Looking at Australian politics from a libertarian/conservative perspective...  
R.G.Menzies above

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Two of my ancestors were convicts so my family has been in Australia for a long time. As well as that, all four of my grandparents were born in the State where I was born and still live: Queensland. And I am even a member of the world's second-most condemned minority: WASPs (the most condemned is of course the Jews -- which may be why I tend to like Jews). So I think I am as Australian as you can get. I certainly feel that way. I like all things that are iconically Australian: meat pies, Vegemite, Henry Lawson etc. I particularly pride myself on my familiarity with the great Australian slanguage. I draw the line at Iced Vo-Vos and betting on the neddies, however. So if I cannot comment insightfully on Australian affairs, who could?


31 December, 2011

Queensland has its own slang?

Not mentioned below is that Queenslanders say "port" instead of "suitcase" and in the far North a bath is a "plunge"

THERE are many words which define us as being Queenslanders, some are on the way out, while others are travelling.

BEVANS are dying out in Queensland, replaced by their southern cousins, the Bogans.

Language expert Professor Roly Sussex says it is difficult to pinpoint why the southern insult is moving north, but suggests it might be due to the bulk of television programs being created in NSW and Victoria and exported to Queensland.

He says Queensland has done reasonably well to hold its own in the Strine stakes, propped up by popular words derived from our indigenous languages, including yakka (hard work), bung (dead or broken) and yabber (chat).

But there are others that are slipping out of use, such as by jingo to describe an ice block and pony for a small beer. Even smoko seems to be losing its grip.

And unless the term "Bernborough finish" - named after the mighty Toowoomba racehorse of the 1940s and meaning to come from behind to win - can mount its own revival, it too could slip away.

If that upsets, going for a glass, or bag, of goom, or goon, is proudly Queenslander ... particularly if it's XXXX or Bundy [beer or rum].

Prof Sussex says Queenslanders, particularly in the north, are hanging on to terms such as Windsor sausage to describe the processed meat popularly used in sandwiches despite the southern usage of Strasbourg, fritz or devon.

And it is still possible to add "eh" or "but" to the beginning or end of sentences without scorn in the Sunshine State, even if the rest of northern Australia does likewise.

Also "duchess" to describe a dressing table, is uniquely Queensland after being introduced into the lexicon in the 1970s, Prof Sussex says. [Rubbish! I remember it in routine use in the '40s]

More broadly, Prof Sussex said Australia's most popular linguistic gift to the world was the rising inflection, growing in use across the UK and US, particularly among youth. [I first heard it among Kiwis]

Making every statement sound in the end like a question is believed to have originated among Victorian women in the 1970s but has rapidly spread across Australia, Prof Sussex says, and now is heading overseas fuelled by popular television programs Neighbours and Home and Away.


School fees rising

Fees at Adelaide's elite schools will top $500 a week in 2012 as they are forced to cover rising costs. Since 2007, yearly fees at many of the state's top schools have risen by between $5000 and $6000, or 30 to 40 per cent, with at least five now charging more than $20,000 for Year 12.

About one in five SA students attended one of the state's 94 independent schools, many of which are in outer metropolitan and country areas and which charge low to moderate fees.

About the same number of students attended Catholic schools. Mercedes College and Rostrevor College were among the highest-charging schools in that sector.

Association of Independent Schools of SA executive director Garry Le Duff said the average fee rise was between 5.5 and 6.5 per cent.

He said the increases differed across year levels and at each school depending on their level of growth. "It's not in the interest of schools to set excessive fee rises but schools have a responsibility to remain viable," Mr Duff said. The fee rises ensured improvements that met parents' expectations and attracting the best teachers, he said.

Mr Le Duff said the latest Education Resources Index revealed costs had risen by 6.7 per cent for pre- and primary schools and 7.3 per cent for secondary schools.

He said the drivers included updating IT, teacher salaries especially with the roll-out of the national curriculum and the new SACE. "The cost of utilities - electricity, water and insurance - are imposing increasing burdens on schools," he said.

At Prince Alfred College the average fee increase was 5.5 per cent, but differed across year levels. Headmaster Kevin Tutt said the school worked to cut staff to deliver extra classroom resources.

"The fee structure next year reflects the increases in our operational costs and the rising cost of salaries and tuition expenses," he said.

St Peter's Girls principal Fiona Godfrey listed teacher salaries, technology upgrades and the school's preparation to implement the International Baccalaureate Diploma from 2013 as key reasons for the fee rise.

Private schools generally offer discounts for siblings.


Another Victorian hospital 'turns away' bleeding mother-to-be

A HEAVILY bleeding pregnant woman was turned away from Geelong Hospital and later found she had lost her baby, her husband says.

It is the second such case uncovered by the Herald Sun in a week.

The husband said: "I would have thought someone ... bleeding uncontrollably would have been enough of a priority to be seen by a doctor. Their lack of action ... could have contributed to my wife's subsequent miscarriage."

Guidelines say medical care won't change the odds of a threatened miscarriage ending in pregnancy loss.

The six-week pregnant woman, 28, began bleeding heavily on December 20. The man explained a nurse said the case was not a priority and that she should see a GP. "We left the hospital in absolute disgust, with my wife still bleeding and in tears," he said.

A Barwon Health spokesman said the woman had "left at her own risk".

Health Minister David Davis said he expected the hospital to investigate.


Australia's false prophets

Without question, 2011 was a year replete with hyperbole and false prophecy, which, come to think of it, is typical of our time.

JANUARY The new year has barely begun when Bob Ellis, the seer of Palm Beach, declares on the ABC's The Drum: "I alone, in all of Australia, think Labor will hold government" in NSW. Shortly before April Fools' Day, Barry O'Farrell leads the Coalition to one of the greatest victories in Australian political history. Earlier in January, reports emerge that environmentalist Tim Flannery predicted that, within this century, a "strong Gaia will actually become physically manifest". One person's Gaia is another's full moon.

FEBRUARY The former Labor leader Mark Latham asserts that "anyone who chooses a life without children, as [Julia] Gillard has, cannot have much love in them". He does not say whether this maxim applies to such departed childless types as Florence Nightingale and Mary MacKillop. Christine Assange, the sandal-wearing mother of the famous Julian, maintains: "What we're looking at here is political and legal gang-rape of my son." The reference is to Sweden's attempt to question Assange about sexual assault allegations.

MARCH Jonathan Green, the editor of The Drum, reflects on the end of the world. He envisages the final media coverage of "a dying globe" with "news helicopters aloft, still filming until at last there was nowhere to land". Independent senator Nick Xenophon opines that "the poker machine lobby reminds me a bit [of] the slave owners of the 19th century in the United States". Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella suggests that Julia Gillard is "as deluded as Colonel 'my people love me' Gaddafi".

APRIL Superannuated Trotskyite Alex Mitchell states that Libyans belong to several tribes and they would never fire on one another. Media tart Kathy Lette reckons that if you "mention 'the Queen' to most Aussie kids . . . they presume you're talking about Elton John". Nevertheless, Lette is first in the queue to meet the real Queen at the palace.

MAY Public-sector union boss John Cahill classifies the O'Farrell government's industrial relations reforms as "worse than Stalinist Soviet Union". He forgets that Stalin shot workers' advocates. Andrew Bolt tells his readers that, under the leadership of commissioner Christine Nixon, the Victorian Police force "was subjected to an almost Maoist program of re-education". He overlooked the fact that Mao's regime led to the deaths of 50 million Chinese.

JUNE The seer of Palm Beach is at it again. This time Ellis theorises in The Spectator Australia that Malcolm Turnbull "will accept a job on the Gillard front bench and thereafter intrigue to become . . . a Labor prime minister". The writer Geraldine Brooks foresees a "critical juncture" for the world environment and predicts a time when "there's not going to be any Wall Street, there's not going to be an economy". Brooks was the ABC Boyer lecturer this year.

JULY Stuart Littlemore pontificates: "I think most people are actually shits." He goes on to warn that it is a mistake "to heroise or demonise people". Really. Littlemore is a barrister/novelist. Geoffrey Robertson, QC, excitedly tells ABC News Breakfast that Rupert Murdoch "before the week is out may find himself under arrest or at least assisting the police with their inquiries". The reference was to the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. For the record, Murdoch was not arrested.

AUGUST Elizabeth Farrelly links American commentator Rebecca Hagelin's opposition to same-sex marriage with "ducking-stool type thinking. White-pointy-hood-type thinking. Taliban thinking." Fred Nile, MLC, equates the introduction of ethics classes in schools with secular humanism, which he says is the "philosophy that we saw during World War II with the Nazis and with the communists".

SEPTEMBER During a one-hour interview with Phillip Adams at the taxpayer-funded Byron Bay Writers' Festival, leftist functionary John Pilger alleges that the US President, Barack Obama, is a "war criminal". Pilger receives a standing ovation from the audience and a "10 out of 10 and a koala stamp" from Adams. The entire hour is replayed on ABC2. Writing in the New Statesman, Pilger depicts the Westfield shopping centre in London's East End at Stratford as "a vision of hell". Nevertheless, he bought a pair of sunglasses there. Raimond Gaita depicts Israel as a "criminal state".

OCTOBER Author and Tony Abbott-hater Susan Mitchell says that if the Coalition wins government she will "probably be locked up". She also maintains Gillard is "not within a whisker of becoming prime minister at this stage". Apparently, she is already anticipating the next election result. The Greens leader, Bob Brown, expresses the view that 700,000 coastal properties will be doomed by 2050. Dick Smith compares the Murdoch media to the Soviet Union.

NOVEMBER Herald Sun columnist Susie O'Brien argues that Alan Joyce "wants to kill" Qantas. Sky News commentator Greg O'Mahoney depicts the link between Fred Nile's Christian Democrats and the Shooters Party as the "guns and rosaries lobby". O'Mahoney is unaware that Protestants like Nile don't do rosaries - that's a Catholic thing. Former Labor MP John Brown maintains that the ABC's decision not to extend Deborah Cameron's contract "will leave this timeslot to non-intellectual idiots".

DECEMBER It's time to take (yet another) stance for Assange. Michael Pearce, SC writes that Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich has called for Assange to be "murdered". And ethicist Leslie Cannold tells ABC TV that "high-profile American politicians" have urged that he be assassinated. Neither produce evidence for their claims. The year ends with The Age's house leftie Michael Leunig bemoaning the "dreary dictates of materialism". He is one of the paper's higher-paid contributors.


30 December, 2011

Global cooling hits Sydney

It's been an unusually cool December in Brisbane too

IT'S a good thing December is almost over - it's been the coldest for more than 50 years. With two days to go, it seems certain Sydney will record its coldest December since 1960, with the average daily maximum so far this month 2.2C below the long-term average. Sydney's average top temperature so far this month was a chilly 23C - only 0.2C more than in 1960.

That isn't going to change much over the next two days, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting showers and tops of just 24C.

Not once has the temperature reached 30C in the city this month, the first time since 1999 the mercury has failed to reach that mark in December. Even in 1960, Sydney recorded two days with top temperatures above 30C.

The Weather Channel meteorologist Dick Whitaker said Sydney wasn't the only city to suffer a cold start to summer, with Canberra and Brisbane also experiencing below average temperatures.

"Across eastern Australia we had a lot of cloud cover in December and on top of that we had an above average frequency of southerly winds," Mr Whitaker said.

He said La Nina wasn't solely to blame for Sydney's unseasonably cool weather, despite it being associated with cooler, wetter weather: "Each La Nina is unique, like a fingerprint. La Nina was even stronger last year but Sydney was drier than average, which was a bit unusual. La Nina is just one factor, and this year there are other factors."

One of those is rainfall. So far this month Sydney has received 77.8mm of rain, precisely the long-term average for December. "In 1960 they had 244.9mm of rain, so clearly it was an extremely wet month and that was the biggest issue behind the cooler temperatures then," he said.

Thankfully there will be an extra reason to celebrate when the fireworks go off over the Harbour - the new year will also usher in a new weather pattern, delivering Sydney its first run of blue skies and warm weather this summer.

After a cool start of just 16C, the first day of the year is expected to be sunny with a top of 26C - and the news gets better from there. The sunshine is expected to continue for at least the following two days, with top temperatures of 27C and 28C expected in the city.

"It looks like summer is on its way," Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Michael Logan said. "Longer term, it looks more like what you would expect for summer, with plenty of days in the mid to high 20s."


Losing the War of Ideas due to Incompetence

By Isi Leibler, writing from Jerusalem. Leibler is a former prominent member of the Melbourne Jewish community

In the war of ideas, we operate under huge handicaps. Our adversaries attract sympathy as underdogs, yet carry enormous economic and political clout and effectively control international institutions like the UN. In addition, they have hijacked NGOs purportedly promoting human rights, yet are at the forefront of racist campaigns to demonize and delegitimize us. It is disgraceful that many western journalists collaborate with them.

Australia has consistently maintained a staunch bipartisan friendship with the Jewish State since its creation. Under the current Labor government headed by Julia Gillard, it remains, like the United States and Canada, one of the few countries where Israel still gets a fair hearing.

On November 26, John Lyons, the accredited Jerusalem reporter for The Australian, the leading national daily, wrote a 3000 word feature lambasting alleged inhumane Israeli treatment of Palestinian children.

Although The Australian has a consistent record of being fair and open-minded in relation to Israel, this was a classic compendium of anti-Israeli vilification, reminiscent of the wildest distortions and fabrications contained in the Goldstone report.

The sources attributed were the usual Israeli demonizers – B’Tselem, Public Committee against Torture in Israel, Yesh Din, and in particular, the organization Defense for Children International (DCI) represented by Australian lawyer, Gerald Horton. Lyons also interviewed a spokesman for ‘Breaking the Silence’, the discredited group which paved the way and actively collaborated with the Goldstone Committee, providing ‘evidence’ which, after investigation, proved to be largely unsubstantiated and was even significantly repudiated by Goldstone himself.

Lyons, who the IDF provided with unfettered access to closed courts, portrayed youngsters in shackles and weeping mothers observing swift justice by ‘brutal’ Israeli military authorities. He described IDF courts as a “Guantanamo Bay for kids”.

He quoted at length from DCI’s Horton, who referred to “385 sworn affidavits” alleging the worst imaginable atrocities, including beatings, torture, intimidating children with savage dogs, electric shock treatment, and every conceivable horror. He even referred to an “interrogator from Gush Etzion” who specialized in threatening children with rape.

If only a tiny proportion of these allegations contained a kernel of truth, we would have good reason to be concerned. But as in previous horror stories, I have every confidence that the evidence is based on testimony which will once again prove to be overwhelmingly false. We need only refer to the Mohammed el Dura fraud, the Jenin “massacre”, the Goldstone allegations of “deliberate” targeting of civilians in Gaza and other charges leveled against us, that months later, were shown to have been outright lies.

Not surprisingly, the marathon feature by Lyons created a considerable stir in Australia.

Australian Jewish leaders and pro-Israel activists promptly requested the Israeli embassy to respond with information for rebuttals from the Army, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister’s office. Direct representations were also made to Jerusalem. For weeks, they were told that the authorities were reviewing the matter but no reply was forthcoming. One unofficial response idiotically suggested that the best approach to such a hostile article was to ignore it and it would blow over.

On December 17, the failure to respond resulted in a second article by Lyons, regurgitating what he had written previously, informing readers that Australia’s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was deeply concerned over the report and had instructed Australia’s diplomatic representatives to initiate a formal inquiry with the Israeli authorities. It is common knowledge that Rudd is personally keen to distance Australia from Israel in order to curry Arab votes for Australia’s candidature for a UN Security Council seat. But he would not have had credible grounds for initiating such an inquiry had the Israeli authorities provided a meaningful response.

Only following the Australian decision to investigate the matter, did the IDF spokesperson belatedly issue a bland legal statement, outlining the reasons why in this context, the custody of minors did not violate international law.

It may be difficult for those living in Western countries to comprehend the concept of jailing children for throwing stones. However, stone throwing has emerged as a staple component of terrorism and to some extent a wretched form of identity for Palestinian youth.

It should also be appreciated that stones are hurled equally at innocent Israeli civilians as well as soldiers, and in addition to maiming and scarring, have proven to be lethal. Only recently, Asher Palmer and his one year old son died after a stone smashed the windshield of his car.

Yet despite this, the reality is that as a deterrent, only a tiny proportion of stone throwers are being prosecuted. Otherwise, the Israeli jails would be overflowing with them.

The issue is additionally complicated because children in Israel are not tried under the same laws as apply to territories over the green line which, not having been annexed to Israel, operate under Jordanian and British mandatory laws.

Any Israeli official with a modicum of political sensitivity should have stressed that child terrorism represents one of the most reprehensible aspects of the Palestinian culture of death and criminality.

From kindergarten, Palestinian children are brainwashed into becoming martyrs by killing Jews in order to fulfill their Islamic obligation to expunge Jewish sovereignty from the region. Aside from continuously being employed as human shields, they are frequently exploited as suicide bombers.

The monstrous massacre of the Fogel family in March, which included the beheading of an infant, was perpetrated by a Palestinian family group which included a minor.

But what is both incomprehensible and disgraceful is that until now, the IDF response has still failed to repudiate the real source of concern – the outrageous lies and defamations concerning the torture of minors.

The response to the libels contained in Lyons article should have pointed out that many of the NGOs demonizing Israel are the same ones which provided “testimonies” about Israeli atrocities and war crimes to the Goldstone Committee which were subsequently demonstrated to be fabrications.

They should also have asked why Lyons did not query the failure of the defamers to raise these accusations in the appropriate Israeli tribunals such as the Supreme Court which even has a controversial record amongst Israelis for intervening in IDF related matters.

What is wrong with the IDF, Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Department? Do they really believe that they can ignore such vile accusations in the mainstream media of a friendly country? Their deafening silence even led to an editorial in the local Jewish weekly, the Australian Jewish News, foolishly asking whether “God forbid”, the “country we cherish” enabled “the torture of children”.

If this is how our senior military and government offices deal with such issues, it is high time to demand accountability.

It is the Prime Minister’s Office office which carries the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that such matters are efficiently handled. Binyamin Netanyahu, more than most politicians, has a genuine grasp of the crucial importance of the war of ideas. If his office is not fulfilling its obligations in this area, he must, as a matter of urgency, personally intervene to guarantee that government information offices are staffed by personnel who are sufficiently competent to confront such issues in a skilled and professional manner.


Australian law does allow legal reprisal against online defamation and hate speech

But it is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. And the ultimate defendant may not be worth suing

Welcome to the world of hate blogging. A reported defamation payout of $13,000 by the TV book show celebrity Marieke Hardy gives us an inkling of the dark side of the blogosphere.

Hardy has been the victim of some poisonous blog posts for more than five years by someone assuming the name of "James Vincent McKenzie".

It's distressing stuff and naturally Hardy is offended. Her error was accusing, in one of her own blog posts, the wrong person as being the author of these "ranting, violent" attacks.

Under a naming and shaming exercise with the Twitter hashtag of #mencallmethings she pointed to her own blog, which said Joshua Meggitt was the person responsible.

Meggitt had posted critical remarks about the First Tuesday Book Club on ABC TV, where Hardy is a regular member of the panel, but he was not the author of the extraordinarily nasty "James Vincent McKenzie" blog. Hence, the payout and apology to Meggitt.

So who is James Vincent McKenzie? The comments on his blog make all sorts of helpful speculations - Kyle Sandilands, a jilted lover, Jack Marx, even Hardy herself.

The blog appears recently to have changed URLs, which adds to the trickiness of the enterprise. Presumably, if McKenzie's true identity could be revealed, Hardy might be on her way to getting back her $13,000. After all, she is just as much a victim as Meggitt.

What is alarming is the propensity for hateful and anonymous blogs to continue publishing after the online host would be aware of the content.

How safe can the identity of McKenzie remain? The site which he uses is operated by Google, based in California and registered in Delaware. It requires a Google account and gmail address.

One person posted an online comment about this yesterday, saying they had tried to report the McKenzie blog to Google, which replied that it is not responsible for any allegedly defamatory content and it does not remove defamatory, insulting, negative or distasteful material from US domains. It claims that under US law internet services, such as the blogger site, are republishers and not the publisher.

That's all very well, but increasingly Google finds it cannot hide behind these waivers of responsibility. In this country, republishers can be liable for defamation when they have notice that what they are republishing is actionable.

If she had the time, a small fortune and determination, Hardy could apply to bring discovery proceedings in a US court.

McKenzie is in breach of the blogspot terms and conditions, which require compliance with the laws of the country in which the blogging takes place. In any third-party proceedings, the offender also would be required to indemnify Google.

Proceedings overseas may not be necessary. In October, the Supreme Court of Queensland ordered Google Australia to cough-up the details of the identity behind a blog that called a Gold Coast self-help guru a "thieving scumbag".

Last year, a judge in Ireland gave permission to the Irish Red Cross to start proceedings against Google in California in order to obtain the identity of an anonymous blogger who had posted what the charity claimed was "distorted confidential" material. Italian and French courts have held Google liable for defamations that arose from "autocomplete" search requests.

In England, the Demon internet service provider was found to be liable for defamation after a judge held that the "innocent disseminator" defence didn't wash once an ISP had notice of the offensive content.

The principles of the Demon case got an airing in the Supreme Court of Western Australia in Ives v Lim. There, the material under consideration was published on a blog site owned somewhere in the Russian Federation. Justice Rene Le Miere said: "In principle, a person who creates a website that hosts an interactive blog may be liable for defamatory material posted by third parties."

Further, courts have ordered the identity be revealed of people who have made unpleasant comments on newspaper websites or on internet travel sites.

It may not be a real identity but at least the IP addresses of the computers used to post the comments can be located.

The NSW Supreme Court judge Robert Hulme in October found that Google and other global publishers, such as Facebook and Wikipedia, were not out of reach as far as internet take-down orders were concerned, in relation to a pending criminal trial.

In the Gutnick case, the High Court decided a defamation by an offshoot of The Wall Street Journal occurred where it was read, Melbourne, not where it was uploaded. [In the Gutnick case an Australian businessman who has been convicted of no crime was portrayed as "a schemer given to stock scams, money laundering and fraud", with no evidence adduced to support such a scurrilous accusation]

Despite the internet looking like a game of Twister, Hardy is not without a remedy. However, at the end of the rainbow she may find "James Vincent McKenzie" doesn't have a cracker to bless himself.


Thousands voted twice in cliffhanger poll

Shades of the USA!

AS many as 16,000 Australians got away with voting more than once in the 2010 razor's edge federal poll. Dozens may have voted three times or more, but only three copped a slap on the wrist.

The Australian Electoral Commission has admitted to a Senate committee its own records make it difficult to tell who is flouting electoral laws. And it has been revealed little can be done if voters deny it.

Of the 16,189 people the AEC suspected of multiple votes, 5211 denied it and 80 per cent of the 1458 who confessed were new voters or did not understand how to vote. It was decided 7925 were errors, many caused when voters with similar names were recorded under the same name by accident.

Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn told the committee the offence was hard to prove as there was no real evidence if a person denied the offence.

Victorian Liberal senator Scott Ryan said the lack of prosecution sent a confusing message to the country.

There have been calls for the introduction of photo ID, with some seats won or lost on just a few votes.


29 December, 2011

Solar tariff scheme blows out by $46 million

Now it's Western Australia's turn

WA's solar power tariff feed-in scheme has now blown out from $114 million to $180 million - $46 millon of which will be paid by the state government. Photo: Glenn Hunt

The state government's solar panel rebate scheme has blown out by at least $46 million, after a cap imposed on the program in response to its popularity was breached.

The feed-in tariff scheme was introduced in 2009, and offered new households who fed solar-produced power back into the grid a rebate of 40 cents per kilowatt hour.

More than 76,000 households signed up to the scheme, but its popularity prompted the Barnett Government to impose a cap of 150MW earlier this year and to halve the rate to 20 cents.

The scheme was originally estimated to cost $28.2 million, before being revised to $114 million.

But yesterday's mid-year budget forecasts revealed the estimate had blown out to $180 million, after too many applications were processed and the cap was breached by 15MW. Synergy will pay $20 million of the overrun, while the state government will pay $46 million.

Treasurer Christian Porter has ordered an audit into the scheme, which will analyse all the applications received between May 21, when the cap was announced, and June 30, when it was imposed.

Mr Porter said the audit would find out if any applications were incorrectly approved, which could see the cost blowout reduced.

"The suspicion that we have in Treasury is that there are applications that said they met the requirements, but didn't," he said. "Or alternatively, the Office of Energy or Synergy made an error."

"There's been a cost overrun, there clearly has been... but the money is not wasted, the money has been spent delivering clean electricity and incentivising the product of photovoltaics.

"There weren't appropriate procedures put in place to know which bundle of applications, or which single application, represented the breaching of the cap."

Shadow Energy Minister Kate Doust said the feed-in tariff scheme had been completely mismanaged. "This scheme has been poorly regulated with poor safety records and now there have been huge cost blowouts – it has been one stuff up after another from this minister," she said. "With an extra $46 million needed over the next three years for this scheme, the (Energy Minister Peter Collier's) mismanagement and hands-off approach will ultimately cost our state for a decade."

But Mr Porter said the overrun was closer to $14 million, as the initial forecast from the Office of Energy was inaccurate and the government had always been prepared to pay $165.3 million for the project.


Bungling medical watchdog

THE powerful commonwealth agency tasked with investigating medical rorts needs to be completely rebuilt, having bungled at least 71 cases, breached patient privacy and failed to comply with various financial and legislative controls.

The recommendation is in a government-commissioned review that has found problems so entrenched it calls for the independent statutory authority to be partly subsumed by the Health Department and put on a new financial footing.

That could mean doctors or their professional bodies for the first time being asked to pay a levy to fund the Professional Services Review potentially bringing the new Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, into conflict with the doctors lobby.

The PSR was established in 1994 to help ensure patient safety and doctors' proper use of funds under the Medicare Benefits Schedule and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. But as the agency has grown it has become bogged down with investigations and struggled to remain accountable, with a growing list of internal problems detracting from its role.

While a parliamentary inquiry recently recommended a series of minor reforms, and the PSR has been negotiating others with the Australian Medical Association, a draft of the government-commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers review, obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information laws, recommends sweeping changes.

The review reveals the PSR is currently dealing with a number of "high-risk" issues, including

its legislative non-compliance, information security failures, staffing problems and a "high number of instances of financial framework non-compliance, particularly in relation to the expenditure of public money" and credit cards used without proper authorisation.

"The extent of the challenges identified in this review indicate that the current operating model needs to be redesigned to facilitate the future delivery of PSR scheme functions and enable sustainable, efficient and effective delivery," the draft report warns. "Changes are required to both the structure of PSR and oversight arrangements."

Last month, the Privacy Commissioner found the PSR had illegally merged MBS and PBS data, requiring changes to its computer systems, while allegations of documents being left unsecured finally prompted the PSR to install lockable cabinets.

The PSR was almost crippled by a decision of the Full Bench of the Federal Court in July, which undermined 71 completed cases and left a cloud over others. The court found the PSR, through previous health ministers Tony Abbott and Nicola Roxon, had failed to consult the AMA on appointments to its investigative committees, as required under legislation. If the decision stands the commonwealth will in February seek leave to appeal to the High Court. 44 doctors who were suspended from Medicare and the PBS, and stripped of $3.3 million in claims, will have a legal right to sue for damages.

The PSR has on average recouped about $2.3m in taxpayer funds each year and provided a much greater deterrent to inappropriate practice. It has a current budget of $6.7m less than previous years due to the impact of the Federal Court decision and about 30 staff.

The draft report highlights how the PSR workforce has doubled in five years and become more senior, which "may be inefficient", while the number and length of investigations has also drained its finances.

It recommends the PSR be partly subsumed by the Health Department, which would take over corporate support and provide further oversight.

It also suggests the government bring the PSR into line with public-sector guidelines on cost-recovery, either through a direct levy on all members of the professions it covers about $87 a year for each of 94,000 practitioners, based on the PSR's 2010-11 funding levels or a direct levy on professional bodies.

"This (direct levy) approach would provide an incentive for professional bodies to increase their activities in actively discouraging levels of inappropriate practice," the draft report states.

A spokeswoman for the department said the review would be completed early next year, when the final recommendations would be considered and discussed with stakeholders, including the AMA.

"The government is aware of the problems identified by the report and has already taken action to address these," the spokeswoman said, noting the appointment of William Coote as PSR director last month. "It is important to acknowledge the work that the PSR has already done over the last year to improve its operations, and make sure that they are effective and transparent."

The draft report, dated December 19, found it was too early to judge the success of those reforms and a larger overhaul was needed.

The PSR has sought to prevent a repeat of the issues that led to the Federal Court of Australia decision and is currently recruiting a new panel of members who can form investigative committees, along with the deputy directors who can head them.


An informed comment on illegal immigration into Australia

I'd just like to point out, having just written my Masters thesis on this very topic, that while the majority of Australia's asylum seekers arrive by plane, this majority is much slimmer than imagined. Last year the spread was something like 46% boat and 54% air and the last few years have all been like this - I can provide some sources on this if you like.

Of those who arrive by plane, only a small percentage are actually illegal, in that they have no permission to enter - and those that are are removed from the country via the next available flight to their point of origin. The majority of our ASYLUM SEEKERS who DO enter by plane do so on tourist or short term working holiday visas and then apply for asylum, which it is perfectly legal to do.

To emphasise, boat arrivals are placed in detention NOT because they are seeking asylum. Seeking asylum in Australia is perfectly legal, they are in detention because they arrive without permission (unlike plane arrivals who largely show up with a valid visa of some kind). While I don't defend the morality of mandatory detention, this is an important distinction.

Boat arrivals fill our detention centres because they are the largest group of people who enter Australia illegally and are then detained (not sent home immediately).


Negligent public hospital: Bleeding pregnant woman sent home on train, loses baby

A WOMAN has lost her baby after being sent home from a Melbourne hospital bleeding and forced to catch public transport. Rebecca Dee suffered a miscarriage early yesterday, hours after returning to her home in Mordialloc, Victoria.

Partner Herbert Bouvard said: "I don't understand why they sent her home bleeding, and on public transport ... the way we were treated was absolutely disgusting. "Obviously there was something wrong. How do you send someone home like that?"

The ordeal began when Ms Dee, seven weeks' pregnant, began bleeding on Tuesday morning, Mr Bouvard said. After arriving at Monash Medical Centre's emergency department by ambulance, she waited two hours to see a doctor and three hours for an ultrasound, he said. Ms Dee was told the baby's heart was beating, and it was fine, and she should go home, he said.

The couple had no money for a taxi and no one available to pick them up, so asked if a cab could be provided, given Ms Dee's condition, but were refused one. Still bleeding, she undertook her 90-minute trip - walking to the station, catching a train to Caulfield, changing there for another one to Mordialloc, and then walking home.

They arrived home soon before 9pm on Tuesday, and yesterday morning, bleeding heavily, the couple called another ambulance. They were again taken to Monash Medical Centre where doctors told Ms Dee she had lost her baby.

But a Southern Health spokeswoman said the patient's bleeding fell below the threshold for further intervention and she was discharged with clear instructions to return should symptoms worsen.

She did not fall within the criteria for a free taxi voucher, but had been given a free public transport ticket, she said.

Ms Dee was also admitted within the appropriate time frames, with records showing treatment began within half an hour of her arrival, she said. "One in three women with bleeding in early pregnancy will go on to have a miscarriage," she said. [Well, why was she not admitted on her first visit?]


28 December, 2011

Gillard attempting to censor news about illegal immigrants

She can't solve the problem so wants it hidden

IMAGES of asylum seekers arriving to our shores by boat may be banned. The restrictions were announced after the Immigration Department successfully lobbied the Australian Communications and Media Authority to "protect the privacy of these vulnerable clients", The Australian reports (subscribers).

Under the new privacy guidelines, a person's identity would be protected even if they are in a public place. This would allow ACMA, which oversees the licenses of major TV networks, to possibly prevent the broadcasting of asylum seekers' faces.

Seven Network's Head of News Peter Meakin told The Australian: "I think it's a ridiculous provision and I suspect it is being done more for the benefit of authorities than for the asylum-seekers."

"I can understand asylum-seekers wanting privacy for the protection of their families, but a blanket ban is just the big hand of censorship," he said.


Doctors tell people to avoid a broke public hospital

THE Australian Medical Association (AMA) has warned Victorians to avoid Frankston Hospital, saying it is a basket case after it closed a 30-bed ward due to a lack of government funding.

Patients at the Mornington Peninsula hospital, which is under extra pressure during the holiday season, have endured long delays, particularly in the emergency department, Fairfax reports.

Nurses have told the paper they are deeply concerned about the closure of a general medical ward at this time of year.

They said thousands of patients had already been languishing on trolleys in emergency in recent months, instead of being admitted to beds on wards.

The president of the AMA's Victorian branch, Harry Hemley, advised people to avoid Frankston and attend neighbouring hospitals instead. "I wouldn't recommend anyone make their way to Frankston Hospital over the holiday period ... they should go to Monash or one of the other neighbouring hospitals because Frankston has clearly become a basket case," he said.

A spokesman for hospital operator Peninsula Health, John Dukes, said the 3 North ward at Frankston Hospital was closed in June due to budget constraints but could be reopened when the hospital is under pressure and needs more beds.


Gillard's pandering to the Greens costs Australia a fortune

THE Labor government's tenuous hold on power has already cost taxpayers almost $15 billion.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard spent $65 for every Australian in order to keep the Greens and independents happy - and her party in government - all while facing global financial turmoil and a wafer-thin budget surplus, The Daily Telegraph reported.

An analysis shows the costs extended beyond deals struck after the election, with Labor forced to extinguish political spot fires and buy votes for policies such as the carbon and mining taxes.

The $14.95 billion bill after less than half Labor's term is in contrast to a $950 million revenue windfall after a Greens campaign to adopt its fringe benefits tax to encourage a reduction in driving.

NSW independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott strengthened their positions as major powerbrokers, involved in deals worth $4.2 billion compared to the $364 million of Andrew Wilkie.

Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan defended Labor's economic record, pointing to the regional focus of much of the funds as returning the proceeds of the mining boom.

But the opposition attacked the greener initiatives as wasteful and evidence that Ms Gillard was unable to stand up to Greens leader Bob Brown.

University of Melbourne professor Mark Considine said there were only minor positives in what he called an "inefficient form of democracy".

"It's very similar to what has happened in the American system where every bill has to contain inducements across the board for bringing people on board," he said. "There is a high cost in the time spent bringing people on board and the exaggerated power of some minority groups and electorates that distorts everything."

The Greens have won $10.275 billion - headlined by the $10 billion clean energy fund - while Queensland independent Bob Katter scored a $335 million renewable energy promise a day after backing the Coalition.

In one vote-buying spree last month, Labor spent $320 million securing three lower house votes to allow its mining tax package to pass.

At least one promise has blown out, with the $75 million pledged to Mr Oakeshott to expand Port Macquarie Hospital rising to $96 million.

Mr Windsor, who was promised $20 million for Tamworth Hospital but has since scored another $120 million, said his efforts had won important money for the regions and improved the outcome of key policies. "Very little is local (in my seat)," he said. "I don't think the punter in the street would object to much of this."

A spokesman for Mr Swan defended the deal-making, insisting the federal government still had a strong economic record on jobs, interest rates and maintaining the AAA credit rating.

"Regional Australia - where one third of Australians live - has every right to decent government services and to enjoy the benefits of the mining boom," the spokesman said.

Opposition government waste spokesman Jamie Briggs said while he did not object to regional initiatives such as health and road, he claimed many of the billions demanded by the Greens was a waste.

"Gillard's lack of courage to stand up to the Greens is costing taxpayers," he said.


Council's $1.1m fine threat over 1.5m kids' cubby

IT didn't cost much to build but that could change dramatically if a New South Wales family refuses to tear down a child's cubby house erected in their backyard without council permission.

Penalties of up to $1.1 million - plus a further daily fine of $110,000 - await the family if they don't agree to demolish the structure.

The cubby, which measures just 1.5m by 1.5m, was deemed a "fire risk" by Wollongong City Council, which wants it removed by January 5.

Earlier this year, Sonja Keller and husband Andrew Bergmann used leftover building supplies to build the cubby for their son, Yaan, 9, behind their home at Tumbling Waters Resort in Stanwell Tops.

They returned from holidays before Christmas to find mail telling them to remove the cubby as it posed a bushfire threat and they did not have "development consent".

"Council has become aware that a cubby house has been erected within the premises adjacent to a dwelling; within a bushfire prone and environmentally sensitive area, without development consent," the council wrote.

"Failure to comply with the order is an offence under section 125 of the (Environmental Planning and Assessment) Act. The maximum penalty for that offence is $1,100,000.00 and a further daily penalty of $110,000.00. "If the order is not complied with, Council may give effect to the order and recover the costs of doing so from you."

Mrs Keller said council staff first inspected the cubby house earlier this month. "Three people from the council came to inspect some of the work we had done at the resort," he said. "I thought they were joking when they said they needed to look at the cubby house."

She said the cubby was barely visible from the street and no more of a fire risk than other garden furniture. "This decision is a joke. It's ridiculous to say it's in a fire-sensitive area," she said. "The garden shed is in a fire-sensitive area. The pergola is in a fire-sensitive area. The whole house is in a fire-sensitive area."

Mrs Keller said she would try to fight the decision, but they could not afford to pay the whopping fines.

"The council should be encouraging people to spend time with their families, especially this time of year," she said. "My little boy got $50 for Christmas and asked if that was enough to fight council."


27 December, 2011

Australian Defence looks offshore to recruit troops

This is not as unusual as it might seem. I gather that about a third of the British army is comprised of "Commonwealth" troops, Pacific islanders particularly. And the U.S. army has many Hispanics, some of whom are non-citizens who get citizenship at the end of their stint

The ADF is looking overseas to recruit defence specialists in order to fill recruitment quotas.

The Australian Defence force is trying to recruit laid-off soldiers, sailors and air crew from Britain, the US and other western countries in order to fill quotas.

The Australian reports (subscribers only) the navy has sent a delegation to Britain to discover how many retrenched sailors, particularly engineers, are available.

A report on maintenance in Australia's navy suggested that as many as 200 engineers are needed to rebuild lost expertise.

The paper reports the department also is looking for defence specialists, such as fighter pilots, submarine crews and officers and are offering fast-tracked Australian citizenship as an incentive.


His Eminence has a shot at the Warmists

Cardinal Pell's reference to the "Roman warm period" is completely factual. There is no way Hannibal could drive elephants over the Alps these days and yet that is one of the best known episodes in Roman history. But Warmists don't do real history. They just make up their own

The changeable environment loomed large in the Christmas message of Sydney's Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, who said the blessings of prosperity, peace and a good climate were taken for granted. "The unusual rains after 10 years of drought are a small price to pay in this run-up to Christmas," he said.

Every age was marred by some disasters, he said. "In Biblical times, only Noah escaped the great flood and Jacob's sons had to travel to Egypt for grain during a long drought."

Cardinal Pell said Christ's birth in the "Roman warm period" was a call to worship God and "to acknowledge how powerless we all are before the mighty forces of nature, unable sometimes to escape the caprice of disease and misfortune".


Link to the full address here

Foster couple's adoption bid on hold over claims dad hit boy with wooden spoon

The child of a feral couple almost certainly needs a whack at times

A COUPLE has been stopped from adopting two children because of claims they smacked them and once hit one of them with a wooden spoon. The 11-year-old boy and his eight-year-old sister considered the couple who had fostered them for four years to be their parents and called them Mum and Dad, Acting Justice William Windeyer told the NSW Supreme Court.

The children's birth father was in jail on sex offences and their mother, who has another three children, all in care, acknowledged she could not look after them.

The judge said the foster parents were devoted to the children and were "very suitable" to adopt them. However, Justice Windeyer said he was not satisfied there was no risk to the children and he had to take into account the possibility the boy had been hit with a wooden spoon.

