Wednesday, February 28, 2007


There are many parallels between the Australian and American education scenes but, under strong Federal government leadership, the ignorant and destructive Leftist stranglehold on Australian education is at last beginning to be unwound -- as we see in the four current articles below:

Teachers to be tested on literacy

Student teachers will sit a literacy and numeracy test when starting their university course and teachers will have to undertake continuing education to qualify for registration and higher rates of pay under proposals tabled in Federal Parliament yesterday. A two-year inquiry into teacher education calls for a national accreditation system of university teaching courses, with accreditation made a condition of receiving federal funds, and for national teacher registration, to be administered by the states.

The report, Top of the Class, also calls for an increase in funding for education students, both while at university and when undertaking their practical component, and a one-year induction program for beginning teachers. It recommends the practical component be funded separately and not wrapped into the larger university grant as at present, and that overall funding for teaching courses be increased by about $1800 a full-time student.

Under the induction program, based on a Scottish model, new teachers would spend 20 per cent less time in face-to-face teaching. They would be assigned a qualified mentor, observe classes and undertake professional development courses. The mentor would be trained, given time to properly perform the role, and be paid for the job. The scheme would be voluntary to start and funded by the Federal Government contributing 10 per cent of a starting salary, and by the employer.

It also calls on the Federal Government to ensure that it better allocates the funding of teacher education places to address shortages in the workforce. At present, Australia is training too many primary school teachers and insufficient maths and science teachers.

Tabling the report in the House of Representatives yesterday, the chair of the education and vocational training committee, Luke Hartsuyker, said teacher education was not in crisis but that improvements could be made. "If we invest $1 in teacher education, we're going to provide an increased return on investment in every other dollar in the system," he said.

The report dismisses the idea of setting a minimum tertiary entrance score, believing it would preclude too many applicants and particularly a diverse candidature including indigenous students and those from a non-English speaking or low socioeconomic background. It instead recommends a diagnostic test to identify student teachers' problems with literacy and numeracy and provide them with remedial teaching. "Attention should be focused on the capabilities graduates have at the end of their courses rather than at the beginning," it says.

The report says only four of the 31 Australian universities training teachers require students to have studied maths in Year 12 and that a further eight required students to have Year 11 maths.


It's the teachers who teach the teachers who are at fault

How effective is teacher training in Australia? The question is more than academic. After all, the quality and effectiveness of the classroom teacher is one of the most important determinants of successful learning. The commonwealth report on teacher training, Top of the Class, released yesterday, suggests that all is well and that there is no crisis.

Wrong. As University of Melbourne emeritus professor Brian Start points out, teacher training suffers from provider capture and there is little attempt to measure effectiveness. In 2005-06, Start contacted 38 teacher training institutions, asking whether there was any evidence of a link between teacher training - indicated by admission procedures and graduation scores for prospective teachers - and success, however defined, after teaching for three to six years. Not only did about half of the institutions fail to return the questionnaire but it appeared that none had undertaken any research investigating how effective their courses were in preparing teachers for the classroom.

According to Start in a paper given in Philadelphia last year: "Teacher education is a legal requirement for entering the teaching profession. Universities have a monopoly on this process (as) the providers. They select, train, qualify and certify graduates as competent to teach. Yet there does not appear to be any validity checks on the near billion-dollar enterprise."

Start argues that teacher training institutes are unaccountable. For evidence, consider a paper related to establishing the National Institute for Quality Teaching and School Leadership prepared by the Australian Council for Educational Research. "To our knowledge," the paper states, "no teacher education program or institution has ever been disaccredited, yet variation in quality is known to be considerable." It goes on: "Teacher education is arguably one of the least accountable and least examined areas of professional education in Australia."

It is easy to find evidence that beginning teachers are not being properly equipped to teach. Says one submission to the commonwealth parliamentary inquiry into teacher education, written by the Australian Secondary Principals Association and based on a questionnaire to 600 beginning teachers: "The respondents indicated that their colleagues at school had provided the most worthwhile support and advice with relatively little value being given to that provided by university personnel."

Not only does the ASPA submission argue that teacher training must better prepare teachers for the classroom but it concludes that teacher education "was at best satisfactory" as a preparation for teaching and in "several areas it is clear that they felt that they were significantly under-prepared".

A 2005 survey of beginning teachers, funded by the federal Government, identified literacy, especially the basics represented by spelling, grammar and phonics, as one area in which teachers lacked confidence and knowledge of effective teaching. Fifty-seven per cent of primary school teachers felt unprepared to teach phonics and 51 per cent of secondary teachers interviewed felt unprepared to teach reading.

Of course, it's not the teachers' fault that they struggle in the classroom. Blame rests with teacher education institutions that appear to be driven more by politically correct fads such as whole language - where children are taught to look and guess instead of sounding out syllables and words - and new age theories such as constructivism, where teachers no longer teach. Students, in the words of the commonwealth report Teaching Reading, are treated as "self-regulating learners who construct knowledge co-operatively with other learners in developmentally appropriate ways". And there's more: "Adoption of a constructivist approach in the classroom involves a shift from predominantly teacher-directed methods to student-centred, active discovery learning and immersion approaches via co-operative group work, discussion focused on investigations and problem solving."

During the past few years The Australian has detailed example after example of how the curriculum has been dumbed down and how standards have fallen. While some suggest teachers are at fault, the real culprits are those responsible for teacher education who fail to provide them with the right tools to do the job


Schools dump soft options

The number of subjects Queensland's senior students can study will be slashed to fewer than 20 in the latest phase of the most widespread education reforms since the 1970s. A two-year review has recommended non-mainstream subjects such as recreation, tourism, retail and marine studies be scrapped to enable children to gain a deeper and broader knowledge in their chosen areas of study. Education Minister Rod Welford said the aim of the review was to reduce the "curriculum clutter". "Subject options have been growing like Topsy," Mr Welford said.

But he claimed that while the new system would offer fewer subjects, students would receive a broader education because they would not be specialising so narrowly. "There has been a knowledge explosion and we have to adjust accordingly," Mr Welford said.

The latest changes come less than a week after the Queensland Studies Authority recommended students in Years 1 to 10 go back to learning plain English. Selective state school academies for gifted students have also been introduced, while last month the first intake of Prep Year students began school.

The reforms reverse the trend in recent decades towards "new age" teaching methods which have come under sustained attack from federal Education Minister Julie Bishop and conservative academics.

Mr Welford said the move to cut the current offering of about 80 senior school subjects to between 16 and 20 subjects would add depth and flexibility. It would give students new options to study core subjects at basic and advanced level as well as the option of specialising in their areas of expertise. The new system, likely to be in place by 2009, would result in current subjects such as tourism, recreation, retail, manufacturing and marine studies being subsumed into broader subjects to be known as fields of learning. Mr Welford said the "fields of learning" would include maths, science, English, humanities, technology and design and business. "It will allow for a broader inter-disciplinary approach to allow advance science students, for example, to study emerging fields like biotechnology and nanotechnology as well as the traditional physics and chemistry," he said.

Students opting for a business pathway, for example, would be able to include subjects like legal studies as well as accounting and economics. Mr Welford also hoped to give students the option to begin a foreign language at Year 11. At present that is possible under the international baccalaureate program but not the general Queensland public school system.

The senior syllabus review is being chaired by Griffith University Deputy-Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar. He said teachers, parents, Education Queensland, Catholic Education authorities, independent schools and TAFE were represented on the reference group. "We have had wide public consultation and we will be seeking more feedback when a proposal is finalised," Professor Dewar said.

Russell Pollock, principal of The Gap school in Brisbane's western suburbs, said his school had between 160 and 168 students in each year level and offered 30 to 40 senior subjects. "Sitting down with parents and a guidance officer at the end of Year 10 is essential for students selecting their subjects for Years 11 and 12," he said. Queensland Teachers Union President Steve Ryan said teachers were open-minded about the move but were generally satisfied with the current system. "It is important that students do not narrow down their options too early," he said.


Tot schools' dubious nurturing claims

Here's one for parents keen to get ahead of the pack, writes Bettina Arndt. They can enrol their children in early learning programs. Very early learning programs. The good Bettina blames the destructive move on career-minded parents but it should be added that the parents concerned -- mothers in particular -- are just doing what the feminist Left have always preached: put a career first and farm kids out to group "carers". And that was also of course the Communist system -- both in the Soviet orbit and in the Israeli kibbutzim

For years now, Melbourne's Methodist Ladies College has run a school kindy that takes babies of six weeks and older. That's far earlier than the Perth school, St Hilda's, which attracted headlines last week by allowing 2 1/2-year-olds into its new junior kindy. Newspaper photos featured the tiny tots, complete with school uniform, satchel on their backs. Across the country, private schools are now increasing school enrolments by attracting pupils very, very young. It's proving popular with busy, affluent parents keen on the idea of putting their infants and toddlers into "enriching learning environments."

MLC's program promises even the youngest students will discover the fun of learning a language, explore computing and engage in gymnastics. The Cathedral School in Townsville boasts it offers babies a stimulating environment for promoting fine and gross motor skills as well as sensory development. Most of these schools are willing to take youngsters from 7am to 6pm, with a solid five hours of schooling in the middle. And they offer all this enrichment for 50 weeks a year.

What a cynical exercise. Shame on these schools for conning parents into believing children of that age benefit from this crazy hot-housing. If these programs are indeed put together by trained early education teachers, they should know better. Basic knowledge of early child development shows infants and toddlers are unlikely to thrive when they are separated from their primary carers for such long hours. And surely they learned something about the slower pace of these tiny children who need time to explore their world.

Walk down the street with a two-year-old and watch as the child stops to pick up a leaf, or dawdles along looking over a shoulder to examine his shadow or decides to sit down and look at her feet. Time is slow, the world is fascinating. So what are parents doing cramming these little children into uniforms at daybreak, rushing them into cars and dumping them at so-called "schools"?

The educational hook provides a convenient excuse to allow parents to justify their choice of minimalist parenting. For five years I lived in New York, where minimalist parenting was an art form. There was a childcare centre opposite where I lived and I'd watch sleepy toddlers dropped off well before sunrise and picked up long after dark, often not even by their parents but night shift nannies. Sports clubs were available to take older children off your hands not only afternoons but all weekend, delivered to your door late Sunday evening.

That would never happen in family friendly Australia - or so I thought. Last year, Queensland newspapers reported childcare services in seaside resorts were under pressure to open on Christmas Day - sometimes to help parents forced to work, but often because parents wanted to have a good time without the children.

So let's not kid ourselves that parents are putting babies or toddlers for long hours into this new school care because they have no choice. The high fees demand high earners - often affluent, two-income professionals who don't want children putting a brake on their careers. The real choice we should question is why they have children if neither parent is willing or able to cut back for a few years to provide some slack in the system.

The hot-housing may well misfire. We know spending long hours in even the most stimulating group care does not set children up for a brilliant school career. Solid international research shows these children are at risk of developing problem behaviours -- aggression, disobedience, conflicted relations with teachers, poorer work habits and social skills. Here are children who start off with one of life's great bonuses - educated, successful parents. How sad they hardly ever get to see them.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sick elderly left starving in public hospitals

As many as four in every 10 elderly patients in Queensland hospitals could be slowly starving in their beds. Health staff are failing to notice the signs of malnutrition and are too busy to check whether patients are eating properly, The Courier-Mail can reveal. Malnutrition can delay recovery times and in severe cases quicken a patient's death.

Merrilyn Banks, director of nutrition at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, said: "We think malnutrition only happens in Third World countries, but it is a problem in aged care and hospitals here. "We have found that 30 to 40 per cent of elderly patients are affected. There's generally not enough awareness of the issue because we are used to treating disease and are just not looking for under-nutrition."

Malnutrition can cause the condition of a patient admitted to hospital with a minor illness to rapidly deteriorate. "When people get ill they have trouble with their appetite and it becomes more difficult for them to eat," Ms Banks said. "Malnutrition can actually increase the rate of infection and may slow rehabilitation." She said medical staff were not necessarily to blame for patients failing to eat. "In a lot of cases malnutrition is just not obvious," she said. "Everybody in the health system is very busy."

Anthony Power, a Brisbane private practice nutritionist, said he saw up to 10 elderly patients each week suffering from malnutrition after being discharged from hospital. In one case, a woman in her 60s had lost almost 20kg after she developed a post-operative infection. "It can happen very quickly. They may be recovering from an illness and don't have the energy to eat and then develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies which further impair their digestion. "The system needs to do more to tackle this."

Ms Banks has received funding from the hospital's Research Foundation to assess how much the problem is costing Queensland Health through longer hospital stays and the treatment of associated complications. One solution might be the appointment of dedicated care assistants to ensure elderly people eat properly while on the wards.

Val French, president of Queensland pressure group Older People Speak Out, said: "Older people are the least likely to ever complain." Gay Hawksworth, secretary of the Queensland Nurses Union, added: "There is a shortage of nurses . . . but nurses are well aware of the need to make sure patients are eating and drinking." [The notoriously low attractiveness of public hospital food surely does not help. And the recent move to make it "healthy" has almost certainly reduced its attractiveness even further. People are not rabbits and elderly people in particular are most unlikely to change lifetime dietary habits]


Preschool for all? No thanks

Both in Australia and California there is a strong political push in that direction. Well-researched comment below from an Australian homeschooler

Politicians are calling for compulsory preschool and there is a lot of rhetoric around about ensuring all children have the benefits of a preschool education so they are not left behind when they begin school. But is compulsory preschool something we really want? Education Minister, Julie Bishop's argument in favour of compulsory preschool is: "many studies and research and analysis show that investment in high quality, large scale, early childhood programs find that early learning experiences, including pre-literacy and numeracy skills make the transition to school easier for children, and it increases the chances of school success."

University studies are often quoted to support the perceived academic benefits of preschool. What is not often mentioned is that, while these studies demonstrate preschool in a favourable light when compared with an impoverished home environment, preschool does not compare favourably with the average home environment.

Even Professor Edward Zigler, credited as "the father of Headstart" a widespread American preschool program admits "there is a large body of evidence that there is little to be gained by exposing middle class children to early education . (and) evidence that indicates early schooling is inappropriate for many four-year-olds, and that it may be harmful to their development".

If preschool were truly beneficial in terms of giving children a head start, those places with some form of compulsory preschool should do demonstrably better academically. The evidence does not bear this out. For example, the two states of America which have compulsory preschool, Georgia and Oklahoma, have the lowest results for fourth grade reading tests in the country.

In 2000, the Program for International Study Assessment (PISA) compared the academic scores of children from 32 industrialised nations in reading literacy, maths and science. The results showed that in countries where schooling starts at a young age they do not consistently outperform those who start later. Finland, which has a compulsory schooling age of seven, held the top ranking in all test subjects of the Third International Mathematics and Science (TIMS) results in 1999. Singapore, which also scored highly in the PISA and TIMS assessments, has no publicly funded early education programs.

By contrast, Sweden, which has one of the most comprehensive early child-care programs in Europe, was one of the lowest scoring nations. Hungary and Czechoslovakia, cut their day-care programs significantly in the 1990s after studies determined that institutional care damages preschool-aged children.

Perhaps most tellingly of all, the longitudinal studies often quoted to argue an academic advantage provided by preschool for lower socio-economic groups, actually also show that this "advantage" disappears by grade three.

But what about the much-touted social benefits of preschool programs? Here again, there is research to refute this. A 2005 Stanford University study reported: "We find that attendance in preschool centers, even for short periods of time each week, hinder the rate at which young children develop social skills and display the motivation to engage in classroom tasks, as reported by their [prep] teachers."

In 1986, Tizzard and Hughes compared the language environments at home and in preschools in the UK. Their method involved tape-recording the conversations of four-year-old girls at preschool in the morning and again at home with their mothers in the afternoon. They reported:

We became increasingly aware of how rich this [home] environment was for all the children (working-class and middle-class). The conversations between the children and their mothers ranged freely over a variety of topics. The idea that children's interests were restricted to play and TV was clearly untenable.

At home the children discussed topics like work, the family, birth, growing up, and death; they talked with their mothers about things they had done together in the past, and their plans for the future; they puzzled over such diverse topics as the shape of roofs and chairs, the nature of Father Christmas, and whether the Queen wears curlers in bed.

Many of these conversations took place during recognisably educational contexts - such as during play or while reading books - but many did not. A large number of the more fruitful conversations simply cropped up as the children and their mothers went about their afternoon's business at home - having lunch, planning shopping expeditions, feeding the baby and so on.

When we came to analyse the conversations between these same children and their [preschool] teachers, we could not avoid being disappointed. The children were certainly happy at school, for much of the time absorbed in play. However, their conversations with their teachers made a sharp contrast to those with their mothers.

The richness, depth and variety which characterised the home conversations were sadly missing. So too was the sense of intellectual struggle, and of the real attempts to communicate being made by both sides.

The questioning, puzzling child which we were so taken with at home was gone: in her place was a child who, when talking to staff, seemed subdued, and whose conversations with adults were mainly restricted to answering questions rather than asking them, or taking part in minimal exchanges about the whereabouts of other children and play materials.

In all this research, it is difficult to sort out to what extent there is a difference between compulsory preschool programs and optional preschool but it seems that there is enough evidence both to question the push towards compulsory preschool and to throw doubt on the theory that preschool is beneficial for all. Children at home with their families are not disadvantaged. Indeed they are very likely better off. So if your child does not wish to go to kindergarten, or you do not wish to send them, rest assured that you are not depriving them.

Relationships are the most important part of life. For small children especially, the time spent in the secure home environment is invaluable. Contrary to popular opinion, forcing children to separate from their parents before they are ready to is not necessary.

Preschool should remain optional so that parents are in control of the amount of time their children spend there. For some families this will be full time, for others, no time at all, but as a society we should stop pressuring families into thinking that a decision not to preschool their child is somehow irresponsible and will disadvantage the child. The evidence just does not support this view.

Throughout history small children have always been nurtured by their parents. Parents talk, read and sing to their preschoolers; they answer questions; they play games; they provide stimulating experiences and the security of cuddles and they accompany their children out into the world as mentor guides who interpret and explain new sights and experiences. Some families wish to supplement this rich rewarding education with a preschool experience. By all means make preschool freely available to all who wish to use it but why make it compulsory?


Taxes thwart homebuyers

More than 150,000 housing lots are available for development in the nation's three biggest cities, refuting the Howard Government's claims of a land shortage. The figures, compiled by The Australian, show there are 155,500 lots across Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne zoned for residential development - between three and eight years' supply - despite John Howard's claims last week that a shortage of land was contributing to the housing crisis and driving up rents.

In Sydney, where housing affordability is the lowest in the nation and continuing to deteriorate, developers have thousands of housing blocks ready to sell, and are sitting on tens of thousands more. "Every time I see John Howard blaming land supply I see red because it's just not true - there are literally thousands of lots available," said Peter Icklow, chief executive of one of Sydney's biggest developers, Monarch. Mr Icklow said rather than land shortages, it had been increases in property taxes - levied by all levels of government since the beginning of the property boom - that had led to the affordability crises.

He said there was plenty of land available for sale and for development, but there were no buyers at current prices and developers could not drop prices any further without losing money. "I've got about 3000 lots of land and I can't develop any of them until they take some of these taxes off or we get a 20 per cent lift in prices," he said. "And we're not doing this to be greedy, we just need to make a return. The bank won't lend me money if we can't show a return."

Residential Development Council executive director Ross Elliott said governments at all levels had used the property boom as an easy cash cow, but now that the boom had receded the effect of the new taxes had come into stark focus. He said inflated taxes were stifling any recovery in the property market and in turn driving the rental shortage.

Starting with the Howard Government's introduction of GST on all new homes, and culminating with the NSW Government's infrastructure levy on new homes introduced last year, property taxes had ballooned since 2000. Taxes associated with a typical house-and-land package have grown by an average of $77,000 nationally in the past six years, with the problem most pronounced in Sydney's northwest, where government costs have ballooned by $115,000 in that time, according to research by consultants Urbis JHD. The group said taxes and red tape cost more than the land.


NSW conservatives to attack land tax problem

Land tax will be axed for about 39,000 small property investors and a further 90,000 will save $800 a year under a state Coalition government. At the launch of his election campaign yesterday, the Opposition Leader, Peter Debnam, promised to slash $100 million a year from land tax by raising the tax-free threshold on investment property. The tax would kick in once properties had a land valuation of $415,000 rather than the current $368,000.

Vowing to "fix NSW", Mr Debnam said the land tax cut would boost property investment and improve the affordability and supply of rental accommodation. "If the entire land tax cut is passed on to tenants, rents could drop by up to $17 a week," he said. It is pitched squarely at voters disgruntled by the Iemma Government's changes to property taxes, including the short-lived vendor tax, and the even shorter period when land tax was levied on all investment properties, regardless of land value.

"Twelve years in Opposition is a long time and, unlike Morris Iemma, I remember the last 12 years, not just the last 18 months," Mr Debnam said. He said Mr Iemma had been an integral part of the Labor Government, including the decisions on property taxes. Unlike Mr Iemma, who has sought to put the spotlight on his leadership, Mr Debnam yesterday said it would take a team to fix NSW's problems. Flanked by the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the former premier Nick Greiner, he said he planned to rescue the NSW economy, tackle the water crisis and restore trust in government in NSW.

Mr Howard, who has previously described the task facing Mr Debnam as "Everest-like", said he believed the Opposition Leader was "going very well". "The people of this state really want a change," he said.

Mr Debnam said the land tax relief would be funded by previously announced cuts to recruitment and spending in the public service and a reduction in the number of Government departments from 33 to nine. Under the land tax regime, the value of an investor's properties is totalled, so a cut in the threshold has more impact for people with small holdings. "This is a positive move and will help mum and dad investors," said the Housing Industry Association's executive director, Graham Wolfe. But he said investors should be allowed to claim the threshold separately for each of their properties.

The executive director of the NSW Property Council, Ken Morrison, said business investors would still be above the threshold. "We would like to see a cut in the rate of land tax, which would benefit more people, and duties abolished for new dwellings." But Michelle Burrell, from the Council of Social Service of NSW, said the cuts would divert funds from essential services such as health and education.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Corruption rife in Australian State governments

All of which are Left-run

There is something rotten in the state of, well almost everywhere. From coast to coast, state governments are embroiled in corruption inquiries or embarrassed by schemes and stratagems that are ethically appalling. The most extraordinary example of the slide in state government standards is in Western Australia. The state's Corruption and Crime Commission heard this week how four cabinet ministers are amenable to the influence of present lobbyist and one-time premier and prison inmate Brian Burke. The quartet does not include former minister Norm Marlborough whom Premier Alan Carpenter sacked late last year for lying over his relationship with Mr Burke. Nor does Mr Burke confine his influence-peddling and string-pulling to Labor, as he was also working with Liberal Party powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne. Across the continent in Queensland, former minister Norman Nuttall is charged with receiving secret commissions from a mining magnate and publican.

In NSW, state minister Milton Orkopolous resigned late last year when charged with child-sex offences. And it is not that many months since former police minister Carl Scully was forced to resign for misleading parliament. In Tasmania, former deputy premier Bryan Green is charged with illegally attempting to protect the business of an ex-minister from competition. Things are better in Victoria, where no minister is before a judge at present. But Premier Steve Bracks stands convicted in the court of public opinion over the way he made an industrial arrangement with the police union in the lead-up to the last election, a deal the police commissioner knew nothing about.

It is easy to argue it was ever thus, that there are always ministers who are stupid, greedy or both, and who succumb to the temptations of easy money or the desire to make a deposit in their party's favour bank. But the record of past wrongs does not mean we can either ignore or exonerate present ones, because the present plague of cupidity and alleged corruption is more than the result of individual weakness. It demonstrates what happens when governments are in power for such long periods that ministers start to think they can do what they like. And it shows what occurs when they assume their party interest and ministerial responsibility are the same thing. Because no state government can survive strikes by nurses, teachers and police, premiers do pay deals with the key public-sector unions regardless of what productivity improvements can support. There is nothing wrong with rewarding people who provide essential services, and overly generous pay rises are not illegal. But they are at the innocent end of the long slippery slope that leads ministers to use the state to serve what may be perceived as their own interests.

There is a great deal of difference between the management by mates that is common across the commonwealth and the influence-peddling that appears to exist in Western Australia. But if long-serving but poor-performing governments - such as Labor in NSW - stay in office for decades at a time, ethical standards will slide and we will see more states where shadowy figures quietly walk the corridors of power, appearing to exercise authority over state ministers. We have been here before, when Joh Bjelke-Petersen ran Queensland to suit himself and his supporters. We cannot afford for any state to go there again. The evidence being given to the Corruption and Crime Commission in Perth provides a powerful message about state politics and why it must be kept squeaky-clean.


Queensland corruption

In the windowless room known as the star chamber, Queensland's top corruption investigator Stephen Lambrides is blunt in his directions to Gordon Nuttall. Nuttall, recently retired after a 14-year political career that included heading three ministries under the Beattie Government, is ordered to answer all questions put to him and warned he faces perjury charges if his evidence is misleading. Nuttall - who routinely pins a carnation to his suit jacket to soften the "hard nut" image of his shaved head - knows Lambrides means business. He calls him sir.

It is the fourth day of in-camera hearings for Operation Moonlight, the Crime and Misconduct Commission probe of Nuttall's dealings as health minister. What intrigues Lambrides is how over three years from 2002, during most of Nuttall's time in cabinet, the Labor MP collected $300,000 from one of Queensland's richest men to buy houses and cars for his three children.

More here

West Australian corruption

A fourth West Australian Cabinet minister was snared yesterday in the corruption probe exposing Brian Burke's malign influence on government, a year after Premier Alan Carpenter lifted a ban on ministerial dealings with the disgraced former premier.

Mr Carpenter was forced last night to cut short his 10-day trade mission to India and return "on the first available flight" to deal with a crisis crippling his Government and sparking concerns it is unfit to govern.

Opposition Leader Paul Omodei said he would seek constitutional legal advice after more damning evidence to the state's Corruption and Crime Commission revealed Environment Minister Tony McRae may have manipulated the announcement of a planning decision to gain a financial benefit from Julian Grill, Mr Burke's business partner. The Australian understands some Liberal MPs feel there are now grounds to approach state Governor Ken Michael to have the Carpenter Government removed.

Yesterday's dramatic development comes after two weeks of relentless allegations of misconduct involving Mr Burke and his links to various ministers in the Carpenter cabinet. The names of two other ministers - who Mr Burke described in secret phone taps as people who would do whatever he wanted - have been suppressed by CCC commissioner Kevin Hammond.

More here

Victorian corruption

Leading anti-corruption investigator Frank Costigan QC has slammed a secret pre-election deal between Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and the state's Police Association. The former Royal Commissioner on declared the deal a "distortion" of the democratic process that offended the principle of transparency in government. Mr Costigan, the chairman of anti-corruption group Transparency International Australia, said: "Governments do secret deals with the police union at their peril, and ultimately at the peril of the community".

His criticism comes after Mr Bracks was pressured to release a copy of the five-page letter to Police Association secretary Paul Mullett outlining the pact. Mr Costigan told The Age that keeping such deals secret harmed the political process. "One of the problems with governments that remain in power for a long time, and that applies to both sides of politics, both state and federal, is that there is an increasing inclination to keep things hidden or secret and not open," he said. "It distorts the political process." The letter amounted to a "secret agreement" between Mr Bracks and the police union, he said.

More here

Greenies, want to save the world? Stay home

Caroline Overington wishes Greenies would do as they say

If we are to believe the opinion polls - and I suppose we must - then we in the West have descended into a state of near total panic about the impact our lives have on the planet. We know that we are using an incredible amount of the world's resources and we feel quite guilty about it. But what to do?

None of us really wants to give up our luxurious lives (by which I mean having a car instead of a horse, a house instead of a cave, a mobile telephone that is not an empty can on the end of some string). On the other hand, we do want to protect the environment. As it happens, you can apparently do both. Last week, I was asked to write a story about the ways in which Westerners could continue to live like kings but not feel so guilty about it. All one needs to do is buy what are known as carbon credits, which then can be used to offset the damage your lifestyle is doing to the planet.

If that's not entirely clear, let me explain it further: you can keep your four-wheel-drive and your babies can get about in disposable nappies, you can have a big house and travel by aeroplane, but you must accept that in doing so you are damaging the environment. Enter carbon credit companies. They come to your house, estimate the size of your "climate footprint" (that is, how much damage your lifestyle is doing to the planet) and put a price on it. For the average family, let's say it's $600 a year. You give that amount to any one of these companies and they will use the money to install energy-saving light bulbs in other people's homes. You haven't reduced your emissions but someone has, and therefore you can live a little less guiltily.

Under a similar program, you can offset your mother's farts or even your cat's farts (flatulence contains methane and therefore heats the planet) by paying money to green companies that will spend it on water-saving shower heads or planting trees to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Now, when the story about cat farts and carbon credits appeared on the front page of this paper last week, I got quite a few emails, one of which said: "If you really want to end the damage done when your cat farts, wouldn't it be easier to put a sword through the cat." That's not very kind, is it? Another said people should keep their money and just learn to hang clothes on the line instead of using the dryer all the time.

The point they were making, I think, was that if global warming is a problem - we know it is happening, we know it's man-made, but the jury is still out on how much of a problem it's going to be - we in the West need to do more than pay green companies to offset foul smells made by our domestic pets. As any greenie will tell you, we would need to radically change our lifestyle.

The problem with this, however, is that a sudden, radical change to our lifestyles would destroy the economy. Any action we take would not necessarily save the lives of people who don't yet exist - that is, our children's grandchildren - but it would certainly kill real people right now in parts of Asia and Africa who depend on Western decadence for their incomes and their survival.

Also, I'm not sure that even the most committed greenie actually wants to make radical changes to their lifestyle. An example: I live in the Sydney beachside suburb of Bondi. In summer, the streets are flooded with backpackers, most of whom would claim to be travellers, not tourists, and would also claim, I'm sure, to be very concerned about the planet. Yet most of them arrive by plane. They travel across Australia in the cheapest, dirtiest VW vans they can find (most fuelled with leadedpetrol).

Sometimes they park these vans on the streets outside our home and, rather than pay $20 to stay in a backpacker lodge, they sleep in them. On hot nights, they keep the engines - and the airconditioning - running. Fumes pour out the exhaust, choking local cats. In the morning, they get up and pee and poop in the gutters.

Then they head down to the local internet cafe, where they use computers manufactured by enormous corporations, with operating systems made by Microsoft, and they send emails back home to their folks, doubtless complaining about the gap between the rich and the poor. All of this is OK, I suppose. But how come almost every single one of these Kombi vans have stickers on them that say things like: "Save the Planet"?

To the backpacker, that would mean: no more travelling to Thailand, Vietnam or Burma, or whatever is the fashionable place to be. It would mean no more driving in Kombi vans across the desert; no more jet boats out to the Barrier Reef; no more drinking mass-produced beer straight from the can, which is all the Bondi backpackers do all day.

The other sticker you often see on Kombi vans is: "Magic Happens." But it doesn't. It just seems that way. You flick a switch on the wall and the lights come on. You press a button on the toilet and your waste gets flushed away. You get a job, you save money, you get to travel places on planes and drive around in Kombi vans. It's not magic. It's progress. And it's bought to you by capitalism.



Australian police and Tennessee police have a lot in common

The NSW Police Ombudsman has been asked to investigate claims that a Sydney mother was assaulted by police and her baby snatched from her when she tried to bypass a police cordon. Nicole Whiley, a professional carer for the disabled and elderly, says she was trying to get home with her infant son when officers pushed her to the ground, badly injuring her wrist and back. She claims police then separated her from five-month-old Jacob, allegedly telling her that the child was "going to DoCS (Department of Community Services)". Ms Whiley, 28, was taken to Miranda police station in the back of a police truck, placed in a cell and charged with assaulting police and using offensive language.

In a statement of complaint lodged the day after the February 8 incident, Ms Whiley said she was walking Jacob home in a stroller along Willawong Rd, Caringbah, when four police officers blocked her path. She asked bystanders, "What's happening?" and was told there was "some kind of raid" being carried out at a nearby Housing Commission block of units. "I said, 'Oh, OK - I have to get past,"' Ms Whiley said in her statement. "I walked right up to where the four officers were standing in the walkway with my pram and said, 'Excuse me'.

"I was going to go on to the road and around them but I couldn't because there was a bicycle approaching me and four or five cars on the road. "I huffed and walked around them and got back on the path ... and said: 'You would think four grown men would have moved for a woman with a pram or an elderly lady."' Ms Whiley said a male officer then approached her, jabbed his finger repeatedly into her chest and told her to "shut up". She said she pushed his hand away and the officer took her arm and held it behind her back while a second took her pram and a third held her other arm.

"Once my hands were behind my back I was pushed straight to the ground, realising my shirt had been ripped across my chest," her statement said. "The next thing, they say to me, 'Get up, stand on your feet.' "They were still holding me under the arms. I said, 'I can't believe you've done this to a woman and a baby."' Ms Whiley said she "heard a crack" in her left hand as officers continued holding her arms behind her. She was later treated for a suspected fracture in one of the small bones in her hand and saw a chiropractor for whiplash to her neck and back. Ms Whiley said a neighbour at the scene convinced police to hand over Jacob.

On Friday, she received a letter from Miranda police informing her its complaints management team had assessed her complaint but declined to investigate it - against its own officers. Ms Whiley has been ordered to appear at Sutherland Local Court on March 1.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

"Wicked" Israeli academic to give talk in Melbourne

Professor Raphael Israeli will give a talk on "The Growth of Islam in Europe and it's effect on Western democracies" on Sunday 11th March, 2007, 8.00 pm at Beth Weizmann, 306 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South. Admission: $10

Given recent events in the Press and the Jewish leadership, there has been an unprecedented demand for Professor Israeli so bookings are advised. Enquiries and bookings: Ronit 0413 813345, Fran 0414 822 584

Prof. Israeli has been disowned by official Australian Jewry because he is outspoken about Muslims. See my post of 17th..


You can book to attend the talk over the internet. Click HERE


In a sad world first, the Australian government has decided to burnish its Green credentials by banning ordinary light globes. In 3 years time, Australians will be able to buy compact fluorescents only. The idea is that the fluoros use electricity more efficiently. That much is true. But the drawbacks of the fluoros are many.

A major one is that they tend to blow up if you use them in conjunction with dimmer switches. That little detail aside, here is a full list (so far) of the problems:

1. Compact fluorescent bulbs are almost always Edison (screw) type, whereas most Australian lighting uses bayonet fittings. This could no doubt change but may push up costs because the lights would have to be made for just the Australian market.

2. They are often physically larger than the incandescent bulbs they replace and simply may not fit the lamp or fixture conveniently or at all. People often have very fancy light-fittings that cost hundreds of dollars. Millions of those may have to be abandoned.

3. The funny elongated or circular shape may result in a less optimal lighting pattern.

4. Many models have light output claims that are only achieved at the optimum operating temperature and/or in some optimum burning position that achieves an optimum internal temperature. Many light output claims are outright exaggerated, often by about 15 percent and in a few extreme cases by 25 percent.

5. Compact fluorescent lamps usually do not produce full light output until they warm up for a minute or two. A few models require about three minutes to fully warm up and produce as little as 20-25 percent of their full light output when first started.

6. Some types may produce an annoying 120 Hz (or 100 Hz) flicker.

7. There are many small incandescent lamps (e.g. in refrigerators) that could not conceivably be replaced by the bulky fluoros we have today. Technology MAY be able to solve that but the costs will probably be large. The compacts we have today are already the endpoint of a big effort at downsizing.

8. May produce Radio Frequency Interference (RFI).

9. The up-front cost is substantial (unless there is a large rebate): $10 to $20 for a compact fluorescent to replace a 60W incandescent bulb that costs 40 to 70c.

10. Due to the high up-front cost, the pay-back period may approach infinity.

11. While their life may be 20,000 hours, a wayward ball will break one of these $10 to $20 bulbs as easily as a 40 cent incandescent.

12. Few commonly available compact fluorescent lamps designed to fit into 240 volt ordinary light bulb sockets match or exceed the light output of a 100 watt standard incandescent lamp.

13. Lots of people just don't like the type of light they get from fluoros -- to glary, too white, too flickery etc.

What Wal-Mart have done in the USA -- make compact fluoros cheaper -- is all that reasonably should be done to promote energy savings from lighting. The new Australian policy is a classical example of how Green "alternatives" are generally very poor alternatives to what they replace.

For most of the info above I have drawn on this post. And Gust of hot air has some satirical comments on the matter.


