Saturday, February 28, 2009

Neo-Marxist English teachers trying to downgrade literature in national curriculum

The old nonsense about the back of the cornflakes packet being just as important as Shakespeare. Literature introduces kids to diversity in thinking and we can't have that, apparently. And they are still resisting phonics! Too bad if lots of kids never learn to read, apparently.

In their own education, English teachers have had "Theory" drummed into them and they have still not unlearned that -- even though the chief protagonists of "Theory" have now abandoned it.

English teachers are seeking to downgrade the importance of literature in the national curriculum to allow the study of an expanded range of texts covering visual and multimodal forms "as essential works in their own right". The professional association purporting to represent the view of the nation's English teachers also calls for the national curriculum to recognise a whole-language method for teaching reading rather than exclusively emphasising phonics and the letter-sound relationships as the initial step.

In its submission to the National Curriculum Board's framing paper on the English curriculum, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English declares studying literature is "inherently a political action" in creating the type of people society values. The submission disputes the National Curriculum Board's definition of school English as the three elements of language, literature and literacy. "Meaning-making in, and through, language, across a range of forms, media and expressions, should be the core organiser of the curriculum," it says. "There is a need to state (that) English is the study of language, its central focus being the different processes through which meaning is made and received through different textual expressions - literary and otherwise."

It calls for the end of traditional literature as a discrete element, and for other types of English texts - which would include advertising, TV shows, signage, text messages and websites - to be viewed as essential rather than "add ons" to accompany the understanding of literary texts. "The place and role of non-literary texts in a national English curriculum needs to be rethought in terms that do not see the value of such texts as being predominantly in their potential to enhance the study of literature," it says. "The expansion of the range of texts used in English ... will necessarily mean a significant reconfiguration of the subject, including a relative reduction in the number of literary works, as the term is traditionally conceived, studied."

The AATE challenges the curriculum's view that studying literature is "a form of arts-related and arts-enriched learning experience" related to aesthetic value, saying it is only "true to a point". Rather, studying literature is "inherently a political action in that it is also about 'nation' building through the dissemination of a 'national' culture". "Studying literature also has historically had an ethical function, contributing to the shaping of a certain sort of person that societies have found desirable," it says. "It is difficult to imagine, for example, that the enduring value of works such as Animal Farm and To Kill a Mockingbird, both widely taught in schools, rests on their aesthetic qualities."

The English framing document for the national curriculum released in October is unequivocal in mandating the explicit teaching of the basic structures ofthe English language from grammar, spelling and punctuation to phonics in the first years of school. "Explicit teaching of decoding, spelling and other aspects of the basic codes of written English will be an important and routine aspect," the curriculum says.

But the AATE submission says the emphasis on phonics "comes at the expense of the focus on a balanced reading program", which is the term now applied to whole language methods of teaching reading. It calls for explicit reference to be made to "all three cueing systems" used to make sense of the written word. Under the Three Cueing Systems model for teaching reading, the sounding of letters is the least important skill, with children first asked to use semantics, and guess the word based on the context including using pictures and then use the sentence syntax to work out the meaning.

Then children use the syntax or where the word sits in the sentence to try to work out the meaning. The third and least important cue under this model is sounding out the letters. In a separate submission, the English Teachers Association of NSW argues the national curriculum threatens to "deprofessionalise" English teachers for limiting its aims to developing literacy skills and knowledge about literature.

The ETA argues for the definition of school English to be expanded to include cultural studies, critical literacy (a sociological model analysing gender, race and class in literature to expose inherent prejudices and agendas) and personal growth of students.


Another glimpse of the nasty bureaucrats behind the trouble-prone Queensland Ambulance service

All they care about is power -- their own. So reasonable actions by ambulance officers that ran contrary to stupid bureaucratic directions get the officers punished. There has been nothing but trouble since the State government took the service over a few years ago. Bureaucracy always has the same deadening and stultifying effect

Two paramedics have been stood down from duty after refusing to risk transporting a sick baby to hospital because their ambulance had no child restraint. The Gold Coast case has sparked uproar in paramedic ranks, with claims of heavy-handed management by Queensland Ambulance Service bosses and "a culture of fear and intimidation".

Sources said the paramedics were called to a Tallebudgera Valley address on Thursday morning by the parents of a sick 10-month-old baby. They assessed the baby's condition as stable and the case non-urgent, and asked the communications centre to send a baby capsule so the baby could be transported safely to hospital. But sources said the paramedics were directed to take the baby to hospital anyway, which would have required the mother and child to be strapped to a stretcher together.

Instead, the mother opted to take the baby to hospital in her own car, which had a capsule. When the ambulance officers returned to the station, sources said they were told they had been stood down immediately for "disobeying a direction". "They were told to pack their things and leave and not return until further notice," a source said. "It was abysmal treatment and part of a culture of fear and intimidation in the QAS." The officers were reinstated four hours later after they contacted their union.

"It's an unbelievable way to treat caring and professional officers," said Prebs Sathiaseelan, the president of the Emergency Medical Services Professionals Association. "These paramedics were punished for acting in the patient's best interests. "There was absolutely no need to risk the baby's life by transporting it to hospital without a capsule. "The officers were given no explanation as to why they had been stood down. "They were made to feel guilty and inferior." One paramedic said the QAS was so short-staffed the decision not to send a baby capsule was likely due to manpower shortages.

A QAS spokeswoman said the two paramedics were stood down about 9am on Thursday for "disobeying a direction". She said the suspension was lifted four hours later after it was investigated. "QAS management have advised that no further disciplinary action will be taken," she said.

The spokeswoman said strapping a young child and parent in an ambulance stretcher was "standard practice" and capsules were suitable only for children aged up to six months.


"Stimulus" not working in Australia either

The sacking of 1850 workers by Pacific Brands this week showed why the Rudd Government risks turning a disaster into a catastrophe. Just one month ago, Treasurer Wayne Swan dismissed concerns that his first big stimulus package - its $10.4 billion free money giveaway in December - had not worked by claiming we were at least buying a lot more undies (and, boy, do we need them now). "The evidence from Woolworths ... showed that there was a very significant impact on spending on the basics of life, such as school shoes, such as socks and jocks, such as polo shirts and so on."

But it turns out that if we were spending our free money on socks and jocks, rather than booze and pokies, they weren't sock and jocks made here. Pacific Brands, maker of said jocks, said competition from imports - not to mention its inefficient, overgeared operation - had forced it to close its clothing manufacturing in Australia.

The Government still claims that without its stimulus package last year - and now its $42 billion sequel - this crunch would be even worse. But really? When the evidence so far suggests the Government's rescue packages aren't working as advertised? After all, last year Prime Minister Kevin Rudd claimed his $10.4 billion package would "help to create up to 75,000 additional jobs" this year. Then he said another $15.1 billion package of state and federal spending would "create 133,000 jobs". And days later he said $4.7 billion for "nation-building" would "create up to 32,000 Australian jobs". BUT where are all those jobs now - and where, indeed, those billions? In fact, the Australian Industry Group says some 42,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector alone over the past six to nine months.

It's no wonder that estimates of how long this economic downturn will last are suddenly gloomier. Reserve Bank director Roger Corbett this week warned "the situation is a lot more serious than it was at the end of last year, and I think it will be well into 2010 before we see any significant recovery". All this - and 4000 job losses yesterday at Lend Lease and Telstra - suggest two things.

1. It is mad for the Government to spend all our savings now, when we'll need them for a fight that will last years.

2. We have time, after all, to spend these billions on productive investments in rail, airports, Internet, ports and tax cuts, rather than on this red-cordial rush of pink batts, public housing, cash handouts and halls.

But this is not the only sign that a panicked and meddle-prone Government is spending too much on too little. Again, look at Pacific Brands. The Government has for the past two years tried to prop up the company with $10 million a year -- grants now gone with the jobs. DESPITE learning again that picking winners is how governments lose fortunes, here's what Industry Minister Kim Carr did when he heard Pacific Brands might sack workers. The Socialist Left boss rang the chairman to offer yet more GOODIES: "I specifically asked was there anything further we could do to get the company to change its mind and the answer they have given me is no."

Fancy offering so much help that even a capitalist gurgles, "enough". But think of all the other bosses saying "more!" Think of the $149 million Rudd gave Holden last year to make an allegedly "green car" - $100,000 a year for three years for every worker, including part-timers. Or think of the $35 million Rudd gave to Toyota, which said it didn't ask for it, and didn't know how to spend it.

Voters may still cheer Rudd for this kind of Doing Something, not yet realising how little that money does to save jobs, and how much we'll pay once it's gone. But the reckoning will come.


Senate may save Australia from destructive Warmist laws

Can the Senate save Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong from their global warming folly? It can, and it might, if it rejects the Government's attempts to prematurely lock Australia into a flawed carbon trading scheme. There is a growing unease in government and Opposition ranks that the Government's plan to push through its climate change legislation by the end of June is too hasty, as more and more questions are raised about its emissions trading scheme. Not least, there is the important question of its timing.

Ask yourself, do you believe that the worst global recession since the Depression, with job losses accelerating, is the time for Australia to introduce a carbon trading scheme that will squeeze growth, jobs and investment? Business certainly doesn't.

The Prime Minister and his Climate Change Minister do. The Government's white paper on its carbon pollution reduction scheme (better known as an emissions trading scheme) was released on December 15, as the world's advanced economies and many others were experiencing the sharpest quarterly contraction in economic growth in decades. It acknowledges the seriousness of the financial and economic crisis but declares this does not mean we can ignore the threat climate change poses to our long-term economic prosperity: "On the contrary, this current crisis makes it more important we secure the long-term prosperity that comes from rebuilding the low pollution economy of the future."

If you swallow this, you presumably also believe the planet faces imminent catastrophe as a result of global warming. The reality is that delaying action for a year or two isn't going to make much difference. Nothing Australia does can have much impact on the stock or flow of global greenhouse gasses, and if the time is used to improve policy we will actually be better off.

The timing issue is raised in an important report prepared in January for a Senate committee by the former head of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Brian Fisher, now at Concept Economics. Fisher reviewed Treasury modelling of the economic impact of reducing carbon emissions. "The global financial crisis and its flow-on to the real economy has altered dramatically the context in which Australia will be introducing an emissions trading scheme and taking, in all likelihood, unconditional action to reduce emissions, Fisher says. "By contrast, the Treasury modelling exercise and much of the ... scheme design has assumed, often explicitly, a continuation of strong global and domestic growth, both in the implementation phase of the ETS and in the longer term."

Fisher notes that an ETS imposes a new cost on Australian producers and consumers, and says a critical concern is the impact of this additional cost of production on Australian firms when company balance sheets have deteriorated dramatically, investment plans have been shelved and workers dismissed. In many countries, including Australia, the global financial crisis has reinforced the primacy of economic growth and jobs in national policy debates.

Steven Chu, President Barack Obama's new Secretary of Energy, told The New York Times earlier this month that reaching agreement on emissions trading legislation would be difficult in the present recession because any scheme to regulate greenhouse gas emissions would probably cause energy prices to rise and drive manufacturing jobs to countries where energy was cheaper. Obama officials concede that Congress is unlikely to pass such legislation in time for the international climate change conference in Copenhagen in December to try to agree on a new global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

The problem is that Rudd and Wong have locked themselves in, even if Rudd the pragmatist would privately like to back off his timetable for introducing an ETS scheme, given the economic crisis. Here is where the Senate comes in. Negotiations are still going on, but one way or another a Senate committee will consider the Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme legislation and it will also be able to consider alternatives.

The opportunity has arisen because of the farce over the Government's announcement that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics would hold an inquiry into "the choice of emissions trading as the central policy to reduce Australia's carbon pollution". Whatever Rudd's intention, this was a major miscalculation on several grounds. The terms of reference clearly suggested the need to consider alternatives to the Government's emissions trading scheme and were widely seen as the Government rethinking its commitment to this scheme. This opened a Pandora's box that the Government has been unable to close by withdrawing the inquiry reference on the risible grounds that Malcolm Turnbull was playing politics with it. What a shock.

The Government is most unlikely to meet its deadline of passing its legislation by June 30 and there is a better than even money chance that the Senate will reject the legislation. The Government will find itself facing an unholy alliance of the Greens, the Nationals and the Liberals, all opposed to the CPRS, if for different reasons.

The Greens' Christine Milne has already declared that having no scheme would be better than being locked into the CPRS, the Nationals will also vote against, and so, if Turnbull has any political nous, will the Liberals. The Government, while no doubt secretly relieved at being rescued from a trap of its own making, will then be able to blame Turnbull for climate change vandalism and threatening the survival of the planet. But while this is a risk, Turnbull has a powerful political card to play. He can legitimately accuse the Government of putting its obsession with introducing an emissions trading scheme by July 2010 ahead of Australian jobs and businesses.

With Australian unemployment rising to 7 per cent on the Government's own forecasts and quite possibly heading higher in an election year, with the impact of world recession, and the Government itself saying the No1 economic issue is jobs, Rudd is likely to be quite vulnerable. More so because he and Wong have conned Australians into believing that they can make a personal contribution to saving the planet under the Government's scheme, when they can't at all. All they are doing is making life easier for carbon-emitting businesses.

A Senate rejection of the ETS in present economic circumstances is in the national interest and it would offer the opportunity to allow an independent body - the Productivity Commission - to look at the Government's scheme without ideological blinkers on.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Deadbeat NSW government hospitals

The Auditor-General has damned the financial management of the NSW health system, saying area health services had failed to pay bills on time and had routinely misused trust funds. Peter Achterstraat said the financial audits for 2007-08, which were made public yesterday, showed that some health services had classed bills as "in dispute" to buy time because they did not have the funds to pay small businesses.

His report noted that health services had dipped into trust accounts to pay bills and wages and the worst offender was Northern Sydney and Central Coast, which had 1000 trust accounts that were $9.9 million overdrawn in November 2007. The overdraft coincided with desperate attempts by the former health minister Reba Meagher to improve operations at Royal North Shore Hospital after a patient, Jana Horska, miscarried in a hospital toilet. The incident became the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.

Mr Achterstraat said bills totalling $312 million were outstanding at June 2008, and $75 million of that was more than 45 days overdue. A year earlier $174 million had been owing, none of it more than 45 days late. He found that only two of the eight area health services paid their bills within the benchmark of 45 days. "From a financial point of view this is not a particularly good report card," he said. "They are not paying their bills on time, they're not managing their budgets properly, they didn't get their annual statements in on time and they are using trust fund money for reasons they were not intended."

He recommended that the Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, or the Health Minister, John Della Bosca, order area health services to pay interest on late bills as an incentive to clean up their act. "I am concerned about the $320 million in trusts and special purpose accounts. They need to make better use of these funds. In some cases these funds have been there for a long time and the department is not clear what they can be used for," Mr Achterstraat said. "Some funds have been used to subsidise overexpenditure in other areas."

Yesterday Mr Della Bosca said he would consider interest payments but pointed out that the data was more than eight months old. "Let me be clear, I want creditors paid on time. No question. But we are getting on top of the problem," he said. "In November last year, more than $15 million was owed to small businesses across the state. That figure has dropped by more than 80 per cent to just $3.4 million this week."

The Premier, Nathan Rees, said there was a plan to reduce all of the debt to creditors "to acceptable levels" by June. "Things are better than reflected in that report, and there is a plan to continue to drive down those creditor issues," he said.

The Opposition spokeswoman on health, Jillian Skinner, said the Government was financially irresponsible and reckless. "We have a $380 million health budget deficit, more than $300 million in unpaid bills on top of that and donated money in trust funds being used for recurrent expenditure instead of the hospital projects they were given to build," she said.


Green bureaucrats holding economy to ransom

By Michael Costa

Believe it or not, if Kevin Rudd is genuine about stimulating our economy, rather than borrowing enormous sums of money he should talk to Peter Garrett. Why? Because his misguided Environment Minister and the department he runs are holding up billions of dollars of investment.

The way Garrett's department administers the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act provides a perfect rebuttal of Rudd's recent neo-interventionist call for greater government involvement in economic development. The act gives Garrett enormous powers. It requires that he approve any developments likely to have a significant impact on things the act protects, such as world heritage sites, national heritage properties, wetlands of international importance, threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species and marine areas, as well as nuclear actions including uranium mines. If that weren't broad enough, it also requires Garrett's approval of actions that affect commonwealth land. What you need to know is that the act is at present subject to a statutory review, but we'll come back to that.

The act is the federal equivalent of a range of state acts. These overlapping pieces of state and federal environmental legislation are a nightmare for economic development. New projects are subject to dual assessment processes and separate approval. One tier of government may approve a project that then is rejected by another. This creates investment uncertainty and adds to the cost of projects, costs that then are passed on to consumers. When he was environment minister, Malcolm Turnbull streamlined processes by concluding bilateral agreements with all states, except Victoria and the ACT, to create common environmental assessment of projects. Nonetheless, project approval still requires each tier of government to sign off.

Unfortunately, with the change of government, industry players have noticed a change in attitude. Garrett's department has become more interventionist. According to property industry body Urban Taskforce, the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts' interference and slow response to requests is making it virtually impossible to meet statutory timelines. Indeed, interference from DEWHA has reached farcical proportions. Petty disputes between the department and the states over the wording of newspaper ads hold up projects worth billions of dollars. Part of the problem is that DEWHA bureaucrats prefer to talk to their state counterparts, with whom they share a common environmental ideology, rather than to state planning officials who they see as pro-development.

The Property Council of Australia says its experience with the act has been that there has been little consistency or certainty for stakeholders and that some items of national environmental significance do not have sufficient evidentiary support to justify their retention on the list. Their public counsel argues that items included on any list should be based on rigorous scientific evidence, not anecdotal evidence, and observes that staff making determinations generally do not have specialist expertise on relevant NES or planning matters, and little appreciation of economic realities.

Under Garrett the act has become the last hope for theological environmentalists who fail in their opposition to projects at the local or state level. Catering to the insatiable demands of these people is costing the economy billions of dollars when the Prime Minister is putting the nation in hock in the hope of avoiding a technical recession. Critical land release projects have been delayed by the capricious action of these unaccountable bureaucrats. In the Sydney basin, for example, where for many years the state government was reluctant to release land, the Edmondson Park land release is being held up by DEWHA.

This is despite the fact planning for this release has been under way since at least 2000 and has involved numerous consultations between the state government, developers, local councils and the community. The principal developer is Landcom, a state government agency. At issue is the so-called Cumberland Plain woodland ecological community. Green groups have used this issue to restrict urban development in western Sydney for almost a decade. The result? More costly and less affordable housing.

Under the influence of theological environmentalists the development of NSW's Hunter Valley has been a frequent victim of the department's political interventionism. A particularly notorious example of this department pandering to green groups has been its frustration of a popular tourist development on Newcastle's Nobbys Headland on the grounds that the gap between two structures had heritage significance.

The handling of a residential development at North Cooranbong in the Hunter Valley, undertaken by the Johnson Property Group, shows just how out of control Garrett's department has become. This project was approved by all relevant NSW government departments, complied with the state government's regional strategy and conservation plan and the developer had provided environmental offsets in accordance with NSW legislation. Despite this, after eight years of assessments, Garrett's department intervened at the last moment and is demanding more land be quarantined for ecological reasons, which will have the effect of increasing the price of land packages by $30,000, making the project financially unviable. The result? Hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs lost to the local economy.

But here's the catch. As if the present administration of the act weren't bad enough, there is a concerted attempt by environmentalists to use a statutory review to extend its scope and powers. Green groups want to include global warming as an assessment trigger. Their goal? Nothing less than to close down the nation's coal industry. But that's not all. This trigger is so broad it could be applied to all human activity undertaken on land. This would effectively give the department the right of veto over any future development of the Australian economy. Now that would be a recipe for recession.


Schools dump stupid Leftist grading scheme

A PIVOTAL part of the controversial outcomes-based education system will be killed off at WA schools. From 2010, teachers will no longer use a "levels" system to calculate grades for school reports for Years 1 to 10. But Education Department Director General Sharyn O'Neill said schools could "choose to dispense with levels with immediate effect". "Certainly the use of levels to assess and report to parents has been a major platform of OBE and we're removing that today," she said today at a media conference at Applecross Primary School.

Ms O'Neill said simplifying assessment by removing the use of levels would free teachers to focus on teaching and make it easier for parents to track their child's achievement at school. "Teachers will continue to report to parents using A to E grades, but without the current requirement of having to convert levels to grades," she said. Levels were dropped for years 11 and 12 in early 2007, after extreme pressure on the previous Labor Government from the anti-OBE group People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes. Many teachers felt that the eight levels of achievement were too complex, inconsistent, and created unnecessary and time-consuming paperwork.

Ms O'Neill said parents had told her they had been "confused" by levels. She said that to determine grades under the new system, teachers would use their ``professional judgement''. But Ms O'Neill, who conceded that WA had previously gone further with OBE than other states, also said teachers would be given online resources showing what standard earned a particular grade. "I want to make sure that an A in Albany is the same as an A in Applecross, as in any other place,'' she said. The Education Department would also give principals a grade distribution guide.

Ms O'Neill said student grades would be based on information including class work, tests and a student's performance in national literacy and numeracy tests. From what she could see, the new system would be compatible with the proposed national curriculum.

The move is seen as honouring a pre-election commitment by the Liberals, who when in Opposition promised an independent audit of WA's curriculum framework by an expert advisory group if they won government and to abolish levels from kindergarten to Year 10. Education Minister Liz Constable said she applauded the decision because unlike the new system, the use of levels did not meet the criteria of being fair to students, easily understood by parents and not creating extra and unnecessary work for teachers.

Rob Fry, president of peak parent group the WA Council of State School Organisations, said the move was a positive step in the right direction. "This way the teachers can focus on doing the grades, making the best judgement from their professional point of view and everyone will know exactly how the child is progressing,'' Mr Fry said.

Applecross Primary School principal Barry France said his teachers would appreciate the decision because it would save them doing a "significant'' amount of work that was part of an "unnecessary bureaucratic step'' - freeing them to focus on teaching and learning.


Queensland police goons again

A disabled woman with a bandaged hand told how she was bullied and evicted from a train by police who did not believe that she had trouble operating an automatic ticket machine. Stricken with kidney disease and a broken hand, Rosemary Carey, 54, a disability pensioner, struggled up the steep stairs at Brisbane's Indooroopilly station on Saturday night and tried to work the machine with her left hand. When her train to Oxley arrived, she jumped aboard without a ticket.

She said two plain-clothes officers in their 30s threatened to arrest her if did not get off at the next stop, Sherwood. She said the officers were menacing and told her she would have to pay a $200 fine. "I was outraged," she said. "There is nothing threatening about me. ''I'm a frail female in my 50s, five foot two, 45kg wringing wet and suffer from a chronic kidney condition which leaves me with little energy. "Managing the steps at the station, then the steep flight of stairs at the cinema (the lift was out of order) is pretty much mountain climbing for me."

The mother of two said she went to the cinema near Indooroopilly station to see the new Clint Eastwood film, Gran Torino. Because she had broken her hand the previous week, she decided to go by train instead of taking her car. She said the movie finished about 8.45pm. "I'm normally in bed by eight and I was exhausted, " she said. "I get to the unfamiliar ticket machine and as quickly as I can with my left hand, begin to follow the prompts.

"In the midst of this a train pulls in. The next train could be in an hour, I have no idea of the timetable, so I board the train. "I remember a time when a conductor could sell a ticket on the train, or you could give your name and address and pay the fare later. Not now." She said she wept when she was ejected.

"I felt utterly humiliated being put off the train like some criminal or violent hooligan," Ms Carey said. "To make things worse, it was scary sitting at a deserted railway station late on Saturday night, so despite my very limited income, I spent $15 to take a cab home. Now I'm angry that innocent people can be treated like this. "Why can QR afford to pay for plain-clothes police to act as ticket inspectors, yet can't pay the presumably much lower wages of a conductor? "What happens if it's the last train of the night? Who would be responsible if I'd been attacked while waiting on a lonely station? Can't they understand that most of us aren't trying to evade the fare?"

Police Minister Judy Spence has ordered an investigation.


Thursday, February 26, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is upset that thousands more Australian jobs have been lost and production moved to China

A great French ship visits Sydney

The Queen Mary 2 was built in the Alstom Chantiers de L'Atlantique shipyard in Sainte-Nazaire, France.

Details of the visit here

Australian economy unexpectedly strong

Thanks to business

Economists say the Australian economy may have escaped a quarter of negative growth after figures showed a surge in capital expenditure to almost $25 billion. Most economists had been expecting spending on buildings and equipment to fall in the December quarter, but today's official figures show a 6 per cent increase compared to the previous three months. It comes after figures yesterday revealed a stronger-than forecast performance in the construction sector.

CommSec had been forecasting that economic growth was flat in the quarter. But CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian says it is now predicting the economy expanded by 0.5 per cent. "There's no doubt that the global economy remains on its knees, but what we're really seeing is that the business sector's really driving growth in Australia," he said. "Rather than making any knee-jerk responses and cutting spending, it's the business sector that is actually increasing investment plans."


Cops kill black with pepper spray

If there were four of them holding him down, why did they need to spray him at all?

A man died shortly after being held on the ground by four police and sprayed with capsicum spray, an inquest heard yesterday. Coroner Greg Cavanagh was told the man's friends warned police not to spray him as he suffered from asthma. The man - who cannot be named for cultural reasons - was taken from the Palmerston home where the incident happened on January 1, 2008, to Royal Darwin Hospital but died later that night.

Eyewitness Simon Pascoe told the coronial inquest that people at the house had told police to let the man go and be careful because he had asthma. "Every time we tried to warn them, they said: 'Don't come any closer or we're going to use our spray on you'," he said.

The inquest heard there had been an argument over "grog" at the house, and a woman had called the police and told officers that the man needed to go to the sobering-up centre. An autopsy found he only had a blood alcohol concentration of .035 per cent. [legal to drive]

The inquest into the man's death will run concurrently with an inquest into the death of Alice Springs filmmaker Bob Plasto. He was arrested and ground-stabilised in Darwin on December 22, 2007 after staff at the Cavanagh Hotel called police when he was behaving irrationally. Police took him to Royal Darwin Hospital for a mental health assessment - but not until after he waited in a caged police car at the Darwin watch house for a shift change. He was pulled to the ground by police officers at the hospital and kept in custody while he was in hospital for several days before he died.


Queensland's rogue "Health" department again

Appalling bureaucratic indifference to the suffering of one of their own staff. Some hard old bitch at the top didn't care that a young nurse had been raped by a crazed black

QUEENSLAND Health officers acted inappropriately and insensitively when notified of a nurse being sexually assaulted on Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait last year, a report has found. The damning report found members of the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Service District executive failed to manage the repatriation of the remote area nurse from the island in line with the seriousness of what had occurred. The nurse has welcomed the findings, saying she was keen to see system failures fixed so no other staff member was hurt. The morning after the attack last February, the nurse was allegedly told by superiors to forget about the incident and return to work. Her boyfriend chartered an aircraft to take her to safety.

A Queensland Health ethical standards unit investigation found "substantial evidence" of a systemic failure of the district executive to acknowledge and address workplace safety issues over a long period. QH director-general Mick Reid, who received the report on Monday, said last night the department accepted the investigation had found serious faults in the way staff had responded to the incident. The health service district CEO Cindy Morseu has been stood aside on pay over the investigation's finding, effective immediately. "It's not an easy thing to step someone aside. It's done with a lot of pain," Mr Reid said. "But the allegations are so significant and the findings are so clear that it would have been inappropriate of me not to take action."

Mr Reid said the Crime and Misconduct Commission had reviewed the report by the Ethical Standards Unit and was satisfied with the investigation. The report's findings were released on the Queensland Health website last night after a news conference planned for mid-afternoon was called off. Premier Anna Bligh, enduring a tough start to her campaign, had earlier told journalists she was unaware when the report was due to be released.

The issue erupted in State Parliament last year when the Opposition accused Health Minister Stephen Robertson of tabling a sanitised version of a security audit carried out 16 months before the attack. Although the report found alterations to a draft risk assessment did occur, the investigation found there was no external influence on the report's authors to doctor the document.

The Health Minister was briefed on the report's findings earlier this week.

Mr Reid said the partner of the woman concerned had also been advised about the report's findings. "I've offered him and her a full briefing regarding the findings," he said. They had not yet decided whether to take him up on that offer."

Queensland Nurses Union assistant secretary Elizabeth Mole told ABC Radio this morning the woman was keen to see system failures fixed so no other staff member was hurt. ``She's holding up okay,'' Ms Mole said. ``She actully welcomes the findings ... with some disbelief that this one component of the whole sorry saga has been concluded. She certainly feels that its good to have some closure on one component but she's got a long way to go.'' Ms Mole said the nurse was receiving workers' compensation but had not yet decided her future in the profession or with Queensland Health. ``She really is an amazing woman. She actually said she wants to make sure the systemic failures are fixed, she doesn't want to see this happen again. ``She's not interested in retribution.''

Ms Mole said members conceded it was challenging to provide health services in the Torres Strait Islands, but strong systems had to be put in place to ensure health workers' safety.


The public hospital lottery: Emergency patient ignored in one public hospital but treated well in another

An elderly woman was left untreated in Caboolture Hospital's emergency department for four hours despite having lost the use of a hand and a leg. She was later taken to another hospital for attention.

The case is one of two this month which have thrown doubt on the department's ability to provide timely treatment. The other involved a 10-year-old boy who had to wait six hours for a head wound to be stitched.

Helen Tansley said her 81-year-old mother, who did not want to be named, was lucky to be alive despite the lack of treatment for what turned out to be a blocked left femoral artery. ``Mum said no one spoke to her at all ... so it was difficult to understand how her level of emergency was determined,'' Mrs Tansley said of the February 7 incident.

Health officials have admitted the hospital was put on bypass four times in February. The hospital was on bypass on Tuesday afternoon, with some ambulances diverted to Redcliffe Hospital.

Caboolture Hospital executive director Caroline Weaver said patients were assessed by a triage nurse shortly after arrival, which was the case with Mrs Tansley's mother. Mrs Weaver said the emergency department was at capacity when she arrived.

Eventually the woman's husband took her home to Morayfield and called a doctor who arranged an ambulance to take her to Redcliffe Hospital, Mrs Tansley said. ``Treatment at Redcliffe in all aspects was fabulous,'' she said. This was in contrast to Caboolture, where she said staff were hostile and uncaring. ``We were appalled at the total neglect and the dreadful attitude and manner of all staff we encountered,'' Mrs Tansley said.

Mrs Weaver apologised. ``Sometimes during periods of intense activity the staff may appear rushed, and this is not meant as uncaring or disrespectful,'' she said.

In the other incident, an ambulance crew was taken off the road for three hours on February 10 to look after a boy waiting to be treated for a head injury. Mrs Weaver said that during busy periods, ambulance officers stayed with patients until a bed was available.

In the three months to December, Caboolture Hospital treated 14,069 people as inpatients or emergencies, a 14.6percent increase from the same period in 2007


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Big sharks right in Sydney harbour -- thanks to the Greenies

All sharks are now "protected" species in Australia

When we arrived about 10.45am Justin handed over one of the frigate mackerel his clients had just caught. With its blood red, oily flesh it was perfect shark bait. We did not use berley - mashed fish flesh, called chum in the US, and designed to attract sharks. Al rigged a stout gamefishing rod and reel filled with about a kilometre of 24kg strength line, attached a wire trace and smallish hook, and cast out a fillet of the frigate. Around us the little tuna - looking like lime green bullets - continued to feed, sometimes spearing half out of the water in their enthusiasm for their own tiny prey. The rod and reel are more at home chasing giant fish in the deep, many kilometres out to sea. But we were 10-15m from shore and our depth sounder read just 8m of flat bottom, with a drop-off to deeper water nearby.

Maybe 15 minutes later we knew something else besides frigate mackerel was out hunting. A bloke fishing in a tinny next to us cruised by and said: "I think I just saw a decent shark, just over in the really shallow water" as he pointed to the sandy shores less than 2m deep. Builders on shore, with the advantage of elevation enabling them to look deep into the water, waved and kept pointing to the same spot.

Within half an hour a brown shadow slid past the stern. About 1.8m long, it had the shape and colour of a bull shark. We also missed two tentative bites from what were most likely sharks. They do not always smash their prey and can be delicate feeders. Then, after only an hour drifting with the outgoing tide, and with Clifton Gardens' netted swimming enclosure a few hundred metres away, the fillet of frigate was swallowed. Line poured from the reel. "This is a shark, and it's a pretty big one," said Al.

The shark headed into the shipping channel, unstoppable. Half an hour after hook-up and the shark was still moving westwards, forcing us to motor at up to 10km/h. An hour after hook-up the shark appeared to be aiming for Garden Island, where navy diver Paul de Gelder was attacked on January 11. We manoeuvred our boat to try to force the shark towards the surface. Nothing seemed to be working until, finally, it swam into shallower water and began to tire.

An hour and a half after hook-up, with little warning, it gave up and could be led boatside. It made one last surge, a thick, broad, tan-coloured head breaching the surface, snow white teeth flashing in the sun, cream belly glowing, tail slapping the water. "It's a bloody big bull shark!" Al shouted.

Just as we were about to put a NSW Fisheries gamefish tag into its shoulders the shark's teeth overcame the wire trace and it was gone, leaving an upwelling of boiling water 2m across. We called it as a bull shark between 2.7m and 3m long. NSW Fisheries scientists will study photos of the shark. State Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald told The Daily Telegraph yesterday: "It is of a similar size to the one involved in the attack on the diver."


Greenie emissions plan for Australia set to be scuppered

The Federal Government's emissions trading scheme is heading for defeat in the Senate before it is even debated as independent Nick Xenophon and the Nationals' Barnaby Joyce rule out supporting the policy even with amendments. Senator Xenophon, who passed the Government's $42 billion stimulus package only after winning $1 billion in measures for the Murray-Darling Basin, told The Age he would vote against the scheme in its present form. But Senator Xenophon said he would not trade his vote for more money for the Murray-Darling or other programs, because he has fundamental problems with the design of the scheme.

Instead, Senator Xenophon is backing an alternative cap-and-trade program based on a Canadian model, which has been previously ruled out by Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. Senator Wong said in a speech on Friday that the Government would not delay nor change the details of its proposed cap-and-trade system.

If Senator Xenophon votes against the scheme, the Government will have to get the Opposition's support to pass it. However, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce believes "there are not enough amendments" to fix the scheme, and indicated the Nationals would reject the scheme outright. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull is still waiting on economic research scheduled to be delivered this week before determining the Liberal Party's position.

Senator Joyce told The Age "it didn't matter" what the Coalition policy would be because he would be asked to vote on the Government's proposal. "And I cannot back it because it will throw people out of their jobs and their homes and do incredible damage to the Australian economy," he said.

Senior Liberal sources said yesterday there was disagreement in the joint party room on what policy the Opposition should take, with support from many members of the Liberal back bench to vote against the Government's scheme outright rather than seeking to amend it.

An industry source close to the Liberal Party said "they (the Coalition) have no policy really, but they have made a decision to get on the front foot after the disaster that was last week and so they are talking about climate change probably more than they would like at this moment".

Mr Turnbull and environment spokesman Greg Hunt indicated yesterday that the Opposition would present policies that contain emissions cuts greater than the 5 to 15 per cent range by 2020 announced by the Government last year, but would not say if they would support an emissions trading scheme. Mr Turnbull is backing a range of other emissions reduction programs such as biochar offsets, energy efficiency in buildings and international forestation measures, which can be implemented into an emissions trading scheme or run as independent programs. The Liberals and the Greens are proposing a Senate inquiry to replace the House of Representatives inquiry that Treasurer Wayne Swan shut down on Thursday.

The Greens have proposed 13 terms of reference for the inquiry, including investigation into the adequacy of the Rudd Government's 2020 targets. But the Coalition and Greens, who need to join forces to establish the Senate inquiry, last night had not agreed to the terms. The Government is expected to release draft legislation for the emissions scheme this week.


Even FDR was keen to slash public servant pay packets

Horror of horrors!

By Alan Moran

In his essay in The Monthly on the global financial crisis, Kevin Rudd named me as a neo-liberal (which he didn't define, but which roughly translates as liberal meaning bad and neo meaning very) for proposing cuts in public sector wages. The Prime Minister argues that public servant wage reductions were a policy of one of his nemeses, Andrew Mellon, US treasury secretary in the Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations. He is unaware that one of the first acts of his hero and model Franklin D. Roosevelt, on becoming president in 1933, was to cut all government employees' pay by 15 per cent. It was Congress that reversed these cuts over the following year or so.

Such expenditure restraint policies are being followed by a range of governments, including those tied to the failed Keynesian approach that Rudd finds so attractive. President Barack Obama, in his first executive order, introduced a freeze on White House salaries. Singapore has reduced salaries of top public servants by 12per cent to 20per cent, with further cuts foreshadowed. The Irish Prime Minister is implementing an average 7per cent reduction in gross pay for everyone on the public payroll, in the form of a levy to finance their pensions.

Public servants have long pointed to wages in the private sector as beacons by which their remuneration should be measured. But the near guarantee of job security that public servants enjoy is worth a considerable premium compared with workers in the private sector. This has been recognised by London's mayor Boris Johnson, who has pointed out that in England the generosity of public service remuneration packages has become unacceptable in view of economies forced on private sector employees. Cost-saving economies by private sector businesses are widely evident in Australia. Jobs are being shed across the private sector. Alcoa workers are among those who have volunteered to accept a wages standstill to assist the company's competitiveness and nabCapital's January survey indicates private sector wages are beginning to fall.

Similar approaches must be followed by governments in Australia to ensure parity with the private sector. Moreover, state governments must drastically cut back recurrent expenditure on public service salaries if they don't want to face the fate of Queensland. Standard & Poor's downgrade of the Sunshine State's debt will add $200million to its interest bill.

Other states will face the same deficit pressures as their profligate spending is left high and dry by revenue shortfalls created by lower taxation income from resource exports, house sales and even the GST. Moreover state governments have less scope than federal governments to borrow (and no scope to print money). In the US, several states are already confronting the budget imbalances this creates. Speculation is mounting that California will fail to cut spending and be the first state to declare itself bankrupt.

For electoral reasons driven by the need for state Labor governments to keep sweet with the public sector unions, Australian states will seek to balance their budgets by raising taxes rather than shedding staff (or, heaven forbid, cutting salaries). But eventually, radical spending cuts will be required, though in Australia this normally requires a change in government.

Rudd's defence of paying a bloated public sector excessive wages is part of his fiscal stimulus philosophy based on a crude Keynesian formula that equates income with consumption, investment and government spending. The problem is that trying to boost income through government spending brings offsetting reductions in private spending and investment, and in doing so reduces the economy's productive capacity. The Rudd policy rests on the alchemy of government fiscal multipliers providing extra bang for every buck spent. While cash injections can boost regional economies, a national economy's multiplier is accompanied by a negative multiplier resulting from governments eating into private wealth and incomes. Hence the aggregate national multiplier is unlikely to diverge from zero.

We therefore have a combustible brew. Rudd's penchant for spending and profound mistrust of individuals making their own such decisions is combined with Treasury's advice. This is anchored in a poorly understood Keynesian framework and is abetted by business lobbies seeking a share of government spending spoils. Instead of a gentle economic warming, the measures proposed, which already amount to $80 billion and approach 10 per cent of gross domestic product, will torch the economy. Though having more scope to engage in imprudent deficit spending, even national governments have to confront reality once their deficit financing threatens lenders' risk preferences.

