern of warming is the cause's "signature".

The signature of an increased greenhouse effect consists of two features: a hotspot about 10 km up in the atmosphere over the tropics, and a combination of broad stratospheric cooling and broad tropospheric warming. The signature of ozone depletion consists just of the second feature. These signatures are theoretically derived by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and are integral to our understanding of how the atmosphere works. [1]

We have been observing temperatures in the atmosphere for decades using radiosondes - weather balloons with thermometers that radio back the temperature as the balloon ascends through the atmosphere. The radiosonde measurements for 1979-1999 show broad stratospheric cooling and broad tropospheric warming, but they show no tropical hotspot. Not even a small one. [2]

Empirically, we therefore know that an increased greenhouse effect was not a significant cause of the recent global warming. (Either that or the signatures from the IPCC are wrong, so its climate models and predictions are rubbish anyway.)

Human carbon emissions were occurring at the time but the greenhouse effect did not increase. Therefore human carbon emissions did not increase the greenhouse effect, and did not cause global warming. So AGW is wrong, and carbon is innocent. Suspect exonerated - wrong signature.

Alarmist scientists (supporters of AGW) objected that the radiosonde thermometers were not accurate and maybe the hotspot was there but went undetected. But there were hundreds of radiosondes, so statistically this is unlikely. They have also suggested we ignore the radiosonde thermometers, and use the radiosonde wind measurements instead. When combined with a theory about wind shear they estimated the temperatures on their computers - and say that the results show that we cannot rule out the presence of a hotspot. But thermometers are designed to measure temperature, so it's a bit of a stretch to claim that wind gauges are accidentally better at it. Serious alarmist scientists do not claim that the hotspot was found, only that we might have missed it. The obvious conclusion is that the hotspot was too weak to be easily detected. We cannot collect any more data from the past warming, and there is no sign of the hotspot in the data that was collected - so the occasional claims that appear on the Internet that the hotspot has been found are simply wrong. [3]

So can we tell from the observed warming pattern what did cause the global warming? Unfortunately we have little idea of the signatures of some of the suspects, such as cosmic rays or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, so we cannot say except to note that ozone depletion was one of the causes.

Is there any observational evidence in favor of AGW? As of 2003, none at all.

The only supporting evidence for AGW was the old ice core data. The old ice core data, gathered from 1985, showed that in the past half million years, through several global warmings and coolings, the earth's temperature and atmospheric carbon levels rose and fell in lockstep. AGW was coming into vogue in the 1980s, so it was widely assumed that it was the carbon changes causing the temperature changes.

By the late 1990s ice core techniques had improved. In the old ice cores the data points were a few thousand years apart, but in the new ice core data they were only a few hundred years apart. In the early 1990s, New Scientist magazine anticipated that the higher-resolution data would seal the case for AGW.

But the opposite occurred. By 2003 it had been established to everyone's satisfaction that temperature changes preceded corresponding carbon changes by an average of 800 years: so temperature changes caused carbon changes - a warmer ocean supports more carbon in the atmosphere, after delays due to mixing. [4] So the ice core data no longer supported AGW. The alarmists failed to effectively notify the public.

After several prominent public claims by skeptics in 2008 that there is no evidence left for AGW, alarmist scientists offered only two points.

First, laboratory tests prove that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. But that observation tells us nothing about how much the global temperature changes if extra carbon enters the real, complicated atmosphere. Every emitted carbon atom raises the global temperature, but the missing hotspot shows that the effect is negligible.

Second, computer models. Computer models are just huge concatenations of calculations that, individually, could have been performed on a handheld calculator. They are theory, not evidence.

Governments have spent over $50 billion on climate research since 1990, and we have not found any actual evidence for AGW. [5]

So if there is no evidence to support AGW, and the missing hotspot shows that AGW is wrong, why does most of the world still believe in AGW?

Part of the answer is that science changed direction after a large constituency of vested interests had invested in AGW. The old ice core data provided support from 1985, the IPCC was established by the UN in 1988 to look into human changes to climate, and the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997 to limit carbon emissions. By 1999 the western political class were doing something, the western media were rallying behind "saving the planet", and scientists were being paid by governments to research the effects of human-caused global warming.

But then the evidence took science off in a different direction: the new ice core data in 2003, the missing hotspot in 2007, and the global temperature has stopped trending up since 2001 [6]. Governments, the media, and many scientists did not notice.

The remainder of the answer for the current belief in AGW is darker and more political. An offbeat theory in the 1970s, AGW was adopted by a group of about 45 atmospheric modelers and physicists. That group dominated climate science journals, peer reviewed each others papers, and hindered competing ideas by underhand methods [7]. AGW gained political support from proponents of nuclear power, and vice-president Gore appointed AGW supporters to science positions in the USA.

AGW grabbed control of climate funding in key western countries. Lack of diversity in science funding has been a major problem since government took over funding science in WWII. Science is like a courtroom - protagonists put forward their best cases, and out of the argument some truth emerges. But if only one side is funded and heard, then truth tends not to emerge. This happened in climate science, which is almost completely government funded and has been dominated by AGW for two decades. Skeptics are mainly scientists who are retired or who have moved on to other areas - their funding no longer depends on allegiance to AGW. The alarmists are full time, well funded, and hog the megaphone.

AGW was always promoted as being supported by nearly all scientists (though polls and history do not support this). Counting numbers of supporters and creating a bandwagon effect by announcing you are in the majority is a political tactic.

AGW always advanced principally by political means; as a scientific theory it was always weak, and now the evidence contradicts it. It's like a return to medieval times, where authority rules and evidence is ignored. Notice how the proponents of AGW don't want to talk about evidence of the causes? Anything but evidence of cause - attack people's motives, someone else "has the evidence", theoretical models, evidence that global warming is occurring, how important they are, what credentials they have, how worthy they are, the dog ate my evidence, "the science is settled", polar bears, anything. Talking about the evidence of the cause of global warming does not advance their cause. Politics says AGW is correct; science says it is wrong.

Science demands evidence. Evidence trumps theory, no matter what the political authority of those promoting the theory, even if they dress up in lab coats and have job titles that say "scientist". The hotspot is missing and there is no evidence for AGW. The alarmists cannot ignore this and continue to play political games forever. They are entitled to argue the case for AGW, but they should also acknowledge the evidence and inform the political class that AGW appears to be wrong - even if it means risking their status and their jobs (and yes, we scientists are also people who have kids and mortgages).

There are two central lies in the political promotion of AGW.

The first appears in Gore's movie. He gave the old ice core data as the sole reason for believing AGW (the rest of the movie presents evidence that global warming occurred, a separate issue). He said that increases in carbon caused increases in temperature in the past warming events. But Gore made his movie in 2005, two years after the new ice core data had established the opposite! Gore's weasel words when he introduced that segment show he knew what he was about to say was false. Who would have believed his pitch if he added "and each temperature rise occurred 800 years before the corresponding rise in carbon that caused it"? [8]

The second lie is the hockey stick graph, which presented the last thousand years of global temperature as the flat handle of a hockey stick and the next hundred as the sharply rising blade [9]. The hockey stick graph was heavily promoted by the IPCC in 2001, and the IPCC even adopted it as its logo before it got discredited. It is significant because most non-scientist AGW supporters seem to believe some version of the hockey stick. When the IPCC "scientists" who produced the graph were asked to show their data for past temperatures, they refused (true scientists share data). But one of those scientists was a British academic and subject to the British Freedom of Information Act, and after two years of stonewalling all was revealed. It showed they had grossly skewed the data (even omitting inconvenient data to a folder labeled "Censored"), and that the computer program used to process the data had the hockey stick shape built into it - you could feed it stock market data instead of tree ring data and you would still get a hockey stick! In reality it was warmer in the Middle Ages than today, and there was a mini ice age around 1700 from which we have since been warming ever since. [10] Finally, the sharply rising blade of the hockey stick is contradicted so far by actual temperatures, which from 2001 to 2008 have been flat - something all of the climate models got wrong.

Among non-scientists, AGW appeals strongly to two groups. Those who support big government love the idea of carbon regulations - if you control carbon emissions then you control most human activity. And those who like to feel morally superior to the bulk of their fellow citizens by virtue of a belief (the "warm inner glow" and moral vanity of the politically correct) are firmly attached to AGW. These groups are politically adept, are planning to spend your money and tell you how to eat, travel and how to live, and they are strenuously avoiding the evidence.

The media has avoided presenting information that undermines AGW, until recently. Instead they promoted alarmism, and discredited skeptics as being in the pay of big oil - while giving a free pass to Gore, who made a movie based on an obvious lie then made millions selling carbon offsets. The media is very keen to present evidence that global warming is occurring, but have you noticed how quiet it is on evidence that carbon emissions caused it?

In 2007 almost no one in the west knew that the hotspot was missing, that there was no evidence for AGW, that temperatures had been flat for six years, that the hockey stick was a fraud, or that Al Gore lied when he gave the old ice core data as a reason for blaming carbon. But due to the Internet the public is gradually finding out anyway, which risks further discrediting many media outlets. Why buy a newspaper if it's not going to tell you the actual news?

And as the public become generally aware, what politician is going to risk being so ideologically stupid as to unnecessarily wreck the economy by slashing carbon emissions? Hmmm, Kevin Rudd?


How to get people out of their cars?

As many as 650,000 State Transit commuters were left stranded at bus stops across Sydney last year after about 9300 buses failed to show up. Traffic jams, driver shortages, mechanical faults and industrial action have been blamed. Cancelled services rose 284 per cent in 2007-08 on the previous year, according to figures the Herald obtained from the Ministry of Transport last night. The number of trips cancelled by the 13 private bus companies that service Sydney's fringes fell by only 45 compared with 2006-07; the number of government bus trips cancelled was 9293. Taking into account the average busload of 70, the Herald has calculated that 650,000 people could have been affected. The worst-hit area was around Castle Hill where 4079 buses were cancelled. The Randwick district suffered 2311 cancellations.

In a report, the Independent Transport Safety and Reliability Regulator said it was concerned about the accuracy of the ministry's figures. The Ministry of Transport told the regulator "the increase in cancelled trips can be partly attributed to driver shortages and faults with the steering arm on certain buses". At this time last year, State Transit was forced to pull 300 of its gas-powered Mercedes-Benz buses off the road after cracks were found in the vehicles' steering rods, leading to hundreds of service cancellations a day during the replacement program. In March, faulty handbrakes were replaced on 18 Scania buses after one vehicle rolled on to live railway lines at Epping, narrowly missing a passenger train. In June, drivers boycotted 80 Volvo bendy-buses after the footbrakes on the new vehicles failed in short bursts.

But mechanical difficulties accounted for 30 to 40 per cent of the cancellations, the Herald has been told. The rest are usually the result of services running late. Timetables for dozens of bus routes have not been updated for as long as 10 years, and traffic congestion has become progressively worse. Timetables for services in George Street still say it will take 16 minutes to travel from Railway Square to Circular Quay, even in the worst period of the afternoon peak. But a recent report by the Auditor-General found the average peak-period speed in Sydney streets in the morning had slowed by 4kmh since 2004.

Raul Baonza, bus division secretary of the Rail Tram and Bus Union, said State Transit needed to take a more realistic view of Sydney's congested roads. Increased traffic meant that supposed running times were clearly outdated. Drivers had to take a 30-minute break after five hours but with worsening journey times, the trips before a break or near the end of a shift ended up being cancelled, he said. Increasing official running times would require more buses and drivers to maintain all 99,000 services each week. "If they increase the running time, it will increase their costs," Mr Baonza said.

The chief executive of State Transit, Peter Rowley, said the rise in cancellations was mainly because of mechanical issues and industrial action. "The increase in cancelled services was significantly due to the steering-arm problem last December and the driver flu issue in August."


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Brothers awarded $2.1m after 14 years fight against violent Victorian cops

The appalling Victoria police yet again

It began with the curious incident of the scream in the night - a scream that never happened, as it turns out. It went on to include the breaking of a man's ribs, as well as the dislocation of a frail old woman's shoulder and the smashing of her walking cane - all by police.

Two brothers who have pursued their claims through the Supreme Court for 14 long years had a victory yesterday when Justice Tim Smith awarded them $2.1 million damages following an assault by two officers in a Surrey Hills apartment in 1993. Donald Walker claimed he was assaulted when trying to go to the aid of his mother. She had a muscle-wasting condition that made her wobbly on her feet, and tripped when a police officer shone a torch in her face. When Mr Walker tried to help her, he was put in a headlock and beaten with a baton to force him to the ground. He was left with two broken ribs and extensive bruising.

The judge said Donald and his brother Marcus had shown extraordinary determination in pursuing their claims. "It is plain that the events of that night, and their pursuit of what they see as a just outcome, has dominated their lives for years . They were on a mission." The judge found that police officers Graeme Carter and Mark Sesin lied about the incident. "Both created false accounts of significant parts of their evidence," he said. He accepted the evidence of Carter that this was the most violent incident he had been involved in as a policeman. "But he was either lying or failed to perceive and understand that the violence came overwhelmingly from him and, to a lesser extent, from Sesin."

Donald Walker received $1.2 million for physical and psychological injuries and lost earnings. Marcus Walker, who did not witness the assault but attended shortly afterwards and found his mother and brother injured, received $843,000. The brothers, now 57 and 55, also received $100,000 on behalf of their late mother, Marcia. The payouts may rise even further because Justice Smith said they could put further submissions to him about aggravated and exemplary damages. Victoria Police yesterday said it would consider an appeal. Graeme Carter is a detective senior constable. Sesin left the force a year after the assault.

The incident began just after midnight when police were called to a "domestic". A woman had phoned to say she was concerned about her friend, Ruth Hamm, at Donald Walker's unit. Walker, then an insurance agent, had hosted a party earlier, but it was just the two of them when Constables Carter and Sesin knocked on the door. The police later claimed that a man refused to let them in. They also said they heard screams of distress from a woman.

Constable Carter kicked the door in and pushed Walker against a wall, causing a picture to fall and its glass frame to shatter. Sesin took Ms Hamm into the kitchen and spoke to her. He later claimed she told him that Walker had threatened her with a knife.

Walker's mother Marcia, who lived in an adjoining unit, hobbled in on a walking stick. She was 67 at the time. The police asked her to go outside, but she would not, so Carter approached her and shone a torch in her eyes. Donald Walker told him: "Get that torch out of my mother's eyes". Walker moved towards Carter. Sesin, standing between Walker and Carter, put Walker in a headlock. Walker struggled, striking Sesin in the face.

Sesin hit Walker with his baton and Carter joined in, one of his blows probably fracturing one of Walker's ribs. Walker fell to the ground, where the blows continued. Another of his ribs was fractured, possibly by Carter's knee slamming into his back as he hit the floor. The judge found there had been no scream as the police came to the door, that Ms Hamm did not report a threat with a knife, and that it was Carter who initiated any physical action. He, not Walker, was "extremely violent".


Fatties to use elevators in fire evacuation

THE rising number of fat Australians has forced engineers to revise the policy of not using lifts during building evacuations because of fire. Fire Protection Association spokesman Peter Johnson said the rising number of obese Australians was slowing down fire drill times. There is a danger of larger people falling in stairwells and slowing the progress of other evacuees.

"For more than 30 years we have been told that we should not use lifts when a fire alarm sounds," Johnson said. "Now we have to change people's attitudes so they think of both lifts and stairs as being suitable for evacuation." Lifts are traditionally not used in evacuations due to the risk of breakdowns and exposure to heat and smoke.

Johnson said tests had shown using both stairs and lifts had reduced evacuation times by up to 40 per cent. Well-designed lift wells could also provide good access for firefighters. A study found workers on higher levels were more likely to consider using lifts during emergencies.

Johnson said fire escape standards should also include wider stairwells. More than half of Australians are either overweight or obese according to the latest Bureau of Statistics figures.


Not another railway boondoggle!

John Howard's Alice to Darwin railway was wasteful enough!

An ambitious $59 billion project to link Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney by very fast train is at the top of a Federal Government wish list for road and rail projects. The proposal heads a priority list of 94 projects, worth $190 billion, selected by the Government's Infrastructure Australia (IA), which was charged with sifting through 1000 submissions. Releasing the list today, Transport Minister Anthony Albanese would not commit to any projects but said the preliminary report, compiled by IA chairman Sir Rod Eddington, would allow "further prioritisation".

Sir Rod was frank, saying the global financial crisis would affect short-term plans. But it would not hurt the long-term ambitions of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, he said. "What we've been asked to do by the Government is to provide a pipeline of projects for their consideration for one, two, three decades," Sir Rod said. "And I think it's very important that we don't confuse the need to get the right pipeline in place with the realities of short-term capital availability."

The short list highlights projects in every state and territory, including rural and urban rail and roads, ports, energy, water, communications and indigenous affairs. Most audacious is the very fast train plan linking east coast capitals, a massive project that has been a pipe dream of successive governments for about two decades now. If the plan does garner Government support it has the potential to turn Canberra into a dormitory suburb of Sydney with the two capitals just 90 minutes from each other.

Other major projects include a long promised freight-only train line through northern Sydney at a cost of $4 billion and a desalination plant for Adelaide which would cost $2.4 billion. At the bottom of the list is a $7.2 million bridge replacement in Adelaide.

The Australian Greens damned the short list, saying it locked the nation into a "high-polluting" future. The top 94 projects will be the focus of Sir Eddington's final report, due to be submitted to the federal government in March.


Huge gob of taxpayer money wasted on anti-Australia movie

Andrew Bolt

BAZ Luhrmann's Australia may be drowning at the box office, but here's one record it has set. Never have Australian taxpayers wasted so much on a single work of art. Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, was actually made by a Hollywood studio, 20th Century Fox (under the same parent company as this newspaper). It portrays Australia as viciously racist, has been panned by many critics and has so far returned just a third of its bloated $180 million budget after almost four weeks in the critical US market. But somehow the Rudd Government and its funding agencies have blown some $80 million of taxpayers' money on this duckling in tax write-offs, promotions and piggyback campaigns.

Need a comparison? That's almost equal to the $105m annual budget the Rudd Government gave Screen Australia, its new super funding body for Australia's entire film industry. Count it up. First, taxpayers will pay close to 25 per cent of the film's net production budget of $150 million, under a deal struck between director Baz Luhrmann and the Government. Luhrmann started the film when he was entitled to a rebate of just 12.5 per cent, but waited until the rest of his costs could qualify for the Government's new 40 per cent Producer Offset for movies shot here. The final figure we must cough up has not been determined, but let's assume it's around $30 million at least. Add to that $10 million that Tourism Australia says it tipped into the "Twentieth Century Fox project" to "directly promote and leverage the movie Australia" through "public relations activities, promotions, evens and other market activity directly linked to the movie". Add also $40 million that Tourism Australia spent on tourism ads shot by Luhrmann, using the same Kimberleys scenes and child star in his movie. That, concedes Tourism Australia, is "similar to what we would normally spend in any given year on advertising activities around the world".

Yet the difference is that Lurhmann's two ads promote Australia the film more than Australia the tourist destination, featuring bits of dusty Australia few tourists would ever visit. There's no reef or Opera House. What's more, to work even on that shrunken scale, those ads needed Luhrmann's Australia to be the box-office success it clearly isn't.

How on earth did the Government come to bet so much cash on a movie that from the very start had failure written over it? A movie with a script so disjointed that one quick reading would have detected the whiff of doom? Who knows? Perhaps Jackman and Kidman could tell us, having dined at Kirribilli House in January with their new best friend, the Prime Minister. Or perhaps Kevin Rudd explained this largesse when he took Jackman to the Sydney Test against India, or when he had the star round to his 2020 summit of our "best and brightest". Some explanation is surely needed. It's the most entertainment we're likely to get from this $80 million, after all.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Top 10 dud climate predictions

By Andrew Bolt

Global warming preachers have had a shocking 2008. So many of their predictions this year went splat. Here's their problem: they've been scaring us for so long that it's now possible to check if things are turning out as hot as they warned. And good news! I bring you Christmas cheer - the top 10 warming predictions to hit the wall this year. Read, so you can end 2008 with optimism, knowing this Christmas won't be the last for you, the planet or even the polar bears.


Tim Flannery, an expert in bones, has made a fortune from books and lectures warning that we face global warming doom. He scared us so well that we last year made him Australian of the Year. In March, Flannery said: "The water problem is so severe for Adelaide that it may run out of water by early 2009." In fact, Adelaide's reservoirs are now 75 per cent full, just weeks from 2009.

In June last year, Flannery warned Brisbane's "water supplies are so low they need desalinated water urgently, possibly in as little as 18 months". In fact, 18 months later, its dams are 46 per cent full after Brisbane's wettest spring in 27 years.

In 2005, Flannery predicted Sydney's dams could be dry in just two years. In fact, three years later its dams are 63 per cent full, not least because June last year was its wettest since 1951.

In 2004, Flannery said global warming would cause such droughts that "there is a fair chance Perth will be the 21st century's first ghost metropolis". In fact, Perth now has the lowest water restrictions of any state capital, thanks to its desalination plant and dams that are 40 per cent full after the city's wettest November in 17 years.

Lesson: This truly is a land "of drought and flooding rains". Distrust a professional panic merchant who predicts the first but ignores the second.


PROFESSOR Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, of Queensland University, is Australia's most quoted reef expert. He's advised business, green and government groups, and won our rich Eureka Prize for scares about our reef. He's chaired a $20 million global warming study of the World Bank. In 1999, Hoegh-Guldberg warned that the Great Barrier Reef was under pressure from global warming, and much of it had turned white. In fact, he later admitted the reef had made a "surprising" recovery.

In 2006, he warned high temperatures meant "between 30 and 40 per cent of coral on Queensland's great Barrier Reef could die within a month". In fact, he later admitted this bleaching had "a minimal impact".

In 2007, he warned that temperature changes of the kind caused by global warming were again bleaching the reef. In fact, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network last week said there had been no big damage to the reef caused by climate change in the four years since its last report, and veteran diver Ben Cropp said this week that in 50 years he'd seen none at all.

Lesson: Reefs adapt, like so much of nature. Learn again that scares make big headlines and bigger careers.


In April this year, the papers were full of warnings the Arctic ice could all melt. "We're actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time," claimed Dr David Barber, of Manitoba University, ignoring the many earlier times the Pole has been ice free. "It's hard to see how the system may bounce back (this year)," fretted Dr Ignatius Rigor, of Washington University's polar science centre. Tim Flannery also warned "this may be the Arctic's first ice-free year", and the ABC and Age got reporter Marian Wilkinson to go stare at the ice and wail: "Here you can see climate change happening before your eyes."

In fact, the Arctic's ice cover this year was almost 10 per cent above last year's great low, and has refrozen rapidly since. Meanwhile, sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere has been increasing. Been told either cool fact? Yet Barber is again in the news this month, predicting an ice-free Arctic now in six years. Did anyone ask him how he got his last prediction wrong?

Lesson: The media prefers hot scares to cool truths. And it rarely holds its pet scaremongers to account.


Al Gore sold his scary global warming film, An Inconvenient Truth, shown in almost every school in the country, with a poster of a terrible hurricane. Former US president Bill Clinton later gloated: "It is now generally recognised that while Al Gore and I were ridiculed, we were right about global warming. . . It's going to lead to more hurricanes." In fact, there is still no proof of a link between any warming and hurricanes. Australia is actually getting fewer cyclones, and last month researchers at Florida State University concluded that the 2007 and 2008 hurricane seasons had the least tropical activity in the Northern Hemisphere in 30 years.

Lesson: Beware of politicians riding the warming bandwagon.


Ross Garnaut, a professor of economics, is the guru behind the Rudd Government's global warming policies. He this year defended the ugly curved steel roof he'd planned at the rear of his city property, telling angry locals he was protecting himself from climate change: "Severe and more frequent hailstones will be a feature of this change," he said. In fact, even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admits "decreases in hail frequency are simulated for Melbourne. . ."

Lesson: Beware also of government advisers on that warming wagon.


A bad ski season three years ago - right after a great one - had The Age and other alarmists blaming global warming. The CSIRO, once our top science body, fanned the fear by claiming resorts such as Mt Hotham and Mt Buller could lose a quarter of their snow by 2020. In fact, this year was another boom one for skiing, with Mt Hotham and Mt Buller covered in snow five weeks before the season started.

What's more, a study this year in the Hydrological Sciences Journal checked six climate models, including one used by the CSIRO. It found they couldn't even predict the regional climate we'd had already: "Local model projections cannot be credible . . ." It also confirmed the finding of a study last year in the International Journal of Climatology that the 22 most cited global warming models could not "accurately explain the (global) climate from the recent past". As for predicting the future. . .

Lesson: The CSIRO's scary predictions are near worthless.


The CSIRO last year claimed Perth was "particularly vulnerable" and had a 90 per cent chance of getting less rain and higher temperatures. "There are not many other parts of the world where the IPCC has made a prediction that a drop in rainfall is highly likely," it said. In fact, Perth has just had its coldest and wettest November since 1991.

Lesson: As I said, don't trust the CSIRO's model or its warnings.


The seas will rise up to 100m by 2100, claims ABC Science Show host Robyn Williams. Six metres, suggests Al Gore. So let's take in "climate refugees" from low-lying Tuvalu, says federal Labor. And ban coastal development, says the Brumby Government. In fact, while the seas have slowly risen since the last ice age, before man got gassy, they've stopped rising for the last two, according to data from the Jason-1 satellite. "There is no evidence for accelerated sea-level rises," the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute declared last month.

Lesson: Trust the data, not the politicians.


The British Met Office is home to the Hadley Centre, one of the top centres of the man-made global warming faith. In April it predicted: "The coming summer is expected to be a 'typical British summer'. . ." In fact, in August it admitted: "(This) summer . . . has been one of the wettest on record across the UK." In September it predicted: "The coming winter (is) likely to be milder than average." In fact, winter has been so cold that London had its first October snow in 74 years -- and on the day Parliament voted to fight "global warming".

Lesson: If the Met can't predict the weather three months out, what can it know of the climate 100 years hence?


Speaking of the Met, it has so far predicted 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007 would be the world's hottest or second-hottest year on record, but nine of the past 10 years it predicted temperatures too high. In fact, the Met this month conceded 2008 would be the coldest year this century. That makes 1998 still the hottest year on record since the Medieval Warm Period some 1000 years ago. Indeed, temperatures have slowly fallen since around 2002. As Roger Pielke Sr, Professor Emeritus of Colorado State University's Department of Atmospheric Science, declared this month: "Global warming has stopped for the last few years."

Lesson: Something is wrong with warming models that predict warming in a cooling world, especially when we're each year pumping out even more greenhouse gases. Be sceptical.

Those, then, are the top 10 dud predictions of that hooting, screaming and screeching tribe of warming alarmists. Look and laugh. And dare to believe the world is bright and reason may yet triumph.


Big "refugee" influx forces Federal backdown on detention

The Rudd Government has been forced to open the $400 million detention centre on Christmas Island in an embarrassing admission it is struggling to cope with an influx of boat people. Immigration Minister Chris Evans has previously resisted pressure to open the centre despite a steadily increasing number of arrivals, saying the 800-bed facility had been "inherited" from the Howard Government and was not suitable for children and families.Government MP Michael Danby, the head of a parliamentary delegation that visited the centre this year, said it resembled a stalag and was a "grandiose" waste of public money. "It looks like an enormous white elephant," he said at the time.

But the Immigration Department will today announce the latest boatload of 37 suspected asylum seekers, intercepted 200 kilometres north-east of Darwin on Tuesday, will be housed in the new centre. The 37 men are expected to arrive at Christmas Island over the weekend. There are already 135 Afghan, Iranian and Sri Lankan asylum seekers on the island, but they live in a construction camp, the old detention centre at Phosphate Hill, or in the community.

Seven boats have been intercepted in the past three months, with 164 suspected asylum seekers caught trying to enter Australia this year, up from 148 last year. The Rudd Government has come under intense pressure over its border protection scheme, with the Opposition claiming the scrapping of temporary protection visas has made Australia a "soft target" for people smugglers.

The Age understands the Government was extremely reluctant to open the centre, because it sends a message it is losing the battle against people smugglers and validates the Howard Government's decision to build it. Asked at a Senate committee hearing in May how many people it would take before it was opened, Senator Evans said: "It depends on what other options you have." In October he said the "common view" was that the construction camp, which had a range of communal facilities and "a bit more of a community feel", was a "better alternative".

In a statement to be released today, the Immigration Department says: "The Government's policy is to open the new facility when numbers and separation arrangements required it." But it says no women, children, or families will live in the new centre, consistent with the Government's policy, which prohibits children from being locked up in detention. It costs taxpayers $32 million a year to accommodate up to 30 detainees at the new centre.

In August, refugee advocates who toured the new centre said it was "extremely harsh" with a "high-security, prison-like character". Amnesty International and seven other groups wrote to Senator Evans at the time, saying "the very expensive security systems of the facility are quite unnecessary". "The damage that has been done to people's mental and physical health by detaining them in remote, high-security detention centres such as this has been documented repeatedly," they said.


Quality medical care for the poor?

Registered nurses will be replaced by cheaper, less-qualified nurses and unqualified assistants, in the latest round of cost cutting by the State Government. The plan to substitute university-trained registered nurses with enrolled and trainee nurses contradicts a $1.2 million study commissioned by NSW Health last year, which found that increasing the proportion of less-qualified staff in hospitals caused a range of preventable complications and deaths.

Hospital managers have been ordered to save $32 million within four years by downgrading nursing cover at small and rural hospitals. The ratio of assistants-in-nursing will increase to 50 per cent of the combined registered and enrolled nurse numbers. Assistants-in-nursing have no minimum level of education and are not regulated by any nursing body. Some are students and others have a TAFE certificate in aged care. Since 1993, registered nurses have been university trained.

NSW Health says the cuts are justified because many hospitals are, in effect, working as aged-care facilities due to a shortage of nursing home places. But the lead author of the Glueing It Together study, Christine Duffield, said the plan flew "in the face of the evidence that shows the more RNs you have, the better the patient outcome". The three-year study used data from 27 NSW hospitals and found that a higher proportion of registered nurses produced lower rates of bed sores, intestinal bleeding, sepsis, shock, pulmonary failure, pneumonia and death of patients from a hospital-acquired complication. "In the mini-budget [the Government] said no frontline services will be cut, but nursing is a frontline service," said Professor Duffield, from the Centre for Health Services Management at the University of Technology, Sydney. "They're just doing it to save money."

Area health services have been identifying registered nurse positions that can be replaced since August, pre-empting the $32 million edict in the mini-budget last month. A leaked memo shows Greater Southern Area Health Service will turn 53 full-time equivalent registered nurse positions into enrolled nurse roles, each saving about $20,000 a year in salary, for a total of $800,000 by June. Karen Lenihan, the director of nursing and midwifery at Greater Southern, said most registered nurses would be lost through natural attrition, not redundancy. "It's not really about saving money; it's about being efficient."

But the president of the NSW Nurses Association, Brett Holmes, said the modelling used to devise the skill mix was "based on budget, not patient need". He had serious concerns about patient safety and nurses' workload. Less qualified nurses did not have the training to deal with critical emergencies and trauma, such as car accidents, he said. The Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said the changes would put lives at risk.


Crooked Victorian cop walks free

I guess that a crooked Victorian cop no longer surprises anyone

A POLICEMAN who changed the statement of a sex assault victim to prevent her case going ahead has been handed a suspended sentence. Former Sen-Constable Bradley Michael Gleeson, 35, altered the statement, invented others and forged signatures on five cases he handled while working at Northcote and Moonee Ponds between 2005 and 2007. The County Court heard Gleeson was overworked and stressed when he selected the "problematic'' cases and put falsified statements of no complaint on the files.