A reader adds:

"The untold story here is that it is a tax grab by the gubmin. There are approx 7.4 million households in Australia and I would guesstimate there are on average 10 light bulbs per household. With the average cost of the fluoro replacement being $15.00 this generates $1.50 GST per unit fluoro to the gubmin x 10 x 7.4 million = $111 million tax grab. Added to this is the number in all other locations likely doubling the number of light bulbs. Since these fluoros are manufactured mainly overseas you can most likely double the tax take due to import tarrifs. We are looking at a half Billion Dollar rip-off by the gubmin."

Australia stops illegal imigrants again

Australia is striking a deal with Indonesia for an even more radical version of John Howard's Pacific Solution - sending 85 Sri Lankan asylum seekers home via Indonesia in possible breach of international refugee conventions. The asylum seekers, who were intercepted by the navy near Christmas Island on Wednesday, are set to be taken to Indonesia and then sent back to Sri Lanka after secret talks between the three countries in Jakarta yesterday. This means they would be sent home via Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention. Australia would be free of any responsibility towards them, and the asylum seekers would almost certainly be robbed of any chance to lodge an asylum claim under international law.

Sri Lanka's ambassador to Indonesia, Janaka Perera, confirmed last night that Australian and Indonesian officials had told him the 83 men would be returned to Jakarta, then sent home. He expected the men to arrive in Sri Lanka within days. "Sri Lanka's position is that they have travelled illegally to another country and they should be returned to Sri Lanka." Both Australia and Indonesia had said they would assist with the repatriation, he said.

It is understood that Australian and Indonesian law enforcement and immigration officials discussed the plan in Jakarta yesterday.The Herald understands the meeting was told Australia feared it would face a flood of asylum seekers if tough action was not taken against the new arrivals. The boat carried the largest single load of asylum seekers to approach Australia since 2001, the year of the Tampa crisis that spawned the Pacific Solution, under which asylum seekers were refused access to the Australian mainland. Under that process, boat people were still given the opportunity to lodge asylum claims at offshore detention camps such as Nauru.

Before the deal was revealed to the Herald in Jakarta, the Prime Minister, John Howard, had insisted the 85 would not be brought to the Australian mainland. He said the boat's arrival was an opportunity to tell people smugglers that "they needn't think for a moment that our policy has changed". Australia still had "a very strong, effective border protection policy".

In November 2001, after trailing badly in the polls for months, Mr Howard stormed to victory in the federal election in the wake of the Tampa crisis. During the campaign, he declared: "We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come."

The new boatload departed Indonesia, with two Indonesian crewmen on board, intelligence sources confirmed. Yesterday's meeting discussed either directly shipping the asylum seekers back to Java, or flying them to Jakarta. Returning them on their boat was rejected for safety reasons. Indonesia could justify returning them to Sri Lanka as they had arrived in Indonesia illegally, Australian officials told the meeting. They also said the Sri Lankans should be returned as quickly as possible to prevent them lodging asylum claims or staging protests. Australian and Indonesian officials also agreed to co-operate to apprehend the people smugglers behind the operation. It is understood Australian intelligence has already identified two suspects. Australian Foreign Affairs officials refused to make any comment.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees senior officer responsible for asylum seekers in Indonesia, Shinji Kubo, said his organisation had not been informed of the moves. "We are very keen to know what will happen to them," he said. Other international officials, speaking anonymously, said it would be legally dubious for Australia not to deal with the refugees itself or to return them to Indonesia, and could create an international test case. The case was complicated by an obligation to rescue lives in danger at sea. Refugee advocacy groups had called on the Government to bring the asylum seekers to mainland Australia or provide access to lawyers for advice on their rights.

The Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, denied reports that the navy had tried to turn the vessel back to sea when HMAS Success intercepted it. But he said the Government wanted to ensure the asylum seekers did not reach the mainland. "[We] do not want to encourage this sort of behaviour - of people being put on unseaworthy vessels out in the middle of the Indian Ocean - and the tragedy that can come from that. "I think it is quite irresponsible to be sending a boatload of people on a small vessel, which is proven one way or the other to be unseaworthy."

Asylum seekers who land on the mainland have more extensive legal rights than those held on external territories such as Christmas Island. Mr Andrews said crew from HMAS Success had repaired engine damage on the men's boat on Tuesday when they first intercepted it, but they found it had stopped moving shortly afterwards. Navy crew invited the men aboard on Wednesday when they discovered the vessel had been further damaged to the point that it was unseaworthy. Mr Andrews did not know whether the navy would tow or sink the vessel. "This is Australian Government policy in practice," he said.


Now it is the Leftist NSW government shafting farmers

What the farmer buys, the Government takes away. I noted on Feb. 8th that the Victorian government also robs farmers this way

Gil Ackerly feels thoroughly ripped off. He grows lucerne for a living and after paying for water, the NSW Government first cut what it was giving him by 52 per cent and then refused to compensate him. He is now in the middle of filling out a wad of forms courtesy of the NSW Government in an attempt to prove financial hardship, which he has been told is the only way the bureaucrats will compensate him for the water he has already paid for but never received.

Mr Ackerly has lived on the 250ha property Kindillan in the Riverina district of southern NSW all of his 57 years. He began growing lucerne for the recreation horse market 12 years ago, with the rest of his property devoted to the wool and fat lamb trade. The drought has meant many irrigators, including Mr Ackerly, are not receiving their water allocations. On a zero allocation this year, when he normally gets more than 700megalitres, production on his farm is grinding to a halt. His current predicament began to develop in October when he bought 350 megalitres of water for $45,000 on the water market in an attempt to drought-proof his property.

That water is now worth about $800 a megalitre but the state Government stepped in late last year and cut the water he was still owed by 52 per cent - or 100 a megalitre.

The way Mr Ackerly sees it, the Government owes him $80,000 for the water he has paid for and they have refused to supply. On the basis of the water allocation he paid for, he negotiated with produce stores in Melbourne to buy his lucerne. "That 100 megalitres would have given me another two cuts of lucerne," he said. I would have made a decent living. Now I haven't got any water for my winter pasture for the sheep. "This is impacting badly on the property. "I haven't got any water, and the money that I have paid, I don't have the use of that either."


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Brainless Greenie logic arrives in the health field

Read the following report and see if you can find the flaw in it. Answer below

Global warming will take a toll on children's health, according to a new report showing hospital admissions for fever soar as days get hotter. The new study found that temperature rises had a significant impact on the number of pre-schoolers presenting to emergency departments for fever and gastroenteritis. The two-year study at a major children's hospital showed that for every five-degree rise in temperature two more children under six years old were admitted with fever to that hospital. The University of Sydney research is the first to make a solid link between climate changes and childhood illness.

"And now global warming is becoming more apparent, it is highly likely an increasing number of young children will be turning up at hospital departments with these kinds of common illnesses," said researcher Lawrence Lam, a paediatrics specialist. "It really demonstrates the urgent need for a more thorough investigation into how exactly climate change will affect health in childhood."

Dr Lam said the results, collated from The Children's Hospital at Westmead admissions, back up beliefs that children are less able to regulate their bodies against climate change than adults. The brain's thermal regulation mechanism is not as well developed in children, making them more susceptible to "overheating" and at risk of developing illness, he said. "They're particularly at risk of extreme changes, much more than other people."

The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, analysed several different climate factors, including UV index, rainfall and humidity, collected from the Bureau of Meteorology in 2001 and 2002. Temperatures were the only negative risk factor, with findings linking heat to both fever and gastro disease but not to respiratory conditions.

Surprisingly, rates of gastroenteritis were lower on days with a high UV factor probably, says Dr Lam, because the rays "sterilised" the ground, killing more germs and reducing risk. He said it was still unclear whether the heat directly triggered the illnesses or whether other heat-related problems, like pollution, were responsible. A longer-term study was needed add strength to the findings, Dr Lam said.


The finding concerned Sydney, which is MUCH cooler than tropical North Queensland, where I come from. So if hot weather causes fever, North Queensland should be RIFE with fever cases, right? I have never heard anyone say that it is, either anecdotally or otherwise, and I am quite sure that it would be widely known in North Queensland if it were true. I have, however, heard many cases of people getting ill when they move to a COLDER climate.

It is true that certain nasty viruses (Ross River Fever, Dengue Fever) thrive best in hot climates so some elevated morbidity from that source would be expected. Overall, however, there is no noticeable inferiority in the health of North Queenslanders -- perhaps because there are also various health problems that are greatest in COLD climates. One notes that elderly people often move to warmer climates for the sake of their health. And surely it is WINTER when 'flu is most prevalent!

Cheney brings out the hate in peaceniks

About 350 anti-Iraq war protesters last night formed a hostile welcome committee for US Vice-President Dick Cheney, clashing with police outside Sydney's Town Hall as they ignored calls for peaceful protests. Mounted police officers and members of the riot squad scuffled with protesters in scenes reminiscent of violent anti-globalisation protests at the G20 summit in Melbourne last year.

The crowd, led by members of the Stop The War Coalition, marched down George Street - one of Sydney's main streets - without permission from police, who cited traffic concerns for the decision. The clashes occurred when protesters attempted to break through the wall of police officers. Ten protesters were arrested...

NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Terry Collins yesterday warned that the protest organisers did not have permission to stage the march from Town Hall to the US consulate near Martin Place. But leaders of the Stop The War Coalition said adequate notice had been given. "Police have attempted to drive the anti-war protest off the street," coalition spokeswoman Jean Parker told the crowd. "We will not be silenced."

Protesters carried placards bearing slogans such as "Cheney is a torturer" and "Go home Cheney, take Howard hunting".

NSW Premier Morris Iemma warned demonstrators against disrupting Mr Cheney's visit with violent protests. "Everyone's entitled to protest and to do so peacefully," Mr Iemma said. "But they are not going to cause inconvenience and disruption and take the law into their own hands."


Migrant policy shift on English

Mutual obligation is to become the Howard Government's new mantra on immigration, with migrants expected to learn English after they arrive in Australia. Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration Teresa Gambaro will use a speech tonight to unveil a major shift in the Government's approach to migrants, saying that Australia always helps those in need but expects "those receiving assistance to contribute in return".

"The principle of the 'fair go' is a uniquely Australian value. A 'fair go', however, expects fair effort," Ms Gambaro will tell a symposium run by the Islamic Council of Victoria and the federal Government. "The Government will continue to support all migrants by ensuring they have access to education, employment and involvement with mainstream community activities. "In return, the Government expects migrants to make the effort to learn the language and the culture."

It is unclear at this stage how the Government plans to enforce the program. The shift to mutual obligation will bring settlement services in line with the Government's approach to social security over the past decade, where responsibilities are imposed on welfare recipients. It follows moves by the Howard Government to emphasise integration over diversity as part of a broader shift away from multiculturalism.

Ms Gambaro says there are already many common values between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians and that "there is no incompatibility between a commitment to Islam and being Australian". "For Australia's Muslims, there is no conflict between veils and Vegemite," she says. Mutual obligation would also help Australia's non-Muslim population better understand Islam, the Queensland MP says.

The speech by Ms Gambaro is her first in the new portfolio and maps out a significant new direction for settlement services. Ms Gambaro says the term multiculturalism has become "redundant". She says: "Multiculturalism, as a term, can be interpreted in any number of ways ... in my view, its very imprecision is a critical weakness. "It doesn't tell us what we share in common, it doesn't tell us who we are, it doesn't tell us what our values are."

Ms Gambaro says that while individual backgrounds should be celebrated, "we cannot afford to be confined by them". "Australia cannot be a nation of islands within an island," she says. "Instead we should celebrate our cultural diversity and commitment to shared Australian values and a great method of doing this is by ensuring we can all speak to one another - in English."

Ms Gambaro, whose Italian parents came to Australia with scant English skills, says she can empathise with migrants. "Learning English can be difficult - I know this from personal experience - but it is not an insurmountable hurdle, nor is it an unreasonable expectation. This is because English language ability is a passport to participation, a passport to prosperity."



Inaction allows superbugs to spread

PATIENTS may be getting potentially fatal infections in hospitals because the State Government has yet to allocate any of the $1.6 million it promised to combat drug-resistant superbugs. Professor Lyn Gilbert, who heads an expert panel looking at the problem, said she was surprised more people were not taking legal action. "People are dying of diseases that should have been prevented," she said. "What surprises me is how infrequently people sue hospitals."

Professor Gilbert, who chairs the NSW expert group on multiresistant organisms and the director of Westmead Hospital's Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, said hospital managers recognised the importance of infection control, "but they are limited by resources". "None have enough [money] to do surveillance work. They put out fires, really," she said.

The NSW Government has long accepted that patients at highest risk of developing potentially lethal bacterial infections - those having joint replacements, heart or vascular surgery and those in intensive care - should be screened before their treatment to check whether the bugs are present on their skin. This is because usually harmless bacterial "colonisation" can cause serious illness if it enters a surgical wound. But hospitals cannot proceed with planned improvements because they have still received none of the funding, promised a year ago to carry out screening and other recommendations of an expert committee convened in the wake of disease outbreaks.

In the western Sydney area alone, said Professor Gilbert, it would cost about $220,000 a year to screen all patients using pathology tests. But hospitals would incur even greater costs if they isolated patients who had been infected or colonised by the virulent organisms. Associate Professor Peter Collignon, director of microbiology and infectious diseases at Canberra Hospital, said up to 5000 Australians developed septicemia from golden staph bacteria while in hospital. "One-third of those will die," he said. "These cause more deaths than the road toll. My firm belief is half of these infections at least are preventable." He said surveillance for pathogens was essential, because hospitals could not act unless they knew they had a problem.

Dr Tom Gottlieb, the vice-president of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, said there was "a kind of nihilism" in the response of health authorities to hospital infections as neither challenged high rates of preventable illness. Dr Gottlieb, a Sydney specialist, said surveillance was expensive and inevitably would identify only a small number of colonised patients compared with the total screened. But it was worth screening for antibiotic-resistant golden staph, in particular, because of its high death rate, he said. If the bacteria affected an artificial joint, it could require three years or longer of antibiotic treatment and repeat surgery.

In a statement to the Herald, a Department of Health spokeswoman blamed "consultation to finalise an equitable split of the funds" and the need to put in place "performance indicators" for the long delay.


Friday, February 23, 2007


By His Eminence, Dr. George Pell, Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney

Global warming doomsdayers were out and about in a big way recently, but the rain came in Central Queensland and then here in Sydney. January also was unusually cool. We have been subjected to a lot of nonsense about climate disasters as some zealots have been painting extreme scenarios to frighten us. They claim ocean levels are about to rise spectacularly, that there could be the occasional tsunami as high as an eight story building, the Amazon basin could be destroyed as the ice cap in the Arctic and in Greenland melts. An overseas magazine called for Nuremberg-style trials for global warming skeptics while a U.S.A. television correspondent compared skeptics to "holocaust deniers".

A local newspaper editorial's complaint about the doomsdayers' religious enthusiasm is unfair to mainstream Christianity. Christians don't go against reason although we sometimes go beyond it in faith to embrace probabilities. What we were seeing from the doomsdayers was an induced dose of mild hysteria, semi-religious if you like, but dangerously close to superstition.

I am deeply skeptical about man-made catastrophic global warming, but still open to further evidence. I would be surprised if industrial pollution, and carbon emissions, had no ill effect at all. But enough is enough. A few fixed points might provide some light.

We know that enormous climate changes have occurred in world history, e.g. the Ice Ages and Noah's flood, where human causation could only be negligible. Neither should it be too surprising to learn that the media during the last 100 years has alternated between promoting fears of a coming Ice Age and fear of global warming! Terrible droughts are not infrequent in Australian history, sometimes lasting seven or eight years, as with the Federation Drought and in the 1930s. One drought lasted fourteen years.

We all know that a cool January does not mean much in the long run, but neither does evidence from a few years only. Scaremongers have used temperature fluctuations in limited periods and places to misrepresent longer patterns. The evidence on warming is mixed, often exaggerated, but often reassuring. Global warming has been increasing constantly since 1975 at the rate of less than one fifth of a degree centigrade per decade.

The concentration of carbon dioxide increased surface temperatures more in winter than in summer and especially in mid and high latitudes over land, while there was a global cooling of the stratosphere. The East Anglia university climate research unit found that global temperatures did not increase between 1998 - 2005 and a recent NASA satellite found that the Southern Hemisphere has not warmed in the past 25 years. Is mild global warming a Northern phenomenon?

While we might have been alarmed by the sighting of an iceberg off Dunedin as large as an aircraft carrier we should be consoled by the news that the Antarctic is getting colder and the ice is growing there. The science is more complicated than the propaganda!


Literacy breakthrough in Queensland?

Kids to learn plain English at last, apparently

QUEENSLAND students from Year 1 to Year 10 will have a new plain English syllabus from the middle of next year. It will emphasise the teaching of reading, spelling, grammar and punctuation and the importance of literature. "Curriculum waffle is out, clear English is in," Education Minister Rod Welford said. He said the new syllabus would take a "nuts-and-bolts" approach to help children write well and speak clearly while encouraging them to read and think.

The syllabus is being drawn up by the Queensland Studies Authority after a review of the preschool to Year 10 syllabus last year. The review was conducted by Sunshine Coast-based education consultant Ray Land, a former teacher and education official. Part of the draft syllabus will be available on the authority's website from next month for public scrutiny and feedback, and the full syllabus is to be ready for approval by the authority's board by October. This will allow support materials and teacher training to be provided ahead of the introduction of the syllabus from the start of Semester 2 next year.

The new syllabus was welcomed by Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations executive officer Greg Donaldson. "If this new QSA syllabus is going to improve the literacy levels of our kids we would support it," he said. Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said teachers had been heavily involved in the process and were satisfied with the new syllabus.

The redeveloped syllabus would be organised in three strands: speaking and listening, reading and viewing, and writing and shaping. "There will be greater emphasis on correct spelling, grammar and punctuation," said QSA assistant director (syllabus services) Bob Dudley. He said the syllabus would be more balanced in terms of the texts studied with wide range of books, poetry and plays to be read. He said material from the internet, films and television programs would also be included.

The syllabus will be much more specific than it is at present. For example, it is envisaged that by the end of Year 3 students will be able to:

* Identify and record main ideas and make simple inferences.

* Organise and sequence one or two main ideas with some supporting detail.

* Create texts that tell stories, recount, report on, explain, give opinions or transact.

* Use punctuation to signal the meaning boundaries of simple sentences.

* Create and play with representations of people, places, events and things for an audience by selecting descriptive words, images, facial expressions and gestures.

The syllabus requires teachers to use a range of measures, including phonics and whole word recognition, to teach reading to young children. Students' progress will also be tightly monitored under the new syllabus. The syllabus is being drawn up by a team of QSA staff with input from a panel of 20 teachers. Focus groups of parents have also been consulted


Cloud Kirby land: Pampered Justice Kirby is out of touch with the real world

Obnoxious comparison of 9/11 attacks to AIDS by homosexual judge

It is disappointing but necessary to have to explain the difference between murder and illness to a member of Australia's highest court. But once again, High Court judge Michael Kirby has shown just how out of touch he really is with the community he is supposed to serve. Justice Kirby dismissed what he called the US "obsession" with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in which 2900 people were killed. Justice Kirby said more people died every day from AIDS than died in the attack on the Twin Towers. Furthermore, according to Justice Kirby, the attack happened overseas and we should "keep our eye on the threats to Australia". To extend Justice Kirby's logic, more people die from breast cancer than spousal abuse, so Australia should end its obsession with stopping domestic violence. And the millions who die each year from malaria are foreigners, so let's stop our malaria research effort and concentrate on something that matters at home.

Justice Kirby's comments say much about the man who professionally enjoys one of the nation's most privileged positions, and personally enjoys a waterfront life with a gun-barrel view of the jewels of Sydney Harbour. How would he feel if a terror strike erased the Sydney Opera House and took thousands of innocent lives? The September 11 attack was part of long-running campaign of provocation against the US and the West by forces hostile to the way of life that Justice Kirby is fortunate enough to enjoy to its fullest. The campaign has continued since September 11 with a series of terrorist strikes in Britain, Spain and elsewhere. Terrorist bombings in Bali and Jakarta prove Australia is not immune to the threat. Claims that post-September 11 attacks against the West are in response to Western provocation, or the invasion of Iraq, misrepresent the facts. The 9/11 and the Bali bombings predated the invasion of Iraq. The US has every right to be "obsessed" with terrorist threats to its security, and Australia has every interest in offering its fullest support. This includes dealing responsibly with those citizens who may have been swept up in the jihadist cause.

The appeal case before the High Court regarding the control order imposed on "Jihad" Jack Thomas amply demonstrates the global village that exists when it comes to Islamic extremism. The control order is designed to restrict the movements and communications of the first man convicted under Australia's new anti-terror laws while he awaits a retrial after his original conviction was quashed because of the circumstances in which his admissions were made while in custody in Pakistan. Justice Kirby's view is that of the pampered elite, shielded from global reality by the freedoms bestowed on them. The irony is it is Justice Kirby and his ilk who would no doubt fare worst should the enemies of democracy whom they defend ever get their way.


Justice catches up with crooked Leftist judge

CRIMINAL charges against former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld are "imminent", with the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions poised to prosecute him over his alleged false speed camera claims. Einfeld's own lawyers revealed the impending charge as they fought to avoid further details of the police investigation from being made public. But in a dramatic court ruling late yesterday, the besieged former judge lost his bid to muzzle the media.

Following two hours of in-camera argument in the Supreme Court, Justice Megan Latham found there was no substance to Einfeld's bid to conceal further details of his now-notorious attempt to avoid paying a $77 speeding fine in January last year. The speeding charge against him was dismissed in August after Einfeld said he had lent his car to an old friend, US-based academic Professor Teresa Brennan. It later emerged she had died three years earlier. Einfeld then claimed another woman with a similar name was driving the car.

The latest twist in the saga occurred yesterday when his lawyers argued that charges were about to be brought against Einfeld so any further publication of the case would interfere with the judicial process. Justice Latham ruled the argument was a hollow one with no legal basis....

The judge then ordered Einfeld pay the legal costs of Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph, along with those of his own senior counsel and lawyers, estimated to be a total of $20,000. Einfeld's latest attempt to suppress details of the police investigation began late on Tuesday night when he sought an after-hours order to prohibit publication of yesterday's front-page story in The Daily Telegraph. The article revealed Einfeld's friend, Vivian Schenker, recently told police she was a passenger in the car driven by Einfeld when it was photographed by a speed camera in January last year...


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Foreign minister says Blair's Iraq decision makes good sense

The Federal Government has played down a decision by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair to start withdrawing his country's troops from Iraq. Word that one of America's closest allies is going to start pulling out of Iraq comes as President George W Bush faces heavy opposition to his plan to send more US troops in. The White House has confirmed Mr Blair has phoned the President to tell him about the move but there is no confirmation of the details. British media say that as many as 1,500 UK soldiers could be home as early as March and that 3,500 will be home by Christmas.

The move comes just days after the Prime Minister John Howard announced plans to send up to 70 military trainers to Iraq, to help Iraqi forces. Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says the British move is a troop reduction, not a withdrawal. As he went into a federal Cabinet meeting in Perth, Mr Downer said while Britain is reducing is troop numbers, it will also leave several thousand troops in Iraq. "It makes good sense, what we are all trying to do is increasingly transfer responsibility for security to the Iraqi security forces," he said. Mr Howard would not discuss the British decision on his way into Cabinet.

Mr Blair will detail the withdrawal in the House of Commons later this evening, Australian time. There has been no official statement yet but on Sunday he said an operation to hand over control to Iraqi forces in the south had been completed successfully.

The White House says the US president, George W. Bush, spoke to Mr Blair today and he welcomes the improved situation in the south of Iraq. Reports suggest the timetable could change if the security situation there deteriorates. The White House says the British withdrawal is a sign of the increasing stabilisation in Iraq.


Big squeals about performance pay for teachers

The Federal Opposition says the only way to ensure the quality of teachers in public schools is to work cooperatively with the states. Education Minister Julie Bishop wants to introduce performance pay for teachers and says it could be determined by exam results or feedback from principals, parents and students. If the states do not submit to the plan in the next education funding agreement, the Minister says the Commonwealth could withhold some state funding.

But Labor's education spokesman Steven Smith says that is not the right approach. "Yes, the quality of the teacher in the classroom is absolutely essential, yes we want to reward quality teaching, but doing it simply on the basis of the outcomes of standardised tests, doing it on the basis of cheap political points is not the way to proceed," he said.

The Queensland Teachers Union says the Federal Government wants to take control of the portfolio from the states. Union state president Steve Ryan says members are looking at a loss of conditions if Ms Bishop gets her way. "There are two issues here one is the proposal itself regards performance-based pay and the loopy ideas the Minister has put out in today's press, and the second issue is of course how the Commonwealth treats the states," he said. "All teachers in the state system across Australia are employed by state governments and it's curious to see the federal minister trying to interfere in that process."


Economic growth picking up speed

Economic growth is likely to pick up in the months ahead as the Australian share market and money supply surges alongside a strong world economy. The annualised growth rate of the Westpac-Melbourne Institute leading index of economic activity, which indicates the likely pace of economic activity three to nine months into the future, rose to 6.1 per cent in December. The result was well above the long-term trend of four per cent and took the index to a seven-year high. The level of the leading index rose by 1.4 points, or 0.6 per cent, in December.

Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said the result was the fastest annualised growth rate of the index since February 2000. "It continues to point to a solid pickup in economic growth in 2007," he said. Meanwhile, the annualised growth rate of the coincident index, which measures current economic activity, was 4.1 per cent, above its long-term trend of 3.3 per cent. "Westpac expects economic growth to pick up from around two per cent through 2006 to around three per cent through 2007," Mr Evans said. "The leading index is telling us that even that growth profile may prove to be conservative, against the backdrop of above par world growth for the fifth consecutive year. "Of course the index is not capturing much of the impact of the November rate hike."

Mr Evans said the index results supported the Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) decision to raise interest rates three times last year, with the latest move in November pushing rates up to 6.25 per cent. "It is telling us that without that policy response, Australia's growth recovery would be strong, probably putting renewed pressure on inflation which, although easing most recently, remains at the top of the Reserve Bank's comfort zone," he said. However, he said the RBA would be unlikely to raise interest rates this year, but risks pointed to a rise in 2008.

Three of the four monthly components of the index rose, including a 3.4 per cent rise in the share market, 0.8 per cent growth in real money supply, and a 0.4 per rise in US industrial production. However, dwelling approvals declined by 1.9 per cent. "All components of the index, except dwelling approvals, are contributing to the annual growth rate, with the money supply, overtime worked, US industrial production and productivity providing the largest contributions," Mr Evans said.

The level of the coincident index rose by 0.7 points, or 0.3 per cent, in December. The index showed that employment jumped 0.4 per cent in the month, while real retail sales were virtually steady, as was the unemployment rate at just 4.6 per cent. "Employment has been the largest contributor to the above trend growth in the coincident index," Mr Evans said.



Report from a black activist, Noel Pearson

On a recent Friday night I walked out on to the lawn of my mother's house in my home town. It was after 2am and though my family lives a kilometre away, I could hear loud music booming from several stereos in various parts of what I would have called a village in my youth, but which more accurately answers to the description of an outback ghetto today. The music emanated from houses known as party houses, where numbers of men and women congregate to binge drink, share marijuana, often out of what are called bucket bongs, laughing, shouting, singing and dancing and seeking sexual partners - consensual and otherwise.

By midnight the bonhomie of the early evening descends into tension, as various bingers develop dark moods, vent anger, resentment and suspicions at those to whom they earlier professed love. Arguments and fights ensue, over the smallest slights and often over ownership of and access to the dwindling supplies of alcohol.

While parties rage at a number of notorious locations throughout the town, with erstwhile hosts boosting their stereos with specially bought amplifiers, often placed at windows facing outwards as if for the benefit of the rest of the inmates of this sad place, it is hard to maintain the fiction that this place is a community. It is a hellhole where whirring fans and airconditioners in the concrete block houses drown out the noise, including the screams.

This Friday night was the third night in a row of parties, beginning on Wednesday evening following the receipt of Family Tax Benefit payments, which continued at a lower gear over the next day and got back into top gear on Thursday night following the receipt of CDEP work-for-the-dole payments. The number of people missing from work has led almost every community to declare Fridays as the unofficial start of the weekend. School attendance collapses from already low levels earlier in the week. This has led to many proposals over the years from educators to reduce school days in Cape York Peninsula schools to four days, as if that would be a solution.

As I drove around the streets at 3am, I passed by drunks stumbling from one party house to another. I passed groups of young teenage girls walking around or sitting on the kerbside. For too many of them, sexual activity begins young at Hope Vale, very young. Who knows the circumstances of their first experience, but the incidences of abuse that come to light are only the tip of the iceberg of sexual assault, unlawful intercourse with minors, and incest. That older men should be able to have sexual relations with the young girls I pass in the street in exchange for alcohol, marijuana or esteem, is water off the moral backs of our people. Young men may jump through windows to rendezvous with their paramours, but it is as likely they do so to interfere with women and children.

My home town looks and feels like a ghetto. The mango trees, frangipanis and old wooden church still evoke the mission of my early youth, but the fibro and weatherboard cottages built by the hands of our own local carpenters have been replaced by welfare housing, increasingly built by outside contractors. The uniform rows of kit homes and Besser Block houses are of course much more expensive and have better amenities (at least at first, because they do not last for long), but they look squalid. The once lovingly tended gardens with topiary, gardenias and fruit trees are scarce today, and the plastic bags, VB cans, old motor cars and general rubbish spill out of the homes and on to the streets.

With the eyes of someone who returns to his home town for holidays and occasional weekends, I marvel that the people who live here do not see the shit in front of their eyes. Despite vastly improved levels of funding and infrastructure the place is a mess compared with the village of my childhood. I drove past the place where my parents brought up our family in a small fibro cottage with no hot water and a pit toilet out the back. We got electricity when I was in Year 4 but I did not see television until I went to college. Now they have Austar and adults carelessly expose children and young people to their pornographic videos and DVDs.

Earlier in the afternoon at the roundabout I saw the shocking sight of a beautiful puppy that had been run over by a vehicle, in a pool of blood on the bitumen. As we say in the language of this place, Ngathu wawu baathi, my soul cried for this lost life. In my nocturnal drive I passed the puppy in the same place. The binge drinking will continue to daybreak, and on through Saturday. Bingers pass out and catch some sleep, before waking again to resume the fray.

The parties change gear during the course of the four days as participants come and go, supplies run out and fresh supplies are brought in from Cooktown. The beauty of electronic banking is that welfare and CDEP income is dropped into keycard accounts automatically, and Centrelink will assist recipients to stage the time at which payments are made to members of a household. So Jimmy can get his on Wednesday and Sally can get hers on Friday. There is money for drinking and drugs over a longer stretch of the week. Centrelink's intention of course with flexible payment plans is to assist people to manage their income to purchase food and pay their bills, but the reality is that it makes more money available for binge drinking over a longer period of time.

As I drive down to the beach early on Saturday morning I see the young children emerging out of the houses, as if from a war zone. Yes, there are children and young girls in the homes of the hosts of the binge drinking parties. How they fare through these weekly episodes depends on whether their often inebriated parent is nevertheless able to keep an eye on their welfare, because the chance that molesters are among the party people is very high. Older children may run off and stay with sober relatives, particularly grandparents, but what happens to the ones left behind? Some of the young people sitting on the kerbside at 3am are simply scared to go back home.

On Sunday things will be quiet. "They run out of grog," people explain to me. The town will be mostly quiet for the next two, and if you are lucky, three days. The bureaucrats from Peter Beattie's Government will do their business with the people and organisations of Hope Vale in the sane part of the week. Certainly the communities of Cape York Peninsula during the quiet days can give the impression of being pleasant if untidy "communities". You can excuse the rubbish and the ubiquitous high barbed wire fences and iron cages that have to be constructed around almost every public facility, because after all this is an Aboriginal community.

But the public servants and politicians only visit for the day and never sleep in the town. They never have anything other than the official conversations down in the administration offices, so they too easily have the view that "this place is not too bad", "we just need to co-ordinate the programs" and "we have a demand reduction plan" for the alcohol problem. The underbelly of these so-called communities is not intriguing like a David Lynch movie, it is Hobbesian.

Meanwhile in public policy land three relevant events take place. First, journalist Margaret Wenham reported in The Courier-Mail on February 8 as follows: "Hundreds of impoverished indigenous people in remote communities have been hit with fines totalling nearly $600,000 for breaking Queensland's controversial alcohol management laws. Figures, released this week by the Justice Department, also show that seven people have been jailed and six vehicles confiscated since December 2002 when AMPs were phased into the state's 19 discrete indigenous communities. Reports of the penalty tally were greeted with dismay by Aboriginal leaders who said most people could not pay the fines and the AMPs were not working to curb violence."

The problem with Wenham's argument and that of any Aboriginal leader to whom she refers, is that if you divide $600,000 worth of fines between 19 communities over 3 1/2 years, the average fine for each community is about $9000 per annum, or less than $200 per week. The liquor licensing authorities in Queensland do not release liquor sales figures from each community, and no one tracks alcohol purchases from outside of the communities, but if you make a rough estimate of alcohol expenditure per week I would say an average of $10,000 per week would be extremely conservative. So if an average community spends $520,000 on alcohol, how can you say that $9000 worth of fines is causing or even compounding impoverishment? Is it not the spending on alcohol that is causing poverty?

Second, on Monday this week the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University released a study which showed that in the period from 2000 to 2004, an estimated 1145 indigenous Australians died from injury, disease or suicide caused by drinking. The study found that many indigenous people died very young from diseases that do not exist among young non-indigenous people. A third of the deaths investigated were female. The second biggest alcohol-related killer of indigenous women was haemorrhagic stroke, and the average age of the deceased was only 25 years. Among non-indigenous people, stroke is a disease of the elderly. The worst alcohol-related killer of indigenous people, alcohol liver cirrhosis, on average shortens indigenous sufferers' lives to 54 years. The other major causes of death - suicide, road traffic injury, assault injury, stroke - mainly kill indigenous people in their 20s and 30s.

Third, Premier Peter Beattie met the mayors of Queensland's indigenous shire councils to discuss the problems besetting indigenous communities. The Premier emerged saying his Government would be making various investments in the communities and he expected the community leaders to take greater responsibility for alcohol.

One problem with the Premier's hopes is that these councils are still the owners and operators of the canteens which sell alcohol to their people. The councils are as addicted to the profits from the canteens as the Queensland Government is to gambling revenues. Tony Fitzgerald recommended in his Justice Study report to Beattie in 2002 that the nexus between alcohol profits and councils be broken, but the nexus remains. Typically it is the justice groups that want to maintain AMPs while shire councils want them to be watered down. In fact the Government is considering proposals from councils to allow weekend trading and takeaways, against the opposition of local justice groups.

Beattie's minister responsible for the issue, Warren Pitt, has already weakened restrictions in some communities. Beattie and Pitt need to spend an anonymous night or two in at least one, preferably a couple, of these communities. They need to be in the town on the binge-drinking nights, and they need to take a quiet drive or walk around the town and hear and see the nightmare that the sober people and children have to endure.

Last year Hope Vale's Mayor Greg Mclean invited a delegation of children from the local primary school to present their views to a large roundtable of assembled bureaucrats and community leaders. In plain English the children pleaded to these black and white adults that they wanted the drinking and violence in their community to stop. As I drove through my home town on the Sunday evening on my way back to Cairns, I saw the dead puppy still in the street. I thought about the distance between being inured to the fate of a puppy that didn't see the car coming, and being inured to the fate of our own children.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Federal government warns Muslim haters of citizenship loss

Dual citizens who work to divide Australia rather than unite it should be stripped of their Australian citizenship, Treasurer Peter Costello said today. "If somebody is an Australian citizen and also, let's say, an Egyptian citizen and that person doesn't support what this country stands for... I think we'd be within our rights to say to that person, well, Australia's not for you," Mr Costello told Macquarie Radio.

The comments come after the uproar started by Australia's Islamic leader Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilali who compared Australian women to uncovered meat and also claimed Muslim Australians had more right to live in Australia than Anglo-Saxons, the majority of which are descendants of convicts. "You get into a difficult situation if they're not dual citizens, because at that point, if you take away Australian citizenship they're not a citizen of anywhere, they've got nowhere to go."

But Mr Costello said burning the Australian flag should not be outlawed. "I hate people burning the Australian flag," Mr Costello told Macquarie Radio. "It makes me sick in my stomach but then you think to yourself, these people are disaffected people, some of them are just plain bad people, I wouldn't want to make them martyrs."