The judge postponed a decision on adoption until the end of next year and said, if it was established there was smacking and the use of a wooden spoon, then the children could be removed from the couple.

The judge said the boy had behavioural, physical and mental problems. During an interview with a clinical psychologist the boy said his foster dad hit him with a wooden spoon and it "hurt".

The man denied hitting the boy with a spoon but said he had once banged a wooden spoon on the kitchen bench to get the boy's attention when he was waving a knife around.

The man admitted twice smacking the boy "gently" - once when the boy had a "massive meltdown" and grabbed him by the testicles and a second time when the boy hit him in the ribs.

The judge said he had some sympathy for the man. "It seems impossible where someone is in danger of injury to go for a walk to calm down. After all, the three actions did get a result and no one was harmed," the judge said.


Man left screaming in pain as ambos 'dealt with drunks'

RESIDENTS are furious an ambulance had to be sourced from another area while badly burnt chef Matt Golinski lay screaming in his Sunshine Coast driveway.

Neighbour Gary Siljac told The Courier-Mail he tried in vain to comfort Mr Golinski for more than half an hour, watching firefighters and police arrive before an ambulance.

Fairfax media reports the ambulance that first arrived on the scene had only one paramedic. That meant a police officer then had to drive the amublance to the hospital while Mr Golinski was treated in the back.

Mr Golinski, who has appeared on Ready, Steady, Cook, lost his wife and three daughters in the tragedy at Tewantin and suffered severe burns to 40 per cent of his body.

Residents of the quiet neighbourhood awoke to an explosion and screams about 3.30am, with several locals rushing to help. Mr Golinski's wife Rachael, their 12-year-old twins Sage and Willow and younger daughter Starlia died in the blaze. Neighbours found a badly burned Mr Golinski in his driveway, screaming for someone to help his trapped family.

"Where were they? It was an eternity before an ambulance came and then it was a guy on his own. We have an ambulance station only a few minutes away," Mr Siljac said. "The poor bloke (Matt) was burnt from top to bottom and was screaming in pain and there was nothing we could do for him," he said.

"We heard that other ambulances had been attending incidents in Hastings St involving some drunken idiots brawling. Surely something has gone wrong here."

Ambulances are allocated jobs by communications with the Sunshine Coast broken into four groups - Caloundra, Maroochydore, Noosa and Gympie. The stations closest to the fire are Tewantin (two minutes away), Cooroy (11 minutes) and Noosa (15 minutes).

A Department of Community Safety spokeswoman confirmed Queensland Ambulance Service had experienced "high operational volumes" at the time. She said three QAS units in the area could not attend the Tewantin job as they were responding to other cases.

The first ambulance to respond was sourced from Maroochydore, with the official log showing it arrived at 3.59am - 27 minutes after the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service notified the QAS at 3.32am.

Police said the first triple-0 call was logged at 3.31am and they had officers on the scene at 3.47am. A fire unit had been first to arrive at 3.41am.

The Courier-Mail was informed both police and ambulance were required to attend a disturbance on Noosa Pde, near Hastings St, at 3.30am.

The Department of Community Safety said the QAS was mindful that the details of the Tewantin fire would be subject to a coronial inquest. "The QAS allocated a total of four ambulance vehicles, including a Regional Operations Supervisor to this case and QAS crews remained on standby at the scene until cleared by QFRS," a spokeswoman said.

Mr Golinski was taken to Nambour Hospital and later flown to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital where he was last night said to be in a "critical but stable" condition.


26 December, 2011

When will they ever learn?

I think the Gillard government must WANT our navy to be useless. The navy never got the Collins subs to work so how are they going to get more advanced subs to work?

AUSTRALIA can build a new fleet of 12 state-of-the-art submarines in Adelaide for $18 billion, less than half the cost of initial estimates, according to a major report to be released next month.

The report, by strategic think tank the Kokoda Foundation, will be embraced by the Gillard government, which has been under pressure from critics to opt for smaller, cheaper, ready-made submarines from Europe rather than pursue Navy's more expensive but preferred option of building a next generation of the Collins-class boats.


Negligent college kills girl

And then does a coverup

A coroner has described a New South Wales TAFE report on the death of a student in a horse fall as being "not worth the paper it was written on".

Deputy state coroner Sharon Freund said jillaroo student Sarah Waugh died from head and neck injuries after falling from a bolting horse that was unsuitable for a beginner.

In March 2009 the 18-year-old from Newcastle was learning to ride as part of a TAFE jillaroo course at Dubbo in the NSW central west.

The coroner criticised TAFE for not being thorough enough in assessing horses used for beginner riders and said the ex-racehorse Dargo had been obtained for use just days after running in a race.

Ms Waugh fell from the horse after it bolted in a paddock and she was unable to stop it.

The coroner said TAFE staff gave conflicting evidence at an inquest and that the teacher supervising Ms Waugh had little formal experience in teaching beginners how to ride.
Sarah Waugh in her Jillaroo gear, just days before she was killed falling from a horse in 2009. Photo: Sarah Waugh's parents hope her death becomes a legacy to help improve safety. (ABC)

Ms Freund said the TAFE investigation and report on the death was inadequate.

"That investigation and subsequent report failed to uncover or identify any failure of any workplace practices or procedures," she said. "The investigation and subsequent report was essentially not worth the paper it was written on."

Outside Glebe Coroners Court, Ms Waugh's father Mark welcomed the findings. "We feel relieved... relieved that the truth is finally out there. It's been a long process for us," he said.


Arrogant youth taught a lesson

Ten years ago, I drove cabs for a living. I’m pretty much done telling taxi stories, but there’s one I’ll share today, as it’s more or less in the spirit of Christmas.

It was the Friday before Christmas and I was working the area around Coogee/Maroubra on Sydney’s eastern suburbs beaches. It was a favourite spot to work as the fares were regular, and I stayed out of the city traffic.

So in the early evening, I pick up three young guys in South Coogee. They’re 18, maybe 19, and they get in the cab carrying brown paper bags filled with booze. They say “hey driver, can we drink this in here?”

Technically, the answer is no, no way, absolutely not. But I go sure, why not? Just don’t spill any. An accommodating driver is a driver who gets good tips.

The boys are stoked. You’re an awesome driver, they say. And you speak English too! That used to happen a lot. Like it was a compliment or something.

We’re heading to a local RSL club, where the boys are attending some kind of function. It’s only a short fare, but the mood is jovial and the smell of beer permeates the cab. The odour is strong. A little too strong.

When they get out, I see why. They have left their empty bottles on the back seat of the cab. The bottles were half full and there are puddles of beer below the seats. The boys walk off high-fiving and join the queue of young people on the steps of the RSL.

As a cabbie, you learn to put up with crap. Vomit, beer, bodily fluids, you name it. Once or twice a week, you lose half an hour to go and clean the cab mid-shift. It’s part of the game. So are runners. You can kick up a stink or you can get back on the road as soon as possible and make your money for the night. That’s normally how I played it.

But not this night. On this summery Friday evening, I am tired and frustrated and I want to make a point. So I park the cab. I ascend the RSL steps and approach the huge, muscular bouncer. The boys see me but think nothing of it.

I point the guys out to the bouncer. I tell him they’ve just trashed the back seat of my cab and I’d prefer he doesn’t let them in till they come and clean up their mess. He becomes an instant ally. Says he’ll look after me. There is an unspoken code between men and women with menial jobs. The public screws us, we screw ’em right back.

I retreat to the cab and wait, leaning against the door. When the boys reach the bouncer, I see him shaking his head. Then he marches them down my way. The boys are joking at first. But the smiles soon retreat.

The bouncer says he’s not letting them in the club till they’ve cleaned the car to my satisfaction. I ask the bouncer to bring me some bar towels and sponges or whatever he can get his hands on. This he does.

The boys clean. And clean some more until the beer puddles are soaked up and the car is cleaner than when I started the shift. The bouncer asks if I’m happy. Not yet, I say. So I make them clean where they’ve already cleaned, and then some.

By this stage, the boys are silent. All traces of bravado are gone, replaced by sullen resignation. When I finally decide I’m done, two of them look genuinely chastised. One remains defiant, and gives me a giant raised middle finger from the steps.

I couldn’t care less. My battle has been won, and even with the needless gratuitous extra wiping, I have been off the road for less time than if I’d done it myself.

There’s probably not a chance in a million that the bouncer is reading this piece. But if he is, I’d like to thank him. He didn’t just facilitate my revenge that night, he gave me dignity.

More importantly, he bestowed upon the boys the belittling emotion of indignity. I think too often nowadays people think they can get away with any kind of behaviour, any time. At the risk of sounding old and crusty, respect is on the wane. I reckon the boys would have benefited from that little episode.

What does this have to do with Christmas? Well, nothing directly, apart from the fact it happened in the Christmas week.

That said, I think the Christmas break is about more than religion. For churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike, I believe it’s a time of recharging and reflection. It’s a priceless few days to ponder our values, and how we might enact them in the year to come.

There’s a little of the vengeful cabbie and a little of the bouncer, a little of the chastised drunk boys and a little of the defiant kid in all of us. Our lives are busy, messy and often compromised. But they’re always better when we take time to slow down and refocus.


The tough little VW Beetle that could

This story has nothing to do with politics but I am a VW beetle fan. I have owned 5 of them. A VW motor is very simple, with no electronics, so its survival below is easily understandable

THIS orange VW Beetle has survived two floods in six years and earned its owner calls from friends around the world.

Natasha Donaghy said her hardy little vehicle was first flooded when a stormwater drain burst in Fortitude Valley, and more recently during the January 2011 floods.

Images of the car being carried through floodwater at Rosalie Village made local and international news as Queensland's flood crisis was beamed around the world.

She said the footage of the rescue was cause for concern to her partner's father in Scotland, and a girlfriend in France, when they recognised shots of her soggy car in Rosalie.

After leaving her car in Nash St overnight, Ms Donaghy returned to find floodwaters lapping at the tyres.

While conga lines of helpers from near and far helped evacuate Rosalie Village and nearby Beck St of goods and property, Ms Donaghy found herself staring at her car, wondering how to get it out of about a metre of floodwater.

She was just about to give up when a passing stranger noticed her predicament. "She said, 'leave it to me', turned around and did this wolf whistle and said 'I need 20 blokes now to come and lift this car out'," Ms Donaghy said.

She said that straight away a group of helpers materialised and carried her car to safety. "Everyone was clapping and cheering," she said.

The car is now back up and running, but needed about $2000 of repairs for the flood damage. Worth every cent, according to Ms Donaghy.


25 December, 2011


Another so-called Aborigine

I had better not call her a fake Aborigine or I might end up in court like Andrew Bolt. So much for free speech in Australia.

Though it must be said that judge Mordecai Bromberg was dancing on the head of a pin with his vapid reasoning concerning Bolt's writings. According to Bromberg what Bolt said was OK; It was just the "tone" in which he said it that condemned him. Do we really have a law about "tone"?

It is a great pity that the Bolt verdict was not appealed to a higher and hopefully fairer court. But the Labor Party legislation made that difficult.

And what does it say for the progress of Aborigines when the successful ones among them are white rather than black?

A PERSONAL tragedy inspired Ellie May Moore to pursue a career in medicine, something she hopes will be possible now she has completed Year 12. Ellie was the top Aboriginal student to complete the South Australian Certificate of Education this year and was presented with an award in recognition of her achievements.

The 18-year-old obtained a university entrance score of 89.75, completing biology, health studies, maths studies, psychology and a research project.

"I was shocked when I heard I had received the award," she said. "It's a real surprise, and my family are thrilled for me. I hope it can encourage indigenous students to complete their schooling and realise their dreams."

It was the time she spent in hospital around the time of a grandparent's death when she saw the good doctors could do that she set her goal to be part of the medical profession.

This year 145 Aboriginal students who started Year 12 went on to complete their certificates - out of 172 - which is an 84 per cent completion rate and a rise of 5.8 per cent on 2010. And 83 students gained a tertiary entrance score, more than any other time in the past six years.


The folly of litigation over wills

THEY are often the only winners when families go to war over disputed wills but the state's most expensive lawyers have been told by judges to stay off the battlefield.

As legal costs eclipse the value of some of the estates being fought over, top silks should know better than to get involved when they are not needed, however lucrative the work, judges believe.

When flautist Jane Rutter, 52, and her brother David, 51, challenged their father Barry's will after their stepsister, 25, made a claim for a greater share of his estate, the judge was scathing that the four-day hearing cost an "outrageous" $400,000 in legal bills. The estate was worth only $375,000.

In another notorious case, two daughters and a granddaughter of widow Alma Sherbourne won a $360,000 inheritance from the late 81-year-old's estate - but their legal bill was $450,000.

Professor Prue Vines last week released a study of fights over wills for the country's judges and said it wasn't that top lawyers weren't doing a good job for their clients but most disputes over wills were not complicated enough to merit the expense of hiring a Queen's Counsel or a Senior Counsel.

"It's very hard to ask someone to turn down work but judges have said to me that a silk should be able to say, 'that (case) doesn't really need me'," Professor Vines, from the University of NSW's law faculty, said. "Judges generally feel that silks have the ability and the knowledge to know when they are not necessary."

Her study for the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration found that family members sparring over the smallest amounts were willing to spend the most on lawyers. The most disproportionate costs came in cases between battling siblings, followed in second place by fights between the children of the first wife and the children of the second wife.

In one case, a 61-year-old woman claimed for the cost of a car from her late step-father's estate despite the fact neither she nor her son drove. She didn't get the car but did get $30,000. Her legal costs were $38,000. Judges have been outspoken in court when the legal costs have added up to more than one quarter of the value of the estate being fought over but Professor Vine said that some cases involved costs adding up to more than half the value of the estate.

Families are then shocked to discover they have to pay out of their own pockets because they were no longer automatically paid out of the estate, as had traditionally been the case.

Professor Vine said this was the end of the generation where parents would scrimp and save and "starve" to ensure there was something to leave to their children. Latest figures show there were 1576 disputes over wills filling the Supreme Court lists in 2009, with 512 new cases filed that year and 605 finalised. Numbers have remained high for years - in 2005 there were 655 new cases filed and 578 finalised.

It was reminiscent of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, where the fight over the inheritance went on so long that beneficiaries did not live to see the end, Professor Vines said. Costs balloon because people swear hundreds of affidavits which means longer in court time and the resulting costs.

Professor Vines suggested that people discuss their will with their family before they die and explain the decisions they are making so the bad news doesn't come as so much of a shock when they lose the inheritance lottery.


Christmas rituals help hold us together

Christmas has been commercialised, but the central activity remains - people taking time out to be with other people, be it family, friends or a mixture of both. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Christmas is a time when religion meets US-style enterprise. Despite its manifold and, some say, crass modifications, the capacity of Christmas and other traditional celebrations to hold us together remains undiminished.

As Christmas beckons I find myself wondering whether this and other religious and cultural festivals such as Passover and Ramadan share common ground. After all, they bind us in our humanity, but remind us of our unique origins and experiences and affirm the importance of our community life and renewal.

Rituals are deeply embedded memories and traditions that have been carried on the migratory journeys of people and adapted to new environments. Santa Claus decked out in his winter gear has been lugged from the northern hemisphere winter to the dry heat of an Australian summer without a change of clothes.

Many in Australia will celebrate Christmas on beaches, a sundeck or under a mango tree. If it is not a fire danger day, the Aussie barbecue, with its slabs of meat, salad and beer, will replace the traditional cold climate Christmas meal of pudding and roast.

Our indigenous peoples know deeply that rituals and traditions are the connecting threads that provide us with a sense of our familial and ancestral history. Without them we can become lost. But, paradoxically, if rituals become rigid and fail to adjust to altering circumstances, they can lose their power and meaning.

This occurs when we go through the motions but do not necessarily engage in the spirit of the occasion — when we dutifully turn up, but our hearts are not in it. In all but extremely dysfunctional families, the legitimacy of the day rests with what we confer on it. Being mindful of the passing of life and expressing genuine pleasure in the company of those we love or who are significant in our lives is the deal maker. For some whose family history has been a source of pain rather than a nurturing environment this might mean creating a new "family" of friends.

We also need to reassess the culture of excess that seems to go into a frenzy over the festive season. We overeat and over consume, bestowing often unwanted gifts on recipients who must feign gratitude so as not to offend. As the planet groans under our weight it is time to reassess the tradition of plentitude and overindulgence — a legacy of the yuletide winter solstice and pagan festivities that are part of "ye olde Christmas".

Despite all, at their best, these traditions provide a celebration of continuity, comfort, company, family and community. They mark time, but reassure us that some things still remain, if not the same, at least recognisable.

Some celebrate with prayers and carols, and above all, the iconic Christmas lunch. But many have an "early Christmas", to gather in disparate groups that reflect divorce and separation. It is possible to have four or more sets of grandparents to visit. As a result of split relationships, many find themselves experiencing a force-feeding at multiple Christmas feasts. Like the Vicar of Dibley who politely and agonisingly consumes three enormous Christmas lunches in succession.

And the festive season can also sharpen awareness of change and loss. These are times when wounds can be reopened. The lonely are more lonely and the season may bring a heightened risk of suicide.

The absence of dead relatives and friends is felt keenly. This may be the loss of a grandparent who spanned the decades and held generations of memories.

The survivors of the Queensland and Victorian floods will experience their first Christmas since the disasters. Some are in temporary homes and have lost all memorabilia of the past or worse are now without much loved family members. Many will fear this time of year. There will be new homes but a need to reconstruct their way of remembering the experience.

But perhaps the most forgotten among us are the homeless, who at best will have the "tradition" of a lunch served by kindly volunteers in a church hall or other charitable venue or do nothing at all. They are left as outsiders.

In these times of fast-paced change, the observance of time-worn and adapted, even kitsch, traditions has become more important and powerful. All of us, including the dislocated and the grieving may find comfort in some form of celebration, however different from past years.

The raison d'etre remains the same. Connecting with family, friends and our communities; farewelling the passings and embracing the time to come with hope.



The following are results from an OZ-words Competition where entrants were asked to take an Australian word, alter it by one letter only, and supply a witty definition. Clearly, you need to be an Aussie to understand.

Billabonk: to make passionate love beside a waterhole

Bludgie: a partner who doesn't work, but is kept as a pet

Dodgeridoo: a fake indigenous artefact

Fair drinkum: good-quality Aussie wine

Flatypus: a cat that has been run over by a vehicle

Mateshit: all your flat mate's belongings, lying strewn around the floor

Shagman: an unemployed male, roaming the Australian bush in search of sexual activity

Yabble: the unintelligible language of Australian freshwater crustaceans

Bushwanker: a pretentious drongo, who reckons he's above average when it comes to handling himself in the scrub

Crackie-daks: 'hipster' tracksuit pants.

And for the Kiwis amongst us:

Shornbag: a particularly attractive naked sheep

24 December, 2011

The Leiden university rankings

You can see them for yourself here. You will note that the top rankings are overwhelmingly dominated by American universities.

Leiden university ranks other universities in the following way:
The Leiden Ranking 2011/2012 is based on publications in Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database in the period 2005-2009. Only publications in the sciences and the social sciences are included. Publications in the arts and humanities are excluded because in these domains the bibliometric indicators of the Leiden Ranking do not have sufficient accuracy. Furthermore, only publications of the Web of Science document types article, letter, and review are considered in the Leiden Ranking.

Impact indicators

The Leiden Ranking offers the following indicators of the scientific impact of a university:

Mean citation score (MCS). The average number of citations of the publications of a university.

Mean normalized citation score (MNCS). The average number of citations of the publications of a university, normalized for field differences, publication year, and document type. An MNCS value of two for instance means that the publications of a university have been cited twice above world average.

Proportion top 10% publications (PPtop 10%). The proportion of the publications of a university that, compared with other similar publications, belong to the top 10% most frequently cited.

Publications are considered similar if they were published in the same field and the same publication year and if they have the same document type.

Citations are counted until the end of 2010 in the above indicators. Author self citations are excluded. The PPtop 10% indicator is more stable than the MNCS indicator, and we therefore regard the PPtop 10% indicator as the most important impact indicator of the Leiden Ranking.

In other words it looks at how often papers coming out of a given university are cited in other papers.

That rather explains the American dominance. There are a LOT of American universities (around 7,000 on some counts -- depending on what you define as a university). So what we are seeing is that all those American researchers mostly cite papers by other Americans. There are many reasons why that might be so with the excellence of the cited paper being only one of the reasons.

Being personally acquainted (via conferences etc.) with other people working in your field is another obvious reason. I know from my own experience during my research career that the heaviest use of my papers mostly came from people I knew personally from conferences.

So although the Leiden rankings are the most objective of the rankings available they are really only useful in ranking American universities. As rankings of universities worldwide they are essentially useless.

It is therefore all the more to the credit of the occasional non-American university that crept into the list. The highest ranking Australian university was the ANU, ranked 114th. The ANU was of course designed from the beginning as a research-heavy university so that is not unexpected.

The University of Melbourne came 163rd ,the University of Queensland (my alma mater) was 170th but the University of Sydney was 290th.

Most other rankings of world universities place Australian universities much higher.

One "habitat" versus another

THE federal and NSW governments are facing claims their $24 million purchase of the historic Toorale Station near Bourke in 2008 to help the Murray-Darling river system was a waste of money that has harmed the local economy while delivering scant environmental benefit.

Three years after the federal government led the purchase of the 91,000-hectare property to release its irrigated water back to the river system, the dams and irrigation channels are still in place - though their decommissioning was a key part of the environmental plan - the Herald has confirmed.

An "infrastructure decommissioning plan" drawn up by engineering consultants Aurecon in 2009 found there were environmental obstacles to scrapping the dams and channels because a new ecology has grown in the 150 years since the station was established. Also, a complete decommissioning would cost $79 million.

Angry locals have told the Herald their economy has been battered without much gain.

"It's very hard to see that there's been any environmental benefit whatsoever from the $23.75 million that was spent," Geoff Wise, general manager of Bourke Shire, said. "But there's been millions and millions of dollars of lost productivity that would have flowed had it remained a viable property."

He said Toorale Station had provided about 10 per cent of Bourke's business and 4 per cent of the shire rates. "Overnight, we lost that."

The property on the confluence of the Darling and Warrego rivers was bought by the NSW government, though the Commonwealth paid the bulk of the purchase price with nearly $20 million and in return got the water rights.

The then water minister Penny Wong said at the time the infrastructure decommissioning plan would be "implemented as soon as possible". The Aurecon report in August 2009 advised "partial decommissioning".

The federal Environment Department said in a statement to the Herald the purchase had delivered an extra 56 billion litres of water to the environment by releasing water out of the dams. This falls short of the average 20 billion litres a year - peaking at 80 billion in flood years - Senator Wong promised in 2009, despite the heavy rains and flooding of recent years.

In the 2010-11 financial year, 7.6 billion litres were returned to the river system - just 0.01 per cent of the total flow of water through the Darling River at the Louth gauge, downstream.

The Water Minister, Tony Burke, acknowledged decommissioning had "taken longer than originally expected" and added "we're still working through the technical details with NSW as to which is the best pathway".

He said the water already recovered had helped the Darling River, the Warrego River, the Great Darling Anabranch and the River Murray wetlands.

Even supporters of the purchase are disappointed by the lack of progress. Justin McClure, the owner of Kallara Station, a flood plain grazing property south-west of Bourke on the Darling River, said it had always been the understanding the dams would be removed.

"I'm disappointed that the infrastructure hasn't been decommissioned," he said."I'm disappointed that more water hasn't been returned to the river, although I understand the issues the government is facing."

Mr McClure said there had been environmental gains downstream and he still believed the purchase had been worth the money. But he added: "The fact there's no information on what they're actually doing is what upsets me the most … I don't think it's a transparent process."

The opposition water spokesman, Barnaby Joyce, said the Toorale situation boded ill for Murray-Darling Basin reform.

"When the nation pays for a property that doesn't actually deliver much water into the Darling River and now they are reorganising the nation's food bowl and how we feed ourselves, I get very worried."


The Labor party's freedom from information office

Never accuse the government of lacking a sense of humour. It was brilliant! Here was its new agency, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. An official-looking website claimed this supposed "OAIC" was part of the Attorney-General's Department.

It was committed to "open public sector information", according to the mission statement. On and on it went about the integrity and importance of free, public, and open information in government.

"We will champion open government, provide advice and assistance to the public, promote better information management by government … we will have a comprehensive range of functions, including investigating complaints". Vigorous stuff, but was it too vigorous to be true?

Government-held information is a national resource, this OAIC said

Just the place to go for some information, we thought. We had discovered public information had been disappearing from government databases. Something had to be done. The Australian Information Commissioner here we come!

"No comment," the commissioner said, via email.

But hang on! Large files of public information had been quietly purged by the corporate regulator, and the central bank and Treasury. National resources buried, by three separate departments. We have a pattern. Here is the proof.

"No comment," the email from the communications operative said on behalf of the commissioner.

It was at that moment that the penny dropped. This was not just another bureaucratic enclave whose sole raison d'etre was self-preservation. It was actually a gag, and a damn fine gag too, an information gag.

"Care for some information about information? Yes sir, you've come to the right place, no doubt about that! Just wait there for two weeks, sit tight, we'll get right back to you!" It was Pythonesque - the Ministry for Silly Pranks, the Bureau for Wasting People's Time.

The name of the Australian Information Commissioner, they say, is Professor John McMillan. It sounds lifelike. Indeed the name is attached to long and windy statements in the annual report about strong commitment to open government, engagement with government agencies and so forth.

But was he real? Dare we try to speak with this mysterious professor himself? Again, we emailed a question to this elusive figure via a communications officer:

"In the spirit of freedom of Australian information and keeping the public properly informed in the press are you prepared to actually speak with me on the telephone?"

Alas! Our petitions were met, once again, with a good old fobbing-off.

"Thanks for your email. John often speaks directly to journalists but he is very pressed for time this afternoon as he is leaving for the airport at 4. He asked me to let you know that there is nothing more that he can add on this particular issue without a proper investigation."

Was it that the professor, if he really existed, had yet to embrace the mobile phone revolution? Or perhaps he was off on a trip, one of those nice overseas trips; a fact-finding mission from Canberra to Cancun say; finding facts about information at the annual international conference for information commissioners in order to commission a steering committee report on a white paper to evaluate the opportunities for a comprehensive range of functions with which to address the challenges of promoting more efficient information management.

The question is serious. It is about information vanishing from public databases: public information about banks using government guarantees, information about government agencies providing special favours to liquidators.

McMillan proffered his "no comment" to the question of exemption orders being purged from the public database of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. The documents were relief orders given to liquidators, providing special exemptions from their having to file public accounts. Lots of them.

They disappeared about the time the regulator was to come under scrutiny by a Senate inquiry into liquidators. The Senate report was damning. Nothing was ever done by ASIC to restore the information to the public database. And as yet there is zero accountability from the OAIC or any other agency.

To the second issue: large swathes of public information had been purged from the Reserve Bank of Australia and Treasury websites, without explanation, relating to sovereign guarantees for wholesale bank funding.

When questioned, the RBA conceded it took down the information because a bank, or the banks, had requested it. The OAIC did not even respond to the issue by acknowledging it with a "no comment".

"The OAIC looks forward to an energetic year promoting information rights, information policy and the strategic management of personal and public sector information," Professor John McMillan, Australian Information Commissioner, said in this year's annual report.


A case that should worry all Queenslanders

THE tacky, disturbing and totally unnecessary case of Bruce Rowe versus misplaced authority came to an end in the District Court on Monday. Well, it could have, although Constable Benjamin Arndt, who was found guilty of assaulting Rowe in 2006 in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall, could appeal to the Supreme Court or, conceivably, beyond.

The immovable Rowe, who turned 71 on Sunday, was a comparative stripling of 65 when he crossed paths with Arndt and a bunch of other police about 9 o'clock on the night of July 9, five-and-a-half years ago.

In an incident that was widely seen on TV (and is still out there on YouTube), Rowe was arrested, charged and convicted of obstructing police and failing to obey a police order after a disagreement that began in the public toilets and ended with him being held down by four officers and kneed by another.

It dragged through the Magistrates Court, the District Court and the Court of Appeal. The first court convicted Rowe, the second confirmed the conviction but the third overturned it.

The rematch came in the Magistrates Court in February when Rowe launched a private prosecution resulting in Arndt being found guilty of assaulting Rowe, fined $1000 and ordered to pay him $2250 court costs, although no conviction was recorded.

The established forces of investigation or law and order were conspicuous by their absence.

Then Arndt disputed the magistrate's findings but this week Judge Brian Devereaux tossed out the appeal. Watch this space.

The appeal largely revolved around claims that magistrate Linda Bradford-Morgan had relied on information extraneous to the case.

Arndt argued that the wrongful consideration of extraneous materials constituted a substantial miscarriage of the Magistrates Court trial, justice was not seen to be done and the trial was not conducted according to law.

Judge Devereaux was sympathetic to a point but decided it was open to the magistrate to convict Arndt on the original evidence without the distraction of the extraneous material.

He watched the distasteful video "many times" and declared: "It is unnecessary to say I reach precisely the same conclusions ... having due regard to the findings and conclusions of the magistrate but mindful of the errors I have found in her honour's reasoning, I have formed my own conclusion that the force used in the application of the four knee strikes was not authorised or justified or excused by law. "It was unlawful because it was not reasonably necessary and was unjustified in the circumstances."

How did it all come to this and why did it take so long to resolve?

Had Rowe been just another homeless, friendless and vulnerable man it might have been a simple issue resolved in court just after the morning drunks' parade.

In nine cases out of 10, that might have happened. However Rowe, although grieving and troubled, was also a stubborn and courageous man who refused to take a step backwards in the face of what he perceived as injustice.

He ultimately turned out to be more than capable of looking after himself and seeking justice. Perhaps, it is the other nine out of 10 cases we should be worried about.

At the time of Arndt's assault case, Police Union president Ian Leavers expressed concern that the conviction had "dire consequences for all police officers doing their job". "I am very, very concerned now that police officers across the state will be reluctant to do their job and the community will suffer," Leavers said.

It is a seductive sentiment for those who haven't the wit or the humility to ever imagine themselves in Rowe's shoes. However, it is ultimately even more harmful to the community to pretend that police cannot do their job without breaking the law.

And it is an affront to the thousands of police who do manage to do their difficult jobs without breaking the letter or the spirit of the law and apply the police motto of "With honour we serve" to all citizens, regardless of their station or their situation.

Equally worrying is that justice was delivered despite, not because of, the Police Ethical Standards Command and the Crime and Misconduct Commission, which found there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the police officers over the incident.

Subsequent court findings that Rowe was not only innocent but had been unlawfully roughed up must raise questions about the quality and diligence of both investigations.

Had it not been for the toughness and pigheadedness of Rowe, whose "age and slight frame" were noted by the magistrate, a serious wrong would have gone unpunished.

Had it not been for the video evidence, his might have been the feeble voice of an ordinary man who had fallen on hard times against that of police.

The inadequacies of the investigations into this event - and similar failings and inconsistencies in many others - are hardly likely to inspire confidence among the public or the police, who have an equal entitlement to justice.

The Roman poet Juvenal is credited with asking "Who will guard the guardians?" We are yet to adequately answer that, but surely it is not a 71-year-old man.


Report reveals emergency department bottleneck

AMBULANCES and emergency departments are becoming increasingly jammed with patients as Victorian hospitals struggle to cope with a shortage of beds, new figures show.

Doctors yesterday called for an urgent increase in hospital capacity after the state government's latest hospital report showed hundreds of thousands of patients had waited longer than they should for emergency and surgical care since July last year. This included two patients who waited more than the government's benchmark time for urgent elective surgery at the Royal Women's Hospital.

The report showed a clear bottleneck developing in emergency departments, where 1877 people were left on trolleys for more than 24 hours while waiting for a bed during the last financial year. This was nearly double the 1012 people left on trolleys during the 11 months to June 2010.

Between July and September, the problem appeared to get worse, with a further 623 patients waiting more than a day on a trolley, compared to 320 for the previous quarter between April and June.

Frankston Hospital was by far the worst, with 1046 patients waiting longer than 24 hours between July 2010 and September this year, followed by Albury hospital with 535 and the Mercy in Werribee with 305.

Ambulances have also faced more delays in handing over patients to emergency department staff because of a shortage of beds.

The report showed that in the last financial year, 15.6 per cent or 49,907 of the 319,922 patients taken to hospitals by ambulance remained with paramedics for more than 40 minutes before they could be left with emergency department staff.

This blew out further between July and September this year, with 19,407 of the 84,017 ambulance deliveries taking more than 40 minutes to hand over. Paramedics have long complained that this holds them up, reducing the number of ambulances free to attend new cases.

While all urgent emergency department patients were treated immediately, more than 200,000 semi-urgent and non-urgent patients waited longer than the benchmark times for care between July last year and September this year. This included people having strokes and those suffering severe bleeding and breathing difficulties.

On elective surgery, all but two urgent patients were treated within the government's benchmark of 30 days during the last financial year, but 25 per cent of semi-urgent patients waited longer than the government's target of 90 days for their procedures.

Health Minister David Davis acknowledged the system could improve, but said hospitals had coped well with record demand. He said Frankston Hospital's poor results had prompted a review of its emergency department.

Opposition health spokesman Gavin Jennings accused Mr Davis of trying to bury the report by releasing it three days before Christmas.


23 December, 2011

NSW Government offers veto option for residents in proposed wind farm zones


PEOPLE living within 2km of proposed wind farms will have the right to veto them, under a NSW Government proposal.

Planning and Infrastructure Minister Brad Hazzard says NSW remains committed to being part of the Federal Government's 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020, despite proposing what he has described as the world's toughest wind-farm guidelines.

Under the proposal, a company wanting to set up a wind farm in an area where landowner consent has not been given will have to go to an independent regional planning panel if there is community opposition. "That means 100 per cent of neighbours have to be happy within that 2km zone," Mr Hazzard said.

Mr Hazzard said he hoped the idea would find a balance between residents living near wind turbines and supporters of renewable energy.

"Today I am announcing that the NSW coalition Government is putting out for public discussion some of the toughest wind-farm guidelines in the country, possibly the world," he said.

The Victorian Government this year gave residents within a 2km radius a right of veto over wind turbines. But Mr Hazzard said the NSW proposal was different to Victoria's and that wind-farm proponents would get a bigger say. People wishing to write submissions to the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure have until March 14.

Across NSW, there are 17 applications to build wind farms, including 13 that are yet to be shown to the public.

The NSW Greens said the proposal would kill off the wind-generation sector in favour of coal seam gas as a solution to the state's future energy needs.

"If this draft plan becomes law, the Government has effectively chosen a destructive coal seam gas future for NSW, over the clean, green and jobs-rich wind-energy sector," Greens planning spokesman David Shoebridge said.

"NSW is abandoning the most cost-effective option for reducing its carbon footprint, which in effect means it is giving the green light for coal seam gas projects across the state."


Another disaster waiting to happen at Qld. Health

HERE'S another gem to add to Queensland Health's list of IT woes - it is using a software system so old that even its maker refuses to support it.

The system, known as RecFind, is charged with storing high-level records, including correspondence between the Health Minister and director-general. But it's been labelled a disaster waiting to happen.

A leaked memo details a litany of "very high risks" within the system, which is no longer compatible with modern software and would "most likely" fail if other IT systems such as email were upgraded beyond 2003 releases.

QH planned to replace the ageing system, but abruptly put the upgrade on hold this year, without explanation.

While RecFind does not handle clinical or personal records, there are concerns patient care could be affected because the slow system constrains administrative workers supporting doctors.

A mass meltdown would have a "major impact" on operations across Queensland Health, including the possible loss of "business critical" information, which is stored contrary to regulations.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle warned high-level planning documents, used to make ministerial decisions and shape the future of health in Queensland, could also be lost if the system collapsed.

"If the system is archaic, the risk is there of exposure to litigation, to incorrect information and data being put forward, with the resulting risk of poor planning leading to poor outcomes leading to disastrous clinical results," he said.

The memo details how Queensland Health's version of RecFind was decommissioned in December 2009, after which its maker KnowledgeOne would no longer support it.

But Queensland Health could not upgrade to the newer version because bosses had issued a directive six months earlier outlawing any upgrades, instead opting for "risk mitigation strategies".

RecFind was to be replaced by a new electronic documents and records management system, HP TRIM, but the department-wide project is now on hold.

QH Performance Improvement and Policy Services executive director Susan Horton wrote the memo in July but still no action has been taken. That makes Queensland Health the only State Government agency without an electronic system. The Community Safety Department does not have one, but has started a building project.

Mr McArdle questioned whether the ongoing cost to fix the disastrous health payroll system, already at $219 million, had diverted money away from QH's mooted upgrade.

In a statement, QH Performance and Accountability acting deputy director-general Leanne Chandler insisted the system was serving its purpose, but said upgrades would only happen "as necessary" because the non-clinical system was not an "urgent priority".


A queer apology

Gasp! Just when you thought the bling had blung in the Gasp Jeans customer service scandal, the retailer has issued a grovelling apology on national television.

The apology, which took place on Channel Seven's Today Tonight this evening, comes after bride-to-be Keara O'Neill complained to the company only to receive a defiant email response which later went viral.

Operations manager Matt Chidgey tonight apologised for the way Ms O'Neill was treated in store and though email. "Keara I would just like to say I'm sorry," he said.

When asked if the apology was genuine, Mr Chidgey replied: "Of course, we would also like to offer Keara and her friends who came into the store that day to come into our stores and pick a new outfit and Gasp will match the value of that outfit and give it to the Make a Wish Foundation for Christmas."

The Chapel Street store where the incident took place shut down two weeks ago and has been replaced by a store in Melbourne's CBD.

Mr Chidgey stopped short of apologising for comments made by "retail superstar" Chris about Ms O'Neill's size-12 figure. "I apologise that her experience in our store wasn't 100 per cent positive," he said. Mr Chidgey added that Ms O'Neill "broadened our horizons a lot more" and said all Gasp stores now catered up to size 24.

Gasp owner and designer Miki Yozef made a personal apology. "I really wish you could come back, give me a chance and I will dress you personally myself," she told the television audience.

In a statement, Ms O'Neill said that Gasp had numerous opportunities to apologise three months ago but instead they insisted she apologise to them. “Does it have something to do with their Chapel Street store closing and their current 90 per cent off sale? Probably," she said.

Shoppers have also taken to social networking site Twitter to suggest the apology was a publicity stunt. "What an insincere, cynical, half arsed apology! #Gasp #TodayTonight. Personally, I would NEVER shop in that store. Abysmal customer service!" one wrote. "Serves you right Gasp an apology 3 months later just isn't good enough," another said. One user suggested if Gasp was "truly sorry" they should sack the staff involved.

Ms O'Neill wrote to the retailer in September, horrified after she and her bridesmaids went shopping at the Chapel Street store and claimed they were treated rudely by assistant Chris. "Have fun shopping at Supre," he was said to have yelled after Ms O'Neill and her friends as they left.

A defiant email from the company at the time told Ms O'Neill the store was for "fashion forward" customers only, and urged her to sidestep Gasp and "retail superstar" Chris in future.

Now, their operations manager says customer service protocol at Gasp had changed. "Oh yep for sure, everything will be in the email (to The Age) tomorrow," Mr Chidgey said.

He said Gasp was still going strong, despite the Chapel Street store shutting up shop, which the company said was always part of the plan. "We've just opened up our new Southbank store as of two weeks ago — we've got a few stores on the cards for next year," Mr Chidgey said.


The new age of old

Suddenly opportunity shops are chic places to be and ungainly objects once dismissed as passe have fresh reasons for being. Retro is the defining cultural trend of 2011, fuelled largely by a yen to adopt values and mores from a simpler time. So what's behind the back-to-basics boom?