This afternoon Judge Susan Pullen sentenced Gleeson to nine months jail, wholly suspended. She said it was clear Gleeson was more concerned about his own workload and reputation than he was about those who were making complaints. She said he had committed a gross breach of trust. "Your job was never to be that of judge and jury,'' Judge Pullen told him.

Prosecutor Daryl Brown told the court that the cases were for offences including indecent assault, criminal damage and theft. The court heard in the most serious case, a woman made accusations of sexual assault against a man in late 2003. Mr Brown said when Gleeson was handed the file he changed her statement to delete four allegations of improper behaviour and then forged the woman's signature. Gleeson then forged her signature again on a note claiming that she no longer wanted to pursue the case.

Mr Brown said nothing happened with the case for a year until another victim came forward and the file was reopened, uncovering Gleeson's crimes. Gleeson, of Abbotsford, pleaded guilty to five counts of misconduct in public office. Defence lawyer Peter Matthews said his client had been a respected and hard working officer who made a "horribly misguided effort'' to save time. Mr Matthews said following an assault in 2003 and a Christmas Day road fatality in 2004 Gleeson developed post traumatic stress disorder. "We are dealing with a man who appears to have two very different sides to him,'' he said. "Outwardly to his work colleagues at the time ... he appeared a capable officer. "The inward story is a very different one. This was a man who was emotionally and psychologically troubled.''

Gleeson was suspended from the force in August last year and resigned in October.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Global cooling hits Victoria

Where have Victoria's days of summer gone? Cool and cloudy days have forced beach lovers indoors, and bikini and ice cream sales have slumped. One ray of sunshine is a bright outlook for Christmas - long range forecaster John Moore says Christmas Eve will be fine and 26 [Celsius], and Christmas Day fine and 25. But he says showers will return on Boxing Day. Melbourne has seen an average of just seven hours' sunshine a day this month, well down on the December average of 8.3 hours.

The silver lining is that parts of Victoria had more than their December average of rain in just one day - last Friday - and Melbourne's December fall is already well above average.

While no one needs an expert to work it out, Dr Harvey Stern, at the Bureau of Meteorology, confirmed it was unusual to have so few hot days in December. "There's no sign of really hot weather in the next week," he said. "Mostly we are looking at temperatures in the 20s."

Summer swimwear retailers have been particularly hit by the cold weather, many brands reporting a drop in bikini and board short sales. Rip Curl marketing manager Nick Russell is really looking forward to a break in the weather. The surf brand's bikini sales are well down on previous years, especially in coastal holiday spots. "We would be significantly better off if it had have been 35C and beautiful for the past fortnight or so," he said. Mark Mariotti, who owns St Kilda ice cream store Seven Apples, said his business was losing thousands of dollars a week. "My business is all about summer and sales and it's not happening . . . we want some sun," he said.

Dr Stern said Melbourne's rainfall of 67mm this month was 10mm above average. Melbourne Water's supply manager John Woodland said an average of 65mm of rain fell over Melbourne's major catchments, boosting the city's water storages by 11 billion litres. The rain topped up catchments by 0.6 per cent, taking the nine reservoirs to 34.6 per cent of capacity, compared with 39.1 per cent at the same time last year. Smaller gains are expected for the rest of the week as more water flows from streams across the 160,000ha catchment area. Mr Woodland said despite the downpours the city's storages still faced an 80 billion litre shortfall.

Dr Harry Hemley, vice-president of the Australian Medical Association Victoria, said GPs had been flooded with patients complaining of common colds during the cold snap. "There has been an influx since we've had the cold spell of weather and people have been indoors coughing over each other," Dr Hemley said. "Prior to this little cold spell we had more hay fever coming in and that seems to have declined and now we've got more upper respiratory infections."


Immigration tightened to save jobs

A GROWING jobs shortage and rising unemployment figures in Australia have forced the Rudd Government to start closing the gate on foreign workers. Jobs vacancies for skilled workers have plunged 50 per cent in Queensland as demand for professionals and tradespeople dries up and mining giants slash staff. Nearly 550 Queensland miners were axed on Tuesday and up to $30 billion in planned mining developments are in doubt because of the sudden downturn in world demand for the state's coal.

In response, the Federal Government has moved to tighten immigration laws to protect Australian jobs. This will involve the Government making it harder for skilled foreign workers to come to Australia, but fast-tracking those who meet critical shortfalls. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the revised program would start in January and would better target the workers Australia needed. "In light of changing economic circumstances, the Rudd Government has reviewed the skilled migration program and consulted with business and industry along with state and territory governments Australia-wide about their skills need," Senator Evans said. "There were concerns that the permanent skilled migration program was not delivering the right skills to the right areas and there was an increasing use of the temporary skilled migration program by employees to meet their needs."

The 133,500 skilled migrants applying to work in Australia will now be required to have a job - sponsored by an employer or by a state government - before they arrive or meet a critical skills list, including medical, engineering and construction.

The move to save jobs for Australians comes as Treasurer Wayne Swan hit out at a bookmaker who offered $1.12 odds on Australia plunging into recession. "I think that sort of talk is utterly irresponsible," Mr Swan said. "What the Australian Government is doing in the face of the global financial crisis is everything we possibly can to strengthen our economy and to protect jobs in that environment."

On top of the mining job cuts in the Bowen Basin and northwest Queensland, it yesterday emerged about 80 staff at the Brisbane headquarters of collapsed childcare giant ABC Learning Centres had been sacked. The losses add to about 100 jobs tipped to go from ABC childcare centres next month.

The Employment Department's job index for skilled workers plunged by more than 50 per cent in Queensland in the past year, the second biggest decrease after NSW. Nationally, skilled vacancies have dropped by nearly 38 per cent as the financial crisis hit the broader economy. The biggest drop was for printing trades, which were down by 24.2 per cent, followed by metal trades at 15.8 per cent and wood trades at 14.1 per cent. The only occupation on the rise was medical and science technical officers, which rose by 0.8 per cent. The grim economic news follows moves by the US Federal Reserve to reduce interest rates virtually to zero to stimulate the economy out of recession. Professor of economic policy at Curtin University's Graduate School of Business Peter Kenyon said the resource sector would feel more pain in the short term.


Rudd's wildly gyrating economic policies show complete amateurism and incomprehension

ANOTHER day, another stimulus package. Who cares if the package du jour's main course, the nation-building projects, are merely commitments made by the previous government, frozen by this Government, and now hastily defrosted for the occasion? As Bob Geldof said about world poverty, "Something must be done, anything ... whether it works or not."

Shades of Gough? Perhaps. But if the Whitlam government was opera, this is soap opera: grandeur gone, soaring rhetoric replaced by a thicket of half-baked cliches and bureaucratic prose, all the character development of a high school musical. The Whitlamesque ambition, however, remains intact.

Super-ego on wings to a planet in distress, Kevin Rudd is everywhere, saving the Doha Round one moment, averting catastrophic climate change the next, and all the while corralling a reluctant G20 to banish from the temple the merchants of "extreme capitalism". The activism has been even more pronounced on the home front, as the war on inflation mutates into a war on the financial crisis, only to be followed by a war on unemployment. Wars without end: but where is the strategy? If there is an economic strategy, it is cleverly hidden. Of course the Government wants to avert recession. But "spend, spend, spend" is hardly a sensible approach to economic management.

It is true that globally, Keynesianism is back, albeit in exceptionally crude form. Indeed, few assets have known booms and busts in their market valuation quite as spectacular as those affecting the intellectual legacy of John Maynard Keynes, and not without reason. For Keynesian policies are drugs that may do good (though even that is arguable, especially in an open economy) but are difficult to control, readily habit-forming and, when abused, extraordinarily destructive. Their use consequently requires the greatest discipline and sense of caution. But bringing those to bear is no easy task, because the fog of war, in which decisions are taken in ignorance of effects, is no less treacherous in economic policy than on the battlefield. It is therefore fair to question the Government's headlong rush into deficit while the economy is still growing, even if at a significantly slower rate, and before it can judge what has come of its first round of handouts. Deficits should not be demonised; but, ultimately, all spending must be paid for, so today's unfunded outlays are tomorrow's distorting taxes. Moreover, if the spending is wasteful, like the car plan or the so-called solar revolution, the generations on whom that burden is shifted will be doubly poorer, paying higher taxes from a base of reduced wealth.

Seen in that light, the pace and scale of the change in the Government's fiscal stance seem extraordinary, especially when one considers the strident "beat inflation first" rhetoric of only a few months ago. The Government's response is that circumstances have changed in ways no one could have predicted. But when Peter Costello, in the midst of the election campaign, warned of a tsunami that would hit the Australian economy, Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd led the chorus in howls of derision. And when, several months later, Malcolm Turnbull stressed the dangers of financial crisis, he too was derided by a Government as smug as it was poorly advised. If the Government was caught unaware, it can hardly have been listening.

This is not to deny the speed and severity of the deterioration in economic circumstances, which clearly demands a policy response. But that is no excuse for abandoning the middle ground in a dash to action fraught with risks and riddled with inconsistencies. How can it make sense, for example, to reduce labour market flexibility just as the economy heads into recession? And having increased the effective cost of labour, is it wise to then subsidise investment, further distorting relative factor prices and accentuating the substitution of capital for labour, exactly as happened with the investment subsidies many European governments provided in the late 1970s and early '80s?

As for the emissions trading scheme, if the main emitters are not reducing their emissions -- as the Government's 5 per cent target assumes -- why go it alone? Far from serious reform, is this not merely costly symbolism, with the pain disguised by subsidies thrown at each possibly affected group, entrenching the fantasy that no matter what harm it does to the economy, government can ensure no one is worse off? "Every man a winner": speak of fiscal illusion.

Nor is the Government's penchant for nation-building any better thought out. Now in tatters with the Telstra fiasco, the scheme is based on the false premise that vast new projects are what this country needs. But whatever Australian politicians lack, ribbon-cutting opportunities are not among them. Rather, our infrastructure suffers from the fact that having willed the ends, we persistently misuse the means, including by sacrificing maintenance for ambitious, poorly judged but electorally popular new projects.

Consider Victoria, which proclaims its aspiration to be a paragon of good government. Between 1998-99 and 2007-08, there was a 22 per cent increase in the number of road structures in regional Victoria and a significant increase in road kilometres. However, maintenance outlays fell ever further below the levels required to keep the road network in safe, sustainable shape.

As for NSW, the latest comprehensive review found that despite a string of big new projects, ride quality on Sydney roads has been falling and accumulated road damage is worse than it was 10 years ago.

We have, in other words, transferred a growing maintenance deficit and attendant tax burden to the future. But far from addressing the systemic failures in state governments this reflects, the new Building Australia Fund seems set to throw yet more money at symbolic projects, impoverishing our children and grandchildren.

Are these just teething errors? Or is it that the Government's frenetic activity masks a lack of serious thought and of guiding principles -- ultimately, of wisdom -- that could help it deal coherently with a situation that every day becomes more difficult and threatening?

If that is the problem, as seems plausible, no number of all-nighters can fix it. Rather, they only make bungles more likely, as sheer exasperation and angry obstinacy cloud judgment and undermine the careful consideration of options and consequences. Government by exhaustion is, in historian Keith Hancock's famous phrase, a recipe for policies that yield diminishing and then negative returns, as decisions taken in a state of prostration become a positive danger to the purposes that called them into existence.

Staring at the wreckage of the Bruce and Scullin governments as they ineptly struggled with progressively harsher economic times, politician and diplomat F.W. Eggleston wrote that he wished for a PM who occasionally "has the courage to do nothing". As we move into 2009, it is not inaction that is called for, but action that is properly considered, based on guiding principles, by a Government willing, for once, not to tick the box of each interest group but to count the costs, refuse the favours and set limits on the policies that have been launched. No matter how worthy the ambition, the alternative is ultimate disappointment, with unending grief along the way.


Destructive Victorian government meddling in education

Angry state school principals have attacked a plan by the Brumby Government to curtail their power to suspend and expel unruly students. They say that a move to suspend students a maximum of three days in a row would seriously undermine state education and drive more middle-class families into private schools. "In the case of a serious assault or the selling of drugs to other students, three days is simply inadequate and sends a terrible message to other members of the school community," said a submission by a principals' group.

The Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals was responding to draft student behaviour guidelines released by the Education Department. As revealed by the Herald Sun last week, the proposals include plans to suspend students for a maximum three days instead of 10 now. The total days a student could be suspended in a year would be cut from 20 to 15. And principals would have less power to expel students, with education bureaucrats given the right to overturn decisions.

The VASSP's submission said that the draft guidelines were part of an unrelenting campaign to wind back the autonomy of Victorian principals. "The proposed guidelines completely undermine the role of the principal and school council president," it said. That a bureaucrat, often with no school-leadership experience, is considered better placed to make this judgment is an insult to dedicated school leaders, the submission said.

The submission included comments by several principals and assistant principals, such as: "This is unarguably the greatest threat to the good order of our schools that we have seen. "It is designed by 'do gooders' with no actual concept of what occurs within a school."

Education Minister Bronwyn Pike has said the Government wants a bigger focus on schools preventing bad behaviour before suspensions were required. Ms Pike is expected to release the revised guidelines early next year after considering submissions.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A HUGE double standard over paedophilia

Only the common herd can be paedophiles, apparently

Spot the difference. One man takes photographs of children aged from two to 12, paddling clothed in a pond at Darling Harbour. The other man takes pictures of a 12-year-old, posed with breasts bared. The first man is Jason Donald Cotter, a homeless bartender who on Monday was ordered to stand trial in Sydney next year for child pornography. The second is Bill Henson, who, far from being charged, was this year defended by the leaders of our arts caste as one of our greatest artists.

Yes, you spotted it. The crucial difference wasn't that Cotter took photographs without the parents' permission. He isn't charged with failing to get consent, but with having a pornographic image of a child. Just to be precise, Inspector Brenton Lee said the only images Cotter had were those of the children at Darling Harbour: "That's the evidence, taking pictures of children in partial undress." That, the police allege, is child porn. But a picture taken of a child stripped and flaunted is not - and it seems the difference is that Henson is an artist. So insisted 54 leaders of the arts industry - all among the 1000 of our "best and brightest" chosen for Kevin Rudd's ideas summit - in a petition they signed in Henson's defence, when police checked his latest exhibition.

Henson was cleared, of course. You see, in our curious world some of those with the greatest power to set an example and make our culture are excused the moral standards set for even a homeless barman.

Consider an even more startling example - the defence of the pedophilia of artist Donald Friend. Documentary maker Kerry Negara has just shot A Loving Friend, a film of the artist's life, and discovered Friend had spent much time in Bali, where he had sex with boys as young as nine. But it wasn't just the pedophilia that disturbed her, or Friend's claims in his diaries that the boys had seduced him. As she said: "I've been speaking to some of our most influential people in the world of art in Australia, who deny that he caused any harm. So basically what they're trying to say is that Donald was a nice pedophile . . ."

True. Here's the National Library's Paul Hetherington, who edited three volumes of Friend's diaries, when asked on the ABC about Friend's pedophilia: "I don't know that we can go today into the complexity of the relationships between Friend and the young men . . ."

Here, from Negara's film, is Barry Pearce, head curator of Australian art at the Art Gallery of NSW: "I don't think there's a hard line dividing the black from the white on the subject of pedophilia. There's a penumbra . . . and I think that Donald was definitely on the light side of penumbra . . . I would be shocked if anyone brought that term (pedophile) to Donald."

Here's Lou Klepac, former deputy director at the Art Gallery of Western Australia and a Friend biographer: "I don't consider Donald's sexual interests to be highly immoral . . . Donald's like was to be homosexual and he liked young men." So I'd advise any other homeless sod caught with dodgy pictures, or worse, to now plead: "I'm an artist, your honour." If he's lucky, he'll get off with a grant.


Wonder wine 'cleans blood vessels'

Just the old resveratrol religion again. When properly tested, resveratrol does NOT do many of the things claimed for it -- such as prolong life

An Australian doctor says he has created the world's healthiest wine, which cleans your blood vessels and reduces the risk of heart attack as you drink it. Each bottle contained up to 100 times the amount of resveratrol - a naturally occurring anti-oxidant found in grapes - than a standard drop, says Sydney's Dr Philip Norrie.

Resveratrol helped to maintain blood flow by keeping arteries free of fatty deposits called atherosclerotic plaque, Dr Norrie said, and a wine infused with high levels of the odourless, tasteless anti-oxidant would act as a "vascular pipe-cleaner''.

"While the positive effects of moderate wine consumption have long been documented, the inclusion of such large quantities of this beneficial anti-oxidant is very good news for wine drinkers,'' says Dr Norrie. "What we've been able to do is boost the amount of resveratrol in wine and you wont even know its there ... you're effectively clearing your arteries while you drink.'' Dr Norrie is producing both a chardonnay and a shiraz with each having 100mg/L of resveratrol per bottle. He said this was as much as is contained in 70 to 100 bottles of standard white wine or 15 to 20 bottles of standard red.

"I stress that these benefits are best realised with moderate drinking,'' Dr Norrie also said in a warning to any connoisseurs planning a wine-based health kick. University of Queensland cardiologist Associate Professor David Colquhoun also stressed the need for "moderate'' consumption as he said the benefits of resveratrol were well known. "Studies have strongly suggested that consumption of wine rich in resveratrol can lessen cardio-vascular disease, heart attack and stroke, he said. [Whisky and beer are pretty good too so could it just be the alcohol?]



Four current articles below

Rudd throws off the idealist mask to reveal a pragmatist underneath

EVERY now and then you have to be grateful when you discover our political leaders have told a deliberate, calculated lie. Monday was such a day. Kevin Rudd's announcement of a carbon emissions reduction target of 5 per cent by 2020 demonstrated that his pre-election claim that climate change was the great moral issue of our time, and demanding that Australia lead the way, was what Winston Churchill would call a terminological inexactitude: a whopper, a piece of bare-faced duplicity of epic proportions. But thank goodness Rudd and his colleagues deceived us.

And deceive us they did. At the election last year, Rudd said Australian wanted real action on climate change. And Rudd acted, in a real symbolic kind of way. He ratified the Kyoto Protocol. More symbolism when he promised to cut emissions by 60 per cent on 2000 levels by 2050, 41 years away.

While most of the media has failed to take Rudd to task, the truth is that if the Rudd Government genuinely believed climate change to be the greatest moral threat facing humanity, and if it fully accepted the findings of the UN panel that laid down a minimum target cut of 25 per cent to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 to prevent catastrophic climate change, then we now would have bigger cuts. A true believer in those claims could do no less.

To a true believer, policy responses to a temporary global financial crisis could not compete with the sort of policies required to stem permanent, irrevocable damage caused by climate change. But, thank God, Rudd and his ministers are not in fact true believers. Rudd's higher carbon reduction target of 15 per cent is predicated on other key economies committing to target reductions comparable to Australia. In other words, Australia follows, rather than leads. Rudd's caution on targets is unquestionably driven by, dare one use the word, scepticism about the world's ability to reach consensus on tackling climate change. In other words, Rudd sounds more and more like John Howard every day.

The alternative - that Australia lead the climate change parade rather than sitting comfortably in middle of the pack - is the kind of moral narcissism only the Greens and like-minded eco-fundamentalists can afford. Bob Brown, who has the luxury of a public platform without the attendant responsibility, will always take the most extreme position, as he did on the weekend. He claimed that a target of 5 per cent to 15 per cent reductions by 2020 was "effectively running up the white flag on climate change". Without any of the embarrassment deception would cause a real political leader, Brown implied that setting a low target for Australia limiting global greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to 550 parts per million would lead to the loss of the Great Barrier Reef, and the devastation of Kakadu and our alpine snowfields. Similarly, only the politically naive Clive Hamilton could defend mainstream environmental organisations for pushing a moderate position, without flinching with equal embarrassment.

What Brown and his overzealous supporters don't tell us is that whatever target Australia chooses is irrelevant to global greenhouse gas concentrations. Australia's emissions are such a tiny percentage of total global greenhouse gas emissions that we could adopt a target 10, 20 or 100 times more stringent than what Brown advocates but have zero effect on saving the reef, Kakadu or the snowfields if China, India, the US and other big emitters don't join in.

Rudd and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong have no such luxury. They lead a Government and know that putting Australia at the leading edge of climate change targets will put Australia at the bleeding edge of policy mistakes, where real people lose their jobs. Brown's pseudo-religious rhetoric may appeal to some ALP voters but Rudd knows it would be the kiss of death to the Australian economy without securing any corresponding benefit to global carbon levels. Indeed, adopting 25 per cent to 40per cent targets if big emitters such as China don't do the same could do great damage to the Australian economy and the world's greenhouse gas levels.

If Australia adopts draconian targets but China does not, Australia's emission-intensive industries will become uncompetitive with Chinese competitors, shifting production from less dirty Australian industry to dirtier Chinese competitors. It is a double whammy, at a stroke wiping out Australian jobs and damaging the environment.

Rudd and Wong have done the right thing in adopting the minimum targets they could get away with. They did the right thing by not taking ambitious targets to Poznan last week despite the hysterical claims by Greenpeace International that Australia, and the other usual suspects, were not doing enough to set up a framework for a new climate change deal. Governments, weighed down by the responsibility of governing, know and have always known that the rhetoric of climate change as the great moral issue of our time was bunkum.

Climate change is an economic issue and a policy challenge that demands the kind of careful, pragmatic balancing act that the Rudd Government embraces as its touchstone. Rudd, of course, has form when it comes to discovering that what was a great moral issue on the campaign stump has become, in office, a policy issue requiring nuance and responsible pragmatism. In Opposition, Rudd described the day the GST came into effect as "fundamental injustice" day. In office, the Prime Minister has discovered it is a fundamental injustice delivering streams of money he cannot do without. Similarly, campaigning Rudd slyly hinted that he had policies that would lower food and fuel prices. In office, he produced the demonstrably toothless FuelWatch and GroceryChoice. These deceptions pale into insignificance beside the spectacularly dishonest claims about moral leadership on climate change. Yet, paradoxically, all the pieces of cynical manipulation have one thing in common. They are good policy and we should be grateful to have been deceived.

The dishonesty underlying the position of Brown and activists such as Hamilton is of an altogether more sinister kind. They want Australia to adopt targets they know will decimate Australian industry without producing any noticeable benefit for total global greenhouse concentrations. Underlying their policies is an undisclosed secret agenda. Brown and many of his followers don't like industry, think Australians are too materialistic and should be forced back to a simpler but poorer life: a compulsory downshift, if you will, imposed by stealth. The choice between Brown and Rudd may be completely unappealing. However, offered the choice between two political shysters, go for the pragmatic one. The worst combination by far is deception married with moral delusion.


Industry revolt on green plan as miners sacked

Can ANY government last long as a destroyer of jobs?

Heavy industry is demanding further concessions in the Rudd Government's modest emissions trading scheme, saying it will still cost jobs, stymie investment and exacerbate the effects of the economic downturn.

Environmentalists are outraged at the Prime Minister's commitment to cut carbon emissions by just five per cent. 16/12/2008. Conservationists have panned the scheme for pandering to "dirty" industry, saying it will not help the environment and offers overly generous compensation that transfers $2.24 billion from taxpayers to major polluters in 2010, potentially rising to $12.25billion in 2020.

But industries such as cement, aluminium and coalmining say that although the Government increased compensation and announced modest emission reduction targets in the scheme unveiled on Monday, they would lobby for further concessions, either in draft legislation to be released early next year or through Coalition-supported amendments in the Senate. Cement manufacturers are being offered an initial 90 per cent of their carbon permits for free, but Cement Australia chief executive Chris Leon said the fact that the permits covered only some of his operational processes and declined by 1.3 per cent each year meant the scheme still put a proposed $700 million expansion to his Gladstone plant in jeopardy. "The Government has offered improvements, but I am very concerned this will tip our Gladstone project over the edge. It is now much less likely we will build this investment here and more likely we will invest in Indonesia or Thailand," he said. The Cement Industry Federation has already begun its Senate lobbying, taking Coalition senators to cement plants to explain the industry's economics.

As conservationists staged nationwide protests yesterday against the Government's ETS - which promises a 2020 emissions reduction target of between 5 per cent and 15 per cent depending on the ambition of an international climate change deal - Kevin Rudd insisted it was appropriate for the economic times. "The Australian Government, given the global financial crisis, makes no apologies whatsoever for introducing responsible medium-term targets to bring down our greenhouse gas emissions, capable of being built on in the future more ambitiously," the Prime Minister said. Mr Rudd has also been hitting the phones explaining his scheme to other world leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

But Malcolm Turnbull, whose support Mr Rudd is seeking for the Senate passage of his scheme, was immediately confronted with deep splits within his own party. The Opposition Leader and his spokesman, Andrew Robb, have said they have an "open mind" on the scheme and have sought to buy time to formulate a united response by commissioning a study that will not report until February. But in an emailed newsletter sent yesterday, Liberal senator Cory Bernardi said he remained "unconvinced about the need for an ETS given that carbon dioxide is vital for life on earth and the earth hasn't warmed since 1998". Nationals senators have also come out against the scheme.

The Greens have said they will hold a Senate inquiry next year into the "inadequacy" of the Government's proposed targets.

The union movement has split in its response to the ETS. Australian Workers Union head and ACTU vice-president Paul Howes slammed ACTU president Sharan Burrow for calling on the Government to commit to tougher 2020 targets, and urged the Opposition to support the proposal in the Senate. "The ACTU proposition is something I cannot support at this stage. I believe this ETS strikes the right balance between doing what's right for the environment and protecting Australian jobs," Mr Howes said.

Meanwhile, the coal industry, where declining commodity prices have led to two coalmines announcing more than 400 job losses yesterday, said it would continue to lobby to be included in the more generous compensation formula announced by the Government. Methane emissions from different coalmines vary according to geology, and the Government has offered $500 million over five years to help the gassiest mines buy some of their permits and a further $250 million to help mines install abatement technologies. The Australian Coal Association says the industry should qualify for the far more generous assistance offered under the broader compensation scheme.

The aluminium industry - which does qualify for 90 per cent free permits in the initial years - is also lobbying for the Government to lower the annual rate at which it withdraws the free permits. "In its first year of operation, the current proposal is likely to add costs of over $150 million per year to the Australian alumina and aluminium industry," said the president of the Australian Aluminium Council, Steve Hodgson. "This cost will then increase as emissions-intensive assistance is eroded and the price of carbon increases. "We argue the assistance should not be reduced in the absence of a global climate change agreement."


Big-boy's toy with Greenie spin

Greenpeace are big on this too. They like playing around in boats

The record-breaking, biodiesel-powered Earthrace vessel is visiting Queensland promoting the use of environmentally sound fuels. The unique craft - like something out of Mad Max on water - this year set a new record for a powerboat to circle the globe. Using renewable biodiesel fuel for a net zero carbon footprint, the 24,000 nautical mile voyage took 60 days, 23 hours and 49 minutes, smashing the record by over two weeks. Earthrace skipper Pete Bethune said the vessel's tour aimed to connect with people and encourage debate on environmental issues.


Blacks warned over 'carbon-baggers'

There are claims that unscrupulous carbon brokers have been approaching Indigenous communities and trying to sign them up to questionable carbon trading deals. The newly created Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce has urged Indigenous communities to be wary of entering any agreements.

The Labor party's former national president Warren Mundine now heads the new body, which was set up to advise Indigenous communities on how to navigate the complex issue of emissions trading. He says the scheme has the potential to generate investment and jobs for Indigenous communities which own vast tracts of land across Australia. "They control 20 per cent of the Australian land mass... this is a great opportunity for them to get 20 per cent of the emissions trading," he said. "What we want to do is make sure the Indigenous community have the opportunity to make an informed decision and that informed decision can only be made on the science, on the economics and on the law," he said.

Mr Mundine says he has concerns about the legitimacy of some agreements. "There are what we call a lot of carbon-baggers out there who are trying to take advantage of Indigenous communities and the ignorance in this area," he said. Mr Mundine says the chamber wants to ensure Indigenous interests are protected before the scheme comes into force in 2010. He has urged people to have any agreements examined by the chamber, which he says can help deliver maximum benefits for the long term. "There's opportunities for them to make money out of that in the trading," he said. "There's also the opportunities for regenerating their county ... there's also the opportunities for lands that don't meet that criteria ... that they're able to look at renewable energy such as biofuels, solar energy and wind farming."


Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Now that the Australian government has released its detailed carbon-control policies, there is a huge debate ongoing in Australia's newspapers. Most writers approve of the very limited nature of the proposals but the Greens have turned purple with rage. From the big spate of articles, I have chosen to put up below three surprisingly skeptical articles from the "Canberra Times", the newspaper of Australia's capital city -- usually thought to be rather Left-leaning. I then add a short overview article.

Who's afraid of a war on carbon?

The last thing that Kevin Rudd needs in his War on Carbon is for the underlying rationale to be undermined by global-warming sceptics. But in the sceptic community there is a growing confidence that the scientific consensus is weakening, amidst an increasing number of questions about the evidence for human-induced global warming.

"The sceptics are growing in confidence and becoming emboldened," says Ray Evans, secretary of the sceptic organisation The Lavoisier Group. "In terms of morale, the atmosphere in the blogosphere is very cocky. The chief weapon brandished by tile sceptics is the raw temperature measurements from the British Government's Hadley Centre, which shows that global temperatures peaked in 1998 and have been cooler ever since. Climate change believers hate this evidence, saying that it is misleading and are urging people to concentrate on the longer-term trend where the evidence of warming is stronger.

The newly elected centre-right Government of New Zealand has angered environmentalists by announcing a review of "the scientific aspects of climate change", including an examination of "the quality and impartiality of official advice". The stakes on the science being right could not be higher. With governments around the world set to make multi-trillion dollar economy-changing policy decisions, and with businesses already pouring billions into addressing the issue, the rationale for these decisions is, one would hope, based on solid ground. The major scientific organisations in Australia such as the CSTRO, Bureau of Meteorology and Chief Scientist, and the major scientific organisations overseas, such as the Royal Society, NASA, the United Stltes National Academy of 5ciences, and so on, all concur with the general thesis of global warming.

But if it does turn out that human induced global warming was all a false theory, it would represent the greatest scientific embarrassment in history. The confidence and conformity with which the institutional scientific community has pronounced on the issue will be seen as a shockingly black mark against the professionalism an integrity of a generation of scientists.

Unanimity of views can he highly costly, as recent history has shown. The unanimity of views on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the politicians' rush to build on that consensus shows us the risks involved. Sceptics believe that climate scientists will eventually be forced to apologise for their own "slam dunk" evidence, while political leaders will be humiliated for having declared a war on carbon based on sexed-up" intelligence. The difficulty for the sceptics, however, is that the so-called scientific consensus has not collapsed yet, and is unlikely to in a hurry, and indeed may never fall over at all.

If the consensus amongst institutions did start to crumble, that would immediately present a major challenge to supporters of action on climate change, but to date the institutions remain solid. The sceptics remain a group of interested and sometimes clamorous individuals, and whilst some are highly qualified, they lack the heft required to truly change the debate.

Governments are by and large obliged to act on the evidence of their most authoritative scientific advisers, and it would be a courageous leader that overrode their advice, relying on other sources. That said, there is a strong case to be made, given the magnitude of the changes that the Government is set to embark upon, for a New Zealand style select Parliamentary enquiry into climate science in Australia. Much would be learnt, the public would be enthralled. Surely there is nothing to lose?

