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

The original version of this blog is HERE. Dissecting Leftism is HERE (and mirrored here). The Blogroll. My Home Page. Email me (John Ray) here. Other mirror sites: Greenie Watch, Political Correctness Watch, Education Watch, Immigration Watch, Food & Health Skeptic, Gun Watch, Socialized Medicine, Eye on Britain, Recipes and Tongue Tied. For a list of backups viewable in China, see here. (Click "Refresh" on your browser if background colour is missing) See here or here for the archives of this site

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, 2012

Lewandowsky again attempting to sound authoritative

De-Published psychologist of climate, Stephan Lewandowski, has once again attempted to establish his wisdom in the matter of climate beliefs.  He has written an article for the ABC (where else?) in which he makes some vanilla comments about what it takes to change people's minds (A lot.  He should know) and attempts to portray climate skepticism as an unreasonably fixed belief.

He does the usual appeal to authority that is typical of people who do not want to look at the evidence but has a few refinements beyond the usual.   I will add a few comments at the foot of the  "pearls" concerned: I quote:
Those elements of a successful rebuttal can be illustrated with a recent article (paywalled) by climate "sceptic" Matt Ridley that has attracted considerable attention, having first appeared in The Wall Street Journal, before being taken up by The Australian and Forbes.

According to this article, we have nothing to worry about: the author acknowledges that the globe is warming and human greenhouse gas emissions are to blame, but claims that the warming will be slight and good for us.

However comforting it may be, this claim is misleading. The article cites only one peer-reviewed study, by Ring and colleagues, and it misrepresents the implications of their work. When I contacted one of the authors, Professor Michael Schlesinger of the University of Illinois, he replied:

    "The author of the Wall Street Journal article that mentions the findings of our paper is just plain wrong about future warming. Our research shows that global warming will exceed 2C, defined as dangerous climate change, by the middle of this century."

This correction is straightforward but may be insufficient to permit discounting of this misinformation. Let's apply the three principles for successful debunking.

First, one must point out that the author, Matt Ridley, has financial interests related to coal mining (it must be noted that he does declare this interest at the end of his article). The possible conflict of interest is clearly relevant. Moreover, because climate change is an exercise in risk management, the author's record of risk (mis-)management is also relevant. One must be concerned that Matt Ridley was chairman of a bank that experienced the first bank run in the UK in 150 years, which led a member of the UK Parliament's Select Committee on Treasury to ask of Matt Ridley:

    "you have damaged the good name of British banking; why are you still clinging to office?"

Second, one must point out that there is an overwhelming consensus in the peer-reviewed literature which suggests that future warming will be more than slight and that it will be far from beneficial for most societies. With natural weather-related disasters having nearly tripled in the last 30 years already, it takes a considerable leap of faith to hope, let alone claim, that future warming will have beneficial effects overall.

Finally, one must visualise the future warming using a graph. The figure below was provided by Professor Schlesinger, whose work was misrepresented in the Wall Street Journal piece, from one of his recent papers:

The figure shows that regardless of which data set is being used to produce projections (i.e., GISS, HADCRU, or NOAA), there will be considerably more than 2C warming (ie, the UNFCCC threshold) by century's end.


I have just re-read the Ridley article and following is the whole of what Ridley said about the Schlesinger article:

"Michael Ring and Michael Schlesinger of the University of Illinois, using the most trustworthy temperature record, also estimate 1.6°C."

What Lewandowsky has seized on was in other words entirely incidental to the thrust of Ridley's article, which relied principally on discussions with an IPCC statistician, Nic Lewis.  And what Ridley has said does not necessarily conflict with the out-of-context quote put up by Lewandowski.  Ridley quoted results for  "the most trustworthy temperature record" and those results  need not at all be the same as the results for all temperature records or even the mean temperature record.  So no points to Lewandowsky so far.

Lewandowsky then goes completely "ad hominem", a mode of argument that has no scholarly repute whatever and which therefore proves nothing: He points out that Ridley was chairman of a failed British bank.  I should ignore such an irrelevant argument but let me point out anyway that Lewandowsky somehow forgets to mention that heaps of banks worldwide -- mostly run by very bright people --  also went bust at roughly the same time (the 2007-2008 GFC).  That hardly merits pointing the finger at Ridley.  So no points to Lewandowsky for that little bit of nastiness either.

Lewandowsky then says: "With natural weather-related disasters having nearly tripled in the last 30 years..."  but the link he gives for that claim is to  one of his own prior articles!   Since I have put up plenty of evidence to the contrary in recent times (e.g. here), I will say no more at this point.  But Lewandowsky is just cherrypicking.  Certainly no points for that.

His last stab is to put up a pretty-looking graph.  But note the timescale that the graph covers.  It is all prophecy and, as  such, unfalsifiable.  So in philosophy of science terms it is not even an empirical statement.  It is a statement of belief and not a statement of fact.  And prophecies are almost always false, as we saw with the recent Mayan debacle.  So no points for that either.

So when it gets beyond vague principles and onto matters of fact, Lewandowsky is left clutching at smoke.  And he greatly discredits his own claim to scholarship in the process -- JR

Sceptics weather the storm to put their case on climate

WELL, so much for the 2012 apocalypse. If the ancient Mayans ever knew anything about the future, they made a serious miscalculation. The same fate has befallen the international climate change emergency brigade. About $1 billion and 18 "Kyoto" meetings later, the world has agreed to do nothing much more than meet again.

How did this frightening climate threat dissolve into scientific uncertainty and political confusion? What of the many billions of dollars of wasted public resources? Some might blame the "sceptics", the "merchants of doubt" or the "deniers". Others point to the global financial crisis.

We can say for certain that many hesitant individuals overcame the pressures of group-think, intimidation and tribal disapproval to have a closer look at the relationship between real science, politics and business.

I was once told by a friend that when it comes to scientific issues of major public concern, it is "not what you know but who you know". I think he meant that my fledgling scepticism about dangerous anthropogenic global warming (DAGW) was pointless, for as a cartoonist I was as unqualified to assess the science as he was.

The implication was that all who are untrained in "climate science" are required to accept the scientific and political authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its local colleagues such as the CSIRO: the scientific establishment.

I found my friend's advice baffling. Anyone familiar with the judicial process knows the gravest issues of liberty and fortune are often determined by a jury selected from the public. Expert witnesses can give evidence in support of either side at a trial. The judge must rule on questions of admissibility, but in the end it is the jury that decides which scientific evidence is to be believed.

In the climate debate, the only "judge" is the scientific method - a testable hypothesis followed by factual or experimental challenge. The "facts" here represent an anxious problem for the DAGW advocates. For example, everybody agrees that the warming trend paused 16 years ago, despite a corresponding 10 per cent increase in atmospheric CO2. This ought to be an embarrassment to the global warming alarmists. What exactly is the relationship between CO2 and temperature? Why did the warming trend stop as it did between 1945 and 1975, when CO2 emissions took off?

As Dr David Whitehouse, the former BBC online science editor, said in the New Statesman in 2007, "something else is happening to the climate and it is vital we find out what or we may spend hundreds of billions of pounds needlessly". Obviously we should pay close attention to the computer models that form the basis of climate scientists' projections. In fact these models apparently failed to anticipate the current pause in global warming, not to mention the abundance of post-drought rainfall in Australia. Scientific "consensus" based on these computer models is becoming rather shaky.

The reason why scientific consensus emerged in this debate is because political activists want to get things moving, and if they say that consensus is scary and urgent, then sceptics had better get out of the way.

The activist cause peaked early in 2007 when Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth became an international hit. This documentary was superficially compelling for the uninitiated, but in October 2007 the British High Court found the film contained nine errors of fact.

Professor Bob Carter of Queensland's James Cook University gave evidence in this case; few people in Australia are aware of this severe embarrassment for Mr Gore.

Later that year, the ABC broadcast Martin Durkin's provocative documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, against the outraged objections of many prominent alarmists. How interesting. The science was "settled", the debate was said to be over and no further discussion was required. Any media professional should have been aroused by such an excited censorship campaign, and it stimulated my first cartoon on the subject (above), which depicted the family TV set as mediaeval stocks with an imprisoned climate sceptic being pelted by the family with their TV dinner.

It seemed to me that things changed after that documentary was screened. Perhaps the shock of hearing the likes of Nigel Calder, former editor of New Scientist, and Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, had joined the ranks of the sceptical was just too much for some people.

Things got nasty. Someone came up with the brilliant but insidious idea of using the term "denier" to describe a person who remained agnostic or sceptical about the exact human contribution to the 0.7 degree global warming of the past 100 years. This malicious rhetoric came to be adopted by climate activists, media reporters and politicians up to head-of-state level. Many distinguished scientists such as Paul Reiter of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT, and Bill Kininmonth, former head of our National Climate Centre, were casually defamed in this way. The same label was applied to world-renowned theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson and Australia's distinguished Professor Bob Carter.

Holocaust denial describes the heartless and despicable refusal by anti-Semites to acknowledge the historical truth of the Jewish genocide of World War II. If you use the offensive term "denier" you do so for reasons best known to yourself. You may be calculating or you may be indifferent, but as Wong, Rudd and Gillard would have known, the effect is pungent. No sensible, morally responsible person wants to be stigmatised in such a way.

Some prominent Australian intellectuals to this day continue to explicitly endorse the moral equivalence between Holocaust and global warming denial. This is all the more incredible because it comes from academics who understand the horror of the Holocaust. For good measure, sceptics have also been compared with 18th century slave trade advocates, tobacco lobbyists and even paedophile promoters.

But times have changed, and since 2007, the non-scientific players in this great intellectual drama have been confronted by creeping uncertainty about many of the major climate science issues. These have included the composition of the IPCC and the credibility of its processes; remember Glaciergate? The IPCC predicted the end of the Himalayan glaciers based on non-scientific literature; the unusual (or not) melting of sea ice and glaciers; the evidence for warm temperatures during the mediaeval period; the importance of sun spots; changes (or not) in patterns of extreme weather events; ocean "acidification"; ocean warming and rising sea levels; bio-mass absorption and the longevity of molecules of atmospheric CO2; the influence of short-period El Nino southern oscillation (ENSO) and other similar oscillations on a multi-decade scale; the chaotic behaviour of clouds; and the impact of cosmic rays on climate. Even James Lovelock, the founder of the "Gaia", movement has turned sceptic.

By early 2010, it seemed that nearly every single element of the global warming debate was up for grabs, and scandals like Climategate and gross mistakes in their work had weakened the credibility of the IPCC. Even Professor Paul Jones of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, a leading contributor to IPCC calculations, confirmed in a 2010 BBC interview that the warming rates of the periods 1860-80, 1910-40 and 1975-98 were statistically similar. He also said that "I don't believe that the vast majority of climate scientists believe that the climate change [debate] is over".

To the great credit of The Age and its pluralistic tradition, the occasional sceptical science article has been published along with regular cartoons on the issue.

However, I still feel that the voices of highly qualified sceptics are not heard enough. In an effort to redress this imbalance, an unusual book on the sceptics' view will be published in 2013.

The text, sprinkled with cartoons and illustrations, takes the Socratic form, giving answers to commonly asked questions about the science and economics of climate change. The content is provided by a collaboration of five highly qualified experts. They include a meteorologist, the former director of the Australian National Climate Centre; a geologist, a former member of the Australian Research Council and chairman of the Earth Sciences Panel; an independent energy consultant who manages his own small hydro power station; a professor of environmental engineering (hydrology) and one of Australia's leading tax consultants.

I trust the integrity and compassion of these "deniers", and admire their courage and awesome perseverance. We hope the book will help redress the imbalance in easily accessible knowledge for a "jury" of ordinary Australians.


Australian Muslim cleric meets Hamas leader, falls in love

Australia's most senior Muslim cleric has met the leader of the Hamas government during a visit to the Gaza Strip.

A spokesman for Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, the Mufti of Australia, says the Mufti is leading a delegation of Muslim scholars to Gaza.

Local television has shown pictures of Dr Mohamed meeting with Hamas's political leader, Gaza's prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, on December 26.

"We came here in order to learn from Gaza... to learn steadfastness, sacrifice, and the defence of one's rights from them," Dr Mohamed said in remarks translated by Memri TV.

The military wing of Hamas is listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation by the Australian Government.


Insignificant and semi-literate attention-seeker jumps on the Warmist bandwagon

She is allegedly an academic but is a poor one.  She says, for instance: 

"From the moment I decided to carry my girls I have mitigated against every threat to their future." 

She doubles confusion with that language.  It is common to misquote "militate against" as "mitigate against", which no-one who knows any Latin would do, but she actually uses even the mistaken usage in a mistaken way.  "Tried to mitigate" was what she probably meant. [Clue:  "Mitis" is Latin for "mild"]. One really does expect better from an academic historian.

But that is only one indication of her low intellectual level.  Her major failing is that she is completely unscholarly.  Instead of examining the evidence for or against anthropogenic global warming theory, she just accepts partisan judgments of it as true:  No evidence of critical thinking at all.  She would seem to be motivated by a need to pump up her own importance rather than by any concern for the facts

I reproduce a fair bit of her little emission below so readers can judge for themselves.  Note both the title she puts on her article and her acknowledged attention-seeking behaviour towards the end of the article

We are guardians of the future

By Liz Conor, a  history (herstory?) academic at the National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University.

It is our duty to protect the rights of the next generation. Climate change is a threat and we must take action - we must hold governments to account, writes Liz Conor.

Whenever my 14-year-old asks me if she can get a 'stretch' earring, a piercing or a tattoo I tell her I am the guardian of her 40-year-old self who might not like living in the future with the permanent choices her 14-year-old self made.

From the moment I decided to carry my girls I have mitigated against every threat to their future. I steered clear of alcohol during the pregnancies, and drugs during their births. I slathered them in sun block and plonked hats on their curly-haired heads. I buckled their squirming bodies into every seat they were transported in, took their little hands across every street, rinsed the pesticides off their fruit, rubbed salt off their chips, and more recently chased off a risk-taking boyfriend and blockaded their screen time.

When the latest findings of climate scientists came out last fortnight, just as Doha was coming to its negligent close, I knew then sorry doesn't quite cut it. A report released by the Global Carbon Project, a group of scientists, announced that the planet was on-track for the worst-case-scenario projections of the IPCC, of a rise in temperature of between 4 and 6 degrees by the end of the century. They found emissions have increased 54 per cent since 1990. A World Bank-commissioned study also warned that a four-degree leap was possible this century - even if current pledges to cut emissions are met. Meanwhile at the latest UN conference on climate change government heads finished a marathon meeting in Doha, Qatar, where they extended the Kyoto Protocol which proposes a set of measures many climate scientists have argued will be ineffective in halting rising greenhouse gas emissions.

For me the failure last fortnight to grasp the latest findings of peer-reviewed climate scientists, and act decisively to stop burning fossil fuels was my moral 'tipping point'. These reports are beyond alarming and frankly terrifying. They condemn our children and grandchildren to eke out a miserable existence, buffeted by violent weather, on a planet blighted by drought, fire, flood and no longer able to supply their basic needs. Already we see this nightmare of food shortages playing out in Africa as crops fail due to drought.

By any standard it is wrong, unconscionable, unfair and negligent to continue to go about my life in the business-as-usual bubble that we seem to have taken refuge in. On Monday last I took a bike lock to Parliament House and bolted myself to the members' gate. The police came and after cordial exchange called for Search and Rescue who would not wait for a key to materialise and angle grinded the lock. I was banned from the Parliament House precinct for a week and from the CBD for 72 hours. On the way home I picked up a new lock.

We are not in safe hands. For our children's and their children's sake the time has come to hold governments to account. When the full impact of climate change is massing on the horizon I hope to be able to look my girls and their children in the eye and tell them I did everything I could.


29 December, 2012

How did the wrong man get mistaken for a mental health patient?

Easy if you know the full facts and not just the politically correct ones:  Because he was an Aborigine.  "Itinerant" is a common euphemism for an Aboriginal street-dweller.

Aborigines are very complaisant:  They tend to say what they think you want to hear.  So he answered to the name that they called him by and went along with them generally.  That the W.A. police did not recognize that shows how ignorant they are.  There is a special technique for getting a straight answer out of an Aborigine:  Give NO indication of the expected answer.

There is a large Aboriginal presence in W.A. and the police often lock them up, sometimes controversially so you would think that they would use that technique routinely.

ALL the facts below fall into place if you know Aborigines.  A pity the the W.A. police don't

Details surrounding the wrongful detainment of a man who was administered with powerful antipsychotic drugs when mistakenly identified as a patient who had absconded from Graylands Hospital have been revealed.

The insight into the incident comes as the Mental Health Minister Helen Morton admits the incident could instigate changes in policies and procedures.

The 22-year-old man who was wrongly detained has since been in contact with police and the health system and tests have revealed that he is no longer being affected by the wrongly administered drug, Clozapine.

Mrs Morton said the man was in a public place at 3am and was behaving in an unusual manner.  "That gave rise to suspicions that he was the man," she said.

While Mrs Morton also said there were other circumstances at the time that gave "a very clear suggestion that he had recently absconded from a hospital" she would not provide details of these circumstances.

She said while the wrongly detained man and the man he was mistaken for had "completely different names" at times, he responded to the involuntary patient's name.

"He responded to his name with "yes" and also he was asked if he would like to go back to the hospital and he said "yes."

Mrs Morton said a photograph was not provided to police on this occasion when looking for the man.

She said after the man was administered Clozapine in tablet form, he was then taken to the absconded man's room.

"It was in the process of being taken to his room that it became known to the staff that he wasn't the patient," Mrs Morton said

"It was recognised that he was not the patient by both another member of staff who recognised him and he was also unaware of where his room was in the hospital,  and given that he'd been there for a number of months or the involuntary patient had been, staff became quickly aware that they had the wrong patient.

"He had an adverse reaction [to the antipsychotic medication] and within two hours of being back at Graylands he was admitted to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital."

The wrongly detained man, who is understood to be itinerant has since been offered accommodation, which he has declined.

Mrs Morton said the clinical review that was currently being undertaken and would be completed by January 4 would show whether the fault lay with the policies and procedures or with the people implementing them.

"There are some amazingly stringent processes and procedures that are required both when a person is being admitted and when a person is being administered schedule four drugs and those policies and procedures are currently being reviewed in light of this and also whether those policies and procedures were followed correctly by the people concerned," she said.

Mrs Morton reiterated her comments that she would consider compensation for the man.  "On the face of it, there is every suggestion that this is a compensable case," she said.

As well as a clinical review, there are two other reviews being done which could see changes made to procedures and policies.

Mrs Morton said the state government would provide support to the man to "take the matter further" but would not say whether that would include providing legal advice.


Greens seek millionaire tax to revive parent payments

Bandt was a Trotskyite but there were no votes in that so he  turned Green.  Sounds like his thinking hasn't changed

A "millionaires tax" increase of 5¢ in the dollar would raise enough money to restore payments to single parents cut in this year's budget.

The Greens' policy, costed by federal Treasury, would generate at least $790 million over the next three years by lifting the top tax rate on income above $1 million from 45 per cent to 50 per cent.

The revenue boost could even be much higher, closer to $500 million a year, but Treasury has assumed some people on high incomes will not earn as much if their top tax rate is lifted.

The acting leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt, compared the money raised by the tax increase to a similar amount saved by the government when it cut payments to some single parents, which take effect from the start of next year.

"I think this is a reasonable step that should get the support of the government," Mr Bandt said.

"What possible justification could Labor have for hurting single parents and yet not touching millionaires? The Treasurer said he's been listening to Bruce Springsteen but he must've been listening to the records backwards," the Greens MP said of Wayne Swan's vaunted affection for the US rocker.

It was the second Greens policy to be costed by Treasury's Parliamentary Budget Office, established by the Gillard government as a price of securing the Greens' support in Parliament, and the party plans to release at least two dozen more by the time of the next election.

The tax increase would bring the top marginal tax rate to a level it last sat at in 1987, but would affect only about 8000 people listed by the Australian Taxation Office as recording annual incomes above $1 million.

The expected revenue would double from about $800 million to $1.6 billion in the next four years if Treasury dropped its assumption of "tax income elasticity", which says that growth in tax revenue will fall if tax rates are lifted.

The Greens are framing the policy in the context of cuts that kick in next week for single parents. From January 1, single parents on the parenting payment with a youngest child over the age of eight will be moved onto the lower newstart allowance, costing them about $60 a week.

The measure will save the government about $700 million in the next four years, but it has been criticised by the welfare sector and by some backbench Labor MPs.

The Gillard government argues the benefit of the measure is in encouraging parents back into the workforce.

Mr Bandt said: "If the government is wanting to improve the budget position by somewhere around $300 million a year it has a choice. It could either increase taxes on the wealthiest Australians or it could hurt single parents."

In the 1950s, Australia's top marginal tax rate sat at 75 per cent. It was above 65 per cent for most of the 1960s, and was above 60 per cent for most of the 1970s and 1980s. It now sits at 45 per cent, for any money earned about $180,000 a year.

The first Greens policy costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office was a revised mining tax that showed the government could raise an extra $26 billion in the next four year if it reversed concessions to the mining industry.


In praise of State's rights

LISTEN to enough critics for long enough and you'll be convinced that the Federation is the only thing holding Australia back from dominating the world. Apparently, without the states and a single central Commonwealth government dictating everything, Australia would be taken seriously as a middle power, we would have a well-funded and well-functioning education system, wasteful spending would be a thing of the past and populist politics would no longer exist.

You have to be kidding.

States' critics (such as Allan Patience on this page last week) seem to attribute some sort of mythical wisdom to the Commonwealth, as if only ever good things come from a central government. And that all our resources need to be concentrated there, otherwise how can we hold our heads up overseas?

This last argument ignores that the world's only superpower, the United States, and the only continental member of the European Union that is currently taken seriously, Germany, are both federations. Being a federation hardly seems a liability on the world stage.

But turning back home, can you imagine what an unfettered Commonwealth government would be like in the wrong hands? Don't worry about the damage that has been done by the current one - think roof insulation, school halls, green loans, and $900 cheques to foreign citizens and those no longer with us.

Think what would have happened if Bob Carr, Morris Iemma and Kristina Keneally had been running the country instead of John Howard and Peter Costello for all those years. The disaster that is New South Wales would be played out on a national scale.

It is also just plain wrong to say that the Federation has not changed since 1901. The High Court has applied the constitution so that the Commonwealth now has much more power than it did at the start. It is because of the High Court that the Commonwealth can tell Tasmania where it is allowed to put a dam, has the ability to allow companies around the country to choose not to pay penalty rates on public holidays and can effectively prevent the states from levying taxes that they may do lawfully. The Federation has changed, just not in a good way.

Federalism has the advantage as well of weeding out bad laws. For example, it is only because of federalism that we don't face death taxes today. It was only when Queensland abolished theirs that the rest of the country followed. Because of the mass migration of retirees to that state from everywhere else, this impost was shown for the ridiculous interference that it was. A central government that imposes such bad laws leaves us with nowhere to go (except overseas).

The major problem with the Federation is the separation of responsibility from power. Stemming from the High Court's approach to the constitution, the Commonwealth holds the whip hand when it comes to raising money, but the states are those who have to provide the programs and services.

It's ridiculous to criticise Liberal state governments struggling to balance their books not only for cutting back their Labor predecessors' largesse, but particularly when they are doing so while fiscally dependent on a Labor Commonwealth government so addicted to spending that it cannot raise enough revenue for its own habits, let alone provide sufficient funds for necessities provided by the states.

The Federation is in need of reform, but abolishing the states is not the answer. Resolving the current vertical fiscal imbalance will align the power to pass laws and spend public money with the responsibility of ensuring those funds are spent wisely. Governments that do not will lose elections (and, in the case of the states, populations).

And those who still want to see the states abolished should take pause. A central government, absent a bill of rights, is likely to be unfettered in the laws that it can pass. Had this been the case since 1901, for the left-wingers, this would mean the Communist Party would be illegal, criticism of the government could be snuffed out and voters could be disenfranchised. Conservatives, you would have nationalised banks, death taxes and Rudd's health system. And the case for a bill of rights becomes that much stronger. Be careful what you wish for.


Nasty British antisemite brings his hatreds to the University of Sydney

Among British Leftist intellectuals, antisemitism -- hiding  behind "anti-Zionism" -- is de rigeur.  See the sidebar at EYE ON BRITAIN

The head of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) at the University of Sydney, Associate Professor Jake Lynch, has received a number of high-profile condemnations over his recent decision to refuse to work with Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon.

This decision, made in accordance with the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel - of which Lynch is a strong supporter - was in spite of Avnon's work, which involves creating a civics program for Jewish and Arab students in Israel in order to work towards reconciliation between the two groups.

On the face of it, Avnon's work is exactly what Lynch purports to encourage, with the Centre's mission being to "focus on the resolution of conflict with a view to attaining just societies" and to "facilitate dialogue between individuals, groups or communities who are concerned with conditions of positive peace". 

For Lynch, however, the institutional ties to an Israeli university were so unthinkable that he could not make an exception for an academic who is working to accomplish the centre's supposed aims.

Lynch and his supporters (including Anthony Loewenstein on this website) have been adamant that there is nothing anti-Semitic about refusing to deal with anyone connected to the Jewish state.

With this in mind, looking at some of the people that Lynch actually advocates dealing with raises disturbing questions.

As I wrote in The Australian in May this year, Lynch has written a book with Norwegian Professor Johan Galtung who was recently accused of having connections to numerous white supremacist groups and renowned neo-Nazis.

In 2004, Galtung ran a workshop with CPACS in which he tasked them with re-enacting the Passion of the Christ, only this time finding a way to negotiate Jesus' release – which is not only manifestly theologically offensive to Christians, but revisits the age-old anti-Semitic trope of Jewish deicide. At the same event, he ran another workshop on how to negotiate with Al Qaeda. 

In March 2010, Lynch hosted Sameh Habeeb, who runs a website called The Palestine Telegraph and has worked for an organisation called The Palestinian Return Centre, which is proudly pro-Hamas and in favour of violence as a means of 'resistance'.

Habeeb had - and continues to - repeatedly publish anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denial material from the likes of neo-Nazi icon David Duke and Australia's own Holocaust denier Frederick Toben.

Just a few months before his CPACS appearance, Habeeb had seen fit to mark Holocaust remembrance day by publishing a piece by notorious anti-Semite Gil Atzmon, saying that "Israelis are the Nazis of our time", that the "Israeli institutional involvement in organ harvesting" is a "well-documented and an accepted fact", and that the day had come about because world leaders had "bowed to Jewish pressure and made the Holocaust into an international memorial day".

Lynch was aware of this material, however he was adamant that Habeeb had repudiated it and determined to host him regardless.

Five months later, however, a flattering profile of Toben appeared on Habeeb's website and, in October 2011, Habeeb wrote a glowing review of what he said was Atzmon's "courageous book that vividly clears the dust on many issues concerning Israel. It really guides non-Jews to an understanding of the politics behind the Jewish identity."

These 'politics', of course, include alleged organ-stealing and fabrication of the Holocaust for political ends.

In the April 2008 CPACS newsletter, Lynch wrote about a delegation of Marrickville councillors that was leaving for Bethlehem. He was outraged that they had been warned "not to meet representatives of Hamas, the party that won elections for the Palestinian Authority in 2006".

I hopefully do not have to recite Hamas' litany of genocidal statements and glorification of bloodshed.

Suffice to say that its official TV channel recently broadcast a sermon saying that, "The Jew is a satan in human form. Allah inflicted the Jews upon humanity in its entirety, and especially upon the nation of Islam".

In October 2009, Lynch took issue with the Australian Government's decision to designate al-Shabab - an official Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia that has been tied to attempted terror attacks in Australia - as a terrorist organisation. As he opined, "the statement contained no acknowledgement of the specific circumstances in which it has grown in Somalia and - allegedly in this case - sought to export its activities to other countries such as Australia".

His solution was to call for "greater openness" and "a more even-handed approach", in order to address the "legitimate grievances" that al-Shabab might feel over the "invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian forces, with weaponry, training and reconnaissance support provided by the United States".

He was, of course, referring to the Western-backed African Union peacekeeping force that has gone into Somalia to save its people from al-Shabab. The militants have taken control of a huge chunk of the country where, in true Al Qaeda fashion, they have been busy stoning adulterers to death, coordinating terror attacks in places as far-afield as Australia, Uganda, and Denmark, and chasing-out aid workers in the height of the East Africa famine as they would sooner see their people starve than eat food from the 'infidels'.

With no apparent sense of irony, he then launched straight into a comment about how "public figures who address [the Israeli/Palestinian conflict] with reference to Palestinian perspectives ... tend to be met with condemnation from representatives of the self-identified 'mainstream Jewish community'." As he then explained, "concerns over Israel's targeting of civilians flare briefly, then abruptly subside, because no-one seems willing to pursue them."

He did not mention that Israel may have some legitimate grievances too, or that - perhaps - the Palestinians should be subjected to some criticism as well.

In essence, people that Lynch promotes dialogue with include an assorted group of violent Islamist extremists, Holocaust-deniers, and neo-Nazis. People that Lynch forbids dialogue with include Israelis.

Although, as he argues, he is not a racist, because he has hosted Jews at his centre - like American linguist Noam Chomsky, and Israeli ex-pat and historian Ilan Pappe.

That would be the Noam Chomsky who once said that "I see no anti-Semitic implications in the denial of the existence of gas chambers, or even denial of the Holocaust"; and the same Ilan Pappe who supports the anti-Semitic allegation from medieval Europe that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in ritual bread.

For someone who is not a racist, Lynch certainly seems to spend a lot of time and energy promoting racists and helping them propagate their viewpoints, and his 'I'm not anti-Semitic, some of my friends are Jews' excuse hardly exonerates him.

His other standard response is along the lines of 'any critic of Israel is always called an anti-Semite' - which is a very convenient excuse for not addressing the issue.

It is unlikely that Lynch will be be having an epiphany on this point any time soon, but his employers at the university and the sponsors of his centre (which include the Federal Government) should be taking a very hard look at what they are promoting.


28 December, 2012

Wrongly treated man in mental hospital was an Aborigine

Which may help explain the mis-identification but does not excuse it

A mental health advocate says the case of a man who was arrested and drugged after being mistaken for a patient from a Perth psychiatric hospital is not a one-off.

Police arrested the man while on lookout for an involuntary patient who left Graylands Hospital without permission.

The man was wrongly identified as the missing patient and then given an antipsychotic drug.

He had a bad reaction and was taken to hospital, where the mistake was discovered.

Western Australia's Mental Health Minister Helen Morton says she was shocked to hear about incident.

"The policies and procedures are stringent about identifying people when they are made involuntary and when they are about to receive a Schedule 4 drug, and it would appear those policies and procedures weren't carried out," she said.

Mental Health Law Centre principal solicitor Sandra Boulter says there were probably several errors.