When the story of the current zeitgeist comes to be written, it might well be captured in a four-word slogan that defined the spirit of wartime Britain. Part admonition, part joyful declaration of intent, "Make Do and Mend" became the catchcry of a generation that kept calm and carried on through the darkest days of World War II.

The slogan was adopted by the British Ministry of Information as part of a general campaign of advice on everything from growing vegetables, disguising leftovers and making new clothes from old. Woollen jumpers were unpicked and reknitted, government-issue blankets upcycled into skirts and jackets and municipal flower beds given over to cabbages and carrots.

Today, as the world confronts fresh environmental and economic hardships, the lessons of that time are being heeded with a growing sense of urgency. Blogs offering tips on how to "Cook Like Grandma", books with titles such as Cold Meat and How to Disguise It and online discussions about keeping chooks, preserving vegetables, stocking a larder and baking bread point to a hankering for the past that goes beyond pure nostalgia. At a time when every food purchase invites ethical hand-wringing and every mass-produced piece of clothing comes with a less-than-flattering carbon count, the simple life starts to look rather more fetching.

Melbourne sociologist and writer Ruth Quibell lives with her husband and two young children in a rented house devoid of microwave, television or car. An elderly neighbour once told her: "You live like you're in 1940s England!"

Quibell says that while the family's lifestyle "might look like deprivation to outsiders", it arises from a carefully considered choice that is "primarily about a relationship to time".

"We earn less to have more time with our children, more choice over work and more time to be creative and independent. As a result, we largely only buy what we need and can afford. We work, sew, write, cook, walk ... our home is a hodge-podge of old and hand-me-down things."

As a sociologist interested in emerging trends, Quibell has tracked market research that suggests her family is not alone. She points to a rise in craft-related Google searches and sales of knitting needles, and the success of "magazines with a DIY or handmade emphasis, and electronic marketplaces for handmade objects like Etsy ...".

Other evidence of this back-to-basics boom is all around: retro-hip magazines such as Frankie and Peppermint offer cute stick-on labels with their homemade jam recipes, step-by-step embroidery guides for revamping old jumpers and fashion spreads featuring clothes made from disused film reels and recycled newspapers. Charities target hip young shoppers through specialist recycle boutiques in inner-city suburbs and farmers' markets draw ever-growing crowds of people prepared to pay more for locally grown food.

Gleaners, meanwhile, opt to pay nothing at all by raiding supermarket bins or "feral fruit trees" whose branches overhang laneways and other public spaces. Anecdotally, there are tales of young Melburnians making their own dripping from reused fat or saving tomato seeds for next year's backyard crop.

A 2003 study by the Australia Institute's Clive Hamilton and Elizabeth Mail found that 23 per cent of Australians aged 30-59 had downshifted in the previous 10years. The study defined downshifters as "those people who make a voluntary, long-term lifestyle change that involves accepting significantly less income and consuming less".

Quibell says "downshifters" are among "a plethora of individuals" adopting a simpler life – "frugals, downshifters, those who practise backyard self-sufficiency, dumpster divers, home schoolers, crafters, artisans, bohemians, environmentalists. The list could go on."

As for the factors driving the trend, Quibell says they are many. "A self-sufficiency advocate and a frugal might have very different motivations — one to save air miles and pollution, the other simply to save money. What they share is making that conscious, individual choice to simplify how they consume," she says.

Designer Pene Durston has been making do for most of her life and now runs a business known for turning vintage tea towels into clothing, cushions and bunting. "In my family there were always hand-me-downs," she says. "Mum made all our clothes ... that's just what you did. We always did craft, we always spun yarn ... I grew up reading the handy hints sections of old CWA cookbooks."

A member of the Craft Victoria board and author of the popular blog Miss Pen Pen, Durston sells her 1940s-inspired designs from her Cottage Industry store in Fitzroy. CWA cookbooks complement the ethos of the place, along with copies of the 1943 Make Do and Mend guide to washing, preserving and recycling clothing.

She says the practical advice offered in such books appeals to a generation of people — primarily women in their 30s — who grew up domestically rudderless.

"In the '70s, women were told 'don't cook, don't make clothes for your family, go out to get a job'. There's a generation of women whose mothers went back to work ... It was the rise of consumerism, you had more money, so you bought clothes, you didn't make them ... [their children] missed out on learning to do things with their hands, getting their hands dirty."

Durston points to the irony of home renovation and cooking programs that are watched by people who lack the skills to attempt even the most basic domestic task.

"With cooking shows, everything is so over the top — who actually wants to cook molecular gastronomy? That's why we stock CWA cookbooks — you can't cook molecular gastronomy without actually knowing how to cook a pikelet. Let's start with the basics that are achievable with the minimum amount of equipment and ingredients ... Everyone I know makes some form of jam/sauce/preserve and friends hold the famous 'Chutney Club' every couple of months."

The communal nature of such endeavours serves as an antidote to what Durston sees as the isolation of modern life. "Living through the internet, for a lot of people it makes connections for them, but it's an isolating, non-tactile way of living and I do think that people reach a point where they have a need to get their hands dirty, to see a plant grow and then start eating something they've grown."

For Quibell, the return to basics satisfies "a hankering for the past, when life was slower, simpler, things lasted and were better made".

At the dawn of what may well come to be regarded as the new age of austerity, there is also, she says, "the sneaking suspicion that progress isn't all that it was cracked up to be".


22 December, 2011

More oppressive Green insanity coming

THE cost of cooling your home and cooking dinner could double under a new Gillard government power proposal. Charging consumers more for electricity during the evening peak, and less at other times, is among a raft of "policy options" contained in a discussion paper made public yesterday.

The plan would involve a statewide rollout of so-called "smart meters", which have caused anger among some consumers whose bills have risen sharply. Other proposals put forward in the paper include minimum energy standards for appliances, rebates and green building regulations.

There is also a bizarre plan allowing energy companies to remotely control home airconditioners in high-demand periods in return for a discount at other times - a move experts say would hit western Sydney hard.

After the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency released the consultation paper for a proposed national energy savings initiative, acting Greens leader Christine Milne claimed it was "another great Greens idea coming to fruition".

The push for a new green scheme would, according to the paper, "complement" the carbon tax, which will add $171 to power bills and would come on top of the existing renewable energy target scheme which added $100 to power bills this year. Smart meters monitor electricity usage in 30-minute intervals and feed information back to the energy company.

Some families in new homes with so-called smart meters are already on time-of-use tariffs where, between 2pm and 8pm, they pay 44c a kilowatt hour - twice the flat rate.

Energy Australia was forced to allow 200,000 households in NSW to revert to a flat rate if they wanted to after time-of-use charging hurt those who were at home during the peak period - new parents, pensioners and the disabled.

Energy Australia claimed 70 per cent of households were better off with smart meters. But research by St Vincent De Paul has shown time-of-use charging imposes double-digit increases on young families and the welfare-dependent.

Senator Milne said: "For too long, governments, businesses and householders haven't tackled our hugely wasteful use of energy because there has been no clear and urgent driver to do so." She said a target for energy use reduction should be set at 3 per cent a year.

Energy Users Association executive director Roman Domanski said similar schemes in Australia and overseas had produced limited benefits. He said time-of-use pricing would be more pronounced in hotter areas of Sydney - the west. "If the government introduces a scheme like that, it is going to increase bills," he said.

"We're now going to have a carbon price that is going to encourage people, supposedly, to lower emissions and also reduce the amount of energy people use so we wonder why you need one of these sorts of schemes to push electricity prices up even more."

A spokeswoman for parliamentary secretary for climate change Mark Dreyfus said a national energy savings initiative was aimed at "helping households and business save money on energy costs".


Dangerous "Marie Stopes" abortion facility in Melbourne

A 42-YEAR-OLD woman died days after attending a controversial abortion clinic in Croydon last week. Authorities have confirmed that the woman was taken to the Box Hill Hospital where she died on Sunday, after earlier having "a procedure at a private Croydon clinic".

A spokeswoman for the Coroners Court of Victoria said yesterday that the "unexpected" death of the woman, from Sunshine, would be investigated.

It is the fourth investigation involving the clinic in six years.

Anaesthetist James Latham Peters allegedly infected more than 50 women with hepatitis C at the same clinic in 2008 and 2009. Peters, who was bailed on a $200,000 surety, will return to court in May for the remainder of the committal hearing.

The surgery's owner, Dr Mark Schulberg, was in 2009 found guilty of unprofessional conduct for failing to gain legal consent to perform a late-term abortion on an intellectually disabled woman.

And earlier this year it was revealed that a 40-year-old woman was left fighting for her life in the Box Hill Hospital after Dr Schulberg performed a late-term abortion surgery on her.

Health Department officers yesterday visited the abortion clinic, which also gives advice on sterilisation and contraception devices, after being made aware of the death. "There was no indication from the visit that it was operating outside its requirements," a department spokesman said.

The department also notified the medical practitioners' watchdog, the Medical Board of Australia, of the death.

Last year police began investigating the surgery, formally known as Croydon Day Surgery and now the Maroondah surgery of Marie Stopes International Australia, after claims patients had been infected with hepatitis C.

Peters, 62, was suspended by the practitioners' board and was this year charged by police with conduct endangering life, recklessly causing injury and negligently causing serious injury. He is facing 162 charges of infecting women patients he treated for pregnancy terminations at the surgery between 2008 and 2009.

Dr Schulberg, who was on holiday, was not available for comment yesterday. He is still being investigated by the practitioners' board after 40-year-old mother Pheap Sem was rushed to hospital in August in a critical condition after a late-term abortion.

In 2008 he was found guilty of professional misconduct by the board for failing to gain legal consent for the 25-week abortion of an intellectually disabled woman raped by her father. A year later he was found guilty of inappropriately prescribing painkillers.

Marie Stopes International chief executive Maria Deveson Crabbe said yesterday the organisation was helping in the probe into the Sunshine woman's death.

"It is with great sadness that we confirm the death of a female patient, who attended our associate registered day procedure centre in Maroondah on Wednesday, December 14, passed away at Box Hill Hospital on Sunday, December 18," Ms Deveson Crabbe said. "Due to patient confidentiality it is not possible to go into any details about the patient or the service they received."

A spokeswoman for the Medical Board of Australia confirmed it had received notification about the death.


A good school culture can have powerful effects

Religious schools generally have an advantage in that respect. And, being private, they don't have to put up with disruptive students

A SCHOOL in Melbourne's east founded on the principles of Christian Science has outperformed selective-entry government school Melbourne High in this year's VCE results.

Melbourne High has dropped off the list of top three schools for the first time since figures were made publicly available in 2003, outflanked by Mac.Robertson Girls High, Huntingtower School and Loreto Mandeville Hall.

Huntingtower School in Mount Waverley, an independent school based on the teachings of Christian Science, has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the rankings. In 2003, 15 per cent of its subject scores were 40 or above, and it was outperformed by 63 schools. This year Huntingtower School placed second, with 36.6 per cent of subject scores 40 or above. VCE subjects are marked out of 50, with a study score of 30 the average, and more than 40 considered an excellent result.

Huntingtower principal Sholto Bowen said the school encouraged its students to support one another rather than compete against each other.

"We are creating a sense they are all part of a team and not trying to beat [one another]. We are not trying to actually beat other schools," Mr Bowen said. "Every student knows it's their responsibility to help every other student when they are feeling stressed or under pressure. I don't think we do anything that couldn't be done by anyone - we are just creating that culture of kindness and understanding and support."

Mr Bowen said the school believed that every child expressed the infinite intelligence of God. "We want them to get the idea they have no limits," he said.

Christian Science is derived from the writings of its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, and the Bible. No doctrinal instruction in religion is given at Huntingtower and all faiths are welcomed.

The school's website says that while Christian Science is perhaps best known for its emphasis on healing by spiritual means, the wishes of parents of Huntingtower students for medical attention for their children is respected at all times.

Kahli Joyce, one of 57 VCE students at Huntingtower, attributes the school's success to a strong network between students and teachers.

"It was not only about the academic side of things, we also took time out to bond as a year level," said Kahli, who hopes to study biomedicine at Melbourne University.

Year 12 students attended a weekend retreat early in the year, where they discussed team and individual goals, and wrote positive affirmations about every student.

"Throughout the year we were always together as a year level, and in the common room we would take time out to find out how everyone was going. That really helped give us a positive learning environment."

Meanwhile, Jewish schools also performed extremely well, with Bialik College, Yeshivah College and Mount Scopus Memorial College all in the top 10. The top Jewish schools were Bialik College in Hawthorn and Yeshivah College in St Kilda East, which both had 33.3 per cent of study scores 40 or above.


Idiot bureaucrat endangering patients at Victorian hospital

BAIRNSDALE Hospital could be left without a senior staff doctor due to a crisis prompted by the sacking of one of its senior doctors. Dr Scott Deller left the hospital immediately after having his contract terminated by chief executive Wayne Sullivan this month, prompting the resignation of the hospital's only other senior doctor, Mark Pritchard. The emergency department's nurse manager, Julie Lawrence, also resigned last week.

The departure of the hospital's two senior doctors puts enormous pressures on the town's GPs, who say the situation needs to be urgently resolved. Sources say the latest development follows an exodus of staff under Mr Sullivan, and more than 140 employees have signed a petition calling for his resignation.

Senior Bairnsdale GP John Urie said the hospital doctors were needed to run the emergency department and supervise junior doctors including interns. While the town's 17 GPs have always been relied on to attend the hospital to deal with emergencies and deliver babies after hours, Dr Urie said that they were now being stretched too thin with calls out to the hospital in the day as well.

Dr Pritchard is still working Monday to Friday, but staff and local GPs are highly concerned about his imminent departure, particularly during the busy holiday period.

Dr Urie said the town's GPs "can only stretch so far. We're under a lot of pressure to keep the service up. GPs can't continue to cover these people who aren't there. "We've been working closely with the board of management to try and resolve the situation. We've told them how serious we think this is and we are relying on them to sort this out very quickly."

One staff member, who did not want to be named, said hospital management was putting lives at risk. The employee said the situation would only get worse as tourists flocked to holiday spots in East Gippsland.

"We've got 20,000 people coming to the area over Christmas and no doctor cover," he said. "[Mr Sullivan] has no idea what it's like in the clinical field and it's people's lives we're talking about. "We've got incredibly dedicated staff here, but we really don't know what else to do."

The staff member said that as recently as Monday - the hospital's busiest day - there was no doctor on duty. Dr Pritchard was on a rostered day off and had not been replaced.

"When there's no doctor here, the residents are just under phone call guidance from the on-call GP, but they can't call about everything," he said. "So a lot of the time it becomes the role of the nurse to make major decisions."

Dr Pritchard, who is still working at the hospital until his resignation takes effect, declined to comment. Dr Deller signed a confidentiality agreement upon leaving the hospital so was unable to speak to The Age. It is believed he was dismissed after clashing with Mr Sullivan about the conditions of his new contract.

In a statement released last night, the Bairnsdale Regional Health Service board said it had appointed a consultant to review the hospital's operations early next year. A report would be made available to the board within four to six weeks.

"In the meantime we wish to assure our staff, patients and the community that we are well placed to cope with these issues in the short-term and we are very confident in the long-term future for our health service."


21 December, 2011

Greens lashed by Chris Bowen on onshore solution

IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Bowen has attacked the humanitarian credentials of the Australian Greens after his attempt to end the stalemate over offshore processing failed amid fresh brawling with the Coalition.

Mr Bowen, struggling for a policy response to an ongoing flood of asylum-seeker boats arriving off northern Australia, described the Greens yesterday as "naive and out of touch" after the party's leader, Bob Brown, insisted offshore processing was no deterrent to people-smuggling.

The minister's comments came as government sources confirmed that they expected hundreds of asylum-seekers to enter Australia by boat over the coming holiday period and warned of a repeat of last weekend's sinking of an overloaded boat off Indonesia, in which as many as 200 Middle Eastern asylum-seekers headed for Australia drowned.

The tragedy continued to dominate political discourse yesterday as Labor and the Coalition parties insisted onshore processing was acting as a beacon to people-smugglers but remained deadlocked about the location for an offshore regime.

With the government promoting Malaysia and the Coalition sticking by its policy of reopening a processing centre on the Pacific island of Nauru, Senator Brown described their positions as "an anomaly" and said they were out of step with public opinion.

Senator Brown said that the most humane approach was to process asylum-seekers in Australia.

His position provoked a strong response last night from Mr Bowen, who said the Greens' view that the answer was to accept more refugees was "naive and not in touch with the practical reality and experience".

"He (Senator Brown) needs to consider that there is nothing humanitarian about a policy which says to people: your best chance of a new life in Australia is to risk your life to get here," Mr Bowen told The Australian.

"All the evidence shows that if you have proper offshore processing in place then it does discourage boat arrivals."

Earlier, Senator Brown said: "I say that Australia should be processing onshore because that is an international legal obligation."

When asked to respond to claims his policy attracted people-smugglers, the Greens leader said: "I'm not here to answer to The Australian's policy or the policies of the big parties; I'm here to promote our policy because it's humanitarian."

Asked for a solution to the fact that asylum-seekers were dying on their way to Australia, Senator Brown said: "There is none. Whether you take offshore or onshore. We know that from the terrible history."

Senator Brown said he was "mindful of the fact that the worst tragedy of this run of asylum-seekers to Australia, at least in recent history, was the SIEV X, which came after John Howard's policies of diverting people to Nauru".

Earlier yesterday, Labor revealed Julia Gillard had approached the Opposition Leader last Wednesday -- before the latest disaster -- for new talks to seek common ground to reinstate offshore processing.

Warning of worsening weather conditions north of Australia, the Prime Minister wrote in a letter to Mr Abbott: "I believe that in circumstances such as this the Australian people expect us to work together to ensure that the national interest is upheld."

In a written response, Mr Abbott refused: "This is a problem that you have created and it is your responsibility to solve."

Mr Abbott argued that the Coalition wanted processing of asylum-seekers on Nauru, a reinstatement of temporary protection visas and a policy of turning back asylum boats where possible. It was "pointless", Mr Abbott wrote, for new talks unless the government had a genuine new policy proposal to put forward.

Two further approaches this week by Wayne Swan, including one in which the Acting Prime Minister cited the parties' "shared responsibility" to find a solution, were also rejected.

Mr Bowen appeared to offer a compromise by saying processing on Nauru was impractical "in the absence" of processing under Labor's plan to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia in return for 4000 approved refugees, which was taken to mean he was open to processing in both places.

But Coalition sources insisted they were not confident that the minister could win support from Ms Gillard for the position.

Mr Bowen last night told the ABC's 7.30 he would not place parameters around any "good faith" discussions with the opposition should they agree to talks.

"Our policy position is clear," the minister said. "We believe that temporary protection visas led to an increase in the number of people coming to Australia by boat because it denied family reunion and that said to people your only chance of coming is by boat. Turning back the boats is dangerous. The navy says it risks lives. I'm not going to walk away from those positions.

"But by the same token, I'm not going to say to the opposition 'come in and . . . these areas have parameters around them which we can't talk about'."


Speech restrictions in Australia

When you see the North Koreans’ bizarre public grief for their oppressive leader you are watching the extreme end of state control. Whether real, imagined or exaggerated, the locals’ grief must be exhibited for the cameras lest the consequences be grave.

In Australia, this kind of media control is unthinkable. Or so you would think. But I reckon what the authorities seem to be trying to impose here is not cheerleading, not toeing the party line, but rather a kind of compulsory ambivalence.

(I have been to Pyongyang and would love to share some thoughts but there is plenty of that around at the moment, and media regulation in Australia is an increasingly worrying issue.)

Take the case of Adelaide ABC radio hosts Matthew Abraham and David Bevan; found to have lacked impartiality in their interview with [Leftist politician] Kevin Foley. Here is the audio, and for context it starts just after the first question which is “Kevin Foley, do you think a growing number of South Australians and perhaps even your own colleagues are tired of the Kevin Foley soap opera?

Now I know these blokes well enough, and have crossed swords with them on an issue or two. Do they fit neatly into the ABC’s all-too-prevalent “progressive” world view? Not really. But that’s not the point. They are skilled broadcasters and diligent journalists. They are generally well briefed and intelligent, and pursue their quarry with some alacrity when required.

This ruling against them is another example of the over-regulation of the Australian media. Matt and Dave, as they are known, would have interviewed Mr Foley dozens of times over a range of issues. Many exchanges would have been robust, and the one in question was particularly so, because it traversed into personal matters. Mr Foley’s social life and some unfortunate incidents had become significant stories. So the issue of him allegedly being assaulted in a wine bar was legitimate news. Because he had been the treasurer and deputy premier, and was still a senior minister, this was a matter of public interest. The ABC broadcasters were right to pursue the issue. Their questioning was very aggressive. I happened to listen to the interview online from Sydney, wincing and feeling some sympathy for Mr Foley – someone I consider a mate.

We could have a lively debate about the merits of the interview, how it was conducted, Mr Foley’s responses, and whether he should even have agreed to do it. But that is not the point. The point is why a federal government body should, subject to two complaints, rule on the alleged lack of impartiality of the interviewers. That it should find that Matt and Dave both “prejudged” the issue before the interview is quite extraordinary given ACMA never spoke to them about it. That ACMA could get inside the head of one radio interviewer is amazing. But two at once, is simply astonishing. And it found they both had made the same pre-judgement. Matt and Dave are close friends but ACMA has turned them into Siamese twins.

Mr Foley thought the interview was potentially defamatory and he has always had the option of pursuing legal action. Matt and Dave are answerable to their employers at the ABC, who were satisfied that they had done the right thing. More importantly, they are answerable to their audience, who no doubt told them what they thought, and won’t keep listening if they think the hosts are unreasonable.

In a year when Andrew Bolt was taken to court under racial vilification laws for causing offence, Stephen Conroy launched a media inquiry because he thinks the “hate media” are out to get the government, Alan Jones was admonished for not broadcasting all sides of an environmental issue, and the convergence review is suggesting all media might need to be subjected to ACMA-style content regulation, it is time to be afraid, very afraid.

Think about how much information you can get through your phone now. Think about how many television stations you have access to at home. Think about the hansard, transcripts, video links and news sites you can access over the internet. Our choice in media has never been wider. Whatever facts we want, we can get them instantly. Whatever opinions we wish to sample, we just press a few buttons. Yet the nanny state legislators are everywhere, trying to turn every journalist, broadcaster and commentator into some sort of blancmange of information.

No, they will never have us all out on the street cheering or weeping for the Dear Leader. But these regulators, and their political and academic supporters, would love to turn us all into a series of Max Headrooms, spouting a pre-ordained mix of politically correct and legislatively sound information. Matt and Dave, and Kevin and the audience, are all mature enough to work this one out for themselves.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Pedophile in top Queensland Health job as more failed checks on public servants revealed

THE prince, the pedophile and the pirate - three reasons Queensland Health's bureaucracy is considered a farce by so many voters. The Courier-Mail has uncovered more inadequate background checks on senior Health employees.

The "prince" is Joel Morehu-Barlow - a finance officer charged over the alleged embezzlement of $11 million from the department. No criminal checks were done on the man who falsely claimed to be a Tahitian prince.

The convicted pedophile is Rick Alan Austin, Health's Consumer, Carer and Family team manager. He served time in jail for indecently dealing with a child under 16.

The pirate, senior IT manager Brent Roger McArdle, was hit with Australia's highest damages order for software piracy in 2001.

Queensland Health says it has no problem with the convicted pedophile heading up a unit that helps Queensland's most vulnerable children.

Rick Alan Austin was convicted in the Brisbane District Court in 1994 and sentenced to 18 months jail, of which he served six, for indecently dealing with a child under 16.

He is now the Consumer, Carer and Family team manager in QH's mental health section, whose staff give information and assistance to the mentally ill and their families.

A whistleblower, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she warned the Government of his criminal history about a year ago, but was advised disclosure of the conviction wasn't required and measures would be made to ensure he didn't have access to children.

However, a job ad for an administration officer for the team, listed last year, in which Mr Austin was the contact, had Queensland Health specifying that roles providing for "health, counselling and support services mainly to children" required a blue card.

"Pre-employment screening, including criminal history and discipline history checks, may be undertaken," the job application said. "The recommended applicant will be required to disclose any serious disciplinary action taken against them in the public sector employment."

Health Minister Geoff Wilson was unavailable for comment. QH director-general Tony O'Connell also would not comment on whether Mr Austin had a blue card.

Mr O'Connell said Mr Austin had been employed by QH since 2000. "This person's role is not clinical and he has no direct contact with children whatsoever as a consequence of his role ... this person is closely supervised, and the person has worked in the public sector for 11 years without incident," he said in a statement.

"It is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of their prior criminal history unless the crime is relevant to their duties. The CMC (Crime and Misconduct Commission) was also briefed on his situation in 2003, and raised no concerns with his ongoing employment."

A Google search on Mr Austin found his photo and conviction on a public website listing Australian pedophiles. He presented at an international mental health conference in Ireland last year, which was partly sponsored by the nation's Health and Children Department. He has received accolades from QH for helping develop policy and describes himself as a "mental health carer for a family member".

Commissioner for Children and Young People Elizabeth Fraser said a child-sex conviction would automatically disqualify a blue card applicant.


Wivenhoe Dam operators under fire again

WIVENHOE dam managers accused of flooding parts of the southeast [Qld.] last summer are again in the hot seat after a report found better operation was needed to prevent downstream damage.

Commissioned by the State Government, the report found major structural changes such as raising the dam wall or creating more dams downstream would cost millions but do little to stop major flooding.

Raising the dam wall by two metres would take four years and give 30 per cent more flood mitigation space - or an extra 437,000 megalitres - but would cost more than $830 million.

A higher wall would have had "minimal" impact during last summer's floods, the report by engineering consultants GHD stated.

Instead, the report found "largest reductions" in flood damage would come from improved dam operational rules.

The finding will come as a blow to many victims who believed their homes and businesses could have been saved if managers had released water before January's devastating deluge.

Natural Resources Minister Rachel Nolan yesterday said there was "no simple solution" because Brisbane and Ipswich were built in flood-prone areas.

But two out of three flood events modelled in the report showed that "alternative operation" of both Wivenhoe and Somerset dams, including early release strategies, could have reduced peak levels at Brisbane's Port Office gauge.

The GHD report called for more detailed modelling, noting other studies that warned releasing water early could worsen the impacts of smaller but more frequent floods.

Ms Nolan said Seqwater had initiated a long-term study into the optimum operation of Wivenhoe and Somerset Dams, as recommended by the flood inquiry.

The $250,000 GHD report, also ordered by the flood inquiry to examine how Wivenhoe Dam could better protect Brisbane, floated the option of creating extra storage along the Bremer and Lockyer Rivers.

It found more dams could have lowered flood levels by up to a third at Moggill last summer

LNP leader Campbell Newman in August said his party would look at raising the dam wall if elected and deputy leader Tim Nicholls yesterday said that option was still on the table.


20 December, 2011

A splendid example of projection from a Warmist who wouldn't have a clue about science

Paul Biegler below says it is their childish emotional state that motivates climate atheists. He is Australian Research Council postdoctoral fellow in bioethics at Monash University. He may know a lot about ethics but he shows no sign of knowing any climate science. He reveals his inspissated ignorance by his coat-trailing reference to "A truckload of science" in support of global warming -- but he names not one scientific fact from that "truckload". Why? Because no such facts exist. Warmism is prophecy that flies in the face of the scientific facts (See the header on this blog). It is believers in prophecy who are in a childish emotional state

Projection -- accusing others of your own faults -- is good rhetoric but is fundamentally dishonest

He does make extended reference to a concept from social science -- delay of gratification -- but as my paper on that subject showed, most of the generalizations put forward in that research field are false. So he is leaning on a broken reed there too. Deferment of gratification is only weakly generalizable so even if a skeptic were a "non-deferrer" in one way, it would be unlikely to explain his skepticism. So Biegler is ignorant of the facts there too. Perhaps he should do some real research some day, instead of just pontificating

Instant gratification is a powerful, but flawed, human motivator.

IF YOU are down a blind alley searching for that perfect Christmas gift for your climate sceptic friend, you could do worse than slinging them a book on Emotional Intelligence. Why? Research is mounting that your friend is the victim of one of the brain's many computing glitches. More particularly, he has been derailed by an emotional response that is at best unhelpful and at worst catastrophic. He has capitulated to the pleasure of the here and now.

In his recent book Brain Bugs, psychology professor Dean Buonomano summarises a wealth of evidence that when it comes to putting off rewards, many of us suck. In the most famous study, back in the 1960s, Walter Mischel sat unsuspecting toddlers at tables laid with a single marshmallow. They could eat it now or receive an extra one if they waited a short time. Some rug rats unceremoniously demolished the treat without delay, while others exercised supreme self-control and resisted temptation until the appointed moment. Follow-up of the youngsters two decades later found those who showed restraint had better college admission scores. Other studies have linked weakness of will with obesity and addiction.

From a food-gathering perspective, it is simply irrational to forgo a double treat for the sake of a few minutes' wait. But, of course, we expect most four-year-olds to act irrationally and, in so doing, they mirror adult behaviour from our own evolutionary past. In our primordial history, when futures were predator-ridden and uncertain, it made sense to grab the food now rather than wait for a bigger, but later, chow-down. This is an example of temporal discounting, where greater rewards in the future are tagged with lesser value in virtue of their temporal distance.

Adults remain prone to temporal discounting. Given the choice of $100 now or $120 in a month, most take the money and run, sacrificing what amounts to an annual return on their one-month investment of 240 per cent. How could we be so dumb? It turns out that the allure of the immediate reward is strongly reinforced by emotions at the more pleasant end of the spectrum. Put simply, it often feels better to be rewarded straight away than to wait.

Climate scepticism is a strong candidate example of temporal discounting. A truckload of science supports global warming and its attendant perils. Yet, addressing this temporally far-flung threat, while generating distant benefit for our planet's inheritors, will cost us real pleasure now. Self-imposed measures to reduce our carbon footprint do not bring universal glee, and the carbon tax will hit both our wallets and our wellbeing.

But one of the reasons for the astounding reproductive success of humans is our capacity to bring our cortical computing power, and its rationality, to bear on our insistent emotions, Plato's unruly horse.

Many emotions still help and validly guide action, such as the fright one feels when a car whizzes dangerously close as we cross the road. But others need reining in when faced with compelling evidence on future prospects. The ability to apply rational foresight to limit the sway of short-term emotional reward is a true intelligence.

The task is difficult, not least because many of our emotional decisions are backed by post hoc - but aberrant - rationalisation. Nowhere is this writ larger than in the domain of marketing and consumer behaviour. For example, a large body of evidence shows that the emotional reward of status enhancement fuels prestige-car purchases. Yet most of us either wilfully deny this, or simply lack introspective access to our true motivations. Instead we convince ourselves that it was the eight air bags or the stability control that clinched it.

In the climate realm, fabrication is also rife. Enthralled by their emotional biases, sceptics mouth desperate appeals to the corruptibility of scientists, or to the fallibility of climate prediction models.

To err is human and we should forgive many their inability to constrain the draw of the emotions. But this failure is inexcusably egregious in our politicians who are steering the ship for the long voyage, not just around the next reef. To those who still succumb to immediate gratification at the expense of our long-term good, I say welcome any Christmas gifts on brain bugs and emotional intelligence with open arms. Our grandchildren's future could depend on it.


Lots of opposition to wind farms in NSW

The cabinet debated new wind farm guidelines yesterday, with division over whether NSW should follow Victoria and order wind turbines to be set further back from houses.

The Shooters and Fishers Party, which shares the balance of power in the upper house with the Christian Democrats, said yesterday it wanted a moratorium on new wind farms.

Industry sources said a US Tea Party-style "astroturf" campaign, which mimics grassroots local opposition but is at least partly directed from elsewhere, was being waged against wind energy in NSW, which was expected to bring up to $10 billion in investment this decade as it accelerated to meet the national 20 per cent renewable energy target.

Wind farm opponents include a coalition of local groups under the banner "landscape guardians", and the Australian Environment Foundation, which sprang up seven years ago from a conference run by the right-wing think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs, but is now a separate group. "Our role is, if you like, aiding and abetting what local communities are doing and helping them voice their disapproval over wind farms," said the foundation's executive director, Max Rheese.

While local groups say they believe the inaudible noise and vibration from wind farms affect human health, the foundation does not think humans have a role in causing climate change and therefore believes wind farms are an expensive extravagance.

It hosted the British climate sceptic Lord Monckton last year and says it "questions the whole science behind anthropogenic global warming".

Mr Rheese said the foundation had paid for anti-wind signs at public meetings and lobbied the Shooters and Fishers Party, and the National and Liberal parties in NSW.

The Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Borsak said yesterday the party would wait for the cabinet decision but would use its critical position in the upper house to oppose any pro-wind farm legislation that came to Parliament.

The party had discussed wind farms with the foundation but had come up with its own policy calling for a moratorium and public inquiry into wind turbines, Mr Borsak said. "We do probably see eye to eye with them on this and many issues, but this is a party position that we have finalised internally."

The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, said in August it was his opinion that no new wind farms should be built in NSW, but it is understood there are divisions in cabinet about the issue.

The Nationals MP and Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, said yesterday his anti-wind farm views were well known and he hoped yesterday's cabinet meeting "addresses the sins of the past". "I live at Crookwell; we've certainly come under the brunt of poor planning and lack of community consultation of wind farms in the past … It puts friends against friends, neighbours against neighbours."

The Waubra Foundation is a national group arguing wind farms can cause illness because of the vibrations from turbines. It lodged a submission based on perceived health concerns with the government yesterday.

The chairman, Peter Mitchell, said his opposition to wind farms was based on health concerns and nothing to do with his background as a former director of oil and gas companies. "The critics here are really playing shoot the messenger, which I find ridiculous," he said.

The British equivalent of landscape guardians, "country guardians", was funded and supported by elements of the British nuclear energy industry.

Labor's environment spokesman, Luke Foley, said "flat earthers" were running a scare campaign against wind power.


Some electricity generators already on the brink -- with the carbon tax a last straw

LOY YANG POWER, a major supplier to the east coast electricity market, has been forced to ask the corporate regulator for special permission to continue trading in the face of financial strain due to debt refinancing and the carbon tax.

Details of the financial difficulty come less than a week after a federal government report predicted that, should the Loy Yang A plant be forced to close suddenly, wholesale electricity prices would nearly double, with an immediate flow on to household power costs.

The findings, contained in the federal government's draft white paper on energy, said wholesale power prices would surge by nearly 80 per cent in Victoria and by more than 45 per cent in NSW.

Loy Yang Power's chief executive, Ian Nethercote, told the Herald the company had received a "no action" letter from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission - allowing it to continue to trade after debt totalling $565 million due in November became a current liability on its books.

Mr Nethercote said Loy Yang Power was already in talks with federal ministers, the Treasury and the government's new Energy Security Council about its share of $5.5 billion worth of free carbon permits set aside to help electricity generators through the introduction of the carbon tax.

The company, whose Loy Yang A plant in Victoria's Latrobe Valley supplies one-third of Victoria's power needs, was also talking to ministers and the council about the possibility of the government becoming its lender of last resort in its bid to refinance the debt.

Mr Nethercote said this was not "our preferred option" because "we imagine the conditions will be more onerous".

Other energy industry sources said Loy Yang was emerging as the first big test of the government's policies aimed at ensuring the electricity market coped with the introduction of the $23-a-tonne carbon price in July without major disruption.

Mr Nethercote said it was "more than likely" Loy Yang would have had to get a no action letter from ASIC even without a carbon price, which will cost it about $450 million a year.

He said some of Loy Yang's customers had asked for more information about the company's financial situation and were reviewing the conditions they placed on their dealings with the generator. Other sources said several companies had stopped trading with Loy Yang.

Only the chairman of the Energy Security Council - a Tasmanian, Michael Vertigan - has been publicly announced, but the Herald has learnt the other eight members of the crucial advisory body have been appointed and the council has begun negotiations with several generators, investment banks and financial institutions.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, owns 32.5 per cent of Loy Yang, but the company has denied its Japanese shareholder is looking to divest in order to concentrate on the clean-up operations required at home. Another 32.5 per cent is owned by AGL.

Loy Yang lobbied fiercely but unsuccessfully for an amendment to the carbon tax laws that would have allowed deferred payment when generators bought forward-dated pollution permits under the scheme, a provision included under the Rudd government's emissions trading scheme that would have reduced the sudden increase in their working capital requirements.

Loy Yang is ineligible for the government's scheme to pay for the closure of brown coal plants. Plants that could access it are Hazelwood, Yallourn and Morwell in the Latrobe Valley, Playford in South Australia and Collinsville in Queensland.


New patriotic computer game for schools

GRADE 3 students will be asked to play a patriotic computer game as part of a program to help them embrace what it means to be Australian.

The Aussie Clue Cracker game has been approved by the Australia Day Council and will be included in the history curriculum across the nation next year to help students better relate to Australian symbols.

As well as all of Australia's national symbols and days, students will solve questions to identify symbols such as the MCG, the Melbourne Cup, the Sydney Opera House, a didgeridoo and a Digger.

The education program designed by the Australia Day Council includes activities allowing students to design their own individual flags to show what best represents them.

National Australia Day Council chief executive officer Warren Pearson said the program was designed to reinforce the power of the symbols that all Australians could relate to.

"This is the bread and butter of being Australian," Mr Pearson said. "These are the things that resonate in our hearts and minds as Australians. "There is nothing in this list of symbols that excludes anybody, these are things we can celebrate - different aspects of our identity."

The program will be available for all schools and teachers to use in their lessons, but will not be made mandatory.

Similar to a web-based version of the popular board game Guess Who, grade 3 students will work through questions to identify the 24 national symbols, either as individuals or small groups on school computers, or as classes working on electronic whiteboards.

Mr Pearson said the Aussie Clue Cracker would be released next month, before Australia Day. It would be available for schools to use as part of their history lessons throughout the year and was relevant to all national days and events, he said.

The interactive lessons will incorporate sound bites, images and music to reinforce Aussie symbolism.


19 December, 2011

Lucky me!

I have received a Christmas card from Kevin Rudd (below). Not that you would know that it was a Christmas card as Kevvy mentions the C-word nowhere on it. It is a child's drawing of Christmas in Brisbane, I gather. At least the child put Christmas into the drawing. It at first reminded me of "The Scream" by Edvard Munch and I would not be surprised if Kevvy is feeling that way

Local growers get Pacific guest workers

And who is going to make sure that they go home at the end of their work? Polynesians are a high-crime group

FRUIT and vegetable growers will be able to employ seasonal workers from the Pacific region and East Timor from the middle of 2012. But they will have to show they can't find local workers at harvest time before accessing a $21.7 million program.

The program, announced by the Federal Government today follows a successful pilot scheme. The Government will also conduct a small-scale, three-year trial with the tourism industry. Cotton and cane growers as well as fishing operators will be included.

The Government says growers in the horticultural sector will be able to access a reliable, returning seasonal workforce from July 1.

The program would contribute to economic development in participating countries, such as East Timor, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson described the trial as a "win-win" outcome for Australian tourism operators and regional workers who would be able to improve their skills through education and training.

There are about 36,000 vacancies in the tourism industry, as the sector faces severe labour shortages brought about by a booming resources sector competing for workers.

Seasonal workers taking part in the permanent program will be employed in accordance with Australian work standards. Employers will contribute to travel costs.


Households could be forced to find an extra $1400 for non-electric hot water under Labor green scheme expansion

I have had experience with both types of gas hot water systems and they are all prone to blowing out when it is windy -- which is hugely pesky

HOUSEHOLDS could be forced to find an extra $1400 for hot water under a massive expansion of another federal Labor green scheme.

The state government has warned that some families could struggle to comply with the little-known scheme, which bans electric systems in favour of expensive solar units and other systems.

NSW families will most likely have to pay $1.7 billion over the 10-year life of the scheme.