Queensland lawyers squealing about damages cap

Insurance premiums will be reviewed to ensure that they have fallen in the wake of reforms to personal injury laws which capped compensation payouts, the State Government says. Premier Peter Beattie yesterday stopped short of endorsing Attorney-General Kerry Shine's claim that the laws were unfair, but said the Government was willing to check whether the changes made in 2002 were still working.

However, he warned lawyers they should not expect the laws to be significantly relaxed. "I just want to be really clear that ambulance chasers shouldn't get too excited," Mr Beattie said. "We are not going to go back to the bad old days when we couldn't get insurance to cover our doctors. "(But) the insurance industry had an obligation to reduce their premiums. I don't think it's unreasonable that we should actually have a look at that too, to make sure they have done that."

In an earlier interview with The Courier-Mail, Mr Shine had criticised the laws, saying they had unfairly blocked people with minor injuries claiming compensation, because their court costs could not be covered. He accused insurance companies of profiting from the crackdown, which was aimed at addressing the public liability insurance crisis when soaring premiums were sending community groups and charities to the wall. Under the changes, general damages were capped at $250,000 and court costs limited on payouts of less than $50,000.

Australian Lawyers Alliance state president Ian Brown welcomed the Attorney-General's comments and called for an immediate overhaul. "It is now widely accepted that the so-called insurance crisis was not the result of an increase in claims, but rather inherent problems within the insurance industry and external global financial factors," Mr Brown said. "Of course insurance companies must remain profitable, but not at the price now being paid by Queenslanders - and particularly our most vulnerable, the elderly and children, who have almost completely lost the right to fair compensation for injury caused by the wrongdoing of another."


Arrogant police in South Australia

Read the complaint below and then the police response to it

Elderly residents in Coober Pedy are arming themselves with tyre levers when they do their weekly shopping because there is no local 24-hour police station. Coober Pedy Mayor Steve Baines last week wrote to Police Commissioner Mal Hyde and Premier Mike Rann to express his "extreme concern" at the "despair" of the isolated town's 3500 residents.

He said there was "ineffective" law and order procedures in place for the opal mining town, 850km north of Adelaide. "I am still fielding complaints from residents and visitors of anti-social behaviour and violence that is being experienced in our town after the local (police) station closes at night," Mr Baines wrote.

Figures from the Office of Crime Statistics and Research show Coober Pedy has the second-highest crime rate in the state. It had the most number of recorded assaults after the Adelaide CBD and Ceduna.

Mr Baines' letter calling for permanent 24-hour policing followed a morning of mayhem last Thursday when fights broke out in the main street about 7.50am as locals were doing their weekly shopping. Calls to Coober Pedy police were diverted to Port Augusta, about 540km south of the town, and residents were told they would have to wait for help until 8.30am, when the local station opened.

"An elderly lady in her sixties who was trying to do her weekly shopping had felt the necessity to arm herself with a tyre lever fearing for her own safety," Mr Baines wrote in his letter. "By the time the situation had defused and the main street had returned to some semblance of normality it was 8.30am and still no police had attended."

A police spokeswoman yesterday said police numbers at Coober Pedy had recently been increased by two. Current after-hours call-out service "provides satisfactory 24-hour coverage for the area," she said. Opposition police spokesman Rob Lucas said police had the capacity to provide an additional presence.


Shifting stand will fail Federal Leftist leader

By Christopher Pearson

If Kevin Rudd hadn't committed to a policy of withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq, would enough of Labor's Left have supported him for his leadership bid to succeed? To raise the question is to confront its answer. Rudd's own sympathies may be with the more conservatively minded Laborites who attach great importance to the US alliance. But his backers in caucus included a disproportionate share of the inner urbanites who disdain George Bush and all his works and view the alliance as, at best, a very mixed blessing.

One of Rudd's main priorities between now and the federal election is to appease his colleagues on the Left, while trying to maintain his image as a safe pair of hands on the foreign policy front. That is why, when asked on ABC radio on Tuesday to say what the consequences of a troop withdrawal would be, he repeatedly refused to answer the question. Put on the spot and invited to conjure sweetness and light out of a policy with catastrophic consequences, he was reduced to embarrassed silence. His line that he was "not in the business of providing a rolling external commentary" was so much at odds with his media performance over his career as a shadow minister as to be laughable.

While resolutely refusing to answer the question on the consequences of troop withdrawal, Rudd would no doubt have been mindful of the intelligence briefings routinely given to opposition leaders. The latest, the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq of February 2 this year, covers the next 12 to 18 months and was cited in passing by John Howard in parliament last week. "Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources and operations, remain an essential stabilising element in Iraq. If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this estimate, we judge that this almost certainly would lead to an increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi Government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.

"If such a rapid withdrawal were to take place, we judge that the Iraq Security Forces would be unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian national institution; neighbouring countries - invited by Iraqi factions or unilaterally - might intervene openly in the conflict; massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable; AQI (Al Qa'ida in Iraq) would attempt to use parts of the country - particularly al-Anbar province - to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq; and spiralling violence and political disarray in Iraq, along with Kurdish moves to control Kirkuk and strengthen autonomy, could prompt Turkey to launch a military incursion."

The Iraq Study Group Report in December 2006, which Rudd has claimed as something of a model for his hastily conceived "staged withdrawal" policy and likes to quote selectively, was just as bleak. "Because of the importance of Iraq, the potential for catastrophe and the role and commitments of the United States in initiating events that have led to the current situation, we believe it would be wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitate withdrawal of troops and support ... the near-term results would be a significant power vacuum, greater human suffering, regional destabilisation and a threat to the global economy. Al Qa'ida would depict our withdrawal as a historic victory. If we leave and Iraq descends into chaos, the long-range consequences could eventually require the United Stated to return."

Neither of these American assessments is an ideologically driven exercise in special pleading. Rudd can't afford to canvass the consequences of his policy because, if it were part of the wider withdrawal so many Democrats in Congress are now demanding, there is very little doubt about the likely outcomes.

Nor can he afford to engage in a forthright discussion of the immediate regional implications of an Al-Qa'ida triumph. There can, for example, be no doubt that if the West withdrew from Iraq with a view to focusing its energies in Afghanistan, the global jihadists would do likewise. Israel has offered no guarantees that it won't go to war against a resurgent Iran on the verge of possessing nuclear weapons. Radical Islamists everywhere would be immensely fortified in their resolve by our conspicuous lack of it and Southeast Asian terrorist networks such as Jemaah Islamiah would be doing their damndest to destabilise moderate, democratically elected regimes such as the present government of Indonesia and replacing it with proto-Islamist ideologues.

Howard has been accused of blundering in the management of alliance politics by all the usual suspects in the press gallery. Even when they conceded him the right to disagree with Barack Obama, they were united in deploring his widening of the reproach to include the Democrats as a party. It doesn't seem to have occurred to any of them that Obama's winning the nomination and the Democrats winning the presidential election are both necessary preconditions for the disaster Howard was warning against.

If Howard still seems strident, consider what Senator Joe Lieberman told the Congress on the subject of a comparable kind of irresolution, debating the Warner-Levin measure on February 5. "The resolution before us, its sponsors concede, will not stop the new strategy from going forward. As we speak, thousands of troops are already in Baghdad, with thousands more moving into position to carry out their commander's orders. This resolution does nothing to alter these facts.

"Instead, its sponsors say it will send a message of rebuke from the Senate to the President, from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. But there is a world beyond Pennsylvania Avenue that is watching and listening. "What we say here is being heard in Baghdad by Iraqi moderates, trying to decide whether the Americans will stand with them. We are being heard by the leaders of the thuggish regimes in Iran and Syria, and by Al-Qa'ida terrorists, eager for evidence that America's will is breaking. And we are being heard across America by our constituents, who are wondering if their Congress is capable of serious action, not just hollow posturing. "This resolution is not about Congress taking responsibility. It is the opposite. It is a resolution of irresolution. "For the Senate to take up a symbolic vote of no confidence on the eve of a decisive battle is unprecedented, but it is not inconsequential. It is an act which, I fear, will discourage our troops, hearten our enemies, and showcase our disunity."

Lieberman, it will be remembered, was the pro-war Democrat who lost his party's Senate endorsement in Connecticut and nonetheless retained his seat at the recent elections. Is there anyone left in the federal Labor caucus with the courage and gravitas to take a similar stand?

OVER the past fortnight Julia Gillard has repeatedly claimed that it wasn't the Work Choices legislation but the mining boom which was responsible for the fall in unemployment. The shadow treasurer, Wayne Swan, who's generally credited with being more numerate and savvy than Gillard, has been saying the same thing. As recently as last Wednesday she told parliament: "When you look at the pattern of employment growth, it is abundantly clear that it is the resources boom that is driving employment growth. It is the states of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory that are leaping ahead."

On Monday the Reserve Bank issued a statement of monetary policy which flatly rejected Gillard's argument. It said: "Employment growth has been broad-based, with the goods and services sectors both making strong contributions to year-ended growth. While mining employment has gained much attention, over the past year employment growth was also high in construction, finance and insurance, and wholesale trade."

The RBA also expressly rejected Gillard's claim that the jobs boom was narrowly concentrated. "Employment growth has been firm across the states, and recently there has been some convergence in outcomes, with annual employment growth in NSW increasing and that in WA slowing as employers have found it harder to find suitable labour. There has also been a broad-based reduction in unemployment rates in recent years. Similarly, the composite measure of business conditions in the NAB survey - which reflects firms' responses on trading conditions, profitability and employment - shows that conditions in the non-farm economy remain above average in all the mainland states."

Joe Hockey, the new Minister for Workplace Relations, put it more succinctly in Wednesday's Matter of Public Importance debate. Of the 230,000 jobs created between February and November last year after WorkChoices was introduced, 46,000 were in wholesale trade, 43,000 in construction and 34,500 in finance and insurance. Mining directly accounted for only 14,000 new jobs.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The progressive destruction of Australian medical education

By Dr Amanda Neill -- a former lecturer in anatomy and related disciplines

Medical education is in serious trouble, and has been for a number of years. Recently there have been several articles questioning the level of the most basic knowledge of the medical graduates, much of it coming from the new graduates and students themselves. Surveys - some of them initiated by medical students - have revealed that they do not feel they know enough anatomy, physiology and pathology; that they are not taught, but rather thrown into a "sea" to learn in a "self-directed" fashion, and that they do not feel prepared enough to go out to practise medicine. Never has a profession's education been so mutilated, mucked-about-with, or mucked-up.

It is obvious to anyone that to fix a human body one should at least know about its components (anatomy), how these components interact (physiology), and what can potentially go wrong with them (pathology). All the rest is smoke and mirrors.

Yet the smoke and mirrors is all that the medical schools are teaching. Students these days can have remarkably good understanding of technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, while remaining startlingly ignorant of the bones, fascia and other structures of the hand. No GP surgery will have an MRI scanner, yet every GP will routinely see patients with sore or injured hands.

One of the major reasons for the shift in what is being taught is that medical education is not being taught by doctors. Doctors are not teaching student doctors; rather science and other graduates with or without PhDs have gazumped university staff teaching appointments. It is very difficult to find a medical graduate on any university staff, and even rarer to find them in the medical schools. This is no accident.

In the 80s and certainly the 90s, medical schools started to rid themselves in a determined fashion of medical graduates on their staff and employ science graduates with strong research backgrounds to teach medical students - when they had the time. These researchers on the whole did not have any vocational training, had never been on a ward or treated a patient, and did not have a strong interest in teaching. Certainly they did not have, and were not required to have, teaching as their main priority, and still do not. Teaching of vocational degrees such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and veterinary science should never have been given to those in a research-focused environment such as the modern university. Neither teaching nor research is then done well.

When medicine and then other vocational courses first became taken over by this shift in thinking, initially medicine was taught by medical graduates, who knew what was needed, had been on the wards, and had a thorough knowledge of the human body. Gradually the art of teaching medical subjects and the need to teach them became lost as the ever-increasing number of PhDs grew and vied for positions on the university staff. After all as John Collins, dean of education for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, wrote in Weekend Health (December 16-17, 2006), there has been an explosion of medical knowledge and technology.

Whatever explosion there may be, a leg is still a leg and a stomach still a stomach. Despite Darwin's theory of evolution, these are remarkably constant, and the structures are unchanging. To fix them (the leg and the stomach and all the other structures in the body), to understand them, the doctor needs to know where they are, what is above, below, in front and behind, and what common variations of these arrangements may exist. This knowledge should not just be the province of the surgeon and the radiologist.

We live in dangerous times. Universities are currently agitating to take over, or have already taken over, the teaching of other vocational courses such as for ambulance officers, paramedics, police, physiotherapists, chiropractors, occupational therapists and nurses - and in each case the pattern is the same. Less and less of the training is done by those who have been working in the relevant profession, and more and more PhD graduates with a research focus take on the teaching and designing of courses, with a view to teaching on the side and/or to protecting their area of expertise, no matter how irrelevant. They also have minimal teaching experience. Students learn more and more about less and less relevant material. They are less ready to take on their role as a doctor, or the work necessary to do this job.

Currently in many courses textbooks are no longer prescribed, but a recommended reading list and stacks of photocopied papers and hastily prepared lecture notes are given to the students. They are told to go and get on with it - and this is in the more structured courses. Others are completely self-directed and there is no actual teaching at all. This is lazy and cannot readily be evaluated. It is subject to change on a whim and leaves the student floundering in a sea of few definites. Facts, half facts, and fashionable views are weighted the same and it is difficult to gain an ability to determine what is true and what is "true for the moment".

Most doctors want to be doctors, and although many have open and enquiring minds and may want to go further into research and other developments, this is not what medicine is all about. It is about medicine, not the latest whiz-bang gadget, or the latest theoretical approach. By all means if this is the direction the student/doctor wants to take after graduation, so be it. But a lot of current research is too narrow, precisely because many researchers lack a basic comprehensive knowledge of the body's structures. For example, pathology of the liver can affect the eye, but research about the eye will be flawed if those conducting it lack this basic understanding of other organs and what relevance this may have.


Museum DNA test proposal

Fake Aborigines (some with blond hair) who roll in affirmative action privileges fear exposure

The Natural History Museum in London wants to use the remains of Tasmanian Aborigines to develop a simple DNA test for Aboriginal ancestry. A report obtained by The Weekend Australian says research into the DNA of the remains it holds could provide a key to creating such a test. "DNA analysis of the remains and subsequent comparisons with (the) Tasmanian community may allow the establishment of Aboriginal descent in the absence of documentation," it says, provoking condemnation from Aboriginal groups. The report cites the development of such DNA testing as a key "benefit" of allowing the NHM to hold on to the remains.

Australian researchers said such DNA testing could be done, but suggested it would only demonstrate Aboriginal descent "on the balance of probabilities". They also expressed concern some right-wing commentators might demand DNA vetting of those claiming government-funded Aboriginal cultural and welfare programs. The number of Australians identifying themselves as Aboriginal in the census has risen sharply from 265,459 in 1991 to 410,000 in 2001.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said he was not interested in the DNA test. "There is only one issue that concerns us and that is respecting the remains of indigenous people and rightful custodians of those remains," Mr Brough said. "The distress caused to indigenous people in Tasmania far outweighs any potential scientific gains."


Huge uni expenses bill to be audited

Another low-quality affirmative action appointment exposed

MACQUARIE University has ordered a second audit of its accounts as allegations of poor administration widened to include the university's international office, which paid an employee's daughter-in-law $400,000 to design a brochure, and 74 trips to Melbourne taken by three staff members over nine months.

The Weekend Australian understands that auditors Deloitte have uncovered anomalies in entertainment and travel expenses worth several hundred thousand dollars over the past 12 months, incurred by staff in the international office.

Di Yerbury, whose 20-year administration of the university in Sydney is already the subject of one audit, stood down as vice-chancellor last February but was appointed the university's international ambassador, with responsibility for the international office.

Auditors have discovered that the office's taxi bill for the past 12 months is tens of thousands of dollars, about 40 times higher than at a comparable university, with some individual vouchers as high as $770. Three staff made personal trips to Melbourne at the university's expense and resigned when asked to explain the trips.

The second audit follows one instigated in September by the new vice-chancellor Steven Schwarz into the administration of Professor Yerbury. It was ordered after the discovery that university records were incomplete, particularly regarding Professor Yerbury's employment entitlements, and confusion over the ownership of artworks after her collection was mingled with the university's. The Weekend Australian understands the auditors were told that when the university's financial officer queried the expenses, her concerns were overruled by Professor Yerbury. The interim audit report in December, of which Professor Yerbury or her lawyers are yet to receive a copy, also alleges perceived or possible conflicts of interest in Professor Yerbury's position on several company or organisation boards with her job as vice-chancellor.

Professor Yerbury yesterday denied any wrongdoing or improper conduct and accused Professor Schwarz of conducting "an absolute witch-hunt". "I fiercely reject and refute any suggestion that I've acted improperly. I am extremely protective of proper procedure which may lead to a conflict of interest," she said. "He (Professor Schwarz) has engaged in all sorts of bullying, harassment, intimidation and highly discriminatory treatment toward me. "He has treated me openly and overtly at Macquarie as if I was a criminal and completely untrustworthy."

Last night Professor Schwarz said the issue was about public money being spent and it needed to be accounted for. "Consistent attempts to deflect attention from the main issue by defaming me aren't going to work because the issue remains, and that's one of poor record keeping and poor policy adherence," he said.

The interim audit report estimates the Theatre Of Image, a youth community group, received assistance worth about $200,000 in money, equipment or university staff while Professor Yerbury was its chairwoman. The university funds cultural groups such as the TOI as part of its community outreach program but the auditors "were unable to identify any policies or criteria how TOI was selected as a community outreach program or partner". "Payments were made to TOI from invoices initiated by TOI and send to the vice-chancellor's office," the report says. "There was some evidence (eg 10 October 2005 email from the TOI general manager to Professor Yerbury) that the quantum of some TOI invoices was discussed in advance between TOI and Professor Yerbury. "Professor Yerbury's position as chair of TOI may have given rise to an actual or perceived conflict of interest through her competing duties as vice chancellor by signing grant applications/terms and conditions and approving payment of invoices to TOI."

The report raises another perceived conflict of interest with the appointment of Professor Yerbury to the board of private education company IBT Education in March last year, two months after signing a contract with the company to establish Macquarie University College, in the Sydney CBD, licensed to deliver Macquarie degrees. Professor Yerbury said she did not take up her appointment as a non-executive director until after stepping down as vice-chancellor last February and was always careful to signal any potential conflicts of interest.

The Weekend Australian also understands that an initial inspection of the Killara house, owned by the university on Sydney's north Shore, where Professor Yerbury has lived for the past 20 years, is in such poor condition that it has recommended demolition.

Professor Yerbury said she was unaware a second audit was being conducted and denied the expenses it was investigating were incurred by her. While she travelled extensively overseas in her ambassadorial role, Professor Yerbury said all travel was approved by Professor Schwarz and she had never entertained anyone at the university's expense, had paid for all her own taxis, and had not flown between Sydney and Melbourne or given such trips to non-university staff.

Professor Yerbury was on a salary package worth about $600,000, of which between $110,000 and $114,000 a year was taken out to cover the rent of the Killara house as well as utilities, maintenance and upkeep. She said she was not surprised the university might decide to demolish the house rather than renovate it, and said it was in such poor condition when she first moved that many of the rooms were only fit for storage. "It's not in good shape and it was a house that wasn't suitable for the purposes for which a vice-chancellor might use it, such as to entertain," she said. "Some rooms weren't carpeted, only two rooms had curtains, in some of the rooms the blinds were broken."

Professor Schwarz said he commissioned Deloitte to review matters pertaining to Professor Yerbury after gaps in the university's records became apparent, particularly related to its art collection and the employment details of Professor Yerbury. He said the issues arose when Professor Yerbury began negotiations for an early departure. The talks identified a number of questions about her accrued annual leave entitlements, termination payment and the ownership of artworks. "The matters are related to good record keeping and orderly governance. We've been presented with incomplete files, incomplete information and as a consequence we are obligated - because it is government money - to fill in those gaps," he said. Professor Schwarz would not comment on whether the audit had identified further anomalies, saying he was reluctant to discuss the details until the audit had been finalised.


Dangerous decisions: Courts should steer well clear of the carbon debate

THERE are some decisions that are too important to be left to the judiciary. And a carbon tax is one of them. But while governments debate the issue and agonise about the details, green activists are working through the courts to bypass the democratic process and force such a tax on the coal industry. Unlike governments, judges and tribunal members cannot equip themselves with sufficient information to make an informed decision about how to deal with climate change. For this reason, they must be stripped of the power to intervene in this area before the environmental lobby persuades activist judges that they alone can save the world.

There is another reason why judges should bow out of this area. And it was spelt out as recently as last week by High Court Chief Justice Murray Gleeson. Judicial officers risk a loss of public confidence if their rulings are considered to be no more than the imposition of their personal social goals. The green campaign, which started in NSW, received a welcome setback in Queensland this week. A tribunal headed by Greg Koppenol exposed the flawed logic of those who wanted to use Mr Koppenol's tribunal to force a coalmine to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Had they succeeded, it would have had the same effect as a carbon tax: the cost of the mine's coal would have risen and consumers would have bought their coal elsewhere. And it would have been a tax that would have been passed without a single vote by a representative body. Mr Koppenol made the right call. But that's not the point. Unless the states prevent judges and tribunals from venturing into this area, the nation is at risk of being lumbered with an inconsistent network of court-imposed carbon taxes.

For proof, just look at last year's loopy decision by NSW Land and Environment Court judge Nicola Pain. She ruled that an environmental impact statement for the Anvil Hill coalmine in the Hunter Valley was invalid because it failed to consider the emission of greenhouse gases. Ms Pain was an environmental activist before she was appointed to the bench by NSW Attorney-General and Environment Minister Bob Debus.

On this issue, the NSW Labor Government has betrayed the coal industry. Coalmining jobs are now at risk because of the actions of the state Labor Government. Instead of legislating to overturn Ms Pain's ruling and seeking a consistent national approach, the NSW Government has embraced her mad plan. It has asked the mine to respond to a Greens suggestion that factor into its costbase $109 a tonne for carbon dioxide emissions. Such a tax, which was calculated according to data in the much-criticised Stern review of climate change, would render the mine economically unviable. The issue of climate change demands a national approach, not an ad hoc network of inconsistent state taxes. Despite what some governments might think, taxes are not the solution to all the world's problems.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Muslim clerics push for flags to be flown on mosques

The Australian government's repeated insistence on assimilation bears some fruit:

Senior Muslim leaders have called for the Australian flag to be flown outside the nation's mosques as an expression of the Islamic community's "loyalty" and commitment to this country. Muslim clerics yesterday urged Australia's 300,000 Muslims to back the idea as a symbol of "integration" and pride. The former chairman of the Prime Minister's Muslim reference group, Ameer Ali, pushed the Australian Muslim community yesterday to adopt the flag. "Even in Muslim countries in the mosque they fly the national flag ... (such as) in Pakistan. If that can be done in a Muslim country why not in Australia?" Dr Ali said.

He said Muslims opposed to the flag being displayed outside mosques were religiously narrow-minded. "I think they are looking at it from a very narrow, religious angle," he said. Dr Ali said he spearheaded the initiative of displaying the flag outside Muslim schools owned by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils when he ran that organisation in 2002. He also ensured that students sang the national anthem during special functions. "We are Australian Muslims," he said. "And it (the flag) is a symbol of our national identity."

One of Australia's most respected female Muslim leaders, Aziza Abdel-Halim, said displaying a national flag outside mosques would not conflict with Islamic teachings. "Putting the Australian flag (outside mosques is) a good sign of integration, of being at one with everyone else in this country and our pride in being Australian," said Sister Abdel-Halim, also a former senior member of John Howard's Muslim advisory body. "I don't see anything at all that would contradict Islamic teachings in any way. It would be a nice gesture to have it, especially now that Muslims really need to underline the fact that they are loyal to this country."

Another respected imam, Amin Hady, said it would be especially important for the Australian flag to be flown outside mosques on special national occasions, such as Anzac Day and Australia Day. "That is to me a good idea to reaffirm the commitment of anyone living in this country, including the Muslims who are part of the population," the Indonesian imam said.

Islamic sources have told The Weekend Australian that the move to fly the flag was discussed by executive members of the Lebanese Muslim Association, one of the Islamic community's most prominent organisations. But the move, backed by several LMA board executives, to display the flag outside Lakemba Mosque, in Sydney's southwest, were staunchly opposed by some community members.

It is understood that the LMA's proposal came after a Muslim man tore down the Australian flag from the Lakemba office of the Mufti of Australia, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, last year and stomped on it to express his opposition to it. It is believed that Sheik Hilali - who recently labelled Westerners liars and oppressors and said Australia belonged more to Muslim immigrants who "paid for our passports" than Anglo-Saxon convicts - reprimanded the man before ordering him from the office, on the same premises as the mosque.

But Muslim leader Keysar Trad said last night some community members would consider the idea of displaying the flag as "politicising a place of worship". "I have no problem with the flag being at Muslim schools, but a place of worship is for all people to be equal and as such I believe places of worship should maintain the tradition of not raising the national flag," Mr Trad said. And prominent Sydney-based Islamic cleric, Khalil Shami, expressed fears yesterday that hoisting the flag outside mosques would lead to potential violence and further division within the community among factions opposed to the idea.


Single parents told to work

Almost a quarter of a million single parents will soon be forced back to work or face an eight-week halt to their welfare benefits. In one of the biggest welfare shake-ups in years, about 233,000 single mums and dads will need to find work after July 1, Federal Government figures reveal. They must find at least 15 hours work a week when their child turns seven. Previously, single parents could wait until their youngest child turned 16 before facing a work test. No one will be spared finding work unless they have children with disabilities, are studying, already working, looking for work or have five or more children.

The Parenting Payment changes will affect the estimated 600,000 children with no working parent. They will also affect the estimated 15,000 single mothers aged 15 to 20.

Workforce Participation Minister Sharman Stone said yesterday that there had never been a better time for people to re-enter the workforce and re-skill. "Welfare dependency is not a recipe for a life full of participation in Australian society," Dr Stone said. "Children growing up in a home without a breadwinner are five times more likely to end up welfare-dependent themselves."

Every fortnight, Centrelink pays single parents $512.10 and parents with partners $379.80 if their income and assets are below set levels. Under Centrelink rules, the Parenting Payment would be stopped for eight weeks if a recipient: Refused a suitable job offer; Left a job on a whim; Was dismissed for bad behaviour; Failed to turn up for a Work for the Dole scheme.

But Dr Stone said there were checks and balances to the new system. "This is a very caring reform to help parents and their children have more choices in life," she said. Job-seekers would be required to find work only if it is less than 60 minutes from home, if child care is affordable, and where the job pays more than $50 over their fortnightly pension.If payments were stopped, Centrelink would still help out with essential items such as rent, food and medication, a spokeswoman for Dr Stone said.

Australia's single parents will be entering a buoyant labour market. The jobless rate is at a 30-year low of 4.5 per cent.


PM Howard targets Australia's Leftist "Mr Bet Each Way"

Shades of "flip-flop" John Kerry! The cartoon above portrays Labor Party leader Rudd talking to his environment spokesman -- former anti-American rock singer Peter Garrett, who has now backed down on lots of what he once claimed to believe in. His former band was called "Midnight Oil"

DESPITE an embarrassing week, John Howard's tactic to nail Kevin Rudd is clear - he will depict Rudd as a political chameleon without conviction, being all things to all people.

Rudd's genius has been to project as a fresh and positive new leader playing both sides of most issues. But this has a limited shelf life.

The Government's big three - Howard, Peter Costello and Alexander Downer - are desperate to expose Rudd's dual messages. They have a growing body of evidence to help them. Consider the list: Rudd campaigns as a climate change believer who won't hurt the coal industry; as an opponent of Howard's industrial laws who will look after small business; and as the champion of withdrawing forces from Iraq who upholds the US alliance.

Downer tightened the chameleon noose around Rudd at the close of the parliamentary week. "His position, as usual, is every position," he said of Rudd's Iraq policy. "If you want troops in Iraq, yes, he can deliver that; if you don't, yes, he can deliver that. If you support the Americans, yes, he can do that. If you support the insurgents and the terrorists and so on, yes, he can deliver that as well. This country deserves an Opposition Leader with a bit of strength, a bit of commitment."

Downer and Howard only work in lockstep on political tactics. The latest Newspoll shows not only Rudd's high satisfaction rating, at 60 per cent, but also his very low dissatisfaction, at only 15 per cent. Rudd's success is that he doesn't offend. The goodwill factor is huge. Howard's tactic is to force Rudd into hard choices and, if Rudd remains elusive, then to depict him as weak and without conviction. The problem for Howard is that Rudd can second-guess these tactics. He knows what is happening.

The message from the first fortnight of parliament is that Rudd, the most formidable Labor leader Howard has faced since 1996, will be very difficult to dismantle.


Victorian schools declare themselves 'war toy free zones'

Toy soldiers, model war planes and wrestling figurines have been banned in schools across the state in a politically correct crackdown. Primary schools and kindergartens have declared themselves "war toy free zones" and outlawed traditional toys and playground games that have even a tenuous link to war.

All schools contacted by the Sunday Herald Sun said they had a policy banning war toys. Principals said schools feared they could be sued by litigious parents if they allowed plastic weapons and war toys in the school ground. "The litigation is so rife you don't risk it," said Clifton Hill primary school head Geoffrey Warren. "It can take a bit of fun out of things. But there's such a wide range of views among parents and you don't please all the people all the time, let me tell you."

Children at primary schools and kindergartens are also forbidden from playing "war-like games" such as cowboys and indians and poison ball. "Obviously parents are going to be disappointed their children are losing the opportunity to do what children have always done," said Parents Victoria president Gail McHardy. "I think there would be much stronger parental support for a ban on video games at school." At one Melbourne kindergarten, children who bring in wrestling figurines are told to put them back in their bags until they get home.

Former RSL president Bruce Ruxton said the social engineers behind the ban on traditional childhood fun were misguided. "They think it's evil," he said. You won't stop kids doing that. It's a political correctness of some type, but misguided."

Child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Greg said the war toy ban had no logical basis. "There is no evidence playing with toy soldiers or wrestling figurines in any way, shape or form has negative effects on the child's psychological development," he said. "I'm happy to embrace new research and see it filter down into policy. But really, show me the evidence."

The Government yesterday distanced itself from the toy bans. "It is up to the school community to determine what type of toy is acceptable at their school," said a spokesman for Education Minister John Lenders.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Therapy plan for terror suspects

A bit bizarre but treating Islamic terrorism as a mental illness has much to recommend it

TERROR suspects could be given taxpayer-funded counselling for being angry or having low self-esteem. Under the proposal, the Federal Government would provide psychological counselling and anger management support to terror suspects and those subject to control orders. But secrecy surrounds the initiative because the Australian Federal Police has refused to reveal the specifics of its proposal.

Scant details were released through a Federal Government question on notice. "Some of the options considered include religious education, psychological support and assistance with issues such as anger management, low self-esteem, social identity and family separation," the AFP said, responding to a question on voluntary education programs for terrorists. "The AFP continues to examine how education and counselling may be used within the context of control orders. "Programs developed overseas in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are also being examined as part of broader AFP considerations." The AFP refused to say how much the program would cost.

The Opposition has also demanded to know what research shows a link between terrorism and people with low self-esteem. The battle for answers started back in October when Opposition Justice Minister Senator Joe Ludwig asked about voluntary programs for terrorists. And during a Senate Estimates Committee on Wednesday, Senator Ludwig again demanded more details from the Government. "Labor was interested in whether there was a link between terrorism and these pathological and behavioural problems and we are looking forward to the AFP's response," Senator Ludwig said yesterday. "The other issue that Labor is interested in is whether or not these programs, which are constructed overseas, are appropriate for an Australian context."

It's understood counselling and education programs would not be forced upon alleged terrorists. In their answer provided last week, the AFP said it continued "to examine how education and counselling may be used with the context of control orders". "Any education and counselling which might be employed will need to be tailored to the individual circumstances of the person placed under the order." It said it would examine how education and counselling could be used within the context of control orders, which impose a range of restrictions and need the Attorney-General's approval


Howard stands by Iraq policy

A defiant John Howard has refused to concede it was a mistake to invade Iraq as he battles political unrest over a war going from bad to worse. Speaking in Wellington, where Iraq has overshadowed annual talks with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, the Prime Minister also defended his controversial attack on US presidential hopeful Barack Obama. "Do I have cause to withdraw or retract? No I don't," Mr Howard said yesterday.

Reflecting on his claim that al-Qaida would be praying for Senator Obama to be the next US president, the PM denied he had intruded upon internal US politics -- saying it wasn't as though he criticised the senator on, say, domestic housing policies for American cities. "I made an observation about a single view expressed by an aspirant for office in another country on an issue . . . which directly affects my own country," he said.

After a torrid week in which Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has accused the Government's policies of keeping Australian troops in Iraq for decades, Mr Howard refused to concede that continuing deadly bloodshed in Iraq after four years indicated the decision to send Australian troops was wrong. "I do not resile in any way from the decision that Australia took," he said. "Like any other democratically elected politician, I am accountable for it before the bar of public opinion in my country. If you are asking me do I recant the original decision, no I do not."

He said the size of Australia's troop deployment was "about right" but he reserved the right to make modest variations from time to time. While Iraq surfaced only fleetingly in their official talks, the issue dominated the two leaders' subsequent media conference. New Zealand has joined Australia in the US-led military presence in Afghanistan but Ms Clark again refused to back Australia's involvement in Iraq, saying only that she respected the Howard Government's decision. "I respect Australia's decisions. I don't always agree with them," she said.


Arrogant Greenies want it both ways

Even very flexible tax rules are not good enough for some of them

FIFTEEN environmental groups have been warned they could be stripped of their status as charities and be forced to pay taxes for engaging in political activity, amid claims the Howard Government wants to silence its critics. The warnings follow an Australian Taxation Office investigation into complaints that groups masquerading as charities are devoting their activities to campaigning against the Government. Documents obtained by The Weekend Australian under Freedom of Information laws also suggest right-wing church group the Exclusive Brethren is facing ATO scrutiny over political activities.

The Wilderness Society, which has clashed heavily with the Government over Tasmanian logging, said yesterday it had passed its most recent tax audit. But national strategic campaign director Virginia Young said her group had been the subject of a campaign by sections of the Government to remove its tax-deductible status. "It would be such an assault on civil society and democracy," Ms Young said.

In 2003, a tax office review established that groups wanting tax-deductible status were not banned from political activity provided their dominant purpose was charity.

The FOI documents show that last year, after complaints to a Senate estimates committee and in newspapers, the ATO cross-checked Australian Electoral Commission records on political donations with its register of tax-deductible organisations. It found 59 organisations were worthy of further investigation over possible breaches of their status as charities, which makes them exempt from income tax and eligible for fringe benefits and state tax concessions.

ATO deputy tax commissioner Mark Konza said he could not breach privacy by naming the organisations reviewed. But he said one group had lost its status as a charity because it was "only engaged in political activity". "It (the review) has resulted in another 15 organisations modifying their activity," he said. The review was a response to the Senate estimates committee hearing, not an attempt to target particular groups, he said.

Ms Young said the Wilderness Society had received no warning. "My feeling was that there was a campaign last year run by some sections of the Government and the Institute of Public Affairs to attempt to remove the Wilderness Society's tax-deductibility," she said. "But I can assure you we do not donate money to any political party. We try to get attention for environmental issues and our purpose is charitable because we are focused 100 per cent on environmental outcomes for Australia."

Liberal senator Brett Mason called for a review of charities. "I don't care whether they are political," he said. "But if they are, they should play by the same rules on tax as political parties."

Australian Conservation Foundation director Don Henry backed the claims of a campaign against green groups. But he said the ATO had established that environmental work was charitable and that lobbying governments was part of the charitable work. "The ACF was audited last year and we came out with a clean bill of health," he said.


Pro-American Stand from Australian Left

LABOR frontbencher Peter Garrett today backed plans for a new US military communications base in Western Australia after being targeted over his silence on the issue yesterday. The Opposition spokesman for Climate Change, environment and the arts had refused to answer journalists' questions about the unmanned base, approved after three years of secret negotiations between the US and Australian Governments.

In his previous life as a rock star, Mr Garrett and his band Midnight Oil railed against US military might with songs such as US Forces, Hercules and When the Generals Talk. But today, Mr Garrett said Labor had not received a briefing on the proposal at the time he was questioned. "Subsequently, the defence spokesman (Joel Fitzgibbon) has made it clear that the Labor Party supports the joint facilities," he said. "I 100 per cent support the defence minister on that issue. "I want to make it perfectly clear that when I joined the Labor Party I accepted and understood what the policy was for Australian joint facilities ... and that is a policy I unreservedly accept."