What is needed now is a careful husbanding of expenditures and reductions in the regulatory costs. Ironically, such measures were promoted by Small Business Minister Craig Emerson just as Rudd's essay calling for fiscal intemperance hit the streets.


Tough love a hard sell

By Australian columnist, Janet Albrechtsen

Playwright David Williamson has some advice for those of us on the conservative side of politics. In a long email exchange between us, he said conservatives lack compassion. Indeed, it is a constant refrain from critics on the Left. While much of this criticism is based on lazy and crude logic, Williamson deserves to be addressed for two critical reasons. First, to prove wrong the progressive myth that those on the Left have a moral monopoly over compassion. And second, to remind conservatives that they are sometimes their own worst enemy in articulating why their policies produce the best outcomes.

John Howard's first major foray into politics since his election loss in 2007 went part of the way towards debunking the myth that conservatives lack compassion. Last Thursday, Howard made a compelling case not merely that conservative policies have delivered the best outcomes for a greater number of people, but also installed an "Australian safety net" that strikes the right balance for the underprivileged.

As Howard said, the Australian welfare system rejects the "hard edges, sometimes verging on indifference, of the American approach" and the "overly paternalistic approach of many European countries". The idea of mutual obligation, introduced by Howard, was readily derided as lacking compassion for those in need by a welfare industry that hungers for and depends on bigger government. Yet by imposing an element of irritant, policies such as Work for the Dole and Welfare to Work recognised the best help is to encourage people out of fatalistic welfare dependency into a job.

That compassion does not depend on a government cheque is now part of the orthodox thinking on welfare. As Noel Pearson and others argue so powerfully, welfare without sensible limits and incentives is the antithesis of compassion.

Yet Williamson has a point about conservatives when he writes in his critique to me that "it's a hard sell to convince many that the `tough love' policies are better for us in the long term". Conservatives do need, as he tells me, to "grapple with the fact that the human brain is not totally rational", lest they be cast as irrelevant and out of touch.

However, embracing the legitimacy of Williamson's observations does not mean succumbing to every emotional call on the public purse or public policy. On the contrary, such claims need to be addressed partly by continued rigorous and rational analysis, partly by becoming more generous in response to genuine claims on our compassion and partly by embracing the kind of unabashed spin doctoring so favoured by progressives to explain their policies.

By staying true to their core value of rationality, conservatives are duty bound to vigorously analyse the merits of any claim on compassion. Given that many such claims are shameless attempts to extract money undeservedly from government, there are four filters that should be applied: the motive filter, the intestinal fortitude filter, the brains filter and the fashion filter.

Sometimes the call for compassion is hopelessly infected by improper motive. Frequently it is just a disguised political ploy, partisanship dressed up as nobility. For example, the Australian Human Rights Commission's report has exposed that under the Rudd Government children are still being held indefinitely in our detention centres. Yet the silence from activists has exposed previous calls for compassion from an uncaring Howard government as bogus, politically motivated stunts. The new-found silence suggests they do not care much about detained migrants, at least not enough to protest against a Labor government.

The fortitude filter is a simple recognition that appeasement is easy. How much easier to give in to every demand, buying peace for now, putting off until another day or another government, the harder task of saying no? Armchair moralists don't actually have to make decisions. Yet they denounce decision makers who have to think about both the present and the future.

A critical filter is the one about brains. So often the allegedly compassionate outcome is counterproductive in the long term, revealing that many compassion buffs just aren't that bright. Whoever dreamed up various forms of "sit down" money for indigenous Australians would have needed only the slightest hint of intellect to realise what a poison it would become.

And remember the fashion filter. What sometimes passes for compassion is just fashion - metaphorically and literally. Think of all those silly rubber bracelets championing every cause under the sun, readily discarded as whims change. David Hicks was undoubtedly the cause du jour in 2007. While there were legitimate criticisms from some quarters, many of his supporters refused to apply careful scrutiny to his conduct, which exposed as a fraud his candidacy for membership of the downtrodden, ill-treated and innocent.

Calls for compassion that fail these filters have been duly assigned to the scrap heap of poor policy. Sensible immigration controls, once derided by the Howard-haters, now feature as required policy even in Europe. Foreign aid is increasingly subjected to more rigorous thinking about accountability and outcomes rather than simply pouring more feel-good money into the pockets of corrupt governments. Anti-terrorism laws scoffed at by the bleeding hearts as unnecessary restraints are still with us. And the list goes on.

But that does not mean there is not room for improvement among conservatives. They often fail to explain their ideas and values through the prism of compassion. Even Margaret Thatcher fell for that trap when she declared there was no such thing as society. In fact, as the response to the Victorian bushfires reveals, a deep sense of society rests within most of us. There are certainly more legitimate claims for compassion that conservatives would admit. Disability carers and foster parents are just two groups who deserve more help than they get.

Finally, conservatives need to do a much better job in the spin and hype department if only to offset those keen to portray us as mean and hard-hearted. Williamson may be interested to learn that bleeding-heart purveyors of compassion are not always what they appear. A few years ago, Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks, a behavioural scientist, exposed the great myth of giving. In Who Really Cares: the Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism, his extensive research revealed that religious conservatives in nuclear families are far more generous, giving more to charity than the great pretenders - secular liberals who believe in government entitlement programs.

When conservatives learn that good policy is about winning hearts as well as minds, they will shake off this recurring theme that to be a conservative is to lack compassion.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on the low standards of both Left and Right in Australian politics at the moment

Tasmanian health fear if climate heats up

This would be a most amusing article if it were not so dishonest and stupid. Quite aside from the basic fact that warm weather is better for you than cold weather (a lot more people die in winter than die in summer), the article is about Tasmania, which has a cool climate. And even under pessimistic assumptions, Tasmania would warm up only to the point where its climate is like Queensland today. And, writing as I do from Queensland, I can assure you that Queensland is flourishing in every way!

TASMANIA faces an ominous and burgeoning epidemic of chronic disease in its climate change future, the State's Director of Public Health said yesterday. Dr Roscoe Taylor said the spectre of an influenza pandemic was also very real. The foreseeable risks to health worldwide had been documented, he said, but Tasmania faced its share of public health concerns brought about after events that could only be attributed to climate change.

He said the increased frequency of extreme weather would cause physical injury and psychological instability, as the population became anxious about storm, drought or extreme heat events. "With changes in Tasmania's weather patterns, we will see more severe weather events," he said. "An ageing population of people living with chronic medical conditions might not readily cope with heat stress."

Longer term, Dr Taylor said drought would threaten reliable, nutritious food sources and water supply. "There are significant threats to public health and nutrition when our natural food sources are affected with seasonal interruptions," he said.

The extreme weather would also bring social isolation and anxiety. "There will be community anxiety about the future. We have to be careful not to transfer our own fears on to our children. "We have to give them a sense that they can minimise the risks and do something about the future."

Very real evidence of climate change across Tasmania's water supply was already playing itself out, he said. "We are seeing the impact of climate change on our water supply with increased and longer algal blooms," he said. "At Ross the population has had to seek alternative water supplies because of an ongoing blue-green algae outbreak, and on King Island blooms are appearing in the water catchment dams. "There are marine coastal blooms in the Huon and Statewide they are extending and lasting longer.

"These are subtle but definite effects of climate change. "It would appear that water scarcity is likely to persist, and a range of adaptation measures will be required to ensure the viability of communities and food supplies in the longer term."


Good idea for reducing bushfires

At least someone in politics is pointing at the totally avoidable cause of the fires

Fran Bailey wants to deny Victoria money for road building if the state fails to keep down bushfire fuel levels. The Liberal Member for McEwen broke down in Parliament yesterday as she revealed 195 of her constituents died in the Black Saturday fires. She called for federal road grants to state and local governments to be made conditional on controlled burning being done.

"Millions of dollars are provided to state and local governments for their roads," Ms Bailey told Parliament. "We need to tie that funding to fuel reduction programs because, unless we do something, nothing will be done. "This is something, colleagues, I hope we can have unanimous agreement on."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised to consider "specific incentives" to ensure recommended fire safety measures, such as prescribed burning were done. He said too many recommendations from inquiries held after major fires had been ignored by governments. "I hate to think how many of those recommendations have not been acted upon by governments of whichever persuasion, of whichever level and at whichever point in history," he said.

Ms Bailey called for schools to be equipped with fire shelters. "Back in 1988, I have discovered, the Victorian Education Department had a plan to build 72 of what I call a community and school safe shelter," she said. "Only one has ever been built. We've got to do better than that." Ms Bailey also said businesses affected by the fires should receive government assistance, and early-warning systems should be introduced as soon as possible.

Yesterday was the first day session Ms Bailey had attended since Black Saturday. She stayed in her electorate to help constituents who had been affected by the fires. For several days, Ms Bailey kept her most precious belongings in the back of her car after deciding not to stay to defend her Healesville home. "I don't want any other Australian citizen to go through what my constituents have," she said yesterday.


Australia likely to cut immigration

Australia will likely cut the number of skilled immigrants allowed into the country next year, following the global economic downturn, the government said Monday. "I expect the numbers of our programme to drop next year as a reaction to the economic circumstances," Immigration Minister Chris Evans told reporters. He gave no indication of the size of the cut, but said the government would also reconsider which occupations should be on the critical skills list. "We will probably have a formal look at that in the next couple of weeks," Evans said.

Around 190,300 migrants were projected to arrive over 2008/09, with skilled workers accounting for most places in a programme designed when the forecast was for rapid economic growth and a skills crisis. But projections for growth have been slashed as the global economy slows, and some industries have already started cutting jobs.

Asian immigration has grown rapidly in recent years while the number of new arrivals from traditional source countries such as Britain and Italy has fallen, the latest census showed last month. "Country-of-birth groups which increased the most between 1996 and 2006 were New Zealand (by around 98,000 people), China (96,000) and India (70,000)," according to the census. "In contrast, European country-of-birth groups declined sharply over the same period -- Italy by 39,000 people, the United Kingdom by 35,000 and Greece by 17,000."

However, while the ratio of Asian immigration to European arrivals changed -- with six of the 10 most common birthplaces of migrants being Asian countries -- 92,000 Britons still accounted for most new residents. Apart from China and India, countries providing increasing numbers of immigrants included Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and South Africa.


An old, old story

Every now and again, some members of the Green/Left try to practice what they preach. It always ends up the same way

They thought they could change the world but what came of their dreams has haunted them ever since... The Universal Brotherhood was Australia's most celebrated alternative community attracting hundreds of young idealists who gave up everything to follow their very own New Age guru. Now 30 years later they're hosting a reunion to confront the sect's surviving leader about the paradise they created. and lost.

Compass on Sunday at 9.30pm on ABC1 charts the rise and fall of this uniquely Australian `cult' through rich film archive and the testimonies of Linda Moctezuma (nee Ward) and others as they prepare for a reunion, 30 years after it all fell apart.

The Universal Brotherhood was a home-grown spiritual movement that became Australia's most successful alternative community. Born in the early 1970s it flourished on a 300 acre farm near the small country town of Balingup, south of Perth. The movement attracted hundreds of young idealists who turned their backs on jobs, mortgages and a safe life in the suburbs. Instead, they cashed in their savings to follow their very own guru, 80-year old Fred Robinson - a self-styled eco-prophet who wanted to pioneer a model community that could save the planet, and mankind!

Robinson espoused a mixed bag of mystical teachings, New Age philosophies and old-fashioned Christian values. He'd also developed his own cosmic vision of the future involving `elder brothers' from outer space coming in UFOs with Christ to take them away if and when catastrophe destroyed the world. "They even bought a property that had an airstrip on it so that the elder brothers would have somewhere to land, and rescue us.

Now, there's only one thing more amazing than him saying that - and that's us believing it!" says Moctezuma who at 18, desperate to escape the insular world of Sydney's northern beaches, became one of the Brotherhood's first converts.

From a handful of pioneers, the Universal Brotherhood quickly grew. Within a year, it was almost completely self-sufficient: its young `disciples' putting into practice all Robinson's principles of biodynamic farming and holistic living. "And we really believed that it was a turning point for mankind. And we were going to be the spearhead, the leaders of this new age. We were creating the model that the whole world was going to be built on. And so we had this great responsibility to do it properly," says Moctezuma.

Among the followers was a young rock star, Matt Taylor. He'd just released a hit record, but sold everything to join the Brotherhood. "Because number one records weren't as important as finding out how the universe worked," says Taylor. On the farm the Brotherhood took care of everyone's food, shelter and clothing. Everything was shared, and everyone ate, played and prayed together. Life in the Brotherhood was deemed "safe and pure". The world outside increasingly viewed as dangerously corrupt.

Believing they had all the answers, the Brotherhood began cutting itself off from the rest of society. TV and radio were banned. And increasingly, control of the group was left to its governing council, a small group of advisers known as the `Centre Core', made up of Robinson's wife Mary and the Brotherhood's young co-founder, Stephen Carthew, a 23-year old from Sydney. "Mary had her belief that she slept at night and she had dreams and God spoke to her, and we then had to follow what God had said to her," says Susan Allwood who'd walked out of a promising fashion career in Melbourne to join the Brotherhood.

As time passed the Centre Core became more hardline, scrutinising the young followers' behaviour, and punishing them for minor misdemeanours or perceived weaknesses. Few dared to confess any doubt, anger or distress. The Brotherhood's utopian dream was only six years old when cracks appeared. The cult's leadership began to turn on some of its most faithful adherents.

By 1978 the New Age dream was all but over. The mood of the times had changed. Triggered by events like the Jonestown massacre, public opinion swung sharply against religious cults. "When Jonestown happened there was a moment where I thought, if Mary had said to us, `We've reached the right vibration; we don't need our bodies any more. We're all going to drink cyanide.' I wonder if we'd have done it?" asks former member Anita Chauvin.

The film follows Anita, Matt, Susan, Linda and others as they prepare for the reunion, searching for resolution to the years they put into the Brotherhood dream; years many have kept hidden, until now. Founder and former leader Carthew will also be at the reunion. He knows he has a lot to answer for and the scene is set for a dramatic showdown.


Monday, February 23, 2009

National pride rallies the fire survivors

Since our ancestors rapidly transformed a wilderness into a first world country, Australians have always been quietly proud of their ability to rise to any challenge, and that traditional pride is still a source of strength. The popular song "We Are Australian" is a very compressed history of Australians and the challenges they have risen to.

How well the early British settlers built a new country after their arrival in 1788 can be gathered from a report of 1828 in "The Australian" newspaper of the day. A ship arrived from England with smallpox on board, which was immediately notified to the appropriate authorities. The ship was sent to Neutral Bay in quarantine and the Sydney population warned. Thousands of people had cowpox vaccinations as a result. After official investigations, the ship was allowed to disembark on August 5th. So Sydney was a pretty sophisticated place by that time. A "visiting English gentleman" also writing in "The Australian" around that time was surprised to find Sydney comprised of substantial brick and stone buildings instead of the mud huts and log cabins he had expected. He found it "a bustling, elegant and extensive city" with shops as good as London's but with much cleaner air. So the early settlers (many of whom were convicts) had built well in just 40 years. I personally am descended from a convict who arrived on the ship just mentioned

"We Are Australian" plays at the memorial service in Melbourne, and in Whittlesea, two Salvos stand. Slowly, uncertainly, about 300 others around them rise to their feet and start clapping. At first it is in time to the song, but soon it is applause - for themselves, for everyone.

For most of the 90-minute service, Kinglake evacuees and Whittlesea residents have listened, mostly heads down. It is respectful and expected, but they seem more bowed by the weight of thoughts. Some weep at the sight of a wreath, others at pictures of a green valley shrouded in fog, not smoke.

But a change comes near the end of the broadcast. They hold hands and smile. Behind the seating, a new mum dances with her babe in arms. The strength has come from somewhere and everywhere, from each other, Melbourne and around Australia. It is strength to go on.

From 10am, mourners at the Whittlesea service trickle in gently. One girl wears a T-shirt with the message: "Together in strength we can rebuild Victoria". Some wear wrist bands that give access to the mountain and what's left there of Kinglake. Many Kinglake residents, though, are behind roadblocks at their own service on their mount. At Whittlesea, Australian flags fly from prams and are draped over shoulders.

About 400 plastic seats are under marquees beside portable party hire cool rooms. For a fortnight life has been makeshift like that. Walker Reserve, the cricket oval, is a mass of dust and dead grass. Two Sundays earlier it was a car park for emergency vehicles and refuge from the blazes. A smoke haze still hangs over the hills and fire helicopters fly overhead.

As the many tributes end, a wiry looking bloke with a beard strokes his wife's arm. Peter Petkovski, wife Lena and boys Ricky, Paul, Tony and Mark lost their Long Gully Rd, Flowerdale, home and much more. Mrs Petkovski can't bear yet to think of returning there. She says the service was overwhelming. "This has just made me stronger," she says.

Her husband can't bear the thought of not going back. "There's too much history. A lot of my friends died there. You can't throw that away," he said after the service.


Major Australian political parties in climate of confusion

MALCOLM Turnbull's new focus on greenhouse gas reduction policy is simply a diversion from internal problems in the opposition, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong says. The Opposition leader - who has been fending off renewed speculation about the ambitions of Peter Costello - has seized on the Government's emissions trading scheme (ETS) policy, flagging a Senate inquiry to replace the one the Government axed last week.

But today Liberal MPs were unwilling to define their policy with frontbencher Christopher Pyne telling ABC Television: "Everything's on the table.'' Emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb was also reluctant to provide more details. "We will specify that in clearer terms later on,'' he said, when asked for a specific reduction target. Queensland backbencher Stuart Robert was happy to attack the Government, but unable to offer clear advice on where the Opposition was heading. "The Government's ETS will cost jobs,'' Mr Robert said in Canberra.

Mr Turnbull has also signalled a more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target than the Government's 5-15 per cent by 2020, and a less complex scheme for achieving the target. The Government has dismissed the new stance, saying it is a mirage.

However the Government is also grappling with what the final shape of its emissions policy will be. Senator Wong says the Government has always acknowledged the need for additional policies to its planned emissions trading scheme. But turning Australia from one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the world to a low-pollution one requires the "hard'' economic reform of an ETS.

"Mr Turnbull knows this,'' Senator Wong said. The only reason he is walking away from the ETS is because of deep divisions in the Liberal Party, she said. "Many ... simply do not want to take action on climate change.''

Tasmanian Labor MP Dick Adams said he leant toward starting with a lower reduction target. "We can't go about sending our capital offshore and therefore costing us one hell of a lot of jobs. "I'm a minimalist in this debate, let's start, let's get a scheme out there and then let's deal with that over a period of years.''

South Australian Government backbencher Amanda Rishworth said it was hard to believe anything the Opposition said about climate change. "I don't believe what Malcolm Turnbull does say because he's dealing with a party that is filled with climate change sceptics.'' [Heartening news!]


Warmist laws to butcher Australian farm production

The nation's agricultural output would be slashed by $2.4 billion a year by 2020 under Kevin Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme. Losses to the farming sector would balloon to $10.9 billion a year by 2030, driven by production declines of more than 25 per cent in the beef and wool industries, a report by the Centre for International Economics has found. The forecasts are based on the federal Government's White Paper assumption that agriculture will have to pay for its emissions by 2016.

The study, prepared for the Australian Farm Institute in conjunction with Australian Wool Innovation and Dairy Australia, finds the sheepmeats, pork and dairy sectors will also be hit hard, with production drops by 2030 of 21 per cent, 10.4 per cent and 8.1 per cent respectively. Producers will experience a big rise in ETS-related costs even before agriculture's inclusion in the scheme because of increased energy, fertiliser and transport costs, the study finds.

The increased cost of Australian products is expected to cause export volumes to decline. Exports of beef and sheep are projected to decline by 14 per cent and 10 per cent respectively by 2030 if agriculture is included in an emissions trading scheme. David Pearce, of the Centre for International Economics, said the research body had been surprised by the size of the fallout expected to hit the livestock-based industries of beef, sheepmeat, wool and dairy. "There is a cost increase for the cropping industries but nowhere near as big as for the meat-based," he said. "One of the key things we show is that agriculture will be affected by the scheme whether or not it is a participant. "Parts of agriculture are energy intensive; they use inputs which involve energy, fertilisers, chemicals; they also use a lot of transport in order to shift commodities around the country."

Peter Heelan, 52, who runs cattle at his Ulcanbah Station, 90km from Clermont in central Queensland, said he knew one thing about the Prime Minister's ETS: it was going to cost him money, which could not be worse timed following the floods and droughts that had hit rural Australia in recent years. "Everyone in the bush is hoping the ETS will go away," Mr Heelan said. "We're at the end of the line. We can't pass it on but everything will be passed on to us - the cost of electricity, transport, any fodder you've got to buy, it's all likely to rise. "The ETS will send some people to the wall. I'm sure a lot of bush people have large debts after floods and droughts. Things are tight enough as they are."

Australian Farm Institute head Mick Keogh said the report showed the impact of the emissions trading scheme would be far greater than the projected slowdown under the unlikely worst case scenarios developed by Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. "The biggest threat to agriculture over the next half century is not climate change, it is climate change policy," Mr Keogh said, adding that the ETS had the potential to do profound and long-lasting damage to the sector. "Even the most conservative projection of 9 per cent reduction in the beef industry by 2020 represents $1.5 billion reduction in output, which would lead to a significant loss of job opportunities and major changes to regional economies," Mr Keogh said. "That would amount to a massive change in rural communities."


Increased croc danger due to protection

A different Battle of the Boyne

Dangerous saltwater crocodiles may be expanding into new territory in southern Queensland under a "huge recovery" in numbers, experts have warned. One world-renowned crocodile expert believes Queensland needs to reconsider culling, with increased sightings of maneater-sized reptiles in southern parts of the state. Prominent researchers Professor Grahame Webb, from Darwin, and Professor Gordon Grigg, from the University of Queensland, said the state's existing crocodile management plan was "inadequate". They say there is insufficient data about crocodile movements and numbers.

But Environmental Protection Agency director-general Terry Wall hit back, saying that since November last year, the EPA had responded quickly and effectively to more than 40 separate crocodile reports and incidents around the state [Not counting those who got killed and eaten by crocs, I guess]. "There is no evidence of crocodile populations expanding beyond the accepted range, the southerly extreme of which is the Boyne River," Mr Wall said. "Crocodiles do, from time to time, turn up south of the Boyne and a large animal was shot in the Logan River south of Brisbane in 1905. This is a rare occurrence." He denied there had been any explosion in saltwater crocodile numbers, saying "available data showed population recovery was slow" due to predators eating eggs, the low survival rate of hatchlings and illegal fishing.

But the experts say there has been too little research. Professor Webb, head of the United Nations crocodile specialists group, said claims of a static population were "nonsense". "There has been a huge recovery in population," he said, suggesting it might be time to bring back the gun.

His comments come amid heated debate over culling after the death of crocodile attack victim Jeremy Doble, 5, who was taken by a 4.3m crocodile on the Daintree River on February 8. His parents, Steve and Sharon Doble, who operate crocodile tours, asked that the animal not be harmed. It will be sold to a crocodile farm.

Professor Webb said many Queenslanders appeared to be croc-huggers. "They are a large and dangerous predator that extends up and down the east coast of Queensland," Professor Webb said. "There is nothing wrong with removing crocs by shooting or culling because their populations are robust. "Crocs cause the biggest problem when they suddenly appear in areas, when they are moving around trying to find new territory." Professor Webb said that while the climate and terrain of the Northern Territory and parts of Cape York was ideal for crocodiles, they were known to move as far south as Coffs Harbour in New South Wales.

University of Queensland Emeritus Professor of Zoology Gordon Grigg, who is writing a book on crocodile biology, said the EPA needed to do more regular surveys. "We've had sporadic surveys and I think we'd be better if they were done more frequently," he said. "The EPA needs to know a lot more about the animals, where they are, what numbers, and where they can be in possible conflict with humans." Only then could informed decisions be made about how to handle them.

He said reports of resident crocs in the state's southeast should not be dismissed. "It is certainly not impossible, salties would not be able to breed and raise young as far south as Coffs Harbour or Brisbane, but certainly a largish croc is able to come down this far south. "I suspect if they did come this far they'd be lost, they'd have swum the wrong way, they'd be strays."

Professor Craig Franklin, of the University of Queensland, said humans were encroaching more and more on crocodile territory as people ventured more into their zone. "In the end we have to learn to live alongside crocodiles as we will never completely remove them," he said. "My fear is that people who believe a cull is the solution will ultimately lead people into a false sense of security, simply because you might remove them for the short term, but next week, next month or next year another one will appear in the system."

Estuarine crocodiles, also known as salties, are protected nationally and listed as "vulnerable" in Queensland. Hunting was banned in 1971. It is estimated there are up to 80,000 wild crocodiles around Australia. In 2007, an EPA vessel-based survey of 47 Queensland rivers stretching from the Endeavour River near Cooktown to the Burnett River near Bundaberg, identified 289 crocodiles of varying sizes. The next study is set down for late this year.

Under the latest EPA estuarine crocodile management plan released last month, authorities are allowed to remove up to 50 problem crocodiles a year from the wild to be placed in captive crocodile facility. Last year seven were removed, compared with 12 the previous year. All crocodiles trapped south of the Boyne are removed from the wild. Satellite tracking of three large male crocodiles, between 3m and 4m long, shows the prehistoric creatures can swim up to 30km a day.

One relocated croc swam 400km in 20 days, displaying an impressive homing instinct by returning to within metres of its former territory on the other side of Cape York Peninsula in a single journey. [So much for all the good that relocating them does]


Sunday, February 22, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on the scandalous $500,000 office refit proposed for an incoming NSW government minister

How to protect the guilty and endanger the innocent

Criminals allowed to hide their past in Left-run Victoria

Violent criminals and sex offenders are being allowed to change their names by deed poll, helping them hide their pasts and reduce the risk of revenge attacks. Criminals and sex offenders not listed on a registry can pay $58.80 and change their name by deed poll. And while the worst sex offenders face name-changing restrictions, they can still apply to authorities to hide their identities.

The Adult Parole Board said 21 of 25 parolees who had applied for a new name were approved. But the State Government and police have refused to say how many registered sex criminals and prisoners in total have been given the green light for new identities. All three agencies have refused to identify the criminals granted new identities, saying it would breach confidentiality.

But the Sunday Herald Sun understands some criminals are listing fears of revenge attacks from vigilantes as the reason for wanting to change their names. Laws were toughened after it was discovered notorious pedophile Brian "Mr Baldy" Jones wanted to change his name to Shaun Paddick, in an insult to his victims, whose hair he cut. Frankston serial killer Paul Denyer also announced plans to change his name to "Paula".

Crime victims' advocates have slammed the process as a free ride and warned name-changing criminals could easily strike again. The revelations came amid concerns that a serial pedophile jailed this month could be out by October. Jamie Armstrong, 28, of Mt Duneed, pleaded guilty in Geelong County Court to 30 counts of sexually assaulting seven children under 16, and two counts of assault with intent to rape. Armstrong's victims were aged two to 11 and he told police he was always in danger of reoffending, the court heard. He had previously been placed on a community-based order and completed the sex offenders' program, after admitting to indecently assaulting a girl at a pool in 1999. He was sentenced this week to four years' jail with a minimum of 18 months. But having served 10 months on remand he could be out in October.

Anti-child abuse campaigner Hetty Johnston said child sex criminals should be given life sentences on their second offence and no sex offenders should be able to change their names. Parole Board spokesman David Provan said police were notified when criminals changed their names.


Frozen human egg system improved

THE first "frozen egg" baby born in Australia through a revolutionary technique will give single women and couples greater choice for having children later in life. Lucy was born last October to a Sydney couple, and the success is expected to spark huge interest in the technique.

Freezing has been relatively unsuccessful until now because human eggs are so fragile. It has grown out of a demand from mainly single women in their 30s who want to delay childbirth. The $10,000 process is also suitable for cancer patients who store eggs before radiation or chemotherapy, which often damage the reproductive system. The technique would also be used by women who have a family history of early menopause. Because of low success rates in the traditional method of slow egg freezing, women have had to take their chances by relying on IVF, sometimes leaving it too late.

Since July 2006, Sydney IVF has been testing the process, which boasts almost a 100 per cent success rate in freezing and thawing eggs. The IVF breakthrough works by snap-freezing the egg, which avoids ice crystals forming in the cell and damaging genetic material. Vitrification is used around the world to freeze embryos, but has never been successfully used in Australia for eggs.

Dr Kylie de Boer, general manager of Sydney IVF, said she expected numbers of women and couples wanting to freeze their eggs to soar. "Women want to have their eggs frozen for social reasons, such as they are not ready to have children, or for medical reasons," she said. "We get about 5-10 inquiries a month now for egg freezing for social reasons." Only 25 couples so far have used the process, which involves up to 10 eggs being collected and stored in liquid nitrogen vapour. The pregnancy rate is about 63 per cent.

Lucy's parents, who do not wish to be identified, used the process as part of their IVF treatment. Her mother was 37 when she had her eggs frozen. They were stored for six months before being fertilised and the embryo implanted. Now with a healthy girl, the 38-year-old mother said she would recommend it to other women. "My husband and I are so happy with our beautiful little girl," she said. "My pregnancy was textbook and the birth was a natural one, and occurred at full term. "We would love to have more children and will opt for IVF treatment once again."


Kevin Rudd isolated on emissions trading scheme

The Rudd Government is increasingly isolated on the emissions trading scheme, with business supporters demanding further concessions to mitigate its immediate impact and green groups and the Coalition intensifying their attacks. A day after the Government was forced to confirm publicly it was sticking by its plans to introduce an ETS in July next year, after cancelling an inquiry into the scheme, the Opposition accused the Government of being divided on the issue and the Business Council of Australia said more action was needed to reduce its impact on business during the economic crisis. Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt said indecision and internal division were behind Thursday's decision to dump a House of Representatives inquiry into the ETS.

The BCA, which gave guarded approval to Labor's plans last year, now says the Government has to find a way to minimise the initial cost of the scheme if it comes into effect in July next year. Policy director Maria Tarrant said the economic crisis meant "the Government has to think of a way to minimise the scheme's impact in the early years after its introduction on July 1 2010". "There are likely to be big questions as to whether companies will have the cash flow to buy the permits they need, or invest in the emission-reducing technologies they need at that time and still remain viable," Ms Tarrant said. "It could put many companies' ongoing operations at extreme risk."

With green criticism intensifying, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong yesterday warned environmentalists the ETS was their best chance to see an early reduction in Australian greenhouse gas emissions. Green groups have argued the scheme's lack of ambition and already generous industry compensation means it is fatally flawed. Senator Wong said: "We have a chance now to reduce Australia's emissions next year or, if we fail, to simply allow our emissions to grow. The most responsible thing to do, even in this economic environment, is to start the hard task of reducing our emissions right now."

Australia Institute executive director Richard Denniss and others have advanced the argument that an ETS means an individual's or state's efforts to voluntarily reduce emissions have no impact on the country's total level of greenhouse gas, and that a carbon tax would be a better answer. But Senator Wong rejected those arguments as well. "If you are serious about climate change a carbon tax is not the answer," Senator Wong told The Weekend Australian.

But the federal Coalition appears to be hardening in its opposition to the scheme. And the Australian Industry Group agrees the Government needs to "look at every option" to ameliorate the early costs, warning the effects of the economic crisis risk "fracturing any consensus around this issue".

Among options being canvassed by industry groups are a plan advocated by Professor Ross Garnaut for a low fixed price on carbon in the first two years of the scheme, offering trade-exposed industries all their permits for free in first few years, starting the scheme as a "dry run" without actually charging for permits and offering industries exemptions or holidays from the cost of the renewable energy target.

Coalition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb told Sky news yesterday the scheme was a "total failure". And Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said the global financial crisis had "amplified the negative effects of the emissions trading scheme many times over".

Executives from Virgin Blue also told the Senate fuel and energy committee yesterday they were "deeply concerned about the planned timing of the introduction" of the emissions trading scheme. "Even in the most benign circumstances, the (emissions trading scheme) is effectively a tax on investment and growth," said Virgin Blue general manager Simon Thorpe.

The Government is drafting its legislation. It says it intends to try to pass it through both houses of parliament by June, but most observers believe debate will continue later in the year. The Greens have said they are willing to negotiate with the Government over the legislation, but also believe the scheme as it stands is deeply flawed.


Weapons offences have jumped in Victoria

So much for the gun ban

Weapons offences in Victoria have doubled in the past decade. Almost 7000 offences involving guns, knives and other weapons, bombs and explosives were recorded last year. That is up from 6716 crimes detected in 2006-2007 and 3472 crimes in 1998-1999. Hundreds of Victorians were found to be illegally in possession of guns, including pistols, or ammunition, explosives and illegal fireworks.

The most recent figures available show 19 people were caught possessing, carrying or using unlicensed long-armed firearms such as rifles and 17 were caught using a firearm in a dangerous manner. People caught with a gun while prohibited from possessing a weapon numbered 172. A further 16 people were caught trying to take a weapon into court premises, 24 were caught either carrying or using a gun in a public place and 44 using or carrying a gun in a populous place. Eleven people carried a gun while drunk.

There has been a big rise in the number of people charged with arming themselves with pistols or handguns and 258 people were caught in possession of an unregistered handgun. Two people were charged with possessing body armour without approval, while 30 people were charged with selling a firearm to an unlicensed buyer.

Police recorded a clearance rate of 98.5 per cent, meaning they identified the person responsible for the most of the crimes. Police Association secretary Sen-Sgt Greg Davies said people were increasingly likely to turn to weapons if they had been abusing drugs or alcohol, rather than relying on their fists in a fight. "In years gone by you always had the drunken punch-up," he said. "But more and more people are prepared to arm themselves and use a weapon." Sen-Sgt Davies said this had contributed to a rise in serious injuries being sustained by young men and women who were attacked by people with weapons.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Government seizes babies

I would fervently hope that such a grave step as this is always well justified but there are plenty of cases in Australia and Britain where the justification has been poor so I believe that there should always be a hearing before a judge in open court immediately after such action is taken so that all sides of the matter can be heard and independently adjudicated. As it is, what happens seems more like a kangaroo court than anything else. And the report immediately below this suggests gross irresponsibility or stupidity on the part of the government officials concerned

Child protection workers in Western Australia last year removed 54 babies from their mothers before the infants were a month old. The infants were removed after concerns about the mothers' ability to care for a child were raised during pregnancy.

The Australian reported yesterday that the babies of some first-time parents, with no history of child neglect, had been taken directly from the maternity ward on the grounds that the parents might pose some future risk to their children. In one case, a welfare worker told a state ward, on the day she announced her pregnancy, that her baby would be taken into care.

The director-general of the WA Department of Child Protection, Terry Murphy, said workers would never "resile from taking a baby into care at birth when it is necessary for the protection of the child". The department removed 84 babies aged under a month in 2007, and the "almost 40 per cent decrease (in the number of babies taken, between 2007 and 2008) reflects the Department of Child Protection's strong focus in the past year on the early engagement and support of mothers", Mr Murphy said. He said the department worked with King Edward Memorial Hospital and Princess Margaret Children's Hospital to "bring parties together during the pregnancy to determine whether safety for the child can be achieved".

Child protection workers and hospital staff, plus drug and alcohol workers and mental health staff, talk to the mother and other family members early in the pregnancy.


Children in foster care of prostitute

What has happened in this particular case would seem to be in part the fault of government racism: The policy that black babies must not be given to white carers. They would rather that the kids be badly treated than abandon racial segregation. The standard mantra of child welfare agencies is that "We put the interests of the child first". What crap! They put their Leftist ideology first

Child protection authorities in Western Australia were warned last May that a foster carer of four children was working as a prostitute, gambling heavily and using her taxpayer-supplied vehicle to drive to work at a suburban brothel. But nine months later, the Department for Child Protection has not removed the four children, who still live in the woman's house with a male lodger, who sleeps in a queen-size bed in the living room. The woman's brother, who has convictions for serious criminal offences, also stayed at her house until a departmental officer told the woman he had to leave, The Weekend Australian has confirmed.

The case has emerged as a glaring example of flaws in Western Australia's Aboriginal child placement principle, which gives priority to placing indigenous children in state care with family or people from within the child's indigenous community. The policy has been adopted in all states and territories, but the Barnett Liberal Government has vowed to review the policy.

Last December, an Aboriginal corporation in NSW was stripped of federal and state funding after foster children in its care were deemed to be at serious risk. A review of the Redfern-based Aboriginal Children's Service found that many children were living in overcrowded homes across NSW, with foster parents neither registered nor trained.

The four Aboriginal children in Perth -- three girls aged nine, 11 and 13 and a boy of 2 1/2 -- cannot be identified because they are state wards. They were removed by DCP from their mother in October 2006, after a long series of domestic disputes involving the children's father. The department placed the children in the care of their maternal grandmother, but after a few months she could not cope. She drove the children to their natural mother's house and left them alone in the backyard while the mother was at work. A second placement was formalised early last year with the children's paternal ex-step-grandmother. The department provided her with a $34,000 eight-seater van to transport the children, plus her own two youngest sons. It also promised an upgrade to a five-bedroom state rental house, but the woman, six children and a male lodger still live in her three-bedroom house in an outer Perth suburb.

The Weekend Australian has obtained an affidavit, signed on Tuesday, by a family friend who said she became concerned about the children's welfare after the foster carer admitted to her that she was still working as a prostitute, despite receiving around $700 per week in foster care allowance. The friend, a former youth worker who is training to be a prison officer, said she told the children's case worker last May that the carer was regularly working in a brothel and leaving the children with other people. She was also concerned welfare payments for the four children were being used for gambling. Departmental officers visited the carer's house a week later.

Yesterday, DCP director-general Terry Murphy confirmed that a complaint last May was investigated. "It was found (the carer) had worked as a cleaner in a brothel before the children came into her care. She has not worked in that capacity since caring for the children." [In other words, the chump believes what he has been told by his officials -- and they wouldn't have a clue] He said a vehicle had been provided by the department, and it was in the process of screening the woman's male paying boarder. He dismissed the allegations, saying: "This appears to be a successful example of placing Aboriginal children with an Aboriginal relative carer."

The DCP relies heavily on relatives to act as foster, or kinship, carers of indigenous children taken into care. Of 1250 kinship carers in Western Australia caring for relatives' children, about 460 or 37 per cent are indigenous households. The state Government's review into indigenous child placement is due to report at the end of next month.

Mr Murphy said last week that the policy raised concerns as it encouraged workers to place Aboriginal children with immediate or extended family "even when that family itself may be struggling". He said case workers too often misunderstood the principles and attempted to place Aboriginal children with their immediate or extended family "when in fact the children would be better placed elsewhere".


Dangerous nervous Nellies

What the writer below says is perfectly correct but she omits to name the chief guilty parties: Grant-seeking university researchers who put out an unending stream of health scares that in the end promote skepticism about all mainstream medical advice. When everything you like is bad for you and everything unpleasant is good for you, nobody but obsessionals is going to take any notice of it. Medical journal editors need to take the lead and follow the conclusions of all epidemiological articles with a prominent warning saying: "WARNING: The conclusions of this article are speculative". Wakefield was, after all, a mainstream medical researcher. I personally would burn him at the stake for all the harm he has done in pursuit of his own selfish gain but then I would pulp a lot of medical journals too.

Living in a suburb with lots of white, middle-class, educated mothers may be putting your child's health at risk. In such salubrious surroundings can be found dangerous concentrations of vaccine-resisters. These are women who spend too many hours on wacky internet health sites and become convinced immunisation is a giant conspiracy. The educated mother who thinks she knows better than the overwhelming majority of the world's scientists and doctors partly explains why some of Sydney's richest suburbs have the state's lowest child immunisation rates.

It is hardly surprising that North Coast NSW, home to alternative life-stylers and the "natural" wellness set, should rate lowly on coverage. But it was astounding - at first - to see that Sydney's eastern, south-eastern and northern suburbs rate near, or at, the bottom of a list compiled by the Division of General Practice, based on Medicare figures for child immunisation rates. In the November 2008 quarter, Sydney's eastern suburbs - including the city, Vaucluse, Double Bay, Rose Bay and Kings Cross - were ranked last among the state's 34 divisions of general practice and last among 118 divisions nationally. Just above that lot was the Northern Rivers, then north Sydney, south-east Sydney and the Blue Mountains. A similar story emerged from data published in 2005 by the National Centre for Immunisation Research when Mosman had about the same child immunisation rate as Bellingen.

It is possible doctors in these establishment suburbs are too old to be computer-literate or too lazy to record immunisation data as they are meant to do, with consequent under-estimates of the coverage in their areas. Also, parts of the eastern suburbs, such as Kings Cross, have their share of poor and transient families. But as Ray Seidler, medical director of the Eastern Sydney Division of General Practice, told me, these areas are home to "an older demographic of mothers who are conscientious objectors".

Around the world, resistance to vaccination is strongest among the affluent and educated, leading Arthur Allen, author of the book Vaccine, a history of immunisation, to observe that "living in a place with a high percentage of PhDs is a risk factor for whooping cough".

Vaccine-resisters have a range of motivations. Some believe immunisation is unnatural. Others resent the nanny state telling them how to raise their children. Some distrust the medical establishment. But the movement got a big boost in the late 1990s from a bogus health scare that linked autism with a preservative, thimerosal, in the measles/mumps/rubella jab. At least 16 epidemiological studies have disproved the link. And the British doctor responsible for the scare, Andrew Wakefield, stands accused of having doctored the results of his study, according to an investigation by The Times published earlier this month. Wakefield's theory was based on 12 cases, and now even that evidence is questionable.

But for the vaccine-resisters, facts can't be allowed to get in the way of feeling. The sceptics have a lot going for them. For the last two decades medical consumers have rightly learned to question authority; the doctor is no longer god; and consumer choice has extended to patient treatment. Aided by the internet, anyone can bone up on their diseases and ask intelligent questions. And so they should - just as independent scientists should be properly funded to monitor a vaccination's side effects.

But these dummy mummies don't differentiate between fact and hocus-pocus; between a bona fide scientific study and pseudo science. Just as some people still think fluoride is dangerous, others cling to their anti-vaccine stand as a matter of faith, regardless of the evidence. They don't distinguish between the expert view of, say, the pediatrician Paul Offit, author of Autism's False Prophets, and co-inventor of a vaccine against rotavirus, a diarrheal disease that kills tens of thousands in poor countries; and the view of former Playmate of the Year and anti-vaccine campaigner Jenny McCarthy, who has an autistic son, and brings her partner, the actor Jim Carrey, on her rallies. Offit has had death threats; McCarthy has been on Oprah.

What is indisputable is that vaccines have saved countless lives. Smallpox has been eradicated, polio almost defeated, and diphtheria confined to pockets of poor countries. Children are mostly spared debilitating illnesses such as measles and mumps.

But 8000 children in NSW got whooping cough last year, starting with an outbreak on the North Coast, a big increase on previous years. Many were babies exposed to the virus in the months before they could be vaccinated. Babies cough and cough, go blue or red, some stop breathing and need oxygen. Tetanus is just a rusty nail away, and cases of measles are still recorded in Australia.

Ultimately it's selfish not to vaccinate your child. It's relying on everyone else to do so in order to maintain "herd" immunity, which means at least 90 per cent of the community needs to be vaccinated to protect the most vulnerable from disease. It's bad enough that ill-educated, chaotic, itinerant families fail to get their children immunised because they forget, don't know, or don't get round to it. But when smart parents deliberately desist, it's wicked. So intent on not being duped by the "medical establishment", they allow themselves to be duped instead by the likes of Jim Carrey, Jennifer McCarthy, and garbage science.


Rudd's failed pretence at being an intellectual

His only expertise is in Mandarin Chinese -- and it shows

By Michael Duffy

Being a successful prime minister is tough. Not only do you have to put in the hard work of running the joint, you need to write the self-justifying book afterwards, to counter the onslaught on your reputation from the ungrateful knaves and fools who replace you. This is the position in which John Howard now finds himself. His speech at the Menzies Research Centre on Thursday was the first salvo in a battle whose main advance will be the book he is writing.

It was, of course, done in response to Kevin Rudd's assault on capitalism, which has been bubbling for a few years but burst out recently in a baroque essay in The Monthly magazine. Anyone who's tried to read this will have been struck not just by its hubris and confusion, but by its hypocrisy. The Rudd family is the wealthiest to have occupied the Lodge, thanks to the success with which the Prime Minister's wife embraced the very values he is now denigrating. People notice these things. They're going to start asking what, if anything, Kevin Rudd really stands for.

One of his motives in the essay seems clear. He wants to create a story in which the Coalition badly damages the economy through excessive market freedom, and Labor saves it with government intervention. There's nothing wrong with telling stories: Howard used to do it all the time with references to the high interest rates that Australia suffered under Paul Keating.

Mind you, now that Howard is engaged in writing history rather than the grubby business of political survival, he'd probably rather forget this. On Thursday night he said: "I have always given the previous Labor government credit for implementing changes to our financial system and also tariff reform." Well, only if you were listening carefully. He did acknowledge it from time to time, but the great rhetorical battering ram he swung for many years was the image of Labor's unique incompetence where interest rates were concerned.

That image was false but effective, thanks to the repetition with which it was swung, and possibly it's this example that has emboldened Rudd to embark on his crusade against free markets. The problem is that, with all his references to Hayek and Keynes, he's talking to a much smaller and better educated audience than Howard was with his rubbish about interest rates. And that audience can tell that Rudd's arguments are embarrassingly incoherent.

It's no exaggeration to say The Monthly essay would not have received a pass mark in most undergraduate courses. Its fundamental problem is that the PM's portrayal of recent history, in particular the claim that markets were pretty much unfettered, is largely imaginary. It is completely imaginary when it comes to Australia, which under the Howard government experienced unprecedented levels of regulation and government spending.

Not the least strange thing about all this is that Rudd himself has often acknowledged the strength of the economy he inherited from Howard. And despite what Rudd would have us believe, it was comprehensively regulated. Take the banks, which sit at the heart of current events. Howard correctly noted on Thursday that his government "resisted pressure to relax the so-called four pillars policy whereby the four major trading banks were not allowed to merge with each other. Ironically, the argument used by many in the financial sector, wanting this policy changed, was that a change was needed to strengthen the relative position of Australian banks against banks in other parts of the world.

"Yet as everyone now knows, because our banks were stronger, better supervised and better managed than others, their relative position compared to other banks has improved significantly as a consequence of the financial events of recent months. There are only 15 banks in the world which now have a AAA credit rating. The four major Australian banks are among them. Given the size of our economy this is a remarkable tribute to Australia and her banking system. The four did not need to become two in order to survive in a hostile world."

What lies at the heart of Rudd's ramblings? One can't be sure, but The Monthly essay suggests he's mistaken the market truth that what goes up must come down with the Apocalypse. This is a serious case of category confusion. It's difficult to know whether it would be worse if he believes this or is just pretending. Is it panic or pretence?

Writing in The Australian Financial Review yesterday, Mark Latham called Rudd a practitioner of "zigzag economics" who tailors his rhetoric according to his audience. Referring to a speech in which Rudd previewed the ideas in The Monthly essay, Latham wrote: "It is rare for an Australian prime minister to talk this way about capitalism. Rudd's speech was perhaps the strongest attack on the ideals and purpose of private enterprise by a national leader since Ben Chifley's attempt to nationalise the banks in 1947."

If Kevin Rudd does believe what he's been saying, and it influences his policies even more, the future looks gloomy. We face the melancholy prospect that Australia's most recent three governments will come to resemble in their effects on the economy the pattern of rise and fall seen in some wealthy families. The first generation (Hawke-Keating) establishes the fortune. The second (Howard) consolidates it. And the third pisses it up against the wall.


Friday, February 20, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says that the stimulus bill is all debt and no stimulus

Black kids still being "stolen" (rescued from neglect)

I suppose the Leftist propagandists would prefer the kids to die

State welfare workers have begun removing the fifth generation of Aboriginal children from their parents, meaning some indigenous families have an 80-year history with child protection services. There are few signs the cycle will be broken, as more Aboriginal children are being separated from their parents than at any time in Australian history.

The Australian spoke yesterday to an Aboriginal woman whose daughter became the family's fifth generation to be raised by the state, when she was taken from her home in June 2007 and placed with white foster parents on the NSW central coast. Her mother was a state ward; so too were her grandparents, her great-grandmother and her great-great-grandmother. The NSW Department of Community Services removed the girl after an older sister, aged 14, tried to hang herself.

The girls' mother told The Australian: "After the Stolen Generation report, they said it would never happen again but it's happening. You don't want to tell child welfare that you need help, because they will come and take your children. "My daughter was seven years old when they came for her. My husband fell down on his knees on the lawn. She was screaming. The last memory I have is of her hand against the glass, (and her) saying, 'Please let me stay'."

The mother, who was born in 1967, was left on a railway line when she was three days old. She was sent to live with white foster parents until she ran away at the age of 12. When caught, she went to a Brisbane institution known as Wilson, where she stayed until she was 18. Her mother was raised at the Parramatta Girls' Home in Sydney in the 1950s. Her father was born in 1940 on the Woorabinda mission, which was established inland of Rockhampton, in central Queensland, in 1927. At the age of eight, he was taken by Children's Services, Queensland (now the Department of Child Safety) to live at the Nudgee orphanage in Brisbane's north. His mother was also a state ward, taken into servitude on Palm Island at 15. His grandmother was raised at Woorabinda, under the care of the Aboriginal Commissioner.

The Australian revealed last year there were between six and 10 times as many Aboriginal children in state care today than at the height of the Stolen Generations era. The most recent data, from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, shows 9074 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care. The rate of Aboriginal children in care is 41.3 per 1000 indigenous children nationwide, while in NSW the rate is 66.3 per 1000. The national figure is nine times the rate for other children.

Most of the Aboriginal children in care have been removed from their parents because of neglect. There is no data on the number of indigenous children removed from parents who were state wards, or the offspring of state wards, but a report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 2006 said Aboriginal parents separated from their natural families were more likely to abuse alcohol, and have mental health problems, which could lead to the removal of children. [i.e. Parents with dysfunctional traits tend to pass on those traits to their children via normal genetic inheritance]

The mother whose daughter was removed last June asked: "How can DOCS continue to take children away from their families when the grounds for doing so are not made clear? We don't do drugs, drink or beat our children. We just asked for help."


"Temporary" visas 'may cost local-born their jobs'

Australia's record intake of temporary skilled migrants during the economic downturn could boost the number of Australian-born unemployed, as research suggests it is being used as a "back door" to permanent entry by low-wage workers. The claim comes from Monash University population expert Bob Birrell, who said more of Australia's permanent skilled migrants were being sourced from the 457 visa program, which was drawing on workers from low-wage countries in increasing numbers.

"People at the lower end of the spectrum are becoming permanent residents," Professor Birrell said. "They're vulnerable to exploitation because the employer knows they're not going to quibble with what he's offering them because they're desperate to get the permanent resident nomination."

As the global recession worsens, Professor Birrell said it was time for the Rudd Government to rethink its record high migration intake. He said the tough economic climate would give employers added incentives to employ or retain cheap overseas labour in the place of local workers. Professor Birrell, a long-time critic of a high migration quota, said the research, which was co-authored by Ernest Healy and 457 visa expert Bob Kinnaird, was in response to Immigration Minister Chris Evans's decision in December to give priority to migrants with a job or with critically needed skills. That decision was seen as an alternative to cutting the migrant quota, an option flagged by Kevin Rudd last year in response to the worsening economic conditions.

Last May, Senator Evans announced an increase in the permanent migration program of 37,500. The increase brought the total number of skilled migrants to 133,500, plus 56,500 family reunion places and 13,500 humanitarian visas. Overall, Australia is taking more than 200,000 new migrants a year. In 2007-08, about 58,050 migrants came in under the 457 program, a figure that excludes their family members.

Professor Birrell said, in that year, about 90 per cent of the 17,760 permanent migrants who were sponsored by an employer onshore were former 457 visa holders. Holders of 457 visas are subject to less stringent language requirements and there is no labour market testing, meaning employers do not have to demonstrate that the position cannot be filled locally. A minimum salary level of $43,440 applies for most 457 visa workers.

In a trend that has alarmed unions, who fear the 457 program is being exploited by business to undercut wages, the program is increasingly sourcing workers from the developing world. In 2007-08, 8250 Indian workers came in under the program, compared with 2880 in 2004-05. Over the same period, the number of Filipino workers jumped from 600 to 5120, and the number of Chinese workers rose from 930 to 3360.

A spokesman for Senator Evans said yesterday the 457 program had sharply declined amid worsening financial conditions. "Figures show that application rates for subclass 457 visas in January 2009 are now 30per cent lower than in September 2008, when the economic downturn struck," the spokesman said. Furthermore, plans to introduce market rates for 457 workers would effectively make them a more expensive option, the spokesman said. A cut in next year's migration program was also likely, he added.


Now some killjoys even want to ban glowsticks

Even the Brits have not gone this far, I gather. First it was fireworks, then sparklers and now glowsticks. What about banning twisty globes too? They contain that fearsome mercury pollutant. Somebody needs to tell these attention-seekers that EVERYTHING can be dangerous. Even drinking too much water can kill you. Do we want official regulations to prevent excess water drinking?

Campbelltown Council is in danger of becoming the "fun police" if glow sticks are banned from all future council events, Mayor Russell Matheson said. Councillors are considering a proposal to ban the sale of glow sticks at council-organised events following an incident at December's Christmas Carols at Campbelltown Arts Centre. Cr Mollie Thomas, who proposed the ban, said a child needed to be taken to hospital when liquid from a broken glow stick came into contact with the child's eyes. The council confirmed St John Ambulance staff needed to treat "some attendees" at the carols after glow stick liquid came in contact with their skin. There were no details on the ages of the children.

The proposed glow stick ban follows the council ceasing its Christmas lights competition in 2005 and banning Home Ice Cream vans from the area in 2007. Both decisions followed concern over public liability issues.

Cr Matheson said the council needed to determine if the glow sticks sold at the event were faulty before a blanket ban of the item was considered. "Hopefully it's just a one-off incident, but we've gone to Consumer Affairs to see if it's a safe product," he said. "Also it's a bit hard to police. "We don't want to become the glow stick police. "We don't want to over-react to things. If it's a safe product it should be allowed to be used."

But Cr Thomas said the council had to ensure there were no problems with glow sticks in the future. "The recommendation is council should not have them at council events right across the board," she said. "Because just one child is one too many (if they are hurt). A lot of parents don't realise the dangers, I know we didn't."

The council's business services director Michael Sewell confirmed there were a small number of incidents at the carols event. "There were reported cases of liquid from the glow sticks coming into contact with the skin of some of the attendees, who were then attended to by St John's staff on site," he said. Mr Sewell will contact Sunrise Rotary, who sold the glow sticks, in regard to the product being referred to Consumer Affairs.


Australian "Letter of the Year" for 2008

This is an actual letter sent to the then DFAT Minster, The Hon Alexander Downer and the then Immigration, The Hon Minister Amanda Vanstone. Please excuse the language contained within, but I suspect the author was somewhat upset? I'll let you decide!

Dear Mr. Minister,

I'm in the process of renewing my passport, and still cannot believe this. How is it that K-Mart has my address and telephone number, and knows that I bought a Television Set and Golf Clubs from them back in 1997, and yet, the Federal Government is still asking me where I was born and on what date.

For Christ sakes, do you guys do this by hand? My birth date you have in my Medicare information, and it is on all the income tax forms I've filed for the past 40 years. It is on my driver's licence, on the last eight passports I've ever had, on all those stupid customs declaration forms I've had to fill out before being allowed off the planes over the last 30 years, and all those insufferable census forms that I've filled out every 5 years since 1966.

Also..would somebody please take note, once and for all, that my mother's name is Audrey, my Father's name is Jack, and I'd be absolutely f*cking astounded if that ever changed between now and when I drop dead!!!... SH*T!

I apologize, Mr. Minister. But I'm really pissed off this morning. Between you an' me, I've had enough of all this bullshit! You send the application to my house, then you ask me for my f*cking address!! What the hell is going on with your mob? Have you got a gang of mindless Neanderthal assholes workin' there ??

And another thing, look at my damn picture. Do I look like Bin Laden? I can't even grow a beard for God's sakes. I just want to go to New Zealand and see my new granddaughter. (Yes, my son interbred with a Kiwi girl). And would someone please tell me, why would you give a sh*t whether I plan on visiting a farm in the next 15 days? If I ever got the urge to do something weird to a sheep or a horse, believe you me, I'd sure as hell not want to tell anyone!

Well, I have to go now, 'cause I have to go to the other end of the city, and get another f*cking copy of my birth certificate, and to part with another $80 for the privilege of accessing MY OWN INFORMATION!

Would it be so complicated to have all the services in the same spot, to assist in the issuance of a new passport on the same day?? Nooooo... that'd be too f*cking easy and makes far too much sense. You would much prefer to have us running all over the place like chickens with our f*cking heads cut off, and then having to find some high society wanker to confirm that it's really me in the goddamn photo! You know the photo..the one where we're not allowed to smile?! f*cking morons

Signed - An Irate Australian Citizen.

P.S Remember what I said above about the picture, and getting someone in high-society to confirm that it's me? Well, my family has been in this country since before 1850! In 1856, one of my forefathers took up arms with Peter Lalor. (You do remember the Eureka Stockade!!) I have also served in both the CMF and regular Army something over 30 years (I went to Vietnam in 1967), and still have high security clearances. I'm also a personal friend of the president of the RSL.. and Lt General Peter Cosgrove sends me a Christmas card each year.

However, your rules require that I have to get someone 'important' to verify who I am; You know.. someone like my doctor; WHO WAS BORN AND RAISED IN F*CKING PAKISTAN!!!......a country where they either assassinate or hang their ex-Prime Ministers, and are suspended from the Commonwealth for not having the 'right sort of government.'

You are all F*cking idiots


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Indians under attack in Melbourne

Strange that the police say nothing about the attackers? Not really. Past reports indicate that the attackers are mainly Africans. And we mustn't under any circumstances let anybody know how dangerous Africans can be, must we?

Indian students will be taught not to speak loudly in their native tongue or display signs of wealth such as iPods when travelling on trains at night, as part of a strategy to crack down on violent robberies. Robberies in Melbourne's western suburbs jumped by 27 per cent last financial year. Police estimated almost a third of victims were of Indian appearance. A special police group has been formed to combat the robberies amid fears that some are racially motivated and that Indian international students are soft targets because they carry iPods and laptops on trains late at night.

The Federation of Indian Students of Australia says Melbourne, which has about 33,000 Indian international students, may no longer be seen as a safe destination.

Inspector Scott Mahony, of Brimbank police, said it was crucial to stop Indian students becoming victims and address their mistrust of police. "They need to make sure they walk through a well-lit route, even if it might be longer, and they are not openly displaying signs of wealth with iPods and phones, and not talking loudly in their native language," Inspector Mahony said. " We do believe there are some where the victim is targeted because of Indian appearance."

Dayajot Singh, who helped organise a protest last year over attacks on Indians, said Indian students should be taught crime prevention as part of their university induction course. "They should be taught that if you go on public transport in this country, people don't talk loudly, they talk in a low voice. If you talk loudly it could be taken as violent behaviour. It's different cultural behaviour - speaking loudly to each other is not taken offence to in India." He said an important message was not to carry valuables on trains at night.

Federation of Indian Students of Australia president Raman Vaid said most students carried valuables. "It's not being told to other communities or other students, 'Don't speak loudly in your native tongue, don't carry laptops'," he said. Mr Vaid said racist attacks gave Indian students a bad impression and could encourage them to study in other states or countries.

The Police Indian Western Reference Group was formed after 100 Indian men marched on Sunshine police station in December to protest against what they said was a poor response to the attacks. Mr Singh said police had since met representatives of the Indian community and police behaviour had improved.

Police were frustrated that the crime prevention message did not appear to be getting through. "We need to re-examine what we are doing to find out why it's not working," Inspector Mahony said.

Ricky Ahluwalia told The Age he was knocked unconscious and robbed last year while walking to his Albion home from the station at night. "There is a lot of racism. My friends, they have always had the same problems. It only happens with Indians, no Asians, no other people." Other attacks on Indians include the stabbing of taxi driver Jalvinder Singh last year and the bashing of former Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal.

Victoria University academic Dr Zhongjun Cao was bashed to death in Footscray last year. He was not Indian, but the court heard two gang members suggested they go out "curry bashing". Four members later bashed and robbed a second man, Binesh Mosaheb, a Mauritian, believing he was Indian.

Last month, communications and peer support teams, made up of police and Indian community representatives, were set up. Inspector Mahony said the peer support team would provide support to Indian victims of crime and explain cultural differences. "Some people simply had no concept of the meaning of bail and how we can arrest an offender on a robbery charge and they can be back on the street the next day," he said. "The perception was that offenders get away with crime."

Indian students had raised concerns police had not responded immediately to victims' calls or notified them when arrests were made. "There is a perception we don't care, and we have to do a lot of work around changing that perception," he said. Robberies in the western suburbs, including Brimbank, Hobsons Bay, Maribyrnong, Melton and Wyndham, jumped from 417 in 2006-07 to 530 in 2007-2008.


Greenies lying about their responsibility for the big fires

One of the biggest furphies in the supercharged debate in the wake of Victoria's bushfires is the claim by green groups that they are great supporters of hazard reduction burning. Also known as prescribed burning, this scientific regime creates a mosaic of lightly burned land at regular intervals of five to seven years, thus reducing surface fuel loads by varying amounts within the mosaic. This reduction of fuel loads is expensive, but Australia's pre-eminent bushfire researchers, such as the CSIRO's Phil Cheney and Monash University's David Packam, say it has been proven to reduce the power and intensity of fire. Every bushfire inquiry since the 1939 Stretton royal commission has recommended increased prescribed burning to mitigate the effects of inevitable wildfire.

It is a matter of public record that green groups have long opposed such systematic prescribed burning, as is evident in their submissions to bushfire inquiries from as far back as 1992. They complain of a threat to biodiversity, including to fungi, from "frequent burning" regimes and urge resources be spent on water bombers and early detection, as well as on stopping climate change - good luck with that.

Yet last week, Jonathan La Nauze of Friends of the Earth, Melbourne, in a letter to this newspaper claimed: ".not one Australian environmental organisation is opposed to prescribed burning . Environment groups are engaged in a sophisticated debate about where and how prescribed burning can be most effective." Yes, it's sophisticated, all right. It just depends how you define "prescribed burning".

On the other side of the country, one Peter Robertson, the West Australian co-ordinator of the Wilderness Society, was singing from a different song sheet. His letter last week to The West Australian stated: "Experience and risk analysis show that repeatedly burning tens of thousands of hectares of remote bushland and forest will do little to address the threat of bushfires to human communities . It would be a huge mistake if the community was led to believe that a massive, expensive and environmentally destructive prescribed burning program was going to protect them when it could make matters worse." Robertson is no lone ranger among greens in opposition to prescribed burning.

The WA Forest Alliance, for instance, lodged a submission to the NSW parliamentary inquiry into the 2001-02 bushfires, claiming: "Frequent fires have a disastrous effect on many species of flora and fauna and their habitat structure." WWF Australia's submission claimed: "Inappropriate fire hazard regimes can damage biodiversity leading to the loss of native species, communities and ecosystems."

The NSW Greens state on their website as part of their bushfire risk management policy: "There is an urgent need to correct the common misconception that responsible fire management always involves burning or clearing to reduce moderate and high fuel loads."

In 2003, lightning strikes in fuel-rich national parks in NSW and the ACT sparked bushfires which swept into Canberra, killing four people. Days later, the NSW Nature Conservation Council's then chairman, Rob Pallin, described calls for increased prescribed burning as "futile" and a "knee-jerk reaction". "People who claim that hazard reduction burning is a cure-all for bushfire risk are either fooling themselves or deliberately trying to fool the public." It is another clever tactic of those who oppose broadscale prescribed burning to claim that it is not a "cure-all" for bushfire risk. No one has ever claimed it is.

As Cheney repeatedly has said, wildfires will occur, but prescribed burning reduces the intensity of a fire burning "under any set of meteorological conditions", and it reduces the spread of the fire, allowing firefighters to construct effective control lines. And yet there have been recent moves to have controlled burning listed as a "key threatening process" under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Such a submission has reportedly been received by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee. In NSW, already, the Department of Environment and Conservation has listed "too frequent fire" as a "key threatening process to biodiversity".

But the real threatening process is the holocaust we have just seen in Victoria. Last week angry fire survivors in Victoria pointed the finger at local authorities who prevented clearing of vegetation. At a public meeting in Arthurs Creek, Warwick Spooner, who lost his mother and brother in the Strathewen fire, stood up criticise the Nillumbik council. "We've lost two people in my family because you dickheads won't cut trees down." Then of course, there is Liam Sheahan, the Reedy Creek home owner whose house is the only one in a two-kilometre area which survived the fires. In 2004 he was fined $50,000 for removing 247 trees around his hilltop house to protect it from fire. His two-year court battle against the Mitchell Shire Council cost him $50,000 in legal fees.

It is a rich irony that Slidders Lawyers last week launched a class action on behalf of fire victims at Kinglake, against the Singapore-owned electricity company SP AusNet, alleging the fire was caused by a fallen power line. After all, it was only in 2001 that Transgrid bulldozed a 60-metre wide firebreak under its high-voltage lines in the Snowy Mountains. For that it was prosecuted by four government agencies, blasted for "environmental vandalism" by the then NSW premier Bob Carr, and fined $500,000.

Two years later, during the disastrous firestorm that engulfed the mountains, the offending firebreak became the only safe haven for kangaroos and workers constructing a fire trail. The sad truth of such holocausts is that the environmental toll ends up worse than the most vigorous prescribed burning regime ever could be.

Victoria's bushfires have spewed millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - more than a third of Australia's entire output for a year, according to Sydney University's Professor Mark Adams. No doubt the royal commission will recommend, like previous inquiries, that prescribed burning should be increased. After so many deaths will anyone listen this time?


Rudd has stretched the facts: Howard

John Howard has accused Kevin Rudd of "stretching the facts" of the global financial crisis in an unsustainable economic argument to score "a base political point". In his first response to the Prime Minister's extended attack on extreme capitalism, Wall Street greed, neo-liberals, free marketeers and the Howard years, Mr Howard says the global crisis is not the result of a neo-liberal failure. "Our current predicament is not the result of some malign economic philosophy having held total sway for the past 30 years," the former Liberal prime minister says in a speech to be delivered in Melbourne tonight.

"We all face a very difficult economic climate. There will be legitimate differences in our responses, based on different philosophies. Nothing, however, will be achieved by stretching the facts to serve an unsustainable economic proposition, designed to score a base political point." Mr Howard also argues that far from needing further regulation, the Australian banking system's prudential and regulatory system has kept domestic banks strong -- a direct result of sensible market forces.

Early this month, Mr Rudd wrote an essay of more than 7000 words arguing that capitalism was "cannibalising itself" and that the free-market governments of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George W. Bush and Mr Howard had contributed to the worst global financial crisis in 75 years. "The time has come, off the back of the current crisis, to proclaim that the great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30years has failed, that the emperor has no clothes," he wrote in The Monthly. Targeting the Liberal Party and the economic policies of the Howard government, which he said had "not served Australia well in preparing for the current crisis", Mr Rudd argued that regulators had failed to stop extreme capitalism.

But in the inaugural Howard lecture for the Menzies Research Centre in Melbourne tonight, Mr Howard will say Mr Rudd's arguments are contradictory and implausible and ignore similar policies pursued by US Democratic presidents and British Labour prime ministers. Mr Howard says that if there has been a prevailing neo-liberal view in the past 30 years "that philosophy, to a greater or lesser extent, has beguiled both sides of the political divide in many countries".

He argues that instead of being a failure, the systems of free trade and competitive capitalism have succeeded. "In the past 30 years, the freer functioning of markets inherently involved in the globalisation process has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Competitive capitalism has been integral to this historic development. So far from failing, it has succeeded," he says.

"I have watched with fascination the contradictions flowing from senior government figures as they deal with current economic challenges. They deserve their rhetorical dilemma. They cannot have it both ways. "It is not plausible for the Rudd Government to argue on the one hand that Australia has entered the financial crisis in better shape than just about any other nation, and yet declare my government guilty of the extreme neo-liberalism which has allegedly brought about the crisis. "Both positions cannot be right."

Mr Howard says Julia Gillard's presentation at the World Economic Forum in Davos "declared her pride in the well-regulated Australian banking system, the great strength of the Australian economy, and the fact that our nation entered these difficult economic times in better shape than others". "The strength of the Australian banking system, of which the Deputy Prime Minister is so proud, is a direct result of a sensible balance between market forces and prudential regulation in Australia which was both reaffirmed and modernised by the Wallis Financial Inquiry's recommendations adopted by my government not long after it came to office," he says.

In the past 30 years "some regulation has failed and some have not been enforced". "In some instances, governments have not intervened enough. In others, such as through Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae in relation to the spread of sub-prime mortgages, governments, their agencies and legislators have intervened too much."

SOURCE. There is another response to Rudd's attack on capitalism: here

Private sector rescues problem students

Violent, out-of-control students as young as four are fuelling the growth of a private school sector catering for pupils the public system doesn't want. With more than 55,000 suspensions handed out to state school students last financial year - a jump of more than 20 per cent in two years - Independent Schools Queensland acting executive director David Robertson said the "disengaged and at-risk" school sector was now a growth industry. He said four private schools already catered for problem students in Queensland's southeast, with a fifth to open at Deception Bay later this year. Two more are proposed at Logan and Springfield.

The Toogoolawa School, built for secondary school students by Queensland-based millionaire property developer John Fitzgerald at Ormeau, south of Brisbane, in 1998, has opened a primary school for the increasing numbers of younger students being excluded from the mainstream system.

Principal Gerry Moloney said his students' violence and anger often stemmed from bad home and family situations, and once they were given respect, proper time and appropriate individualised academic goals, their behaviour and attitudes turned around. He said the school recently enrolled a Prep-year student, facing expulsion, who was referred to him by a mother who didn't know what else to do. Toogoolawa students have often been through heart-breaking circumstances, with some housed in more than 40 foster homes, he said. Mr Moloney said they were able to turn more than 90 per cent of their students' behaviour around within six to 12 months.

An Education Queensland spokeswoman said the "growth in the numbers of school disciplinary suspensions" was evidence it was enforcing higher behaviour standards. This was "to ensure the best quality outcomes for all state school students without the need to resort to more serious disciplinary actions of an exclusion or cancellation of enrolment", she said. But exclusions - the start of the expulsion process - also have risen over the past three financial years. The EQ spokeswoman said expulsion figures were unavailable because they were collected on a school and district basis. In the past financial year 55,302 suspensions were handed out - with multiple suspensions recorded by some students - and 866 exclusion processes were initiated. In 2005 to 2006, 43,929 suspensions were ordered and 777 exclusion processes initiated.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Australian householders to be charged for each flush of toilet

The latest Greenie brainwave to avoid building dams. Much of Northern Australia is experiencing severe floods so "drought" is not the problem. Catching and distributing the water is where governments have been failing -- due to Greenie pressure. With the huge amount of "stimulus" money available for infrastructure, it is a pity that there are no plans for a big North/South water pipeline. But the Greenies would oppose that too, of course

HOUSEHOLDERS would be charged for each flush under a radical new toilet tax designed to help beat the drought. The scheme would replace the current system, which sees sewage charges based on a home's value - not its waste water output. CSIRO Policy and Economic Research Unit member Jim McColl and Adelaide University Water Management Professor Mike Young plan to promote the move to state and federal politicians and experts across the country. "It would encourage people to reduce their sewage output by taking shorter showers,recycling washing machine water or connecting rainwater tanks to internal plumbingto reduce their charges,''Professor Young said. "Some people may go as far as not flushing their toilet as often because the less sewage you produce, the less sewage rate you pay.''

Professor Young said sewer pricing needed to be addressed as part of the response to the water crisis. "People have been frightened to talk about sewage because it is yucky stuff, but it is critically important to address it, as part of the whole water cycle,'' he said. "We are looking at reforming the way sewage is priced and this plan will drive interest in the different ways water is used throughout Australia.''

The reform would see the abolition of the property-based charge with one based on a pay-as-you-go rate and a small fixed annual fee to cover the cost of meter readings and pipeline maintenance, Professor Young said. The pay-as-you-go rate would provide financial savings for those who reduce their waste water output.

Professor Young and Mr McColl will promote the plan nationally through their Droplet, a newsletter whose 6000 subscribers include state and federal politicians, water policy specialists and economists around the country. Professor Young said a sewage pricing plan, like the one proposed, was already used in the US. "In places like the City of Bellaire, Texas (a virtual suburb of Houston), they do it and the system seems to work,'' he said.

"As nearly all of (the homes in) mainland Australia's cities and towns already have water meters, introduction of a volumetric charge, such as that used in the City of Bellaire, would not be difficult to implement.'' Mr McColl said the plan had to be viewed in the context of "the crucial issues surrounding water resources'' in Australia. "We should be prepared for the (drought) situation we are going through now to occur again, as well as the potential impact of climate change, so we have to act now for the future,'' he said.


Floods hit NSW, Queensland and WA while boy drowns in Darwin

So much for the "drought" Greenies keep talking about. But reality has never been important to Greenies. They live in a world of fantasy and superstition

EVEN while firefighters are still battling bush infernos in scorched Victoria huge amounts of Australia are under floodwaters. Rains have eased, but more than 4000 people remain isolated by flood waters in parts of northern New South Wales, the State Emergency Service (SES) says. Heavy rains falling since Friday have soaked large parts of the state between Bourke and Sydney, but began easing last night, SES director general Murray Kear said.

"We've got about 4,000 people still isolated along the Bellinger River at the communities of Bellingen, Darkwood and Thora,'' Mr Kear said. "Those communities are isolated by the Bellinger River, which we are monitoring and has showed a slight lowering. "There have been no signs of an increase overnight, with no further rain, and the river is steady at about 5.3m currently.'' The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts a further 100mm of rain in the area today, but Mr Kear said satellite images showed the rain falling over the Pacific Ocean.

At Bourke in the state's central north, where a natural disaster zone has been declared, 200mm of rain has fallen in the past few days, equivalent to two-thirds of the city's annual rainfall. Between Bourke and Sydney and stretching to the coast, the SES has received more than 2000 calls for assistance since Friday. "We've conducted nine flood rescues across the north coast - people stranded in vehicles, et cetera,'' Mr Kear said. Last night and early today, the SES received 100 calls for help in the greater Sydney area from people beset by water inundation.

In far North Queensland flooded Gulf of Carpentaria communities and properties have been cut off for six weeks and face another six weeks in isolation, The Courier-Mail reports. As cooped-up residents go stir crazy from a month of isolation and as emergency fodder drops begin, there have been reports of feral pigs and dingoes feasting on the carcasses of dead cattle and snakes taking refuge in and around homes. "We found an olive green python skin about 12ft long (3.6m) in my craft room," Burke Shire mayor Annie Clarke, of Brinawa Station, said yesterday. "And our highest dry ground has been under the house where there's a fair few brown snakes. The browns tend to make you lift your skirts and go like hell.

Premier Anna Bligh said yesterday the Croydon-Normanton flood zone, the Norman, Flinders and Cloncurry river lower reaches would be the priority for $3m worth of helicopter drops.

In Western Australia's Pilbara region two national parks have been closed and mining activity disrupted after heavy rainfall. The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) has closed all roads in the Millstream-Chichester National Park and all gravel roads in the Karijini National Park, PerthNow reports. Falls of up to 250mm caused widespread flooding in creeks and rivers in the Pilbara last night. Severe flooding in rivers and creeks at Millstream had resulted and water levels were set to rise in the next few days as heavy rain was forecast to continue. At Karijini, the park was closed with gorges at risk of flash flooding and landslides.

Rio Tinto Ltd said today that its Pilbara iron ore operations were being impeded by heavy rains and high winds, and it had evacuated stranded staff in the region by helicopter. And the Chinese operator of a Pilbara mine admitted today that workers had ridden on a grader to escape floodwaters but denied union claims it had put them at risk.

In the Northern Territory a swollen creek claimed the life of 13-year-old Daniel Browne yesterday despite the heroic effort of three mates to save him. Andrew Demetriou, Tiernan Anderson and Morgan Wise - all 15-year-olds - were the first to jump in and try and save Browne after his foot got tangled on rope and he drowned in the swollen Rapid Creek in Darwin's northern suburbs. The boys said they could not touch the bottom and that the 3m-deep water was fast-flowing. "It was so wet, wild and running quite fast," Morgan said.


Australian steel chief sounds job-loss alarm over proposed Warmist scheme

AUSTRALIA'S second-biggest steelmaker says the Rudd Government's emissions trading scheme is likely to cause job losses and force new investments offshore. Onesteel chief executive Geoff Plummer said, that even though the Government had tried to address the industry's concerns, his company "cannot support the carbon pollution reduction scheme based on its current design". "We understand the Government's intentions, but the practical effect of the scheme as it stands is that we will bear a cost not borne by our competitors," he said. "We would be the only steelmakers in the world to have these costs and that would put us at a material disadvantage."

Onesteel employs 10,000 people and is a major employer in the Newcastle and Whyalla regions.

Mr Plummer said the carbon pollution reduction scheme, as it stood, was likely to lead to job losses in the steel industry. The industry is collapsing globally as construction slumps during the economic crisis, a situation Mr Plummer said made the implementation of the scheme at this time even more difficult. "In the current economic environment there is an increased sensitivity around price and competitive positioning," he said. "We are finding it difficult enough at the moment. Since November, we have been forced to reduce our workforce, in terms of direct and indirect employees, by 650."

Onesteel said there was still uncertainty about the level of special assistance it would qualify for under the Government's proposed compensation for emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries. It said it was likely its integrated iron and steel making would initially qualify to receive 90 per cent of its necessary emission permits for free, while electric arc furnace operations would qualify for 60 per cent free permits.

Mr Plummer said Australian steel operations were among the most efficient in the world. If the carbon pollution reduction scheme boosted production from less efficient operations overseas, it could actually increase global emissions. He said his company would continue talks with the Government about possible changes to the emissions trading scheme, but had been forced to deliver a view about its impact as part of its first-half results were reported yesterday.

Industry concerns about the emissions trading scheme intensified during the summer as the economic conditions worsened. The Rudd Government is drafting legislation for its proposed scheme, which it hopes will pass the Senate by June. It argues that revenue from the scheme has been fully committed to its proposed compensation funds, leaving little room to increase free permits to industry.


Leading universities trash the plan for a vast expansion of higher education

The envious bitch who wrote the plan seems to have had no capacity for any thought beyond kneejerk Leftist responses and no idea of all that her proposals would lead to

The Group of Eight has savaged the Bradley review, describing it as a "road map to mediocrity", foolish and deeply flawed, in a confrontation likely to fuel political tensions ahead of the federal Government's promised education overhaul. The Government is formulating a response to the Bradley review in a fiscal climate dramatically altered from that in which the review was commissioned, and Education Minister Julia Gillard met the Go8 yesterday as part of her consultations with the sector. The group's response to the Bradley review has hardened this past month.

On Monday evening, University of NSW vice-chancellor Fred Hilmer warned the Government not to accept the review as a whole, saying it was not properly thought through and costed, and could not deliver dramatic increases in quality and output. He told the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney that he and "many of my colleagues" were troubled by the review's lack of a clear vision. He said the review did "not clearly acknowledge the fundamentally important principles of excellence, differentiation of mission and the importance of auniversity education for its own sake". "There is little recognition in the Bradley report of the special and key role played by research intensive, internationally well-ranked institutions."

The Go8 bristled at comments by Denise Bradley, former vice-chancellor of the University of South Australia, which it believes reflect a "hidden agenda" to "de-concentrate" research. Go8 vice-chancellors were fearful before the release of the Bradley review, in late December, that the hostility its chairwoman was believed to harbour against the research elite might influence her recommendations. The group decided to air its concerns, published today in the HES, after Professor Bradley revealed to a recent Australian Technology Network conference that her review had stressed the teaching and research nexus to counter an "extreme position" on research concentration.

Professor Bradley told the ATN conference: "I am aware of the arguments about the strategic importance of greater concentration of internationally competitive research performance, but I think that there are good national reasons for us to adopt a model which continues to encourage some spread across institutions." She argued against "too much concentration of research capacity in too small a number of what will inevitably be capital city institutions".

The Go8, which argued forcefully for research concentration to meet global challenges in a paper released before the Bradley report, slams the findings of her panel today. "What is presented as a tightening of criteria for university status, based on the mythical 'teaching-research nexus', could well loosen expectations of research quality and further dissipate the nation's research investment," argues the group's executive director Michael Gallagher. "The Bradley report reflects a parochial and complacent view in the context of aggressive concentration of research investment in many other countries."

But universities outside theGo8 sprang to Bradley's defence. In a direct response to Professor Hilmer's criticism, ATN director Vicki Thomson said: "We think that it is unfortunate that the Bradley review is being picked apart and that might diminish the opportunity for significant reform." The ATN and the Innovative Research Universities met MsGillard in Melbourne on Monday as part of the consultation process.

Representing the ATN, University of Technology, Sydney, vice-chancellor Ross Milbourne said the Bradley review was the best he had seen on the sector. He said its vision was to create a world-class university system. "We need a great university system, not one or two great universities," Professor Milbourne said.

Ms Gillard has finished her round of consultations and the HES understands that bureaucrats have been given two weeks to consolidate the sector's views for her consideration.

In his article for the HES, Mr Gallagher does not limit his criticisms to the research agenda. He asserts the Bradley report's "vision for the long-term tertiary education system is confused; it fails to offer incentives for diversification, either through competition or governmental strategies; and its financing model will not sustain quality higher education and university research".

The Go8's tough stand against Professor Bradley has been echoed by University of Melbourne professorial fellow Vin Massaro, who points out that the review's targets for enrolment growth would involve producing an extra 544,000 graduates by 2020, housed in an additional 20universities. "Assuming that the Government (was) prepared to fund these places, no mention has been made of the likelihood of finding the academic workforce to teach them, nor of the cost of building the necessary teaching infrastructure, nor of the plausibility that demand would rise so quickly," Professor Massaro says in an analysis for HES online. He estimates that the capital costs required to meet the challenges of this enrolment explosion would be in the range of $25billion-$30 billion.


Jump in fertility rates shows Peter Costello's baby bonus has delivered 12,000 extra children

Those evil old capitalistic "incentives" just keep on working, regardless of how much Leftists hate them

FORMER treasurer Peter Costello's baby bonus could have delivered almost 12,000 extra births, accounting for the surprise jump in Australian fertility rates between 2004 to 2006. A Melbourne Institute study has found that the controversial bonus succeeded in convincing at least some parents to follow Mr Costello's exhortation in 2004 to have "one for mum, one for dad, and one for your country".

Study co-author Mark Wooden said analysis of intentions to have a child and of reported births suggested the baby bonus had increased the fertility rate by 3.2 per cent. The figure matches the increase in Australian fertility rates from 1.763 in 2004, when 254,246 children were born, to 1.817 in 2006, when 265,949 were born. "If the baby bonus hadn't worked, and our estimates are correct, probably those 12,000 (additional) kids born in 2006 wouldn't have been born," Professor Wooden said.

Most of the women who had children in 2006, however, were swayed by factors other than the baby bonus to have children, making the job of convincing the remainder an expensive proposition for government, the study by US and Australian researchers found. "The small size of the effect yields a marginal cost per additional child figure of at least $124,000," it concluded.

The bold new estimates lend support to Howard government claims that the initiative drove up birthrates. It also challenges Families Minister Jenny Macklin's assertion last year that the recent rise in births was unrelated to the bonus. It also comes as the Rudd Government considers a Productivity Commission draft recommendation to roll the baby bonus, now worth $5000 per child, into a wider paid maternity leave scheme.

Professor Wooden said a higher birth rate had an economic value that could be assessed against the costs. "The point is, is $124,000 a waste of money? Well, what's the discounted value of a child? One day they're going to be future taxpayers," he said.

Labor announced in the last budget it would means-test the baby bonus, but has otherwise retained a policy it once labelled "appalling" and "poorly targeted and inefficient". It has abandoned the fertility argument for the baby bonus in favour of one stressing its value in offsetting some of the costs of having children. "There are a range of views about how best to increase fertility in Australia," a spokeswoman for Ms Macklin said. "The baby bonus provides support to families at a time of additional financial need."


Tuesday, February 17, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says that sharks are a lot less dangerous than arsonists>

Arrogant Italian restaurateur refuses to admit that his serving sizes are small

Part of the email correspondence between the restaurateur and his customer above. The full story is here. I have been dining out frequently for many years and have had the same problem with mini-dinners at fancy restaurants, particularly fancy Italian ones. They seem to think everyone is on a Weightwatcher's diet. I now mostly avoid such restaurants and eat ethnic instead. You get much better value that way -- and better service too. Anyway, the above episode is fair warning to avoid Harry Ferrante's "Simon's Seafood Restaurant" in Northbridge, if you live in or are visiting Perth.

British stupidity of getting more people into university about to be repeated in Australia

So lots of kids attempt courses they cannot handle and people with degrees end up as waiters. Brilliant! Inflation of credential requirements is already a problem so they want to make it worse! Heaps of jobs that were once done with only high school education now require degrees -- meaning that kids spend 3 or 4 years wasting time and not earning or contributing. And if Fred Hilmer -- a cautious bureaucratic type not given to rocking the boat -- thinks it's foolish, then you can be sure it is REALLY foolish

The Bradley review of higher education lacks vision and sets unrealistic and unaffordable goals, the University of NSW vice-chancellor, Fred Hilmer, said in a speech last night. On the eve of a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Professor Hilmer said the review failed to provide a vital blueprint for the sector's future. He highlighted the proposed increase in undergraduates as being a huge and uncosted financial burden, saying another six or seven new universities the size of UNSW would be required.

Ms Gillard will meet Professor Hilmer and other members of the elite Group of Eight universities in Sydney. Ms Gillard began the series of six discussions two weeks ago so universities and other stakeholders could respond before the Government's official response to the review.

The former vice-chancellor of the University of South Australia, Denise Bradley, released her review of higher education in December, urging the nation to increase participation in higher levels of education and give fairer access to people from lower socio-economic groups and rural areas.

Professor Hilmer said the Secretary of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Lisa Paul, should be appointed to map out the long-term overhaul of the system with full and realistic costings. He said extra funding would ensure the viability of a strained higher education system in the short term by allowing immediate action on problems such as student/staff ratios and research funding shortfalls.

But the blueprint for a highly effective, affordable plan for higher education was missing, Professor Hilmer told the Centre for Independent Studies forum at St Leonards. "The problem is not the themes themselves but the lack of a vision and a clear and affordable path. The proposed path seems to be to recommend processes without a sense of where they might take us, and at what cost," he said.

The Bradley target that 40 per cent of 25-34 year-olds will have attained a qualification at bachelor level would require about "a 70 per cent increase in commencing students annually, 3.2 million additional enrolments over a decade, $15 billion in capital works, the equivalent of about six or seven new universities the size of UNSW, and an additional 17,700 academic staff", Professor Hilmer said.


Dentists lash out at socialization plan

If you knew what socialized dentistry is like in Britain -- with people reduced to pulling out their own teeth with pliers -- you would run a mile from this. "Free" dentistry just leads to massive waiting lists -- sometimes even leading to death when serious problems are left untreated. There are in fact "free" dental hospitals in capital cities already but you can wait years to access them

Dentists have condemned a Medicare-style system for free universal dental care being considered by the Rudd Government as impractical, and massively expensive. The Denticare plan is part of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission's sweeping makeover in hospital and health services, including for indigenous people, the aged and young people with mental illness. Denticare would be financed by a 0.75 per cent income levy.

In its interim report released yesterday, the commission raised three options for reshaping state and federal governments' running of the health system. The proposals range from an improved version of the existing system, through to the development of a European-style social insurance scheme financed by the Commonwealth under which people could choose from health fund plans which would purchase services on their behalf. The commission is to decide which scheme it would favour in its final report to the Government expected by midyear.

The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said the Government was happy to have a debate about the possibility of a new tax to finance Denticare, which she described as a "fairly radical proposal . but we are interested in the community's response to this".

But Dr Neil Hewson, the president of the Australian Dental Association, representing private dentists, slammed the Denticare proposal, saying it could nearly double to $11 billion the cost of dentistry to the government and individual patients. "The recommendation . for a universal Denticare scheme is impractical, nonsensical, overly simplistic and flies in the face of much of the deliberations that have taken place on this issue over the past decade," he said. "It shows no appreciation of the real problems facing dental delivery in Australia."

The association believed the Government should target the 35 per cent of the community who could not access or afford proper dental care and said it would be fiscally irresponsible to introduce a universal scheme for dentistry.

The chief executive of the Australian Health Insurance Association, Dr Michael Armitage, said insurers would consider the dental care proposal and other recommendations and compile a response to the reform commission. "The industry would support any plan to improve access to dental care for Australians but it is about more than that - it's about quality, safety and achieving better health outcomes - not just health financing," he said.

The Opposition's health spokesman, Peter Dutton, said taxpayers would pay billions of dollars in extra taxes for a national Denticare scheme. "Almost 11 million Australians or 50 per cent of the population would pay more than they currently do to meet the costs of the Denticare scheme," he said.


How to reduce the unemployment threat

Swan has already acknowledged the global financial crisis will result in increased unemployment in Australia. Australia is about the 14th largest economy and, as a nation trading goods and services, its economy is very dependent on the world economy. Now that the Prime Minister and his colleagues concede that the challenge they face is to sustain as many jobs as possible in the climate of increasing unemployment, what can be done?

The Government's two expenditure packages are already in place and few would argue that over the next couple of years it should spend more and borrow more to finance such expenditure. Yet there is much that can be done to support employment, especially in small business, without in any way further increasing the budget deficit.

* Unfair dismissal legislation is a clear disincentive to small business to take on full-time workers. Rudd is about to reintroduce unfair dismissal legislation covering small business. Certainly this is not as draconian as that which prevailed before the Howard government. But it is a disincentive to employment, nevertheless. It is not clear why any employer should be effectively compelled to employ anyone whom he or she does not wish to employ. But the unfair dismissal provisions are now well entrenched with respect to larger businesses. The return of these provisions covering enterprises employing fewer than 100 workers should be postponed at least until the global economic crisis is over.

* Whatever may be said of the Coalition's Work Choices legislation, it went hand-in-hand with a reduction in unemployment and the creation of job scarcities in certain parts of Australia. While much of the developed world is in recession, it would make sense for the Prime Minister to at least delay Labor's Fair Work Australia legislation.

* Last Thursday Craig Thomson, the Labor chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, announced that the Treasurer had asked his committee to "inquire into the choice of emissions trading as the central policy to reduce Australia's carbon pollution taking into account the need to reduce carbon pollution at the lowest economic cost". Thomson and his colleagues are required to report back later this year.

The rapid decline in the world carbon price, along with reduced emissions due to the economic downturn, could give the committee ample reason to recommend that the Government postpone its carbon reduction scheme until at least 2011 or 2012. There are few commentators who would argue that a tax on businesses which emit carbon will increase employment. It is much more likely to lead to a net rise in unemployment. So it makes sense to delay the policy until the end of the economic crisis. Especially since neither China nor India seems likely to embrace carbon reduction and since it is unclear how far the Obama Administration and/or the Congress will go in reducing carbon when unemployment is on the march in the United States.

There is no convincing evidence that any government or individual knows how to handle the global financial crisis. So it makes sense for politicians to focus on how not to make a bad situation worse. As Robert Skidelsky wrote in Interests & Obsessions, Britain recovered rapidly from the Depression in the absence of any fiscal stimulus. Yet despite Franklin Roosevelt's expansionary New Deal, the US recovery was slow. Australia's economic policy at the time was closer to that of Britain than the US, as is documented in C.B. Schedvin's Australia And The Great Depression.

If the Rudd Government has any cash left over, it would be advised to focus on reducing taxation and costly regulation on small business. Unlike government, small business is the main driver in Australia of job creation and job support.

More here

Conservative Senator says nation can't afford maternity leave

In Sweden, which has very "generous" maternity leave laws, the great majority of young females work for the government. Few others can risk hiring them

QUEENSLAND Senator Barnaby Joyce says the nation can no longer afford paid maternity leave and business would stop hiring females if forced into it. Senator Joyce said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's $42billion economic stimulus package had drained the coffers and paid maternity leave was now a casualty of the nation's newly acquired debt.

The Productivity Commission last year proposed a $450million-a-year paid parental leave scheme that would pay mothers 18 weeks' leave at the minimum wage. The commission's final report is due within weeks. Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the Government would respond to the final report but paid maternity leave had not been ruled out of this year's Budget. "Paid maternity leave will be considered in the Budget context," Ms Gillard told Channel 9 yesterday. "Obviously things that amount to expenditure, particularly ongoing expenditure for the nation, will be dealt with in the Budget context."

Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner was preaching the same message yesterday on Channel 10's Meet the Press. "That along with a range of issues (including) our commitment to increase the living standards of the pensioners of Australia, other important issues that are on the table, they will be in the mix for the Budget," Mr Tanner said. "There's a lot of issues within the paid maternity leave question that have to be dealt with as well. "It's not a simple matter by any means."

Meanwhile, Senator Joyce said increasing the base rate of the aged pension was more important than having paid maternity leave. He said businesses would stop hiring female employees if they were forced to fund their own maternity schemes. "They will just start employing blokes," Senator Joyce said. He said Mr Rudd's stimulus package was to blame. "The money is no longer there. In its place is a silo of debt," he said.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Creditable national leadership

I have always had some time for Mr Rudd. His instincts seem to be good even if, as a Leftist, he is at times prone to some silly ideas. I have now been particularly impressed by his attitude to the bushfires. Instead of just paying a flying visit to the area, as many politicians would, he seems to have been spending most of his time with the victims and firefighters. And his presence among the victims has been a notably sympathetic one -- giving the victims a sense that their problems are recognized and that they are respected. The fact that Mr Rudd is clearly a committed Christian undoubtedly helps.

And I am a bit prejuduced in favour of our Governor General because she has been an active supporter of my old church but she too has been constantly visiting afflicted parts of the country, particularly the vast areas up North that have been flooded. And that too gives people the feeling that their problems are recognized and that they are appreciated.

There seems to have been a conspicuous absence of the Victorian and Queensland State governments from their respective disaster areas.

Public hospitals have triple the baby deaths of private

Poor people tend to have worse health but the gap here seems too large for that to be the main factor. And the grave problems often reported with public hospital obstetric services leave little room for doubt about where the main fault lies

For every baby that dies soon after birth in an Australian private hospital, three die in the public system, alarming new figures reveal. Women who give birth in public hospitals are also more than twice as likely to suffer tearing, or that their babies will need resuscitation, according to the alarming findings of a new study. Associate Professor Steve Robson and colleagues examined the outcomes of almost 790,000 births which took place over four years, and about a third were in the nation's private hospitals.

Dr Robson said he was shocked not only by the "striking difference" between the two systems, but also by the results that contradict a common criticism of births in private hospitals. "There is often a lot of criticism in the medical press of rates of caesarean birth and rates of the induction of labour - everybody says 'Wow they're so much higher in private hospitals,"' says Dr Robson, of the Australian National University Medical School. "And if you take the literature at face value ... all of those things ought to up the complication rate, (but) it was lower. "We found that quite staggering."

Dr Robson says the study raises questions about the view that some in the medical fraternity hold that "increased rates of obstetric intervention are bad for women and their babies". "Our study suggests these things could be beneficial because the rate of babies dying is about half in the private hospital, and the rate of serious maternal injury is less than half," he said. Dr Robson said differences in the health and socio-economic status of the mothers alone could not explain the performance gap between public and private hospitals, and that further research was needed. "And it's not as though we've taken a small sample, we basically looked at every birth in the country (over four years)," he says.

The study, to be published in the Medical Journal of Australia, reported women giving birth in public hospitals had more than twice the rate of "severe perineal tearing", and their babies were more than twice as likely to require "high-level resuscitation" at birth. The neonatal death rate was one for every 1,000 babies born in private hospitals, compared to three in 1,000 in public hospitals.

The study was also undertaken by Elizabeth Sullivan and Paula Laws from the Perinatal and Reproductive Epidemiology Research Unit, at the University of NSW. Australia's rate of caesarean sections has risen from a single digit per cent in the 1980s to now account for more than 30 per cent of all births.


The most politically incorrect man in the world?

The Top Gear live stage show in Sydney last week caused waves in Britain that we barely noticed. Iconic British host Jeremy Clarkson had barely alighted from his plane when he called his prime minister, Gordon Brown, a "one-eyed Scottish idiot". Since Brown does have only one eye, disabled groups in Britain were outraged, as were Scots, Labour supporters and idiots. Clarkson, 48, was lambasted in front-page stories in his homeland until he apologised - which he did, to all but the idiots.

For Australian audiences who packed the Acer Arena from last Thursday for 10 live performances of the top-rating SBS show, such Clarkson irreverence rated a chuckle rather than a scolding. Such is the relaxed Australian attitude to politician abuse, he could have said whatever he liked about Kevin Rudd and no one would have minded.

But the furore illustrates what is the key to Top Gear's success: Clarkson's brazen political incorrectness. He will bag Audis with one breath and greenies with the next. He has no sacred cows. The British version of Top Gear, which attracts as many as 1million Australian viewers each week, is an exuberant thumbing of noses at climate alarmists and safety Nazis. It is a relief valve from a politically correct world full of admonitions and tongue-biting. Just when cars were being targeted as dangerous, polluting anachronisms, Top Gear became one of the world's most popular television shows. Women make up more than 40 per cent of its audience.

Paradoxically, as environmental alarmism grows, so too does our attachment to cars, with Top Gear's popularity one indication. We've just had Clint Eastwood's movie Gran Torino, about a retired auto-worker and his most precious possession - his red 1972 muscle car, the Ford Gran Torino. Next month we will have the ultimate car lovers' movie, Eric Bana's Love The Beast, starring his red Ford GT Falcon Coupe. A documentary charting Bana's 25-year love affair with his car, it also features his three best friends, Jay Leno, Dr Phil and, of course, Jeremy Clarkson.

Apart from great cars, Top Gear's appeal is about three middle-aged men having unrestrained blokey fun, and insulting each other and everyone else, in classic pommy style. Clarkson once had a custard pie thrown in his face by green protesters; his advice to cyclists was: "Do not cruise through red lights. Because if I'm coming the other way, I will run you down, for fun."

At his Sydney press conference last week he slammed environmentalist critics of the show. "We don't have a carbon footprint. That's because we drive everywhere." And he claimed Britain's current cold snap was caused by "too many green people in the world . not buying enough Range Rovers to warm it up."

Then he insulted his British studio audiences of his Top Gear live show: "You should see some of the apes that turn up." He obviously hasn't been to a WWF wrestling match. It was quite a different crowd last Friday at the ACER Arena from the one I got to know a little too well when my sons were wrestling fanatics. Fewer tattoos, shorter hair, no John Cena T-shirts. Top Gear drew families from middle Australia, in Holdens and Fords, Audis and Subarus. The most flamboyant young men wore Holden jackets or T-shirts with such slogans as "Own the road" and "I am the Stig" - in reference to Top Gear's test driver.

The live show came to Sydney on the last part of its tour to South Africa, Hong Kong and New Zealand, "a tour of countries we used to own," said Clarkson, before joking about his first sightseeing adventure in Sydney last week. "Coogee Bay Hotel - chocolate chip heaven", referring to last year's faeces in the ice-cream scandal. "I'm sure there was sweet corn in there," quipped his sidekick Richard Hammond.

There were brunettes in tight red jumpsuits, and French stunt motorcyclists performing death-defying feats inside a giant mesh sphere which Clarkson called "the colander of death". "They're only French," said Clarkson. "If something goes wrong it will just be corned beef," said Hammond.

There was also ritual audience humiliation. Clarkson singled out one hapless man and called him a "cock" for owning an Audi and a "poor cock" because it was an A6. "You can tell he's an Audi driver because he's wearing a branded shirt." The audience squirmed as the man, sitting with his young son, turned beetroot red with embarrassment. We mightn't care about politicians but perhaps British schoolyard bullying of the type Clarkson practises isn't enjoyed in Australia. And it's just as well the audience didn't know some of the cars were fakes. Car soccer went down rather better, with six little cars pushing a giant inflatable soccer ball around the stadium, with only one fender bender and many close misses in a display of superb stunt driving.

There is something about Top Gear's unabashed celebration of human ingenuity, technological precision, speed, snazzy styling, comfort and independence that ignites the passions of car fans and car agnostics alike. Killjoy car-haters: eat your hearts out.


Where did Sydney's summer go?

About one week after western suburbs endured its hottest four-day heatwave in 37 years; Sydney is likely to be heading for it coolest February period in more than 50 years. The city is in the middle of at least a week where the temperature stays below 25 degrees. The likely number of days is nine, with next Wednesday being the first day warmer than 25 since last Sunday. This will make it the longest February stretch below 25 degrees since the 1950s. Sydney also had nine days in-a-row below 25 in February 1953 and eight in 1996. The last time there was a longer stretch was in 1950 when there were 13.

The extraordinary turnaround from last week's heat is a due to plenty of cloud and showers being blown in by persistent onshore southeasterly winds. When will the summer warmth return? The middle of next week as winds turn warmer northeasterly, but it will only be brief, just a few days. The city is likely to reach the high 20s, possibly the low 30s, but a cooler change late next week will put an end to that warmth. Western suburbs will hit the low-to-mid 30s before the change.


Sunday, February 15, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is surprised and pleased to note that Germaine Greer has named the culprits for the huge fires in Victoria -- politicians pandering to Greenie irrationality

Many Australian High School students can't read and write

Ever-declining standards. I think our leftist "educators" will only be happy when NO-ONE can read and write

Reading skills at some Queensland high schools have slumped to alarming levels with about one in every three students considered to be reading below their age level, according to teachers and private tutors. And in a parallel problem some students are being taught one subject by as many as 12 different teachers because of staff shortages in state high schools.

An internal screening test on Year 8 students at one school has found that most of the struggling students - one-third of that year level - were reading at the standard of a Year 4 student. The worst readers among those Year 8s - about one-sixth of the entire group needing learning support - were reading at a level of Year 3 student or below, the tests revealed.

Frustrated school learning support staff say they have begun to refer students to reading lessons outside schools, as the curriculum is failing to address the problem. Their claims are backed by private tutors interviewed by The Sunday Mail, who say they regularly encounter teenagers reading three to four years below their age. It is understood the internal testing that highlights the problem was done in schools at Logan and the northern Gold Coast. But many educators say similar reading level issues can be found state-wide. Gold Coast-based private tutor Dr Bruce Cruicks is teaching 15 state high school students with reading problems: "Some of these kids came to me with no reading level at all. They could have been in Grade 3 or 4."

A Brisbane-based tutor, who asked not to be identified to shield his students, said many were initially up to four years behind in their reading. A state school teacher who was involved in recent testing of literacy levels, and also asked not to be named, said: " Some kids are really stuck at such a basic level, and the gap between them and other students just keeps widening. Yet we get told (by governments) that (the reading level) is getting better."

Education Queensland does not gather each school's internal testing data on reading levels, and the only official guide can be found in State Budget figures. Those statistics back up the concerns of education leaders, with national benchmark figures showing that reading for Year 7 students has dropped by more than 11 percentage points in three years, down from around 93 per cent in the 2004-05 period.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said he believed the State and Federal governments should focus on providing more resources, rather than worrying about preparing students for national benchmark testing. An Education Queensland spokesman said the Government was investing $18 million implementing a literacy framework.

On a second front underlining more problems in education, sources say some students are being taught one subject by as many as 12 different teachers as state high schools attempt to deal with staff shortages. And when substitute teachers can't be slotted in, classes are often combined. At one school, three senior classes were combined and seated in a sports hall recently with the students told to do crosswords because of a lack of teachers, the sources told The Sunday Mail.

Figures released by the State Government show an extra 5400 students enrolled in state schools this year - leaving a shortfall of 150 teachers. Education Minister Rod Welford has acknowledged a lack of maths and science teachers, employing more than 530 graduate teachers this year in the face of a 17 per cent jump in primary and secondary teacher resignations since 2003. But The Sunday Mail understands up to eight teachers at one school, employed to teach maths, are only qualified in physical education. "They are just bringing in primary school and excess PE teachers," a source revealed.

But Mr Welford denies the system will be unable to cope with an increased influx of students this year. "Our government plans for the future, continually monitoring regions with high population growth to ensure there are local state school options for all Queenslanders," he said. "That's why we opened three new schools on the northern Gold Coast this year, to cater for population increases in one the state's fastest-growing regions. "We've also opened a new school this year north of Brisbane, another fast-growing area."

Mr Welford said there has been unprecedented growth in prep enrolments, with an increase of almost 1900 on last year. He said upper secondary schools also had more than 750 extra students enrolling in Year 11 and more than 1000 in Year 12. "All these new students create a need for more teachers so that we can continue to meet our class size targets, which are among the lowest in the country."

Mr Welford says the 150 new teaching spots would be permanent appointments in mainly manual arts, maths and science. "These are roles which have been traditionally difficult to fill because their skills were so much in demand outside of teaching," he said. "With demand slowing in other sectors we are hoping to see more of these skilled workers moving back into teaching where the jobs are available, secure and stable."


Dangerous precedent for medical profession

WHEN judges hand out damages for the birth of a child, it is a sign that society is in trouble. It suggests that some of us have become so self-obsessed that we have forgotten that the arrival of a new human being is a cause for celebration, not litigation. Many parents - and would-be parents - will be angered by this decision. But it is really a cause for pity.

What sort of mother runs off to court because she has two children instead of one? And what sort of court believes it has the capacity to restore the supposed injury caused by the arrival of a child?

Lawyers and doctors should be very worried by this ruling. It suggests that the law of negligence is in deep trouble - at least in the ACT Court of Appeal. For reasons that have not been made public, the territory's top court has taken the law of negligence and stretched it to breaking point. The Court of Appeal has overturned a compelling decision by Justice Annabel Bennett, who is also a well-regarded judge of the Federal Court. Bennett had refused to give one dollar to the greedy women at the heart of this case. Bennett based her decision on a close analysis of the facts. She found that the obstetrician in question, Sydney Robert Armellin, had conducted himself reasonably. He had no breached his duty of care.

The mother in question, Ms G, received two embryos instead of one because of flawed communication in the system used by her fertility clinic. But Armellin, in Bennett's view, was not at fault. Here's why: Ms G had changed her mind about the number of embryos she wanted implanted. And she did so in the operating theatre after earlier signing documents agreeing to have ``one to two'' embryos implanted.

When Ms G told Armellin she wanted one embryo, the doctor believed this information was not new. He thought it had previously been conveyed to the clinicians who had prepared the implant. The doctor believed Ms G would have conveyed this information during the clinic's pre-surgery procedures. In fact, Ms G had failed to take part in those procedures. It is a great pity that the Court of Appeal has not yet explained why it believes Bennett and Armellin were wrong. When it does, it had better be good.

Unless the court has extremely compelling reasons, it looks as though the real victim here is the obstetrician. If this decision stands, the ACT has a choice: change the law or accept the fact that this branch of medicine will rarely be practised in the nation's capital.


'Don't call Qld cops in a hurry'

I know from my own experience that they quite often just don't come at all in response to calls

A NSW triple-zero [emergency] operator has accused his Queensland colleagues of providing a 'shocking' service after an attack victim's call went unanswered. The NSW operator recently received a call diverted from Queensland, where a woman said she was being assaulted.

In an email to the Queensland opposition, tabled in the Queensland parliament on Thursday, the operator said he listened to the panicked call for more than three minutes before it dropped out. He said he called the Queensland Police emergency call centre in Brisbane, but the phone rang for more than eight minutes without answer. "It is the running joke in our call centre that you wouldn't call Qld Police if you needed them in a hurry," he wrote. "This delay is also causing inconvenience for the rest of the nation when they call triple-zero as we are unable to answer their calls due to being on hold waiting for Qld Police to answer." He described the Queensland Police operators' service as "shocking" given that calls were supposed to be answered within four seconds.

Queensland Police Minister Judy Spence said the complaint would be investigated. "I have not had feedback from the police that there are particular problems with our triple-zero system. If they are feeling that then I encourage them to come and talk to me about it," Ms Spence told parliament.



Three reports below

Greenie shark madness in NSW

In the same week men were attacked by sharks in Woolloomooloo and Bondi Beach, the state Government banned NSW fishermen from catching them. Despite overwhelming evidence numbers are at record levels, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal the state's 25 shark hunters last week received a letter from the NSW Department of Primary Industries declaring the ban. The letter stated the restriction was being imposed because the State's annual shark quota had already been reached. Despite a frightening summer of shark attacks and sightings up and down the NSW coast, fishermen will now be prohibited from taking sharks until July 1.

In the past week, navy diver Able Seaman Paul de Gelder, 31, was mauled by a shark at Woolloomooloo at 7am on Wednesday and lost a hand, while Glen Orgias, 33, was attacked at Bondi on Thursday at 8pm. Both men were continuing their recovery from surgery at St Vincent's Hospital yesterday. Mr Orgias's right hand has been reattached after 10 hours of surgery.

Under new fishing restrictions imposed last year, NSW fisherman are limited to catching just 160 tonnes of shark a year. In Queensland, fishermen are allowed to take 3000 tonnes.

North Coast fisherman Bill Litchfield described the ban as ludicrous given the increasing numbers of sharks being sighted. "We consistently get around 100 a night; that's an average catch. So how many of the buggers are out there?" he said. "The largest we've caught was a 15-foot (4.6m) tiger shark just 200 yards (183m) from Evans Head Surf Club. My skipper took his kids out of nippers the next day."

Mr Litchfield said he had written numerous letters to State Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald requesting the quota be reviewed. Mr Macdonald said the shark quotas affected species that were not man-eaters - a claim disputed by fishermen who said it protected bull sharks, which are thought to be were responsible for last week's attacks. The ban also protects dangerous tiger sharks, bronze whalers, hammerheads and black tips.

Mr Macdonald said: "The quotas are based on sound scientific advice. Everyone needs to remember there are no 100 per cent guarantees when swimming in the ocean - sharks are a natural part of the ocean environment."

NSW fishermen also blame a 1995 restriction on salmon beach-hauling for booming shark numbers close to the coast. "The salmon swim close to shore and bring in the sharks," Mr Litchfield said. "I've seen white pointers chasing them at surfing beaches at Newcastle. It is only time before a surfer gets taken there - it is going to happen."

Bondi fisherman Udo Edlinger also blamed a rise in salmon numbers for a spike in shark sightings. "I wouldn't be swimming around Sydney during dawn or dusk at the moment," he said. Fishing websites and live angling blogs are full of shark sightings, close encounters and stories of the day's catch. Doonside fisherman Peter Brennan said he didn't know whether to laugh or cry when he saw a 4m shark steal the kingfish right off his line on Monday at Clifton Gardens, near Mosman.

Other sightings include Roseville Marina, Woolloomooloo Wharf and Saunders Wharf at Darling Harbour. Professional Sydney fisherman and guide Craig McGill said he's never seen as much shark activity in the harbour in his 25 years of fishing. He said he had noticed a gradual increase in shark numbers over the past five years. "I certainly wouldn't be swimming anywhere in Sydney Harbour (now) ... and I wouldn't be going to Balmoral," he said. Mr McGill identified other hotspots as Chowder Bay, Clontarf and Rushcutters Bay.

Opposition industry spokesman Duncan Gay called for the quota cap to be lifted immediately. "This is serious ... and needs a Minister who is engaged with his portfolio to make sure our waters are safe as possible." Shark-hunting can be a lucrative industry, with fisherman earning up to $600 per kill. The jaws go to WA where they are sold as souvenirs, heads to The Philippines, fins and tails to Asia, spinal cords to the cosmetic industry and the meat to fish and chip shops around Australia.


Warmist celebrates economic troubles

THE international economic downturn may result in a short-term benefit with a decrease in production leading to a slowing in the growth of greenhouse pollution, one of the Federal Government's top advisers has forecast. Ross Garnaut, who was commissioned by the Government to write a comprehensive report on climate change, said the rate of the increase of greenhouse gas emissions had already fallen."[The downturn] has for a time stopped the rapid growth in emissions of the early 21st century," Professor Garnaut told a conference in Cairns yesterday.

"Since mid-2008, emissions from the developed economies as a whole, and from China, have been falling."But, he said, the reprieve would not halt the rapid rise in greenhouse pollution predicted for the coming decades." The global financial crisis gives us a little breathing space, but mitigation of climate change remains urgent and of central importance," Professor Garnaut said.

He criticised the Federal Government's proposed emissions trading scheme, saying it was offering too much compensation to heavy polluting industries. The draft legislation establishing the scheme is expected later this month.


Kyoto treaty to cost Australia $870 million

Australia faces the prospect of paying an extra $870 million for greenhouse gas emissions after Kevin Rudd's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and a new UN target for carbon pollution. After a year-long review by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change committee, Australia has been given a tougher target to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. The UN has reduced the amount of greenhouse gas emissions Australia is allowed to produce by 6.6 million tonnes ayear. If Australia is above the carbon emissions target at the end of 2012, it will be required tomake up any shortfall by buying carbon credits from other nations.

Continuing growth in carbon emissions in Australia and the new target have led leading global carbon market analyst Point Carbon to estimate a potential extra cost to taxpayers of $870 million in carbon credits in 2012. "The revision could force Australia to purchase over 30million assigned amount units (AAUs) more than expected, which could cost up to some $870 million, unless it can achieve further emission cuts domestically," Point Carbon's latest Australian emissions report says. The report adds that the credits Australia would buy are left over from the economic restructuring of former Soviet satellites after the fall of the Berlin Wall and hold "little or no environmental integrity".

The UN's reduction of 6.6million tonnes annually in Australia's emissions comes as the Department of Climate Change predicts that greenhouse gas emissions figures for 2007, to be released soon, will rise 9million tonnes above the levels of 2006. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong confirmed last night that the UN target had changed but remained confident Australia could meet it in 2012. "Our current projections, released last December, show we are on track to meet our Kyoto target, so there is no projected shortfall," Senator Wong said last night.

The Government is finalising an emissions trading scheme that is due to begin next year. The moves come as the global financial crisis puts extra cost pressures on industry, creating turmoil in world carbon markets and prompting claims that European polluters are abusing emissions trading schemes to raise quick finance. The price of carbon in the European ETS has crashed to a record low in the past two weeks - down from E30 ($59) a tonne to E10 - as heavy carbon polluters sold more than E1 billion worth of carbon credits to raise finance for their businesses.

European cement producers and electricity generators have unloaded carbon credits they do not need because economic growth has crashed. The Rudd Government's updated forecasts estimate Australian industry will have to pay $23.5billion for carbon emission permits in the first two years of the ETS. Point Carbon last week estimated the recession sparked by the financial crisis would cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 500 million tonnes


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Eight bodies huddled to protect a baby

Adoring kids as I do, the story below was deeply upsetting to me. But I do find it redeeming as proof that normal human nature survives the constant Leftist attacks on it -- Leftists who regard the killing of babies in abortion as just another medical procedure and Leftists who try to force equality on everybody in the name of "diversity" (of all things!) and Leftists who, with their love of bureaucracy, PREVENT normal human nature from operating (See, for instance, my Charters Towers story)

Disaster victim identification teams combing Victoria have found large groups of bodies, including one with eight bodies huddled to protect a baby. Australians have been warned to brace for more bad news about the bushfire death count as more shocking details of the tragedy are revealed.

DVI experts are still combing the worst-affected areas and Det-Inspector Bob Sitlington said patience was needed to enable accurate records of victims to be collected. "It is slow but we want to positively identify victims, the last thing we would want to do is misidentify," he said.

Insp Sitlington said he had been with team members in Kinglake yesterday, where earlier in the week experts found horrific sites, including eight bodies huddled around a baby's body. "There was a multiple death in a group, and from what I understand they were trying to protect a baby," he said. "We don't know exactly what happened. Imagine what people naturally do, they tend to cuddle ... and to protect each other, and with the intensity of the fire we do find sometimes bodies are fused together."

The total death toll from the blazes that ripped through the central highlands and Gippsland last Saturday still stands at 181 but is expected to jump above 300. On Friday, police said 1831 houses had been destroyed and more than 7000 people had been made homeless.....

Victorian Premier John Brumby yesterday appointed former Supreme Court judge Justice Bernard Teague to chair the Royal Commission into the bushfires. Mr Brumby said the Royal Commission would be a central part of the "healing process" with victims and relatives of the dead from Kinglake, Marysville and the rest of the state to provide eye witness evidence about the tragic events of February 7 and its horrible aftermath. "It is so important that everybody has their say," Mr Brumby said.

Kinglake couple Joanne Jordan and Greg Holloway picked through the ruins of their property yesterday, but are just happy to have escaped with their lives. "We were so lucky, we lost everything we had, but not each other," Mr Holloway said. Ms Jordan said the significance of Valentine's Day meant little since they escaped Kinglake's raging inferno. "Every day's Valentine's Day when it's six days since you almost died," Ms Jordan said.


"Only" NINE unqualified doctors in one public hospital

State Health Minister Stephen Robertson has admitted nine doctors at Bundaberg operated on patients for up to five months with wrong credentials. After the Opposition revealed the bungle in State Parliament, Mr Robertson conceded the anomalies were discovered during a routine audit last month. Mr Robertson said none of the locum doctors at Bundaberg Hospital had caused any harm or operated outside their scope of skills.

"This is more an administrative error," Mr Robertson said. "They were presented with their credentials from their base hospital. What hasn't occurred is the transfer of those privileges to technically credential them at Bundaberg." Two of the nine Bundaberg doctors were newly employed.

Two more uncredentialled doctors were found at Rockhampton, where the executive director of medical services has been stood down from management duties. However, Mr Robertson said the bureaucrat was still working as a clinician, despite allegedly ignoring repeated reminders from the department to check credentials.

The Liberal National Party has seized on the errors, with Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg saying they showed the spin about health reforms had been caught short. "If they can't get Queensland Health right in Bundaberg after two royal commissions, then they really can't do anything," Mr Springborg said. "The issue of whether patients were harmed or not is irrelevant. "It's about doctors not being accredited."

A review commissioned in the wake of the bungles and completed on January 23 found all doctors in Bundaberg were appropriately credentialled. Mr Robertson said the case showed his department was picking up on problems immediately. [And black is white, I guess]


Death blamed on rogue Rockhampton public hospital surgeon

QUEENSLAND Health has admitted a patient died at Rockhampton Hospital following an alleged botched operation by a doctor working without authority. Health Minister Stephen Robertson last night admitted the doctor was not credentialled to work at the hospital and allegedly went rogue, refusing to follow rules for clinical procedures. The doctor is still under investigation after the patient died following a tracheotomy operation in September 2007. The revelations come a day after it emerged nine doctors at Bundaberg Base Hospital were caught without proper credentials this year.

Credentialling is an administrative system that allows doctors performing outreach services to transfer their privileges between hospitals. Queensland Health yesterday stood down the Bundaberg manager responsible for overseeing the nine cases.

As the Bligh Government was accused of covering up the Rockhampton case, Mr Robertson last night said the doctor had been stood down immediately. "It is alleged the treating doctor did not abide by established best practice and hospital policy of Queensland Health in the conduct of the procedure," he said. "As a result of that, the allegation is the patient suffered significant harm and died." The case was referred to Queensland Health's ethical standards unit, the Crime and Misconduct Commission and the Queensland Medical Board.

The doctor's boss was stood down in April after allegedly refusing to do credentials for several doctors despite repeated reminders. The seriousness of the case has surfaced a day after Mr Robertson claimed he did not know details of the issues at Rockhampton after the Bundaberg cases emerged. "I can't remember off the top of my head but there were a number of doctors found who were not credentialled and they were considered to be serious matters," he said on Thursday. Queensland Health will now roll out a credentialling check box as part of a new payroll system so doctors won't be paid if paperwork is incomplete.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle last night accused Mr Robertson of a cover-up. "The public health system is not fixed, despite all that money spent on glossy brochures and expensive advertisements," he said. "This should never have occurred again after the royal commission (at Bundaberg). "This latest hospital crisis is about what this incompetent Health Minister didn't do despite all those positive media statements. "It is about a very dishonest Labor Government that is more worried about bad publicity than telling the truth - and another person has died because of it."

Meanwhile, the Health Quality and Complaints Commission yesterday asked Queensland Health director-general Mick Reid to explain contradictions in evidence provided to the watchdog on credentialling bungles at Bundaberg.



Three articles below:

Australia's public broadcaster blames huge fires on global warming!

There might be some logic to it if the seasonal hot weather in Southern Australia really was global but it is at the moment unusually cold in the northern hemisphere and last year also was unusually cool globally. So the ABC is simply propagating lies. Summary below received from Don Parkes []

Lateline and the 7.30 report, both very important ABC TV news documentaries did most certainly, and explicitly link the fires to global warming /climate change. Lateline wheeled on its tame but snappy and somewhat confused, (some say untruthful) lapdog, Melbourne University's Professor David Karoly.

He is also an IPCC author who does not appear to like to be challenged. For instance, having promised to undertake and complete by September last year (2008) a review of an important article by Dr. Vincent Gray (NZ) on the climate change 'sham' - has since refused to do so. The reasons appear clear. Karoly cannot cope with Gray's argument and no doubt also found Gray's experience as a former expert reviewer for IPCC, just a bit too hard to handle.

However, when under the wing of a benign TV anchor person he feels free to release his alarmist, income earning mantra for a gullible and 'at the time' devastated audience, last Monday. So a significant and 'public' arm of the Australian media certainly took almost spiteful advantage of the opportunity afforded by the fires to peddle yet again the utter rubbish Karoly (and IPCC) spin out of their partial differential equations.

However anchormen Jones of Lateline and O'Brien of the 7.30 Report NEVER mention that global warming, as preached by the greens and the IPCC, is a mere mathematical construct - totally and absolutely devoid of any replicable evidence. It is as well that medical and pharmacological sciences are subjected to more intense scrutiny!

As for wondering about the coincidental floods of northern Australia and the freezing conditions in the northern hemisphere, yet again, nothing to question the credo of AGW - reading this in the northern hemisphere it must be consoling to know that you feel so cold because it is getting warmer! Those whose lives have been devastated by the fires in Victoria and the floods in northern Australia have been ill served by 'their Aunty ABC's' determination to use and abuse the news, rather than report it.

Shark attacks caused by Greenies too

The NSW Government has conceded sharks are thriving because of environmental controls and bans on commercial fishing, after two shark attacks in Sydney waters this week. The admission yesterday came as professional fishing groups claimed government policy had been dictated too much by the chase for green votes at a cost to maintaining a sustainable local industry.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald warned swimmers against entering the water at dusk or dawn, when the risk of shark attack was greater. The minister was responding to heightened public fear after shark attacks on navy diver Paulde Gelder in Sydney Harbour on Wednesday, and surfer Glen Orgias at Bondi Beach on Thursday.

After the closure of Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay and much of the NSW coastline to commercial fishing, industry experts say that a big increase in fish species including Australian salmon, yellowtail, kingfish and silver biddy have led to higher numbers of predatory sharks. They blame a government policy dating back to 2002, when then Labor fisheries minister Eddie Obeid clamped down on estuary fishing and backed the creation of large marine parks along the coast.

Mr Macdonald, Mr Obeid's Labor successor, said yesterday he accepted that shark numbers had increased significantly. "The sort of reports I'm getting from people spotting sharks indicate there seems to be a build-up of sharks in the estuaries as well as along the ocean shore," he said on ABC radio. Mr Macdonald said government "protective measures" in recent years had halted a decline in many shark species. "That, coupled with some improved environmental conditions, plus a reduction in fishing efforts in parts of the state, mean that shark numbers could enhance."

NSW Seafood Council member Graeme Hillyard accused the NSW Government of playing politics instead of basing decisions on scientific research before putting restrictions on fishing grounds. Mr Hillyard said government decisions to create marine parks for most of the NSW coastline and to close down fishing in many of its estuaries was based on buying votes. Other states, he said, had not adopted the same hard line. Mr Hillyard, who also chairs the Hawkesbury Trawl Association, whose fishermen have been limited to working on weekdays only, said: "There is not one estuary, lake or river that has been under threat from commercial fishing. It's about buying votes and appeasing people. The poor old fisherman's views that sustainable fishing is possible has been overlooked." According to Mr Hillyard, cooler sea currents had kept larger numbers of sharks closer to estuaries and shores.

Commercial fishing in Sydney Harbour was banned after a dioxin contamination scare. Commercial fishing in other waters including Lake Macquarie and Botany Bay was stopped after pressure from environmental groups. Large areas of NSW coastal waters from the borders of Queensland to Victoria have been declared marine parks, with fishing allowed in certain zones only. According to a commercial fishing lobby, a growth in bait fish in estuaries and on the coast has boosted shark numbers.


Australia puts global warming scheme on hold

The Government's emissions trading scheme has been put on hold and might not begin on schedule in 2010. A parliamentary committee has been asked to inquire into the effectiveness of emissions trading as a means to reduce carbon pollution. The inquiry committee will report "in the second half of 2009." Legislation for the Government's already-announced carbon reduction scheme was expected about July. However, this inquiry might put it off for another 12 months, depending on its outcome. Emissions trading is the core mechanism of the proposed scheme, and it would increase costs to business and households.

"Maybe the Government has decided there is no appetite for the cost of an emissions trading scheme when the economy is in trouble," a Liberal source said.

The House of Representatives economics committee was today asked to "inquire into the choice of emissions trading as the central policy to reduce Australia's carbon pollution". It was to see if it could "reduce carbon pollution at the lowest economic cost". The committee also would investigate whether an ETS would encourage investment in clean energy and low-emission technology, and contribute to a global solution to climate change. "We need to take urgent action to help slow down the effects of climate change," the committee's chairman Labor's Craig Thomson said in a statement. "We need to examine sustainable economic options to reduce our carbon footprint effectively and in a timely manner."

A Labor source said the inquiry would not change the content and timing of the carbon reduction scheme and that suggestions big changes were underway were completely wrong. The source said: The package is not going to be dropped. He said it was standard procedure to hold such as inquiry and pointed to Labors majority membership on the committee.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Queensland's "caring" socialist government during the recent huge floods in the North

During the floods, all road access to the historic inland town of Charters Towers was cut off. All road bridges were underwater. But the railway bridge was still above water and functioning. So the government sent in needed supplies by rail, right? No way! The government railway REFUSED repeated requests to send in any supplies at all. And when pressure was brought to bear on them while food was running out in the town, what did they finally do? Instead of food they sent in beer and a lawnmower! I kid you not. I have relatives in the town who vouch for the fact. Below is the speech given in the State Parliament by Shane KNUTH (Charters Towers-LNP) on the matter. One notes with sadness how the dead hand of bureaucracy has destroyed the natural inclination of Australians to do all they can to help one-another in emergencies. Can you be a human being and a bureaucrat at the same time? It seems doubtful

I rise to bring to the attention of the House the very serious matter of the lack of cooperation from Queensland Rail during the recent flooding of the Burdekin River over the Macrossan Bridge.

I was employed by Queensland Rail for more than 20 years. I attended many washouts, many floods and a lot of maintenance and bridge and line repairs. During these events we recognised the plight of stranded travellers and those who needed to attend medical appointments and so on in the city. There was a great Aussie spirit as we transferred trapped travelers from one bridge to another. We prided ourselves on our ability to be there to help. We used section cars, rail motors and flat tops to get the job done. This was an automatic and natural response. People were in need and we had the resources to meet their needs.

During the recent floods, the Burdekin River at Macrossan rose to a staggering height of 20.75 metres-the highest reading since 1946. While the Macrossan Bridge was closed, the road between Charters Towers and Mount Garnet was closed and the road between Charters Towers and Clermont was also closed. Charters Towers was isolated except for the still-functioning railway line, which runs parallel to the Flinders Highway.

At a time when basic necessities such as medication and food to supply our three colleges, the elderly and the general public were being depleted, Queensland Rail hierarchy resisted appeals for help with freight transport. The local disaster management committee approached Queensland Rail for assistance in a crisis but, lo and behold, QR flatly refused to provide the required help. No-one could understand why QR had developed such a resistant attitude. But since QR has stopped all small freight and now concentrates on bulk haulage, it seemed determined not to help with the carting of small freight necessities, even in the time of emergency.

During the closure of the Macrossan Bridge there was great stress amongst stranded travellers and people needing to keep their medical appointments and catch flights to their destination. Some travellers were stranded for days before being forced to find accommodation and to buy what little food remained in the town. Queensland Rail, however, threatened to prosecute desperate people who attempted walking across the rail bridge to finally get to their destination. Many felt that they had no choice but to risk prosecution and took off across the rail bridge.

That was the extent of Queensland Rail's offer-- prosecution, no section cars, no rail transport, no support, no contingency plan, nothing! The attitude was, `We don't transport small freight. The town can starve.'

However, recognising the error of its ways after appeal by the mayor, the state member, the local disaster committee and the media, QR thought it could sweeten the community by providing seven pallets of grog and a lawnmower-which turned up by rail from nowhere!

Finally, after sufficient prodding, Queensland Rail finally gave in and sent the basic necessities by rail on Saturday afternoon. All of the time QR was trying to set the perception that it was being helpful, but this is a lie. Trains continued to operate throughout the crisis carrying ballast, so no-one could understand why the basic supplies could not be brought in.

But wait! It does not finish there. The Inlander [passenger train], which was held up at Hughenden, unmanned and unstaffed, passed through to Townsville by stealth in the early hours of Saturday morning hoping that stranded passengers in Charters Towers would not see it pass by. Queensland Rail knew that passengers where stranded but did not want to fly out personnel at a cost to escort stranded passengers to Townsville.

This is a shocking disgrace and a far cry from my days of service in Queensland Rail when we felt privileged to look after people. It is all right for the state government and Queensland Rail to take a special gravy train to entertain a group of party hacks and pay all expenses to tour Brisbane with drinks and snacks provided and then wind up with a lavish lunch at Roma Street Parkland, but when it comes to a crisis which affects people and their welfare, Queensland Rail is nowhere to be seen.

What has happened to the once-proud Queensland Rail that was renowned for its excellent service to Queenslanders? It has become a heartless, profit-making, cost-cutting corporation whose aim is to service the mining industry to the exclusion of the towns and the people who have made Queensland what it is today. I call on the minister to recognise that there has been a downturn in the mining industry and that now is the time to get back to the basics of providing a freight service and looking after people in times of crisis such as we have just experienced in the major floods in north Queensland.

Private hospital emergency rooms soon to be covered by health insurance

THE nation's largest health insurer is planning to operate its own private emergency care centres, ending the up to 10-hour waits patients face for treatment in a public hospital, Medibank Private, which insures three million Australians, wants to set up the emergency centres staffed by specialised emergency doctors to serve its own members as well as other members of the public. Health insurers currently don't provide rebates for treatment in the 30 private hospital emergency centres operating around the country. And patients who use these private services often face bills of $200-$300. The situation has left health fund members with minor ailments such as broken bones with no option but to use a public hospital.

Medibank Private chief George Saviddes told The Daily Telegraph his fund was considering importing a system used in Ireland where private clinics have been set up to deal with the minor sprains, bone breaks and cuts that make up 80 per cent of public emergency work. All patients could use the centres but Medibank Private members would get most of their costs, estimated to average about $400 per patient, covered by their health fund. The fund is also looking at whether private hospitals would want to tender to provide the services.

The nation's choked public hospital emergency departments treated 6.7 million patients in 2007 but about 35 per cent of urgent and semi-urgent patients had to wait longer than recommended for care. It is estimated 40 per cent of emergency department beds are taken up by patients waiting for a bed in a hospital ward. The privately run and privately subsidised emergency care centres would help relieve some of the pressure on public hospitals.

Medibank will also later this year extend to NSW a program offering a free midwife to new mothers for the first month after the baby's birth. Health funds are also questioning why they cannot buy generic brands of hip and knee replacements that could help cut the cost of surgery for their members. These joints will cost one third less than newer branded prostheses and result in less complications and follow-up surgery.


Surprise full-time jobs jump

This is a lot better than the USA and reflects the underlying strength of the economy created by many years of conservative government under John Howard

Employers took on an additional 33,700 full-time employees in January, the most in six months, spurring hopes the economy may yet avoid a recession. All up, the economy added 1,200 job last month, compared with the 18,000 job losses economists had been tipping. The overall net gain was held back by the loss of 32,600 part-time positions last month, raising the overall unemployment rate to 4.8% from 4.5% in December. The jobless rate is now at its highest since June 2006. The gain in full-time employment marks a turnaround of more than 81,000 such positions in just one month, after the economy shed 47,700 full-time jobs in December.

Economists are expecting the country to shed more jobs as the global financial crisis prompts firms to slash growth plans and lay off staff. Stronger than-expected full-time jobs figures suggest companies are holding on to employees and the economy is responding to the Federal Government stimulus packages.

The plans unveiled by Canberra - a $10.4 billion plan in October followed by an additional $42 billion in spending in this month - are aimed at keeping people working and companies growing through the downturn.


Another Qld. government school "loses" a child

A girl with a disability is the second student in a fortnight found wandering the streets while her teachers were unaware she had left school.

Jasmine Colman's mother Vickie Liddle is furious that her five-year-old daughter, who suffers from Aspergers-related autism and stress-related epilepsy, was able to walk out of the Harris Fields State School at Woodridge, south of Brisbane, at lunchtime on Tuesday and cross a busy main road. Ms Liddle said a kindergarten teacher who knew Jasmine saw the youngster talking to a stranger on the footpath and took her back to school. "She could have been kidnapped, she could have had a seizure on the road - anything could have happened," Ms Liddle said. "The fact that she wasn't seen and no one noticed, and especially the fact that she has a disability, that was phenomenal. "They didn't even know she was gone." She said her "blood was boiling" over the incident and the fact the principal failed to apologise or talk to her about it.

A statement from Education Queensland said Jasmine became separated at the end of lunchtime when Prep students and teachers were moving back to the classroom. "The Prep student left the group. Teachers were supervising students at this time," the statement said.

"When the mother arrived at the school, she was immediately met by the deputy principal and special education teacher who apologised to her." The principal had rung the mother to apologise yesterday.

At Morayfield State School last week, a five-year-old boy was found wandering the streets while his teacher was unaware he was missing.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Angry fire survivors blame council 'green' policy

ANGRY residents last night accused local authorities of contributing to the bushfire toll by failing to let residents chop down trees and clear up bushland that posed a fire risk. During question time at a packed community meeting in Arthurs Creek on Melbourne's northern fringe, Warwick Spooner - whose mother Marilyn and brother Damien perished along with their home in the Strathewen blaze - criticised the Nillumbik council for the limitations it placed on residents wanting the council's help or permission to clean up around their properties in preparation for the bushfire season. "We've lost two people in my family because you dickheads won't cut trees down," he said. "We wanted trees cut down on the side of the road . and you can't even cut the grass for God's sake."

Later, the meeting was cut short when Mr Spooner's father, Dennis, collapsed in his chair and an ambulance had to be called. Despite losing his wife and son and everything he owned, a friend later said he had not stopped or slept since the weekend.

Another resident said she had asked the council four times to tend to out-of-control growth on public land near her home, but her pleas had been ignored. There was widespread applause when Nillumbik Mayor Bo Bendtsen said changes were likely to be made about the council's policy surrounding native vegetation. But his response was not good enough for Mr Spooner: "It's too late now mate. We've lost families, we've lost people."

More than 500 people spilled out of the small hall during the meeting, at which the CFA, Victoria Police, Department of Human Services and Telstra provided updates. Many expressed anger that police road blocks were stopping them from reaching survivors trapped in fire-ravaged areas with no water, power or other basic needs. One man present spoke of counselling a woman whose two children had been killed and whose grief had been compounded by not knowing where they were because the area had been declared a crime scene and she had not been allowed to return.

Most of those present were tired, grieving the loss of relatives and friends and with little more than the smoke-coated clothes on their backs. Some were still showing symptoms of shock after experiencing the worst natural disaster in the nation's history. Scattered around the hall and outside were trestle tables with clothing sorted in neat piles, toiletries, food and bottled water. On the floor were dozens of pairs of shoes. There was also a section dedicated to baby clothes and another for children's toys.

Of all the speakers who addressed the meeting, it was Arthurs Creek CFA Captain David McGahy who got the most rousing reception. Choking back tears he told them: "I'm so terribly sorry. We desperately wanted to protect you but we couldn't. "In the cold analysis of light, it wouldn't have mattered if we'd have had 200 units here, all that would have happened is we would have ended up with a whole lot of dead firefighters. I've been at this game for about 40 years and I haven't experienced anything like that, not even remotely like it."


Fined for illegal clearing, family now feel vindicated

They were labelled law breakers, fined $50,000 and left emotionally and financially drained. But seven years after the Sheahans bulldozed trees to make a fire break - an act that got them dragged before a magistrate and penalised - they feel vindicated. Their house is one of the few in Reedy Creek still standing.

The Sheahans' 2004 court battle with the Mitchell Shire Council for illegally clearing trees to guard against fire, as well as their decision to stay at home and battle the weekend blaze, encapsulate two of the biggest issues arising from the bushfire tragedy. Do Victoria's native vegetation management policies need a major overhaul? And should families risk injury or death by staying home to fight the fire rather than fleeing?

Anger at government policies stopping residents from cutting down trees and clearing scrub to protect their properties is already apparent. "We've lost two people in my family because you dickheads won't cut trees down," Warwick Spooner told Nillumbik Mayor Bo Bendtsen at a meeting on Tuesday night.

Although Liam Sheahan's 2002 decision to disregard planning laws and bulldoze 250 trees on his hilltop property hurt his family financially and emotionally, he believes it helped save them and their home on the weekend. "The house is safe because we did all that," he said as he pointed out his kitchen window to the clear ground where tall gum trees once cast a shadow on his house. "We have got proof right here. We are the only house standing in a two-kilometre area." At least seven houses and several sheds on neighbouring properties along Thompson-Spur road in Reedy Creek were destroyed by Saturday night's blaze.

Saving their home was no easy task. At 2pm on Saturday, Mr Sheahan saw the nearby hills ablaze. He knew what lay ahead when the predicted south-westerly change came. The family of four had discussed evacuation but decided their property was defensible, due largely to their decision to clear a fire break. It also helped that Mr Sheahan, his son Rowan and daughter Kirsten were all experienced members of the local CFA. "We prayed and we worked bloody hard. Our house was lit up eight times by the fire as the front passed," Mr Sheahan said. "The elements off our TV antenna melted. We lost a Land Rover, two Subarus, a truck and trailer and two sheds."

Mr Sheahan is still angry about his prosecution, which cost him $100,000 in fines and legal fees. The council's planning laws allow trees to be cleared only when they are within six metres of a house. Mr Sheahan cleared trees up to 100 metres away from his house. "The council stood up in court and made us to look like the worst, wanton environmental vandals on the earth. We've got thousands of trees on our property. We cleared about 247," he said.

He said the royal commission on the fires must result in changes to planning laws to allow land owners to clear trees and vegetation that pose a fire risk. "Both the major parties are pandering to the Greens for preferences and that is what is causing the problem. Common sense isn't that common these days," Mr Sheahan said.

Melbourne University bushfire expert Kevin Tolhurst gave evidence to help the Sheahan family in their legal battle with the council. "Their fight went over nearly two years. The Sheahans were victimised. It wasn't morally right," he said yesterday. Dr Tolhurst told the Seymour Magistrates court that Mr Sheahan's clearing of the trees had reduced the fire risk to his house from extreme to moderate. "That their house is still standing is some natural justice for the Sheahans," he said.

He said council vegetation management rules required re-writing. He also called on the State Government to provide clearer guidelines about when families should stay and defend their property. Houses in fire-prone areas should be audited by experts to advise owners whether their property is defensible, Dr Tolhurst said.

Mr Sheahan said he wanted others to learn from his experience and offered an invitation for Government ministers to visit his property. He would also like his convictions overturned and fines repaid. "It would go a long way to making us feel better about the system. But I don't think it will happen."


Green ideas must take blame for deaths

By Miranda Devine

It wasn't climate change which killed as many as 300 people in Victoria last weekend. It wasn't arsonists. It was the unstoppable intensity of a bushfire, turbo-charged by huge quantities of ground fuel which had been allowed to accumulate over years of drought. It was the power of green ideology over government to oppose attempts to reduce fuel hazards before a megafire erupts, and which prevents landholders from clearing vegetation to protect themselves.

So many people need not have died so horribly. The warnings have been there for a decade. If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.

Governments appeasing the green beast have ignored numerous state and federal bushfire inquiries over the past decade, almost all of which have recommended increasing the practice of "prescribed burning". Also known as "hazard reduction", it is a methodical regime of burning off flammable ground cover in cooler months, in a controlled fashion, so it does not fuel the inevitable summer bushfires.

In July 2007 Scott Gentle, the Victorian manager of Timber Communities Australia, who lives in Healesville where two fires were still burning yesterday, gave testimony to a Victorian parliamentary bushfire inquiry so prescient it sends a chill down your spine. "Living in an area like Healesville, whether because of dumb luck or whatever, we have not experienced a fire . since . about 1963. God help us if we ever do, because it will make Ash Wednesday look like a picnic." God help him, he was right.

Gentle complained of obstruction from green local government authorities of any type of fire mitigation strategies. He told of green interference at Kinglake - at the epicentre of Saturday's disaster, where at least 147 people died - during a smaller fire there in 2007. "The contractors were out working on the fire lines. They put in containment lines and cleared off some of the fire trails. Two weeks later that fire broke out, but unfortunately those trails had been blocked up again [by greens] to turn it back to its natural state . Instances like that are just too numerous to mention. Governments . have been in too much of a rush to appease green idealism . This thing about locking up forests is just not working."

The Kinglake area was a nature-loving community of tree-changers, organic farmers and artists to the north of Melbourne. A council committed to reducing carbon emissions dominates the Nillumbik shire, a so-called "green wedge" area, where restrictions on removing vegetation around houses reportedly added to the dangers. In nearby St Andrews, where more than 20 people are believed to have died, surviving residents have spoken angrily of "greenies" who prevented them from cutting back trees near their property, including in one case, a tea tree that went "whoomp". Dr Phil Cheney, the former head of the CSIRO's bushfire research unit and one of the pioneers of prescribed burning, said yesterday if the fire-ravaged Victorian areas had been hazard-reduced, the flames would not have been as intense.

Kinglake and Maryville, now crime scenes, are built among tall forests of messmate stringy bark trees which pose a special fire hazard, with peeling bark creating firebrands that carry fire five kilometres out. "The only way to reduce the flammability of the bark is by prescribed burning" every five to seven years, Cheney said. He estimates between 35 and 50 tonnes a hectare of dry fuel were waiting to be gobbled up by Saturday's inferno.

Fuel loads above about eight tonnes a hectare are considered a fire hazard. A federal parliamentary inquiry into bushfires in 2003 heard that a fourfold increase in ground fuel leads to a 13-fold increase in the heat generated by a fire.

Things are no better in NSW, although we don't quite have Victoria's perfect storm of winds and forest types. Near Dubbo two years ago, as a bushfire raged through the Goonoo Community Conservation Area, volunteer firefighters bulldozing a control line were obstructed by National Parks and Wildlife Service employees who had driven from Sydney to stop vegetation being damaged.

The poor management of national parks and state forests in Victoria is highlighted by the interactive fire map on the website of the Department of Sustainability and Environment. Yesterday it showed that, of 148 fires started since mid-January, 120 started in state forests, national parks, or other public land, and just 21 on private property.

Only seven months ago, the Victorian Parliament's Environment and Natural Resources Committee tabled its report into the impact of public land management on bushfires, with five recommendations to enhance prescribed burning. This included tripling the amount of land to be hazard-reduced from 130,000 to 385,000 hectares a year. There has been little but lip service from the Government in response. Teary politicians might pepper their talking points with opportunistic intimations of "climate change" and "unprecedented" weather, but they are only diverting the blame. With yes-minister fudging and craven inclusion of green lobbyists in decision-making, they have greatly exacerbated this tragedy.

There is an opening now in Victoria for a predatory legal firm with a taste for David v Goliath class actions.


Greenies STILL want to ban preventive burnoffs

This lot should be charged with attempted murder

Controlled burning would be declared a key national threat to biodiversity under a new proposal before government that has been slammed as dangerous to life and property. While Environment Minister Peter Garrett yesterday gave Victoria carte blanche to do all it needed to control its deadly bushfires, without review by federal environment laws, it emerged he will be asked next year to decide whether prescribed burning to reduce fuel loads puts plants and animals at risk.

A Department of Environment spokeswoman confirmed yesterday it had received a public submission to list controlled burning as a "key threatening process" - the same category that applies to climate change, land clearing and feral cats, pigs and foxes. "This recommendation is due by late 2010," she said.

Victoria's bushfire tragedy has focused attention on the management of its state forests, national parks and other Crown land, which make up a third of the state but contributed four-fifths of the fires started since Australia Day. Among councils to resist controlled burning was the Yarra Ranges Shire, which was hit heavily by the Black Saturday bushfire disaster. In a document from 2007, its emergency resource officer said there was too little known about its effect on flora and fauna and called for "rigorous" environmental assessment of prescribed burning, taking account of species' breeding seasons and the Leadbeater's possum zone. "The Shire of Yarra Ranges has not undertaken prescribed burning on public land under its control for a number of years," the document said, citing a lack of expertise and the risk of lawsuits.

David Packham, a former supervising meteorologist for fire weather nationwide at the Bureau of Meteorology, accused environmentalists of behaving like "eco-terrorists waging a jihad" against prescribed burning. "The green movement is directly responsible for the severity of these fires through their opposition to prescribed burning," Mr Packham said.

The federal Environment Department's spokeswoman declined to name the applicant behind the proposal to list controlled burning as a "key threatening process". But bushfire consultant Chris Muller, a former fire officer with the Victorian and West Australian governments, said the proposal would make it even harder to carry out precautionary burn-offs to reduce fuel loads in forests. "I am appalled that Minister Garrett would even contemplate an action that would remove or restrict the use of the only effective large bushfire mitigation tool -- prescribed burning," he said. "The inevitable consequences of such action are disasters on the scale of that currently experienced in Victoria." Victoria already lists "inappropriate fire regimes" and "high frequency fires" as potential threats to the environment, which Mr Muller said reflected attempts to limit controlled burning.

Yesterday, Mr Garrett granted the Victorian Government an indefinite emergency exemption to take "any actions required" to respond to the bushfire crisis without waiting for approval by federal environment authorities. His department's spokeswoman said, however, Victoria did not normally need federal sign-off for firebreaks or controlled burns. "Victoria has environmental management plans approved by the Department of Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts that protect the environment and ensure that federal environmental approval processes do not get in the way of effective fire management in Victoria," she said. "Indeed, they include a provision that in an emergency, protection of life and property would be paramount."

The spokeswoman said the application to list prescribed burning as a threatening process would undergo "rigorous scientific evaluation" by an expert panel as well as public consultation before it went to Mr Garrett for a decision.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who is the real Rudd?

He has no principles, only a love of power, the usual Leftist defect. Unlike John Howard, he just goes with the flow, displaying neither courage nor convictions

During question time last week, as debate frothed about the Rudd Government’s $42 billion spending package, a voice in the background made a plea: “Will the real Kevin please stand up?” It was one of the more astute observations amid the orchestrated pronouncements and intervening pandemonium of parliament.

True prime ministerial character can never be judged before taking office or in the honeymoon period that follows. It emerges over time in shaping policy and responding to events. Worryingly, the emerging Kevin Rudd persona has at its core the convictionless pursuit of power.

It is difficult to construct a firm set of Rudd principles. As Prime Minister, he has mastered the art of slippery politics. He speaks with hyperbole to suggest conviction that, on closer scrutiny, is not there. He darts from one piece of Rudd rhetoric to the next, only to move away from each of his sweeping pronunciamentos with alarming speed.

There are two tests of political conviction. The first is one of consistency, delivering on promises made and adherence to core beliefs over time. The second test of conviction is courage: whether a politician has held beliefs before they emerged as the orthodoxy or simply jumped on a bandwagon only when it was popular and safe to do so. So who is the real Rudd? You be the judge.

Rudd was the Labor politician opposed to a broad-based consumption tax who rose in parliament on June 30, 1999, speaking with apparent passion to declare the passing of the GST legislation “a day of fundamental injustice. It will be recorded as the day when the social compact that has governed this nation for the last 100 years was torn up.” In 2006, he wrote about John Howard’s “regressive consumption tax”. Rudd’s heartfelt belief opposing the GST has not been aired since he became Prime Minister. GST keeps all the states afloat.

Rudd was the Opposition leader who described global warming during the last federal election as “the great moral issue of our time”. It was a vote winner. Kyoto was signed with the conviction that climate change was “the defining challenge of our generation”. And then the Rudd shuffle. By last December, the great moral issue was reduced to a meaningless carbon emissions reduction target of 5 per cent by 2020. Rudd ignored the findings of the UN panel he once lauded, which laid down a minimum target of 25 per cent to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 as necessary to prevent the sort of catastrophic climate change that Rudd once believed in. In October 2006, Rudd wrote his “light on the hill” Labor agenda for Australia was “taking the lead on climate change.” Now, there is no mention of leadership at Copenhagen 2009.

As Opposition leader in October 2007, Rudd committed a Labor government to taking “legal proceedings against President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad on a charge of inciting genocide” when the Iranian President spoke about wiping Israel off the map. The tough language of conviction was followed by inaction. Last December the Rudd Government announced it would not pursue legal action.

There was more tough-guy talk about Japan’s annual whaling hunt during the final term of the Howard government. As Opposition leader, Rudd spoke in grave tones about taking Japan to the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. That promise has evaporated into the political ether of office.

In addition to dumping promises, Rudd has a knack for discovering beliefs only when they are politically popular. Rudd boarded the responsibility agenda of indigenous politics only after it was politically safe to be on that side of the ideological divide, buffered by black leaders such as Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine. By contrast, John Howard staked out his ground on the dangers of victimhood politics and the need for practical reconciliation long ago, attracting scorn and derision for not kowtowing to the then accepted orthodoxy of symbolism and treaties.

Similarly, as Labor leader, Rudd morphed into an economic conservative when it was electorally popular to carve out those credentials. His language of fiscal prudence wooed voters as he assured us not a “sliver of light” separated Labor and the Coalition on fiscal policy. Now, amid a global financial crisis, when it is fashionable to attack the free market, Rudd’s stripes have changed. Now he is a social democrat who writes tomes about a conspiracy in Australia of neo-liberals who have left the country financially wrecked. As his more astute critics have asked, which social democratic country would Rudd rather govern in place of neo-liberal Australia, where a handy surplus enabled him to turn into a big-spending Keynesian PM? While he still claims to be an economic conservative, saying so does not make it so. Billions on cash handouts and “social” spending look like Rudd’s down payments on the next election dressed in the slippery language of “stimulus”.

Since his elevation to the ALP leadership in 2007, Rudd has sought to be taken seriously as a responsible leader with philosophical underpinnings and core beliefs. Writing in The Monthly in October 2006, Rudd said his mentor, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, would “caution against inflammatory rhetoric that seeks to gain political advantage”. Rudd attacked Howard’s “radioactive language”. Hypocrisy, thy name is Kevin. Bonhoeffer’s dictum has been dumped. Again and again, Rudd has conjured up the imagery of crisis to pump prime his political leadership: saving future generations from climate change, rescuing Australia from Howard’s “Brutopia” and now liberating Australia because “the great neo-liberal experiment has failed”. His war-footing language serves to undermine the confidence that is sorely needed and by not negotiating with the Opposition he exposes the emptiness of his language, given that a true economic emergency would demand genuine co-operation.

Rudd’s hyperbole serves only to make his undelivered promises and inconsistencies even more pronounced. Strip away the big words and solemn phrases and an empty edifice of unfulfilled promises and shifting opportunism remains. Rudd reminds one of the way 1920s US Democratic Party leader William Gibbs McAdoo described president Warren Harding’s speeches: “an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea”.

Confidence in a leader comes from knowing who they are and what they believe. Love him or loathe him, Howard was known to friend and foe. His political beliefs remained steady and he pursued them often against the orthodoxy of the time. Pragmatism was, of course, part of Howard’s political make-up. For example, he rejected a GST only to later embrace it as part of much needed tax reform, despite the political risks. But Rudd is an entirely different leader. There is not a single instance of Rudd taking a responsible but unpopular decision. With philosophical principles impossible to pin down, his only consistent and coherent belief is in political power. Every Rudd position has been determined by how to get it and, now, how to keep it.


Thousands of South Australian teachers are opting out

If you had to stand up day after day in front of an undisciplined rabble, you might too

MORE than twice as many teachers pulled out of the education system this year compared to last year, latest figures show. Data provided exclusively to The Advertiser by the Teachers Registration Board shows 3530 teachers let their registration lapse at the start of this school year, compared to 1328 last year. While 1235 new people joined the register this year - including more than 800 graduate teachers - there was still an overall drop of 1950 teachers. Last year, 1214 new teachers entered the system.

Public preschool, school and TAFE teachers on Monday were awarded a 3.75 per cent interim pay rise by the Industrial Relations Commission. The Teachers Registration Board, which covers all school sectors, predicted there would be a "significant decrease" in the number of teachers renewing their registrations because of the "age profile" of the workforce.

SA College of Educators president Wendy Teasdale-Smith said a recent 50 per cent rise in registration fees - from $180 to $270 - and a "significant increase in bureaucracy" also could be factors. "When it was easier (to stay registered), people kept their registration going just in case they wanted to teach, but if it gets too expensive and too hard, then they may think, `I can't be bothered'," she said.

Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said workforce projections showed there were "sufficient overall numbers of teachers to fill jobs" in public schools for at least the next five years and there were recruitment schemes in place. Arbitration over the dispute between teachers and the State Government will still be heard in the Commission from May, and this increase will be part of the final wage rise. The Australian Education Union (SA) lodged a claim for a 7 per cent interim pay rise last October.


Sydney restaurant sued over deadly sauce

People put a lot of trust in a restaurant when they dine there so I hope this prosecution serves as a warning to others

The NSW Food Authority is prosecuting a North Shore restaurant after an elderly customer died from eating sauce which was found to be contaminated. William Hodgins, 81, became violently ill after consuming a fish meal covered in asparagus sauce at Tables Restaurant at Pymble on January 12, 2007. An inquest into Mr Hodgins death found the sauce had become contaminated by a ground-based bacteria known as bacillus cereus after being left out on a kitchen bench in temperatures of between 30 and 40 degrees next to a cool room.

Magistrate Culver found the sauce had been kept out for longer than the four-hour period after which it should have been destroyed. It was then put into a cool room before being used again.

Mr Hodgins was found dead on the bathroom floor by his wife the next morning. His stomach had ruptured after heavy vomiting. Fourteen other people had consumed the sauce at the restaurant that night and some complained of stomach rashes, headaches and in one case nausea and vomiting.

Tables is facing five charges in relation to its food handling, four of which are related to the storage and processing of unsafe food. The fifth charge relates to incorrect labelling of food that needed to be destroyed.


Australia's public radio network censors poll finding that 94% of listeners believe 'global warming is a myth'

By Andrew Bolt

ABC NewsRadio last week asked listeners: Is Global Warming to blame for the current heatwave in Australia? The ABC can't have liked the answer much. The poll, and its emphatic result, has been deleted from the poll archive.

UPDATE Reader Michael gives the results that the ABC won't: 1. Global warming is a myth (94.4%) 2. Yes (2.8%) 3. No (2.8%) Number of voters: 15,451.

UPDATE 2 We're told that the ABC had to junk this poll because 90 per cent of the votes were rigged. All right, let's assume all those 13,906 bogus votes were cast entirely by warming sceptics and remove them from the results. That leaves us with these figures: Is Global Warming to blame for the current heatwave in Australia? 1. Global warming is a myth (40%) 2. Yes (30%) 3. No (30%) I'll accept even these "corrected" figures. Let the ABC publish them.

UPDATE 3 Incidently, reader Tom rang Laura of the ABC NewsRadio's web polling section this morning and was assured by her these polls were proof against multiple voting. But she didn't know until Tom told her that what her poll had just measured.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

LOL: Do-gooders found to be "racist"!

And indeed they are. There are few policies more blatantly racist than "affirmative action", for instance. But that is usually supposed to be OK. The reason I voted for Pauline Hanson three times was that I agreed with her that there should be one law for all Australians, regardless of colour. She even named her political party "One Nation" to stress that message. But the political elite across the spectrum supported the racist laws. You will find no mention of it below but: "From the outset, the Labor Party has extended full bipartisan support to the NT intervention, reflecting its agreement with the underlying economic and social agenda". The Rudd-led Labor party in fact made a pre-election promise to not roll back the intervention

There is little in the eyes of the international community more serious than a nation being found to have racist laws and policies. This was the claim made last week against Australia by 20 Aborigines. Their complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about the Northern Territory intervention has a strong prospect of success. If this proves correct, enormous pressure will be put on the Rudd Government to reform the intervention.

The complaint pulls no punches. It describes the intervention as a "flagrant breach" of Australia's obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. While its authors acknowledge the legitimate aim of improving the well-being of Aborigines in the Northern Territory, they argue that Australian law breaches the convention on two grounds. First, the law uses "punitive and racist measures" that "have led to serious, massive and persistent discrimination". Second, Australia has breached the convention by suspending the protections found in the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Howard government's intervention laws were passed in August 2007 to exclude the Racial Discrimination Act. The reason was clear. Parts of the intervention are racially discriminatory. For example, it quarantines 50 per cent of welfare income to be used for food and other essentials only for people living in Aboriginal communities. There is no exception even for people who can demonstrate they are responsible spenders of their income.

This and other problems are well known. After a year, the Northern Territory Emergency Response Review Board conducted an independent inquiry. Its October 2008 report found the situation in the Northern Territory was a "national emergency" and that the intervention should continue. However, it needed to be "recalibrated to the principle of racial equality".

Against this background, it will be no surprise if the UN committee finds that Australia must take immediate action to end racial discrimination in the Northern Territory and restore the Racial Discrimination Act. The committee need only follow the lead of the Australian Human Rights Commission, which has found the intervention contains a number of provisions that are discriminatory and removes protections against that discrimination

More here

Bushfire catastrophe had its prime source in Greenie resistance to preventive burnoffs

(My suspicions of yesterday stand confirmed -- JR)

By David Packham

Victoria has suffered the most tragic bushfire disaster to have occurred on this continent throughout its period of human habitation. The deaths, loss of homes and businesses and the blow to our feeling of security will take decades to fade into history. The trauma will live with the victims, who, to a greater or lesser extent, are all of us. How could this happen when we have been told in a withering, continuous barrage of public relations that with technology and well-polished uniforms, we can cope with the unleashing of huge forces of nature.

I have been a bushfire scientist for more than 50 years, dealing with all aspects of bushfires, from prescribed burning to flame chemistry, and serving as supervisor of fire weather services for Australia. We need to understand what has happened so that we can accept or prevent future fire disasters. That this disaster was about to happen became clear when the weather bureau issued an accurate fire weather forecast last Wednesday, which prompted me, as a private citizen, to raise the alarm through a memo distributed to concerned residents.

The science is simple. A fire disaster of this nature requires a combination of hot, dry, windy weather in drought conditions. It also requires a source of ignition. In the past, this purpose has been served by lightning. In this disaster, lightning has not played a big part, and for this Victorians should be grateful. But other sources of ignition are ever-present. When the temperature and wind increase to extreme levels, small events -- perhaps the scrape of metal across a rock, a transformer overheating or sparks from a diesel engine -- are capable of starting a fire that can in minutes become unstoppable if the fuel is present.

The third and only controllable factor in this deadly triangle is fuel: the dead leaves, pieces of bark and grass that become the gas that feeds the 50m high flames that roar through the bush with the sound of jet engines. Fuels build up year after year at an approximate rate of one tonne a hectare a year, up to a maximum of about 30 tonnes a hectare. If the fuels exceed about eight tonnes a hectare, disastrous fires can and will occur. Every objective analysis of the dynamics of fuel and fire concludes that unless the fuels are maintained at near the levels that our indigenous stewards of the land achieved, then we will have unhealthy and unsafe forests that from time to time will generate disasters such as the one that erupted on saturday.

It has been a difficult lesson for me to accept that despite the severe damage to our forests and even a fatal fire in our nation's capital, the political decision has been to do nothing that will change the extreme threat to which our forests and rural lands are exposed. The decision to ignore the threat has been encouraged by some shocking pseudo-science from a few academics who use arguments that may have a place in political discourse but should have no place in managing our environment and protecting it and us from the bushfire threat. The conclusion of these academics is that high intensity fires are good for the environment and that the resulting mudslides after rains are merely localised and serve to redistribute nutrients. The purpose of this failed policy is to secure uninformed city votes.

Only a few expert retired fire managers, experienced bushies and some courageous politicians are prepared to buck the decision to lock up our bush and leave it to burn. The politicians who willingly accept this rubbish use it to justify the perpetuation of the greatest threat to our forests, water supplies, homes and lives in order to secure a minority green vote. They continue to throw millions (and no doubt soon billions) at ineffective suppression toys, while the few foresters and bush people who know how to manage our public lands are starved of the resources they need to reduce fuel loads.

It is hard for me to see this perversion of public policy and to accept that the folk of the bush have lost their battle to live a safe life in a cared-for rural and forest environment, all because of the environmental fantasies of outraged extremists and latte conservationists.

In a letter to my local paper, the Weekly Times, on January 25, I predicted we were facing a very critical situation in which 1000 to 2000 homes could be lost in the Yarra catchment, the Otways and/or the Strezleckies; that 100 souls could be lost in a most horrible and violent way; and that there was even a threat to Melbourne's water supply, which could be rendered unusable by the ash and debris. Horrifically, much of this has come to pass, and it is not yet the end of the bushfire season.

In the face of this inferno, the perpetrators of this obscenity should have the decency to stand up and say they were wrong. Southeast Australia is the worst place in the world for bushfires, and we must not waste any time in getting down to the task of making our bush healthy and safe. But don't hold your breath. Do you hear that lovely sound the warbling pigs make as they fly by?


Kevin Rudd's $950 payments to be blown on pokies, plasmas, economists warn

ECONOMISTS have raised concerns the Federal Government's cash handouts to millions of people will be blown on pokies and plasma televisions. The Government wants to give payments of up to $950 to individuals as part of its $42 billion economic rescue package. But economists have told a Senate inquiry that $42 billion is too much money, and the handouts would be wasted.

Reserve Bank board member Warwick McKibbin called for the payments to be scrapped. "A cash payment ... only has the potential to temporarily stimulate demand and has no long-run benefits to the economy," Professor McKibbin told the inquiry last night. He said it would be better to bring forward tax cuts or temporarily cut the GST. Professor McKibbin, who said his remarks reflected his own views and not those of the Reserve Bank, said the $42 billion package was "too large".

Sinclair Davidson, professor of economics at RMIT, slammed the handouts. "Do we believe that Australians have not been borrowing and spending enough on alcohol, pokies and tobacco, and that there aren't enough plasma televisions around?" he asked the inquiry. "This particular package has got a very low bang for buck, and there are certainly (a) substantial amount of bucks involved in the project." Prof Davidson said tax cuts or a "GST holiday" would be a better way to stimulate the economy.

The opposition will vote against the plan, so the Government needs the support of the Greens and two cross-bench senators to get it through the Senate. Ominously for the Government, cross-bench senators aired a litany of concerns about the cash hand-outs at the inquiry, which is due to wrap up today. Family First senator Steve Fielding raised the case of a doctor earning $300,000 a year who did not think his family should reap thousands of dollars from the package. "There's a lot of people that are contacting me saying they don't actually need the money, they'll take it but they don't need it," Senator Fielding told the inquiry. "There's something wrong here, there's something horribly wrong".

The Greens took aim at the fact that people earning more than $80,000 would get a payment, saying it seemed like every player would win a prize. Richard Evans, executive director of the Australian Retailers' Association (ARA), said much of the last round of cash hand-outs was used to pay off debt. "Indeed, there is something uncomfortable to us about taxpayer funds being used to reduce credit card debt," he told the inquiry. The ARA is recommending a voucher system, redeemable at retail outlets.

Accountants told the inquiry that bringing forward tax cuts would be a better way to boost consumption. The Senate inquiry is due to hand down its findings tomorrow night, and the Senate to vote on the stimulus package on Thursday night.


Australian graduates face ban on work in Britain

On past form (i.e. the actions of the Whitlam Labor government), this may lead to retaliatory bans on Brits coming to Australia. And there are a lot more Brits coming to Australia than Australians going the other way. Phil Woolas had better discover some "historic ties" rather soon

AUSSIE university graduates may be barred from working in Britain with the recession forcing the British Government to toughen its immigration laws. Australian workers in Britain are already hamstrung by law changes late last year that made it tougher to extend or reapply for working visas. But British immigration minister Phil Woolas now plans to toughen the points-based immigration system for people from outside the EU, to protect 400,000 British university graduates entering the work force, particularly in the legal and financial sector.

The move comes just days after a backlash over recruitment advertisements targeting Australians for work on the London 2012 Olympics project and a series of wildcat strikes last week that saw thousands walk off the job demanding "British jobs for British workers".

According to British figures, between 10,000 and 18,000 qualified foreigners are expected to go to Britain to work this year without any job lined up. "The points-based system that has been introduced allows us to toughen the criteria and clearly in the economic situation that is something it is beholden on us to do," Mr Woolas said. "We want to maintain the highest possible levels of British graduate employment." Ironically, the British Government praised Australia when it adopted its points-based system last year.

After four quarters of negative growth, Britain was officially declared in recession last month fuelling fears of unemployment hitting three million people. Jobs fears have brought in a protectionist attitude across Europe with workers taking to the streets demanding jobs be given only to nationals. London Olympic chiefs were forced to dismiss fears construction jobs for the $20 billion 2012 Olympics project were being offered to Australians before Britons after a Sydney-based firm began offering positions.

Ironically, the Olympic Delivery Authority's chief executive is Australian-born David Higgins and a number of Australian companies are involved in the project. Britain's business minister Lord Mandelson said xenophobia and the recession was fuelling jobs fears.


Careless Qld. government school "loses" little boy

A Caboolture mum is furious with her five-year-old son's school after a stranger found him beside a busy road a kilometre away. Stacie Warwick's son Dylan Doelz left his Year 1 classroom at Morayfield State School shortly after school started . without anyone noticing.

Ms Warwick said she was an "absolute wreck'' when the school phoned her at 9.45am last Wednesday to tell her that another mum had found the youngster wandering the streets.

Dylan, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is believed to have left the school soon after his mother dropped him off. She had stayed with him until 8.40am and spoken with his teacher.

She received a call from the school at 9.45am saying Dylan had been found at Morayfield Rd, near Domnick St, and had been returned to the school. He crossed at least three side streets before he was stopped by the other mum, who he didn't know. "He could have been hit by a car. It could have been a psycho who picked him up. There are so many possibilities of what could have happened,'' Ms Warwick said.

Ms Warwick said the woman who found Dylan told her she had to cajole him into her car. "The school definitely did not know he was gone until (the mother) called,'' Ms Warwick said. "It is just appalling. I should know he's safe there.''

After the incident, the school moved Dylan to another class at Ms Warwick's request and he has been moved to a desk near the class teacher. The school has also requested Ms Warwick hand him to the teacher every morning, which she maintains she does already, and offered to place him in "supported play'' at breaks. Here he would be fully supervised but separated from the general school population.

``I've asked that he not be in supported play because he'll feel like he's being punished,'' Ms Warwick said. ``He got quite a scare himself because a stranger pulled over and asked him to get in a car.''

An Education Queensland spokesman said principal Vicky Gahan had met with Ms Warwick over the incident, along with a senior department official. ``While concerned at the incident, the mother has indicated that she is supportive of the actions of the principal in implementing safe practices in the school,'' the spokesman said.

Education Queensland did not respond to the Herald's request to detail the school's procedures on this issue. Ms Warwick said the response from Education Queensland and the school did little to prevent the same thing happening to other pupils.


Monday, February 09, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG pays his tribute to the true heroes fighting the terrible bushfires in Victora and South Australia.

A terrible but foreseeable tragedy for Australia

These fires are a regular occurrence so why are not vulnerable communities protected by regular backburning? Is it just another case of chronic government bungling or is it because of characteristic Greenie opposition to backburning? If the latter, the blame must be put fairly and squarely where it belongs and any future such opposition firmly discredited and resisted

More than 100 people are feared dead as the worst bushfires in Victorian history rage out of control. Police this morning confirmed 108 people, including four children, died in firestorms described by Premier John Brumby as "hell on earth". Shocked survivors said parts of the state looked as though they had been hit by a nuclear bomb. Most of the damage was done by two massive fires - one that virtually wiped out towns northeast of Melbourne including Kinglake and Marysville, and a second inferno that raced across Gippsland. The toll passes the Black Friday holocaust of 1939 in which 71 were killed, and the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983, which claimed 47 Victorians.

Twenty-two people were in the Alfred hospital with shocking burns, 10 in a critical condition. Heart-wrenching tales of tragedy and heroism emerged from the apocalypse. But it is feared many more bodies will be found in the swathe of destruction. As the scale of the disaster unfolded:

750 HOMES were confirmed destroyed and 330,000ha of land burnt.

PREMIER John Brumby said: "I have never seen anything like this and hope to never see it again."

POLICE were disgusted that some fires may have been deliberately lit.

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd called in the army and started a $10 million relief fund.

At least 29 people died in Kinglake, Kinglake West, St Andrews and Marysville where a monster fire is still raging on a 100km front. At least nine were dead in Gippsland at Callignee, Hazelwood, Callignee South and Jeeralang. Those two fires and a blaze near Beechworth are the major concerns for firefighters.

Picturesque Marysville was virtually wiped out and there are fears nearby Narbethong suffered a similar fate. "It was a most horrible day. It's going to look like Hiroshima, I tell you, it's going to look like a nuclear bomb. There's animals dead all over the road," Kinglake resident Dr Chris Harvey said. Six of the victims were in one car trying to outrun the inferno which swept through Kinglake in minutes.

Dr Harvey said the town was littered with burnt-out cars, and he believed many contained bodies. His daughters Victoria and Ali, both in their 20s, told of a local man, Ross, who lost both his daughters and possibly a brother. "He apparently went to put his kids in the car, put them in, turned around to go grab something from the house, then his car was on fire with his kids in it, and they burnt," Victoria said.

With cooler weather predicted for the next seven days, authorities are racing to contain all fires while they have the chance. Thousands of exhausted firefighters remained on the firefront last night, many still unable to return to their own ravaged communities. Teams of disaster victim identification experts were flying in from around the nation to perform a grisly task Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon compared to the Bali Bombings aftermath.

Mr Rudd announced Defence Force officers and bulldozers would be assigned to help build containment lines around major blazes continuing to burn unchecked. "The nation grieves with Victoria tonight," he said.

Police suspect some of the fires were started by arsonists as the state reeled in a heatwave which saw the mercury soar to a record 46.7C in Melbourne on Saturday. Forensic detectives and specialist arson investigators will visit the fire zones in the days ahead. CFA deputy chief officer Steve Warrington said even yesterday an arsonist was hampering efforts to fight fires in the Latrobe Valley. "We know we do have someone who is lighting fires in this community," he said. "While we often think it's spotting, we also know that there are people lighting fires deliberately."

Mr Brumby said his heart went out to those caught up in the disaster and called on Victorians to dig deep to help the thousands of people who have lost loved ones or houses. "It is one of the most tragic events in Victoria's history," he said. "For so many of us the scale of this tragedy defies comprehension. It is your generosity and selflessness that will see Victoria through this dark hour."

More here

Queensland public hospital system employed a doctor who was 'unemployable in US'

There were obviously zero checks made on his application. Queensland Health is such a noxious bureaucracy to work for that they will take anyone willing to work for them. The Queensland "free" hospital system was established in 1944 so it shows where such a bureaucracy ends up. It is a slowly metastasizing social cancer -- now with three bureaucrats for every clinical employee

Surgeon Jayant Patel was virtually unemployable in the US and lied to gain employment in Australia where he now faces criminal charges. The Magistrates Court in Brisbane heard Patel had a long history of disciplinary hearings in New York and Oregon before he was recruited as the director of surgery at Bundaberg Base Hospital. Patel, 58, who worked at the hospital between 2003 and 2005, is facing a committal hearing on 14 charges including the manslaughter of James Phillips, Mervyn Morris and Gerardus Kemps. He also faces fraud and grevious bodily harm charges.

Prosecutor Ross Martin SC recounted a history of disciplinary actions taken by American medical bodies against Patel dating back to 1984. The actions included a stayed suspension of his licence to practise and restrictions on his ability to perform certain surgery. Mr Martin said by 2001 Patel also needed to get second opinions on difficult surgery.

He said Patel had resigned from a major hospital in the American state of Oregon in September, 2001. Mr Martin said authorties in New York also reviewed Patel's status and he eventually surrendered his licence to perform surgery in New York. Patel applied for a job in a small town named Harney, Oregon, which had a hospital with just 25 beds. Patel failed to get the job.

Mr Martin then detailed how Patel was put in contact with Queensland Health authorities through a recruiting company. It was alleged Patel failed to tell the truth about his hisory in the US when gaining the necessary clearance to work in Australia. Mr Martin said it was further alleged Patel lied again when his registration in Australia was extended until he left in March 2005.

In the case of the manslaugher charge involving Mr Phillips, it was alleged Patel had not consulted a speciaist, Patel was restricted in the US on performing that type of operation, the operation was un-necessary and it was badly performed. Mr Martin said in the second manslaughter charge of Mr Morrs, Patel performed surgery when he was under USA restrictions, there had been an incorrect diagnosis, it was the wrong procedure, and there were mistakes in post operative procedures. Patel had also performed the wrong operation in the third manslaughter charge involving Mr Keeps, it was again under USA restrictions, and it had been inappropriate to perform the operation in the Bundaberg Hospital.

Mr Martin said one of the two operations on Mr Keeps had been performed in a negligent manner as Patel had not acted to stop internal bleeding. The court heard Patel had removed the bowel of a patient Ian Volwles when there was no need for the operation. Mr Martin said Patel had treated Mr Vowles for cancer but a later biopsy showed no signs of cancer. Patel faces a charge of grevious bodily harm for his operation on Mr Vowles.


Thicko police goons kill unresisting teenager

A grieving mother has accused police of putting their own lives before her son's after he was run over and killed while lying handcuffed on a busy Ipswich road. About 11pm on Saturday, Andrew Bornen, 16, was arrested by police following a complaint of a man wielding a machete in Albion St, Brassall. Although Bornen was not armed when the plainclothes officers approached him, police said the teenager was "obviously aggressive". Local residents said they were awoken by police shouting to a youth to "get down on the ground" but yesterday officers insisted Bornen lay on the road himself. "This young person made his own choice to lie down on the road once a Taser was presented to him," Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart said.

As he lay face-down and handcuffed on Albion St, police tried to flag down an approaching car but the young woman driver failed to stop and struck the teenager. He suffered massive head injuries and was pronounced dead at Ipswich General Hospital.

Yesterday his devastated family was struggling to understand how their "soft-hearted, loving son" could die in such a tragic way. "I blame the police for my son's passing away. He was left on the road to die," said his mother, Helen Bornen, who was being supported by husband Joe and their seven other children. "If police had time to get out of the way, why couldn't they have moved him?"

She said the family did not know why he was out at that time of the night and believed he may have been chasing a burglar from the house. "We don't even own a machete but if he was out with a baseball bat it would have been for a good reason," she said. Sister Amanda said she and her brother were inseparable.

Mrs Dornan said the police investigator who contacted the family had described the officers involved as "irresponsible and inexperienced". The Ethical Standards Command is investigating the death


Five reasons why a Rudd fiscal stimulus may not work

AUSTRALIA entered the global economic crisis well placed but our fiscal position is deteriorating more rapidly than in comparable economies. This is due to policy decisions since the May budget, which will erode the projected bottom line by $29 billion in 2008-09. The international comparisons are telling. According to the International Monetary Fund, average fiscal balances in advanced economies are set to deteriorate by 2.1 per cent of gross domestic product. In contrast, Australia's fiscal balance will deteriorate by 3.6 per cent of GDP.

Moreover, expenditure on the RuddBank and disbursements from the Building Australia Fund seem to have been excluded from the updated budget estimates, so the actual deterioration will be even greater, easily exceeding any previous peacetime fiscal expansion in Australia's history. Kevin Rudd says the enormous change in the fiscal position is justified by the need to stave off recession. But there are five reasons for questioning that claim.

First, it is far from clear activist fiscal policy will be effective. Australia is a small, open economy with a flexible exchange rate. There is consequently a real possibility that any increase in demand caused by fiscal easing will merely raise interest rates, induce capital inflow from abroad, appreciate the currency and reduce net exports. With growth in China and Japan slowing significantly, why implement measures that could exacerbate Australia's expected export downturn?

In the Keynesian framework, monetary policy, on the other hand, is actually more effective in an open economy. A monetary policy-induced reduction in interest rates boosts aggregate demand and induces capital outflow, leading to a depreciation of the exchange rate and a reduction in imports. As a result, even if we take the Keynesian approach seriously, fiscal stimulus may not only be ineffective, but by impeding or slowing further reductions in interest rates may stand in the way of a more effective response. As Treasury concluded in 2002, "higher budget deficits (or lower surpluses) can have a significant effect on interest rates in Australia", with the result that the "automatic stabilisers are likely to be relatively more effective than discretionary changes in policy". The federal Government must explain why those findings no longer apply.

Second, even if discretionary fiscal policy were effective, the proposed package appears to be too much, too soon. Unemployment is projected to remain fairly close to the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (the rate that is sustainable in the long run) in the near term. Given the scale of the proposed spending, there is surely a risk that the Government is depleting its ammunition and accumulating future costs before the case for doing so is well-established. Were the economic outlook to worsen, what room for manoeuvre would be left? With the tragedy in Victoria adding to the pressures on public expenditure, wouldn't a more cautious approach, such as that adopted in Canada (which is more exposed to the US downturn than we are), make sense?

Third, even if the package did create jobs, many of these would merely be displaced from more productive activities. As Treasury secretary Ken Henry said in March 2007, when the unemployment rate was the same as it is today, "in an economy operating at, or close to, full employment, any government intervention will shift resources, including jobs, from one activity to another and impose a deadweight loss of efficiency on the economy". He went on to say that "expansionary fiscal policy tends to crowd out private activity" by putting "upward pressure on interest rates", so "there is no policy intervention available to government, in these circumstances, that can generate higher national income without first expanding the nation's supply capacity".

Even in an economy that is weakening, the scale of the Rudd fiscal expansion means it must primarily involve job displacement: for every job saved or created, many will be shifted from more productive alternatives. How great those displacement effects have been to date, how great they are expected to be in future, and with what costs, are matters simply ignored in the Government's announcement.

Fourth, when governments spend money on projects whose costs exceed their benefits, they make us poorer. The future tax burden associated with deficit spending is then all the more painful, as it needs to be paid for from a smaller income base. But there seems little reason to expect the spending commitments envisaged in the stimulus package to yield net benefits. There is, for example, ample evidence that the states do as poor a job of allocating maintenance expenditure on existing infrastructure as they do in selecting new infrastructure. But the Government, while proposing to throw cash at infrastructure maintenance, does not appear to be imposing any requirement for a credible cost-benefit test to be met. The other spending commitments are no better targeted.

Finally, the package lacks a credible strategy for returning to budget balance. All spending must be paid for and the increased taxes associated with budget deficits inevitably distort economic activity and reduce welfare. Moreover, the expectation of future deficits may have immediate, adverse consequences for confidence and output. However, the Government's announcement merely sets a vague commitment to return to surplus through future reductions in spending growth. It does not say how great the cuts in spending will need to be or where those cuts will be made, and it ignores the obvious point that if there is wasteful spending that can be cut tomorrow, it ought to be cut today.

That so many vital questions remain unanswered highlights the inadequacy of the documentation that accompanied the stimulus package, including the absence of any details on what would happen without the spending, the impacts of individual programs and comparisons with alternative options. This is in striking contrast to the US, where the Congressional Budget Office last week released an independent, detailed assessment of the new administration's stimulus package, as well as of alternative proposals. That assessment concluded the administration's package would have positive near-term macroeconomic effects, but the increase in public debt would reduce output and welfare in the long run. In other words, there were trade-offs that politicians and the public had a right to assess in determining the course for the country.

Australians too have every right to be aware of the choices that underpin, and the consequences that are likely to flow from, the Government's package. Parliamentary scrutiny of spending decisions is fundamental to democracy. With so many important questions unanswered, the Senate should insist on doing its job, and on having the time to do it well.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Truth-telling top cop accused of racism

Even using the euphemism "Middle-Eastern" instead of what he really means -- Lebanese Muslim -- does not let him off the hook. And in a way that is right. "Middle Eastern" tends to unfairly condemn Lebanese Christians -- who have been remarkably successful at integrating into Australian life -- and have in fact been making a large and positive contribution for at least 100 years. So the Leftist nonsense about it being wrong to call a spade a spade can hurt people who do not deserve it at all

A new underworld documentary series, in which a senior police officer claims Middle Eastern gangs in Australia have "perfected" crime, has become embroiled in a row over racism and ethnicity before it has even aired. Channel Seven's Gangs Of Oz has already been labelled "damaging" by Australia's race discrimination commissioner. His concern has been echoed by legal experts, a former detective and a leading group involved in community diversity which called on the network to re-edit the documentary before broadcast.

In the first episode, titled Middle Eastern Gangs, Detective Superintendent Ken McKay, the head of the state's Organised Crime Directorate, makes the remarks which have sparked outrage. "The Middle Eastern groups are involved in everything. If they didn't invent it, they perfected it in terms of crime," he explains. He then adds: "The criminal, in the Middle Eastern sense, is more cowardice [sic] than your general criminal. They'd rather use a gun than stand in a fistfight."

After watching the show, federal Race Discrimination Commissioner Tom Calma said Superintendent McKay's casual use of terms such as "Middle Eastern" caused communities to feel stigmatised. "Ethnic descriptors used by NSW police, and in particular the descriptor 'Middle Eastern appearance', is seen by the community as contributing to stigmatisation."

While Gangs Of Oz claims to be an expose on organised crime, its critics suggest it only serves to illuminate Channel Seven's "sensationalist" reporting techniques. Dr Michael Kennedy, a lecturer in social justice at the University of Western Sydney, who previously spent 18 years as a detective in the NSW Police Force, said: "What Ken has said in this show is completely counter-productive to what the police are trying to achieve. "Using cliches and one-liners will only serve to alienate the community who have Middle Eastern heritage and I'm afraid it will be officers on the ground that will have to put up with the backlash from these remarks."

Yasser Solimon, executive director of Diversity International and a prominent member of Victoria's Muslim community, said: "It's very sensationalist and deliberately tries to shock. I would like to see it re-edited before going to air or at least some sort of introduction put on which attempts to balance the views in the show."

The producers of the documentary, which is set to air on Wednesday night, are former Today Tonight host Neil Mercer and veteran tabloid reporter Steve Barrett. Mr Mercer said: "Ken was calling a spade a spade." "We are so used to police officers dancing around things and not engaging in plain speaking but nobody could accuse him of that." "He's a very senior member of the NSW Police Force and experienced in talking to the media. I certainly didn't take his comments as racist and I don't think anybody else should."


New South Wales public hospital's $75m in unpaid bills

NSW public hospitals have officially hit rock bottom, producing their worst financial results on record. The NSW Health annual report, to be tabled in Parliament next month, reveals all the State's health services blew their budgets during 2007-08, plunging them into unprecedented debt. In total, health services overspent by $159.4 million - a result 500 per cent worse than in the previous year. Despite this, patients are being forced to wait longer for beds and more medical mistakes are being made.

The disastrous results have prompted the State Government to declare a crackdown on spending and tighter monitoring of budgets. But staff cutbacks [not including "essential" personnel such as clerks, managers and "administrators", of course] are likely to have a detrimental impact on services to patients this financial year. The Northern Sydney and Central Coast regions sank deepest into the red, racking up debts of $63.3 million - more than double the total health service overspend in 2006-07. The debt-laden Greater Western and North Coast area health services each went over budget by about $30 million.

Unpaid bills also reached new highs, leaving businesses that supply hospitals struggling to stay afloat. The value of accounts not paid within a benchmark of 45 days skyrocketed from zero in 2007 to $75.1 million in 2008. South Eastern Sydney Illawarra was the worst offender, owing creditors $24.3 million. Greater Western had not paid $20.9 million and Greater Southern accumulated bills of $12.7 million. This is the worst level of creditor payment on record -- and the figure has increased since results were compiled. Last week, NSW Health admitted the total amount owed to creditors was now at $117.5 million.

The report also revealed worrying slumps in key performance indicators. One in four patients waited more than 30 minutes to be offloaded from an ambulance at emergency departments. This transfer, described as "a challenge", is supposed to be as quick as possible to improve a patient's chance of survival and ambulance efficiency. Nearly a quarter of emergency department patients waited more than eight hours for an inpatient bed.

Mistakes are also on the rise. There were 583 serious safety incidents "in which death or serious harm to a patient has occurred", the highest figure in at least five years. NSW Health claimed, however, this was because of a change of definitions and better reporting. There were also more incorrect procedures, including surgery mistakes, and more deaths of hospital patients in falls.

Overall, NSW Health's expenses amounted to a record $13.12 billion in 2007-08 - nearly $36 million a day.


Onya Quenty!

For non-Australian readers, "Onya" is one of those many abbreviations that Australians so often use. It is short for "Good on you!". I have an idea that it may be used in Britain too. Through much exposure to Australians, Britons have learnt some of our slang

GOVERNOR-GENERAL Quentin Bryce has dumped $6.5million plans to renovate the two vice-regal residences because of the economic downturn. The sweeping renovations to Government House in Canberra and the gracious Admiralty House on Sydney Harbour had been planned by Ms Bryce's predecessor, Major-General Michael Jeffery. The bulk of the money, $5million, was to build a multi-function reception room at Government House, in the leafy Canberra suburb of Yarralumla, on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. The massive project was a key part of a 10-year strategic works program. The plan was to replace office areas at the corner of Government House with a lavish new function and reception area opening onto the lush gardens.

A handwritten note from Ms Bryce's official secretary, Stephen Brady, to his deputy, Brian Hallett, explains that the expenditure could not be justified because of "the serious economic circumstances facing the country, and hardships by fellow Australians". Proceeding with the extension - the cost of which Mr Brady noted could "spiral" - would be "folly".

Other renovations now on the backburner include $885,000 for air-conditioning at Admiralty House, stonework and sea wall repairs at the harbour mansion, upgraded lighting at Yarralumla and general repairs and road resurfacing. Taxpayers shell out about $12 million a year to support the Office of the Governor-General, which employs about 90 staff.

Ms Bryce, sworn in last September, has demonstrated a less ceremonial approach to the role. The traditional "vice-regal" column that records her daily appointments has been replaced by "the Governor-General's Program". She prefers not to be called "Her Excellency", and has already undertaken tours of Afghanistan, East Timor and drought-ravaged rural Australia.


Barry Humphries, the clown prince of suburbia

In my view he is the world's greatest living satirist -- JR

'FAR from wishing to change society," Barry Humphries once wrote in his wonderful orotund way: "I can only hope that my audience will pause, reflect for a moment, and pass on their immutable way, not forgetting, perhaps, to drop a coin in my hat."

The mock humility suggests a lowly street act but Humphries, who turns 75 on Tuesday week, is a performer known by millions of adoring fans, his celebrity astonishing. Yet surely few actors in history have been so derided or critically lacerated as the man who created Les Patterson, Sandy Stone and especially that force of nature, Edna Everage; most of the attacks as humourless and splenetic as the people he mocks in the live shows he once called "massage parlours of the human spirit".

At the start of his long career he was seen as a coterie comedian, too smart for his own good; now his celebrity is disparaged as a sell-out, a sign of meretriciousness and of his seeming irrelevance to contemporary reality. To those on the Left who loathe his seeming disdain for anything progressively worthy, he is a political conservative, but to those on the Right, habitually uncomfortable with larrikinism, he's a cultural extremist.

"A conservative contrarian while many in his generation were moving left, Humphries nevertheless retained a bohemian delight in transgression that makes him a radical," says cultural historian Tony Moore, author of The Barry McKenzie Movies, an account of the comedian's "ocker comedies" that celebrated and critiqued the Australian national character in the 1970s. "While Humphries the artist indulges elitist inclinations, the performer loves the applause from the crowd. Here is the paradox in Humphries's cultural politics, and possibly his personality."

Another paradox is how a young man who couldn't remember lines (he called it mnemonic thrombosis) actually became an actor in the first place. Let alone one who would transform Australia's creative consciousness. Saved from the business future his parents had planned for him, Humphries was somehow invited to join the fledgling Union Theatre Repertory Company early in 1955 and toured Victorian country towns performing one-night stands on an assortment of stages. He played Duke Orsino, in tights, in a production of Twelfth Night ("absurdly miscast," he said), directed by Ray Lawler who worked on his play, Summer of the Seventeen Doll, in his hotel room after each show. "Playing Orsino wasn't an auspicious beginning as an actor for Barry," remembers fellow cast member Malcolm Robertson. "The school audiences didn't accept him in the role as much as he tried desperately to bring different approaches to it."

Edna made her debut in "dribs and drabs" during the tour, recalls Robertson, largely invented to relieve the boredom of the long hours of bus travel between halls. The actors sang, recited poetry and Humphries gradually developed a falsetto impersonation of a gauche, garrulous Melbourne housewife. He improvised by absurdly, and endlessly, repeating the platitudes of the well-meaning members of the Country Women's Association who, after each performance, thanked the actors for bringing culture to their towns.

At Lawler's suggestion Edna, named after Humphries's nanny, made her first appearance in a UTRC revue, the final production of the 1955 season as Melbourne prepared for the next year's Olympic Games. It was felt that although he was a lousy actor but "naturally, instinctively ridiculous", he possibly might contribute to "the more frivolous theatre". He devised a sketch in which his "average housewife" offered her Moonee Ponds home as an Olympic billet; the dialogue while short on conventional gags lovingly detailed the amenities and appointments of her villa. Humphries recalled the audience was convulsed at the references "to burgundy wall-to-wall carpets, lamington cakes and reindeers frosted on glass dining-room doors".

The cultural aspirations of Edna Everage, then with bare, hairy legs shod with flat black brogues and wearing a pointed yellow clown-like hat purloined from Humphries's mother, suddenly found their way into art. "Edna's simpering genteelisms and her post-war, house-proud rhapsodies had a kind of thrilling novelty that is hard to believe today," Humphries wrote in his 1992 autobiography, More Please.

Another revue called Rock'n'Reel followed in 1958 at the tiny New Theatre in Melbourne in which Humphries introduced Sandy Stone to the stage, elderly and comically melancholy, alongside Edna. He had been first heard on a record called Wild Life in Suburbia with Edna on the other side. For the next 50 years Humphries has maintained that he is just another clown, still mastering what he calls "the cheering-up business" which began on that bus. But as critic Katharine Brisbane once wrote: "It is revealing the dead heart inside which makes Barry Humphries a clown quite out the ordinary."

He has developed a compelling understanding of show business, its secret wisdom, that of bringing gawps of wonder by tricks, wiles and all kinds of ballyhoo; and also of how unforgiving it is. "In this kind of entertainment you can't afford to hesitate; you must have the courage to go on with it; success is 80per cent effrontery and 20 per cent talent," he once admitted.

Unlike some great performers, the excitement he conjures remains inside the proscenium arches of his theatres and, these days at least, never follows him into the street. His characters bear no relation to the urbane, often mordant wit he reverts to when he becomes Barry Humphries, the make-up and frocks left in the dressing room. Certainly his speech sometimes appears so elaborately filigreed, his syntax worthy of Milton that you wonder whether that is an act as well. People often ask: who is he really? His performance of himself is consummate; he never travesties the art of acting but neither does he ever tarnish his own privacy: what we get in reality is extravagantly artificial.

Airing on Tuesday, ABC1 television documentary The Man Inside Dame Edna -- filmed during Humphries's 2007 Back with a Vengeance Australian tour -- attempts to explore the hidden side that gave birth to his alter egos. The filmmakers take Humphries back to the "nice" Melbourne of his childhood, suffocating and complacent. He speaks of what David Williamson calls his continuing demolition job on his thankfully departed mother -- seen by many as the model for the monstrous Dame Edna in her full flowering -- as her creator continued to develop her through the decades into a beloved mini-industry. "In fact we can thank Barry's mother for the appearance, out of literally nowhere, of our greatest social satirist," Williamson says. "I'm not sure she'd be flattered to think she had contributed so much to Australian humour, but on the other hand she has been immortalised."

The seeds of Edna can be seen in one devastating incident. Humphries tells of returning from a wonderful afternoon tea at the house of one of his mother's friends and remarking on how much he enjoyed the cake they'd been served. His mother's one-word response sums up much of the class snobbery that he would spend his life dissecting. "Bought!" she said to him. On another occasion he came home from school and found all his books had disappeared. "What happened to my books?" he asked. "Oh, you've read them," his mother said. "A nice man from the Salvation Army came and took them away." For the rest of his life, he says, he has searched for replicas of these same books. [I have had exactly the same experience -- JR ]

He talks of his adolescent heroes, the dadaists of Zurich and Paris -- Tzara and Picabia -- and his pioneering "street theatre" at Melbourne University. Of dadaism he says: "Its message of bad taste, of effrontery, of ferocity really, gave me a wonderful sensation of liberation, of intensity, and neither of those things has been granted to me as a privileged suburban dweller."

Phillip Adams argues that contrary to common belief Humphries actually discovered Australia in the 1950s in his first revues, in which Edna and Sandy Stone appeared. "He found its illusions, its brand names, its advertising jingles, the funny names of its suburbs and streets," he says. "And suddenly Australia was called into existence; it had been there only we hadn't discovered it."

Williamson remembers in the early '60s hearing of a brilliant new comic talent whose work was only available via rare vinyl records, "passed around like sacred objects among those in desperate search of a release from the stultifying fake 'niceness' of an Australian middle class desperate to distance themselves from the convict 'stain". The mention of Humphries, he says, was like a cryptic password identifying one as belonging to a renegade group who refused to concede that Australian suburbia was the closest thing to paradise yet achieved on earth.

"He gave permission to a new generation to refuse to be 'nice'; to wage war on the insufferable Australian smugness," according to Williamson. "Graham Kennedy, I'm sure was a beneficiary." So was the new wave of Australian theatre centred around the Pram Factory, La Mama and Nimrod and the emerging film industry with its hugely successful larrikin comedies. "Sometimes we might have gone a little overboard in our celebration of the vulgar poetry of Australian English, but it was needed; all we ever saw was English plays and American films. Barry was the prophet appearing miraculously from the deserts of Australian conformity."

Comedy writer Garry Reilly, co-creator of the ground-breaking Naked Vicar Show, agrees. "Barry transformed not only the comedy business, but also the way we look at ourselves; he was the bridge that took us from the cosy non-threatening world of vaudeville into and dangerous new territory of satire," he says. "It was uncomfortable at first as we struggled with what it revealed about ourselves and even worse, how others saw us."

His influence on satirists continues. "Barry Humphries is the reason I decided to become a writer," says comedian Shaun Micaleff. "I'd seen a number of his shows over the years, even managing to catch him in London's West End where, famously, he had arranged several people to topple out of a balcony. He was and remains very good at unsettling an audience; even appalling them slightly."

There seems little self-doubt about Humphries as he approaches 75 years of age, most demons conquered. To the chagrin of many observers there is no sense that by appearing so constantly on stage he seeks to overcome any emotional history. No sense of unreality assails him as it does some famous actors; he is not a man who leaves the stage and returns to being a nobody. Or does he? Of all the characters he has created one stands out, my favourite Humphries figure, the only one the enigmatic comic himself, in the foreword to his autobiography, suggests is real.

He is not the friendly fellow who confronts him each morning from the shaving mirror with his rehearsed and jaunty grin. The real man Humphries suggests is the round-shouldered, middle-aged man, dewlapped and disconsolate, "a few feet from me and looking in the other direction", he glimpses when he steps into a lift or washroom.

Happy birthday, Barry.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

The unreason about "obesity" never stops

"Obesity epidemic has spread to babies" And it's all due to them watching fast food commercials on TV, I suppose. What's never mentioned is that lifespan is very little affected by how fat you are and people of MIDDLING weight live longest. What you see in babies is clearly the result of genetics. Weight is highly hereditary. And the constant cries of "epidemic" are just attention-getting nonsense too. In both Australia and the USA, average weight in children has plateaued since 1998

BABIES as young as one are being diagnosed as obese, with a major hospital treating youngsters twice the size they should be. Doctors at the Children's Hospital at Westmead are admitting youngsters with severe weight-related issues such as sleep apnoea and diabetes. The problem is so widespread that there is now a 12-month waiting period at the state's only child weight management clinic at Westmead, The Daily Telegraph reports. The clinic, which also has psychologists, dietitians and physiotherapists, has 150 children aged between one and 16 on its books.

Paediatrician and weight specialist Shirley Alexander, who has called for obese children to be taken into the care of DOCS, said it was a shocking reality that the obesity epidemic sweeping the nation is now claiming toddlers under four. "A one-year-old who should be 10kg is actually 18 to 20kg or a two-year-old who should be 12kg who is 25kg,'' Dr Alexander said. [Which they have genetically inherited from fat parents]

She said over-feeding and large portion sizes are to blame for toddlers being overweight, rather than the consumption of junk food. "We are seeing children who can't walk properly or wipe themselves because they are obese,'' Dr Alexander said. Not backing away from her calls for morbidly obese children to be seized by child protection officers, Dr Alexander said she and her colleagues were at the "coalface'' of the obesity epidemic, dealing with children whose health had become so severe they were developing fatal diseases.

At the same time the hospital is reporting an increase in under-10s being admitted for severe hip and joint problems as a result of being overweight. "We are seeing more children with pre-diabetes or under-eights who have serious insulin resistance,'' she said. "We have pre-adolescents who have sleep apnoea and adolescent girls are also having menstrual problems because they are developing polycystic ovary syndrome. "We are beginning to see children younger and more seriously affected.''

Latest figures reveal that one in four children are overweight or obese. Doctors use a series of tests including the Body Mass Index (BMI), which measures their weight-to-height ratio, as well as measuring the weight circumference and also a Z score - which tests their weight distribution against their peers.

The Government declared obesity a priority health issue last year with the problem estimated to have cost $21 billion annually. Parents have been warned to rein in their children's poor diets or risk a lifetime of serious health problems, including heart and liver disease. [Rubbish!] "We are not blaming the parents but they do have to take parental responsibility,'' Dr Alexander said. [A "complex" statement!]

While BMI is used as a guide by most doctors to test if a child is at risk of being overweight or obese, it is not a diagnostic tool and parents who are worried should visit their doctor. In the UK this week, the Government ordered junk food manufacturers such as Nestle to downsize their portions to tackle the obesity crisis. [Which usually in fact leads to people eating MORE -- but you can't expect governments to look at the medical literature. They just KNOW] A spokesman for Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon yesterday said that the British plan was not being considered for Australia. [Good for Nicola!]


Global warming will save people's lives

By Andrew Bolt

More than 30 Victorians died in last week's heat in one of the great scandals of green politics. About 20 more people died in South Australia, but neither state government is telling yet how precisely the victims died, saying they are awaiting coroners' reports. But already warming extremists such as Prof Clive Hamilton are excusing these same governments -- which almost certainly contributed to at least some of these deaths. "Australians are already dying from climate change," shouted this professor of public ethics at the Australian National University, and author of Scorcher. But Hamilton is utterly wrong. Fact: Cold, not heat, is what really kills people, as we see now in Britain. Fact: A warming world would save countless lives, not cost them. And fact: Those who died last week were in less danger from global warming than from the deadly incompetence of green governments trying to "stop" it.

You think that sounds extreme? Then consult the unambiguous evidence that damns the governments of both Victoria and South Australia. We already know a heatwave can kill the very frail, if they aren't protected. In 1939, for instance, 438 people died in the Black Friday heat, not including the 71 Victorians killed by the fires. The temperatures back then were higher than those in Victoria and South Australia last week, but the heat this time hung around for longer. Yet despite our much greater population today, no more than 50 people died from heat, a fraction of the 1939 toll.

What changed? Mostly our ability now to stay cool - most obviously through airconditioning. Airconditioning saves not just sweat, but lives. But what do we now see? South Australia's Government actually asked people to avoid using airconditioners last week, citing environmental reasons. In Victoria, Deputy Premier Rob Hulls had earlier asked people to likewise avoid using airconditioners unless necessary. The Age even campaigned against them, asking readers to toughen up.

But far deadlier than this jihad against airconditioners was that the power in both states last week crashed. On the first day of Melbourne's heat wave, tens of thousands of homes - some with sick people - lost power because our grid cannot cope with cities grown so big and rich that many of us use airconditioners. And the next day 500,000 more homes went black when the cable carrying extra power from Tasmania was switched off. Sure, it had been designed to operate until temperatures reached 45C in Melbourne, but not (for some reason) if they reached just 35C in Tasmania. And so, click.

Who knows how many people then died? In Victoria, the coroner will say only that deaths last week were double the norm. The South Australian coroner said he'd had "more sudden deaths than is usual". Police and ambulance sources suggest tp to 50 extra deaths, possibly from heat.

Of course, Hamilton might argue that this is simply the mounting death toll we must expect when 20th century cities meet 21st century warming. Let's ignore the obvious reply - that in fact the globe has cooled since 2002, although, true, it may soon warm again. Let's look instead at Britain, now having its coldest winter in 13 years. So vulnerable are the elderly to cold that a World Health Organisation report last year estimated that 40,000 Britons died every winter, and these "excess winter deaths are related to poor housing conditions - insufficient insulation, ineffective heating systems and fuel poverty". That's right: 40,000 Britons die each year in the cold, often because they're too poor for warming. Compare that to the just 50 Australians who may have died in the worst heatwave in a century.

The British Facility of Public Health even says it expects 8000 Britons to die for each degree that the cold dips below the winter average. And this winter is so severe that the National Pensioners Convention has warned that one in 12 old people may perish. What's true of England is true everywhere. The British Medical Journal in 2000 reported a study by scientists in Britain, Italy, Holland and France who found that "all regions showed more annual cold-related mortality than heat-related mortality". They concluded: "Our data suggest that any increases in mortality due to increased temperatures would be outweighed by much larger short-term declines in cold related mortalities."

Understand, Clive? Rising temperatures will actually save lives. Indeed, University of London researchers calculated in the Southern Medical Journal that in Britain, at least, a big warming over the next 50 years "would increase heat-related deaths in Britain by about 2000 but reduce cold-related deaths by about 20,000".

So let's agree on the evidence: cold is the real killer, and airconditioning saves us in summer, just as central heating can save the frail in winter. So how mad are our governments? The Rudd Government will next year impose an emissions trading scheme that will "save" the planet by making power for your heaters and coolers more expensive. Victoria is even trialing a smart-meter so it can cut power use on hot days by making your electricity so expensive that you'd have to pay $170 a day to run ducted airconditioning. And all this to "save" a planet from a warming that could save hundreds of thousands of lives.

We're "dying from climate change", Clive? Dying for it, more likely.


Dame Elisabeth Murdoch celebrates a brilliant century

DAME Elisabeth Murdoch pauses to repeat the question, placing her knife and fork carefully aside on her plate, and ponders a while before answering. She has much to ponder. Born in 1909, here is a woman who has lived through two world wars, met kings and queens, and walked and talked with historical figures such as Dame Nellie Melba and Sir Winston Churchill. She's seen nearly two dozen Australian prime ministers come and go - and entertained Billy Hughes, Joe Lyons, Stanley Bruce, Robert Menzies and Malcolm Fraser at her home - among so many other world figures. (The latest prime minister, Kevin Rudd is soon to call on her to look at her garden, and an appointment has been pencilled into the little red leather-bound diary she keeps close by in her large handbag.)

This remarkable woman was alive when Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup and Don Bradman scored his first century; she has watched wood-and-wire biplanes become jumbo jets and crystal radio sets morph into giant-screen televisions. As a girl she grew up with the wind-up gramophone, Morse code and telegrams, but her great grandchildren send each other text messages on their mobile phones. She has witnessed history, and become a figure of history herself. And yet, and yet . . . events flash through her mind before she gives her considered answer to the original question.

"I think the most significant moment was when I went out on to the tennis court one evening here at Cruden Farm with my son, Rupert," says Dame Elisabeth. "We looked up into the night sky together and there was this white light passing overhead. It was the first satellite." It was October 1957, and the Russians had just launched Sputnik I. It was passing overhead at 29,000km/h. The world listened to the solitary beep, beep, beep from a little ball weighing just 100kg sounding back from space. "Rupert pointed the light out to me and said that this was one of the most exciting indications of what lay ahead for the future."

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch is always looking ahead. She says the secret of living a long and happy life is always to be optimistic. "Be optimistic - and always think of other people before yourself," she says.

On the eve of her 100th birthday she has invited me to Cruden Farm for lunch, greeting me in person after hearing me using the iron knocker at her front door. The electric bell seems to be out of order. Warm and welcoming, with a ready smile and a frequent amused chuckle, she's as alert and observant as ever.

She came to Cruden Farm in 1928 as a 19-year-old bride, the wedding present from her husband, Keith. She tells me, quite unselfconsciously, that the happiest time of her life was the almost 25 years she was married to Sir Keith Murdoch, who died in 1952 aged 67. She was left a widow at 43. "It was a wonderful romance but so much more came from it - my children, and then the opportunity to be useful in so many ways," she says.

To reach Cruden Farm you drive down the long, crunching-gravel driveway, flanked by the lemon-scented gums she and Keith planted together. Around it is the magnificent garden she created, and here is the family home they shared with their four children. The wind sighs through the branches of a huge oak tree near the front door, which stands so strong and sturdy. Time seems to stand still here. It is an enchanted place. The tree, as a seedling, was planted in the early 1930s.

The house, with its white columns, Australian flag flying from the roof, is filled with pictures, old oak furniture, mementoes and memories of such a long lifetime. "You've got to be ruthless in the garden," says Dame Elisabeth, breaking any sentimental reverie and leading the way through the sitting room at a brisk pace with her walker. A huge vase of fresh yellow roses stands in a corner.

"A garden is always changing and there are times you've just got to pull things out. Michael thinks I'm more ruthless than he is - but you've just got to look to the future and take out what's not doing well and plant something that will do better in the future." Michael Morrison has been No. 2 gardener to Dame Elisabeth at Cruden since 1971. Five days a week he and Dame Elisabeth travel around the garden in her electric buggy early in the morning deciding what should be done, what should come out, what should go in. "The garden is all planted up now and coming into its very best time," she says. "It should be pretty good for the party."

WE SIT at a plain oak table in the dining room. Dame Elisabeth pours a glass of cold riesling as poached salmon, together with fresh vegetables picked from the garden, are served.

Actually there are two parties for Dame Elisabeth this weekend. On Saturday, her immediate family is gathering and Rupert is flying in from New York. Then on Sunday, 558 family and close friends will sit down at lunch under a marquee by the lake. "It's so sad - there's so many people I'd love to have, but we simply just can't fit them in," says Dame Elisabeth. "Besides, the family keeps growing, too."

At last count she has 74 direct descendants, including two great-great grandchildren - "with another one imminent". Over the salmon she talks about her life of service, how she was so lucky to have been invited to join the committee of the then Children's Hospital, where she served for 33 years. "I was lucky then to follow on Keith's good service with the National Gallery, and from there I went on to the arts . . . I really have been so very fortunate in my life." Her most satisfying achievement, she says unhesitatingly, was the establishment of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute - "doing so much for the betterment of the health and happiness of children".

Also without hesitation, she picks husband Keith as the most interesting man she's ever met and, after a moment's thought, names her English friend, the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury, as the most interesting woman. "We have so many interests in common, she is highly intelligent and we share a passion for gardening," she says.

Fresh raspberries ("I do love them") and ice cream have arrived as we turn to the state of the world today. Is it a happier place than when she was young? "No!" she replies sharply, "there is so much turmoil now, so much unhappiness. "I suppose there have always been wars but now there seem to be so many more." Dame Elisabeth is also firm about her advice for the young Australians of today. "Education! That's the most important thing. And family! I believe the family is everything."

Over coffee and chocolates, she reaches for the diary to check on another appointment. "Busy! I'm always busy! It's quite absurd. I refuse more invitations than I accept but people are so awfully kind and ask me to this and that. "Half the time I shouldn't do it, but there are things to go to that I enjoy. Then there's my lovely occupation of bridge. I'd love to play two or three times a week if I had time, it's my secret vice. And I enjoy people. So I go out far too much. I'm a great enjoyer!"

Dame Elisabeth laughs heartily. She leads the way back through the house, pushing her walker even quicker through to her study - which she still calls the nursery room - picking up a large bundle of mail from a table on the way. "My correspondence, well, it's just . . . appalling! "I have a secretary who comes twice a week for two or three hours but it only really scratches the surface. "You see, I try always to write to people in my own hand . . . "I prefer to do that and I so much enjoy receiving handwritten letters."

It is a chilly day, and Dame Elisabeth settles by an open fire to read her letters and a biography she is also enjoying. She could almost be describing herself as she talks about the book. "It's all about Etty, Lady Desborough. Fantastic woman! She was madly attractive. Had an enormous number of suitors all the time. "She was very happily married and she was very clever and never allowed things to go beyond friendship. She kept all these tremendous men as admirers and also all the women, who also loved her."

DAME Elisabeth may be on the eve of turning 100 but her enthusiasm for life bursts forth like that of a young girl. "I plan to go on living a long time," she says. "I know this is amazing, it's an extraordinary thing and I have to face the fact that my time is running out. But I can't think beyond that. "I don't feel old at all! "And I can't believe I'm ever going to die. That sounds absurd. And that's the amazing thing about life - I mean, I could pop off tomorrow. But I must see in my own 100th birthday party." Again, she chuckles happily. And settles down comfortably by the fire for the afternoon.


'Zombie' copycats hack electronic road signs

ZOMBIE road signs are invading Australia, as vandals take to hacking the electronic displays with simple instructions from the web. "Zombies ahead!" warned one sign on the Gold Coast this week, in reference to a now-infamous message displayed in the US last month. The pranksters also illegally hacked into signs around the area with other messages, including "Nobody has ever loved you," according to Another sign displayed the phrase "All your sign are belong to us," a reference to a popular web video of a poorly-translated Japanese video game.

"I had a good laugh," said Adam Hudson, who spotted the signs on the way to the gym. But the Queensland Department of Main Roads was not laughing and said the prank had the potential to kill. "I am appalled by the irresponsibility of this act," said acting regional director Paul Noonan. "Traffic management messages are essential to alert motorists of changed traffic conditions and upcoming works," he said. "By changing the messages these vandals have potentially put the lives of Gold Coast motorists at risk."

Electronic road signs contain a small built-in computer for editing the display which appears to be easy to hack, according to website The computers often share a common default password and can easily be reset if the password has changed. The Gold Coast signs, property of Coates Hire, were fixed today.


Friday, February 06, 2009

Bundaberg Hospital inquiry 'ignored' central witness

In my post yesterday I ridiculed on principle the internal "Inquiry" that had dismissed the complaints about Bundaberg hospital. We see now below that I was exactly right to do that

QUEENSLAND Health dismissed serious allegations of assault and negligence at Bundaberg Hospital without speaking to the key witness, it is alleged. In The Courier-Mail yesterday, Health Minister Stephen Robertson said allegations a baby had been assaulted and an elderly man left to die on a trolley in a hallway had been investigated by the Queensland Health Ethical Standards Unit and "found not to have been sustained".

However, the nurse at the centre of the controversy claims she has not been contacted by the unit. "No one from the ethical standards unit has ever contacted me - not ever. Not by phone or letter or in person," she said. "And never once did a manager at Bundaberg come back to me and say, 'Let's look at your evidence'." The highly qualified nurse has made a series of startling allegations against the hospital, including the falsifying of records, understaffing, bullying, and gross medical neglect.

Following pressure from Rob Messenger (LNP, Burnett), Mr Robertson confirmed he had referred the case to the Health Quality and Complaints Commission. He also said 3000 complaints logged at the hospital in the past three years would be reviewed by Queensland Health's patient safety centre. As well, Dr Stephen Ayre, executive medical director of Prince Charles Hospital, will investigate the 100 complaints by the whistleblower.

Mr Robertson said claims of falsified triage times would be investigated after the Crime and Misconduct Commission and the Queensland Health Ethical Standards Unit, and investigations into emergency department and triage times would be completed by February 23, with the report to be released publicly. Mr Robertson rejected the hospital was understaffed and said 33 extra doctors, 114 extra nurses and 127 extra allied health professions had been appointed since 2005.

The controversy took another strange twist yesterday when the Director-General of Health, Mick Reid, was reported to his own ethical unit for allegedly using explicit language. Mr Messenger, the MLA who raised the allegations, claimed Mr Reid used the unsavoury language during a meeting in Bundaberg with the whistleblower. Mr Messenger said in a reply to a comment about the whistleblower's career prospects, the Director-General said "If you want to say to me f*** off I'm going to go and do something else, that's great". Mr Reid apologised last night for his choice of language. "I'm not aware that the nurse or her partner were offended by the language I used, but I reiterate that I am sorry for any offence I may have inadvertently caused," Mr Reid said.


Rudd on a dangerous, ill-informed crusade

Michael Costa, former Labor Party treasurer of NSW, really puts the boot in to Rudd -- and deservedly so

IN the middle of what he describes as the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has decided to launch a divisive personal crusade against so-called "neo-liberalism". Rather than economic solutions, Rudd is seeking ideological retribution. If Rudd is to be believed, all the present problems can be traced back to the "neo-liberal orthodoxy" that dominates economic policymaking. And the solution is a return to social democratic Keynesian policies that existed prior to the mid-70s.

Rudd's essay has been marketed by its publishers as a unique and lucid insight into the present financial crisis. It is hardly this, anyone familiar with the recent popular works of Paul Krugman, The Great Unraveling, and Joseph Stiglitz, The Roaring 90s: a New History of the World's Most Prosperous Decade, would be familiar with the Rudd argument. In Rudd's version "the current crisis is the culmination of a 30-year domination of economic policy by a free-market ideology that has been variously called 'neo-liberalism', economic liberalism, economic fundamentalism, Thatcherism or the Washington consensus." The political ideology of neoliberals has been "that government activity should be constrained, and ultimately replaced, by market forces".

The fact that Krugman and Stiglitz, both of whom he quotes, are John Bates Clark medal winners and Nobel laureate economists, which clearly runs counter to his argument of free-market economic policy hegemony, is conveniently forgotten. Indeed, Stiglitz was chairman of president Bill Clinton's council of economic advisers and also chief economist of the World Bank. There are many Nobel laureate economists who would be horrified to be described as neo-liberal. Economics is not the monolithic ideological edifice Rudd seems to think.

The bulk of his essay consists of a rambling and selective economic history. He criticises tax cuts implemented by "neo-liberal" politicians and neglects to mention significant tax cuts implemented by Democrats such as president John F. Kennedy. He gives credit to the Marshall plan in restoring Europe's prosperity after World War II but conveniently forgets to mention the complementary liberalisation of Europe markets, particularly in West Germany.

Ultimately, Rudd resorts to the usual interventionist myths to justify his position. The greatest of these, of course, is the myth that Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies saved the US from the Depression. The effectiveness of New Deal policies is a controversial area of economic theory and history. In a recent analysis, historian Burton Folsom Jr points out that while unemployment fluctuated throughout the '30s, average unemployment in 1939 was higher than in 1931, the year before Roosevelt became president.

He also produces a revealing extract from testimony by Henry Morgenthau Jr, Roosevelt's treasury secretary, on May 9, 1939 to the House Ways and Means committee: "We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I'm wrong ... somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises ... I say after eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started ... And an enormous debt to boot." Morgenthau was a fervent believer in the merits of government intervention; his view is an important warning to all policy makers about the dangers of "neo-interventionism".

What is not in dispute is that the US Federal Reserve made the Depression worse by mismanaging monetary policy. At the onset of the Depression, the Federal Reserve adopted a deflationary monetary policy that added to its severity. The money supply contracted by nearly one third in the Depression's first four years. That's why present Fed chairman Ben Bernanke moved quickly to increase liquidity.

The failure of government-mandated central banks and government regulation provides a more cogent explanation of present financial difficulties than some conspiracy by neoliberal economists. Rudd seems to have an almost religious belief in government infallibility. Like all strong believers, he seems to see only the things that support his view. He criticises Republicans for neo-liberal policies but is silent when Labor or Democrats support similar policies.

In the one case he can't avoid, the Hawke-Keating governments of the '80s and '90s, he praises their commitment to "economic modernisation". John Edwards, who was a senior economic adviser to treasurer and later prime minister Paul Keating published an analysis of what he called "Australia's Economic Revolution" in 2000, which describes the economic modernisation as consisting of policies such as the "deregulation of finance and the float of the currency", "the abolition of capital controls" and the "low inflation" policy.

So deregulation, privatisation, greater market competition and expanded private participation in equity markets through compulsory super, is OK if it's undertaken by Australian Labor governments, but it is neo-liberal ideology if anybody else does it. All the way through his essay Rudd tries to have it both ways, cherrypicking economic history to support his political prejudices.

The reason the economics profession reassessed its view of Keynesian economic practice had nothing to do with ideological conspiracies. The reality is the stagflation of the '70s demonstrated conclusively that economic concepts such as the Phillips curve, the assumed trade-off between unemployment and inflation, which were at the core of the neoclassical synthesis didn't hold. The neoclassical synthesis itself wasn't overthrown, it was merely re-ordered with a greater emphasis on monetary policy.

Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics would be aware the economics of Frederick Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, which explicitly reject activist central banks, are in no way related to the present ruling economic orthodoxy. Mises favoured the gold standard and Hayek believed in the denationalisation of money, private money.

Rudd's essay displays his superficial reading of economic history. Even in areas where he has a purported expertise such as foreign policy, he fails to comprehend key political distinctions. He makes the extraordinary claim that neo-liberals, Hayek and Mises, are "ideological bedfellows" with neo-conservatives. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing more abhorrent for most neo-liberals than activist foreign policy.

If you look at the present size of the public sector and the level of public spending in Britain, the US and Australia, the only fair conclusion you can draw is that neo-liberals failed to successfully implement their agenda. In all cases the public sector is about the same size, and in the case of Britain and the US, public spending and debt have ballooned. Rather than neo-liberalism, the past 30 years have seen a form of stealth Keynesianism dominate economic policy. Rudd's "neo-interventionism" is likely to do more damage to the economy than the past lip service paid by politicians of both political persuasions to market forces.


The highly "incorrect" Jeremy Clarkson is in Australia

Some quotes from him via Tim Blair

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was, said Clarkson, the most nervous man he'd ever seen on TV, but he still seemed to prefer Rudd to his own PM, Gordon Brown, the "one-eyed Scottish idiot''.

On smoking: "I smoke because I'm not a coward.''

On Top Gear Live's motorcycle stuntmen: "They're French, so if they get killed it's not the end of the world.''

On freezing British weather: "There are too many green people in the world and they're not buying enough Range Rovers to warm it up.''

On Top Gear's climate concerns: "We don't have a carbon footprint. That's because we drive everywhere.''

On Australia's struggling automotive industry: "We don't care.''

On cricket: "A game invented by people with not enough things to do.''


Wild turkeys abound right in the city

They're not much like the turkeys that often appear in roasted form on dining room tables but they are rather attractive birds. Where I live is 5 minute's drive from the Brisbane CBD and I see them trotting up and down the street where I live several times a week. My father ate them occasionally before they became protected and said that they were pretty tough eating. I personally love to see them about so am sorry to hear that they can be a nuisance. They are also called scrub turkeys or bush turkeys

THEY'RE moving into suburban backyards, raping chooks and trashing the lovingly landscaped native gardens of well-heeled householders. Experts say the once rare native brush turkey could go the way of the ibis and become a permanent fixture of the suburban environment. "Brush turkeys ... are really making a success of their move into the suburbs," says Associate Professor Darryl Jones, a wildlife biologist at Queensland's Griffith University. "In the last five to six years they've gone from no one even knew what they are to everywhere - especially places like Brisbane, Gosford and the northern Sydney suburbs."

Jones, the co-author of Mound Builders, a new book on brush turkeys and their relations, says the birds probably originated in New Guinea millions of years ago. They are now found in Australia, New Guinea and some Pacific islands. Brush turkeys were never good eating but were valued by indigenous Australians for their large, yolky eggs. "Indigenous people had lots of rules and customs about not touching the adults," Jones says.

"But the Europeans came here and called them turkeys, they looked like game birds and many of them got hunted. "That's what led to their first real demise. By about the 1960s they were extremely hard to find because every time they showed their heads some bushman knocked them off and had them for dinner." But that changed in the 1970s with federal legislation protecting them. Since then, brush turkeys have "sprung back dramatically," Jones says. "By about the 80s they started to be seen again ... and during the 90s they have absolutely taken off."

But their return has taken an unexpected tack. Jones says the natural range of brush turkeys, from Queensland's Cape York to Wollongong south of Sydney, hasn't changed. "But what's really interesting, it's not in the wild country where they're doing well, it's in the towns and the suburbs - that's where they're exploding. "In Brisbane and a whole range of other suburban places like Gosford and northern Sydney they're doing fantastically well." While this is good news for brush turkeys, it isn't so good for residents, many of whom are finding themselves hosts to an unwelcome, and often inconsiderate, guest.

Their move into suburbia is causing "huge problems," says Jones, because of "the incredible damage" they are capable of doing to people's gardens. Male turkeys build what are basically huge compost piles - these can consist of up to 4 tonnes of garden material and be the size of a small car - in which eggs are incubated. In the process of building these unique mounds, they rake up grass clippings, bark and leaf litter, strip trees and shrubs and smother delicate plants. "If they didn't do what they do to people's gardens people would be much happier to have them around," says Michelle Greenfield, the bushcare co-ordinator of Lane Cove Council in Sydney, which over the past year has started to receive complaints from householders.

Rosemary Lancaster, communications officer for the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, says the birds are simply taking advantage of fashionably sustainable gardening trends, such as planting water-efficient native gardens. "We're replicating their natural habitat, and they're taking advantage of it," she says. "We're creating brush turkey heaven."

Jones says the brush turkeys' fondness of leafy native gardens means residents of the more upmarket suburbs are the main targets. "There's a kind of perfect relationship between higher socio-economic scale and presence of brush turkeys," he says. "Poor people don't have brush turkeys and rich people are arriving home in their BMW to find a huge mound where their landscape garden has been destroyed."

The mounds themselves can be a concern. Andrew Daff is the manager of Sydney's Lane Cove River tourist park, which became home to a male brush turkey named Hef, and two females named Bambi and Tash, last October. The park is now populated by 14 chicks - for the first time in 15 years. Daff says a mound recently had to be relocated from the park because it had been built right next to a swimming pool fence, providing easy access to the pool for children. But he says he's thrilled to see the area repopulated by the birds, which hold a key place in the local ecosystem.

Not everyone shares his enthusiasm. "Over the past few weeks some of my hens have been quite brutally attacked by a male brush turkey ... he is pecking at and tearing off their combs," wrote "eggy" in a recent post to an online backyard poultry forum. Jones acknowledges that brush turkeys can attack other birds. "Bluntly, that's a form of rape," he says. "Especially black chickens - they seem to think 'oh well these look close enough' and they'll mate with them."

Jones says brush turkeys are actually safer in a suburban backyard than in the wild, where they face threats from foxes and feral animals. In other words, they could be here to stay. "It's not an impossibility that they'll end up being an urban bird only," he says. That's why the approach being taken by many local authorities is to encourage peaceful co-existence. "Some people have issues with the way brush turkeys behave" but many are happy to share their gardens with local native wildlife, says Greenfield.

More here

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Australian scientists blame Indian Ocean for "drought"

Given the vast dishonesty over global warming that has characterized climate science, I think I may be forgiven for questioning ALL climate science. The claim below seems junk to me. Both North-Eastern Australia and South-Eastern Australia are roughly equidistant from the Indian ocean so if the Indian ocean is involved in causing rainfall, how come huge areas of the North are having record floods while the South is having a slight downturn in rain?

Maybe I am missing something but climate scientists have their dogmatic selves to blame if their credibility is zero with the roughly 50% of the population who do not believe in global warming. I live roughly halfway between the flooded North and the drier South and it rains here nearly every day so "drought" is a very strange word to use about the present situation. Such misuse of words also does little to establish the credibility of these "scientists"

SCIENTISTS believe the Indian Ocean is the culprit behind the crippling drought of Australia's southeastern states and not direct El Nino events. "Our findings will help to improve seasonal rainfall forecasts and therefore directly benefit water and agricultural management," Caroline Ummenhofer, a post doctoral fellow at the University of New South Wales, said.

The group of Australian scientists, who made the discovery, has detailed for the first time how a variable and irregular cycle of warming and cooling of ocean water dictates whether moisture-bearing winds are carried across the southern half of Australia. The phenomenon, known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), has been in its positive or neutral phase since 1992 - the longest period of its kind since records began in the late 19th Century, according to the study. "When the IOD is in its negative phase, a pattern occurs with cool Indian Ocean water west of Australia and warm Timor Sea water to the north. "This generates winds that pick up moisture from the ocean and then sweep down towards southern Australia to deliver wet conditions," a spokesman for UNSW said.

And to make matters worse, this period has coincided with a trend towards higher average air temperatures over the land, which the study says may be linked to human-induced climate change. "The ramifications of drought for this region are dire, with acute water shortages for rural and metropolitan areas, record agricultural losses, the drying out of two of Australia's major river systems and far-reaching ecosystem damage," Dr Ummenhofer said. "During this latest drought ... recent higher air temperatures across southeastern Australia have exacerbated the problem."

Dr Ummenhofer expected the study, with further development, would enable forecasters to predict rainfall three to six months in advance. "There is certainly scope for a lot more work and a lot more understanding," she said. "Hopefully there will be more engagement with the Bureau (of Meteorology) to possibly incorporate this into their operational forecasting." She said there were indications the positive phase was becoming more frequent than the negative, leaving a grim outlook for farmers. "And that would be really alarming," she said.

It is understood negative phases, which bring rain to the southern states, are most likely to occur from March to May. The study explains the current record-breaking drought in southeastern Australia and solves the mystery of why a string of La Nina events in the Pacific Ocean, which usually brings rain, has failed to break it. It also reveals the causes of other iconic extreme droughts in recorded history.

"More than the variability associated with the El Nino-La Nina cycle in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean Dipole is the key factor for driving major southeast Australian droughts over the past 120 years," Dr Ummenhofer said.

The team, jointly led by Professor Matthew England from the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, has detailed its findings in a paper, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Review Letters. The team includes researchers from CSIRO Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research and the University of Tasmania.


A debt burden to shame Keating

By Malcolm Turnbull, Leader of the Federal Opposition

EVERY time I meet a school group visiting Parliament House, I tell them how every MP and senator is working hard to make Australia a better place for them to grow up. As of today, there is nobody who can look those children straight in the eye to tell them their economic future is secure. Not when the Rudd Government's latest $42 billion spending package includes provision to borrow up to $200 billion - that is, a total of $9500 for every man, woman and child in Australia.

It is important we understand exactly what Mr Rudd is threatening here: the single biggest spending binge since the Whitlam years, and a debt burden that would put the Keating Government to shame. And it is a package that doesn't do enough to protect and create jobs, support small business and strengthen the economy.

When in government, we in the Coalition delivered 2.2 million jobs. This was the result of rigorous, well-crafted policies to create one of the strongest, most successful and prosperous economies in the world. We sought to remove financial burdens from coming generations, and we did so. We recognised that every billion dollars spent, every billion dollars of extra debt incurred, would have to be repaid by our children. So, from 1996, we paid off $96 billion of Labor debt. This was hard work, involving tough decisions.

Mr Rudd has made not one hard decision since coming to office. He has wanted to be Santa Claus - everybody gets a prize. The problem with everybody getting a prize today is that our children will be carrying a very heavy penalty in the years to come. This is why we will vote against this package. That is why we do not support a further round of cash handouts. We know this will not be popular. But it is the right thing to do. Somebody has to stand up for future generations, and not cruel their chances in life by weighing them down with staggering levels of debt.

We in the Coalition do not reject the need for a stimulus at this time. But our judgement is that $42 billion is too much right now. The Government is looking increasingly like a frightened soldier who fires off all his ammunition in a panic in the first minutes of a battle. This downturn may be very long lasting. We cannot afford to spend so much all at once. We need to keep a few shots in the locker. A more appropriate stimulus would be in the order of between $15 billion and $20 billion dollars. As part of that, we would support the bringing forward of the July 1 tax cuts to January 1 this year.

Our plan would benefit all taxpayers, most significantly those on low and middle incomes. It is very well targeted. It would not put $950 in everybody's pocket today. But it would increase permanent income and create greater incentive to work and to invest, providing a bigger economic boost than public spending.

We have said again and again that we are prepared to sit down and discuss with the Prime Minister the range of responses to deal with the economic challenges we face. All of our offers have been rejected. For my part, I am committed to ensuring every dollar is spent wisely. Most Australians will know in their hearts nothing comes for free and that, one day, somebody has to pay.


Taste is hereditary. How amazing!

To anybody who knows how pervasive heredity is in medical matters, the first part of my headline above is the obvious conclusion to be drawn from the matters reported below. But that is not of course the conclusion that the "researcher" below draws in the never-ending but quite futile attempt to get people to be slimmer than is their natural tendency

CHILDREN copy their parents' food choices, University of South Australia scientists have found. Researcher Dorota Zarnowiecki has studied the health and not so healthy habits of more than 200 families. She gave them options ranging from fruit and vegetables to lollies and potato chips and found children's choices tended to echo their parents', despite other influences.

Ms Zarnowiecki, who will now do a PhD looking at the dietary behaviours of older children, said the findings had important implications for obesity prevention programs. "We looked at five and six year olds because we wanted to gauge their parents' influence, as they haven't had that much exposure to the outside world," she said. "(This) shows firstly that young children are able to learn and . . . distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods. It also shows that parents are really important at that young age, so it could be used even in pre-natal classes." Ms Zarnowiecki said it was much easier to teach children healthy habits than to try to change them when they got older.

Yesterday, a parliamentary inquiry was told an obesity campaign featuring a young man who becomes fatter as he grows older [Most people do] has struck a chord with more than six million Australians. The $30 million Measure Up campaign, which encourages Australians to measure their waists, has been described by Health Department experts as highly successful. Giving evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into the nation's obesity crisis, experts said the campaign had resulted in 6.8 million hits to the website. Overweight Australians have requested almost 300,000 healthy eating plans and tape measures from the site. "It has attracted a great deal of interest," Health Department first assistant secretary Jennifer Bryant said yesterday. The campaign only began in October 2008, with the website averaging 3259 hits a day since then.

Committee chairman Steve Georganas welcomed the success of the promotion, saying it was a "very visual campaign". Ms Bryant said she believed the campaign had been successful as research had shown obese people understood they had to do something to tackle their weight - but did not know where to start. She said simplicity was crucial in obesity campaigns. "Eat smaller serves, drink water and keep the messages as simple and straightforward as you can," she said. [But does all that "success" translate into any weight loss? That question is too hard, apparently]



Brisbane hospitals turn away emergency patients

The lack of public hospital capacity has caused overflows at private hospitals too

The emergency room meltdown that created chaos across Brisbane hospitals yesterday looks set to continue today with two hospitals already in strife. Shortly before 7.30am Wesley Hospital was placed on bypass until further notice and Caboolture Hospital has issued a capacity alert. The situation is expected to continue to midday, meaning paramedics can expect lengthy delays at the hospital and should take patients elsewhere. Yesterday half a dozen emergency rooms at major hospitals were forced to turn away patients on the same day because they were full. Six hospitals around the city issued capacity alerts as a flood of high priority patients threatened to overwhelm services stretched to the limits.

The chaos left stressed ambulance officers trying to care for people in their vans. The drama began at 8.30am when Queensland Ambulance Service was advised the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital was on "patient bypass", with all except for trauma or critically ill patients being redirected to other hospitals. Twenty minutes later, QAS was advised Redland Hospital was also experiencing significant delays and paramedics were told to use other facilities. At noon, the RBWH was able to accept patients again, but then The Wesley Hospital was put on complete bypass until midnight, meaning it could accept no emergency patients. Then for varying periods during the day the Princess Alexandra, Logan and Redcliffe hospitals were all placed on high-capacity alert.

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said the peak in demand could not be put down to any particular event, but rather was due to a coincidence of a large number of high priority patients presenting at once.

A frazzled nurse from the Wesley, who withheld her name for fear of losing her job, described the situation as "meltdown". "Today is out of control, our departments are in complete meltdown," the nurse said. "What is scary is that there is no good reason for it - it isn't a terribly hot day, it isn't flu season, there is no outbreak of disease, we just don't have enough resources."

Ambulance union spokesman Kroy Day said the lack of hospital resources meant it was "only a matter of time before someone dies in a van". He warned that having multiple hospitals on capacity alerts meant paramedics could be left caring for patients in their vans for up to four hours. "If this is what we are seeing on a mild summer's day, I hate to imagine the trouble we'll be in when flu season rolls around," he said.

When asked about the RBWH being on bypass, Health Minister Stephen Robertson blamed a record amount of elective surgery patients.


Clerks 'given nurses' duties' at notorious Bundaberg Hospital

Lots of covering up going on but some whistleblowers are coming out. An independent enquiry is needed

CLERKS with no medical training were allegedly made to bandage wounds and assess patients at Bundaberg Hospital's emergency department. The clerks were also asked to perform other nursing duties such as putting ice on patients suffering strains, the Crime and Misconduct Commission has been told.

The Courier-Mail reported yesterday that staff at the hospital sought official whistleblower protection after detailing allegations of gross medical neglect and incompetence, overcrowding, bullying, intimidation and cover-ups. The couple at the centre of the latest allegations successfully sued the hospital, said Julie Bignall, state secretary of the Australian Services Union clerical division. "We pursued work cover claims for stress and psychological injury," she said. "Their WorkCover claims got up. They are now keen to go back to work." Ms Bignall said she was annoyed the allegations against the hospital had been made public by Member for Burnett Rob Messenger.

He took detailed accounts of hospital shortcomings to the CMC. There were allegations a doctor had cruelly mistreated a baby and at least one elderly patient had been left to die on a trolley. Mr Messenger said it was his duty to expose misconduct and accused the union of pressuring whistleblowers to withdraw their statements to the CMC.

Ms Bignall denied this. "We didn't put pressure on them," she said. "We just don't recommend they go to politicians."

The controversy widened yesterday when more nurses came forward with specific allegations against the hospital. There were also fresh claims that staff complaints and patient records had been manipulated to hide hospital shortcomings.

Mr Messenger said he spoke to another nurse who claimed she was denied promotion because she gave evidence at an earlier inquiry. "It's payback time for her," he said.

State Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the allegations were being taken seriously. He said two cases, that an elderly man had been left to die and a doctor had assaulted a baby, were both investigated 12 months ago. "They were investigated at the time they were made by the Queensland Health Ethical Standards Unit [The notoriously corrupt Queensland Health bureaucracy investigating itself! What a laugh!] and they were found not to have been sustained," he said. But heads would roll if health investigators found there had been cover-ups, he said

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg questioned how Mr Robertson as the minister did not know of the claims when they came up. "They of course are troubling allegations and the CMC needs to investigate them," he said.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is disgusted at a NSW hospital system that now cannot even pay its bills

Stop talking down the economy Kevin

By Michael Costa. (Mr Costa was formerly a Labor party Treasurer of NSW)

IT wouldn't have mattered what the Prime Minister announced in his fiscal stimulus package - it won't be sufficient to counter the impacts of the current global economic difficulties. Kevin Rudd should stop talking down the economy. Yes, we do have problems but we are well-positioned to see our way through. Constant exaggerated and negative commentary creates uncertainty among investors and consumers. What is the point of providing a $10 billion fiscal stimulus and then scaring the recipients? Is it any wonder many people chose to save their portion of the stimulus.

Rudd is talking up fiscal policy because it enables the Government to appear to be doing something. The truth is monetary policy, interest rates, remains the key economic driver at this stage of the cycle. This is why the Reserve Bank's mishandling of monetary policy in the last half of 2007 was so damaging to the economy. A one-off fiscal stimulus, depending on size and form, will only take the edge off bad economic numbers in the short-term. It will do nothing to resolve the underlying structural problems in the economy. It is a political strategy more than an economic one.

Australia is better positioned than most major economies to see out the current difficulties. Our problems are not as severe. The financial system is fundamentally sound. The economic reforms of the Hawke/Keating period mean most of our product markets are efficient. The corporate tax windfall from the economic boom enabled the Howard government to reduce the national debt. Greater integration with Asian economies, particularly China, will continue to support the critical commodities sectors. While growth in China is expected to slow, it is still growing at high levels.

Further reductions in interest rates will provide a more sustainable benefit to the economy than the increases in government spending. Reductions in interest rates benefit all current borrowers. Interest rate reductions also have the benefit of changing the financial viability of projects currently being considered and may result in them being brought to the market a lot sooner.

The Government should focus its attention on providing an environment that supports business confidence. The quickest way for the Government to restore business and consumer confidence is through tax cuts. It should also provide assurances that these cuts will be maintained until sustained global economic recovery. It should shelve policy that will create an uncertain investment climate.

The Japanese experience with deflation has shown that faced with uncertainty, corporations and households will focus on debt reduction rather than investment and spending. It is in this context that infrastructure investment is important. Government investment in infrastructure helps create an environment of confidence. It enables businesses to plan their future investments around that infrastructure. At a minimum, if Rudd cannot say anything positive about the economy he should say nothing.


Plan delivers little bang for very big bucks

When it comes to activist fiscal policy, it seems that nothing succeeds like failure. The apparent failure of previous stimulus packages to achieve the desired boost to economic growth is always seen as an argument for yet more stimulus measures. Governments never draw the more obvious conclusion that activist fiscal policy is ineffective.

The Government has now implemented no fewer than four stimulus packages: the $10.4billion Economic Security Strategy; the December Nation Building Package; the Council of Australian Governments funding package and now the $42billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan. What's more, the Government says it "stands ready to take further action". With an election due next year, it is unlikely this latest fiscal stimulus package will be the last....

The Government has rationalised its stimulus packages as measures to support economic growth and employment. On the Treasury's numbers, gross domestic product is expected to be around 0.5 per cent higher in 2008-09 and 0.75 per cent higher in 2009-10 as a result of the latest stimulus package. The Government also claims the package will "support" 90,000 jobs. Note that the Government is careful not to claim that the package will "create" 90,000 jobs. The Treasury still expects the unemployment rate to rise to 7 per cent by the middle of next year.

Even on the Treasury's numbers, this represents little bang for the stimulus buck. But this should come as no surprise. Historical experience with fiscal stimulus packages in Australia and abroad is far from encouraging. Japan, for example, rolled out one stimulus package after another for the better part of a decade during the 1990s, to little effect.

Why is activist fiscal policy generally ineffective in stimulating economic growth? The failure of discretionary stimulus measures reflects a basic reality that governments cannot create economic activity, they can only redistribute the income and wealth created by the private sector. This redistribution can occur between different sectors of the economy, but also across time. Discretionary fiscal stimulus attempts to bring forward demand through unfunded spending measures or tax cuts. In other words, the public sector saves less and spends more. This can take the form of running down an existing budget surplus, as well as going into deficit.

The problem for all governments is that these unfunded fiscal stimulus measures ultimately have to be paid for out of future taxes. An unfunded fiscal stimulus package of $42billion is thus equivalent to announcing a $42billion future tax increase. To the extent that households and businesses anticipate a higher future tax burden, they will respond by reducing spending today. The idea that activist fiscal policy can stimulate growth and employment relies on the notion that the private sector suffers from a form of fiscal illusion.

This is not to say that governments should do nothing in response to an economic downturn. There is much that the Government can do to improve the structural performance of the economy, supporting long-run economic, employment and productivity growth. But the criteria for good government policy do not change with the business cycle.

It is very easy for governments to come up with long lists of seemingly worthwhile projects. The hard part is choosing which projects should be funded given limited resources and competing uses for those resources. The danger with activist fiscal policy is that governments relax the criteria for good policy for the sake of pushing money out the door. By throwing out the constraint that new policy measures should be fully funded, they abandon the fiscal discipline that would otherwise force the government to choose carefully between competing alternatives.

Fiscal stimulus packages often result in a misallocation of resources, as the government hands out money to the endless list of seemingly worthy projects, while the rest of the economy is left to pick up the bill. The correct focus for fiscal policy is the structural and supply-side measures that will deliver sustainable gains in future prosperity. Unfortunately, the political imperative is for governments to be seen to be doing something, regardless of long-run consequences. The latest stimulus package satisfies that imperative, but at the cost of future prosperity.


Union boss blasts climate guru

The patriarch of Australia's biggest blue-collar union has launched a stinging assault on the credibility of the Rudd Government's climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, calling him "wacko". Australian Workers Union national president Bill Ludwig yesterday poured scorn on Professor Garnaut's proposal that Australians move away from eating cattle and sheep and instead consume kangaroo meat because of environmental benefits.

Speaking to the AWU's national conference on Queensland's Gold Coast, Mr Ludwig also challenged the science of man-made global warming, suggesting it could be caused by volcanoes. The former shearer and influential figure in Queensland's ALP told conference delegates he was not a climate change sceptic. But he said, nonetheless, that he supported debate on the science behind the theory, before launching into a headlong criticism of Professor Garnaut as author of the Government's white paper on climate change.

The union chief said climate change was described initially as global warming, until evidence proved unequivocally that the planet actually got cooler. "It's not global warming any more, it's climate change," Mr Ludwig told delegates. "That gets them back in the game. These people are pretty flexible to be relevant in these times."

Mr Ludwig ridiculed Professor Garnaut's suggestion to move away from farming cattle and sheep and to rely instead on kangaroo meat because it could involve less land cultivation and less methane gas. "I thought, 'Hello, here's another wacko'," he said.

Mr Ludwig also suggested climate change could be influenced by volcanoes, rather than human intervention. Volcanoes released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than humans had suggested, he said, and he joked that more efforts might be made to cap volcanoes than to introduce an emissions trading scheme.

Mr Ludwig said the scientific community should not always be trusted to get things right, pointing to the unfounded alarm prior to the year 2000 about the so-called Millennium Bug, which did not have the drastic consequences some had predicted.

Mr Ludwig's comments came as his colleague Paul Howes, the AWU's national secretary, renewed pressure on the Rudd Government to provide relief for companies battling hardship caused by the global financial crisis by offering exemptions from carbon permit payments. The comments from Mr Howes, contained in an AWU position released yesterday, revise the union's endorsement in December of the white paper on the scheme. Mr Howes also argued that employers who benefited from taxpayer support under the carbon reduction scheme starting in 2010 should also be told by the Government that they could not demand pay cuts from their workforces.

"The AWU can't accept companies accessing taxpayers' money to get through the needed environmental change process, then turning around and campaigning for my members to take pay cuts," he said. Asked about the comments of Mr Ludwig, the AWU's Queensland secretary, Mr Howes, said his union's official position was to keep an open mind on climate change science. "Personally, I believe that climate change is real and it's happening," Mr Howes said. "I think most delegates in the room do."


Angry doctor throws baby at Qld. public Hospital

A baby at a Queensland hospital was assaulted by a doctor who lost his temper when the child wouldn't stop wriggling, and an elderly patient was left to die in a hallway after being denied proper treatment, according to allegations made to the Crime and Misconduct Commission. Three hospital staff have sought whistleblower protection after detailing allegations of gross medical neglect and incompetence, overcrowding, bullying, intimidation and cover-ups at the Bundaberg Hospital.

A highly qualified nurse who spoke to The Courier-Mail told how she was repeatedly made to falsify records to hide lengthy waiting times in the emergency department. She said triage cases were improperly and dangerously downgraded because of understaffing. She said a troubled teenager who waited five hours without seeing a doctor ran away and slashed her wrists. And a doctor said he was too busy to see a boy who had been stabbed in the leg in a suspected child abuse case. The cases are among 100 serious and minor procedural errors on the hospital's prime reporting database.

Dismissed as a troublemaker and frustrated at the lack of response, the nurse and two others took complaints to Burnett MP Rob Messenger, who first raised allegations against the hospital in Parliament in 2005. "They have made allegations which lead me to reasonably suspect misconduct by a number of public officials," Mr Messenger said. He called for an inquiry, saying it was clear patients and employees of Bundaberg Hospital were "in continuing danger of physical and psychological danger".

The CMC was told the doctor threw the baby on its back and twisted its arm after angrily shouting, "Keep him still". It is believed the child suffered bruising but was not seriously hurt. The elderly man who died on the trolley was refused acute care after his triage rating was downgraded.

"Good nurses and doctors and administration officers who work miracles every day are being placed under unbelievable pressure by a government that won't properly resource staff," Mr Messenger said. He said the $41.1 million upgrade promised by the Beattie-Bligh governments had not happened. "They have spent $8.6 million and instead of the 30 extra beds promised, we got five. There is clear evidence of understaffing and underfunding." Mr Messenger said there were more beds at Bundaberg hospital in 1969 than there were now.

The nurse making the allegations said she believed nothing much had changed at Bundaberg since events that sparked a royal commission. "Patients are still abused and refused proper treatment, and they still have the gall to smooth the whole disgusting mess over with half-truths and convenient forgetfulness," she said.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Brits flocking to Australia

Not mentioned below is Britain's problems with violent crime. Why? Because the problem is largely traceable to blacks. Australia has many fewer blacks

A RECORD number of Britons are moving to Australia, with Queensland their destination of choice, the latest survey has revealed. Britain's ailing economy and gloomy weather are believed to be the main reasons many people are packing up and moving Down Under, according to the Move Monitor survey carried out for removalist firm Pickfords. The study found a 31 per cent leap in the number of Britons who moved to Australia in 2008 compared to the previous year.

Queensland was the most popular state to set up home in for Britons wanting a new life in Australia for the second consecutive year. However, there was a 44 per cent rise in the number of people wanting to move to Adelaide and a 42 per cent increase in Melbourne's popularity.

"The Move Monitor has revealed that Queensland is our most popular destination in Australia I am sure the quality of life, sunnier climate and diverse job opportunities play a part in the relocation decision," spokesman Graham Hardwick said.

About 40,000 Britons moved to Australia in 2007, with about 23,000 intending to stay permanently. The Move Monitor tracks the relocation trends of Pickford's 7000 customers who move overseas each year.


Grammar revival?

What a lot of scatterbrained nonsense we read below! There is no ambiguity about the Latin-derived rules which govern written English. Why can't kids in primary and secondary schools simply be taught those rules? That's what's going to be most useful to them. Leave the airy-fairy stuff for specialist university courses

Australia is distinctive among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries for its long tail of students who are unable to process - much less understand - the texts of which English brags. And problems of access are not confined to students in low socioeconomic enclaves. Even middle-class parents find it increasingly difficult to help their children produce successful assignments in a discipline so different from the one they studied. And, so, grammar is back; hauled out of retirement to help, no, to party.

When people think "grammar", they mostly think traditional grammar. But this is a tool kit - or dance card, perhaps - for a simpler discipline. It's good on parts of speech, on subject-verb agreement and on rules, all of which are routinely broken by published authors. It has nothing whatsoever to say about newspaper headlines, Aboriginal English, the hilarious play of malapropisms in Kath and Kim or the incomprehensible genius of Vicky Pollard in her "Yeah, but, no but, yeah but". And almost anything interesting in contemporary discourse is ungrammatical in the traditional sense: it begins the wrong way, with conjunctions, splits infinitives. As far as literature is concerned, grammar has never connected well with textual matters such as focalisation, voicing, structure and plotting. A very limited repertoire.

There are other grammars available. One is functional grammar. It makes real connections with the preoccupations of English: with texts, contexts, meaning making. But it too has an image problem. First of all, it's hard: technically demanding, linguistically ambitious. Some might say the dance moves are too difficult for the informal partygoer.

Those calling for a return to grammar are not talking about a new grammar but the old version, tarted up perhaps, but largely unreconstructed. Traditional grammar is simply not up to the job and, for now, functional grammar is out of favour. Any grammar that is going to work has a big challenge on its hands. Can we develop a grammar adequate to an ambitious curriculum, akin to the television program So You Think You Can Dance?

Four parameters come to mind. First, there is the matter of stretch. Any grammatical tool kit for exploring the features of complex texts requires flexibility. The authors of the Initial Advice Paper on the national English curriculum are unequivocal on the need to engage with complex texts. They are requiring that teachers develop systematic understandings about "the structures, interpretation and the effects of certain features in multimodal texts". This means picture books, websites, graphic novels and films, as well as traditional literature such as the novel. It requires a grammar that encompasses study of a wide range of textual choices and their combined effects on meaning, a real stretch.

Second, there is the matter of discipline in the study of language. The notion of "deep knowledge" has become a familiar adage in discussions about school learning. But what does this mean for knowledge about language at text, sentence and word levels? This is the remit of the national curriculum: systematic and explicit teaching about language as a system. There is work to be done if kindergarten teachers are to share understandings about language with primary and secondary English teachers. This task takes us well beyond the comforting mediocrity of "grammar at the point of need", a rigorous routine of new moves for alldancers.

Third, there is the matter of improved performance: making knowledge accountable to those we teach, especially students without start-up cultural capital. Any study of grammar must enable students to read and write more effectively. The national curriculum advice is clear on the need to inter-relate learning about and learning to use language. There is much we don't yet know. Recent research undertaken by education academic at the University of Hull, Richard Andrews, and his colleagues in Britain reveals that assumed links between knowledge about grammar and improved writing remain unproven. The jury is still out about whether grammar helps students with literacy. Such research is crucial if we are to improve the literacy performances of students.

Fourth, there is the matter of potential: seeing the possibilities in our students' communicative practices. If we accept, as Michael Halliday, emeritus professor of linguistics at the University of Sydney, has suggested, that language is "a resource for making meanings", then our grammars must become attuned not just to problems but also to (often surprising) developments in students' uses of language. This orientation is alert to the promise in a first draft, to a deconstructive cartoon, the subversion in an impromptu class performance. Our young people are doing such clever things in their out-of-school literacy practices. Any grammar that is going to lead development in new routines has to follow as well as lead in these new dances. Are we up to it? Do we think we can dance?


Wearing thongs leaves feet exposed to skin cancer

This sounds logical but it won't separate many Australians from their favourite footwear

THE nation's thong lovers are putting their lives at risk, an expert has warned, with their exposed feet putting them at greater risk of skin cancer. Queensland dermatologist Catherine Faulkner said thongs left their wearers dangerously exposed to skin cancer. "Often sunscreens are washed off the top of the feet when people walk through water, so we do see quite a lot of skin cancers on the top of the feet," she said.

People should check not only the tops of their feet but also their soles and underneath nails for suspicious signs, she said. "The real danger is under the feet because it's not a place you look. "It's also where you get this dangerous and more aggressive melanoma, which is often diagnosed late."

The other body parts often forgotten when applying sunscreen are the lower lip; scalp; tops of the ears; and the area between the nose and eyes. Cancer Council Queensland statistics show almost half of all Australians will develop some form of skin cancer. Sunscreen sprayers, from corporate skin cancer awareness campaigner Suncorp, will visit South Bank today to give away hats and sunscreen.


Take control, public hospital patients urged

Don't expect Mohamed Khadra's new book to be comforting reading if you're about to go into hospital. The author of the acclaimed Making the Cut and a professor of surgery at the University of Sydney, he is about to publish a follow-up that makes crystal clear the fact that unappealing food is the smallest of the many hazards facing patients admitted onto public wards. The new book, called The Patient, is being published next week. It tells the story of a fictional male professional, Jonathan Brewster, who discovers mid-career that he has a bladder cancer. The book follows him through the various stages of his treatment, noting in pitiless detail along the way the impersonality of the health system, the strains it places on the legions of dedicated yet sleep-deprived staff, and also the unprofessional attitudes of some doctors and nurses.

It also documents the cavalcade of cock-ups, major and minor, that go on behind the scenes. But while the story is fictionalised -- like Brewster, the Victoria Hospital in which it is set does not exist -- The Patient is not fiction. Khadra, the book's sole real character, says most of the things that happen to the unfortunate Brewster and to others within the hospital are drawn from real-life experience.

The book confronts head-on the "corruption" of the health system: the fact that patients handed a cancer diagnosis who need an urgent specialist's appointment can effectively jump the queue, simply by having the right social connections -- while other patients without strings to pull have to wait weeks or months.

It spells out the extreme patient-unfriendliness of a system that can bandy about terms such as "triage" that barely a handful of people understand. It scores in painful detail the rudeness of some doctors, nurses and other staff; the clock-watching, officious culture of the newer breed of nurses, and the madness of a health bureaucracy that alienates its own permanent nursing and medical staff by paying double rates to last-minute agency fill-ins.

Perhaps most tellingly, the book exposes the extraordinary lack of compassion that can be found in every corner of the system -- from the receptionist who keeps a pain-wracked patient on his feet while she slowly fills in a form, to the haughty consultant whose aloof arrogance scarcely conceals his disdain for public patients, who he believes contribute less to his income and prestige than those paying privately.

Khadra -- who received a huge response to the criticisms of the health system in his previous book -- says a prime motivation for writing The Patient was to help patients understand better what a spell in hospital involves. "Day in, day out, I sit across the desk from people who are planning their next holiday, they've just been married, they've just bought a house, they've just started a new job -- and I look down at a piece of paper that has words on it or numbers on it that are radically going to change their life for the worse over the next couple of years, or even curtail their life," Khadra says. "And I find people just aren't prepared. They have this sense that the health system is a benevolent creation of the government that will look after them; they aren't prepared spiritually, they aren't prepared physically and financially."

But it's also a call to arms. Khadra himself has been a patient, after being diagnosed 10 years ago -- just as he and his wife had bought a new house, were raising two boys, and as their careers were taking off -- with a thyroid cancer that had already spread to his chest and neck. "I had an extensive period of treatment," he recalls. "And what I saw of the health system then, and what continues -- if anything -- to get worse over the ensuing 10 years, is a health system that ... doesn't deliver compassionate health care to people most in need. "And my basic feeling is that what has occurred in the 20-year period since the 1980s, when I trained, is a cancerous growth in the bureaucracy of health. "The basic aim of the bureaucracy is to avoid making mistakes. And what that creates is a paralysis of decision-making throughout the system that now has kneecapped every single hospital general manager, health leader, and nursing leader."

Such a critique could not come at a more poignant time: NSW Health and its minister, John Della Bosca, have been deeply embarrassed this week by further revelations of chronic late payment of debts -- to the extent that some tradesmen and suppliers of drugs, food and other consumables are refusing to deal with hospitals in the west of the state. It chimes with Khadra's own experience. He tells of a general manager of one hospital he worked at who was unable to spend just $55 on a medical textbook without getting clearance from the central health department.

At the ward level, Khadra says the solution is to take the power away from the bureaucrats and give it instead to the clinicians and managers within each hospital who would then once again have the power, and incentive, to ensure their own units ran efficiently.

In a different way, power should be claimed by the patients themselves. "There wasn't a ward I could walk into 20 years ago, in any hospital, where I couldn't go to the nursing unit manager and say 'How's Mr Jones', and that nurse would be able to tell me that his cousin visited yesterday, that his toenails have been clipped today, and that he's been moved six times overnight to help with his pressure sores," Khadra says, echoing a criticism that earned him widespread public support following the publication of his previous book. "Now, even from the nurse looking after the patient, I'd struggle to get any sense of what's going on with the patient.

"What has happened? What has happened is that local single-point accountability has been taken away from the hospital, so there isn't that opportunity for someone to say this needs to be changed. "If the ward is unclean, who do I go to? The boss of that cleaner is somewhere in town, because it's all outsourced. If the food that I'm putting in front of the patient is unappetising, who do you go to? It's all outsourced somewhere, and there are policies upon policies that obstruct any sort of feedback on that."

Khadra -- who says he received overwhelming backing from his peers after the publication of Making the Cut in 2007 -- urges patients to ditch the passive role they suffered 50 years ago and claim a greater responsibility for their own care. He accepts he might receive a "cold shoulder" from one or two doctors who take umbrage at the portrayal of their profession in the character of David Johnson, an arrogant, glib and dismissive consultant urologist who regards patients as stupid and their questions as irritants to be discouraged. But he stresses the book also portrays "a number of heroic doctors ... who really are compassionate, who really are competent".

"The point that I make in The Patient -- if you are dealing with a doctor who isn't communicative, who isn't able to sit down and really go through the benefits and risks of a particular procedure, who isn't transparent about why they are doing it and involves you in a shared decision-making capacity -- perhaps you are going to the wrong doctor," he says. "I welcome it when my patients are questioning about every step of the way. Why am I having a PSA test? Why am I having a prostatectomy? What are the alternatives? What are the risks of this, what are the benefits?

"Gee, I love those questions, truly -- it shows an involved, informed patient. And we know now there's some evidence to suggest that the outcomes for that type of patient are actually much better, because they are involved in their healthcare, they feel empowered in their own health care. "Are there doctors out there who avoid that glare of light on their own practice? The answer is yes. But I can tell you the vast majority of competent doctors would welcome that type of questioning."


Monday, February 02, 2009

Onya Kev

I can't see how this could have been planned or scripted but it will be well-regarded by most Australians

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has pleaded with Australians to keep an eye on elderly neighbours as a fellow parishioner succumbed to high temperatures. Mr Rudd sprang into action when the elderly man collapsed soon after the Sunday service began at St John's Church in the Canberra suburb of Reid. The Prime Minister joined members of his security detail and other worshippers to carry the man outside, loosen his shirt and give him some water before an ambulance arrived.

The parishioner is believed to have recovered fully, but Mr Rudd used the opportunity to urge fellow Australians to care for the elderly as the temperatures rose. "If you have got a neighbour getting on in years, pop on in (to check on them)," Mr Rudd said.


Dumbest green blogger in Australia?

Andrew Bolt below makes short work of a typically dogmatic Greenie. When a radio host came out as a warming skeptic, all the Greenie could do was sneer. But does one EVER expect to get a courteous discussion of the facts from a Warmist?

Green blogger Graham Readfearn - showing all the abusiveness of his breed - attacks 4BC host Chris Smith as perhaps "the dumbest radio host in Australia'' for being a sceptic of apocalyptic man-made warming. The case for the prosecution:
Smith swallowed the bogus "31,000 scientist" petition, he swallowed the ageing arguments from bearded botanist David Bellamy and then he swallowed that erroneous claim that temperatures peaked in 1998.

That is a charge sheet that raises the question - is Readfearn the dumbest eco blogger in Australia? Here is the petition, which seems genuine enough to me. Readfearn offers no evidence - just more abuse - to suggest what precisely he objects to from Bellamy, a trained botanist, other than that he has a beard. And as for doubting that temperatures peaked in 1998, here's the proof:

Less abuse, Graham, and more research and reason might suit you better.


Rudd 'rescue' plan is unnecessary and counterproductive

By Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull is the federal Leader of the Opposition. I think he is a bit of an idiot generally but he is right on this one

This year the three top priorities should be jobs, jobs, jobs. Every element of Government policy should be focused on keeping Australians in jobs. That's why we have been consulting widely - including via our website - with small and medium businesses on the policies they believe will help them keep their employees on the payroll. And yet for the past week the Rudd Government has been trying to sell its latest economic initiative, which will have no impact on employment other than perhaps creating a job for the National Australia Bank executive who proposed it.

Rudd is planning to put billions of dollars of taxpayers' funds at risk in a new "Ruddbank", whose purpose it is to refinance foreign bankers who choose to withdraw from lending to Australian property companies. The purpose of the Ruddbank is to prevent commercial property values falling to a level where the main Australian lenders would lose money on their existing loans.

Australians who have suffered heavy losses on their share portfolios and superannuation accounts and seen the value of their homes decline will wonder why the big four banks and commercial property are deserving of such privileged attention from Government. The Ruddbank is not designed to finance construction. It is, as the banks have made abundantly clear, designed to refinance foreign loans made on existing, built commercial properties.

So the Government's claim that Ruddbank will save 50,000 jobs is nonsense, a figure plucked out of the air to get a headline. Equally outrageous is its claim that by propping up values in the commercial property market, residential values will be supported. Housing expert Christopher Joye exposed the total lack of evidence for such a connection in The Australian last week.

It is perhaps hardly surprising NAB made this proposal, after all if you don't ask you don't get. What is incredible is that the Government has gone along with it. There is no evidence foreign banks are withdrawing from the Australian market. Indeed they increased their loans to non financial corporations by more than 15 per cent over the past year. But if they were tempted to reduce their exposures, nothing is more likely to help them do so than a Government offering to refinance the loans they abandon. After all, once the Ruddbank is in place, the taxpayer will fill the gap, so they can scale back their syndicated loans without fear the venture will collapse, which would have forced them to take a loss on any amount they are still owed.

Bad enough that Rudd once again shows himself incapable of understanding the law of unintended consequences. But the real scandal is that it is the taxpayer who will pick up the tab. Ruddbank is to be a joint venture between the Government and the four major banks. The conflicts are enormous. Consider a syndicated loan secured on an Australian office building. Valuations have declined in line with the market and in the normal course of events the lenders are likely to choose to stay with the credit rather than risk forcing a sale and a possible loss on their loans.

However, thanks to Ruddbank, the foreign lender knows that if he demands his money back and threatens to force a sale the Australian lenders will lean on their Government partner to secure a replacement loan from Ruddbank. After all, the Australian banks don't want a forced sale because they might lose money. Better to get the Government to take out the foreign bank and ensure a lower value for the building is not realised with all of the implications that may have for their other property loans.

In the commercial world in circumstances like these, "new money" has a lot of leverage and can demand priority over existing loans. But in Ruddbank the "new money" of the Government is going to be guided by the conflicting vested interests of the "old money" of the big four banks. It's a game in which the taxpayer is being set up to lose.

So it comes as no surprise that Ruddbank was dreamed up without consulting the Reserve Bank of Australia or that the chairman of the Future Fund and former chief executive of the Commonwealth Bank, David Murray, had grave concerns. But it follows a disturbing pattern of naive and impulsive policy by the Rudd Government.

After all, it is only a few months ago that Rudd gave an unlimited guarantee of all bank deposits. He did so without discussing the proposal with the Reserve Bank and within days governor Glenn Stevens was pointing out the growing dislocation in financial markets the rash decision had created and begging the Government to impose a cap "the lower the better". The dislocation was considerable and has not been reversed. Some 250,000 Australians saw their investments in mortgage funds and cash management trusts frozen. Finance companies were unable to raise short term finance with the consequence they could not continue to finance car dealers. And so the Government moved to set up a finance company to provide finance to the vehicle retailers. Nearly two months later it is yet to start financing and car dealers around Australia are struggling to stay in business.

Rudd is keen to be seen to be doing something about the global financial crisis, but that is no excuse for doing anything. Of course Rudd, who was an "economic conservative" in 2007 is now a reborn socialist, claiming the 11 1/2 years of Coalition government left Australia ill-prepared for the downturn.

Really? Rudd inherited a Treasury with all Government debt repaid and billions of cash in the bank. The only reason Rudd has been able to splash cash around without having to go into debt is because of the Coalition's good economic management. And let us not forget that the Australian banks did not plunge into sub-prime loans like their US counterparts and that the regulatory system that ensured this was put in place by the coalition government.

So far Rudd has given us an ill thought out and damaging unlimited deposit guarantee. We have had a pre-Christmas fiscal stimulus, or "cash splash", which however much appreciated by the recipients of the $9 billion does not appear to have been an effective stimulus at all. We have had an angry Treasurer claiming tax cuts have no place in a fiscal stimulus strategy; he prefers Australians to line up for a one-off handout than let them keep more of what they have earned. And now we have Ruddbank, designed to prop up commercial property values for the benefit of the big four banks. Rudd should drop the Ruddbank idea. It's unnecessary and counterproductive.

Wayne Swan says he is not interested in what the Opposition thinks. That doesn't surprise me. All we are thinking about are jobs for Australians. Swan and Rudd are only interested in their own.


False accusation deeply upsetting to homosexual couple

I doubt that I would be as upset but I would still be mightily outraged and I would sue the pants off everyone involved too

It was meant to be a quick afternoon trip to the shops to buy a sit-up machine and return a Seinfeld DVD. But for Karl Webster and his partner, Stewart Thompson, a spot of retail therapy turned into ongoing psychiatric therapy after the pair were searched by police in front of fellow shoppers, having been wrongfully accused of credit card fraud.

Mr Webster and Mr Thompson are each suing Coles Myer, the owner of Kmart, for more than $750,000 in damages, claiming they were defamed and wrongfully imprisoned after a store employee accused them of using a fraudulent credit card to obtain store gift vouchers while shopping on October 25, 2004.

Mr Webster told the District Court yesterday that he felt humiliated when a female police officer informed him of the allegations at Ashfield Mall and searched his bag in front of up to 40 other shoppers. "I felt violated and bullied and not trusted and accused," he said. "I felt completely on show and embarrassed." At the same time, an "embarrassed and humiliated" Mr Thompson started to wet himself while being escorted by police from a grocery store within the mall, as shoppers at the checkout counter stared. Mr Thompson worked for the Coles Myer-owned Grace Bros as a team leader in women's fashion accessories and feared he would lose his job, the court heard.

The two men were taken downstairs to a loading dock and frisked by police, who continued to ask them to hand over the St George credit card used in the alleged fraud. Both men denied they owned such a card before eventually being allowed to leave without arrest.

The court heard Mr Webster had been undergoing psychiatric treatment and had accompanied Mr Thompson to the mall that day to help with his fear of shopping. They were no longer together after the continuing trauma from the incident "closed my heart", he said. Both men, who are now unemployed, are claiming damages for past and future economic loss as a result of the incident. Mr Webster is claiming he suffers from increased levels of anxiety and that the incident aggravated his pre-existing obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder. Mr Thompson claims he has been unable to continue with sales work.


Another false accusation

Pregnant woman forced to show her belly: I have some sympathy with the shop owners here as Ipswich does have a lot of ferals, but asking the woman to disrobe in public is amazingly crass

A PREGNANT woman who was forced to expose her swollen stomach to a liquor store full of customers has prompted a consumer lobby group to call for a ban on strip searches in Queensland shops. A 40-year old Ipswich woman, who was eight-and-a-half months' pregnant, was forced to lift her shirt after being wrongly accused of shoplifting at the Springfield Lakes 1st Choice Liquor store on Monday. The woman, who was taking her time with her purchase, was buying a birthday present for a friend.

The distraught woman was told if she refused the search in full view of other customers, police would be called. It is believed the 1st Choice Liquor staff claimed there had been a similar incident earlier in the week where a person who was posing as a pregnant woman was actually stealing alcohol.

Queensland Consumer Watch spokesman and Ipswich Councillor Paul Tully described the incident as totally appalling and an invasion of individual rights. "This is a matter for the police, not voyeurs working in liquor stores forcing pregnant women to undertake partial strip searches in front of other beady-eyed customers," he said. Mr Tully called on the Queensland Government to make it illegal for store owners to require shoppers to submit to strip searches in public.


Sunday, February 01, 2009

The "Obesity" war is the latest excuse for a Fascist attack on families

People's weight is mostly genetic, tends to rebound after efforts to change it and is rarely harmful. And who draws the line to say when fat is "too fat"?

CHILD protection authorities should be called in to handle "extreme" cases where parents allow their kids to get too fat, an Australian doctor says. Parents should have their children seized if they failed to do enough to address diet problems, says Dr Shirley Alexander from The Children's Hospital at Westmead in Sydney. "We argue that in a sufficiently extreme case, notification of child protection services may be an appropriate professional response," Dr Alexander writes in the Medical Journal of Australia.

She describes the case of an unidentified four-year-old girl, who was 110cm tall and weighed a hefty 40kg. The girl watched TV for six hours a day and had temper tantrums when denied food, according to the report. Dr Alexander said despite the efforts of health workers, a "family-focused" program "failed to stop or reverse the child's weight gain".

She said child protection authorities were then notified, and the child was put on a dietary and physical activity program that soon had her losing weight. Dr Alexander's report concludes that a doctor is duty bound to "report severe cases of inadequately managed paediatric obesity to the authorities".


Exodus to private schools continues in Queensland

Tracking the decay of discipline in government schools

PARENTS deserted Queensland's state schools last year, with independent primary schools growing at a much higher rate than government schools. Catholic primary schools also experienced massive growth compared to their state counterparts. The surprising figures were released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this week in its "Schools, Preliminary Australia" 2008 report. It showed state primary schools, which had 308,698 students in 2007, attracted only 73 more students in 2008. Meanwhile, independent primary schools grew their ranks from 48,035 in 2007 to 50,577 in 2008.

Government high schools fared better, with growth rates only eight and five times higher in the independent and Catholic sectors respectively.

The figures also confirm the government is having trouble retaining staff, with full-time teaching staff growth rates dipping just below 0 per cent, while non-government schools grew 4 per cent.

Independent Schools Queensland executive director Dr John Roulston said choosing a school was "a very considered decision these days", with many parents settling on the independent sector for its academic excellence, sense of community and variety, including Christian, Muslim, Montessori, Steiner and grammar schools.

Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Mike Byrne said parents and students were continuing to choose Catholic schools for their Christian values, emphasis on pastoral care, academic excellence and strong family partnerships.

Non-government Queensland schools also had one of the highest rates of students staying on to Year 12 in the nation, according to a Productivity Commission report released yesterday.

Education Minister Rod Welford said enrolments continued to grow at state schools, which this year enrolled more than 480,000 children - about 65 per cent of Queensland's students. "School subject options ranging from academic to vocational education offered by state schools are equivalent to, or exceed those offered at many private schools," he said. "State school enrolments continue to increase."


Homosexual flag on city hall

AUSTRALIA'S national flag on the St Kilda town hall has been replaced with gay colours, infuriating council workers who say they are not all gay. Angry Port Phillip council workers say the multi-coloured gay flag replaced Australia's official flag on Australia Day, leaving the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags flying. One worker, who fears retribution if he is named, says staff at the council are "insulted'' because it infers everyone who works there is gay. "It's not right that they replace the Australian flag," he said today. "Why not take down one of the others?''

The rainbow flag was flying high above the St Kilda Rd council building when the Sunday Herald Sun visited. Port Phillip council mayor Frank O'Connor said they were following protocol and flying the flag in preparation for tomorrow's Gay Pride March. He denied the Australian flag was replaced on Australia Day.

He said most of the staff supported the rainbow flag replacing the Australian flag this week. "The staff at the City of Port Phillip are strongly supportive. the city supports diversity,'' Cr O'Connor said. [Well, if diversity is the aim, why not a Swastika flag? That would be even more diverse. There are probably at least as many people with racist sympathies as there are homosexuals. Or am I missing something?]


"Soft" prisons

INMATES at a Darwin prison have been given access to portable DVD players as a reward for good behaviour. The Northern Territory News understands prisoners are being allowed to hire a machine to watch movies in their own cells. Prison superintendent Kevin Raby said that portable DVD players were part of an "incentive-based program" for low security "clients".

But some prison officers believe the DVD players are a luxury the inmates could do without. One guard said Berrimah Prison was one of the "softest" in Australia. "The reality is, many offenders like prison and they don't mind doing time because they know they will be treated very well in there," the officer said.

In December, readers were fired up by a report from Victoria that police had been told to show more respect to their prisoners. They were told to dim the lights at night, not to slam cell doors and serve tea, coffee or milk at least three times a day. The "soft cell" human rights guidelines from the Office of Police Integrity said cell blocks should be calm and relaxing, with light-shaded wall colours. They also said meals should be of good nutritional value and quantity, and second helpings should be available "on reasonable request".

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

In June last year, thousands of prisoners in the UK were reportedly declining offers of early release because they preferred the "soft" conditions of jails. Prison authorities had even caught dozens of people trying to break in to jail in the past five years, the UK's Daily Mail said.


Loudmouths risk being kicked off Perth trains, buses

And not a moment too soon

LOUDMOUTH mobile phone users on trains and buses will be targeted in a new campaign to tackle the growing annoyance. Blaring portable music players will also attract attention from transit officers, who will ask passengers to quieten down. The Public Transport Authority will roll out a series of posters aimed at tackling what is fast becoming public enemy No.1 on public transport. Nuisance passengers who refuse to lower the decibels risk being kicked off public transport.

``We expect this will be self-regulating and will not lead to serious confrontation because transit officers are trained in mediation and conflict resolution,'' Public Transport Authority spokesman David Hynes said. ``They are entitled to ask people to leave the train if they continue with any offences, but we hope this issue will not come to that. ``Once the posters go up, there will be fair amount of peer pressure applied because there will be something there in black and white for everyone to see. ``This is all about showing manners and respect for other people.'' Transport Minister Simon O'Brien said he fully supported the campaign. ``I encourage people to show courtesy when using our public transport system,'' he said.

This week, The Sunday Times conducted a commuter survey, which clearly identified loud mobile phone chat and noisy portable music players as the top two annoyances. Ear-piercing polyphonic ringtones were No.3 in the straw poll of 50 people at Perth train station and bus stops along Wellington St. An overwhelming 90 per cent said loud mobile phone conversations were the most annoying part of their journeys. Some commuters wanted them prohibited on trains, while others suggested phone and music-free ``quiet carriages''.

A number spoke passionately about their hatred of being forced to listen to private phone conversations and thumping bass music from earphones. Perth woman Veronica Harwood described it as a potential cause of passenger rage. ``You hear the most personal, inane, stupid things right in your ear, and this is every day, every trip,'' she said. ``It is contributing to hideous aggravation of just normal people who don't want to hear the constant blare of personal information everywhere you go, buses and trains especially.''

Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi joined the debate, saying people should send silent SMS messages or emails rather than chat on mobile phones while commuting and at restaurants. ``Talking on mobiles in restaurants and on public transport is not appropriate, but texts and emails on public transport is a good use of one's time,'' she said.

WA author and customer services specialist Jurek Leon has written a book on telephone etiquette. Mr Leon said manners were everything when talking on mobile phones. He acknowledged that was not extending to public transport. ``I would like to see talking on mobile phones banned at peak times on trains and buses when it is hard for other passengers to escape out of earshot of the press and yap brigade,'' Mr Leon, of Willetton, said.

He also suggested that an Australian Communications and Media Authority decision this month to allow mobile phone use on planes should be reversed. ``I am not normally in favour of more regulation, but I would like to see the use of mobiles on aeroplanes banned, not promoted,'' Mr Leon said.

The head of Edith Cowan University's school of psychology, Craig Speelman, said talking loudly on mobiles was not necessarily a form of attention seeking. ``I reckon these people are just generally loud on the phone and become oblivious to who is around them,'' he said.


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