Under the second phase of the plan, about 70 per cent of NSW households will have to find up to $1400 for new solar, heat pump or gas systems if their energy-intensive electric hot water units break down and can't be repaired.

A spokeswoman for the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency said the scheme would help the "hot water industry to move to a low emission future" within 10 years.

Phase one of the scheme started last year, when electric water heaters were banned from being installed in new detached, terrace or town houses.

Phase two, which extends the ban to existing homes, was slated for next year but is likely to be delayed because the majority of households that rely on electric hot water systems do not have access to reticulated natural gas and only 7 per cent have solar.

The scheme was greeted with caution yesterday. "Before making a decision on implementation in NSW we need to be satisfied that the industry has a clearly demonstrated capacity to supply and install alternative technologies and that there are means available to assist lower income householders to manage the higher upfront costs of a solar or heat pump systems, where gas is unavailable," a NSW Office of Environment and Heritage spokeswoman said.

Industry bosses said plumbers need more training before the program is fully rolled out. "You can't just remove hot water systems without there being greater access and availability of gas as a cheaper alternative to going solar," Master Plumbers Association chief executive officer Paul Naylor said.

The Clean Energy Council said substantial rebates would need to be provided, backed by a strong educational campaign, to ensure households did not simply install the cheapest system with no environmental benefits.


A world of offers for Australia's brightest students

I tried to persuade my son to go to Oxford for his doctoral studies because of its recognition factor but he eventually decided that an Australian university was the best one in his field

THE answer to the ritual question among school leavers - "where are you going?" - is throwing up some startling answers, as well as a challenge to Australia's leading universities. What began as a trickle is now a small stream of outstanding academic talents using their HSC as a passport to travel.

Rowena Lazar, 18, first in the state in Italian beginners, couldn't pick up her award from the Education Minister last week; she was in Oxford, interviewing for a place for next year. Timothy Large, 17, first in extension two maths, had flown in on the morning of the ceremony from his interview at Cambridge. Harry Stratton, 18, first in classical Greek and Latin, has his heart set on Harvard or Yale.

Large and Stratton, from Sydney Grammar, both secured the highest possible ATAR ranking of 99.95 but neither will complete their undergraduate degree in Australia. And they will be followed by many of their peers. Schools such as Grammar and Queenwood run information nights at which US colleges make their pitches. This year as many as 30 Grammar school-leavers have applied to overseas universities, a figure which has alarmed Australian rivals.

Record numbers of Australians are now studying their first degree in the US, with about 1500 undergraduates at American colleges and universities in the 2010-11 academic year, an increase of 14.6 per cent.

Many leading schools report a growing trend among their best and brightest to aim immediately to begin their tertiary study overseas. "It's definitely increasing and it's confirmation that we measure ourselves on global standards, not on regional or even national ones," said Tom Alegounarias, the president of the NSW Board of Studies.

James Harpur, the principal of Queenwood, said numbers were rising. "This year we've got five UK applications and two to the US," he said. "It's often fuelled by ambition and a desire to broaden their horizons. That's the confidence they have which students didn't have several generations ago. It wasn't on our horizon."

The trend has disturbed domestic universities, which attempt to attract the sharpest minds with lucrative scholarships. But Mr Harpur said departures were motivated by ambition rather than a belief there was "anything inherently wrong with Sydney universities".

Sydney University and the University of NSW target top performers with scholarships, some exclusively for those with the highest ATAR in the state.

The University of Sydney Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), Derrick Armstrong, said: "We would argue that we were one of the leading universities in the world. The education here is very high quality in a research intensive environment." However, he said it was understandable students would seek the opportunity to study overseas.

Peter Taylor, the executive director of the Australian Mathematics Trust, said an increasing number of Maths Olympiad students were heading overseas, particularly to Cambridge University, but they were not necessarily getting a better education.

"It's a perception they've got, but I can't see why, because for instance Sydney University runs an outstanding course for high flyers. They're absolutely in as good quality company as anywhere else."

Professor Taylor said some were attracted to a degree from Cambridge's Trinity College as a status symbol. "If someone's determined to go to Trinity, it's pretty hard to stop them."

Tyson Churcher, 17, from Northern Beaches Christian School, wants to study maths at Cambridge. He's just back from an exam and interview. "The opportunity to study at Cambridge would be enormous. You can't really call any university the best but it's certainly up there," he said.

Tyson, shortlisted for a scholarship at UNSW, has applied for a scholarship at Cambridge. He's unsure what to do if he is accepted. "I would have to think about it because the cost is certainly daunting but the opportunity is great," he said.


A Trojan Horse to empower the unions

It may be the season of political peace, if not goodwill, but the NSW and Victorian governments will be lax and naive if they allow the conviviality of the next two weeks to let a Trojan Horse enter their gates on January 1.

This Trojan Horse is a sly and toxic law that will begin germinating the seeds of industrial bastardry from the first day of 2012.

Just as the federal government's Fair Work Act opened up a host of grounds for industrial dispute - and we are seeing the result - the new national health and safety legislation coming into law on January 1 will allow unions greater power to shut down worksites without even having to go on strike.
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Greg Pearce, the NSW Minister for Finance and Services, who has responsibility for industrial relations, needs to stop this potential for manipulation. So does his Victorian counterpart, Richard Dalla-Riva, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations.

They need to lock out the Trojan Horse, more drily known as the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety (WHS) Bill 2011 and its "harmonised" WHS regulations. It is the first stage in creating a uniform national workplace health and safety code.

Only union-based governments could love this entire law, which is why the federal, Queensland, South Australian and Tasmanian governments, plus the ACT, will implement the bill in its entirety on January 1.

NSW and Victoria have opted for a twilight zone, adopting the bill but delaying its implementation for a year until January 1, 2013.

They should follow the lead of Western Australia, which has rejected elements of the bill outright. For good reason. Under this legislation, unions will have a new set of powers to exercise control of industrial worksites. It gives them an avenue to bypass the risks of industrial action and costly lockouts. They will have greater leverage to use workplace safety to take employees off a site while leaving them on full pay.

The WHS bill gives union officials the right to enter workplaces without notice. They need only to inform employers of their presence "as soon as practicable". They will have the right to "direct" employees to cease work on safety grounds. Workers will be entitled to full wages during such stoppages.

Further, the bill places the onus of proof on employers to prove there is no safety issue justifying a work stoppage. For an employer to get staff back to work, it would have go to the Industrial Relations Commission to prove the case that the worksite is safe.

The bill also sets more punitive penalties for safety breaches.

These problems are pointed to by the WA Department of Commerce on its website: "WA has highlighted four areas that it did not agree with [in the WHS bill] and consequently would not be adopting as law in this state: penalty levels; union right of entry; capacity to direct the cessation of work; reverse onus of proof in discrimination matters."

This legislation will compound problems already exposed by the Gillard government's Fair Work Act, which has seen an outbreak of strikes, lockouts and formal disputation via Fair Work Australia.

The industrial relations climate is contributing to the stagnation in productivity now hindering the economy and the government's ability to extract itself from its panic spending in 2008 and 2009 when, having inherited a budget surplus, it created Australia's biggest budget deficit since World War II.

Julia Gillard's dependence on union power and union officials is personified by her continued support for the slow-motion political disaster known as Craig Thomson, who can now add questions over plagiarism and junketeering to the laundry list of questions he was already facing.

The government's legitimacy and survival thus rests on the shoulders of a former union official, Thomson, who appears unable to survive another election, and the two MPs whose electorates recorded the lowest Labor/Greens votes in the entire 2010 election: Robert Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.

We also have a Treasurer, Wayne Swan, whose political career appeared cooked during the Godwin Grech affair in 2009 until a miscalculation by the then leader of the opposition, Malcolm Turnbull.

On the subject of Turnbull, I received an email from him at 5.59am last Thursday in response to my column setting out the stark new political divide in Canberra over gay marriage.

Turnbull: "Paul … your statement that I am a vocal supporter of gay marriage is false … In fact while

I have said I am re-examining the issue with an open mind I have quite expressly said that I have not changed my position stated many times that marriage is a permanent union between a man and a woman …"

I replied: "The offending sentence has been removed from the online edition of the SMH. The sentence now reads: 'The former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, whose electorate has a large gay population, is advocating a conscience vote for the Liberals.'

"I wrote what I wrote because you have been having a bet each way on gay marriage, deviating from [shadow] cabinet solidarity and undermining the Opposition Leader's unambiguous position. But … I will correct that in my column on Monday."

To which Turnbull replied: "I am not having a bet each way on gay marriage - I am doing exactly what I undertook to my electorate I would do and re-examine the issue … the assertion in your amended copy that 'Malcolm Turnbull … is advocating a conscience vote for the Liberals' is also not correct … As a shadow cabinet member I would vote in accordance with the shadow cabinet's decision - so the wording would be 'has advocated a conscience vote.' "


18 December, 2011

Hundreds missing in asylum boat sinking off Indonesia

More deaths that can be laid at the feet of the "compassionate" ALP -- for encouraging these boats to come

AN overloaded wooden vessel carrying about 250 migrants and suspected to be heading to Australia has sunk off Indonesia's main island of Java. So far only 33 people have been rescued, search and rescue officials said, with efforts to reach survivors hampered by bad weather and heavy seas.

"A boat carrying around 250 people has sunk south of Prigi beach in eastern Java and we have started a search and rescue effort," the national search and rescue team said in an sms message.

State-run news agency Antara quoted search team member Brian Gauthier as saying: "The boat sank Saturday evening. "It is somewhat difficult to go on with the search because extreme weather has caused reduced visibility," he said.

Thirty-three people have been rescued and are receiving assistance in the town of Prigi, about 30km from where the boat sank, Mr Gauthier said, adding that the rescue team believed some passengers were still alive and were likely suffering "severe dehydration". "They must be evacuated as soon as possible," he said. "They can't stay for long in the middle of the sea."

The boat is believed to be a traditional fishing vessel with a capacity of around 100. A survivor from Afghanistan, 24-year-old Esmat Adine, gave rescuers an estimate for how many passengers were on the boat. "He did not know exactly how many passengers there were, but he said that four buses with around 60 or more adult passengers each had turned up to the port where they set off," a translator for Adine said.

Adine said the boat had been heading towards Australia's Christmas island.

Because people were so tightly packed, they had nowhere to go, he said. "That made the boat even more unstable and eventually it sank," he said.

Adine said that he and others survived by clinging to parts of the broken vessel until they were picked up by local fishermen. He estimated that more than 40 children were on the ship. It was not immediately clear if any were rescued.

Watulimo sub-district police chief Muhammed Khoiril told today: "After interviewing the passengers, we've learnt that they originate from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. There also are some from Dubai."

Thousands of asylum seekers head through Southeast Asian countries on their way to Australia every year and many link up with people smugglers in Indonesia for the dangerous sea voyage.

Canberra has failed in its efforts to set up a regional processing centre in neighbouring countries in an attempt to reduce the flow of asylum seekers heading to Australia.

Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago nation of 240 million people, has more than 18,000 islands and thousands of kilometres of unpatrolled coastline, making it a key transit point for smuggling migrants.

The private television station Metro TV reported that 33 people had been found alive and that perhaps 215 others were still missing.

Last month a ship carrying about 70 asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan capsized off the southern coast of Central Java; at least eight people died.


Nurse who blew whistle on dangerous Indian doctor seeks $400,000

WHISTLEBLOWER nurse Toni Hoffman says the stress of exposing Jayant Patel's malpractice, which led to three manslaughter convictions, had taken a toll on her. Ms Hoffman, who exposed the killer surgeon, is seeking $400,000 compensation from Queensland Health for injuries and loss of income. She said she was also denied special leave to attend Patel's trial.

"Basically, I want Queensland Health to compensate me for the last seven years," she said. "I want to be financially compensated. I was on WorkCover for quite a long period of time, and your salary drops and I've lost a lot of money."
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Ms Hoffman said she took all her annual leave to attend Patel's trial in June last year - five years after she exposed the deaths of patients he treated at Bundaberg Hospital, where she still works in the intensive care unit. She wants her leave reinstated so she can take a well-earned rest.

"It was really difficult at the beginning, because Patel still had a lot of support in the hospital, and what I did was against the code of conduct," Ms Hoffman said. "It's just been such a long, hard road … they were my patients that died."

Her lawyers said she had suffered psychologically and financially due to her role in exposing Patel. The compensation claim was lodged in the District Court last week after talks to settle her claim broke down.

"It is an outrage that Queensland Health did not give her the support she needed to get on with her life and now refuses to acknowledge her latest claim," Peter Koutsoukis, a senior partner of law firm Maurice Blackburn, said. "Her claim for $400,000 includes past and future loss of income, medical expenses and loss of superannuation income."

Premier Anna Bligh said she had personally passed on her thanks to Ms Hoffman for the service she had done to Queensland by blowing the whistle. She stressed it was the workers' compensation board, not Queensland Health, that had assessed her claim last year.

"I know that Ms Hoffman has been through a very difficult time, and I have nothing but admiration for her," Ms Bligh said. "I know that she has been offered support and counselling if she has any further needs that Queensland Health can help her with. I know that her local director of nursing is only too happy to help."

Ms Bligh said she would look further into the matter. No court documents had been served on Queensland Health as of Friday morning, she said. "I'd certainly be looking, if there are any court documents served, to see what the basis of any case might be," she said.

In June last year, Patel was sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of the manslaughter of three people and grievous bodily harm of one person.

Maurice Blackburn principal Ian Brown has represented 200 of Patel's former patients before commissions of inquiry and in successful compensation claims against the state.


Nanny state rules driving us mad

ANIMAL owners, charities and even the Scouts have become the target of wacky council bylaws and ratepayers have had enough.

Peacock owner Tiffany Ashman, 44, was outraged to find new laws proposed by the Yarra Ranges Council would force her to buy a permit for each of her four prized birds.

Ms Ashman, of Woori Yallock, hit out at the council for increasing the red tape for everyday citizens. "Frankly it is none of their business what birds I own," Ms Ashman said. "I live on rural land and I've never had a complaint from anyone. "How far are they going to take this, do I have to get a permit for everything I do?"

The 77-page document released by Yarra Ranges proposing new laws next year also cracks down on charities and community groups, like the Scouts, who will need permits to sell raffle tickets and hold cake stalls.

The latest move follows hundreds of controversial decisions made by Victorian councils in the past five years. Casey Council almost banned kites from parks last year, but the law was later scaled back to restrict battery-operated aeroplanes.

The Bass Coast shire shocked families last year when it almost passed a bylaw forcing parents to buy a $100 permit for children to camp in their own backyards.

Yarra Ranges planning, building and health director Andrew Paxton said the draft was a talking point and residents were invited to give feedback.


Government allows dangerous "excursions" for illegals from immigration detention centres

A Darwin MP has called on Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to suspend some asylum seeker excursions in Darwin. It is alleged a 28-year-old Iranian man inappropriately touched several young girls girls at the waterfront wave pool on Wednesday while he was on a supervised excursion.

The member for Solomon, Natasha Griggs, says the Immigration Department should stop allowing detainees to visit places like swimming pools, in the interests of public safety. "The safety of my community, in particular young children, is absolutely paramount and situations like this can not be allowed to occur," she said. "He (Mr Bowen) needs to stop these pool visits immediately in light of these allegations."

Federal Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says the excursions should be stopped. "The minister should be very much reviewing what the practices are where detainees are allowed to mix in the general community, particularly single males," he said.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has rejected the calls. "It is appropriate that people in detention from time to time participate in community activities," he said.

The Immigration Department says the excursions for asylum seekers being held at detention centres in Darwin are carefully supervised by security staff.

Spokesman Sandi Logan says the alleged wave pool incident should not make people worried if they see other asylum seekers on excursions. "This is very much an extraordinary circumstance," he said.

"It is not one that I would want the community to think in any way ... was indicative of the sorts of clients we have in detention."
The Iranian man was arrested by Northern Territory Police last night and is being questioned today.


Nothing like our Dame Edna Everage

DAME Edna Everage is the toast of London, after a 50-year career, receiving great reviews for her inaugural pantomime role on the West End.

She may be in her late 70s, but Melbourne's favourite gigastar has wowed the audiences in Dick Whittington, flying through the air on a wombat, dressed in a glorious Union Jack dress.

The audience all wore Dame Edna-style glasses in one scene as she reminded them: "I was born in glorious 3D, possums."

The Daily Mail review reported it was: "A delight to see her arrive on stage" and "Dame Edna fans basically got what they wanted - Dame Edna playing her glorious self. "One woman foolishly dashed on to the stage when invited and was ridiculed for 10 minutes about her dress sense.

"Dame Edna, struggling to describe the woman's attire, eventually came up with 'affordable', to much mirth from the audience."


17 December, 2011

When the courts are as guilty as the criminal

The courts have enabled this woman to keep attacking the elderly. They are her accomplices

ONE of Queensland's most notorious thieves has again escaped a penalty for a vile crime. Kim Scully received another tongue-lashing from a magistrate this week but in the end received a conviction and no further penalty for using her baby son's pram to steal the purse of a 63-year-old woman.

Scully has walked free of custodial sentence so often that one magistrate admitted he stopped counting. She is in jail today not because of the crime involving the baby's pram. Instead she is in custody for violating the parole she received after being convicted in June of other thefts.

Police have constantly vented frustration. Those feelings were best summed up by one senior police officer, who, after learning Scully was back before the courts, said: "She (Scully) could get away with murder."

Scully's 18-year criminal career has followed a pattern - most of her victims are older, frail and easily scared. Since her life of crime kicked off in 1993, Scully, who has had drug issues, has preyed upon up to 50 people aged in their early-60s to mid-90s. Almost all of her victims were out shopping when she went after them.

When the 41-year-old mother-of-four stood in a Brisbane court yesterday, it was as a person who has spent more time there than almost any other petty criminal. On some occasions Scully has stolen within hours of walking away from court.

Magistrate John Costello on Thursday said Scully had been given, and failed, more chances at probation than anyone he had ever seen. "I ... almost gave up counting (the number of) probation orders (and actually) gave up counting at 2010," he said. "It's a worry. (Scully) has a routine for picking her victims and they are elderly females."

Mr Costello said Scully's claims, during almost every court appearance, that she had learnt her lesson and was keen to rehabilitate were contradicted by her "five pages" of criminal history.

In March 2005, Sandgate magistrate Pam Dowse told Scully her behaviour made her "sick to the stomach". Ms Dowse made the comments while giving Scully two years' probation for stealing purses from three elderly women.

In June, District Court Judge Deborah Richards told Scully: "I'm not convinced you're really committed to your rehabilitation. "You've have had plenty of chances at probation ... and if you offend while you're on parole they (prison authorities) will ... (send you) straight to jail."

Judge Richards' comments came while sentencing Scully to two years' jail for stealing from four victims aged 75 to 84 in June and July last year, but she was immediately released on parole.

Scully's lack of respect for the courts and chances she has been given have been demonstrated by her pattern of reoffending within hours of leaving court - sometimes while still dressed in the same outfit in which she appeared before the judge or magistrate.

Last year The Courier-Mail revealed a heavily pregnant Scully had travelled to a Redcliffe supermarket and stolen from a 79-year-old woman less than three hours after Judge Michael Noud gave her yet another "one last chance". Judge Noud had told her: "I think you should be given another opportunity on probation to rehabilitate yourself."

On June 3 this year, Judge Richards showed her similar mercy by jailing her, but ordering her immediate release on parole. Less than a week later Scully allegedly struck again and was subsequently charged with a "dozen" offences and ordered to stand trial on eight separate occasions.

However, Legal Aid solicitor Kathryn Volk, for Scully, this week said police had dropped charges against Scully on all but one of those matters.


Queenslanders die waiting for public hospital treatment

TWELVE Queenslanders died while on hospital waiting lists or because their treatment had been delayed, an independent report has found.

The Health Quality and Complaints Commission analysed 337 complaints about access to healthcare received between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2011.

Its report, called "Why Are We Waiting!, found that one person died and seven people sustained permanent harm while on a waiting list.

Eleven patients died and 17 sustained permanent harm because of delays due to poor co-ordination of management within hospitals, such as incorrect referral, inappropriate triage or inadequate triage.

The report also found that 52 per cent of access complaints were about public hospitals, followed by general practice, 22 per cent, and private hospitals, six per cent.

Most complaints were made about health care providers in Brisbane, accounting for 43 per cent, followed by the Gold Coast on 12 per cent and the Sunshine Coast on seven per cent.

The commission's chief executive Cheryl Herbert says the report highlights opportunities for improvement, including better training for clinical handovers and triage practices.

"Failure to provide timely access to health services is one of the most significant barriers to quality healthcare, and can increase the risk of adverse outcomes for healthcare consumers, including significant deterioration of health, increased permanent harm or death," she said in a statement.

Premier Anna Bligh said Queensland hospitals were improving at a rate that was unprecedented in Australia. "We now have the lowest elective survey waiting times and emergency waiting times have improved at a faster rate than any other state," she said in a statement.


World class economy, first class prices

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich

Australia’s economy is the envy of the world. No country has weathered the financial storms of the past few years as well as Australia. In global economic terms, down under is very much on top.

Such statements have become standard ingredients in ministerial speeches about Australia’s recent economic performance. To a degree, they are true. And yet ordinary Australians may well ask themselves why they cannot see the benefits of this apparent ‘miracle economy.’

One reason may be that Australia has become quite an unaffordable place if you make an average income, which is what most people do. Australia may well have a world class economy but we also have first class prices. Buying a house, doing the weekly shopping, or owning a car is far more expensive here than in other developed nations. At least for part of these price differences, government has to take the blame.

It may not always be apparent, but government plays a big role in determining the prices of products and services. Taxes are the most obvious price drivers: think stamp duty or the Luxury Car Tax.

But often, government’s influence on the price level may be more subtle. Restrictions on imports, bureaucratic requirements, and restricted land supply do not yield government revenue. From the consumer’s perspective, however, they are like an invisible tax.

The supply of shopping space is a good example. For retail newcomers, especially big chain stores like ALDI and Costco, it is difficult to enter the Australian market. A few large operators dominate the sector, and entry is difficult thanks to planning regulations.

The result is a market structure that favours landowners and incumbent retailers. It may sound incredible but retail space is more costly on Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall than on the arguably more prestigious Champs-Élysées in Paris. These costs are immediately passed on to Australian consumers.

There are many hidden price drivers with which government has made life unaffordable for ordinary Australians. Like the ridiculous prices charged for Australian editions of international literature or the price spikes in the banana market after Cyclone Yasi.

No doubt the Australian economy has performed well in the past decades. But for Australian consumers to benefit from this development, government needs to step out of the way and stop needlessly inflating prices.


Disability pension needs tough love

Jessica Brown

New data released this week confirms the rate of growth in Disability Support Pension, which has long been the social policy thorn in the government’s side, has peaked. Despite a range of measures introduced in July and September this year to make the pension tougher, the number of people on DSP is still growing.

CIS has long argued that growth in the pension must be stemmed. The federal government deserves praise for its sensible and incremental approach to reform. But piecemeal reforms focusing only on new DSP applicants risk exacerbating other problems in the income support system.

Measures to tighten entrance requirements will not encourage any of the 800,000 people already on the pension to move back into the workforce. In fact, they will increase the pension’s ‘lock-in’ effect.

New, tougher rules mean the disability benefits system is increasingly two-tiered. People already on the DSP enjoy ‘grandfathered’ status and pension level payments, while new applicants face far stricter rules and must survive on miserly subsistence-level benefits.

It is now more difficult for ‘borderline’ cases to transfer from unemployment benefits to the DSP. But work disincentives for existing pensioners are also higher.

The changing profile of disability pensioners makes this especially problematic. One-third of all recipients suffer from mental health problems, which are often episodic in nature. Yet the current system discourages them from testing their ability to work for fear of being subject to the new tougher rules.

Many people in their 20s and 30s will remain on the pension for life because the design of the system makes this the economically rational thing to do.

Changes to the DSP are a welcome and an important step. But taken in isolation, they will lead to knock-on unintended consequences.

Wholesale reform of the income support system is needed to remove the incentive to transfer between payments or stay for life on the DSP. The Henry tax review provides a good blueprint to achieve this.


16 December, 2011

Another triumph of multiculturalism

Three would-be terrorists jailed for plotting Sydney army base attack

THREE would-be terrorists who plotted an armed attack on a Sydney army base remained defiant after they were jailed for 13 years today.

Justice Betty King told Wissam Fattal, 35, of Melbourne, Saney Edow Aweys, 28, of Carlton, and Nayef El Sayed, 27, of Glenroy they planned a horrific and evil attack on the Australian community. Justice King said it was troubling that none of the three had renounced their extreme Islamic views and they would remain a threat to the community even after they are released.

"None of you, not one, has recanted from any extremist view you held," said the judge. "The protection of the community remains a very significant factor."

In her Supreme Court sentence, Justice King said the planned attack on the Holsworthy army base would have resulted in the deaths of a number of innocent people.

Fattal, who has caused trouble consistently in court, had to be removed before the sentence commenced after he started shouting about "Jews, Palestine and Afghanistan". He was dragged out by security officers. At the end of the sentence El Sayed shouted "God is with us" as a woman wept hysterically in the public benches.

Justice King set maximum terms of 18 years. Almost a year after they were convicted, Fattal, Aweys and El Sayed faced justice.

Family members, friends and supporters of the trio packed the public benches and balcony of Supreme Court number three. As the men were led into court they laughed, waved and gestured to the supporters, looking completely unconcerned.

Their trial heard that Operation Martyrdom was planned to create mayhem at Sydney's lightly guarded Holsworthy army base, with the men using high-powered weapons to gun down as many army personnel as possible.

The Supreme Court jury, which convicted the trio but found two other men not guilty, deliberated for more than 45 hours after a marathon trial that lasted 12 weeks.

The jury heard the home-grown terror plot was designed to bring a fatwa down on Australia and it had its genesis in the seething anger among a small group of Muslim men, some of them refugees, over their belief Islam was under attack from the West. In secretly recorded conversations, the plotters, all of whom attended inner city mosques, talked of their contempt for Australians and their plans to take out "five, six, eight or 10" soldiers. Fattal was recorded saying:"If I find a way to kill the army, I'm gonna do it."

The men were found guilty of conspiring with each other and people unknown between February 1 and August 4, 2009 to do acts in preparation for, or planning a terrorist act or acts.

They were believed to be connected with the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabaab, and it was alleged the group tried to obtain a fatwa, or religious decree, justifying the attack.

The jury viewed CCTV footage of Fattal taking a train to the Holsworthy base and walking along a perimeter fence and towards the blockhouse at the front gate. Fattal later told his co-conspirators: "The work is easy".


UQ vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield's relative hand-picked for medical school position despite not meeting requirements

NEW details have emerged in the enrolment scandal which will today cost University of Queensland vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield his million-dollar job.

A memo buried on the university's website has revealed how a "close relative" of Professor Greenfield was hand-picked for the prized medical course despite failing to qualify during the admissions process.

The relative, who is not named in the memo, was ushered in following a meeting last January 11 between the scholarships office, the Dean of Medicine and the then-acting vice-chancellor.

The meeting took place on the same day that southeast Queenslanders were warned of the massive floodwaters headed for the region, including UQ's St Lucia campus.

"The applicant had an OP1 ranking but did not have the requisite UMAT (Undergraduate Medicines and Health Sciences Admission Test) aggregate score or a score of at least 50 in each sub-category and was not the recipient of a scholarship," the memo says.

"The circumstances and consequences of this offer were the subject of an independent investigation and resulted in the Vice-Chancellor and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor resigning from their positions at the university."

On November 5, The Courier-Mail revealed the scandal which struck at the heart of an institution receiving more than $800 million of taxpayer funds each year.

Prof Greenfield was permitted to stay on until midway through next year. Last week, UQ chancellor John Story announced that the vice-chancellor would relinquish control of the university today because he "could no longer fully discharge his duties in a way that either he would like or which the university could expect".

The memo from office of planning director Ken Richardson centres around UMAT - an independently run exam to test students who want to enter medicine without first obtaining an undergraduate degree.

The memo shows that when scholarship staff noticed some UQ vice-chancellor's scholarship holders had missed out on entry into medicine because of lower UMAT scores it was decided between the Scholarships Office, the dean of medicine and Professor Michael Keniger, who was acting Vice-Chancellor at the time, to make them special offers of places.

Three students of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent also were offered places under the university's alternative entry scheme. At that stage, the "close relative" of the Vice-Chancellor also received an offer of a place in medicine, the memo says. The memo continues that no student was disadvantaged.

The details come as UQ faces an embarrassing new crisis with medical school bosses threatening to discipline student doctors who used an anonymous email to taunt the student at the centre of the nepotism scandal.

Dr Jennifer Schafer, head of the MBBS program, and Malcolm Parker, associate professor of medical ethics and law, wrote to all medical students warning them they faced "serious misconduct" charges for ridiculing a student in an email.

It also follows confirmation from the Crime and Misconduct Commission that it had not closed the books on the enrolment scandal. The CMC is waiting on the university to respond to a new series of questions and says the case is far from over. But it declined to reveal any new lines of inquiry.

A university spokeswoman confirmed the existence of the memo on the UQ website but refused to give any further explanation of the close relative's admission.

Asked if it was hypocritical of the university to discipline students for unacceptable behaviour when they complain about the university's admitted unacceptable procedures, she said any misconduct was dealt with according to rules posted on the UQ website.


Australian Schools steer clear of Christmas

CHRISTMAS greetings, nativity scenes and carols are under attack in a growing number of Australian schools, kinders, businesses and organisations.

As our cultural diversity increases, more people are trying to secularise the holidays or appeal to a broad range of faiths, rather than just Christians celebrating Christmas.

After 39 years of nativity plays and carol-singing, Albert Park Preschool no longer celebrates Christmas. It is having an End of Year Concert rather than a Christmas concert, and there will be no nativity play or Christmas carols.

The final newsletter to parents does not mention Christmas, instead wishing parents a "happy holiday season" and a "count down towards holidays and a variety of celebrations".

"We are a community kindergarten and our community is very mixed in terms of a variety of cultures and beliefs," teacher Melissa Popley said. "I believe - and I have had to convert others about this - that to focus on just one religion is not inclusive of our kinder community."

Ms Popley said children chose to sing non-carol Christmas songs at the concert, including Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The only Christmas decoration is one tree made of tinsel and decorated with children's hand prints, she said. Ms Popley said the new approach was a reflection of the new teaching framework that requires preschools to "show respect for diversity".

Kerrimuir Primary School in Box Hill is wishing its students "Happy Holidays" rather than Merry Christmas on its
website this year.

Other schools to opt for "Happy Holidays" include Sandringham College and Bright P-12 College. Hundreds of Victorian companies are also now using Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas in messages.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke said people shouldn't feel shy about celebrating Christmas. "If employers with a diverse work force want to tailor additional greetings then they could do so," she said.


Speech cannot be free in a net of regulation

STUART Littlemore, QC - commanding, eloquent and, in the words of one senior journalist to me, overweeningly arrogant - took his seat at the independent media inquiry.

"The previous woman is wrong," he opened, referring to an AAP representative. "She mistakes error for defamation." It had taken just seconds for his pugnacity to assert itself.

In Littlemore's testimony could be found a snapshot of the cultural fault-line defining the inquiry. Crudely, it divides journalists and media proprietors from those who conceived and administer the inquiry - the federal government and judges and lawyers. (Inquiry head Ray Finkelstein's deputy, Matthew Ricketson, is, however, a former journalist and current journalism academic.)

It's a fault-line defined by rival professional instincts - free speech and self-regulation on one side, and reform and regulation on the other.

Jonathan Holmes, host of the ABC's Media Watch, put it to me this way: "Ray Finkelstein is contrary to the basic instincts of those appearing. I think the media are basically anti-regulatory, and the judiciary are regulatory by nature." Holmes added that it would be "primeval", for instance, to begin issuing "media licences".

Littlemore's opening line about mistaking error for defamation struck at the heart of most journalists' testimonies: that common and criminal law, combined with a cultural sense of propriety and market competition, is sufficient regulation and provides those mistreated by malicious or inaccurate stories with vindication or compensation.

"The brutal reality," Littlemore said, "is that if a case is settled, lawyers get less money. The reality is, lawyers keep cases going too long … Plaintiffs can't afford to sue, mostly."

It's a difficult point to ignore: if we argue that the law provides for those injured by journalistic excess, we must also accept that there are serious hurdles to accessing said justice.

The competing professional reflexes of the media and the judiciary are not the only fault-line of these proceedings. A deep lack of trust is, also.

I spoke to Margaret Simons, media writer for Crikey, author of Journalism at the Crossroads and a witness at the Sydney hearings; Errol Simper, the 33-year veteran media writer at The Australian; and Jonathan Holmes - and none was in any doubt as to the motivations of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in establishing the inquiry. "It's clearly politically motivated," Simons said. The rest felt the same. "Who is Ray Finkelstein?" Simper asked. "Why was he appointed? Is he mates with Conroy?"

Contradictions abound. The media inquiry hasn't piqued passions here in the way the Leveson inquiry has in Britain, and for good reason: the industrialised corruption and sordid nexus of police, politicians and press men in Britain hasn't been replicated here.

"Not yet," some say, as a way of arguing for press regulation, while others argue that it's absurd and offensive to pre-emptively compare our press with Britain's. This is just one of many irreconcilable tensions.

Avaaz, an activist organisation that claims 250,000 Australian members, gave testimony at the Sydney hearings. I expected Jacobin zealotry, but listened instead to a young, polite and well-spoken young man. Still, I gritted my teeth as I listened to his anaemic mantra: "We need more diversity."

It was put to him that the internet provided an increasing spectrum of independent news and opinion sites, but this was dismissed. "We don't think it's enough." He didn't have any suggestions, really, about how to compel this into existence.

I would have also put it to our young man that the media mogul is a phenomenon in decline, and that if he feels not enough Australians are reading "intelligent" sources, I would remind him that it is not the job of government to corral people to "approved" news sources or to legislate for people's intelligence or political interest.

It's also true to say that a concentration of ownership does not equal a concentration of opinion. There are more thoughtful arguments, though, for press regulation.

Only yesterday did a friend say to me that you don't hear engineers boast that if their industry wasn't up to scratch - if a lack of professional standards meant that any building you occupied could collapse - that society, like their shoddy workmanship, would fall apart.

They don't say this - and it might be ridiculous if they did - but it is undeniably true. The same applies to doctors and nurses and so many other professions.

"Journalism," Stuart Littlemore said, "is not a profession. There's no accountability whatever. It may be a craft, but it is not a profession. I feel very strongly about this. There are no enforceable professional standards."

He's right. But does it matter? The media is arguably no more important than doctors or nurses or pilots for a safe and stable society, and, however noble the defence of free speech by journalists, it is an arrogance and a sense of exceptionalism that promotes it above all other principles. It's an axiom, too, that free speech must be accompanied by responsibilities.

But free speech is a principle different to, say, engineering integrity, in that it's a principle best served by an absence of regulation. This seems to me to be a reasonable philosophical basis for media exceptionalism.

The thoughtful Jay Rosen, in a recent piece for The Drum, detailed a troubling culture in News Ltd - and one that's been echoed to me by former News journos - but if you read Rosen's piece through, he could not come up with any regulatory solution, just the suggestion of more external and internal criticism. Fine.

And here's the rub: to state that you find Today Tonight or The Australian or 2GB repugnant is not clever or useful, however deep your conviction. If there are problems, then the road to regulation is a difficult one, delicately balancing freedom of speech with protections of the individual. This requires a sobriety and a humility that have been sorely lacking.


Private schools all but vanquished from top 10 list

Select your pupils on academic ability and then find that those students outperform students who are not selected that way? Not much of a surprise!

THE stellar performance of students at NSW selective high schools continues apace with only one private school, Moriah College, making the top 10 of the Herald's annual list of top-performing schools as judged by HSC results. Sydney Grammar (ninth last year, now 12th) and SCEGGS Darlinghurst (13th) both dropped from the top 10 this year.

James Ruse again topped the rankings, based on HSC subject scores of more than 90 compared with number of students. Among the elite academic schools, North Sydney Boys produced particularly outstanding results, moving from eighth to second place.

Yesterday 71,415 students began accessing their HSC results from 6am; this morning from 9am those who hope to enter university will learn their ATAR university entrance rank.

There were 31 non-government schools in the Herald's top 50, including Wenona, with its results helped by Madeleine Pulver, the Sydney schoolgirl who had a fake collar bomb chained to her neck at her home in August. Madeleine scored more than 90 in advanced English.

A slim majority (52.3 per cent) of the 16,420 students on the Distinguished Achievers List - those with a result of more than 90 in a subject - are from non-government schools. Some 36.7 per cent are from independent schools and 15.6 per cent from Catholic systemic schools.

The principal at North Sydney Boys', Robyn Hughes, said selective schools would "share the love". "The selective school principals are an incredibly collaborative network," she said. "We meet on a regular basis through the year and we share in each other's successes."

But Ms Hughes rejected any suggestion her school was an "academic hothouse". "It's not about that coaching culture; it's about the holistic development of these young men, really getting them engaged in a wider world and seeing beyond themselves.

"This group of young men have done a lot outside of just pursuing academic excellence and that's what I think is the secret of their success. It's a balancing act, but that's where they get joy and engagement and, ironically, the busier they are the more organised they have to be with their study."

Julie Greenhalgh, the principal of Meriden, which rose from 53rd to 18th, said the improvement was the result of strong departmental leadership and changes at the school. "I think we're seeing the fruit of some very, very good programs in our junior school and our junior secondary years, really focusing on the quality of teaching and learning," she said.

Hunter Valley Grammar School leapt from 199 to 51. The principal, Paul Teys, said it was the school's best result on record. "We've been on a journey the last few years to lift our performance so these kids have been part of that strategy and they are the beneficiaries of the whole school effort in lifting the HSC performance," he said.

That strategy included a focus on individual or small tutorials, examination technique and information days, but he said the most effective was the relationship between the staff and students and students' involvement in their school. "We've got a young group of people who are really committed to their school and that's the most significant feature of these results," Mr Teys said.


15 December, 2011

A fine example of Leftist hate-speech

Written by John Birmingham below under the restrained and balanced heading "Why are we subsidising ignorance, stupidity and hatred?"

The fact that private schools actually cost the taxpayer LESS per pupil than government schools is just one of those silly little facts that must not be allowed to interrupt the flow of bile. The Australian Federal government does subsidize some of the costs of private schools but not all.

And the fact that the church is upholding standards that embody the wisdom of the ages cuts no ice with Mr Birmingham, of course. He knows better!

A small pic of the happy Mr Birmingham below. One pities any partner he might have

It’s heartening, but not entirely surprising that the Catholic Church overturned the decision of the Sacred Heart Primary School in Broken Hill to reject the enrolment of a young girl whose at-home parents, two women, are in a lesbian relationship.

Heartening for the little girl, even though the mums have wisely decided to spare her the inevitable unpleasantness of attending a school where she’s not wanted. But not entirely surprising, because if the Church had allowed this story to spin out of control it risked having to answer some very awkward questions about just how much money it sucks off the public tit, when it’s unwilling to comply with public standards as expressed in legislation such as the Anti-Discrimination Act.

The Catholic Church and its fellow travelers in the other denominations are pretty much out on their own when it comes to punishing kids for the sexuality of their parents. And be assured, that’s what was at stake here, and what Bishop Kevin Manning has avoided airing in public with his order to Sacred Heart to enrol the child.

All religious schools in this country, not just Catholic ones, enjoy the benefits of a grotesque double standard, where they put their hands out for a hand out, and a massive one at that, draining off billions of dollars from the education budget, while not having to measure up to the same standards demanded of public schools, most of which are woefully underfunded because of subsidies to the private sector.

Surely if the private religious schools are to trouser billions of dollars in taxpayer funds, at the expense of taxpayers who can’t afford to send their own children to those privileged institutions, more might be demanded of them when it comes to, say, not behaving like ignorant, medieval bigots. There's no reason they can't hang onto their vile opinions, but there's no reason the rest of us should have to pay for them.