The Government yesterday went on the offensive after Mr Garrett refused to endorse the new shared facility with the US proposed for Geraldton. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Mr Garrett's silence betrayed his long-term opposition. "Let us be absolutely frank about this, (Mr Garrett) was always a supporter of the closure of American bases in Australia," Mr Downer told parliament. "There he was at Alice Springs in the 1980s with fellow travellers demanding that Pine Gap be closed - close all the joint facilities."

But Mr Garrett today said the Government was simply attempting political mischief by mocking him and was hoping to turn attention away from climate change. He said his position on the US military had changed from when he protested outside the Pine Gap base near Alice Springs in the 1980s. "Twenty-five and 30 years ago, like a lot of other Australians I was involved in actions and activities across this country," he said. "Of course you change your mind about some things over time. No one listening to this interview would expect otherwise."


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Limit Muslim migration, Australia warned

Good that somebody dares to say the obvious

Life can become untenable when the Muslim population of a non-Muslim country reaches about 10 per cent, as shown by France, a Jewish expert on Islam says. The Australian Jewish News yesterday quoted Raphael Israeli as saying Australia should cap Muslim immigration or risk being swamped by Indonesians. Professor Israeli told the Herald that was a misunderstanding. But he said: "When the Muslim population gets to a critical mass you have problems. That is a general rule, so if it applies everywhere it applies in Australia."

Professor Israeli, an expert on Islamic history from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has been brought to Australia by the Shalom Institute of the University of NSW. The Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council is co-hosting many of his activities. He said Muslim immigrants had a reputation for manipulating the values of Western countries, taking advantage of their hospitality and tolerance. "Greeks or Italians or Jews don't use violence. There is no Italian or Jewish Hilaly [a reference to the controversial cleric Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly of Lakemba mosque]. Why?"

Professor Israeli said that when the Muslim population increased, so did the risk of violence. "Where there are large Muslim populations who are prepared to use violence you are in trouble. If there is only 1 or 2 per cent they don't dare to do it - they don't have the backing of big communities. They know they are drowned in the environment of non-Muslims and are better behaved." In Australia, Muslims account for about 1.5 per cent of the population.

Professor Israeli said that in France, which has the highest proportion of Muslims in Europe at about 10 per cent, it was already too late. There were regions even the police were scared to enter, and militant Muslims were changing the country's political, economic and cultural fabric, and demanding anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies. "French people say they are strangers in their own country. This is a point of no return. "If you are on a collision course, what can you do? You can't put them all in prison, and anyway they are not all violent. You can't send them all back. You are really in trouble. It's irreversible."

Professor Israeli said that in Australia a few imams had preached violence. "You should not let fundamentalist imams come here. Screen them 1000 times before they are admitted, and after they are admitted screen what they say in the mosque." He said some Muslims wanted to impose sharia (Islamic law) in their adopted countries, and when propaganda did not work they turned to intimidation.

Professor Israeli said his task was to describe, not prescribe. He also said his warning did not include immigrants, including Muslims, who simply wanted to improve their lot. As long as they respected the law and democracy, their numbers - Buddhist, Muslim or Jew - were immaterial. It became material when a group accepted violence. "The trains in London and Madrid were not blown up by Christians or Buddhists but by Muslims, so it is them we have to beware," he said.

Keysar Trad, of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, said "Not only religious clerics need to be screened before entering Ausralia but also academics . this type of academic does nothing but create hatred, suspicion and division. We should review not only what the man has said but also those who have sponsored him, to see if they endorse those comments."


Leftist leader a cafeteria Christian

Is Kevin Rudd a serious Christian? Along with most observers, I've been prepared to take his professions of faith on trust. However, the more I read of what he's said to interviewers on the subject, the more I wonder.

Regular readers of this column will recall a bizarre remark he made in an ABC Radio Saturday Extra interview with Geraldine Doogue: "The starting point with Christianity is a theology of social justice." As I noted some weeks ago, orthodox Christianity's starting point is actually the Incarnation, God in human flesh. By comparison, social justice theology's concern with redistribution of wealth via taxes or industrial legislation is at best a second-order issue.

On the evidence of the Saturday Extra interview, the most charitable thing one could say about Rudd's take on Christianity is that it is partial. It owes less to the Apostles' Creed than to Keir Hardie, the Presbyterian activist who helped found the British Labour Party. Its focus is on this world, seen through a decidedly ideological prism.

Even more disturbing are Rudd's accounts of how he made the transition from cradle Catholic to his current affiliation, which Barney Zwartz, The Age's religious affairs correspondent, tells us is evangelically Anglican. In November 2005 he summarised matters for Peter Hartcher, for a feature article in the Fairfax press's Good Weekend. He alluded to his Catholic origins and his wife's Anglicanism and said of the marriage: "It's a unity ticket, but I never resigned from Rome."

Likening the two main Australian denominations to Labor Party factions was jocular enough to deter Hartcher from further probing. But Julia Baird, in a Sunday Profile on ABC Radio in March 2006, referred to the Good Weekend piece and asked: "Can you clear this up for us: what actually happened?" Rudd replied: "Well, having just voted for RU-486, maybe they will resign for me. I'm not sure. Well, no, I've never sought formally to separate myself from the Catholic Church because I married an Anglican and I just have a very simple view that families that pray together stay together, usually. And I've got to say that the big thing for me is that denominationalism means virtually nothing to me."

In the Baird interview he also described the year he spent in Sydney between school and university: "I knocked around a lot of churches and got to know a lot of people and discovered that Christianity was wider than Roman Catholicism and there were a whole lot of other Christian traditions to talk to and think about and so through that process I came to an adult view of faith."

Adopting your wife's denomination because "families that pray together stay together" can easily be defended on pragmatic grounds. But is it really what you'd expect of someone who took an intelligent interest in his faith? Of course, unlike the Labor Party, you can't just send in your ticket and resign, but there are various courses of action, including regular attendance at Protestant worship, that effectively exclude you from membership of the Catholic Church. What are we to make of a change of allegiance with no renunciation of a previous, profoundly different affiliation?

Technically the segue to Anglicanism is a fairly simple matter, because Canterbury recognises the validity of Roman baptism and confirmation. For ex-Anglicans, becoming a Catholic still involves a second confirmation. It used to mean conditional re-baptism as well, though these days the validity of the other baptismal rite is accepted. Reception into either church after confirmation in the other was once a very solemn event indeed, and is now treated with increasing formality - after a latitudinarian phase - by Catholic clergy. For Rudd in the early 1980s, joining his wife's congregation as a communicant member would have been an effortless business.

The ease of that transition is in marked contrast to the anguish felt by many throughout most of the past century who were involved in mixed marriages. Rome once insisted without exception on the children of such marriages being brought up as Catholics and, often enough, Protestant grandparents would threaten to disinherit everyone concerned if they were. Even those struggles were trivial by comparison with the earlier sacrifices of people on both sides, who endured beggary, torture and martyrdom for the sake of their faith.

Of course no one wants to go back to the sectarian hostilities of the recent past, let alone the Reformation. The reason why I mention them is to reinforce the point that there are persisting, intractable differences on weighty matters of principle that divide Anglicans and Catholics. Rudd can flatter himself that knocking about with other Christians has given him "an adult view of faith". But isn't his line that "denominationalism means virtually nothing to me" the sign of a theologically undernourished faith, one with no distinguishing characteristics? While we know he's read some of Bonhoeffer, where does he stand on the fundamentals?

For example, evangelical Anglicans regard a communion service as a memorial of the Last Supper, a symbolic community meal. Catholics believe the mass is a propitiatory sacrifice, where the transubstantiated body and blood of Christ are offered up on the altar in a re-enactment of Calvary. It is hardly possible to overstate the difference between the two approaches or the understandings of the role of the church and the kinds of spirituality to which they give rise.

Evangelical Anglicans tend to a Calvinist view of the Bible as the layman's chief guide and ultimate source of religious authority. Catholic theology regards the Bible as a collection of books the early church chose and canonised, which Rome alone has the power to interpret definitively. It also places vastly greater weight on tradition as a source of authority.

Another great gulf relates to the question of the paramount power - and, in some circumstances, infallibility - asserted by the papacy. Some 40 years ago, when evangelical influence was in a relative decline and Canterbury's Archbishop Michael Ramsay visited Rome in the spring of 1966, it briefly seemed possible that Anglicans might one day see their way clear to accepting the pope as "first among equals" and that papal infallibility might be so narrowly defined that it ceased to be an obstacle. Those halcyon days have long since passed.

In the era when a reunion between Rome and Canterbury was widely anticipated, it was fashionable in some circles to trivialise the divisions between them and even in trendy circles to encourage occasional inter-denominational communion, especially at weddings and funerals. It's a practice that has been officially discouraged by the local Catholic hierarchy since at least 1998, when George Pell as archbishop of Melbourne created headlines by telling Jeff Kennett privately, and other non-Catholic mourners during the ceremony, not to come to communion at Bob Santamaria's funeral. But before then the clerical laxity of the times may, perhaps, have allowed even the evangelical Rudd to imagine he could continue to have a foot in both camps.

Canterbury decided in 1992 to proceed with the ordination of women as priests, an innovation categorically disallowed by John Paul II. This precluded any possibility of reunion and served to re-emphasise other irreconcilable differences over issues of faith and order. Notable among them is the present pope's ruling that the historic bull Apostolicae Curae (1896) declaring Anglican ordinations null and void was itself an infallible pronouncement. Another element is the fragmentation and impending collapse of global Anglicanism as an entity. Where once high church Anglo-Catholics were often doctrinally quite close to Roman Catholics, those Anglicans who rejected female ordination on principle have mostly crossed the Rubicon, leaving a more emphatically Protestant church behind them.

Practically anyone who'd regularly read newspapers over the past 25 years would be broadly aware of the state of relations between Rome and Canterbury. Churchgoing Anglicans, and people with an evangelical allegiance especially, could hardly help but be acutely aware of the turn of events. For nearly a decade in Australia it's been official: Protestants aren't welcome to communion at Catholic altars. It's always been obvious that you couldn't in good conscience be both a Freemason and a papal knight.

If the Leader of the Opposition wants to pursue the Catholic vote - something the ALP has taken for granted far too long - he's perfectly entitled to do so. However he can't pretend that sometimes, when it suits him, deep down he's still a member of the tribe. Rudd likes to accuse the Howard ministry of hypocrisy, in selectively accepting praise from the Salvos for a tough stance on drugs while dismissing the Anglican primate out of hand for criticising them over Iraq or industrial relations. On account of this alleged cherry-picking, he calls the Government "cafeteria Christians", but it's a charge to which he himself seems at least as vulnerable.


Police thugs in Victoria

An attempt to protect the fat Lesbian affirmative-action appointee who is presiding over a meltdown

A political storm erupted last night over a police hunt for the names of officers critical of Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon. Liberal MP Bernie Finn accused senior police of contempt of Parliament for setting "bully boys" on to him. Mr Finn said an ethical standards officer demanded a meeting with him after he quoted several police emails in Parliament this week, including one that described Ms Nixon as "a disgrace". He said Det-Sgt Trevor King wanted to meet him at 10am today to find out who wrote the emails.

The meeting was suddenly cancelled yesterday after the Herald Sun raised questions with the Chief Commissioner's office. Ms Nixon's staff said the meeting "had been set up in error". But Mr Finn said he rejected the excuse. "You can't can set up a meeting and demand a specific time by mistake," he said.

Det Sgt King also left a message for Mr Finn late yesterday stating he "no longer sees it is necessary to meet with him". Mr Finn said the ESD officer had been particularly interested in an email titled "(F)at beanbag". "He wanted me to tell him who it was from," Mr Finn said. He said the police investigator had stepped over the line in his bid to track down the author of the email.

The Upper House MP said he was seeking advice about laying contempt of Parliament charges. "My view is that this is attempting to heavy a Member of Parliament and may well constitute contempt of Parliament," he said. "I don't like her (Christine Nixon) and she doesn't like me, but is that any reason for her to send the bully boys after me."

The storm erupted on Tuesday when Mr Finn made a speech highly critical of Ms Nixon. He quoted from emails that were sent to him by serving and former police officers after an earlier speech in which he said she should be sacked. One email, from a serving detective-sergeant in the metropolitan area, said: "Never in my career (25 years of operational policing including stints at the homicide squad and armed offenders squad) have I seen morale at such a low ebb. "It is due entirely to the fact that an inexperienced academic was appointed to the top job." Another email read: "She has destroyed the morale of all members and is a disgrace."

Mr Finn said he was contacted by three retired superintendents who wrote: "The Victoria Police is being managed -- not commanded -- by Snow White with the Marx Brothers supporting her." A member of staff at Mr Finn's electorate office in Sunshine said Det-Sgt King tried to trick her into revealing the author of one email. "He tried to get me to give him a name, and said Bernie wouldn't mind," Christina Culliver said last night.


LET THE GREAT DEBATE ON CLIMATE CONTINUE: Science must not become a slave to its own orthodoxies

An editorial in "The Australian" below:

There is every indication that rather than being over, the real debate over climate change is only now getting started. On the one hand, the Australian Labor Party is once again high-stepping away from its greener elements, promising that if elected, Labor would not pull the plug on Australia's $23 billion coal export industry and would be tolerant of new coal explorations - so long as high standards are met.

What exactly such standards will be is not yet entirely clear. But there are foreshadowings in the revelation that the NSW Government is forcing Centennial Coal to factor into its costs $109 per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted when the coal from its proposed Anvil Hill mine is burned. This price, based on the rate proposed by the widely criticised Stern Review, would make the mine financially unviable.

But on the other hand there is a growing chorus of murmurs against the received orthodoxy of climate change - and especially the dogmatic attempts by some scientists and politicians to shut down debate. While the recent IPCC report was held up as the last word on the subject, many scientists have pointed out that the 90 per cent certainty ascribed to the report's findings is in scientific terms not very certain at all.

Meanwhile, more attention is being paid to other levers that may influence the weather. For example, at the Danish National Space Centre in 2005 an experiment successfully linked cosmic rays to the formation of clouds. The discovery was significant because it adds weight to the link between cyclical sunspot activity and the climate here on Earth. At the same time it provides a more satisfactory explanation for contradictory Antarctic temperature trends that cannot be explained by conventional greenhouse global warming models.

Whatever the ultimate validity of the Danish experiment, it is worth applauding the determined scepticism in the face of orthodoxy demonstrated by the scientists behind it. For while there are many valid reasons to cut unhealthy smog-creating carbon emissions, there are also many reasons to be sceptical about the near-religious fervour with which the simplistic carbon-equals-warming equation is too often defended.

It is profoundly unscientific to say the debate is over and that sceptics are not only wrong on the facts but morally unhinged - as demonstrated by the unsubtle and offensive epithet "denier". It was scepticism that led Copernicus to challenge contemporary orthodoxy and assert that the Earth is not the centre of the universe. Today's scepticism could well prove that man-made carbon emissions are not the sole, or even primary, driver of climate change - a conclusion radically unsettling to those who believe that humanity is a destroyer rather than an improver of the Earth.

The fact is that our climate is infinitely complex. The models climatologists use to predict the future are incredibly sophisticated, yet blunt instruments. Scientists can never account for all the variables involved - indeed, no one has successfully come up with a mathematical equation to describe the formation of a single cloud. And scientists are often woefully out of their depth in the real world.

History is littered with lives and regimes that were wrecked when science was allowed to drive policy with no thought to humanity. Tearing down the global carbon-based economy to - in theory - replace it at a later date with unproven and undeveloped technologies would be a similar folly. It is only by tempering science with economics and the market, which is the most efficient arbiter of humanity's wants and needs, that smart climate policy can be made. Thus the old bumper sticker's exhortation to "Think locally, act globally" becomes a practical guidepost: think locally, by preserving jobs and investing time and money in creating a new complementary export industry around clean coal technology. And think globally by exporting our clean-burning, high-energy content anthracite coal and the technologies to ameliorate the effects of power generation to countries such as China, allowing them to develop their economies, improving air quality along with the quality of life.

It will be interesting, decades from now, to look back on the climate change debate. There is every chance we will regard today's headlines with the same bemusement with which we view the apocalyptic predictions of Thomas Malthus or the Club of Rome. Bob Brown's economically illiterate calls to shut the export coal industry and Tim Flannery's attempt to use two scant years' worth of data to predict the demise of the Arctic ice cap already look silly.

And for all the disasters predicted at the extreme ends of the climate change models, the developing world is suffering daily disasters in the form of preventable disease that stem not from too much growth, but too little, and which cost millions of lives a year. Here it will be economic growth, not carbon restrictions, that ends the tragedy. To say there are "limits to growth", as the Club of Rome's old saw goes, is to say there are limits to human potential and imagination. By all means let us take care of the planet and work to cut carbon emissions. But in the process let us not kick the ladder of development out from under us and consign the world to the sort of misery predicted by the doomsayers.

Friday, February 16, 2007


How Australians see themselves has become a theme for the coming election

The small town of Taylors Arm, in the rolling farmlands of northern New South Wales, was once famous as the setting for "A Pub With No Beer", an Australian country song. The customers who flocked to the pub for Australia Day on January 26th were displaying a fashion that has not been much in evidence in the 50 years since the song was a hit: many were carrying an Australian flag, or had one stamped on their bodies. Until recently, the flag was rarely flaunted. Now, few politicians risk a television statement without being seen to be standing next to it.

As Australia's federal parliament came back this week from its lengthy summer break, the flag's rebirth has become a symbol of the so-called "culture wars" that are likely to reverberate through the general election later this year. John Howard, the prime minister, who will be seeking a fifth term for his conservative coalition government, has successfully stoked these wars to win four elections since 1996. But this time he is facing Kevin Rudd, who took over as leader of the opposition Labor Party in December and who has staked out a tough response to Mr Howard's cultural definition of Australia.

An opinion poll on February 6th gave Labor a 12-point lead over the government, after the distribution of second-preference votes, compared with the two points it had just before Mr Rudd's ascension. Voters also rated Mr Rudd 16 points ahead of Mr Howard in their approval rating (compared with an 18-point deficit for Kim Beazley, Mr Rudd's predecessor). Despite these good showings, however, Mr Rudd faces a big battle to persuade voters to buy his picture of themselves.

The culture war stems from a bid, by the Labor government defeated in 1996, to redraw Australia's national identity. Labor's picture of the country focused on multiculturalism, closer ties with Asia, breaking the constitutional link with the British monarchy and making amends for past wrongs to indigenous people.

Mr Howard robustly rejected all that. On Australia Day last year (the holiday marks the British settlement of Australia in 1788), he launched a campaign to revive the teaching of Australian history in schools and to recapture the "values, traditions and accomplishments of the old Australia". This was code for the old British, pre-multicultural Australia.

In a speech last October the prime minister lauded certain historians who had rebuffed "the black armband view of Australian history". To Mr Howard, this mournful version paints the country's story as "a litany of sexism, racism and class warfare" and is a product of the "posses of political correctness".

Mr Rudd countered in November with "Howard's Brutopia", an article in the MONTHLY, a centre-left journal. He called the prime minister's culture war a strategy drawn from the American Republican Party, designed to raise fears and then offer voters what appear to be old certainties: "tradition versus modernity, absolutism versus moral relativism, monoculture versus multiculture". All this, pronounces Mr Rudd, is a cover for "the values debate...that Howard is desperate not to have". He defines the debate he wants as a battle between treating people fairly and the "market fundamentalism" of Mr Howard's economic policies.

The unfurling of flags in Taylors Arm and elsewhere suggests that Mr Howard's brand of inward-looking Anglo nationalism may still be doing rather well. But, come the election, Mr Rudd has other things on his side: relative youth (at 49 he is 18 years Mr Howard's junior), stability and drive. He has made the running with climate change and education, two issues that register strongly with voters. On the other hand, Mr Howard has the advantage of incumbency, a successful record as a ruthless political strategist and an economy that is humming into its 16th year of uninterrupted growth.

The opinion poll identified a large corps of swing-voters. No doubt it will be they who decide which way the election goes, and perhaps the culture war too.


Big money in being a top Greenie

Australian of the Year Tim Flannery is cashing in on his top gong while accusing industrial giants of running a smear campaign against him. The climate change crusader confirmed he was charging up to $US50,000 ($64,600) to deliver speeches to American corporations - making him Australia's all-time highest paid public speaker. "If it's investment banks and that sort of stuff, you charge them, you know," Professor Flannery said yesterday. He revealed he received $US50,000 for a speech last year - before he collected his award - and will soon be paid the same amount for stepping up to the microphone on an upcoming speaking tour of the US.

But he said he charged "much less" for speeches in Australia and often gave presentations for free. Professor Flannery said he intended to donate 10 per cent of his earnings to a yet-to-be-nominated environmental fund as demand for his services skyrocket. The scientist, explorer and best-selling author said he was fielding up to 20 speaking requests a day from around the world since being named Australian of the Year on January 26.

But he said the honour was soured by a campaign to "blacken his name" and discredit his views on global warming. "There is a real attempt to marginalise me and what I say," he said.

Professor Flannery, 51, stressed that he did not charge for any presentations directly related to his duties as Australian of the Year. And he said $US50,000 was at the extreme top end. But the $US50,000 price tag puts Professor Flannery ahead of other Australians including Paul Keating, Steve Waugh, Shane Warne, Ian Thorpe and Lleyton Hewitt. They are believed to charge up to $A35,000.

Yesterday Professor Flannery told the Australian Workers Union biannual meeting - in an appearance he did not charge for - that claims he wanted to shut down the coal industry were untrue. But he admitted he had some reservations about the viability of clean coal technology.

Greens leader Bob Brown meanwhile said the economic cost of pursuing so-called "clean coal" technology was comparable with shutting down the coal industry. He controversially proposed last week to ban coal exports and coal fired power generation, a move which would cost an estimated 20,000 jobs in Queensland and cripple the state's economy.


Meddling with families rejected -- so far

[Queensland] Premier Peter Beattie has rejected a call to close a legal loophole allowing parents to smack their children, saying it would make him a hypocrite. Former Education Minister Dean Wells yesterday called for a legislative ban on parents smacking their children, saying as it was "unlawful to hit your next door neighbour with a stick, it ought to be unlawful to hit your kids with a stick". Mr Wells, the member for Murrumba, said corporal punishment of children was not linked with better behaviour.

But the Premier yesterday said although he respected Mr Wells' view, he did not share it. "I have to plead guilty, I'm not going to be a hypocrite," Mr Beattie said. "I have smacked my three children. It's about moderation. "It's not about crazy violence in any way but I think that any parent has the right, in my view within reason - provided there's no permanent damage or injury - to smack their child." Attorney-General Kerry Shine echoed the Premier, saying there were no plans to change or appeal the laws on domestic discipline.

The issue will be discussed at a public forum on children's rights today at Parliament House. The forum, presented by Just Rights Queensland and Concerned Psychologists Queensland, will also include Children's Commissioner Elizabeth Fraser. Ms Fraser will tell the forum that parents have responsibility for raising children and encouraging their involvement in society, including discouraging inappropriate behaviour.

Section 280 of the code states it is lawful for a parent or person in place of a parent to use "by way of correction, discipline, management or control, towards a child or pupil. . . such force as is reasonable under the circumstances". A group of 12 Queensland psychologists lobbied the State Government in 2005 to repeal the law, which dates back to 1899. Dr John Reddington, who represents Concerned Psychologists Queensland - a lobby group opposed to the physical punishment of children - said smacking should be banned, just like capital punishment and drink-driving. He said the practice had been outlawed in schools and in the case of foster parents, creating an "absurd situation". "The whole thing is an illegal mess and needs to be sorted out quite apart from the ethical consideration," Dr Reddington said.


Do-gooder reproductive tyranny

A leading Queensland IVF doctor says couples are being forced into "reproductive tourism" because they were no longer able to control the gender of their babies in Australia. A Brisbane couple is this week in Los Angeles, spending $40,000 to ensure they fall pregnant with a girl after giving birth to three boys. The treatment was available in Australia until last year when it was banned by a ruling of the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Queensland Fertility Group director David Molloy yesterday called on the council to reconsider its decision before more couples chose "reproductive tourism". "Personally I am in favour of using IVF for gender selection," said Dr Molloy, who is also deputy chairman of the Australian IVF directors group. "Given that couples have been practising informal and unscientific gender-selection for centuries and we have a technique now that finally works, I think it would be reasonable to reconsider the ban."

The Brisbane couple - a 45-year-old businessman and his 37-year-old wife - now in Los Angeles have three young sons and are hoping to complete their family by using the hi-tech genetic process. The woman underwent treatment yesterday, with surgery to insert two of her fertilised female eggs at the Los Angeles clinic of Dr Jeffrey Steinberg, who has pioneered sex-selection technology.

"I've got three boys and I wouldn't swap any of them, but having a girl would be absolutely amazing," the woman told The Courier-Mail yesterday. "I have done my job for Australia - I've had three boys, can't I have one (girl) for me?" Her husband said that, while he would have been happy to have three sons, he wanted to give his wife the chance to have her dream of a daughter come true regardless of the cost. "We are probably above the average wage but it's still a lot of money - mind you, it's not about the money," he said. The woman said the couple had kept the treatment a secret from their friends and almost all of their family due to the controversy surrounding the issue of gender-selection.

Her husband said the couple had struggled with having to lie to Australian authorities when having their initial IVF treatment in Australia before flying to the US for a 10-day trip to have her eggs removed and fertilised in a laboratory, with the female embryos to be re-inserted three days later. The woman's Australian fertility treatment saw her last week produce four eggs, which were extracted in Los Angeles and then fertilised with her husband's sperm. After three days of growing in the lab, a cell was taken from each embryo for a test to determine the gender. Two of the woman's fertilised eggs were female, with those eggs re-inserted yesterday.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Police corruption in Victoria

Despite allegations of corruption in the Victorian Police Force, no one seems to be taking them seriously, much less doing anything about it. Welcome to Victoria, the State of Denial. If you believe the bosses, the Police Association and the Bracks government, Victoria has the cleanest police force in the country. But Bluestone has been speaking to police who say otherwise. They say the media has been asking the wrong question. The issue is not corruption per se, but management incompetence and a lack of will to attack issues deemed as "too hot". Right now, you could easily mistake the Yarra River for the Ganges, so numerous are the sacred cows grazing on her verdant shores.

If the chief commissioner Christine Nixon covers her eyes and keeps reciting rubbery crime stats (which show crime is falling in most categories) she will only delay the moment when the depth of the ethical crisis facing Victoria Police dawns on the public. The collective efforts of government, senior police and the Police Association in avoiding scrutiny and controlling the pace of reform in Victoria -- that is the real corruption here.

The bent coppers selling dope, running guns and hookers, do so because their managers have been asleep on the job. What accountability was there for the senior managers of the the Drug Squad while corruption ran rife on their watch? Here's a typical example of the management culture. Former Ethical Standards Division investigator Simon Illingworth was having a Christmas drink in a pub while in the midst of an investigation of a senior AOS officer, former Detective Sergeant Glenn Saunders, when the officer walks into the pub in the company of a known gangland figure, Nick Ibrahim. (Ibrahim was later convicted of the murder of standover man Sam Zayat.) Ibrahim walked straight up to Illingworth and glared right in his face. Illingworth believed there was a message here - pull up Simon, if you know what's good for you. Illingworth makes a report on the incident to his superiors. Nothing happens.

The same cop and villain pair are pictured on the front page of the Herald Sun newspaper from CCTV footage socialising together in a pub and still nothing happens. Saunders was later acquitted of corruption charges, unrelated to Illingworth's allegations. The fact remains that in all cases the possibility of a marriage between police and organised crime is an insidious problem unless all such allegations are properly investigated.

There has been no copper over the rank of detective sergeant jailed for corruption or any other dirty deeds in this great state. Nor have there been any senior officers sacked for failing to address allegations of corruption.

It's hardly surprising that the state government, Force Command and the Police Association do not support any form of judicial review of policing in Victoria. Police want to handle any allegations of corruption themselves through the semi-independent Office of Police Integrity, which senior officers have consistently and laughably described as having the power of a standing royal commission.

The Bracks Government is perfectly happy to do nothing about corruption, particularly as it has indulged in its own ardent embrace with the Police Association. The Police Association, arguably the most powerful police body in the state has thrown its weight behind the government. The Police Association publicly backed the Bracks government in the recent state election and the Bracks government agreed to equip the force with semi-automatic Glock pistols and Tasers. This deal was reportedly done without reference to the chief commissioner. This was the same government that stood by as gangsters murdered each other in broad daylight on public streets and suburban footy grounds, the same government who has stood helpless as corrupt police flourished.

Unlike the force itself, the Police Association has no explicit statement in its articles of association committing it to ethics, professionalism and honesty in the conduct of its members. It has been reluctant to publicly condemn corruption.

Good luck to the Police Association's secretary Paul Mullett for romancing government; he has won significant victories on behalf of his members. But when Mullett speaks in the media now, he sounds like a management spokesman on behalf of Force Command, not the lobbying of a police union boss who is unrestrained by the ethical code guiding the chief commissioner.

It's arguable whether Mullett speaks for all officers anyway. Detectives have traditionally comprised about 70% of the executive of the nation's police unions, while only making up 10% of force personnel. Detectives have been over-represented in the small number of coppers prosecuted for corruption in Victoria so far. This is partly because of the nature of detective work but also because they have been poorly supervised, allowed to defend cultures at odds with the organisation as a whole. The Association has doggedly defended certain of these officers using its $16m war chest to fund their legal fees.

On the Nine Network's Sunday program this week, this columnist looks at what happens to officers who investigate allegedly corrupt officers. We also tell the tale of an executive member who dared to oppose the legal funding for one popular detective, himself a former union vice-president, who was charged with corruption offences. Just as in corporate collapses like Enron or HIH, there comes a point where management culture becomes so rotten that telling the truth is the greatest sin.

Victoria Police cannot and will not examine itself now, exposing its dark inner recesses. A standing crime and corruption commission must now take hold of its sturdiest proctoscope, flick on the high beam and have a long lingering look at the places in Victoria where the sun don't shine no more


The Warming religion in Australia leads to amazing academic dishonesty

Scarier than global warming is that even -- even? -- our top academics exaggerate so wildly about it. No, I'm not talking again about Tim Flannery, our Australian of the Year, but of his former friend and colleague, Mike Archer. Read on, to see again how recklessly even our men of science now feed you hype.

Archer is dean of science at the University of NSW, where, you'd hope, he teaches students to stick to the facts. But this week he wrote an apocalyptic piece on global warming for the Sydney Morning Herald, warning of a Noah's flood: "For example, if the Greenland and Antarctica icesheets melt (which they are doing in spectacular fashion), sea levels could rise, as they have done many times in the past, by 100m. If that were to happen, forget the metre-in-a-century mantra, and forget half of Sydney, along with most of the world's coastal populations."

Got it? Forget the seas rising a metre by 2100. Says Archer, the melt of Greenland and Antarctica is so "spectacular" our beach by then will start at Eltham. Except for this. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has whipped up most of the warming panic, but even its latest report -- out today -- will challenge every claim Archer makes. As Reuters reported yesterday, a draft of that report, the work of 2500 scientists, concedes that, no, Antarctica may well gain snow cover, even Greenland may not be melting overall and the seas will rise not by 100m in the 100 years, but at most by 43cm.

It continued: "More snows could also offset any thaw of the vast Antarctic ice cap and the smaller cap on Greenland. If both melted over thousands of years world sea levels would be about 65m . . . higher . . . (emphasis added). "In a warmer climate, models suggest that the ice sheets could accumulate more snowfall, tending to lower sea level," the draft says. But "rapid thawing at the fringes has probably outweighed any such trend in recent years."

Confirming what I wrote on Wednesday, Reuters added: "The IPCC is . . . set to predict sea level rises this century of between 28 and 43cm . . . a lower band than forecast in the 2001 report." So, how could a dean of science at a top university exaggerate so recklessly? Answer: because global warming is a religion, so facts don't count. Beware.


Snobbish Leftist "intellectuals"

Late last year that scholarly Stakhanovite Richard Nile surveyed expert readers of his Australian Public Intellectual websites for their pick of Australia's arguers and influencers. The result will confirm everybody's prejudices. For people who believe the Left long ceased its march through the institutions, having occupied all the best bits in the universities, there is ample evidence. Some of the founding Howard haters are on the list, such as Robert Manne, who is top of the pops.

Others will be upset that conservatives such as Geoffrey Blainey and Keith Windschuttle got guernseys. But there is no doubting the list leaned to the Left. Based on their writings, I counted 23 declared opponents of Howard Government policies and/or a market economy (often both), 12 who keep their politics to themselves and three likely to vote Liberal.

But what is interesting is the way some participants decided that the true mark of the public intellectual was obscurity. It demonstrates the way the academic establishment and its camp followers who write for websites and in small magazines are interested only in agreeing with each other. As one put it in commenting on Nile's project: "We live still in a deeply anti-intellectual culture, increasingly driven by the populism of politicians and the journalist (as) celebrity. The lack of intellectuals in the current crop of political leaders in Canberra is particularly noticeable. Apart from Kevin Rudd and one or two others, there would be more chance of starting a prayer group in Canberra than a discussion group. We also live in a time when nationalism (particularly Anzac) -- simplistic, feel-good and sometimes ugly -- is on the rise. In this climate, there is a great need for intellectuals."

Apart from the snobbery (why are ostensibly intellectual chitty-chats superior to prayer?) and the dishonesty (the times may be patriotic but, sport aside, Australians are not given to triumphalism), this sort of statement ignores the obvious question: Precisely what sort of intellectuals do we need? Those who interpret society through their own ideological paradigm, or experts whose disciplined expertise allows them to point to problems and suggest solutions across the spectrum of society?

That it seems we have an awful lot of the former and far fewer of the latter writing for general audiences illuminates a great deal more than the tyranny of academic orthodoxy, it demonstrates how the intellectual tastemaker dismisses all sorts of disciplines.

While there were a couple of economic commentators on Nile's list, there were no professional economists capable of interpreting a Reserve Bank of Australia bulletin for the rest of us. Certainly pediatrician Fiona Stanley got a go but there were no neuroscientists able to explain the way everything from psychiatry to economics is being revolutionised by new understandings of the brain. Most telling, although there were ample individuals who like to lament Australia's culture of consumerism and deplore the damage done to the planet featured on the list, which included 10 cultural commentators and three politicians, there were no actual scientists with an informed idea of what is going on.

Perhaps this is not surprising. As Drusilla Modjeska pointed out in her introduction to the modestly titled anthology Best Australian Essays: 2006, she had searched in vain "for the well-written, well-shaped essay with that personal signature by architects or astronomers, physicists or lawyers".

Modjeska has a point, of sorts. She is wrong to assume that because health economists and riverine ecologists are not writing finely crafted essays based on an 18th-century ideal of entertainment for an intellectual elite they are not contributing to the national life of the mind. In fact the commentary pages of The Australian and The Australian Financial Review demonstrate the state of debate on issues that matter is strong (although Modjeska could find only one domestic newspaper piece worth including).

But her argument demonstrates how narrow are the interests of the self-appointed opinion leaders, of the sort who responded to Nile. And how they do not much care that many of the people they think dominate debate do so from a stance that is uninformed by scholarship in fields on which they comment.

The debate over Windschuttle's estimate of the numbers of indigenous Australians killed by settler society is a classic case in point. Instead of just arguing over his evidence, some critics started from the assumption that because they did not like his politics in the present, his conclusions about the past were not only wrong, they were immoral. Certainly the various experts in cultural and postcolonial studies will say their research work qualifies them to speak as experts. But often what they offer appears as informed by personal politics as academic expertise.

To argue there is anything wrong with everybody who wants to having their two bob's worth would be absurd in a column of this kind. Thanks to the internet we are in a golden age of argument. The endless opinion pages in online magazines mean that for the first time everybody with something to say can tell the world all about it. The blog empowers all who want to be essayists, and in the real world the marketplace of ideas sorts out who is heard.

But in the protected economy of academe, public intellectuals can easily exist without appealing to much of a public. Of Nile's 40, only Peter Craven and Don Watson represent the freelance in the service of the republic of letters, writers who live by their ability to produce copy people will pay to read. However, many of the people doing the talking -- certainly in the ostensibly intellectual small-circulation print and online media, the sorts of places where participation earns an author's stripes as a public intellectual -- seem disproportionately drawn from disciplines that theorise about the way we live and largely dislike the way most Australians do it.

Certainly Noel Pearson, the epitome of the public intellectual -- a man who acts on his ideas -- is on Nile's list. But so are many others who only lament the state of the nation, mainly to other academics. As one survey respondent put it: "One of the really big problems in Australia is that the best and most important minds in the country are so marginalised, they don't have much influence! Influence is inversely related to the importance of what people have to say." As an explanation of intellectual irrelevance, this is lame. But it does demonstrate how supposedly smart people can talk themselves into anything.



But the Australian Left (like most Leftists worldwide) is still ignoring the obvious with their paradoxical belief in the magical power of money

In Thomas Friedman's bestseller The World Is Flat, he explains how India positioned itself to become an invaluable player in the global economy. It began in the late 1990s with the boom in long-distance fibre-optic infrastructure. This enabled American companies to outsource a lot of tedious code-cutting work in the lead-up to the supposed Y2K meltdown of the world's computers. India had an enormous pool of highly educated English-speaking people who could perform the work at rock-bottom prices. Next, multinational companies began outsourcing ever more sophisticated work to India. Reuters newsagency, for instance, outsources news bulletins to Indian reporters, and US accounting firms sent 400,000 tax returns to Indian accountants in 2005.

The Indian middle class has blossomed, and clever young Indians no longer have to leave their families and migrate to Western countries to make something of themselves. They can do that right at home. We have grown used to speaking to women from Bangalore when phoning Diners Club to report a lost credit card. India was so well poised to capitalise on the technology that enables the "flattening" of the world economy, Friedman says, because it had a huge pool of well-educated workers. For an impoverished country, that was no mean feat, shaming Australian claims that lack of money is the sole cause of our higher-education woes.

In 1951 India's leaders decided to make good-quality education a priority, establishing the first of the nation's seven Indian Institutes of Technology, which became "islands of excellence". "India mined the brains of its own people," Friedman writes, "educating a relatively large slice of the elites in the sciences, engineering and medicine."

But, as Gurcharan Das wrote in Newsweek last year, it's no longer just the elites getting a decent education: "Government-run schools are a mess . . . But private schools - which can range from expensive boarding schools for the elite to low-end teaching shops in the bazaar - are proliferating. "Even the poor now send their kids to private schools, which can charge as little as $1 to $3 a month in fees and are spreading rapidly in slums and villages across India." Two-thirds of children in India's three largest states attend private schools and their reading and maths scores are significantly higher than those of other students.

Which brings us to Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's education "revolution". He gets top marks for identifying education as his first election issue, crucial to economic growth. And while India's experience shows us resources aren't everything, Rudd's point that Australia's spending on universities has declined 7 per cent since 1995, while spending by OECD countries has risen on average by 48 per cent, struck a chord. In fact, the picture is worse than that, since the money is spread so thinly over a variable array of universities.

Rudd, who beavered through the summer break on his education policy, has already managed to convey a substantial message in a way his predecessors never could, with his clear link between the nation's future prosperity and the education level of its people. He argues that the way to boost Australia's flagging productivity is to invest massively in "human capital": education from preschool to university.

However, Rudd's first fleshed-out policy, a plan to offer universal preschool education, may backfire. While on the committee of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy in 2005, I became aware of a powerful desire by the education establishment to push formal education down into the preschool years. The thinking goes like this: if children are having trouble learning to read in primary school, it is not because the methods used to teach them are inadequate, it is because their families have not equipped them with what are called "pre-reading" skills - familiarity with books and the concept that the black stuff on the page has meaning.

While there is evidence that pre-reading skills are useful, especially for socially disadvantaged children, the evidence that intensive systematic phonics instruction is most effective in teaching most children to read is overwhelming. Yet there are still entrenched pockets of influential resistance to phonics-based teaching, in universities and various teacher associations.

As the literacy inquiry found, fewer than 10 per cent of course time in university teacher education departments is spent teaching teachers how to teach reading. But instead of fixing such problems, Rudd's early-education plan runs the risk of shifting responsibility for reading failures in primary school to preschool. That's no way to compete with India.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

White House defends PM's blast at Obama

The White House has given muted support to Prime Minister John Howard's claim that al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq would be hoping for US Senator Barack Obama to be elected president.

Mr Howard refused to back down yesterday despite a storm of protest from both sides of the Pacific as his attack on Senator Obama's plan to withdraw US forces from Iraq by March 2008 triggered accusations he had endangered the US alliance.

However, in Australia the outrage over the Prime Minister's criticism shifted election-year debate away from climate change and back to the Coalition's strength of national security. But readers were overwhelmingly critical of Mr Howard's remarks.

White House spokesman Tony Snow has said Mr Howard, a staunch ally of President George W. Bush, was merely exercising his right to free speech when he made the comments. Mr Snow said: "The Prime Minister spoke his mind. It is what it is." But at the same time, Mr Snow underscored that US President George W Bush "hasn't talked to Prime Minister Howard since January 9th".

Labor leader Kevin Rudd accused his opponent of "gross insensitivity" after Mr Howard suggested Islamic terrorists would be barracking for a Democratic victory in next year's US presidential campaign. "If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray as many times as possible for a victory, not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats," Mr Howard said on the Nine Network's Sunday.

Mr Howard won support from George W. Bush's most senior military adviser, General Peter Pace, who warned that a premature withdrawal of US troops would be a "humanitarian disaster" and lead to terrorists "following us home" to Australia and the US. But Senator Obama, who suggested the March timeline for withdrawing US troops as he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination on Saturday, accused Mr Howard of "empty rhetoric". In a pointed reference to Australia's modest contingent of 1400 troops in Iraq and around the Persian Gulf, the Democratic star said: "So, if he's ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them up to Iraq."

Senior Liberal figures were confident Mr Howard had succeeded in drawing the political debate back on to the Coalition's flagship issue of national security, and away from climate change.

A defiant Mr Howard refused yesterday to back away from his hardline criticism, despite concerns the remarks could damage Australia's alliance with the US. "If I hear a policy being advocated that is contrary to Australia's security interests I will criticise it," he told parliament as Labor moved to censure the Prime Minister.

Seeking to clarify his earlier remarks, Mr Howard said he was not speaking "generically" about the Democrats but was focused on Senator Obama, who is seeking his party's presidential nomination. "I don't apologise for criticising Senator Obama's observation because I thought what he said was wrong," he said, accusing the Labor leader of "double standards". "Apparently it is in order for any number of people in the Labor Party to regularly attack George Bush, to regularly attack the American administration," Mr Howard said. "That is OK, but dare anybody criticise somebody who might agree with them on Iraq and then somehow or other I am interfering in the domestic politics of the United States."

More here

Australia's climate is changing: it always has

Post lifted from Gust of Hot Air

Tim Flannery has done it again. Recently given the status of Australian of the year for his scare mongering climate doomsday talk, he wrote this piece for the Age.

He suggests that current rainfall trends in Australia support the idea that farmers in the drought stricken south should move further north where the rain is plentiful.

"On the face of it, current rainfall trends would support this idea because southern Australia is receiving ever less rain, while larger and larger amounts are falling over the north, particularly the north-west."

"During the past 50 years, the shift in rainfall has been substantial, with some areas of southern and eastern Australia receiving 250 millimeters less rainfall than they did back then, while parts of the north-west are receiving 250 millimeters more."

He continues on saying:

"But before making large investments in the transfer of agriculture north, we would be wise to ask what is causing these changes in rainfall, and to try to determine whether the trends will continue."

Obviously a great idea. Neville Nicholls as commissioned by the Australian Greenhouse office conducted a study and concluded that

"there is strong scientific evidence that rising temperatures are being caused by an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."

So a study funded by the greenhouse office concluded that greenhouse gases were the cause. Amazing!

But in the same paragraph suggests that

"These gases are also thought to be causing at least part of the rainfall decline across southern Australia, though land clearance and natural variability of rainfall may also be having an impact"

So in other words, we have no hard proof of why the rainfall has changed, if of course it has. It could be a number of different things. But let's jump to conclusions as Flannery does and suggest that

"it is our human pollution - from sources as diverse as power plants, motor vehicles, and farms - that is contributing to the drying of our country and causing immense hardship"

Astonishingly, Flannery goes on to say that

"Astonishingly, given the huge impact that the loss of rainfall in the east is having on Australia, there have been no detailed Australian studies of the cause of this rainfall loss."

What? So we have no significant research done in this area. But didn't Flannery just conclude that power plants, cars and other evils are the cause? All based on "no detailed Australian studies"? Talk about jumping to conclusions.

Ok, so let's do a simple analysis of the weather then. Once again as shown on the graph below, rainfall has been low in south eastern Australia the last 5 years, but not as low as it has been in the past. Last year south eastern Australia didn't have a lot of rain, but in 1982 we had a lot less. And despite the last 5 years having limited drizzle, the period of 1940 to 1944 had less rain than what we are experiencing now. To me, that just means natural variability, and our statistical analysis proves it so (t = 1.29 p = 0.20).

But what of southern Australia? The graph below shows rainfall for all of southern Australia since 1900. Last year we didn't have a lot of rain, but we still had 70 more millimeters than we did in 1940 and 64 more millimeters than we did in 1944. Looks like a case again for natural variability, although if you look hard enough you can see a slight increase in rainfall over the years. What does our statistical analysis say? Yes! Amazing. Our analysis suggests a statistically significant increase in rainfall in southern Australia (t = 2.06, p = 0.04) at the rate of an extra 0.44 millimeters per year.

So the south is getting more rain, despite not so in the last 5 years. Excellent news indeed.

Now let's head to the north, and we can see from the graph below we get a lot more variation in the year to year differences. We had a whole stack of rain from 1997 to 2001 as well as from 1973 to 1976. There looks to be an increase in rainfall from about this period onwards, but let's let the statistical analysis do the talking. And yes, we find a significant increase in rainfall across Northern Australia (t = 3.08, p = 0.003).

So what can we conclude from this? Well Flannery suggests the possibility that farmers spend millions relocating further up north to get more rain. And it seems that Northern Australia is getting more rainfall then previously, at a rate of an extra 1 millimeter per year. But what about the big dry down south? Well we proved that south-eastern Australia is not significantly drying up, and that southern Australia shows a significant increase in rainfall over the past 107 years.

Sure it's been a bit dry in the last 5 years, but not as dry as it has been previously. But Tim Flannery is correct, our climate is changing. In fact, it always has done.

Muslim child-molester must be given halal food in prison??

A child sex offender fed vegetables, nuts and "fatty and salty" tinned meat because prison authorities would not provide him with fresh halal meat prepared in accordance with Muslim religious laws has won a discrimination case against the Queensland Government.

In a ruling the Government fears could trigger an avalanche of claims from other prisoners denied special dietary requests, the Supreme Court found Sharif Mahommed, who was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment in 2000, had been discriminated against. He will be allowed to keep $2000 in compensation and will not need to contribute to a legal bill of tens of thousands of dollars, which will be funded from the public purse unless the Queensland Government attempts to take the matter to the High Court.

Mahommed, now out of prison, said he had suffered stress and lost weight behind bars because he ate more vegetables and nuts to make up for the denial of fresh halal meat. He blamed prison authorities for their "lack of knowledge in understanding my religious beliefs, poor training skills, coupled with a no-care and negative attitude to inmates in general". The Supreme Court defined halal meat as "meat which has been blessed and slaughtered by Muslim slaughtermen and prepared, cooked and stored in accordance with religious law".

The finding on Friday by judge Ann Lyons in the Supreme Court is an embarrassing defeat for Police and Corrective Services Minister Judy Spence. Ms Spence, who has predicted the opening of floodgates "to other prisoners requesting all manner of special diets", had instructed Crown Solicitor Conrad Lohe and barrister Christopher Murdoch in a bid to quash an Anti-Discrimination Tribunal judgment by barrister Jean Dalton SC.

Ms Spence said yesterday she found Justice Lyons's decision surprising. "I have asked Queensland Corrective Services to review the judgment to consider grounds for appeal," she said. "At the moment, Queensland Corrective Services provides diets requested on the basis of cultural or religious needs where possible."

Ms Dalton, who heard the original case, found that Mahommed "received substantially more than his fair share of unacceptable meals because he was put on a vegetarian diet when he was not vegetarian (and) at the time fresh halal meat was difficult to source and extremely expensive, so he was provided with canned meat instead".

The vegetarian diet consisted of salad and a protein replacement at lunch, with hot lunches such as vegetable patties or vegetarian sausages three times a week. At night the vegetarian dinners include lasagnas, curries, pizzas and kebabs. "They'd send me down a salad with chicken in it, they would send me down a pie, they'd send me down a salad with luncheon meat in it," Mahommed said. While rice and noodles were provided to Asian prisoners and special diets - gluten-free, low-fat and low-cholesterol - were granted to inmates with health concerns, no allowance was made for Mahommed's religious preference for halal meat.

Ms Dalton ruled: "There was evidence that nutmeat was served with regularity. He actively disliked some of it, such as the nutmeat and the sausages. He was served more salad and tinned meat than was provided on the general menu and found this unacceptable. It is not a matter of being fussy, or expecting restaurant quality food; no doubt he had to endure his fair share of poor meals, just like every other prisoner."

A Corrective Services spokesman said yesterday: "Where possible, fresh halal meat is served in our prisons."


Australian work habits

It has always seemed somewhat incongruous that Australians could simultaneously enjoy the world's best lifestyle and also rank among the hardest workers on earth. Thanks to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the truth is now out - we don't. As any economist can confirm, leaving a key piece of data from any equation will make a big difference to the result.

As The Australian's economics correspondent David Uren reported yesterday, when the OECD released a study showing Australian workers worked longer hours on average during 2005 than in any comparable country, they forgot an important Australian institution - the public holiday. Including public holidays shaved 33 hours from the average working year, making Australians the world's 14th-hardest workers, not fifth. This means Australians still work harder than their British counterparts but not as hard as Canadians, Americans or New Zealanders. There is a double bonus in the OECD revision. Not only do Australians not have to feel they work harder than everyone else, the shorter working hours also translate into a corresponding increase in productivity. Instead of being the 15th-most productive country, as measured by the amount of goods and services produced for every hour worked, Australia is the 10th.

There is, of course, a serious side to all of this. The notion of the Australian lifestyle being sacrificed on the altar of workplace reform and economic rationalism is a defining battleground on which Australian politics has been fought. In railing against the Howard Government's Work Choices legislation, the Opposition and ACTU have mounted a campaign claiming the new workplace laws are destroying family life. It has been underpinned by the constant reminder that Australian workers already work harder than most and are now being forced to work more. In reality, labour market deregulation has allowed the flexibility for people to choose the work style that suits them best.

Public holidays were not the only anomaly highlighted in the ABS review of the OECD figures. Australia was also over-represented in the number of part-time workers. With unemployment continuing to fall - the Government last week announced the national unemployment rate had hit a new 30-year low of 4.5 per cent - it is reasonable to assume most part-time workers do so by choice. On the other side, workers who are genuinely working longer hours are doing so by choice and are able to under the new flexible workplace arrangements. It is very unlikely that most would choose, or benefit from, a reintroduction of a rigid 37.5-hour, Monday-to-Friday working week, or collective one-size-fits-all workplace agreements.

The Labor Party is showing signs of having recognised that not everyone is unhappy with the flexible workplace. Deputy Labor leader Julia Gillard has suggested her party may reconsider its plan to reintroduce unfair-dismissal laws for all small business. It may instead reduce from 100 the threshold number of employees a small business must have to be exempt. The appointment of Craig Emerson as frontbench spokesman for the service economy is another sign that Labor wants to recapture former supporters, such as tradespeople, who have deserted its ranks for John Howard.

The benefits of labour market reform are plain to see in the snapshot of the Australian economy provided yesterday by the Reserve Bank of Australia. Explaining its decision to keep interest rates steady for the second consecutive month, the Reserve said favourable world conditions had boosted Australia's terms of trade by more than 30 per cent over the past three years to their highest level since the early 1950s. This had been an important source of growth in incomes and spending. Despite the buoyant conditions, there has not been a wages breakout, a precursor to earlier busts. This can be traced to the more flexible workplace arrangements, which have allowed workers in high-demand areas to enjoy wages growth without it automatically flowing through to areas less able to pay. We should thank the ABS for picking up the mistakes in the OECD analysis and continue enjoying the world's best lifestyle, leaving the longer working hours to New Zealand.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Entrenched and rigid bureaucracy driving away Qld. hospital staff

More than 12 per cent of clinical staff at Queensland Health quit in 16 months, The Sunday Mail can reveal. While the State Government trumpets a successful recruitment drive, the latest figures reveal 4438 employees in the 36.000-strong workforce resigned between June 2005 and September last year - or 277 a month.

The Australian Medical Association said doctors were fed up trying to work in hospitals without enough beds or operating theatres. Queensland AMA president Zelle Hodge said: "It is so frustrating for staff, and eventually people just say they've had enough of it and leave. "Unless the culture in Queensland Health is changed, and the focus is on the people at the coalface and how they treat their patients rather than bureaucracy, then people will continue to resign." The Forster review, released in the wake of the Jayant Patel scandal at Bundaberg, said that unless the culture of secrecy and poor working conditions in Queensland Health was addressed, the high attrition of health-workers would continue to cripple the system.

One doctor who did not want to be named because Queensland Health has banned him from talking to the media. said he did not feel valued. "We are still chronically understaffed and people are so fed up with working long hours to combat the shortage that they are saying enough is enough, he said. "Queensland Health keep telling us they are addressing the problems, but it's just all talk. Nothing changes."

Figures show 1048 doctors and 2196 nurses resigned between July 2005 and September 2006. In addition, 1194 allied health professionals such as radiographers. occupational therapists and physiotherapists quit.

Queensland Health, which boasts of "caring for people" in its latest annual report, is advertising 407 jobs. Queensland University of Technology business researcher Megan Tones said: "To have 12 per cent of staff leave in just over a year is a huge amount. Obviously not enough is being done to retain staff.

But Joshua Cooney, spokesman for Health Minister Stephen Robertson, said the rate of resignations was "normal" for Queensland Health [So that is good??]. He said all the departing staff had been replaced, with an extra 2910 employed. ''The minister has spoken on many occasions about changing the culture in Queensland Health and that is what we're doing," he said.

Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said Mr Cooney needed to stop the spin. "I am getting calls from doctors saying nothing's changed," he said. "The Government needs to start developing strategies to retain the professionals."

The above report by Hannah Davies appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on February 11, 2007

Federal Leftist leader echoes conservative tough talk on teachers

Despite all the contempt heaped on him by journalists and "intellectuals", Australia's unassuming conservative Prime Minister still sets the agenda for political debate. The great lack of anything original to say on the Left helps, of course

Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has thrown down the gauntlet to teachers' unions, calling for sharp improvements in school performance.

Echoing the sentiments of the Government on the quality of curriculums and reporting standards, Mr Rudd told a conference of Labor's National Left in Canberra yesterday he was prepared for a fight to get his way: "This may result in resistance from some teachers' unions,' Mr Rudd said. "I understand this, but I will not be signing blank cheques unless we can improve the quality of what we teach our children.

Mr Rudd's speech was a clear attempt to demonstrate his conservative credentials on school standards -- an issue Prime Minister John Howard has nominated as a priority for his Government in the rundown to the end-of-year federal election.

"This is like walking into the lion's den," one senior Rudd aide said yesterday, describing the Opposition Leader's decision to take on the unions.

Mr Rudd said teachers were "dedicated professionals (who) deserve our support -- not our condemnation". "But I am deeply concerned about how we go about in practical terms lifting curriculum standards, curriculum outcomes and the resources necessary to achieve those ends. "It is not just about investing more in education but also in improving the quality of our education outcomes". [words cribbed from the Prime Minister!] "This means taking on the hard questions of curriculum standards and resources. This will involve a contract between ourselves and the education sector -- to boost our national investment but in exchange for better, measurable curriculum outcomes for our young people."

Queensland parents and teachers groups have hit back at Mr Howard's plan for a national curriculum. The Prime Minister last week cranked up his campaign to reform the state-based education systems, labelling some curriculums "incomprehensible sludge". His comments have been dismissed by the Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations and the Queensland Teachers' Union.

"From a parental point of view, there are some real benefits in leaving the system as it is," P&C council operations manager Greg Donaldson said. 'We have one of the best curricula in Australia and we have a good say in what is being taught in schools. Parents would have less say in these things if it was done from Canberra."

QTU president Steve Ryan said attacks by Mr Howard and Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop on state schools were really about industrial relations. The big picture here is a push to get teachers on to Australian Workplace Agreements."

The above report by GLENN MILNE and DARYL PASSMORE appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on February 11, 2007

Qld. Leftists go elitist to train more doctors

Leftists usually think that they are the elite and everybody else must be levelled down: Elitism for me but not for thee

A new super state school will prepare gifted students to be the doctors and dentists of the future. Education Minister Rod Welford said the school, to be based on the Gold Coast, would give students access to experts and facilities at the state-of-the-art Griffith University Parklands campus. It will be built beside the Gold Coast's second public hospital, which also is part of the Griffith campus, becoming Queensland's third "super school". It follows the opening in Brisbane of the Science Maths and Technology Academy at Toowong and the Creative Industries Academy at Kelvin Grove. Like those schools, the new academy will select students in Years 10 to 12 on the basis of an entrance exam later this year. Year 11 and 12 students will complete the International Baccalaureate rather than follow the state syllabus to get an OP score.

Mr Welford said the International Baccalaureate's focus on science would suit the college, which would have an emphasis on health sciences. Students would be likely to go on to study courses such as medicine, dentistry, radiography, physiotherapy and biomedical science at university. He expected several hundred students to enrol in the first year. "It will broaden the options available to Gold Coast students and will also be accessible to those in Beenleigh and Logan and even the southern suburbs of Brisbane," Mr Welford said. "The Gold Coast campus of Griffith, with more than 13,000 students, is the fastest growing university in the state."

Griffith University vice-chancellor Professor Ian O'Connor said the Health Science Academy would benefit from its proximity to the university's health science schools and research facilities. These include the Institute for Glycomics, headed by Professor Mark von Itzstein, an Australia Prize winner for his efforts in developing the anti-influenza drug, Relenza.

Griffith Deputy vice-chancellor Professor John Dewar said the students would have the chance to work with academic staff, especially on tasks such as the 4000-word project that was part of the International Baccalaureate. Under that program, each student does English, maths, at least one and often two science subjects, a foreign language and a choice of psychology or business, with the Creative Industries Academy offering subjects such as drama, film, art or music instead of the second science.

Mr Welford said the Gold Coast Academy, which would be beside Griffith University's student accommodation, would also offer Year 8 and 9 students the chance to undertake school holiday science courses to see what opportunities the subject had to offer.


Now Australia's "drought" hits Sydney

Every single Eastern Australian State has now had flooding but there are still severe water-usage restrictions in most places because no major dams have been built for many years -- under Greenie influence, of course. Using the "drought" and global warming as an excuse for an inadequate domestic water supply is getting to be the sort of "big lie" that Dr. Goebbels would be proud of.

While the east coast was yesterday buffetted by rain, leading to flash flooding and the collapse of a shopping centre roof in Sydney, in the central and southern parts of NSW wind and dust storms led to one death and cast an eerie glow across much of the Riverina.

The problems in Sydney began shortly after midday when sections of a roof fell in at the Campbelltown Shopping Mall in the southwest, leading to the evacuation of a thousand shoppers and staff. A NSW fire brigade spokesman said fire teams attended the collapse after automatic alarms were set off. The water was up to 1m deep in the loading dock and knee deep in other parts of the complex, with the situation exacerbated by overflowing stormwater drains.

The spokesman said large amounts of water had poured through the ceiling and entered the lower levels of the complex, damaging carpets and stock in more than 60 of the centre's 103 shops. Police were called in to assist with the evacuation and State Emergency Service teams built sandbag walls to prevent further water damage.

In separate incidents, two drivers became stranded during flash floods in the St Marys area of western Sydney. Both men were pulled to safety but their cars were substantially damaged.

In the state's Riverina district in the south, a man in his 20s was killed while driving his utility along Burley Griffin Way near Temora during a wind storm shortly after 3pm. Witnesses told police a large gum tree was uprooted and struck the man's vehicle. The local man sustained multiple injuries and died at the scene.

Senior forecaster with the Bureau of Metereology Neale Fraser said the eerie glow that had been cast by the dust storm across Griffith and surrounding towns was caused by a trough of low pressure heading west which had caused a surge of easterlies in its wake, with winds gusting up to 55km/h. He said the surge "looks spectacular because it is only a few thousand feet deep and is confined to that layer". "It is like a tongue of cooler air which picks up all the dust but is then confined," he said.

A spokesman for the NSW State Emergency Service, Phil Campbell, said there were more than 250 calls for help in the southwest of Sydney, mostly because of flash flooding. A "flood watch" alert has been issued by the Bureau of Metereology for the Georges River and SES volunteers closely monitored river heights overnight. While the east of the country was buffetted by storm pockets yesterday, the west remained hot and dry. Marble Bar in the Pilbara experienced its 36th day in succession with temperatures above 40C.


Monday, February 12, 2007

More academic corruption

This sort of thing is an old story in Australia. Protesters such as the guy below are the saviours of Australian academic standards and should be praised and encouraged, not harried. The shortsightedness of the administrators who are endeavouring to destroy the asset they depend on -- the reputation of their university -- is incredible

A leading Queensland academic quit his university post in disgust after being told to pass fee-paying overseas students he had intended to fail. The academic, who asked not to be named, said he refused to pass the students attending a Queensland university last year, even though he was put under "enormous pressure" from senior academic staff. "I was told, in no uncertain terms, to pass some particular students, who in my opinion, had not met the standards required – not by a long shot," he said. "To pass the subject, there were several components: an exam, an essay and a practical assessment, none of which these students had passed. "They had not even come close to passing. "If it were a mark out of 100, I would have given them a five and yet I was told to somehow get them through."

His claims came after a recent report by Monash University demographer Bob Birrell in Melbourne which found more than one-third of overseas uni students were graduating with a lower standard of English than what was required. But Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop challenged the findings and has asked anyone with evidence of favouritism towards full fee-paying students to come forward. "This is a very serious allegation and I want to see the evidence: which universities, which professors, which courses," Ms Bishop said.

The academic said he believed a cash-for-degrees culture was growing at all Queensland tertiary institutions, due to Federal Government budget cuts. "What happened to me is by no means an isolated incident," he said. "I have spoken to many other academics and they have had similar experiences."

National Tertiary Education Union Queensland secretary Margaret Lee supported the academic's claims. "The National Tertiary Union is certainly aware members are under enormous pressure," she said. "There is anecdotal evidence that some members have felt pressured, either directly or indirectly, to ensure high pass rates for their international students. "They are told that a fall in international student numbers would pose income difficulties for their university." Ms Lee said that, on average, Queensland universities received 18 per cent of their income from international student fees.


Federal call for a return to quality education

Article below by Federal education minister Julie Bishop

There is no doubt that education plays a key role in the economic and social fabric of any society. Early childhood education and our primary schools should provide fundamental skills, such as literacy and numeracy. Students at secondary school should develop more advanced but equally valuable skills, such as greater initiative and analytical abilities.

Vocational education should provide skills and knowledge that are specifically required for various occupations. And our universities not only equip graduates with skills for the professions and industry but also create new knowledge to underpin our economic prosperity and international competitiveness. But our education system is not only about personal attainment. It is also a driver of economic growth directly related to the quality of the education students receive.

Quality is the key determinant in education's contribution to economic growth. The determinants of economic growth, for example, were analysed in a study of 100 countries, including Australia, from 1960 to 1995 by Harvard researcher Robert J. Barro. His research found that the quality of education was far more important than quantity when looking at the impact on economic growth.

At the heart of this debate about quality is the decline in academic standards in our school systems. This is the new frontier of the education debate. The quality of our teachers is critical. After parents, teachers are the most important determinant in educational outcomes for school students. Our teachers are a precious national resource. They should be respected and rewarded for their significant role in educating our children.

But like other professionals they deserve career incentives. That is why I am developing options for greater consistency in professional development for teachers as well as calling on the states to provide higher salaries, with an element of performance or merit-based pay and greater workplace flexibility. For example, we should be rewarding teachers who work in our most disadvantaged schools and achieve outstanding results, or specialist teachers such as in science or maths. But let us focus on what our schools are being asked to teach our students.

I am concerned that students, teachers and parents are being let down as many aspects of school education get hijacked by teachers unions and state education bureaucrats. This has led to the role of teachers being redefined from someone who teaches a syllabus to someone who facilitates; many children lacking basic numeracy and literacy skills; parents lacking meaningful feedback about the performance of their child and their school. Instead of learning basic facts in subjects such as history, children are being taught according to an ideological agenda. And the values and discipline parents teach at home are not being reinforced at school.

The problem is the growing number of students at the tail end who don't have the fundamental skills to even hold down a job. A growing number of remedial English and maths classes are being offered by the nation's universities and other tertiary institutions to bring first year, and in some cases PhD, students up to appropriate English standards. Employer groups have reported that school and university graduates lack generic skills such as grammar. In terms of literacy and numeracy, recent reports of statistics, such as those released in my home state of Western Australia, reveal that about one in five students who completed Year 7 last year are functionally illiterate, that is, failing to meet national benchmark standards in reading, writing and spelling.

We are already making our funding for the states and territories conditional on a number of areas of reform: plain-English report cards and making more school performance information publicly available. With commonwealth funding of $1.8 billion going directly to the states for literacy and numeracy standards, we have established national benchmarks in literacy and numeracy in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The first national assessments will be carried out next year.

Literacy and numeracy skills are not a "tired old cliche" as Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford said recently. These skills are the fundamental, the essential, the enduring foundations for an educated society. Yet the study of English, for example, is not compulsory in the senior secondary years in Queensland. When the issue of compulsory teaching of English is raised, Welford defends this by saying that most senior students take English anyway.

What he doesn't reveal is the level of English those students take. Students can elect to study standard English, English extension (literature) or an English communication subject, or none at all. Standard English is the subject we would expect every student to take, and which would meet community expectations. English literature is more advanced, but English communication is the soft option. It is a disturbing fact that between 1992 and 2005, the number of students studying standard English or English literature dropped from 93 per cent to 80 per cent of Year 12 students, while the number of students studying English communication rose from 6per cent to almost 20 per cent of Year 12 English students. The number of Year 12 students studying soft option English in Queensland went from 2376 to 8494 a year, almost tripling in a decade and a half.

The teaching of English is essential in primary and secondary schools and must include not only reading and comprehension but spelling, punctuation and grammar. On leaving school students must have the ability to not only express themselves orally but also to write comprehensible prose. I note that in some states SMS messaging is part of a tertiary entrance English course. Apart from the fact students know more about the language of texting than their teachers, it will not help a student write a CV for a job or a letter to customers.

We see similar trends in science and mathematics where students are choosing to study, if at all, the soft options of these important subjects. Research shows that the study of science and mathematics and the acquisition of these skills is fundamental to the ongoing economic prosperity of a nation. We must capture the imagination of students on the wonders of science and mathematics early, and ensure that they have the skills to continue to study in these areas in Years 11 and 12. Otherwise they will not go on to university and take up careers based on science or mathematics.

Now is the time for the states and territories to put aside their parochial differences. With an increasingly mobile work force, we must put the interests of parents and students first, for their interests coincide with the national interest.


GREAT! The Skaf brothers get what they deserve

Muslims who think it is OK to rape Anglo women could do with more of this

One of Sydney's most notorious gang rapists is fighting for his life after being bashed in Goulburn jail. He was with his older brother and fellow gang rapist in the yards of Goulburn Correctional Centre when they were set upon by six prisoners on Thursday afternoon. The younger man suffered serious head injuries and was evacuated to Canberra hospital in a critical condition.

Goulburn Police Inspector Joseph Thone said the 26-year-old was operated on by surgeons on Thursday night and was in a serious but stable condition last night. The 28-year-old brother suffered a broken arm and was returned to the prison yesterday after a night in Goulburn Base Hospital.

Authorities would not confirm the identities of the men. But the Nine Network reported they were the eldest of four Pakistan-born brothers convicted in 2002 for a number of gang rapes, including that of Tegan Warner, who was 14 at the time of the assault. The brothers, who were only able to be identified in court by their initials, are serving between 10 and 28 years in prison.

Inspector Thone said Goulburn detectives had interviewed several prisoners in relation to the attack. The investigators plan to interview several more prisoners and staff who were present when the attack happened. The attack occurred at 12.30pm on Thursday when the prisoners were exercising. A spokesman for the NSW Department of Correctional Services said the attack did not occur in the Goulburn "Supermax", which is the state's highest security prison, but at a nearby prison yard.


Another defence equipment meltdown

The navy's ill-fated Seasprite helicopter program is almost certain to be scrapped after a decade of problems, leaving taxpayers with losses of more than $1 billion. The Defence Department had recommended that the contract with US manufacturer Kaman Aerospace Corporation be terminated. And senior government sources say the axe could fall on the project to refurbish the Vietnam-era helicopters as soon as next Wednesday's meeting of federal cabinet's National Security Committee.

The Seasprite helicopters have been dogged by software engineering glitches and airworthiness issues, with the project running more than six years behind schedule. The twin-engine SG-2G(A) Super Seasprites, equipped with Penguin anti-ship missiles, are designed to operate from the navy's Anzac-class frigates, providing a maritime strike and surveillance capability for the surface fleet.

If the Seasprites are dumped, Defence will buy a new helicopter for the Anzacs, choosing between the US Seahawk, which is already in service with the navy, and the European NH-90, in an investment likely to cost at least $1.5 billion. The failure of the project will be an embarrassment for the Howard Government, which is extolling its virtues as a superior economic manager against new Labor leader Kevin Rudd. The Government is expected to counter that it was burdened with the project by the previous Labor government of Paul Keating.


Australia's "drought" hits Canberra

Despite floods in North Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria, Australia is still apparently in "drought" -- caused, of course, by that wicked global warming. No-one seems to want to admit that Australian rainfall has always been erratic and that there is always some region that is in "drought"

Dozens of homes in Canberra were damaged by flooding overnight by a severe thunderstorm. Residents in suburban Weston Creek and Tuggeranong reported leaking roofs and collapsed ceilings after 50mm of rain fell. The house of an 87-year-old woman in Stirling was flooded and a woman with a six-week-old baby was unable to leave her home in Kambah because her driveway was under a metre of water. ACT State Emergency Service deputy chief officer Bren Burkevics said the service had 61 calls and deployed 41 volunteers to help residents.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

PM Howard on education reform:

For a long time, the education debate focused almost exclusively on inputs and quantity - on money spent, student-teacher ratios and the like. This was the territory staked out and defended fiercely by the state education bureaucracies, curriculum designers and the teachers' unions. One of our achievements has been to open up the debate and to focus it on quality. Our great challenge as a nation is to improve the quality of Australia's education system. Schools reform centres on three key areas:

* GREATER choice and accountability;

* HIGHER standards; and

* MORE national consistency.

These are the foundations of a quality education system. Many of the fads and politically-correct fashions that have found their way into our schools undermine the quality of education. When Big Brother or a text message jostles with Shakespeare and classical literature for a place in the English curriculum, we rob children of their cultural inheritance.

By obfuscating the need for teachers to impart specific knowledge and for rigorous testing of achievement, we rob children, especially disadvantaged ones, of the one proven path to individual achievement and social mobility. And by denying parents clear statements of their child's performance we are letting new-age fads get in the way of genuine accountability.

Few debates are as vital as those over education, whether it be in upholding basic standards on literacy and numeracy, promoting diversity and choice, or challenging the incomprehensible sludge that can find its way into some curriculum material.

I am an unabashed supporter of choice for parents. I am a product of the government education system in Australia. I believe in a strong, well-funded and academically rigorous government school system. Yet I am a staunch defender of the right of parents to send their children to non-government schools and to have government support for that choice.

Choice has intrinsic value in a free society, especially in an area like education where we are dealing with the most important decision parents have to make - their child's future.

I am also an unabashed supporter of competitive examinations, teacher-directed lessons and the importance of academic disciplines. I make no apologies for the fact that the Commonwealth has played a role in pushing the states and territories on to higher ground on issues like standards, testing and "Plain English" report cards in our schools. High standards can only be achieved if teachers have clear road maps as to the knowledge and concepts to impart. Formal competitive examinations are essential to assessing what a child has learned.

And there is something both deadening and saccharine in curriculum documents where history is called "time, continuity and change", and geography becomes "place, space and environment". Experiments like "outcomes-based education" not only short-change parents and children, they also put unjustified demands on teachers, with jargon-ridden curriculum statements leaving teachers overwhelmed when it comes to what must be taught and what standards of student achievement are expected.