"There are a series of people, there were the police, there were the admitting staff, there's presumably the treating psychiatrist, and the Aboriginal Health Service, all of whom could possibly have identified the error," she told AM.

"It is always the case when there is a mistake, as even an airline pilot will tell you, it is never one mistake, it is a series of errors that accumulate leading up to the big error.

"I think it is a critically important that an independent person such as an official visitor is appointed or contacted so there is independent oversight of any admission."

Ms Boulter says this is not the first time an incident like this has occurred.

"I am certainly aware of one patient, one client of ours, who was admitted mistakenly and another two clients who were admitted on a false report where [it] was subsequently established that they did not have a psychiatric illness," she said.

She says she it is not sure if authorities are aware of the second incident.  "I'm not sure about that," she said.

"Our clients were unwilling to complain about what happened to them because they were fearful of being further traumatised by taking an action against the state."

Ms Boulter says she wants to confirm that authorities are in contact with the wrongfully detained man.


With law on their side, everyone's a victim

WHAT advice might a Boston teenager in the foster care system or a small business owner in New Mexico give to the Australian government about expanding anti-discrimination laws? Chances are, they'd suggest caution.

On November 20, Australia's Attorney-General Nicola Roxon released exposure draft legislation for the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012. The laudable stated purpose of this initiative is to consolidate five existing anti-discrimination acts into one law, making them easier to understand and more consistent across jurisdictions. But the bill actually makes a number of changes to anti-discrimination legislation in Australia.

In light of Americans' experiences, Australians should be wary of the changes this bill puts forward. One proposed change is to shift the onus of proof from the accuser to the accused, meaning that those charged with discrimination will be declared guilty unless they can prove their innocence.

Another change is to extend the definition of discrimination to include conduct that merely "offends" or "insults", which could unreasonably dampen freedom of speech. A third change is to extend the list of protected attributes to include both religion and sexual orientation, making these factors grounds for alleging discrimination in the workplace.

America's experience with anti-discrimination legislation is particularly relevant at this intersection of religion and sexual orientation. An excess of such laws in the US has increased litigation, weakened religious liberty, and threatened services to the less fortunate.

First, excessive US non-discrimination legislation has gone hand-in-hand with a ballooning culture of victimisation. As more individuals and groups perceive themselves as victims of injustice and receive protected status in the law, more litigation tends to flood the courts.

Second, expansive anti-discrimination laws have weakened Americans' freedom to operate their businesses according to their deeply held convictions. Indeed, such legislation has created a legal train wreck where the right to not be offended has derailed religious liberty.

Several years ago, a photographer in New Mexico declined to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony on the grounds that doing so would violate the photographer's religious beliefs about marriage. After the lesbian couple filed a complaint, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission found the photographer guilty of violating a non-discrimination law and imposed thousands of dollars in costs.

Across America similar cases abound of anti-discrimination laws trumping religious freedom. One commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (a federal agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination) has even declared: "There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win."

Third, the legal landscape in the US threatens the effectiveness of social service providers, especially small, faith-based organisations. These groups lack the ability and resources of larger institutions to handle formal complaints and cover the costs of lawsuits brought against them. Hence, they face pressure to divert resources away from serving the needy and towards securing legal protection. To avoid compromising their faith, some organisations choose to stop providing services.

This is what happened in 2006 to Catholic Charities in Boston. An anti-discrimination law in Massachusetts required the ministry to place children in the custody of homosexual couples, a violation of the Catholic Church's teaching concerning marriage, sexuality and family. When that state refused to grant an exemption, the Catholic Charities adoption agency, which had placed more children than any other private agency in Massachusetts, was forced to end its services.

The US has now reached the point where private photographers must pay fines and adoption agencies must close their doors to follow the tenets of their faith.

This troubling state of affairs reveals a significant change in the way Americans have come to think about discrimination. To discriminate used to mean to make a distinction among things. Making sound distinctions is necessary when it comes to making sound decisions.

But "discrimination" has ceased to carry this sense and instead become a bad word. The US seems to have lost the ability to distinguish between acts based in relevant distinctions and those based in hate or ignorance, that is, genuine discrimination from genuine bigotry.

As discrimination has become synonymous with evil, it has ceased to help us think better about making moral judgments. Instead, it has become a legal trump card.

In short, Americans now wield "discrimination" in public debates less as a supple tool of moral discernment than as a blunt instrument of ideology.

In light of the American ex- perience, Australians should be wary about expanding anti-discrimination legislation. If "discrimination" becomes a legal trump card whenever it is asserted, Australia will likely see increased litigation and government interference and deterioration of serious public debate.

Moreover, the capacity for Australians to exercise their religious beliefs in public will likely decline.

Foster kids in Boston might have an opinion about which Australians would suffer as a result.


Secret deal in Victoria claws back carbon tax

Another budget hit for Gillard

THE state government and Alcoa have stitched up a secret deal to trigger more federal compensation to pay for Victoria's increased costs under the carbon tax, generated by subsidising the aluminum giant's electricity use.

The deal could also deliver tens of of millions of dollars in extra government benefits to Alcoa at the expense of Victorian taxpayers.

Details of the deal are shrouded in secrecy, with the two parties signing a confidentiality agreement. The value of financial dealings over electricity between the government and Alcoa have long been undisclosed.

Alcoa spokeswoman Nichola Holgate said a "mutually beneficial agreement" had been reached earlier this year, but would not provide details, citing confidentiality.

The deal follows a federal-state $44 million bailout of Alcoa's Port Henry smelter at Geelong earlier this year. Alcoa has also received just under 6 million free carbon permits as federal compensation for the carbon tax.

Alcoa's two smelters in Victoria - at Point Henry and Portland - employ almost 1200 people. The industry uses around a fifth of the state's electricity.

Under arrangements signed in the 1980s, the State Electricity Commission - a corporate shell used by the state government to manage contracts supplying electricity to Alcoa - subsidises power for the two smelters based on the global aluminum price.

As the carbon tax pushes up power prices, the state government's bill under the Alcoa power arrangements increases, potentially by hundreds of millions of dollars, but it is not eligible for federal compensation.

Alcoa, however, is. It is understood negotiations on the deal centred on moving some of the electricity onto Alcoa's books, triggering federal carbon compensation because it is deemed an "emissions-intensive, trade-exposed" company.

The deal means the state government will cover some of the higher electricity costs on the subsidised Alcoa power contracts, which end in 2014 and 2016.

While much of the extra compensation would be passed back to the state to cover its increased costs, during the negotiations Alcoa made it clear it wanted to retain some of the compensation.

A senior source told Fairfax Media in June that Alcoa was arguing it should be allowed to keep a proportion of the extra federal compensation because the carbon price would reduce the working lives of its smelters.

"There is a negotiation about how much we can pass through to Alcoa. That is significant," the source said at the time. "They only want to give 80 to 90 per cent back."

Last week, neither party would say what compensation Alcoa had been allowed to retain, if any.

Treasurer Kim Wells refused to say how much the agreement would cost taxpayers.

His spokeswoman, Stephanie Ryan, said the commission was party to an agreement that may have exposed the Victorian taxpayers to a significant carbon tax liability. "The state negotiated amendments to the electricity supply agreements in relation to the Portland and Point Henry smelters in July. The government is limited in what it can say given the commercial nature of these arrangements," she said.


Fall in demand dents shift to low emissions

THE shelving of EnergyAustralia's gas-fired power plant in Victoria raises fresh doubts about the incentives for power companies to move from high-polluting coal to lower-emitting technology, with one expert saying more projects could be cancelled.

The proposed plant, on the Yallourn power station site, was one of several gas-fired projects put on the drawing board several years ago by power companies to reduce emissions, and therefore costs, under the carbon price.

But the downturn in electricity demand due to retail price rises and the strong dollar has put pressure on generators to abandon new projects.

Bruce Mountain, the director of Carbon Market Economics, said more energy companies would be forced to consider moving away from low-emissions investments because of these changes.

"Many market pundits had three years ago indicated there would be more rapid transfer to low-emission technologies like gas-fired power generation," he said. "But with lower demand and higher gas prices, that shift is being pushed back in time."

He said power companies were more likely to close parts of their coal capacity to save money.

"Existing generators are having to fight very hard to compete in the market," he said. "The partial closures of brown coal plants makes more sense, because although they lose contribution to their profits, they are able to drive prices higher."


Greens platform 'will fail'

ANY attempt by the Australian Greens to make policies more palatable for mainstream voters is deceptive and doomed to fail, says Senate opposition leader Eric Abetz.

On Thursday The Age reported that the Greens had redefined the party platform to portray many core beliefs as "aims and principles" rather than explicit policies, to present a smaller target to critics in a federal election year.

Acting leader Adam Bandt said on Thursday the revised policy platform would give voters more information on what the party stood for and how its ideas would be funded.

Mr Bandt said the minor party wanted to go to the next election able to tell voters it had a fully costed set of policies. "Treasury wouldn't cost them for us and there wasn't an independent body that would do it," he said.

"So what we now have is a very strong policy platform that has been voted on and determined by our members by consensus."

Mr Bandt said the Greens would go to the next election on the same footing as the two major parties. "So our updated policy platform, together with the new parliamentary budget office, will allow the Greens to go to the next election as the most economically responsible party out of all the parties contesting the election."

But Senator Abetz said the Greens were trying to hide "extreme impulses" and this would fail. "The Greens will always be 'watermelons' - Green on the outside and red inside - no matter how they cloak their policies," he said. "The Greens need to actually repudiate their extremist policies before people will believe they've changed. Deciding simply not to talk about them simply will not wash."

Senator Abetz said the public viewed the party not as "benign environmentalists", but a hard-left movement bent on "Marxist social engineering".

The Greens were simply trying to change tack after setbacks in several recent state elections, he added. In the ACT election in October, the party's Legislative Assembly seats were cut from four to one.

The Greens will reportedly soften their stance on cutting federal government funding for private schools, and stop calling for the abolition of the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate.

Senator Abetz said the party had a history of supporting controversial ideas.


27 December, 2012

Good looks 'work against' female academics

BEAUTY is beneficial in most workplaces but not universities, where students' regard for 'hot' lecturers can be outweighed by colleagues' disapproval.

Cassandra Atherton, literary studies lecturer at Melbourne’s Deakin University, said good looks played well with students but not fellow academics. And with careers more dependent on peer perceptions than student ratings, glamour could be a drawback.

“We’ve still got that stereotype of the professor as socially inept and not particularly attractive,” she said.  “If you don’t fit that stereotype, you’re not working hard enough on your academic career.”

Dr Atherton said good looks disadvantaged researchers when they fronted academic boards. “The research is considered to be somehow not as rigorously intelligent. Even if you’re looking at a fiercely interesting topic, the suggestion is that you spend more time in the beauty parlour than on the article.

“After reading about how good-looking people do so well in other industries, it was shocking to me that looks could be interpreted as a statement about intelligence.”

A US study has found that on a 5-point student evaluation scale, attractive professors receive ratings an average 0.8 points higher than their plain colleagues. But Dr Atherton said they were no more likely to receive promotions, because research was considered more important than teaching.

The study was based on the ‘Rate My Professors’ website, which allows US students to judge their lecturers “hotness” as well as their helpfulness, clarity and accessibility. Lecturers considered “hottest” are identified with an exploding hot chilli pepper icon.

Dr Atherton said US academics tolerated such observations despite considering them demeaning and irrelevant. “They feel it’s something that they have no control over, and it’s not going to stop.”

She said Australia could expect the same. Local websites such as the student-created ‘My Lecturer’ and its secondary school equivalent, ‘Rate My Teachers’, already allow anonymous assessments of teaching staff.

One of the “hottest” lecturers on the American website, Bonnie Blossman of the University of North Texas, started receiving negative reviews after joining a reality TV show.

Dr Atherton, who interviewed Dr Blossman while researching a book on high profile academics, said UNT was pleased with the profile gained from having its lecturer on ‘Big Rich Texas’, which profiles women at an exclusive country club.

But colleagues – particularly women – were critical, while viewers, journalists and fellow cast members routinely questioned the developmental physiologists’s credentials.

“Blossman’s expertise as a scientist is rarely put to use on the show, and her PhD is often called into question.”

Criticism of Dr Blossman had been fuelled by her colloquial language and her association with an “anti-intellectual” television genre, but her looks were the main factor.

Dr Atherton said Canadian psychology professor Judith Waters had identified a “beauty penalty” in academe, where it was important to look acceptable “but being gorgeous can be a problem”. Dr Blossman had highlighted the issue by being filmed having a nose job and botox treatment.

Dr Atherton said it would be impossible to study how many academics had cosmetic surgery, because they wouldn’t discuss the issue. “They’re entrenched in this idea that brains over beauty is what counts.

“They would fear being judged as less intellectual because they cared about that kind of thing – surely they could have been banging out another article rather than recovering from some procedure.”


Some Labor party life

For sheer longevity and entertainment value, it's hard to go past the epic falling-out between past Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, once politically indispensable to each other.

Outbursts tend to be triggered whenever one has the effrontery to burnish his own record at the other's expense, as happened in mid-2010 when Hawke's second wife, writer Blanche d'Alpuget, published "Old Silver's" biography.

Keating was infuriated with d'Alpuget's suggestion that his lack of a formal education was behind his eclectic range of hobbies and passions.

"The preposterousness of it is faint-making," he said in a return fusillade, adding in a letter to Hawke (which he made public) that the latter had been hobbled for years as PM by an "emotional and intellectual malaise".

For his part, Hawke launched a well-aimed barb on ABC TV's 7.30 about the Keating-esque propensity for bitterness, congratulating himself on being "more of an optimist about life, I think".

The exchange had another former Labor leader, Bill Hayden, sadly shaking his head and describing the pair as "old men croaking like cane toads".

Hawke threw one last New Year's Eve party at The Lodge in Canberra in 1991 before handing over to his one-time treasurer and usurper. Fairfax writer Tony Wright, who was an invited guest, quotes Hawke as saying, "There's a f---ing load of French champagne in the cellar here; make sure you drink the lot of it so that c--- Keating doesn't get a drop."

That the mutual animus has persisted in the more than two decades since is a testament to sheer staying power, if nothing else.

"Paul never forgives," says one-time Labor kingmaker Graham Richardson, whose own relations with Keating have long since crumbled into dust.

The executive director of the conservative Sydney Institute, Gerard Henderson, and former Labor leader Mark Latham are another pair of political adversaries who have taken to each other with gladiatorial glee.

According to Henderson, their dispute – of more recent vintage – was triggered when he wrote about Latham's run-in with a taxi driver, which left the man with a broken arm.

Writing under the banner of "Henderson Watch", the acid-tongued Latham has appointed himself monitor and critic of Henderson's "Media Watch Dog" blog, which is hosted on the institute's website.

"There are two types of people: those who like Gerard Henderson, and those who have met him," Latham sniped in a recent post. "He is that most despised of Australian characters: a non-stop whinger."

Henderson, he adds, is addicted to pedantry "like heroin". "Without his weekly fix, his existence has little meaning or purpose," Latham says.

An unfazed Henderson served it right back, describing Latham as looking like "a director of Dodgy Brothers Funerals Pty Ltd who is about to advise relatives of a recently departed that the corpse has gone missing".

With a flair for alliteration, he occasionally refers to Latham as the "Lair of Liverpool".

"What I find about Mark," Henderson says, "is that he is very good at criticising others, and doesn't mind so much being criticised himself. But if you laugh at him, he gets terribly upset. So I just laugh at him occasionally . . . and have a bit of fun."


Wheeled workers heroes of hospital

THEY don't take sick leave or smokos and their manners are impeccable. But the newest employees at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital did not attend the staff Christmas party.

For the past month, these automated guided vehicles have been going about their work, transporting the heavy trolleys of linen and food throughout the hospital's new main building and politely telling anyone who gets in their way to "please step aside".

There are 13 of the machines, which communicate with the building via Bluetooth and GPS technology.
The new Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) at Royal North Shore Hospital which have been put into place to help staff at the hospital with tasks such as carrying meals from the kitchen to the wards. 20th December 2012. Photo by Tamara Dean

Behind-the-scenes machines … the automated guided vehicles at Royal North Shore Hospital, which move linen and food. Photo: Tamara Dean

The hospital is the first in Australia where the technology has been built into the fabric of the building.

The hospital's general manager, Sue Shilbury, said the machines delivered about 2000 meals a day for patients and carried 25,000 kilograms of linen. Another major benefit of the $4 million system was that it helped free staff to focus more on patient care.

"It has enormous benefit for the individuals working in the hospital in that it removes a lot of the repetitive manual handling tasks, which does lead to injuries, so it provides a safer working environment," she said.

The vehicles manoeuvre underneath trolleys before attaching to them via magnets. They communicate with the building, telling doors when to open and lifts when to stop.

Darryl Prince, the director of people and culture at ISS Australia, which is implementing the system, described the technology as "very clever".

"The food operator or the linen operator will order the AGV by putting the card [with a computer chip] in the call spot, a bit like you'd call for a taxi," Mr Prince said.

"The AGV will then pick that up through its wireless technology, zip up through the relevant station and then wait. It then sends a note through the paging system to tell the operator to say: 'I'm here and I've either got food with me or I'm an empty AGV ready to pick up whatever it is you want me to take."'

The machines have little contact with the public, operating mostly behind the scenes. They move at walking pace and sensors prevent them bumping into walls and people's legs. They also warn people when they are approaching with the words: "Attention, automatic transport. Please step aside."

However, during Fairfax's visit, one vehicle ran over the photographer's foot, while another could not detect a bed being wheeled by as the bed height was above its sensors.

Project manager David Newman admitted the machines had "a slight blind spot" but said there had been no problems in the past month.

Ms Shilbury said the machines had raised eyebrows in the hospital.

"People have been fascinated," she said. "They've really captured people's imagination. A lot of people have been making comments about bumping into machines that have asked them to 'mind the vehicle'.


Greens go mainstream with policy rework

THE Greens are dropping their demands for death duties as part of a new platform of policies aimed at presenting a smaller target to critics in a federal election year.

The platform does not resile from the party's core beliefs and positions, but like the main parties' manifestos it now presents them largely as "aims" and "principles" with fewer explicit policy measures.

After a year in which Labor figures have attacked the Greens as "loopy" and "extremists" who "threaten democracy", the new platform gives the federal elected MPs - nine senators and one lower house MP - more flexibility in negotiating legislation when holding the balance of power.

But it also makes it harder for opponents to attack or ridicule the party over specific policies.

For example, the new platform no longer specifies the Greens want to abolish the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate, but rather talks about "redirecting funding from subsidising private health insurance towards direct public provision".

And it no longer calls for a freeze on Commonwealth funding to private schools, but rather states that funding should be based on school need and that money not provided to the very wealthiest schools be instead given to the public sector.

The new platform was agreed at the party's November national conference and has now been approved by all the party's state branches.

It still makes clear the Greens want to increase the marginal tax rate for people earning more than $1 million, but no longer specifies that it should be put up to 50 per cent.

It advocates increasing the minerals resource rent tax and applying it to more commodities, but no longer proposes an increase in the company tax rate to 33 per cent.

It says the Greens want tax reform that improves housing affordability by no longer rewarding speculation, but it doesn't specifically call for an end to the concessional arrangements for the capital gains tax.

And - removing one of the critics' favourite lines of attack - it no longer specifies that the Greens support death duties or an "estate tax".

The Greens have had disappointing results in several recent elections, including the ACT poll when they lost three of the four seats they had held in the territory assembly.

Founder and long term leader Bob Brown retired this year and the new leader, Christine Milne, has sought to appeal to new constituencies, including rural voters and small businesses. But the Greens are attracting about 10 per cent of the national vote in most major opinion polls, compared with the almost 12 per cent they achieved at the 2010 federal election.

The party has begun a national fund-raising effort through microdonations to build a $3 million war chest for the federal election year.

Labor minister Anthony Albanese said this year that if the Greens "stood on their real platform, they would be struggling to get to 3 per cent of the electorate". AWU national secretary Paul Howes said they were "loopy" and were extremists who threatened Australia's democracy.


26 December, 2012

Innocent man held, given dangerous drugs and nearly killed at West Australian nuthouse

This could be you.  It is a revelation about how lax  police ID procedures are.   Anybody heard of fingerprints, for instance?  He presumably contested the identification so why was that totally ignored?     And there is absolutely no excuse for the hospital staff either over the ID or the adminstration of  dangerous drugs to a healthy person

The Minister for Mental Health has called for those responsible for detaining and drugging a man wrongly identified as a Graylands escapee to be held accountable.

The man was picked up by police on December 16 because he fitted the description of an involuntary patient at the mental health centre Graylands, who had left without permission.

The wrongly identified man was taken to the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, where he was held overnight and given a strong antipsychotic drug that caused him to become ill.

It was not until the real patient returned to Graylands on December 18 that the mistake was realised.

Critics have described the incident as yet another example of WA's poor mental health system.

Greens spokeswoman for mental health issues Alison Xamon has called for an inquiry.

Minister for Mental Health Helen Morton apologised for the mistake and said it would be reviewed but she stopped short of supporting a broader inquiry.   "I am shocked and appalled this could happen to anyone in WA," Ms Morton said.  "I am very sorry for the distress and hurt that the misidentified man has endured.

"I find it hard to imagine that if proper processes were followed, there is any excuse for such a terrible mistake to be made.  "I will await the outcome of the clinical review, however people must be held accountable for this dreadful mistake and to ensure that it never happens again."

The state opposition's John Quigley said the wrongly detained man deserved compensation.


Australia' conservatives  claim latest boat arrivals bring number of asylum-seekers to 25,000 under current Leftist Government

TWO more boats have arrived in Australian waters, which the opposition claims brings the number of asylum-seekers travelling to Australia by sea under the government's watch to 25,000.

HMAS Melville and HMAS Albany were called to help a suspected irregular entry vessel near Christmas Island on Sunday.

It is believed 87 passengers and three crew were on board. They will be transferred to Christmas Island for the usual security, health and identity checks.

A separate vessel with 35 people on board sailed into Australian waters north-west of Cocos Island on Friday.

Coalition border protection spokesman Michael Keenan said this meant 25,000 people had now travelled to Australia by boat during the Gillard government's watch.

"One of the main excuses Julia Gillard had for outing former prime minister Kevin Rudd was his failure to protect Australia's borders," he said in a statement on Monday night.

"Given that over 25,000 people on more than 400 boats have arrived under her leadership, then by her own measure she has categorically failed to restore any control to Australia's borders and stop the boats from coming."

He called for more funding and personnel for frontline border protection agencies.

"The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service has been spread so thin that merchant vessels, Australian Navy ships and Customs vessels are being used as water taxis because our patrol vessels are so overworked and rundown that they are literally cracking under the pressure," he said.


Sick hit by parking fees and fines from Melbourne hospitals

HOSPITALS are draining the pockets of the ill and their distressed families, gouging more than $55 million a year from them in parking fees and fines.

The state's 10 biggest hospitals pocketed an extra $5.3 million, or 11 per cent, from parking in 2011-12 and have out-galloped inflation by 22 percentage points in the past two years.

Melbourne's hospital car parks are so expensive a single hour now costs between double and triple what it does at London's biggest hospitals.

Chronic Illness Alliance executive officer Christine Walker said parking fees and transport were such a concern the alliance planned to survey members of its 48 member organisations.

"Carparking is being used to replace government budgets, which is one of the reasons it's so high - a bit more privatisation by stealth," she said.

Ms Walker said patient parking woes were likely to worsen when the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre relocates alongside the Melbourne, Women's and Children's hospitals.

The Victorian Healthcare Association, which represents public hospitals, said successive budget cuts had forced hospitals to find other ways to meet costs.

VHA chief executive Trevor Carr said the latest federal cuts would strip $67 million from the city's 10 largest hospitals, putting them under more pressure.

"If you've got less revenue coming from one source you've got to back it up from another," he said.

Mr Carr said parking was now a significant source of discretionary hospital revenue, but he said most offered discounts to regular attendees, pensioners and health-card holders.

Monash's parking profits top the state, hitting $11.3 million.

The hospital, which collected less than $1 million in parking revenue eight years ago, almost doubled its parking take in the past two years due to its soaring fees and a new multi-storey car park.


24 December, 2012

His Emininence Archbishop Pell says sorry to abuse victims in Christmas message

Catholic Cardinal George Pell has used his Christmas message to apologise to those who have been sexually abused by Christians.

Cardinal Pell says he is shocked and ashamed by the abuse suffered at the hands of priests and teachers.

He says it goes against the teachings of Jesus and Christians need faith in God's goodness and love to cope with these disasters.

The Archbishop of Sydney says where there is evil, there is less peace.

"My heart and the heart of all believers, of all people, will go out to all those who cannot find peace at this time, especially those who have suffered at the hands of fellow Christians, Christian officials, priests, religious, teachers," he said.

"I am deeply sorry this has happened.

    We need the hope that comes to us from Christ's birth with his call to conversion, to sorrow for sins and the necessity of reparation.  "We need our faith in God's goodness and love to cope with these disasters, to help those who have been hurt.  "We need the hope that comes to us from Christ's birth with his call to conversion, to sorrow for sins and the necessity of reparation."

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have both made special mention of Australian troops serving overseas in their annual Christmas messages.

Tony Abbott was joined by his wife Margie for his message.

"All of us as Australians have much to be grateful for; we're an open, decent and generous people," he said.

Both leaders are spending Christmas with their families. [What families?  Abbott has the blessing of children.  Gillard does not]


Why call centres get my goat

I am so shat with call centres that I mostly just write a letter to the CEO of the company concerned these days.  I get much better results that way  -- JR

I WRITE this on behalf of the 3 million Australians who, like me, are fed up trying to have our domestic problems solved by doubtless well-meaning, but culturally challenged, people sitting in small cubicles in Third World countries. I am referring, of course, to the modern phenomenon of the call centre.

In my day (to use an old fogey's expression), when you needed help or advice from a company with which you were doing business, you could telephone it and be put through to someone who understood your problem and could help you solve it.

Not any more. It's almost as if businesses these days don't want to know you once they've sold you their product.

Here's a perfect example. My Outlook Express email suddenly refused, for no apparent reason, to accept my password, one that I had been using with no problem for three years.

After several attempts to solve the problem, I rang my service provider. A woman answered my call. "Are you in Australia," I asked. "No," she said, "I'm in the Philippines."

After 15 minutes of fruitless fiddling, the woman said the problem was beyond her and would have to be passed on to a higher-grade technician who would contact me in three to five working days. After I told her (in a somewhat ungentlemanly fashion) what I thought of the service, the waiting time was reduced to the next day.

Needless to say, no call came and the day after that I rang again. This time I got a man, also in the Philippines. "Can I speak with someone in Australia please," I politely asked. "Why?" he replied. "Because the lady I spoke to in your country didn't seem to know what she was about." "Oh," he said, "I can assure you I can deal with the problem" - which I thought was a bit rash since I hadn't yet told him what the problem was.

To his credit, he did solve the password problem.

That wasn't the end of the saga, however. I had foolishly mentioned in passing that I wondered if the problem could be connected with an inordinate amount of spam I had been receiving. "Probably not," he said.

The next day nothing worked: no email, no internet. Back on the blower to the Philippines again. Why wasn't it working, I asked. "Oh, we cut it off," was the reply. "Why?" I asked. "Because you said your computer was sending out lots of spam."

I rest my case.


Christmas wish appears in sky over mosque

The Lebanese Muslim Association says it arranged for a Christmas wish to be written in the sky above the country's biggest mosque, in response to reports it had banned Muslims from wishing people a happy Christmas.

Over the weekend, a message appeared on the Facebook page for Lakemba Mosque, saying that Muslims were forbidden from taking part in Christmas traditions or wishing people a merry Christmas.

The entry implied it was a fatwa, or Islamic ruling, and was based on a lecture given at the mosque during Friday prayers.

The Lebanese Muslim Association, which runs the mosque, says the comments were taken out of context and the group harbours no anti-Christmas sentiment.

Samier Dandan from the the Lebanese Muslim Association says a junior staff member of the association copied and pasted text from another website that the mosque had not endorsed.

"From our perspective this is an innocent mistake done by a youth member who's employed by this organisation," he said.

"We are basically not going to apologise for what I perceive to be an innocent mistake, which is not necessarily reflective of the true mindset and belief of this organisation."

This afternoon, the organisation arranged to have the words "Merry Xmas" written in the sky above Lakemba Mosque.

Earlier today, Islamic Friendship Association spokesman Keysar Trad said the fatwa was not valid, and described the Facebook remarks as damaging and divisive.

"These types of comments, unfortunately, do nothing to promote unity, and I'm glad they've been taken down," he said.

Ahmet Keskin from the Affinity Intercultural Foundation also spoke out against the comments.

"I have no problems passing on those well-wishes at times of Christmas," he said.  "We should be looking to pass on comments to build relations, so I think any opportunity that we can get it's always great to pass on those well-wishes, so that we can get closer and seek greater understanding of each other."


WA ocean heatwave -- with cool pockets

You mean it's not global?  Pesky!

The West Australian Department of Fisheries says it will conduct further research on a marine heatwave that has been linked to a recent spate of fatal shark attacks in Western Australia.

Scientists say the unprecedented heatwave occurred off the WA coast between 2010 and 2011, and could be responsible for declining fish stocks and increased shark activity.

Ocean temperatures rose up to five degrees last summer, and the Department says that has led to pockets of cooler water developing near the coastline.

The Department's research director, Dr Rick Fletcher, says this may be causing sharks to move closer to shore.

"If there is a relatively smaller area of cooler water inshore, then the sharks could be concentrated in that smaller area," he said.

Dr Fletcher says further studies will be carried out to determine the long-term effects of the heatwave on fish stocks and shark activity.

"If we actually understand a little bit more about what conditions are more or less likely to have concentrations of White Sharks or Tiger Sharks, than we can inform the public about what the conditions are likely to be," he said.

"Two years post that initial heatwave, what's happened both to the stocks but also what's happened to the oceanographic conditions, have they returned? Or has that change dissipated over the past two years."

There have been five fatal shark attacks along the WA coast in the past two years, prompting a raft of research aimed at trying to better understand the animals.


23 December, 2012

A Fatwa on Christmas

AN IMAM at Australia's biggest mosque has issued a fatwa against Christmas, warning followers it is a "sin" to even wish people a Merry Christmas.

The ruling, which followed a similar lecture during Friday prayers at Lakemba Mosque, was posted on its Facebook site on Saturday, according to media reports.

It appears the post is no longer on the page.

The head imam at Lakemba, Sheikh Yahya Safi, told the congregation during prayers they should not have anything to do with Christmas.

The fatwa reportedly warns: "Disbelievers are trying to draw Muslims away from the straight path."

It says Christmas Day and associated celebrations are among the "falsehoods" for a Muslim to avoid.

"Therefore a Muslim is neither allowed to celebrate the Christmas Day nor is he allowed to congratulate them," it says.

The fatwa has been condemned by other Muslim leaders. The Grand Mufti of Australia,  Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, was quoted by Fairfax media as saying the foundations of Islam were peace, co-operation, respect and holding others in esteem.

"Anyone who says otherwise is speaking irresponsibly," it quoted him as saying.


Legal aid cuts a blow for anti-gas groups

FARMERS and community groups will have to seek private funding for public interest court cases against coalminers and gas drillers, after a crackdown on Legal Aid funding by the NSW government.

The Attorney-General, Greg Smith, announced changes this week to stop the funding being used on behalf of "activists" and "lobbyists" who could impede minerals industries.

But Mr Smith refused to say what he meant by "lobbyist" and "activist", or say what means or merit tests would be applied.

Asked by Fairfax Media whether a farmer could still seek help over land access during a coal seam gas dispute, he declined to comment.

The new guidelines say any Legal Aid funding must not be used for "providing legal advice to activists and lobby groups".

The ruling is likely to mean that many groups, including the Environmental Defender's Office of NSW, can no longer perform their primary jobs.

"Most of our work is for rural community groups, most of those groups would be incorporated in some way, and most of them would have a constitution with a clause about protecting the environment where they live," said its executive director, Jeff Smith.

"It's not difficult to see them being caught. But it's difficult to know, because a lot of the answers will depend on details of how the government defines 'lobby groups'."

The office has had its resources cut, with reduced funding available only until March. It had received about $1.2 million a year from the Law Society's Public Purpose Fund, which is based on interest from unclaimed solicitors' fees. The office's staff of 25 would have to be cut to three people unless previous funding from the public purpose fund was restored, Mr Smith said.

Members of the public and the legal community, including 59 environmental law academics, have asked the state government to maintain funding for the office.

The office has achieved wins on behalf of community groups, including reversing the Catherine Hill Bay housing development bordering Lake Macquarie, in which a Labor Party donor had been granted approval to build on environmentally sensitive land. Others have been stopping pollution in the Sydney drinking water catchment and improving remediation of the Barangaroo development site.

The new rules will affect 36 community legal centres across the state. They received more than $18 million last year, including $5.26 million from the Public Purpose Fund.

The rule changes specify that funding should primarily be used to give legal advice to socially and economically disadvantaged people, and that these people should be subject to a means and merit test.

The Attorney-General's position on environmental campaigning has previously been endorsed by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell. The Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, has accused the Environmental Defender's Office of supporting "the left agenda to destroy the economy".

Asked if the Attorney-General's office had produced or vetted the guidelines, or whether they had been developed by lawyers within the department, a spokeswoman for Greg Smith did not comment.

"The funding principles will be applied by the trustees of the Public Purpose Fund and Legal Aid NSW when making decisions about the future allocation of moneys from a pool of funds which is diminishing as interest rates continue to fall," the spokeswoman said.


Leftist bias at the ABC

THE response by the managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corp, Mark Scott, to Janet Albrechtsen's piece on ABC bias, almost defies belief. It is not the first time he has argued this case, even as he presented figures to a senate inquiry on the biased make-up of the panellists on Insiders.

Somehow, Scott trusts his "outstanding" commentators, by claiming that they are "carrying no ideological badge and pushing no line". Well that settles it, doesn't it?

There has been a very long tradition of accusations of bias in our national broadcaster. In 1981, the Dix report, a committee of review of the ABC, strongly recommended that current affairs programs would be "most arresting, informative and effective, and attract wider audience patronage, if more efforts were made to open the programs to a wider range of viewpoints".

Following the Dix report, the Institute of Public Affairs published a first attempt at media analysis. It looked "at the range of ideas being discussed in selected ABC programs over a period of time to see whether they appear to favour any particular political philosophy".

To his credit, author Ken Baker understood the "range of issues" should be related to "the views of the community". Thirty years on, the ABC is still resisting accusations it is completely out of touch with the community.

That the managing director doesn't see this defies well established perceptions from journalists themselves. In groundbreaking research in 1995 and 1998, John Henningham, a professor at Queensland University published a couple of papers on journalists' perceptions of bias and the ideological differences between them and their public.

What is striking about the research is that the journalists clearly rated the ABC as pro-Labor, indeed as the most pro-Labor of the major media outlets. In this light, indignant protests that the ABC is balanced become plain silly.

Similarly, to deny that there is a large gap between ABC presenters and their audience is simply unsustainable after Henningham surveyed 173 journalists and 262 members of the public in metropolitan Australia. He found an enormous difference between these two groups, with journalists consistently having a much more "progressive" views than the general public. The denial in the ABC has reached a point it does even bother to attempt balance. Albrechtsen has clearly outlined the major offenders. With the polls suggesting a Gillard wipeout, there is a feeling of "end of days" denial in the ABC and they, like Gillard, are going for broke.

A timely book by Californian academic Tim Groseclose, Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind is at pains to point out that political bias "does not mean not being truthful, or reporting facts honestly or even objectively". If there is one lesson to be learned and many of us in Australia have been saying it for years it is about the selectivity of issues, the bias that is formed by the things that are not reported, and in interviews, by the people who are not interviewed.

This is an exquisitely refined technique on the ABC. Presenters tend to interview only those experts who agree with their own opinions, thus transforming news from factual content into a point of view without appearing to express the view of the presenter. On a panel on Insiders or Q&A, one simply gets the false impression that there is a consensus.

Given this reality, Groseclose's most innovative and remarkable analysis comes from asking the question: what would the public really think if we could magically get rid of the biased media?

Left Turn's rigorous, objective methodology was able to measure the filtering that distorts the way we see the world and shows that it does indeed change the way we think. In particular, Groseclose has scrupulously used measures based on criteria selected by the Left itself as a hedge against potential criticism. His research indicates the views we hear expressed by people are not their natural views, but are distorted views of what they really think. Worse, he warns, "media bias feeds on itself".

As a result, in the US the population would, without the omnipresent media bias, score fully 20 percentage points further to the Right. If correct, this is very troubling and begs the intriguing question about the effects of the slant bias in Australia.

It also would explain why so many educated, generally mildly apolitical, well thinking middle class people with a regular diet of the ABC and Fairfax, simply are not aware that, for instance, the world has stopped warming for the past 16 years, that hurricanes and extreme weather events have declined and are not related to global warming, that Doha was a dismal failure, that the NBN has never had a cost benefit analysis, that Green jobs cost money ... and jobs, that growing the economic pie is not the same as redistributing tax revenue Bravo Tony Jones or that the Great Barrier Reef is not being destroyed.

As I explained 10 years ago on a panel at an ABC national staff conference in Melbourne; there is nothing more boring than a one-sided football match. Why doesn't the ABC be brave and challenge itself with controversial, mainstream ideas? It would be "most arresting, informative and effective", as the Dix report concluded more than 30 years ago.


Increasing taxes not the answer: try smart spending

"One of the problems with the idea that "the rich" should pay more tax is that, in Australia, they already pay the vast bulk of income tax revenue"

ONE of the recurring themes of a number of speeches made by Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson is the potentially persistent gap that is emerging in Australia between expectations of government spending and the scope for government to raise revenue.

In his words, "slowing economic growth, rising expectations of government and a constrained revenue base are likely to force an explicit debate about the size and scope of government".

So far, so good. Sadly, however, most of recent public discussion of this topic is based on the assumption that, one way or another, governments in Australia must raise more tax as a proportion of GDP. What needs to be figured out, so the argument goes, is how best to increase tax revenue.

Should it be done by eliminating the exemptions that apply to the GST? Should it be done by raising the rate at which the GST is levied? Should it be done by taxing "the rich" even more? Should it be done by cutting tax concessions, particularly in the superannuation area?

Let me be upfront on this topic. I do not share the assumption that the only way forward is to increase the tax burden. In fact, I think we should be doing everything we can to reduce tax revenue as a proportion of GDP. What is needed is a root-and-branch analysis of the expenditure side of the budget, to cut out wasteful spending and useless programs. Only in this way can there be reduced taxation in association with sustainable fiscal outcomes.

But let us start our story in the early 1960s. Then the share of all government spending of GDP in Australia was just over 20 per cent. It is now around 35 per cent. This is a very substantial increase in the size of government over a relatively short time frame.

In international terms, however, Australia looks like a relatively low taxing-low spending country. We are above the US, but similar to Japan and Switzerland. There are a number of countries that extract much higher proportions of their national outputs in taxation.

Examples of high taxing-high spending countries include: Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Norway and France.

But as Nigel Ray, one of the executive directors of the Treasury, points out, these comparisons can be misleading. "Data on tax revenue or spending can never fully capture the impact government will have on an economy. Most notably, this measure will not account for activity of state-owned enterprises; it hides the use of tax concessions; and it does not capture the impact of government regulations (including mandated superannuation contributions)".

For most of the 2000s, Australian government receipts as a proportion of GDP ranged between 25.1 and 25.9 per cent. Associated with the GFC, this proportion fell to 23.4 per cent in 2007-08 and has not recovered to the levels experienced in the first part of the 2000s. On the Treasury's reckoning, even by 2015-16, the ratio of receipts to GDP will not have returned to 25 per cent.

Now some commentators have seized on these numbers to make the case for higher taxes. But government receipts are the result of both explicit government decisions and the underlying level and nature of economic activity.

What has been happening over the past several years has been the consequence largely of the absence of capital gains to tax; the large deductions associated with the mining investment boom; sluggish company tax receipts more generally; and the small amount of fiscal drag in the current income tax scales. None of these factors is related to any recent government decisions.

The same commentators who recommend higher taxes will sometimes point to survey data which indicate that reasonable proportions of the Australian population seem to be happy with the idea of higher taxes.

Digging a little deeper, however, these survey results are distorted by the fact that many respondents are actually supporting other people, in particular "the rich", paying more tax, rather than being actually willing to pay more tax themselves. (Many do not pay tax in net terms, in any case.)

One of the problems with the idea that "the rich" should pay more tax is that, in Australia, they already pay the vast bulk of income tax revenue. According to the latest figures, the top quarter of income earners paid more than two-thirds of the total revenue from income tax. By contrast, the bottom 25 per cent paid less than 3 per cent of the total.

We are also seeing overseas experiments of imposing higher taxes on "the rich" go horribly wrong. In the UK, for instance, the introduction of a new 50p top tax rate for those earning more than £1 million a year saw the number of people in this tax bracket fall by over 60 per cent. Rather than raising more revenue, it is estimated that £7 billion was lost in tax revenue.

A similar trend is apparent in France, where the Hollande government has imposed an income tax surcharge on very high income earners. Significant numbers of "the rich" have sought alternative tax domiciles.

Where the argument about taxation in Australia becomes very confused is the widely acknowledged inefficiency of our present mix of taxes; in particular, some of the taxes levied by state governments, but the MRRT could be thrown in, for good measure. But it is important to bear in mind that reforming the tax base is most likely to occur when there is scope to compensate the losers of the changed tax mix.

Trying both to make taxes more efficient and, at the same time, increase the overall burden of taxation is a recipe for failure.

The story of the introduction of the GST was the removal of a number of extremely inefficient taxes and compensation to individuals and families through changes to the income tax scales and transfer payments. The overall tax burden was largely unchanged.

The theory is straightforward: it is better to impose taxes that have a ratio of output loss to revenue raised of 10 per cent, say, than 40 per cent.

In other words, eliminate the taxes with the highest deadweight losses. In practice, however, it can be very complicated to change the tax mix, particularly given the overlay of federal-state financial relations.

The bottom line is that there is a case for making taxes more efficient, but this should not be confused with the case for increasing taxes. Luckily, the scope for cutting government spending is very substantial and will set up the circumstances in which the overall burden of taxation can be reduced.

Think: Family Tax Benefit B; excessive childcare subsidies; excessive university tuition subsidies; schoolkids bonus; baby bonus; first-home buyers grant; industry assistance, including to the automotive industry and the clean energy fund; multiple regional grants - the list goes on and on.

Of course, some tax revenue is needed to fund the core functions of government. And we are best served if we can raise taxes which have the lowest impact on work effort and investment.

But the biggest breakthrough is likely to come by confining government spending to a small number of functions where private provision will be absent or inadequate and to ensuring that spending always generates benefits greater than the costs.


Miss Universe 2012 at Las Vegas

She was among the finalists but Miss Australia (Renae Ayris) did not get a placing.  I don't think I am biased in sayibg she looks by far the best to me.  And who doesn't prefer blondes, anyway?


21 December, 2012

Qld. police still trying to justify themselves in Stafford case

As the Appeal court found, the evidence was weak and interpretable as in part a police fabrication.  The case hung on a single maggot found in Stafford's car but who knows how the maggot got there?  The Lucas inquiry found way back that fabrication of evidence was pervasive in the Qld. police but zip, nothing, nada was ever done about that as far as we can tell

GRAHAM Stafford could again be tried for the murder of schoolgirl Leanne Holland after the Attorney-General ordered an independent review of the evidence against him.

The dramatic announcement late yesterday came two days after the Director of Public Prosecutions said he would not bring Mr Stafford back to court - despite new evidence uncovered in a review by senior detectives.

Mr Stafford spent more than 14 years in jail after a jury found him guilty of the torture murder of the 13-year-old in 1991. But he was released after the Court of Appeal overturned his conviction.

On Tuesday, Police Commissioner Ian Stewart announced a review of the investigation had uncovered enough new evidence to send Mr Stafford back to jail.

But the Director of Public Prosecutions decided it was not in the public interest to order a new trial.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has the power to retry Mr Stafford over Leanne Holland's murder in an ex-officio indictment - even after the DPP has decided to drop the case.

Yesterday, he said he had secured a former Supreme Court judge and solicitor-general to review the evidence and recommend whether it was in the public interest to try Mr Stafford again. Kenneth Mackenzie, QC, is expected to make his recommendation early next year.

"As I have the power to order the re-trial of Graham Stafford independent of the DPP, I have decided to seek independent advice on the strength of the evidence," Mr Bleijie said.

"Presenting an ex-officio indictment is an important power that has been preserved by legislation."

"Mr Mackenzie will consider whether there are reasonable prospects of obtaining a conviction should the matter proceed to retrial and if a retrial is in the public interest."

On Tuesday, Mr Stafford said he would welcome a new trial as an opportunity to clear his name.

"Because it's taken so long, in a way I've just put it out of my head and gotten on with my life - started a new job, I've made new friends, got a new relationship and (I'm) just really content with my life," Mr Stafford said.

"But obviously at the back of your mind is this and it keeps coming back and it's still not resolved."

The last time an Attorney-General initiated an ex-officio indictment was when the DPP ruled there was not enough evidence to proceed against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over the 2004 in-custody death of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island.


Surplus fudge abandoned

It was obviously a fudge from the beginning.  One wonders why the ALP ever made such a promise.  Very short-term thinking, apparently

THROW out the bad news before Christmas. Hope that nobody notices. Who cares about a surplus anyway? The economists have been saying it doesn't matter, indeed that we would have been better off if the government had not locked itself into it. But Wayne Swan's ditching of the promise that the government first made in 2010 - in the budget when Kevin Rudd was still prime minister and the government expected to reap lots of loot from a robust mining tax - is a difficult and humiliating backflip.

It is a broken promise of the first order. True, in its October budget update and ever since, the government has put some qualification around its pledge. The $1.1 billion surplus was so thin there was always the risk it could not be produced.

A recent survey of economists found hardly any thought it would be delivered and of the rest, the expectation was for a deficit of $5 billion to $20 billion - still a hefty turnaround from last financial year's deficit of nearly $44 billion.

Despite some recent softening-up for a possible change, the surplus promise is so long-standing and so often reiterated over the years that the impact of having to walk away from it is politically huge.

The opposition can crow. It has said all along that the government would never deliver a surplus and, if Labor loses the election, that (probably) will be true.

Swan cracked hardy. "If the worst thing that people say is we got the economics right again but fell short on the politics, well I just say, so be it", he said. He knows things don't work like that. This is not an economic problem for the government - it is a political one. It goes to trust and credibility. Trust, or lack of it, is Gillard's underlying vulnerability - notably, when it comes to policy, since she broke her word on the carbon tax.

There are so many quotes to throw back at the government. On December 7 Gillard said: "Our last economic update had us at trend growth and that's why the last economic update had us with a surplus. We are still determined to deliver the surplus."

Leader of the House Anthony Albanese is looking particularly red-faced. On Sky on Sunday he was asked: "If you had to walk through a door and your life depended on it, is the government going to deliver a surplus or is it going to fall into a small deficit in May?" He was unequivocal: "Well, the government's going to deliver a surplus. That's our policy. That's what we've been working towards."

The broken promise on a surplus is rather different in nature from the "no carbon tax" one - circumstances have changed - but they can easily be bundled together.

Tony Abbott was quick to link them: "You just can't trust this government to manage the economy. You just can't trust this government to tell the truth."

At his news conference, Swan was awkwardly reminded that in 2008 he had talked about a "temporary" deficit, and there had been a deficit ever since. For good reasons, certainly, but words and pledges come back to haunt politicians.

Swan insists the government is doing fine in managing the economy. He says spending restraint will continue. It's just that it would be counterproductive, threatening jobs, to try to fill what has become - on the latest figures released on Thursday - an even larger gaping revenue hole. "In just four months, we've already seen the full hit to revenue that we were expecting for the whole year," Swan said.

It is interesting the government decided to cut its losses now, rather than wait for more figures in the new year. Stephen Koukoulas, of Market Economics, a former economic adviser to Gillard, looking at the latest numbers before Swan's announcement, judged that it remained "a close-run thing whether the budget will be in small surplus or small deficit for 2012-13". (Swan's phrasing was equivocal - he said it was "unlikely" there will be a surplus.)

If the government had decided to hang on and hope, it would have had to work like fury over Christmas to make savage cuts. It was running out of time to achieve results quickly enough. The nightmare scenario would have been for it to announce a round of unpopular savings, only to later find it had to admit it still couldn't achieve a surplus.

One problem Swan will have is containing expectations that the way is now open for more spending. Without the discipline of the surplus target, all sorts of groups will be making demands. There will be pressure from the welfare lobby to give those on the dole a better deal, from the foreign aid lobby to restore the money diverted this week to spending on asylum seekers. Swan is adamant the government remains tough on the expenditure side.

But, of course, there will be big spending promises in the May budget, coming not long before the election. The government has said it will give firm commitments to the billions of dollars needed for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Gonski school funding. Swan insists these will be financed by changing priorities - in other words, there will be savings.

Every promise broken makes people more suspicious of future promises. When the government outlines the funding for the NDIS and Gonski, critics will question whether these promises will be delivered.

Both sides of politics know the debate over who will be the more responsible economic manager is vital, and this was reinforced by this week's Age-Nielsen poll. Asked to choose the issue most important in how they would vote, 35 per cent selected the economy. There was quite a partisan difference; the economy was chosen by 27 per cent of Labor voters and 51 per cent of Coalition supporters. But in an election where the Labor government would survive only if it won seats in net terms, it must try to attract Coalition voters on their core issue.


Whistleblower  'vindicated' by airport Customs raid

A WHISTELBLOWER convicted of leaking reports about Customs operations at Sydney airport is questioning why it has taken years to act on security flaws.

Allan Kessing, who in 2007 was convicted of leaking reports about security at Sydney Airport to the Australian newspaper, told reporters on Friday that it was widely known the airport had problems with security.

"It is not possible, it is simply not credible to say that nobody knew there was this extent of corruption," he said.  "Anybody who has the slightest experience of this area knew there were problems.  "The fact that they haven't been acted on until now begs the question, why?"

Mr Kessing - a former Australian Customs officer - wrote two damning reports on Sydney airport security in 2003.

He was convicted four years later of having leaked the reports to media. He had faced a maximum two years jail but was instead handed a nine-month suspended sentence.

Speaking alongside Mr Kessing, Independent senator Nick Xenophon urged the federal government to release Mr Kessing's suppressed reports.  "The two reports prepared by Mr Kessing 10 years ago, nine years ago, need to be released as a matter of urgency," Senator Xenophon said.  "It's important that Justice James Woods is given access to those reports."

Mr Kessing said the reports advocated a range of measures to boost security, including stricter background checks for airport staff and more scrutiny of customs officers by their superiors.

It emerged on Thursday that two customs officers and five members of the public have been charged following a joint investigation by law enforcement agencies into corruption and drug smuggling at Sydney airport.

The investigation on Thursday prompted the establishment of a reform board, headed by Justice James Wood, to ensure customs is clean.


'Perfect storm' of mishaps in NSW government hospital behind death

Careless government doctor didn't give a sh*t about his patient

A MUCH-LOVED mother died because of a "perfect storm" of medical oversights, lost opportunities and gaps in the system, a coroner has found.

Marie Haywood, 43, was on the liver transplant waiting list when she was admitted to Campbelltown Hospital on December 21, 2008 to have fluid drained from her abdomen.  She was discharged on Boxing Day, vomiting, crying and suffering from an oozing wound before dying three days later, the inquest into her death has been told.

NSW Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon on Friday found Mrs Haywood died of multi-organ failure. The medical cause, he told Glebe Coroner's Court, was hepatorenal syndrome and sepsis.

Mr Dillon said the cause of death could be more simply described as "a perfect storm".

The senior doctor who signed off Mrs Haywood's discharge on December 26, Dr Ian Turner, did not see her or compare her pathology results with those taken on Christmas Day, the coroner found.  "Such a comparison would have made Mrs Haywood's deteriorating trend starkly obvious," Mr Dillon said, adding, "Another opportunity was therefore lost."

Mr Dillon said the only doctor who saw her on the day she left the hospital was a "relatively inexperienced intern" who did not know her case and who, reasonably, assumed a member of her treating team had already reviewed her case.

The coroner recommended that patients admitted to hospitals for paracentesis should not be discharged without being reviewed by a senior member of the treating team.

All available pathology results should also be reviewed before the discharge of any such patients, he said, and where results were not immediately available, patients should be asked not to leave the hospital until they were.

Mr Dillon also found that inadequate attention had been paid to Mrs Haywood's fluid levels, recommending that South Western Sydney Local Health District consider maintaining full fluid balance charts for all patients undergoing paracentesis.

Mrs Haywood herself did not think she would cope at home and was barely able to walk when she left the hospital, Mr Dillon said.

Her sister, Diane McDermott, received a call from Mrs Haywood on Boxing Day morning during which her sister started crying and said she was worried about being discharged.

Ultimately, Mrs Haywood's condition worsened and she returned to hospital on December 27, before dying there on December 29.

The coroner was unable to answer what he said must be "the burning question" for her grieving husband John Haywood - whether she would have survived if her deterioration had been detected before she was discharged.  "Grim as her prospects were, it is not possible to be certain of the outcome," he said.

Mr Dillon found that an early working diagnosis of pneumonia was ruled out as early as December 24, yet pneumonia continued to be blamed for the chest pain experienced by Mrs Haywood.  This pain was almost certainly caused by pleural effusions, he said.

"Correctly diagnosed, it may have ... drawn attention to the need to keep a wary eye on her pathology results," he said.  "Much of the clinical focus was directed towards a condition from which, it is now clear, she did not suffer."

Outside the court, Mr Haywood - who described Marie as his "soulmate" - said the coroner had recognised mistakes were made at Campbelltown Hospital in the last days of his wife's life.

"We can only hope that they do change and that things do get better for other people," he said.

He cried as he told reporters how Marie's death had hit her teenage son, who was not present in court on Friday.

His sister-in-law Ms McDermott said she would spend Christmas remembering Marie, the beloved baby of the family.  "Christmas for Marie was the best time of the year, with family. That's the hardest part," she said.


20 December, 2012

Toddler's drowning: manslaughter charge dropped

Why should a neighbour be charged when the mother was not?  The greater burden of responsibility lies with the mother.  I suspect that that consideration was the real reason behind the withdrawal of the charges.  The defendant could well have joined the mother to the case and asked that 90% of the responsibility be assigned to her  -- which would have been hard for the court to deny in the light of the facts.  Any claim that the neighbour should be more vigilant than the mother would be absurd.  Blame-shifting is pervasive these days so it is good that blame-shifting was abandoned in this case

A man who was charged with Australia's first-ever manslaughter over the drowning death of a toddler in his backyard pool has had the case against him dropped.

Philip Cameron was charged in July over the death of a two-year-old boy.

Police alleged that the 61-year-old had failed to properly fence the pool at his Armidale property.

The toddler had been playing in a yard on May 16 when he wandered away from his mother, fell into Mr Cameron's pool and drowned.

The case returned to Armidale Local Court on Wednesday, where a solicitor for the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions terminated the prosecution.

A spokesperson for the DPP said the matter was withdrawn "because, based on the available evidence, there was no reasonable prospect of conviction".

In a prepared statement read outside the court, Mr Cameron's solicitor, Mark Daly, said the right decision had been made by the DPP.

He expressed Mr Cameron's "deepest sympathy for the loss the poor child's parent's have suffered".

Mr Daly also emphasised the importance of repairing neighbourhood fences, claiming "no dispute over a fence is worth a child's life".

At the time he was charged, one neighbour described Mr Cameron's unkempt pool as "a bit of a cesspit", with a dilapidated pool fence surrounding it.


Unions versus Greenies

Unions win.  Unusual for a Leftist government to approve that horror of all horrors:  A MINE

FEDERAL Environment Minister Tony Burke has given an Indian mining company the green light to develop an iron ore project on Tasmania's West Coast.

The mine, one of a handful of proposals being fiercely opposed by Tarkine conservationists, is expected to create 125 jobs over its predicted decade of operation.

The National Tarkine Coalition said protesters would barricade the site as soon as work started.

TNC's Scott Jordan said Mr Burke had folded to pressure from the Australian Workers' Union which organised a loud and very angry pro-mining rally in Burnie last month.

'What the AWU wants, Tony gives, it seems," Mr Jordan said yesterday.

"We will monitor the situation and as soon as they start works on site we will be there."

Mr Burke has imposed 29 conditions on Shree Minerals' project including the development of plans to protect threatened species and the Tasmanian devil.

Shree Minerals said the Federal Government approval was a major milestone in its bid to start production at Nelson Bay -- near Couta Rocks -- and the ghost mining town of Balfour.

The company will now seek funding partners.

The Nelson Bay River project has already been approved by the State Government.

Shree Minerals chairman Sanjay Loyalka said the project's development would include measures to stop acid drainage and minimise the risk of road kill.

Mr Loyalka said the mine's footprint would be small compared to the social and economic benefits it would bring.

He said the project would also boost the state's finances through royalties and payroll tax.

Shree Minerals will commission a research program to understand orchid biology in the North-West and support the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

Federal Braddon MP Sid Sidebottom said Mr Burke's decision was welcome news for the region.

"Mining has a long history and ongoing importance to the economy and I am pleased that it will continue to do so," Mr Sidebottom said.


Ambulance Victoria to investigate as Lysterfield man says paramedics left him to die

Ambulance Victoria is notorious

A MELBOURNE father feared he would die after he was allegedly refused an ambulance several times while suffering a heart attack.

Ambulance Victoria is investigating claims John Mason and his wife called 000 up to six times after he was abandoned by two paramedics following an argument.

The Lysterfield man, who has since had major surgery twice, is considering legal action after claiming the pair left him for dead.

His brother eventually rushed him to the Monash Medical Centre emergency department early on November 14.

"It's a bloody bad experience. I was lying on the floor of casualty screaming in pain before they took me through," alleged Mr Mason. The rheumatoid arthritis sufferer was treated for heart attack symptoms on November 13 before being discharged from the centre, allegedly still vomiting, that night.

When two female paramedics arrived at Mr Mason's home hours later, at 2am, he alleged they told him there was no point in taking him to hospital as there would be a long wait to be treated.  "They attended the house with no equipment and were arguing there was no point going to hospital," Mr Mason said.  "They did no checks: no pulse rate, no blood pressure, no ECG. It stinks to high heaven."

He said a heated argument followed and he told the paramedics to leave.

After six further calls to emergency, Mr Mason claimed a man who identified himself as being from triage told him to stop calling.   "He said: 'Understand, John, we are not coming, we are not picking you up'."

Ambulance Victoria Metro East regional manager Cath Anderson confirmed an investigation. She said an initial inquiry found the paramedics "provided appropriate care at the time in difficult circumstances".

Ambulance Victoria group manager Andrew Watson alleged the patient was agitated and intimidating. But Mr Mason denied that.


Women still can't have it all

Nicolle Flint

It is a decade since Virginia Haussegger's pivotal "The sins of our feminist mothers" was published on this page. Haussegger's opinion piece articulated the anger and frustration of a generation of women left childless as a result of their feminist mothers promoting the myth of "having it all": the career, the husband and the babies. The article hit a collective nerve. A book followed recording Haussegger's personal account of feminism, career, relationships, health, and, ultimately biological childlessness.

The messages resonated with women of Haussegger's generation and with mine. Wonder Woman: The Myth of Having It All was the talk of every woman in town.

Thanks to brave women like Haussegger, my generation received the message loud and clear to look after their reproductive health; to not delay pregnancy too long. We have been successfully reprogrammed to hear the biological clock ticking. Unfortunately, this is not a gentle while-away-the-hours-type ticking. Rather, it is a nuclear-bomb-is-about-to-explode-so-PANIC-NOW-style ticking. I sometimes wonder if this has done more harm than good; if, in fact, it would be better not to know.

But we are, of course, the generation who does know. We know our fertility drops markedly after 35 years of age, that when you hit 40 the chances of natural conception and a healthy pregnancy are so slim as to be negligible, that 40-plus Hollywood celebrity mothers use donor eggs. Our GPs gently, but regularly, remind us of these facts.

Yet all the education, awareness and warnings in the world won't guarantee you'll find a partner to father your children. Contemporary records of this dilemma abound: Sushi Das' Deranged Marriage: A Memoir touches upon it, recent articles by The Advertiser's Amber Petty and Rebekah Devlin discuss it, and Martha Wainwright and Lily Allen have sung about it.

The prevailing advice for those hitting the 35-year-old "single no children" danger zone is to freeze our eggs. This sounds like a neat future-proofing insurance policy but at this stage unfortunately it is not. The procedure is expensive ($10,000 plus) and the statistical success of eventually achieving pregnancy is far from encouraging. But at least we have an option, limited though it may be, and more information than was accessible to Haussegger and her contemporaries.

But did Haussegger's message about the myth of having it all generate other less positive ramifications? Has her warning, in fact, caused a generation of women to regress in the workplace just when women were gaining a collective foothold? Did educated young women heed her warning so thoroughly their careers have been sacrificed for children?

Debates over women's representation in the workforce, and in the realm of literature and theatre abound. According to reports on the arts and theatre for example, more women than men feel caring for children has affected their artistic careers. Women are working "flexibly" or part-time, consciously or unconsciously enabling their partner's career to prosper over their own. Are women and men still incapable of privately negotiating their family commitments to the mutual benefit of both their careers?

It seems so. In an article titled "Desperate Gillard's War has Failed her Own Gender", Henry Ergas wrote in The Australian on Monday "the share of women in full-time employment has increased only 3 percentage points since the 1960s". According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) women represent just 35 per cent of all full-time employees (a figure that was 34 per cent in 2002).

The 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership reports women represent just 9.2 per cent of both executives and directors of ASX 500 companies, and that in the "pipeline" to senior ASX 500 management positions men hold 2148 line positions and women just 141. WGEA director Helen Conway said "we've been conducting the census for 10 years and, frankly, you'd expect to see more progress … companies have failed to develop and maintain a strong pipeline of female talent, and you can see this in the negligible growth in female executive management".

If my generation has embraced babies over the target of the boardroom, this is a predictable outcome. As with the debate in the arts, if women are not half the playing field in the first place then how can they expect half the positions? How can workplace gender imbalances be addressed if women are not in the workplace full-time to address them, when the stark reality is that businesses operate on a full-time work week, especially in the ranks of senior management?

The great post-feminist challenge is for women and men to reconcile the myth of having it all with reality, and this is a private matter, not one for the state. Suffocating business with further regulation and reporting requirements is counterproductive and ultimately pointless if couples are making private decisions that result in workplace gender imbalances. Men and women must reflect on the private choices they make and what this means for women's careers.

In a decade from now I hope women in their 30s won't be facing the same difficult circumstances and choices. I hope women and men can privately negotiate to improve women's full-time presence in the workforce, that reproductive technology may have improved further still, that we can have a more substantive and informed debate about other options such as American-style egg donation and surrogacy, and that the conversation started by Virginia Haussegger in 2002 and continued by others like Das, Petty and Devlin might assist the women who follow next.

A decade on from Haussegger's article women know more, panic more, yet are not presented with more conceivable solutions to our problems of procreation, partnership and profession. We should be able to have it all. But this time it's up to women - and men - to make it happen.


19 December, 2012

Alan Jones makes apology on air over Lebanese comments

The comments were of course too sweeping and extreme to be universally true but they were clearly just a statement of opinion, not an academic thesis, so deserved free speech protection.  But there is little such protection in Australia, particularly where that most sanctified of groups  -- Muslims -- is concerned, of course

What is not in  doubt is that Sydney police have a Middle Eastern  Organised Crime squad, with Lebanon being the particular part of the Middle East principally concerned.  So Jones had some basis for his views, to put it cautiously.  Some very recent shooting deaths  would appear to involve the Lebanese Muslim community

Controversial broadcaster Alan Jones has apologised on air over comments he made in April 2005 describing Lebanese Muslims as "vermin" and "mongrels".

The Administrative Decisions Tribunal (ADT) had ordered Jones to apologise on his 2GB radio show between 8am and 8.30am (AEDT) any day this week.

On Wednesday just after 8am he did so, saying his comments were in breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act.

The apology comes two months after Jones lost a lengthy legal bid to overturn the 2009 decision, which found he "incited hatred, serious contempt and severe ridicule of Lebanese Muslims".

The case was taken against him by Sydney-based Lebanese-born Muslim leader, Keysar Trad.

The complaint related to comments Jones made on April 28 about a Nine Network current affairs story reportedly showing young men of Lebanese origin taunting police.

"If ever there was a clear example that Lebanese males in their vast numbers not only hate our country and our heritage, this was it," Jones said.

Referring to the men as "vermin" and "mongrels", he added: "They simply rape, pillage and plunder a nation that's taken them in."


Solar industry faces squeeze after review

Australia's nascent solar power industry is likely to face fresh obstacles after an independent federal agency backed further reductions in incentives for the sector although large-scale generators applauded the overall recommendations.

The Climate Change Authority today released its final report on its review of the Renewable Energy Target, which sets a goal for the electricity industry to draw 20 per cent of its power from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy.

As expected the agency left the target for large-scale generators unchanged at 41,000 gigawatt hours per year by 2020, a goal that has fostered a surge in investment in renewable energy. As overall demand for power drops, the 41,000 GW-hour figure would amount to about 26 per cent of the sector by 2020.

Stability in the overall target would "provide a degree of certainty and predictability to investors in renewables", Bernie Fraser, chairman of the Authority, told a media conference.

Large generators of renewable energy applauded the recommendation to leave their target unchanged.

Securing investor certainty "has been the key problem of our industry," Miles George, chief executive of Infigen Energy, said. "The recommendations in the final report will help enormously to reduce that regulatory uncertainty."

The main changes - if adopted by the Gillard government - will come for the small-scale renewable energy scheme (SRES), such as roof-top solar photovoltaic panels.

Groups such as the Australian Solar Council say that proposed changes to how much roof-top solar can be installed on buildings such as shopping centres and school will only add to uncertainty for that segment of the market.

Household costs

The CCA recommended a number of measures to contain SRES costs. All up, the renewable energy scheme will add between $12 and $64 a year to household bills - or 1 per cent to 4 per cent of the total - between now and 2020, Mr Fraser said.

"One (change) is to lower the SRES eligibility threshold for small-scale solar photovoltaic units below its current level of 100 (kilowatts) to, say, 10kW to reduce the risk of a surge in solar PV installations on commercial buildings driving up costs," Mr Fraser said in a statement.

Generous feed-in tariffs offered by state governments and tumbling prices for PVs have seen almost 1 million Australian homes take up solar power. The roll-back of incentives, though, has seen the industry's growth slow and attention shift instead to potential commercial customers.

"The Authority recommends that the Australian government consult with stakeholders to determine an appropriate revised threshold; units above this threshold would be included in the capped large-scale scheme," the statement said.

“This is one step forward, one step back for solar” John Grimes, Chief Executive of the Australian Solar Council, said.

“The proposal to move solar systems above 10 kilowatts into the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target will significantly undermine investor certainty and lead to business plans being ripped up," he said. "We need to encourage larger power users to invest in solar and this will be a backward step."

Not enough

The government and the Coalition have said they back the 20 per cent RET goal. The Greens and environmental groups have called for the target to be raised.

“I hope the Climate Change Authority stands firm in the face of fossil-fuel lobbying,” Greens leader Christine Milne said on Tuesday. “What we actually need is to shift to 100 per cent renewable energy as soon as possible, so we should set a minimum goal of 50 per cent by 2030.”

The Australian Conservation Foundation called on the government to reject the CCA's "weak recommendation" that Australia not set a 2030 renewable energy target until after a review in 2016.

“A business-as-usual response to the urgent problem of climate change is not good enough,” Claire Maries, ACF climate campaigner, said in a statement.

“In the last few weeks scientific authorities and famously conservative institutions like the World Bank, Bloomberg Businessweek and the International Energy Agency have confirmed that a status quo approach will see us heading for a world that is hotter and more dangerous by the end of this century," Ms Maries said.

“That’s a world where heat-related deaths are much more common, where there are more catastrophic bushfires, more floods and more frequent droughts."

The recommendation not to increase the RET target "is emblematic of a systemic failure to take the threat seriously."

Some nations are seeking more ambitious targets for renewable energy, such as Scotland’s goal of sourcing half its power by 2020 from renewable activities.

Germany aims for 35 per cent by then and a reduction in energy consumption by 10 per cent, although a report out overnight suggests current policies will see achievements fall short of those goals.


A dumbed down debate, but those tests still hold some lessons

Alan Reid (Professor Alan Reid is Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of South Australia.)

The release of the international TIMSS (maths and science at years 4 and 8) and PIRLS (reading at year 4) test scores last week unleashed a wave of commentary bemoaning the state of Australian education.

Unfortunately, much of it was hyperbole and misinformation that distorted the results as well as the subsequent public discussion.

Once again we have missed the opportunity to use comparative information garnered from the tests to assist our thinking about teaching and learning. When commentators misuse the data by removing many of its subtleties and complexities and by making simplistic and superficial claims, education debate is dumbed down. This has happened in several ways.

First, using results from just two year levels in only three areas of the curriculum, claims are made about the quality of Australian education. The fact is that although reading, maths and science are important, they tell us nothing about outcomes in other crucial curriculum areas such as the arts, history, civics, health and PE. Nor do we get any sense of how students are faring in such critical domains as problem-solving, inquiry, creativity and inter-cultural understanding. At best, the results present a narrow picture of student progress. The information is too limited to legitimise the kinds of sweeping judgments about the quality of education in Australia that have been made recently.

Second, the commentators took the test results at face value, without questioning the nature of the tests themselves. There are several issues associated with the construction of the tests, not the least of which is how a curriculum-based test can assume that students from every test country at year 4, for example, have covered the same material to the same depth and in the same sequence.

This would be hard enough to engineer across Australia let alone across the 50 countries that participated in the tests.

More than this, given what we know about how students read texts, the question of how test material can present as culturally neutral is another important consideration.

Unless students are taking the same test under the same set of circumstances and with the same preparation, its results must be treated with caution.

Third, the commentators invariably read the test results in isolation. In maths at year 4, Australia's mean score was significantly higher than 27 countries and below 17 countries; but by year 8 the mean score was below just six countries. Similarly in science at year 4, Australia's mean score was significantly higher than 23 countries and below 18 countries; however by year 8 we were below just nine countries.

Now, there could be any number of reasons for the improvement from year 4 to year 8, including that the foundations for study are being well laid in the primary years. But commentators can't cherry pick results to make their point. Taken together, and adding results from PISA (an international test of 15-year-old students in maths, science and reading), the international tests regularly place Australian outcomes in reading, maths and science in the top 10 countries. This does mean there is room for improvement, but it is hardly the stuff of which educational crises are made.

Finally, commentators have tended to accept the test outcomes as presenting a problem and immediately advocate strategies to address it. A favourite tactic is to propose following the policies of those countries that are in the top five of the league table.

There are problems with such an approach, including the differences in contexts between countries. In Singapore, for example, there is a concern that although students are successful in tests, their creativity is being stifled. Clearly it is useful to share information between countries, but importing policies and practices from other countries is fraught with danger.

Another tactic is to use the "problem" as a springboard for advocating a predetermined position. In the past week, various commentators have proposed such disparate strategies as greater school autonomy, revamped teacher education programs and voucher systems to enable school choice - all as means to improve Australia's standing in international tests.

The problem with these approaches is that they jump from an apparent problem to solution without some important intermediate steps, such as gathering and assessing the evidence, clarifying the problem, and explaining causes.

The test results should not be dismissed - and I am not suggesting Australian education can't improve - but I believe superficial readings of international test data are more likely to impede than advance the quality of education in this country.

Rather than misinterpreting the data, we would be better served by focusing on some of the issues the test results do highlight. These include the unacceptable differences in educational outcomes between students from affluent backgrounds and those who suffer educational disadvantage.

Progress in education can only be made if we respect evidence, recognise complexity, and are willing to inquire and investigate, rather than manufacture crises. A quality education system can only be achieved in the presence of quality public debates about education.


Shambolic NSW hospitals:  That pesky Dutchman blows the whistle again

He has been the nemesis of inefficiency and waste in NSW since 2006

A MILLION-DOLLAR doctor, thousands of unpaid bills and debts that exceed assets: that's the financial shape of NSW hospitals says the Auditor-General.

Six employees earned more than half a million dollars over the past three years, and one was paid more than $1 million in overtime and call-backs over three years.

The Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat, said he found it astounding that one person could earn so much overtime.

The opposition health spokesman, Andrew McDonald, who is a doctor, said it was dangerous. The report found local health districts are struggling to meet goals on the cost of care, with the majority not meeting the first activity based funding targets.

In future, federal funding will be tied to targets.

It found all but one health district had debts that exceeded assets, nearly half were over-budget and long-standing unpaid bills were increasing. The NSW Ministry of Health bailed out some districts with $73 million in extra funding.

Dr McDonald said the Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, had "outsourced risk" to hospital districts without providing resources to meet demand.

Ms Skinner said it was normal for the ministry to provide extra funding, particularly in peparation for activity-based funding.

"We've got two years to roll this all out so we've got a bit of time for the districts to get a better understanding of what they have got to do better," she said.

She said that the overall health budget would still balance.

She denied that the doctor who earned a million dollars in overtime was necessarily putting patients at risk.  She said overtime payments were "complicated" and could involve payments for short periods of time.

"Nevertheless, a lot of the districts are now working hard to reduce overtime," she said.


18 December, 2012

New Roman Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane makes a mark

WHO knew that when the church, the state and the fourth estate gathered in a room lit by the setting sun so much frivolity, sobriety, wisdom and gossip would ensue?

The new Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, His Grace, The Most Reverend Mark Coleridge, was the star of the show: witty, cultured, with a kind of over-arching intelligence that saw him politely put his oar into a range of subjects that, by rights, he should know nothing about.

"Well, I'm no expert on economics," he said, before giving a pretty expert opinion.

Yes, people in Queensland are doing it hard according to the Archbishop but we should remember that, by world standards, we're rolling in clover. His Grace was as eager as the other new boys (and girl) to exchange cards, invitations to lunch and anecdotes about mutual acquaintances.

The new Racing Queensland champion, Kevin Dixon, revealed to the new Opera Queensland artistic director, Lindy Hume, that "in another life" he'd known actor and former artistic director of the Queensland Theatre Company Robyn Nevin pretty well.

Entering the News Queensland offices at Bowen Hills, the Archbishop - who appears not to have a pompous bone in his body - introduced himself to security as "Mark".

When Ms Hume arrived, they soon started chatting and before long His Grace was belting out  in a beautiful voice  the last lines of Bach's St Matthew Passion, part of Ms Hume's 2013 season.

"It's years of practice," he said as The Courier-Mail editor, Michael Crutcher, led everyone inside. In the first-floor Ayr Room, Premier Campbell Newman, accompanied by media minder Lee Anderson walked the walk, introducing himself to everyone, making sure he shook everyone's hand.

As the sun set and proceedings began, it was clear from the deference of every leader representing organisations dependent on State Government patronage or funding who was The Big Kahuna. The Premier might be half the size of the QCI's giant ex-Wallaby CEO Damien Frawley but he has twice the muscle.

What all the leaders shared was a sense of vocation. Mr Frawley, supposedly the dry, pragmatic head of a government-owned corporation, spoke poetically of the job he was "put on this earth to do".

Ms Hume spoke of the "sense of vision" that artistic directors need, and Mr Newman mentioned the "overwhelming" responsibility he feels about his job, which he doesn't think will ever wear off.

His Grace, as might be expected, talked of the central importance in life of the artistic and the spiritual.

He was the only one who seemed impervious to the Premier's clout.

"I'm not Superman and nor are you," he said at one point, nodding at the Premier. Later he gently highlighted the Premier's political problems: "You were always going to have trouble controlling your backbench, given how big it is!"

Everyone agreed that the Queensland of 2012 is a friendly, creative, exciting place to be.

Everyone also agreed that leading big, complicated structures with unpalatable problems - most notably the Catholic Church with its Truth, Justice and Healing Council aimed at dealing with systemic sexual abuse and the Queensland Government with its job cuts and reform agenda  was not easy.

The new Police Commissioner, Ian Stewart, spoke about trying to "find a better way of us (doing) our job on behalf of the community".

There was no doubting anyone's sincerity. There was no doubting either that there will be some long, convivial lunches ahead at the Archbishop's official residence in his historic New Farm house, Wynberg.. Perhaps he might even sing a line or two.


Lovers of complusion attack freedom from Green mandates

People can still install all the rainwater tanks they like.  The only difference is that it is now voluntary

KATTER'S Australian Party leader Ray Hopper said scrapping mandatory water tanks was short-sighted and showed the government had no plan for the future.

Mr Hopper, who defected from the Liberal National Party government a few weeks ago, said drought, rather than flood, was Queensland's natural state.

Laws needed to reflect that reality, he said.  "At a time when water storages in Queensland remain full, we should be looking at ways to protect our scarce resources so that they last into the future," he said.  "This government should be saving for the rainy day. Instead, it is flushing water security down the drain."

Earlier today, a sustainable housing lobby group attacked the Queensland government for scrapping green measures for new homes.

The government last week announced it would dump laws requiring all new homes to have rainwater tanks and gas, solar or heat pump hot water systems.

Housing Minister Tim Mander says the cost of building a new home could be reduced by more than $5000, and the initiatives are an unnecessary drag on the construction industry.

But the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors (ABSA) said the government had put the state in reverse with its "bizarre" decision.

Chief executive Rodger Hills said home sustainability measures were about keeping living costs down in the long term.

"They are consumer protection measures which stop people being locked into pain ... with homes that are not efficient, future-proof, and don't cater to cyclic drought conditions or energy price hikes," he said in a statement on Monday.

He said the policy to drop the sustainability measures guaranteed the average Queensland homeowner would be worse off.

"If the Newman government wants to see the voters who got them into office paying more for power and water in new homes, then scrapping these sustainability measures is the way to do it."


Queensland to pull workers out of union-friendly Federal system

THE Newman Government has taken the first step towards seizing back industrial power from Canberra by proposing to return 300,000 small business workers to state jurisdiction.

As unions quickly condemned the move warning it would leave workers "worse off", Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said operators had raised concerns about the Federal Fair Work Act and there was "a push to refer power back to the state".

"In November 2009, the former Labor Government passed legislation to refer small business industrial relations matters to the Commonwealth," Mr Bleijie said.

"Small business operators have told us they are finding the current arrangements difficult.

"The Fair Work Act Review has also revealed concerns in the business community about the legislation's impact, particularly on workplace flexibility and productivity."

Mr Bleijie has released an issues paper giving business an opportunity to have a say with the deadline for submissions February 22, 2013.

"The Newman Government listens to business and we want to ensure the state is offering them the most effective industrial relations system," he said.

But the ACTU's President Ged Kearney warned the move would leave workers worse off.

Ms Kearney said the Newman Government had already shown its contempt for workers by moving to sack 14,000 public servants in its first year in office.

"Shifting hundreds of thousands of workers back into the Queensland IR system will leave them vulnerable to losing pay and conditions such as penalty rates," Ms Kearney said.

"The National Retail Association is already calling for the Queensland Government to reduce penalty rates and casual loadings as part of this change.

"The Newman Government could then rip apart the state award system to suit employers. When it comes to workers' penalty rates, Queenslanders should not trust the Liberal National Party."

She said Mr Bleijie had raised the plan three months ago, but it was dismissed by Premier Campbell Newman.

"It now appears this has been his government's plan all along."

The Queensland Council of Unions also warned the move would put penalty rates at risk and said the Newman Government could not be trusted.

"Shifting hundreds of thousands of workers back into the Queensland IR system will leave them vulnerable to losing pay and conditions such as penalty rates," said QCU president John Battams.

For example, if penalty rates were abolished a casual or permanent employee working a six-hour shift on Saturday or Sunday in a restaurant would receive $25 less for the Saturday work and $50 less for the Sunday, he said.

"Research shows most social, family interaction and recreational activity happens on weekend so people need some compensation for giving up these," Mr Battams said.


Family to sue W.A. governhment hospital over girl's brain damage at birth

A PERTH family has won a year-long legal battle for the right to sue the West Australian government and medical staff at the city's largest maternity hospital over a birth that left their girl with severe brain damage.

The family of eight-year-old Tahlia Burns lodged a civil lawsuit in October last year, claiming damages against the state government, two midwives and a doctor at King Edward Memorial Hospital for negligence and breach of contract and statutory duty.

The writ claimed the management of Tahlia's birth in April 2004, as well as post-natal care and advice led to her suffering brain damage, visual impairment, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

District Court commissioner Michael Gething had ruled that the claim for damages had taken too long to be lodged and therefore should not go ahead.

But the family appealed against that decision and WA's Supreme Court has ruled they do have the right to sue to the then-health minister, midwives Tracy Bingham and Rosemary Dale and Dr Steven Harding, who were involved in her birth.

After a complex legal ruling, Chief Justice Wayne Martin today ruled that the time for Tahlia's father David Burns to file the claim had not run out and it could now proceed.

"The commissioner erred by dismissing the appellant's application without considering the merits of the application," Justice Martin wrote.

"Leave to appeal should be granted, the appeal should be upheld and the commissioner's order should be set aside."


17 December, 2012

Qld. National parks to be unfrozen

Radical!  People will actually be able to use them!

THE State Government has stepped away from fundamental national park protection introduced by a conservative government more than 50 years ago.

It is set to ignore the cardinal principle, which determines that national parks have the highest protection of all land classes, by approving recreational activities and introducing 30-year leases for resort developments.

National Parks Association executive director Paul Donatiu said the cardinal principle was already being eroded by starting mountain biking in Conway National Park in north Queensland, quad bike tours in Woondum National Park on the Sunshine Coast and horse-riding in other parks.

This gave recreational enthusiasts free rein to damage parks, as had occurred with 4WD, horse and bike riders trashing Beenleigh's Plunkett Conservation Park.

Under the cardinal principle, introduced in 1959, outdoor recreation that is nature-based and ecologically sustainable is encouraged provided it does not conflict with or degrade other values such as the conservation of nature.

Mr Donatiu said the cardinal principle was embodied in the Queensland Biodiversity Strategy, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Master Plan and underpinned every management action.

"Queenslanders should be very concerned that anticipated changes to the Nature Conservation Act could remove, erode or lessen the application of this principle," he said.

Premier Campbell Newman did not respond to questions about the cardinal principle yesterday, saying the Government sought to encourage tourism.

"We want Queenslanders to enjoy national parks rather than be locked out," he said.

Mr Newman said the previous government's move to stop 4WDs using two small sections of Moreton Island beaches to allow safe pedestrian access was heavy-handed. "We are ending that sort of nonsense," he said.

Asked if National Parks Minister Steve Dickson would abandon the cardinal principle, a spokeswoman declined to answer but said the department was consulting with industry as part of a review of the Act.

"Part of this will include the option of 30-year leases for development of eco-tourism facilities," she said.

"For too long, eco-tourism has been choked by legislative red tape, while other naturally beautiful regions including Tasmania and New Zealand have forged ahead in creating multibillion-dollar industries."

Mr Donatiu said the comparison was incorrect because Queensland parks occupied less than 5 per cent of the state compared with Tasmania 24 per cent and NZ with 11.4 per cent.

Mr Donatiu said significant numbers of park-associated resorts had gone into receivership this year and many larger US parks were removing heavy tourism infrastructure.


Aboriginal climate change

The entire premise of man made climate change is that we, mankind, because of our modern industrial lifestyle, have altered the natural order of the climate system and this is bad. It is so bad that mankind needs to do something to fix what we have done and stop what we are doing.

More and more however it seems that the climate change academia complex is undermining their own case for the very premise which is the foundation of their theory, not to mention their considerable tax payer funding. It is easy to see how this happens, academics knowing there is a honey pot of money for any research having to do with climate change combined with their undying faith in the reality of man made climate change conduct studies which to an objective observer actually undermines their case but to the academics it acts as another warning to the uniformed public..

The other day I pointed to a report of a study on how climate change had helped lead to the downfall of the Mayan Empire. The authors seemed not to realize that their findings went a long way towards undermining the "man made" ingredient of the entire theory. Everything that the alarmist community is trying to "sell" society is dependent on the idea that what we are experiencing or will experience is unprecedented and of course man made. So when they do studies which show that conditions in the past were as bad or worse than what we are experiencing or forecast to experience a reasonable person would ask how have we impacted the climate if the climate has always acted this way?

Again we have another example of a study disproving "man made" climate change out of the University of Queensland called Ancient culture affected by climate

Associate Professor Hamish McGowan from UQ's School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management said the studies in the north west Kimberley have shown there was a rapid change in climate around 5,500 years ago.

If there could be rapid change in climate 5,500 years ago in aboriginal Australia doesn't that sort of put a damper on the whole unprecedented not to mention man made claims of todays far less dramatic events? If you want to talk about some serious climate "disruption" consider this:

“Our research shows that the likely reason for the demise of the Gwion artists was a mega-drought spanning approximately 1,500 years,...."

A mega drought  lasting 1500 years without benefit of modern society's fossil fueled input? is that even possible? What would cause such a thing?

"...brought on by changing climate conditions that caused the collapse of the Australian summer monsoon,”

If naturally occurring changing climate conditions could cause such havoc, I would consider a 1500 year long drought severe, why are our modern day soothsayers so convinced that we are responsible for far less dramatic climate change?

Just another  example of pre-industrial severe climate change, far exceeding anything which sends the alarmist community into apocalyptic tizzydom.


Stroke patients receiving 'substandard' care

The National Stroke Foundation says four out every 10 stroke patients receives substandard care in Australian hospitals.

The foundation is launching a national action plan which calls for a $198 million injection into stroke care and rehabilitation over the next three years.

The report says stroke is the second biggest killer in Australia, but there has never been federal budget funding for a comprehensive stroke strategy.

The foundation's chief executive, Erin Lalor, says more than half of the funding requested would be spent on bringing hospital care up to standard.

"We still have a number of large hospitals in Australia that don't have a stroke unit where they should, but in those hospitals where there was a stroke unit, we found many people still weren't able to get access," she said.

"In some instances it is bed management issues, in some instances they don't get transferred.

"They're still not getting the specialised stroke care that they need in those situations."

She says urgent attention is also needed to improve rehabilitation and community care programs offered to patients when they're discharged from hospital.

"We've seen more and more people surviving in the community after a stroke with no services there in a coordinated manner to support them," she said.

"You can only imagine suddenly facing life with a disability and emotional and psychological responses to stroke."


No price on free speech

by LOUIS NOWRA, a prominent Australian playwright

AT first I thought it was a joke, but it turned out to be true. Two women decided to take me to the Human Rights Commission, complaining about a play I had written. Set in Sarajevo, it was based on a beauty pageant held during the siege in the Balkan conflict. I wrote it because I was tired of films and plays that depicted the misery of the events, always portraying the besieged as victims. I was more interested in the beauty contestants symbolising the resilience of the human spirit.

The two women had no connection to the siege or the ethnic groups involved. However, they had decided that I was pro-Serbian and the clincher was that one of the actresses in the Melbourne production had a Serb background. The women wanted royalties from previous productions confiscated and demanded the play be banned because it was a piece of Serbian propaganda.

Their interpretation of the play couldn't have been more wrong, so much so that I wondered just how bright they were. But if I thought the ludicrous nature of the complaint would be laughed off by the HRC, then I didn't understand its bureaucratic mission. For a year I had to deal with hundreds of pages pouring out of the commission and had to engage a lawyer. The complaint eventually was thrown out but, not to be denied, these two dolts found a loophole in the law and appealed again. It was nearly another year before this appeal was dismissed.
Digital Pass $1 for first 28 Days

During this time I didn't write a play. I found I was censoring myself. Just what could I write that wouldn't offend anybody, even if they took offence from a total misinterpretation of the play? What subjects would cause other people to take me to the HRC? What disturbed me above all was that there was no attempt to understand my side of the story. If the two women intended to creatively paralyse me then they couldn't have found a better bureaucratic vehicle.

During my career a Christian family tried for several years to have my play Summer of the Aliens banned from the school curriculum using newspapers and television to promote their cause. Film reviewer David Stratton considered a film I wrote to be racist and I found myself tabloid fodder. (He made the classic mistake of believing that if a character is racist then the writer and director must be.)

You'd think that left-wingers would defend freedom of speech but, as I was to discover, they may espouse liberal views but not when it concerns themselves. I wrote pieces on Germaine Greer, Bob Ellis and mentioned in passing the humourless Richard Flanagan, all with progressive attitudes, but the first response of all three was to threaten to sue. Not that academics are much better. Two female academics withdrew their subscriptions from the magazine that published the Greer article; the frightening thing was that they were proud of the fact they refused to even read the piece.

What truly bothered me was that some people said it was brave of me to have written the article and it confirmed just how conformist and insular are most of those who would describe themselves as liberal or left-leaning. It is not as if authors are any different. It seems many subscribe to the idea that novels must be of educational and moral value.

Writer and teacher Christopher Bantick recently wrote that Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera should not be taught to final-year high school students because it "says repeatedly that screwing a child for art's sake is excusable". In the novel the main character, an amoral Lothario, Florentino Ariza, has an affair with a 14-year-old girl when he is 76. Bantick doesn't see a complicated character and ambiguous morality working here; all he sees is child abuse.

I was once talking to some of Australia's best women writers and all loathed Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita, summing up the beautiful, morally complex story as "a pedophile's charter". In other words, these writers treat literature as a form of moral instruction and therefore their sensibilities are easily offended by authors such as Marquez and Nabokov.

But just what is offensive? Twitter's billions of tweets carry some of the most vile remarks one could read. Take, for example, Aboriginal academic and lawyer Larissa Behrendt. In one tweet she described watching bestiality on television as "less offensive than Bess Price", an Aboriginal woman in favour of the Northern Territory intervention. Behrendt blamed the comment on the TV show Deadwood which, she said, "seemed pretty offensive". The logic seemed simple: she was offended, so she was careless about offending someone whose views she didn't agree with. All it did was offend Price and reveal Behrendt's real thoughts, and they're not pretty (though the tweet did have a vividness missing from her banal novels).

Cartoonist Michael Leunig has been frequently criticised for his supposed anti-Semitic attitudes. Recently a cartoon of his in The Age equated the actions of Israel in Gaza to those of the Nazis, and for many Jews it seemed that Leunig was saying that the Jews were committing genocide against the Palestinians. The cartoonist justified his position as "all nations that throw their military weight around, occupying neighbouring lands and treating the residents with callous and humiliating disregard, are already sliding towards the dark possibilities in human nature." Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, criticised the cartoonist and wondered "how a survivor of the Holocaust would react when they came upon his cartoon". If one did, I am sure that he or she would be offended, but is offending one person a reason to ban a cartoon?

There are many cartoonists who view it as their job to take unpopular stances that many may judge as offensive. Frankly I found Bob Carr forcing the Prime Minister to change her support for Israel in the recent UN vote on Palestine more offensive than any cartoon. Carr took the action because NSW Right Labor MPs feared a no vote could offend Middle Eastern and Muslim communities in marginal southwestern Sydney seats before next year's federal election. Never mind that many Muslims, especially those of the Middle East, are anti-Semitic.

I may be offended by anti-Semitic comments but I believe that even Holocaust deniers have a right to free speech. Of course it's always nice when a denier such as historian David Irving gets his comeuppance, as happened when he brought an unsuccessful case against another historian, with the judge finding Irving was an anti-Semite, racist and associated with neo-Nazis.

Louis Theroux's recent documentary on a fundamentalist church in the US whose members turn up at the funerals of American servicemen with placards calling the dead men and their families "Fags" and "Dirty Jews" was shocking, yet I respect a nation that allows even these crazies the right to offend.

Australia is less tolerant because we are a very conformist society that dislikes whistleblowers, eccentrics and the unusual. We put up with the Defence Force and government treating us like dummies. The war in Afghanistan is reported to us through spin doctors. We see VC winners and rescued dogs but not the true nature of the conflict. If we want to know what is really happening then we must read the huge library of American and English journalists in the field. Julia Gillard talks as if we're winning there, even though the Pentagon has realised that the withdrawal of US forces will be a disaster for Afghanistan. The equation is easy in Australia: if you criticise the war then you must be criticising our brave troops. Few nations would put up with this codswallop.

If we allow anyone behavioural latitude, then it's towards the larrikin. Two such larrikins, DJs working for 2Day FM radio, made a hoax call to an English hospital where they tricked ward nurses into giving details about Kate Middleton, who was in the hospital at the time. The prank allegedly so devastated one of the nurses that she committed suicide. The result was that the two DJs were vilified by the media and those on the net, and their protective status as larrikins vanished in the media hysteria. Columnist Miranda Devine said of the prank that "we are witnessing the Boratisation of our culture, where decent people are deliberately offended".

But just who are the decent people? Devine herself? Quite simply, it's becoming very easy to offend.

Shock jock Alan Jones made a callous comment about Gillard's recently deceased father. The result was an uproar where those thousands who were offended ganged up on him and forced advertisers to withdraw from his talkback show. It was an example of what is becoming common - cyber lynching. Like those mindless mobs in the Wild West, they are driven by self-righteousness and lust for revenge. One has to ask where were these thousands of offended people when Jones called Sydney's Lebanese Muslims "vermin" who "infest our shores" and "rape" and "pillage" our nation. Jones's incitement was more than offensive; it was despicable.

Some people are easily offended, others are not; yet we have the Racial Discrimination Act that makes it unlawful to "offend" people. Attorney-General Nicola Roxon is preparing to consolidate present anti-discrimination laws from five acts into one planned overhaul of anti-discrimination laws. Her view of the Australian people is that of a private school headmistress announcing to her pupils that the new laws will "help everyone understand what behaviour is expected".

Exactly what behaviour is expected? Probably it will be based on her own middle-class, middlebrow values and attitudes.

This is part of an ongoing project by the Labor government to impose its morality and values on our culture. Part of its mission is to tame what it sees as an unruly populace and media. It used the British phone-hacking scandal to hold an inquiry into the Australian media. Really, this was the government wanting to get back at their critics, especially News Limited. The Finkelstein report proposed a News Media Council, which would have the legally enforceable power to adjudicate on journalist fairness and make the media answerable to the courts. A deadly and expensive combination of lawyers and academics would make up the panel.

The trouble with that is that many academics are not interested in free speech and are captives of groupthink. They may make token comments about liberal values but universities, as I found out as a student and later a teacher at Queensland University and Yale, are anything but bastions of free speech. They promote a culture where if you do not agree with the prevailing ideological orthodoxy then it's death to your career. The attitude is summed up by Wendy Bacon, who heads the journalism school at the University of Technology, Sydney. She saw the Finkelstein report as it really was - an attack on News Limited - and given she considered that organisation a threat to free speech, chose not to defend the concept. Like many of her ilk, she appears to loathe the tabloids and any organisation that disagrees with her left-wing values. The idea of competing ideas and diversity of opinions seems to be anathema to her.

After Ray Finkelstein handed in his report, Lord Justice Brian Leveson, head of Britain's media ethics inquiry, delivered his 2000-page report into what was morally reprehensible behaviour by some British journalists and editors. But it was interesting that only five paragraphs in the report were about the net and the issues it raises for media regulation. Like Finkelstein, Leveson viewed his job as neutering the press by the subtle threat of an independent board. What he didn't realise was that compared with the internet even the most feral tabloids are models of restraint. Rumours, gossip and hatred are part of the DNA of cyberspace. Newspapers obey court injunctions, but the embargo is broken by the net. It has been all too common to see on the net the news that someone has died, who hasn't, people named as pedophiles when they're not, and private photographs plastered on websites.

Some people point to WikiLeaks as something that could happen only on the internet. But Julian Assange is no journalist. He was able to funnel a huge amount of information given to him and release it on the net. He was just a facilitator. But it required newspapers to print the material for it to really matter in the wider world.

The net may provide photographs and information that journalists can't cover but newspapers are more essential than ever. It requires time, money and resources to undertake thorough investigations. If it weren't for journalists we wouldn't know the extent of corruption in NSW Labor politics and there wouldn't be the present Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation of the Obeid family and disgraced politician Ian Macdonald.

The net cannot offer anything like that. It's a medium that celebrates a short attention span. It glories in cyber-lynchings as if the foaming indignation is a sign that those taking part in it - and all you have to do is push a button - are morally right. Much of its vitriol is delivered by anonymous people; it's a medium for cowards.

What is of concern in the real world is that a small group of like-minded elites are determined to restrict free speech unless the speech agrees with their outlook on life and values. Instead of diversity and inclusiveness, these people want to determine our proper "behaviour", to use Roxon's term.

It's a sign that Australia is losing its larrikin personality and that those cultural and political elites want a tame society in their image. It's not unlike middle-class professionals shifting into the red-light district of Kings Cross and afterwards sanitising it, excluding and deriding everyone except clones of themselves.

An integral part of this push is the notion of offence. But really offence is hard to define. Yes, comments such as Behrendt's are offensive, but do they do deep harm? She suffered justified criticism and repented. Leunig's cartoon may offend a Holocaust survivor but it may have forced many readers to rethink their attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The notion of offensiveness is one that changes through the years. We once banned offensive novels such as Lolita and Ulysses; now they are studied. As we discover in the playground, sticks and stones do not hurt as much as words. But that is the nature of human beings; we can taunt and hurt with what we say. If there is one thing that shouldn't be condoned it is comments that go beyond offensive abuse to the incitement of hatred and physical violence.

There has been a slow and sinister attempt to control the old media and to modify our words and thoughts through legislation. The problem is that free speech is coming under attack from those who think it's their duty to morally correct us. Any time a government does that then it becomes certain that the laws they bring in will be used in the future to control us even more


16 December, 2012

Government contribution to private hospital costs has declineed drastically

Because of the long wait times and unreliable service in government hospitals, just about anyone who can afford to goes private in Australia

THE Medicare rebate now covers as little as 16 per cent of the AMA recommended fee for common private hospital procedures - a key reason patients are being forced to sell their homes and raid their super to pay medical bills.

While AMA fees are adjusted for inflation and indexed annually, the rebate has only been increased at less than the rate of inflation or wages growth for decades.

And although health funds offer their members rebates to cover the gap, these rebates are capped - leaving many patients with hefty bills that can amount to thousands of dollars.

A News Limited investigation has found Medicare now covers less than 50 per cent of the AMA fee for ten of the most common procedures in a private hospital.

It covers only 16 per cent of the fee for cataract removal, and just 28 per cent of the fee for hip and knee replacements.

Medicare will cover only 18 per cent of the fee the AMA recommends for delivering a baby, only a third of the bill for bowel cancer surgery and just 28 per cent of the cost of repairing a fractured arm or leg.

As a result the gap fees that have to be met by health funds can be as high as $2,930 for cataract removal and $2,506 for a hip replacement.

So even after gap rebates members of our two largest health funds can be up to $527 out pocket for breast removal surgery, over $1,600 out of pocket for cataract surgery and $185 out of pocket for hip and knee surgery.

Twelve years ago a government commissioned study found Medicare rebates for a specialist visit needed to be increased by 66 per cent, rebates for delivering a baby needed to rise by 150 per cent and for a hip replacement by 30 per cent.  The recommendations were dismissed because they were too expensive.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton says it is time for the adequacy of at least some Medicare rebates for eye surgery and hip and knee replacements to be re-examined.

"The two things that make a difference in life when a person is old is their mobility and their vision," he said.  "Even though people have been in health funds for 50 years I have to say to them: "Can you afford the gap if you need a hip replacement and if you can't why are you still in private insurance?"

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek says bulk-billing rates have never been as high and says the government has invested $2 billion to drive up the rates with incentives for general practice, pathology diagnostic imaging and telehealth services.

Consumers Health Forum chief Carol Bennett says we need to stop paying for surgical throughput and start paying for health outcomes.

"If the government caves in to the fees the AMA recommends our health system will go quickly broke, we need to refocus what we do and limit demand," she said.

While eight out of ten GP visits are bulk-billed at no charge to patients, only one in four specialist services and only 8 per cent of anaesthetists services are bulk-billed.

Mind the gap

WHEN it started in 1984 Medicare covered 68 per cent of the AMA's recommended fee for a GP visit

BY 2012 it covers just over 51 per cent

IN 1984, Medicare covered 72 percent of the AMA's recommended fee for a specialist visit

IT now covers only 46 per cent

IN 2011-12 financial year the average gap payment to see a specialist who didn't bulk-bill was $53.10, for an anaesthetist it was $103.60 and for a GP $26.97.

THE government's Private Health Insurance Administration Council calculates around 88 per cent of medical services provided in private hospitals have no gaps.

HEALTH fund members paid $630 million in out of pocket costs for over 3.4 million doctors services when they used their health insurance in the year to September 2012.


It might be rude but it shouldn't be a crime

David Penberthy

RESEARCH is everything in journalism, so I am happy to be able to report that for this piece I spent a good half hour watching Rodney Rude videos on YouTube.

It was around 1983 when I last devoted that level of attention to the work of the Australian comedian.

At our cutting-edge public school, there was a tiny room you could hire called the audio visual centre which contained a single cassette player and many lunch hours in year 10 were spent with mates listening to our tape of the ground-breaking comedy LP Rodney Rude Live.

From memory, the album went No.1 in the charts. It was regarded as massively offensive by many people.

Rude was banned from performing in Queensland for swearing and would probably be regarded in today's more politically correct age as even more objectionable.

The album is filled with bizarre stream of consciousness anecdotes involving moments such as Rude's sexual encounter with a lesbian at a rock festival who subsequently challenged him to a farting competition and his description of how he went to school with a boy who was born without any arms or legs or anything, he was just a head and who sank to the bottom of the school pool on account of having a cramp.

Rude later released a single entitled I May Not Be a Wog (But I Look Like One) which did not fare as well as his debut LP.

He still pops up in the clubs from time to time with material which involves aberrant sexual banter, jokes about Japanese people, New Zealanders, Germans, albinos, the Pope, people with disabilities and himself, a general smorgasbord of filth and weirdness.

I am not holding Rude out as the greatest comic of all time, but there was a kind of charming and intense level of stupidity about him which endeared him to many Australians.

I write about him today because his largely squalid body of work forms a handy checklist for the types of sentiments which could soon be illegal. In the movie The People Versus Larry Flynt, the American pornographer and founder of Hustler magazine argued that anyone who believed in free speech should support his cause because "I'm the worst", and that as someone at the squalid outer limits of taste, he needed to win in the Supreme Court to affirm the sanctity of the First Amendment.

The weird thing about Australia right now is the types of laws which are being canvassed won't affect the most extreme, offensive and inflammatory sentiments or forms of behaviour, such as Larry Flynt's repellent concept of satire, but could actually snare behaviour which is quite mundane.

You could go through the once chart-topping LP by a largely harmless nut such as Rodney Rude and draw up a handy checklist of aggrieved groups who could have a humourless moan in a court of law under Canberra's beefed-up anti-discrimination laws.

The immediate past chief justice of NSW, Jim Spigelman, is such a level-headed and reasonable person that he is known in legal circles as Gentleman Jim.

Spigelman is now the ABC chairman and he gave a terrific speech this week looking at how, under the proposed changes, it will become unlawful to offend people.

"We would be pretty much on our own in declaring conduct which does no more than offend to be unlawful. The freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech," Mr Spigelman said. "There is no right not to be offended.

"I am not aware of any international human rights instrument or national anti-discrimination statute in another liberal democracy that extends to conduct which is merely offensive."

If you think back over the life of this toxic and dysfunctional Parliament, where minority government has flushed out conduct on both sides which is way out of step with the way most people behave, the language of politics has become more heated than usual.

JULIA Gillard has been labelled JuLiar, called a witch, a crook, a feminazi; Tony Abbott has been labelled a misogynist, a negative, policy-free fraud, the Liberals accused of dealing with scumbags to pursue the AWU story, and so on.

I am not sure whether any of this language is desirable.

But I am convinced that none if it should be actionable, as all of it has the capacity to offend someone.

And the moment we start letting people try their luck in court because they have their precious feelings hurt, we are heading down a pretty disturbing path towards state-sanctioned limits on what passes for conversation.

There are already limits to what we can and cannot say through the common law, with defamation being a very popular and often lucrative way to take action if you feel you have been hard done by and can convince a judge or a jury of your peers of that fact.

One of the most inflammatory moments of this year was the absurd and violent protest by the ratty minority within Sydney's Lebanese Muslim community, who thought that belting cops was a reasonable response to the screening of a film overseas ridiculing their prophet. These blokes were clearly deeply offended. So much so that it was offensive to the rest of us.

We don't need our government treating us like those nuts in Martin Place, who clearly devote much of their time to being offended.

The long-standing advice to calm down, keep things in perspective, or lighten up should hold more value than any government-mandated attempts to make sure no one ever says anything offensive, ever.


Queensland farmers approved for lethal Damage Mitigation Permits to shoot and kill fruit bats

The creation of orchards has caused their numbers to explode

THE first shots against Queensland's flying fox population were fired this weekend with fed up farmers finally given the all clear to shoot to kill.

Queensland authorities have approved nine shoot-to-kill licences out of 17 applications for lethal damage mitigation permits to deter the night-time raids of flying foxes on fruit growers across the state.

From the apple orchards of Stanthorpe, to the citrus trees of Bundaberg, to the lychee plantations of the deep north, bat lovers claim a modern "yippee shoot" is the new battlefront in wildlife conservation.

Farmers retort: "Shooting is a last resort".  Mostly they use lights, noise, netting, electric shock, poison and hot chilli spray to ward off hungry hordes of bats - one colony of thousands of flying foxes can strip a $100,000 harvest bare in a few nights.

Successful applicants of lethal permits must have previously used "prescribed methods" such as netting or sound to deter flying foxes.

Lethal permit holders said yesterday how they did not want to be photographed for this story because they felt it would make them a target for "green hysteria".

"We don't want to end up in the cross hairs," said fruit producer Derek Foley, of Electra near Bundaberg.  "It'll be us with the bullseye on our heads.  "But we do believe in our right to farm, to feed the nation, and shoot the odd flying fox to protect our crop."  Mr Foley has 14,000-odd trees of lychee, avocado, mango and lemon.

Full canopy netting covers the trees, gas guns make a sound barrier, and six 18m high towers with 24 metal halide 2000-watt lights light up the farm "like the Sydney Cricket Ground".

Shooting is the final option to "take out scout bats" he said.

Under the permit, producers are strictly capped per motnh to take down: 30 black flying foxes; 30 little red flying foxes; 20 grey-headed flying foxes; and 15 spectacled flying foxes.

Conservationists believe the permits will still put some species at risk.

"This is barbaric," said Bat Conservation and Rescue Queensland president Louise Saunders.  "These permits are a sick joke. It is near impossible to get a clean shot on a bat at night," said the Brisbane-based animal carer.

She believes wounded and winged creatures will be left to die an agonising death in the forests.  "Bats are not some ravenous, rabid, violent monster out there to eat you. They are beautiful, clever, loving mammals.  "This'll be one big yippee shoot."

The Newman Government overturned a four-year ban on killing flying foxes earlier this year, opening the permit system in September. In the 1920s, organised hunts killed thousands of bats a night.

Alf Poefinger, 73, a lychee and mango grower of Mutarnee, north of Townsville, prefers to use hot chilli spray over the messy and expensive practice of shooting.

"Bats bite or lick the hot chilli on the fruit, it does not kill them, but they don't like it," said Mr Poefinger.

"It is definitely cheaper than netting and not as vicious as shooting them."

Fellow Mutarnee grower Martin Joyce was the first producer in Queensland to be granted a lethal permit.  He said when the bats come in their thousands they are very hard to control.  "Now, if we do get a great influx, we have the permit."

Environment Department Director Wildlife Rebecca Williams confirmed nine out of 17 applications for lethal DMPs had been approved.

But they were always willing to consider applications on non-lethal methods of managing flying foxes, she said.


OECD delivers snapshot of Aussie economy

A heavily Leftist report

The Federal Government should be prepared to delay returning the budget to surplus if economic conditions significantly worsen, according to an international analysis of Australia's economy.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says the forecast surplus of $1.1 billion this financial year could turn into a deficit of 2-3 per cent of GDP if the terms of trade return to their longer-term average.

It says Australia weathered the global financial crisis well, through sound macroeconomic policy and strong demand from China.

But it suggests the Government should be flexible about its approach to the budget, saying: "Authorities should let automatic stabilisers work in case of a sharper-than-expected cyclical weakening, even if this postpones the return to a budgetary surplus".

The report adds to the growing calls for a possible delay to surplus, including from senior Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon.

If a new economic crisis were to break out, the OECD suggests the Government should be prepared to implement a new fiscal stimulus package, as it did during 2008-09.

Treasurer Wayne Swan says the report is another sign that Australia's economy has been well managed, and that the current policy mix is appropriate to sustain recovery.

"While we understand that not everyone is doing it easy, this OECD report today is another reminder that Australians have a lot to be proud of and confident about," he said in a statement.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey has today continued his attack on the Government's economic credentials, saying: "It's not in the Labor party's DNA to run a surplus, to live within their means, and to start paying down $251 billion of debt".


14 December, 2012

Pickering on Gillard

Well-known cartoonist Larry Pickering gives Julia both barrels.  He is very critical of her alleged past involvement in union rorts

Let me explain something to you, Ms Gillard, and I know you will read this:

I have been studying politicians since before you were born. I knew great and poor Prime Ministers personally, from Menzies to Howard.

I knew their traits, their foibles, their strengths and hidden weaknesses.

But each nurtured a common, unbroken thread; they all honoured their high Office. Each was respected if not liked. Each was Australian and decent in essence.

You, Ms Gillard, are different. You will never legitimately stand beside those who have gone before you.

If you worked at my corner store, if you didn’t aspire to be something you’re so obviously not, I might quite like you.

I know you won’t believe this Ms Gillard, but I wanted nothing more than to be proud of Australia’s first woman Prime Minister. You have destroyed that.

You simply don’t get it, do you Ms Gillard? This is not about policy or Left or Right... it’s not about sexism, misogyny or any other vile adjective you use. It’s about YOU!

You are emboldened by the fake infatuation of the minority who need you. You are deaf to the majority who don’t want you.

When you were nine years old Ms Gillard we had another controversial Prime Minister called John Gorton.

I recall like yesterday, a Party room meeting on March 10, 1971. A motion of no confidence in Gorton's leadership was tied precariously at 33 all.

Realising his Party’s predicament he immediately gave his casting vote against himself, effectively removing himself from Office.

He realised the marginal satisfaction with his role as Prime Minister was potentially caustic and effectively handed the Prime Ministership to my good friend at the time, Bill McMahon.

He then voluntarily suffered the ignominy of accepting the position of Deputy PM to Bill.

That was the stuff of John Gorton. And that’s difference between a decent person and you, Ms Gillard. You would not have done that.

Don’t try to pretend you possess that high tier of honour. You simply don’t, I happen to know you don’t because your selfish ideological agenda are far more important to you than the station of Office.

Your barbs of misogyny completely miss me, Ms Gillard. I happen to love women and I always will.

You see Ms Gillard, it is not at all about gender nor any other of your nasty labels and no, I don’t give a damn if you are a crook.

But I do give a damn if you are a crook AND my Prime Minister.


New data on life expectancy worldwide

AUSTRALIANS are living longer but chronic diseases such as diabetes are taking a greater toll on our health, a global study shows.  The life expectancy for Australian men and women has improved over the past 20 years, the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study found.

Australians' life expectancy was now in the top five in the world, said Professor Alan Lopez, the head of the University of Queensland's School of Population Health, who co-authored the study.

The life expectancy of Australian men had improved by about six years to 79.2 since the last study in 1996, while women could be expected to live on average 83.8 years, up from 80 years two decades ago, he said.

Heart attacks and lung cancer were the biggest disease burdens in Australia and New Zealand, the research found.

However, Prof Lopez said the disease burden from tobacco products in Australia had lessened.  "Australia has been the global leader in reduction in mortality due to tobacco," he told AAP.  "There is still a significant burden in Australia related to tobacco causes but we've come back a long way."

However, he said there had been a dramatic rise in diabetes and related deaths.  Diabetes is now the 10th largest burden of disease, measured by years of life lost, in Australia and New Zealand, compared to 19th globally.

Both in Australia and worldwide, injuries - including suicide and self-harm - were still a major contributor to deaths.  "For some age groups in Australia we are seeing increases in mortality for suicide," Prof Lopez said.

But there had been dramatic declines in car accident deaths, which could be attributed to Australia's drink-driving legislation.

High blood pressure was the main risk factor for death and disability globally, with an estimated 9.4 million deaths in 2010 related to the condition.

Tobacco was the second biggest risk factor, responsible for 6.3 million deaths globally in 2010.

Meanwhile, child malnutrition has decreased, along with diseases caused by unsafe water and sanitation, indicating global health initiatives in these areas are making progress.

HIV and malaria-related deaths both increased between 1990 and 2010, despite efforts to tackle them.

Nearly two out of three deaths worldwide in 2010 were caused by non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, while heart attacks and stroke caused about one in four deaths.

The study, published on Friday in the medical journal, The Lancet, updates the inaugural 1996 study.

Commissioned by the World Bank, the study informed global health policies and the second instalment is expected to have a similar impact.

SOURCE.  The academic journal article is here.  It is very complex and does involve a lot of best guesses. 

The male life expectancy is 79 for Australia and Japan,  77 for the UK and 76 for the USA.  Iceland was tops at 80, followed by Andorra, Switzerland and Sweden.  Andorra is a small tax haven where a lot of rich people go to retire.  The figures for the USA include blacks and Hispanics so are not very enlightening about non-Hispanic whites.  There may be a separate figure for that somewhere but I could not see it at a quick look.

Australia again seems to be the lucky country, with a climate to suit everybody (from tropical to sub-Arctic) and a life expectancy very close to the maximum.  New Zealanders will be burnt up by the fact that their life expectancy slightly lags Australia's.

Forget the doom: coral reefs found to be much more robust and resilient than alarmists claim

Hoagy is astounded.  Has his life's work of alarmism just fallen apart?

A WIDESPREAD belief that the world's coral reefs face a calamitous future due to climate change is proving less resilient than the natural wonders themselves.

Rising sea temperatures, storm damage and ocean acidification have grabbed the headlines as looming threats to reef survival.

But as each concern is more thoroughly investigated, scientists are finding nature better equipped to cope than they had imagined.

The latest research, published in Nature: Climate Change today, blows away the theory that reefs were doomed due to rising ocean acidification caused by the higher take-up of carbon dioxide in the seas.

Researchers have found a common coralline algae that grows at the leading edge of coral reefs is not nearly as susceptible to changing ph levels as coral because it contains high levels of dolomite.  In fact, the dolomite-laden algae has a rate of dissolution six to 10 times lower than coral's.

The good news is that dolomite-rich coralline algae is common in shallow coral reefs across the world.  "Our research suggests it is likely they will continue to provide protection for coral reef frameworks as carbon dioxide rises," the paper says.

Lead author Merinda Nash, a PhD candidate with the Australian research school of physics and engineering, says the phenomenon has been overlooked because research to date has been on coral, not coralline algae. "It is not very sexy so it has not got a lot of attention," she said.

"What the research demonstrates is there is a lot we have yet to understand about coral reefs."

This is a sentiment echoed by James Brown of the Kimberley Coral Research Station, who believes the hot water corals of the Kimberley coast hold a treasure trove of answers for marine biologists.

Mr Brown has questioned why the Kimberley coral reefs were thriving in water temperatures and at acidification levels well outside of the limits that conventional science said should be inhospitable for their survival.

"Measurements of dissolved carbon dioxide have shown levels of up to 50 parts per million compared with the average of 28 parts per million," Mr Brown said.  "This is the outer limit of what scientists had believed would be habitable for corals.  Water temperatures are also at the top end of what coral biologists say it is possible for corals to survive in.

"The more we find out about the Kimberley, the more it rewrites the book on coral biology."

Further counter-intuitive results on coral survival have come from an extended project on the Great Barrier Reef to measure the health of deep corals.

The Catlin Seaview Survey has found the damage to coral reefs is literally skin deep, with corals located in deeper water below even the worst impacted sites thriving and in pristine condition. The findings raise the possibility that damaged corals may have an increased opportunity for recovery by recruiting new corals both from adjoining reefs and those located immediately below.

The early findings from the survey have astounded the scientists involved, including Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a leading global figure in raising concerns about crown of thorns starfish, coral bleaching and ocean acidification.

"The survey has shown that deeper reefs may be protected to an extent from some of the perils of climate-driven events such as mass coral bleaching and storms," he said. "These deeper corals may be important refuges if we get big changes in the shallows."


How freedom from information works

Most Western governments have FOI laws but governments stiil release only what they want to release

IT WAS the fake ferry exercise that made my heart sink. The high-speed link from Port Melbourne to Frankston, the presenter explained, was an imaginary election promise to ease congestion on our roads and trains.

But there were problems with the fictional plan. There were serious risks to a heritage-listed pier. Probity issues. Likely cost blow-outs because of bad departmental advice.

And all of it had been documented: a brief to the Transport Minister, a summary of the tender responses and an external consultant's report.

Our task, Victorian Government Solicitor's Office senior manager Joanne Kummrow outlined, was to find exemptions the department could claim to keep these "documents" from a journalist fishing around using Freedom of Information laws.

While the documents were fictitious, the response from the 40 or so people in the room - many of them FOI officers or legal advisers for councils or state government agencies - was all too real.

They took to the task of suppressing the information with alarming zeal.

I had spent the day alongside them learning about recent changes to Victoria's FOI regime at a Leo Cussen Centre For Law conference on November 30 - the eve of the amendments taking effect.

Feeling a little like a poacher-turned-gamekeeper, I'd handed over $520 and signed up under my real name. A tag revealed who I was and where I worked, but no one seemed to be bothered about curtailing their comments.

The lectures were helpful, but the real value of the day was the insight into the minds of the people who handle the dozens of applications for public information that Victorians file every day to government, councils and agencies.

Some presenters were at pains to reinforce that the FOI Act gives members of the Victorian public rights of access to official documents and to remind those in the room that the public deserved timely, consistent and complete responses to their FOI requests.

I cheered inwardly as one officer urged others to be open, active, helpful, efficient, collaborative and to think in the public interest.

But comments and questions from some other presenters and attendees left me agog. One, for example, bluntly admitted a tendency existed in some agencies to deliver "quick and dirty decisions", which could be "tidied up" if the applicant sought an internal reviews.

The depth of resistance to scrutiny emerged when the room split into four groups for a workshop to assess documents relating to the fake, failed ferry.

Mick Batskos, who runs a company called FOI Solutions and is regarded by many government departments and agencies as "a guru", volunteered as leader in my group.

When members showed signs of potentially agreeing to the release of information, he flexed his encyclopaedic knowledge of the exemptions, coaching on how to interpret the Act more broadly.

He explained, for example, that papers didn't actually have to go before the Cabinet to attract the powerful - and almost impossible to challenge - Cabinet Documents exemptions.

To their credit, some attendees dared ask if it might actually be in the public interest to release some of the information. They were quickly met with an array of excuses from others about why it was harmful or confusing for the public to know of the controversy surrounding the ferry debacle.

IT took only 20 minutes for the collective to apply a grab-bag of exemptions and arrive at what seemed to me a pretty warped version of "public interest".

One group sounded particularly pleased to report back that they'd found several "blanket ones we could go for" to stop the release of any information.

Wrapping up the exercise, Ms Kummrow noted - to much laughter - that it sounded like the pretend journalist wasn't going to get a lot of information.

(The chuckles quietened when fellow Victorian Government Solicitor's Office colleague Elsie Loh piped up to point out that just because an exemption exists doesn't mean you have to apply it.)

My fears that many in the room have a "restraint of information" mindset weren't helped by the day's final session, a mock VCAT hearing, with real counsel arguing a pretend FOI appeal before a real tribunal member.

Among the first things the barrister representing the agency asked for was a suppression on media coverage. Thankfully, it was rejected.

The mock hearing and the sham ferry exercise left me wondering about the all-too-real job ahead for Ted Baillieu's long-promised FOI commissioner, the key plank of his promise that accountability and transparency would be the principles that underpinned his Government.

Watchdog Lynne Bertolini finally started this month, with powers to conduct reviews and investigate complaints from the public.

She comes to office promising to educate FOI gatekeepers about their responsibilities and to ensure they have a clear understanding of the Act and the objectives of the legislation. Based on what I glimpsed, she'll have her work cut out.

Under new amendments, agencies must assist the commissioner when she's reviewing a case or assessing a complaint.

There was a telling query from the audience once that was explained: "What if an agency doesn't assist? What disciplinary powers does she have?"

While Ms Bertolini has been described as somewhat toothless, the agencies at the conference did seem to fear some of her powers - especially her ability to collect and publish the names of FOI officers who decline requests.

Unlike the fake ferry that sank without trace, let's hope this election promise succeeds and the commissioner can turn the tide on the flow of information.


13 December, 2012

Social class discrimination to be penalized?

THE planned extension of anti-discrimination laws to cover "social origin" could give legal weight to a class system and threaten Australia's egalitarian spirit, the chairman of the NSW Community Relations Commission warns.

Stepan Kerkyasharian has joined a chorus of concerns about the federal bill and its potential to curb freedom of speech by making it unlawful to "offend" or "insult" - not only on racial grounds but in any area of potential discrimination such as sex, age and disability.

But Dr Kerkyasharian went further on Wednesday while hosting a debate: "Is Sydney more racist than Melbourne?" He revealed he had raised his fears with the federal Attorney-General about the inclusion of social origin among grounds for discrimination in workplaces.

"Is it a backdoor way of introducing and codifying social standing, or a class system, or a social strata?" Dr Kerkyasharian said.

He worried it had no clear definition; nor did another of the grounds for work-place discrimination, political opinion. "We need to ensure any legislation [does not harm] our egalitarian society and our very harmonious multicultural society."

Racial harmony, or the lack of it, was the subject of the debate. Dr Kerkyasharian apologised to anyone offended by the implied city ranking of racism in the title. But he said: "I think it is sometimes good to be provocative." The short answer was, yes, Sydney was more racist than Melbourne, based on the Scanlon Foundation's 2012 report, Mapping Social Cohesion. The long answer was more nuanced.

Presenting his research, Professor Andrew Markus, from Monash University, noted that negative feelings about Muslims ran at 28.5 per cent in Sydney against 15.2 per cent in Melbourne. Very negative feelings about immigrants from Lebanon ran at 12.1 per cent in Sydney and 5 per cent in Melbourne.

Possible reasons: Sydney's immigrants were highly concentrated in the western suburbs while Melbourne's were spread throughout the city. This may have led to xenophobia and flight from areas such as Bankstown and Fairfield by older people whose families had been in Australia for three or more generations. The cost of doing nothing to address these tensions would be "huge", Professor Markus said.

Professor Ien Ang, from the University of Western Sydney, took a "glass half full" view of Sydney's cohesion. She found the debate's headline unhelpful,.

So did Professor Jock Collins, from the  University of Technology Sydney,  who said the cohesion glass was "80 per cent full".

His research with young Sydney people from immigrant families revealed they had strong aspirations and were positive about their future. Many identified not as Australians but as "global citizens," he said, and yet this was the new reality for many around the world. "We should be relaxed about that."

Professor Collins took a shot at Julia Gillard, saying that when the Prime Minister announced her first cabinet, nobody had responsibility for multiculturalism. "It dropped completely off the agenda."


Discrimination against men in car sales jobs OK?

A MAJOR car dealership plans to advertise specifically for female staff in an effort to draw more women to their male-dominated workforce.

A.P. Eagers, which employs about 3000 people in dealerships across the country, plans to run the advertisements for female sales and service staff with a disclaimer declaring it an "equal opportunity measure" after it was knocked back in its bid for a formal exemption from anti-discrimination laws in October.

A.P. Eagers group human resources manager Michael Raywood said the company wanted to even out the gender imbalance in their workforce at a time when more women were in the market for a car.

"In our business we have 80 per cent male and 20 per cent female staff so we're trying to take some positive measures to redress the balance," he said.

Mr Raywood said the company was not trying to be controversial, but just to make their workforce more representative of their customers.

"It's not about whether women are better than men or men are better than women," he said.  "If we had a 50/50 split of male and female then we wouldn't have to do this sort of thing."

Mr Raywood said the ads would run only where they were deemed necessary, and the company would talk to general managers about where the need was greatest.

In dismissing the company's application for exemption under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991, Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal member Susan Gardiner said while an increase in female employees at the company was desirable and "good for business", it was not essential.

"Here, Eagers staff is of both genders and both can fulfil the roles in the sales and service area," she said.

But she said an advertisement targeting female applicants would not be unlawful if the company could establish it would promote equal opportunity for women, and recommended including a disclaimer to indicate the company's position and pre-empt complaints.

University of South Australia anti-discrimination law expert Associate Professor Sara Charlesworth said formal exemptions from anti-discrimination law were usually given to help disadvantaged groups rather than for business reasons.

"Exemptions are regularly given where maybe a women's refuge or a domestic violence service specifically says they want to have women," she said.


Non-urgent surgery postponed at major Brisbane hospitals

Gillard has set up a big new Federal Health bureaucracy and funded it by cutting money to employ doctors and nurses in State hospitals

A REDUCTION in elective surgery is imminent for public patients in Brisbane's south.

Metro South Health CEO Richard Ashby told ABC radio non-urgent surgeries would be postponed at the Princess Alexandra, Logan, Redland and QEII hospitals.  "We will be deferring non-urgent surgery," he said.

Dr Ashby blamed "fiscal constraints" for the downturn, particularly a recent mid-financial year cut to Metro South Health by the Federal Government of $19 million.

"New category three patients we will be deferring creating booking dates until we are certain about the time-frame in which we will be able to operate," he said.

Category 3 patients are the least urgent but are recommended to be operated on within 12 months of them being placed on the elective surgery list.

Dr Ashby said a new plan to combine all hospital waiting lists in the area would reduce wait times.  "We are going to amalgamate the waitlists for common conditions, it is not acceptable that a person should have to wait for two years or three years at the PA Hospital but be able to have that surgery done at the Logan in six weeks' time," he said.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has laid the blame for the elective surgery reduction in Metro South to a federal budget cut across all of the state's 17 health service districts of $103 million.

Mr Springborg told the ABC $41 million of that had already been paid, and was now coming directly out of hospital budgets starting last Wednesday.

"That's what's having this particular impact. We're seeing the practical manifestation (of that budget cut) by having an extended shutdown of elective surgery over Christmas," he said.

"It's an enormous impact.  "It's hard to adjust to these cuts being imposed by the Commonwealth."


Feds hitting Victorian hospitals too

Some hospitals may also be set to lose organ transplant services to other hospitals so the state can cut costs and streamline the system.

Some hospitals may also be set to lose organ transplant services to other hospitals so the state can cut costs and streamline the system. Photo: Glenn Hunt

ELECTIVE surgery waiting lists are likely to "explode" due to funding cuts at Victorian hospitals and no patient will be spared longer waits, including children and cancer patients, surgeons warn.

Some hospitals may also be set to lose organ transplant services to other hospitals so the state can cut costs and streamline the system.

The shake-up in coming months is likely to be controversial for specialists who pride themselves on working in centres of excellence, but it is unlikely to reduce the number of transplants being done.

The chair of the Victorian regional committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Dr Robert Stunden, said although every health network would deal with budget cuts differently, previous experience showed the first thing to go was elective surgery.

The paediatric surgeon at several Melbourne public hospitals said semi-urgent or category two elective surgery lists could be cut in half over the next six months, meaning people who should be operated on within three months could expect their wait to at least double to six months.

Category two patients are defined as those with "some pain, dysfunction and disability" and include people waiting for hip or knee replacements and vascular surgery.

Dr Stunden said that although urgent surgery was likely to still be done on time, no surgical specialty, including cancer and paediatric care, would be immune from cuts, meaning many patients could expect to wait longer in pain.

"We are expecting to have major cutbacks in lists over the next six months … waiting lists will explode," he said, adding that it was "terrible" for patients. "The quicker we can manage these patients, the better it is for them."

Dr Stunden said some hospitals were considering delaying new programs in the new year while others were discussing the streamlining of "super-specialised services" such as transplant surgery, so instead of three hospitals doing liver transplants, for example, only one would. This would cut the cost of having three hospitals set up for the procedure.

While this would upset some doctors in the field, Dr Stunden said it did not mean the number of procedures would be cut back.

"There will have to be some give and take in the major institutions for the benefit of the community as a whole," he said.

Most transplants are currently done at Monash Medical Centre and the Alfred, Austin and Royal Melbourne hospitals.

Victorian Health Minister David Davis last week told hospitals to plan for multimillion-dollar budget cuts over the next seven months. He blamed the federal government for refusing to back down on plans to slash $106.7 million from Victorian hospital budgets this financial year.

Mr Davis said the federal government's recalculations of its funding were based on flawed population data. However, the federal government disputes this and says funding to the state is still increasing compared to last year.

On Tuesday, the Australian Medical Association and the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine condemned the budget cuts, saying public hospitals were already overwhelmed.

"The cuts must stop - the public hospital system has nothing more to give," said AMA president Steve Hambleton.

Elective surgery waiting lists have increased in Victoria over the past two years. At the end of June, 46,131 people were waiting for surgery - up from 37,194 in June 2010.


Attorney General announces Queensland senior lawyers to return to Queen's Counsel title

IN a move expected to spark a national trend, Queensland's senior lawyers will return to the title "Queen's Counsel".

Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie is announcing the move, flagged several months ago in The Courier-Mail, at the Supreme Court’s annual Christmas Greetings event in Brisbane on Wednesday morning.

Mr Bleijie said replacing Senior Counsel (SC) with Queen’s Counsel (QC) would eliminate confusion.

"The feedback I have received raised concerns that SC was often mistaken for the term Special Counsel, which many law firms have taken to using for solicitors," Mr Bleijie said.

While the Newman Government move will be seen as supportive of the Monarchy in the dying days of the Queen's Golden Jubilee year, Mr Bleijie says there are also commercial considerations at play.

“QC is also more widely known and understood by the public as a mark of professional distinction at the Bar and this move will make the distinction much clearer," he said.

“It is important that Queensland silks are competitive internationally particularly in Singapore and Hong Kong where the use of QCs is preferred."

Mr Bleijie said Asian countries employed QCs from as far as the United Kingdom.

He said the change would give Queensland leverage over other Australian states, which maintain the SC title, competing for a share of this market.

Current Senior Counsel will be invited to have their title amended should they wish and all new appointments will now be given the title of Queen’s Counsel.

The Newman Government has received widespread support from the Queensland Bar Association and the legal profession to revert to the traditional title.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Jenny Hogan, Philip Looney and Dean Morzone who were recently selected for appointment as Senior Counsel," Mr Bleijie said.

Mr Bleijie will be writing to all current Senior Counsel shortly to invite them to make an election if they wish to be commissioned as a QC.

Those who do not apply to have their title changed will remain as Senior Counsel and their seniority will not be affected.


12 December, 2012

'I wish Gillard was dead': AFP raid home after string of emails

There's clearly a free speech defence here.  Opinions are not threats  -- not outside Communist countries, anyway

A Sunshine Coast man whose home was raided by at least 12 federal police yesterday denies he is a terrorist or has links to outlaw bikies.

Glenn Dirix admitted he regularly sent confronting emails to federal and state MPs, including one where he apparently wrote "I wish (Prime Minister) Julia Gillard was dead", but he said he did not believe he was a security threat.

Mr Dirix considers himself a blogger who merely makes comments about Australian politics. He sends the emails using his own name to the public email accounts of the politicians.

He said among the emails, for example, were pictures of politicians with clown hats on, a picture that described Treasurer Wayne Swan as an "economics illiterate", and a picture of Ms Gillard and Mr Swan in a parody of Custer's last stand, a commentary on the 2013 federal election.

Mr Dirix has been charged with seven counts of using a carriage service to "menace, harass or cause offence" and one charge of assaulting police.


Deaf woman wants to be on a jury

There is a culture of denial among many deaf people which denies that they are handicapped

A DEAF woman claims she was subjected to unlawful discrimination when she was unwillingly excused from jury duty because of her hearing disability.

Gaye Prudence Lyons has made a complaint against the Queensland Government under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 for failing to provide an interpreter during her stint as member of an Ipswich jury panel.

Details of the action were revealed in a recent Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal decision to consider Ms Lyons' request for an order forcing the Deputy Registrar and Sheriff of the Ipswich District Court to supply a range of documents.

QCAT senior member Clare Endicott, in a recently published four page ruling, dismissed Mr Lyons' application for the tribunal to issue a notice of production, but does give a small insight into the hearing impaired woman's complaint.

"Ms Lyons has referred to QCAT a complaint that she has been unlawfully discriminated against by the State of Queensland when she was excused from jury duty because she is deaf and required an Auslan interpreter in order to perform jury duty," Ms Endicott said.

"Ms Lyons complains that she has been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of an impairment in the provision of services to her and by the administration of State laws and programs contrary to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991."

The tribunal was told Ms Lyons, in preparation of her case, applied for a notice to be issued by the tribunal to obtain a range of documents, including any policy, guideline, direction or other document relating to deaf people and jury duty in operation between January 1 and October 9 this year.

Ms Lyons' application was opposed by the state government on the grounds it was an abuse of process.

"(Ms Lyons) has explained that access to the requested documents is reasonably necessary for (her) to reply to the contentions of the state," Ms Endicott said.

Ms Endicott, in dismissing Mr Lyons application, said she expected the state government would make reasonable attempts to ascertain if the documents requested actually existed before the matter was heard.

"If documents within the categories do exist, and if the State objects to providing copies to Ms Lyons of all or any of the ascertained documents, then the parties can at that stage seek a direction for QCAT for the release of copies of the actual documents in dispute to Ms Lyons."


Greenies using lies about Great Barrier Reef to attack industry

REEF experts believe the loss of half the coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef is a "national crisis" worthy of a rescue package similar to the $12 billion plan to save the Murray Darling Basin.

They blame Queensland's biggest industries, coal and sugar cane, for the rapid decline and question the fate of the $5 billion tourism icon given mining, farming and port developments.

But leading tourism identities warn the state's tourist trade and international reputation is being damaged as scientists send a "skewed" and "misleading" message that the Reef "is half-dead".

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke and Industry Minister Martin Ferguson met with state counterparts Andrew Powell and Andrew Cripps to discuss the Reef in Brisbane yesterday.

Professor Terry Hughes, director of the Townsville-based ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies, said the talks failed to reveal how officials would handle the show-cause notice by UNESCO on the Reef becoming an "at risk" World Heritage site.

Prof Hughes said authorities had to impose a cap on dredging and stop farm run-off.

"It is a national crisis and it needs a rescue package response equivalent to that in the Murray Darling Basin," he said. "We need to ask: 'Do we need to have a sugar industry or a coal industry?' "

Mike Ball, a veteran dive industry figure, said much of the outer and northern Reef system was still pristine and figures from coastal reefs sent a skewed message overseas.

Canegrowers chief executive Steve Greenwood said it was irresponsible for scientists to suggest the end of the state's $2 billion sugar industry.

Mr Powell said: "Our target is to see a 50 per cent reduction in nutrients run-off by 2013 and a 20 per cent reduction in sediment by 2020."


ABARES report confirms that Australian fisheries stocks are sustainable

The release of the ABARES wild fish stocks report today confirms what marine scientists such as Professor Robert Kearney have been saying consistently: that Australian fishing practices are some of the best in the world, Senator Boswell said today.

The ABARES report comes just one month after the Federal Minister for the Environment Tony Burke declared new marine reserves that will cover 2.3 million square kilometres around Australia -- banning commercial and recreational fishers from vast areas.

“Tony Burke has never explained why these areas needed to be locked up and what our oceans needed protection from. He has never established the case for declaring these marine parks -- and sadly Australian fishermen will bear the brunt of this flawed Government policy,” Senator Boswell said.

“This has never been about marine protection. Australia has a proud record of sustainable fishing practices. We extract less than 30 kilograms of marine catch per square kilometre compared to Thailand who extract almost 6000 kilograms of marine catch from their oceans.

“This Labor Government policy has been driven by a coalition of local and international green groups financed by the American PEW Foundation. The latest network of Marine Reserves will lock up sustainable, productive and valuable fishing grounds and will devastate coastal communities.

“Australians will be denied a vital source. We currently import 72 per cent of our seafood from overseas from countries with a less than enviable environmental record.

“The impact will be the greatest in Queensland with the Coral Sea marine park covering over 989,842 square kilometres, an area that is more than half the size of Queensland.

“The government’s own figures show that the planned fishing bans would have a substantial impact on Mooloolaba, Cairns and Karumba. “Cairns based fishers will lose catch valued at $3.6 million a year and Mooloolaba-based fishers will lose catch valued at $1.5 million a year.

“The declaration of marine reserves has been all about placating the Greens; meanwhile, commercial fishermen will be denied a living and face a compensation package that is woefully inadequate.

“Today’s report confirms what we have known from the beginning: these marine reserves are not about marine science but are all about Greens preferences at the next Federal election,” Senator Boswell said.

Press release from Qld. Nationals Senator Ron Boswell

11 December, 2012

A brief note on the hospital call prank

by D.J. Webb

We have probably all listened to the hoax call to Edward VII Hospital in which an Australian radio show phoned the hospital pretending to be the Queen in the hope of obtaining information about Kate Mountbatten née Middleton’s confinement. While, of course, I do not celebrate the fact that a nurse is believed to have committed suicide, I cannot join in the condemnation of the phonecall.

The phonecall was funny, lighthearted in intent, and transparently not from the Queen. The accents were extraordinarily phoney, and the call was littered with humorous comments about the Queen having to go and feed the corgis, etc. The male presenter also attempted to imitate the yapping of corgis at one point. The call was just “high jinx” — a joke. They could not have known that the nurse would commit suicide — and such a reaction is by no means a logical consequence of having been the “victim” of such a prank. There must be more to this story. Was the nurse already suffering from depression? How did the hospital management regard her failing to observe protocol and put this call through? This is a top private hospital, after all, and it can be expected that the management of such facilities do have words with members of staff who do not protect the privacy of their patients.

Whatever the background, the radio station making the prank call is not responsible for the suicide. It was not “quality journalism” — there is nothing ‘Reithian’ about this radio programme – but it was not highly objectionable either. Now, to my dismay, the two radio presenters involved have been disciplined, and their show may be permanently cancelled. I would not like to see two promising careers ended over this incident, as the extreme reaction of the nurse could not have been foreseen. This could feed into calls for more controls on the press, including arrangements for the protection of privacy. Most of such laws and proposed laws go too far – and the Royal family are about the most legitimate targets of an intrusive media in Britain today.

You could argue that ordinary people should not be subject to scurrilous media attention, but the Royal family have courted the attention of the Press when it has suited them. We should always err on the side of press freedom, although that does mean that silly prank calls will take place in a free country.


Note that the hospital bears a considerable responsibility also.  If they had employed a native speaker of English in the reception role, she would have been highly likely to have detected the amateurish hoax immediately.  All men (and women) are not equal

Free speech tripped up by offensive line


I WISH to discuss the boundary between hate speech, a significant factor in social inclusion, and free speech, perhaps the most fundamental human right underpinning participation in public life.

This issue has been controversial in Australia in recent years, in the context of the racial vilification provision in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which is proposed to be re-enacted as section 51 of the new omnibus legislation, the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012.

There may now have elapsed sufficient time for us to debate the issue dispassionately, and not on the basis of whether you like Andrew Bolt. The focus of that debate was not on the existence of a racial vilification provision but on the breadth of the conduct to which section 18C extends: namely, conduct "reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person".

The key criticism was directed to the fact the section made speech that merely "offends" unlawful. A similar, but less powerful objection, can be made to the reference to "insult".

These matters have long concerned me, but my thoughts have crystallised after reading a book by Jeremy Waldron, one of the foremost jurisprudential scholars of our time, with joint appointments to Oxford University and New York University law school.

From the perspective of society, Waldron emphasises inclusiveness as a public good, providing an assurance and sense of security to all members of the society that they can live their lives without facing hostility, violence, discrimination or exclusion.

From the other perspective, of those who are meant to benefit from this assurance, the fundamental human right that is affirmed is the right to dignity. Hate speech undermines the sense of assurance and denies the dignity of individuals.

The section of Waldron's hate speech book that is of particular significance for our debate is the chapter he devotes to establishing the proposition that protection of dignity does not require protection from being offended. As he puts it:

"Laws restricting hate speech should aim to protect people's dignity against assault. Dignity in that sense may need protection against attack, particularly against group-directed attacks. However, I do not believe that it should be the aim of these laws to prevent people from being offended. Protecting people's feelings against offence is not an appropriate objective for the law."

I agree with Waldron. His detailed analysis supports the proposition that declaring conduct, relevantly speech, to be unlawful because it causes offence goes too far. The freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech. There is no right not to be offended.

I am not aware of any international human rights instrument, or national anti-discrimination statute in another liberal democracy, that extends to conduct that is merely offensive.

Section 19(2)(b) of the proposed Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 introduces "offending" into the definition of discrimination for all purposes, not just for racial vilification. The new S19 defines, for the first time, discrimination by unfavourable treatment to include "conduct that offends, insults or intimidates" another person. Significantly, unlike existing S18C (or its replacement by the new S51), there is no element of objectivity, as presently found in the words "reasonably likely to offend". It appears to me the new bill contains a subjective test of being offended.

There are 18 "protected attributes" set out in section 17 of the draft bill, seven of which apply only in the employment context. These are wide ranging and, in some respects, novel.

The inclusion of religion as a "protected attribute" in the workplace appears to me, in effect, to make blasphemy unlawful at work but not elsewhere. The controversial Danish cartoons could be published but not taken to work.

Similar anomalies could arise with other workplace-protected attributes, such as political opinion, social origin and nationality.

Further, each of the four existing commonwealth anti-discrimination acts proscribe publication of an advertisement or notice that indicates an intention to engage in discriminatory conduct. Section 53 of the new omnibus bill goes further into freedom of speech territory by extending this proscription beyond advertisements to any publication.

The new bill proposes a significant redrawing of the line between permissible and unlawful speech. A freedom that is contingent on proving, after the event, that it was exercised reasonably or on some other exculpatory basis is a much reduced freedom.

Further, as is well known, the chilling effect of the mere possibility of legal processes will prevent speech that could have satisfied an exception.

When rights conflict, drawing the line too far in favour of one degrades the other right. Words such as "offend" and "insult" impinge on freedom of speech in a way that words such as "humiliate", "denigrate," "intimidate", "incite hostility" or "hatred" or "contempt", do not. To go beyond language of the latter character, in my opinion, goes too far.

We should take care not to put ourselves in a position where others could reasonably assert that we are in breach of our international treaty obligations to protect freedom of speech.


$1m to help education workers feel good despite Baillieu Government job cuts

No word on whether there was any evident benefit

EDUCATION workers have undergone "emotional intelligence" sessions on coping with change under the Baillieu Government.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, which is axing more than 400 jobs to meet savings under the Government's "sustainable government initiative", has spent more than $1 million on workshops and training sessions since March last year.

About 25 per cent of the money was spent on 103 workshops, seminars and training dealing with change, documents released under Freedom of Information reveal.

The courses included Recognising and Managing Stressed Employees, Managing Change and Building Resilience, Leading Through Change, Coping with and Managing Through Change and Understanding and Coping With Change.

In October the department paid $56,000 for career support seminars to help staff manage their careers and apply for jobs.

It also spent $62,700 on a two-day workshop titled Managing With Emotional Intelligence.

Shadow parliamentary secretary for education Colin Brooks said running workshops on managing with emotional intelligence at the same time as cutting the education system and sacking hundreds of staff seemed ludicrous.

"The hundreds of education staff losing their jobs won't feel like holding hands and singing Kumbayah at one of these workshops," he said.

Public Sector Union state secretary Karen Batt said sending people on the courses "just shows complete insensitivity".

A spokesman for Education Minister Martin Dixon said: "Professional development is central to building a world-leading education system."


Climate Skeptics in Australian politics still skeptical

THE most prominent political climate sceptics see no reason to change their minds, despite the welter of studies over the past fortnight showing forecasts of global warming were correct or underestimates.

Many of the climate sceptics, influential in elevating Tony Abbott to Coalition leader, say they see nothing to convince them that human activity is causing the climate to change.

The Global Carbon Project has released forecasts that the planet could warm by between 4 degrees and 6 degrees by the end of the century and Nature Climate Change on Monday published a study finding that warming is consistent with 1990 scientific forecasts.

South Australian senator Cory Bernardi, formerly Mr Abbott's parliamentary secretary, said: "I do not think human activity causes climate change and I haven't seen anything that changes my view. I remain very sceptical about the alarmists' claims."

Queensland senator Barnaby Joyce said the whole debate about whether humans were causing the climate to change was "indulgent and irrelevant".

"It is an indulgent and irrelevant debate because, even if climate change turns out to exist one day, we will have absolutely no impact on it whatsoever … we really should have bigger fish to fry than this one," Senator Joyce said.

West Australian backbencher Dennis Jensen, who had read the recent scientific literature, said he interpreted the findings in different ways and believed climate scepticism within the Coalition was increasing.

"The scientific papers saying it is as bad as we thought, or worse, are talking about concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere - and concentrations are indeed increasing - but global temperatures have not gone up in a decade," he said.

"It's the impact of the increased concentrations of CO2 that is in dispute and I agree with [US professor] Richard Lindzen that it is more likely to be 0.4 degrees than 4 to 6 degrees … the doomsday prophesies do not stand up to reason."

Mr Abbott now says he accepts "we have only one planet and we should tread lightly upon it".

Questioned about climate science last year, Mr Abbott said: "I think that climate change is real, mankind does make a contribution and we should have strong and effective policies to deal with it. As far as I am concerned, the debate is not over climate change as such. The debate is over the best way of dealing with it."

He has never repeated his 2009 comment that the "settled" science of climate change was "absolute crap".

His $10.2 billion "Direct Action" climate policy was deliberately crafted to straddle the deep divisions over climate science within his party.

To qualify for grants from the Coalition's proposed emissions reduction fund, a proposal must "deliver additional practical environmental benefits" as well as reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Mr Jensen said it was this proviso that allowed him to back the Coalition plan.  "At least we will be doing things that make sense for other, practical reasons," he said.

Tasmania senator David Bushby said he remained a true "sceptic".  "I know eminent scientists have one view but I know other eminent scientists - usually ones who have retired and are no longer reliant on government grants - have a totally different view," he said.


10 December, 2012

Redfern Aborigines mark Keating speech, 20 years on

Leftists and Aboriginal activists love this speech because it blames everything on Whitey. And they attach great significance to the fact that old Slimebucket said so.  But Keating very rarely had a good word for anyone so it is no wonder that it was he who made these egregious accusations.  The full speech transcript is here

As for the idea that Keating's bloviation kicked off constructive change among Aborigines, see the article immediately following  --  which shows that Aboriginal conditions are WORSENING

The fact is that Aborigines have evolved abilities and attitudes which are superbly adapted to a hunter/gatherer life.  With their superb perceptual abilities, they are probably the pinnacle of human adaptation to that life.  But their specialized abilities and attitudes are very poorly adapted to modern Western civilization.  And evolution doesn't change overnight.

Take the Calabrians.  For many years they came to Australia barely literate and with no command of English yet have made a clear success of their lives  -- both economically and otherwise.  And they too faced prejudice.  My mother was told by her father that he would disown her if she married an Italian.  But the ancestors of the Calabrians were legionaries in the armies of the mighty civilization of Ancient Rome, so their evolutionary background is very different

Aboriginal elders gathered in Sydney to mark the 20th anniversary of Paul Keating's Redfern speech, considered one of the most important addresses in Australia's history.

Speaking to a crowd at Redfern Park on December 10, 1992, the then-prime minister acknowledged the impact of European settlement on Indigenous Australians.

The speech put reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians firmly on the political agenda, and some say it paved the way for the formal apology to Indigenous Australians.

"It was we who did the dispossessing; we took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life," Mr Keating said in the speech.

"We brought the diseases and the alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practiced discrimination and exclusion.

"It was our ignorance and our prejudice, and our failure to imagine that these things could be done to us."

Gail Mabo, the daughter of the late land rights activist Eddie Mabo, read extracts from the speech at a Sydney gallery on Saturday to mark the anniversary.

Speaking before the event, she told Saturday AM the speech kicked off change in Australia.  "It's one that people should actually look at and reflect on, because the words he was saying in that, it reflects that issue of change, but it's a thing of through small things, big things will happen," she said.

"But change will happen. It mightn't be right here, right now, but it's just changing people's attitudes, and that's what he was doing with this speech.  "He was trying to get into people's heads that it is time for change."

She says 20 years on, many things have changed for Indigenous Australians, but more can be done.

"I think baby steps have happened, but we still need to gain a bit more momentum and still recognise and appreciate the first peoples," she said.

"It's the understanding that Indigenous people were the first people here and you have to acknowledge that, and it's only through those little things."


Abuse of Aboriginal children

The Northern Territory Children's Commissioner says rates of abuse among Aboriginal children have risen above the national average for the first time.

The commissioner's annual report also shows that while sexual exploitation rates have fallen, neglect and emotional abuse rates have increased.

It says there has been a major increase in child abuse notifications, but only half of these were investigated.

Commissioner Howard Bath says it also shows the number of Aboriginal children placed in out-of-home care is considerably lower in the Territory than other states.

"We have by far the lowest rates of placements in out of home care of any jurisdiction in the country, so we are identifying a lot of kids at risk but far fewer of those kids are placed into alternative secure placements," he said.

Mr Bath says this would be acceptable if there were adequate intervention measures available to vulnerable families.

"To assist parents with mental health problems, with substance abuse problems and to help them with parenting skills," he said.

"If we knew that were those services it doesn't matter if there aren't so many out of home care placements - the problem is that we know there are very few available preventative services."

The report also identified gaps in data and record keeping within the child protection system.

But Mr Bath says there have been some notable improvements within the child protection system.

"There had been a great improvement in the percentage of care plans that had been completed on the children in care, there was an improvement on the quality of those plans and there was improvement in the visiting of staff workers to kids in care and the frequency of those visits," he said.

"There was an improvement in the number of foster carers."


Coalition labels voter law changes an attempted rort

THE Coalition has accused Labor of trying to "rort" the electoral roll to boost its standing at the next election on the back of law changes allowing automatic voter enrolment.

Manager of opposition business Christopher Pyne said it was “routine” for Labor to attempt to “tip the scales in their own favour if they can” when it came to elections and said eligible voters should be required to present identification to enrol and vote in elections.

“It's no surprise at all that Labor would try and find every trick in the book to increase their electoral clout,” Mr Pyne told Sky News.

“They are not supported in the electorate so they are trying to do things that they can to improve their chances with the electoral roll. The Greens are the same.

“Suddenly Labor thinks they are behind in the polls, why don't we do something to trick the voter, let's rort the roll, let's get an advantage over the Coalition, they've been doing it for decades and this is just their latest iteration.”

The Australian revealed today that several exclusive Newspoll surveys showed the Coalition's primary vote would drop by 1.5 percentage points as a result of changes to electoral laws that would automatically enrol eligible voters not yet on the electoral roll, many of whom are young people.

The Australian Electoral Commission estimates there are 1.5 million voters “missing” from the roll, which represents 9.5 per cent of eligible voters.

As many as a dozen Liberal and Nationals seats around the country could come into play if Labor and the Greens could mobilise the “youth vote” and overcome the political disengagement of those who have resisted enrolment in the past.

Mr Pyne said automatic enrolment would “undermine democracy hideously” and that eligible voters should be required to present identification at all points in the voting cycle.

“If there is to be confidence in the democracy, there has to be confidence in the result,” he said.

“If you know the people have used identification to enrol, used ID to vote, you can have every confidence that the result is a fair one. It undermines democracy hideously if we can't have confidence that the result actually reflects true voter opinion.”

He was backed by Liberal colleague Mitch Fifield, who said the changes to the electoral laws “undermine the integrity of our electoral rolls”.

Treasurer Wayne Swan dismissed Mr Pyne's suggestion that automatic enrolment would help Labor.

“Isn't it a good thing that all Australians who are eligible to vote are actually on the roll? I think the answer to that is yes,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

Mr Swan dismissed Mr Pyne's call for voters to be required to show ID.

“He's just interested in trying to sort of exclude people from the electoral roll and you'd have to ask him why that's his objective,” he said.

Labor MP Nick Champion also rejected the Coalition's stance and said there was no sign of electoral fraud.

“I don't think there is any electoral fraud of any significance in this country and I don't think anybody is trying to rort the roll as Christopher Pyne excitedly said,” Mr Champion told Sky News.

“All we are trying to do is make sure that people who are eligible to vote get the opportunity to vote and if one was going to be partisan then we might say it's been a feature of conservative politics, not just here but around the world, that what they want to do is cleanse the roll of people who don't vote for them.”

The new laws allow the AEC to directly enrol eligible voters or update the details of existing voters based on information from third parties, including motor registries, utilities and the tax office.

It is compulsory for Australians aged 18 and over to enrol and vote in federal elections.

The enrolment changes came after reviews of the 2007 and 2010 polls by a federal parliamentary joint standing committee.


Fat is a working class problem

This is not exactly news but the fact that the obesity "war" is a class war is rarely acknowledged

OBESE Australians most in need of stomach-reduction surgery are missing out, new research shows.

A survey of almost 50,000 obese Australians found those living in socially disadvantaged areas on low incomes were less likely to have bariatric surgery than their higher earning, better-educated counterparts.

This was despite evidence that people from lower socioeconomic groups were more likely to be obese.

The research, published in the Medical Journal of Australia today, found obese people earning more than $70,000 a year were five times more likely to have bariatric surgery than those earning less than $20,000 per year.

Those living in the least disadvantaged areas were four times more likely to have surgery than those living in the most disadvantaged areas, the study by researchers from the Australian National University (ANU), University of NSW and the Sax Institute found.

Clinical guidelines recommend bariatric surgery only be carried out for those with a body mass index (BMI) over 40kg after other non-surgical options have failed.

ANU researcher Dr Rosemary Korda said it was the first study examining bariatric surgery in Australia according to socioeconomic status.

"We know that obesity is concentrated in socioeconomically disadvantaged groups but our research shows that those who need bariatric surgery the most are the least likely to receive it," Dr Korda said.

There was limited availability of bariatric surgery, which includes gastric banding and bypass procedures, in public hospitals, she said.

Meanwhile, Medicare subsidised the surgery for private patients, effectively restricting lapband surgery to patients who can afford private health insurance and large out-of-pocket costs.

Of the 49,364 participants in the study, 312 had bariatric surgery but only one of those was treated publicly.

Co-author Professor Emily Banks of the Sax Institute said the decision to have surgery should be between a patient and their doctor, based on medical need.

"If surgery was distributed among a wider range of patients, inequalities in obesity and health-related problems could decline," she said.

In 2009, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing recommended bariatric surgery be made more available in public hospitals because people who needed it most were missing out.


9 December, 2012

National Boondoggle Network rollout proving to be a costly failure

IN April 2009, the Rudd-Gillard government announced its plans to build the National Broadband Network.  The fibre-optic network is supposed to pass 12.2 million premises around Australia by 2021.

More than three years later, as at June 30, 2012, it had passed just 38,914 - less than one third of 1 per cent towards the finish line.

Yet NBN Co's corporate plan, issued in December 2010, promised to pass 317,000 premises by June 30, 2012. Another comparison: in 1994, Telstra announced it would build a national hybrid fibre coax network. By June 1997, three years on, the network passed 2.1 million homes.

NBN is doing equally badly on the number of services being delivered. There were 3867 fibre services in operation as at June 30, 2012; the corporate plan promised 137,000.

More recent disclosures at estimates hearings in October show little improvement. One component of the fibre rollout, brownfields, had risen from 29,000 in June to 32,295 and fibre services in operation were at 6400.

Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy and NBN Co have tried every trick in the book to disguise the poor performance. They abandoned the original corporate plan and issued a new one in August this year. The goal of 317,000 premises passed by June this year was changed to 39,000.

The goals for later years also dropped sharply. Originally the network was to pass 1.27 million premises by June 30 next year; that has fallen to 341,000.

Next, they made comparisons as difficult as possible. The original corporate plan gave target numbers for five different categories of premises: three types of fibre, wireless and satellite. The new plan, and the 2011-12 annual report released recently, now gives numbers for two types of fibre and a merged number for wireless and satellite.

Third, they tried to shift attention away from hard numbers by introducing a new statistic: premises where there is construction commenced or completed. NBN Co's March 2012 media release promised that by 2015 "construction of the fibre optic component of the network will be under way or completed in areas containing 3.5 million premises".

This statistic - which is not used by private sector telecommunications companies such as Telstra and Optus - is meaningless. They count a home as having construction commenced from the moment a contract instruction is issued to the contractor.

But several further steps are required, including the Telstra commencement notice and the final contract instruction. On average, it will be 12 months before the work is completed. A fourth trick is to quote total subscriber numbers across fibre, wireless and satellite.

At the October estimates hearing, NBN Co said it had 24,000 customers. But of these, 17,000 were on satellite - and more than half of them were customers of an existing government program, dating back to Howard government days, to subsidise satellite broadband in rural and remote areas.

The rollout is chewing up taxpayers' money at an alarming rate. By June 30 this year, $2.832 billion of taxpayers' money had been put into NBN as equity; of that more than $900 million had vapourised in three years of accumulated losses. (In 2011-12 alone, NBN Co lost $520m.)

Total equity contributions - entirely taxpayer funded - are projected to reach $30.4bn by 2021. This is almost $3bn more than the Rudd-Gillard government had previously disclosed.

NBN Co is splashing around money with abandon. It pays extremely generous salaries. Average remuneration cost per head was $172,000 in 2011-12, more than 50 per cent higher than the comparable figure at Telstra.

Yet it has barely any customers and barely any revenue. It earned less than $2m from providing telecommunications services in 2011-12.

As we have seen with the home insulation program, the school halls program and many others, the Rudd-Gillard government is hopeless at program delivery and financial management.

We are seeing the same pattern with the NBN. Anyone who wants to see Australia's broadband infrastructure upgraded in an efficient, cost-effective manner should be very alarmed.


Students drop old uniforms to conform to political correctness

SCHOOLS are abandoning skirts and tunics for girls in favour of unisex shorts and skorts as part of an overhaul of the traditional student uniform.

The Parents and Citizens Association claims the move is being driven by Gen X and Y parents who want to remove gender bias from the playground.

The Department of Education claims the change is due to teachers wanting girls to be able to play freely in the playground.

However, not all parents are happy with the proposed new look with the many wanting schools to retain a uniform for girls.

A survey of schools by The Sunday Telegraph has found scores of schools preparing to adopt a unisex uniform in the next two years, with some having already made the changeover.

The majority are state public schools, with independent and Catholic schools sticking with the traditional attire.

Parents of students at Winston Hills Public School are being asked to comment on the proposed new look, which the school plans to make mandatory by 2014.

The proposed new uniform to be worn during the warmer months features a polo shirt and shorts for both sexes.

Sussex Inlet Public School on the south coast has also gone unisex with girls wearing culottes and skorts while Kanwal Public School and Wyong Public School are also offering alternate uniforms. The shift was being driven by parents who wanted to remove gender bias from the classroom P and C regional spokeswoman Sharryn Brownlee said.

"It is an incredibly divisive issue. Some parents still believe little girls should look like little girls," she said.


Queensland too broke for NDIS deal: Newman

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman believes it will be at least two more years before his state can afford to pay its share of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

New South Wales yesterday became the first state to sign up to the full rollout of the scheme from 2018, in a deal that will involve the Commonwealth and NSW each contributing about $3 billion a year.

Arriving at Parliament House ahead of today's meeting between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and other state leaders, Mr Newman said he was "totally committed" to the NDIS but just does not have enough money at the moment.

"The problem for Queensland is that we don't have the money that the other states have - we were left a total financial disaster by Labor," Mr Newman told reporters.

"In about two years time, we believe we'll have far more financial leeway and we're prepared to put more money on the table.

"I'm ready at any time to do a deal with the Commonwealth on the NDIS, but it's got to be on terms that are practical to Queensland - terms that are practical in a financial sense."

In announcing yesterday's funding deal with NSW, Ms Gillard said it would act as a benchmark for other states, and noted that Queensland's current level of disability funding per capita was the lowest in the country.

The agreement with New South Wales is in addition to plans for five launch sites across the country, which are due to start mid-next year.

Ms Gillard hopes to finalise agreements for those sites at today's Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Canberra.
Power plans


Gillard says still on track for surplus

Prime Minister Julia Gillard insists the Government is determined to deliver a budget surplus this year, despite lower than expected economic growth figures this week.

The Financial Review newspaper has reported that Labor could be prepared to ditch its promised surplus if economic growth falls below its long-term trend.

The paper says senior Government sources have pointed to the multiple statements from Government ministers that link the surplus to stronger levels of economic growth.

On Wednesday, the national accounts figures showed the economy grew by just 0.5 per cent during the September quarter, which was lower than what economists were expecting.

Ms Gillard says while there are pressures on the economy, the fundamentals remain healthy.

"Mining [is] still strong, but the prices we are getting for our mineral exports have come down a bit. Other sections of the economy are feeling pressure, particularly from the high Australian dollar," Ms Gillard told ABC local radio.

"Even with these pressures - commodity prices coming off, high Aussie dollar - our economy's fundamentals are still strong.

"Our last economic update had us at trend growth, and that's why the last economic update had us with a surplus.  "We are still determined to deliver the surplus."

The Government forecast a surplus of $1.1 billion for 2012-13 in its most recent budget update released in October, which was down from the $1.5 billion predicted in May.

Since then, it has emerged that the mining tax did not raise any revenue in its first three months of operation.

Following the release of the national accounts figures on Wednesday, Treasurer Wayne Swan conceded that falling government revenue would make it harder to deliver the surplus.

However he said the Government still remained committed to its promise.

"As I've said before, we'll always ensure our budget is appropriate for the economy and jobs and these figures don't change our consistent approach," Mr Swan said on Wednesday.

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey believes the Government is "crab walking" away from its surplus promise, saying there would need to be a "miracle recovery" for the economy to grow at 3 per cent this year.

Ms Gillard is meeting state and territory leaders in Canberra today at a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.


7 December, 2012

Sydney University 'peace centre' rebuffs Israeli teacher

Jake Lynch,  Director of the Centre, is a Pom and former BBC broadcaster. Hatred of Jews and Israel is endemic among the British intelligentsia (See the sidebar at EYE ON BRITAIN) so transplanting a bit of that to Australia was most  unfortunate

THE Sydney University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies [which should be renamed the Centre against Peace and for Conflict], which has thrown its support behind controversial Palestinian leaders, has cited its boycott of Israel for refusing to help an Israeli civics teacher who has designed programs for both Jewish and Arab children.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon is credited with developing and implementing the only state program in civics written for joint Jewish-Arab high schools.

He approached the head of the Sydney University centre, Jake Lynch, for assistance with studying civics education in Australia under a fellowship agreement between the two institutions.

But Associate Professor Lynch rebuffed the request, citing the centre's support for the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The centre helped establish the Sydney Peace Foundation, which awards the Sydney Peace Prize. Past recipients include the controversial Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi.

The centre's website says it "promotes interdisciplinary research and teaching on the causes of conflict and the conditions that affect conflict resolution and peace".

Professor Avnon contacted Associate Professor Lynch, expressing interest in spending time at the centre and meeting him.

Associate Professor Lynch emailed in reply: "Your research sounds interesting and worthwhile. However, we are supporters of the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and that includes the call for an academic boycott of Israeli universities."

The BDS movement explicitly equates the Jewish state with apartheid-era South Africa. The campaign was started in 2005 by 171 Palestinian non-governmental organisations as a form of "non-violent punitive measures" against Israel until it "complies with the precepts of international law".

The BDS campaign has included protests outside the Max Brenner chain of coffee shops, which are Israeli-owned. The boycott was led in Australia by Greens council members in Sydney's inner-west, including former Marrickville mayor Fiona Byrne, whose council voted to support the boycott in 2010. It was dropped after widespread criticism from the federal and state governments, business leaders and the Jewish community.

In 2003 the awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize to Dr Ashrawi provoked fierce debate and protests, arising from her role as a Palestinian spokesperson in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli hard-liners loathe Dr Ashrawi, branding her a propagandist and an apologist for terrorism.

Professor Avnon - who has written on moving beyond the Jewish-Palestinian divide to develop a new sense of citizenship in Israel - said of the centre's decision: "I find it ironic that you promote a policy of boycott that does not distinguish one individual from another. It is ironic because, like myself, many (probably most) intellectuals and scholars in relevant fields are doing our best to effect change in Israeli political culture. We pay prices for going against the institutional grain. And then we turn around and meet such a 'blind to the person' policy."

Professor Avnon continued: "One common tendency that must be changed if we ever want to live sane lives is to debunk categorical and stereotypical thinking when dealing with human beings." He received no response from Associate Professor Lynch.

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence rejected a call from Associate Professor Lynch in 2009 to cut links with the Hebrew University and a second Israeli institution, the Technion, in the city of Haifa. "I do not consider it appropriate for the university to boycott academic institutions in a country with which Australia has diplomatic relations," he wrote in response at the time. A spokesman for Dr Spence said his position had not changed.

The spokesman said Associate Professor Lynch was "entitled to express a public opinion where it falls under his area of expertise", but added, "on this particular matter he does not speak for the school, the faculty or for the university".

The Australian was unable to contact Associate Professor Lynch yesterday.

Professor Avnon said he had received "heart-warming, collegial and positive responses" from other staff at Sydney University. "I look forward to associating with them and learning from and through them about Australia's policies in civic education and other issues," he said.


The world's most imcompetent immigration bureaucracy can't keep out the bad guys so kicks out a good one

AN Australian who suffered knife wounds while protecting an elderly women on a London bus has been refused the right to remain in the UK.

Tim Smits, 33, from Melbourne, was stabbed and punched when he stood up to thugs on a bus in September 2011, Britain's Evening Standard newspaper reported.

His actions earned him a local council citizenship award and an honour from the Carnegie Hero Trust Fund.

However, the UK Border Agency has rejected the graphic artist's application for a compassionate extension to his visa.

Mr Smits spent months recovering from the violent attack for which two men were jailed.

"What needs to happen before it's compelling and compassionate?" Mr Smits told the Standard on Thursday of his visa extension application.

"The refusal letter was a massive hammer blow - a kick in the balls I just didn't need. ... I had dealt with so much already.

"All the appreciation I have had from the community has really kept up my spirits, but the coldness of the Border Agency and lack of compassion has made me sick.

"It's made me question if I want to live in a country that wants to kick me out, even though I love it here. It doesn't give you much faith in humanity."

Mr Smits, who has appealed the rejection of his visa application, stood up to two 19-year-old men who began abusing fellow bus passengers on a suburban London route. He was knifed by one of the teens and punched by another.


Unions on the rampage again

A SURGE in days lost to strikes in construction has lifted the level of industrial disputation in Australia to its highest level since 2004 as the Gillard government again blamed the conservative states for the rise.

The latest increase - which saw days lost to industrial action reach 301,800 in the year to September - has renewed attacks on Labor's Fair Work Act. Days lost to strikes are now more than double the level of the 2008/09 financial year - the year before the Fair Work Act took effect.

The Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, blamed state public sector disputes for the rise and also said the days lost to strikes were low by historical levels. "Working days lost under the Fair Work Act are around one third the rate of the Howard government," Mr Shorten said. "The recent examples of ongoing public sector disputes with state conservative governments show you can't trust the Liberals with IR."

But while state wage disputes were a factor, the Grocon confrontation in central Melbourne in August and September appears to have been even more significant with a five-fold rise in days lost in construction for the September quarter.

Master Builders Association of Victoria executive director, Brian Welch, said there was a "massive problem" in the industry and said the "white flag" was raised to unions when the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission were watered down.

The Grocon dispute shut down part of central Melbourne after the dispute flared over the appointment of shop stewards at Grocon and the right to display union paraphernalia on sites.

The opposition workplace relations spokesman, Eric Abetz, said the eight year highs in days lost to strikes showed there were "clear militancy problems that need to be addressed" but said Labor and Mr Shorten would "never turn against their trade union mates".

The Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary, Dave Oliver, said industrial action came in "peaks and troughs" affected by factors including the number of agreements up for renewal. Mr Oliver said one or two disputes can affect the figures.

"In this recent period, the disputes in the Victorian state school system and Queensland public service that are largely responsible, he said. "In each case the blame rests with a government that refuses to negotiate fairly and honour its promises."

The other sectors to record high numbers of days lost from strikes in the September quarter was education, healthcare and social assistance.


University research towards  top end of world standard

These assessments all have a considerable element of subjectivity but it is interesting that Australia seems to show up well regardless of the methodology

When it comes to world-class research, more than half of Australian universities' overall performance is at or above world standards.

MORE than half Australian universities' overall research performance is at or above world standards, analysis by the federal government shows.

The Science and Research Minister, Chris Evans, said the number of disciplines in which Australian universities perform above the world standard had doubled.

At the same time the number of disciplines with research rated at or above the world standard has increased by 18 per cent, from 385 to 455, since the last analysis. Research outputs were up by 24 per cent.

He said the report "shows Australia is on track to have 10 universities in the world's top 100 by 2025" - the target set in the government's Australia in the Asian century white paper.

But in the fields of education and human society, economics, commerce and maths, and information and computing sciences, average research performance falls below international benchmarks.

The Australian National University scored the highest ratings overall. On a five-point scale, where one is well below the world standard, three is equal to the world standard and five is well above the world standard, the ANU scored an average of 4.3 for 62 disciplines. The universities of Sydney, Queensland and Melbourne ranked an equal second, with average scores of 4.1, followed by Monash University, the University of NSW and the University Western Australia, each with 3.9.

In NSW, the universities of Newcastle and Wollongong scored better on average than Macquarie University and the University of Technology, Sydney.

Although there were one-third more research discipline strengths in Victoria than NSW, the rankings give NSW four spots in the national top 10, but Victoria only two.

The Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) evaluation of research performance looked at the work of more than 60,000 university staff, $8.7 billion in external research funding and 413,000 publications and other research outputs between 2005 and 2010. Research active disciplines at each university were rated by expert panels.

The biological sciences, health and medical sciences, and language, communications and culture were the three strongest performing areas overall. Education, economics, and commerce management tourism and services - most of which have experienced big enrolment increases under the federal government's policies to widen access to universities - were comparatively low performers.

"There are some core fundamental disciplines where Australia is not shining as brightly as we might wish it to be," the deputy vice-chancellor of research at the University of NSW, Professor Les Field, said, nominating maths, chemistry, education and economics. The assessment "is probably pointing to the need for further investment and resources to be directed to these areas", he said.

The assessment is useful in providing a more solid base for strategic planning in research investment, said Emeritus Professor Frank Larkins of the University of Melbourne. He said the national averages masked pockets of true excellence, but the basis of the "world standard" benchmarks was not sufficiently clear.

Australia is "not a large enough country economically to invest in all disciplines at a high level in all 41 universities, therefore we do have to concentrate our resources to maximise performance against national needs and international benchmarks", he said.

A consultant and independent analyst of Australia's research system, Thomas Barlow, said the ERA confirmed other evidence "Australian research in the social sciences is weak relative to the top performing institutions internationally".

The federal government's target to have 10 per cent of the world's top 100 universities within 13 years was an "extraordinarily disproportionate" target for a small economy such as Australia's.

The chief executive of Universities Australia, Belinda Robinson, said: "With such significant amounts of funding stripped from research programs this year, a key question will be how long this strong research performance can be maintained." .


6 December, 2012

Tasmanian magistrate is a criminal's best friend

Why can't they fire these galoots?

THE Supreme Court has upheld a sixth appeal in 12 months against the rulings of a Launceston magistrate, describing his decision to let a repeat driving offender walk free as "manifestly inadequate".

According to the published decisions of the Supreme Court, Magistrate Reg Marron has this year been the subject of more successful police appeals than all of the state's other magistrates combined.

In contrast to the six appeals upheld against Mr Marron, the 13 other magistrates have been the subject of just four successful Supreme Court appeals between them.

The published rulings against the magistrate feature criticisms of overly lenient sentences, of critical prosecution evidence being overlooked and failures to provide adequate reasons for decisions.

In the Supreme Court's latest decision, Chief Justice Ewan Crawford overturned Magistrate Marron's decision to sentence Stacey Amanda Bessell to a suspended jail term and 63 hours' community service for two counts of driving while disqualified and failing to hand in her licence after being disqualified.

Bessell, 32, has a criminal record of 242 offences including driving matters, offences of violence and dishonesty and her latest crimes breached the conditions of a three-month suspended jail sentence.

Justice Crawford described the sentence imposed by Magistrate Marron as manifestly inadequate and his reasons for not activating the suspended sentence as vague.

Justice Crawford sentenced Bessell to four months' jail and ordered the three-month suspended sentence be served at the same time.

In October, the Supreme Court overturned a sentence Magistrate Marron imposed on hoon driver Sean Gregory Richardson, 21, of Newnham.

Earlier that month, the court rejected Mr Marron's decision to dismiss an assault conviction against Legana man John Abraham Mokomoko despite the evidence of two witnesses.

The Supreme Court overturned Mr Marron's sentence in another driving case in March, when he fined a man $200 and disqualified him from driving for two months for his fourth, fifth and sixth charges of driving without a licence.

Attorney-General Brian Wightman would not comment on the case.


Gabriel Garcia Marquez's book Love In The Time of Cholera not fit for school reading list, teacher says

A NOVEL put on the reading list for high school students has been branded "pornographic" amid calls for it to be banned from the classroom.

The famous book, Love in the Time of Cholera, depicts the story of a 78-year-old man who has an incestuous sexual relationship with a 14-year-old who later commits suicide.

But despite the content the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has placed it on next year's text list for VCE literature students.

Trinity Grammar School senior literature teacher Christopher Bantick today hit out at the decision, branding the book inappropriate for teenagers.

"It beggars belief that people would actually select the text for the course," Mr Bantick told radio 3AW's Neil Mitchell program.  "It beggars belief that someone thinks that this is an appropriate text.

"And it raises serious questions over who on earth selected it and their competence let alone their own maturity.

"I would be prepared to say this is a pornographic text.  "I don't think that's in any shape or form appropriate for 16-year-old girls or boys."

Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez's lack of accountability for the girl's suicide in his work was a particular concern and gave a "distorted view" of how society regarded young people.

"There is no way I would teach this text," Mr Bantick told 3AW.   "Absolutely no way.  "If this book was on the list I had to teach I would simply decline it."

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has been contacted for comment.

Marquez, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, released the bestselling novel in 1985 to many rave reviews.


NSW hospitals still failing to meet emergency deadlines

THE state's hospitals have failed to meet their targets for emergency departments for the third quarter in a row, meaning NSW will lose out on millions of dollars in federal funding.

In the July to September quarter, only 59 per cent of patients were treated, transferred or discharged from emergency departments within four hours, data released by the Bureau of Health Information shows.

Under a national health reform agreement implemented in January, NSW was set a benchmark of treating or referring 69 per cent of patients from emergency departments within four hours to qualify for $15.9 million in federal funding.

The office of the state Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, confirmed that even if everybody admitted for the rest of the year completed their stay within the recommended time frame, the target could still not be met.

The loss of reward funding comes after the state government announced in September that local health districts would be forced to cut $775 million from the health budget over four years.

The bureau data showed doctors treated an extra 21,000 emergency patients in the last quarter, with the greatest increase seen in patients with imminently life threatening conditions. But the number of patients requiring less urgent medical attention was 63,602, a drop of 14 per cent from the same time last year.

The vice-president of the Australian Medical Association in NSW, Saxon Smith, said it showed people were seeking out the appropriate type of care when they were sick or injured.

"This signals to me that the public are playing their part in improving waiting times by accessing the appropriate service, such as their GPs, when situations are not life-threatening" Dr Smith said. "But people are waiting too long in emergency departments and we are struggling to meet demand."

The bureau also reported on the number on the elective surgery waiting list, with Mrs Skinner praising hospitals for meeting recommended times across all surgeries for the first time.

But the NSW president for the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Sally McCarthy, said it was no good pointing out positives in elective surgery times when the state was failing to meet emergency targets.

"We are focusing on one area at the expense of the other," Dr McCarthy said.


Compulsory superannuation is a rort

It puts your savings into the hands of government-controlled bunglers and risks confiscation via inflation

Speaking at this week’s annual Association of Superannuation Funds conference, Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson noted that ‘the fiscal sustainability of all policies, including superannuation, will demand greater public scrutiny.’ In the lead-up to this year’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, there was also speculation that superannuation tax concessions would be curtailed.

This points to a major tension in the approach of Australian governments to retirement incomes policy. On the one hand, government wants to promote superannuation as a tax-advantaged saving vehicle to reduce future demands on the budget from an ageing population. On the other hand, governments are increasingly reluctant to forgo revenue today through superannuation tax concessions. How the government resolves this tension will be an important determinant of whether compulsory superannuation achieves its objectives.

Much of the tinkering with the taxation of superannuation – for example, the 1988 changes – has been motivated by a desire to bring forward revenue to meet recurrent expenditure and improve the budget balance at lower political cost relative to raising other taxes. It illustrates the vulnerability of what is a captive tax base to even greater depredations on the part of future governments. As the pool of superannuation assets grows, the temptation for politicians to increase taxes on earnings will also increase.

Superannuation could also become a vehicle for financial repression by spendthrift governments – for example, by forcing super funds to hold government bonds. Until 1981, Australian superannuation funds were forced to hold at least 30% of their assets as government bonds, so there is ample historical precedent for such directed lending to government. The taxation of super to meet demands for recurrent expenditure has been working at cross-purposes with the objectives of retirement incomes policy. Rather than reducing future demands on the federal budget, compulsory super may end up feeding current demands for government expenditure in the absence of reforms to make the taxation of super more transparent.


5 December, 2012

"Racist" taxi driver refused singer

I was a taxi driver for a couple of years and never refused a fare, even though I operated out of Kings Cross in Sydney. 

I don't know if I would be the same if I were a Melbourne taxi driver these days however.  There are a lot of Indian taxi drivers these days and brutal attacks on Indians by African "refugees" have become  notorious in Melbourne.  Africans in Melbourne seem to have a particular loathing for Indians.  The guy below looks very black so the driver probably had not unreasonable fears for his own safety. 

The solution to the problem below is severe penalties for crimes of violence without either mitigation or a coverup on the grounds  of race.  It won't happen in my lifetime

A taxi driver locked his doors and refused a fare for indigenous musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu after a concert on Tuesday night, his manager claims.

Gurrumul's manager Mark Grose described the incident outside St Kilda's Palais Theatre to 774 ABC Melbourne on Wednesday morning.   "Gurrumul is on a tour with Missy Higgins and he did a concert at the Palais last night," Grose said.

He said that after the show he went outside and hailed a taxi for Gurrumul, who has been blind since birth.  "I got the taxi to pull up at the side of the stage and went inside to grab ... Gurrumul.

"[We] waited for ... Gurrumul to come outside with his girlfriend Bronwyn. He [the taxi driver] looked at Gurrumul, said 'No', locked the cab and drove off.  "He refused the fare."

When asked why he thought the driver had refused to take the fare, Honan said: "He just looked at the colour of his skin and said 'That's it'."

Grose said he wasn't sure which taxi company the driver worked for.

He said it wasn't the first time Gurrumul had encountered racism.   "Like most Aboriginal people we work with, he has experienced [racism] before.  "You are just absolutely heartbroken for them.   "It's happened a couple of times in Sydney and it's happened in Darwin.

Victorian taxi inquiry chair Professor Allan Fels said he was not surprised at the Victorian Taxi Directorate's claim that nothing could be done to locate this driver.  "The bigger message from this is that the system works very poorly," he told Radio 3AW.


Another aggrieved Greek loses in the High Court

This reminds me of the Tsoukaris case in Sydney.  Such zeal to defend an allegation of crookedness does make one wonder, particularly as the recent crisis in Greece has revealed crookedness across the board in that country.  I have never met either Mr Tsoukaris or Mr Papaconstuntinos so can say nothing about them but I have seen a lot of Greeks in Australia and they do mostly seem to me to have similar moral standards to what we read about in Greece itself.  I have of course also met most honourable Greeks in Australia (the admirable and inimitable Taki Kokkinidis comes to mind) and it is possible that Mr Tsoukaris and Mr Papaconstuntinos fall into that category

A FORMER board member of the South Sydney Leagues Club has lost a High Court appeal over a failed defamation case he brought against businessman Peter Holmes a Court.

Tony Papaconstuntinos had asked the court to overturn a decision by the NSW Court of Appeal which ruled Mr Holmes a Court was entitled to the common law defence of qualified privilege.

Initially, Mr Papaconstuntinos had been successful in the NSW Supreme Court when he claimed Mr Holmes a Court had defamed him in a letter to his employer, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).  The court awarded him $25,000.

The defamation arose during a takeover bid of the famous Souths rugby league club by Mr Holmes a Court and actor Russell Crowe in 2005.  Mr Papaconstuntinos, then a director of the club, opposed the bid.

Two days before club members were due to vote on the bid in March 2006, Mr Holmes a Court faxed a letter to the state secretary of the CFMEU.

Mr Papaconstuntinos claimed the letter conveyed defamatory imputations including that he corruptly channelled club funds to the union and himself.

In his appeal to the High Court, Mr Papaconstuntinos argued Mr Holmes a Court could only use the defence of qualified privilege if he could show that there had been a "pressing need" for him to make the statements.

The High Court, by majority, rejected that contention, saying the defence of qualified privilege required the maker of a defamatory statement to demonstrate reciprocity of duty and interest.

There was no extra requirement of "pressing need" that arose in circumstances where a defamatory statement was made voluntarily and to protect personal interests.


UPDATE:  Greece has just been rated as the most corrupt country in Western Europe

Another Telstra horror

I have had difficulties with both Telstra and Optus, though Optus has undoubtedly been the worse.  I became an Optus customer in the year 2000 and have only very recently given up totally on them,  which could make me qualified as a hero of patience, I think.

What the guy below obviously didn't know is that talking to phone hotlines for either Optus or Telstra puts you in contact with some juvenile who knows nothing and cares less  -- that's if you can get to talk to a person at all. 

For real difficulties you have to write to the CEO of the company.  He doesn't care either but he does employ people to act as if they do.  I have had some success with that approach.

But that process is slow and the guy below obviously was moved by the amount involved to regard the matter as urgent.  I feel sorry for him.  It is obnoxious that he had to go to the media to get help but is very much what I would have expected.  Basically they just ignore you in the hope that you will go away.

The episode below also shows why I never now give anyone permission to debit my credit card. I always use prepaid services.  I am guessing that the guy below will be doing that henceforth as well

A man who lost his mobile phone, and told Telstra to cancel his account, still had $28,000 deducted from his credit card for calls he didn't make, after the telco delayed blocking his phone.

After months of trying to get a refund, Rayden Crawley finally got his money back from Telstra on Wednesday. But only after he recounted his experience to radio station 3AW earlier that day.

Mr Crawley was in Barcelona, Spain, in late September when he lost his mobile phone. He reported the loss to Spanish police and phoned and emailed Telstra later that day to request the lost phone be blocked.

But when he returned to Melbourne on October 15, bad news was waiting.

"I rang Telstra because I hadn't received the bill, and I nearly fell over when they told me it was a $28,000 bill," he said. The money was automatically debited from his American Express card, $27,385.16 of which was for calls made after he lost his phone.

"It wasn't chopped off for some reason until 36 hours later, despite it being confirmed by the Telstra centre in Melbourne East that they would have it barred," Mr Crawley told 3AW.

For the past two months, Mr Crawley engaged in "telephone tag" with Telstra trying to get a refund.

The Telstra complaints officer he was dealing with said "she was still looking into it" on the occasions he called. After a while, his calls just went to voicemail.

"I tried 20 times to get back to her to find out what was going on and there was no reply, just a recorded message," he said. "There was no correspondence back from Telstra whatsoever."

After going on talkback radio on Wednesday morning, however, the refund came through.

Telstra spokesman Jonathan Rose told Fairfax Media that all of the bill would be refunded.

"We have contacted Mr Crawley to apologise and advise that we will waive all charges on the account," Mr Rose said.

"We are most concerned about his experience and will review the case, including to determine why the payment was debited while the matter was still under investigation and a credit was in the process of being approved."


Queensland households with solar panels likely to be hit with tariff to pay for 'poles and wires'

THOUSANDS of households with rooftop solar systems are set to be stung with significant fixed-tariff fees.

A report ordered by the Newman Government has recommended a special tariff for all solar households to force them to pay their share for the "poles and wires" network.

The tariff fees would be a bitter blow for households that shelled out thousands of dollar to fit solar systems to reduce their electricity bill.  However, households without solar are being forced to wear the cost of subsidising those with such systems, as well as pay for the over-priced power they produce.

Solar households still need the electricity network to be capable of meeting their demands when their panels don't produce power.

However, they mostly avoid contributing to network costs, which account for about 50 per cent of electricity prices, because they regularly don't access the common household tariff.

Recent modelling showed the 44-cent solar feed-in tariff, currently paid by distributors for the power produced by more than 200,000 households, would add an extra $240 to average power bills.

Power bills would also rise by a further $40 to recover network costs avoided by solar households.

In a draft report, the Queensland Competition Authority recommended fixed fees be applied to solar households.

"Network tariff reform is a further option to be considered as a means of more equitably sharing the costs of the scheme," the QCA said.  "Specifically, there may be scope for distribution businesses to establish new, cost-reflective network tariffs for PV customers which ensure that these customers are charged their full fixed-network costs, which are largely avoided under the present network tariff arrangements."

The QCA also recommended retailers, rather than state-owned distributors, pay for the power produced by solar households.

The report said the current system was so profitable for retailers that they were offering solar households up to 10 cents extra per kilowatt hour for the power they produce.

While the Government has committed to keep the 44-cent tariff for existing solar owners, the QCA said 6.8 cents per kWh was more realistic but prices should be unregulated in the southeast.

Queensland Greens Senate candidate Adam Stone said the QCA's reforms would take away the incentive for households to invest in solar.

"The recommended tariffs are solely based on the financial value of household solar to electricity retailers and do not even factor in the cooling effect household solar has on wholesale electricity prices," he said.


4 December, 2012

African gang violence in Qld too

African kills Islander in brawl

LOGAN ethnic community leaders are calling for calm after the tragic death of a 17-year-old during a brawl at a party on Saturday night.

Jordan Matehaere Tukaki, of Marsden, died after being hit by a car outside the party in Woodridge, south of Brisbane.

Police, African and Pacific Islander community leaders yesterday denied allegations the teen's death was the result of tensions between Logan City imitations of South Central Los Angeles gangs the Bloods and the Crips.

Outside court yesterday Kaya Taylor, 17, said her friend Mr Tukaki was not an official member of the Logan version of the Bloods, but supported them.

She said he was an aspiring rapper and was planning his 18th birthday party later this month.

"He just looked after everyone, he was as humble as can be," she said.

Ms Taylor said she was aware of revenge attacks being discussed on social media, but said it would not be what Mr Tukaki would have wanted.

"From what I've heard the Islanders want revenge on the Africans ... it's not worth it, it could be another brother's life on the line," Ms Taylor said.

She said racial tensions between all nationalities in Logan had been simmering prior to Saturday's incident.

"After this weekend's incident I think it's going to be a problem. People are angry, people are upset," Ms Taylor said.

At Logan police station yesterday, police met Logan's ethnic group leaders and Mr Tukaki's grandmother.  "Keep calm for my grandson Jordan, that's what he would want. He was a good boy and he would want everyone to stay calm," she said.

President of the Voice of the Samoan People in Logan John Pale said groups of Pacific Islanders or Africans could be misconceived as gangs.  "There is no gangs. A group of Pacific Islanders coming together it is not a gang and Africans are like that as well," Mr Pale said.

Queensland African Communities Council chairman in Logan Robert Mukombozi said community leaders were working to get the message of peace to young people on the streets.

A man, 21, is due to appear in the Beenleigh Magistrates Court on January 21. He was remanded in custody yesterday on one count each of murder, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and callous disregard.


Africans in NSW soccer match brawl

FIVE people remained in hospital yesterday, one under police guard, after a mass brawl at a soccer match, during which knives, posts and a chisel were used as weapons.

Police said a young Sudanese woman was at the centre of the street fight in Willmot near Mt Druitt, western Sydney on Sunday afternoon.

Up to 30 people were involved in the incident, which left behind a crime scene spanning almost 2km along Palmyra Ave.

Police said it appeared the fight was sparked after a young woman attended a party the night before, which her male friends were excluded from.

"There was a ticketed party on the Saturday night which the girl was able to get into, but a group of men could not," Chief Inspector Bill Pearce said.

It is understood the woman met someone at that party, which upset her male friends or relatives, who tracked down people from the event.

"We are still interviewing people to piece it all together," he said.

Weapons including a football corner post, a chisel, a spanner and knife were seized by police.

Abraham Ajok, chairman of the South Sudan Football Association of NSW, said the brawl had nothing to do with the club, but they were assisting police where possible.

"None of them were the players, the game was on while they were fighting," he said.


Green/Left desalination plant to cost Victorians heavily

Desalination plants are the Greenie alternative to building dams, for which Australia still has plenty of sites.  But Greenies loathe dams with a passion.

MELBOURNE water chiefs have admitted they expect Victorians to struggle to meet the added cost to skyrocketing water bills caused by the Wonthaggi desalination plant.

Releasing details of water price reviews that will see the average household bill rise steeply, water retailers said they expected hardship claims to soar.

The heads of Melbourne Water, City West Water, Yarra Valley Water and South East Water all blamed the desal plant for major price rises forecast for customers from July 1 next year.

They said their hands were tied because of the contract requiring them to pay $650 million to the project's consortium, AquaSure.

But not one would say whether they thought the $3.5 billion plant was too big for Melbourne's water needs, as the French boss of the project revealed in yesterday's Herald Sun.

City West Water yesterday estimated an average annual water and sewerage bill for its residential customers would increase from $793 this financial year to $1060 in 2013-14.

The same bill would rise from $829 to $1118 for South East Water customers, from $910 to $1220 for Yarra Valley Water clients and from $956 to $1014 for Western Water users.

Melbourne Water managing director Shaun Cox said its prices were likely to rise by 60.4 per cent next year, with customers bearing the brunt of desalination plant costs.

Yarra Valley Water managing director Tony Kelly said hardship claims from Victorians unable to pay their bill had already increased from about 1700 five or six years ago to 3000.

"It is very difficult to predict how that number will increase, but we are expecting it to rise because of the significant price rise and we have spoken to a number of community groups about the best way to handle that," he said.


Infamous Heiner coverup now at forefront of new inquiry into child protection in Queensland

A Labor party coverup

There were serious staffing problems inside the John Oxley Youth Detention Centre in the late 1980s before the establishment of the Heiner Inquiry - a now infamous probe which sparked one of Queensland's most enduring conspiracy theories.

The $9 million Carmody Inquiry into child protection this morning began hearing evidence related to allegations of accusations of mismanagement at John Oxley.

Commissioner Tim Carmody had devoted the next two weeks to examining the Heiner Affair, which is covered in his terms of reference.

They include a review of the adequacy of responses (and action taken) by government "to allegations including any allegation of criminal misconduct associated with government responses into historic child sexual abuse in youth detention centres."

The Heiner Affair began in the dying days of the National Party government headed by Russell Cooper, who appointed Magistrate Noel Heiner to examine allegations of mismanagement at John Oxley.

With the Cooper Government defeated in the December 1989 election and Labor elected under premier Wayne Goss, Crown Law advised that documents containing evidence taken by Mr Heiner should be destroyed, because the inquiry was not properly constituted.

Since then, revelations relating to John Oxley include the rape of a young girl and children being handcuffed to fences.

In 2010 the then 14-year-old rape victim, now aged around 40, received $120,000 in compensation.

Counsel Assisting Michael Copely told the inquiry this morning there were a range of complaints by staff at the centre in the late 1980s, including allegations of poor management and bullying by manager Peter Coyne.


Patients speak out over deaths at government dialysis centre

Thirteen people being treated at a Sydney dialysis centre have died in the past year, leaving other patients fearing for their lives because of a lack of doctors on site.

A leading nephrologist from Prince of Wales Hospital, Bruce Pussell, said the number of deaths at the Penrith centre would be considered "unusually high" at the satellite centres linked to his hospital.

"Seriously ill dialysis patients are treated in hospitals where there is a ratio of one nurse to every three patients and not at satellite centres," Professor Pussell said.

"While I am not aware of the situation at the Penrith centre, I would say that in any hospital if you have a cluster of unusually high deaths among patients it would require investigation."

Patients at the Penrith Satellite Dialysis Centre have signed a letter obtained by Fairfax Media claiming at least three patients have died in the past three months in circumstances they claim could have been avoided.

The 15 patients who signed the letter said there are no doctors at the centre and an inadequate number of nurses. They also said many of the patients who died were so chronically ill that they should have been treated in hospital rather than at the centre.

Patients whose conditions deteriorated had to wait up to 20 minutes for an ambulance to transfer them to Nepean Hospital, the letter said.

There had also been six "close calls", the patients said.

The local health district has confirmed 13 of the centre's patients died in the past year, but said the deaths were related to complications from their illnesses rather than inadequate care.

A patient who signed the letter, Melody Sherriff, said while nurses were able to call a doctor for advice, it was not the same as having a doctor on the ward.

About four months ago Ms Sherriff was receiving dialysis at the centre when she suffered pain in her abdomen and lost about 300 millilitres of blood when she went to the toilet.

Nursing staff called the doctor, who did not come into the centre but said Ms Sherriff could either go home or to hospital.

"Thankfully, I chose the hospital," she said.  "The doctors at Nepean ordered a scan and found I was bleeding to death from an artery in my large intestine, requiring an emergency operation.

"Situations like this are why we need a doctor present in the ward. We shouldn't have all these people on the ward who can go at any minute because they're at risk of co-morbidities like stroke if qualified staff aren't there to treat them."

Satellite dialysis centres were set up to treat stable and ambulatory patients, she said, but many of the patients attending the Penrith centre were seriously ill and should be receiving dialysis in hospital. Most major hospitals have at least one satellite dialysis centre to which they are linked.

The Western Renal Service nurse manager for the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District, Christopher Gibb, agreed that patients receiving dialysis at satellite units should be medically stable.

He said the concerns raised in the letter were been taken seriously and the district was investigating.

"There have been no deaths related to the dialysis procedure, however 13 patients suffering from pre-existing illnesses have passed away as a result of their chronic illness over the past 12 months," he said.

The ration of one nurse to every five or six patients at the centre was consistent with the national average, he said.


3 December, 2012

Party time for illegals given open door by Australia's Leftist government

ASYLUM seekers in Indonesia have swung into party mode and labelled Julia Gillard a "hero" after learning they will receive welfare payments and rent assistance should they make it to Australia by boat.

The wannabe citizens are ecstatic the government has conceded detention centres are beyond maximum capacity and that asylum seekers would need to be released into the community while their applications for refugee status were processed.

They would be given financial and housing support - as well as free basic health care - a massive boost from their current financial status in Indonesia where many are struggling to afford food.

However the asylum seekers, based in Puncak, 80km from Jakarta, said they feared Liberal leader Tony Abbott would be successful in his bid to become prime minister.

"Mr Abbott is not good for refugees and asylum seekers, he does not like us, he is not really a nice man," said Zia Haidari, a 25-year-old Afghanistan man who has attempted - unsuccessfully - to travel to Australia by boat seven times.  "Ms Gillard seems to understand how we feel and is trying her best.

"Abdulah Sulamani, 41, heaped praise on Ms Gillard: "She is a hero, you are lucky to have this woman for your country."

Solo mother Fatemeh Khavari, 30, told News Ltd she did not have enough money saved to travel by boat to Australia and had spent time living homeless and hungry in Indonesia with her six-month-old son.

Labor's announcement was music to her ears.  "If I can get this free money and house when I come to Australia this will make life very easy for me," Ms Khavari said.  "It is very hard right now for us, I cannot afford to buy milk formula, we are very hungry. Me and my child need the generosity of the Australian people.  "If that doesn't happen my baby may die."

Ms Khavari - whose reasons fleeing Iran were "private" - said the other factor to draw her towards Australia was free medical care.

"I cannot afford to have vaccinations for my baby so I can get this in Australia.

"The praise directed at the prime minister may be unwelcome by its recipient, with voters unlikely to be impressed with the notion asylum seekers think they are coming to a country with soft laws.

A new monthly record was set in November with 2443 people arriving on boats and Ms Gillard was asked yesterday if she would bring back temporary protection visas and tow boats back to Indonesia.

The government last month announced thousands of asylum seekers threatened with processing in Nauru and Manus Island would be released in the community in Australia on bridging visas with almost $440 a fortnight plus help to pay rent.

It is understood the government is aware large numbers of asylum seekers are rushing to get on boats in Indonesia before the monsoon season and are undeterred by the government's pledge to keep them waiting in the community for protection visas for up to five years under a "no advantage" test.

Ms Gillard said TPVs and tow backs were not policy options hours before the government announced 75 people on two boats had been rescued by the Navy off Christmas Island.

"This is a complicated issue for our nation, for nations around the world," Ms Gillard told Channel 10.

"Anybody who says that there is a simple fix to you is not telling you the truth. It takes a range of policies, and we are putting that range of policies in place."

The desperation in the voices of asylum seekers in Puncak is echoed right throughout the village, where many asylum seekers come prior to embarking on the sea journey to Australia.

They eat their basic evening meals with rusty utensils scattered around. Their tiny bedrooms contain no blankets and sleep up to eight people. The days are dull with no ability to work as work visas from Indonesian officials are non-existent for the travellers.

It is this harsh reality of life in villages like Punchak combined with the arrival of news about Labor's policy backflip that is bringing about party fever and the desire to come to Australia as soon as possible.

Seventeen-year-old Adres, who does not have a surname listed on his passport, said when he arrived on Indonesian soil three weeks ago he planned to apply for refugee status through UNHCR.

But upon learning of the over-filled detention centres in Australia he was determined to travel by sea.

"This is good news for us, if we stay here and apply for status we might not be allowed into Australia, but if we come on boat we get the money and house," Adres said.

"This is a great thing and I am very thanking to the government in your country."

The Afghanistan teenager, whose father was killed in Pakistan, made the journey to Indonesia by plane. He saved for the journey and would use his money to engage people smugglers.  "It is a dangerous risk but worth it to get a new country with opportunities.  "This is party time."


Vicious Qld. child protection dept. blames the victims for their bungles

Question for the minister: Why is your department partly blaming the child victims of sex crimes, and their parents, for the incidents?

THIS is the question that Child Safety Minister Tracy Davis refuses to directly answer.

Instead, Ms Davis's office issued a statement in which she claimed the Newman Government wanted "to make Queensland's child safety system the best it possibly can be".

But child-protection advocates have taken on Ms Davis and the State Government after The Courier-Mail revealed Child Safety's practice of using legal action to pressure traumatised families badly let down by the department.

CASE 1: Mum blamed for foster child raping her eight-year-old son

In the first case, Crown Law sought a contribution claim from a mother, arguing she was to blame after her eight-year-old was allegedly raped by a foster child in her care. The department has said the mother should have better supervised the children even though the family had not been fully told about the foster child's history of sexual behaviour.

In the second case, three sisters who were repeatedly sexually abused by a foster child, also with a past not fully disclosed, have been told by the Child Safety department they also share the blame for failing to lock their bedroom doors.

CASE 2: Three sisters blamed for sexual abuse for not locking their bedroom doors

Taxpayers are funding the action against the families in a bid to make the parents partly responsible for any compensation payout to the children.

"These people are traumatised," Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston said. "They (the department) wear them down. They wear out all (the families') financial resources until there is nothing left and then they throw them a pittance.

"These children had clear histories in sexualised behaviours. You don't place children with sexualised behaviours against other children, with children. (They) need to be placed in very specific care situations."

Child-protection body PeakCare Qld's executive director Lindsay Wegener urged the department to change its legal tactics.

"Under no circumstances should children ever be blamed or seen as contributing to a sexual assault that's been perpetrated against them," Mr Wegener said. "If it is that the department itself is hamstrung by legal process then those legal processes need to change.

"We cannot have legal processes that do not put the safety and wellbeing of children first."

Council of Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said the move to force families to contribute to any compensation could deter people from bringing claims.

"It's a harsh decision," Mr Cope said. "The Government isn't a commercial entity and all it is going to do is deprive the children of funds unless the parents themselves have an insurance policy."

Yesterday, Ms Davis's office replied to The Courier-Mail's question: "While the law prevents the Government from discussing individual child-safety cases, the Newman Government is determined to make Queensland's child-safety system the best it possibly can be and that's why we've established the Commission of Inquiry. We look forward to receiving the Inquiry's recommendations in April for revitalising the child-protection system."


Another "Green" business collapses

A FIRM that touted itself as one of Australia's most established solar supply and installation companies has gone under owing more than $3 million.

Solagex Australia Pty Ltd ceased trading in early September and went into liquidation on October 29.

Customers and businesses from Queensland, Victoria, NSW and South Australia - including many who paid deposits between $500 and $5000 - never received systems.

Solagex was a national company, with its Queensland headquarters in Southport.

A creditor list compiled by liquidator David Ross, of Hall Chadwick, outlined 179 parties owed a total of $3.129 million.

Leading wholesale distributor Conergy Pty Ltd is out of pocket $2.5m, while other creditors include the Australian Taxation Office, AAPT, Workcover Queensland and the Office of State Revenue.

Mr Ross told The Courier-Mail that another company, Freetricity, had bought the business and was working with deposit holders to try to complete installations.

Noosa builder Peter Collins is among those waiting to see if they will recoup deposits

handed to Solagex before it hit hard times in a market that went into overdrive in the dying days of the State Government's 44 cents solar feed-in tariff, which ended on July 9.

Mr Collins said he paid $1210 last March but approached the firm a few months later to get his deposit back after having second thoughts.

"I had a big holiday planned so I asked for my money back. They stalled me and said that's no worries, we will delay your job until after you come home," he said.  "Now they've gone belly up and I'm not real hopeful of recouping my money.

"I've had two in my life - where companies have gone broke owing me money - and never seen a cent."

"Pro-solar" Chinchilla mum Joanna Embry said she decided to sign with Solagex in June before the government incentives were reduced.

She paid a 10 per cent deposit of $1531.20 and was annoyed to learn the firm had gone into liquidation.

"It could have been worse as they wanted a much bigger deposit than I agreed to.  "I paid by credit card and have checked with the bank to see if there is anything they can do. They have asked for more information and we'll just have to see what happens."


Newman Government will hear plan to give serial indigenous offenders work and education 'sentences' instead of jail time

This is a laugh.  Aborigines can repeat word for word what do-gooders tell them but it doesn't alter their behaviour

VIOLENT and serial indigenous offenders would no longer be jailed but given a work and education "sentence" under a plan to be taken to the Newman Government.

Indigenous leader Warren Mundine will meet with Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie next month to talk about his controversial proposal, which has been bankrolled by some of Australia's richest people.

Mr Mundine, speaking exclusively to The Courier-Mail, warned that the growing indigenous jail population was a "ticking time bomb" and "we are setting up a future in 10-15 years where there will be a large criminal (indigenous) element operating".

The boss of Queensland's jails, Marlene Morison said the number of non-indigenous prisoners had fallen from 4130 in 2006 to 3988 in 2011, but the number of indigenous prisoners has crept from 1519 to 1666 in the same period.

"It's our only growth area, while all our other numbers are coming off."

Mr Mundine is the chief executive officer of GenerationOne, which is funded by mining magnate Andrew Forrest, casino-king James Packer, media mogul Kerry Stokes, supermarket entrepreneur Frank Lowy and trucking legend Lindsay Fox. It aims to swap detention for jobs and education.

Under Mr Mundine's blueprint, a magistrate would have the option of sending an indigenous offender to work, linked with educational outcomes, and if they failed to turn-up, then they would be sent to jail.

"Criminal records have been identified as a barrier to employment. GenerationOne is now looking at juvenile justice, and how employment and education should be a viable alternative to youth incarceration," Mr Mundine said.

"I'm not a touchy, feely, bang the bongo drums and sing songs around the camp fire person . . . (and) that's why I don't have a problem with boot camps, it's about discipline.

"We're living in the 21st century and people have got to work. Jobs - some of them couldn't spell it let alone anything else."

Mr Mundine said he hadn't seen any evidence that showed locking up kids resolved youth offending.


2 December, 2012

War on Christmas comes to NT

A TERRITORY primary school has been accused of stopping its children from making Christmas cards this year in a bid to respect non-Christian students.

The order has outraged parents. One mother said: "It makes me feel sad, very sad."

The revelation came a day after the  NT News reported Stuart Park Primary School had banned students from giving each other lollies for the festivities.

Several parents told the newspaper some Year 1 and 2 classes at Howard Springs Primary School were not allowed to make Christmas cards because they had students from non-Christian backgrounds.

And the Education Department failed to confirm whether certain classes had banned some Christmas activities...


Greedy politicians trying to close down essential hospital

Why?  Because the land it sits on is probably the most valuable bit of real estate in Australia.  But what about the health needs of the people around it?  Below is the case for the people

Sydney got the quinella during Tuesday morning peak hour: multiple bus breakdowns causing gridlocked roads and a crane collapsing and bursting into flames at the University of Technology.

Which leads me to pose the question: how prepared is this city for a disaster? Terrorism is not the only threat to our nation's safety. Buildings collapse, fires break out, earthquakes, tsunamis and viral pandemics can all strike in a matter of moments. Our elite members of the state and federal police forces, ASIO, Emergency Management Australia and the NSW Fire Brigade spend a lot of time planning how they would cope with either a man-made or a natural disaster in the central business district of our city. But what would you - the commuter - do in the case of a September 11 in Sydney? More importantly, how would you fare?

In 1980, Sydney Hospital, the only hospital within easy reach for people in the city or, in a crisis the only hospital reachable at all, was a 400-bed teaching hospital. In the mid 1980s, the Wran government imposed senseless and drastic cuts to this icon of health care. Today, Sydney Hospital has just 100 beds of which 50 are dedicated to the world-renowned Sydney Eye Hospital.

And so there are just 50 beds set aside by government to look after about 500,000 citizens by day and 70,000 by night. Even worse, Sydney Hospital has been denied an intensive care unit since the early 1990s.

Then in 2005, just three months after the London terrorist bombings had occurred, NSW Health took away the general and orthopaedic surgeons from Sydney Hospital. These are the very two categories of specialists who would be most needed at any hospital having to manage the victims of a catastrophic event.

The inevitable gridlock on Sydney's roads, which follows even the most minor traffic hiccough, would make other nearby hospitals unreachable in the so-called crucial "golden hour" following any CBD catastrophe.

Although the police, fire and ambulance services know how best to interact in a disaster, the CBD public hospitals around Australia - and possibly even the defence forces - have been less involved in preparing for co-ordinated responses to emergencies.

In the face of massive casualties arising from World War II, the federal government reacted sensibly by creating Repatriation General Hospitals where injured survivors of war could be treated and where universities could foster teaching and research. Essentially, one Repat hospital was developed for each capital city. In Sydney it was at Concord.

The world has moved on according to most experts. But there is an urgent need for Australia to prepare its capital cities to handle potential disasters, with an approach that parallels the earlier Repat hospital system.

The national security rebranding of a public hospital in the CBD of each capital city would dramatically improve the capacity to deal with potential disasters.

Such a hospital does not need to be an "aircraft carrier" but it would need to be a rapidly responsive, high technology "frigate", with a specially trained crew and critical liaison with all the other essential disaster services, including the ABC (the national disaster broadcaster).

In Sydney it would be Sydney Hospital. In Melbourne it would probably be St Vincent's.

These national security hospitals would also need to coordinate with each other as potential disasters in any one city could easily necessitate the involvement of services at many interstate, even off-shore, hospitals.

Of all Australia's capital cities, Sydney is in the worst plight.

The NSW Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner, has told us the $300 million redevelopment of Blacktown and Mount Druitt hospitals was needed because of the growing population in those parts of Sydney. But central Sydney is growing, too. In the CBD, the resident population has risen from about 5000 in 1980 to about 70,000 today. These figures are additional to the half million people who populate the CBD every working day.

If the NSW government was to spend just two-thirds of the $300 million it has recently given to Blacktown and Mount Druitt, it could restore Sydney Hospital to a 200-bed hospital with 12 operating theatres and an intensive care unit. The restoration of general surgery and orthopaedics would let it easily and capably resume its proper functioning as the primary district hospital for the Sydney CBD, whilst also enabling a national security role in any disaster scenario.


The happiness that only children can bring

One very determined couple

THE most famous big family in Queensland is expanding again.  Dale and Darren Chalk, already parents to 11 young children, are expecting another baby - a single child due in March.

The couple, from Strathpine, on Brisbane's northern outskirts, are overjoyed.

"We're thrilled to be pregnant again," Mrs Chalk, 34, said. "It's always exciting to find out you're pregnant. It's just something inside that you know when you are done (having children) and when you're not."

The Chalks' latest baby will expand their brood to 12, a sibling to Shelby, 9, quads Emma, Ellie, Samuel and Joseph, 8, quads Sarah, Alice and Matthew, 7 (a fourth baby Milly died at 21 weeks' gestation), Tiger Lily, 5, and twins Grace and Jackie, 3.

Mrs Chalk said they had been trying to conceive this much-wanted child since Grace and Jackie were about six months old.

"We've got to the stage where if it (a pregnancy) happened, it happened. We didn't try every month to fall pregnant, and I was fine if we never had another baby again, but if it did happen, then great," she said.

"I've been feeling really good. The kids were all very excited when we told them. They want to pick out names already."

Mrs Chalk said she is constantly mistaken for a "family daycare mum" but she couldn't be happier.  "We live for our kids," she said.  "We feel extremely lucky to have all these kids. It's a blessing. We have a happy family. They (the kids) get everything they need, not everything they want."

Mrs Chalk said she did seven loads of washing a day and spent up to $900 a week on groceries.  The family, who have a five-bedroom home, hope to upgrade their 12-seater transit vehicle to a 30-seater bus.

Mr Chalk works as an ambulance driver and supplements the household income driving taxis.

The Chalks have been making headlines ever since Mrs Chalk gave birth to her first set of quads in 2004, making them parents to five children under the age of two.

The quads and their eldest child, Shelby, were conceived with the aid of a fertility clinic and artificial insemination of donor sperm because Mr Chalk has a rare condition in which he produces no live sperm.

But the couple's real notoriety came when Mrs Chalk, then 26, fell pregnant with a second set of quads. Her conception of consecutive sets of quads was believed to be a world first.

It also set off heated debate among medical experts who said her assisted reproductive treatment was irresponsible, given the risks of premature delivery and abnormalities in multiple births.

Her first quads were born precariously early, at 27 weeks, and remained in hospital for almost three months.  The second set of quads was also premature.

But the family was undeterred and their ninth child, "singleton" Tiger Lily, born in 2007, was conceived thanks to the same donor as all her other siblings.

When the Chalks wanted more, the fertility clinic declined to help.  However, the couple found a sperm donor online and using self insemination, twins Grace and Jackie were created.  This latest pregnancy was conceived using the same donor.

Mrs Chalk's mother Sue Thompson, 64, who retired from her nursing job when the first quads were born, lives a few blocks away and helps out daily.

"It makes me feel really angry when I hear criticism of them," she said.

"They are great parents. They love those kids. You can see every one is wanted whether they come in multiples or singles. They are beautiful kids and they are doing really well at school. They are all at the top ends of their classes.

"I'm one of 10 so this isn't really strange to me. It's normal. I don't understand what all the fuss is to be honest."


Leftist Jew defends antisemitic cartoon

His defence is all waffle but it has to be as the cartoon is so blatantly biased.  I append at the bottom of this post a toon that gets a lot closer to reality

ON NOVEMBER 21, The Age published a cartoon by Michael Leunig which commented on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The device Leunig used was a parody of the famous poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller about the need to be vocal when one sees a wrong - even if not directly affected by it.

First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

There are variations to the poem and it seems it was first used in speeches Niemoller gave in 1946. In Leunig's cartoon there are four frames to match the four stanzas of the original poem. There is an almost universal view in the leadership of the Victorian Jewish community that Leunig's cartoon is anti-Semitic. The media release from the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission quoted chairman Dr Dvir Abramovich presenting the following arguments to support that claim.

"'First they came …' introduces a celebrated statement attributed to German pastor Martin Niemoller about the apathy of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and their gradual elimination of certain groups. 'They' of course referred to the Nazis. In Leunig's cartoon, however, it is the Israelis who are the Nazis.

"And Leunig's second anti-Semitic theme? That anyone who supports the Palestinians will immediately be besieged by the all-powerful Jewish lobby, similarly jackbooted, treading on all who oppose them, closing doors in their faces, spiteful, hateful and bitter. In Leunig's black-and-white world, Palestinian/Arab/Muslim lobby groups are muzzled and The Age would never dare to publish an article (or cartoon) critical of Israel."

My reaction to the cartoon was very different. The power of a cartoon is in the many ways in which it can be interpreted. Once the cartoon is in the public domain it lives its own life - as indeed does Niemoller's poem. My comments should therefore be understood to reflect a personal view.

That Leunig comes to his cartoon with the perspective of a Palestinian supporter merely sets the scene. The baseline of the cartoon is that Palestinians are always the victims. We know this isn't a universal truth, but the cartoon isn't a balanced dissertation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - it's a cartoon. It uses exaggeration to tell us something.

The parody of Niemoller's language is playful: "First they came for the Palestinians … Then they came for more … " And in this respect Leunig can be criticised - or maybe he is being self-critical. Is he being too playful about the plight of the Palestinians in complaining overtly about silence as a form of tacit acceptance and covertly that publicly criticising Israeli treatment of Palestinians will be met with anger - from "the all-powerful Jewish lobby", to quote Dr Abramovich?

However the cartoon is also clever, because the reaction of the Jewish community as articulated in the Anti-Defamation Commission media release is in fact encapsulated within the cartoon. As Leunig said, "bitterness and spiteful condemnations would follow", duly obliged by Dr Abramovich in his comments.

And so the Jewish community has been wedged. A more thoughtful response might have been to silently reflect on the sometimes appalling and disgraceful level of the debate about the conflict - and not just from one side. However, the genuinely held perception of anti-Semitism mandated a public response.

The Jewish community is a wonderful community, but sometimes I wish it was a little less weighed down by its collective memory and a little more informed by it. Sigh.

Perhaps, in the end, we might ask whether the cartoon is really about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or in fact about the conflict between the Jewish community and Leunig. It's all a question of perception and interpretation - the power of the cartoon.


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