As long as they enjoy a free pass from the Act, however, we will continue to subsidise their ignorance, stupidity and hatred.

They know it too. Or at least the smart ones do. That’s why they moved so quickly to shut down debate on this most recent outrage.


South Australia's solution to a bloated health bureaucracy: Create another bureaucracy

A NEW Health Department unit has been ordered to rein in the out-of-control spending that leads to multimillion-dollar annual bail-outs.

Treasurer Jack Snelling and Health Minister John Hill want the Resources Unit to keep spending growth under control, and to ensure the department meets the saving targets set in previous Budgets.

The creation of the unit - headed by senior public servant Steve Archer - is a key element in the Mid-year Budget Review, which Mr Snelling will hand down on Friday. He is also expected to announce more savings measures and changes to projected deficits and surpluses.

It was revealed in August that Health Department spending was $88 million over budget last financial year, with a final figure still to be worked out. Consultants were called in to put a cap on staff numbers - the department employs around 30,000 people - and devise management strategies.

Mr Snelling said the unit was being set up as a result of that departmental review. "While we have been very good at containing the demand on health services, we also need to get some controls over the growth in expenditure," he said.


Strange standards in Queensland Health's Ethical Standards Unit

QUEENSLAND Health's Ethical Standards Unit is under investigation for failing to uncover an alleged multi-million-dollar swindle while rigorously pursuing staff for fraud during the payroll debacle.

A probe has been launched into an investigation last year by ESU staff, which cleared accused embezzler, Joel Morehu-Barlow following a complaint.

Queensland Nurses' Union secretary Beth Mohle said she was astounded with how vigorously the ESU had pursued "80-odd health workers" for suspected payroll fraud while dismissing a complaint about Mr Morehu-Barlow. "How can an alleged fraud of such significance not be picked up by the Ethical Standards Unit?" Ms Mohle said.

Queensland Health Director-General Tony O'Connell said the Crime and Misconduct Commission would conduct inquiries into the "appropriateness" of the ESU investigation into Mr Morehu-Barlow.

The original complaint against him, made by an informant outside Queensland Health, was received by the CMC in August last year and subsequently referred to the ESU for investigation. "The CMC will determine what actions were undertaken as part of the investigation," Dr O'Connell said.

Figures provided by Queensland Health show the ESU has 12 permanent staff, including five investigators. Two Queensland police officers are also stationed within the unit.


Climate change linked to cat breeding explosion, according to Australia's RSPCA

Since even Warmist scientists admit that there has been no warming for over a decade, the article below exhibits the most inspissated ignorance. To put it in terms even a 4-year-old would understand: If global warming hasn't happened, it can't have influenced anything!

Cat breeding cycles are lengthening and could prove hairy for the RSPCA this summer as they coincide with the already busy festive season. Animal refuge centres have reported a spike in kitten numbers in recent years with centres inundated statewide.

RSPCA Queensland spokesman Michael Beatty told AAP that cat breeding cycles now stretch from October through to May. "Particularly around January we can get up to 300 to 400 kittens a week," Mr Beatty said.

The lengthened breeding cycles have been blamed on the effects of climate change creating ideal breeding conditions for longer. As cats favour a warm spring or summer climate, the shorter winters have seen numbers soar.

A study by the British Ecological Society recently found that cows were also giving birth far earlier than traditional summer periods.

Mr Beatty said that although climate change may be a factor, irresponsible pet owners were also to blame for surplus cats. He urged people not to rush into buying a pet and encouraged desexing animals. "People need to realise a pet is a responsibility not a right," Mr Beatty said.

The RSPCA usually receives thousands of animals abandoned over the summer holidays as their families go on holidays without arranging a carer. Laura Finigan, a worker at the RSPCA's new refuge at Wacol, west of Brisbane, says kittens are regularly dumped at the centre.

"Owners need to understand a pet can live for 12 to 20 years," she told AAP. "You need to think about an animal that will fit in with your lifestyle."


Gay marriage the least of Labor woes

"Any government honest with its people would take this matter to a referendum after a couple of years of open debate" ... Loree Rudd. Photo: AFP
A sense of why Labor came out of its annual conference last week with an immediate and sharp decrease in support in the polls was provided by Loree Rudd, the elder sister of Labor's former and discarded saviour, Kevin Rudd, after she resigned from the Labor Party on principle.

"Any government honest with its people would take this matter to a referendum after a couple of years of open debate," she told her local newspaper in Queensland, the Sunshine Coast Daily.

She was referring to gay marriage. "It is not an easy issue and shouldn't be swept through in a night sitting. It shouldn't be swept through at a Labor conference when the party has committed to the electorate it will support marriage as it is."

This is the issue that dominated the ALP national conference. It generates passionate support within sections of the party and the electorate. It is a defining issue for the Greens. It is a debate where personal denigration is routine - "bigot" is a default term for many - by people claiming to espouse the cause of tolerance.

All this has created a false sense of urgency, as this week's Herald/Nielsen poll indicated.

An overwhelming majority of Australians oppose discrimination against homosexuals and support giving parliamentarians the freedom of a conscience vote on gay marriage. This consensus is not, however, the same as support for gay marriage.

In the marriage and mortgage belts of the cities, where elections are won and lost, gay marriage is generally a low-order priority if supported, or is quietly opposed.

Labor's primary vote fell to 29 per cent in the Herald/Nielsen poll published shortly after the ALP national conference.

The Coalition's lead over Labor on a two-party preferred basis jumped from 10 per cent to a yawning 14 per cent, 57-43, the sharpest change in a year, an ominous result for Julia Gillard almost 18 months into her prime ministership.

Support for the Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, as preferred prime minister shot back up to 46 per cent, compared to Gillard's 42 per cent after they had been even in the previous poll.

Support for the Greens eroded sharply, the primary vote dropping from 14 to 11 per cent, down by more than one-fifth, and lower than its vote in last year's election.

Abbott now offers the electorate a stark point of difference on gay marriage. He is maintaining Coalition policy against legalising same-sex marriage, and will not allow his party a conscience vote on the issue. The Prime Minister was obliged to cave in on a conscience vote.

Support for Abbott as preferred prime minister jumped sharply in the poll after drifting down for months. The Coalition remains solid in opposition to gay marriage despite the lobbying of several prominent Liberals. The former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, whose electorate has a large gay population, is advocating a conscience vote for the Liberals.

Turnbull is to Liberal solidity what Kevin Rudd is to Labor unity. Both their leaders would like to be rid of their ambitions.

"Rudd" has become a four-letter word for many Labor MPs as their government bounces along an unstable road of low poll numbers.

Loree Rudd indirectly helped undermine her brother's executioners with her emphatic departure from the party. Her position reflects that of the large segment of the population whose religious views preclude support for gay marriage. As she told her local paper: "The whole concept of equality comes from the Bible, from the sacred scriptures. All people are equal before God, but not all relationships."

That is a hardline argument in a country where religion is not a defining element in politics. Biblical references are the stuff of ridicule for most secular voters and journalists.

But Loree Rudd is right when she says that only a referendum would give the true picture of where Australia stands on this issue.

In the marriage and mortgage belts, there are more immediate concerns and some of them are trending badly for Labor.

Energy bills are rising much faster than inflation. The housing market is softening and people grow cautious about debt. The surge in industrial disputation since the introduction of the Fair Work Act underlines the Gillard government's reinvigoration of union power.

On another matter of principle, people smuggling, government policy has become an admission of defeat.

All the noise and moral outrage on the subject of gay marriage generated by sections of the media, the academy, the human rights industry and the gay rights lobby, has created the impression of a wider ferment that just does not exist in much of the marriage and mortgage belts where the next federal election will be decided.


14 December, 2011

PC police strike Christmas at Inner Sydney Montessori School

'Merry Christmas' replaced with 'Happy Holidays'. I think the father who objected to this has his kid in the wrong school. Montessori schools have always been "progressive" -- though whether it's "progress" to be doing the same thing for over 100 years is an interesting question. Most of the other parents probably agreed with the school and see Christmas as just a quaint folk custom of no particular importance

A SCHOOL is accused of stealing Christmas after removing all references to Santa, carols and Christianity in end-of-year celebrations.

Three to six-year-olds at the Inner Sydney Montessori School replaced the festive lyrics "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" with "We Wish You A Happy Holidays".

One angry parent said he would withdraw his daughter from the Balmain school next year, The Daily Telegraph reported.

The dad, who did not wish to be identified, said: "There were about five songs and not one of them mentioned Christmas. There was no Santa or Christmas decorations or a Christmas tree or any reference to Jesus. "Is this politically correct? I don't understand."

He said some of the children were so confused they blurted out the word Christmas while singing: "They should not force this on young kids. Christmas is meant to be all about Santa and presents."

The Inner Sydney Montessori School said it offers an "inclusive co-educational, non-denominational" education for children from diverse backgrounds from birth to age 12. Principal Cathy Swan said the complaining parent had misinterpreted what went on at the school.

"This is the first complaint I have received about this ... I am sorry this parent felt that way. We have Christmas activities going on all over the building," she said.

"Our policy is that we give children keys to the world and we show them many celebrations including Christmas. We look at all cultures and the particular ways that people celebrate such as Easter, Christmas and Chanukah." Ms Swan said the end-of-year songs without Christmas references may have been an "attempt by one teacher to address the fact that she had Hindus and Jewish children in the classroom".

"Chanukah is happening at this time of year as well. Our parents are multicultural but so are my staff ... we do celebrate Christmas," she said.

Montessori Australia Foundation office manager Sandra Allen said each school was independently owned and operated and had its own policy. "It is a secular education system so no particular religion is taught," she said. "Some schools may choose to celebrate holidays such as Chinese New Year or Chanukah or look at these events from a cultural point of view.

"I have had an email from a concerned member of the public and I pointed them to our website. "It is one school only that I've heard of - it (complaints) are not widespread."

Australia has 190 Montessori schools and 25,000 in 120 countries around the world.


Detention centre censors media reports

Soviet Russia in Australia?

IMMIGRATION Department officials will have the right to censor information gathered by journalists during a tour of the Inverbrackie detention centre today.

Strict rules have been imposed on media outlets that agreed to attend, including reporters being banned from interviewing or "engaging in any substantive communication with any detainee clients", or even moving away from their departmental tour guide.

The Advertiser will not be part of the tour because it refused to sign the department's 19-page "deed of agreement".

Every second of broadcast news segments about today's visit will be checked by Immigration Department censors, using "media content review forms" to order reporters to "pixelate, mute or delete" any material that identifies people or is not in the interests of the department.

The agreements have been controversial when used interstate and have been boycotted by some print media outlets.

But the Immigration and Citizenship Department has defended its use of the agreements as a protection of privacy for detainees and because the practical application of the deed was not heavy-handed.

It argued detainees could bolster their refugee status if media coverage of the tours in their home country identified them and put them at risk. "DIAC is willing to grant ... access to immigration detention facilities in a manner that respects the privacy of the detainee clients residing in such facilities," the deed states.

But the document also seeks to protect "the Australian Government's interests", "national interests" and the department's "responsibilities".

Newspaper Publishers' Association chief executive Mark Hollands said the deed was "appalling" because it censored final editorial content. "While access documents ... will often seek a certain behaviour or provide level of access, none that I have ever seen will demand the censoring of journalism at the end of access," Mr Mr Hollands said. "It brings shame and suspicion on the Australian Government.

"The association understands concerns that the department might have with regard to the identification of detainees and any repercussions that might have on their family and friends in their country of origin," he said. "However, the association believes media will be sympathetic to these issues."


Greedy wharfies flexing their muscle again

So management strikes back

A STEVEDORING company chaired by Chris Corrigan has locked out hundreds of wharfies and helicoptered in non-union labour over union pickets to unload ships, in an escalating dispute that presents Bill Shorten with his first challenge as Julia Gillard's new Workplace Relations Minister.

POAGS, a supplier of stevedoring logistics and port management services, has locked out 320 workers at Fremantle and Bunbury in Western Australia and Port Kembla in NSW after claiming bans imposed by the Maritime Union of Australia had rendered parts of its business unviable.

In a key development last night, the union's assistant national secretary, Warren Smith, said the company told him late yesterday the workers at Fremantle and Bunbury would remain locked out even if they lifted their bans.

Mr Smith said the company warned that the employees would not be let back through the gates until a national agreement was reached. "They're doing an Alan Joyce on us," he said, referring to the airline chief executive's grounding of the Qantas fleet and threat to lock out workers in October.
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Management staff unloaded at least two vessels at Port Kembla after being flown by helicopter over a picket line set up by MUA members.

Union officials sought to blame the escalating dispute on Mr Corrigan, the POAGS chairman and former Patrick chief who took on the MUA during the bitter 1998 waterfront dispute. "It is like Chris Corrigan is the Grinch, who cannot help himself but ruin Christmas for wharfies," said the union's assistant West Australian secretary Will Tracey.

Mr Shorten refused to comment last night, claiming it was inappropriate for him to talk about the dispute as Chris Evans remained Workplace Relations Minister until a swearing-in ceremony of new ministers today. This is despite Mr Shorten giving interviews yesterday when he spoke about a range of workplace relations issues.

A spokesman for Senator Evans said last night the government was concerned by the "apparent breakdown in negotiations and the tactics that are reportedly being employed".

"Nothing is achieved in our modern workplace relations system by engaging in adversarial behaviour," Senator Evans's spokesman said.

"The government urges both parties to negotiate in good faith and, if necessary, seek the assistance of Fair Work Australia rather than escalating the issue."

POAGS managing director Don Smithwick said earlier yesterday the union had imposed indefinite bans at Fremantle and Bunbury and union members at the two ports would remain locked out until the industrial action was lifted. The bans at Port Kembla are due to end this morning.

The company was also using management labour at Bunbury and has contracted out work at Fremantle to Patrick stevedores, Mr Corrigan's former company.

Mr Smithwick said the indefinite bans had made the businesses at Fremantle and Bunbury "unviable".

"Given the nature of the bans and limitations the MUA has imposed at our Bunbury and Fremantle sites, POAGS will not be able to effectively and safely operate in those ports until all bans and limitations are lifted," he said. "Employees have been advised . . . we will not be operating in Fremantle or Bunbury and are therefore unable to provide work until either removal of the bans and limitations or the reaching of an agreement on the terms and conditions of a new enterprise agreement."

Mr Smithwick said the union action, which included a recent round of strikes at different ports, was " totally unjustified and have stalled what had been productive negotiations" over a new enterprise agreement.

POAGS, which had offered annual pay rises of 4 per cent over three years, claims the union's bid for better pay and conditions, including higher superannuation, represented an average 29 per cent increase over the life of the proposed deal.

Mr Smith said the "scab workers" helicoptered in to Port Kembla were given a 20-minute induction before starting a 12-hour shift, endangering themselves and other workers. A POAGS spokesman said the workers were adequately inducted and trained.

The union's southern NSW branch secretary, Garry Keane, said: "Rather than bargaining in good faith, POAGS is declaring war on its workforce and, in the process, recklessly endangering safety on the waterfront."

Mr Smith said the union was pursuing average 5 per cent pay rises and additional superannuation at most ports. While parity was being sought at two ports, he said awarding the union claim around a new grading structure would not have the financial impact asserted by the company.

Union officials said the company had unsuccessfully applied to Fair Work Australia to end the bans, which were legal and supported by the workforce.

South Coast Labor Council secretary Arthur Rorris said the company's decision to fly in workers at Port Kembla was a "gutless" attempt to avoid coming face-to-face with hard-working employees who just wanted a safer work place and equal pay.

Mr Tracey said: "We're still hoping for an outcome. . . but that's looking less and less likely."


Your regulators will protect you -- NOT

He was eventually deregistered only because he failed to pay his registration fees!

IT HAS taken 10 years but the rogue obstetrician Roman Hasil has finally been forced to face a litany of allegations by patients at a northern NSW hospital.

Yesterday, the Slovakian-trained doctor fronted a NSW Medical Tribunal hearing to answer to 15 serious complaints of abuse and malpractice made by some of the women he treated at Lismore Base Hospital between 2001 and 2005.

Dr Hasil was suspended from practising in NSW in February, 2008, after the Herald revealed a damning inquiry in New Zealand found he had botched eight of 32 sterilisation procedures and was drunk on duty.

Yesterday, Dr Hasil, who has a history of alcoholism, turned up to the tribunal wearing jeans and thongs and representing himself.

He had nothing to say yesterday after the Health Care Complaints Commission alleged professional misconduct for several failings, including inadequate or no medical notes for all 15 patients, not wearing gloves during a perineal repair, not introducing the labour induction drug syntocinon at a reasonable time and for "rough", rude and inappropriate behaviour.

The full set of allegations went "way beyond" what was condensed for the tribunal, said the barrister Sarah McNaughton, SC, appearing for the commission.

Dr Hasil has a chequered history in Australia, including being investigated by Tasmanian police in relation to the unsolved 1995 murder of an Italian tourist, Victoria Cafasso.

The NSW Medical Board had ignored warnings from its Tasmanian counterpart that Dr Hasil lied about being jailed in Singapore in 1995 for domestic violence against his second wife, Rose Doyle, and registered him anyway.

Yesterday, the commission also told the tribunal he failed to notify the NSW Medical Board that he was convicted of high-range drink driving in September 2008.

He was finally deregistered in September 2009, after he failed to pay his fees. He was again convicted of high-range drink driving in October 2009 and has a conviction for assault.

He also sustained a major head injury from a fall in October 2009, which had resulted in a physical or mental impairment likely to affect his ability to practise medicine, Ms McNaughton said.

He failed the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' assessments four times.

Connie Scholl said she had not recovered from the ordeal of allegedly being abused by Dr Hasil in 2002 while stitching her vaginal and anal area after birth, calling her "horse woman" after she kicked him in the face in pain.

Her written complaint to the commission alleges that, "As Dr Hasil was getting up off the ground I heard him say to the midwives, 'stirrup the bitch' … it was also at this time that Dr Hasil said to me, 'you Australian women don't know how to have babies"'.

She alleged he forcefully put his hand on her vagina and said, "Who is the boss now?"

Ms Scholl complained to Lismore hospital in September 2003, but it failed to act. Ms Scholl said she was angry that none of the victims had received an apology from the hospital management and no one had been made accountable. She wants Dr Hasil struck off the medical register for life.

"There are about four women who will never have a normal sex life again and there are many more women … who emotionally haven't recovered. And I'm one of them. I can't walk into a hospital or a doctor's surgery and feel safe. The trauma is still there. I fall apart with a panic attack, it inhibits my life with work, my kids and the thing that really angers us is that the hospital knew what he was doing and not one of them [from management] have come forward and admitted fault."


Queensland becoming 'Greensland'

"Saturday’s announcement in the Weekend Australian by the national director of the Wilderness society, Lyndon Schneiders that Coopers Creek, Georgina and Diamantina Rivers would be protected under the Wild Rivers Act was later confirmed by the Queensland Environment Minister, Vicky Darling. Normally the Minister makes the announcement and is supported by various groups. These events leave no doubt that the Greens are dictating environmental policies and the Government is endorsing them," Senator Boswell said.

In previous weeks we have had the American environmental group, PEW telling the Federal Minister to close a million square kilometres of the Coral Sea and this week the declaration of the Lake Eyre catchment. Queensland has become the epicentre of Labor’s capitulation to the Greens in exchange for preferences at the next state and federal elections.

Senator Boswell said, "Wild Rivers laws severely limiting economic activity on Cape York and in the Lake Eyre catchment were dog whistles to Green voters from state Labor about future World Heritage listings."

The decision by federal Labor to close 50% of the Coral Sea to all commercial and amateur fishing and 100% to trawling was another dog whistle for votes as Labor seeks to turn Queensland into 'Greensland'.

“The Wild Rivers decisions provide a holding pattern for World Heritage values on the Cape and in the Georgina and Diamantina catchments that dominate flows into Lake Eyre,” Senator Boswell said.

“The Greens and elements in Labor have been promoting World Heritage listing for both for many years and Labor is now accommodating those aspirations by ensuring that the heritage values are protected - pending bids for listing.”

On the 16th June, 2011, I placed a question on notice (649) to the Minister for the Environment, I asked if the Wild Rivers legislation was declared in the Lake Eyre basin would it not be a precursor for World Heritage listing and asked the Minister to confirm this would not take place without the support of the people that live work, and gain a living from industries within the catchment areas.

Former Environment Minister, Peter Garrett had dog whistled the Greens in 2009 by declaring the 1 million square kilometres of the Coral Sea that falls within Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone a Conservation Zone.

Press release from Sen. Ron Boswell dated 12/12/11

Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour. No less than FOUR police stories today

13 December, 2011

Another farce about a white man claiming to be black

THE Family Court has declared a "notably fair" [skinned] man to be a "proud Aborigine" despite both his parents saying they are white.

The court was asked to consider the matter after the man, who was raised white but began identifying as an Aborigine in 1999, got an Irish backpacker pregnant. She wanted to go home to Ireland with their baby daughter, but the Family Court is required by law to give special consideration to Aboriginal children, and their need to retain links to their culture and heritage.

This would normally mean that an Aboriginal child could not be taken out of Australia to be raised by a non-Aboriginal parent.

The man, who is an academic in Newcastle and a member of various Land Councils and indigenous advisory bodies, told the court he had received a Certificate of Aboriginality in 2004, but the child's mother, known in court documents as Ms Weir, "did not accept (the father's) claim that he was Aboriginal".
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She told the court that "during their relationship he did not attend Aboriginal Land Council meetings or community events. He did not bring Aboriginal friends home, nor did he socialise with members of the Aboriginal community". "At no time prior to the breakdown of the relationship had he discussed with her the Aboriginal people from whom he was descended, their language or culture, or suggested she and the child become involved with that culture."

The mother believed the father "called upon his Aboriginal heritage opportunistically" such as when "there is a job opportunity available".

She feared he intended "to use his daughter to further his own ambitions by sending her to a 'culturally appropriate Aboriginal pre-school' . . . the point being this would look good on his CV".

In an initial hearing last December, Family Court judge Maureen Ryan agreed the question of whether the father was Aboriginal was "contentious" even in his own family. "Until the age of 19, he and his parents, their extended families and siblings were identified (and self-identified) as Anglo Australians," Justice Ryan said. "None of his relations were identified as, or claimed to be, Aboriginal."

However, when the man, known in court documents as Mr Sheldon was 19 years old, his paternal grandmother called him to her sick bed to tell him some family secrets. She said she was part-Aboriginal but had always hidden her racial identity. She said that her first-born son had been fathered not by her husband, who is white, but by a married Aboriginal man.

These revelations "resonated with (Mr Sheldon) and he began a journey of self-discovery in which (Mr Sheldon) began to identify as Aboriginal".

The court heard that "the father's decision to identify as Aboriginal is, within his family, controversial". Besides his parents, he has a sister who was quoted in court documents as saying: "I am not Aboriginal. If he (Mr Sheldon) chooses to think he is, that's his choice." One of Mr Sheldon's brothers also "does not identify as Aboriginal" and his mother "understood her family's heritage to be French".

A third sibling does identify as Aboriginal, but does not speak to Mr Sheldon. The court said "because the parties do not agree that the father is Aboriginal, the question arose, how does someone prove it"?

There appeared to be no relevant Family Law precedent, so Justice Ryan examined "how other courts dealt with the issue". In most cases, it is enough for a person to identify as Aboriginal, provided others in the Aboriginal community accept the claim.

The father was described as having "little knowledge of his ancestry" but said his understanding of Aboriginal culture "continues to grow as I travel and yarn with other mobs".

The man's Certificate of Aboriginality was granted to him after his grandmother told local elders her story. He is also known in his workplace as Aboriginal.

Given all these factors, Justice Ryan decided, on balance, that Mr Sheldon had a "not insubstantial" amount of Aboriginal heritage (at least one, and possibly two grandparents on his father's side, who were at least part Aboriginal) and he was therefore well within in his rights to identify as Aboriginal.

"While I accept that his family does not to a person embrace his Aboriginality, on balance I am satisfied that the father is a proud Aboriginal," the judge said. Therefore, "on balance, I am satisfied the child is Aboriginal. So that it is clear, I am also satisfied that the child is Irish".

The father told the court that his child, now two-years-old, would "be denied the right to enjoy her Aboriginal heritage if the mother was allowed to take her out of Australia".

Justice Ryan acknowledged this problem, but decided to let the child go, in part because the police records revealed that the father had an explosive temper, particularly when drinking.

Shortly before the first Family Court hearing, he took his little girl away from her mother for 17 days and refused to allow any contact, despite repeated emails from the mother, pleading: "I implore you to allow me to spend some time with (her) . . . please can I see her at any time today? I am available all day and will go anywhere. I need to see her and she needs contact with me. I've not seen her in so long . . . let me know when I can have access."

The court heard that when the child was eventually returned to her mother, she had "dark patches under her eyes, her hair was matted and she had very bad nappy rash, and was coughing up phlegm . . . the child, who had previously been very vocal, was expressionless and barely spoke". "Softly, she repeated, 'Mummy?' as if she were asking a question."

Prior to being taken by her father for those 17 days, the child weighed 13kg. Upon return, after 17 days, she weighed 11.8kg.

The father appealed the decision to let the mother take the girl back to Ireland to be raised as a Roman Catholic, telling the court that Justice Ryan had "possibly" been prejudiced against him because she said, in court, that "it is plain that he is notably fair, so presumably he has non-indigenous origins as well?"

This, he said, was evidence that Justice Ryan had "sought to establish someone's cultural identity by the colour of their skin".

The Full Court, in a decision dated November 8 and published last week, could not see the logic in that argument. Justice Ryan had, after all, agreed that both the man, and his daughter, were Aboriginal, notwithstanding the fact his parents identified as white.

The Full Court upheld Justice Ryan's decision to let the child go to Ireland. Her mother has promised to "read story books related to Aboriginal culture" and to purchase "books, toys and jigsaw puzzles" with an indigenous theme so the girl might better understand her ancestry.


Public vs. private school: Which is better?

The following rather amusing and clearly biased defence of Australian public schools relies heavily on the fact that public schools have to take ferals. She seems to think that is a point in their favour. But that is very much a major reason why 39% of Australian parents send their kids to private High Schools!

The eternal question rears its ugly head [Ugly to whom?]: Do private or public schools provide the best education?

The research published in The Australian Economic Review released last week uses NAPLAN results to report that private schools produce better results than government schools, even once differences in student background are taken into account.

This is hardly surprising news. For some years more and more parents have been flocking to private schools based on the assumption that they produce "better" academic outcomes than their public counterparts.

But the study wasn't intending to generalise about the success of private education but rather to examine student performance on the NAPLAN test when socioeconomic status is not a factor. By the researchers' own admission they didn't take into account the discrepancies in funding and the needs of the students.

Here's some more unsurprising news: private schools are able to provide their students with better resources and more access to technology because they have more money. And on the whole private schools take fewer students with special needs, fewer indigenous students and fewer students whose first language is not English.

Meanwhile, public education cater for all, including high and low-achieving students. They are required to keep students with behavioural difficulties within the system until they're 17 and students with disabilities or learning difficulties are accommodated and provided with support.

Even when taking socio-economic status out of the equation, public and private schools have widely differing student bodies. Comparing their literacy and numeracy results is like comparing apples and oranges, and expecting them to taste similar.

Public education enrols the vast majority of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, yet operates on a budget that's close to 70 per cent of independent schools.

It's actually extraordinary what they do. If the MySchool website was to report individual students' literacy and numeracy improvement from test to test it would find that government schools far outperform private schools.

And while private schools have higher rates of students finishing year 12 and send proportionally more students to university, internal [unpublished?] research from Melbourne University shows that it is students from public schools who perform better in their first year of university, as they are required to be self-motivated and apply high levels of self-discipline while at school.

But NAPLAN doesn't report on students' independent study skills or self-discipline. These are also qualities usually developed in the high school years, but the research from The Australian Economic Review reported only on year 3 NAPLAN results.

In fact, the performance of public school students at university shows that the "real world" is the great leveller. When they're not being propped up by extra resources or facilities, the performance of public school students is equal to that of a student hailing from the private sector. [More precisely, a student who has SURVIVED the public sector]

But the purpose of school is not to get every member of society a university degree, and tertiary study is certainly not for everyone. The vast majority of school-leavers take other worthy paths, which include TAFE, apprenticeships or employment, all of which are encouraged as viable options in public schools.

Academic success can be measured in different ways. The fact is that NAPLAN and its partner in crime [Measuring student knowledge is a "crime"??], the MySchool website, reports on one narrow facet of education. Yes, literacy and numeracy are very important factors in a child's education, but they represent a small piece of the puzzle.

Parents who choose to send their children to public schools needn't necessarily think that they are getting a second-rate service. Public education produces commendable results given that its purpose is to educate the whole spectrum of students, regardless of their ability, special needs or their capacity to pay fees.

Public schools do extremely well to meet the individual needs of the 71 per cent of Australian school students who attend them, particularly considering that Australia is ranked towards the bottom of the OECD in terms of spending on public education.

But as long as NAPLAN is used as the sole measure to report academic "success", the myth of a failing public education system will continue to be perpetuated.



Three current articles below

British climate retreat unnoticed by Australian journalists

In July, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, wrote to his Australian counterpart, Julia Gillard, supporting Labor's legislation to introduce a carbon tax leading to an emissions trading scheme on July 1 next year.

Ostensibly, Cameron's letter was one of praise for Gillard. However, the subliminal message was one of criticism of the [Australian] Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott. Needless to say, the Cameron missive was much used by Labor to discredit the Coalition. Also the Canberra press gallery, which overwhelmingly supports Gillard and opposes Abbott on the carbon tax issue, made much of the letter.

Little mention was made of the fact that the climate change policy of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government in Britain entailed a review in 2014. The message was that Britain would scale back its climate change abatement policies if it found itself to be out in front of other European Union nations. This reflected concern about the plight of Britain's chemical, steel and manufacturing industries.

The review scheduled for 2014 has been brought forward in the light of the economic situation. This was made clear in the Autumn Statement delivered in the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, last month.

Osborne expressed considerable concern about the impact of "green policies adopted not just in Britain, but also by the European Union, on some of our heavy, energy-intensive industries". In an emphatic declaration, he added: "We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers. All we will be doing is exporting valuable jobs out of Britain." He added that such a policy will not achieve environmental goals and that "businesses will fail, jobs will be lost and our country will be poorer". As the saying goes: hear, hear.

Now, it is understandable that the likes of the Prime Minister, Wayne Swan and Greg Combet do not want to draw attention to the change in direction in Britain. But journalists and commentators using the Cameron letter against Abbott have no such excuse. They are supposed to be reporting news, not barracking for causes.

The reason for Britain's change of direction on climate change is obvious. Osborne warned "much of Europe now appears to be heading into a recession caused by a chronic lack of confidence in the ability of countries to deal with their debts".

I have just returned from a series of meetings in Britain and the US. Without exaggeration, the mood about the world economy is one of deep pessimism. It is difficult to see how the economies of Europe can recover in the immediate to medium future. Moreover, the collapse of the euro remains a real possibility, since the existence of a single currency for a majority of EU nations has come into conflict with the fact that Europe is not a political entity.

A single currency works in such federations as Australia, Canada and the US. It does not - and cannot - work in such an entity as the EU.

Interviewed by Charles Moore in the London Telegraph this month, the former European Commission president Jacques Delors declared that the failure of the single currency turned on the fact that the EU had not created common economic policies "founded on the co-operation of the member states".

Delors is a retired bureaucrat. The fact is that, as Theodore Dalrymple has argued in his polemic The New Vichy Syndrome, the EU was established "against the wishes of most of the populations involved".

The economic disaster that is contemporary Europe will have knock-on effects on the global economy, including on such key players as the US and China. Another recession in Europe could imperil the re-election of the US President, Barack Obama, in November, even if the rival contender is the Republican Newt Gingrich. Advocates of action on climate change in Australia invariably point to California's embrace of an ETS. They rarely state that California is bankrupt and that the Obama administration has effectively junked its own cap-and-trade proposal.

In the US and now Britain, grim economic news has led to a reassessment of climate change policies. Not so in Australia, where, by mid-2012, there will be a carbon tax - something none of our competitors will have in the foreseeable future.

Gillard presides over the first government in Australian history which has consciously decided to disadvantage the nation with respect to its competitors - in the short term, at least. In Britain, Cameron was once committed to such an agenda. This appears to be no longer the case. Perhaps Osborne should write a letter to Gillard or Swan explaining why.


Former Australian Prime Minister supports climate skeptics

FORMER Prime Minister John Howard has launched a controversial book teaching students to be climate change sceptics.

Climate change sceptic Ian Plimer's book "How to Get Expelled from School: A Guide to Climate Change for Pupils, Parents and Punters" arms children with 101 questions to challenge their teachers.
It has been billed as an "anti-warmist manual for the younger reader".

Mr Howard attacked the one-sided teaching of climate change in schools. "People ought to be worried about what their children are being taught at school," he said. "It's a matter of real concern".

Prof Plimer said said he had a lot of parents write to him about this topic. "They were saying that their kids are being fed environmental activism at school, rather than the basics of science, which gives them the ability to analyse activist arguments," he said.

The 250-page book includes a list of questions intended to embarrass poorly prepared teachers. Questions include: "Is climate change normal?" and "In the last 100 years, has there been global warming and global cooling?".

"They're questions that kids should be asking of teachers, because if the teacher can answer it means they might know something about the subject," Prof Plimer said. "If they can't, or start to promote ideology, it shows that our schools have been captured.

"Parents are telling me that schools have been captured by a lot of activists and kids are being fed stuff that is not relevant to the real world."

But climate scientists, including the University of Adelaide's Professor Barry Brook, say Prof Plimer is perpetuating contradictions, inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the science.

University of Melbourne complex system scientist Professor Ian Enting claims there are scientific errors, flawed diagrams and missing references in Prof Plimer's book.

John Cook of Sceptical Science, a website designed to explain what peer-reviewed science has to say about global warming, has branded Prof Plimer "a one man contradiction". [The usual Leftist projection. It is Cook who is the one-man contradiction]


Crackdown over roof-top solar scheme blowouts

THE Gillard government will demand the states curb expensive feed-in tariffs that pay households to generate electricity from roof-top solar panels, and review other green schemes that threaten to make the carbon market less efficient.

The Australian can reveal that today's draft energy white paper will commit the government to working with the states to try to harmonise the feed-in tariffs so that they do not impose an "unjustifiable burden" on electricity consumers.

The government is concerned that the feed-in tariffs are cross-subsidised through increased energy costs for those who cannot afford to install solar PV panels and that they are putting pressure on the federal small-scale renewable energy scheme, estimated to cost consumers $4.7 billion by mid-2020.

The commonwealth will use the white paper - to be released by Resources Minister Martin Ferguson this morning - to push for a new agreement from all Australian governments for a review of more than 200 existing emissions-reductions policies that are often inconsistent and already cost more than Julia Gillard's proposed carbon tax.

On top of this, the white paper will push for an agreement that no new measures will be introduced unless they are "complementary" to the national carbon pricing scheme.

The energy white paper, the first since 2004, is expected to canvass the impact of the rise of China and Asia and the mining boom, as well as the geopolitical turmoil in global energy markets. The white paper was originally commissioned by the Rudd government in 2008, but was shelved early last year because of Kevin Rudd's proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme and the federal election.

Today's release comes amid concern about cost-of-living pressures as Europe's debt woes destabilise the global economy and renewed debate over the cost to households of the Gillard government's carbon tax package after the UN climate change summit in Durban.

Mr Ferguson will vow to reinvigorate the energy market reform agenda, working through ministerial councils that report to the Council of Australian Governments. There were about 400,000 owner-occupied houses with solar PV systems installed in the middle of this year, but this is expected to grow to more than 1.5 million by 2019-20.

Mr Ferguson's plan to push for reforms to the feed-in tariffs is likely to be welcomed by energy retailers, who have warned that the state-based feed-in schemes impose administrative costs that are funded by other customers. The Energy Retailers Association of Australia, whose members include AGL Energy and Origin Energy, have argued one national tariff is better and cheaper than various state schemes.

Several states have moved to rein in their incentive schemes to boost solar, but new research released by the Australian Energy Market Commission on Friday warned that consumers faced a "substantial legacy cost" from the feed-in tariffs because they would continue to pay a premium rate for households to supply electricity to the grid for years.

On top of this, the research found that state-based tariffs were having an impact on the future costs of the federal small-scale renewable energy scheme - part of Labor's renewable energy target requiring power companies to generate 20 per cent of their power from renewable sources by 2020 - as energy retailers were forced to buy more "small-scale technology certificates". This, too, will result in higher costs for all consumers.

Today's white paper proposes the government work with the states to "identify opportunities to harmonise micro-generation feed-in tariffs, so that they do not impose an unjustifiable burden on electricity consumers".

This is likely to prove politically fraught for the states, and could revive criticism that the government's enforceable targets for renewable energy generation are market-distorting and costly.

In NSW, Barry O'Farrell's government faced a massive backlash over proposals to retrospectively cut feed-in tariffs. Queensland has capped the size of the systems eligible for the tariff while Western Australian has cut the tariff from 40c/kWh to 20c/kWh and Victoria has closed its 60c/kWh scheme, creating instead a 25c/kWh transitional feed-in tariff to be paid until the end of 2016.

The AEMC research released on Friday recommended that state and federal energy ministers develop a common system for the feed-in tariff schemes.

The state-based schemes are wildly inconsistent. NSW and the ACT pay households for all electricity generated by the solar panels - not just the power fed back into the grid.Rates vary from 20c/kWh to 60c/kWh while the expiry of the payments to households ranges from 2016 to 2032.

The Productivity Commission has warned solar PV is a very expensive technology, which has cost up to $1043 in subsidies for every tonne of CO2 that is abated and could hold back deeper cuts to emissions. This contrasts with the $23-a-tonne starting price for Labor's carbon tax.

The commission found that the national RET overlapped completely with the state-based feed-in tariffs last year as all power subsidised through the tariffs was also eligible for federal subsidies. The federal government has cut incentives for householders who install solar roof panels in a bid to take heat out of the solar panel market.

The white paper is expected to commit the government to pushing for an agreement by all governments to review all "non-complementary" climate change mitigation measures and to not introduce new measures.

This aims to align the measures with principles agreed by COAG in November 2008 under which greenhouse abatement measures should be targeted at market failures that could not be dealt with by an emissions trading scheme.

A 2008 review of Labor's climate change policies recommended governments rely on an ETS to achieve least-cost abatement and only take extra action in a case of market failure.


12 December, 2011

Muslim extremist shoots cop but still walks free

Police and prosecutors complain of a trend of inexplicable leniency in sentencing, and a recent survey by Victoria's Sentencing Advisory Council found the public also thinks judges are out of touch and too soft on violent crime.

This indicates a crisis of public confidence in our judiciary.

Take, for example, a recent case in the NSW District Court in which Justice Leonie Flannery acquitted a terror suspect who shot a police officer while being arrested.

The man, who was under ASIO surveillance, was carrying two loaded guns, had acquired chemicals in preparation for a terrorist act, and had possession of jihadi extremist material and 11 mobile phones he had purchased on eBay. But Judge Flannery claimed an environment of anti-Muslim feeling, which engendered in the Muslim community a high sense of paranoia, had made the man panic when police came to arrest him near a western Sydney mosque in 2005.

"He was concerned for his safety, and (in) the climate of anti-Muslim feeling in the community at the time, he believed that he might be harmed by the police."

She concluded the suspect had not intended to shoot the policeman and therefore found him not guilty.


Durban climate "deal" isolates Australia

DURBAN'S meek outcome doesn't bode well for international efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions or the sustainability of Australia's domestic scheme. After 13 days of negotiations, governments agreed to the Durban Platform. But they did not agree to a new international treaty to cut emissions.