I also have serious concerns about the way in which the teaching of English has been allowed in some cases to drift into a relativist wasteland - where students are asked to deconstruct "texts" using politically-correct theories in contrast with the traditional view that great literature has something profound to say about the human condition.

There is, of course, a degree of irony in some recent comments about the need for an education revolution in this country. The key point is this - the Labor Party (leg-roped as it is to its allies in the teachers' unions) is very much a "Johnny-come-lately" to the cause of commonsense education reform in support of parental choice, higher standards and sound curricula. It was this Government's schools policy in 1996 - opposed by Labor - which really opened up choice for Australian parents by facilitating the huge expansion in low-fee independent schools.

It was David Kemp more than anyone who campaigned to put testing of basic literacy and numeracy on the national agenda. It was Brendan Nelson who fought to ensure that Australian parents are given Plain English report cards. And now Julie Bishop is taking forward a new wave of school reforms in the areas of national consistency, higher curriculum standards, principal autonomy and teacher quality. Our goal is simple: we don't want uniformity, but we do want nationwide high standards in schools to ensure every Australian student receives the best possible foundation in core subjects.


Hate-filled Lebanese Muslims mildly reprimanded

The parents of four Granville Boys High students featured in an internet race hate video have pulled their sons out of the school rather than allow them to be disciplined, with two of the boys indicating they want to attend an Islamic college instead. A fifth pupil involved in the sickening YouTube hate video glorifying gang rapist Bilal Skaf has opted to wear his punishment and has been given a 20-day suspension pending possible expulsion. The Saturday Daily Telegraph can reveal the Year 11 students were withdrawn from the school by their parents rather than face disciplinary action and at least two intend to enrol in an Islamic college.

The video - called "Lebo thugs" - featured images of revenge attacks following the Cronulla riots and a range of banned handguns. Another image depicted gang rapist Skaf with a rifle across his lap and a map of Australia in the Lebanese flag colours with the words "Under new management" scrawled above it. The gang behind the video called themselves the Soldiers of Granville Boys. It was made late last year by five Year 10 students as well as a number of former students at the school.

A spokesman for the Education Department told The Saturday Daily Telegraph yesterday the school principal, Angela Lyris, had given the students the option of staying and facing disciplinary action or finding another school. "Following interviews with five students and their parents, four of those students were withdrawn by their parents from the school and the fifth student given a long suspension, pending possible expulsion," the spokesman said.

While the students admitted to contributing to the offensive video, they claimed it had been taken out of context and that they never meant to incite racial hatred. They also claimed it was never intended to be loaded on to the YouTube website.


Greenie idiocy in Australia: Coal is "a deadly threat"

This story was headlined in some Australian newspapers -- to the implicit detriment of the Greenies

A Greens demand that Australia's entire coal industry be shut down within three years yesterday rocked the growing campaign against harmful emissions. A coal ban would cost the nation $25 billion-a-year in export earnings, eliminate thousands of jobs, and switch off five NSW power stations. Prime Minister John Howard called the idea reckless and job destroying and Labor said it was absurd.

But Greens Leader Bob Brown said it was necessary to reduce global climate change as Australia was the world's biggest coal exporter. "To suddenly ban coal exports would be massively dislocating but we have got to do it and we have to do it within a period (a three-year term) of a government," he said. "This is where politicians will panic. But we are exporting to the rest of the world what is effectively a deadly threat to the whole planet and our children." Some five billion tonnes of coal are consumed worldwide every year and Australia exports 230 million tonnes.

Other campaigners against dangerous emissions advocate a longer-term phasing out of the fuel. "No sane person wants to shut down the coal industry in NSW overnight," said Patrice Newell, a Climate Change Coalition candidate for the NSW Legislative Council.

The Prime Minister told The Saturday Daily Telegraph: "That is a reckless commitment. It would cost thousands of jobs and cause immense damage to the Australian economy. It's the very kind of knee-jerk reaction that we don't need."

Labor's Wayne Swan said: "It's absurd and ill-informed to assert that you can't have a strong coal industry as well as taking effective steps to combat climate change".

The Brown proposal would cost an estimated 50,000 jobs in mining, port handling, power generation and other related occupations. But Senator Brown said coal towns such as Newcastle and Wollongong would be helped to create other jobs in new renewable energy industries. "It is part of our responsibility to see that people can transform and go into jobs where they're creating a safe future." The Department of Industry and Resources said the number of people directly employed by the industry rose from a low of about 19,000 in 1999 to about 30,000 in 2005.



No mainstream support for Greenie madness in Australia

Opposition frontbenchers yesterday insisted the future of the coal industry was safe, amid fears within the party that an aggressive stance on climate change could unsettle mining and power workers, becoming a potent election liability. Still living with the political fallout of the disastrous timber policy pushed by former leader Mark Latham - which alienated blue-collar workers on the eve of the 2004 election - Labor yesterday rounded on Australian of the Year Tim Flannery as "irresponsible" for his plan to close the coal industry, calling it a recipe for massive job losses.

Some elements within Labor fear that by appearing too bullish on climate change, the party could raise concerns among workers that jobs will be sacrificed to the environment. This could push workers' votes towards an economically hard-nosed Howard Government. Others want their colleagues who represent mining seats to be more vocal.

New Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull last night warned, during his first live television debate with Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett, that Labor's climate change policies risked "enormous damage to jobs". Mr Turnbull accused Labor of scaremongering on climate change, but Mr Garrett used the debate on the ABC's 7.30 Report to accuse the Howard Government of failing to respond to the "crisis" of global warming.

Professor Flannery, the prominent environmental scientist, and the Greens have said that in an era of global warming, coal is losing its social legitimacy. Australia needed to close its coal-fired power plants, after developing less-polluting technologies, Professor Flannery said.

However, senior Labor figure Craig Emerson condemned him, saying a mix of policy responses to the greenhouse problem was needed. "But at the heart of those responses has to be a clean coal future for this country," he said. Opposition Treasury spokesman Wayne Swan insisted Labor was "proud of our heritage and our links to the mining" sector, and said reducing emissions did not mean wiping out the coal industry, which employs more than 30,000 people. "Setting ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions does not mean we have to eliminate coal exports or shut down the coal industry," Mr Swan said.

Professor Flannery on Wednesday urged Australia to leave the coal industry behind, saying that as the pollution problem grew, "the social licence to operate those old polluting technologies will be withdrawn". Mr Garrett said there was a "huge market out there for energy efficiency" and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal power.

But Mr Emerson said the country could not "simply rely on generating power in Australia by solar and other renewable sources". "Nor should we be saying to the rest of the world that it is wrong to generate electricity from coal," he said. "We should be investing and supporting the development of clean coal technologies." {which is what PM Howard also says!]

The Government is pushing substantial investment into clean coaltechnologies to help make cleaner coal exports, which generate $24.5 billion for the country each year. Mr Turnbull said clean coal technology "may well be the most important thing Australia does" to reduce emissions. He said with China consuming 2.2 billion tonnes of coal a year, that dependency was not going to change, and unless a technological solution could be found then any of the "sacrifices" in Australia would mean nothing. He accused Mr Garrett of wanting to sacrifice jobs to achieve cuts in emissions.

John Howard also accused Labor of putting ideology ahead of jobs, attacking Mr Garrett for refusing to endorse the expansion of the Olympic Dam uranium mine in outback South Australia, even though the state's Labor Premier, Mike Rann, was pushing for more uranium mining. "We do not want thousands of coalminers thrown out of work, and we do not want thousands of people denied an opportunity of employment in the development of the uranium mines of South Australia," he said.

Mr Garrett would not be drawn on the expansion of uranium as way of bolstering clean power production, insisting Labor was yet to have that debate.

More here

Heroic mothers defy official meddling in their lives

Desperate couples are getting around tough surrogacy laws by using home insemination kits, but health authorities warn DIY methods carry serious health risks. A largely underground culture, the "secret society" of private egg donation and surrogacy is facilitated through member-only websites where would-be parents are matched with egg donors or surrogates. The managers of Australia's baby factory, Aussie Egg Donors, an online service and support group, told The Saturday Daily Telegraph an increasing number of couples were breaking the law due to Australia's legal surrogacy mine field.

Aussie Egg Donors was started by three women more than four years ago in response to the growing demand from infertile women to be matched to egg donors and surrogates. Co-director Rachel Kunde, 25, said the disparity in surrogacy legislation between states was forcing couples to resort to home inseminations. She said a rising number of women were using DIY methods in order to jump IVF clinics waiting lists. "In some cases people get really desperate . . . home insemination happens a lot, I know of at least a dozen surrogates who have done it that way." The director of a NSW surrogacy support group, who only wanted to be known as "Cindy", said their network had grown rapidly following recent public surrogacy cases.

Last month a Victorian grandmother gave birth to her grandson Kye after her daughter Leanne was told she could not have children. "We've had a wave of new people (since then). It's like a little secret society, there are ways of getting around laws," Cindy said.

One woman who used home insemination said the procedure was simple. "You find the couple you want to work with, make sure each person has tests for STDs, you can track your ovulation with ovulation kits, the intended father gives a donation and you go into a room with a syringe that you can purchase in the chemist," she said.

A number of infertility websites offer step-by-step instructions on home insemination but Professor Michael Chapman, a medical director with IVF Australia, warned the process was risky. "The stringent controls we put in place for insemination excludes things like hepatitis, HIV, chlamydia," he said. Sandra Dill, executive director of infertility consumer group Access Australia, said DIY surrogacy carried health risks and was ethically difficult, as the surrogate mother is biologically related to the child.


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Cheerleaders now incorrect at Australian football games

South Sydney co-owner Russell Crowe last night revealed his club had discarded its cheerleaders this season because they made male fans feel uncomfortable. The Hollywood star also said his wife, Danielle Spencer, supported the club's controversial move. Souths will this season replace cheerleaders with a drumming band during NRL home matches.

"Our focus is to re-establish rugby league and women," Crowe said. "The focus on game day should be a positive experience for the crowd. "We feel they (cheerleaders) made a lot of people uncomfortable. "We examined game day and wanted to contemporise and make the focus football. "We felt we didn't need cheerleaders and would like them replaced by a group of drummers, male and female. "We've talked to a lot of people and everyone sees it as being progressive. "The whole idea of percussion will be exciting for the crowd."

Crowe said his club's game day producer Dein Perry had canvassed the opinions of fans before making the decision to sack the cheer-squad. Asked if other clubs could follow Souths initiative, Crowe said: "When they see how exciting this is, there will be a big call for it. "We found it hard to work out a positive about it. There was a grey area to it. "It makes women uncomfortable and it makes blokes who take their son to the football also uncomfortable. "But we are thankful for the time and effort the girls put in and some of them probably will be disappointed."

Crowe's stance was supported by Spencer, who liked the idea of men and women performing together in the drum band. "She likes the fact that game day entertainment will be multi-sex. She likes that aspect," Crowe said. "The positive response we've got particularly from women like my wife when they heard this was happening makes it a little easier for them to go to the game and simply enjoy the actual sport.

But two of Souths cheerleaders yesterday said they were disappointed not to be dancing this year. "We were employed by Souths as professional dancers and our role as cheerleaders was simply to add glamour to the image of the NRL in terms of marketing," Ashleigh Francis said. "Children at the games were constantly approaching us and asking us for autographs and photos and little girls would even ask us if they were old enough to be cheergirls too." Another Souths cheerleader, who did not want to be named, said: "How would we make people feel uncomfortable? The aim is for us just to enjoy ourselves and entertain the fans with the sport."


Greenie dam-hatred hits power supply

The Queensland Government could be forced to mothball two power stations that produce a quarter of the state's electricity if dam levels continue to fall. The Tarong power station near Kingaroy has already cut its overall power generation by about a quarter, hoping to extend the life of the Boondooma Dam until a recycled water pipeline arrives in June 2008.

Energy Minister Geoff Wilson told Parliament it was predicted that Tarong would have enough water to generate power "this summer and the next". But Wondai Shire Mayor David Carter said he understood Tarong would be on borrowed time after November. He said it was a "big ask" to expect the dam to hold out until mid-2008. Several hundred people in Proston and the northern end of the shire have no bores and depend entirely on the Boondooma Dam. "We are concerned about what will actually happen," Cr Carter said. "There are some very, very serious decisions to be made about who gets water and who doesn't. Current predictions don't look good."

Tarong draws between 50 million and 80 million litres a day from Boondooma, which is at 16 per cent of capacity and dropping faster than 1 per cent a month. At that rate, the dam would reach its "dead storage" level of 4 per cent early next year - months before the pipeline is due for completion. Tarong has already applied to the Department of Natural Resources and Water to access water below the dead storage level, and has implemented measures it claims will further cut its usage.

Meanwhile, fears are held for the future of the nearby Tarong North facility which draws 20 million litres a day from an intake pipeline in the upper reaches of the Wivenhoe Dam. The Wivenhoe system - Wivenhoe, North Pine and Somerset dams - is at 22 per cent and falling 1 per cent a month. It was feared the pipeline would not work if Wivenhoe Dam fell below 14 per cent capacity. However, it is now believed pumping could continue, as water there has been isolated.

Shutting down the power plants has been downplayed by the Government because of the commissioning of the Kogan Creek power plant, scheduled for September. Yet figures show Kogan will generate only 750 megawatts, compared with Tarong's joint output of 1900 megawatts. Extra power will also be required in 2009 for water grid pumping stations, a desalination plant and a growing population.

Mr Wilson said lines linking southern and central Queensland would add 4500 megawatts, with a total supply of 11,000 megawatts being enough to meet last month's demand. A Tarong Energy spokesman said output would also be reduced during off-peak times to ensure customers were not affected.


"Streaming" returns to schools

Leftist government forced to recognize that not all kids are equal

Students in Queensland's state secondary schools would be grouped according to their ability levels in subjects such as maths and science, Education Minister Rod Welford said yesterday. The plan was designed to boost classroom quality and student outcomes. Separating students (or "streaming") was common across schools a generation ago but has fallen out of favour in recent years as politically incorrect.

But Mr Welford said Queensland's shortage of maths and science graduates and the needs of all students meant it was time to try it again. "The concept is that high performing students need to be grouped together so teachers can motivate and challenge them," he said. "Struggling students who need more attention need teachers with different skills to accelerate their learning."

He said he was keen to generate debate about what was taught in schools, including a discussion of English course material. Mr Welford challenged Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop to "provide me with $50 million-a-year special funding for professional development for teachers for higher performance learning".

Education Queensland would trial maths and science streaming from next year. Students would be grouped by teachers and subject heads according to their classroom work and test results, with the potential for students to move between streams if they caught up or experienced difficulties. Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said senior students already were streamed according to whether they took Maths A, B or C for Years 11 and 12. "Provided it is discussed at local level and the community agrees on how it will happen it should not be a problem," Mr Ryan said. "I would rather a student learn some basic maths they can master than struggle with maths that was too hard."

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Association president Brett Devenish said the proposal had credibility, provided teachers were properly prepared. "You do get classes where some of the students are coasting and others need a lot of special help, and the hardest thing the teacher has to do is work out to allocate their time between the different groups," Mr Devenish said.



It is a disgrace that a strike has to be threatened to overturn this denial of justice

Melbourne paramedics have voted to take industrial action after what they say was the unfair dismissal of a colleague accused of rape. The colleague has been charged with rape and indecent assault of a patient during a call out in early November, according to information from Ambulance Employees Australia's Victorian Branch. The paramedic vigorously denies the allegations but was sacked two days ago by the Metropolitan Ambulance Service (MAS), a statement from the union says.

"Paramedics understand these are extremely serious allegations and believe their colleague should be relieved of patient-handling duties while his case is underway," the statement says. "However, paramedics say MAS has shown contempt for natural justice principles by dismissing their colleague before he has had an opportunity to defend himself in court, and may even be compromising their colleague's right to a fair trial." The sacked paramedic is due at Melbourne Magistrates' Court for mention on March 2.

Paramedics last night voted to consider stop-work action if the man is not reinstated by Monday. They also will insist on an escort when accompanying patients, because of the serious nature of the claim against their colleague, the statement says. The branch's Victorian secretary Steve McGhie said paramedics needed to know there was a fair process in place if patients make allegations against them. "The Metropolitan Ambulance Service should allow our colleague his right to a fair trial, and not act as judge, jury and executioner," Mr McGhie said.


Friday, February 09, 2007


Even as environmentalists and leaders pressed Australia to sign the Kyoto protocol in the wake of the latest UN report on global warming, the country's Prime Minister on Saturday maintained his stand to not sign the protocol as it excludes world's major polluters. "Signing Kyoto is not going to solve the problem because Kyoto does not include the world's major polluters. We've moved on from that and in any event, we are going to meet our target under Kyoto, many of our critics who have signed Kyoto will not do so," Prime Minister John Howard said in a statement on Saturday. "Australia has already undertaken number of measures to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. It will continue with those measures, but we will do it in a sensible, practical way which will make a contribution to solving the problem but will not do disproportionate and unfair damage to the Australian economy," he said.

The UN report that paints a bleak picture of higher sea levels and temperatures this century has urged the world to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but Howard said looking to solar and wind energy is not the solution. Calling for the use of nuclear energy as an alternative, he said, "There is no point in the face of such comprehensive challenge of ruling out a consideration that may over time provide part of the solution." "Let's be realistic - you can only run on fossil fuel or in time, nuclear power," he said. Federal Opposition environment spokesman, Peter Garrett said the Government should establish a national carbon emissions trading scheme and sign the Kyoto Protocol immediately.


More power to principals plan

Under-performing teachers could be sacked under a radical proposal to give school principals the power to "hire and fire" their staff

Setting up education as a key election battleground, Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop yesterday launched a full-frontal attack on what she dubbed the "all-powerful teachers' unions". Rejecting Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's notion of an "education revolution", Ms Bishop said teaching appointments should be in the hands of individual principals and not state education departments.

She put forward higher standards as the issue on which the education agenda should be fought. The higher standards would be created by greater autonomy for principals, performance incentives for teachers and improved literacy and numeracy skills, she said. "Many school principals across Australia cite as their biggest frustration the fact that centralised education bureaucracies parachute teachers into schools or summarily remove valued teachers," Ms Bishop said. "Giving the power to principals will fix the problem of state governments, captive of the unions, unable to deal with under-performing teachers."

The proposal is expected to be formally raised with state governments at the next Ministerial Council on Education scheduled for April. Labor education spokesman Stephen Smith offered in-principle support, saying he believed principals should have a greater say in who was teaching in their classrooms. "I'm happy to have a conversation with my state ministers about it," he said. [A conversation! How radical! Will they talk about football too?]

State Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said South Australian schools already had the ability to choose the best teacher for the job. Ms Bishop said she would work co-operatively with the states but warned the Federal Government could use funding as a "leverage". "Education is a national priority and it is too important to be left at the mercy of state parochialism and union self-interest," she said.

Australian Education Union state president Andrew Gohl rejected Ms Bishop's assertions, saying her plan for principal autonomy was "out of touch". "If you extend Julie Bishop's plan to its logical conclusion, it would mean that the most highly experienced, highly skilled teachers end up in small clusters of already highly advantaged schools," he said. "An education system has a responsibility to all students, regardless of where they live, to provide access to quality teachers."

During her speech, Ms Bishop also said: SHE would be putting a proposal to the states to offer rewards and incentive payments to well-performing teachers; THE Government would explore alternative pathways for teacher registration; STATES should provide further details about individual schools' performance; INCREASES in public spending had to improve standards; REITERATED her criticism of literacy and numeracy standards around the nation.


Questions not even a doctor should answer

Politics invade medical schools

You might think that medicine is the one field that prides itself on making decisions based on objective evidence. Wrong prognosis. When it comes to selecting medical students, our finest universities are in the subjective business of social engineering. And that experiment appears to be failing dismally.

According to a study published on Monday in the Medical Journal of Australia, the present method of choosing medical students - a combination of written tests and interviews aimed at finding the best critical thinkers and problem solvers - is a poor predictor of how students will perform during their medical course. The gurus running the medical schools like to describe the process of turning a fresh-faced 18-year-old student into a fully fledged doctor as a complicated business. It is also an expensive business. Given that our tax dollars go into producing most of those doctors, that makes the method behind choosing who makes the cut our business.

This latest study appears to confirm concerns raised in The Australian last year from some inside the profession that good old-fashioned class envy and its twin sister, social engineering, are behind an interview process that pushes some of the most academically gifted students away from medicine. Being a son or daughter of a medico is now a handicap.

So too is going to a private school, said former deputy chancellor of The University of Adelaide, Harry Medlin. “I personally believe that to select medical students predominantly on their skills in an interview is a horrendous thing to do,” added John Horowitz, director of cardiology at two Adelaide hospitals.

Others voiced similar concerns. Like all pendulum swings, the move away from academic merit is turning out to be plain dumb, no matter how good the intentions pushing the pendulum. In trying to refute the claim, Lindon Wing, chairman of the Committee of Deans of Australian Medical Schools ended up confirming the bias.

In a letter to this newspaper last year, Wing defended the selection processes by pointing out “that medical doctors are among the most represented profession among parents of medical students in Australian universities. In some institutions, students whose parents are medical doctors number close to 20 per cent.” There. We have enough of the progeny of the bourgeoisie - 20 per cent is plenty. For Wing, it would be irrelevant if the age-old drive of human nature for children to follow their parents’ footsteps into a calling meant that 50 per cent of the qualified candidate pool were doctors’ children. Instead, the deans of the nation’s medical faculties centrally plan what they think is the best demographic make-up of medical students. And once they fill their pseudo-quota for doctors’ offspring, it wouldn’t matter how smart or well suited to medicine a doctor’s child was. When the quota is full it’s time to start engineering some results more to the planners’ liking.

And working out just who they like seems to involve asking the young students questions about gay marriage and the Iraq war. Many in the medical schools busily tried to defend the status quo, arguing they carefully train interviewers so that bias is not an issue. Reading some of the experiences on a website that provides feedback from those who sat through interviews suggests bias is indeed an issue.

One student from the 2003 intake in Queensland advised other interviewees: “Don’t expect medically orientated questions. Mine were about reconciliation, forest clearing, stem cell research, war in Iraq etc.” Other students were asked about their views on capital punishment and IVF for gay people. Students are a canny lot. The smarter ones know what interviewers want to hear. Here’s a sample. One student who secured a place in medicine in 2005 advises that a question about hobbies is a “disguised volunteer-work question”. Not wanting to look coached, the student says: “I did not list volunteer work first. I mentioned that I play soccer, guitar and working with kids.” Another student remarked that the interviewers “particularly delved into my volunteer work”.

It’s all being done, say medical schools, in the name of finding a cohort of future doctors able to reason and communicate. But as one leading Sydney specialist told The Australian: “If I had been asked, as an 18-year-old, whether I thought Australia should go to war in Iraq, I might have answered, Well, is the beer any good in Iraq?” This distinguished doctor says he may not have made it through the interview process. For the record, he is a dab hand at heart and lung transplants, is a top-notch communicator and his views on Iraq are now more advanced.

Now, as far as cartels go, you’d be hard pressed to find one more tightly knit than the medical fraternity. So, when doctors start criticising their own, you know something is awry in the nation’s medical schools.

Reinforcing the PC madness, it’s all about diversity, say those running medical schools. But what’s to stop interviewers, deliberately chosen for their diversity, imposing their own diversity filters on the interview outcomes?

Of course, raising questions about the interview is immediately sniffed at by those supporting the status quo as nothing more than nostalgia for old-fashioned elitism. It’s true that relying on objective academic results to allocate scarce resources is not the perfect solution. But it’s better than leaving the decision of who will make a good doctor up to the whims of two or three people on the basis of a 45-minute interview.

Refreshingly, even before this latest study, some medical administrators admitted the lack of evidence to suggest that interviews are producing a better calibre of students.

Ken Donald, former head of the University of Queensland’s medical school, told The Australian that introducing interviews was an “interesting experiment” but it was time to rethink the admission process because “people who perform poorly in the interview sometimes turn out to be the best in the class”. The corollary is also true: those who score highly in the interview are not necessarily the best performers down the track.

“I have a bit of sympathy with the assertion that unless the interviewers are well trained and the interview is well structured, there is the potential to misjudge liars, cheats, psychopaths etc,” adds Donald. “There is no good evidence anywhere in the literature, even in the published papers on this, that the interview, at least the one we have been using, is reliable as a predictor of performance,” he said.

Now, Queensland University’s medical school is reviewing the interview process. Abandoning interviews will restore fairness. No longer will talented young students be denied opportunities because the interviewers didn’t like their politics, or their parents’ background. But there is another more fundamental reason to dump interviews. They don’t work. Central planning never does. Would someone please tell the doctors.


"Healthy" food a hard sell for school canteens

School canteens are struggling to break even after banning the sale of high-fat and pre-packaged foods in order to comply with state government guidelines on healthy eating. A study backed by the Australian Research Council has found that many canteens could be forced to close unless federal and state governments provide extra funding to help carry through healthy eating guidelines.

Researcher Claire Drummond, who is undertaking a national study on canteen food services and healthy eating, said government schools that had introduced healthier foods were finding it difficult to make a profit by selling salads, baguettes and fruit. "A lot of the canteens need to make a profit just to survive," Ms Drummond said. "Something is going to have to give and the Goverment is going to have to provide a lot more support or funding, otherwise they're going to fail."

Healthy eating guidelines have been introduced to schools in NSW and Queensland and will be mandated in South Australia by the end of the year. While the guidelines are working well, Ms Drummond said some government high schools were struggling because they lacked volunteer support. Without volunteers, schools have been forced to pay for additional staff or outsource services. A lack of volunteers means there is little time to prepare healthy meals. "The high schools are completely worried about that because they can't get volunteers and primary schools are going that way as well," she said. "(And many) canteen managers have basically come from being a parent to a manager and a lot of them don't have the skills, the dietary background."

The University of South Australia PhD candidate said some high schools were struggling to replace vending machines, chocolate drives and barbecue fundraisers. "They're everywhere in high schools, they're a great source of revenue when the school canteen is closed," she said.

Ms Drummond called for a national approach to provide additional funding. The federal Government last year provided one-off $1500 grants to schools to buy ovens and establish vegetable patches to help them implement the strategies, but Ms Drummond said that had not been offered this year.

At St Peter's Woodlands Grammar School at Glenelg, in Adelaide's west, canteen manager Wendy Manning has introduced low-fat alternatives to pies and pasties. But many children would rather buy high-fat foods than salad rolls. "Lollies are cheaper than fruit at the moment," Ms Manning said.


Another government computer stuff-up

At least it seems that they did get this one to work -- eventually. A contrast with the Collins submarine program that had to be thrown out after about $300 million was spent on it

An audit of Customs' disastrous $205 million cargo processing system upgrade program has blasted the organisation's amateurish planning and execution of the now infamous project, which had at least $30 million in spending totally undocumented. Problems with the new import systems introduced by Customs two-and-a-half years late in October 2005 saw ships queuing at sea off ports in New South Wales and Victoria while they waited for cargo already unloaded to be processed.

A report into the Cargo Management Re-engineering project published by the Australian National Audit Office found a litany of failures, saying Customs did not adequately plan or cost the project, and moved ahead without sufficient "buy-in" from the shipping and freight industries. Management of the project was so bad that Customs could not provide auditors with any documentation for expenditure in 39 separate instances worth a total of $29.9 million.

"Customs was poorly placed to determine whether the project was both affordable and achievable," the report says. "The management framework that Customs had in place to support this project lacked many of the basic fundamentals necessary to successfully implement a large ICT project," the report says.

While noting the introduction of a new exports processing system was relatively painless, auditors reported the botched implementation of the imports system had "a significant impact on Australia's supply chain and international trading environment".

The initial project cost estimate of $30 million in 1999 ballooned to $205 million by the time total cost was reported in February 2006, auditors found. The project's expected outcomes were never properly defined, and the project lacked a financial management plan, project budget and an adequate assessment of the risks it faced, auditors reported. The assessment of the project's financial management was particularly scathing, with both the agency's initial business case for the project and a subsequent revision found to be totally inadequate. "Neither business case adequately identified costs, benefits, risks, deliverables or timelines. No consolidated financial business case or detailed cost estimates were prepared and signed off at the commencement of the CMR project," auditors found. "There was no identified source of funding in either business case and no strategy for determining whether the project had achieved its overall objectives or outcomes."

In its response to the audit findings, Customs officials said: "Customs acknowledges that there are some things that could have been done to make the implementation smoother".


Thursday, February 08, 2007


An email just received from a reader on a farm in Victoria. The Bracks Labor government is literally robbing farmers -- with behaviour that would be declared illegal by any consumer protection watchdog:

"A story from Victoria which is causing outrage amongst the farming community in this area: The Shepparton area has a state government water authority which allocates water for irrigation. It supplies water for diary farms and fruit orchards.

The water is quite expensive and many farmers go into big debt to purchase the water rights. This year, very early into the irrigation season, the authority informed the farmers, after they had paid for their water, that there would be no more water of their allocation supplied. When the farmers asked for reimbursement for the unused water portion, they were told that they would not be receiving any reimbursement.

As a result the suicide rate amongst men in this region has greatly increased. One farmer took his milking cows to market, and was offered a pittance, so he refused the sale, brought all his cows home, shot the cattle, and then himself.

The Victorian Government representative said that the money is being used to maintain the infrastructure of the irrigation system. Is this legal? To me it seems immoral that a one can pay for something and then not have the commodity delivered, nor get a refund, and for a government body to do this!"

There is very little mention of this story in the media or on the net but the following is some background from last October. The problem has obviously got a lot worse since that time:

The Nationals candidate for Rodney, Paul Weller, has commended the region's farming and business community for presenting a strong and united front at today's Northern Victorian Irrigators rally in Shepparton. Mr Weller was one of thousands of farmers to attend rally which he said sent a powerful message to the State Government that irrigators should not have to pay for water they did not receive.

"The Nationals went to the last election with a policy for state government to compensate water authorities for lost revenue," he said. "If this had been implemented, farmers would not have been forced to leave their businesses to attend today's rally." Mr Weller said during the past four years The Nationals had repeatedly called on the Government to compensate rural water authorities for water not allocated. He criticised the government for failing to heed those calls. "Hopefully through today's strong show of support they will start listening and respond. "The government has a huge Budget surplus and if they invested part of that surplus in rural and regional Victoria it would provide simple and effective drought support."

Mr Weller said one of the ongoing complaints raised again at the rally was the issue of water being traded out of the Goulburn Murray region, eroding the region's assets. "The Nationals have been calling for a moratorium on water trading from the region until a social and environmental impact study has been completed," he said. "This will enable the full understanding of the impacts of any water movement." "I look forward to a positive response from the State Government. With the first water payment just made and another one looming, a decision on relieving irrigators from paying for water they don't receive needs to be made immediately."


Yet another defence equipment failure

How thankful we can be that the government is not in charge of ALL our purchasing decisions. From the F111s of the 60s onwards, every single defence equipment purchase the Australian government makes seems to end up with major and often intractable failures and inadequacies -- in addition to the purchase always costing way more than was originally specified. A third-rate military power like Australia should be buying "off the shelf" -- not specifying new and untried weapons systems -- some of which NEVER work, even after years of effort

A recurring fuel contamination fault in the navy's $550million fleet of new Armidale-class patrol boats is no closer to being fixed and has now embroiled three government defence agencies, plus the navy and two civilian contractors. The same fault caused the navy to recall its Armidale fleet late last year due to safety concerns.

However, modifications to the fuel delivery system have apparently failed and the fleet is back in port, forcing the navy to deploy a "scratch flotilla" to secure the vast northern fishery zone.

Prime responsibility to repair the fault lies with the government-backed Defence Maritime Services, which has a 15-year contract to maintain the Armidale patrol boats. About a fortnight ago, water contamination caused the fuel pump on HMAS Armidale to crack during a patrol off Broome, spewing an explosive mix of diesel fuel through the ship's engine room. Fearing a repeat of the tragedy that killed four sailors when a leaking fuel line ignited in the engine room of HMAS Westralia in 1998, the navy recalled the entire Armidale fleet last week.

Maritime operations commander Rear-Admiral Davyd Thomas slapped a ban on patrols involving the Armidale class -- the Government's frontline weapon against illegal fishing -- until the defect is fixed. With no solution in sight, the drama has engulfed navy engineering specialists, DMS, the Defence Materiel Organisation, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, West Australian ship builder Austal, and engine supplier MTU-Detroit Diesel. "Replacement (fuel) pumps are being obtained to minimise the impacts of these defects," a defence official said yesterday. "These measures have been implemented to assure the safety of navy personnel."

The navy has deployed ageing [and mostly useless] Fremantle-class patrol boats due for decommissioning to help guard Australia's strategic northern approaches. "The ADF has assigned an additional Fremantle-class patrol boat, HMAS Gladstone, to Operation Resolute (northern border protection). HMAS Gladstone will join two other FCPBs currently assigned to the operation," the official said.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has not commented on the latest patrol boat problem, but Opposition spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said defence procurement was in crisis. "When you add to the mix problems with the navy's Seasprite helicopters, its new patrol boats, questions about the sustainability of defence spending, and a skills shortage within defence, something approaching a crisis begins to take shape," Mr Fitzgibbon said


Rising nationalism is a natural response

There is a fine balance to promoting tolerance

Unfashionable as it may seem, the Cronulla riots provide a useful reminder of the inherent risks of civil decline when the political class strays too far from grass-roots expectations on a nation's sense of self. The issue is not confined to Australia and is felt more in Europe than the US, where nationhood is more aggressively founded on a binding loyalty to a defined set of core values. Elsewhere in the West, a renewed clamour for national identity is a predictable and overdue response to the permissive extremes of the decades-long embrace of no-rules multiculturalism. The trend has been provoked by the rise of militant Islam, with its own competitive identity that transcends national borders. The reaction can be measured by a resurgence of pride in the Australian flag among young people and near universal support for the Government to impose a tougher citizenship test for migrants. It is reflected in the Government's decision to swap multiculturalism for citizenship in the title of the Immigration Department.

The new reality sits uncomfortably with the so-called progressive view that favours unbridled tolerance for the minority and a loathing for the dominant culture or conventional view. These themes are explored by Francis Fukuyama, professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins School of International Studies, who says that if existing citizens do not sufficiently value their national citizenship, they can scarcely expect newcomers to value it. The potential cost of inaction is evident in comments by Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes in The Australian today that opinion surveys in Britain consistently show 50 per cent of British Muslims would like to see the introduction of sharia Islamic law. This is akin to exchanging the constitution for the Koran.

This new reality is prompting a reappraisal from all quarters. Writing in British newspaper The Guardian, Nick Cohen repudiates his left-wing heritage and outlines how the postmodern thought has bred the conditions for greater intolerance, such as that in Cronulla. It was the Left's capacity to support Saddam Hussein against coalition intervention that prompted Cohen's reappraisal, which has only been reinforced as his former comrades have also refused to speak out against the sectarian violence that has now laid siege to Baghdad, lest criticism be construed as support for the US. He argues that the death of socialism - disgraced by the communists' atrocities and floored by the success of market-based economies - has brought a dark liberation to people who consider themselves to be on the liberal Left. It has freed them to go along with any movement, however far to the Right it may be, as long as it is against the status quo in general and the US in particular.

Unfortunately for the West, the liberal tolerance shown by the Left to minority groups has not always come with reciprocal obligations. Professor Fukuyama argues that Europe's failure to better integrate its Muslim population is a ticking time bomb that has already contributed to terrorism. It is bound to provoke a sharper backlash from populist groups, and may even threaten European democracy itself.

Writing in the Journal of Democracy, republished in The Weekend Australian, Professor Fukuyama advocates a two-pronged approach involving changes in behaviour by immigrant minorities and their descendants as well as by members of the dominant national communities. First, it is necessary to recognise that the old multicultural model has not been a success and has led to demands for group rights that cannot be squared with liberal principles of individual equality. Second, national identity must be clearly defined and expressed. Both things are evident in Australia, with the reappraisal of multiculturalism as an open-cheque policy and the introduction of more stringent citizenship requirements. For Professor Fukuyama, a failure to be clear on national identity leaves a society vulnerable to being overwhelmed by those with a much better defined sense of community identity. Professor Fukuyama's view that jihadism is aided by the quest for identity spawned by migration to non-Muslim countries is particularly so if host countries fail to offer meaningful economic and cultural integration.

While Australia does not share the extent of problems faced by Britain and some European countries, such as The Netherlands, there are many lessons to be heeded. Just as Professor Fukuyama notes that disaffiliation within the Muslim community can provoke terrorism, so too were the Cronulla riots a predictable response to a growing sense that the dominant Aussie-Anglo culture was being undermined. Left unchecked, this can result in ugly consequences, but banning displays of the national flag at events such as the Big Day Out is no cure. The rational response to globalisation is to reaffirm one's affiliations, and the most sensible way to do that is through a sensible nationalism, where we all stand for something.


Leftists love to find "Victims" -- even if it is all in their own minds

Where some Australian Leftists see pornography, other people just see a child wearing nice clothes

A girl is standing alone on the beach. Her hips are thrust forward, her legs slightly parted. Her lips are wet with gloss. Some of her clothes are slightly askew. You can see her bra, white and tiny, through her singlet. She is not yet 12 years old, and she is selling the clothes she is wearing. Is the image vaguely pornographic? Does it sexualise the child?

Emma Rush, a feminist academic from the left-leaning think tank, the Australia Institute, believes it does. Last October, she put her thoughts down in an academic paper, provocatively titled Corporate Paedophilia. An electronic attachment to the report contained images of children taken from a David Jones catalogue (and also from Myer, Fred Bare, Frangipani Rose, Barbie magazine, among others). Some showed girls alone on the beach or in bush settings. Rush said they were "sexually vulnerable". In others, the child models wore make-up.

Rush flayed the advertisers, saying: "Pictures of sexy children send messages to pedophiles that children are sexually available and interested in sex. That is very irresponsible on behalf of the advertisers and marketers." She objected also to some of the products being marketed to children, such as the "bralette", a bandeau-style bra for girls aged four to eight, with removable straps. One version is made by Bonds. It is available from most department stores. "I just think, you know, what does a three to four-year-old child need to be wearing a bra for?" Rush said.

All the advertisers named in Rush's report were appalled to be accused of something as heinous as the exploitation of children. David Jones, which cultivates a reputation for high-quality apparel and corporate decency, was outraged. Chief executive Mark McInnes immediately telephoned Australia Institute director Clive Hamilton. In a heated exchange, McInnes demanded that any references to his company be removed from Rush's report. When Hamilton refused, David Jones called in the lawyers to defend its brand. Under changes to defamation laws that came into effect in January 2006, it is almost impossible for a big corporation to sue. But David Jones was determined to make its point and yesterday launched a creative legal course, claiming a breach of section 52 of the Trade Practices Act.

Legal analysts say the action is not certain to succeed, but there is quiet admiration for David Jones. The children in its catalogue were not scantily clad; they were dressed as children often are these days, in smart, designer clothes. Duncan Fine, a father of two boys and author of Why TV is Good for Kids, says: "Good on David Jones for standing up for themselves. I looked at the pictures and I thought, if you were to look at that and see something even vaguely pornographic, there's got to be something wrong with you. "It's the same with kids in bikinis. If you think a seven-year-old running across Bronte Beach is a sexual image, well, you have a major problem."

Fine says it is "irresponsible, just ludicrous" to use the term pedophilia in the report. "Pedophilia is a crime so awful, we shouldn't make light of it. It was clearly designed to get attention. And the idea that kids these days are somehow being harmed by advertising, well, there is just no evidence for that." Indeed, on almost every measure, today's children are doing all right. They are better educated than their parents, more likely to finish Year 12 and get a job afterwards, less likely to use drugs and get pregnant as teens. "If anything, we are in the age of the uber-parent," says Fine. "Parents are doting on their kids. Children are saturated with love and affection and care."

The term corporate pedophilia was coined not by the Australia Institute in 2006 but by commentator Phillip Adams, who first used it in a column in 1995 to describe the phenomenon "where childhood is truncated and abbreviated by the march of marketing, so children can be turned into little adults, and marched through the malls". Speaking to The Australian, Adams says he is concerned less with the sexualisation of children than by the truncation of childhood. "The age of consent for commerce has certainly been lowered. You still cannot physically seduce a child under the age of 16, but retailers and advertisers can seduce them any other way. "It's a fact that mighty corporations hire all the smart-arses to find ways to turn kids into purchasers of crap, basically. It's that seduction of the innocent that is objectionable." Adams remembers no marketing to children when he was himself a child, except perhaps in Batman comics. "There was a long period of pre-pubescence," he says. "Children were not sexualised. We lived in a world of sexual mystery. We knew bugger all. These days, it's anal sex, blow jobs: they know everything."

It's certainly true that children are exposed to sex and pornography earlier, and more often, than in previous generations. "You don't need to go to the internet for it. It's in the mainstream media," Adams says. Last year, one of the best-selling CDs for girls aged between eight and 14 was the Kids Pop Party Mix. It comes in a pretty pink CD case, with a purple karaoke microphone on the front. Most girls buy it to get just one song, the smash hit Don't Cha by the Pussycat Dolls: "Don't cha wish your girl friend was hot like me?/ Don't cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?/ Don't cha wish your girlfriend was raw like me?"

The Pussycat Dolls started as a burlesque act, stripping to their lacy underwear for money. But the Kids Pop Party Mix is produced by an offshoot of good old Aunty. It's on the ABC Kids label, sold through ABC stores. The promoters market the CD by saying: "Finding the right music for that in-between age group - the eight to 14-year-olds - can be difficult, particularly in these days of soft-core pop videos. Parents want to ensure their children are listening to music that's appropriate to their age group. ABC Kids has come to the rescue with the bumper Kids Pop Party Mix." [the ABC referred to is Australia's mega-correct public broadcaster] ....

Adams says some parents appear to have abandoned "even the most classic parental responsibilities. God knows, I can't begin to imagine what is going on in the minds of parents."

But according to Fine, "Parents frankly don't believe their children are being manipulated. Where some people see pornography or exploitation, others just see a kid in a catalogue wearing nice clothes." This is the view of Louise Greig, a Sydney mother and entrepreneur, whose fashion label Frangipani Rose was among those targeted by Rush in the Corporate Paedophilia report last year.

Rush says the child in the Frangipani Rose ads had been styled provocatively, which horrified Greig, since the child was her own daughter, nine-year-old Georgina. "The idea that you can look at a photograph that I've taken of my own daughter and think, that's pornography - what goes through that woman's mind? What kind of planet does she live on, that she would think such sick thoughts?" Greig responded to the report.

More here

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

How much hot air?

The article below by Jennifer Marohasy appeared in the Brisbane "Courier Mail", a mainstream Australian capital-city newspaper

Almost every day some report or event is claimed as evidence of global warming. Al Gore's recent movie An Inconvenient Truth went so far as to claim that we have a "climate crisis" right now. Do we?

It can be hard finding the real facts on climate change among all the hype. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has a mandate to deliver a comprehensive assessment of human-induced climate change every few years, and the Fourth Assessment Report, AR4, is due for release sometime this year.

You have possibly been led to believe, given all the media headlines, that this big report was released in Paris last Friday. It wasn't. Friday's document was just a 21-page summary of the first part of AR4, and doesn't even have a bibliography. That's right, just a summary of a quarter of the big report.

Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis - Summary for Policy Makers is nevertheless an important document, because it details the position of many global warming experts. So what does it say? For those who enjoy the thrill of the more extreme doomsayer predictions, the 21-page summary will be a disappointment.

For example, while Al Gore claimed that sea levels are about to rise by more than 6m, the IPCC summary indicates that sea levels have risen by just 17cm and may rise by no more than another 18cm, certainly no more than 59cm by 2099. The IPCC scientists predict temperatures will increase by 0.2C per decade for the next two decades, and that by the end of the century temperatures may have increased by as much as 4C or as little as 1.8C.

The 21-page summary indicates the world has warmed by 0.74C over the past 100 years. To put this in perspective, temperatures in Brisbane regularly fluctuate by as much as 10C in one day.

The IPCC summary explains that at the Arctic temperatures have increased at almost twice the global average, while at the Antarctic there has been no warming. That's right. No global warming at the South Pole.

The IPCC summary indicates there is no clear trend in numbers of cyclones, but their intensity has increased in the North Atlantic since 1970 and on balance there are likely to be more-intense cyclones in the future.

The IPCC summary does not explain why regions such as southeast Queensland have missed out, but perhaps this and many other issues will be detailed in the actual report when it is published in May.

It is unusual for the summary of a scientific report to be released before the actual report. Then again it is unusual for a report to be written by 600 scientists and reviewed by more than 113 governments; the process so far for just part one of AR4. Before May, all the contributing scientists are expected to refine the individual chapters in the report to make sure they all accord with the agreed summary.

Much has been written by philosophers about how scientists can get stuck within particular paradigms, unable to break free from the groupthink. Indeed, while it is useful to have a consensus from the United Nations on global warming, there must also be a place for dissent and debate. But the IPCC summary glosses over various anomalies. For example, while the global trend has been one of warming, a plot of mean temperatures since 1998 shows that there has been no warming since then, now eight years later. The IPCC summary does not acknowledge the current downward trend, which may or may not prove to be just a blip in the scheme of things. All in all, the IPCC summary paints a picture of a warming world, but I couldn't find a climate crisis.

Want greens with that? Hearty McDonald's gets tick of health approval

Health experts have confirmed what kids have been telling their parents for years: McDonald's really is good for you. In what is being touted as a world first, the local arm of the giant fast food chain that feeds 1 million Australians a day has earned the approval of an independent health organisation. The National Heart Foundation yesterday confirmed it would bestow its distinctive red tick of approval on a range of modified McDonald's meals, some of which include the standard hamburger, chicken burger and even the inscrutable chicken nugget. But there is a catch. You can't have fries with that. Or a fizzy drink. And there will be no option for substitution or supersizing.

McDonald's Australia has been working with the Heart Foundation for the past 12 months, modifying its recipes to reduce the levels of salt, saturated fat and kilojoules, virtually eradicate its trans fat use and add more vegetables to each approved meal. The salt content in the chain's deli-style bread rolls had to be cut by more than 40 per cent. And after what the foundation described yesterday as a rigorous system of trial, test and rejection, nine meal combinations eventually met the tick's demands: less than 2 per cent saturated fat, virtually no trans fat, and a minimum 75-gram serve of vegetables in every meal, which in itself must not provide more than a third of an adult's daily energy needs.

Monique Blunden, the communications manager for the foundation's tick program, said the ingredient changes made to the new McDonald's menu, which will come into effect by the end of the month, meant that even the standard Big Mac, fries and soft drink would be marginally more healthy than the original. However, the real health benefits would come through convincing people to substitute this typical fast food order with, for example, the tick-approved meal of lean beef burger, garden salad and orange juice. This would result in a 70 per cent reduction in saturated fat, a third less salt and half the kilojoules. If just 10 per cent of customers make such a swap, collectively they will remove 294 tonnes of saturated fat from their diet each year, according to the foundation.

To maintain the integrity of the tick system, McDonald's will allow twice-weekly independent audits at randomly selected outlets. Ms Blunden said the foundation was not expecting other chains to immediately follow the lead of McDonald's. "Some were more interested than others," she said. "But it was McDonald's who took us seriously."


Review urged of selection for medical education

Politically correct approach not working

Experts have called for an urgent rethink of selection processes used by medical schools after finding the tests used to admit students fail to identify the best applicants. Researchers who measured the subsequent performance of students who did well in the tests said good results bore little correlation with how well the students performed during their course.

The study -- published today in the Medical Journal of Australia -- also found the structured interviews used by many medical schools with the tests were too subjective, and there were "serious qualms" over their ability to highlight the best candidates. The findings are likely to reignite a controversy revealed by The Australian last year, after senior doctors criticised interviewers for asking would-be students their views on gay marriage, the Iraq war and whether their parents were doctors.

In three accompanying editorials also published in today's MJA, experts condemned other aspects of medical education, including poor tuition of newly-graduated doctors working in hospitals, and the adoption of "problem-based learning", which had displaced traditional teaching methods in many university medical schools. Queensland medical education expert Richard Hays, currently head of the medical school at Keele University in Britain, said despite its enthusiastic uptake, problem-based learning had not been based on strong evidence.

Chris McManus, a British professor of psychology and medical education, and Australian psychology professor David Powis, said the "sad reality is that surprisingly little is known" about how best to select students. Professor Allan Carmichael, chairman of Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand, said entry processes were under review and welcomed the findings as adding to the evidence of what worked. However, he said the editorials were individual opinions, and the new study was based on a small sample. Previous studies disagreed with it, he said. "One would take note of it, but not go in for a wholesale change of selection processes on the back of this study," he said.


The "dance of the lemons" in Australia too

A familiar "dance" to California and NYC -- where incompetent teachers are sent from school to school rather than being fired

Incompetent teachers are being shuffled between schools rather than being sacked while many new graduates are being put in charge of the most difficult students. And principals have little say in fixing the problem because they have little control over who they can hire and fire, according to Teachers and the Waiting Game, a new paper that argues for deregulation of teacher appointments in the public system. "Principals in NSW and other states have no say over who is dismissed from the school. They're not the person who decides whether a teacher is incompetent or whether they are guilty of misconduct," said the report's author, Jennifer Buckingham, from the Centre for Independent Studies.

Teachers who failed to prepare lessons or did not understand a syllabus were difficult to discipline or dismiss because a principal's "hands were often tied" by state education departments that were in the grip of teacher unions, Ms Buckingham said. "The process of examining a teacher's performance can take up to 12 months and it can happen in a couple of schools before eventually the teacher is dismissed."

Apart from Victoria, state and territory education departments often decide by whom and where teachers are recruited, often based on length of service at a school or seniority. Unlike Victoria, where principals can immediately advertise jobs, other state principals must choose from a department list of eligible teachers before advertising externally. "For example (in NSW) if a school needs a maths teacher, rather than advertising or selecting candidates from an employment list, the school will contact the department and they are sent a teacher, most of the time with no consultation," Ms Buckingham said.

The result had been a trend to send new graduate teachers to the most disadvantaged schools. "In order to work your way up to the top of the (school transfer) queue to be offered other jobs throughout the state, you have to put in time in a school that is hard to staff - and the reason those schools are hard to staff are because the kids are hard to teach," Ms Buckingham said.

In NSW, 30 per cent of graduate teachers were concentrated in 3 per cent of schools that were difficult to staff either because a high proportion of students had behavioural problems or were from non-English speaking backgrounds, she said.

NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt rejected Ms Buckingham's thesis. "In 2005 we reformed staffing procedures to give local school communities more opportunities to choose their principals and, for the first time, their classroom teachers. In 2006, we introduced legislation to streamline the process of identifying, assisting, and if necessary, removing poor performing teachers."

Australian Education Union president Pat Byrne said the teacher shortage was not related to centralised recruitment processes. "The issue is not whether the school has the say or the selection, the issue is whether or not people perceive the position to be worthwhile in terms of the salary, conditions and accommodation," Ms Byrne said."


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

More child-abuse incompetence by government in Queensland

Big spending but poor results. Where have we heard that before? I guess that two years is not NEARLY enough for a government agency to catch up on its backlog. Kids could suffer a lot of abuse in two years, though

Almost 8000 child-abuse cases remain stalled despite record spending to clear the backlog -- and the State Government has pledged more funds. The Government poured $344 million into child protection in 2006, up from $290 million the year before. The Report on Government Services shows that Queensland has spent more new money on child protection than the other states and territories combined.

The Government says the spending is yielding results, with Premier Peter Beattie and Child Safety Minister Desley Boyle today announcing an extra $5 million. "In the past eight months, we have seen a 37 per cent drop in the number of cases not finalised, from 12,699 in April 2006 to 7977 last month," Ms Boyle said. Mr Beattie said the new funding would help ease the backlog but there were still too many cases in limbo. He said $3 million would be made available in 2006-07 for a major assault on backlog cases, and an additional $2 million would be spent the following financial year on work by records officers. "While all urgent cases are investigated within 24 hours and action taken to protect children, there are still too many other cases yet to be finalised," Mr Beattie said.

Gail Slocombe, executive director of PeakCare - the umbrella organisation for non-government child protection service providers - said the money could be better spent. "If we had more preventive measures, like early intervention and support for families, we wouldn't have so many reports in the first place," she said.

The Child Safety Department's 2005-06 annual report, released in November, showed that of 33,612 abuse notifications during the year, one third had not been finalised. Ms Boyle said when the department was created in 2004, it inherited a backlog. A growing awareness of child abuse also saw workloads increase. "The backlog has been, and in some offices remains, one of the stresses our workers have had to carry", she said.

But things are looking up. Last December, Inala, Pine Rivers, Chermside, Sunshine Coast North, Beaudesert, Alderley and Gympie had all cleared their outstanding investigations. Those offices within 50 cases of their target included Wynnum, Innisfail, Gladstone, Sunshine Coast South, South Burnett, Bowen, Redcliffe. Cairns South, Caboolture, Fortitude Valley, Toowoomba North, Loganlea and Woodridge.

"I want all our offices to have the stress of backlog cases removed," Ms Boyle said. She said the extra money would be used to employ more temporary senior child-safety officers, team leaders, records officers and administrative staff who would focus exclusively on finalising outstanding cases.

The above report by Edmund Burke appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on February, 4, 2006

The truth at last about killer cop

Amazing that they tried to cover this up -- out of fear of the police union. Very sad that it took huge public protests to get a killer cop into court. The cop and his government protector below

Sir Laurence Street's confidential report into the Palm Island death in custody says there is evidence to convict a policeman of knowingly inflicting the injuries which killed Aboriginal man Mulrunji. The former NSW chief justice found a jury could make the "rational inference" that Senior-Sergeant Chris Hurley deliberately kneed Mulrunji as he lay on the concrete floor of the lock-up.

Sir Laurence's 12-page legal opinion for the State Government - obtained exclusively by The Courier-Mail - contradicts the finding by Director of Public Prosections Leanne Clare that the death was accidental. Attorney-General Kerry Shine used Sir Laurence's advice to overrule Ms Clare and announce Sen-Sgt Hurley would be charged with manslaughter, sparking a backlash from the Police Union. Sen-Sgt Hurley is yet to be formally charged.

Sir Laurence emphasised he was not expressing an opinion on Sen-Sgt Hurley's guilt or passing judgment on Ms Clare's decision-making. But he said a "reasonable jury" could conclude that Mulrunji's fatal injuries were inflicted when the policeman kneed him during an altercation in the Palm Island watchhouse on November 19, 2004. Further, the jury could find there was "no reasonable hypothesis" consistent with Sen-Sgt Hurley's innocence, or the death being accidental.

"A jury could well find that the only rational inference that can be drawn as to the fatal injury is that it was inflicted by Sen-Sgt Hurley deliberately kneeing Mulrunji in the upper right abdominal area," Sir Laurence reported. Logically, the injury could only have been caused by an accidental application of force by Sen-Sgt Hurley when Mulrunji fell, or by a deliberate kneeing by Sen-Sgt Hurley then, or immediately afterwards. But Sen-Sgt Hurley had told police investigators that he did not fall on Mulrunji or apply any force which could explain his fatal injuries.

This was factually incorrect and "could be considered by a jury to be untruths told out of a consciousness of guilt and fear of the truth" by Sen-Sgt Hurley, Sir Laurence found. It was open to the jury to conclude that Sen-Sgt Hurley had been trying to subdue Mulrunji at the watch-house.


Teacher trainees not being trained

Typical government management of supply and demand

A leaked report by a State Government working party says West Australian schools are increasingly reluctant to allow undergraduates into classrooms for the work experience they need to get a teaching degree. As the Carpenter Government battles to fill a record shortfall of more than 200 teachers this year, the report warns that some student teachers may not be able to graduate due to a lack of work experience places in the state's schools. The trend has universities worried about the next generation of teachers.

In 2005, some Victorian student teachers were unable to graduate because of a lack of work experience placements, the report says. The report, Teacher Supply and Demand and Student Placements in Western Australia, was completed late last year. It includes claims by Murdoch University that it struggled to place student teachers in schools despite using small gifts to try to entice teachers to take them. "Murdoch tries to do PR and gives small gifts and certificates, but it is stressful having to go to the same teachers time and again and fewer want to be involved," the report stated.

The severe teacher shortage facing government schools in Western Australia - the shortfall had dropped yesterday to 166 full-time and 44 part-time teachers following an urgent recruitment drive - has reached some independent schools.

Independent schools told the authors of the report that it was increasingly difficult to fill positions in rural Western Australia. And it was extremely difficult to place teachers in Aboriginal communities. Those who went rarely stayed more than a year. [I wonder why?] "This staff turnover compounds the disadvantage experienced by the schools," the report says.



Women whose breast cancer has advanced despite all available treatments - including Herceptin - will have access to a new drug before it is approved for use in Australia. Tykerb was so successful in an international trial of women with late-stage or metastatic HER2 positive breast cancer, it has been made available through oncologists prior to approval by the Therapeutic Goods Association. It will be offered at 13 sites around Australia, including the Mater and St George hospitals in Sydney.

Tykerb gives fresh hope to women whose cancer has spread despite treatment with other therapies, including Herceptin. When taken in combination with chemotherapy drug Xeloda, it was shown the average delay in the time it took the cancer to progress was 36.9 weeks, compared with 19.7 weeks for patients treated with chemotherapy alone. Medicare data shows 52 per cent of women with end-stage breast cancer do not respond to Herceptin.

In addition, Tykerb, a once daily oral drug, substantially reduces the risk of HER2 cancer metastasising in the brain. Oncologist Professor Fran Boyle is already using the combination therapy on 10 patients at the Mater Hospital. "There has been a clear need for alternative treatments to help women with metastatic breast cancer in this advanced setting," she said. "This is a big deal for a small number of women."

Patients enrolled in the expanded access program will not have to pay for the drug, but it will be offered only to women who have tried other therapies without success. Once regulatory approval is gained, the program will end but women already being treated will continue to be provided with free treatment.

GlaxoSmithKline said clinical trials of the drug for early-stage breast cancer would begin this year. The company will eventually apply to put Tykerb on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Herceptin, which costs patients about $50,000 a year, was put on the PBS in October.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare predicts the number of Australian women diagnosed with breast cancer will rise from 13,261 in 2006 to 14,800 in 2011. Of these, about 25 per cent will have HER2 positive breast cancer, a more aggressive form of the disease.

Carol Galluzzi volunteered for the Tykerb trial at the end of last year after 10 months of Herceptin failed to reduce the size of the tumour in her breast. After paying more than $21,000 for seven Herceptin treatments, the trial was a welcome financial relief. She takes five tablets daily in addition to an oral chemotherapy drug and said her quality of life had improved greatly since switching treatments. "I can look after my grandkids now where before I just didn't have the energy - and there aren't as many side effects."


Monday, February 05, 2007


Australia is set to drastically reduce its Sudanese refugee program this year. With growing community concern about the behaviour of the refugees, Federal Cabinet will soon consider a proposal from Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews to reduce the intake from Horn of Africa nations. Australia's humanitarian program has allowed thousands of Sudanese refugees to come to Australia in recent years. But there are growing doubts about the wisdom of the decision, especially with the rise of gangs of Sudanese youths and drunk drivers.

There are about 18,000 Sudanese in Victoria, with many traumatised by their experience of civil war -- and the challenge of living in a Western society. A Sunday Herald Sun survey of 400 cases at magistrates' courts across Melbourne found 14 per cent of offenders came from the Horn of Africa and the Middle East -- many of them refugees -- about 20 times the representative proportion of the population.

"Australia has one of the most generous humanitarian resettlement programs in the world at 13,000 a year," Mr Andrews said yesterday. "But immigration is a process, not an event. "Successful immigration requires integration into the broader community."

A high-profile court case this week highlighted the crime spree of a Sudanese man, Hakeem Hakeem, 21, who raped two teenage girls and an elderly women in a drunken, drug-fuelled episode. He was sentenced to 24 years in jail. Hakeem had been in Australia for only one month before committing the crimes.

The proposed new policy would focus on settling refugees from the Asia Pacific region.

Sudanese elders believe their community is being unjustly targeted. The elders yesterday blamed failures in Australian welfare and education systems for crimes in the community. Jago Adongjak, an educator at the South Eastern Region Migrant Resource Centre and an elder of Melbourne's 7000-strong Sudanese community, said many fellow migrants who had escaped the war-torn nation were facing a different conflict in Australia. "I came here because there was a war in Sudan and I was a target for the junta," Mr Adongjak said. "I was expecting a peaceful land of opportunity -- and there are opportunities -- but we are also facing a battle here, to survive." Mr Adongjak dismissed claims the community did not respect or trust authorities as much as other cultures and had drink-drive issues.

"The Sudanese are not as bad as we are portrayed," he said. "We know because we have just had a meeting with the police and they told us according to their statistics the Sudanese are not anywhere near the worst community for crime in Victoria. "And I know because I live in the community. "On the issue of drink-driving, I would not say the Sudanese are exceptional either." The major cause of crime and restlessness in the community was disadvantage, he said. Large families did not receive adequate housing, with several children sharing small rooms. [And back in Sudan??]

Children struggled at school because they only had nine months to learn English before being put in classes based on their age, rather than ability. Parents also found it hard to provide because their professional qualifications were not recognised, so they had to settle for lower-paid jobs, Mr Adongjak said. [And what were they paid back in Sudan??]



When the kid grows up, what do you think he will say about the busybodies who said he should never have been born? He's living a "wrongful life" is he?

A 56-year-old woman who has given birth in a Brisbane hospital is believed to be the oldest IVF mother in Australia. The woman, who was 36 weeks' pregnant, gave birth last week after undergoing treatment at the Queensland Fertility centre. Sources said the woman was the recipient of a donor egg after raising three other children aged from their mid-teens to mid-30s. They said the mother also required treatment with the heart drug Digoxin following the birth at the Mater Hospital on Tuesday.

The mother has refused to comment on the case but The Sunday Mail has been told she was forced to move suburbs because of "negativity towards her pregnancy". Her husband is believed to be aged in his mid-30s.

The case is being investigated by the Fertility Society of Australia Reproductive Technology Accreditation Committee - which provides accreditation for IVF clinics - over whether it breached the self-regulating industry's code of practice. But because there are no age limits in the code, which stipulates only against any fertility treatment that may be harmful to the mother or baby, the body is unable to take any action against the clinic. "I am not aware of any older women than this," RTAC chairman Ossie Petrucco said yesterday.

It is the second time in two years the clinic has been targeted by RTAC. In 2005, founding QFG director Warren DeAmbrosis was scrutinised after he helped Brisbane woman Dale Chalk fall pregnant with her second set of quads - believed to be a world first. The high-powered IVF Directors Group, comprising medical directors from every IVF clinic in Australia and New Zealand, stopped short of punishing Dr DeAmbrosis but pushed for the industry to do everything it could to avoid such an outcome again.

According to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data, the success rate for women aged between 40 and 44, who had undergone fertility treatment, was 7.1 per cent, compared with 33.5 per cent for women aged 23 to 24 years. The average age of women undergoing treatment in 2004 in Australia and New Zealand was 35.4 and their partners were 37.8.

In 1998, an Adelaide woman, 53, gave birth to triplets after undergoing an IVF treatment with embryos she and her husband had stored years earlier. In January 2005, 66-year-old Romanian woman Adriana Iliescu became the world's oldest mother after giving birth to a daughter after conceiving through IVF with a donor egg.

Meanwhile, a simple test that more than doubles the chance of having a healthy baby could transform the IVF process. Scientists have found a way to test the genetic make-up of a woman's eggs, allowing the best to be chosen. A trial has produced more than 30 healthy babies and dramatically increased the success rate. Perfected by doctors in Las Vegas, comparative genomic hybridisation counts the number of chromosomes in an egg. Up to 75 per cent of miscarriages are thought to be due to embryos having the wrong number of chromosomes, with eggs from older women particularly likely to be defective.


More news of the "drought"

The Greenies and their sympathizers in the media and politics are ignoring the fact that rainfall has always been highly variable in Australia. There is always somewhere that is in "drought" and always plenty of floods too. But the latest episode is the craziest -- with heavy rainfall in many parts of Australia still being referred to as a "drought" and being blamed on global warming

It was Drysdale St by name but not by nature in the flooded north Queensland sugar town of Giru yesterday. The main street of the 600-resident town, just south of Townsville, was waist-deep in water as floods cut off the area for the second consecutive day. Continuous rain had brought floodwaters to the doorsteps of homes and businesses before they retreated, sparing residents from major damage. "No one's been injured, no real damage has been done, so everyone's just enjoying it at the moment," said Rosalie Hardie, 37, manager of the Giru International Hotel.

Residents had watched with alarm as waters broke the banks of the Haughton River and rushed towards the town late on Thursday. "It came in very fast - it was quite amazing to watch. I think we were blessed because it stopped," Ms Hardie said. "It got to the point where it's just lapping at everyone's door. If people were a little concerned yesterday, the concern has gone today because it hasn't gone any higher."

Residents were in good spirits when The Sunday Mail chartered a helicopter to make it into the town yesterday. Shane Cannon, 38, who works at the local mill, was among many residents who ventured out to wade through the floodwaters, his 11-year-old daughter Shae perched on his shoulders. "I love it when the weather's like this. We haven't had a really good wet season for a while," he said.

Outside the pub, where relaxed locals nonchalantly sipped cold beers with water lapping at their feet, dinghies and inflatable rafts had replaced cars on Drysdale St. Children took their lives in their hands to swim down the street. It wasn't just currents they had to worry about, but also the local wildlife, with a 2m crocodile seen swimming near the local school. Concerned police issued a crocodile warning.

Many homes in the flood-prone area are raised high off the ground, keeping them high and dry but surrounded by water....

Elsewhere, Emergency Management Queensland sent food and other supplies by helicopter to cut-off Jourama Falls ranger station, 80km north of Townsville, where two Belgian tourists were stranded.


But floods are a sign of global warming too, of course: "Queensland's Premier Peter Beattie has said today that flooding in North Queensland was another sign of global warming. "I'm delighted we're getting rain in north Queensland, although we never like getting too much because there's always floods," he told ABC Radio. "But the trouble is this, is what the future holds - this is what climate change is doing to us."

Government schools in expensive suburbs can't cope with enrollments

Matching supply to demand is too hard for governments

Public schools are turning away students because they have run out of classroom space and do not want to fill their playgrounds with demountables. Changing demographics, a flow of students back into public schools and the State Government's $710 million class-size reduction policy are all placing an extra strain on resources. Most affected are schools in the high-density eastern- and inner-city suburbs, where there is limited space to expand.

Bronte Public School has had to turn away pupils from outside its local area. "Demand is growing," principal Pam Crawley said. "We are limited to [taking students from] within the area and siblings simply because we don't have any more space," Ms Crawley said. She said an increasing number of people were eager to send their children to local public schools. "People value the fact their children are starting in their local school and getting a sense of community," she said.

Kensington Public School principal and Public School Principals Forum spokeswoman Annie Jones has had to turn away up to 50 children from kindergarten each year - and between 20 and 40 from years 1 to 6 - because of a lack of space. She does not want to take in any demountable classrooms which she said would encroach on the playground area.

NSW Teachers Federation eastern suburbs and inner city representative Michelle Rosicky said the schools experiencing a lack of room tended to be older and had limited land. "The problem is, in the eastern suburbs, if those parents can't get their kids into Coogee, Clovelly and Bronte [public schools] they will send them to private schools."


Sunday, February 04, 2007

It's almost certain: humans caused planet to heat up

The headline above and the text below is how "The Australian" (national daily) reported the latest IPCC report. It rightly notes the huge range in predictions offered and includes some skeptical comments. The range of predictions is a bit like a fortune-teller saying to someone: "One day you will be either a Prince or a pauper". I doubt that such a totally vague fortune-teller would stay in business long

Scientists are now almost certain temperature increases over the last half of the 20th century were caused by human activity, and have warned of ominous further increases up to 4C by 2100.

The world's most significant weather forecast, released last night in Paris, revealed growing confidence in climate modelling that suggests greenhouse gases are reaching dangerous levels and need to be reduced. The first volume of the fourth assessment report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported similar warming projections to its previous report six years ago. The new report is based on the results of 23 climate models, a three-fold increase from the seven models used in 2001 to deliver best estimates of temperature increases ranging from 1.8C to 4C. The increased number of models has widened the likely temperature ranges from 1.1C to 6.4C, compared with from 1.4C to 5.8C six years ago. [The 1.1C prediction is at least fairly consistent with the ACTUAL rise of .6C in the 20th century]

Significantly, the report finds man-made release of greenhouse gases is more than 90 per cent likely to have caused most of the observable increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century, about 0.65C.

The range of projected rises in global sea levels is from 0.18m [a mere 7 inches over an entire century] to 0.59m by 2100, driven largely by their expansion from rising water temperatures.

The IPCC also reports greater confidence in the projected patterns of warming and other regional-scale features, including contracting snow cover, shrinking sea ice on the poles and the high likelihood of more frequent hot extremes, heatwaves and heavy rainfall patterns.

The Antarctic ice sheets are predicted to remain too cold for widespread surface melting and are expected to gain in mass due to increased snowfall. While the Greenland ice sheet is projected to contribute to sea-level rises after 2100, the report says this will need to be sustained for millenniums to result in its complete elimination and a resulting sea-level rise of about 7m.

The report predicts the emission of carbon dioxide this century will contribute to global warming and sea-level rises for the next millennium. The report predicts increasing intensity in cyclones, including higher peak wind speeds and more heavy rain patterns, but with the possibility of a reduction in their frequency. Other storms are likely to track towards the poles as the world's weather systems adapt to changes in heat in the atmosphere and deep oceans. Rainfall will shift from the subtropical regions towards the poles.

Australian Academy of Science president Kurt Lambeck praised the quality of the report by Working Group I of the IPCC. He urged governments and industries to take swift action to reduce the pace of change to give "societies and ecosystems" time to adapt to a warmer and more unstable world. "Climate change is here to stay," said Professor Lambeck. "We must open our eyes to what may be the most significant issue facing not only Australia but the planet."

In Britain, Royal Society president Martin Rees agreed, saying the report was a "comprehensive picture" of the latest scientific understanding of the nature, processes and likely outcomes of climate change. But he correctly predicted a "vocal minority" would raise objections to the findings.

In Melbourne, former head of the weather bureau's National Climate Centre William Kininmonth was among the sceptics. "My feeling is that the report is more alarmist than the evidence suggests," he said. He was particularly critical of the IPCC's interpretation of the data and of the separate computer modelling systems used to predict future climate changes. He added that, along with Canadian climate-change sceptic Ross McKitrick, he had contributed to an "independent summary for policymakers", to be released in London next Monday.

The current head of the NCC, Michael Coughlan, disputed Mr Kininmonth's objections. He said the latest report built on past work and reflected continuing refinement in the understanding of the complex processes of the climate system. Dr Coughlan said the new report fitted neatly with continuing observations of climate and ocean systems. "Globally, we're seeing the trends (noted in the report) being laid down now: warming nights and fewer colder days and more heatwaves and heavy precipitation events," he said. "These global trends are consistent with what we've been seeing in Australia over the past 50 to 100 years."

The head of the UN's Environment Program said last night the IPCC report had rendered "almost redundant" a European Union goal of limiting global warming to 2C. Achim Steiner said the new report "gives us a stark warning that the potential impact will be more dramatic, faster and more drastic in terms of consequences" than previously thought.



By adding plant sterols to them. No doubt it will all be found to be a big mistake in 10 years time. Trans fats were a solution to high cholesterol once too. Now they are a villian

Dairy foods have traditionally been considered off-limits for people battling high cholesterol. But now some dairy products are part of the solution. Cholesterol-lowering plant sterols are being added to some low-fat milks and low-fat yoghurts for the first time in Australia. These new enriched products have the potential to lower blood cholesterol levels by up to 15 per cent in six to 12 weeks.

An estimated 6.4 million Australians, 51 per cent of the adult population, have high blood cholesterol, a major risk factor in stroke and heart disease. Diets high in fatty meats, full-fat dairy food, processed meats such as salami and sausages, snack foods such as chips, take-away foods, cakes, biscuits and pastries are often to blame. Alcohol, smoking and sedentary lifestyles are also factors.

But consuming 2-3g per day of plant sterols -- natural chemicals found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and cereals -- has been found to reduce absorption of LDL or "bad" cholesterol, which clogs and blocks the arteries with fatty deposits. Plant sterols have been added to margarines for several years but Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) ruled last November that low-fat milk, low-fat yoghurt and breakfast cereals could also be enriched with plant sterols.

Heart Foundation national nutrition manager Barbara Eden said the enriched products could have a significant impact on the health of people with high cholesterol. "Swapping from your regular milk, cereal or margarine to those which have plant sterols is an easy way to improve your risk of cardiovascular disease," she said. But Ms Eden said the product switch had to be part of a "suite of lifestyle changes people should be making if they have high blood cholesterol". "They might need to increase physical activity or decrease the amount of saturated fats in their diet and replace them with poly- and mono-unsaturated fats, or make sure they have more soluble fibre," she said.

Baker Heart Research Institute director Prof Garry Jennings said plant sterols worked differently to drugs that lower cholesterol, providing those on medication for the condition with an extra weapon. Under the FSANZ standard, products must state if they contain plant sterols and the amount contained per serving. Labels must also advise that plant sterols should be eaten as part of a healthy diet and that they are not suitable for children under five, pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers.

Dairy giant National Foods has already launched a plant sterol-enriched low-fat milk and low-fat yoghurt under the Heart Active label. Spokesman Rupert Hugh-Jones said people could get the suggested 2-3g by eating two to three serves of plant sterol-enriched food each day. "One serve is equal to a 250ml glass of milk or a 200g tub of yoghurt," he said. "This simply means enjoying plant sterol-enriched low-fat milk with cereal, in a latte, hot chocolate, as a smoothie or in cooking, or a tub of plant sterol-enriched low-fat yoghurt as a nutritious snack."

A survey by Galaxy Research, commissioned by National Foods, found diet was the most popular way to manage high cholesterol, used by 79 per cent of Australians aged 40-plus. Exercise was used by 64 per cent, medication by 39 per cent and herbal or natural remedies by 16 per cent. But only 51 per cent of those trying to manage their cholesterol had been able to lower it.


A core curriculum for all Australians: Why should schooling change at every state border?

Following is an editorial from "The Australian"

The politics of Australian education are pathetically predictable, with sensible ideas that will disturb the status quo in schools always exciting ire among state ministers. Yesterday, they responded to a proposal from their federal counterpart, Julie Bishop, for common school subjects across the country as if she wanted to put cannibalism on the curriculum. But Ms Bishop's proposal that all schools across the country adopt a common curriculum makes a great deal of sense. Australia is a big country, but Australians are one people and the idea that students in Bunbury and Bundaberg need to learn entirely different things in radically different ways makes no sense. And no sense in some of the areas that matter most is what we have now.

As a new report from the Australian Council of Educational Research makes clear, a great many of our school syllabuses have all the consistency of 19th-century rail gauges, particularly in areas especially important to education union ideologues and curriculum commissars - English and history. There are 18 university entry high school English courses in Australia, but no novels, poems or plays are on all of them. And less than half the topics taught in Australian history are common across the country. The existence of nine state and territory systems ensures ample opportunities for fads and fashions to be imposed on children. From the social engineering exercises of the Victorian curriculum introduced at the end of the 1980s to the utterly discredited Outcomes Based Education plan that crippled the credibility of the Carpenter Government in Western Australia last year, the absence of a single set of national standards and subjects means education planners get away with curriculum crimes at a state level that would never be allowed if all the whole country were involved.

There is no need for it to be like this. The laws of physics do not change in the middle of the Murray. Nor does the Nullarbor transform the rules of grammar. And curriculum experts in maths and science around the country know it. According to the ACER, course content in advanced mathematics, physics and chemistry is almost identical all over Australia. But not in the humanities, the subjects that shape what students understand Australia to be about. There the education establishment pushes barrows piled high with their different political values. It beggars belief that what students need to know about our national achievements, and failings, differs in Darwin or Devenport. And it makes no sense for students who share a common culture to be taught different novels in different ways.

The tide is running against states' rights education orthodoxies. The Howard Government has long pushed for basic skills to be taught in schools and for pupil progress to be reported in ways parents understand. And it looks like Labor under Kevin Rudd is not interested in backing state governments that impose education fads such as OBE. But nobody should expect an outbreak of common sense on the subject of a national curriculum. State ministers are responding to Ms Bishop's suggestion just as they always do when anybody advances an idea that involves change. Canberra should butt out because everything is under control, some say. Others will add that schools are a state responsibility, before demanding more money from the federal government. The especially brazen will bluster that a common curriculum will dumb down standards in their state.

There is nothing new in any of this. When the last Labor government was in power in Canberra, the Liberal states used these lines. And while the roles are now reversed, the arguments remain the same. But Ms Bishop should persevere. The idea of a common curriculum is one whose time must come. It does not mean that across the continent every school should teach exactly the same thing in exactly the same way at exactly the same time every day. It does not mean there is no room for regional diversity. But it does mean that just as knowledge and core Australian values do not change at state lines, neither should the way they are taught.


Wherefore art classics?

Senior Queensland English students can choose to organise a rock concert or learn about workplace rights rather than hunkering down to study classical English texts. The Federal Government yesterday used the Queensland Studies Authority's own website to hit back at claims by State Education Minister Rod Welford that English communications courses were not a soft option. Mr Welford said the courses focused on good writing, grammar and spelling - and were designed for students proceeding to vocational education, training courses and jobs.

But Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said it was difficult to imagine how organising a concert met community expectations of what students should study in an English class. "Parents expect their children to learn the skills that will support further learning or their ability to find and hold down a job," Ms Bishop said. "Mr Welford's defence of these types of courses explain why he is so dismissive of the concerns of parents about standards of literacy and numeracy, which he recently described as a "tired old cliche".

Ms Bishop, who released a report this week which showed a lack of national consistency in classroom curricula, urged Mr Welford to read it as it made "a compelling case for higher standards and greater national consistency in schools". Ms Bishop said Australia had nine different senior secondary certificates with a bewildering array of variations. The Minister is devising a plan to standardise the core subjects - English, maths, physics, chemistry and Australian history - at Australian schools.

Prime Minister John Howard said that standardising core school subjects in states and territories across Australia was common sense and fair. "I can't understand how anybody could object to having a sufficiently common curricula around the nation to ensure that children who in any given school year go from one state to another are not disadvantaged," Mr Howard told ABC Radio. He said 70,000 Australian children travelled between states each year and he wanted to ensure their education did not suffer. "It is very disruptive and very damaging that you still don't have a situation where a child can go from Western Australia to Queensland without suffering a very significant disadvantage," he said. But he said a national education system would not mean every school's curriculum would be identical. "That doesn't mean that every classroom in every state should be teaching the same thing at the same time every day. It plainly doesn't mean that," he said.

Ms Bishop will present the plan to state and territory education ministers at a meeting in April.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

The evolution of education

Australian education writer Kevin Donnelly states the argument for a traditional education in specific knowledge, as opposed to the prevalent approach that simply learning anything is better than nothing

In arguing that the school curriculum should be centred on particular subjects such as mathematics, history and English. the American Federation of Teachers draws on a view of education closely associated with the rise of Western civilisation that can be traced back hundreds of years. Where the approach known as outcomes-based education - especially the various versions adopted in Tasmania, the Northern Territory, the ACT and Western Australia - gives priority to so-called competencies and generic skills, the AFT approach is to place the disciplines centre-stage. Yet the Australian Education Union and other local professional bodies are staunch advocates of OBE.

In part, the reason for the AFT arguing its position is that after experimenting with OBE during the early to mid-1990s, all American states dropped it in favour of what is termed a standards approach. Similar to a syllabus approach to curriculum, a standards approach is year-level specific, focuses on traditional subjects, regularly tests students, and gives teachers a clear and concise road map of what students should know and be able to accomplish after a set period of time.

Since the time of the early Greek philosophers and sophists, evolving over the centuries and incorporating aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition and historical movements such as the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment, a liberal-humanist view of education is concerned - to use English 19th-century poet and schools inspector Matthew Arnold's expression -- with "getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said'".

As noted by Australian former educationist academic and writer Brian Crittenden, while subjects have evolved, there is also much that has remained constant: "In any area of systematic knowledge there is a range of key concepts, basic theories and method. They are not immune to change, but are relatively long term. They are the defining features of a discipline or area of systematic knowledge. In several areas (such as the physical sciences) content has changed fairly rapidly, although methods have tended to be more enduring and, in all cases, there is at least a core of relatively stable knowledge. The acquisition of a discipline's skills of inquiry needs to be closely related to the learning of its key concepts, theories and other content."

While OBE is consumed by the tyranny of relevance, a liberal-humanist view of education acknowledges and values the past. The reason for studying history is not simply so we are saved from repeating the same mistakes. As important is the recognition that, as individuals and as a society, we are involved in an unfolding narrative that began thousands of years ago and which continues to unfold into the future. Being part of that narrative promotes a sense of belonging to something more lasting and significant than the often mundane routine of day-to-day existence.

One of the strengths of a liberal- humanist view of education, in an era of social dysfunction, alienation and loss of meaning, is that there is a strong and life-affirming story about how Western civilisation has evolved and how, while being far from perfect, we are no longer ruled by superstition, bigotry and ignorance.

David Green, an analyst at the London- based Institute of Economic Affairs, in summarising an address to the Mont Pelerin Society given by historian Max Hartwell, describes a liberal-humanist view of education as follows: "The content of a liberal education, he [Hartwell] says, should embrace civility, morality, objectivity, freedom and creativity. By civility, he means respect for other people; by morality, the elementarv maxims such as honesty and fairness; by objectivity, belief in the disinterested examination of facts and arguments, without fear or favour; by freedom, the principle that children should be equipped to exercise personal responsibility; and by creativity, belief in the advance of knowledge: not the perfectibility of man, but the possibility of progress.

"Hartwell points out that a liberal education can be more easily defined negatively than positively: it is not utilitar- ian or interest-serving; it is not vocational or professional; it is not specialist or one-sided; it is not conformist and uncritical: it is not education for doing: it is disinterested, it is general and universal, it is critical and inventive, it is education for thinking and understanding."

Bruce Wilson, the man partly responsible for Australia's adoption of OBE, acknowledges that any curriculum must recognise the importance of particular subjects. After referring to the research associated with an American publication, How People Learn, undertaken by the National Research Council of the US, he says: "The report offers powerful confirmation of the key idea in this paper: that transferable, higher order learning, what I am calling deep understanding, is inseparable from a well-organised body of content knowledge which reflects a deep understanding of specific subject matter."

A liberal-humanist view of education values the aesthetic, the moral and the spiritual, as well as the rational. A well-rounded education should encompass the spiritual and moral value of the literary canon represented by Greek tragedies, Shakespeare and the romantic poets as well as great artworks and classical music. As noted by 20th-century US writer and child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, young children need a steadv diet of those myths. fables and legends that tell us so much about emotions such as betrayal, love and bravery and, as a result, help to develop psychological maturity and resilience.

It is also the case, contrary to the belief that all learning is subjective and relative, that there are certain interpretations of the world that are closer to the truth than others. Ptolemy's version of the heavenly movements was superseded by Copernicus, and William Harvey dispelled many of the beliefs about the heart's operation and how blood circulated around the body.

Contrary to the criticism that the traditional academic curriculum is unchanging, history shows us that disciplines evolve, and what is accepted as true at one stage is open to scrutiny and debate. As noted by Tony Gibbons, when discussing science as a subject: "The purpose of science is to seek explanations of the physical world. Proposed explanations are tested against the physical world and. depending upon the success in accounting for that physical world, may be accepted as a step in the search for truth. The matter is a search, a quest, for the condition of scientific inquiry is one in which there is progress from one theory to the next."

One of the most strident criticisms of a liberal-humanist education is that it is used to reproduce capitalist societies, where those already privileged are able to maintain and consolidate their power and control. If such were truly the case, then why is it that members of the Left have been so successful in their long march through the education system? The reality is that the very system attacked as socially unjust and closed has granted them the freedom to mount their critique and to subvert the school curriculum. A traditional education, instead of simply reinforcing the status quo, provides a vantage point from which to criticise and improve the world.

In relation to literature. for example. one need only read poems such as William Blake's Holy Thursday, novels such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and the plays of Bertolt Brecht for evidence of the conservative curriculum's powerful and damning critique of society. When studying history, in particular the advent of popular sovereignty, the rule of habeas corpus, the abolition of slavery, the Chartist movement and the movement to universal franchise, it soon becomes obvious that the education system provides an independent site to measure our freedom. Instead of stifling debate and preserving elitism, a liberal-humanist education provides the very knowledge, understanding and skills needed to improve society.

While many politicians, bureaucrats and teacher educators seek to use the education system to further their own agendas, often based on short-term political expediency, ideological bent or self-interest, one of the strengths of a liberal-humanist education is that it is based on the belief that schools and universities should remain autonomous and free of outside interference. Education should not be used as a handmaiden for those either on the Left or the Right who are seeking to impose a form of managerialism that reduces learning to what is cost effective.

The above edited extract from "Dumbing Down" by Kevin Donnelly appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on January, 27, 2007

(Conservative) Federal government push for national school curriculum

Labor premiers have been challenged by the Howard Government to embrace a national education framework, after a high-level report found "bewildering" inconsistencies across school curriculums. In the latest challenge to states' rights, Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop yesterday promoted a unified system - and signalled she would push the national agenda at a key meeting in April.

"I am concerned that students, teachers and parents are being let down as many aspects of school education get hijacked by teachers unions and state education bureacrats," Ms Bishop said. "Instead of learning basic facts in subjects like history, children are being taught according to an ideological agenda." ....

Ms Bishop, addressing a business audience in Brisbane, ramped up her push for national consistency as she released a report highlighting the depth of the problem across five subject areas. The Australian Council for Educational Research study portrayed an alarming jigsaw of Year 12 curriculums. In one of the most glaring cases, the study found 27 different types of maths classes for pre-university students, and 20 different history courses, with only two called "Australian history".

There was only 25 per cent consistency in English courses, while 50 per cent of history classes used the same material. The results were more positive in more challenging subjects such as chemistry and physics, where there was up to 95 per cent consistency across the nation.

Flagging a showdown with the states at the national meeting of education ministers in April, Ms Bishop cited the growing number of remedial English and maths classes being taught in universities as evidence that the states were failing on standards. "There is nothing to stop the state and territory governments from adopting a nationally consistent approach at any time in the past," she told the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia. "The differences are grounded in history of the states and territories and their education systems, and in the different sets of compromises that have had to be struck by curriculum and assessment agencies with their respective stakeholders over the years."

With a population of just 20 million people, Australia had nine different senior secondary certificates with a "bewildering array of variations", Ms Bishop told the conference. "There are differences in the number and types of subjects that are offered, assessed and certificated; differences in assessment methodologies and differences in the codes used to report results."

ACER chief executive Geoff Masters said the findings reinforced the need for common subject content across the nation's schools. "There's a pretty strong case for having a very significant proportion of courses common across all states and territories," Mr Masters said.

But state ministers hit back at their federal counterpart, saying her national agenda was politically driven and out of date. They had been working together towards greater national consistency for several years. "NSW already has a rigorous, highly regarded curriculum and end-of-school credential, and we are concerned that any move to impose a national system would result in a lowering of standards for NSW students," NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said. "Where it can benefit students and the wider community, NSW supports moves towards greater national consistency, something we have been working co-operatively towards for several years."

Victoria treated the proposal with scepticism. "What Victoria doesn't want to do is lower the high quality educational standards in Victoria just to meet some artificial target proposed by Ms Bishop to satisfy a political agenda," Education Minister John Lenders said.

South Australian Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said the federal Government had commissioned many reports into curriculum issues without serious financial investment. "This is just another distraction to take attention away from federal Labor's funded education plan for real improvements in science and mathematics."

The ACT welcomed alignment of curriculum standards provided it did not compromise its education system. Federal Labor education spokesman Stephen Smith said he favoured a national curriculum "with the obvious and sensible local and regional variations".


Australia's "drought"

When it didn't rain for a short while in much of Australia, it was all due to global warming. Now there is flooding over much of Northern Australia and the dams are full to overflowing. So what caused that? Global cooling? Note that in the report below it is said that it is not raining in Southeast Queensland (where I live). I guess I must have imagined all the downpours of the last few days

North Queensland and the Northern Territory are on cyclone watch today amid concerns a tropical low on the Gulf of Carpentaria may develop into the season's first cyclone. The warning comes after heavy rains have already left dams overflowing, stranded airline passengers, and cut highways and railway lines. The Bureau of Meteorology in Darwin today issued a cyclone warning for Cape York and areas of the Northern Territory and will continue to monitor the area.

The low has already caused torrential downpours across much of Queensland's north with flood waters blocking roads and rail lines between Cairns and Mackay. Some areas have reported more than 400mm [15 inches] of rain.

About 230 people spent the night at Whitsunday airport, north of Mackay, after being stranded by flood waters. The passengers were due to board a flight about 8pm (AEST) yesterday but extreme weather caused the flight to be cancelled as water flooded over Lascelles Avenue, which runs from the Bruce Highway to the airport. More than 280mm has fallen at nearby Proserpine since 9am yesterday and rain is expected to continue over the next 48 hours. Meanwhile, Ingham, north of Townsville is isolated after flood waters blocked access roads. Flood warnings have been issued for rivers between Cooktown and Mackay and the Bruce Highway has been blocked in several places. The Bruce Highway is cut between Mackay and Townsville and north of Ingham, as more than 400mm of rainfall was recorded in parts of the state's north over a 24-hour period.

Queensland Rail has cancelled passenger and freight services until at least Saturday with flood damage to the rail network in a number of locations. The weather also affected schools, with ABC radio reporting some teachers had to spend the night in their classrooms. "And it is still raining," said senior bureau of meteorology forecaster Geoff Doueal.

Heavy rain from a monsoonal low is likely to continue for at least another two days. But the question everyone is asking "Can we send it down south?" is not likely to be answered anytime soon. "It is not expected to come down to southeast Queensland," Mr Doueal said. "We can expect mostly fine weather around Brisbane over the weekend and into early next week."

Less than a week ago, Townsville residents faced level 3 water restrictions and today the dam is full to its existing capacity (75,000 megalitres) and flooding 2m over the spillway. "We were as concerned as Brisbane a week ago," said NQ Water chairman Ian Hamilton. "But luckily we have now got rain and enough water reserves to last us for another year and a bit more."

Retired Townsville couple Merv and Wendy Newnham were among hundreds to witness the flooding over Aplins Weir in the lower reaches of Ross River. "It's been at least seven years since we have seen it so high," Mr Newnham said. "It is truly a sight to see."

Severe weather senior forecaster David Alexander said the tropical low in the Gulf could develop into a cyclone sometime today. "We are expecting it to re-curve through the Gulf and probably, if it goes ashore anywhere, it is likely to do so on the Northern Territory side of the border," Mr Alexander said.



Some users of a popular sleeping pill have been binge-eating while sleepwalking, leading to enormous weight gains. In one report lodged with the Federal Government's drug reaction committee, a woman put on 23kg over seven months while taking the powerful prescription drug Stilnox. It was only when she was discovered eating in front of an open fridge while asleep that the problem was resolved. In other reported cases:

ANOTHER user who had experienced mysterious weight gain was found by a relative taking food from a fridge and kitchen cupboards while asleep.

A WOMAN woke up with a paint brush in her hand, having painted her front door in her sleep.

TWO Australians claimed to have driven while asleep.

ONE user described walking around his house like a mad man while asleep.

SIXTEEN Australians were discovered exhibiting bizarre behaviour while sleepwalking.

The Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee received 104 reports of hallucinations and 62 reports of amnesia since 2001 from users of Stilnox, the brand name for zolpidem. A 20-pill pack of Stilnox sells for $30 to $35. ADRAC yesterday warned users to be aware of potential side effects, but did not call for the medication to be stripped from shelves. The product remained on the market despite a 2002 ADRAC review which found about 75 per cent of the reports about the drug described one or more reactions, particularly hallucinations, confusion, depression and amnesia.

An ADRAC spokeswoman said it was imperative the drug remain available. "It is important for some people with insomnia to have it at their disposal," she said. "But even then we only recommend a person use it for less than four weeks due to tolerance and loss of effect with repeated use." The spokeswoman said ADRAC felt it was worth advising doctors that Stilnox should only be used as a last-resort drug.

Melbourne Health director of pharmacy David Ford said he had not met any patients with major side effects from Stilnox. "It seems like these cases reported to ADRAC are one-off events," Mr Ford said. Clinical trials of Stilnox had found no major side effects, with some of those involved reporting mild drowsiness, he said. "It would be interesting to see if those who experienced these extreme side effects had taken Stilnox with another prescribed drug, or even illicit drugs or alcohol, which may all exacerbate the effect," Mr Ford said.


Friday, February 02, 2007

PNG blacks want to be Australians

The Melanesians concerned would certainly fit in better than many Muslims and Sudanese do in Australia. I have known Melanesians since my childhood and find them generally to be fine and cheerful people -- though with a lamentable inability to get on with one-another (with those who are not "wantoks"). I am at any event pleased that they are being treated courteously

A group of 40 Papua New Guineans who landed illegally on a small Australian island in the Torres Strait claiming to be Australian citizens have agreed to return to PNG. The group landed on Saibai Island within sight of the PNG mainland a week ago saying they wanted to help celebrate Australia Day, a Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) spokesman said today. The group of 36 men and four women were illegal entrants who did not claim to be refugees, did not seek protection and all had agreed to return to PNG, he said.

A group of 26 were dropped off on the PNG island of Daru by Australian Customs vessels yesterday, three were returned to nearby PNG villages by Saibai Islanders and the remaining 11 were to be returned to Daru today. The group are part of a Papuan movement in PNG's south who want Australia to recognise that Papuans were not given a choice to remain Australians when PNG became independent in 1975.

The DIAC spokesman said the Australian government was assisting with any subsequent travel arrangements for the members of the group, including payment of airfares and road transport. DIAC officials gave the group information about the operation of Australian citizenship law and an Australian High Court judgement in 2005 that rejected Papuan claims to be Australian citizens, he said. They were invited to submit their particulars to determine if any of them had claims to Australian citizenship.

Saibai regularly hosts Papua New Guineans who cross to Australia's northern-most Torres Strait Islands under traditional crossing agreements without going through formal immigration procedures. The group stayed at the community hall on the island, which has a population of only a few hundred.

In November, PNG police fired warning shots to disperse hundreds of Papuans protesting outside the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby to demand recognition as Australian citizens. Former Papua, covering what is now the southern half of the PNG mainland, became an Australian territory under the Papua Act of 1905 and Papuan-born people acquired Australian citizenship under Australia's 1948 Citizen Act. The Papuan campaign for Australian citizenship in PNG aims to collect 500,000 signatures on a petition to take to the United Nations to urge a referendum on the issue.


Church defends 'Jesus loves Osama' billboard

"A Sydney church has called on people to pray for the world's most wanted terrorist - declaring "Jesus loves Osama".

Church spokeswoman Hy Lam said: "Osama is the head of terrorism. We are saying that Jesus Christ loves everyone in the world, even this man.

The billboard also includes a quote from the Book of Matthew: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."


Archbishop disapproves:

"Jesus does indeed love Osama bin Laden, but a controversial Sydney church sign saying so is misleading, says Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen. The sign "Jesus Loves Osama" outside a number of local churches, including some Anglican, also features a Bible extract saying, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you".

Archbishop Jensen said he had not been involved in any decision to display the signs and had reservations about them. "I'm hesitant about it frankly, it's a bit misleading," he said on Southern Cross radio. "I say to myself, `If I were a relative of one of the victims of Osama's activities, I might take affront at this'."

Archbishop Jensen said he understood what the sign was trying to say, that Christianity taught loving everyone - even the al-Qaeda head. "There is a truth in it (but) what we've got to say is, Jesus doesn't approve of Osama, it makes it sounds like, `Oh, Osama's doing the right thing."



Fighter jets not ready until 2018 (If then)

Australia's new $16 billion jet fighter fleet will not be operational until 2018 - four to six years later than the Federal Government had promised. According to a key RAAF adviser, the stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will be far less capable than initially thought.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson's aerospace adviser Denis Hughes has also revealed plans to extend the life of the RAAF's fleet of 30 F-111 strike aircraft. Those planes, known affectionately as "pigs", were due to retire by 2010, but could be extended to 2020 at a fraction of the cost of a Howard Government plan to buy 24 F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters for $3 billion. The Super Hornets will fill the gap left by the F-111s and dozens of RAAF Hornet fighters that are due for a re-build.

The Daily Telegraph has obtained a record of a conversation from a meeting in Dr Nelson's Sydney office between Mr Hughes and John Peake, an aircraft analyst who is a critic of the JSF plan. Mr Hughes said that the biggest problem with the F-111 was that someone would have to take the potentially career-ending decision to "sign-off" on a life extension.

Dr Nelson's office confirmed the contents of the meeting notes in which the adviser also revealed that his boss had not even read expert submissions about the project - the most expensive in Australian history. Mr Peake said Mr Hughes confirmed rumours the next generation JSF, "with all its features", won't be ready until 2018. When Mr Peake put it to him that crucial electro-optical features (ability to find targets and evade enemy) only worked in clear skies he replied, "Yes that's true".

The Government has already spent more than $200 million on the JSF and must decide by next year if it will proceed to purchase. Mr Hughes is a former RAAF officer who transferred to the aerospace office in the Defence Materiel Organisation before joining Dr Nelson's office. Mr Peake wants the Government to buy the US-built F-22 Raptor aircraft as a replacement for the F-111 and F/A-18 fighters. The Government has ruled that out on the basis of cost - more than three times the JSF - and the Raptor's perceived lack of "multi-role" capabilities.

A spokesman for Dr Nelson said the Minister listened to advisers, but made his own decisions. "Some people legitimately question the JSF but there is a small group that is fanatically obsessed with the F-22 (alternative aircraft) and are not prepared to consider other options." Mr Hughes said the Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Shepherd, was right about the F-22's problems and the US generals who operated it were "wrong". "The US Generals are pushing barrows to get funding and are playing politics," Mr Hughes said.


An Australian Macca in a pickle

MAC Donald versus MC Donald

Rosebud burger baron Ian Macdonald almost bit off more than he could chew when he went public about his bunfight with fast food giant McDonald's. Yesterday his business, Macdonald's Gourmet Burgers, had the busiest day in its short history as it was flooded with supportive customers. "I am on my way to buy another 150kg of beef now because we have completely sold out," Mr Macdonald said yesterday afternoon, before reopening for the dinner rush. "It has been absolutely crazy. I really have to apologise to everyone for the delays, but it was just so unexpected."

Yesterday, the Herald Sun reported that US burger chain McDonald's was threatening Federal Court action over the use of the company name. McDonald's Australia spokeswoman Sarah Gibbons said "McDonald's" and "Macca's" were registered trademarks of McDonald's Corporation. "McDonald's, like any company with intellectual property, wants to protect its investment in its image and brand," Ms Gibbons said.

Mr Macdonald said after investing up to $300,000 in his burger joint, he could not afford to change the business name or go to court. "The only thing I can do is sit here and keep trading. I am stuck in a corner and I have no other options." Mr Macdonald said he had no wish to hurt the local McDonald's restaurant, which is less than 2km from his business. "I'm not competition for them. They have their own customers, and I have mine. It's a very different product."

Mr Macdonald said his business name was also his surname and it had been his dream. "It is all my work. I thought of it, I brought it to life, and I am passionate about it. "I like to say, with the 'A' (in Macdonald's) you get gourmet," he said.


An evaluation of the "alternative" burger here

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Coral reef may benefit from global warming

Jennifer Marohasy expands on the few points I made yesterday:

On Friday in Paris the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will launch a new report, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, with an up-to-date assessment of likely temperature rises because of global warming. Three related reports will be released later in the year, including a report on the likely effects of the rise in temperature. The report on impacts is likely to include a chapter on Australia and a warning that corals on the Great Barrier Reef could die as a consequence of global warming.

The idea that the Great Barrier Reef may be destroyed by global warming is not new, but it is a myth. The expected rise in sea level associated with global warming may benefit coral reefs and the Great Barrier Reef is likely to extend its range further south. Global threats to the coral reefs of the world include damaging fish practices and pollution, and the UN should work harder to address these issues.

Most of the world's great reefs are tropical because corals like warm water. Many of the species found on the Great Barrier Reef can also be found in regions with much warmer water, for example around Papua New Guinea. Corals predate dinosaurs and over the past couple of hundred million years have shown themselves to be remarkably resistant to climate change, surviving both hotter and colder periods.

Interestingly, scientific studies show that over the past 100 years, a period of modest global warming, there has been a statistically significant increase in growth rates of coral species on the Great Barrier Reef. There have also been periods of coral bleaching, but no conclusive evidence to suggest that either the frequency or severity has increased.

Coral bleaching is a breakdown in the symbiotic relationship between corals and the algae that provide them with food. When coral becomes stressed from extreme heat or cold, the algae are expelled. Some corals are more susceptible to bleaching than others. Most corals can adapt to higher water temperatures.

There was damaging coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in 1998 and then again in 2002, but at different hot spots. The Great Barrier Reef comprises more than 3000 individual reefs extending for 2700km. The bleaching was associated with extended periods of calm weather and less wave action, with the hot spots rising in temperature by as much as 2C. Extended periods of calm weather are not predicted with global warming; when Cyclone Larry hit Innisfail last year, some claim it reduced the threat of bleaching at that time.

About 17 per cent of the world's reefs can be found around Australia and PNG. According to the last global assessment of the coral reefs of the world, Australian reefs are among the best protected in the world. And as a consequence of environmental campaigning there has been a significant commitment from the Queensland and commonwealth governments to further reduce fishing and the potential for pollution from land-based activities, including farming.

In other parts of the world many reefs are under increasing pressure from blast fishing, illegal capture of live fish for the restaurant trade in places such as Hong Kong, coral mining, industrial pollution, mine waste and land reclamation. In PNG, high sediment loads from uncontrolled forestry, with some of this wood probably ending up as furniture bought by Australians, has also affected coral reefs. There clearly are global threats to coral reefs, but reef ecosystems have historically been resilient to climate change, and global warming may bring more opportunities than threats.

Corals grow upwards. Interestingly, north of Cairns there are large areas of reef with dead coral because of localised falls in sea level. A significant rise in sea level as a consequence of global warming could make these reef flats come alive again. It will be the next ice age that will leave many of the world's coral reefs high and dry.

Global warming may be the big environmental issue of our times and the UN may feel compelled to include the world's main environmental symbols in its climate models and assessments. But there are higher priorities for the world's coral reefs.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef may actually benefit from some global warming. But other coral reefs are unlikely to benefit enough to survive the real and immediate threat from destructive and often illegal fishing practices and pollution.


Wait grows for elective surgery as Australian public hospitals struggle

Patients are waiting longer for elective surgery, despite a significant increase in government spending on public hospitals. A federal Government report found 4.8 per cent of patients waited more than a year for elective surgery in 2004-05, up from 3.9 per cent in 2003-04. Ninety per cent of patients were treated within 217 days, up from 193 days in 2003-04.

Australian Healthcare Association executive director Prue Power said hospitals were struggling to find qualified staff. "Demand is increasing due to the ageing population and technological advances. New medical technologies and new drugs allow us to keep people alive much longer," Ms Power said. "What we need to do to keep up with the demand is actually keep people out of hospitals by concentrating on health promotion and prevention of disease."

According to the Productivity Commission's Report on Government Services 2007, released today, the number of public hospital beds across the nation increased from 53,300 to 55,100. Total spending on public hospitals rose by 4.9per cent to $21.8billion. "The problem we've always had, with the federal and state governments both running the system, remains," Ms Power said. "There are still people waiting in public hospitals longer than necessary to be discharged to aged-care facilities, and we still have a shortage of staff."

The report shows the number of nurses has remained steady at about 4.6per 1000 people. However, a report released by the Council of Deans of Nursing and Midwifery found a shortage of 3200 nurses nationally. The council estimates that increased demand on the health system will lead to critical shortages in some states by 2010. It predicts a shortage of almost 1500 nurses in Queensland, and about 900 in Victoria. Council chairman John Daly said most states would need more nurses in the next three years. College of Nursing executive director Judy Lumby said more nurses were in the workforce, but many were part-time. Attempts to increase the workforce were hampered by state and federal governments operating at cross-purposes, she said. "Thousands of nurses have left the public hospital system to work as practice nurses with GPs," she said. "The project to promote practice nurses came from the federal Government, which is responsible for helping GPs. However, those nurses left the public hospital system, which is run by the state governments."

The Productivity Commission report reveals that efforts to introduce a national system for reporting medical errors in hospitals have stalled. NSW, Victoria and South Australia were the only states to provide figures on the number of "sentinel events" such as medication errors and procedures performed on the wrong patient or body part. In 2004-05, there were 97 sentinel events in those states.


More cash fails to budge school scores

A familiar phenomenon in America: Now in Australia too: More money leads to WORSE education

Literacy and numeracy levels have fallen in NSW public schools despite increased government funding per student. The proportion of year 3 students achieving national benchmarks dropped 0.8 of a percentage point for reading and 0.9 of a percentage point for numeracy between 2003 and 2004, the Productivity Commission's annual report says. In that period the Government increased its expenditure by $686 on each full-time primary student and about $500 on each secondary student.

The literacy and numeracy skills of students in years 3, 5 and 7 are measured against national benchmarks each year, but the results are not released until more than two years later. These most recent figures show there has been little change among NSW students, with variations of less than 1 percentage point in each of the categories, despite the increased spending. The performance of year 5 and 7 students was better, with slight improvements from the previous year in their numeracy skills, but fewer students in both groups met the reading benchmark than had done so the previous year. Just over 92 per cent of year 3 students in NSW achieved the reading benchmark, and nearly 96 per cent met the writing and numeracy benchmarks. By year 7, less than 80 per cent of students could meet the numeracy benchmark.

The NSW Government spent $9,546 on each primary student and $12,024 on each secondary student in 2004-05. The best performers in NSW were those who lived in metropolitan or provincial areas, girls and non-indigenous students. Indigenous students were closest to the state average in year 3, but dropped in each subsequent year and most dramatically in numeracy, where close to 90 per cent achieved the benchmark in year 3, but less than half by year 7. The commission's report shows the proportion of students achieving the writing benchmark rose in all groups.

The federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, called for a national curriculum last year to arrest what she said were falling literacy and numeracy standards in schools. But her department admitted it did not have figures on literacy and numeracy beyond 2004, and therefore lacked the proof that standards were falling. Last year's basic skills test saw primary school children's literacy scores slip by 0.1 of a percentage point since 2005, a tiny negative fluctuation after 10 years when scores had been mostly consistent.

The State Government said then that three out of five pupils who failed to reach minimum literacy standards in year 3 had raised their performance to acceptable levels by year 5, but gave no data to support the claim. The NSW Government commented in the commission's report that it planned to invest more than $616 million in literacy and numeracy programs.


A "Thank you for your kindness" to Australia -- from a charming black Muslim "refugee"

A Sudanese refugee who went on a sex crime spree soon after arriving in Melbourne in 2005 has been sentenced to 24 years' jail.

Hakeem Hakeem attacked three teenagers and an elderly woman a month after settling with his family in Dandenong. The 21-year-old raped one teenager in a Dandenong scout hall in March, 2005. The next day, he bashed and raped a 63-year-old woman in her home, and slashed her throat. On the third day, Hakeem forced a teenage girl and boy to have sex with each other and then he raped the girl, again in the Dandenong scout hall.

Hakeem's defence lawyer said he had been chroming, drinking and taking drugs before each attack. The judge at the Supreme Court said the indignities imposed on Hakeem's victims were grossly and utterly despicable. He sentenced him to 24 years jail with a non-parole period of 17 years.


HRC mulls legal action over Tamworth anti-refugee leaflets

Given the story above this one, not wanting more of the same is hardly unreasonable

The Human Rights Commission says a leaflet drop calling on the Tamworth community to resist the arrival of African refugees could be subject to legal action.

The Australia First Party has distributed thousands of the leaflets in Tamworth, in north-west New South Wales, alleging the council caved in to Commonwealth pressure by allowing Sudanese refugees to settle in the district. It says the new arrivals will bring violence, crime and disease to the community.

Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes says people objecting to the leaflet could potentially take the matter to court. "If they felt that it was incitement to racial hatred, [they] could lodge a complaint under the Race Discrimination Act," he said. "Then the Commission would investigate that complaint and attempt to resolve it by conciliation and if it wasn't resolved then the complainants would have the opportunity to resolve it in the Federal Court or the Federal Magistrates Court. "That's where the question of its lawfulness would be determined."

The Australia First Party says it would almost welcome being taken to court for distributing the pamphlets. The party's state president, Jim Saleam, says he believes in confronting the Commission at every opportunity. "This is Gestapo stuff, this is thought police stuff, in fact in some ways we would welcome if they did attempt to bring any member of the party up before these kangaroo courts," he said. "But naturally we are limited in what we can say publicly before the Gestapo brings the case."


Note that the Premier of NSW has confirmed in Parliament the health and crime problems with black African refugees. (See also the full Hansard transcript here). I say more about the policy issues of the matter here

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