The above article appeared in the "Canberra Times" on 13th but does not appear to be online there

Climate scepticism is good

"I am not a climate sceptic," said Senator Nick Xenophon in a recent ABC interview, and went on to explain why. He said he found the case for human-induced global warming generally convincing, though far from certain, and believed governments should take action to reduce greenhouse emissions because of the greater risk of doing nothing.

On most everyday understandings of the term ''scepticism'', the senator was in fact displaying a sceptical attitude towards the issue: he denied that the evidence about global warming was certain and was prepared to entertain doubts about the degree of probability for global warming. His refusal to be labelled a ''climate sceptic'', however, shows how the term has become hijacked in public debate.

''Climate scepticism'' now stands for a policy stance, opposition to the case for emission reduction. It has become detached from its normal sense of reasonable doubt about the science. The confusion is important and reflects a dangerous misunderstanding of how far policy can be based on robust evidence.

In principle, all scientific theories are open to falsification by new evidence and therefore no science can ever be entirely certain. In practice, however, many areas of science are sufficiently well grounded in reliable evidence to be accepted beyond reasonable doubt. But climate science is not among them.

Everyone knows the limitations of short-term weather forecasting. Climate scientists confirm that the large number of independent factors influencing climatic events rules out precise explanation or prediction. With climate change, uncertainty is compounded by the lack of reliable historical data from before the modern period. This does not mean that nothing can be known about climate change or that no predictions are worth making. But it does mean nothing can be known for certain or even with the degree of certainty that can apply in aspects of other sciences, such as physics or chemistry.

Uncertainty pervades the entire field of climate change. Scepticism should therefore be the natural attitude of any intelligent student of the topic. Proponents of emission reduction policy do their case a disservice by disowning scepticism and reserving ''climate sceptic'' as a term for those who reject their policy. To cast the debate as one between believers and sceptics implies that some sort of faith or belief is needed in order to accept climate change policy. It rules out the more reasoned, sceptical approach that recognises doubts about the evidence for global warming yet decides, on balance, that the risks of inaction are higher than those of inaction.

The faith-versus-scepticism dichotomy also hands an easy propaganda victory to the opponents of climate change policy. Any doubts about the science can be claimed as automatically strengthening the case for inaction. Conversely, supporters of climate change policy are forced into dismissing and disparaging any sceptical voices. But, once the debate is seen to be between various levels of climate scepticism and risk assessment, any new challenge on a point of evidence is simply one more element in the assessment, not a knock-down refutation.

Many proponents of climate change policy are obviously uneasy about admitting the level of doubt that surrounds the science. The recent conclusions of the International Panel on Climate Change, that evidence of climate change is unequivocal and that greenhouse gases are ''very likely'' (90per cent or more probability) to be the cause of such warming, surely overstate the case. The experts clearly fear that no action will be taken unless public opinion believes in the certainty of human-induced global warming.

But hoping for certainty sets the bar for action too high. It also reflects a misunderstanding of the role of knowledge in policy-making. Good policy needs to be informed, where possible, by robust, relevant evidence. But policymakers often have to act without knowing what is happening or what will work. In the current financial crisis, for example, governments find themselves in uncharted waters but cannot afford to delay decisions. No one is requiring certainty before acting or equating uncertainty with inaction.

The same should apply to climate change and environmental policy generally. To look for certainty or near-certainty leads experts into professional dishonesty, forcing them to hide their doubts and the limitations of their evidence. It also encourages ideological thinking, where public debate becomes polarised between opposing camps unable to admit any contrary evidence that might unsettle their convictions and weaken their advocacy. Climate change policy, like most major policy, is not a matter of conviction or cast-iron proof but of assessing risks in the context of uncertainty.


Does Kevvy believe Kevvy?

His actions don't remotely match his words

Is Kevin Rudd wilting under the heat of global warming? Only last year the Labor leader was brimming with evangelical fervour as he pronounced climate change as ''the greatest moral challenge of our time''. Climate change, the Prime Minister said, ''threatens the security and stability of us all'', and a failure to act would be judged harshly by future generations.

But now we see the Government's moral resolve melting away before our eyes. After the initial symbolic act of signing Kyoto, the Government has been slowly but steadily downsizing its rhetoric and expectations. The cooling-off from the pre-election passion began immediately after signing the Kyoto Protocol at the Bali climate conference, when the Prime Minister shocked environmental supporters by distancing himself from tougher short-term targets being agreed to by other countries. Those targets of between 25 and 40per cent reductions by 2020 were said by scientists from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be necessary to limit global warming to acceptably low levels. Fast-forward to the present, and the Government's emissions targets, set to be announced on Monday, are reported to be as low as a 5 to 15 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020.

The weakening is even more pronounced when you take into account that the 5 to 15 per cent target is based on a baseline of emissions in 2000, where the United Nations uses the tougher baseline of emissions in 1990. The Prime Minister, who regularly invoked former US vice-president Al Gore and British economist Nicholas Stern as climate change authorities, is now being directly urged by them to stop dragging the chain. Prior to the election, the rhetoric was all about the need to act now, or even yesterday, while this year the urgency has diminished to the point where the Prime Minister this week pointed to a ''very gradual'' introduction of the emissions trading scheme.

The past insistence that the targets should be dictated by the science has now changed into a formulation which says that the targets should be ''guided'' by the science. ''Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth and is more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than any other industrialised nation,'' Rudd said early this year, but the Government's actions have not matched the rhetoric.

If the Government really believes that Australia will be the worst-affected of any developed nation, then why is it not leading the world in advocating a comprehensive global solution? Why has Australia's international diplomacy been so weak? If we are the country with the most to lose, why has the Government not been campaigning furiously, vocally, and with greater resources to maximise the chances of an effective solution? The key principle to a successful reduction in emissions is to share the burden as widely as possible; the more countries that participate in a meaningful way, the lighter the burden on all. If Australia is to convince others of the need for serious emissions cuts, it would need to show that it is willing to support serious cuts itself, and so far it has not done that....

There is one issue that illustrates the increasingly blase attitude of the Government towards the environment, and that is the fact that it is prepared to countenance the loss of the Great Barrier Reef in setting targets. The Government's chief climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, has said that if CO2 levels reach 550 parts per million then this ''would be expected to lead to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef''. Yet Professor Garnaut has ''reluctantly'' concluded that because tougher targets are unrealistic, Australia should attempt to secure a global agreement with 550ppm as the official target, and then down the track encourage countries on to a lower-emissions path. In other words, the Government's chief adviser is settled on an official global target that sees the end of the reef, in the hope that the world might lift its game at some point in the future....

Why is the Government countenancing the elimination of the Great Barrier Reef at all? Could it be possible that an Australian Prime Minister, from Queensland, would support a global target entailing the reef's destruction? ''Australia's greatest natural asset'', was how Rudd described the reef during the election campaign last year, ''generating more than $6billion in GDP each year and employing more than 63,000 people.'' But this year the Government refuses to even answer questions about whether the reef is worth saving.

The Opposition is no different, with its environment spokesperson, Greg Hunt, saying that, ''Our goal is to not wave the white flag on the Great Barrier Reef'', leaving the gate wide open for its demise. The only senior politician to have made a concrete statement is Peter Costello, who has said that no prime minister could pursue a policy allowing the destruction of the reef.

The reason that the Government will not answer questions about the reef is simply that it fears the potential economic costs, or more specifically the political backlash from the potential economic costs, of locking in to reef-saving targets. How well-founded are these fears? The Treasury modelling found that in the toughest option, a 25 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 off a baseline of emissions in 2000, average annual GNP growth per capita would be 1.1 per cent rather than 1.2per cent. Treasury's conclusion was that ''Even ambitious emission-reduction goals have little impact on growth in Australia's economy and in household incomes.''

The boiled-down big picture confronting the Government now is this. Its scientific advisers say that Australia stands to lose more than any other country if serious emissions cuts are not made, and its economic advisers say that ambitious reductions will have little impact on Australia's economy. So why is the Government baulking?

More here

Lefties hit by reality

All social democratic governments face the moment Kevin Rudd confronted yesterday when starry-eyed supporters to the Left are mugged by reality. The Hawke government faced just such a moment in 1984 when it approved an expansion of Australia's uranium industry. Party members burnt their ALP tickets and marched in the streets. Greens leader Bob Brown fronted the television cameras after Rudd announced his emissions trading scheme and found it difficult to go beyond the words "dismal" and "disappointing".

This represents a fundamental breach between the Government and the Greens and could prove difficult for Rudd in the Senate - not so much on this package, which will clearly pass with at least Liberal support. It will be a problem if the Greens use their opposition to the ETS to block other legislation.

The scheme itself has hit the target that Rudd and his ministers wanted. It is being opposed vigorously by those on the Left and has been criticised to varying degrees by some business groups and those who do not believe climate change is a problem deserving of this response. This allows Rudd to position himself in the mainstream middle, which is where the Government hopes general public sentiment lies.

The key difference between the July Green Paper and the December White Paper is that the same amount of money is being raised and distributed for compensation on the basis of a much more modest and cautious scheme. This allows the Government to be more generous and spread its safety net - especially for business - much wider.

Two things have driven this shrinking of ambition. First, it's the economy and the global recession that's enveloping just about all nations. Rudd seeks to use some semantic and accounting tricks to sell his 5 per cent bottom line as being bolder than it is, especially the suggestion that when population growth is considered Australia is being as ambitious as the European target of 20 per cent (which is still rubbery) agreed last week. This argument is not going to wash with other countries.

But Rudd's own language exposes his timid approach. When dealing with the economic crisis, the Prime Minister always talks about "bold and decisive" action. Yesterday he described the design of his emissions trading scheme as "reasonable and responsible action".


NT police duo stood down over hands-on pictures

No problems if they were doing this in their own time

Two Northern Territory police officers caught in compromising positions with scantily-clad women while they were meant to be on duty patrolling the streets have been stood down from operational duties. These photographs obtained by the Northern Territory News show the officers posing with young ladies at the annual Hookers and Deviates Ball at Discovery nightclub in Darwin this month. One of the armed and uniformed officers is even shown with his hand placed on a woman's buttocks as she bent over in front of him. Another picture shows the same officer receiving a sultry kiss on the cheek from the same girl. And another cop is pictured with a big smile on his face as a woman dressed in black lingerie with bunny ears and a fluffy tail seductively rubs against his crotch.

Both cops were questioned over the racy images yesterday after the NT News brought the photos to NT Police attention and asked them to explain. Deputy Commissioner Bruce Wernham confirmed that the officers in the photos were on duty at the time and were meant to be doing a licensed premises patrol as part of City Safe - an NT Police operation that has been running since last December in Darwin city that targets crime and drunken antisocial behaviour. The operation includes patrols inside licensed premises as well as on on the streets.

Mr Wernham said in a statement last night that the behaviour was "extremely disappointing". "The Northern Territory Police force values its reputation and image above all else and any incident with the potential to detract from the good work of the organisation overall is extremely disappointing," he said. "On our receipt of the photographs an internal investigation was commenced immediately by the Ethical and Professional Standards Command and the two officers concerned were interviewed (yesterday) afternoon." "Further interviews need to be conducted and at the conclusion of the investigation all evidence will be assessed."

He said in the meantime the members concerned had been stood aside from "duties of this type".


Longer wait for elective surgery in NSW

The number of people waiting for elective surgery in NSW has increased by more than 4500 this year, despite $43.3 million in federal funds to cut waiting lists. But the State Government withheld figures showing the 8 per cent year-on-year rise in patients waiting for non-urgent surgery when it made the latest quarterly hospital statistics public last month. The Minister for Health, John Della Bosca, said: "Elective surgery waiting times have decreased substantially, with 91 per cent of patients treated within the recommended time frame of either 30, 90 or 365 days, up 4 per cent on the previous quarter."

However, the full data, made public this month after the Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, submitted a freedom of information request, shows the average waiting time has increased by 5 per cent, to more than 2« months, since September last year. It was the first time in 13 years of Labor Government that elective surgery waiting times and data on emergency department performance had not been made publicly available.

A total of 57,707 patients were waiting for booked surgery last September, compared with 53,176 12 months earlier. An additional 13,512 patients had been categorised as "not ready for care", for personal or medical reasons.

Mr Della Bosca said the state's ageing and growing population and more diagnostic testing for conditions such as breast and prostate cancer was the reason for the increasing caseload. "So we have more people being detected with medical conditions and needing to undergo surgery - which means the overall list gets bigger which is to be expected," he said.

But Ms Skinner said the blow-out was caused by the Government's decision to slash surgeons' operating times, close operating theatres and cut funding for area health services in last month's mini-budget. "Not only are more patients waiting, those on the list are waiting even longer and waiting lists will blow out even more following this summer's extended surgery shutdown," she said.

Mr Della Bosca said ensuring more people were seen within the recommended benchmarks was the critical factor, not the overall size of the list. Ninety-three per cent of category one patients were admitted for surgery within the recommended 30 days, up 2 per cent on September last year, and 96 per cent of category three patients were admitted within less than 12 months, which was steady, he said. However, even with an 8 per cent improvement year-on-year, almost 20 per cent of category two patients were still not treated on time.

The situation in the Illawarra is expected to worsen next year, the Government having decided to end elective surgery at Bulli Hospital "in the medium term" despite opposition from doctors and the public. Mr Della Bosca said transferring Bulli's lists to Shellharbour and Wollongong hospitals "was good news for the people of the Illawarra". The Federal Government announced in January that NSW would receive $43.3 million to cut elective surgery waiting lists. The money started flowing in March.


Baby branded 'too fat' by childcare staff signed up as a model

A BABY wrongly branded fat and obese by childcare centre staff has landed a potentially lucrative modelling contract. Chubby-cheeked Olivia Villella, 10 months, has been signed by Victorian child model agency Bayside Modelling and Casting. Agency owner Kellie Langmaid signed her up after seeing her photos in the Herald Sun last week. She said the tiny tot could potentially earn thousands of dollars from catalogue work and TV commercials. "She has a fabulous look about her. She's full of beans and she's very, very cute," Ms Langmaid said. "She has the most divine curly hair and a big cheesy smile. She's just a sweetheart."

Mum Belinda Moss-Villella, 32, said the model offer was a fairytale ending to a traumatic time. It came after the Herald Sun revealed how staff at an ABC childcare centre in Noble Park North had called Olivia fat and obese, prompting her mum to remove her for fear they wouldn't feed her enough. Medical experts confirmed Olivia was a normal, healthy baby.

Ms Moss-Villella said she was thrilled by the modelling offer. "I can't believe it's happened," she said. "You've got one woman who thought she was an ugly duckling and then you've got another one who can see her real beauty shining through." She hopes her daughter's good fortune will be a lesson to staff at the centre.

"They made a very, very stupid comment and look where Olivia is now," she said. "I hope this teaches them to never, ever comment on anyone's shape, size or colour - especially a child's - ever again. "Children come in all shapes and sizes. I hope they know that now."


Monday, December 15, 2008

Once again Australian banks do well

Unlike banks in the USA, their low-doc (sub-prime) loan portfolios were fine and now this

NAB and Commonwealth Bank say they have no direct exposures to a collapsed pyramid investment scheme operated by US investment broker Bernard Madoff. "CBA has no direct exposure,'' spokesman Steve Batten said.

Prosecutors allege the 70-year-old Wall Street veteran confessed to losing at least $US50 billion ($75.24 billion) in the scheme run by Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, which collapsed due to the global financial crisis. "It's not the business we're in in New York, and he had a fairly limited client list, so we're 99.9 per cent certain we don't have any direct exposure,'' NAB spokeswoman Felicity Glennie-Holmes said.

Banks and financial authorities across the world are scrambling to uncover the scope of losses related to the pyramid scheme, which is one of the largest financial scams to hit Wall Street. The firm's assets were frozen on Friday in a deal with US federal regulators and a receiver was appointed to manage the firm's financial affairs. Top European banks are reported to be clients, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).

US hedge funds and charities have been hit hard, along with Royal Bank of Scotland, and Swiss private bank Reichmuth & Co which has $US327 million at risk, it told investors. A spokeswoman for Royal Bank of Scotland in the UK told AFP the bank had "some exposure'' to Mr Madoff's company, but declined to give details. Spain's largest bank Santander said on Sunday that customers of its hedge fund, Optimal, have an exposure of _2.33 billion euros ($4.63 billion) to the alleged fraud. Meanwhile, France's BNP Paribas, HSBC of Britain and Union Bancaire Privee of Switzerland are rumoured to have billion dollar exposures that are yet to be confirmed by the banks. Spain's second larest bank, BBVA, said it had not commercialised "any Madoff product''. Swiss bankers face losses of up to $US5 billion, Geneva's Le Temps newspaper said.

Source. Update: The ANZ now says that it too is OK but Japan's Nomura Holdings took a hit

Kevvy not Green enough

Kevin Rudd became a target himself today after he announced modest and conditional targets to cut greenhouse gases, thought to be responsible for global warming. As the Prime Minister saud there would be an unconditional 5 per cent cut in emissions by 2010, which could increase to a maximum 15 per cent if the rest of the world agreed to a similar target, a single female protester screamed: "No!" It was a sentiment shared by the Australian Greens, scientists, environmental experts and other protesters, many of who had advocated cuts of 25 to 40 per cent to avert catastrophic climate change.

Meanwhile business labelled the proposed scheme "high risk" at a time of global recession despite billions being handed out to cushion the economic blow for the power industry, other businesses and consumers.

Critics complained the compensation measures would effectively cancel out the scheme's effectiveness at modifying behaviour and also left next to no money to invest in energy efficiency and green alternatives.

Mr Rudd said today's white paper targets represented a responsible course of action. "We are not going to make promises that cannot be delivered,'' he told the National Press Club in Canberra today. "We are starting the scheme with appropriate and responsible targets, targets that are broadly consistent with other developed countries.'' The targets deliver necessary reform to tackle climate change while supporting Australia's economy and securing jobs during the global recession, he said. "Treasury modelling demonstrates that we can deliver on this 5 to 15 per cent commitment while maintaining solid economic growth.''

As Mr Rudd spoke a female protester screamed "No!'' and kept shouting as she was removed from the National Press Club in Canberra. The protester is believed to be Annika Dean, who released a press release earlier in the day detailing the planned protest. "This announcement means the Australian Government is willing to sacrifice the Great Barrier Reef to appease the big polluting companies that are fuelling global climate change,'' Ms Dean said.

In Brisbane protesters from the Brisbane Southside Climate Action Group staged a sit in at the foyer of Kevin Rudd's local electorate office, describing today's targets as "weak". This afternoon Australian Greens leader Bob Brown called the plan an example of Mr Rudd's "dismal politics" and a "failure of leadership".

Leading scientists also expressed dismay. "The 14 per cent cut in our total emissions by 2020 announced today is such a pitifully inadequate attempt to stop dangerous climate change that we may as well wave the white flag now," climate scientist Professor Barry Brook, from the University of Adelaide, said.

Environmental activists Greenpeace also accused Mr Rudd of betraying Australians with a pathetic emissions reduction target "The Government's target of 5 per cent by 2020 is totally unacceptable and cannot be allowed to stand," Greenpeace climate campaign co-ordinator John Hepburn said. "Mr Rudd has betrayed the science, betrayed the community and betrayed the next generation who will have to live with climate change impacts. "He has caved in to the bullying tactics of the coal and other polluting industries," Mr Hepburn said

Despite the modest targets and a compensation package worth more than $1bn to help business and community groups adjust to emissions trading, Australia's leading business group labelled the scheme "high risk" during a time of global recession. "But it does beg the basic question and that is whether or not these costs can be borne by business in the first place at a time when Australia is going through an international economic firestorm,'' Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson told ABC Television. "We need to come through that economic firestorm with a strong economy and placing domestic stress on the economy is going to just make that more difficult.''


Leftist tyranny on the World Wide Web

The champions of mandatory filtering are not Australia's Christian Right but its PC, feministic, leftish elite

Guess who really kickstarted the current push for mandatory ISP-level filtering here in Australia ? No, it wasn't the Christian right; it was Clive Hamilton and the supposedly left-of-centre Australia Institute. The Australia Institute is a think tank established by Hamilton in 1994 to lobby for increased government regulation over market forces. It `participate(s) forcefully in public debates', with the express aim of developing policy initiatives which `reassert the place of ethics' by prioritising `justice, equity and sustainability' over economic efficiency.

Hamilton himself could well be described as `the King of Australian whinge lit', or perhaps `Hairshirt Hamilton'. He feels miserable in the modern world and wants to spread the message. In recent years, he has produced a string of books, with titles such as Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough, Growth Fetish, and Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change. They are all variants on the theme that modern consumer society has turned us into helpless hedonists, duped by the market into indulging our basest desires (and stupidly destroying the planet as we do so). Remarkably, he is regarded here as a leading leftist intellectual.

Hamilton and the Australia Institute began their campaign for internet censorship back in 2003, with a deliberately targeted media splash, based on some rather spurious research supposedly documenting the evil effects of porn on Australian youth (for more detail see here). This is all written up on the Electronic Frontiers Australia website (see here and here), but has remained largely unmentioned by the major `left' blogs in Australia, which have tended to oppose the censorship scheme anaemically, at best.

Back in 2003, Hamilton did manage to get the attention of the conservative Coalition government led by the then Liberal Party prime minister, John Howard. Senator Richard Alston, then minister for communication, information technology and the arts, promised to look into Hamilton's ideas for online censorship. Religious `family oriented' groups then took the opportunity to raise their voices, making extensive use of the Australia Institute's material in their lobbying on the issue. However, in 2004, the idea of ISP-level filtering was rejected by the Howard government, which argued: `Given the limited benefits of an ISP-level filtering system, the costs of a mandated requirement to filter do not appear justified.'

While Howard remained PM, the only action taken was the establishment of the Net Alert website which provided advice about net safety and free downloadable filters, for those who wanted them. Shortly before the 2007 election, the Liberal Party did try to pander to the Christian Right by offering to establish ISP-level filtering, but only for those who wanted it (that is, it was a non-mandatory filtering proposal). That was as far as it went under Howard. However, with the election of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and Kevin Rudd as prime minister last November, the Hamilton/Australia Institute campaign found itself with a far more sympathetic government.

The ALP under Rudd is in fact far more moralistic and authoritarian than the Liberals ever were. In his election campaign, Rudd quite consciously targeted `market fundamentalism' on the basis that it undermines traditional family values. He publicly (and opportunistically) embraced some of the communitarian ideas of David McKnight (author of Beyond Right and Left) in his speeches to the intelligentsia, noting in his November 2006 lecture at the Centre for Independent Studies (at which he was introduced by McKnight), that `market fundamentalism has split the political right down the middle along the traditional fault lines of conservatives versus liberals, and. this in turn provides Labor with fresh political and policy opportunities for the future'.

Hamilton, like McKnight, is a communitarian who believes that capitalism creates a level of wealth, freedom and choice which corrupts us. In a number of his books, he has hijacked part of the earlier (and far more interesting) analysis developed by Daniel Bell in his 1976 book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, arguing that economic growth engenders a consumerist mentality which destroys `normal' human relationships, creates the desire for instant gratification, manipulates us in ways over which we have no control, and so on. We would be happier, and morally better, if we were poorer, and forced to live more simply and locally.

Hamilton's crusade against pornography is driven both by standard political correctness (it `objectifies women', `subverts healthy sexual relationships', `incites male violence'), and by a more generally puritanical attitude toward sex. He riles against the `pornographication' of everyday life, and chastises `the libertarian left' for continuing `to invest so much in the freedoms won in the Sixties'. He says:
`The ideas of the libertarian left have become a reactionary force, for they have substituted an uncritical defence of the freedoms won in an earlier era for a real politics of social change.

`Like young people everywhere I thought we were freeing ourselves from the shackles of oppressive convention and sexual hang-ups. We thought we were creating a new society and we knew our opponents were being defeated. The conservative establishment lost cause after cause and could no longer sustain the institution of social convention: Victorian morality, women's oppression, the unbearable constraints of social convention. But while the battle against social conservatism was being fought and won, the real enemy was getting on with business and savouring the new commercial opportunities that the radical were opening up.

`In the 1950s, middle-class respectability may have been oppressive, but it carried with it a certain deference. Women are the subject of far more sexual objectification now than they were in the 1950s, although men have become more adept at concealing it. And even the need to conceal has been discarded by the crass exploitation of "girl power". Why should a young man pretend that he doesn't lust after the young woman who has just burned him off at the traffic lights, when nubile popstars thrust their groins at the camera and declare "more power to us"?'

The research conducted by the Australia Institute and Hamilton and his colleague Dr Michael Flood concludes that internet porn is a social evil associated with increased levels of misogyny among young Australian males. There's a critical account of it on the EFA website, so I won't go into it here, except to say that it's not too hard to pick apart.

Regardless of any research claims, there is no empirical evidence that Australian men have deteriorated in their attitude towards women. In fact, the social trend seems to be in the other direction.

With regard to pornography, Hamilton casts his net quite wide. He uses the bogeyman of child porn to provoke moral outrage (despite the fact that child porn is already illegal and, since it is hidden, no-one sees it `accidentally'), and then hitches a ride on this to condemn almost all other porn. Michael Flood has even mooted the idea of an `ethical porn', which depicts people engaged in `normal loving sexual behaviour'. The availability of material which shows men ejaculating on women's faces, double penetration, male-female anal sex, bondage or simulated rape scenes is seen as just obviously socially dangerous. `Normal' sex, as defined by Hamilton and his supporters, should be. well, I don't know quite what, but certainly very politically correct and restrained. It seems that the liberal censors would like the government to find a way of censoring sexual fantasies, and imposing the `correct line' on sex.

The whole area of human sexuality is such a complex mix of primitive urges, emotional needs and our higher-level needs for connection on a mental level that at present we don't have the tools to tease it apart. That includes Hamilton. No amount of political correctness can substitute for genuine understanding.

In any case, we already have laws about real-life non-consensual, violent sex. It's outrageous that people like Hamilton would like the state to regulate material that allows people to explore the fantasies which turn them on.

Of course, there is plenty of porn that is distasteful, boring, superficial and (to me) very off-putting. But I don't have to look at it, and if our young people come across it, either accidentally or as part of their natural curiosity, I don't think we need to worry that it will create a dangerous epidemic of `unhealthy' sexual appetites.

Hamilton really ought to be taken apart for his role in attempting to impose his own morality on everyone else. His role in this discussion of widespread mandatory filtering in Australia has been far more significant than that of the Christian Right.

While he is correct when he says that market capitalism has a shallowness which leaves us with an `emptiness' and a desire for deeper, more meaningful lives, his moralistic call for people to accept lower living standards and his (very serious) attempt to have the state step in to regulate various atavistic desires are simply reactionary. The yearning `for something more' is exactly the impulse which will one day lead people to want to step up, take responsibility and run things themselves. I'm convinced that they won't decide that they want to be poorer and have less freedom.


The old, old story again

Fewer dumb girls but fewer very bright ones too (ENTER is the test for entering university in the State of Victoria)

Girls rule overall in the study stakes but boys are still the brains' trust. New VCE data backs up the trend of female students achieving a higher average ENTER, but more boys nail the perfect score at the elite end of the scale. More than double the number of boys (21) than girls (10) received the highest possible ENTER of 99.95 this year. Last year, 19 boys and 13 girls aced their final year of school with the perfect score. The average ENTER for girls in the class of 2008 is 65.51 and 62.63 for boys.

Females also topped males last year when comparing average scores; the 2007 female average was 64.06 and 61.42 for males. Boys outperformed girls at the top level in 2006, with 26 male students getting 99.95 compared with just nine females. For the past three years, more girls have passed VCE than boys. Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre Director Elaine Wenn said girls outperformed boys overall. "However, boys continue to outnumber girls by two to one at the highest level of 99.95," she said.


Is Victoria's ambulance service unfixable?

The complaints never seem to stop

Long delays for ambulance services are putting lives at risk, the Victorian ambulance union says. A log of 291 incidents from August to November showed dangerously slow response times, Ambulance Employees Association Victorian secretary Steve McGhie said. Ninety-six scheduled shifts failed to run on time during that period. In one case, an 89-year-old woman with severe chest pains was taken to hospital by car after waiting 23 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, Mr McGhie said.

"These figures show the ambulance service is failing the community,'' he said in a statement. "People's lives are being put at risk by slow response times and cancelled ambulances. "Paramedics are working massive hours to cover our over-stretched service, and when everyone else is with their friends and family at Christmas, this is their busiest time of the year.''

Mr McGhie said the only way to attract new people to the profession was to offer fair wages and 10-hour rest breaks. "The community needs to be extremely cautious over the holiday season, because this log shows the ambulance you need in a crisis simply may not be there.''

A spokesman for Health Minister Daniel Andrews said the State Government had committed 258 extra paramedics and provided $186 million to services during 2008.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

No justice in Victoria's courts

I'm guessing that the attackers were blacks or Muslims. That would be consistent with past practice. See here

A bashed girl and two boys who almost died from stab wounds are disgusted by the slap on the wrist given to their attackers. The three friends suffered horrifying injuries when gatecrashers attacked the occupants of a home in Clyde, near Cranbourne, in August last year.

The armed gang retaliated with violence when asked to leave. They left three people requiring hospital treatment and damaged two vehicles. The court case over the vicious attack saw two of the thugs escape conviction and all three given light sentences on reduced charges.

Jayden Carter, 21, almost died when he was stabbed four times, including twice in the heart. His attacker, then 17, of Narre Warren, received six months' probation. The boy, who cannot be named because of his age, was found guilty of using violence and possessing a drug of dependence (steroids), but avoided jail and a conviction.

Owen Devon was left in a pool of blood with three stab wounds, one in the spleen, one between the ribs and one under an arm. The second attacker, of Narre Warren, pleaded guilty to "aiding and abetting the stabbing" of Mr Devon and hitting Victoria Fuller in the face with a baseball bat. He also smashed two car windscreens with the bat. He avoided jail and will do 50 hours of unpaid community work over a year. The third attacker, 16 at the time, also escaped conviction and received a $1000 fine for violence.

Mr Carter, who was having a party with 20 guests, flatlined twice on the night of the stabbing and doctors believed he would not survive. He was taken to Casey Medical Centre and then flown to the Alfred hospital. "I was lying in hospital and the doctors were working on Owen next to me and he was yelling, 'Look after Jayden'. And I remember them saying, 'I don't think your friend is going to make it'," he said. "It made me feel dead."

Mr Carter described the justice system as "a joke" for allowing his attacker to walk free. "I can't even go swimming any more because the cold water makes my scars hurt, as if I'm being stabbed all over again," he said.

Ms Fuller is still being treated and has trouble eating since being "smashed" in the face. She said Premier John Brumby should stop talking tough and actually punish violent offenders. "The police did everything they could do to get a sentence and yet the guys I watched stabbing my friends are free to live their lives," she said.

Victims of crime advocate Domenic Greco said victims didn't have a voice in the Australian court system.


Gun ownership up by 10,000 a year as NSW Government waters down laws

Gun ownership is booming again in NSW, with 40,000 new firearms registered in the past four years. The rise coincides with a deal cut by the State Government and the Shooters Party to water down tough gun laws introduced in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre.

Figures from the NSW Firearm Registry obtained by the National Coalition of Gun Control show gun ownership has risen at the rate of 10,000 a year since 2004 to 687,138 in October this year. Multiple gun ownership has also soared. The number of people receiving permits to obtain a second or subsequent firearm in 2006 was 32,616. In the first 10 months of this year, 43,095 such permits were issued.

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics has also revealed that guns are being stolen at a rate of more than two a day. The majority are taken from homes. Despite the worrying figures, the Government and the Shooters Party have quietly agreed to a number of changes to gun laws introduced by former premier Bob Carr after the Port Arthur killings.

Shooting clubs will no longer have their licences automatically revoked for not disqualifying members who have been convicted of firearms offences. Previously, the police commissioner could immediately revoke a club's licence for not taking action against a convicted member. In another change, the mandatory 28-day waiting period before a second or third gun can be acquired has also been scrapped. The Government has also made it easier for men who have previously been the subject of apprehended violence orders to regain a gun licence.


Some students to be taught (optionally) that there's no God

This is fair enough but I hope that there is some place in the curriculum for kids to learn something about the immense impact Christianity has had on the development of our civilization. I am myself an atheist but I sent my son to a Catholic school because I felt his education would be incomplete without an exposure to Christian ideas

Victorian state primary school students will soon be able to take religious education classes which teach there is no evidence God exists. The Humanist Society of Victoria has developed a curriculum for primary pupils that the state government accreditation body says it intends to approve, The Sunday Age newspaper reported. Accredited volunteers will be able to teach their philosophy in the class time allotted for religious instruction, the newspaper said.

As with lessons delivered by faith groups, parents will be able to request that their children do not participate. "Atheistical parents will be pleased to hear that humanistic courses of ethics will soon be available in some state schools," Victorian Humanist Society president Stephen Stuart said.

The society does not consider itself to be a religious organisation and believes ethics have "no necessary connection with religion". Humanists believe people are responsible for their own destiny and reject the notion of a supernatural force or God.


Greek tragedy in proud Aussie heart

Maybe I am just a sentimental old fool but I found the article below by a lady of Greek descent very moving. Athens and Jerusalem are the twin foundations of our civilization so to think that a person of Greek descent would renounce their Greekness seems exceptionally sad to me

By Veneta Tsindos

It is true the ancient Greeks invented drama - and democracy too. But many Australians with relatives back in Greece might be wondering why thousands of years later such a creative nation continues in turmoil. The riots that erupted after the police shooting of teenager Alexis Grigoropoulos are a sign of pent-up frustration, in a country of political corruption and unequal wealth. You could say our cousins are still acting like "drama queens" and kings.

The whole Greek tragedy makes me cringe. But why? I live here in Australia. I am "Australian," a true "fair dinkum Aussie" born as a second generation in this country - not a Greek. So why do I still feel ashamed that Greeks can behave badly, using fire, riots and rebellion with loud mouths and bad manners to solve problems? Because human nature inevitably dictates that Australians with a Greek heritage have such passion running through their veins and can't help feeling "this reflects badly on me".

It makes us look like violent creatures, lacking civil society, intelligence, when we are not. It's not the truth. Yet everyone's origins are so powerful that we can't help feeling typecast. And, to be truthful even those who say they don't stereotype people - including me - unfortunately can't escape that feeling.

Some say rebellion is deeply embedded in the Greek psyche and the current tragedy is testimony. Being rebellious is not a bad thing in itself - it can be good - if words are your only weapons. Words used wisely. So it's time for me to be rebellious and call on all Australians of Greek origin to drop the flag - the Greek one. Yes, by all means support Marcos Baghdatis at the tennis and the Greek soccer teams - but not at the expense of my dear and beloved Australia. It's time ethnic origins came second. We are Australian and this is our home, our love. Past blood is an add on.

The challenge of identity via the news comes only days after my four children started asking: "Mum what am I, am I Greek or Australian?" I knew revolution time had come for our household tribe. The time for me to get rid of my identity crisis - vagueness - and get it straight. What am "I" Australian or Greek? I realised the message I was giving my children, about what I was - and what they were - was confusing and perplexing for them. They don't deserve to live with such uncertainty.

My poor hubby tried to explain. He kept telling them they are Australian. Yet they needed both parents to tick the Australian identity box. "Don't ask me kids, I don't know what I am either, go ask your dad," was no longer sufficient. Mixed language - Australian one day and Greek the next - needed the sack. So did the double identity thing - Australian-Greek, Greek-Australian. It was "mucking them up", making them feel inferior, like half-castes. And our difference, origin, heritage, should not make us less Australian.

The children's questioning caught me by surprise -- I naturally assumed that they would know. Obviously I was not thinking straight. So after some deep thought, analysis and heated debate the children, hubby and I decided on "Australian" with a full stop. That's it. I had fought for "Australian with a Greek origin". But hubby felt that that was still not right. "Origin told if asked" was his view.

Maybe he doesn't have the Parthenon screaming in his ear: "look at me I'm still standing, don't forget about me. "I have history, strength, culture - I am rich!"

In one sense, we're all descendants of imports, or imports - none of us are "real" Australians unless we are Aboriginal. But we all share this land. I cannot bring myself to say that my children are more Australian than me just because they are third-generation here and I am the second. We're all proud Aussies now - and in any case, I eat more pies than they do!


Saturday, December 13, 2008

False economy: E10 fuel isn't cheaper or greener

A fuel derived from plants might appear to be a cheap and green alternative but exclusive Drive research proves this is not the case. A fuel-efficiency showdown between the three most-popular types of petrol on the market concludes the ethanol blend will cost you more in the long run and may not even help the environment. Ethanol-blend fuels are about three cents a litre cheaper than regular unleaded at the pump but Drive found bills are higher overall because it burns less efficiently.

The findings throw into question NSW Government claims that E10 provides cost savings for motorists. The NSW Government has mandated the sale of E10 in NSW, requiring petrol company sales to include at least 2 percent ethanol. The mandate in effect requires companies to ensure that 20 percent of the fuel they sell is E10, a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent petrol. At the time of the announcement last year, then premier Morris Iemma described the decision as a "win for the hip pocket when it comes to fuel costs for families". Our figures prove otherwise.

Drive put the three fuels to the test, driving three identical Toyota Camrys more than 2000 kilometres in a range of conditions to see which fuel drives your dollar further. The E10-fuelled Camry in the test cost $276.55 to run, while the regular unleaded version cost $271.56 and the premium unleaded fuel version, which cost, on average, 15 cents a litre more than E10, cost $285.54. The car running on premium unleaded consumed 9.06 litres/ 100km, compared with 9.41L/100km for the regular unleaded car and 9.81 litres for the E10 vehicle.

The test-drive route covered a range of conditions, from freeway driving to off-peak and peak-hour city driving. City driving exposed E10's efficiency shortcomings -- almost as expensive as using premium unleaded, despite the huge gap in pump prices. In the700 kilometres of city driving, our E10 Camry used almost 10 litres more fuel than our premium-fuel car. The comparative fuel bills for the three cars were: E10, $105; premium, $105.91; and regular unleaded, $100.33. Had we used thirstier six-cylinder cars or less-efficient used cars, the equation would probably have strengthened further in favour of unleaded and premium fuel.

During our test, unleaded petrol was priced at $1.30 a litre, which meant the three cents a litre less we paid for E10 amounted to a 2.3 percent discount. But our figures show that the car using E10 used 4.2 percent more fuel than the car using regular unleaded fuel. During city driving, the discount remained the same but we used 7.2percent more E10 than regular and 11.2percent more than premium unleaded. Since our test, the drop in petrol prices has made E10 more attractive, because a three cents- a-litre discount translates to a 3 percent discount if fuel is priced at $1. Our findings contrast starkly with the claims made by some petrol distributors.

United Petroleum general manager David Szymczak says overseas studies find the fuel consumption difference between E10 and unleaded can be as low as1 percent. United's E10 fuel has a higher octane rating (95RON ) than that of other distributors. "When you consider that you can get 3 percent to5 percent better economy just by having the right air [pressure] in your tyres, it's a very minor issue," Szymczaksays.

Caltex spokesman Frank Topham says the fuel-consumption differences vary widely from vehicle to vehicle. "It is such an individual thing with each vehicle," he says. "People should check it out for themselves and see if they find any appreciable difference." But the head of engine development for Porsche's Cayman sports car, Jurgen Kapfer, says there is no doubt E10 is less efficient. Kapfer should know. He's just been through the certification process for Euro V, the fuel standard about to be adopted in Europe. Unlike previous fuel standards, Euro V demands car companies use an E10 blend in their cars when they complete their fuel consumption test cycle.

Under the current standard, the published fuel-consumption figures are based on a test that replicates city and country driving using premium unleaded, or 95RON, fuel. That's why Porsche published two sets of fuel-consumption figures for the Cayman at the car's global launch in Spain recently. The first set was for the current standard, Euro IV, while the second set had fuel consumption for the Euro V standard. Using E10, the base model Cayman's fuel consumption increases about 3 percent, from 8.9L/100km to 9.2L/100km.

This is what Porsche's official press information says about the switch: "When homologating a car to EU5 [Euro V], the manufacturer must provide for a new fuel grade with a higher share of ethanol. "Displacing the same volume, such fuel has a lower calorific value than the fuel required for homologation to EU4. Hence, fuel consumption under the EU5 standard is slightly higher than with EU4 on the same carbon dioxide emissions." The translation, according to Kapfer, is that the two are line-ball on saving the planet. E10 emits less carbon dioxide but you use more of it, so the benefits are negligible.....


Conservatives look to delay Warmist laws

The worsening economic downturn and deepening business concerns are hardening the Coalition's resolve to delay the Rudd Government's emissions trading scheme by one or two years. In a message to business that the scheme to be unveiled on Monday could yet be watered down, the Government has made it clear it would prefer that the ETS passed the Senate next year with support from the Coalition, rather than the Greens and the two Independents. But Malcolm Turnbull and his emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb made it clear yesterday that they could force a delay because many businesses would be struggling just to survive the next few years, even without the massive and costly structural change of an ETS.

"As the impact of the meltdown has progressed ... almost a sense of fear has grown ... about how (companies) will physically handle what's ahead of them over the next year or two in keeping their business afloat, keeping people in jobs, doing what they have to do to maintain the strength and viability of their business," Mr Robb said. "And then to have the prospect of having an emissions trading scheme brought in over the top ... is adding to business uncertainty in a most profound way."

Mr Robb said the Coalition would not make a final decision until it saw the design of the Government's scheme, but he was being influenced by what he was hearing from individual companies and by the view expressed by Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout in The Australian yesterday that the Government should consider a delay.

National Party senator Barnaby Joyce has said there was no way he could vote for an ETS in the current economic environment, and has indicated he would favour an even longer delay.

Other businesses and peak industry bodies have been urging the Government to press ahead with its scheme in the interests of investment certainty.

The Government could also try to negotiate its scheme through the Senate with the votes of the Greens, Independent senator Nick Xenophon and Family First senator Steve Fielding. The Greens have successfully negotiated several compromise deals with the Government this year, and Greens senator Christine Milne told The Australian yesterday that when it came to the ETS, "we stand ready to negotiate again, our door is open". [The independents seem set to block that idea]


Crooked Queensland cops again

They go by their own version of the law

Police chased a Gold Coast bikie to his death and then tried to cover up the illegal pursuit, a coronial inquest into the fatal accident has found. State Coroner Michael Barnes has recommended disciplinary action against four officers involved in the June 2006 pursuit, during which Craig Shepherd died and his girlfriend was seriously injured.

Handing down his findings today after a four-day inquest, the coroner said one officer may have "wilfully ignored" the Queensland Police Service pursuit policy and there was significant evidence he and three colleagues had "wilfully withheld" information from a police internal investigator. Mr Barnes was critical of the officers' failure to advise a pursuit was under way and to stop the chase once it reached a steep and winding Gold Coast hinterland road.

The inquest was told Mr Shepherd, 26, died instantly when his week-old high-powered Triumph Rocket crashed on Beechmont Rd after a pursuit at speeds of up to 150km/h. With his girlfriend riding pillion, the unlicensed and disqualified Odin's Warriors bikie gang member and two fellow bikers were returning home from a night at the gang's Tweed Heads clubhouse when they tried to evade a police motorcyclist at Tugun.

Mr Barnes said the motorcycle officer 'sensibly' gave up the chase but traffic officers Stephen Chapman and Hilton Buckley took up the pursuit on the Pacific Highway at Robina. Mr Shepherd ran two red lights and crossed double white lines during the chase, which wound through Nerang towards Beechmont. It was only when Mr Shepherd crashed that the police communications centre was told there had been a pursuit, Mr Barnes said. He said there was 'no doubt' the main cause of the crash was Mr Shepherd's failure to stop and his 'highly dangerous' riding. But Mr Barnes was critical of the conduct of some officers who he said had not complied with QPS policies and 'should be held accountable'.

He said that while police were not motivated by improper purposes, 'it seems their enthusiasm for the enforcement of the traffic laws may have led them into error'. "Traffic police are frequently exposed to the horrible consequences of dangerous driving and it is understandable that they might lose perspective about how to appropriately perform their functions," Mr Barnes said. He said Senior Constable Chapman could be guilty of misconduct for 'wilfully failing' to comply with the pursuit policy. Mr Barnes found Sen-Constable Chapman, Const Buckley and two other traffic branch officers had tried to conceal mobile phone discussions about the pursuit and may also be guilty of misconduct. He said one senior constable who had failed to stop the pursuit or advise police communications it was under way may also have been 'incompetent, negligent, indolent or careless' in his duties.

Mr Barnes said he would not make recommendations about changing police pursuit policies until inquests into seven deaths that occurred between June 2005 and December 2006 had been completed. Fighting back tears outside court, Mr Shepherd's younger brother Brian said his family was satisfied with the findings. "Hopefully, it will stop this happening again," he said.


Too many uni students cry poor

By Ross Gittins, a Left-leaning economist

I like to think I care about the plight of the less fortunate. But if you feel sorry for everyone with a hard-luck story you debase the currency. So one of the groups I've never had much sympathy for is self-pitying university students. They're middle-class kids pretending to be poor and deserving, whereas they're actually setting themselves up for a life of well-above-average earnings. The few years of their life they spend having to scrimp and save won't do them any harm. It might teach them to have some concern for the genuinely needy.

Psychologists say we read less for enlightenment than to reinforce our existing opinions, and I found much to support my prejudices in last week's report on the private costs of tertiary education, prepared by the University of Canberra's National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling for AMP. Let's start with the much maligned Higher Education Contribution Scheme. When the Howard government was increasing HECS payments we got used to reading scandalised reports about how the cost of a medical degree for someone having to buy their way into uni had blown out to almost $200,000. As is the media's wont, this was an extreme example. Turns out that for students graduating last year, their average total fee was $20,500. That's less than you'd borrow to buy a car.

The report estimates that it takes the average single male or female seven or eight years to pay off the HECS debt. Does that sound a long time? It's certainly longer than you'd be given to pay off most commercial loans. But that's a sign of the generosity of the scheme. You don't have to start making repayments until your income hits $41,600 a year ($800 a week), at which point the repayments start at $32 a week. The report estimates that it may take a male sole parent with two children as long as 14 years to repay his debt, while a female sole parent in similar circumstances may never get her debt paid off.

Does that sound bad? It's actually good. The point of the scheme is that your repayments are geared to your income, so that if you don't earn much - or don't earn anything while you're off minding kids - the Government will wait as long as it takes for its money. And, unlike any commercial lender, it doesn't charge a real interest rate while it waits. To me, the fact that sole parents fallen on hard times may never be required to repay the charge for their education is a virtue, not a vice.

It's sometimes objected that lumbering our young graduates with all this debt must surely reduce their ability to afford a home of their own. But the report finds little evidence to support this fear - which is hardly surprising. Why? Because the greatest impediment to owning a home isn't having to repay a HECS debt, it's not having the high salary that goes with being a uni graduate. That, to me, is the point. When you become a university graduate you're translated to the ranks of the privileged in our community.

Professor Bruce Chapman of the Australian National University estimates that, on average, the lifetime earnings of graduates are about 70 per cent greater than for those who went only to year 12. That difference averages more than $1.5 million, even after you allow for the earnings students forgo when they study full-time. And we're supposed to feel sorry for kids who can't buy everything they want for a few years while they qualify to enter the winners' circle?

It's not just more income that being a graduate gets you, of course. Graduates tend to have jobs that are cleaner, safer, more secure and more intellectually satisfying. They're far less likely to be out of work during their lives. And they ought to have had their minds opened to wonders of the world. It's these private benefits to possessors of a tertiary education that justify the Government requiring them to contribute towards the cost of that education. But the report finds our uni fees are third highest among developed countries.

Even that's not quite as bad as it sounds. Our fees are about a third lower than students pay in Japan, about a quarter lower than in the United States and not much higher than in Canada. What's more, few countries allow their university fees to be paid on the generous terms we do. With us, you don't have to pay a cent until you've graduated and are earning a decent salary, nor do you ever pay a real interest rate. The scheme was designed that way to ensure the fees didn't deter kids from poor families from going to uni.

But just how deprived are uni students? Well, two-thirds of full-time uni students under 25 live at home, so they're probably not doing too badly. Some of these would be eligible for the Government's youth allowance but most wouldn't because their parents' incomes are too high. More than 60 per cent of full-time uni students of all ages have jobs. Forty per cent work up to 19 hours a week, 15 per cent work between 20 and 34 hours a week and 6 per cent work full-time.

Full-time students under 25 who live in group households have earnings averaging only about a third of the earnings of full-time workers under 25 living in group households - $270 a week versus $820 a week. But, on average, the students spend $540 a week each, which is only about 20 per cent less than the $690 a week the workers spend.

That tells us two things. First, the students can't be greatly deprived and, second, they must still be being propped up by their parents even though they've left home. Sounds to me, if anything, it's the students' parents we should feel sorry for. But I bet the kids don't see it that way.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Poor teachers to blame for kids' bad marks says Education Minister

He's partly right. But how come teaching is no longer an attractive profession? Would largely non-existent discipline be something to do with it? And what does it say about the 4-year courses aspiring teachers have to do before getting a teaching job? Does the word "useless" spring to mind?

Education minister Rod Welford says Queensland's ailing school system is linked to the incapacity of our universities to attract quality teachers. Mr Welford has signalled trainee teacher standards need urgent attention. Mr Welford yesterday compared Queensland teaching qualifications with those of the world leader Finland, which demands teachers have a Masters of Education. "In Finland it's very high competition to get into teaching and here we don't attract, for some reason, our best and brightest," Mr Welford said.

His comments come a day after Premier Anna Bligh announced an independent review of the school system, triggered by Queensland's latest poor showing in international exams. The Courier-Mail can confirm the Minister this week wrote to Melbourne education consultant Professor Brian Caldwell, inviting him to present his 10-point plan to turn around the dimming prospects of the state's languishing students.

Professor Caldwell and Brisbane's Dr Jessica Harris, who co-wrote Why Not The Best Schools, after five years' research into what makes the world's top schools tick, will present their conclusions to the heads of the department. The book and its 10-year plan draws heavily from Finland.

Professor Caldwell and Dr Harris yesterday said the Finnish move to raise standards and prestige of teaching through a compulsory Masters of Education, was critical to their success. Dr Harris said only the top 10 per cent of applicants were accepted to teaching; the most sought-after course. Such a cut-off in Queensland would equate to an Overall Position (OP) score of 3 or 4, and is in sharp contrast to the generous standards of Queensland universities. Scores needed to enter a Bachelor of Education in this state over the past two years ranged from Overall Position 12 to 19.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said such standards were far too low. He said OPs were generally nothing more than a measure of supply and demand in a particular year, and a method to fund university courses. "It doesn't solve the problem by changing them (entrance marks)," he said. "We've got to create a scenario that teachers with top OP scores compete for positions."

The union chief said he interpreted Mr Welford's comments about Queensland not attracting high-calibre teaching candidates as a discussion about raising the status of the profession.

The academic performances of Finland's schools are never published, with the state trusting school leaders to implement the curriculum effectively and provide equity of access to every child. Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said Mr Welford's move to blame teachers for the poor school results was typical of the Labor Government, which never accepted any responsibility for its actions or lack of action.


This idolization of Finland has some merit but comparability between Finland and Australia is low. As just one example, the foreign-born population in Finland is just 2.5 percent, and most of those are people who fit into Finnish society with relative ease: Russians, Estonians and Swedes. Australia, by contrast, is one of the most multi-cultural and multi-racial countries on earth. So picking out the fact that Finnish teachers have Master's degrees as the crucial difference shows that we are listening to propaganda, not any serious attempt at analysis

Seaweed to the rescue

There are many reasons for wanting to reduce our dependence on oil: the increasing cost, reliability of supply, finite resources, the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming. Yet when people talk about alternative sources of fuel they mostly discuss the conversion of food, such as corn, into ethanol, which puts enormous pressure on food supplies. During the past year, demands for food and fuel have combined to drive up food prices sharply, which has particularly important ramifications in developing countries.

When one adds to the mix growing populations and global environmental change, with the pressures these impose on our ability to maintain high crop yields, the prospects for providing sufficient food for all are not good. So, the idea of converting a significant proportion of our food into fuel for vehicles or diverting agricultural land to grow biomass seems misguided.

Although the growth of biomass on marginal lands has some prospect, the impact on nature conservation must be considered. Furthermore, the contribution that such areas can make to global liquid fuel needs will always be modest. Marginal lands provide only low-density cropping potential and biomass from plants or crop residues generally has a low energy density, while a significant proportion of the energy gained from the biomass will be consumed in the process of moving the biomass to the processing centres.

Yet one group of plants could make a sustainable, significant contribution to world energy supply. They do not require agricultural land and need only minimal processing. Single-celled algae can grow very rapidly in low quality water, producing biomass at 10 to 30 times the rate of terrestrial plants. They can do this mainly because the cells are immersed in a medium providing all their needs, including physical support, and so the cells have no need to build infrastructure to move materials and to support themselves. A pond 60km by 60km (less than 500,000ha) well stocked with a vigorous microalga would go close to producing sufficient biomass to meet most of Australia's liquid fuel needs.

Furthermore, algae have remarkable biochemical abilities: some strains produce oils that could be used unmodified in diesel engines. Indeed, there is good evidence that many of the world's vast reserves of fossil liquid fuels are the products of ancient algal activity. The demands of algae are simple: sunlight, warmth, water, nutrients and, most significantly, carbon dioxide, the much maligned gas that is a major contributor to global warming.

Australia has more sunshine and warmth than any other developed country, and seawater is common, thanks to our extended coastline. Augmentation of seawater with waste water from sewage treatment plants could completely satisfy algal nutrient demands and would have the side benefit of treating the wastewater. Significantly, carbon dioxide can be delivered to the algal cells either direct from the atmosphere or in a concentrated form from cement factories and electricity stations. The algae can also be engineered to convert waste carbon dioxide to produce valuable products, such as liquid fuels.

Consequently, this process has much greater economic potential to be an economic option than, for example, carbon capture and storage, which, other than the carbon credits, produces no useful product. In addition to the production of liquid fuels, the algae can be used in other ways: there is potential for the cells to be pyrolysed to char for burial, which effectively removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or they could be used as animal food.

Across the world, including in Australia, pilot programs are pioneering this new biotechnology. The main engineering challenge is efficiently harvesting the algae. The biological challenges would not surprise anyone who has attempted to keep an aquarium clean. The algae must be resistant to pests and pathogens and must be able to outcompete other algae that are likely to contaminate the ponds. Reliable containment methods, such as those used for bacteria and fungi in research laboratories for decades, are also necessary to prevent the escape of the microalgae into our waterways. The use of algae that have evolved in natural ecosystems will not be adequate. To optimise productivity, alteration of the algae will be necessary, including their genetic modification.

Globally, most of the research on algal biofuels is in private hands. Recently, Bill Gates invested in a US company developing algae as a fuel. But if industry is to bridge the gap between theory and reality, large companies will need to dig deep in order to develop long-term research programs. Perhaps some government-sponsored research is also necessary. Support for the integration of algal production systems with existing infrastructure - power stations and waste treatment works - will also require government intervention. But, on the whole, this new and exciting area of research and development is likely to be driven by the private sector.

Meanwhile, the Government is grappling with solutions to climate change without factoring in new technology. The international community is meeting this week in Poznan, Poland, to try to negotiate a global agreement on reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. These negotiations are bound to be diabolically difficult, to use Ross Garnaut's phrase. There will be heated discussions about what the level of greenhouse gas emissions should be in 25 years and in 50 years. It is as if a conference were being held in 1908 on global transport for the 20th century without taking into account the work of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Nobody imagined that their rickety plane would transform the world. But it did.

In the 21st century we need to build on this understanding of the power of technology to transform the way we live. As Rupert Murdoch observed when he delivered his first Boyer Lecture last month, there will be great rewards for Australians who discover new ways of reducing emissions or cleaning the environment.

With some hard economic analyses, some cutting-edge plant biotechnology and engineering that balances economic and biological demands, algal liquid fuel production could provide us with the most sustainable and economically viable biofuels option and a contribution to greenhouse gas reductions.


Social Control -Why Clive Hamilton Wants To Shut Down The Net

Meet the man behind the Labor Governments push to introduce mandatory Internet Filtering in Australia. Clive Hamilton is the face of the ‘intellectual left’ in Australia and has been advocating since 2003 for a mandatory filtering (read censorship) of the internet.

Hamilton claims the moral high ground of protecting our children against po***ography, even though he knows that it will not work. An article written by Hamilton on the 19th of November on the issue is very revealing:
“The internet has spawned a community of devotees who operate in a cow-boy culture that thinks itself beyond the normal reach of social control, as if they inhabit an independent cyber-nation that applies it own laws in the form of voluntary protocols for those who choose to accept them.”

Note the term ’social control’. Even though the majority of Australians don’t realize it over the past 2 decades Clive Hamilton through his leftist intellectual think tanks The Australia Institute & The Climate Institute have had a not inconsequential impact on Australian society.

Hamilton and the intellectual left have focused on 2 modes of operation: ‘social engineering’ brought about by ’social control’.

Social Engineering:

Clive Hamilton through his left wing Think Tanks, The Australia Institute and The Climate Institute has spent an enormous amount of time developing ‘leftist social engineering’ manifestos. As a left winged intellectual Hamilton and his think tanks have had (still do) unfettered and open access to ministers in State & Federal Labor governments to influence and indeed initiate policy decisions. That’s the purpose of the think tanks after all.

Social Control: (this is where the internet is a real thorn in Hamiltons side)

Before the widespread uptake of the internet in Australia, when those policies were released by the respective minister, the Australian Mainstream Media, particularly the ABC would turn to and quote Clive Hamilton as an independent commentator on the issue. The Australian public was unaware that Hamilton in many cases was the back room left wing intellectual who had inspired the policy in the first place. There are many examples of this, but there is none better than the current Labor policy of mandatory filtering the internet to rid it of ‘unwanted material’. To explain Hamilton’s role in the policy read Syd Walkers excellent article: Clive Hamilton & I: Getting Personal about S*x, Lies, Hate & Censorship (Cache here)

The internet has empowered ordinary Australians to find their own information from 1,000’s of different sources inside and outside of Australia. For example, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s recent attempts to imply in the mainstream media that countries such as New Zealand, the UK, Scandinavia have mandatory internet filtering is debunked by a simple google search.

Australians no longer can be controlled by manipulation of a handful of Multi-National Media outlets. This really bothers Hamilton. He see’s that he is losing his ’social control’ which is essential to bring about ’social engineering’.

As further evidence of this another recent article by Hamilton on Crikey (sorry no link, subscribers only) railing against criticism of IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pauchauri and my comment is instructive.

14th November 2008: “In the days before independent online media like Agmates, Left wing academics like Hamilton were quoted virtually unchallenged by the mainstream media. He's clearly upset that those times have changed.
"Duffy's article recycled uncritically the latest piece of denialist clap-trap circulating on the internet and occasionally breaking in to the serious press. Although the real scientists soon point out the error the clap-trap continues to circulate, confusing the public and giving the impression that scientists cannot makes up their minds."

What's the world coming to Clive? Oh for the good old days when only Clive's side of the story made it into the 'serious press'. We can't tolerate independent media questioning the global warming hysteria can we Clive? We can't allow proper debate of the issues can we Clive? Worst of all we can't allow voices of dissent, can we Clive? Clive has been the darling of the left wing mainstream media for many years with his anti-capitalism and anti-religious views.

Make no bones about it - Clive Hamilton and Labor's mandatory internet filtering is designed to win back ’social control’ from the internet. Everything else he has quoted as his reason for promoting the concept is a smoke screen.


University experience is all the better if you leave home

I generally agree with James Allan but I fail to see that he makes his case below. In my observation kids in residential colleges seem mainly characterized by very juvenile behaviour and heavy drinking. Developing a feeling of fellowship with others of a similar age is however an advantage -- though more of an emotional one than anything else

A little under four years ago, I arrived to take up a professorship at the University of Queensland. Before that, I worked in or visited universities in New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, the United States and Britain. The first thing that hit me - and it still staggers me - is the pervasive managerialism of Australian universities. I have never encountered anything like it, anywhere (though a few people with experience of the ex-Soviet bloc may have).

A close second was the wasteful and ridiculous obsession with applying for grants in the humanities and law. No one would judge a car company by how many government grants it got, but by the quality and sales of the cars it produced. (Maybe that's not the best example at the moment with this government.) In the university sector here though, success at getting grants (an input) is treated as a sign of excellence (an output) in its own right. That's moronic.

But from the point of view of students, perhaps the most striking difference I've noticed between Australian universities and those in the other countries in which I've worked, is the relative dearth of residence or college places in the older, and best, universities. My personal experience and professional observations make me think students are better off leaving home and going into residence when they start university. This is a highly chosen option, if not the norm, in my native Canada, as well as in the US and Britain. New Zealand's oldest university, and one of its two best, is situated in a small university town, and relies on the bulk of its students coming from all over the country, including almost a third who come down from Auckland.

Australian universities, and especially the older, elite ones, are overwhelmingly big-city commuter universities. They take a small percentage of students into residence, mainly from the country. On top of that, there is next to no tradition of large numbers of students travelling out of state to another university. If you are from Sydney you go to a Sydney university; if from Melbourne to one in Melbourne. University students stay at home. They commute to, and home from, the campus. The overall learning experience - in both a narrow academic sense and in a wider life-changing (including having fun) sense - is far inferior to going to a residence university. Given any two universities even remotely comparable in their academic excellence, if one is residence and the other commuter, students should do whatever they possibly can to attend the residence one.

What about the cost? Well, the differential costs argument really isn't all that powerful once you factor in the cost of running a car to go back and forth at the commuter university and then recall that adding, say, $20,000-odd to your final loan is not much at all in the greater scheme of getting a first-class all-round university experience you will always remember, and a big leg up in likely lifetime earnings. What's the difference, really, between a $300,000 mortgage on your first home and a $320,000 one?

I have two children, one 15 and one 13. The sad truth is should either ask my opinion, I would not advise attending an Australian university. I think both would be better off attending a Canadian or (one in particular) NZ university. You just cannot beat the life-changing experience of living away from home at a residence university. Whether anything can now be done about the lack of top residence universities in Australia is dubious. No doubt it is a failing that in large part is a function of historical contingency. But it's still a shame.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Victorian police told to respect prisoners, make them a nice cup of tea

This may not be as mad as it seems. From my reading, it applies to people held temporarily in police cells rather than to prisons. And many of those held will not subsequently be convicted of anything. So it is essentially protecting the rights of the innocent

POLICE have been told to show more respect to their prisoners: dim the lights at night, don't slam cell doors and serve tea, coffee or milk at least three times a day. New "soft cell" human rights guidelines from Victoria's Office of Police Integrity say cell blocks should be calm and relaxing, with light-shaded wall colours. Meals should be of good nutritional value and quantity, and second helpings should be available "on reasonable request".

The Police Association and a victims' lobby group claimed yesterday the OPI's standards for police cells treated prisoners better than many pensioners. Association secretary Sen-Sgt Greg Davies said the reaction of police would be "fits of hysterical laughter followed by justified outrage". "No doubt we'll have a queue of pensioners and victims of the financial crisis lined up to smash a window at a police station to be housed in such luxurious surroundings," Sen-Sgt Davies said.

Crime Victims Support Association president Noel McNamara said the OPI's custody standards were "absolutely astounding". "I wonder when we're going to see the introduction of mini-bars - that seems to be all that's lacking," he said.

The standards were released this week at the first Australasian Human Rights and Policing Conference. The guidelines also require prisoners to be provided with:

DAILY warm showers in clean conditions that allow privacy.

BOOKS and magazines, writing material and a tamper-proof TV in working order.

REASONABLE access to a telephone and visits from family or friends in clean, private rooms at least twice a week.

ACCESS to a sheltered outdoor exercise yard for at least an hour a day.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said there were 66 prisoners in police cells last night. The force noted the OPI recommendations, and said much had already been done to improve cell conditions.


Bankrupt advice on carbon emissions

By Paul Howes (Paul Howes is the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union. The AWU is a big union but not as Leftist as most. Its skeptical voice will certainly be heard loud and clear by Kevin Rudd)

The hypocrisy of big banks such as Westpac and National Australia Bank that signed up to a corporate communique on climate change calling for aggressive unilateral targets needs to be exposed. Having participated in what can be described only as a global stuff-up of our financial system, they now are trying to tell Australian corporations that operate in the real economy, and generate real wealth and real jobs, how to behave on climate change.

It's time their dishonest motivation was exposed. Now that the huge profits made out of shoring up risky mortgage markets and fancy financial products have unwound - devastating the lives of countless millions of ordinary citizens - the banks are looking to create a new source of revenue from carbon-trading markets.

I wonder how responsive they will be, safely wrapped in the cocoon of a government guarantee, when Australia's coal-fired power generators come knocking on the door for debt refinancing to help them cope with the new carbon-trading world.

The ANZ bank already has announced hundreds of job cuts, said to be more than 2per cent of its workforce. Employees at Westpac and elsewhere are steeling themselves for cuts. These bank workers, and the families they support, are the ones who will pay for the irresponsible management of financial regulation and poor loan practices of the past several years. Now the same people responsible for that debacle want to kill jobs in the real economy by calling for action far in excess of what Australia can realistically achieve without a comprehensive global agreement.

The Australian Workers Union has been active in the climate change debate because the future of our members depends on the design and implementation of a fair and balanced emissions trading scheme in Australia. Ross Garnaut rightly calls for abandoning differentiation of effort between developed and developing countries as a flawed model that will fail the world beyond the Kyoto Protocol. He is also right to call for a per capita-based reduction target that would deliver fair burden-sharing arrangements. Any successor agreement that does not include burden-sharing commitments by significant emitter countries, particularly China and India, will be harmful to the national economy and the global environment.

Leakage of investment and jobs to unregulated jurisdictions would be the direct consequence of any policy that sees Australia going it alone in the absence of global agreements. Growing energy intensity and dependence on coal in big developing nations - especially China - will render useless the efforts of developed countries to reduce emissions on their own, no matter how deep the cuts. Garnaut has called such an approach delusional because it denies reality on the causes of and solutions to increased CO2 emissions.

Industries in which my members work make things with their enterprise and skills. Paper-shuffling is not what my members are good at. Establishing an emissions trading scheme will guarantee a lot of paper shuffling and work for consultants, especially in the finance sector.

But adopting a longer term view shows that losing industries from Australia is not good for business and that making the transition to a lower carbon economy cannot and should not occur overnight. We are making progress on sectoral agreements and we should be trying to use these as one way towards an internationally binding future agreement. The industries I represent, in mineral and metal processing including steel, alumina, aluminium, manganese, zinc, ceramics, cement, pulp and paper, plastics, oil refining, petrochemicals and liquefied natural gas, are valuable Australian assets accounting for a huge 65 per cent of Australia's total exports, and $550 billion worth of avoided imports a year.

My members and their wives, husbands and children are getting pretty tired of being told their jobs are dirty and polluting, particularly by bankers relentlessly pocketing their money and frittering away superannuation. They work for sophisticated companies that are at the leading edge of efficient technology, environmental management and workplace safety. They are proud of what they do, how they do it and the products they produce that help the rest of the world reduce their carbon footprint.

Industries such as LNG mean cleaner energy in Japan and China; aluminium can provide lighter cars. All of these jobs should be seen as part of a real green jobs solution for Australia's economy. Our members are at the core of a new green deal. I support Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong taking forward an inclusive and comprehensive new green deal.

While carbon trading may well assist in establishing new industries and opportunities, it is not necessary to lay waste to our existing world-class industries to achieve this. Policies that deny costs or view traditional industries as the problem are bound to create costs for us all. A sensible transition to carbon trading will see traditional industries becoming sustainable and growing stronger during the long term. The world will use more aluminium, steel, cement, coal, gas, timber and paper, plastics and chemicals - not less - and more transport.

If policy settings are balanced and fair, Australia's trade exposed, energy-intensive sector also will be part of the climate change solution by applying best practice know-how and leading the world by example as part of a joint global action plan.


An "obese" baby??

Olivia Villella is a healthy, thriving baby girl, according to her mother and the experts. But staff at an ABC childcare centre have branded her "fat" and "obese". Now upset mum Belinda Moss-Villella, 32, has pulled the 10-month-old out of the centre, fearing staff won't feed her enough. Olivia, who weighs 9.3kg, comes within the healthy weight range on official charts used to measure babies' growth and development.

"She's no 'boomba'. She's just a baby," Ms Moss-Villella told the Herald Sun. "Yes, she's very chubby. Yes, she's got rolls on her arms and her legs and her tummy. But she's a baby. They're meant to have rolls." The curly-haired tot with the chubby cheeks is around the 75th percentile for weight and the 25th percentile for height (70cm) for her age - all within normal ranges.

Baby Olivia was given a big tick at a weigh-in with a council maternal and child health nurse last week. "The nurse has never, ever told me Olivia is too fat. "She did say last week, 'Belinda, she's certainly not lacking.' But too fat? Never," Ms Moss-Villella said. She said people often stopped her in the street or while shopping to comment on her daughter's curls, but none had mentioned her size.

The Dandenong North mum said she was stunned when her four-year-old son, Lucca, told her staff at the childcare centre called his baby sister a "fat beast". When she complained, a staff member explained Lucca had got it wrong - the words used were "fat and obese". "I couldn't believe it. It's not like I'm sitting here feeding her chips and McDonald's every day," the mother-of-four said. She said bottle-fed Olivia eats a normal diet - usually Weetbix for breakfast, mashed vegetables for lunch, and chicken for dinner, with fruit, cheese or yoghurt for snacks.

Olivia and Lucca attended the ABC Belvedere Learning Centre in Noble Park North three days a week, while Ms Moss-Villella studied. But she withdrew both children yesterday when told that the staff involved would continue to care for Olivia. "I'm just so worried that if they think she's too fat, they just won't give her enough to eat," she said. "I just can't believe the comments and after hearing them, I can't trust that my children are getting appropriate care there. "As a mum who loves my kids, I just can't subject them to that. "In my heart of hearts, my heart says don't do it. "They obviously have a lot to learn about babies."

A staff member at the Princes Highway centre refused to comment yesterday. But Kay Gibbons, head of nutrition at the Royal Children's Hospital, said Olivia appeared "perfectly normal". "At that age, they're meant to be chubby. If growth is regular and steady, there's nothing to worry about," she said. She said babies often slimmed down when they began crawling.


Another candidate for father of the year

A teenager who stole Christmas lights from at least two homes in Palmerston [Northern Territory] was nabbed yesterday after his father heard one of the victims describe his son's car on the radio.

Neil Forsyth called Mix104.9 in the morning to warn others that brazen vandals were stealing people's outdoor Christmas decorations. He said he had about $200 worth of lights, as well as a blow-up Santa, nicked from his front yard on Whitington Circuit in Gunn about 10.30pm on Monday. And when he raced outside he saw the thugs take off down the road in a red Mitsubishi Lancer with shiny mag wheels. His story saw many other people ring up saying they had also been victims.

But the most surprising call was from a man, who did not want to be named, admitting it was his 17-year-old son who committed the crime. The father did not wish to talk about it on the radio but said off air that he had punished his son by taking his car keys off him and would make him apologise. He also forced him to buy replacement Christmas decorations.

And, to Mr Forsyth's surprise, about 11am, he opened his door to the young, remorseful boy. "I didn't expect this at all," he told the Northern Territory News. "He was shaking like a leaf at my doorstep apologising." "I was taken aback and congratulated him for having the courage to come around and apologise. And my hats off to the dad, too." "It was just terrific his dad laid down the law." "To be so honest and go out of his way to make his son do this was fantastic - it shows that there are still some decent people out there."

He said he thinks the teen has learnt a valuable lesson and was not going to take any further action against the culprits.


Problems with Bills of Rights

By Helen Irving (Helen Irving is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney)

Australia may be closer to getting a bill of rights. The Federal Government looks likely to begin a nationwide consultation process this week, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations. Proposals for an Australian bill of rights are nothing new. On and off for decades there have been attempts to incorporate rights into the constitution or in comprehensive legislation, often following lengthy inquiries and detailed reports. None has succeeded. Is anything new this time round?

As proponents like to remind us, all other comparable countries, including Britain, New Zealand and Canada, have adopted a bill or charter of rights. Two Australian jurisdictions, the ACT and Victoria, have recently joined them. Now the pressure is on for Australia to fall in line.

If it is to be so, the issue must be how to make a bill compatible with Australian democracy. Australia's constitutional democracy is built on representative government and the separation of powers. In principle, the legislature makes the laws and the courts enforce them. A bill of rights changes this. Unelected courts gain the power to frustrate elected governments if they hold a law to be in breach of rights.

This may sound fine, even desirable. But many rights are in fact political. They rest on controversial propositions, matters open to reasonable disagreement, issues that should properly be debated in the public arena. We hear, for example, of the "right to die with dignity". This is not a natural right, or a settled matter. It is deeply, and essentially, contentious.

Another example: the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities includes a provision giving a person of "a particular cultural . background" the "right, in community with other persons of that background, to enjoy his or her culture". To determine whether a person has a "particular" background, and whether its enjoyment has been denied, requires detailed knowledge of cultural practices and expectations, both in "particular" and mainstream cultures. These are sociological and historical issues, not questions for the courts.

The socio-economic rights that are favoured by many have major resource implications. Good health, education and housing are all worthy goals, but they are costly. To turn these into legal rights is to deprive governments of the power to make decisions about available resources, budget priorities and future plans.

But not all rights are political. Legal process rights - the rights that surround the arrest, charge, trial and detention of persons suspected of having committed an offence - belong properly to the judicial arm of government. They concern the judicial process. They are essential protections against arbitrary power, elements of the rule of law on which our constitutional democracy also rests.

Questions about legislative encroachment on these rights are appropriately answered in the courts. If the claims made by proponents of a bill were confined to legal process rights, then agreement might be secured among those who are otherwise sceptical.

Leading advocates now accept that a proposed constitutional bill of rights is unlikely to survive a referendum. They propose, instead, a statutory bill, passed by parliament and open to repeal or amendment. The powers of the courts, they also suggest, should be limited to making declarations of incompatibility between laws and rights, and not extend to striking down such laws. This is the model followed in the ACT and Victoria, and it is said to respect the separation of powers, allowing the parliament to decide what to do with "incompatible" laws.

These are many merits in such proposals. But there are concerns, too. Although a statutory bill is repealable in principle, the experience in other countries is that such bills quickly become "constitutionalised". The rights they include become fixed, and difficult to adjust to changing circumstances. Paradoxically, the very attempt to protect parliament by empowering the courts to make "declarations" may itself prove unconstitutional. The commonwealth constitution prevents the High Court from giving advisory opinions. The court may only rule on actual legal disputes. This hurdle may prove fatal. It will require close attention by the government.

If Australia is on the path to a bill of rights, let's have a genuine consultation process. Let us ask ourselves which rights are best protected by the courts, and why we believe Australia to be deficient compared to other countries. Let us also consider how advocates and opponents might find common ground. Given the long history of failure, this may be the decisive question.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG talks about a strange week in Federal politics

'Gutless' Turkish Muslims must pay $50,000 for bashing

Three men who bashed an off-duty policeman in an attack described as "gutless" by a judge have been ordered to pay their victim $50,000 in compensation. Senior Constable Simon Busuttil was punched, kicked and had his head stomped on after a car accident at Coolaroo in Melbourne in July 2005. He was set upon by the trio when he got out of his car to exchange details with the other driver. Snr Const Busuttil suffered a broken nose, extensive facial injuries, a torn liver and a fractured finger in the attack.

Three men, Vural Vuralhan, Ersoy Vural and Kemal Ciloglou, were jailed in August last year over the incident. In awarding him compensation, Victorian County Court Judge John Smallwood said Snr Const Busuttil had suffered a savage beating which caused him to develop post traumatic stress disorder. A medical examination found he had 18 separate injuries of bruising or abrasions and he required surgery. Judge Smallwood said Snr Const Busuttil suffered muscular pain and ongoing psychological problems, including depressive symptoms, sleep difficulties, feelings of shame and outbursts of anger following the attack.

The court heard that before the attack, Snr Const Busuttil suffered mild anxiety that was being treated with anti-depressants. After the attack he'd had suicidal thoughts.

In sentencing the three men in August last year, Judge Smallwood described the attack as gutless. "In the middle of the night these three men overpowered another man and over a prolonged period beat him with fists and boots while he is defenceless," he said at the time. "The conduct can only be described as gutless."

Vuralhan, of Meadow Heights, was jailed for 18 months with a minimum of nine after pleading guilty to one count of intentionally causing serious injury. Vural, of Coolaroo, was jailed for 12 months with a minimum of six after pleading guilty to one count of recklessly causing serious injury. Ciloglou, of Meadow Heights, pleaded guilty to recklessly causing serious injury and was jailed for three months. He also received a two-year community based order, which included 100 hours of unpaid community work. The men were given two months to pay the compensation.


300 babies exposed to tuberculosis in Adelaide public hospital

What a disgrace! The old story of imported doctors again. Government hospitals will take just about anyone as a doctor

About 75 babies under three months will be given antibiotics after they were exposed to tuberculosis by an infected doctor at an Adelaide hospital. SA Health says about 300 children in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit and the Special Care Baby Unit may have come into "close and prolonged contact" with the doctor between September 28 and November 28 this year. About 75 of these children are too young to diagnose, and will be treated with antibiotics to minimise the chances of infection.

The doctor was screened for TB by immigration authorities when he arrived in Australia in March this year. His chest X-ray found no trace of TB - but a routine follow-up test by SA Health last week returned a positive result. Tests for TB are ineffective in babies under three months of age. The overseas-born doctor is on sick leave, but hospital authorities expect him to return to work after he is cured.

SA Health chief medical officer Professor Paddy Phillips said the risk of transmission was low. "However, as a precautionary measure, those people identified as possible contacts are being offered screening and some are being offered preventative antibiotics," he said.

However, Professor Phillips said the risk of infection was assessed as being at the low end of the spectrum. "Those babies in the NICU will be offered a program of preventative antibiotics as a precaution until they reach three months and are able to undergo a screening test, with a further precautionary test offered at six months," he said. Other babies treated in the SCBU will be offered a screening test when they reach three and six months of age. "Doctors from the Women's and Children's Hospital have been contacting the families today."

Older children and other visitors to the hospital are not believed to be at risk of infection. There were 59 new cases of TB diagnosed in South Australia last year. About 1000 new cases are detected in Australia each year.


Conservative Senator refuses to back Warmist laws during economic downturn

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce has insisted he cannot support an emissions trading scheme during an economic downturn, again setting himself at odds with Coalition leader Malcolm Turnbull. The Opposition Leader is struggling to maintain unity as he ends the year with both the Coalition and his own satisfaction levels sliding in the polls, and divisions emerging on key issues including emissions trading and industrial relations.

Former Liberal president Shane Stone yesterday suggested Senator Joyce and his fellow Nationals in the Senate should leave the Coalition so they could find out how effective they would be as independents, but Mr Turnbull is trying to defuse the row that erupted when the Nationals senators twice ignored his voting instructions in parliament's final week.

Senator Joyce was being careful with his words yesterday, saying he did not want to inflame the Coalition dispute, but he did say there was no way he could support an ETS in the current financial climate.

Mr Turnbull fiercely resisted attempts by his predecessor, Brendan Nelson, to adopt a more sceptical policy on the Government's proposed ETS, which will be introduced in 2010. Mr Turnbull and others successfully insisted the Coalition stick by the position that it would offer in-principle support for an ETS but push for a delay -- until 2011 or 2012 -- to allow for proper implementation.

The Rudd Government, which will unveil the final design of its scheme on Monday, has said it wants to negotiate it through the Senate next year with the support of the Coalition -- rather than the Greens, independent Nick Xenophon and Family First's Steve Fielding -- delivering a clear message to business that it expects the Senate to soften the impact of the scheme. But Senator Joyce, who leads the Nationals' four-person Senate team, told The Australian he believed the ETS should be delayed until the downturn was over. "I do not believe in an ETS when we are in the middle of a recession. Full stop," he said. "It's fiscally imprudent to impose a new tax in this environment. "We don't support it in its current form and it's not a matter of delaying it for a year, or for two years, we just don't support it in these financial times and they're going to last for quite some years yet."

The Coalition position is that the ETS should be informed by the outcome of next year's UN meeting in Copenhagen on a global climate change deal and that if the rest of the world fails to agree, then Australia's ETS scheme should start very slowly and with a low carbon price. Apart from the start date, the Coalition's conditions are broadly in line with what the Government is expected to announce.


New TV channel to bypass media news filtering

When history is made in the US on January 20 with the inauguration of America's first black president, history will also be made in Australia with the launch of a television network devoted entirely to public affairs. Unveiled yesterday by Kevin Rudd, A-SPAN, or the Australian Subscription Public Affairs Network, will allow viewers to watch parliamentary debates and key estimates hearings as they unfold, without editorial filtering or spin.

Modelled on the US channel C-SPAN, which provides live coverage of proceedings on Capitol Hill, A-SPAN was launched by Foxtel (which is 25 per cent-owned by News Limited, publisher of The Australian), Austar, and the Australian News Channel, provider of Sky News. It will be available to Foxtel and Austar's 2.2 million subscribers and their combined seven million viewers at no extra charge. It will also be available online, on free-to-air digital television and on mobile phones.

The Prime Minister said the channel was a "good thing" for democracy, allowing first-hand, unedited access to public policy debates. "Political junkies will, of course, love it -- they will now have one more way to drive their family and friends absolutely mad," Mr Rudd said. "But A-SPAN will also be valuable for ... all Australians who want to understand more about how democracy works and how they could become more involved in it."

John Hartigan, chairman of News Limited and the Australian News Channel, said the channel would deliver "news as it happens" and promote openness and transparency of government. "It's a chance for everyone to see the machinations of government from their own loungerooms. "A-SPAN will deliver parliamentary procedure and important policy discussions directly to its audience as it happens." Mr Hartigan said A-SPAN was being delivered to Australians 11 years early, having been a key recommendation of the Rudd Government's 2020 Summit.

The channel will broadcast addresses to the National Press Club, and speeches hosted by important policy groups and educational institutions. It will also include content from US Senate and Congressional proceedings, the British House of Commons and New Zealand's parliament. Australia's parliamentary proceedings will also be available in the US.

Mr Rudd said he was looking forward to the subtitles for insults like "scumbag" and "sleazebag on wheels" that would be required for American audiences. Former Victorian premier Steve Bracks, director of Pay TV industry group ASTRA, said the live broadcasts could encourage better behaviour in NSW's "bear pit" and other parliaments around Australia.

Veteran political correspondent Laurie Wilson will host a program series on A-SPAN focusing on important politicians and policy-makers. The group is negotiating with the UN and European Union to broadcast key proceedings of the two bodies.


School in clear over teaching creation

A CHRISTIAN school that teaches a biblical view of creation in science classes has been cleared of breaching state curriculum requirements for the teaching of evolution. The NSW Board of Studies has found that Pacific Hills Christian School at Dural has met its requirements for teaching the science syllabus, including evolution, to years 7 to 10. The board said it had not substantiated a complaint about how science was taught at the school. Its investigation involved an assessment by the school's overseeing body, Christian Schools Australia, and its own inspection of curriculum and teaching materials.

The board's curriculum director was given access to the school's intranet to review the school's curriculum documents. The director also observed several science classes and class work on evolution. The board's science inspector reviewed the school's educational programs for science, including student work samples and assessment tasks. A board spokeswoman said the reports found the school was meeting its science curriculum requirements and this was endorsed by the board's registration committee.

An inquiry by Christian Schools Australia also cleared the school of failing its duty to teach evolution theory appropriately. The head of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, said: "It was a very thorough process in which the Board of Studies conducted its own inquiries and came to its own conclusions based on empirical evidence, and it is very pleasing that they confirmed the findings that our registration system made."

The original complaint was made by the former president of the Secondary Principals Council, Chris Bonnor. He raised his concerns after he viewed a sample of how science was taught at Pacific Hills on an SBS television program. He said he was not satisfied with the outcome of the board inquiry. "Notwithstanding the extent to which that lesson may or may not be typical of science teaching at the school, I remain concerned that the Board of Studies has not commented on the appropriateness of advice given to students by the teacher in that science lesson. I still want to know whether it is appropriate for a science teacher to exhort his or her students to consider what God's revelation through his scripture shows you, so that you can come to some clear understanding about your view of evolution."

The NSW Greens MP John Kaye said the board's ruling set a dangerous precedent that had "opened the floodgates to a religious invasion of the curriculum". The board had failed in its duty to protect the integrity of the science curriculum, he said. "Every fundamentalist private school in NSW will be emboldened by this decision."

In response, the board said its position on teaching evolution as evidence-based science had not changed and it was satisfied Pacific Hills had complied with its curriculum requirement. The board spokeswoman said: "Parents are entitled to choose schools for their children that support their own beliefs. However, it has been repeatedly made clear to faith-based and other schools that creationism is not part of the mandatory science curriculum, cannot take the place of any part of the mandatory science curriculum, and will not be assessed in the mandatory School Certificate science test."

Mr O'Doherty said Mr Bonnor had misquoted the Pacific Hills science teacher, and Dr Kaye's comments amounted to vilification.


Private school enrolments rise despite tough times

Strong testimony to what parents think of government schools

DESPITE tough times, Queensland parents are digging deep to send their kids to private schools, with enrolments to rise by up to 4 per cent next year. The public sector is expected to experience only a half per cent rise.

Brisbane mother and doctor Jane Collins says she is fortunate to afford the near-$10,000 fee to send daughter Stephanie to Prep at Somerville House [a Brisbane Presbyterian girls' school] next year. "It's the cost of having the best possible education," she said. The single mother viewed the hefty fees as a critical investment, not a cost. She has set up a fund to bankroll Stephanie's schooling career, believing annual fees will hit $20,000 when the four-year-old reaches Year 12.

The latest estimates from Education Queensland revealed 38,600 youngsters will start Prep in 2009 at a state school. State primary and secondary enrolments will make up about 68 per cent of Queensland's student body, with 306,000 and 174,000 respectively.

A Brisbane academic said the continued growth of private schools was indicative of Queensland's population growth and healthy economy. "(A recession) hasn't hit yet," QUT lecturer and head of economics and finance Tim Robinson said. "In a year's time when the economy slows you may find the drift to private has slowed down." The Catholic sector expected enrolments to rise about 2.6 per cent next year, with the independent sector preparing for rises of up to 4 per cent.

Brisbane Catholic Education spokesman John Phelan said many parents in his sector made huge sacrifices to keep a child in a private school. "(A private education) is often the last thing to go ... it's one of those things parents struggle to keep affording," he said. Mr Phelan said the trend to go private had been gathering pace in Queensland for about 20 years. And while some of the most expensive schools had recently been asked by parents for financial concessions, it was still extremely rare.

Professor Robinson cited 2007 data showing Queensland's 90,000 newcomers were split evenly between international, interstate and newborns. He said southeast Queensland benefited from a particularly strong intake of educated and cashed-up international immigrants.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Politically correct Woolworths

Australia's Woolworths is very different from the now defunct U.S. Woolworths and the nearly defunct British Woolworths. It is in fact one of the world's most successful retailers, with a huge share of its national market. No matter where you go in Australia, Woolworths is most often the nearest supermarket. It is in some ways Australia's version of Wal-Mart. So they obviously have a management culture that repeatedly produces good decisions. And, as a result, I have a substantial investment in their shares.

I have noticed in recent times, however, that they have begun to abuse their market power. They only stock what they want you to buy rather than what you want to buy. And one aspect of that is politically correct stocking.

I went in there this morning with the aim of buying Christian-themed Christmas cards. Although I am an atheist, I think that a major Christian occasion should be recognized as such. But when I looked at the cards on offer, they were all Santas, reindeer, Holly etc. Nothing Christian at all. So I didn't buy.

Just outside the Buranda Woolworths however there is a small Indian shop which, in the best Indian tradition, crams an amazing variety of goods into its small space. So I popped in there to see if they sold Christmas cards. They did. And some of the cards on offer were Christian-themed! So I bought them. How odd that I had to go to a Hindu to buy Christian cards! A final irony, however, was where the cards were produced -- in Muslim Indonesia. What a crazy world!

As I set out at some length on Nov. 6th., another instance of Woolworths' abuse of their market power is their messianic zeal for twisty light bulbs. At that time, they did sell a few incandescent globes if you looked hard enough but their lighting display was dominated by every conceivable type of twisty.

It has now got worse. They no longer sell the old 60c incandescent globes at all. There still are incandescent globes there but they are advertised as "dimmable" and cost around $3. Which is total nonsense of course. People have been using the old 60c globes with dimmers for decades.

I am beginning to think that I should lodge a complaint under the Trade Practices Act alleging an abuse of market power. Since the Trade Practices commissioner is probably politically correct too, however, I may not bother.

Extraordinary new Victorian laws encourage discrimination against white males

DISCRIMINATION against dominant white males will soon be encouraged in a bid to boost the status of women, the disabled and cultural and religious minorities. Such positive discrimination -- treating people differently in order to obtain equality for marginalised groups - is set to be legalised under planned changes to the Equal Opportunity Act foreshadowed last week by state Attorney-General Rob Hulls. The laws are also expected to protect the rights of people with criminal records to get a job, as long as their past misdeeds are irrelevant to work being sought.

Equal Opportunity Commission CEO Dr Helen Szoke said males had "been the big success story in business and goods and services". "Clearly, they will have their position changed because they will be competing in a different way with these people who have been traditionally marginalised," she said. "Let's open it up so everyone can have a fair go." [She doesn't want a fair go. She wants a privileged go]

Victoria's peak business body expressed concern yesterday about the need for the proposed laws, and questioned if they would undermine the right of companies to make legitimate business decisions. At present, individuals or bodies wanting to single out any race or gender for special treatment must gain an exemption from VCAT. Companies and public bodies accused of discrimination can only be held to account after a complaint has been made. But the proposed changes go much further, allowing the commission to inquire into discrimination, seize documents and search and enter premises after attempts to bring about change have failed.

Businesses and individuals would be required to change their ways even if a complaint had not been received. Action could be taken where an unlawful act was "likely to occur", not just in cases where discrimination has taken place. The commission would also have real teeth to enforce its rulings via VCAT and, as a last resort, in the courts. The changes, shown in a Department of Justice report by former public advocate Julian Gardner, would also:

EDUCATE people so they know their rights.

GIVE more protection to people with disabilities, requiring companies and public entities to reasonably accommodate their needs.

GRANT the homeless and people who act as volunteers better protection from discrimination.

Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry workplace general manager David Gregory said business supported the objectives of equal opportunity legislation. "But I am concerned and curious about whether these changes mean the commission can second-guess the legitimate business decisions of individual businesses," he said.

The first raft of changes to the Equal Opportunity Act were introduced into Parliament last week.

Source. Andrew Bolt sums it up.

Blame our droughts on the sun

Robert Baker of the University of New England blames our drought on the sun, not man-made "global warming". Here's the abstract of his new paper for Geographical Research:
There is growing interest in the role that the Sun's magnetic field has on weather and climatic parameters, particularly the ~11 year sunspot (Schwab) cycle, the ~22 yr magnetic field (Hale) cycle and the ~88 yr (Gleissberg) cycle. These cycles and the derivative harmonics are part of the peculiar periodic behaviour of the solar magnetic field. Using data from 1876 to the present, the exploratory analysis suggests that when the Sun's South Pole is positive in the Hale Cycle, the likelihood of strongly positive and negative Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values increase after certain phases in the cyclic ~22 yr solar magnetic field. The SOI is also shown to track the pairing of sunspot cycles in ~88 yr periods. This coupling of odd cycles, 23-15, 21-13 and 19-11, produces an apparently close charting in positive and negative SOI fluctuations for each grouping.

This Gleissberg effect is also apparent for the southern hemisphere rainfall anomaly. Over the last decade, the SOI and rainfall fluctuations have been tracking similar values to that recorded in Cycle 15 (1914-1924). This discovery has important implications for future drought predictions in Australia and in countries in the northern and southern hemispheres which have been shown to be influenced by the sunspot cycle. Further, it provides a benchmark for long-term SOI behaviour.

If true, our governments are making false predictions on false evidence and pushing for false solutions.


Telstra does something good for a change

Says no to internet filtering

The country's largest internet service provider has dealt the Rudd Labor Government a slap in the face by refusing to participate in content filtering trials. Child protection group Child Wise said Telstra's decision was bad for Australia, but other groups welcomed the news.

Political activist organisation GetUp is even planning an advertising blitz to rally opposition to the filtering plans. ISP Internode has also declined to take part, while Optus and iiNet will participate.

On November 10, the Government released details of its long-awaited call for expressions of interest on live content filtering trials for internet service and mobile providers. Telstra, which through its BigPond internet service has millions of customers, showed its hand even before the clock struck midnight, the deadline for expressions of interest. The blow was delivered in a succinct statement.

"Telstra is not in a position to participate in the Government's internet filtering trial, primarily due to customer management issues," a company spokesperson said. The company said it was separately evaluating technology that allowed blocking via defined blacklists. "We will continue to work constructively with all stakeholders, including the Government, to help provide a safe internet environment for children," the Telstra spokesperson said.

Internode managing director Simon Hackett said: "We feel the policy is deeply flawed as it stands and further dignifying that policy with additional tests that will repeat the results of the tests done over the last decade will not turn a flawed policy into a good one."

Child Wise chief executive Bernadette McMenamin said Telstra's decision was a black day for Australia, and questioned the telco's commitment to protecting children online. "This indicates that Telstra is not committed to banning child pornography and we should question its values," Ms McMenamin said.

It is unclear if Telstra's no-show will derail the Government's plans to introduce mandatory content filtering at internet service provider level, but Ms McMenamin said she hoped it wouldn't.

Telstra's decision came as no surprise as ISPs have warned there were problems with the call for expressions of interest. One major issue is how service providers would choose participants, their customers, to take part in the pilot. "Do we pick names out of a hat?" said one ISP staff member who declined to be named. Another issue was the sample size. The call for expressions of interest does not stipulate how many internet users ISPs would have to enlist for the live trials to be credible.

Sage-Au, a not-for-profit professional organisation representing system administrators, said the figure should be in the millions. "How do you choose these participants? To make these trials really meaningful, it has to be done in a real-world environment with millions of internet users," Sage-Au president Donna Ashelford said. "The bottom line is live ISP content filtering is simply not feasible." There's also the question of legal liability and who would be held responsible if something went awry during the pilot.

If the Government can back up calls for mandatory content filtering with legislation, ISPs may be more willing to play ball. Meanwhile, GetUp national director Simon Sheikh said more than $41,000 had been raised to fund an advertising campaign against filtering slated to start next week.

The country's second-largest internet and mobile phone provider, Optus, has submitted an expression of interest application, but on its own terms. "Our participation will be strictly limited to filtering only the Australian Communications and Media Authority blacklist, which contains URLs of illegal content," an Optus spokesperson said. There are 1300 web pages on the list. "The trial is anticipated to operate in a specific geographic area, with customers given the option to opt out of the trial." Details will be finalised closer to the trial launch and Optus will decide on the size of the sample and where the pilot will be conducted.

A spokesman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy declined to comment on Telstra's announcement, saying only: "A number of ISPs have indicated their intent to participate in the trial. We won't be commenting further until all responses have been received."


Carols canned as Primary School opts for multicultural event

A primary school has dumped its traditional Christmas carols concert in favour of a musical event for multicultural families. Pinewood Primary School, in Mt Waverley, Victoria, has been accused of acting like the Grinch who stole Christmas, despite Premier John Brumby's warning that schools should not play down the Christmas spirit for the sake of political correctness.

Angry parents and Liberal MPs slammed the decision. Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said it appeared the school community was not consulted about the change. "I'd like to think that tradition is not thrown out the window like this. It's bah, humbug," she said.

Liberal education spokesman Martin Dixon said the majority of Australians, whether from Anglo-Saxon or ethnic backgrounds, celebrated the Christmas tradition. "And it's obviously been part of that school's tradition, and there's no need to change that," he said.

Principal Maurice Baker said it was decided to replace Thursday's carols event with an entertainer. "We thought we'd like to present this sort of thing to our parents, and we thought the only way we could do it was in place of our carols night this year," he said. "And we thought that was probably not a bad idea either because it gave people from other cultures the chance to celebrate with us." Asked if non-Christian students and parents usually attended the carols night, Mr Baker said: "They can, but they choose not to because it's not their religion."

Last month, Mr Brumby urged schools and kindergartens to let children enjoy Christmas no matter what their religion. "Christmas holds a significant place in Australian society and it is important schoolchildren . . . gain an understanding of its historical and cultural importance to our country," he said.

Mr Baker said Pinewood still celebrated Christmas in different ways and the carols might be back next year. "It's not as if the Grinch has come here and stolen Christmas," he said.

At Canterbury Primary School, students and teachers are getting into the yuletide spirit in a big way. Principal Anne Tonkin said students had taken part in various community Christmas functions, including carol singing and helping out with a Christmas stall. "It provides an opportunity for students to showcase their talents," she said. Canterbury parent Vicki Vrazas said her children looked forward to Christmas events. "They love it, it's part of tradition and respecting Christmas values," she said.


Another charming Muslim immigrant

An immigration officer who told a woman she had to have sex with him if he was to approve a visa for her boyfriend has today been jailed for 18 months. Afshin Abolfotouh, 41, was jailed at Brisbane District Court over indecent proposals he made to 27-year-old Chinese national Qiao Liyuan in late 2007.

The court was told Abolfotouh was working in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship when Ms Qiao contacted him about an application she had made to obtain a visa for her boyfriend. Abolfotouh propositioned her over the phone, telling her the application was weak but that he could ensure it was approved if she had sex with him.

The court was told he continued to make contact with her for more than a month before they finally arranged to meet at her home in Brisbane's south. When Abolfotouh arrived at her house he was arrested by police, who had been monitoring phone calls between the pair after Ms Qiao complained about the handling of her application.

The court was told Abolfotouh, who had come to Australia as an Iranian immigrant in 2004, was suspended from his job and has since resigned. Abolfotouh pleaded guilty to one count of receiving a corrupt payment. He was sentenced to 18 months' jail, but will be released on a good behaviour bond after serving three months.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Top climate adviser warns: don't go alone on global warming

Slowly backing away from the Messianic nonsense

CLIMATE change adviser Ross Garnaut has warned that developed nations will be unable to avert global warming by simply setting exemplary emissions targets in the hope that developing nations will follow, saying China and India must join a global action plan from the start if there is to be any hope of success. As Climate Change Minister Penny Wong prepares to fly out today for talks in Poland on a post-Kyoto agreement, Professor Garnaut says the current framework is obsolete, arguing that there must be progress on a global plan within months based on a per capita allocation of emissions.

Writing in The Australian today, he warns that reaching agreement on climate change will be harder than reaching accord on trade liberalisation or arms control. But time is running short if there is to be progress at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December next year, Professor Garnaut says. "Unless there is a coalescing of international support around clear principles through the first half of 2009, there is no prospect that a good agreement will be reached in December at Copenhagen," he writes. "In the absence of early constraints that hold developing-country emissions well below business as usual, no degree of constraint from developed countries will avoid high risks of dangerous climate change."

While global business leaders will today urge deep cuts to emissions in a communique signed by Westpac and NAB, Australia is expected on December 15 to announce a "soft start" to pollution-reduction targets of between 5 and 15 per cent by 2020.

Professor Garnaut argues that even a cut of 10 per cent by 2020 would be much more significant on a per capita basis than European targets of 20 per cent. He says equality on per capita emissions targets by developed and developing countries should be the long-term goal, and with Australia being one of the world's largest per capita emitters, a reduction of 10 per cent from 2000 levels by 2020 "would represent a full proportionate contribution to a global effort".

"Most of the growth in emissions over the next two decades and beyond will be from the developing countries," Professor Garnaut warns. "No country acting alone not even the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, the US and China can cause the risks of dangerous climate change to fall substantially by its own actions alone. "Any allocation of emissions entitlements with any prospects of being accepted by most developing countries must be based on convergence towards low levels of per capita entitlements at some time in the future."

Senator Wong has played down the prospect of binding commitments this week, but a spokeswoman confirmed that the Government had outlined in submissions to the talks that "Australia considers that per capita effort is an important consideration in determining the action each country should take to reduce emissions as part of a global agreement". "This is a negotiation and Australia absolutely recognises our obligations as a developed nation to ensure that we reduce our carbon pollution," Senator Wong said yesterday.

In the past, nations including China have argued developed countries should continue bearing the burden of slashing emissions because they have created most of the carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere.

But Professor Garnaut said the approach to allocating emissions entitlements at Kyoto, and by default being taken into the discussions at Poznan, "will not serve". "Within principles designed to reduce global emissions through convergence over time towards equal per capita entitlements, a reduction of 10 per cent from 2000 levels by 2020 in Australia would represent a full proportionate contribution to a global effort to hold concentrations of carbon dioxide equivalents to 550ppm," Professor Garnaut said. "It would represent a larger per capita reduction than was required of the US or the European Union. It would represent a larger per capita reduction for Australia than the European Union's implementation of its proposed unconditional commitment to reduce emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels."

He proposes the future agreement would need to include development assistance for complying developing countries to adapt to climate change. "It could be supported by WTO rules that constrained individual countries' measures to restrict trade with countries that are not reasonably complying with the requirements of an international mitigation effort," he said.

But the Climate Institute and the newly formed Global Climate Network will argue today that an emissions gap, or the difference between the developed countries' overall pollution reduction target and the global target with extra developing country effort, would cause an overshoot in the safe global pollution levels. "To close the gap and engage developing countries, developed countries need to bolster their 2020 targets and support proposals for multi-billion dollar investments in new clean technology in developing countries," Climate Institute director of policy Erwin Jackson said. "Australia can't help close the emissions gap if our target is just a 15 per cent reduction by 2020 and there is no plan to provide finance through emissions trading permit revenue or other sources."

Global business leaders are also urging Australia and other developed nations to agree on immediate deep and rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The leaders of 140 global companies have rejected arguments that the economic downturn is reason to tread softly, saying decisive action now will stimulate economic activity. They said even an immediate peak in global emissions would require a subsequent reduction of 50 to 85 per cent by 2050.


Sixth boat belies strong border claim

Stupid do-gooder Kevvy has opened the floodgates

BORDER Protection Command is scrambling to reinforce its patrols after the interception yesterday of the sixth people-smuggling boat to be caught in Australian waters since the Immigration regime was softened five months ago. The Indonesian boat, the biggest load of the year with 47 suspected asylum-seekers and a crew of three, was spotted yesterday off Broome in international waters by an RAAF Orion P3-C surveillance plane. Its arrival comes despite Kevin Rudd's claims last week that there had been no surge in unauthorised vessels this year, and at a time when the Royal Australian Navy is about to send thousands of sailors on extended Christmas leave.

HMAS Maryborough apprehended the vessel as it crossed into Australian waters. The patrol boat was escorting the vessel to Christmas Island, where the asylum-seekers - understood to be Afghans - will be detained and processed. A boat carrying 35 Afghan asylum-seekers and five crew was intercepted off Ashmore Reef - 600km north of Broome - on Thursday. They arrived at Christmas Island yesterday. The week before, a group of 12 Sri Lankans were caught off Steep Point near Carnarvon, on November 27. The total number of asylum-seekers detained this year stands at 127. Last year, 150 arrived on five boats, and in 2006, 60 asylum-seekers arrived in six boats.

The latest arrivals showed there was a "real problem" with border security, Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday. "We have seen six boats arrive since August, since the Government abolished temporary protection visas," the Opposition Leader said. "They were introduced in 1999 specifically for the purpose of discouraging people smuggling. This sixth vessel is a ... wake-up call to Mr Rudd that his policy in August has been a mistake."

On Friday, Mr Rudd's new National Security Adviser, former SAS commander Duncan Lewis, vowed to tackle the people smuggling problem "at source". "The issue of unauthorised boat arrivals is an enduring one for this country," he warned.

Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus yesterday announced a boost in patrol capability off the Top End and northwest coast. "The Government will also provide an additional navy vessel and surveillance aircraft to protect Australia's offshore maritime areas from illegal activity, including people smuggling," Mr Debus said. "The increase along with existing defence and customs assets already operating, will provide a significant deterrent to anyone seeking to break Australia's maritime laws or enter Australia illegally."

The surge in people smuggling boats follows an announcement last month by the navy of three months' leave for officers and other ranks over Christmas, a story which gained international prominence. The navy denied operational capability was being undermined but the announcement left an impression the RAN was shutting down for the festive season.

Border Protection Command's 12 aircraft fly more than 2400 missions every year and the new measures meant there were 17 navy and Customs vessels patrolling year round, Mr Debus said.


Absurd salaries for health bureaucrats

WA nurses are demanding a better deal after Premier Colin Barnett defended salaries of $400,000 or more for 11 of the state's health bureaucrats. It was revealed in today's The Sunday Times that four Health Department bosses were on contracts that enabled them to earn $480,000 a year, while seven more could earn up to $420,000. Health director-general Peter Flett earns $540,000 after being appointed to the top job in October, $90,000 less than his predecessor Neale Fong.

Dr Fong, Australia's highest-paid public servant, resigned in January after the Corruption and Crime Commission found he had engaged in serious misconduct with disgraced former Labor premier turned lobbyist Brian Burke.

While in opposition, the current government pledged to cut excessive public service salaries once it took office. But Mr Barnett said the government had to pay high salaries to attract good administrators. "They are high salaries, but if you're talking about leading clinicians in the health sector that's the sort of salary level that prevails,'' he said today. "If we want top-quality people working within government, whether it's in health, education or legal areas, you're going to have to pay competitive salaries. That is a reality.''

WA Nurses Federation secretary Mark Olson said he was surprised at the number of health administrators on $400,000-plus salaries in WA. He said Mr Barnett was mistaken to claim that the wages of the state's top paid health bureaucrats were commensurate with similar jobs in the private sector. "It's just a fallacy. The previous government ran the same line,'' Mr Olson said. "When they paid that excessive salary to Dr Fong they said they had to pay him that money to get him from the private sector. "It turned out that he had been on about $330,000 a year and got more than a 200,000 pay lift when he went from St Johns (private) Hospital to the public sector.''

Mr Olson said Mr Barnett had also appeared to indicate that only doctors or people with a medical background could be appointed to top-level management positions in the health sector. "They don't have to be clinicians to move into these areas,'' Mr Olson said. "People who don't have medical qualifications are running very large health organisations around the country and around the globe.''

He said the current level of salaries was sending the wrong message to the people working ``on the floor'' in the state's health system. "It's a pure and simple equation - we are short of doctors on the floor, we are short of nurses on the floor,'' Mr Olson said. "I'd like to see the money going in that direction rather than to bureaucrats. There's no shortage of bureaucrats, there never has been.''


Cattle ranchers defeat Greenies over Gamba grass

Gamba grass is TOO green!

Northern Territory Grazier Rashida Khan writes: The recent decision to ban Gamba grass in the NT if it was not on grazing land was met with much excitement from the people who wished to see it banned. They went on to claim, they had "won the hard fought battle".

What battle? No one has ever told these people that they must keep the plant! Rather it was vice-versa that those using the plant and managing it would have to get rid of it. The NT Government considered the agricultural stakeholders concerns and reached a sensible decision which boiled down to, `if you're not using Gamba and don't value it then do something about it'.

The decision is to divide the NT into two zones, one from Darwin-Katherine-Arnhem where Gamba must be managed and the other was land outside that where Gamba must be removed. Now that there are some Government guidelines in place, tracts of land that are currently not adequately managed, including crown land, aboriginal trust, absentee owned land and national parks must now be held accountable.

I was disappointed to see Dr Stuart Blanch from the WWF quoted in the NT News as saying, "The size of this (managed) zone must be reduced in the years to come". The zoning decision has been a positive outcome for all stakeholders and offers a platform from which to move forward, not an excuse to foster a disturbing desire for conflict.

Throughout the debate, there has been media attention about the danger of gamba fires, the damage it does to wildlife and the environment. What has been largely ignored is the immense benefit it offers to sustainable farmers.

It is a carbon sequestrating, erosion- controlling, self-seeding, hardy, economic, palatable and nutritious pasture plant. When managed correctly Gamba is one of the most important improvements to the Northern cattle industry. Wildlife are also adapting to the presence of Gamba Grass with many animals eating the seeds and leaves.

We are now at a time of change. We can continue to make noise and waste time and paper or we can adapt and see this grass as just another tool to help us sustainably improve northern land management practices.

There is no environmental or economic way of eradicating the plant so it must be understood and utilized. It would now be stupid to let prejudice cloud our judgment and ignore the opportunities offered by this versatile plant.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Notorious public hospital does invasive cancer operation against advice

They knew the woman did not have cancer but operated anyway

A Mackay woman who claims she had an unnecessary operation to remove lymph nodes after being incorrectly told her she had breast cancer, is suing for compensation. The operation to remove 11 lymph nodes went ahead despite a pathologist advising against it because a biopsy did not reveal any cancer, the claim alleges.

Jacqueline Hampson was 48 and nursing at Mackay Base Hospital at the time she had the operation in 2006. She says she was told a year later she had never had cancer. "I was just so shocked," Mrs Hampson, 51, said. The lymph nodes that were removed showed no tumours, her claim says.

Her claim against Mackay Health Service District, filed by Shine Lawyers, says that medical staff failed to properly diagnose or investigate her condition or perform surgery in an appropriate manner. She now has lymphodema, a condition that causes retention of fluids, and a limited range of movement in her left arm. She suffers pain, swelling and psychological problems and has lost employment. "I can no longer nurse. I miss it so much," Mrs Hampson said.

On December 13, 2005, Mrs Hampson had a mammogram at BreastScreen Queensland's Mackay clinic. It revealed a cluster of micro-calcifications in Mrs Hampson's breast and she underwent a core biopsy. She says BreastScreen Queensland told her the biopsy revealed an infiltrating ductal carcinoma -- a form of breast cancer. But a pathologist who later reviewed the biopsy told the hospital that there was no cancer and advised against performing a lymph node operation, the claim says.

Mrs Hampson claims she went to hospital on January 10, 2006, for a further biopsy and was only told she was to have lymph nodes removed when she was on the operating table. A lumpectomy and testing of a larger sample from her breast revealed no carcinoma but the lymph node surgery went ahead. "This is a sad case of a woman having to undergo radical surgery which she didn't need," Jodie Willey of Shine Lawyers said.


False accusations ban father

Men are presumed guilty until proven innocent and even being proven innocent does not help much

"STEVE" has been barred from seeing his daughter for seven years. He has never harmed his only child or her mother. He has never threatened them and a court has accepted he is of good character. But last week, after a tortuous 10-year journey through four courts, more than 20 hearings, 12 psychologists and six lawyers, he was told he could not see his daughter until she came of age.

Steve, whose real name cannot be revealed for legal reasons, has gone through more than 20 intrusive psychological examinations, while daughter "Molly" has endured seven. He says he has spent more than $100,000 in 10 years.

His wife twice raised sexual-abuse allegations, proven false after months of investigation. But the court accepted she would "shut down" emotionally if Steve was allowed to see his daughter and that her distress would affect her parenting skills. It was deemed in Molly's best interests that she not see her father until she turned 18.

Now Steve, a successful small businessman from Melbourne's southern suburbs, faces being alienated from his daughter forever. "It just rips your heart out. If you can't forge a relationship with your child in their formative years, there's a real risk that you never have a good relationship," he said yesterday. "There was no violence, threats, abuse, harassment or intimidation. "I was shocked when (the judge) announced that the order would apply to both my ex-wife and our daughter and would last for 10 years. "I was able to persuade her that this would criminalise me if my daughter tried to contact me when she grew up. "But I bucked the system and paid the price. If you argue with the court's finding, they label you as unco-operative."

Steve said while everyone wanted women and children protected from violence, intervention orders should not be used as weapons in custody battles. "These orders are being used to persecute men and children by litigants who know courts will always err on the side of caution and remove fathers without there being any violence at all," he said. Steve said he feared his daughter had been scarred by the court's insistence on psychological examinations.

This year he approached his ex-wife's new partner to see if there was any chance of mediation that would allow him to see Molly. His wife instantly launched legal action alleging he breached an intervention order that prevented him approaching her or Molly. "The court decided that my - very polite - conversation with my ex's partner represented harassment. It's just unbelievable," Steve said.


Rights bill 'would take power from people'

A bill of rights would give too much authority to unelected judges and strip power from Parliament, Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has warned. Federal Cabinet on Monday agreed to a national consultation process on what the bill should contain, which will start next week, Fairfax has reported. The bill, likely to be based on those in Victoria, Queensland and Britain, would outline a set of rights and require Parliament to ensure legislation complies with the rights.

Mr Turnbull said he had concerns about a bill of rights, saying they were often vaguely worded, offered a number of interpretations and would give courts too much power. "The problem with generally-worded guarantees of human rights in constitutional documents is that they give extraordinary legislative power to the courts,'' Mr Turnbull told Macquarie Radio today. "Judges are not elected. The good thing about politicians is that if you don't like what they are doing you can boot them out, and they are accountable. "The real question when you talk about a bill of rights is how much authority do you want to give to judiciary to make laws, versus the Parliament.''

Mr Turnbull was sceptical about the timing of the announcement, saying Prime Minister Kevin Rudd may be trying to distract people from more pressing concerns. "Kevin may come from Queensland, but his political style is very much Bob Carr, Morris Iemma, Nathan Rees,'' he said. "It's all about politics of mass distraction. They make an announcement, get a headline, then never follow up.''


Son loathed Greenie mother

Sounds like her big ego and self-righteousness got too much for him

A man who admitted stabbing his mother to death says he is not in the least remorseful or repentant but regrets not doing it 20 yeas ago. And Adam Patrick Owens, 33, scolded the prosecution during sentencing today for trying to mitigate what he did, saying it sent a "terrible message to the public".

Owens, 35, of Cremorne on Sydney's north shore, admitted murdering Doris Owens, 69, between September 6 and 9, 2006 just before he was due to face trial last month. Ms Owens was known as a staunch environmental campaigner in the seaside village of Swanhaven, near Sussex Inlet on the New South Wales south coast.

During sentencing submissions in the Supreme Court today, Owens asked for any mitigating factors to be ignored by the judge and a maximum sentence imposed. "I knew exactly what I was doing. My intention was to kill her and anything else is incorrect," Owens told the court. "It was quite clear what I was doing. I'm not in the least remorseful, nor am I repentant. Given the time over, I would do the same again. "I regret, perhaps, not doing it 20 years earlier."

Owens criticised crown prosecutor Ron Hoenig for bringing up his earlier depression. "Please stop trying to mitigate the offence," he said. "It sends a terrible message to the public."

Owens's younger brother Caleb read a victim impact statement to the court in which he described his mother as an "indestructible advocate". "She was an advocate for the weak and for those without a voice," [A bigmouth?] he told the court. "The world was a better place with Doris Owens." Justice Lucy McCallum will hand down a sentence on December 19.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bed bugs rife again -- thanks to the Greenies

Banning DDT has brought them back. And killing them is very difficult without DDT

BLAME everything from council clean-up scabs to dirt cheap airfares, Sydney's bed bug problem has exploded with a 4500 per cent increase in treatments for the tiny pests. It has become so bad Westmead Hospital will, for the first time, run courses on how to detect and control the blood suckers next year.

Summer's warmth kicks the creatures into active mode and yesterday Australia's top bed bug expert, Westmead Hospital entomologist Stephen Doggett, said: "In the past few weeks I've had a lot of calls and I expect an explosion of calls now it's getting warmer. Everywhere from five-star hotels to family homes can be infested. Between 2000 and 2006 there was a 4500 per cent increase in calls."

Mr Doggett said the bugs were now resistant to common insecticides after being wiped out in Australia during the 1950s with the aid of the now banned chemical DDT.

Cheap airfares had fueled a big increase in travel, including to poorer countries. "Bed bugs can travel in luggage and what do people do when they first get to a hotel, they put their luggage on the hotel bed infecting it too," Mr Doggett said. He said Westmead's entomology unit had calculated the bugs cost $100million in lost hotel revenue and eradication costs in Australia between 2000 and 2006. "The accommodation industry does not want to admit the scale of the problem," he said.

Bed bug killers San Souci's Pink Pest Services said pleas for help had doubled in recent years as the bug invasion spread. "Worst areas in homes are Bondi, Surry Hills and Redfern," a spokesman said.


Public hospital crisis forces vulnerable women into wards with men

QUEENSLAND'S public hospital bed crisis is now so acute that women, including some with breast cancer, have been put into wards with men. Gail Ramsay said she was horrified when she was admitted to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane last week and was taken to a ward containing three men. Ms Ramsay, who is undergoing chemotherapy, has lost her hair and wears a prosthetic breast and a wig. "At night-time when you go to bed, you take all that off," she said.

"I said to the nurse: 'Look, it's embarrassing.' "She said: 'Keep your curtain pulled. If you want to be treated, you've got to be prepared to share with men. That's common practice now. That's what happens.' " Ms Ramsay, from the Ipswich suburb of Riverview, said she was only moved to a women's ward after she complained and "ran out of the room".

The 52-year-old, who was in hospital for three days after doctors found a blood clot near her heart, said she met other women there who had been treated in men's wards. "They didn't like it either," she said.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Chris Davis said the practice was common in most public hospitals throughout the state because of the lack of beds. "I think this is another one of the examples where we've actually gone backwards with our hospitals over the past 20 years by not being able to offer people gender-specific wards," Dr Davis said.

He said he had been told by a colleague this week that beds at the Rockhampton Hospital had been set up in staff offices to accommodate patients. "When the system is running under that sort of pressure, people will have to accept a bed wherever and hope that their privacy and dignity is maintained," he said. "It's not a comfortable situation for a lot of people, very understandably."


A Leftist politician who sues if criticized?

And he is still whining. He shouldn't be in politics

A QUEENSLAND MP who threatened to sue an elderly lady who had criticised him has apologised for acting in the heat of the moment. Phil Gray, the state Labor MP for Gaven, wrote a letter to the Gold Coast woman after she allegedly criticised him and said she wouldn't vote for him at a public meeting last month. Mr Gray told her that if she did not stop smearing his character he would take the matter to court.

But an angry Premier Anna Bligh yesterday pulled the member aside and ordered him to apologise, telling him his behaviour was completely unacceptable. Mr Gray sent a letter of apology today and said he realised he would have to let future criticisms roll off his back. "I do regret it as the (original) letter was written in haste,'' he said. "I think I've probably developed an elephant-like skin now and you can throw whatever you like at me and I won't flinch.''

But he had his family to consider as well, who were hurt by the incident, he said. Mr Gray said politicians were often at a disadvantage in defending themselves and their families. "Politicians seem to have less civil and legal rights in this country than others,'' he said. ''... it's not that we're precious little care bears with a very thin skin, but I think there are limits which at times are crossed by the press or by other people.''


Nasty local bureaucrats in Melbourne tear down boys' cubby house

It's getting as bad as Britain, where nearly everything has been declared "unsafe" somewhere

Sam Cooper was shattered when he came home from school to find council workers had torn down his beloved cubby house. The Eltham North 12-year-old and his best mate, Jack Deer, also 12, spent nine months building the two-storey cubby in a neighbour's tree, using hard rubbish they collected.

Sam's mum, Mary-Ann, was at home on November 19 when she heard banging and went outside to see the cubby being torn down. "It was heartbreaking for me," she said. "I just said, 'Oh, no', because I knew Samuel loved it." Ms Cooper said there was no warning of the demolition so she couldn't prepare Sam for the shock. "When I picked him up from school I didn't know what to do. I just let him find that it wasn't there and he teared up.

"The council workers, they were embarrassed that they had to pull down a child's cubby house and they said they just had a job to do."

Sam, an aspiring builder, said he was "really devastated, because all our hard work had gone to nothing".

Ms Cooper described the cubby as "magnificent", and said it even had carpeted floors.

Nillumbik Shire Council spokeswoman Allison Watt said the workers who removed the cubby believed the tree was on a public reserve. But neighbour Wendy Kilvington, who gave Sam permission to build the cubby, said she planted the tree on her property 14 years ago. But Ms Watt said: "If it's not on council property, it's very close to it. "We didn't sort of march into someone's private back yard and tear down a cubby house. It was in an open public area, which was fully accessible to people other than the kids who built the tree house."

She said the cubby was an "unacceptable risk to public safety". "It seemed to be made from second-hand timber and it was joined together with rope and not particularly sturdy, so, we felt that that was a risk." She apologised for the council not giving notice to residents that the cubby would be removed.


Bizarre! Rudd pumps iron, does press-ups on plane

KEVIN Rudd has started pumping iron with the Australian Federal Police. The Prime Minister has developed his own special form of altitude training - in-flight push-ups aboard the prime ministerial plane. The Herald Sun can reveal Mr Rudd has embarked on a rigorous exercise regime in an effort to keep fit for office. The training program includes regular late-night workouts at AFP gyms.

Opposition questioning has revealed Mr Rudd has approval to use eight police gyms in Canberra. The once pudgy PM attends with his security detail, who are all AFP agents, and is believed to work out with them.

The man known as Kevin 747 for his frequent international travel has also revealed his secret to staying fit while on the move. "I tend to walk late at night, I go to the gym, I do weights," he told the Herald Sun. "It keeps me sane. I do push-ups on the plane."

Mid-air upper body strength-building is a key contributor to Mr Rudd's description of his own health as "fine". "I sleep pretty well, actually," he said. "This is a tough job but I think people would want to know you are working as hard as you can and as effectively as you can."

Offers of cakes and scones at community events, and the fatty meals often served at official functions, are a constant threat to the waistlines of Australian politicians.

The importance of staying in shape as prime minister was demonstrated by John "Man of Steel" Howard, whose early morning walks helped him survive 11 years in the top job. Mr Rudd is also a keen walker but he prefers to set out in the evening. His cross-training program follows his admission this year that he had a weight problem.

Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells was able to uncover some details through questions on notice to the AFP. She asked 29 questions trying to confirm Liberal suspicions Mr Rudd was wasting taxpayers' money by keeping the gyms open after hours. But the AFP's Canberra gyms are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "There are no extra staffing arrangements or costs," the AFP said. It did reveal, however, that Mr Rudd had demonstrated "an understanding and correct use of the equipment, rules and responsibilities" of the gym facilities.


Friday, December 05, 2008

The "Greenhouse" retreat begins

The battle with climate hobgoblins is slowly giving way to reality

FEDERAL cabinet is finalising a cautious emissions trading scheme offering higher compensation to big trade-exposed polluters and a "soft" start in pollution-reduction targets. With concern growing in the Rudd cabinet about the emissions trading scheme's potential to exacerbate already rising unemployment, particularly in crucial marginal regional seats, the target range for the regime to be released on Monday week is widely expected to be between 5 per cent and 15 per cent by 2020. But the emissions trading white paper will tie Australian emissions reduction targets to the ambition of next year's Copenhagen agreement on cutting global greenhouse gas emissions.

After months of furious lobbying from key industries, including LNG, cement and steel, the Government will offer significant changes to its original formula offering wider compensation to trade-exposed emissions-intensive industries to ameliorate corporate concern about jobs and investment moving offshore.

Senior sources also say the Government's strategy is to negotiate the scheme through the Senate next year with the Coalition, rather than the Greens and independents, meaning its final impact is likely to be even softer when an amended version finally starts in 2010.

Conservationists and renewable energy industry advocates have in recent weeks implored the Government to keep open the possibility of deeper emission cuts of 25per cent by 2020 to maximise the chances of an international deal that could limit global warming to 2C, a level that can still avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change.

The Government remains determined to press ahead with its emissions trading scheme despite the global financial crisis, but in his speech to the parliament yesterday Kevin Rudd made it clear he was very worried about rising unemployment. "We have had a debate in here from time to time about where the global financial crisis goes," the Prime Minister said. "It is going to affect a lot of people who will lose their jobs. That is the truth and it is an awful thing. "Whatever our policy debates may be about that, the other thing we need to be reminded of at a time like this is, through our own work in local community, to support people who find themselves in those positions in the period ahead."

The Government's green paper released in July proposed handing out for free up to 20 per cent of permits to heavy industry in the period before an international agreement imposed similar costs on their competitors, and 30 per cent once agriculture was included in the scheme in 2015. The remainder of the permits would be auctioned. But in recent weeks officials have canvassed the prospect that this strict cap on the proportion of free permits could be increased - to about 25 per cent, or 35 per cent after the inclusion of agriculture, with more sectors qualifying for at least some free permits and companies being able to apply for permits for new projects as well. They have suggested that industry sectors could be allowed to choose between two possible formulas for calculating their eligibility for free permits and that industries previously missing out on permits - such as oil refining and some chemical production - could now be offered 30 per cent of their necessary permits for free.

But the cabinet subcommittee is understood to have considered it politically unacceptable to offer 30 per cent free permits for the methane emissions from coalmines, even though coal would probably have been eligible under the revised plans, ordering further negotiations to narrow the government assistance to the sector. No other country has plans to require coalmines to buy permits for methane emissions for many years.

Many industries that miss out on free permits are also being offered "structural adjustment" assistance from the proposed multi-billion-dollar Climate Change Adjustment Fund, created from the proceeds of permit auctions, to ease the burden from the introduction of the emissions trading scheme. The Government is also holding detailed discussions with industry about the implementation of its promised national renewable energy target (RET) alongside the ETS, with another discussion paper on the much-delayed RET set to be released before the end of the year.

Yesterday, leading economists - including nabCapital chief economist Rob Henderson, ANZ chief economist Saul Eslake, and Macquarie Group chief economist Richard Gibbs - wrote an open letter to the Government. They urged it to apply the ETS as broadly as possible, including to petrol, which the Government has pledged to exempt for the first three years of the scheme, and to set any carbon-price safety cap very high to allow the new market in carbon permits to work.

The cabinet subcommittee on emissions trading has met twice this week and the full cabinet was also scheduled to discuss the issue yesterday as the Government raced to finalise the design of its scheme ahead of its release on December 15. Cabinet is very conscious that Labor's hold on marginal seats, including Capricornia, Flynn, Dawson, Corangamite and Solomon could be strongly affected by the decisions taken.


Incompetent ambulance phone operator kills man

A man suffered a heart attack and died while an ambulance called for him went to the wrong address, the Opposition has told State Parliament. State Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg today highlighted the case of 62-year-old Bob Silman, who suffered a heart attack on November 2 near Mackay. His wife Lorraine called an ambulance to their Pleystowe address, just 10 minutes from the local ambulance station. But Mr Silman died during a 40-minute wait for paramedics, who were dispatched to number 2, instead of the Silman's address at number 20. Mr Springborg said the tragic case brought to attention a substandard ambulance response service.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the case was a sad one but call centre staff were professionals who were trained to deal with stressed callers. "There have been instances where, because of the distressed nature of the caller, it has been difficult to identify the precise address," he said. Mr Robertson said initial advice suggested the delay at the Silmans' home was due to an inaccurate address being provided to the responding crew. "I am not placing any blame on any individual, but that is the advice I have received on that matter," he said.

But the triple-0 call log shows Mrs Silman repeatedly tried to clarify her address with the confused operator. Mr Springborg told reporters the dispatch system was wrong - not Mrs Silman - and the Government should apologise. "She went through the most extraordinary and excruciating painful process in trying to convince the call centre that they had the information on her property address wrong," he told reporters. "Despite this Government taxing Queenslanders more and more in the boom times, they have managed to get it wrong today and it has actually ended in tragic circumstances."


Public servants fear bad publicity before all else

A State Government department responsible for looking after children considers bad publicity more important than a death in a school.

A leaked Education Queensland risk matrix policy document tabled by the Opposition in State Parliament yesterday revealed the ranking system public servants should use when notifying bureaucrats of issues. "Sustained adverse publicity" was ranked in the worst category of critical but "loss of life or permanent injury" was considered less serious in the major category below. Other results considered less important than bad publicity included a 10 per cent financial impact on the budget or long delays to programs.

The existence of the rankings has emerged three years after former health inquiry commissioner Geoff Davies labelled a similar document used by Queensland Health as "shocking".

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg yesterday questioned how the Government could still be using such a system. "After 10 long years, the Beattie-Bligh Labor Government has clearly lost its way when it is more concerned about bad news stories than people's lives," Mr Springborg said.

However, Premier Anna Bligh defended the document, saying the critical category also included "multiple deaths" alongside the bad publicity. "Yes, it lists 'sustained adverse publicity'," Ms Bligh said. "Of course the department would have to deal with that. "That is just one example of what would be a critical risk in the category of managing the external environment."

But Mr Springborg said the loss of one life should be considered more important than a bad run in the media. According to the Davies Commission of Inquiry report, former Bundaberg health bureaucrat Peter Leck testified that decisions were made by reference to a risk matrix which rated "significant and sustained statewide adverse publicity" on the same level as "loss of life".

Furthermore, "sustained national publicity: QH reputation significantly damaged" was on the same level as "multiple deaths". "The view, which seems to be that of Queensland Health, that substantial adverse publicity is as serious a consequence as multiple deaths, is shocking," Mr Davies found.



They seem to have taken California seriously. Four current articles below

The red ink saga gets worse

Teachers told to leave wrong answers blank

TEACHERS at a Brisbane school were told to leave wrong answers by students blank, as marking it wrong would have hurt the child's confidence. The case at Algester State Primary School on the southside has emerged in the wake of the red pen controversy this week involving Queensland Health warning teachers to stop using red pens as the colour was too "aggressive".

One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was shocked at the recent directive to leave answers blank. "They didn't want us to write anything," he told The Courier-Mail.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Rod Welford said he was too busy to be interviewed and that he did not comment on "operational" issues anyway. "There's nothing for our minister to say," the spokeswoman said. A one-paragraph statement from Education Queensland issued later failed to discuss issues proposed.

It came after the red pen controversy played out in State Parliament again, with the Bligh Government turning the tables on the Opposition over the source of the red pen advice. It was contained in a Queensland Health kit given to 30 schools to provide a range of tips and hints on dealing with mental health issues in the classroom. The Liberal National Party had claimed the document was "kooky, loopy, loony, Left policy" but the Government yesterday revealed the kit was initially released nationally by the Howard government in 2000.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson lampooned the LNP claims, questioning who the "Marx and Engels of the Howard socialist government" were who devised the kit. "None other than comrade Dr Michael Wooldridge and comrade Dr David Kemp - a couple of loony lefties full of kooky, loony and loopy ideas if there ever were any," Mr Robertson said. [The Federal education bureaucracy is Leftist too. No doubt they slipped this one past the politicians]


Education policy gets an F

EDUCATION systems with no red pens and no wrong answers feed the delusion that our students are doing well. State education gets an F for setting up children for failure. The Queensland Health document calling on teachers not to use a red pen when correcting students' work (it's seen as aggressive and damaging to self-esteem) is so bizarre, it has to be true.

In the Alice in Wonderland world of education - where teachers no longer teach, they become guides by the side, where classic literature is replaced by SMS messaging and graffiti and history is reduced to studying the local tip (it's the environment, stupid) - nothing surprises. Read state and territory curriculum documents from the past five to 10 years and the fact is that no one fails. Learning is developmental, so don't worry if children cannot read or write as, eventually, they will pick it up.

Ranking kids one against the other or giving a test marked out of 10, where 4 means fail, is wrong as each student is precious and unique and being competitive reinforces a capitalist, winner/loser mentality. Failure is redefined as "deferred success" and reports describe student achievement with comments like "consolidating", "not yet achieved" and "establishing". No wonder parents don't have a clue where their children rank in the class. It's also no wonder that so many thousands of primary school children enter secondary school with such poor literacy and numeracy skills and that universities now have remedial classes for first-year students, teaching essay writing and basic algebra.

Fast forward to Gen-Y and the results of this care, share, grow approach to assessment and correcting work are clear to see. Having never been told their work is substandard or that, compared with others, they may have failed, Gen-Y has an inbuilt sense of invincibility and success. Ask employers about working with Gen-Y and the consensus is that this is a generation that expects never to be corrected, that promotion is automatic and that near enough is good enough. After years of being told at school that everyone has a right to an opinion - after all, how we read the world is subjective and teachers are only facilitators - no wonder many young people are incapable of working out the difference between success and mediocrity.

There is an alternative. As every good parent and teacher knows, children need a disciplined approach to learning, and to be told when they have passed or failed. Boys, in particular, need clear and immediate feedback about what's expected and whether they have reached the required standard. Look at the stronger-performing education systems of Singapore, Japan, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, and it's obvious they rely on competitive assessment at key stages and students suffer the consequences of not doing well enough.

It's ironic that Australian students, who are in the "second 11" when it comes to international maths and science tests, on being interviewed express a high opinion of themselves and their ability to do well. Asian students, on the other hand, who consistently rank at the top of the table, say that they need to work harder as they feel there is always room for improvement. So much for the smart state.


State Premier pisses into the wind

Show us respect, Premier John Brumby tells Melbourne's young. When their Leftist teachers are telling them that there is no such thing as right and wrong and that everything is relative, what chance that the kids will heed propaganda telling them to be do-gooders?

JOHN Brumby has declared war on the "me" generation of out-of-control young Victorians who lack respect and fuel crime. The Premier today will unveil a plan to restore respect throughout schools and the community. "I am concerned about an emerging culture of alcohol and a lack of respect," he told the Herald Sun.

Mr Brumby plans a multi-million-dollar campaign to steer young Victorians into volunteering for key fire, rescue, welfare and community groups. The school curriculum is expected to be changed to teach teenagers right from wrong.

The campaign, aimed at between 15 and 25, comes as crime figures show 33,911 charges were laid against people under under 18 in 2007-08, and one in five of all offences were committed by teens. "Like all parents, I am concerned when I see images of young people writing themselves off on Friday or Saturday nights, getting into fights, or just not treating themselves or other people with respect," Mr Brumby said. "I will be pushing a respect agenda very heavily next year - it's a top priority."

The Premier was speaking after the annual Schoolies Week of drugs, drunkenness and anti-social behaviour hit the nation's beachside resorts. His plan has won the backing of notorious party animal Corey Worthington - who reckons more needs to be done and has offered to advise Mr Brumby for free. Speaking through his manager yesterday, the Melbourne teenager said more amenities and activities were needed for under-18s who are banned from licensed venues. "They need to be entertained or have places to go so that they aren't on the streets where the violence occurs," Worthington said.

The wild child said he was happy to make himself available at no charge to meet the Premier to help develop suitable strategies. Organised street parties, concerts and relaxing laws so some licensed venues can be used for under-18s events were some of his suggestions. The teen became notorious in January after throwing a wild party at his Narre Warren house without his parent's permission.

Crime figures show that juveniles are vastly over-represented in public order offences, arson and car theft. Drunken violence on the streets among the young is changing the face of Melbourne's CBD. Violence and alcohol abuse is rife at elite schools and unruly teenage parties.

Mr Brumby's strategy will dominate the Government's social agenda next year. A round table of experts and parents will meet to carve out a way to teach the young right from wrong. Education ministers today are expected to declare a shared goal in Australia of better values among the young.

A centrepiece of Mr Brumby's agenda will be encouraging volunteering. He wants to lead the way by joining the Country Fire Authority as a volunteer to help protect his family farm. He said young people would be better off if they directed their energies towards volunteer organisations, sporting clubs and soup kitchens rather than trawling the streets. "Parents don't want to be lectured by Government, but I think some would like some advice on helping their kids become solid citizens," Mr Brumby said. "Schools do a great job but we can always look at whether we can do more to teach life skills to young people." He will work with Education Minister Bronwyn Pike to assess whether schools should be more involved in teaching young people to value themselves and others. "I can think of nothing better than joining up to these (volunteer) organisations for young people to learn about community respect and what it means to be part of a team," he said.

Mr Brumby said the respect agenda flowed on from the Government's crackdown on alcohol-related crime. He referred to the night when he went to the Melbourne Custody Centre with the Herald Sun to discover three young drunks being processed by police. "I was shocked when I went to the Melbourne Custody Centre to see the state some young people were in - and it struck me that nobody would get into such a state if they respected themselves and their community," he said.


Islamic school bans national anthem

School reportedly bans the singing of Advance Australia Fair at assemblies.

A BRISBANE school has banned the national anthem at assemblies and sacked the teacher who asked for it to be played. Australian International Islamic College teacher Pravin Chand was sacked in November, four months after his proposal for students to sing Advance Australia Fair was ruled to be against the "Islamic view and ethos". A memo sent to teachers at the Durack school in July and obtained by The Courier-Mail, also said "the singing of the anthem will be put on hold".

The revelations follow an outcry on the Gold Coast this week at a plan by the same college to open another campus at Carrara. A vocal crowd draped in Australian flags accused the college of promoting segregation, anti-Australian values and even terrorism. Muslim leaders slammed the protests as "un-Australian" and claimed religion should not be used as a reason to protest against a school.

School chairman Imam Abdul Quddoos Azhari yesterday denied the anthem ban and said students sang it "at every function". But Mr Chand, whose version of events was backed by a second teacher, said he had not heard the anthem once this year. "No national anthem to me means no integration with Australian kids," Mr Chand said. "Western values (at the school) are a no-no. "It's like a paramilitary camp that place."

Mr Chand's employment was terminated by the college board last month on the grounds he was "not fitting into the school's ethos". Outgoing principal Azroul Liza Khalid, who started at the school in July, said she had not heard the anthem once at assembly, although it was played two or three other times. Ms Khalid said she was told by a board member not to play the anthem or any songs on Friday because it was a holy day. In July, school assembly day was moved from Monday to Friday.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Rod Welford indicated it was unlikely a public school had banned the national anthem. "It's not compulsory for schools to play the national anthem," she said. "There's an expectation it would be played on formal occasions when the Australian flag is being raised."

A Catholic education spokesman said: "I'm absolutely confident that no Catholic school has ever banned the playing of the national anthem and never will."

School trustee Keysar Trad and Imam Quddoos said they had not heard of the ban and supported the playing of the anthem at future assemblies. The future of the proposed 60-student college at Carrara will be decided by Gold Coast City Council next year.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Immigration debate 'set to flare again'

The debate about asylum seekers could flare again as Australia signals its doors are again open to people smugglers, former immigration minister Philip Ruddock says. Mr Ruddock, one of the key architects of the previous Howard government's hardline policy against asylum seekers, made the warning following an increase in boat activity in recent months. "I think we're about to see a very real and substantial debate about these issues in the Australian community again," he told reporters on Wednesday.

The federal government had relaxed measures aimed at effective border protection, he said. That was likely to send signals abroad that Australia was a more attractive destination for people smugglers, Mr Ruddock said.

People smugglers were corrupt, had little care for people's lives, and looked very closely at the opportunities that were open to them. "I'm sure that smugglers would be saying to people, `Look if we can get you into Australia, you'll be able to remain permanently, that's a very different outcome to what was in place."


Complacency over wrongly dosed children at an Adelaide public hospital

Health officials and the State Government have again been forced to admit potentially harmful mistakes in the treatment of patients - this time involving children. Eleven children suffering cancer were overdosed with chemotherapy, a failure caused by human and computer error and perpetuated for at least three years. The fault was only picked up by a "nervous" new staff member who double checked a reading at the Women's and Children's Hospital.

The systematic failure is the second of its kind revealed this year, and comes amid doctors' claims that South Australia's health system is dangerously overburdened and understaffed.

The latest bungle, discovered in October, was only revealed yesterday, the day after State Parliament rose for the year, raising questions of a cover-up. Eleven of 72 patients treated at the WCH since 1998 received too much of the chemotherapy drug etoposide phosphate. The children were aged from one to 15 years, and the average overdose was 13.6 per cent. One child has since died from cancer and one family is yet to be contacted about the overdose.

'An independent review by Sydney Children's Hospital paediatric oncologist Associate Professor Marcus Vowels found that although it was "unlikely", it was an "open question" whether the overdose could increase the risk of secondary cancers.

In an incident earlier this year, 869 Royal Adelaide Hospital cancer patients were underdosed with radiotherapy, which could have cut five lives short. Staffing problems were found to be the main contributing factor to that calibration error. The latest mistake has prompted Opposition calls for State Health Minister John Hill to be sacked.

Etoposide phosphate is an alternative form of the more common etoposide. When it was first used at the WCH in 1998, a computer program adjusted the dosage to take into account the fact it was a slightly different drug. In 2005, manual adjustments were introduced as well, so the dose was adjusted twice, giving a higher-than-planned dose.

"Over the . . . years from 1998 (to) 2004, `corporate knowledge' in the Oncology Unit was lost, with three senior members of staff leaving senior roles," Professor Vowels reported. "Oncology staff continued using etoposide phosphate and dose calculations were made by the oncologists in the clinic, not being aware that a computer program was already performing this task."

WCH chief executive officer Gail Mondy said a "very novice staff member" who was "very nervous about the system" double checked the calculations at the end of October. Ms Mondy was notified on November 17 and an investigation began on November 25. SA Health chief executive officer Tony Sherbon said the error would have been discovered anyway "in due course", and the fact that it was discovered in a random check showed the system was working. He said the mistake was "a team error".

Cancer Voices SA executive Ashleigh Moore was one of the people who was underdosed at the RAH. He said the system must be fixed "so this never, never happens again". "You expect to get what your clinician has planned. You don't expect to get less or more than that," he said.

Opposition health spokeswoman Vickie Chapman said Mr Hill and Mr Sherbon should be sacked for covering up a major scandal. "It is disgraceful an investigation into the incorrect treatment of 11 children in a public hospital was conducted while the Parliament was sitting and the Government failed to inform South Australians," she said. "Children receiving incorrect treatment at the WCH is bad enough. "To then conceal the matter is unforgivable."

Mr Hill said that when he heard about the mistake two weeks ago, he ordered an investigation and review. He has now referred the matter to the SA Safety and Quality Council. "We have an excellent health care system in SA. It's one of the best in the world," he said. "We've seen two errors . . . one in relation to radiotherapy and one in relation to chemotherapy. They're not related in any way at all. "The only thing that makes them noticeable is that awareness of the errors occurred within a few months, but that demonstrates a system that is open about it. We've made no attempt to hide it." He said telling the public about the investigation before it was complete would have panicked many and "would have been an appalling thing to do".

Mr Hill, Mr Sherbon, and Ms Mondy said no parents should be concerned, but if anyone wanted further information they should phone the WCH Chemotherapy Info Line on 8161 6180.


Airport security gaps leave Australians 'wide open'

REFUELLERS, baggage-handlers and other air-side workers at the nation's biggest and busiest airports are not being subjected to the same X-ray screening and explosives testing as airline passengers and even pilots.

The revelation of serious gaps in Australia's airport security come amid concerns that criminal record checks for airport workers do not include offences committed overseas. The loophole in the vetting procedures for air-side workers means foreign workers with criminal pasts may escape detection.

An investigation by The Australian has uncovered numerous problems that security experts warn are putting Australia's aviation industry at risk. One concerned Australian pilot has slammed the inconsistency of security priorities at airports, and the "gaping holes in the system that leave us wide open to a serious attack on an airliner". The pilot, who did not want to be named, said the variety of risks associated with the air-side worker population were much bigger than those involved in aircraft boarding. "Unlike people intending to fly on the aircraft being targeted, these personnel go home and would not die if they successfully planted a device in an airliner," the pilot said.

Counter-terrorism expert Nicholas O'Brien said there appeared to be a "significant gap in security" if workers with access to aircraft did not have to undertake the same X-ray and other screening measures as passengers and crew. "It is known that terrorists spend a considerable time researching possible targets," said Professor O'Brien, from Charles Sturt University's Australian Graduate School of Policing. "It is possible that terrorists have identified this gap in security and will recruit an airport worker with air-side access or obtain such jobs themselves. "Once in such a position, it would appear to be relatively easy to smuggle an explosive device on to a plane. The consequences of a successful attack would be horrendous."

The Howard government commissioned British expert John Wheeler to review airport security in 2005 after reports in The Australian exposed major breaches at Sydney airport. The inquiry by Sir John found policing at airports was often "inadequate and dysfunctional". Among his 17 recommendations were tougher screening of all staff who entered secure areas and tightening security vetting for the Aviation Security Identification Card.



Three current articles below

Academic bias in Australia

This has been going on for a long time. When I was a university student I was an outspoken conservative and was well aware that I was as a result looked at askance by the academics. So I ended up in 1967 with only a lower second class honours degree. Yet the thesis for that degree was eventually published as an academic journal article and I had over 200 journal articles published in a writing career of only 20 years -- something that would put me in the top 1% of academics. The degree I got therefore clearly was not an accurate testimony to my ability.

'Like the characters Winston Smith and Julia in George Orwell's classic anti-totalitarian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, students with non-Left views need to learn to outwardly conform to inwardly remain free." This is how a high school tutor, Mark Lopez, describes the plight of Australian students in his submission to the Senate inquiry into academic freedom, which is due to table its report today. In 18 years tutoring English and the humanities, Lopez has seen a "subtle, unstated pressure for students to ideologically conform if they want to succeed academically".

He said the "beliefs of the politically correct, which are seen by them as so noble and emancipating, especially when . touted by radical students in the 1960s" have become a "means for compromising the intellectual freedom of the young in the 21st century".

Many academics have derided the Senate inquiry, begun in June by the Victorian Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield, as a "witch-hunt", an exercise in "mud-slinging", the dying throes of the Howard regime and a "McCarthyist" attempt to curtail the freedom of academics. The National Tertiary Education Union was typical in its submission asserting that bias does not exist.

But the submissions - some anonymous - tell a different story and paint a chilling portrait of an often unconscious academic bias in schools and universities, and of students too intimidated to say or write what they think. Joshua Koonin, a third-year law student, told the inquiry: "I have .consistently felt intimidated that if I express views other than those [of my] tutors and lecturers . my marks will suffer." He told of readings on "the immorality of the United States . with no countervailing position" and a lecturer who said, "nobody in Australia supports John Howard and his crimes".

Professor Brian Martin, of the University of Wollongong and vice-president of Whistleblowers Australia, who researches the suppression of dissent and is hardly what you would describe as a conservative, was among the most powerful witnesses to the inquiry. He told a public hearing in Sydney in October that students have become "strategic" at working the biases of their teachers. "For someone like me, teaching social science, I actually would like the students to be speaking out much more, disagreeing with me . But they are afraid . They are trying to find out what the lecturers are looking for because then they will give it to them. These are strategic students . They want to get good marks, so they are trying to figure out what their lecturers want. That is a far bigger problem, in my mind, than the bias that may exist."

Together, the submissions form a story of an academic world plagued by what the James Cook University academic Merv Bendle described in a public hearing in Canberra as an "intellectual monoculture". "In another age this could be a fascist, far right intellectual monoculture and it would do just as much damage to our society as a left-wing or far left intellectual monoculture. It is not so much the politics of the thing; it is the fact that it is an intellectual monoculture, that it is one voice being heard over and over again unrelentingly."

The inquiry split early along party lines, with a minority report due to be released today by Coalition senators, who are expected to recommend reform of ideologically driven university education faculties, as well as a "charter of academic freedoms".

While the concerns of Young Liberals, who inspired the inquiry with their "Make Education Fair" campaign, are expected to be dismissed in today's Senate majority report as an "undergraduate exercise", the federal president, Noel McCoy, said yesterday the inquiry had established the existence of "a radical orthodoxy which pervades the development of university courses and school curriculums, stifles debate and prevents genuine balance or diversity of opinions". McCoy reserves special scorn for university education faculties, which he says are crucial to the "long march through the institutions", which the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci said was necessary for socialism to take hold.

The inquiry discussed the problem of education being used as a tool for social change rather than to impart skills. One result is that Monash University has just announced remedial English courses for students who arrive "functionally illiterate" after 12 years of school.

And committee member, Liberal Senator Brett Mason, complained about a Brisbane high school he visited in which Mao Zedong was displayed as a "freedom fighter" alongside George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi.

Gideon Rozner, president of the University of Melbourne's Liberal Club, told the inquiry about a course on "contemporary ideologies", comprising 12 lectures, 11 "dedicated to different variations of socialism". The solitary lecture about liberalism and conservatism had as its compulsory reading an article from the left-wing Monthly magazine titled "Young Liberals in the chocolate factory". "The entire liberal or conservative tradition [was] summed up by that article . When students enrol in a contemporary ideology subject and finish it not knowing any of the works of Adam Smith or John Stuart Mill or Milton Friedman or any of the great thinkers of our time, that is a significant quality issue."

A month after Rozner's testimony, on November 4, the inquiry committee received a letter from a "disappointed" University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, who defended the subject. But he said it was to be replaced next year with a "broader introduction to political ideas subject [with readings from such] liberal authors such as John Stuart Mill and Milton Friedman". Chalk up a victory to the Young Liberals, even if no one will ever admit it.


Google generation doesn't need to know facts?

What an addle-headed and destructive Leftist moron! If kids don't have a solid base of knowledge to start with they cannot make good judgments about what is nonsense and what is not. You have got to have that basic grounding. And calling it "rote" or "memorizing" is just abuse

School children no longer need to memorise facts and figures because everything they need is just a mouse click away, an internet educator says. It would be better to teach children to think creatively so they could interpret and apply knowledge they gained online, said Don Tapscott, author of the bestselling book Wikinomics and a champion of the "net generation".

"Teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge; the internet is," Mr Tapscott told Times Online. "Kids should learn about history to understand the world and why things are the way they are. But they don't need to know all the dates. It is enough that they know about the Battle of Hastings, without having to memorise that it was in 1066. They can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google," he said.

But Mr Tapscott said he was not rejecting education. The ability to learn new things was more important than ever "in a world where you have to process new information at lightning speed," he said. "Children are going to have to reinvent their knowledge base multiple times. So for them memorising facts and figures is a waste of time."

Mr Tapscott, who coined the term "the net generation", based his observations in his latest book, Grown Up Digital, on a study of nearly 8000 people in 12 countries born between 1978 and 1994. He said the prevailing education model was designed for the industrial age. "This might have been good for the mass production economy, but it doesn't deliver for the challenges of the digital economy, or for the `net gen' mind," he said.

He suggested the brains of young people worked differently from those of their parents and said "digital immersion", in which children may be texting while surfing the internet and listening to their MP3 player, could help them to develop critical thinking skills.

Brighton College headmaster Richard Cairns told Times Online that a core level of knowledge was essential: "It's important that children learn facts. If you have no store of knowledge in your head to draw from, you cannot easily engage in discussions or make informed decisions."


Federal education boss has the right ideas but can she deliver?

It was telling that on the Monday morning after the weekend Council of Australian Governments meeting, ABC local radio in Sydney excitedly declared it day one in the education revolution. For ABC broadcaster Deborah Cameron, the revolution was about computers. Was this the Great Leap Forward? she asked rhetorically. Cameron should have googled, if only to remind herself that Mao Zedong's program led to the deaths of many millions of Chinese. Historical quibbles aside, for the next few minutes Cameron and NSW Education Minister Verity Firth applauded the coming revolution for delivering a laptop to every high school student in years nine to 12.

Completely off their inner-city Mao-focused radar is the real revolution cautiously started by Julia Gillard at the weekend. Far more important than the underfunded election gimmick of computers that still excites the ABC is Gillard's grassroots change to education. There was no coincidence to the visit to our shores in the lead-up to COAG by New York City education chancellor Joel Klein. In Sydney late last week, he told me, with a cheeky smile, that he enjoyed being described by 2GB radio broadcaster Alan Jones as Julia's pin-up boy. And it's not hard to understand why Gillard is enamoured with Klein, who has run the largest public school system in the US - more than 1400 schools - for the past six years.

His bold reforms have challenged the status quo, lifting the prospects of thousands of children. Based on accountability, transparency and leadership, Klein's system tests literacy and numeracy, and tracks the progress of students in every school and the outcomes delivered by every teacher. Critics who complain that Klein's reforms teach students to master mindless tests miss the point, he says. Every mark of progress students earn in the tests increases their probability of graduating. And lifting the outcomes of students stuck in the tail of educational disadvantage is Klein's driving focus. Importantly, parents can access all the information on the New York City education department's website. Schools are awarded a grade for student progress, from A to D or F forfail. The D and F schools face restructure or closure unless they improve. Principals and parents are surveyed regularly. That, too, is all public.

As Klein said, transparency means the public becomes your ally in reform, "so that parents can raise hell" about schools that are failing their children. Added to that powerful cocktail of transparency and accountability is competition from small, independent charter schools.

Parents with students at failing schools have the option to move their children to other schools. Underperforming schools stop taking students for granted. "We wanted to be the Silicon Valley for charter schools," Klein told The Australian, so he recruited the great charter school leaders to NYC. People such as Dacia Toll, who is the director and co-founder of the Amistad Academy, came to NYC to open schools that unapologetically use student performance as a factor in student, principal and teacher evaluation.

When Klein took up his post, disadvantaged students had little choice. There were 16 charter schools. There are now more than 100, all in high-poverty areas such as Harlem and central Brooklyn, educating the most disadvantaged black and Hispanic students in NYC.

Klein told me about meeting a child in kindergarten at Excellence Academy, a red-bricked charter school in an impoverished part of Brooklyn. The boy told Klein he was in a University of Pennsylvania program. "Hang on, you're in kindergarten," Klein said to the boy. "What do you mean?" "I'm on my way to college. It's never too young to think about that," replied the little boy.

Klein's key concern is the inequitable distribution of high-quality teachers. So he also encouraged quality school leadership by raising $US70million from the private sector to train what he calls "get-up-and-go, tackle the problem" leaders who, in turn, would attract motivated teachers to their cause. Leaders such as Marc Sternberg, who graduated near the top of his class at Princeton and went on to business and education degrees at Harvard. When, at 29, Sternberg returned to New York, Klein appointed him principal of a small school where every child is black or Latino.

Klein copped the usual criticism about appointing a young guy. Longevity is the key to being a good school principal, said the critics. When Sternberg joined Bronx Lab School in 2004, it had graduation rates of about 35 per cent. Now the graduation rate is 94 per cent. "That's the power of leadership," says Klein. He has also introduced a trial into 200 high-poverty schools of bonuses for teachers where student progress improves, and greater freedom for principals to achieve better outcomes.

At COAG on Saturday, Gillard dipped her toe in the water of a Klein-inspired education revolution by scoring agreement with the states to publish data about the relative performance of schools. The commonwealth can then identify struggling schools and inject further resources into them. "What Labor has never used before is full transparency," Gillard said. Klein said that "once this genie (of transparency) is out of the bottle, it's very hard to put it back in".

But if Gillard is serious about reforming education and confronting the tail of education underachievement, she will need to do more. The model of rewards and penalties that she has previously ruled out will, ultimately, need to be on the table. Handing out money to disadvantaged schools cannot be the end game if student outcomes do not improve. Closing down consistently failing schools, encouraging competition and providing incentives to schools that achieve have proven to be critical reforms in NYC.

Klein's bold agenda is to position education of the most disadvantaged as the civil rights issue of the 21st century. If Gillard can do the same, she will, in the process, position herself as a true leader and Kevin Rudd's natural successor. Sometimes the best reforms are done from within. For all the bluster about reforming education, none of the Coalition education ministers, including most recently Julie Bishop, could win over teachers unions to this cause. Gillard, from the Labor Party's Left faction, is uniquely placed to woo her power base to see the sense of reforms they have long opposed.

For now, unions are mouthing the same old nonsensical objections driven by their vested interests. And Gillard can expect much more feral and misguided criticism. But if, as Klein has done, she can build on the present moves towards transparency with tougher reforms in the future aimed at greater accountability, she will deliver a real education revolution. And she will have earned the thanks of those who count: parents and students, especially those most disadvantaged among us who deserve a quality education. Stirring the pot - and delivering real outcomes - is, as Klein would say, the power of leadership.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hate-filled and dishonest Leftist film about Australia accepted uncritically as truth overseas

Baz Luhrmann's first big mistake was to get so full of himself that he called his movie "Australia". Worse, he then added titles to the beginning and end of his $180 million spectacular to tell viewers his take on our history was historically accurate. And so a movie that is a huge grab-bag of cliches - a collation of gaudy images pecked from deserted movie sets by an insatiable bowerbird - isn't just bad storytelling. It's also an exercise in bad faith - a movie allegedly about Australia, defining Australia, that's shot by a man who actually doesn't understand the country, and doesn't like it, either.

And that lazy contempt is precisely what American critics, for instance, have picked up on. What's more, fooled by Luhrmann into thinking they really are seeing Australia as we are, they've assumed as true that we're as heart-rotten as he shows. Hear it from the New York Observer: "Wow, who knew Australia was so racist?" Or from Cleveland's Plain Dealer: "Luhrmann . . . examines the rampant racism of his then-segregated country . . ." Or from Variety: "(T)o a significant extent, the film is also a mea culpa, in a vast popular-entertainment format, for the cruel racial policies once imposed by the Australian government . . ." Or from Entertainment Weekly: "Australia incorporates real history into its fiction. For decades, mixed-race children were forcibly taken from their families and trained in church- and government-sanctioned schools to become servants in white households . . ."

If Luhrmann had simply stuck to making the camp songless musical fantasy that parts of this film clearly are - a kind of Priscilla-Queen-Of-The-Desert-Goes-Droving mock epic - he might have given us the next great Australian film we've prayed for. But discipline is precisely what he lacks most. He's filmed instead parts of several movies-united stylistically only by his manic urge to grab the shiniest cliches and polish them to a cheap brilliance.

Australia starts with a story of a cliched young English aristocrat, played by Nicole Kidman, who flies to the Northern Territory on the eve of World War II to rescue the cattle station left by her dead husband. She finds she can save her Faraway Downs only if she droves her herd to Darwin with a ragtag bunch of helpers to break an evil cattle king's monopoly on supplying meat to the army. It's a nice, if familiar, premise which offers lots of scope for comic turns by Hugh Jackman as the cliched rough-nut Drover who falls for the English rose; Jack Thompson as the cliched educated drunk who smashes his last bottle of booze to come good; Bryan Brown as the cliched villain complete with six-gun; Yuen Wah as the cliched jabbering Chinese cook driving the chuck wagon; and David Ngoombujarra as the cliched black Tonto to Jackman's Lone Ranger. And, naturally, all the Aborigines are nice, and some are even magic.

Indeed, nothing at all is too cliched for Luhrmann - whether it's the old cattle-stampede-towards-a-cliff, or the embarrassingly awkward death scene poor Thompson must perform of the trampled alkie, a hero at last, blood trickling from his mouth as he tries to stammer his last, broken words.

Some cliches are too shiny for Luhrmann to use once, so Jackman emerges not just from swirls of dust, but from swirls of smoke and mist, too. The cliche of the English stuffed blouse is just as irresistible, so Kidman not only says "shoo" to cows she's trying to herd, but "my condolences" to a grieving Aboriginal boy. We even see dusty drovers spilling out of their Darwin pub to dance for joy at seeing rain. As drovers do. Ahem, Baz. I grew up in Darwin, which is in fact a tropical city. If we'd danced every time it rained in the wet season, we'd never sit down.

All this could yet have been pulled together into a highly stylised comedy-drama, not just exploiting cliches but positively romping in them. But there's a big snag: when the heroes' great drove to Darwin finally ends amid cheering crowds and blaring orchestra, the film is still not even half-way through its nearly three hours. And it's around this point that Luhrmann and his three co-writers must have looked at each other and said, "Oops, what do we do next?" Good question - and for the next hour and a half, it's clear they never really agreed on an answer.

Drama or comedy? Do we kill off Drover? Do we have him making happy families with his English love? Should we leave in the bit where Kidman's character is reported dead, for reasons we've forgotten? Or shall we just make it up as we go along? Which they did. The soundtrack is one giveaway of this confusion, veering wildly from Bach to Rolf Harris and his wobble board; from sturdy stockman singing Waltzing Matilda (as they also do) to sobbing violins suddenly announcing it's crying time. Indeed, it's reported that Luhrmann even changed the ending in the editing suite at the last minute, which surprises me. I wouldn't have thought it possible he had one even worse.

But one thing Luhrmann did decide was to pack away that Priscilla-style camp that had made some of the first half bearable and to switch to serious-or as serious as he could without putting a fold in Kidman's forehead. The film now becomes not just a drama somehow involving the 1942 bombing of Darwin by Japan, but a roar against the racism it had only mumbled against before. But, typically, the racism Luhrmann attacks is a racism of cliches, and is illustrated with yet more cliches, each more fact-free than the last.

So Drover complains, for instance, that he lost his first wife to TB because hospitals didn't treat Aborigines-when in fact Darwin hospital did treat them, even if three small nurse-run private bush hospitals had not. Missions also treated Aborigines, and one pregnant nurse, a Mrs Taylor, even died of illness while working with tribes in Groote Eylandt in 1934. But Luhrmann shows no such sympathetic officials. Instead, almost every white character from the NT administrator's wife down, other than our two heroes, is portrayed as a racist.

A recurring injustice Luhrmann keeps harping on is that "boongs" were banned from pubs. In one of Jackman's most emotional scenes, Drover finally forces a bartender to give his Aboriginal friend a drink - his biggest victory against racism. Nowhere is it acknowledged - as anyone can read in the reports then of the Northern Territory administrator - that serving Aborigines was forbidden because the booze and opium were devastating a people only just learning to deal with white society and Asian traders.

Luhrmann, in particular, should know this ban was driven not by racism but deep concern for Aboriginal welfare. After all, Australia stars the great Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil, whose career and marriage have almost been ruined by his own drinking. And alcohol is now once again banned in many Aboriginal communities in the NT, and not because we're racist.

These two great flaws of Australia - the cliched images and Luhrmann's cliched history - combine to produce what is undoubtedly the movie's most malevolent scene. Most of the second half of Australia centres on Nullah, a part-Aboriginal boy that Kidman's character "adopts" but who is stolen from her by corrupt police acting under a "stolen generations" law that a mission official smugly explains is used to breed out Aborigines. (So why steal Nullah from a white parent? It's one more bit of the plot that makes no sense, like having soldiers pulling out of bombed Darwin, a city they must actually defend.)

And here's that scene: as Nullah, played by the magnetic and beautiful Brandon Walters, is marched down Darwin's docks with other "stolen" boys to be shipped to the Garden Point home on Melville Island, a sneering white boy holding a kangaroo (yes!) abuses him: "Creamy, didn't your mother want you?" A racist white kid holding a kangaroo in a film called Australia-could there be anything more us? To add to the white crime against Nullah, the Japanese army is sweeping towards Australia and he and the other "stolen" boys are being sent to an island that one character notes "will be the first place the Japs hit". White women and children are being evacuated from Darwin in the background, but here the Aboriginal boys are being sent to their deaths. To grind in his point, Luhrmann has the Japanese bombing not just the children's home at Melville Island (which they didn't) but invading it.

Our shame is complete. This is the racist Australia that reviewers overseas-and even here-have accepted as not just a movie, but the shameful truth of our past. But now note a few historical truths that Luhrmann overwrites to tell his story of white infamy.

First, a Federal Court test case found no evidence children in the NT were ever stolen just because they were black, and no one has yet identified 10 anywhere who were stolen because they were Aboriginal and not because they needed help. Indeed, Colin Macleod, a NT patrol officer and later Victorian magistrate, wrote in his memoirs that the children sent to Garden Point were half-castes who'd often been rejected by full-bloods, and needed protection from "real danger and abject misery". For instance, he wrote, "Brother Pye of the Catholic mission at Garden Point once saw a six-year-old part-coloured boy speared by a full-blooded Aboriginal, almost as a joke, just because the boy was a `yella-fella' . . . "Half-caste kids would now and again turn up at missions with spear marks and signs of horrific beatings. "Babies were occasionally abandoned and young children left to fend for themselves."

Father John Leary, who also served at Garden Point, said in 2000 of the children he'd helped: "Some few of them, I believe, were `stolen', most were there for some good reason, some sent by parents or parent for education . . ." It's this "white" education, incidentally, that Luhrmann shows Nullah wisely rejecting, returning instead with Gulpilil to his tribe. How did he ever learn English? Thank heavens Brandon Walters, who plays him, didn't do the same, or Luhrmann wouldn't have his star.

But what of Luhrmann's story that Aboriginal children were knowingly sent into danger at Melville Island? Luhrmann needed only to ask some of the Aborigines at the Darwin premiere of his own film to learn that children were not sent to the island as the Japanese drew near, but sent from it. He could have asked, for instance, Ilene Neville, who told AAP she was seven when she was evacuated from Garden Point and brought to Darwin, where she witnessed the bombing.

Magdalen McNamara, an Our Lady of the Sacred Heart nun famous in the NT, recalls picking up 30 Garden Point girls on the day after the bombing of Darwin who'd already been evacuated to Pine Creek, far to the south. She brought them to South Australia, where they spent the war, while other Aboriginal children from the Top End were sent to safety as far away as Sydney, where they went to local state schools.

This is the real history of Australia - there's racism, yes, but more commonly there are people struggling, however imperfectly, to do their best, some bringing care and protection to Aborigines at great personal sacrifice. That's the real Australia, and how sad that Luhrmann has sold the world his Australia instead - a ghastly cliche of the demons we never were.


NSW public hospitals are full, better head to Queensland

And Queensland is pretty bad -- as shown by the fact that it was only a private hospital that could take the patient

A woman critically injured in a car crash had to be flown to Queensland for treatment as not one NSW hospital could treat her. Georgie Batterson endured a 400km helicopter flight to Southport on the Gold Coast for emergency surgery after Saturday's crash on the Pacific Highway near Kempsey. She was refused admission to every hospital in Sydney and Newcastle as the entire NSW hospital system was on "code red", meaning no space could be found for her.

The 56-year-old Kempsey woman's shocking story emerged as her husband Ian, also injured in the accident, finally tracked down where his wife had been taken. Mrs Batterson is now in an induced coma in a private hospital on the Gold Coast - with broken ribs, a collapsed lung, broken pelvis, broken leg and a shattered ankle.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal that a trauma doctor with the Westpac Rescue helicopter spent two hours on Saturday night calling hospitals in Sydney as well as Newcastle's John Hunter "begging" them to take her as she lay strapped to a trolley, critically injured and crying in pain. He was told not one of the 400 intensive care beds in NSW was free. It was then that rescue helicopter pilots made the decision to fly Mrs Batterson to Queensland.

Mr Batterson yesterday told The Daily Telegraph he was traumatised by what his wife had to endure. "As far as nurses and emergency staff at Kempsey, they were perfect . . . absolutely 150 per cent," he said. "There is something seriously wrong when you can't get treated in your home state. The pilot was desperately asking them where he was going. The trauma bloke said, 'Bugger it, we'll go to Queensland'."

NSW Nationals leader Andrew Stoner said the Battersons' story was a "disgrace". "This State Government has become so dysfunctional it can't meet its basic responsibilities," he said.


Muslims say protests over planned school are "hurtful"

Maybe they should stop preaching hate against Israel and the West, then. I think Mr Trad should send his complaint to the Ayalollahs of Iran or the Wahhabist mullahs of Saudi Arabia -- which is where the problem originates

PROTESTERS fighting to stop an Islamic school opening at Carrara on the Gold Coast have been accused of linking young students to terrorism. A board member of the planned school slammed the protesters as "un-Australian". "It's not only upsetting, it's deeply hurtful," school board trustee Keyser Trad said. "To make associations between primary school-aged children and terrorists is just hard to even comprehend. "I've never seen this kind of thing in Australia. It's causing a deep wound in our hearts."

Almost 200 protesters gathered outside the Gold Coast City Council chambers on Monday to demonstrate their objection to the planned Carrara school, with placards, Australian flags, chants and a sound system booming out Aussie rock anthems. Some of the protesters claim the school would foster segregation, or even potential terrorists, comments that angered Mr Trad and disappointed some local councillors.

Mr Trad, who also serves on the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, said religion should not be a reason for protesting against the school. "The kids who would go to this school and their parents are normal, everyday people who just happen to be Muslim," he said.

The council's planning committee chairman, Cr Ted Shepherd, deplored aspects of Monday's protest. "I was a little bit disappointed with some of the behaviour," he said. "I don't think people should take to that tone of demonstration over what is really a town planning issue."

Some opponents of the school have expressed concerns over issues such as traffic and parking but Mr Trad said the school was following all council recommendations. "Everything that the council has asked, we have done it signed, sealed and delivered."

Today is the last day for residents to make submissions to the council about the proposal. If approved, the school is unlikely to open until at least the middle of next year.


Global warming kills possum?

More Greenie attention-seeking lies. If the possum was on way to extinction anyway, how do we know that warming made any difference? They cite hot weather in 2005 but there was no global warming in 2005. Any extra heat at that time would be due to other, more local, weather influences

SCIENTISTS say a white possum native to Queensland's Daintree forest has become the first mammal to become extinct due to man-made global warming. The Courier-Mail reports the white lemuroid possum, a rare creature found only above 1000m in the mountain forests of far north Queensland, has not been seen for three years. Experts fear climate change is to blame for the disappearance of the highly vulnerable species thanks to a temperature rise of up to 0.8C.

Researchers will mount a last-ditch expedition early next year deep into the untouched "cloud forests" of the Carbine range near Mt Lewis, three hours north of Cairns, in search of the tiny tree-dweller, dubbed the "Dodo of the Daintree".

Scientists believe some frog, bug and insects species have also been killed off by climate change. But this would be the first known loss of a mammal and the most significant since the extinction of the Dodo and the Tasmanian Tiger. "It is not looking good," researcher Steve Williams said. "If they have died out it would be first example of something that has gone extinct purely because of global warming." [Fact-free assertion]

Professor Williams, director of the Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change at James Cook University, said the white lemuroid possum had been identified as highly vulnerable five years ago. "It only takes four or five hours of temperatures above 30C to kill this highly vulnerable species," he said. "They live off the moisture in the trees in the cooler, high-altitude cloud forests and, under extreme heat, they are unable to maintain their body temperature." He said record high temperatures in the summer of 2005 could have caused a massive die-off.

"Prior to 2005 we were seeing a lemuroid every 45 minutes of spotlighting at one main site at Mt Lewis," Professor Williams said. "But, in three years, in more than 20 hours of intensive spotlighting, none has been sighted."

Reef and Rainforest Research Centre chief executive Sheridan Morris said the "eyes of the world" would be on next year's the expedition to find the little creature. "If it has died out it will be devastating," Ms Morris said. "It is a big one, and a big one to bang the drum over. "It is equally as shocking as losing an iconic marine species like a whale or the dugong."

Source. And Andrew Bolt gives the lies a detailed debunking.

Victorian police force awash with convicted cops

ONE hundred and sixty-eight serving members of Victoria Police have criminal convictions, it was revealed last night. They have been convicted of offences including serious assaults, trafficking and possession of drugs, theft, perverting the course of justice and misconduct in public office. Another 42 serving police have been cautioned or entered a diversion program over less serious offences. A Victoria Police spokeswoman said the figures did not include police found guilty of serious traffic offences.

The shock figures were provided to the Herald Sun in response to an inquiry made two months ago. Their release comes as new laws making it easier to sack police are to be debated in Parliament this week. The changes to the Police Regulations Act will strengthen the dismissal process for matters of not only criminal behaviour but misconduct, persistent poor performance and loss of confidence by the Chief Commissioner.

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius, head of the force's Ethical Standards Department, said last night the criminal offence figures confirmed the force was getting better at catching and convicting members who did the wrong thing. "The community can take some comfort from the fact that we are getting better at catching our own and holding those who do the wrong thing accountable," he said. "We're also becoming more effective in holding them accountable in court."

Mr Cornelius said that in recent years the conviction rate for police charged with criminal offences had risen from just over 40 per cent to almost 80 per cent. "This is a powerful message to the very small percentage of our members who do the wrong thing - that they will get caught and they will be convicted," he said.

Mr Cornelius said 16 of the 168 police who had either pleaded guilty or been found guilty of criminal offences had committed serious assaults. He said 49 were guilty of theft and the other 103 included drug offences, administration of justice offences, offensive behaviour, soliciting for prostitution and being found in a common gaming house. Mr Cornelius said there had been no incidents of Victorian police drink-driving on duty in a police vehicle in three years.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG mocks the unwarranted raid by Kevin Rudd on the money saved up by the previous conservative government

Australia May Ease Immigration Detention, Stop Charging Fees

Potential illegals are going to love this

Australia should limit the time asylum seekers can be held in detention to 90 days before they are considered for visas, hold detainees for a maximum of one year and stop charging them fees to recoup expenses, a parliamentary committee said.

Security and identity checks should be done within 90 days and detainees would only be kept beyond one year if they present an "unacceptable risk to the community," the parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Migration said. The government should stop charging asylum seekers A$125.40 ($80) a day for the cost of their detention and cancel all existing debts, some of which exceed A$100,000, according to the committee's report. "The impacts of prolonged immigration detention and failures in administration have been too high," committee chairman Michael Danby said today in an e-mailed statement. The committee also recommends regular health checks.

Australia in 2001 adopted a hard-line stance on asylum seekers, using the Navy to turn away Indonesian fishing boats as they traveled across the Timor Sea laden with about 2,200 refugees. That came ahead of a national election, when John Howard's Liberal-National coalition won a third term. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Labor Party ousted the coalition in November 2007.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans, who will consider the report, in July said detention centers would only be used as a "last resort" for the "shortest practical time." Evans said a detainee would be reviewed every three months and no children would be kept in centers. Australia was holding 279 people in immigration detention as of Nov. 7, according to today's statement. Charging detainees for costs was found to be "harsh and without a reasonable rationale," deputy committee chairman Danna Vale said in the statement.


Federal Parliament closes its ears to climate facts

Note what Labor does when Liberal MP Dennis Jensen tries to table evidence in Parliament that directly contradicts the global warming hype:
Dr JENSEN¯ (Tangney) (8:10 PM) -I support the motion put forward-in particular real assessment of the scientific data. The global water cycle atlas based on the IPCC fourth assessment report climate models by Lim and Roderick was published this year, using the same dataset for precipitation models as used by the fourth IPCC report. In the 39 models examined, the Australian average precipitation from 1970 to 1990 varied from-get this-190.6 millimetres to 1,059.1 millimetres per year. The observed annual precipitation for Australia over the 20th century falls in the range of 400 to 500 per year. Hence there were large differences between model simulated precipitation and observations.

Of the 39 model runs examined for the A1B scenario, 24 showed increases in Australian precipitation to the end of the 21st century while 15 showed decreases. The overall average across all model runs was for a small increase in Australian annual precipitation of eight millimetres per year by the end of the 21st century. Within that average, some models predict a drop in annual precipitation of as much as 100 millimetres per year-notably CSIRO-while others predict increases of the same order. Note that CSIRO is one of the most pessimistic models in terms of future rainfall predictions. Guess which model the Garnaut report relied on.

Much discussion of the Murray-Darling Basin relates to inflows. This is fair enough in terms of examining what is important, which is water in the system, but allows blame to be attributed to climate change. This is baloney, as can be seen by the Bureau of Meteorology rainfall charts, where it can clearly be seen that rainfall in the Murray-Darling Basin is normal. The reasons for reduced run-off are more plantations in the top of the catchments; catchment-wide drainage management plans put in place in the 1980s and 1990s to lower water tables and more efficient water use resulting in less leakage.

So much for the science being settled; we now have bad policy based on bad science. At present, green ideology is inhibiting the correct definition of the problem, and the Murray-Darling will continue to suffer as a result. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to table these documents.

Leave NOT granted.

Jensen's wider point - that the regional models of global warming touted by the CSIRO are useless - have been confirmed by other studies. No doubt that's something else Parliament will refuse to hear.


Stupid Leftist attack on job-creating businesses

Shades of FDR and the Great Depression!

Kevin Rudd declares war on unemployment but then shoots the labour market in the foot by imposing more rules and penalties on employment-generating businesses. But it's OK. Ruddy reckons handing an extra $15.1 billion to the states for health, education and other stuff will create 133,000 jobs.

Historically, Australia's industrial relations has been based on expedience rather than genuinely evidence-based policy. Evidence tends to be backfill, as suggested by the September 15 decision of the NSW Remuneration Tribunal to give judges a 4.3per cent pay rise. Comparative wage justice - or "relativities" for NSW judges - had to keep up with the 4.3 per cent pay rise awarded to federal judges. But the tribunal also said it took "economic indicators" into account. The economic reference was unfortunate because September 15 was the day the global financial crisis exploded, threatening to plunge the world economy into recession....

Yet the NSW commission was merely obeying instructions from its institutional DNA. And Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard makes no apologies for replicating those same genetic instincts - originating with the 1907 Harvester decision, comparative wage justice, fair wages and so on - in the Government's "Forward with Fairness" industrial relations machinery.

While following through on the devastating political campaign against John Howard's Work Choices, the new system is designed to reinstate the institutional legitimacy of the industrial tribunals, the arcane award structure and the trade unions (which of course finance the Labor Party). The tribunals and the awards will be "modernised" and the unions won't rule the roost like before. And business lobby groups have been brought into the tent so they can't say they haven't been consulted. But there's little acknowledgment of the benefit of maintaining maximum labour market flexibility to help the economy get through the threatened recession and to then facilitate a productivity-led recovery.

The urgent priority should be to minimise the looming increase in unemployment, which is likely to show up in the New Year when the labour-intensive retail industry starts retrenching its mostly low-paid workers. Some retail workers may gladly trade off some employment costs to keep their jobs. And the Government could help by compensating them through the tax-transfer system, such as with a so-called negative income tax. But this policy option is foreign to the present exercise as it focuses on maximising jobs rather than on restoring traditional institutional power over the wage contract.

A week ago, the OECD's twice-yearly Economic Outlook forecast that Australia's unemployment rate would rise from 4.3 per cent to more than 6 per cent. Its sole supply-side recommendation was to "preserve labour-market flexibility". That same day, Gillard was doing the exact opposite as she unveiled the Government's Fair Work Bill. She justified the abolition of statutory individual employment agreements by arguing that they had stripped away working conditions.

Yet Labor could have retained the flexibility of individual employment contracts while requiring them to incorporate minimum conditions. Individual contracts - yes, Australian Workplace Agreements - were developing with few problems for close to a decade before Howard's Work Choices removed the "no-disadvantage test". Their real crime is that they undermine the collectivist framework of the tribunals, the award structure and the unions.

To backfill this, Gillard argued: "Collective bargaining at the enterprise level is good for employees; it's good for employers; it's good for productivity; it's good for the national economy."

The shift to enterprise-based collective bargaining as an alternative to industry-wide bargaining was good for the economy in the 1990s. So was the further flexibility subsequently provided by individual contracts. But the evidence that productivity will be boosted by making it unlawful for businesses to negotiate directly with their individual employees is as thin as the evidence that a buoyant economy now justifies lifting the minimum wage floor.


Andrew Bolt's comment on the above matters:

Gerard Henderson is astonished that the Rudd Government could draw up new laws in this climate that it admits may make bosses less keen to hire workers:
The section dealing with what (Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia) Gillard has described as the implementation of "protections from unfair dismissal for all employees" actually acknowledges the legislation "may reduce the incentive of businesses to employ workers" and may increase the incentive for medium to small businesses to employ "more staff on a contract basis". In other words, according to the Rudd Government's own analysis, the Fair Work Bill may lead to more unemployment and less full-time employment.

What insanity is this? Protecting conditions by killing jobs.


Islamic College protest in Queensland

PROTESTERS swarmed on the Gold Coast City Council headquarters in Queensland to vent their anger over a planned Muslim school yesterday as rock anthems blared from loudspeakers. Almost 200 residents turned out for the demonstration, draped in Australian flags and shouting pro-Aussie slogans while Australian rock classics such as Land Down Under and Great Southern Land boomed across the parkland.

The Australian International Islamic College, planned for Carrara, has raised the ire of residents who fear it will lead to the local Muslim population withdrawing from the rest of the community.

A rally last week attracted about 400 people, while people turned out yesterday carrying placards bearing slogans such as "no Muslim school, hell no" and "integration, not segregation". Residents' spokesman Tony Doherty said Muslim schools did not encourage multiculturalism. "It's segregation, not integration," he said. 'They're not trying to integrate into the rest of society. "Since we have started protesting against this our churches have been covered in hate-filled graffiti."

He denied it was hypocritical to oppose Muslim and not Christian schools. "Catholics aren't a different culture," he said. "They are the same as us."

Some residents say they are opposed to the school more because of parking issues rather than religious grounds. Mayor Ron Clarke has publicly said he would support the school as long as it satisfies the council's planning criteria. The council will not make any decision on the future of the school until next year. If approved, the school is unlikely to open until at least the middle of next year.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Man faces child porn charges over phone photos

The insane photography phobia marches on: How are pictures of children playing outdors in a perfectly normal way "pornography"?

A man caught taking mobile phone photographs of young children paddling in water at Sydney's Darling Harbour faces child pornography charges. Police were called to the popular tourist spot when onlookers saw the man pointing his mobile phone at a group of 15 young children, aged two to 12 years old, yesterday afternoon.

The 40-year-old, of no fixed abode, was arrested by police, who later found a number of photographs and videos of young children on his phone. He has been charged with possessing child pornography, and was refused bail to appear in Central Local Court today.


University education still beyond the reach of many (?)

The great unmentionable is not mentioned below. As Charles Murray and others have shown long ago, poorer people tend to have lower IQs. So that alone will mean that fewer get to university -- and there's not much you can do about it. My parents were poor and I paid my own way through university, when there was a lot less help available than there is now. Why cannot the "deprived" soul mentioned below do the same? It's just spoilt people whining. There is absolutely no reason why the young woman cannot take a government HECS loan at least

Wealthy students remain about three times more likely to go to university than those from poorer backgrounds, despite more than 15 years of government policy to widen access to tertiary education. While the causes are complex, going back to poverty, family attitudes, aspiration and disadvantaged schooling, data shows that an expensive private school remains the best way to maximise the exam results needed to get into the top universities.

As thousands of school leavers sweat on their exam results, the federal Government is facing a huge challenge to boost the participation of the economically disadvantaged at a time when the Government's capacity to effect change has been hit by the financial crisis punching a hole in future tax revenues.

Adrienne Moore, 18, wants to study biology and genetics and is hopeful she has got into Deakin University in Geelong. But her mother, Christine Richardson, 49, worries how she is going to afford it. "I sit up in bed every night and have that knife turning, wondering how I am going to do it," Ms Richardson told The Weekend Australian. A mother of six who was plunged into bankruptcy and poverty by a marriage break-up and is now battling breast cancer, Ms Richardson has already had to say no to the university ambitions of her three elder children. One of those is now unemployed when a degree is likely to have kept him in work.

Ms Richardson, whose disability pension doesn't cover her rent, is relying on Learning-For-Life scholarships and student mentoring from the Smith Family to try to give Adrienne and her younger brother and sister the opportunities she couldn't give her elder children. "It (university) was just one of those things that couldn't be done. I just couldn't have done any more than I did to keep the family afloat, and I regret that to this day."

Living in Hoppers Crossing in Melbourne's lower-income outer west, Adrienne got through school without a computer and by borrowing books and scientific calculators from her teachers. Earlier this year she couldn't afford to go into Melbourne to attend special exam information sessions that her friends went to. "That was stressful ... but what can you do about it?" she said.

Despite the Dawkins reforms of 1989 creating a mass university system and the introduction of income contingent loans, students from the bottom 25per cent of postcodes ranked according to wealth and education make up only 15per cent of university admissions. In contrast, the wealthiest 25per cent claim a disproportionate 37per cent of places. While the numbers of low-socio-economic students getting into university grew to 43,383 last year from 36,150 10 years ago, there has been little progress in denting their chronic underrepresentation.

Promoting access is set to be central to recommendations from Canberra's Bradley review of higher education that will be released next month. Universities are likely to be given more incentives to widen access at a time when more and more vice-chancellors are also looking to base this access beyond narrow statewide exam results to take into account background and broader achievements.

"Through no one's fault, the universities are complicit with schools and the state Government in running secondary school education tests that necessarily disadvantage sections of the population," La Trobe University vice-chancellor Paul Johnson told The Weekend Australian. Macquarie University vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz has said: 'Unless we believe that students from low-income families lack the ability or the motivation for university-level study, the absence of talented students from our campuses represents not only a loss to them but also to society".


Australia squibs on climate promise

Reality is slowly encroaching

The Rudd Government has reneged on a commitment to present its 2020 target to cut greenhouse gases to UN climate talks that start today. The back-pedalling comes amid wrangling in cabinet over how far to go with curbing emissions. The Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, yesterday defended the decision not to announce the target before she left for the talks in the Polish city of Poznan. She refused to comment on whether cabinet was divided over the target, which is expected to fall significantly below the level called for by European ministers, climate scientists and environmentalists who will attend the talks. "It is the case that we said we would release the targets in December and we had indicated before Poznan," she said. But she said it was important to postpone the announcement until she released the final version of the Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme on December 15 - after she returned from Poland.

Until late last week Senator Wong repeatedly said the range of emissions cuts for the 2020 target would be set before she went to Poznan. "The intention is to announce, as I have said, our midterm target range prior to the Poznan negotiations. And that's the terms, the timetable, the Government's working on," she said on October 2.

Under intense lobbying from business and on the advice of senior officials, the Government is discussing setting a range of targets to cut greenhouse emissions by 2020. The target is now expected to be cuts between 5 per cent and 15 per cent of emissions, based on 2000 levels. This is significantly below the cuts of 25 to 40 per cent being called for by the European Union and climate scientists. The European environment ministers argue that developed countries such as Australia must agree to the higher cuts if they want to secure a new global agreement that will avoid dangerous climate change.

At last year's UN climate talks in Bali, all developed countries that had signed the Kyoto Protocol, including Australia, agreed to cuts between 25 and 40 per cent. China, India and Brazil, the fastest growing greenhouse gas polluters, argue that they will not make commitments to slow their emissions if developed countries fail to agree to this level of cuts. By delaying the announcement of Australia's 2020 target, Senator Wong will avoid intense international criticism of Australia from European negotiators and environment groups if cabinet sets a weaker 2020 target range.

"It's a disappointment," said John Connor, chief executive of the Climate Institute, who has been lobbying the Government for the more ambitious 2020 target. But he said he believed the Government was still discussing higher emissions cuts of 25 per cent. "It's still alive. We're working as hard as we can to keep it alive", he told the Herald, but he described business's lobbying against a 25 per cent target as "nothing short of brutal".

The chief executive of the environment group WWF, Greg Bourne, said Senator Wong would "be laughed out of Poznan" if she announced at the UN talks that Australia's 2020 target was between 5 and 15 per cent. Asked if she was avoiding making the announcement in Poland because of the international criticism, Senator Wong said: "I am not going to comment on a hypothetical." The head of the Australian Conservation Council, Don Henry, said Australia needed to cut its emissions by at least a third by 2020 if it wanted to be a credible player at the UN talks.

While Europe has already promised cuts of 20 per cent, Senator Wong said few countries had yet announced firm targets for their cuts and many would not be completed until the final round of talks next year in Copenhagen. The scale of the energy revolution being proposed by Europe has some business leaders in Australia deeply concerned.


Crackdown in NSW on unnecessary lawsuits

Should be more of it

New New South Wales laws cracking down on vexatious litigants, who victimise or embarrass others through unnecessary law suits, have come into effect. NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said some litigants had brought more than 100 court cases each, costing opponents millions in legal fees and clogging up the court system. Such cases were a drain on court resources, and the new legislation, coming into force today, would weed such litigants out of the system, he said.

"From today, anybody who frequently and persistently takes legal action without reasonable grounds or for improper purposes can be declared a vexatious litigant," Mr Hatzistergos said. "Our new laws aim to stamp out this practice and will give judges the power to banish anyone declared a vexatious litigant from their courtrooms."

The new law would make it easier for the attorney-general, the solicitor-general or the registrar of the court to declare someone a problem litigant to stop such abuse. Victims of such lawsuits would be able to apply to have someone declared a vexatious litigant, Mr Hatzistergos said. "We have introduced these measures not only to free up the justice system, but to protect the good citizens of this state," he said.


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