The key component of the platform includes all countries negotiating "an agreed outcome with legal force" by 2015 to start cutting emissions by 2020. It's a platform to continue debating the details of an agreement where countries disagree on most of the substantive matters.

The negotiations for other countries to sign an agreement to engage in climate-based economic hardship, as Australia has through its carbon tax, are all uphill from here.

Significantly, Kyoto has been taken out of its casket and been put on critical life support. With Kyoto's emission reduction commitments expiring on December 31 next year, its future will be decided at next year's December meeting guaranteeing a gap.

Kyoto's survival is still in doubt. Canada is likely to withdraw in the next year. Japan and Russia aren't likely to sign up to a new Kyoto emissions reduction round.

Keeping Kyoto alive is a strategic move to use it as a 2012 bargaining chip to pressure developing countries to stay in the negotiating tent. It's their cause celebre because it puts emission cutting obligations on rich countries.

The legal architecture of a $100 billion-a-year Green Climate Fund will also be established to finance climate change adaptation for developing countries. Ultimately, financing the GCF will become the negotiating chip for rich countries to buy off support from poorer ones.

Where the GCF's money is coming from remains unclear. If financing is direct, Australia's contribution is expected to be between $2bn and $3bn a year.

The option to finance the GCF from an international shipping and airline tax that disproportionately hits geographically isolated, trade dependent nations (read Australia) remains.

The division and hostility that exists around negotiating a document to progress negotiations doesn't indicate positive outcomes in future talks.

Structurally, negotiations remain difficult because they are required to be progressed on an equity-based approach where developed countries take on more obligations, and developing countries fewer obligations despite being the major source of emissions growth.

The extent of the wrangling about whether the world negotiates a new treaty probably doesn't make much sense from the outside.

But there are good reasons for division. Any agreement is about cutting global greenhouse emissions levels. But it will also be about if, and how, the world agrees to radically restructure the global economy.

Cutting emissions means countries have to take on higher costs bases. All countries will have to rededicate resources from economic development to the high cost of emissions reduction, slowing growth.

Because most of Australia's emissions profile comes from cheap coal-based electricity, the cost gap to alternatives is high. Europe desperately wants other countries to impose equivalent costs that they've shackled their economy with through the introduction of an emissions trading scheme.

But proportionate to the size of the economy it's less burdensome than for developing countries.

In India, the bulk of their population has never turned on a light switch. Before agreeing to the deal Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan argued India wouldn't "write a blank cheque and sign away the livelihoods and sustainability of 1.2 billion Indians".

Any future treaty can make the difference between whether Indians living in electricity-free shanty towns ever enjoy the modern conveniences we take for granted.

The conference isn't a victory for global emissions reduction. It's a victory of intent. It still leaves Australia and its carbon tax plan well ahead of global action.

The entire economic case for the scheme was built on the premise that other countries would impose equivalent carbon prices, which would have reduced the acute economic pain inflicted on the Australian economy. The Durban Platform does not rectify that.

It means Australia's carbon tax, starting on July 1 next year, will be implemented years before we know whether a successful international agreement can be struck and other countries take action.

As a result, the Durban Platform perpetuates the problems with Australia's carbon pricing scheme. It is politically unsustainable to increase a carbon price without a comprehensive international agreement and a price in other countries.

With no certainty about equivalent action in other countries, the "certainty" the government claims will be provided by the Australian price remains elusive.

The Treasury modelling's carbon tax impact scenario is at odds with reality.

That leaves the Durban Platform as a breath of life for the Gillard government and their carbon price. But it's a long way from the outcome Australians need if they're going to shoulder the world's largest carbon tax.


More boats ahead, Australia's Immigration department warns

Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe agreed it was "possible" 3600 boatpeople could be intercepted in the next six months. Picture: Ray Strange Source: News Limited
MORE than 3600 asylum-seekers could arrive in Australian waters in the next six months unless there are changes to border protection laws, Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe has warned.

As the 64th boat to arrive this year was intercepted in Australian waters yesterday, Mr Metcalfe told a parliamentary committee the flow of boats would not slow any time soon.

Under questioning from opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, Mr Metcalfe agreed it was "possible" 3600 boatpeople could be intercepted in the next six months.

"I think we should expect a significant number of arrivals," Mr Metcalfe said.

He said the department remained concerned about overcrowding in immigration detention centres and was working on keeping detainee numbers down to prevent more riots.

The evidence came as the seventh boat in nine days was intercepted by Customs, carrying 49 people and three crew. The arrival takes the total number of boatpeople to reach Australian waters this year to 4115.

Mr Metcalfe had previously warned the rejection of the government's Malaysia Solution could lead to 600 asylum-seekers making their way to Australia each month.

He told the committee into Australia's Immigration Detention Network yesterday that the recent High Court overturning of the Malaysia deal and its move to allow asylum-seekers appeal rights in court had "effectively unwound legislation" put in place in 2001.

Under the deal Australia was to send 800 boatpeople to Kuala Lumpur in exchange for 4000 processed refugees.

First assistant secretary Greg Kelly told the hearing the department was working at getting new arrivals off Christmas Island and into mainland detention centres within two weeks of arrival to prevent overcrowding. "That is our aspirational target," Mr Kelly said.

"Obviously it depends on the weather conditions, the availability of charter flights and any other things dependent on ensuring detainees are safe to travel."

As of last night there were more than 1300 asylum-seekers on Christmas Island, with most of the more than 300 asylum-seekers to arrive this week yet to be on the island.

The latest asylum-seeker boat was picked up yesterday by HMAS Larrakia, northwest of the Ashmore Islands. Customs said the passengers would be transferred to Christmas Island, where they would undergo initial security, health and identity checks.

Tony Abbott said yesterday Australia's border protection system was in crisis.

"The Prime Minister has effectively given up," he said. "She talks about offshore processing but she practises onshore release. The government's policy is Bob Brown's policy -- let people come, put out the welcome mat to the people-smugglers."

The Opposition Leader said the push to release more asylum-seekers into the community on bridging visas would only encourage more to come. "Handing out bridging visas, they might as well have a bridge between Indonesia and Australia," he said.


Shocked Education Minister orders probe into student suicides, mental health issue among teens

The abandonment of effective discipline has given free rein to bullies and we are seeing the result of that

VICTORIAN Education Minister Martin Dixon has ordered an investigation after schools registered "a spate of alerts" about the mental health of students during VCE exams last month.

Department officials have found that, on average, one Victorian student attempts suicide each week of the school year. Preliminary findings show 24 students, in government schools alone, are believed to have taken their lives over the past four years.

Mr Dixon, a former secondary school principal, said he was shocked. "These are lives that are lost, or these are lives that are in obvious turmoil," he said.

Mr Dixon is calling for open discussion about mental health and the huge pressures facing today's teenagers and younger children. "It's something we just can't hide under the mat any more," he said. "Any statistic in this field is tragic, whether it's one or it's 30."

The Education Department's figures, which are based on initial "alert reports" by schools, also detail other causes and indicators of severe "mental stress".

In 2011 so far, there have been 122 reports of students threatening to commit suicide, self-harming, or suffering as the result of another person's suicide. This compares with 96 last year, and 77 in 2008.

Mr Dixon said he wanted to bring attention to the previously taboo topic because "(now) the best clinical advice is that we can't turn a blind eye to it and pretend the problem doesn't exist".

"I had been made aware of alerts coming into us, where schools had reported incidents regarding children self-harming and threatening to self-harm. "There just seemed to be a spate of them. It was around (VCE) exam time, and I thought, 'I need to go a bit deeper on this and see what's happening'."

Suicide rates across Australia have fallen over the past decade, including among teenagers, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

But one-in-four young people will experience a mental-health problem over the next 12 months, according to Orygen Youth Health.

Dr Vicki Trethowan, Education Department senior psychologist, said mental-health problems were distinct from "normal adolescent behaviour, where moods will fluctuate".


11 December, 2011

This is the abusive bully whom the ALP once wanted as Prime Minister of Australia

MARK Latham has been reported to the Department of Education for intimidating the mother of former star cricketers Steve and Mark Waugh over a children's swimming class.
The 50-year-old former Labor leader angrily claimed his two children had learned nothing after less than half an hour in the pool at the free government swim program that Bev Waugh was running.

Witnesses told The Sunday Telegraph that Mrs Waugh, 65, was shocked when Mr Latham approached her from behind as she was teaching at the pool edge.

"What actually are you teaching?" he demanded. "I have been watching the lesson and I have been listening to the parents and I am speaking on behalf of other parents and what I am hearing parents say. "As far as I can see, they are not learning anything."

The outburst occurred on Tuesday at Camden pool, on the second day of a 10-day learn-to-swim program. The children were in the pool for the first time.

Mrs Waugh attempted to explain that the program aimed to teach a broad range of skills and emphasised water safety.

But Mr Latham, towering over her slight frame, interrupted her to threaten to withdraw the children.

"I am just letting you know that a lot of parents are going to be pulling their children out of the scheme," he said, then turned his back and stomped away.

Mrs Waugh, a qualified teacher who has been working for the Department of Education's School Swim Scheme since the 1970s, was visibly shaken. Mrs Waugh's only comment to The Sunday Telegraph was: "I wish I had said to him: Would you speak to your mother the way you have spoken to me?"

Her supervisor has subsequently reported to the department that Mr Latham was "rude" and "intimidating" and was "flexing his muscle".

A Department of Education spokeswoman issued a statement to The Sunday Telegraph: "We have been made aware of the situation and we are now making enquires." She added it was "not appropriate" for a parent to approach a teacher and make claims or threats.

Mr Latham came with his children to their lesson the day after the incident but spent most of that lesson reading the paper by the babies' pool. He was one of the parents from Mount Hunter primary school who volunteered to drive the children to the lessons.

When The Sunday Telegraph approached him on Friday outside the pool he said the matter was private. "I just find it absolutely wacky that you would regard this as a matter of public interest and concern and spend your day here in Camden on a matter that has absolutely nothing to do with you," he said.

Mr Latham had a tilt at being prime minister, but suffered a wounding defeat to John Howard in 2004. He was Labor leader from December 2003 to January 2005, when he fell out with his party and contracted an illness.

The Education Department has offered the free Swim Scheme since 1954.


Doctors slam natural therapy 'quackery' in call to universities

AUSTRALIA'S top doctors want university courses in acupuncture, chiropractic and naturopathy scrapped, claiming they are a misuse of public money and encourage quackery.

Thirty-four of Australia's top doctors, medical researchers and scientists have signed a petition challenging universities that "give undeserved credibility to 'alternative' therapies". Signatories include Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton and University of NSW Medicine Professor John Dwyer, who is also the founder of the Australian Health Care Reform Alliance.

Doctors penned an open letter after Central Queensland University announced it would offer a new chiropractic course next year. They argue it is necessary to protect consumers from the dangers of scientifically unproven practices.

"We have shared with each other our concern about the increasing numbers of universities that are allowing non-evidence based 'pseudo' disciplines to be offered to their students," they wrote.

"It is difficult to counter the massive amount of misleading, often fraudulent, information provided to consumers ... the task becomes harder when tertiary institutes give to unacceptable practices an undeserved imprimatur by including them among the courses they offer for study."

Professor Alastair MacLennan from the University of Adelaide said the group made its concerns public to rally support. "We condemn the 'teaching' of unproven beliefs such as homeopathy, naturopathy and iridology in public institutions," Professor MacLennan said, describing the practices as shonky.

Professor Marcello Costa of Flinders University said it was a misuse of public dollars. "It is disturbing to see a centre of learning, of supposed excellence, teaching and perpetuating health practices based on beliefs in principles that are totally unscientific," he said.

"It encourages the spread of quackery within the health system, misuses the public's health dollars, encourages unnecessary 'treatments' and may delay effective treatment when true disease is present."

The letter comes as Sydney University published a report showing acupuncture failed to assist disability or improve quality of life in patients suffering whiplash. The study, published this week in Spine, found acupuncture slightly improved pain scores but had no clinical importance.


Chasing overpayments might cost Queensland Health more than it will recover

They had a stab at this a few months ago but so many people challenged their assaessments that the process seems to have been put on hold

CRITICS fear Queensland Health will spend more money chasing down $75 million in overpaid wages than it could ever hope to recover.

The Courier-Mail yesterday revealed the beleaguered department would start clawing back the overpayments.

But the Australian Medical Association warned Queensland Health not to "throw good money after bad", as unions cried foul over the department's decision to flag the impending recovery two weeks before Christmas.

The department was thrown further into crisis yesterday after it was revealed executive Joel Morehu-Barlow had stolen $16 million from government coffers.

Over two-thirds of state health workers have now been overpaid by the faulty payroll system, according to new figures released yesterday, with $2.6 million mistakenly doled out in November alone.

QH plans to push ahead with a staged recovery program from January.

OPS Global debt recovery consultant Michael Todd predicted "big problems", with many staff arguing pay slips provided as evidence were unreliable or incorrect, and he expected at least 10 per cent of the almost 54,000 overpaid workers would refuse to pay.

"Unless the records are really clean it might be tricky to prove. The burden of proof is on the department," he said.

Litigation lawyer Graham Knight believed some cases could end up in court but said legal fees would quickly swallow the benefit of pursuing anything under $5000.

"They might say no matter what it costs us, we're going to be even-handed and take recovery action against everyone, even if we do it at a loss," he said.

While Queensland Health first will target 206 employees with the highest overpayments, collectively totalling $5.3 million, AMA Queensland president Richard Kidd urged common sense for bills of $1000 or less.

The department wiped all overpayments of $200 and less in May, but Minister Geoff Wilson repeatedly has stated he would not revisit the policy.


Christmas rush of boats expected

EIGHT boatloads of asylum seekers have sailed into Australian waters in as many days, as Immigration Department Secretary Andrew Metcalfe warned of a possible influx unless border protection laws were changed.

Mr Metcalfe said up to 3600 asylum seekers could arrive within six months and the flow of boats would not be stopped in the foreseeable future.

"There's no indication that I see that would show that the current high rate of arrivals is going to significantly decrease or increase," Mr Metcalfe said. "We seem to be back at a fairly steady state again."

The warning came days after the largest boatload of asylum seekers since Julia Gillard took over as Prime Minister arrived, with almost 170 people crammed on board.

Yesterday also marked the eighth arrival in eight days, when the Navy intercepted a boat with 49 asylum seekers.

Mr Metcalfe was quizzed by shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison and admitted it was "possible" 3600 asylum seekers could arrive within six months.

He previously said the failure of the Government's Malaysia solution could see 600 asylum seekers a month, but the rejection of the scheme to process asylum seekers in Malaysia had "effectively unwound" legislation from the Howard era.

"In the absence of any effective legislation we could expect to see numbers return to where they were last year and that's been proven to be correct," he said.

There are now more than 5500 people in either detention centres or in community detention. There are 1300 asylum seekers on Christmas Island and a quarter of detainees are housed in the community.

Assistant Secretary Greg Kelly said the department had a two-week target to get detainees off Christmas Island and into mainland centres.

"Obviously it depends on the weather conditions, the availability of charter flights and on ensuring detainees are safe to travel," he said.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Australia's border protection system was in crisis. "The Prime Minister has effectively given up," he said. "She talks about offshore processing but she practises onshore release. The Government's policy is Bob Brown's policy: let people come, put out the welcome mat to the people-smugglers."


10 December, 2011

Greenfield still not talking

PROFESSOR Paul Greenfield has been toppled as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Queensland and will leave the post next week after he and his family became engulfed in a nepotism scandal that remains a mystery.

Prof Greenfield becomes the first vice-chancellor in the 102-year history of the university to fall on his sword after The Courier-Mail revealed on November 5 that he had been snared in an integrity probe.

He kept to his practice of not facing the media yesterday, but in a short statement said he could no longer endure the pressure that had been taking a toll on the university and his family.

Although Prof Greenfield maintained the decision to leave early was his alone, The Courier-Mail confirmed his departure date was subject of a formal resolution by the Senate, the university's governing body.

In a final act of defiance, Prof Greenfield did not mention the controversy in his monthly report to senators. To the end, Prof Greenfield would not reveal details of how "a close family member" was able to enter a course for which he or she was not qualified. He would not reveal the faculty, which is believed to be the Medical School.

Prof Greenfield tried to dismiss the affair as a "misunderstanding", and would not take questions on why he would not fix it.

The controversy deepened when university chiefs admitted they attempted to cover up the scandal.

Yesterday Prof Greenfield said: "In recent weeks, it has become increasingly difficult for me to serve as vice-chancellor in the way this organisation and its partners deserve. "In addition, the ongoing pressure on my family and the university is taking a toll, the level of which I am not prepared to accept. "As a consequence, I have decided to step down."

Chancellor John Story would not be interviewed yesterday. In a statement, he said it was clear to the Senate that Prof Greenfield "could no longer fully discharge his duties in a way that either he would like or which the university could expect".

He said the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Deborah Terry, would be the acting vice-chancellor from December 17, while a hunt for Prof Greenfield's successor begins.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Max Lu, will become acting senior deputy vice-chancellor at the same time.

The scandal also claimed the deputy vice-chancellor, Prof Michael Keniger. His role in the so-called enrolment irregularity was never explained.

Mr Story said Prof Greenfield would cease executive functions and responsibilities on December 16 and take leave until his official departure date of January 13, 2012.

Prof Greenfield will not receive a termination payment - only his residual accrued leave.


Big jump in university fees for maths and science study at a time when Australia needs more such students, not fewer

AUSTRALIA'S ambition to become the "clever country" is in tatters because it cannot produce enough experts in the two most critical disciplines - mathematics and science.

Top scientists and mathematicians, furious about the Gillard Government's $400 million cut in HECS fee relief and axed school science programs, warn Australia is in serious danger of losing its mantle as a world leader in education.

In a bid to return the Australian economy to surplus Treasurer Wayne Swan has taken the razor to education, increasing annual HECS fees for university science and maths students from $4691 to $8353 - cancelling the incentive to study those subjects.

Barry Jones, a former science minister in the Hawke government, said just 9 per cent of Australian university students enrol in the sciences of physics, chemistry and mathematics when the OECD average is 13 per cent and in South-East Asia it is 26 per cent.

"It looks bad," he said. "There are serious problems in maths and sciences in Australia generally."The "deficiency" starts in primary schools with a high proportion of teachers themselves uneasy with maths and science and by high school, students move on to other interests, Mr Jones added.

And the crisis is set to worsen by 2020 when Australia will have more PhD mathematicians retiring from the workforce than entering it - despite a 55 per cent increase in demand across all sectors of the economy.

The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute is so worried about the decline it is planning a national advertisement campaign on buses and trains to promote the impact of maths and statistics on people's "daily lives and on their health and wellbeing".

The head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of NSW, Anthony Dooley, warned the cut to HECS would affect student numbers in the core subjects.

"The country needs more mathematicians and scientists ... our enrolments have been going up by 10 per cent a year and that growth is a realisation that maths and science are crucial to the world's future," Prof Dooley said.

"We need the Government to realise that this is a crucial national priority ... we need to be clever and we need people with mathematical skills to drive the economy forward."

The number of advanced maths students across Australia dropped by 25 per cent between 1995 and 2008, while university maths majors fell by 15 per cent between 2001 and 2008. The Australian Academy of Science also urged the Government to do more to support the subjects.

"We are slipping behind neighbouring countries in maths and science performance at secondary school and there are growing shortages in the workforce of young people with maths and science skills," president Suzanne Cory said.

"Australia's robust economic future depends upon innovation.," she said.

A spokesman for Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said the HECS subsidy was being abolished because it had not proven to be a cost-effective way of lifting maths and science attainment.

"By the time young people are making university choices many have already made the decision to drop the study of advanced maths and science subjects at high school," he said. "It's for that reason that the Government has asked the Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, to work with the science community to develop new means for further lifting student participation rates in maths and science."

Federal Schools Minister Peter Garrett said that science and mathematics were two of the first four subjects to be rolled out under the new national curriculum.

Universities Australia said alternative programs to improve school science and maths and university enrolments were vital while the University of Sydney was seeking more funds to support the most talented students.


Solar to add billions to power bills

THE federal scheme to promote the installation of rooftop solar panels and hot-water systems will have a cumulative cost to consumers of $4.7 billion by mid-2020, adding to pressure on household power bills.

The prediction is contained in advice to the nation's energy ministers, which also forecasts rises in residential electricity prices of about 37 per cent in the three years to 2013-14, with an average annual hike of 11 per cent.

The predicted rise shows prices may increase faster than previously expected, with predictions in July suggesting the three-year rise was expected to be in the order of 30 per cent.

The advice also shows that the carbon tax is likely to hit electricity prices hardest in Queensland and NSW, where power prices are tipped to rise by 42 per cent over the next three years - compared with a 32 per cent rise without a carbon price.

This is broadly in line with Treasury modelling, which suggests that the carbon tax will add about 10 per cent to power prices from 2013-17.

Queensland, NSW and the ACT faced the highest predicted price rises over the next three years, at 42 per cent.

They are followed by South Australia, with a predicted rise of 36 per cent; Victoria (33 per cent), Western Australia (30 per cent), Tasmania (25 per cent); and the Northern Territory (16 per cent).

The reports, by the Australian Energy Market Commission, were released by the Ministerial Standing Council on Energy and Resources.

After the meeting, federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson announced a Productivity Commission inquiry into aspects of electricity network regulation.

Mr Ferguson said that significant investment was required in electricity networks to replace and upgrade ageing assets, to meet growing levels of demand and facilitate a transition towards clean-energy technologies.

"Critical to delivering our energy needs is ensuring that our network regulatory frameworks are delivering efficient and reliable outcomes for consumers," Mr Ferguson said.

But the energy network businesses hit back, saying network prices had to rise to ensure safe electricity supplies to consumers and because the costs of raising funds offshore was increasing.

The AEMC reports found that on top of the $4.7 billion from small-scale renewable projects, energy consumers would also pay for the costs of state-based feed-in tariffs for households for injecting power back into the grid over the life of systems that have already been installed.

The AEMC found if the states adhered to caps on feed-in tariffs - which several states are imposing in an attempt to rein in generous rebates - then the take-up of the small-scale renewable energy scheme should fall from existing levels.

"But forecasts of higher retail electricity prices and reductions in the technology costs for solar PV will still provide incentives for some consumers to take up the SRES," the AEMC found.

As the SRES is a national scheme, decisions by state governments on their feed-in tariffs hit all consumers, as retailers are required to buy certificates that are then "passed through to all consumers in Australia".

By the middle of this year, about 400,000 households had PV solar systems installed.

The number of solar rooftop panel installations could reach more than 1.5 million by 2019-20 - accounting for more than one in every four owner-occupied households - if a carbon price starts next year.

The main beneficiaries of the green policy have been people living in houses and semi-detached homes in suburbs with low population densities, young children and often have three cars to a dwelling. By contrast, young people, those renting, the very affluent and people in higher population density areas were unlikely to tap the scheme.

The majority of the new solar installations were expected in NSW and Queensland, with a significant number in Victoria and Western Australia.


Another disgrace at Queensland Health

No surprise in a Department that can't even get its payroll right

A SINGLE forged signature was all it took to orchestrate what is believed to be the biggest embezzlement of taxpayers' funds in Queensland history.

A nationwide manhunt has been launched for prime suspect Hohepa Morehu-Barlow, a purchasing officer in Queensland Health who claimed to be a co-owner of an upmarket perfumery.

More than $5 million is believed to have been transferred from the department's accounts through a sophisticated network over the past three years.

A further $11 million was shifted in a single transaction in the past fortnight.

The gaping hole in Queensland Health's financial security is a massive embarrassment for the Bligh Government.

An identical complaint about 12 months ago to the Crime and Misconduct Commission about Morehu-Barlow, who also goes by the first name Joel, was dismissed by a Queensland Health internal investigation.

However, a low-level financial officer is believed to have become suspicious and raised concerns with the chief finance officer this week.

"By forging the name of a senior officer who had authority to transfer large sums, this middle-level officer has been able to deceive those that are there," Health Minister Geoff Wilson said.

The Auditor-General also failed to discover the multimillion-dollar ruse in his frequent checks but warned recently of risks because of lax financial controls.

"There appears to have been a loss of focus across the public sector on maintaining basic financial controls with the number of agencies failing to maintain these controls increasing," a report in July said.

"This trend has the potential to expose the public sector as a whole to significant risk."

Premier Anna Bligh announced an independent audit of Queensland Health's accounts, with the results to be handed over to police. "I have to say I am furious about this issue," she said. "I think every Queenslander has a right to be angry.

"What it shows is that no matter how many checks and balances you have, large organisations can sometimes be victims to people with a serious criminal intent."

Police sources said Morehu-Barlow had a history of fraud-related offences in his native New Zealand. However, it was unclear last night whether Queensland Health conducted checks on him before his employment in 2005 as purchasing officer.

Morehu-Barlow was at work on Thursday as police descended on the department but has disappeared.

Police have frozen up to $12 million of his assets ranging a swanky New Farm apartment, luxury vehicles, including a Mercedes-Benz, to high-class artworks and large sums of cash in bank accounts.

Morehu-Barlow was lauded among Brisbane's fashionistas and earned a spot in The Sunday Mail's annual most-stylish list.

However, the lavish lifestyle of the public service middle manager seems to have evaded the scrutiny of Queensland Health, despite the prior investigation.

Queensland-based family of the unmarried 36-year-old have been contacted by the police.

"We believe he is still in the country and we have taken all appropriate steps to protect all exit points," Deputy Police Commissioner Ross Barnett said.

He refused to comment when asked about prior offences but revealed Morehu-Barlow went by "a number of aliases".


The sad end of Sir Lunchalot

Booted out of his own party

DISGRACED former Labor minister Ian Macdonald has been suspended from the state Labor Party in the wake of corruption allegations. The move followed a request from Opposition Leader John Robertson.

Mr Macdonald - who has previously held posts including energy minister and state development minister - is being investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption over allegations that property tycoon Ron Medich arranged for him to spend time with a prostitute as reward for setting up meetings with executives from Country Energy and Energy Australia.

Mr Robertson last week said he was "appalled" by the allegations coming out of ICAC and said he would not put up with it in his party. "There is no place for this in politics," he said. "I can tell you that there is no place for anyone behaving like that in the Labor Party under my leadership."

Following Mr Robertson's written request on Tuesday, the NSW Labor branch said it had suspended Mr McDonald's membership and would reconsider it pending the outcome of the investigation.


Censorship push defeated

NBN Co has been forced to back down on its plans to restrain Telstra from promoting its wireless internet services as a substitute for the $36 billion fibre network for two decades after pressure from the competition watchdog.

The Weekend Australian can reveal that the $11bn deal between Telstra, the government and NBN Co for Telstra to decommission its copper network and shift its customers to the new service will be revised following concerns by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission that the curbs on Telstra's marketing of its wireless services could hinder competition for wireless voice and broadband services.


9 December, 2011

Greenfield crumbles

He sent out a message to alumni today saying he had brought forward his resignation from UQ to Dec. 16 -- i.e. next Friday.

Quarter of asylum seekers moved to communities

In other words they are not detained at all. They are home free

About a quarter of immigration detainees who have arrived by boat are now being housed in the community, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe has given an update on the figures at an inquiry hearing in Canberra. He told the Joint Select Committee that around 800 asylum seekers have been approved for community detention since August.

Mr Metcalfe says in the past month the detention population has steadily increased to more than 5,500 people. "The large numbers of arrivals continue to place strain on the detention network," he said.

"We all understand the potential consequences of a return to an overcrowded and pressured detention network and you can be assured that the Department is doing all we can to avoid that."

A boat carrying more than 160 asylum seekers was intercepted off Christmas Island on Tuesday.

Mr Metcalfe estimates it will cost close to $1 million to respond to the detention network inquiry. The inquiry started in June and is due to report back by March next year.

Mr Metcalfe says his Department has made detailed submissions to the inquiry. "We've responded either in hearings or on notice to over 1,100 questions from the Committee, provided over 4,000 pages of written material and some 26 departmental employees have been made available as witnesses," he said.

"The total direct cost to the Department responding to and supporting the Committee is projected to be in excess of $970,000 by the end of this financial year."


Greenpeace destroys a business

A PAPER company is reviewing the future of its $20 million plant in western Sydney after "intimidation" from environmental group Greenpeace cost it major supermarket orders.

The appraisal could see a job-starved section of Sydney lose a facility with a capacity to employ up to 30 workers.

Solaris Paper has been accused by Greenpeace of using an Indonesian supplier, related company Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which harvests rainforests and puts the disappearing Sumatran tiger at further risk.

Solaris says the Greenpeace claims and support from unions have cost it business with Woolworths and the third-biggest supermarket chain IGA.

"We are not moving away from the fact that there is intimidation and harassment - allbeit on a moral high ground," the director of corporate affairs for Solaris, Steve Nicholson told

Mr Nicholson said Solaris supplies came from "legal non-controversial areas. In other words degraded forest that's good for nothing else".

And he said: "We do more for the preservation and protection of Sumatran tigers than Greenpeace will ever do."

Greenpeace rejects the claim by Solaris that its imported supplies are from appropriate sources.

"It's ridiculous for Solaris, a company controlled by the notorious rainforest destroyer Asia Pulp and Paper to be blaming Greenpeace for its woes," spokesman Reece Turner said.

"This is a company that literally makes money from selling loo roll made from Indonesian rainforests and endangered tiger habitat.

"Once retailers and consumers found out the truth about Solaris and APP it's no wonder they've chosen to reject their products."

Solaris has built a $20 million facility in Greystanes with a capacity to employ 25-30 workers, but at present it is almost idle. It might soon be shut down entirely.

The facility receives rolls of paper from Indonesia and re-packages the sheets into toilet and facial tissues and kitchen paper for sale in Australia.

The Solaris showdown has highlighted increasingly aggressive campaigns by Greenpeace and other groups to marshall consumer comments to force companies into agreements on what ingredients they use.

Retail giant Harvey Norman has been the successful target of one campaign focused on its timber furniture, while this month, Bakers Delight agreed not to use genetically modified wheat - which isn't available anyway.

Mr Turner from Greenpeace told potential job losses had to be looked at from "a total employment kind of position".

"Jobs are sensitive and we all want to make sure we have as many jobs as we can in Australia," he said. Mr Turner said more jobs could be created if a tissue-maker produced items in Australia and didn't import materials.

He said APP was "our No.1 public enemy for us in Indonesia".

A statement from Solaris said it was being "forced to review manufacturing operations in Australia".

Mr Nicholson said: "The decision to review and restructure its operations follows a series of unwarranted and unsubstantiated attacks left by NGOs (non-government organisations) led by Greenpeace, unions and those threatened by the introduction of quality, competitive products


Fatal carelessness of emergency phone operator

A MOTHER was murdered and her children tortured after 000 operators disregarded her calls for help, choosing to believe her killer's assurances that nothing was wrong.

Sean Eugene Maraffko, 42, stabbed to death Joanne Wicking, 29, and tortured two of her daughters, telling emergency operators Ms Wicking's calls for help were "a mistake". He burned and stabbed her eight-year-old daughter before smashing a ceramic dish over her head, and punched a 10-year-old.

A Herald Sun investigation has prompted the 000 system watchdog to examine the tragic failure to prevent Ms Wicking's death. The Herald Sun obtained transcripts of the four 000 calls made just before Ms Wicking was murdered in March last year.

She was screaming and crying in the first call, but Maraffko grabbed the phone and told the operator "we're fine, we're fine ... it was an accidental call, sorry". The 000 operator told Maraffko: "All right, I'll cancel the call." Minutes later she called 000 again and asked for police.

Maraffko again took the phone and told the operator "everything's OK" and said the call was coming from Albert St, Shepparton, rather than the correct address of Albert St, Kilmore. Maraffko rang 000 three minutes later, giving the correct address and saying they didn't need help because the earlier calls were "a mistake", blaming them on "a four-year-old here".

All calls were made within seven minutes on mobile phones and a landline from her Kilmore home on the day Ms Wicking died.

Maraffko had 33 previous convictions and was on parole over other violent crimes after being released from prison just three weeks before killing Ms Wicking, who had taken him in as a lodger.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority began its probe only after the Herald Sun last week alerted it to the fact Ms Wicking was let down by the 000 system. An ACMA spokesman confirmed it had since started an investigation to see "whether there are any elements of 000 call handling that can be improved to assist emergency callers in the future".

Helen Wicking, the victim's mother, yesterday welcomed the ACMA probe. "It comes too late to save Joanne, but hopefully improvements can be made to the 000 system so nobody else has to go through what she did," Mrs Wicking said.

She said her 10-year-old granddaughter escaped and ran to a neighbour's house for help. The neighbour rang 000 and succeeded in persuading the operator to get police to attend. By then it was too late to save Ms Wicking's life.

Three of the four 000 calls were handled by Telstra operators. Only one call was put through to police.

A Telstra spokeswoman said it would help with the investigation: "This is a very tragic situation and our thoughts are with Ms Wicking's family and friends." [BULLSHIT!]

Maraffko was last month jailed for 35 years and ordered to serve a minimum of 30 for Ms Wicking's murder.


Federal gay marriage law would face challenge in High Court, says Father Frank Brennan

ANY change to federal law to allow gay marriage was likely to be challenged in the High Court of Australia, a prominent human rights lawyer said.

Labor backbencher Stephen Jones will bring a Private Member's Bill to Parliament in early 2012 to change the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act.

The move follows the ALP's decision last week to change its platform, to "ensure equal access to marriage under statute for all adult couples irrespective of sex who have a mutual commitment to a shared life".

Jesuit priest and academic Fr Frank Brennan, writing in the online magazine Eureka Street, said he had no doubt there would be a High Court challenge if the Bill passed Parliament.

"Even if the Australian Parliament does legislate to expand the definition of marriage beyond its traditional meaning in the Marriage Act, there will undoubtedly be a constitutional challenge in the High Court, given that the Parliament does not have the power to expand its legislative competence beyond the wording of the constitution," Fr Brennan wrote.

Under the constitution, the Parliament has the power to "make laws with respect to marriage".

In 1991, High Court judge Sir Daryl Dawson said the Commonwealth power to legislate with respect to marriage "is predicated upon the existence of marriage as a recognisable (although not immutable) institution".

Justice Dawson warned: "Just how far any attempt to define or redefine, in an abstract way, the rights and obligations of the parties to a marriage may involve a departure from that recognisable institution, and hence travel outside constitutional power, is a question of no small dimension."

Fr Brennan said a better approach would be for the states and territories to legislate civil unions. Queensland's Parliament passed civil unions legislation last week.

The Australia National University's Professor Margaret Thornton said the Federal Government would have a "good chance" of defending the law change in the High Court.


8 December, 2011

Labor Party now practises what Greens preach

When the Australian people voted in last year's federal election, most of them did not vote for the Greens nor did they endorse a Coalition government involving the Greens. But that's what they got.

In the vote for the House of Representatives, where government is decided, 94 per cent of the adult population voted and 88 per cent of their collective primary vote went to parties other than the Greens. Yet in the ensuing 15 months all the big policy shifts by the Gillard government - none of which was put to the electorate - have been towards core policies of the Greens.

The Prime Minister said no to a carbon tax. We have a carbon tax. She said no to open borders. We have de facto open borders. She said no to gay marriage. Support for gay marriage is now Labor Party policy. She put off indefinitely any substance of an emissions trading scheme. The machinery for such a scheme has been legislated. She said little about giving trade unions sweeping new rights. The unions are now acting on sweeping new rights.
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Yet another brick in the Green wall was put in place this week when Gillard and her cabinet made a mockery of the tender process, reversed itself again, and wasted millions of dollars again, giving the running of the Australia Network to the ABC, indefinitely.

The Greens, utterly wedded to big government, wanted this tax-funded Australian overseas TV network to be part of the ABC. The Greens will propose legislation seeking to make this happen next year.

It already has, effectively. The network will operate as part of the ABC despite losing the tender process to Sky News and despite the ABC's dreadful 24-hour news network being grossly inferior to Sky News.

On a much larger scale, the government's decision this week to expand the refugee intake from 14,000 to 20,000 a year was another capitulation to a core Green policy.

Having inherited no asylum-seeker problem when it took office in 2007, the Labor government promptly changed the policy, softened the language and reinvigorated the people-smuggling industry.

It then embarked on achieving the worst of both worlds by maintaining a punitive detention policy, opening and filling detention centres around the country, detaining more people for longer than ever before. All while not stopping the boats.

The cost of this debacle has blown out to $1 billion a year. The government has given up, blamed the opposition and will now process asylum-seekers onshore in Australia - Greens policy. It will release them into the community more quickly - another core Greens policy.

To absorb the inevitable increase in asylum-seeker arrivals, it is simply increasing the refugee intake.

Had Julia Gillard taken this policy to the people in August last year, she would have lost the election.

Had she been forthcoming about her views on a carbon tax, she would have lost the election.

Had she revealed her desire to commit Australia to an emissions trading scheme as soon as possible, she would have lost the election.

Another telling detail emerged this week, from Durban, South Africa, where Australia is participating in the latest round of global talks on climate change. The government is supporting a binding agreement to set limits on global emissions.

It is anxious not to become isolated in its commitment to a global emissions trading scheme, which does not yet exist. But the only two governments that really matter on this subject, the United States and China, the world's two greatest polluters, have both been blocking binding commitments.

The week began with another shift to Greens policy with the formal endorsement by the Labor Party of support for gay marriage.

Another core Gillard policy was set aside by her party, if not by its leader, as Labor moved ground on the issue that probably matters more to the Greens than any other.

Now the government is shifting on another Greens issue, increasing the power of the unions. It is reviewing the Fair Work Act, the building block of industrial relations law.

The inevitable result will be that it seeks to make the law more union-friendly than it already is.

The Prime Minister's commitment to paying her debts to the unions was laid bare when she agreed to dismantle the highly effective Australian Building and Construction Commission, which was cleaning up an industry plagued by violence, blackmail and collusion.

The campaign to get rid of the commission (replaced by a building industry inspectorate with far less power) was led by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which had been fined $3 million by the commission for numerous corrupt practices.

The union's campaign was supported by the Greens, an unsavoury alliance given the industry's long history of corruption.

Unsavoury, but effective within the larger alliance Julia Gillard has made with the Greens.


Rooftop solar panels overloading electricity grid

THE runaway take-up of rooftop solar panels is undermining the quality of electricity supplies, feeding so much power back into the network that it is stressing the system and causing voltage rises that could damage household devices such as computers and televisions.

Power distribution lines and home wiring were designed for electricity to flow from power stations to appliances, but households with solar panels do the reverse of this.

One of Australia's biggest electricity network providers, Ausgrid, yesterday warned that there was a "significant likelihood" that costs would have to rise because of the impact of the solar photovoltaic cells.

In a letter to the NSW pricing regulator, obtained by The Australian, Ausgrid warns that in areas with a high concentration of solar cells, voltage levels can rise and this can have "consequences for appliances and equipment in customers' homes". It can also cause solar systems to switch off.

In Queensland, some new applications for rooftop solar systems have been rejected and Energex now urges customers to check that a solar PV system can be installed without threatening the operation of the network.

In Western Australia, Horizon Power has set limits on how much renewable energy can be installed in a system without affecting the power supply. Horizon is rejecting applications for new renewables installations in Exmouth and Carnarvon, and accepting them only from households, schools and not-for-profit organisations in Broome and Leonora.

Energex spokesman Mike Swanston said it was becoming difficult for electricity distribution authorities to set up the power system to ensure correct voltages when some houses in a street had solar and others did not.

"It is similar to the water network - the pipes get smaller and the pressure is designed to be lower as you get closer to the house," Mr Swanston said. "Start pumping water backwards into the smaller household pipes, and all sorts of strange things happen."

Energy Networks Association acting chief executive John Deveraux said the problem would only get worse as more rooftop solar panels were installed and the systems got bigger.

In southeast Queensland alone, more than 22,300 rooftop solar systems were installed in the first three months of this financial year - more than the 19,000 installed in the 2009-10 financial year, according to Energex.

Federal Labor's target of producing 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources such as solar power by 2020 has pushed up demand for the rooftop PV systems. So, too, have state-based schemes that pay generous feed-in tariffs to households for injecting power back into the grid.

Meanwhile, a flood of cheap solar panels being made in Asia and imported into Australia has offset moves by the government and some states to wind back their subsidies.

Power quality problems are worse in rural areas as the network is sometimes weaker and there is generally more space, meaning that bigger solar PV systems with capacities of 5 kilowatts or more are being installed, compared with the 1kW-3kW systems more common in urban areas.

Essential Energy, which operates powerlines in country NSW and parts of southern Queensland, wants NSW to follow Queensland's lead on introducing a cap on solar PV systems of 5kW to avoid power quality problems.

Endeavour Energy, which runs the network in Sydney's greater west, warns that some solar panel installers have not done voltage checks and other measurements to ensure the solar PV system operates adequately. "The biggest problem we've got with the accelerated rollout is making sure every installation is fully compliant," Endeavour's general manager of network development, Ty Christopher, said.

Adelaide solar panel installer Chris Hart said the problems were worse in the summer months, when airconditioner use added to the stress on the system. Mr Hart, who owns EcoSouth Solar Electricity, said areas with a lot of solar panels pushed the voltage up to the maximum allowable level, triggering shutdowns in the individual systems and taking the load off the grid.

He said solar systems "drop out for a few minutes" when voltages get too high, a phenomenon known as "tripping out". "Then they try to come online again and it pushes the voltage up again and it's very wearing," he said. "That's the problem with having too much solar in an area where the local authority hasn't got enough wires or copper in the street to hold the voltage down."

Mr Hart said the size of conductors and cables in the streets would have to be upgraded "so it can handle lots of solar, versus times when there's lots of load and no solar".

"If you get a very, very hot night and there's obviously no solar, the mains voltage is going to drop a lot," he said. "If your wires aren't up to it, you've got a problem."

The network companies say measures such as retrofits and battery storage can stop the "tripping" but can be costly. In Western Australia, Horizon Power has set "hosting capacity limits" for renewable energy installations.


Coal seam gas industry fires back at Greenies

THE coal seam gas industry mounted a strong defence of its actions yesterday, claiming it had spent about $10 billion, most of it in Australia, and created about 9000 jobs. It also backed its environmental controls and standards and vowed that it could operate to the benefit of Queensland.

At the Queensland Gas Conference yesterday, Treasurer Andrew Fraser labelled the industry as a once-in-200-year opportunity.

Mr Fraser said it was helping to create a "meat and three veg" economy compared with the sugar hit of the credit binge.

Premier Anna Bligh said the industry was at the centre of the rise of China and would help stabilise the Asia Pacific. "Queensland resources are helping to lift millions of people out of poverty at a rate unprecedented in human history and these results have a global significance."

Adding to the promise of billions for an education fund from the CSG royalties, the industry yesterday outlined mammoth investment, including $13 million for community infrastructure in Gladstone.

Queensland Gas Company has funded a $150 million community management plan and said it had so far spent $3.7 billion in Australia as it builds a $15 billion plant in Gladstone. The company has estimated it will add $32 billion to the economy in its first 10 years.

The spending was announced at a gas conference where the industry hit back against claims it was damaging the environment, particularly the Great Artesian Basin.

"The negative impacts on water are overstated," QGC boss Jim Knudsen said. "We are going to generate a huge amount of value. "We are making the communities a better place to live."

About $160 million from QGC had also been awarded in contracts to local businesses.

Santos's Mark Macfarlane said his company's GLNG project had committed $31 million to the Gladstone and Maranoa regions and had employed 386 Gladstone locals for its Curtis Island development.

Santos also announced a CSG training centre with SkillsTech at Acacia Ridge to train up to 90 people at a time to work in the gas fields.

The Queensland University of Technology has also teamed up with Schlumberger, the world's largest oilfield services provider, for a research centre in unconventional gas while the University of Queensland will develop a centre for CSG with $20 million from the industry.


Serious neglect of dementia sufferers' in care homes

DEMENTIA sufferers' complaints are being routinely ignored in Queensland nursing homes as management struggles to provide the care residents need.

Nurses and carers have told The Courier-Mail resident complaints go unanswered as home management write the complaints off as simply a result of their illness.

Other residents and family members have complained of heavy-handed treatment at homes, including calling the police to remove patients and carers who raise concerns.

"Complaints got residents nowhere if they had mild dementia or no regular visits from family," one care assistant wrote to The Courier-Mail detailing her time on nursing homes. "They were just dismissed as not knowing what they're talking about.

"I saw them humiliated and intimidated, spoken about offensively as if they weren't even in the room.

In its submission to the Productivity Commission's aged-care report, Alzheimer's Australia, which lobbies on behalf of all dementia sufferers and their carers, said dementia was one of the most common reasons for entering a nursing home.

"Dementia can no longer be considered an issue affecting a small population of older adults in aged care but must be seen as part of the core business of aged-care provision," it says.

"Dementia-specific services should not simply be a way of locking away difficult individuals from other residents.

"For the vast majority of residents with dementia there is no need to separate them from individuals who do not have cognitive impairment in dementia specific care.

"Facilities should be designed according to dementia-friendly principles and the quality of dementia care in mainstream facilities should be improved."

A Courier-Mail investigation recently found dozens of nursing homes had failed to meet basic government care standards.

Failures included bungled fire safety evacuations, residents forced to share prescription drugs, frail and elderly residents soiling their beds because there was no help, and homes where staff and volunteers had not passed police checks.

Chronic wounds were being left untreated, and residents were at risk of malnutrition and dehydration, audits by the Aged Care and Accreditation Agency say.


Internet stymies government control

Broadly speaking and subject to constitutional limits, the Australian Parliament has powers to make laws for Australia. It can make laws that might affect Australian interests but enforcing them abroad is problematic, to say the least. Australian law cannot be enforced on businesses located outside of Australia that are not breaking the country in which they operate. The internet has enabled such businesses to provide services to Australians without being subject to Australian law.

Take, for example, the Interactive Gambling Act (IGA), which bans the advertising or provision of casino-style gambling to Australians. The ban applies to any person anywhere in the world and criminalises the directors of foreign companies that supply gambling services to Australians, thereby exposing them to arrest should they ever come to Australia. The IGA has been in place for 10 years but according to a recent Productivity Commission report, it has largely failed. The report estimates that in 2008 some 700,000 Australians — or about 4 per cent of the population — played online casino games. This number is thought to have increased since.

To date there have been no prosecutions of foreign casino gaming providers. Australians are therefore able to bet offshore with unregulated providers, and the tax from those services goes overseas.

Other laws that do not apply when Australians use online services based overseas include laws relating to privacy, content regulation and consumer protection. Access to those overseas services diminishes the power of government - not only because Australians can elect to use a service that is not regulated here, but also because our lawmakers must have regard to local businesses who are disadvantaged when trying to complete with online services.

If lawmakers make rules that are onerous or expensive they can inhibit local businesses and encourage international companies providing services to Australians to remain offshore.

The internet also diminishes government power in two other important ways. The first is that it facilitates unregulated communication. The power of unregulated communication is amply demonstrated by the Arab Spring and, for Australia, the release of sensitive diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. An important issue for the independent media inquiry is how online sources of news and information are affecting traditional media and how the traditional regulatory framework for newspapers and journalism should respond.

The second comes from the distributed nature of the internet. Now that we rely on the internet for so much communication and economic activity, it has become critical infrastructure. As a network of networks, the internet places government in a position where information sharing, co-operation and quick response by regulatory agencies (rather than set and forget regulation) is the only way to exercise control.

Our information infrastructure is protected by constant monitoring, intervention and international co-operation. In a new and significant way our national security is in the hands of others. An example of this is the difficulty that copyright rights holders have in preventing infringement of copyright over the internet. The rights and penalties in the Copyright Act have had little impact on the level of infringement so rights holders have turned to ISPs to develop a co-operative enforcement regime that they believe will be a more effective solution.

Is any of this really new? Reliance on the internet and exposure to the risks associated with its nature as a shared network is new. For a long time Australians have been able to buy mail order from overseas. It is new that a market place of foreign providers is now competing on product, price and service 24 hours a day in the family home. In relation to communication, telephones and mobiles are hardly new. What is new is the power of social media. Instant multimedia publication by anyone to the world at large or selected interest groups is a new and powerful tool.

So what should our politicians do? Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy has called for blocking of access to refused classification material online and the Broadcasting Services Act and the IGA can both order internet service providers to block illegal content. The problem is that prohibition doesn't have a great and glorious history of success. The idea of governments preventing access to lawful overseas services can have trade implications and blocking on the internet can be circumvented.

How to regulate the electronic economy is a live subject in a number of important government reviews under way such as the Convergence Review, the independent media inquiry and the review of the IGA. How the issue is handled is a significant and ongoing challenge. The response we need is a measured adjustment to the new environment. Lawmakers need to be prepared to give up control of matters that have previously been the subject of direct regulation and instead secure industry co-operation and facilitate user self help as substitutes. The response we may get is heavy handed regulation with little practical effect.


7 December, 2011

Global cooling hits my home State

Queensland's summer cold snap breaks records. I've been wearing a flannelette shirt for a couple of days now -- when temperatures would normally be around 90 degrees F -- JR

QUEENSLAND'S summer cold snap has turned into a record-breaking streak, with a string of southern and western towns recording their coldest December days in years - some up to 15C below average.

It came as forecasters predicted almost a month of wet weather, running through Christmas to at least January 3. And it's already started with rain falling over the southeast this morning.

Brisbane is predicted to reach a maximum of 23C today – well below the December average of 29.4C. Coolangatta yesterday dipped to 20.7C, its coldest December day in 46 years.

Applethorpe, on the Granite Belt, dropped to a record 13C, breaking its previous coldest December day in 1986. Nearby Stanthorpe had a top of 13C. Its previous record was 13.1C, also set in 1986. Balonne's previous all-time low of 18.4C, recorded in 1975, was surpassed at 3pm yesterday when the southern town registered 17.5C.

Weather bureau climate scientist Jeff Sabburg said days of cloudy, windy and rainy conditions had produced the low temperatures.

"It's quite amazing," Dr Sabburg said. "We are close to, or have records broken at, quite a number of places. A lot of it is down to this cold air coming in from the south."

In Brisbane it also was doona weather, with temperatures dropping to 17.9C overnight. With a wind chill and low humidity factored in, the city made a low of 16.4C.

Other places at record or near-record lows were Toowoomba, Thargomindah, Texas and Goondiwindi. Forecaster Peter Otto said Brisbane was about 2C below average overnight.

Although the south was hit hardest, the cold patch affected much of the state, with Mount Isa 4C below average, Cloncurry 5C below and the Maryborough region 6C to 8C below.


Same Sex "Marriage" and the Australian Constitution

Below are some excerpts from a long article which quotes extensive legal precedents for arguing that the meaning of marriage in Australia is constitutionally fixed and therefore homosexual "marriage" would be unconstitutional

Section 51(xxi) of the Australian Constitution gives the Federal Government jurisdiction over marriage. Unlike the situation in the U.S., in Australia there cannot be as many marriage laws as there are states. State and Federal Governments can choose to give married and unmarried couples the same rights and services in any area under their respective jurisdictions, but only the Federal Government can tell us who are married. But this does not mean that it can take control of any grouping by calling it "marriage".

As Justice Brennan put it, in the case of Fisher v Fisher (1986):
[C]onstitutional interpretation of the marriage power would be an exercise of hopeless circularity if the Parliament could itself define the nature and incidents of marriage by laws enacted in purported pursuance of the power. ... [T]hose words do not empower the Parliament to legislate upon the customary incidents of marriage so as to affect the nature of the marriage relationship.

Marriage had a specific meaning under the common law at the date of the Constitution - and it goes back not simply to 1362, but as far as human memory runs.

And what is that meaning? I shall merely cite the relevant case law prior to 1900.....

Two years later, the matter arose again, this time in the case of a marriage contracted in Japan. Again, Justice Hannen ruled, in Brinkley v A-G (1890) 15 P. D. 76 at 79:

A marriage which is not that of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others, though it may pass by the name of marriage, is not the status which the English law contemplates when dealing with the subject of marriage.

His Honour then went on to determine that, since Japanese marriages do indeed follow this pattern, they are automatically valid under the common law. He also pointed out that, although it is often called "Christian marriage" as a shorthand phrase, Christianity need have nothing to do with it.....

What else needs to be added? If polygamous and potentially polygamous unions, which have a long and venerable history, and have been practised by a majority of the world's population, are not recognised by the common law, or section 51(xxi), what chance same sex unions, which have never been treated as marriages except in a few small societies in aberrant times?

Not only that, but the parliamentarians know it - or should know it. In 2002 they sought legal opinion on the subject. The conclusion was that, although there was not complete unanimity in the High Court, the majority opinions suggest that such a law would have a very hard time passing muster. Furthermore, there would be many people who would have standing to contest it: a state government, an heir or next of kin sidelined by such a "marriage", a public servant who objects to registering it, or a celebrant who may be forced to celebrate it.

The social deformers are pretending that marriage is the product of the law, and is merely whatever grouping of people the law wants to consecrate. But it isn't. As Sir William Scott pointed out as far back as 1795, it is the fundamental basis of society, which pre-dates the law (and probably the human race), which the law recognises and regulates for the benefit of society, but which it does not create.

That is why I have consistently put "marriage" in quotation marks when referring to same sex unions. It is all a game of "let's pretend". But, as Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have said: "How many legs has a dog? Only four. Calling the tail a fifth leg doesn't make it one."


Hate speech law not well reasoned

By James Allan, Garrick professor of law at the University of Queensland.

I AM delighted to live in a country in which someone is perfectly free to voice his opinion on why Australia's racial vilification or hate speech laws, used to take Andrew Bolt to court, and indeed to force his employer to print a judge-authored pseudo apology, are jolly good laws.

Of course, the author of this defence of these hate speech laws enacted by a former Labor government, Ron Merkel, is hardly a disinterested or impartial observer. He was the main lawyer for the plaintiffs who used these hate speech laws successfully to sue Bolt. He is the lawyer who, in running that case, made reference to eugenics, Nazis, anti-Semitism and more.

Yet Merkel is an honourable man. Still, consider what he said in that opinion piece of his (The Australian, November 21). First off, Merkel claimed that the problem was that Bolt got his facts wrong. That, asserted Merkel, is why he lost.

The judge in the Bolt case, Mordecai Bromberg, had a slightly different take on things, however. In paragraph 461 he said: "It is important that nothing in the orders I make should suggest that it is unlawful (under these hate speech laws) for a publication to deal with racial identification including challenging the genuineness of the identification of a group of people. I have not found Mr Bolt and HWT to have contravened s18C simply because the newspaper articles dealt with subject matter of that kind. I have found a contravention because of the manner in which that subject matter was dealt with."

Put differently, the judge didn't like Bolt's tone. So Merkel's talk of this all being solely about getting the facts wrong should be made of sterner stuff. (And I leave aside here Justice Bromberg's bizarre decision to assess the "reasonably likely to offend" test in these hate speech laws by reference to some objective member of the group claiming victimhood, not by reference to a reasonable member of the community at large -- a game winner for Merkel's side right off the bat.)

Merkel, who writes not to praise Bolt, though possibly to bury him, goes on to characterise what is at stake as a "freedom to vilify". But that's plain bizarre for anyone such as me who cares strongly about free speech and ensuring as much scope as possible for people in a vibrant democracy to speak their minds.

My point is that one honourable man's vilification, someone such as Merkel, is another honourable person's fair and reasonable comment, someone such as Bolt. So the Merkel characterisation stacks the cards in his favour right off the bat. We are talking about the need for free speech here, not some subsection of it that Merkel (no doubt because of the hate speech laws) gets to denominate in advance as vilification.

Put differently, it's a tad circular to say "we need this legislation because we don't want the sort of vilification that is only counted as vilification because of that same legislation".

Merkel goes on to equate these hate speech laws with defamation laws and the limits on speech such defamation laws impose. Now Merkel says that, and certainly he is an honourable man. But one can't help noticing that, as the lawyer for these plaintiffs, Merkel chose not to sue in defamation, and try for the sometimes significant monetary damages a victory in that realm can bring.

Instead he went after Bolt using only these hate speech laws, ones where the remedy was an Orwellian judge-drafted pseudo apology and the banning of publishing the "offending" pieces. Was that because Merkel wanted to avoid the jury that usually comes with a defamation case? Was it because he reckoned he couldn't win a defamation case (my view)?

Certainly on this score and in his choice of how to pursue Bolt, our honourable Merkel did not seem ambitious.

Then we get to Merkel's nod in the direction of the judicially created implied freedom of political communication. Now, though I am a very big free-speech proponent and like the general outcomes of these cases,

I think they are simply awful judicial decisions as far as honest interpretation of our Constitution goes.

So the fact these cases now build in an abridging inquiry, or reasonable limits test as Merkel alludes to, is neither here nor there. In a strong democracy the people, the voters, do not rely on seven unelected judges to fix their awful legislation. They vote for people who will repeal it using the democratic process.

Next, Merkel asserts that those, such as me, who want these hate speech laws repealed are inconsistent because they don't support free speech when it comes to Holocaust deniers. But as it happens, though in the Canadian context, I have said precisely that -- that using hate speech laws against moronic Holocaust deniers is counter-productive. Get these views into the daylight and show how idiotic they are. And I know that Brendan O'Neill, another Bolt defender, has said the same. Perhaps Merkel could get his facts correct?

The countries where Holocaust denial is most alive, as it happens, are in the Arab world where free speech is most curtailed.

Oh, and last, Merkel points to other countries that also have hate speech laws. Of course, that is no justification for a bad law. But anyway, what Merkel omits to mention is that Canada, a country one assumes he would be happy to compare us with, is now looking as though it will repeal its notorious s13 hate speech law equivalent.

Now, I speak not to disprove what Merkel spoke. As a keen proponent of much scope for all of us to speak our minds, I'm all in favour of hearing a defence of our egregious hate speech laws that is self-serving (coming from one who was the lawyer who used them successfully); that mischaracterises them (it's about a judge's view of tone, not just facts); that gets the facts wrong itself (about what's happening overseas, about the supposed inconsistency of Bolt defenders); and that wants it both ways (by pretending this is like defamation when that legal option was shunned by the writer as the plaintiffs' lawyer).

As I said, I'm always in favour of reading the self-serving, mischaracterising, factually wrong, two-faced defence of our hate speech laws. Alas, I'm not sure that sort of opinion piece will bring all that many new converts to the Merkel point of view.


Aboriginal beliefs threaten $30 billion gas bonanza in Australia

It's the business of the State to empower and reinforce a particular set of religious beliefs? This would violate the separation of church and State in America

A PROPOSED $30 billion gas hub at James Price Point on Western Australia's Kimberley coast would disturb sites used for secret Aboriginal "men's business", lawyers say.

Documents seen by the Herald show a song cycle, a path sacred to the Goolarabooloo and other people of the Dampier Peninsula, which runs through the James Price Point site, 60 kilometres north of Broome. Woodside plans to build a liquefied natural gas terminal there to process gas from its Browse field. Late last month Chalk and Fitzgerald, lawyers for a traditional custodian, Joseph Roe, wrote to Woodside and its joint venture partners in the Browse development - Chevron, Shell, BHP and BP - requesting that site clearing works be suspended as they may be in breach of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act.

Andrew Chalk of Chalk and Fitzgerald expects shortly to commence legal proceedings to require the WA Registrar of Aboriginal Sites to include the song cycle on the sites register, as was determined in 1991.

Mr Chalk said the registrar had "not explained why the song cycle was not listed in accordance with the standard procedures nor why the office has not taken the usual approach to protecting the site that was notified in July this year, which is to treat it as a site until investigations are carried out to determine otherwise".

The Premier, Colin Barnett, has described James Price Point as an "unremarkable beach" but in 1989 a report by the WA Department of Aboriginal Sites identified James Price Point, also known as Walmadany, as an area of "major" heritage significance, the highest category, with archaeological integrity and dense material over extensive areas including hearths and bone remains.

In 1991 the WA Mining Warden rejected an application for a mining exploration licence by Terrex Resources, based on objections from the Goolarabooloo Aboriginal Corporation and recommendations of an all-male subgroup of the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee, established under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

Warden John Howard then heard evidence from official anthropologist Nicholas Green, who had been commissioned to document the song cycle, that the song cycle was of "critical" significance to the Aboriginal people of the West Kimberley because it was part of the initiation of young men into Aboriginal law.

"The essence of that law has been placed in the ground," said Mr Green. "Not only at the name places but at all points between those name places."

Mr Green said he had personal knowledge of the song cycle having "attended a ceremony a number of years ago and witnessed for myself the actual songs". He had recorded a lot of information on audio tapes, which had been transcribed, but the evidence was not provided to the court because of its "extreme, sacred nature".

Woodside said yesterday it had obtained all necessary regulatory approvals and consents required to conduct land clearing and geotechnical studies at James Price Point.

"Woodside engaged senior traditional owners to complete detailed anthropological and archaeological surveys and received the appropriate cultural directions in order to conduct our work within this area," the company said. "We have taken this approach to ensure that our work program does not interfere with any potential heritage sites. Traditional owners are providing ongoing assistance to our contractors by monitoring our approved site activities."

But Mr Chalk said Woodside's "approach to the song cycle was one of recklessness, given its significance and of which they have been on notice for many years. It is arguably also illegal."

Mr Roe's challenge recalls the Hindmarsh Island controversy in South Australia in the mid-1990s, which led to a royal commission into allegations that Aboriginal opponents of a proposed bridge to the island had fabricated claims that the project would interfere with "secret women's business".

On Tuesday Chief Justice Wayne Martin in the WA Supreme Court will hand down judgment on a separate challenge by Mr Roe's brother Phillip, and Jabbir Jabbir man Neil McKenzie, to the validity of the WA government's notice of compulsory acquisition of the site at James Price Point.

The threat of compulsory acquisition was used by Mr Barnett, who supports the gas hub, to pressure traditional owners to surrender their native title rights over the James Price Point site and accept a $1.5 billion deal, championed by the Kimberley Land Council, allowing the Woodside project to go ahead.


6 December, 2011


I went into Woolworths to buy Christmas cards yesterday. I am not fanatical about it as I am an atheist but I like to buy Christian-themed cards out of respect for the Christian basis of the holiday. But although Woolworths had a big range of cards I could find none with Christian themes. Pretty poor for Australia's biggest retailer!

So I went to the Indian shop next door where I occasionally see the owner reading a nicely-bound copy of the Bhagavad Gita in Hindi. Sure enough he had packs of cards with Christian themes. So he got my business.

A sad day when it takes a Hindu to show what tolerance is like! Why on earth would Woolworths be so bigoted against Christianity? Who is going to be offended by them including a few cards with Christian themes in their range?

Australia is not a religious country but there are still a lot of committed Christians about so they would find the Woolworths offering unsatisfactory and would go to (say) a newsagent to buy their cards. So bigotry is also bad business, as it usually is.

Greens abandon official support for Israel boycott

The NSW Greens have abandoned their official support for an international boycott of the state of Israel, a policy that drew unprecedented ire towards Marrickville Council this year and exposed broader rifts within the party.

At a State Council meeting yesterday, which was not open to the media, every local Greens group voted to support a revised motion which recognises the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign as a legitimate political tactic, but to abandon it as an official party position.

The policy provoked a huge backlash from Jewish groups and some sections of the media when it was adopted in-principle by Marrickville Council last December, with support from Greens, Labor and an independent.

Some Green party members, including Bob Brown and MLC Cate Faehrmann, blamed the policy for contributing to former mayor Fiona Byrne's unsuccessful tilt at the seat of Marrickville in the March state election. Immediately after the election, the council abandoned the policy when two of the Greens on the council split and voted with others to overturn it at a dramatic meeting.

Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham more recently criticised the targeting of Israeli-owned Max Brenner chocolate shops by BDS protestors.

In May, the party convened a working group of about 25 people to reconsider the divisive policy. Their report provided the basis for the revised position.

Ms Rhiannon, a strong proponent of the policy over the last year, denied the policy had exposed a rift within the party, and said a consensus view had now been reached.

“The resolution recognises the legitimacy of the BDS as a political tactic and also recognises that there is a diversity of views in the community and the Greens,” she said.

“While there have been a variety of views among Greens members on BDS there was strong and united commitment to continue our work for Palestinian human rights.

“The Review rejected and condemned false accusations of anti-Semitism.”

The BDS policy had drawn high profile support to the party and Marrickville Council too, with Bishop Desmond Tutu and human rights advocate Julian Burnside QC sending messages of support.

The motion adopted at yesterday's conference reaffirmed their position that the Australian government should halt military cooperation and military trade with Israel and resolved that the party would also work to develop a broader ethical procurement policy.

It also recognised the right of individual Greens members to participate in BDS campaigns.


Top jobs at Queensland Health to be cut to divert funds to frontline services

Good if it happens

A GOVERNMENT razor gang will slash the number of highly-paid Queensland Health bosses to divert funds to frontline health services.

A controversial new blueprint details plans for the most extensive rationalisation of Queensland Health in decades and will force deputy directors-general, who are paid $300,000 to $400,000, to compete against each other to keep a smaller number of jobs.

Seven positions will be reduced to three and all will have to reapply.

Queensland Health has already announced 1000 non-frontline jobs will be slashed.

It is understood the department will also try to find savings by cutting rented office space for its bureaucrats.

Queensland Health boss Tony O'Connell said: "It will be an 18-month to two-year transition. It's a once-in-a-generation change. The incumbents will see out their contracts."

He said savings would be directed back to hospitals, but more money would mean more scrutiny.


Parents who spank kids 'only human'

A PARENTING guide author has reignited the smacking debate by defending parents who snap and hit their children as "only human".

Anne-Marie Taplin, author of Being Mummy and website, said some parents fell into the gap between "what should happen and what actually happens". "Children can be very good at pushing parents' buttons and sometimes you can just feel a surge of rage and lose control," Ms Taplin said.

While acknowledging current advice that smacking was unacceptable, the mother of two said it was not fair for others to judge parents who hit their children.

"I would never advocate hitting a child but I think we need to acknowledge that parents are only human and be very careful about how we judge the people who are doing one of the world's most challenging jobs," she said.

Australian laws allow corporal punishment of children as long as it is "reasonable" in the circumstances, but Victorian coroner John Olle earlier this year pleaded with parents to "never hit a child". Mr Olle was inquiring into the death of a girl, aged two.


Victorians demand double penalties from courts

VICTORIANS have called for the courts to dish out sentences for serious crimes two to three times longer than they do now. The State Government's controversial sentencing survey found a wide gap between the demands of the public and the legal profession.

Attorney-General Robert Clark said the findings had steeled the Government's hardline approach on tougher sentences.

Many of the 18,000 respondents called for the toughest penalties for murder, drug trafficking and arson causing death. They want judges to consider the impact on victims, and premeditation by the offender, as reasons for heavier punishment.

The heavier penalties demanded are already on the books, which means harsher punishment remains in the hands of the courts.

But the survey results will now be considered by the State Government as it shapes new minimum "baseline" sentences for serious crimes. The survey also found:

* OPPOSITION to parole for those convicted of murder and manslaughter.

* RESPONDENTS who said they were lawyers were generally more likely to call for sentence discounts, while police were the least likely.

* A LACK of criminal record, co-operation with police and a guilty plea were reasons to impose a lighter sentence.

Mr Clark said he was pleased with the response. "While public commentary about sentencing issues is often dominated by experts and interest groups, this survey provided all Victorians with an opportunity to have their say," Mr Clark said. "These results add to the Government's determination to introduce the sentencing reforms we have committed to."

Victorian Bar chairman Melanie Sloss, SC, said the survey should be treated with caution. She said the Sentencing Advisory Council was better placed to inform the Government. "They have already undertaken and made available some very good and reliable scientific research and analysis that is better suited for this purpose."

Law Institute of Victoria president Caroline Counsel said she was not surprised by the call for harsher sentences. "That's in accordance with what we thought people would say," she said. The survey questions did not allow respondents to consider the subtleties of cases that judges took into account when forming a sentence, she said.

Crime Victims Support Association president Noel McNamara said his criticisms of sentencing had been vindicated. "It sends a clear message to the judges: you've got it wrong," Mr McNamara said. "I think the public has done a great job. A lot of people (who took part) weren't victims of crime, and they've got it right."

Most respondents said the penalty for murder should be life imprisonment, already the current maximum. During the five years to 2010, 133 people were sentenced for murder, and 11 were given life terms, according to Sentencing Advisory Council statistics. For the rest, the median principal sentence was 20 years, with a non-parole period of 15 years and three months.

Asked about commercial drug trafficking, most called for a sentence between 21 and 25 years, compared with an existing median principal sentence of 6.5 years. For culpable driving, most wanted 16 to 20 years, but the existing median is 5.5.


Another failure of a government computer application

Governments and computer bungles go together

A MUCH-hyped email system which cost taxpayers $46 million has been rejected by most State Government departments. Trumpeted as a revolutionary way to centralise systems allowing workers to more easily move between agencies, the email platform was rejected as too costly by some of the departments it was specifically designed for. So far only 2000 users have signed up, at an estimated cost of $23,000 each – the price of a small car.

A Public Works Department spokesman insisted the Identity, Directory and Email Services program was set for wider installation by 2013 but sources said the Education, Communities and Community Safety departments had already opted out.

The state's largest agency, Queensland Health, is not included in the project scope and is unlikely to sign up. The system has also been plagued by delays and is already two years behind schedule.

It is budgeted to cost $252 million over the next decade, with hopes $123 million would be recouped in efficiency savings. But already a $46 million treasury loan, spent setting up the system, has been wiped to reduce charges and encourage hesitant agencies to join. About 81,000 users are needed for the system to break even.

ICT Minister Simon Finn said the wiped loan was not a loss because "it's all the Government's money".

An industry source said: "They will never save one dollar on this project, ever."

It is the latest in a series of government IT failures, with $219 million already wasted on the health payroll debacle. The Public Works spokesman admitted the IDES savings were dependent on agencies accepting the system.

But he said the department was "currently in discussions" with agencies to move more bureaucrats on to the system, with Transport and Main Roads already committed.

Mr Finn denied agencies had opted out and stood behind the email system, saying it would improve security while giving staff more mobility and better remote access.

Sources said many who had commissioned the project had since left and those who took their place had "inherited a basket case" and were likely to become scapegoats for the system's failures.

They said the project, which included a single log-in so employees could access all programs after entering their details only once each day, was a "great idea" but had been "terribly executed".

Opposition ICT spokeswoman Ros Bates labelled the system a "monumental waste" that mirrored the payroll disaster because managers had "declared themselves exempt from good project governance".

Auditor-General Glenn Poole, in a June report, condemned the project's management as "not fully effective", with no clear business owner to push agencies to accept whole-of-government change. He found only four agencies were expected to accept the system, with others choosing to reassess their priorities.

The summer floods had also hit budgets, meaning more departments had baulked at the cost to migrate, he found. Mr Poole estimated only 20,000 users would be using IDES by December next year - 75 per cent less than expected. "This will result in the program incurring further losses," he wrote.

Mr Finn disputed that, saying 53,000 users were expected by 2013.

All 10 government agencies using Microsoft Exchange would be forced to migrate by mid-2015 anyway, he said, with the remaining three departments given the option to choose.


5 December, 2011

Victory to Julia Gillard as Labor national conference agrees to uranium exports to India

Good for the miners and Australia generally -- but usually a big Leftist boogeyman

LABOR has committed to a controversial plan to export uranium to India after a fiery debate at the national conference.

The move was one of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's personal policy plans, and she opened debate this morning, telling the conference: "We are at the right time in the history of the world to seize a new era of opportunity in this, the Asian century."

Ms Gillard announced the plan to overturn Australia's ban on uranium sales to India just weeks ago, with the issue sparking questions of whether Queensland will begin uranium mining.

The amendment to Labor's platform was carried, 206 votes to 185, but was one of the most heated and divisive of the conference.

Labor ministers Anthony Albanese, Stephen Conroy and Peter Garrett spoke passionately against the plan, to cheers from the public gallery.

Mr Conroy became visibly emotional over the issue, speaking about his family's experiences living near a nuclear plant in the UK, which he said had "leaked everywhere" in 1957.

Mr Conroy appeared close to tears when he told how his uncle had used a geiger scale to measure for radiation from the Windscale fire. "I've never voted for it, and I'm not going to vote for it today," he said.

Left firebrand Doug Cameron had led the charge against the proposed sale, saying, "Prime Minister you are wrong." "Forget all the arguments about jobs, it's a sideshow."

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill seconded the Prime Minister's proposal on uranium, and was supported by Labor ministers Martin Ferguson and Stephen Smith.

Anti-uranium protesters gathered in Darling Harbour with cries of "shame".

In Brisbane, Premier Anna Bligh backed exports to India and said Mining Minster Stirling Hinchliffe had exercised her proxy at the national conference to support the move.

"But that has no bearing whatsoever on what we decided here in Queensland," she said. "We've made a decision, we won't be mining uranium and nothing that happens at federal conference will change that."

Ms Bligh denied she was being contradictory in supporting uranium exports but banning its mining in Queensland. "We've been very clear, in Queensland there's no place for uranium mining," she said.

"This is a very big product that is exported out of South Australia the question of where it is exported to is one for the Federal Government."

However, the Labor Party's Left faction won a consolation prize on the day it lost the fight to stop Australia selling uranium to India. At the ALP national conference on Sunday, delegates endorsed establishing a southern hemisphere nuclear weapons free zone treaty.

Labor senator Louise Pratt told the conference the decision to overturn the ban on uranium sales to India was disappointing and not enough had been done to eliminate the existence of nuclear weapons.

"I certainly don't want my home state of Western Australia being part of this trade," Senator Pratt said. "But we must do everything we can to rid the world of the scourge of nuclear weapons."


Labor Party still supporting live animal export trade

Farmers win; Greens lose

THE Labor party has reaffirmed its support for the controversial live animal export industry but has rejected calls to make stunning compulsory.

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig spoke out in support of the industry at the ALP national conference on Sunday, moving a motion that Labor recognise the importance of the industry to jobs in northern Australia.

The motion acknowledged the need for supply chain assurance and expanding the use of stunning techniques.

The federal government suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia earlier this year after a public backlash following ABC's Four Corners program in June exposing mistreatment of the animals.

The minister said Australia should not have to choose between live exporting or the domestic frozen meat processing industry.

"The once in a generational reforms Labor has put in place has put animal welfare at the heart of this trade," Mr Ludwig said, adding he didn't want to see the live export industry torpedoed.

Labor Left faction member Melissa Parke moved a separate motion calling for mandatory stunning to be a minimum requirement for international animal live exports.

"If we are going to send animals on long journeys across overseas the least we can do is accord them with the mercy of stunning before slaughter," she said.

There is reluctance to use stunning in Indonesia because it goes against Islamic slaughtering customs.

Labor MP Mike Kelly dismissed the animal welfare concerns. "It's time to move on from this issue, we've spent a lot of time on it," he said adding that Mr Ludwig had addressed the problem. "It's time for us to move on to more important issues like the situation of our fellow human beings in East Africa in Syria, Libya, Egypt, North Korea and Iran that's the stuff we should be talking about," he said.

Labor voted in favour of the minister's motion but rejected Ms Parkes' call for stunning to be mandatory.


Labor faces pulpit-led backlash on gay marriage

LABOR'S approval of gay marriage has sparked a pulpit-led revolt and accusations that Julia Gillard has breached an election promise to protect the Marriage Act.

Factional warlords engineered a political fix at the ALP national conference to save the Prime Minister's credibility, with the party backing her motion to give Labor MPs a conscience vote on the issue, but the decision to amend the platform to include same-sex marriage has set off a firestorm.

Interfaith religious leaders yesterday warned that Labor faced the loss of seats - which would turf it out of power - echoing warnings from the Australian Christian Lobby that the marginal electorates of Corangamite and Deakin in Victoria, Greenway and Reid in western Sydney, and Brisbane's Moreton were in danger.

Speaking from Rome, the leader of the Catholic Church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, said Labor's move was "a temporary win for the political class".

"Marriage is about man, woman and children, as it has always been. Any Australia-wide political party which repudiates this does not want to govern, and rejects both tradition and the working class," Cardinal Pell said.

Anglican Church Primate Phillip Aspinall said his church had discussed the issue of gay marriage at its general synod and consistently supported marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, based on scripture.

And Isse Musse, imam of the Virgin Mary Mosque in the Melbourne suburb of Werribee, and the spiritual leader of Melbourne's Horn of Africa Muslim community, urged federal MPs to "look at the next 100 years and consider where families would be as they make this decision". "This is going to have some bearing on how people vote when elections come," he said.

"If a person is a true Muslim - and these days there are bogus Muslims, as there are bogus Christians as well - and understands Islam, then a conscience vote would lead him or her to vote against same-sex marriage."

On Saturday, Labor's national conference in Sydney amended the party's platform to recognise gay marriage, putting itself at odds with Ms Gillard, who insists that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The chief executive officer of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, said: "Jewish tradition dictates that marriage should be between a man and a woman." He added: "However, the progressive and conservative movements in Australia have endorsed officiating at same-sex commitment ceremonies."

The Grand Mufti of Australia, His Eminence Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, told The Australian he was "deeply disappointed with the result of this vote". "We see in this a serious incursion on the nature of families as created by God and as known by humanity. I believe that this will reduce the support for the Labor Party," he said.

"Australian society prides itself in, and highly respects, its value system. What has occurred with this vote threatens the family unit and the natural order of matrimony, being a natural union between a male and a female."

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh warned that political extremists and Christians could rally to defeat the Labor reform and bolster right-wing political causes.

Ms Bligh, who faces an election next year, has vowed to fight for the reform and expressed her desire that federal parliament legalise same-sex marriage before the next federal election, due in 2013. "Is it possible that we will see some of the large Christian churches mobilise in this election?" Ms Bligh said. "Yes. But I don't think this will be the only issue that motivates them."

The president of the Islamic Friendship Society, Keysar Trad, noted that at the NSW election in March the NSW Council of Imams had urged its followers vote against any candidate who supported gay marriage, and predicted that such a direct instruction would be forthcoming at the next federal election.

Such a move would create the prospect of forcing individual Labor candidates to state their position on the question. "This is an issue which will deliver a lot of people towards the Liberals and Nationals and some of the minor parties," Mr Trad said.

If the predictions prove correct, it could greatly increase the chances of Labor losing those seats in western Sydney that survived the Liberal onslaught at the last federal election.

With ethnic voters from a variety of faiths often the strongest adherents to organised religion, any electoral impact of Labor's change in platform could be most pronounced in seats such as Reid, held by Labor's John Murphy by a margin of 2.5 per cent. The seat has a proportion of overseas-born residents of nearly 40 per cent.

Deborah O'Neill, who represents the marginal seat of Robertson, told the conference she thought the community support for gay marriage was "overstated". "Perhaps time will change and broader community views on the Marriage Act will change. But at this time, I believe it is an issue that continues to divide us."

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce warned that the government was sending a loud message to blue-collar voters that it had been completely captured by the left-wing causes of the Greens and activist group GetUp! and had lost sight of the concerns of mainstream voters.

Labor backbencher Stephen Jones said he would move a private member's bill early next year to amend the Marriage Act in competition with the Greens.

ACL managing director Jim Wallace yesterday insisted that Ms Gillard had promised before last year's election that under her leadership the Marriage Act would continue to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. "Labor's granting of a conscience vote on this issue does not change the statement this policy change makes on its values as a party, and the degree to which we can trust its election promises," Mr Wallace said.

He said there was now a clear differentiation between the Coalition and the ALP on marriage and that his organisation would continue to back Labor MPs who stuck to their promise and rejected change.

Saturday's debate on same-sex marriage was a torrid affair, with about 3000 pro-reform activists marching on the conference. Speakers opposing the change jeered from the floor as they warned that the issue put Labor out of step with the mainstream.

Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association national secretary Joe de Bruyn told delegates that Labor had "a fighting chance" to win the next election, but "If the platform is changed, then rather than win seats in Queensland, as we need to do, we may very well lose more seats. In suburban Sydney or Melbourne, again, we are likely to lose more seats."

Tony Abbott accused Labor of "navel gazing". But despite previously indicating that the Coalition would not change its united position of opposing same-sex marriage, the Opposition Leader refused to give a clear answer. "There's a sense in which every vote in the Liberal Party is a conscience vote because we don't expel people for exercising their judgment, unlike the Labor Party," Mr Abbott said.

Human Services Minister Tanya Plibersek called on Mr Abbott to give Liberal MPs a conscience vote on the issue, noting that Victorian Liberal Russell Broadbent had recently made clear he favoured gay marriage.

It is clear that some Coalition MPs support marriage equality, including former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, whose Sydney seat of Wentworth is home to a large gay community.

Mr Turnbull was unavailable yesterday, but in a recent email to a constituent he made clear that he believed the Liberal Party should have a conscience vote.


Queensland Government plan for fast-food calorie counts to beat obesity

The evidence that this has zero effect on what people eat doesn't bother anyone, of course

FAST-FOOD chains will be forced to display the calorie count of every burger, fries and soft drink in the latest attack in the war against obesity.

New rules to be announced today will give customers the chance to weigh up the nutritional value of meals before ordering their meal over the counter - and whether their waistlines can handle the super-sized option.

The legislation being drafted by the Bligh Government means fast-food outlets must display the energy content of all items on their menus. The scheme has targeted super-sized servings that can almost chew up the recommended daily energy intake in one meal.

Customers will be confronted with the daunting kilojoule content - the energy value of food - of items under new-look menu boards in a bid to drive them towards healthier meal choices.

Some meal deals contain more than half the average adult daily limit of 8700 kilojoules. Kilojoule counts would be listed beside every item of sale, including meal deals. The average daily kilojoule limit must also be displayed on menus.

The recommended average energy intake for a six-year-old is about 6700 kilojoules a day, and about 7600 kilojoules a day for a 10-year-old. A Happy Meal at McDonald's can contain up to 2800kj.

It is expected the law will apply to fast-food and snack food chains with more than 20 outlets in the state, or 50 outlets nationally.

Health Minister Geoff Wilson said it was about helping people eat healthier, with obesity rates now as high as one in five Queenslanders. "If current trends continue, it is expected that about two- thirds of Queensland adults will be overweight or obese by 2020," he said.

Heart Foundation chief executive Cameron Prout said the move would help people make more informed choices. "It is not just the usual suspects in terms of offering unhealthy meals," he said. "There are a lot of meals that people think are healthier but might be surprised when they see how many kilojoules are in them."

The laws will be introduced early next year, but the Heart Foundation hopes the plan would gain support from both main parties in the case of an early election.

More than four million Australians buy from fast food outlets each day and many already feature some nutritional information.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Richard Kidd urged lawmakers to go even further by forcing fast-food chains to list items such as fat content on menu boards. "The AMA along with a lot of other health groups is very concerned at the epidemic of obesity, particularly in our children, and we are now seeing Type 2 diabetes appearing in our children, which is just dreadful," he said.

"It doesn't matter what age you are, by the time you develop diabetes your risk of having a heart attack is the same as someone who has already had a heart attack and we are inflicting this on our children now."

Childhood obesity expert Professor Geoff Cleghorn, from the University of Queensland, said the plan was a positive step forward in the battle of the bulge.


Global cooling hits Sydney

Sydney's coldest start to summer in 50 years

It's shaping up to be the coldest start to summer in more than 50 years.

If forecasts prove accurate - and Sydney stays below 23 degrees until Wednesday - it will be the coldest first week of summer since 1960. It's already the coldest in 44 years, Josh Fisher, a senior meteorologist at Weatherzone, said. In the summer of 1960, each of the first 10 days was cooler than 22 degrees.

Meteorologists blame cold winds, sweeping up from near Tasmania, for the unseasonable weather.

Today's forecast temperature of 18 degrees is seven below the average for this time of year. The additional chill brought by projected 30-40km/h winds will make the city feel like 11 degrees, Mr Fisher said.

Sydney should warm to the mid-20s on Friday and next weekend, the eight, ninth and 10th days of the month, Weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke said.

But it won't be a sunny reprieve. The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting rain and cloud.

The city's long-term average maximum for this time of year is 25 degrees, Mr Dutschke said.

Mr Fisher also said summer would be cooler than average because of the influence of the La Nina weather cycle, which brings with it greater chance of clouds, rain and humidity.

"Looking further ahead, the summer as a whole is likely to be close to or cooler than average, regarding maximum temperatures. We will still get our hot days but La Nina will increase the chances of extra cloud, humidity and rainfall, hence cooler daytime temperatures," Mr Dutschke said.

Thunderstorms rolled across the city late yesterday morning and early afternoon, cooling most suburbs below 17 degrees, well below average for this time of year. The storms also brought brief rain and hail to some western and northern suburbs. Picnickers and beachgoers were sent scurrying.


4 December, 2011

More multiculturalism: African driver shows no regard for others

IF THERE is a prize for stupidity, this driver wins hands down. As cars stopped at traffic lights at the busy King William St and Waymouth St intersection, city, on Thursday, he simply turned on his hazard lights, turned off his engine and got out.

Reaching in for his keys and his wallet, the man turned and casually wandered across the road to a nearby ANZ automatic teller machine.

As he took out his card and inserted it into the machine, cars banked up behind his motionless Holden Vectra.

A stunned Sunday Mail photographer Jo-Anna Robinson snapped these pictures of the dopey driver as other motorists and pedestrians simply looked on in amazement.

"I've never seen anything like it," Robinson said. "He was just very matter-of-fact, like he was doing nothing wrong."

The lights turned green as the man started punching the ATM keypad, but he continued his transaction and ignored the traffic jam.

After finishing his withdrawal, he stood by as a van drove past before crossing back to his car.

The man was as oblivious to the banked-up traffic as he was to the sound of other car horns from behind. He waved to one woman leaning on her car horn as he settled himself into the driver's seat.

He then waited for the lights to turn green before driving away, smirking at the photographer as he accelerated.

SA Police traffic enforcement branch officer-in-charge Superintendent Linda Fellows said the man could be charged under a number of sections of the Australian Road Rules and could face an $80 fine and a victims-of-crime levy.

"All drivers are responsible for ensuring they do not create a danger to other road users either by their manner or driving or the way in which their vehicle is used," she said.


Boys and girls may be split in Victorian classrooms

THE Baillieu Government will encourage state schools to adopt single-sex classes if a current trial lifts academic results.

Education Minister Martin Dixon said the grassroots trial by at least six primary and secondary schools would examine whether students were more likely to thrive in same-sex classrooms.

He said the model potentially offered students the benefits of a private school-style single-sex learning environment, while giving them the social benefits of co-education.

"If this has benefits, and I think it has, you'll find it makes schools a one-stop shop in terms of social and learning experiences for children," Mr Dixon said. "We're certainly not going to mandate it, it is more a matter of facilitating it."

Oberon Secondary College principal Anne Murphy said the Geelong school would trial two single-sex classes in year 8 next year and consider expanding it schoolwide if successful.

"If, educationally, we find that the kids' learning is advanced from being in a single-sex classroom then I would be hard-pressed to justify not offering that more," Ms Murphy said.

"I know several parents will feel this is a co-educational school and they want their children to have a co-educational experience. In a co-educational school we can give them the best of both worlds."

Dromana Secondary College principal Alan Marr said the school had split boys and girls in year 9 maths and English classes.

"It has been a positive experience, so positive we're considering bringing it down into year 8," he said.

"We've noticed the girls have been much calmer and less hesitant to act things out, and the boys have been more confident to express their own opinions."

Some schools, including Essendon Keilor College and Camberwell High School, have been running boys-only classes for several years to address gender imbalances caused by girls attending local all-girl state schools.

Victoria has seven single-sex girls' public schools but only one for boys. Mr Dixon said it was up to individual schools to decide whether to adopt single-sex classes.

"We will make the findings and all the background material (relating to the trial) available to all the schools in the system and say here is an option that may work for your cohort of students," he said.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said schools considering same-sex classes needed to work around families, many of whom wanted their children to learn alongside the opposite sex. Broad consultation with the school community was critical.

The Queensland Government last week extended trials of single-sex classes after participating schools reported improved results.


A housing oracle speaks

Billionaire property developer Harry Triguboff believes Europe's financial problems could see Australia's population grow - and he says he's ready to help house the new arrivals. "I think we will have more people coming to live in this country," the chief of Meriton Apartments told an Australian-Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch yesterday. "And not just because the migration intake will be greater. "People will be coming here and not wanting to go away."

Asked if he believed it was a good thing if the population grew, Mr Triguboff replied: "Yes, very good," to chuckles from the audience of 730 diners.

"If you were a Greek fellow who left this country to go back to Greece, because you had a good life there and didn't have to work hard - now it's miserable there - I think he'll come back. And I think he'll bring his children. I think they'll all come back. "The population will grow - there's no doubt about that - and I'm ready for them."

Mr Triguboff also criticised the long building approval process that apartment developers faced and government charges. "Take for example an apartment that costs $350,000, it could cost $200,000 if the council was reasonable," he said.

He said that most of his customers were from China because the costs imposed by authorities and interest rates "made it very difficult for Australians to buy". "That's why we have to depend so much on the Chinese.

"I hope that the costs will go down and that interest rates will go down because the demand is much greater than ever before."

Mr Triguboff was presented with a book, On China, by Henry Kissinger, for speaking at the lunch. Triguboff was born in China in 1933, the son of Russian Jews who fled after the rise of Lenin.


Dads pass on obesity to children

CHILDREN inherit obesity from overweight fathers, with daughters particularly at risk, new research has found.

Sperm from overweight fathers carried a molecular signal that causes their children to become obese, researchers at the University of Adelaide have discovered.

A team from the university's Robinson Institute Research Centre for Reproductive Health made the find as part of a study looking at reproduction and obesity.

The team tested two groups of mice - one fed a high-fat diet and the other a balanced diet.

Offspring from fat males were regularly obese and suffered from diabetes and infertility, with researchers tracking the trigger to a class of genes in sperm known as microRNAs.

"In the group fed the high-fat diet we discovered that male obesity alters the microRNA profile of sperm, resulting in obesity in offspring," researcher Maria Teague said.

But changes to sperm resulting from obesity were non-genetic, indicating that would-be fathers who slimmed down before trying for a child could avoid triggering obesity in their children.


3 December, 2011

Judicial legislation in Australia too

The U.S. Supreme court is notorious for this: Making laws instead of applying them. They refuse to apply clear provisions of the constitution (such as a ban on racially discriminatory legislation) and invent rights (such as a right to abortion) that are nowhere mentioned in the constitution. Our judiciary is less politicized so has been less prone to such "legislation" but, against much precedent, they have just abolished the historic right of a wife not to testify against her husband

The High Court this week granted the judiciary an increase in its powers - in particular, the power to force a wife to dump her husband deep in the doo-doo. We learnt on Wednesday that what had been known to the common law for 200 years as "the claim to privilege against spousal incrimination" was really a figment of our collective imagination.

The case revolved around misdeeds of a Brisbane accountant, Ewan Stoddart, prosecuted by the Australian Crime Commission on an allegation of tax fraud. Ewan's wife of 20 years, Louise Stoddart, provided part-time book-keeping services for her husband's practice.

Mrs Stoddart was called as a witness by a commissioner for the ACC and asked "whether she was aware of invoices prepared at the premises of her husband's practice for services provided by other entities".

Mrs Stoddart's counsel sought an injunction preventing the ACC from continuing that line of questioning, on the basis that she could not be required in any tribunal to incriminate her husband. The ACC defended the injunction application, arguing that no such doctrine was known to Australian law or that its effect in this case had been extinguished by the statute creating the ACC.

The Federal Court upheld the application of Mrs Stoddart as a clear example of spousal privilege. On appeal to the High Court, French, CJ, and Gummow, Crennan, Kiefel and Bell, JJ, overturned that decision. The High Court did not find the notion was no longer relevant, or that its detriments outweighed its benefits or that it was extinguished by statute. Their honours took the rather magical step of finding that it never existed.

The dissenting judgment of Justice John Dyson Heydon is an absolute ripper: on the net, Heydon is a "black-letter lawyer", eschewing adventure, determined to render the law as it is, resisting the temptation to correct perceived defects in Parliament's conscience.

Canadian by birth, he graduated from Sydney University, earned a bachelor of civil law and masters of arts from Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, was made a fellow of Keble College, Oxford, teaching international law, then was a professor of law at Sydney University at 30 - its youngest ever.

He co-authored the second Australian edition of the bible of evidence law, Cross on Evidence, in 1980, and sole-authored the later five editions, most recently in 2009. He is one of the editors of Meagher, Gummow and Lehane's Equity: Doctrines and Remedies - a global authority on two of the most complex and demanding areas of the law outside tax - evidence and equity.

Heydon dissects the winning argument, line by line, blow by blow, with brutal, relentless efficiency, leaving a smoking pile of intellectual ruin. He then proves that spousal privilege is (or was, until this judgment) not merely a rule of evidence but a substantive rule of law - in the process furnishing a dozen substantive reasons why the doctrine is in the interests of justice and comity.

(I can just imagine the atmosphere on the first night home after a couple of years cohabiting with the tattooed gangs in Silverwater Jail for a white-collar crime, convicted on the wife's evidence. "How was your stay, honey? Were they nice to you?")

Heydon takes us on a panoramic tour of the evolution of a legal doctrine from its seminal dicta by Justice John Bayley on the King's Bench in R v The Inhabitants of All Saints, Worcester (1817). He writes with the assurance of a master of our law and language. Noting that the force of a precedent is influenced by the stature of its author, he provides a mini-biography of Bayley, who also penned legal texts that ran to multiple editions.

Like an archaeologist handling artefacts with immense care and respect, he individually cites 90 editions of the 13 weightiest evidence treatises, in Britain, the US, India, Australia and New Zealand, which is more than 160 years of legal precedent, concluding dryly: "The submissions of the appellant entail an assumption that the body of legal writing from 1817 to 1980, surveyed above, represents a massive deception of the reading public - judiciary, practitioners and students - stemming from a general self-delusion on the part of nearly 70 writers and editors over nearly two centuries. With respect to the appellant's position, it is not possible to accept that assumption."

Justice Heydon lost and Mrs Stoddart lost and, presumably, publishers of our common law have urgent need of a big bottle of liquid paper. I don't presume to give my readers legal advice but, when your nearest and dearest next asks, over a glass of red, "What's on your mind babe?", it may be prudent to consult a solicitor.


Australia not "correct" enough for a self-righteous American woman

I think it is true that in private conversations, most Australians are not much constrained by political correctness -- but that is part of Australia's relaxed lifestyle -- a lifestyle much easier than that of uptight America

I attended a networking event the other night in Sydney during which an American friend and I struck up a conversation with an older Australian man. We were talking about a pretty bland topic – Australian television – when the man said he had a joke for us.

“An Aboriginal man walks down the street wearing only one thong. Someone calls out, ‘You’ve lost a thong!’ The Aboriginal man says, ‘No mate, I’ve just found one.’”

An uneasy look crept across my friend’s face and my guts started churning. We swiftly changed the subject. I made it my mission to distance myself from this man for the rest of the night.

Incidents like this one have played out in many a public setting since I moved from America to Australia in early 2010. There was the random man in Woolworths who thought it appropriate to tell me Indians run all the 7-Elevens; an old roommate who called Lebanese people “Lebos”; the friend of a friend at a rugby match who made comments about the indigenous players. The proliferation of jabs at or generalisations about minorities takes on a new level in the land down under, at least for me.

The subject of whether or not Australia is “racist” as a whole has been debated heavily over the years in major newspapers and on news shows throughout the country. Part of the concern stems from actual statistics. For instance, 36 per cent of Australians do not think certain Middle Eastern and Asian groups fit in with Aussie society, as reported in a 2009 survey by VicHealth. The same report said one in 10 Australians does not think all races are equal.

Most countries practice some form of racism or ethnic intolerance, and Australia is not necessarily worse than the others. Both Australia and America mistreated certain indigenous and minority groups well into the second half of the last century. In my experience, however, Australians seem to be more permissive of derogatory mentions of race or ethnicity than Americans. And that makes me uncomfortable.

The last place I lived before Sydney was Philadelphia, a city that, while diverse, still harbours its fair share of racist people. I remember the ex whose elderly father still used the “n” word, the kids in heavily Caucasian areas who shouted racial slurs at minority classmates, the fellow reporter who made sweeping generalisations about certain ethnic groups and races in the newsroom. But in this corner of America, I less often heard out-of-the blue jokes about race spewed from the mouths of strangers at a happy hour or other public event.

In Sydney, such comments are almost like an ice breaker. Words like “chocko” and “Abo” are as accepted in the vernacular here as “mate.” The political correctness that has come to permeate my mother country is sorely missing from conversation in Australia.

That’s precisely where I stumble. Should I, as a non-native resident, attempt to correct what I deem inappropriate language used against minority populations inside and outside Australia because I come from a country where it has become less OK to talk this way? Will it really help encourage any type of consideration among Australian citizens regarding the things they say? Maybe when you’re an expat, you learn to just accept the place you’re in instead of trying to change it.

Something tells me I’m nearing the end of my tolerance for intolerant speech, though. Every joke or comment left hanging in the air with my silence only furthers the idea this type of language is acceptable among certain Australians. And while I may not be able to change the way people speak in my adopted country, I can let them know at least one person won’t stand for it.


Crime and Misconduct Commission leans on University of Queensland for information over nepotism scandal

THE Crime and Misconduct Commission is unhappy with the University of Queensland's explanation for the nepotism scandal and has again demanded more information.

The CMC last month asked the university to provide additional information after it was revealed in The Courier-Mail that "a close family member" of vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield was allowed into a course for which he or she was not qualified.

Prof Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger were allowed to stay on despite an independent investigation implicating them in the enrolment fiasco.

The university and the governing Senate have steadfastly refused to explain the enrolment "irregularity" at the heart of the controversy. The Senate has declined to name the faculty or the student involved or to make public the independent report by barrister Tim Carmody, SC.

The cover-up has sparked an outcry from academics and lawyers, with a distinguished retired judge calling for a Commission of Inquiry. Now the CMC has also said the university response was inadequate.

"The CMC has since requested additional information," said a spokeswoman, who declined to reveal precisely what additional information was being sought. "As the matter is ongoing, it is not appropriate to comment further at this stage."

The chancellor, vice-chancellor and executive director have declined to answer questions.

The CMC has warned public sector agencies they are obliged to forward complaints of suspected official misconduct.

State Attorney-General Paul Lucas yesterday rejected a call from Justice James Thomas for a Commission of Inquiry if Prof Greenfield did not waive his rights to privacy. "His right to privacy is questionable, especially when there is an allegation of nepotism," Justice Thomas said.

He said high public sector ethics were expected from the CEO of such an institution.

Mr Lucas said the university was almost exclusively federally funded and was answerable to the public. Premier Anna Bligh refused to say whether she had seen a copy of Mr Carmody's report


Pig-headed school

Maybe they just don't like brown people

TWO of Australia's best young chess players have been told by Sydney Grammar to find another school next year after taking unauthorised leave to compete in the World Youth Chess Championships in Brazil.

Kevin Willathgamuwa, 8, and his brother Rowan, 9, have also been excluded from Grammar's chess team competing in the Australian Schools Teams Championships at Knox Grammar this weekend, despite missing only one day of the long competition. The boys were away from school for 10 days. In Brazil, Kevin placed 10th out of 90 boys in the under 8s, and Rowan won half his matches. The Australian grand master, Ian Rogers, who was at the competition, said Kevin was clearly the best player of his age in Australia.

"It's incredible someone should be punished for missing two weeks of year 2 for representing Australia," Mr Rogers said. "It was very important for him to go to the world youth championships. It's not just the tournament but it's important for him to see what other kids have achieved at the same age."

The school had strongly communicated its position to the boys' father, Ignatius Willathgamuwa, before the family left for Brazil.

"As has been made clear to you, the boys will have to leave the school at the end of the current school year if you proceed to take them on your proposed trip," wrote the principal of Grammar's St Ives prep school, Rowena Lee. "We would be sorry to see them leave and hope that you will accept our decision."

Grammar is one of several private schools in Sydney to enforce strict attendance rules.

Last year the boys were denied permission to compete in the world titles in Greece. But they were given permission to go there for a family reunion. The family then remained in the country for the competition.

Dr Willathgamuwa said the family were very disappointed. Other children at the world championships had been celebrated at their school assembly and told they were role models.

"We are very frustrated at this. It is like the boys are being punished for their excellence," he said. "If taking them to the world championships is going to make them leave the school, then we have no regrets because a school with this approach to their development can be quite detrimental for them in the future."

The boys participate in a range of extracurricular activities, including music and soccer. Their academic results had been "brilliant", Dr Willathgamuwa said.

The family returned from Brazil on Tuesday so the boys could play this weekend. They had competed more than 15 times before missing the last round but Mrs Lee's letter said they had been left out as "a matter of fairness to the other boys" who replaced them while they were in Brazil.


2 December, 2011

Strikes surge under Leftist "Fair Work" laws

WORKING days lost due to industrial action have hit a seven-year high, sparking business demands for Labor to use its imminent review of the federal workplace laws to wind back the capacity of unions to strike.

On the eve of today's start to the ALP national conference, at which unions will push for greater workplace rights, employers declared that new figures showing there were 101,300 working days lost to strikes in the September quarter - the highest since June 2004 - represented a "huge wake-up call" for the government.

Unions are expected today to vent their anger at the conference over the continued existence of the building industry watchdog, and Labor's refusal to scrap its coercive powers.

Days lost due to industrial disputes jumped by more than 50 per cent compared with the June quarter.

But 52 per cent of the working days lost were in NSW, where public-sector workers have been taking industrial action against the O'Farrell government.

However, a federal coal dispute in Queensland saw the coalmining industry record the highest number of days lost per thousand employees.

There were 66 disputes, 13 more than in the June quarter, while the number of employees involved was 66,400, up from 14,700 in the June quarter.

The new figures come a month after Julia Gillard defended the Fair Work Act on the grounds that "we have not seen, in general, industrial disputes on the rise".

"The Fair Work Act has been there, it's been working, we've not seen a general rise in industrial disputation," the Prime Minister said on October 31.

The figures emerged as an attempt by striking workers to bring Fremantle port to a halt yesterday failed to eventuate after some workers broke ranks and refused to join the stoppage and others were replaced by management. The 48-hour strike by pilot boat crew and traffic controllers, who guide ships in and out of the busy port, sparked dire predictions of serious disruption to retailers, importers and exporters in the pre-Christmas period.

However, by late yesterday the only impact was a one-hour delay in the departure of one container ship and an hour's delay in the arrival of another. The strike continues today.

Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans said the increase in days lost had been driven by the "failure" of the NSW government to negotiate agreements with teachers and other public-sector workers. "During the September quarter, thousands of public-sector workers took strike action to protest against the O'Farrell government's wages policy," Senator Evans said. "These disputes are not related to the operation of the Fair Work Act and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

"The increased number of days lost during the September quarter is also a result of the large numbers of enterprise agreements expiring during this period.

"There were also high levels of disputation in some industry sectors such as the coal industry."

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the surge in industrial disputes was a "disturbing trend" that showed right-to-strike provisions needed to be wound back when the government reviewed the Fair Work Act from next month.

"It provides evidence that new union powers in the Fair Work Act have had a damaging economic impact," said the chamber's chief executive, Peter Anderson. "This is a sign that Australia is returning to a culture of strike first, talk later."

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said employers had known the laws would increase union power, but it had been "several years since we have seen so much industrial action taken against multinational companies and in the public sector".

"The industrial dispute statistics released today should be a huge wake-up call for the government," Ms Ridout said.

The ACTU blamed the increase on the action by NSW public-sector workers and employees taking action when negotiating new workplace deals to replace those struck under John Howard's Work Choices regime.

"It is irresponsible to use the few high-profile disputes currently on foot as a reflection of the rest of the workforce," an ACTU spokeswoman said.

Opposition workplace spokesman Eric Abetz said the rise in disputes showed the government's legislation was not working. "Labor, in the Fair Work Act's key performance indicators, point to low levels of industrial disputation as a sign of the act's success - well today it's clear there is a failure," he said.

Unions said yesterday they expected criticism of the government on the national conference floor for its failure to scrap the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said there was "considerable angst" among unions that the government had yet to succeed in passing legislation replacing the body.

Dave Noonan, the national secretary of the construction union, said the ALP had been to two elections with a mandate to abolish the ABCC and "we are still waiting for it to happen".


Reports of Australian sea-level data being suppressed by Left-appointed bureaucrats

The constant Warmist attempts to block public access to basic data tells its own story. What have they got to hide? Below is one answer

SENIOR bureaucrats in the state government's environment department have routinely stopped publishing scientific papers which challenge the federal government's claims of sea level rises threatening Australia's coastline, a former senior public servant said yesterday.

Doug Lord helped prepare six scientific papers which examined 120 years of tidal data from a gauge at Fort Denison in Sydney Harbour. The tide data revealed sea levels were rising at a rate of about 1mm a year or less - and the rise was not accelerating but was constant.

"The tidal data we found would mean sea levels would rise by about 100mm by the end of the century," Mr Lord said yesterday. "However the (federal) government benchmark which drives their climate change policy is that sea levels are expected to rise by 900mm by the end of the century and the rate of rise is accelerating."

Mr Lord, who has 35 years experience in coastal engineering, said senior bureaucrats within the then Department of Environment Climate Change and Water had rejected or stopped publication of five papers between late 2009 and September this year.

"This was very thorough research, peer reviewed and getting the highest ranking from various people, and one of the papers got a nine out of 10 for the quality of the work," he said.

"You have to ask yourself why they were rejected, considering they had been peer reviewed, and the Fort Denison tide data is among the longest continuous data of its type available in the world. "There's never been a sensible explanation of why they have stopped these papers."

Mr Lord left government work in 2010 but continued to co-author the tidal data papers with experts still working for the state government.

The latest incident came in September when organisers of the Coasts and Ports 2011 Conference in Perth accepted one of the studies, only to have senior OEH bureaucrats tell them it had to be withdrawn. "They were able to do this because my co-author of this study, and the co-authors of the other rejected studies done after I left government work, still work for the government," Mr Lord said.

"As far as I am aware the minister has not been made aware by her department that this has been happening."


Angry criticism of Prime Minister and her partner on popular music station

TWO ABC broadcasters have called Julia Gillard a "whore" and accused boyfriend Tim Mathieson of being gay in blistering Twitter attacks as the Prime Minister prepared to open the ALP national conference today. One of the brutal tweets was deleted after complaints to the ABC.

The attacks underlined the heat being generated by Labor's debate this weekend on same sex marriage. Triple J broadcaster, Paul Verhoeven, retweeted the suggestion that someone put the illegal amphetamine "meths" into the ALP's drinking water to turn the conference into a "a wild sex game".

He also wrote "boo you whore" about the Prime Minister but later deleted it, claiming it was merely a reference to to a popular movie. The Triple J presenter said the tweet had been taken down "because the ABC were copping complaints from people who clearly haven't seen Mean Girls," he said in a later tweet.

An ABC spokeswoman told News Limited: "Paul Verhoeven has been asked to delete his tweet as it is not in accordance with the ABC social media policy."

Another Triple J identity and musician Brendan Maclean tweeted: "Just because you don't want to marry your gay boyfriend doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to marry mine."

The ABC is unlikely to discipline the men because they are contributors - not on staff - and were using private Twitter accounts.

Mr Maclean defended his comments on Twitter, saying: "note my bio disclaimer sweetheart". "My Twitter has nothing to do with tax dollar." he said

The Labor Party will tomorrow debate same sex marriage with the left demanding the party platform endorse it and the Prime Minister calling for a conscience vote in Parliament.

Today Ms Gillard opened the conference pledging a year of jobs, growth and fairness but made no direct mention of gay marriage.


A win for South Australian home-buyers

THE Upper House has voted to block controversial worker health and safety laws.

The Government had wanted the proposed legislation passed this week so it could come into effect from January 1. But late yesterday afternoon, the chamber, led by the Opposition, voted narrowly by 11 votes to 10 to defer any further consideration of the Bill until February.

Opposition industrial relations spokesman Rob Lucas said the Liberals had sought the support of the minor parties and independents in the Upper House to adjourn the debate.

The Bill, introduced in April by then Industrial Relations Minister Bernard Finnigan, was aimed at harmonising state and federal worker safety laws.

The Housing Industry Association has warned the new laws could add up to $20,000 to the cost of a new house while other industry groups have claimed it will give unions more powers to enter worksites for health and safety reasons.

These claims have been rejected as "pure scaremongering" by Industrial Relations Minister Russell Wortley, who said yesterday that the Opposition's move was a disgrace and had handed an early Christmas present to the Housing Industry Association. "The workers of SA will be worse off because of this delay to a Bill which has been in Parliament since April," he said.

Both the WA and Victorian governments have announced they will delay by up to 12 months the introduction of the legislation in their states. "The Weatherill Government has continued to ignore the growing concern from industry organisations about the impact on housing affordability," Mr Lucas said.

He said employer groups including Business SA, the Housing Industry Association, the Master Builders Association, and Independent Contractors Australia were all supporting amendments to the legislation.

"There is no prospect of harmonised work safety laws operation in all states and territories," Mr Lucas said. "Already NSW has amended the model Bill and WA has indicated they will also amend the model Bill. The Victorian Government may also.

"The Weatherill Government also has not done any analysis on the impact on SA businesses and costs and this work should now be undertaken."


1 December, 2011

Bowen's grand plan to keep the refugees coming

The Left will destroy Australia any way they can

IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Bowen says Australia should increase its refugee intake by 50 per cent. Mr Bowen will propose at the Labor Party's national conference this weekend to increase Australia's resettlement of refugees from 13,750 to 20,000.

"I have had the view for some time that we could and should take more refugees," Mr Bowen told ABC Radio today. "It's an aspiration ... there's no timeline that I'm putting on it." "I just think it's very important that the Labor platform, which is after all a statement of broad objectives, has that objective in it for the first time."

Mr Bowen said Australia's refugees intake was the highest per person of any country in the world. "But that doesn't mean I don't think we can do more still," he said.

He said his proposal would make it clear that Labor's view was to take more refugees. "We want to give more people a life in Australia but we need to tackle the dangerous boats coming to Australia," Mr Bowen said. "Then we can have that conversation with the people of Australia to increase our refugee intake further."

Mr Bowen said the offshore processing of refugees had to be one of several measures to reduce the number of people jumping onto boats heading to Australia.

"Just increasing your refugee intake is not a deterrent to getting on a boat to come to Australia, but if it is part of a broader mix, which included offshore processing, that would be important," he said.

Labor abandoned a plan to put its bill to allow offshore processing of asylum seekers in Malaysia to a vote in October after it could not guarantee its passage through parliament.

The minister's proposal comes after Australian authorities intercepted a boat carrying more than 100 asylum seekers east of Christmas Island yesterday.


Queensland Parliament passes same-sex civil unions bill

I would have thought that sticking your dick up some other bloke's behind was an uncivil union

QUEENSLAND MPs have voted in favour of legalising same-sex civil unions during an historic night in Parliament. After almost four hours of debate Andrew Fraser's private member's bill was passed by a vote of 47 to 40

The bill, introduced by Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser, enables same-sex couples to register their union with the Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

The bill will grant same-sex couples the right to enter in to legally recognised civil unions. It prompted a strong reaction from gay rights, religious and family groups.

Labor MPs were allowed a conscience vote, but the Liberal National Party indicated it would vote en bloc against the bill.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Fraser said it was 21 years to the day that Labor decriminalised homosexual activities in Queensland. And now he said, Labor could make history again to progress the rights of homosexuals.

"This bill merely but not meekly seeks to formally recognise relationships which have existed in Queensland for centuries," he told Parliament.

"It provides them with the opportunity to celebrate their commitment and their love for one another in a ceremony in front of friends and family, perhaps this is its most important feature."

Opposition legal affairs spokesman Jarrod Bleijie said Mr Fraser only introduced the bill to shore up the left vote and was rushing it through parliament before the election, due early next year.

He said the bill was only introduced on October 25 and there has not been enough time for community consultation.

"He (Mr Fraser) did it to stich up a Green preference deal," Mr Bleijie told Parliament. "This bill is nothing more than a stunt."

Mr Bleijie said more than 54 per cent of the final number of submissions to a legislative committee that examined the bill were received 17 days after the cut-off date. "That goes to the heart of the lack of consultation," he said. "We do not believe the people of Queensland have had the appropriate opportunities to raise their concerns."

He also said the bill was not a priority for Queenslanders, who are more concerned about cost of living pressures. "Civil partnerships is not on a priority list in the minds of Queenslanders," he said....

More here

ABC’s refugee, climate crutches getting wobbly

ON the two dominant political and cultural issues in this nation over the past decade, the ABC's extensive reporting has now been revealed as jaundiced and counter-productive.

Developments in the public debate have exposed the national broadcaster's misleading alarmism on global warming and handwringing over border protection. Its hyperbole on these issues has polarised public sentiment, made sensible political discussion more difficult, and created a backlash.

The very organisations it has relied upon for its ideological and factual ballast, the Labor Party on border protection; and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have made dramatic corrections to adopt more rational, mainstream positions.

To search for climate change references in the ABC archives is to drown in a rising tide of fear and loathing. To say the public broadcaster has campaigned on climate is now uncontroversial; even its outgoing chairman Maurice Newman spoke about the extent of its "groupthink".

A careful study would keep a PhD candidate busy for a year or two but it is easy to sample some of the environment stories. You'll recognise the remorseless tone: "to avert a climate catastrophe, emissions must peak before 2020"; "the study blames climate change for the state of the reef"; "the planet has experienced the hottest start to a year on record"; "Australia's water-supply problems are only going to get worse"; "as temperatures rise, not only is the landscape copping the heat, but people are feeling the stress."

Thankfully, there is always some positive news: "Australia's top clothes designers have gone green, staging an environmentally friendly fashion show"; "farmers could be $3 billion richer if they tackle global warming"; "religious denominations joining hands, campaigning for action on climate change".

If it were just as easy to find rational debate and counter arguments on the ABC this would be fine. But in its coverage, to question extreme claims has been to be scoffed at, while an omnipresent Tim Flannery has been lauded as an honest broker.

When the ABC broadcast Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth there was plenty of attendant publicity, sympathetic coverage and acclaim. But when it broadcast another side of the debate, The Great Global Warming Swindle, the ABC issued a disclaimer and followed it with an interview and panel discussion, largely debunking the program.

Yet it was An Inconvenient Truth that was found by a British court to contain inconvenient errors, such as false claims about islands being evacuated and exaggerations about rising sea levels.

This year, there has been a reckoning of sorts for those who have been pushing the emotional and misleading lines.

With the IPCC exposed for failing to verify exaggerated claims such as the predictions of melting Himalayan glaciers, and Climategate email leaks revealing a culture of scientists cherry-picking and campaigning for their "cause" of global warming, what was once the orthodox view is now on the back foot.

This month's IPCC summary report on extreme weather events marks a dramatic recalibration of the way the science is presented. It highlights uncertainty in the modelling and predictions and cautions that decades of observations will be required to separate natural variability in weather and climate from that induced by our emissions.

The implications of this are quite simple for politicians and the media. It is time to drop the grandstanding.

As has always been clear, there is a variety of rational views on climate science and policy responses. We should expect a public broadcaster to foster an open-minded, informed and objective debate.

Given its silence on the latest Climategate leaks and its lack of curiosity about the environmental impact of Australia's carbon tax, this seems unlikely.

On border protection, the story is similar. The ABC has adopted a so-called compassionate position for more than a decade. Through emotional coverage on flagship current affairs programs like Lateline and The 7.30 Report, to its talk hosts on radio, and even its television drama and religious programming, its positioning has been clear.

It has strongly promoted those advocating an open-borders policy, opposing offshore processing and questioning mandatory detention. For much of the past decade the ABC has been able to portray this as a mainstream view because it has been supported, in the main, by the Labor Party.

The strong policies of the Howard government were denounced as hard-hearted and even racist, even though they stopped the flow of boats, emptied detention centres, and led to some centres being decommissioned.

When the Rudd government softened border protection laws and dismantled the Pacific Solution, there is now no argument that it triggered the re-emergence of the people-smuggling business. With upwards of 4000 people in detention, centres constructed in every state and more boats arriving, the government is switching to community detention because it can't cope with the flow.

Labor argued for two years that there was no connection between its actions and the new influx. It said asylum-seekers were thrust on Australia by global push factors, and that there was no such thing as a pull factor.

The ABC never seriously challenged this fallacious argument: "Prime minister Kevin Rudd says Australia is seeing the effects of a global spike in people smuggling"; "Government policy is the last thing on the minds of asylum-seekers when they are fleeing persecution."

But the Labor Party has abandoned this position. The horror of 50 people killed on the shores of Christmas Island forced the government to admit that the disincentive of offshore processing is necessary. Subsequent efforts to reinstate offshore processing through the East Timor and Malaysian solutions are a belated and welcome acceptance of error.

Now even senior members of the government privately express frustration at what they see as the relentless campaign by the ABC against their efforts.

Mugged by reality, the government is stuck combating the emotional media posturing it once fostered: "Human rights groups are calling on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to consider Australia's international obligations"; "Australia has appeared before a UN panel in Geneva accused of human rights violations"; "An independent UN expert says Australia's Christmas Island detention centre should be closed." Welcome to your ABC.

As with climate change, what has been needed over the past decade has been a reasoned debate, rather than special pleading, over asylum-seekers.

With annual public funding of more than a billion dollars, it is incumbent upon our ABC to tackle significant national policy debates with an appropriate sense of objectivity and detachment and to play its part in encouraging sober, evidence-based discussion and analysis.


Gillard Government rejects traffic light food labelling

HEALTH groups have reacted angrily after the Federal Government rejected traffic light food labelling.

The Gillard government reported back on 61 recommendations in an independent review of the nation's food labelling laws. Generic health warning labels on alcohol were also rejected, but it will be mandatory within two years to caution pregnant women against its dangers.

Fast food chains will have to declare kilojoule content on their menu boards, and the standard of health claims on foods will improve.

The Government said there wasn't enough evidence that traffic light labelling would be effective. The system uses traffic light colours - green, orange or red - to indicate whether the levels of fat, sugar and salt in a product are low, medium or high.

But Obesity Policy Coalition senior policy adviser Jane Martin accused the Government of bowing to food industry pressure and ignoring evidence that traffic light labelling helped people make healthy choices. "There is evidence it changes consumer behaviour in a real world situation," she said. "Traffic light labelling has been found to be the most effective scheme in helping people understand the nutritional content of food."


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

Two of my ancestors were convicts so my family has been in Australia for a long time. As well as that, all four of my grandparents were born in the State where I was born and still live: Queensland. And I am even a member of the world's second-most condemned minority: WASPs (the most condemned is of course the Jews -- which may be why I tend to like Jews). So I think I am as Australian as you can get. I certainly feel that way. I like all things that are iconically Australian: meat pies, Vegemite, Henry Lawson etc. I particularly pride myself on my familiarity with the great Australian slanguage. I draw the line at Iced Vo-Vos and betting on the neddies, however. So if I cannot comment insightfully on Australian affairs, who could?

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative