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

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


28 February, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says Julia should get an Oscar for her role as puppet of Bob Brown

The Labor party's spending spree is now coming home to roost -- and shitting on the battlers

Particularly first home buyers and would-be first home buyers

First home buyers have just cause to feel betrayed by the Rudd-Gillard government as they struggle under the strain of seven consecutive interest rate rises which have been exacerbated by loose fiscal policy.

After the amount of Saturday's Kelly and Andrew had spent thumping the pavement looking for a house, they felt ready to kill the person who snapped up this one. Photo:

A disturbing new survey by Mortgage Choice has found that 10 per cent of first home buyers, who purchased their homes in the past two years, have either sold their homes or are considering selling because of financial hardship, caused by interest rate hikes.

The survey also found that another 6 per cent would sell if interest rates climbed a further one per cent, while another 14 per cent would sell if they rose another 1.5 per cent.

Many of these first home buyers were lured into the market through generous first home buyer grants at a time of historically low interest rates.

The Rudd-Gillard Government was more than happy to artificially stimulate the lower end of the housing market so as to give the impression that they had done a wonderful job staving off the effects of the GFC.

Of course they didn't alert all the first home buyers they suckered about the inevitable interest rate rises that would follow their totally over-the-top $87 billion stimulus spend.

The seven consecutive interest rate rises included four last year alone. We now have by far the highest interest rates in the developed world with a current cash rate of 4.75 per cent whereas Canada is at 1 per cent, Hong Kong .5 per cent, UK .5 per cent and Japan .1 per cent.

As a consequence, the current average variable home loan rate is around 7.7 per cent, which Loan Market says has resulted in first home buyers becoming an "endangered species". By comparison first home buyers were dominant in the market in 2009 due to the beefed up first home buyer incentives and the historically low interest rates.

While first home buyers are particularly vulnerable, mortgage stress of course extends to those on higher incomes, who have upgraded their homes on the strength of increased equity built up as property prices boomed.

Growth has now certainly flattened and prices have dipped in some parts, although the economists remain optimistic that we will avoid a US-style property market crash. The last thing we need is the nightmare scenario where home owners are forced to sell properties for less than they paid for them and for less than they owe.

The irony of the difficult current environment is how Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were elected in 2007 on a promise to ease cost of living pressures for "working families" and to keep downward pressure on interest rates.

Their embarrassing Fuel Watch and Grocery Watch schemes have become the hallmarks of Labor's dismal attempts to deliver on their pledge.

Instead families have copped a double whammy because not only have interest rates added about $6,000 a year in repayments to the typical mortgage, but cost of living continues to soar, with electricity prices up almost 40 per cent in three years, water up 27 per cent and rates up 15 per cent.

Latest ABS statistics in fact show that living costs are up 4.5 per cent compared to the official inflation rate of 2.6 per cent. Wages are simply not keeping pace with mounting household expenses.

Add to this the further threat posed to household budgets by Julia Gillard's new carbon tax, including annual increases in power bills of at least $300 and 6.5 cents extra per litre of petrol.

What we have seen is a government that has dudded those who are most financially vulnerable to interest rate hikes and increases in everyday living costs.

The most frustrating thing is how Kevin Rudd and now Julia Gillard have ignored repeated and sustained warnings to rein in spending and borrowing and to pay off debt. And the warnings haven't just come from the Coalition, they have come from Treasury, Finance, the RBA, economists and business.

Reserve Bank board member Donald McGauchie took the extraordinary step of rebuking the government for its loose fiscal policy. He said "we are spending money on fiscal stimulus and other things we shouldn't be spending money on and that means higher interest rates than we would otherwise have."

This government simply lacks the discipline to tighten its belt, to stop all the needless spending and to trim the fat in the budget. Instead we have the perverse situation where fiscal policy is working at direct odds with monetary policy.

Until this government starts living within its means, first home buyers and other struggling households will continue to pay the price.


Telstra makes broadband warning: NBN laws 'create new monopoly'

Why won't Julia abandon this dog of a thing? The fact that it's the only idea Kevvy ever had should not hold her up

TELSTRA says the Gillard government's proposed laws for the National Broadband Network threaten to wipe out the public benefits of the $36 billion project by allowing the NBN Co to monopolise new areas and strangle future competition.

Even as Telstra negotiates remaining hurdles to the $11bn deal to join the nation's biggest infrastructure project, it is demanding changes to the next set of NBN legislation, which sets the rules for the NBN Co building the national network.

Last night, the office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the government was "keeping an open mind to any amendments" and was in discussions with Telstra about the legislation.

The telco giant has told a parliamentary inquiry that the so-called Companies Bill and the Access Bill for the project have deficiencies that put "the benefits of the NBN in jeopardy".

It has savaged rules designed to stop commercial operators from "cherry-picking" to serve customers in the most lucrative areas, declaring this would discourage investments in new super-fast networks that would give consumers lower prices by providing competition to Labor's NBN. This would limit future competition and innovation - the very benefits the NBN is supposed to achieve.

On top of this, the telco fears the way the laws are drafted could allow the NBN Co to provide services directly to companies such as Woolworths, miners, shire councils and government agencies - undermining the government's policy that the NBN Co should offer only wholesale services and not deal directly with customers.

The development comes as Senator Conroy yesterday defended the level of government intervention in the project, declaring Australia had had "some of the most expensive and the slowest broadband in the world". "We've had the least reformed telecommunications sector anywhere in the world, virtually," Senator Conroy told Sky News's Australian Agenda program.

The laws are not only critical to the rollout of the NBN but are also necessary to finalise the proposed $11bn infrastructure-sharing deal with Telstra so they can go to a vote of Telstra's 1.3 million shareholders on July 1.

Yesterday, a Telstra spokesman said the negotiations were continuing and on track. But the push for further changes to the Companies Bill and the Access Bill could add more pressure to the timeline.

Senator Conroy's spokeswoman said yesterday the government was "committed to debating and passing this important legislation".

Telstra stresses in its submission that it wants to see the bills pass through parliament - but amended first. The legislation has been introduced into parliament and referred to a Senate committee.

In its submission to the Senate, Telstra criticises the planned "cherry-picking" rules to stop the NBN's less regulated rivals building their own super-speed networks in metropolitan areas before the NBN is rolled out.

The government has said the cherry-picking provisions create a level playing field making other suppliers subject to the same regulatory requirements as the NBN Co.

According to Senator Conroy's spokeswoman: "NBN Co would be hindered in delivering its objectives if it is subject to strict regulatory requirements while competing against other, less-regulated providers of super-fast broadband."

The McKinsey-KPMG implementation study recommends protecting the NBN Co from cherry-pickers because it has to provide affordable services across all areas including regional and remote Australia.

The NBN Co forecasts that if it were "cherry-picked", returns on the project could fall to below 5 per cent - less than the long-term government bond rate. But Telstra says the provisions will make it "almost impossible" for other networks to compete with the government-funded NBN Co and discourage investment in infrastructure as they impose regulation.

Competition from other super-fast networks would encourage lower prices and more innovative products, the company insists. "If by 'cherry-picking' the government means competitive entry in areas where this is efficient, then it is not clear why this should be discouraged," the submission states.

"This type of so-called 'cherry-picking' has been a feature of telecommunications markets in Australia and around the world for the past two decades. "The government should be seeking to encourage efficient entry in all its forms, and thus promote competition. "Discouraging new entry where this is economically efficient . . . will not benefit consumers over the long term."

Internet provider Internode says the provisions will mean that no new fibre is deployed in Australia other than by NBN Co.

And Carrier Pipe Networks says commercial operators should not be subject to the same regulation as NBN Co, which enjoys advantages including $27.5bn in government funding and "opt-out" laws in some states to automatically connect homes to the NBN.


NSW public hospital chaos gets even worse

Guess why nearly 50% of Australians insure themselves for private hospital treatment, despite the government hospitals being "free"

A LACK of recovery beds is forcing thousands of NSW public hospital patients to be sent home without having their operations.

Most are suddenly told to leave after they have been lying in a hospital bay, having fasted and had blood taken in preparation for surgery.

Figures obtained by the Herald under new public access laws reveal that for four years hospitals have consistently failed to meet the state government's benchmark on same-day cancellations, despite the federal government's $600 million elective surgery "blitz" in 2009 and last year.

The last-minute cancellations are occurring regularly at three times the accepted standard.

The chairman of the hospital practice committee of the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association, Brian Owler, says the cancellations waste time and money. "Theatre resources are not being properly used because the doctors and nurses present in the operating theatre have no patients to operate on," he said.

"It comes down to beds. We do need to have a certain number of beds, particularly in places like Westmead and Nepean, where demand is high," Associate Professor Owler said. "It's unusual for us to cancel patients because we've run out of time." Another 1450 beds were needed to address the problem.

This year, almost 9000 patients are expected to have their operations cancelled on the day they are booked in, according to NSW Health.

Last September, 65,944 patients were booked for surgery in NSW some time within the next year. The so-called Surgery Dashboard data, a monthly snapshot of surgery performance, shows the only time the benchmark for same-day cancellations was met was when it was set at 5 per cent in early 2007. The benchmark was tightened to 2 per cent in March 2007, and since then six of the nine former area health services have failed to meet the monthly target.

Last year, only Northern Sydney Central Coast, which includes Royal North Shore, and Greater West area health services met the benchmark - and then for only two months and one month respectively.

A Herald analysis of four years of data shows:

- The average rate of same-day cancellations was at least double the 2 per cent benchmark for six of the nine area health services every year;

- The benchmark was met only 22 per cent of the time since March 2007 and usually during the holiday shutdown periods;

- Sydney West Area Health Service, which includes Westmead and Nepean hospitals, was the worst-performing area with an average same-day cancellation rate of 5.4 per cent in 2010 and 6.3 per cent in 2009.

Last year, South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service, which includes St Vincent's Hospital, not only failed every month to meet the 2 per cent benchmark for same-day cancellations but was at least double that rate every month.

Professor Owler said the figures represented "only a fraction" of the cancellations.

"If the patient has not been put on the operating list in the first place, it will make the figures look better," he said. "I think [the benchmark] 2 per cent is ambitious but clearly double or triple of that figure is unacceptable."

A deputy director-general of NSW Health, Tim Smyth, estimated 40-45 per cent of the cancellations were for "patient reasons", such as not turning up or being unfit for surgery because of illness.

"The other reasons are related to the hospital side: an ICU bed is not available due to trauma cases etc, so the procedure has to be rescheduled; a bed is not available as planned due to overnight demand; or there has been an unexpected problem with a supplier providing a necessary piece of equipment," Dr Smyth said.

He stressed that the 2 per cent benchmark was an "aspirational target" set by surgeons on the Surgical Services Taskforce because hospitals were generally meeting the previous 5 per cent target.

A statement from the department said: "A cancellation rate of around 4-5 per cent overall is generally the picture in other states as well, so NSW is not materially different. Across Australia we are all working on getting the rate lower."

A departmental spokesman said 400 more beds were funded for 2010-11. He defended the department's record on elective surgery by saying 91 per cent of patients overall had their operations on time.


"Racist" Baa Baa Black Sheep put out to pasture

BLACK sheep are on the endangered species list as some children in north Queensland learn to sing Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep.

The English nursery rhyme may have survived for 200-plus years but political correctness could finally put it out to pasture. Some schools in Britain have banned the song for being racist, but Pelicans Innisfail Child Care allows children to sing about black sheep or rainbow sheep.

Director Pam McLaughlin said some teachers sang the changed lyrics, and some children already knew the changes. "We just go with whatever the children want," Ms McLaughlin said. "The kids are just singing and having fun. Some sing black sheep, some sing rainbow sheep. It's just a song. "We don't have anything that says, 'You have to sing it this way'."

The BBC reported in 2000 that Birmingham City Council had banned the song for being racist. It was later overturned after a backlash from parents.

The council said it had obtained the guidelines, which stated: "The history behind the rhyme is very negative and also very offensive to black people, due to the fact that the rhyme originates from slavery".

Six years later in 2006, a nursery in Sutton Courtenay in Britain banned the nursery rhyme.

Australian National University social psychologist Michael Platow said he doubted Baa Baa Black Sheep would teach racism.

"I don't know why a child would associate a black sheep with a black man," he said.

The Office of Early Childhood Education and Care associate director-General Zea Johnston said no direction had been given and centres were responsible for their own education programs.

Pelicans has indigenous and non-indigenous children, and recognises diversity. Children play with white dolls, darker-skinned dolls and dolls of both sexes.

Ms McLaughlin said she thought changing the lyrics was a bit confusing for children. "You can get a black sheep but you can't get a rainbow sheep."



Three current articles below

Carbon tax a pledge of suicide

Terry McCrann

JULIA Gillard is embarked on introducing two new taxes. he first is the big lie that last week was turned into a big tax: her Julia carbon tax, the tax you have when you promise not to have that tax. The second is the reworked resources tax.

One is designed to force us to cut our emissions of carbon dioxide. To stress, emissions of the life-enhancing gas, not the so-called carbon pollution of bits of grit subconscious image that Gillard and Co deliberately promote.

The other is based on the assumption that China, in particular, but also India will continue to increase exponentially their emissions of that very same carbon dioxide.

Needless to say, except it does apparently need saying repeatedly, the increase in their emissions will dwarf any reduction we achieve. Rendering any reduction by us utterly pointless.

Indeed, China for all its claimed commitment to aggressive world leadership in alternative energy, plans to get most of its electricity from coal-fired power. Not just today, but tomorrow and, indeed, the day after tomorrow.

Over the next 10 years, it plans to install net new capacity of coal-fired power equal to 10 times our entire power generation sector.

To stress, that's net additional generation. Its existing coal-fired power sector is already 14 times our entire power sector. To the extent it does close down any -- really -- grit-emitting old dirty coal-fired generation, that means even more replacement plants. All fired increasingly by coal from . . . you fill in the blank.

Our real "assistance" to increased Chinese CO2 emissions, though, won't be centred on shipping energy coals from Newcastle. But in pouring hundreds of millions of tonnes of iron ore and coking coal every year into Chinese, and increasingly, Indian mills. And not to forget our old customers in Japan and South Korea.

Gillard's proposed resources tax doesn't just assume huge increases in these exports but is designed specifically to encourage their maximum expansion. Along with -- dare I say it, carbon-based -- natural gas.

Does the Prime Minister have the slightest self-awareness of a certain hypocrisy, but even more an incongruity between her two taxes and the underlying hopes and realities they are based on?

That on the one hand, she has to turn every light switch in the country into a tax collection point, to cut emissions to save the Barrier Reef, if not indeed the planet? Yet, on the other hand, she says a silent, secular, prayer that China and India go gangbusters emitting, to utterly swamp any such domestic emissions cuts; to save her budget from deficit? And not just save her -- or her successor's -- budget; that the foundation of the entire Australian economy will rest increasingly on those increasing emissions?

There is a further point of damning intersection with reference to China that has utterly eluded the Prime Minister. To say nothing of the massed brainpower of Treasury and our down under 21st century da Vinci, Ross Garnaut.

There she was at it again on Wednesday, saying that we had to move to a post-carbon economy. That "the global economy is shifting". That "Australia is at risk of falling behind the rest of the world." That "the longer we wait, the greater the cost to the economy, and the greater the cost to Australian jobs".

Somehow this message seems to have escaped the Chinese. And the Indians. They are making every effort to move to a carbon economy. Indeed, that's precisely the reason argued for giving them a pass on their exploding emissions.

If indeed the future, and the jobs of the future, lie in a post-carbon economy, wouldn't the very canny Chinese go straight to "that bountiful future?"

What idiots they are for trying to build the carbon economy that our down under smarties Gillard, Garnaut and (Treasury secretary Ken) Henry want to discard like yesterday's worn-out snakeskin.

So what is Gillard "saying" with her two taxes? That we should feed the Chinese and Indian carbon addiction? We should profit from the destruction of the planet? Literally, in the case of the government's tax revenues?

The truth is that Gillard and Co have taken policy into the realm of the surreal. She and her cabinet have moved beyond incoherence. Guided you have to say by a Treasury that has lost utterly any semblance of rational analysis and advice.

She makes Kevin Rudd, who had firmly established himself as a prime minister worse than Whitlam, look like the very model of prudent thoughtful judgment in comparison.

His rush to lock in an Emissions Trading Scheme before the Copenhagen conference was ridiculous and mad. It would have left Australia right out there like the proverbial shag on the rock when Copenhagen collapsed without even the most basic binding commitments.

To say nothing of the whole bureaucratic imposition of the ETS. More complicated and more onerous than the GST and open to far more rorts than the building insulation fiasco.

But at least before Copenhagen, you could argue the hope of some global agreement requiring an Australian commitment.

Not so now after both its failure and even more the gas-emitting farce of Cancun. Gillard doesn't even have that excuse. She embarks on this destructive absurdity knowing that the world -- read: China, India and the US -- are not going to follow.

If we had a Treasury that retained any of its traditional competence, it would be telling the government that an attack on carbon dioxide emissions is an attack on Australia's core and pervasive national comparative advantage.

Why are we among the biggest emitters per head of CO2? The biggest by far, if we include the indirect emissions from the use of our resource exports?

Because we benefit from our bountiful coal and iron ore. Gillard's attack on the so-called carbon economy is not just designed to hurt every Australian. Permanently. It is effectively a national suicide pledge. From the nation's leader. Incredible. Surreal. All-too real.


Tony Abbott hints he'd roll back carbon tax if he wins the 2013 election

Tony Abbott has signalled he will scrap Labor's carbon tax if he wins the next election.

And in a blow to the Gillard government, the Greens have suggested they will not support cent-for-cent cuts to the petrol excise to compensate for petrol price rises under the tax.

The Opposition Leader declared this morning: "We are against this in opposition and we will be against this in government."

The next election is not due until August 2013 - a year after Julia Gillard's carbon tax is scheduled to come into effect.

Mr Abbott said voters should be "crystal clear" that he was opposed to the tax, but said he had to consult with shadow cabinet before announcing his formal policy response. "What I am not going to do is totally pre-empt due process, as Julia Gillard did," Mr Abbott told radio station 2UE. "She didn't send this off to her cabinet, she didn't send this off to her party room and I have to do all those things."

The approach flagged by Mr Abbott appears similar to that taken by Kim Beazley with the GST. The former Labor leader went to the 2001 election promising to "roll back" elements of the GST, but the pledge was dropped at subsequent elections.

The government says no decision has been taken on whether petrol will be included in the scheme. But Greens deputy leader Christine Milne suggested this morning that compensation for petrol price rises should not be given across the board. "We need to be sure that we are compensating low income earners, the people who are most vulnerable," she said. "I want to make sure that we do that because our job is to make sure that they are not suffering because of this."

Selectively compensating voters for petrol price rises could prove difficult for the government, because of sensitivities over bowser prices.

Coalition MPs arriving at parliament this morning accused Ms Gillard of "lying" to the Australian people by reneging on a pre-election pledge not to introduce a carbon tax. "She's trying to weasel her way out of the fact she lied," Liberal MP Dennis Jensen said. "The simple point is she went to the election and quite explicitly stated on not just one occasion that there would be no carbon tax under her government."

But Labor MP Andrew Leigh accused Mr Abbott of running a fear campaign. "It's going to be a strong scare campaign and he's going to run hard on it, but it's not what I think the Australian people want," he said. "Direct action is very, very expensive. How do you pay for that? Probably a big new income tax rise."

Labor MP Janelle Saffin said the transition to a clean energy economy would create more jobs. A report to be released later today by the Climate Institute suggests a $45 a tonne carbon price could create almost 8000 permanent jobs in the electricity sector.

Another 26,000 temporary manufacturing and construction jobs would also be created, according to the research, which predicts billions of dollars would be invested in clean energy projects.


Unilateral action on carbon creates costs without benefits

Henry Ergas

"Hawke and Keating floated the dollar; we will price carbon," Julia Gillard said just prior to last week's deal with the Greens.

The comparison is inaccurate, however, for floating the dollar, like cutting tariffs, was desirable even if Australia acted alone; in contrast, a carbon tax can only yield benefits if major emitting countries do the same.

Moreover, the Hawke-Keating reforms, including floating the dollar and reducing protection, enhanced our long-standing comparative advantage, which is based on our resource wealth. So did those of the Howard government. This policy undermines it.

Indeed, in terms of Australia's national interest, it is difficult to think of a policy more harmful than such a unilateral tax.

This is because a high share of Australia's emissions are accounted for by export-oriented activities: some 33 per cent, compared with 8 per cent for the US. These activities include mining, where large fugitive emissions occur as resources are extracted.

Given the ready availability of alternative sources of supply, including Canada, the US and Brazil, a unilateral tax on these exports cannot cut global emissions: it merely alters their location.

But it would reduce Australian incomes, transferring overseas gains we would otherwise obtain from the resources boom. This policy therefore imposes costs without any obvious benefits.

In its defence, supporters of unilateral action make four claims. None of these stands up to scrutiny. The first is to deny our tax would be unilateral, pointing to carbon abatement policies elsewhere, notably Europe.

In reality, those policies are costly and ineffectual: the abatement they secure could be obtained by a carbon price well below that envisaged here. But even putting that aside, our export industries do not compete with the European economies. So whatever their carbon policies may be, they do not make our action any less unilateral in its consequences.

The second claim is that even if unilateral action did cause income losses, the creation of green jobs would offset them. The whole notion of a green job is confused: jobs are no more colour-coded than are people. And it is even more confused to think low-emission jobs are inherently preferable to those that are emissions-intensive: rather, what matters is each activity's contribution to wealth creation, assessed taking proper account of the social cost of emissions.

The extent of that wealth creation does not depend on whether a job is green, blue or purple; it depends on opportunity costs, that is, on what society gives up to generate a dollar of output in that activity. A well-functioning economy specialises in those activities in which its opportunity costs are lowest: that is what specialisation in line with comparative advantage means. Because we are so abundantly endowed with natural resources, Australia's opportunity costs are especially low in mining. That is why our share of world mineral exports is more than 25 times greater than our share of world exports overall.

And it is that specialisation in line with comparative advantage that makes us well off, as it allows us to import the many goods in which we have a comparative disadvantage from wherever their costs of production are lowest.

Given how pronounced our comparative advantage is in mining, shifting resources to other activities must make us substantially poorer. The claim that jobs tending windmills or speculating on emissions permits could offset those losses is implausible.

It is especially implausible as our pattern of comparative advantage is becoming more pronounced: in the nine years from June 2000, the net present value of Australia's mineral assets more than trebled. With the world placing ever higher value on our natural resources, relative to our other factor endowments (such as capital and labour), the income loss from unilaterally taxing mining exports must rise.

That loss is all the greater because the carbon tax acts like a supplementary royalty, as the amount to be paid rises with volumes produced. It therefore compounds the distorting effect of existing royalties and of the new mining tax. How the government can stridently criticise mining royalties because they tax production but want to aggravate their impact is yet to be explained.

The third claim defenders of the tax make is that by acting now, we increase the prospects of global agreement. That claim is also implausible. It accords Australia an influence at odds with the experience of international negotiations, not least at Copenhagen. Additionally and importantly, it ignores the fact that by undermining our own exports we make preventing agreement even more profitable for our rivals.

That the government has no plan for repealing the tax should international agreement not eventuate in a set time frame makes our rivals' incentive to delay even greater. To believe altruism will trump self-interest in determining their negotiating stance involves a considerable leap of faith. Fourth and last, supporters of a unilateral carbon tax claim it will bring certainty.

However, the only certainty for the community as a whole is that incomes will fall. What is left uncertain is just how great that fall will be, as that depends on what happens when the time comes to shift from a fixed carbon tax to a scheme based on emissions permits.

It is, for example, widely rumoured that the carbon tax will be around $20, increasing annually by 4 or 5 per cent more than inflation. Given that starting point, were the government, at the end of the three year period, to set the number of permits so as to cut emissions in 2020 to 15 per cent below 2000 levels, the implied carbon price would treble, causing enormous dislocations.

The government knows that; little wonder it is determined to postpone those decisions to a later date. But far from providing certainty, thus multiplying decision points, with fuzzy decision criteria at each juncture, compounds uncertainties and invites rent-seeking. Finally, would these problems be ameliorated were the tax only on domestic consumption, exempting exports but taxing imports, as Geoff Carmody has proposed?

Of course they would. But that is only because we are acting unilaterally, damaging our exports. Shifting the burden on to domestic consumption reduces the harm. But the harm does not go away: it is just diminished. The question remains, therefore, why we would act unilaterally, creating costs for so few environmental benefits. To that question, the community still awaits a sensible answer.


27 February, 2011

"The skull" is still a bonehead -- repeating the failed Latham hostility to private schools

The genius himself

Mark Latham's attack on private schools is generally regarded as a major factor in his 2004 election wipeout. Around 40% of schoolkids in the swing State of Queensland go to private High Schools so that's a big demographic to piss off. The Green/Left Peter Garrett was a huge liability as an environment minister. Looks like he is still as thick as a brick and doomed for more follies in education

THE Federal Government is set to launch a new war with private schools this week as pressure intensifies on the country's richest education establishments to reveal their assets. Education Minister Peter Garrett told The Sunday Mail that he wanted to force public and private schools to reveal their true wealth, including assets, reserves and profits.

The launch of the revamped My School website on Friday will reveal financial information including income through private fees for the first time, but not assets.

The website will also show that wealthy private schools are spending 50 per cent more to educate each student than the average spend on a child at a public school. But some high-performing, low-fee Catholic and independent schools are spending a similar amount per student to comparable public schools, when private and taxpayer-funding is combined.

The launch of the site was delayed after private schools complained some of the complex data used to arrive at a per student spend was misleading. The average government school recurrent cost for a high school student is about $12,000.

"This is all about fair dinkum transparency," Mr Garrett said. "This is all about giving people information that they deserve to have. "And it's about providing that information in a way that allows them to make valid and reasonable comparisons."

Mr Garrett will take his proposal to extend the financial disclosure requirements of My School to include assets to the next meeting of state education ministers in April this year. Some private schools securing millions of dollars in taxpayer funding have retained earnings or assets of $100 million or more. But there is no current requirement for many schools to disclose their assets, profits or financial information.

For the first time, the new version of the My School website will provide information on funding from fees and donations to public and private schools. But Mr Garrett stressed it was "not about ranking".

My School 2 will also reveal for the first time which schools are showing improvements in literacy results for children in their care and which schools are falling behind.


We've been Rudded: Labor MPs decry lack of consultation

THERE are rumblings of discontent among Labor MPs who are angry Julia Gillard didn't first consult caucus before announcing the government's backflip on a carbon tax.

"She talked the talk about including us when we gave (Kevin) Rudd the boot, but that's not what she has done. You would have thought (the Prime Minister) would want to know what her marginal seat MPs think about controversial ideas before she announces them," one Labor MP said.

The Weekend Australian has spoken to three Labor MPs, all of whom supported Gillard's challenge against Rudd last year.

They expressed frustration that the she had acted with a similar disregard for the views of her party colleagues that her predecessor Rudd did.

"We got rid of Kevin (Rudd) because he didn't listen, now she isn't talking to us before acting," another Labor MP said.

The three Labor MPs, who did not want to be named, are more concerned about the lack of process behind the carbon tax announcement than the substance of the plan.

Although at least one also had reservations about the backflip: "Julia said there would be no carbon tax, Now there will be. We have to try and sell this in our electorates, which won't be easy."

When Gillard assumed the Labor leadership she committed to being more consultative than Rudd had been. Gillard's failure to consult with Labor MPs on her carbon tax announcement, coupled with her refusal to accept the Labor review's proposal that the caucus choose the front bench, is a sign that perhaps not much has changed from the way Rudd ran the government.


Militant unions set to rock boat

BUSINESSES will be forced to deal increasingly with militant unionists this year as the individual contracts of their employees expire and unions exploit generous right-of-entry clauses in Labor's Fair Work Act.

In a speech today, former Howard government minister Peter Reith says he expects the industrial relations climate to worsen.

Mr Reith, who led the former government's fight against the Maritime Union of Australia during the 1998 waterfront dispute, highlights recent strike action by the MUA as well as attempts by unions to "muzzle" the construction industry watchdog.

As the ALP has stopped the making of new Australian Workplace Agreements, he points to the transition provisions that allow individual agreements to operate to their expiry date. "Many of those arrangements come to an end in 2011 and as the unions have generous right-of-entry clauses it is certain that in 2011 many businesses will be forced, against the interests of the business and the employees, to negotiate with militant unionists," Mr Reith says.

He attacks comments made by the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, who last week declared war on Rio Tinto and unveiled an ambitious strategy to totally unionise the mining giant's aluminium operations.

"Paul Howes and the AWU resort to the politics of hate, envy and class warfare because they have nothing else to throw at good employers," Mr Reith says.

"His threats to Rio and, by implication, others in the resources sector, will always be counter-productive when employers and employees work together. The frustration for the AWU is that it just can't keep or recruit members with a good employer who offers safe work, higher remuneration and the chance to be treated as a valuable member of a good team.

"The union's . . . opposition to AWAs was never about workers, it was always all about the powers of union bosses. AWAs were abolished by Labor because they had been too successful for workers."

The union is targeting Rio's aluminium operations in Queensland and Tasmania, claiming the pay and conditions at these plants is about 30 to 50 per cent lower than for aluminium employees in unionised workplaces. The union's goal is to recruit a majority of the workforce at the three Rio aluminium operations within two to three years, and then use the federal workplaces laws to force the company to negotiate. Unions claim Rio Tinto Alcan had a record of denying workers at its smelters and refineries representation on health and safety.

The AWU claims to be the nation's fastest growing blue-collar union, with membership increasing over the past three years.


White parasites feed on black misery

IGNORANT outsiders are not helping to end the spiral of drunkenness in Alice Springs.

Many people live on the gravy train that runs on Aboriginal suffering. And there is no shortage of suffering. We are up to our necks, swimming in misery.

I don't write from a distant perspective of an observer. I write from deep within the misery. I am the one burying nieces and nephews on a regular basis and crying for a brother dead far too early from the abuse of drugs and alcohol. I'm the one who, after a long night on the streets of Alice Springs two weeks ago, was called down to the hospital because my niece was in intensive care after attempting suicide.

Yet one of the problems in Alice Springs is that people feel free to comment on contemporary Aboriginal society from the safety of their computer keyboards without venturing on to the streets of the town and observing the nightlife.

These people object that recent media reportage has all painted the same bleak picture of life in Alice Springs. There is a reason for that: it is because there is only one view late in the evening around KFC Cross, the junction of Todd and Stott streets.

Some claim that there are effective services already working hard to treat the problems. But there is nothing effective about youth services in Alice Springs. The Youth Action Plan, the result of bipartisan commitment and consultation across the sector, and the Youth Hub have never materialised.

Yes, petrol sniffing has been targeted through the introduction of Opal fuel. This program has been a boon for BP. Unfortunately, our youth have just moved on to other drugs, especially ganja. The underlying issues remain the same.

Aboriginal people don't need to be saved by the legions of outsiders who have come to Alice Springs to speak for us, to hold our hands, to encourage us to pursue their romantic vision of a traditional Aboriginal lifestyle. We can speak for ourselves.

The Aboriginal leaders in central Australia know that we have a deep crisis on our hands. We want action. We back local businesses and the local community's call for change.

At a meeting in Alice Springs on Tuesday, the business community was present in droves. So, too, were Lindsay Bookie, chairman of the Central Land Council, and Sid Anderson, my brother, president of MacDonnell Shire. All people of standing in central Australia want to see this crisis resolved by strong action.

Potential solutions include: real truancy programs, schools adequately funded for the full cohort of Territory children, implementation of the Youth Action Plan, business community input into the management and funding of the Gap Youth Centre, normalisation of the town camps; putting Night Patrol and Day Patrol services out to tender, significant welfare reform and land tenure reform.

Even more important will be establishing a new culture of accountability in the Territory. Our problems may be complex, but they are not insurmountable. Government must be accountable, bureaucrats administering program funding must be accountable, youth service providers must be accountable.

I expect a hostile reaction to these observations and proposals from those on board the gravy train. Too bad.

Aboriginal people are not lesser human beings and we are not animals. We want an end to segregated "animal bars" that allow members of our community the humiliation of lower standards of behaviour and dress. We do not want our children scared into obedience by dogs with gnashing teeth. We want to be treated with the same high expectations, rights and responsibilities as any other human being.

We cannot wait any longer for change. I am tired of the funerals. I am frustrated with those who refuse to act. The pain of living with the ongoing loss of our young people is almost unbearable.

I am no longer shocked by life in central Australia, but I am sad and extremely concerned about our future.


26 February, 2011

The Skibbereen Eagle warns the Tsar....

The Greens have threatened a trade boycott against the world's second-largest economy in an attack on China by one of its high-profile NSW candidates. Marrickville Mayor Fiona Byrne, who is running for the state seat, has revealed her council would consider boycotting China out of sympathy for Tibetans.

Labor labelled the policy as "stupid and dangerous" and warned such a ban could threaten Chinese trade with NSW - worth more than $3.2 billion to the state's economy - and damage cultural and student ties with China. "This is one of the most destructive policies announced by any mayor in Australia's history," Labor's campaign spokesman Luke Foley said. He has called for Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown to step in and rule out suggestions of a boycott of Australia's largest trading partner.

Mr Brown, however, could not be contacted by his office yesterday to seek clarification on whether he would back Ms Byrne's proposal or not.

A spokeswoman for Mr Brown said the Greens did not have a "written" policy on Tibet. But Greens Senator Christine Milne, who this week shocked Labor MPs with her claim that the Greens' "power sharing" deal with the Federal Government had delivered the carbon tax, has previously questioned Australia's free trade agreement with China based on its human rights record in Tibet.

Ms Byrne's backing for a China ban follows her boycott of Israel last month over its treatment of Palestinians. In retaliation, Labor and Liberal councillors have already joined forces on neighbouring Randwick Council to boycott Marrickville Council.

Her latest threats against China were recorded at a candidate forum on Wednesday night in Sydney. Ms Byrne said her council had expressed solidarity with the local Tibetan community. While the Tibetan community had not asked specifically for a boycott, Ms Byrne said council would adopt one if asked.

"If the local Tibetan community came to us and asked us to look at boycotting China, I'm sure council would do that," Ms Byrne said. "So we actually have done things [for] our local community ... provide action, and support our local community around those issues and I'm quite proud of that, quite proud to do that."

Mr Foley said: "It's hard to believe that anyone could come up with such a stupid and dangerous policy. "If she had her way, it would cost hundreds of thousands of Australian jobs. Bob Brown needs to step in, disown the policy and disown the candidate."

The seat of Marrickville is held by Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt by a 3 per cent margin. The Greens have consistently raised the issue of human rights in Tibet and have called for China to recognise Tibet's autonomy. Almost 35 per cent of people living in Marrickville were born overseas, many of them Chinese.


Muslims are not the same as earlier immigrants

ALMOST everything George Brandis said this week about Australia's successful creation of an inclusive society "receptive and respectful of people of race and faith" is true.

In an opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald, the senator paid tribute to Australian tolerance by recalling his experience growing up in the suburbs in the 1960s. Amid the colonial terraces and semi-detached houses of Petersham in Sydney's inner west, Chinese, Greek and Italian families lived happily alongside their Anglo-Celtic neighbours, and half the youngsters at his local school came from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

The idea that Australia under the rule of Robert Menzies did not resemble apartheid South Africa or the segregated south of the US will shock those who subscribe to the popular view that the coming of Gough Whitlam changed everything.

Brandis usefully reminded us that a multicultural Australia pre-dated the official invention of that policy by the Whitlam government in the 1970s. He also reminded us that our proud and enviable history of integrating migrants since the end of the World War II is attributable in part to the essential decency of the overwhelming majority of ordinary Australians.

Australia became a successful nation of immigrants because the egalitarianism that is central to its national character -- the principle that Jack is as good as his mate -- was extended by "old Australians" to include "new Australians".

Hence there was no white flight from Petersham or other suburbs in response to the influx of migrants from southern Europe in the 50s and Indochina in the 70s because newcomers of all colours and creeds were made welcome and accepted into the workplaces, the schools, the churches and the sporting clubs of suburban Australia.

Brandis was also right to suggest that these achievements should not be put at risk by cheap populism that seeks to exploit prejudice for political advantage. However, the senator for Queensland went too far in trying to shut down the debate about multiculturalism.

The debate was sparked in Coalition ranks by the publication of Scott Morrison's alleged remarks in shadow cabinet about Muslim immigration and community concerns in western Sydney.

"I can still remember the playground taunting of Italian kids, from which I formed my lifelong detestation of bullies who pick on a vulnerable minority," Brandis wrote in a thinly disguised rebuke to his colleagues. "Whether they realise it or not, the same sentiment that drives those who bullied those kids then, animates those who beat up on Muslims now."

This is a variation on a common grievance aired by many members of the multicultural industry: "Australia is a racist country because kids teased me about what was in my sandwiches at lunchtime."

Judging how a civilisation treats minorities based on what eight-year-olds call each other is ludicrous. To equate this with a legitimate debate about the success or otherwise of Muslim integration is just as ludicrous.

This is especially so when this debate is belatedly being had in Britain, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Scandinavia, now that the evidence of non-integration and the failures of multicultural policy are undeniable.

Europe has discovered that a nation of tribes united by a common welfare state does not create the harmonious society multicultural theorists said it would.

Instead, divisions between native and immigrant populations have been entrenched and the social fabric frayed. Australia does not confront challenges on the same scale, but we are kidding ourselves if we think we have nothing to worry about.

From Petersham, it is a 15-minute drive southwest to Lakemba. It is 30 years since [mostly Muslim] refugees fleeing the civil war in Lebanon received asylum in this country, and still Lakemba and its surrounds remain ghettofied.

The usual pattern of dispersal by first-generation children of immigrants has not occurred to the same extent and the area is plagued with poor educational achievement, high unemployment and crime.

The community concerns that exist in western Sydney about Muslims and multiculturalism are based on these jarring realities on the disintegration of some parts of Sydney from the mainstream, and the failure to repeat the successful patterns of integration of other ethnic groups.

To blame racial or religious prejudice, whether formed in the playground or otherwise, is avoiding the real issue. So is reaffirming the national commitment to multiculturalism, as the Gillard government has done, as if that and the proposed anti-racism campaign will be a cure-all.

The conventional wisdom among most elites is that we should not discuss these issues because it will unleash the racist sentiments that still lurk in the hearts of most Australians.

I think the opposite is true. It is because most Australians believe in the immigration and integration of all comers that what is going on in southwest Sydney is of concern.

Perceptive politicians have picked up on this. Effective politicians will honestly address the issues and propose solutions. Ineffective ones will shut their eyes and lecture an unimpressed electorate about respecting "diversity".


Amazing! Unless you die, Qld. Health is unlikely to admit it made a mistake!

ALL Government hospitals should be privatized, with the government picking up the bill for the poor

A TOWNSVILLE man is suing the State Government after claiming he was the victim of a hospital blood transfusion bungle. Glen Roy Feeley, 54, who worked as a fabricator, was involved in an industrial accident in 2008 and has lodged damages against the Townsville Hospital and Nursing Agency Australia Pty Ltd. The damages are yet to be finalised but they could exceed $1 million.

Mr Feeley claims he was given the wrong type of blood after he received a blood transfusion at Townsville Hospital following the workplace accident.

Documents lodged in the Supreme Court of Townsville show the man's blood type was O positive, but when he was admitted to hospital on February 25, 2008, he received an A positive blood transfusion by medical staff.

He underwent surgery on his right hand which included reattaching the index and middle fingers.

Mr Feeley claims he suffered shock, required further surgery and suffered a psychiatric and/or psychological condition and this condition has been aggravated. He also claims he suffered exacerbation of his injuries.

Court documents said the blood transfusion of blood group A were an "incompatible transfusion" and the defendants "failed to use reasonable care, skill and diligence in and about the plaintiff's medical treatment". The documents state, as a result of being given the wrong blood type, Mr Feeley suffered an "incompatibility transfusion reaction".

The documents claim he continues to suffer pain and discomfort, loss of amenities and enjoyment of life.

The incident was not recorded in the Government's patient safety report, From Learning To Action III, which detailed hospital errors during 2007-08. But Queensland Health on Friday said it was because the defendant did not suffer "permanent injury" or die as a result.


Gillard's greenhouse tax to push prices higher

Petrol, groceries and electricity bills could soar from July 1 next year under Julia Gillard's new carbon tax.

Ms Gillard vowed that consumers and businesses would be shielded from higher prices, but she has not yet outlined how compensation will work.

Key details of the new tax - including how much polluters will be forced to pay per tonne of carbon emissions and concessions for some industries - are still to be agreed between Labor and the minor parties. The energy, transport, manufacturing and mining sectors could all be hit by the new tax.

The plans drew a strong rebuke from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who said Ms Gillard had broken an election promise that she would not introduce a carbon tax.

But Ms Gillard said she was forced to work out a compromise with the Greens and Independents to get a scheme to fight climate change through the hung parliament. Ms Gillard conceded in Parliament yesterday that her new plan was "effectively like a tax".

The Prime Minister said energy prices had to rise to force polluters to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But she insisted "we will do it in a fair way" by compensating low income households. "It has price impacts. It's meant to, that's the whole point," Ms Gillard said. "If you put a price on something, then people will use less of it."

She warned Australia would miss out on new green jobs and be left behind the rest of the world if it did not create a "low carbon economy".

Farmers have been spared from the new tax, but there will be a separate carbon farming credits scheme for the agriculture sector.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet yesterday confirmed petrol could be covered by the new tax. But he said the price impact could be phased in over a longer period.

Under the deal, the Government will impose a fixed price on carbon from July 1, 2012 for between three and five years. After that, the price will be set through an emissions trading scheme linked to international carbon markets.

Labor has left itself scope to delay the move to a cap and trade system by promising a review 12 months before the scheme is due to start.

Mr Abbott said he would argue against the plan. "I think there will be a people's revolt against this carbon tax," he said. The Opposition Leader warned petrol prices would rise by 6.5 cents a litre and the average electricity bill by $300 a year if there was a $26 impost per tonne of carbon emissions.

But Ms Gillard said these figures were not accurate because the carbon price and compensation arrangements had not been set.

Labor faces a battle to get the scheme through the parliament.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

25 February, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG accuses Julia of breaking an election promise with her current push for a carbon tax

Australia's coral reefs threatened by climate change, say armchair modellers

Attempting to model something as complex as the earth's climate is a ludicrous enough enterprise but at least there is quite a lot of data against which one can check the model output -- with uniformly dismal results, of course. NO model predicted the temperature stasis of the last 13 years, for instance.

But when it comes to modelling another very complex phenomenon -- such as worldwide coral reef growth -- where there is virtually no worldwide data available for checking purposes, one knows that the results will simply be whatever the modellers want them to be. And when one notes that the report of the modelling has a foreword by Al Gore, laughter is almost inevitable.

That actual scientific findings run directly contrary to Al Gore's little scam should of course surprise no-one. The media (below) have of course swallowed the hokum wholesale.

The Australian public will however be more skeptical than their media. "Coral reefs threatened" has been popping up regularly in the Australian media for many decades -- long predating the global warming scare. There are constant natural changes in coral reefs and there have always been attention-seekers getting a scary headline out of it

Shocking evidence has been released claiming that nearly all of Australia's coral reefs are at risk of being wiped out in less than two decades.

The report by the World Resources Institute claims that by 2030, 90 per cent of Australia's reefs will suffer from the overwhelming effects of climate change like warmer seas and acidification.

It also outlines the threat to the rest of the world's coral reefs, with research suggesting that many could be obliterated by 2050 due to pollution, climate change and over-fishing.

The report encourages Australia not to waste any time in fighting the prediction, particularly becuase of the impact reef degredation will have on tourism and the economy.

Dr Clive Wilkinson, the United Nations sponsored Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network coordinator, urged Australia "to be part of the global solution to climate change, as our reefs will suffer like others around the world and this will threaten the $5 to $6 billion per year that the Great Barrier Reef means to the Australian economy."

"Australians have no right to be complacent as the vast majority of our reefs will be seriously threatened by rising sea temperatures and increasing acidification in less than 20 years," he said.

Today, 40 per cent of Australia's reefs are under pressure from rising sea temperatures and other threats linked to climate change.

However, 75 per cent of the reefs are in marine protected areas, which is a contributing factor to the improvement in fish numbers and reef resilience.


Most illegal immigrants arriving in Australia by boat win legal residency eventually

Nearly every asylum-seeker who arrived in Australian waters during the past three years was granted refugee status, according to figures released under Freedom of Information laws and reported on by The Australian.

According to the report, the figures show that the Immigration Department approved fully 94 per cent of all refugee claims from people arriving by boat between October 2008 and December 22 last year.

Compared with other forms of refugee claims, those seeking asylum by boat had a significantly higher success rate. The Immigration Department approved only 39 per cent of visa requests for non-boat asylum-seekers in the first half of the current financial year. In 2009-10, the department refused 49 per cent of non-boat asylum seekers, and rejected 55 per cent the year before.

Opposition politicians argue that overseas refugee smugglers are keenly aware of the success rate of those arriving by boat, and said the figures will only further contribute to the problem. A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said refugee claims are processed independently of how they arrived in Australia.


Taxpayers' cash to smooth Labor's path of broken promises

This is just an opening shot, of course. What, if anything, gets through the parliament remains to be seen

STRUGGLING families will be compensated with cash for rising energy costs when the Federal Government imposes a carbon tax on Australians from July 1 next year. But most households won't be able to escape Prime Minister Julia Gillard's new emissions trading scheme, with forecasts that it will push power bills higher by between $300 and $500 a year.

Accused yesterday by the Opposition of betraying Australians, Ms Gillard formally broke a key election pledge and announced that the Government would impose a price on pollution from July 1, 2012, with a full emissions trading scheme to be operating as early as 2015.

It will be the most complex and broad-ranging carbon tax of almost any country in the world. The actual carbon price has yet to be set, but industry experts claim that the flow-on costs of a moderate $26 price per tonne of carbon would result in a $300 rise in electricity bills due to the country's reliance on coal-fired power generation. The price could be as high as $40 a tonne by 2020, adding anywhere up to $500 a year to bills. Petrol prices would also be expected to rise by 6.5c a litre.

The fixed carbon price would operate for between three and five years before a full market-based emissions trading scheme would come into operation between 2015 and 2017, with a floating price then to be set by the market.

Welfare groups demanded that low-income families be protected from the inevitable rise in the cost of living, as the Australian Council of Social Service warned that low-income households would be affected by climate change first and worst. "They have little capacity to cope, adapt or move," ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said.

Australia's business lobby attacked the lack of detail in the plan and warned it threatened jobs and would fuel uncertainty with Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Peter Anderson labelling it "a blow for the competitiveness of Australian business, especially small and medium-sized enterprises".

Ms Gillard, flanked by Greens Leader Bob Brown and the NSW rural independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, tried to head off the inevitable backlash, claiming the money raised from the tax would go back into compensation but admitted it would affect households.

"That's the whole point. Every cent raised from pricing carbon will go to assisting households, helping businesses manage the transition and funding climate change programs, and the Government will always support those who are in need of assistance with cost of living pressures," Ms Gillard said.

Before the August election Ms Gillard declared: "There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead." Yesterday she said: "This is the parliament the Australian people voted for."

Ms Gillard said some elements of former prime minister Kevin Rudd's abandoned emissions trading scheme - one of the triggers for his sacking - might be taken up in the new scheme. Under the old ETS, more than eight million households would receive compensation payments of up to $600 a year. Some low-income families would have ended up better off than before an ETS.

But Opposition Leader Tony Abbott accused Ms Gillard of the ultimate act of "betrayal". "The price of this betrayal will be paid every day by every Australian," he said. Mining giant BHP and big energy players welcomed the move but one of Australia's biggest manufacturers, BlueScope Steel, was scathing saying it was "potentially killing manufacturing in Australia". Leading price comparison website chief executive Ben Freund said households would pay higher costs for electricity and locally manufactured goods.


Paul Howes's recent speech to the Sydney Institute

Howes is the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, one of the largest trade unions affiliated with the ALP and a stanchion of the NSW Right. In his speech Howes, a member of the ALP's national executive, makes two key points. First, he rejects the calls made by Rodney Cavalier in Power Crisis to reform the unions' gerrymander over the ALP and, second, he calls for a new culture of debate to flower in the ALP. He wants Labor to "openly, fearlessly, debate ideas" and to "compete in the marketplace of ideas".

What Howes will not recognise is that his two points are irreconcilable. The ALP can never have a genuine culture of debate while it is controlled by union bloc votes. Free debate is part of a democratic culture, but the ALP's structures are designed to exclude democratic participation. It is worth considering the details of how the ALP bear hunt is organised.

Despite the fact affiliated trade unions represent only a "bare" 10 per cent of the workforce, these unions still insist on holding 50 per cent of the votes at the ALP's annual conference. These votes are distributed among the various unions according to the size of the affiliation fee that the union pays. The union that pays the most money will be rewarded with the most votes to play with at the conference: the bloc votes.

Having purchased 30 or 40 votes, a union secretary has the unchallenged authority to decide who will exercise these votes. The union membership has no say in who will represent them at the conference. The union secretary decides that and will go to great lengths to ensure that whoever they send will vote exactly as the union secretary tells them to. What a union secretary will not tolerate is delegates who listen to debate, decide issues on the merits of ideas and arguments, and vote accordingly: so much for openly and fearlessly debating ideas. The power of the union secretary depends on having complete control of all the votes purchased and voting them in a bloc.

To eliminate any risk the union secretaries employ shameful contrivances such as double voting by union delegates. This allows union delegates to vote twice, to cast two ballots and ridicule Labor's commitment to one vote, one value. It may not be attractive, but double voting by their delegates is a bluntly effective way for the union secretaries to maintain their stranglehold.

It is no wonder that Howes likes the present system of union control so much. It delivers him and his union secretaries immense political power. But it is not political power earned by persuasion or through effective debate or the power of ideas. It is political power crassly purchased with other people's money and then activated via bloc votes and double voting.

Once people understand that the ALP is a fix, that nothing they say or contribute really matters, that a handful of union secretaries have got a lock on proceedings, they simply exit themselves from the farce. Why would they stay and have their time wasted once they know the whole show is rigged against their contribution counting for anything?

This is exactly what happens. Branches close and collapse and the membership dwindles away. The number of living former members of the ALP must stand at well over 100,000. The NSW ALP is a party of mass ex-membership.

If Howes genuinely wanted Labor to compete in the marketplace of ideas he would support winding the bloc votes down from 50 per cent to 10 per cent. He would speak out against repulsive tricks such as double voting and he would support democratic reforms such as election by the ALP membership for all positions on the national executive -- including his own.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour. New posts on both today

24 February, 2011

Federal government coverup of union corruption

THE federal government has blocked Fair Work Australia from answering questions about an investigation it is conducting into allegations of financial irregularities involving the Labor backbencher Craig Thomson.

Appearing before a Senate estimates hearing, Fair Work Australia's director of tribunal services and organisations, Terry Nassios, said he had interviewed 12 people about the finances of the Health Services Union.

But when the opposition senator Michael Ronaldson asked if Mr Thomson was one of those interviewed, the government's Senate leader, Chris Evans, intervened to stop the official from answering.

Mr Thomson, the MP for the central coast electorate of Dobell, was federal secretary of the HSU for five years before he was elected to Parliament in 2007.

The Herald reported allegations in 2009 that Mr Thomson's HSU credit card had been used to make cash withdrawals totalling more than $100,000 between 2002 and 2007 and to make payments to Sydney escort agencies.

Mr Thomson strenuously denies the allegations and is suing Fairfax Media for defamation.

Fair Work Australia has been conducting an investigation into the union's national office for about a year. It is examining if there have been any breaches of the rules on the union's financial management, including when Mr Thomson was federal secretary.


Muslims lose one

No cash to fund privacy curtains for female-only pool classes. How come nobody is asking the local mosque to fund this? Why should it be a bite on the taxpayer? Do we fund everything Muslims want?

THE State Government has refused a council's bid to help fund $45,000 curtains at a public pool so Muslim women can have privacy during female-only exercise classes. There were calls yesterday for the City of Monash to dump the controversial plan amid claims it promoted segregation and was a waste of ratepayers' money.

Monash Council confirmed the Victorian Multicultural Commission had knocked back a grant application to fund half the curtains' cost. Two weeks ago, the Herald Sun revealed that VCAT had given the green light for Monash to bypass equality laws and run the fortnightly women-only sessions.

Monash Mayor Greg Male said yesterday that the council still wanted to introduce the program, but it would have to pass the budget review process.

But Ratepayers Victoria president Jack Davis called on the council to scrap the plan, given the VMC's decision to reject the grant application. "They have made a wise decision - it only leads to segregation and we don't need that in Australia," Mr Davis said.

A spokeswoman for Multicultural Affairs Minister Nick Kotsiras said Monash had received a $1 million grant for a separate program and the VMC encouraged the council to re-apply for the privacy screen grant next time.


Poseurs in uproar over David Williamson's play "Don Parties On"

The "superior" people despise anything that is popular. The fact that Williamson is as Leftist as they are doesn't save him. Being popular is the unforgiveable sin to their envious minds.

That any theatre company would knock back the opportunity to stage a new Williamson play is almost inconceivable, particularly a sequel to his most famous play. It shows how deep their hate and envy is.

Although he is a Leftist, Williamson is a brilliant and accurate observer of Australians, so when he puts our follies in front of us, that makes us laugh.

Miranda Devine

At the opening night last week of David Williamson's latest play, Don Parties On, the Sydney audience was laughing so much at times the actors had to repeat their lines. Bruised from a bashing by Melbourne's black turtleneck theaterati, Williamson - Australia's most successful playwright - laughed along and looked utterly delighted at the reaction to his sequel to the iconic 1971 Don's Party.

During the curtain call and extended applause, Garry McDonald, who plays Don, gestured at Williamson from the stage. The applause ratcheted up so much that Williamson got to his feet and waved at the cheering crowd. Bob Hawke - one of a dozen politicians in the audience - even stood to applaud the maligned playwright.

The reaction was hardly what one snide reviewer the next day described as a few cheap chuckles. And what a difference it was to the thin-lipped, crossed-armed reaction on Melbourne's opening night.

But disparaging Williamson has become a badge of belonging in the arts world, despite the fact his plays have kept Australian theatre solvent for more than 30 years. His work is slammed as too bourgeois, too commercial, too accessible to mainstream audiences.

One particularly bilious online critique described Williamson as an "ageing irrelevance" whose writing was "fat, lazy and stupid". Williamson was so wounded he wrote hundreds of words in blog comments in reply, his graciousness being a credit to him.

It is an indictment of our taxpayer-subsidised theatre industry that Don Parties On, which, despite the critics, ended up a smash hit at the Melbourne Theatre Company, was rejected by the Sydney Theatre Company, whose artistic directors are Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton.

Instead, Williamson had to hunt around for an independent commercial producer to take it on. Enter Rachel Healy, who had just left her post as Opera House performing arts director. She found a private investor and put a chunk of her own money into the production in Sydney for 21 performances.

"The critics and the arts community have a response to Williamson you would never see elsewhere," she says. "He brings thousands of people out from their couch to (be) incredibly entertained. But it's bizarre that being entertaining is something to be ashamed of (when) the prime motivator for people to go to the theatre is entertainment."

But of course, if you are an insecure philistine posing as a sophisticated arts appreciator, you won't trust art that is entertaining, beautifully constructed, and coherent. Poseurs like to consume obscure niche art -- no matter how bad -- because it marks them as superior.


NSW hospital emergency waiting times fall further behind benchmark

THE performance of emergency departments in NSW hospitals has deteriorated, falling further behind the official target for how long people with potentially life-threatening conditions should wait for treatment.

Only 71 per cent of such patients began treatment within the recommended 30 minutes in the December quarter, figures from the NSW Bureau of Health Information reveal, compared to 73 per cent in the same quarter of 2009.

The benchmark for the measure - the most politically sensitive of a suite of emergency department standards - is 75 per cent within 30 minutes.

At 10 hospitals, most of them major facilities, 60 per cent or fewer people in this urgency category were seen within 30 minutes. It was six hospitals in the same period last year.

And the performance of the two specialist children's hospitals declined dramatically during the year. The Children's Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children's Hospital both fell below the benchmark, which they had met in the 2009 quarter.

At Sydney Children's in Randwick the proportion of triage category-three patients treated on time plummeted from 91 per cent to 70 per cent. It experienced a 5 per cent rise in emergency attendances across all triage categories between the two reporting periods.

A hospital spokeswoman said there had been "an increase in the complexity and number of [emergency] patients," and teething problems in a new computer system for recording attendances had also contributed to the lower performance.

Royal Prince Alfred Hospital experienced the biggest fall in its on-time treatment of triage-three emergency patients - from 73 per cent to 60 per cent - despite a rise in attendances of only 1 per cent.

A spokesman for Sydney Local Health Network, which administers Royal Prince Alfred, said the quarter had been its busiest on record. The emergency department would be refurbished and expanded, he said, and transfer times from ambulance trolley to emergency would be reviewed.

A spokeswoman for the Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said "attendances at NSW emergency departments reached a two-year high, exceeding the peak of the swine flu pandemic in 2009."

The government had budgeted for 80,000 more emergency patients this financial year, she said, and it was adding urgent care centres in some hospitals to take the pressure off emergency departments and medical assessment units to fast track patient admissions.


23 February, 2011

Survey finds many Australians are critical of Muslims and Jews

This report was of course headlined as showing "racism". It does nothing of the sort. As psychologists have known for decades, negative attitudes about various groups do NOT predict any wilingness or intention to treat the groups concerned badly (See e.g. here and here. Andrew Bolt has some sarcastic comments )

Half of Australians harbour anti-Muslim sentiments and a quarter are anti-Semitic, according to the biggest survey ever done on racism in this country. One in three also admit some level of racist feelings against indigenous people, reported the Herald Sun.

The survey of 12,500 people, conducted by leading universities, found Victoria to be one of the most tolerant states. But comparisons between 15 regions statewide show stark differences.

People in Melbourne's outer north, including the shires of Nillumbik, Whittlesea and Hume, recorded Victoria's highest rates of negative sentiments against Jews (31.4 per cent), Asians (26.8 per cent) and Britons (12.8 per cent).

Anti-Muslim feelings were highest in outer western council areas of Melton, Wyndham and Brimbank, but these areas also reported the state's lowest rates of racist attitudes to Asians and Italians.

The 12-year study found 84 per cent of people have seen evidence of racial prejudice. And more than 40 per cent believed "Australia is weakened by people of different ethnic origins sticking to their old ways".

Study co-author Dr Yin Paradies, from the University of Melbourne, said racism against minorities was most common in areas that were more highly populated by those minorities. "There is a general finding across the world that ethnic density tends to be related to levels of racism, but not always," he said. "The inner (Melbourne) suburbs tended to have very tolerant attitudes, but there is quite a bit of ethnic diversity there."

The council areas of Melbourne, Port Phillip, Stonnington and Yarra boasted Victoria's highest levels of "cross-cultural relations" and fewest calls for "pro-assimilation". However, inner Melbourne residents surveyed for the Challenging Racism Project also recorded the highest rates of anti-Christian (21.3 per cent) and anti-Italian (12.6 per cent) sentiments.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke praised Victorians generally, but admitted concern at some of the findings. "Multiculturalism isn't an end point. It's something we have to keep working on," she said.


Crooked NSW "crime fighting" body terrified of the light of day

In an extraordinary move, the NSW Crime Commission has turned to the courts to stop its oversight body holding a public inquiry into its handling of the assets of criminals and the conduct of particular officers. The Police Integrity Commission had been holding a secret inquiry into the Crime Commission, over which it was granted oversight two years ago.

In a private hearing in December it announced plans to extend the scope and purpose of the hearings to examine the Crime Commission's actions and practices when acting under the Criminal Assets Recovery Act.

The Herald recently reported on criticism of how the Crime Commission has used its powers to seize criminal assets.

On Friday, the Supreme Court issued an injunction against the PIC, ruling that the Crime Commission had a prima facie case in questioning the PIC's powers.

The Crime Commission's lawyer, Ian Temby, QC, had argued the PIC had exceeded its powers under the Police Integrity Commission Act in extending the scope of its investigation. But the PIC had argued the investigation was governed by another section of the act. Justice Monika Schmidt ruled there was ''a serious question to be tried'' in the interpretation of the act.

The PIC is also at war with its oversight body, the Inspector of the PIC, which has issued scathing reports criticising it for its lack of procedural fairness and accusing it of breaching officers' privacy. The PIC's last public hearings - into alleged misconduct of police officers - were held two years ago.


Senator Joyce slams 'budgie' bullbars

A PROPOSAL to change bullbars on vehicles from metal to polymer to improve pedestrian safety may increase the danger to car passengers, Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce said.

Senator Joyce said a proposed Federal Government review into manufacture of bullbars could affect the safety of car occupants in a crash. "Steel bullbars stop impacts with wildlife," he said. "They may also stop the car, the car might break, it might smash, but the people inside walk away. "In the past we had things with polymer which we called 'budgie bars', because we reckoned that was about all they could stop."

Under a review of Australian design rules, the Government is examining the case to apply a standard for pedestrian safety established by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

"It is designed around improving pedestrian safety in terms of any impact on the vehicle, in terms of trying to soften the impact on pedestrians," Department of Infrastructure and Transport spokeswoman Karen Gosling told a Senate estimates committee yesterday.

But Senator Joyce questioned the strength of an European standard polymer bullbar. "Without trying to sound trite, what do they expect to hit in Europe and is it a comparison to what we hit all the time over here?" he said.

Senator Joyce said drivers in the bush hit animals regularly, especially at dusk and dawn, so steel or aluminium bullbars were needed.

Vehicle Safety Standards general manager Robert Hogan said he was confident that building bullbars and vehicles to absorb more energy would reduce the risk of pedestrian deaths and injuries. "We are certainly confident that metal bullbars can be manufactured to meet the proposed Australian standard," Mr Hogan said. "We're very confident polymer bullbars can be manufactured to meet that standard."


Power sale inquiry condemns NSW Govt

An inquiry by a New South Wales Upper House committee into the sale of state electricity assets has called for the contracts to be rescinded. The committee, dominated by the Opposition and cross-benchers, has criticised Premier Kristina Keneally for attempting to shut down its investigations.

The Government's decision to prorogue parliament scared off some inquiry witnesses because of questions over whether their evidence would be protected.

The inquiry has found the rationale for the sale process is flawed and that taxpayers have been left exposed to significant risks. Committee chairman Fred Nile says even Treasurer Eric Roozendaal has admitted the $5.3 billion sale price is likely to be substantially reduced. "We estimate that probably the state's taxpayers are probably receiving between $600 and $700 million," Mr Nile said.

"So all the fanfare of the Treasurer was just based on a fallacy. Obviously it was an attempt to impress the voters of New South Wales as to how efficient the Labor Government had been, but it's been a disaster."

The committee has also called for a full judicial inquiry to examine the sale.

Ms Keneally dismissed the inquiry's findings, even before they were handed down. "What we will see today is a politically motivated report, one that could have possibly been written before any inquiry was held," Ms Keneally said.

Mr Roozendaal also pre-emptively attacked the report.

It is expected the committee's Labor members will issue a dissenting report.

Under the deal made late last year, the Government sold three energy retailers, Energy Australia, Country Energy and Integral Energy, to two private companies. The negotiations also included selling the generation trading contracts to take the output of power stations owned by Eraring Energy and Delta Electricity.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

22 February, 2011

A self-serving union crook

Labourers earning $2,000 a WEEK are not being paid "a liveable wage"???

IT WAS a $20 note and it came with the admonition from my father "not to spend it all in the pub". I was on strike at the time and down to my last few dollars. It was the last of the big newspaper strikes in an era when workers of all sorts went "out on the grass" in support of their claims for better wages and conditions.

I was on strike at the time and down to my last few dollars. It was the last of the big newspaper strikes in an era when workers of all sorts went "out on the grass" in support of their claims for better wages and conditions.

It was a time of great bitterness between workers and management and if you peer deeply enough into the hearts of those journalists who went through it, you might see the scar tissue still.

It was all a long time ago but I was reminded of the $20 note by Paul Howes, secretary of the Australian Workers Union, when he launched an extraordinary attack on the mining company Rio Tinto last week.

Howes, speaking at the union's national conference, announced he was declaring war on Rio Tinto and accused chief executive Tom Albanese of "sucking out the blood, sweat and tears of blue-collar workers". Monkeys, he said, would do a better job of running the company than its present management.

"I have got a message for Rio Tinto," he said. "You don't own this Government; you don't own this country any more. Your workforce has the right to be represented. You cannot hide behind the law. You cannot hide behind the lawyers.

"You cannot hide behind your slimy, grubby mates in the Coalition because we're coming after you. We are going to take Rio Tinto on, and we are going to make sure that they pay a liveable wage to the workers who make the wealth that these shiny arses sitting in the boardroom in London enjoy."

Howes wasn't wearing a sweat-stained blue singlet, shirts and work boots at the time. A suit is his preferred garb and he spends a lot of time sitting on his backside in an office, but his fiery rhetoric was calculated to illuminate a poster of an honest worker prostrate beneath the shiny jackboot of an overseas mining executive.

Howes was playing to the gallery, his eye-bulging theatrics designed to reassure his band of brothers that he was taking the fight to the enemy, those evil capitalists who ripped babies from the breasts of working-class mothers and sold them into child slavery.

It was an appalling performance and one that must have left many a union member, and I am one, squirming with embarrassment.

That Treasurer Wayne Swan should praise Howes as payback to him for helping organise the numbers in the move against former prime minister Kevin Rudd speaks volumes for his character.

The organised labour movement has come a long way since the days of class warfare for which Howes would have us believe he pines.

The days of workers downing tools, or computer keyboards, and walking off the job are gone. While Howes was ranting from atop his soapbox, labourers working for Rio Tinto in the Pilbara region were earning $2000 a week plus employer superannuation contributions. Truck drivers with no mining experience were getting $120,000 a year and train drivers $200,000.

Most work seven days on and seven days off and get free meals and accommodation, while only about 15 per cent of them think highly enough of Howes and his ilk to bother to join a union.

In Howes' world, however, they labour in William Blake's dark, satanic mills.

Rio Tinto made $14 billion last year, so you would have to concede that if Howes is right and monkeys could do better, for a bunch of idiots they're not doing a bad job.

You could also argue that the company, and others like it, should contribute more than they do to the nation's treasury.

They would be if Rudd and Swan hadn't comprehensively stuffed up the introduction of the mining tax, ambushing and enraging the industry by hatching the plan in secret and then declaring it was non-negotiable.

The miners fought back, the Government started to lose the PR battle, Rudd was sacked, Swan and Julia Gillard went to water and we now have, to borrow one of Howes' favoured anatomical references, a half-arsed tax.

That's a political failure and not one that can be laid at the feet of the miners, no matter how much Howes may shake his fist in the general direction of the Pilbara and shriek that he is "coming after" the mining companies.

In the 1970s, if a union representative walked into a newspaper newsroom and declared we were on strike, you got up and walked out the door. To do otherwise would see you labelled as a scab, the lowest form of life.

If one was to do so now, people would raise their heads for a moment to see who the crazy person was and then resume working.

People want to work hard and earn a better life. They are not interested in manning the barricades and burning the boss in effigy.

Howes' theatrics and his doomed attempt to fan the cold ashes of class warfare in this country are self-serving, designed to boost his profile and perhaps help propel him along the road to a nice, safe Labor Party seat in federal Parliament.

Once ensconced, he can put his feet up on the desk and as he tots up his perks and entitlements, sing the words to that popular "working class" song, the more memorable lines of which go: "The working class can kiss my arse, I've got the foreman's job at last."


NSW elections: Beware hard Leftists in Green clothing

It is true that there has been a move to the Greens in inner-city areas of the capital cities. But this has not spread to the suburbs, regional centres or rural areas. The latest Herald/Nielsen poll indicated that NSW voters who are proposing to junk Labor are moving straight across to Barry O'Farrell and the Coalition, by-passing the Greens. .

Interviewed this month on Meet the Press, O'Farrell was asked whether the NSW Liberals would give their preferences to Labor ahead of the Greens, as the Victorian Liberal Party did successfully in last November's state election. The Opposition Leader made the point that, unlike Victoria, NSW has an optional preference voting system and that it is not necessary for political parties to advise supporters about how to allocate preferences.

O'Farrell added that the Liberals in NSW "haven't preferenced the Greens in the past" and he could not "imagine us doing it in the future". He also advised that the Liberal Party's state director, Mark Neeham, "will make the decision [on preferences] in due course".

In the four years he has been Opposition Leader, O'Farrell has been very successful in unifying the Liberal Party and in cementing a viable coalition with the National Party. Both are real achievements. Also, during this time O'Farrell has obtained a significant grasp of detail over all areas of administration. However, he has yet to establish his standing as a conviction politician. This may occur if, as seems very likely, O'Farrell is elected premier on March 26. .

In the meantime, O'Farrell and his colleagues would be well advised to take a stance on the Greens. For starters, there would be some political benefit in acknowledging that some of Labor's candidates are preferable to the Greens. Then there is the fact that O'Farrell is closer to the Premier, Kristina Keneally, on a range of economic, foreign and social policy issues than he is to the Greens.

It is widely recognised that the Greens' best chances of winning seats in the Legislative Assembly turn on the electorates of Marrickville and Balmain - now held by high-profile Keneally government ministers Carmel Tebbutt and Verity Firth respectively. The mayor of Marrickville, Fiona Byrne, is standing against Tebbutt and the mayor of Leichhardt, Jamie Parker, is contesting Balmain for the Greens.

Any Liberal voter would be crazy not to preference Labor ahead of the Greens in Marrickville and Balmain. There are Greens who are primarily environmentalists - like Senator Bob Brown and Senator Christine Milne. And then there are hard-left Greens - like Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon, who graduated from the Communist Party to the Greens. Byrne and Parker are close to the hard-left Greens camp.

As mayor of Marrickville, Byrne has led the charge to sign up ratepayers to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. This global movement, driven by the left, aims to boycott all goods made in Israel and prohibit all sporting, academic, government or cultural exchanges. The campaign does not distinguish between Israel's pre- and post-1967 borders and is aimed at Jewish and Arab Israelis alike.

Byrne and her Greens comrades seem unaware that Israel and increasingly Iraq are the only two democracies in the Middle East and that Arabs who are citizens of Israel have more democratic rights than Arabs domiciled in Arab nations. They also seem unaware that, historically, the left in Australia has supported Israel - as documented in Daniel Mandel's H V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel and Philip Mendes's article in the November 2009 issue of Labour History.

The Liberal Party, like Labor, has always supported the right of Israel to exist within secure borders. It is the Greens, not Labor, who challenge Israel, question the Australian-American alliance and are soft on counterterrorism legislation. Moreover, the Greens are well to the left of Labor on economic and social issues.

It makes sense for Liberals in inner-city Sydney to give their preferences to Tebbutt ahead of Byrne and to Firth ahead of Parker.


Greenie disaster for Australian electricity users

The Gillard government's renewable energy scheme will saddle consumers with more than $1 billion in extra electricity costs this year, and uncertainty created by its failure to implement a carbon pricing regime is forcing power bills higher than they would otherwise be.

Research to be released today by the Australian Industry Group finds that a "well-designed" carbon price would ease some of the pressure on energy prices, which are forecast to rise over the next decade.

However, a carbon price of $26 a tonne is still estimated to increase electricity costs for households by 17.6 per cent in 2012-13, taking an annual bill for a Sydney home to $2000 from $1700.

But the report warns that a failure to implement a well-designed climate change policy could entrench higher power prices.

"Without decisions in this area over the next couple of years, damaging uncertainty is likely to lead to sub-optimal investments that leave both prices and emissions higher than they need be - with serious and uncompensated impacts on trade-exposed firms," the report says.

The research attacks the government's renewable energy scheme - particularly subsidies for household solar photovoltaics panels - as not offering value for money in terms of either emissions abatement or support for innovation.

The report comes as the government's multi-party climate change committee is locked in negotiations over the shape of a carbon pricing scheme, with the government preferring a fixed carbon price beginning from July 1 next year with an emissions trading scheme beginning three or four years later.

But the Greens and the government are on a collision course over compensation for energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries. Julia Gillard argues that she will not throw out the "good work" on compensation in her predecessor Kevin Rudd's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and the Greens have declared the levels negotiated in that regime unacceptable.

The AIGroup research concludes that a decision on carbon pricing could reduce the reliance on the government's "high-cost" renewable energy target scheme - which aims to source 20 per cent of the nation's power from renewable sources by 2020 - and break an "investment drought" in new electricity generation.

AIGroup chief executive Heather Ridout said the government's renewable schemes were splurging on the most expensive renewables instead of the cheapest and warned that the nation could "get stuck with the equivalent of a Rolls when a hatchback would do". The report - based on a survey of more than 150 companies - warns that consumers would be forced to pay $1.12bn in 2011 just to cover the cost of household-level renewable systems, particularly rooftop solar photovoltaic panels.

The government's scheme for small-scale generators such as household solar panels was "not offering value for money in terms either of emissions abatement or support for innovation", the report warns. If the same funds were invested in big wind farms, four times as much renewable energy could be produced each year. Investing the money in large-scale solar plants would produce twice as much energy, the report finds.

On top of this, the future costs of the government's scheme to encourage commercial-scale renewables would be "substantially higher" than forecast if a price was not eventually put on carbon.

The government last December moved to wind back subsidies to households installing solar schemes as it sought to lower pressure on electricity prices. The move followed a decision early last year to reform how renewable energy certificates were issued to deal with a glut caused by a flood of solar panel installations.

Under the new scheme, renewable energy certificates generated from solar panels and solar hotwater schemes were separated into a discrete market from those generated by large-scale enterprises, such as wind farms, in a bid to drive up the price of RECs to encourage investment in large-scale renewables.

And last month, in a bid to deal with the glut, the renewable energy regulator increased the number of certificates that power retailers had to buy - a move that would lift electricity prices by an estimated $5 a household each year.

The AIGroup research finds that while renewable-related costs have been "higher than necessary", they are only a "relatively small" driver of price rises because other factors are so significant. These include the need to fund tens of billions of dollars worth of investments in network infrastructure, as well as likely rising coal prices, and escalating labour and materials costs that would make new electricity supplies more expensive.

The AIGroup report urges the government to address climate policy and carbon pricing, and to use the introduction of a national policy to "trim the thicket" of inefficient green programs that are "adding somewhat to energy prices for insufficient benefit".

It also says that the government's energy white paper - which was promised in 2008, but delayed after Mr Rudd shelved his ETS last March - should be completed as soon as possible.

Ms Ridout said there was "no end in sight" to rising electricity and gas prices over the next decade. "Australian industry is already grappling with the challenges of a strong dollar and an economy nearing capacity." She said it was crucial a carbon price was well-designed because a badly-designed carbon price "will put even more pressure on energy costs" .

She stressed her group was anxious to work with the government to ensure its carbon policy protected the ability of manufacturers to compete with offshore rivals. While a well-designed climate change policy would "soften the blow" of a carbon price, it "would be a big hit on business".

As well as the findings on renewables schemes, the report warns that bankers are baulking at supporting coal-fired power stations because of the uncertainty around carbon policy. The problem with this is that there could eventually be a rush of open-cycle gas turbine generators rather than more cost-efficient baseload combined-cycle gas plants.

According to the survey, most companies were expecting electricity price rises of between 11 and 20 per cent over the next two years.


Camouflage uniforms (!) for prisoners

IF QUEENSLAND'S highest-security prisoners escape from custody, they could be difficult to recapture for one reason - their uniforms. Queensland Corrective Services has "camouflaged" 5470 of the state's 5631 inmates since issuing new-look green, khaki and denim uniforms last year.

The uniforms were designed by Brisbane TAFE students as part of a competition which provided $1000 prizemoney to three students.

While prisoners around the world are forced to dress distinctly to hinder their escape, Queensland prisoners could blend into their mostly rural surrounds. US prisoners wear orange or yellow jumpsuits and violent offenders wear red and white striped uniforms, while escape-risk inmates in the UK wear bright-coloured boiler suits.

But Queensland prisoners had the choice of a two-tone green T-shirt, singlet or jumper with shorts, tracksuit or cargo pants, which were made by prisoners at Lotus Glen, Townsville, Woodford and Brisbane Women's Correctional Centres. This colour scheme more closely resembles what armed forces wear to help them avoid detection in battle.

Opposition corrections spokesman Jarrod Bleijie said the gaffe was symbolic of the problems within corrective services. Mr Bleijie said escaped inmates would blend into the bushland surrounding most jails and would also be indistinguishable from non-prisoners in crowded spaces.

"Having just completed a comprehensive induction to Queensland prisons I was shocked to see first-hand the camo-like prison-issue uniforms," he said. "Many an eyebrow was raised when I mentioned the issue with prison staff and it was clear frontline prison officers had no input into the design. "You should be able to distinguish between an average `Joe Blow' walking down the street and a prisoner."

Corrective Services Minister Neil Roberts said the uniform would not be changed. "The words `Correctional Centre Issue' are clearly marked on the new uniforms in upper-case, white lettering, which is also slightly reflective," he said. [And those not in the know could well assume that the lettering describes STAFF!]

Mr Roberts said that some prisoners wore bright orange uniforms within workshops at high-security jails. "There has not been an escape from a high-security prison in Queensland since the Nationals were last in power in 1998," he said.


21 February, 2011

Brisbane flood was the work of a negligent bureaucracy

Had Brisbane's big flood-mitigation dam been operated with any semblance of thought, the flood would not have happened. And they ignored those who were thinking

A pioneer of the Brisbane Valley was asked to "call back tomorrow" when he made an urgent Sunday morning call to the Wivenhoe Dam's operator, SEQWater, to seek immediate action to mitigate a large flood he warned would soon occur from rainfall across the catchment.

Chris McConnel - whose family's history in recording and forecasting local flooding and rainfall goes back to the 1840s, when his great-grandfather settled the land - said yesterday he was "very angry" his warnings were not heeded by SEQWater on the crucial January weekend.

Mr McConnel wants the royal commission-style inquiry into the floods to examine the duty roster on the weekend of January 8 and 9 to establish the seniority and availability of staff making vital decisions on water releases as the dam filled with increasing inflows and rainfall.

He said that if asked to give evidence at the inquiry he would explain that at about 11am on Sunday, January 9, after measuring the river height and talking to local contacts about rainfall in their gauges, he rang SEQWater to warn of an imminent and "very large flood".

Mr McConnel said he knew then that it was imperative for the dam operator to immediately and significantly increase its rates of release of water to give the dam critical storage for floodwater. But he said after explaining the situation to SEQWater he was put on hold and then told he should "call back tomorrow" on the same 1800 telephone number to speak to the right people. "I said to him: 'That's going to be too bloody late. We're going to get a big flood and the dam needs to be releasing a lot more water to cope'," Mr McConnel told The Australian yesterday.

"The SEQWater guy said to me, 'Well, I can't add to what I've said. Please ring back tomorrow'."

Mr McConnel, a grazier who runs a heritage-listed property that has been in his family for 170 years, said he spoke to his local newspaper, the Brisbane Valley Sun, "to ensure this is not swept under the carpet".

Mr McConnel said that during previous floods he and other locals with extensive knowledge of conditions in the catchment area and its local creeks had found it impossible to reach the right people at SEQWater on weekends and public holidays to give them a warning. "Nature does not stop on weekends, and it doesn't adhere to an operating manual for a dam," Mr McConnel said. "I am very angry at the management of the dam and the operating manual. What has happened is just crazy."

SEQWater has strongly defended its operation of Wivenhoe Dam. But senior engineers and water experts have run calculations showing the flood in the Brisbane River would have been largely avoided if more water had been released sooner.

SEQWater is refusing to provide briefings or answer questions pending the public inquiry headed by Supreme Court judge Cate Holmes.

SEQWater emails leaked to The Australian show that on the morning of Friday, January 7, SEQWater knew from the Bureau of Meteorology to "expect heavy rainfall from Sunday to Tuesday".

The emails show that the strategy on Friday morning was to start releasing water from the dam's flood storage compartment at 3pm that day at a rate of 1200 cubic metres per second (cumecs) and to stay at that "for a couple of days and continue releasing until the end of the week". The next email on Saturday night, from an SEQWater engineering officer in contact with the flood operations centre in Brisbane, states: "Current releases from Wivenhoe Dam are 1250 cumecs. Forecast for the next four days is for significant rainfall across (southeast Queensland)."

The next email, which was sent about 24 hours later on Sunday night, states: "Current releases from Wivenhoe Dam are 1400 cumecs. However, please note that we are experiencing major flooding in our catchments. Inflows are approximately 5000 cumecs in the upper Brisbane River and 3000 cumecs in the Stanley River system, with rainfall continuing.

"The (bureau's) current severe weather warning predicts heavy rainfall until Tuesday. If these totals eventuate in the next 12 to 24 hours, higher releases from Wivenhoe Dam will be necessary."

By 6.50am on Tuesday - after heavy rain in the preceding 36 hours - the next email states: "We are entering conditions where dam safety overrides other concerns, although minimisation of urban flooding remains very important."

Senior engineers said SEQWater's strategy of making relatively small releases led to the dam's flood compartment almost filling up, and forced the operator to make huge releases late on Tuesday which led to most of the flooding in the Brisbane River.

Mr McConnel said many residents agreed dam policy and management were responsible for most of the flooding.


Green/Left Bias at Australia's national broadcaster

Accompanied by a sweeping disregard for the facts, unsurprisingly

THE ABC's charter calls for balance and professionalism but it seems these values are no longer held by some of its staff. Don't believe me? Here's just one example.

In late November last year Sara Phillips, ABC's environment editor, posted an opinion piece about climate negotiations at Cancun to her taxpayer-funded blog. I left a comment suggesting she might be better off covering a recent paper published in the Journal of Climate co-authored by Steve McIntyre. This work refuted an earlier study published in Nature in the summer of 2009 and widely covered by the ABC which claimed there was unusual warming in west Antarctica due to man-made global warming. McIntyre and co-authors O'Donnell, Lewis and Condon proved the statistical methodology of the Nature study was flawed and the results erroneous. I directed Phillips to a post on the subject by McIntyre, at his Climate Audit website.

The following anonymous comment was posted to Phillips's blog shortly afterwards:
Annie : 03 Dec 2010 7:07:53pm

The denialist clowns return again . . . . . . run by Stephen McIntyre a known climate denialist and extremist right-wing provocateur . . . you are a joke as are your answers . . . laughing hysterically.

On seeing the comment I alerted Phillips, suggesting the comment should be removed as it contravened ABC posting rules, namely, 4.4.1 defamatory, or otherwise unlawful or that it violates laws regarding harassment, discrimination, racial vilification, privacy or contempt; 4.4.2 intentionally false or misleading; 4.4.4 abusive, offensive or obscene; 4.4.5 inappropriate, off topic, repetitive or vexatious; 4.4.9 deliberate provocation of other community members.

After a day or so it was clear my request had been ignored, so I submitted a formal complaint to the ABC. This was turned down by the ABC's audience and consumer affairs. The reply I received on December 16 included the following rationale from Phillips:
"The moderator has explained this decision as follows: "Mr McIntyre is described by Annie as being an 'extremist right wing provocateur'. Mr McIntyre's views are seen by some as extreme. Annie clearly believes they are. He could reasonably be described as 'right wing' as a speaking member of the George C Marshall Institute, which is known for its right-leaning politically conservative views. 'Provocateur' is a name given to describe those whose thinking goes against that of the status quo, another label that could reasonably be given to Mr McIntyre. As such, the comments from Annie are not unfounded and therefore not defamatory."

I thought McIntyre might be interested in our national broadcaster's view of him so I passed on ABC's official response. These views perhaps account for the lack of coverage of McIntyre's ground-breaking work on climate change by the ABC. McIntyre responded to the ABC, in an email sent on December 17:
I am not a "member of the George Marshall Institute". This allegation on your part is untrue. I once spoke at a briefing session sponsored by George Marshall Institute, but that does not make me a "member" or imply any endorsement on my part of their views. I would have been delighted to make the same presentation at a session sponsored by the Pew Centre.

Nor is there any basis for characterising my political views as "extremist right wing". I have seldom expressed political opinions, though I once said that, in American terms, I would have been a Bill Clinton supporter. My only recent political contributions have been to a left-wing municipal politician in Toronto, Pam McConnell. I challenge you to provide any evidence that I hold "extremist right wing" political views. The comments by Annie are totally unfounded and defamatory.

Yours truly, Stephen McIntyre

On December 23 ABC advised that the offensive comments had been removed.

The level of bias and base ignorance inherent in the views of a senior ABC journalist, in supporting the defamatory comments, are truly astonishing.

The affair leaves one questioning the credibility and objectivity of ABC's environmental reporting, along with the independence and efficacy of ABC's system of self-regulation.

Why did it take so much effort to remove the offensive comment? How did Phillips obtain permission to run such a biased and unbalanced opinion page at the taxpayers' expense?

In an era where there are a multitude of opportunities for ABC staff to express their opinions by setting up their own blogs or personal web pages, how does Mark Scott justify the use of taxpayer funds to foot this bill?

As the government is looking for budget savings to fund flood and cyclone reconstruction I can't help but think that a few dollars could be saved by forcing ABC staff to fend for themselves in the blogosphere, rather than continue to sucker on our old Auntie's sagging teat.

It's not about shutting down the debate, it's about moving it to an appropriate venue. One where the taxpayer does not have to wear the cost, or bear the risks of paying out on defamation cases brought about by poor moderation.

With environmental activists posing as journalists at the ABC it's no wonder Maurice Newman's plea to end the Climate Groupthink has been ignored. And the ABC is yet to apologise to McIntyre, or provide any coverage of his important work.


Government to dump Australia's most successful job training scheme

To prop up a failing scheme. McDonalds imparts precisely those habits and attitudes which are vital for success in any job -- but which are very poorly taught (if at all) by the schools. But McDonald's is a successful business, so is hated by the Left

Tens of millions of dollars in wage subsidies paid to McDonalds, KFC and other retail giants would be slashed as part of a radical plan to tackle skill shortages and boost apprenticeship numbers. In a bold blueprint to tackle an apprentice drop-out rate of 50 per cent, young workers in "traditional" trades such as plumbing and mechanics would be paid higher market-linked wages. They would also be able to fast-track their on-the-job training - qualifying much faster if they can prove they have the necessary skills.

But thousands of traineeship jobs in big retail stores, restaurants and fast-food chains are at risk, with a Government-appointed taskforce calling for major changes to $1.2 billion in annual subsidies.

The apprenticeships taskforce has also recommended a new "training levy" on employers to boost skilled workers and ensure the economy keeps ticking over. But the Minister for Skills and Workplace Relations, Chris Evans, has immediately stomped on the plan - putting him at odds with his own taskforce.

After a 12-month inquiry, the taskforce has warned Australia's 400,000-strong apprenticeship scheme needs "significant improvement" to make sure the economy has sufficient skilled labour. It wants a national apprenticeship "tsar" to oversee reform and recommends an army of "mentors" be used to ensure apprentices are getting proper training - and not being used as mere factory fodder.

In a controversial plan to cut a drop-out rate of 52 per cent, the Government has been told to slash tens of millions of dollars in traineeship subsidies paid to retailers, restaurants and fast-food outlets such as KFC and McDonalds.

In its final report "A Shared Responsibility - Apprenticeships for the 21st Century" the expert group - chaired by BAE Systems CEO, Jim McDowell - has slammed these subsidies as being little more than a "labour market program".

These amount to an "implicit wage subsidy to the employer of up to 20 per cent" but do little to boost overall skill levels, the panel has found. "We question whether the significant government funds currently being spent on employer incentives for these qualifications are providing any tangible benefit to the broader economy," the report - a copy of which has been obtained by The Daily Telegraph - says.

Senator Evans conceded the $1.2 billion paid by Canberra in annual subsidies for apprentice and traineeships had to change. "Clearly, we could target it better," the Minister told The Daily Telegraph.

But the Government will be picking a brawl with powerful employer groups and some of Australia's biggest companies - including Woolworths and Coles - if it cuts out millions of dollars paid in subsidies to these workers.

In a key finding, the taskforce said completion rates for apprenticeships "are unacceptably low" at about 48 per cent. "This represents a significant economic cost, given the time and resources provided for both on-the-job and off-the-job training," the panel said, in its report.

"There are a range of issues that commonly emerge from the research about reasons for non-completion, including: workplace or employer issues, lack of support, low wages and not liking the work."

It has called for the appointment of an apprentice "tsar" - a National Custodian - to drive these key reforms and take responsbilitiy for a system that is disjointed. Critically, the taskforce wants the Government's industrial umpire to consider linking apprentice wages with "going rates of pay" in particular industries.

This would mean that first-year apprentice - who is now paid $250-$300 a week - would receive higher wages on average, boosting their incentive to remain in the trade.

Senator Evans threw his weight behind the wages push. "We are going to have to make wages more attractive to encourage the best applicants for apprenticeships - because the alternatives (in work) are more attractive," he said.

The Government is also backing calls for a "competency-based" system that would allow apprentices to finish their training quicker. The Minister said he wanted to "drive quite a radical reform agenda" in apprenticeships, starting with the report's release today. And while he doesn't have a completion rate target in mind, the current completion rate "is a disgrace", he said.


Boat children key part of racket, says former Australian immigration minister

Former immigration minister Philip Ruddock says children are being used to pave the way for entire families of refugees

FORMER immigration minister Philip Ruddock says children are being used to pave the way for entire families of refugees following a near-doubling of unaccompanied minors in detention.

As the Immigration Department prepares this week to fly nine-year-old Seena Akhlaqi Sheikhdost, whose parents died in the Christmas Island shipwreck, back to Sydney, figures show the number of unaccompanied minors in detention has increased by more than 40 per cent since November, The Australian reports.

Mr Ruddock said yesterday a "significant portion" of those unaccompanied minors had been sent with a view to paving the way for other family members, although he conceded that some might be seeking to avoid forced conscription or other forms of persecution.

"By the time you've got an unaccompanied minor and they've got a claim up, they would argue that under the Convention of the Rights of the Child they've got a right to bring over their parents," Mr Ruddock told The Australian.

"I would suspect that in the majority of cases, they would not be intent on living here alone without their families once they have succeeded . . . I suspect a significant proportion would have been sent for that purpose."

According to the department, the number of unaccompanied minors jumped from 266 at the beginning of November to 453 as of last Friday -- a 41 per cent increase. Unaccompanied minors account for slightly less than half the 1036 minors presently in detention.

Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre dismissed the theory that families were sending their children ahead as a way of ensuring their own lawful passage through family reunion schemes. "I speak to asylum-seekers in detention and their stories don't bear that out,' she said.


Killer hospital to be investigated at last

MORE than three years after the death of two-year-old Ryan Saunders in Rockhampton hospital, his family may finally get some answers. Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes has written to parents Donna and Terry Saunders advising them there will be an inquest.

The Emerald couple have never fully recovered since their son died painfully on September 26, 2007, after a five-day illness that went undiagnosed. "We are in limbo, waiting, just waiting for answers," Mrs Saunders said last week.

The Health Quality and Complaints Commission conducted a two-year investigation into the death but the report was never made public.

Premier Anna Bligh met with the Saunders in February 2008 promising the Government would do everything possible to learn the lessons from their son's death and "implement every recommendation".

The HQCC provided 21 recommendations following its investigation but not all have been followed up. The HQCC would give no detail to The Sunday Mail about which recommendations had been actioned and which were still waiting to be effected.

It was initially believed Ryan was suffering from a twisted bowel but he spent 24 hours in Emerald Hospital and another day at Rockhampton Base Hospital unable to be scanned because of a lack of staff.

Offered very little pain relief, he was in severe agony. It was discovered too late that Ryan was suffering from an infection and he died of toxic shock syndrome as he was about to be transferred to Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.

"Mr and Mrs Saunders welcome the news of the coronial inquest and look forward to that process and the answers to come," their solicitor, Ian Brown, told The Sunday Mail. He said they would make no further comment as they were not coping and had been unable to come to terms with the loss of their little boy.

Recommendations relating to toxic shock were generically published on the commission's website late last year. "Most of these recommendations have been fully implemented, while others remain in progress as they require more time to fully implement," a HQCC spokeswoman said.

"Under the strict confidentiality provisions of the Health Quality and Complaints Commission Act 2006, we are unable to comment on the source of the recommendations posted on our website." She said recommendations were shared to improve care for septic shock in infants.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

20 February, 2011

Vindictive and biased "regulators" in Queensland put public safety at risk

THE agency responsible for ensuring pub and club safety has been labelled a "basket case" after a series of investigations exposed gross mismanagement, unethical practices and constant errors.

Audits within the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, obtained under Right to Information laws, have raised concerns its liquor licensing division was a "boys club" harbouring "vindictive" officers.

The State Government says it is cracking down and yesterday defended dodgy dealings within the division but industry figures say nothing has changed since independent auditors revealed systemic failures in 2009.

In its 2009 report, auditors Knowledge Consulting said: "The OLGR (Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing) operates in a contentious client and stakeholder environment which contains a potentially volatile mix of commercial vested interests, regulatory bodies, community agencies and individuals who from time to time will be working to different agendas and priorities".

One issue involved a licensee being penalised for paper on the floor and flyscreen missing from a door. In stark contrast, The Courier-Mail revealed the department failed to issue the final disciplinary action to a venue where a man was fatally stabbed.

The negative report sparked several reviews in 2010, which revealed:

* Potentially thousands of wrong fines were issued.

* Private details of Queenslanders, including IDs, left unsecured.

* Missing hotel records and investigations.

* Hundreds of risk management plans left unmonitored.

* A chronic lack of staff and resources.

Several current and former liquor licensing officers, who wish to remain anonymous, this week claimed the problem came from the top because senior managers were the only ones able to enforce disciplinary action, and officers' recommendations were often ignored.

For example, not one Fortitude Valley venue was hit with a disciplinary action decision, the toughest penalty for liquor licensing breaches, in the past two years to November, despite the region being acknowledged as one of the state's three most dangerous party hot spots (along with Surfers Paradise and Townsville).

Another audit revealed more than one in 10 fines (13 per cent) issued by police were wrong.

Other issues included five boxes of confiscated IDs left unsecured on the Gold Coast and the department's failure to destroy them.

Before his resignation yesterday, former Liquor Licensing Minister Peter Lawlor defended dodgy dealings within the division, but acknowledged reports of "misconduct and suspension of officers". He took credit for the audits and said many of the issues had been addressed.

"I made it abundantly clear that something needed to be done immediately and that I would not tolerate this continuing," he said this week. "Significant reform, ongoing change, and restructuring have been, and are being, achieved. "Liquor Licensing is a different department today to what it was 18 months ago, but there is still more work to be done, and I'm confident it can be further improved over the next 12 months."

But licensees say the department continues to favour the industry's "big powers".

Individuals refused to comment for fear of retribution. The Queensland Hotels Association, Valley Liquor Accord and Brisbane City Licensees Association did not respond to questions.

But Cabarets Queensland chairman Sarosh Mehta acknowledged a "definite need for improvement". "There has also not been any significant shift in focusing on the individual offenders via stiffer penalties, which I fully support, versus continuing the practice of hammering the licensee," he said.

State Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek said the findings painted a picture of a state government agency that had become "an absolute basket case". "While drunken violent thugs need to take responsibility for their actions, enforcement also needs to be effective," he said. "If the law is broken, offenders must be punished not protected."


Another Muslim pervert

A limousine driver who sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl he had been hired to pick up from a party at Bondi in 2008 has been jailed. Mohamed Sabra, 34, of Bexley, was sentenced to two years and nine months' jail in the Downing Centre District Court on February 11 for sexually assaulting the teen in his limousine.

Sabra pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated sexual assault with a victim under the age of 16. An agreed set of facts, tendered at a sentencing submission hearing, said Sabra had been hired to pick up the girl and a group of friends. Sabra promised the girl she could ride to his next appointment, to pick up rap star Kanye West. But he said there would only be enough room for the girl, and not her friends, the facts said.

Sabra then drove the girl to central Sydney, where he poured her a drink of vodka and Red Bull. The girl then fell asleep on the back seat of the limousine and woke to find Sabra sexually assaulting her.


Teachers reveal why they walked

PROBLEM students should face harsher penalties, including Saturday-morning detention and fines for their parents, say WA teachers who have walked away from the classroom.

A disproportionate number of public school teachers are also blaming increased workloads and stress for their decision to quit, new reports show.

The exit surveys of 260 teachers and other staff who resigned from the Education Department in the past year are outlined in two reports, which were released to The Sunday Times under Freedom of Information laws this week.

It is the first time such exit surveys have been publicly released and they give a rare insight into the challenges facing our state's 35,000 public school teachers and staff.

One teacher recommended "harsher penalties for disruptive students", including more frequent suspensions and exclusions for "lesser disruptive behaviour" to stem violent behaviour.

The teacher also called for after-school and Saturday morning detentions.

Another said: "Start making parents accountable for the actions of their children. Financial penalties for disruptive students."

A third teacher said: "I feel this may be a sign of the times, but the students seem to have more control than the teachers.

"I have been assaulted by a student in the past and due to inexperience I did not pursue it. The school at the time seemed to brush it under the carpet and the student went unpunished.

"It seems suspension or expulsion would look bad on their school record. Behaviour like that is a major concern for all teachers. Crowd control is used instead of teaching in some schools."The surveys, conducted by the Education Department between October 2009 and July 2010, reveal:

* About a third (87 people) of those who completed the survey said they would not consider returning to work for the Education Department in the future.

* More than one in 10 teachers and staff (30 people) identified family reasons as the main reason for leaving.

* Almost 8 per cent (20 people) of teachers and staff were retiring, while a further 8 per cent (20 people) quit to "pursue other interests".

* Eighteen people (7 per cent) said they walked away from teaching for a work-life balance.

* Ten people (almost 4 per cent) blamed their decision to quit on harassment, discrimination or workplace bullying.

* The number of teachers and staff who blamed workload and workplace pressure for their decision to quit was more than three times the benchmark average.

* The number of teachers and staff who cited work-life balance as their reason for leaving was up to seven times the benchmark average.


Fibre network a dodo even before it is built

The USA is going for a mobile service instead: wireless

There's nothing very surprising about the public's ability to spot ill-conceived government programs. Apart from the fact that we end up paying for them, programs that turn out to be lemons tend to conform to a familiar pattern.

Their proponents always seem to fall for the temptation of promising more than the scheme can possibly deliver. Stephen Conroy's broadband proposal back in March 2007 already sounded like the modern-day equivalent of a cargo cult. It was going to sweep the continent into an unimaginable world of connectivity for a mere $4.7 billion. Fibre-to-the-node technology would give 12 megabits per second to 98 per cent of the country within five years.

Having unrealistically raised the expectations of the impressionable young and people in the backblocks accustomed to poor services or none at all, the Rudd government found itself in a bind in 2008. Maintaining the prime minister's unusually high approval ratings, which were his main claim to the office, began to depend as much on service delivery as on messianic gestures.

Telstra, led by Sol Trujillo, wasn't co-operating with Conroy, who was also having troubles with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. To make matters worse, Telstra's bid to participate in the scheme was judged to be non-compliant and a panel of experts found that none of the remaining telcos' bids constituted value for money.

Conroy, as Communications Minister, had another big problem. Rudd and his office had by then become so dysfunctional that the only way for most cabinet ministers to get face-time with the prime minister was to travel with him on his VIP jet. During a long and by now legendary flight across Australia in January 2009, Conroy won Rudd's approval for an upgraded scheme.

Whether Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan or Lindsay Tanner found him as persuasive is not known, but it's a question that will no doubt be answered in due course when the blame is being laid.

The new proposal launched in April 2009 had all the signs of a lemon. It was going to throw nearly 10 times as much money at the problem, with the expectation that $43bn would spellbind the public and reduce critics and the opposition to stunned silence. It conceded the previously preferred technology was clunky and would be replaced by fibre-to-the-home.

Among the millennial claims made at the time, this was going to mean that we'd be "future-proofed", as though such a thing were possible. Speeds of at least 100 megabits per second would connect 93 per cent of the country, with the prospect of speeds up to 10 times faster in the near future.

For those of us who believe in markets, the absence of a cost-benefit analysis and the fact that NBN Co was going to be a monopoly were telltale signs. The government's decision to back one technology with an awful lot of public money was another.

The embarrassingly low rate of take-up in Tasmania, which in terms of communications historically has been very poorly served, didn't augur well either.

When Australian governments of either persuasion start talking about nation-building, anyone who's ever written a press release or a ministerial speech knows it's the rhetorical equivalent of clutching at straws and that we're about to acquire another white elephant.

It was the US government, via President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech in late January, that best put our National Broadband Network into perspective. He said America was poised "to win the future", with the commitment to providing 98 per cent coverage with high-speed wireless digital communication.

There are plausible arguments that with the present state of the technology, for Australia it's not a case of either fibre or wireless but of them complementing one another in a mix yet to be determined and fibre is likely to be the best solution for backhaul. It's certainly too early to claim, as one commentator did the other day, that Obama's decision "will do for fibre optic what aviation did for rail travel" , but the preference for mobile services among a growing number of customers is clear.

One consequence of the US commitment to wireless is that it's bound to shift virtually all of the research and development dollars in one direction rather than the other.

Households that invested in Beta video systems in the 1980s will remember how it felt when, regardless of Beta's advantages, VHS's market domination rendered it obsolete.

On Tuesday, as Telstra prepared to unveil its upgraded mobile network, there were reports that a government-commissioned review had found the growing popularity of wireless internet was likely to have an adverse influence on the economics of the NBN.

Greenhill Caliburn's report described the risk in these terms: "Trends towards 'mobile-centric' broadband networks could have significant long-term implications for NBN Co's fibre offerings, to the extent that some customers may be willing to sacrifice higher speed transmissions for the convenience of mobile platforms."

On Wednesday, The Australian's Mitchell Bingemann and Annabel Hepworth reported that analysts and senior telco executives thought Greenhill Caliburn may have understated the case. Martin Mercer, chief executive of Vividwireless, said: "With iPads and tablets and smart phones driving this rich media experience for people anytime, anywhere, it's inevitable that many people will go mobile as their primary connection. We are assuming that the penetration of wireless-only homes will eventually get to the levels seen in the UK and US, where it's currently at about the 25 per cent mark."

According to Geoff Johnson, a Gartner analyst, wireless-only homes will plateau at 25 per cent within the next decade. By contrast, the NBN Co corporate plan assumes that although 13 per cent of residential premises are already wireless-only, that will only increase to 16.3 per cent by 2025.

However long it takes Australia to get to the 25 per cent mark, in the light of Obama's announcement it's plain that the wishful-thinking projection of 3.3 percentage point growth in wireless-only during the next 15 years will have to be revised. It will be fascinating to see an analysis of the expected effect if wireless-only were indeed to grow by 12 percentage points in the next 10 years and what, if anything, would be left of the notional business case.

As with the pink batts fiasco and the Building the Education Revolution scandal, the scale of Conroy's folly has taken a while to register in people's minds.

But there always seems to be a phase in the unravelling of a government program when it is simply overtaken by events. For NBN Co, it has been the past three weeks. It needs radical surgery and Conroy will have to be replaced.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

19 February, 2011

A voice of hate

To the supercilious Mike Carlton it's all obvious and anyone who disagees with him is stupid and evil. See the highlights in red below. He would be struck dumb if you took his hate language away. In good Leftist style, rage and self-righteousness is all he's got. Most of his articles are like the one below but I thought that it was time for someone to point out what they are

Bruce Baird did 20 years as a Liberal MP, in Macquarie Street then Canberra. In 2007 he retired as the member for the federal seat of Cook, which takes in Cronulla and much of what the locals like to call The Shire. People will remember him as the NSW minister in charge of Sydney's 2000 Olympic bid. Baird was a voice of decency in the Liberal Party, one of the so-called gang of four (the others were Petro Georgiou, Russell Broadbent and Judy Moylan) who had the guts to take on John Howard in 2005 in the hope of moderating the cruelty of his asylum-seeker policies.

That did him no good. His successful ministerial career in Macquarie Street cut no ice with Howard, who viewed him as a trouble-making Costello supporter and kept him in the outer darkness of the backbench. Come the 2007 federal election, Baird found that Liberal Party branches in Cook had been stacked against him, with a sudden influx of 400 new members. He saw the writing on the wall and at the age of 65 finally pulled the pin.

What a shame that his successor in the seat has plunged into the sewer. Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott's feverishly ambitious spokesman on immigration, is the man who disgraced himself and his party this week by whipping up that furore on the cost of the asylum-seeker funerals.

It was filthy politics, initially supported by his leader, of course, although public disgust eventually forced the two into a backdown for going, in Abbott's weasel words, " a little bit too far".

But the stench lingers. As the Herald's national affairs correspondent, Lenore Taylor, revealed on Thursday, Morrison was pushing the Coalition shadow cabinet to adopt an anti-Islam line as long ago as December. And he has no shortage of support. Abbott's recent proposal to cut $448 million in funding to Islamic schools in Indonesia was another blast of racist dog-whistling.

Kevin Andrews, the dolt who brought you the Mohammed Haneef fiasco, was bleating the other day about "ethnic enclaves" in Australia. Last week the ACT Liberal senator Gary Humphries tabled a petition in Parliament calling for a 10-year moratorium on Muslim migration to Australia.

Then there is the South Australian Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, a persistent Muslim-baiter, with his demands to ban the burqa and a recent tirade against the halal slaughter of animals. "I, for one, don't want to eat meat butchered in the name of an ideology that is mired in sixth century brutality and is anathema to my own values," he said. (Bernardi will get a shock if he is ever invited to a bar mitzvah, where the kosher meats will have been prepared in exactly the same way.)

This is One Nation stuff with a Liberal Party blue ribbon wrapped around it. As Bruce Baird said when I called him on Thursday: "There's no doubt the party has shifted to the right. It seems like One Nation is calling the tune. They are going for the blue-collar, right-wing vote. Moderate views in the federal party have largely disappeared."

Not quite. Joe Hockey spoke up for decency on the asylum-seeker funerals but then, for his pains, found himself under savage attack from a blog run by a Bernardi staffer. Baird rang me back to assure me that Julie Bishop, too, is on the side of the angels. But that's about it. We now have a federal opposition so shamelessly unprincipled that it will play the card of racist fear and hatred to claw its way back to power.


Druggie Muslims must not be arrested

A FORMER role-model for young Muslims who was arrested for cocaine supply yesterday won another court case, with the state failing in its bid to have her $18,000 payout for unlawful arrest overturned.

The State of NSW had appealed the payout awarded to Iktimal Hage-Ali in October 2009, arguing that the judge wrongly rejected the evidence of her arresting officers.

Judge Michael Elkaim originally found the arrest unlawful and officers wrong to have resorted to an arrest for such a small scale of supply when they knew Ms Hage-Ali was a person of good character with strong ties to the community.


Background from 2008

Eight days before she accepted her award at the art gallery, police had knocked on the door of the Hage-Ali family home at Punchbowl. They had been tapping her phone calls for the past three months and had taped her coded conversations with her childhood friend and cocaine supplier, Mohammed "Bruce" Fahda.

For their part, the police will argue they had a reasonable apprehension from their phone taps that Hage-Ali was involved in drug trafficking, even if there turned out to be no such evidence. She had told Fahda that she needed more drugs to supply to others, but Hage-Ali argues this was a lie and they were all for herself.


It seems to me that the police had ample reasons to arrest her and that the arrest was entirely proper -- JR

Islam's the problem, not Muslims, says conservative Australian Senator

TONY Abbott's official frontbench understudy has reignited immigration tensions by denouncing Islam as a "totalitarian, political and religious ideology".

Liberal parliamentary secretary Cory Bernardi revealed last night he had received death threats after making the comments.

While the immigration debate usually differentiates between the religion of Islam and extreme fundamentalist interpretations, Senator Bernardi confronted the issue head-on yesterday.

"Islam itself is the problem - it's not Muslims," he told radio station MTR. "Muslims are individuals that practise their faith in their own way, but Islam is a totalitarian, political and religious ideology. "It tells people everything about how they need to conduct themselves, who they're allowed to marry and how they're allowed to treat other people."

Senator Bernardi said Islam had "not moved on" since it was founded and that extremists wanted fundamentalist Islamic rule implemented in Australia.

The senator also inflamed the row over funeral expenses for asylum-seekers by declaring that it was "wrong" for taxpayers to foot the bill.

The remarks provoked a strong reaction from Ikebal Patel, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, who said Senator Bernardi had "crossed the line" with his attack on Islam.

"These comments are more than offensive; they are bigoted," Mr Patel said. "Cory Bernardi needs to have a good read of the Bible if he is a practising Christian. "This is hardly the language of a religious person."

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen also slammed the senator's remarks. "The Liberal Party professes to have said this week it would not make political points out of race and religion, but here we have Tony Abbott's parliamentary secretary launching an attack on a religion," Mr Bowen said.


Must not post pictures of drunken blacks?

For people in many areas of Australia, drunken Aborigines are a routine sight in the streets and parks -- even during the day. But you are not allowed to make any reference to that fact, apparently

THE Opposition has raised concerns about police officers using Facebook in light of revelations a senior constable posted photos of drunk Aboriginals in custody on the popular networking website.

Senior Constable John Trenouth is under investigation for allegedly posting the photographs on his Facebook profile on three occasions last year. He was only stood down from WA Police after the photos were exposed in the media. The pictures show the men intoxicated and barely conscious inside a police cell in the remote town of Wiluna in the Goldfields.

The caption on one photograph on Facebook reads: "I wonder if anyone will notice my spray-on tan?" The photographs were allegedly found on Snr Const Trenouth's "profile pictures" folder on his Facebook page.

Police internal affairs officers are investigating the allegations and have taken copies of the photographs, which appear to have been posted on August 11, August 16 and September 11 last year.

Opposition spokeswoman Margaret Quirk said that while the matter was under internal investigation, it was hard to contemplate any mitigating circumstances for the conduct.

Ms Quirk said she had raised her concerns about police officers using Facebook with senior police in the past. "As well as the issue of airing official information, the breach of privacy and ignoring official directives about the use of Facebook, this case involves even more startling clear racist overtones," she said.

"As part of recruitment training, police officers are given a four-day course on diversity and a component of that relates to Aboriginal culture.

"The senior constable's actions and attitude raise the question about whether he received this training and also suggests he was not suitable to work in remote Western Australia."
Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said Snr Const Trenouth had been stood down from duty and a decision about his future would be made at the conclusion of the inquiry.

"I will not tolerate racist behaviours or statements by members of the Police and I will act decisively against anyone who is found acting in a racist manner," he said.

"Significant cultural awareness and EO training is mandatory for police officers and staff and must be repeated regularly throughout their careers."


Australian Warmist "scientist" has a tanty

Warmism is speculation, not science. Science has no way of predicting the future of the world. And the tantrum shows that it is emotion, not dispassionate enquiry, that is driving her

The government's leading scientific adviser said she was standing down for personal and professional reasons, but declined to comment further. "This is not a decision that I have taken lightly or quickly," said Professor Sackett, in a statement released on her website yesterday afternoon. "Institutions, as well as individuals, grow and evolve and the time is now right for me to seek other ways to contribute," said the world-renowned astronomer.

Many in Australia's scientific community were surprised by Professor Sackett's sudden resignation. In the past she has been critical of the government's lack of action on climate change.

The Minister for Innovation, Kim Carr, thanked her for her contribution to the promotion of science and scientific research during her tenure as Australia's first full-time chief scientist.

Sources said she had a tense working relationship with Senator Carr, who came to regret appointing her to the role and over time increasingly looked to the CSIRO chief executive, Megan Clark, for science advice.

Sources said Senator Carr found Professor Sackett too outspoken and opinionated, and felt she did not give sufficient regard to Labor's agenda and the processes of government. A spokeswoman for Senator Carr denied those suggestions yesterday.

Professor Sackett was also understood to be frustrated about a lack of progress in government efforts to address climate change. She told the Herald last May she was concerned by the government's decision to delay its emissions trading legislation. "Any action that is delayed puts us at higher risk of dangerous climate change," she said.

The government has begun searching for a replacement. Professor Sackett finishes her appointment on March 4.


18 February, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is critical of New Zealand apples. Julia does seem to have undermined Australian farmers with unseemly glee: No mention of the issues involved.

A moral tale: Australian booksellers are largely the authors of their own misfortune

They got the government to "protect" them. That meant that they could charge much more per book. So many Australians now buy their books more cheaply from Amazon. So instead of getting more money, the local guys got nil. Which serves them right for trying to rip off book buyers. I myself never bother walking into a bookstore any more. I just order online -- JR

Reading the news yesterday that the United States bookstore chain Border has gone into bankruptcy, I began to ask myself how long it could possibly be before a big Australian chain met the same fate. Unfortunately the wait wasn’t long.

A press release came out that afternoon announcing that REDGroup, who control Borders Australia, Angus and Robertson and Whitcoulls in New Zealand, were being placed into administration. This will affect 260 stores.

Really, it is a wonder this didn’t happen earlier given that Australian booksellers have been defying the laws of market theory that would have sent other businesses bust long ago. There are a few reasons why this was pretty inevitable. One involves parallel import laws and the other the internet, but the two are closely linked.

We pay more than we should for books in this country because of the parallel import laws that mean we can’t buy books also published in America or Europe if an Australian publisher wants to publish the book. In turn, the protected status of Australian publishing rights drives up the price we pay at the counter because of a lack of competition.

The laws are protectionism in an era when other tariffs have been all but abolished in other industries (perhaps with the exception of our nationalised car industry). The same arguments about the end of Australian music culture were made in relation to parallel imports of CDs, and they have been shown to be rubbish. If people are buying more non-Australian (especially American) music and books – this is a pretty out there theory – perhaps they just prefer it?

It’s also interesting how willing people are to jump down the throat of a whitegoods retailer when he moans about internet sales, but get a bunch of luvvies in a room to be addressed by celebrity authors making ostensibly similar arguments, and all that free market logic and concern for the consumer dissipates.

Anyway, the argument was made and lost in cabinet last year when Kevin Rudd came down on the side of the luvvies, despite some of his ministers siding with the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to lift the ban.

The really strange thing about the parallel import debate is it ignores the fact people are already conducting their own parallel imports over the internet. You know when you buy a book from Amazon or the Book Depository for about half the price than you would in Australia? That is just a form of parallel importing, and obviously a lot of Australians have caught on.

Recently in a Borders store I asked about a book of essays from a very prominent UK author. I was told that they didn’t have it in stock but they could order it in. For the privilege of waiting a couple of weeks I would then pay $35 for the book.

Unimpressed, I went home and logged on to Amazon. It sold me the book I wanted and another book by the same guy for just over US$20 including delivery. This was the first time I’d used the internet to buy a book, previously labouring under the misapprehension that it was better to buy from bookstores. Bookstores are nice places, but not so nice that I feel the need to pay about at least 20 per cent extra for the privilege of entering them.

Of course US booksellers face similar pressures from the internet as well as struggling with the growth of e-books, but Australian publishers and retailers are further handicapped by the fact they charge more than their US counterparts and simply won’t be able to compete anymore. Even stranger, it’s a self-imposed handicap.


Vilifying the mainstream Australian population was a dumb idea

A surprisingly realistic article below from an ABC writer. Chris Uhlmann is political editor for the ABC news channel, ABC News 24. He makes the point that sanctimonious Leftist preaching and contempt for Australia has generated a backlash among young Australians against all that, a backlash that is now in full swing.

But persuading people was probably not the highest priority of the the Left. Most of all, they needed to vent their spleen. That they have ignited nationalism where there was virtually none before is however an amusing demonstration of how hate can be self-defeating

Each Australia Day acres of newsprint is devoted to worrying about the apparent rising tide of aggressive nationalism.

Young Australians have embraced January 26 in a way their parents never did. Flags fly from cars, men and women sport Southern Cross tattoos and gather to party in public places.

There is an ugly side to this, a few are using national symbols to exclude other Australians and that is unpardonable. But maybe we should try harder to understand where this assertive nationalism comes from.

Let's imagine for a moment that there might be an explanation for this phenomenon beyond the reflexive chant of "racism". Perhaps these young Australians were schooled in a society that venerated multiculturalism and they understood it to mean they lived in a nation of tribes: "Italian-Australian", "Vietnamese-Australian" and so on. The hyphenated Australians had clearly defined identities, symbols and even national dress and foods that made them distinct. That difference was celebrated as the essence of what made Australia good.

And the perceived threat to a multicultural society, endlessly explored, was the assumed intractable racism of the host population. So government reports were commissioned which proved the desperate need for racial vilification laws.

If you listened to the rhetoric of some of the champions of multiculturalism in the 1970s and '80s, it was also routine to hear that pre-war Australia was a deeply racist backwater where the food was awful and the people dull. One common mantra then was that it "didn't have a culture". Only after the immigration boom did the country get some and get interesting.

Where did that leave the sons and daughters of the pre-Second World War immigrants? What was the place of the currency lads and lasses?

Is it possible they grew tired of the grim assessment of their past and went in search of a more appealing narrative? Is it surprising that some should seek their own identity, find their own symbols, write their own mythology and define their sacred places?

Tony Wright noted in his book "Turn Right at Istanbul" that growing numbers of young Australians were making pilgrimages to Gallipoli. Many of the ones he met were there searching for a connection to a story they could call their own. This was an utterly spontaneous movement and completely at odds with routine predictions of the demise of Anzac Day that began to surface in the 1960s and '70s.

I vividly remember a university lecturer mocking Gallipoli as "mythology" and I wondered what was wrong with a nation-building myth. No right-thinking person in the multicultural '80s would think of deriding the tapestry of mythologies that binds other cultures.

Yet looking back in anger at every aspect of settlement since 1788 was such a common feature of the '80s and early '90s that it paved the way for the history wars.

In the decades multiculturalism enjoyed bi-partisan support and it was that rarest of public policies, it was perfect. Any attempt to question it or the enormous lobby it spawned was shouted down as racist.

Multiculturalism fell from favour during the Howard years, but the word was never removed from the immigration portfolio. By late 2006, the Labor Party was falling out of love with the idea too. It introduced two new words to the shadow immigration portfolio "integration and citizenship" and flicked multiculturalism into a junior portfolio.

The then shadow minister Tony Burke's explanation for the change was "Integration is how you make a multicultural society work". It sounds perfectly reasonable but it is not a construction that would have passed muster in the mid-80s or early '90s. Then words like "integration" and "social cohesion" were lumped with the anathema that was "assimilation".

Multiculturalism was dumped from the Immigration Department's name when Labor took power in 2007 and it was not included in any of Labor's portfolios under either Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard.

Now it's being redeemed.

In a speech at the Sydney Institute the Immigration Minister Chris Bowen set out to resuscitate multiculturalism and to cast Australia's brand as unique. He sees it as very different from the experiment in Germany and Britain, where it is widely viewed as a divisive. Chancellor Angela Merkel says it has "utterly failed" and British prime minister David Cameron agrees.

Mr Bowen's opening gambit was that "our multiculturalism is underpinned by respect for traditional Australian values".

He pointed to a speech by former prime minister Paul Keating who said "the first loyalty of all Australians must be to Australia, that they must accept the basic principles of Australian society. These include the Constitution and the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as a national language, equality of the sexes and tolerance".

I'm sure that Mr Bowen would disagree, but, in practise, that was not the way multiculturalism was packaged here in the 1980s and 1990s. Then suggesting that there was any such thing as "Australian values" was an invitation to be abused by the multicultural industry. I know because I did and I was.

The dull, pre-war Australians, the ones who apparently got by without a culture, built those values. And despite Mr Keating's fine words the real failing of the last incarnation of multiculturalism was its acolytes almost never gave the host population any credit for creating the kind of society that could absorb mass immigration, largely without violence. That is an extraordinary achievement and one to be celebrated. But it rarely was. All too often the impression was that multiculturalism prospered in spite of the pre-war population, not because of it.

By 1996 so entrenched was the feeling that Labor had lost touch with its own people that the Coalition could win a landslide election victory by promising to govern "For All of Us".

So why is Labor re-birthing multiculturalism now? No doubt Mr Bowen believes it is the best policy for continuing to build a cohesive immigration-based nation.

But it is also a political strategy to help dig Labor out of the its border protection mess. It needs to shore up its left flank while it continues to run a hard line on boat people to neutralise the attack from the right.

Above all, it needs to head off any attempt by the Coalition to use shared values as a weapon in the immigration debate, because there is a deeply divisive issue simmering in the sub-plot of the immigration brawl.

What Ms Merkel and Mr Cameron were talking about when they dubbed multiculturalism a failure was a concern that Muslim immigrants in their countries are not integrating. Mr Cameron said that it was time to assert a "more active, muscular liberalism" where equal rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and democracy are actively promoted to create a stronger national identity.

In short, when faced with a powerful set of alternative beliefs real border protection begins with clearly defining and defending your bedrock beliefs. No nation that doesn't do that can stand.

Here the problem is nowhere near as acute as it is in Europe. But that doesn't matter, what matters is perceptions. Both major parties know that the concerns expressed by Ms Merkel and Mr Cameron are shared by large parts the Australian community. It lies at the heart of the visceral reaction some people have to boat people. And the feeling is not confined to one ethnic group.

Until now this debate has been played out in code. But the game has just changed.

Now the Prime Minister is demanding that Opposition leader Tony Abbott distance himself from comments attributed to his immigration Scott Morrison that the Coalition go on the attack over Muslim immigration. Mr Morrison denies he made the comments in shadow cabinet. Tony Abbott has publicly recommitted the Coalition to a non-discriminatory immigration policy.

This is very dangerous water for both major parties and both would be well advised to tread carefully.

If Labor is to make a fist of its reunion with multiculturalism it must ensure that, this time, at its core, the policy loudly proclaims that that there are some bedrock principles that all Australians must share.

Alas, setting out to rebrand multiculturalism with yet another anti-racism strategy at its heart leads you to believe that Labor has learned little from the past. Once again the key message seems to be that the main problem with social cohesion is the insatiable racism of the host population. This dangerously misreads the public mood. There is an appetite for some muscular liberalism.

The problem with the Coalition is it seems to have yet to work out how it goes about governing for all of us.


Second mother tells of miscarriage horror

TWO Frankston Hospital emergency department staff have been stood down "without prejudice" after a woman revealed she miscarried her baby in a toilet. The hospital's clinical director of emergency, Helen Hewitt, admitted it made a mistake and it was "profoundly sorry" for Tracey Lake and Darren Hall's ordeal.

An investigation was launched after it was revealed the 41-year-old, who was 10-12 weeks' pregnant, was forced to wait more than four hours before she saw a doctor.

A second mother came forward yesterday to express her distress over treatment following her miscarriage in January. Rebecca Wadey said she lost so much blood in the 24-hour ordeal she had to have a transfusion with four bags of blood. "The bleeding was so excessive there was blood over the toilet seat and on the floor," Mrs Wadey said.

She claimed she waited up to five hours at the hospital on the first night before going home. The next morning she said she still forced to wait up to two hours for a bed. The final indignity was when she secured a emergency bed and was examined. Staff discovered the overhead light would not work.

"I just can't believe it, women just shouldn't be left to wait or treated like this, I wouldn't wish that on the worst enemy," Mrs Wadey said.

A spokesman for Peninsula Health expressed regret that Mrs Wadey was unhappy but questioned the amount of time she had been forced to wait, saying she was treated in the appropriate time for a category three patient.

Angel Babies Foundation, which provides to support to women after miscarriages, said even though not usually life-threatening the protocols for dealing with miscarriages needed to be changed urgently.

Executive director Maree Davenport said the loss of a baby in a toilet is "all too common" and the grief is exacerbated by a lack of training in accident and emergency departments. "We need to ensure women are provided privacy, their dignity is respected and the extremely confronting emotional situation is managed in a compassionate way," Ms Davenport said.

Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson said Victoria had a charter of human rights, which meant patients should be treated with respect and dignity.

Australasian College for Emergency Medicine's Victorian member Simon Judkins said unless capacity problems were addressed these issues could continue to happen.


Another bungled "green" scheme

THOUSANDS of people who have made their homes more energy efficient have been forced to wait as long as eight months to receive a promised solar hot water rebate worth up to $1000 from the Federal Government.

The Herald Sun can reveal the total value of the delayed payments could reach $7.8 million for 8695 people.

The embarrassing delay comes after the Government has been besieged by a series of bungles and poor management of climate-friendly schemes such as the roof batts fiasco. It has also axed the green loans scheme, cut the green car initiative, dumped its proposed citizens' assembly and abolished the cash-for-clunkers plan.

The Government blamed a new computer system for the solar hot water delays and said six extra public servants had been rushed in to help clear the backlog by the end of March. The parliamentary secretary for climate change and energy efficiency, Victorian MP Mark Dreyfus, said he regretted the delay.

A significant number of people have been waiting up to 19 weeks longer than the standard eight-week processing period and some as long as eight months.

Opposition spokesperson Sophie Mirabella said the Government's excuses were not good enough for people who were relying on rebates for the scheme. "People believed Labor and again they have been misled by a hopeless government that is drowning in its own ineptitude. Hard working Australians who do the right thing deserve better," she said.

The scheme started in the dying days of the Howard government and expanded under the Rudd government. Households can receive between $600 and $1000 for replacing electric storage hot water systems with a solar hot water system.

"We regret that as part of the move to a new, more efficient IT processing system [The typical Leftist talent for turning reality on its head] some people have had to wait longer than anticipated for their rebates," Mr Dreyfus said. "But these delays have been necessary to ensure applications are rigorously assessed and taxpayer money is appropriately spent."

The Government yesterday reversed plans to cut $100 million from its solar flagships program to pay for the clean up of summer floods in a deal to secure the Greens vote for its controversial $1.8 billion flood levy. It also promised to restore $264 million to the national rental affordability scheme. The Government was not able to say exactly how it would plug the Budget holes.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

17 February, 2011

Australia out of step on Muslim immigration

Germany, France and Britain are critical but both major Australian parties are resisting the reality of Muslim difference -- and too bad what the public thinks: They can be "educated"

Scott Morrison's predecessor in the immigration portfolio has condemned as "un-Liberal" suggestions the party should capitalise on Australian fears about Muslim migrants.

Leading Victorian moderate Sharman Stone, who lost her portfolio to Mr Morrison when Tony Abbott replaced Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader, said such a move would be unpalatable. “That approach would be most un-Liberal and it is totally contrary to Liberal values and beliefs. Our values and beliefs are non discriminatory,” she told The Australian Online. “It was the Liberal Party that began the breakdown of the White Australia policy in the early 1960s. The Liberal Party has a proud record of being colour blind.”

Dr Stone's comments come after reports that Mr Morrison told a meeting of shadow ministers in December the Coalition should make political capital out of Australians' concern about multiculturalism and fears about Muslim immigration.

Senior Liberals Julie Bishop and Philip Ruddock are reported to have rejected Mr Morrison's suggestion at the time.

The growing debate in Liberal ranks about how to approach immigration and multiculturalism comes as Immigration Minister Chris Bowen offered an impassioned defence of Australian multiculturalism yesterday - rejecting a rising tide of criticism directed at the policy by European leaders - as he unveiled a new multicultural strategy.

Dr Stone emphasised that no-one in the party had sounded her out about taking a tougher line on Muslim migration. “My electorate of Murray is possibly the most multicultural outside the capital cities, we have a 70-year-old mosque here, our Muslims in our community are no different to other faith groups in the contributions they make, in their philanthropy, they are the same as other Australians,” she said.

Coalition frontbencher Greg Hunt denied the opposition was seeking to exploit religion for electoral advantage. “Our position is very clear. That we are completely colour blind, race blind, religion blind on the issue of immigration,” he told ABC radio. “Where we do have a difference with the government is where people are being lured with policies to travel in dangerous leaky boats, then we think that is a great risk to common humanity.”

Mr Hunt said Mr Morrison was a compassionate man. “Unfortunately I wasn't at the meeting, but I know Scott, and his style is deep compassion, he is deeply compassionate, he agonises around the issues of protecting people who are being lured to their deaths,” he said.

Labor senator Doug Cameron says the report shows Mr Morrison urged his colleagues to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment. “(Scott) Morrison should be sacked immediately ... (and) join One Nation,” he told Sky News.

Liberal backbencher Steve Ciobo queried the accuracy of the reports that Mr Morrison had called for the Liberals to capitalise about concerns over immigration. “It's great for a headline but I doubt that was actually what was said,” he said.


And the Labor party doubles down on Muslim immigration

And opposition to it is "racist". Not a whisper about the many Australians who died in Bali at the hands of Muslim fanatics. In the flexble worldview of the Left, that did not happen

The Gillard Government will beef up a campaign supporting multiculturalism in the face of what is seen as growing resistance to new arrivals. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen tonight revealed the campaign would salute what he called "the genius of Australian multiculturalism".

The Government will create a new independent organisation, the Australian Multicultural Council, and ACT senator Kate Lundy will be made parliamentary secretary in charge of managing multicultural programs.

The fresh emphasis on the policy comes amid growing public hostility towards asylum seekers, and against significant population growth through immigration.

There also is apprehension that the increasing number of Muslim migrants will produce big cultural changes, and even the introduction of Islamic-based legal codes.

"Australian governments do not defend cultural practices and ideas that are inconsistent with our values and ideals of democracy, justice, equality and tolerance. Nor should we be expected to," Mr Bowen told the Sydney Institute tonight.

"For those fleeing persecution, terror and hatred, they come to Australia in search of peace, justice and harmony. "For many others, they come in the hope of creating, in this new land, a new life for themselves and their loved ones for prosperity and in the knowledge that, in Australia, their children will not be discriminated against for their colour or creed.

"For these men and women, the last thing they want is Australia to change, to become less free, to become less democratic, to become less equal." [Has he listened to any Muslims lately?]

Mr Bowen said multiculturalism was under attack in France, Germany and Britain, but that Australia had a different and successful system. "But it is a unique, Australian multiculturalism, built differently to other models around the world," he said.

He said Australia had social unity, and a requirement that people become citizens to enjoy the full benefits of living here. "In my view, this is the most beautiful citizenship pledge in the world," said Mr Bowen.

He said: "English is the national language here, its use in our public and private institutions is to be respected, and the learning of English is to be encouraged.

"Ours is a citizenship-based multiculturalism. To enjoy the full benefits of Australian society, it is necessary to take a pledge of commitment as a citizen."

The minister said the new multiculturalism council would "act as a champion for multiculturalism in the community, will advise the Government on multicultural affairs and will help ensure Australian Government services respond to the needs of migrant and refugee communities". "We will also establish a National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy to design and deliver an anti-racism strategy."


Give bosses right to fire and they'll hire

Former Labor party politician Gary Johns talks some sense. He is an economist and a former Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations

If I owned a business, I would fear losing a good worker. But I would want an unfettered right to dismiss an employee I no longer wanted to employ. Apparently, this is a tad radical. Instead, I can only sack someone fairly.

Sacking someone is never pleasant. Benign terms such as "let someone go" are in vogue. When an employer is not free to let someone go the likely unintended consequence is that they are less likely to employ another.

Unfortunately, the unfair dismissal laws harden the arteries of the labour market. They are unhealthy for those who have to work with bad or "surplus to requirement" employees and those who cannot find a job.

Defining fair and unfair has opened an entire industry in the conciliation and arbitration of unfair dismissal claims. An unfair dismissal can occur where a dismissal is "harsh, unjust or unreasonable", is not a "genuine redundancy" or is not consistent with the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code, under which the employee was employed by a small business.

These broad concepts encourage speculative claims. For example, an employee is caught stealing televisions from an aged-care facility. The employee's union refuses to take the case but a law firm does, on a no-win no-pay basis. A violent and abusive employee is sacked for being drunk at work and starting a fight. He convinces his friend (also an employee) to resign due to "stress". A law firm is taking both cases.

Applying for unfair dismissal is simple. The employee fills out a three-page form on the internet, pays a $50 filing fee and spends two hours on a phone conference. Conciliators push hard for a settlement. They rarely test the evidence or the merits of the case, inevitably starting with the employee's top ask, settling when the employer throws up their hands exasperated. As one employer advocate has stated during a conciliation: "This is Fair Work Australia, not the casino."

The most common outcome is a settlement of "go away money" of anywhere between $5,000 and $30,000, of which the lawyer takes half. It is easy money for the applicant and their lawyer. In private, law firms have expressed delight at this new lucrative income stream. In addition to "go away money", the legislation encourages reinstatement. It is the equivalent of a marriage law that would have marriages reinstated. The cost of an employment reinstatement does not go away; it spreads to other workers.

There is a better way, whereby employers can regain the right to keep the best workforce and employees can receive some protection. Grace Collier, an industrial relations consultant, has recently suggested the concept of "no fault" dismissal. Collier makes the analogous point that no-fault divorce accepts the inevitability that some adult relationships end. Employment is one such relationship.

Governments no longer determine whether a divorce is fair or unfair. As she argues, "The notion that the government could forcibly 'reinstate' a marital relationship is laughable."

The Collier no-fault dismissal system includes a reasonable paid notice period, an assistance package and job transition support. The system would remove the legal argument over whether it is fair, unfair, a redundancy, a dismissal or constructive dismissal and the costs of mounting these arguments.

The premise of the no-fault system is the fundamental right of both parties to dissolve the employment relationship. No reason for the decision should be required. At present, it is becoming common for an employee to resign because they are unhappy with the workplace and by taking up an unfair dismissal action seek to gain more than their fair notice contained in the award or contract.

The process of employment separation has become far too legal. The government does not scrutinise the methods of an employee resignation; there is no reason it should scrutinise the methods of an employee dismissal. The system should oblige both parties to accept any decision of either party to end the employment relationship.

Both parties could be required to provide a reasonable notice period, with the employer having the option of paying out the notice period or the employee forfeiting statutory entitlements in lieu of notice.

By taking the pain out of the process of sacking, employers are much likelier to hire new workers. By ensuring employees have certain rights to notice and some transitional assistance (much of which is already available), the labour market can perform better.

Legislation already obliges employers who are about to dismiss more than 15 workers to inform Centrelink of the impending dismissals. Modern awards provide employees undergoing disciplinary processes with rights to representation and support.

Australians are entitled to free mediation services to assist in community disputes and counselling is available at low cost to people who need it. Medical attention is free for many and mental health can be treated for those who require it. It would be a simple enough to consolidate and extend the delivery of these rights and services to those about to undergo an employment separation.

Government intrusion could be limited to providing assistance and support to employees to help them recover from the hurt, to identify and treat any deficiencies that led to the event and helping them move into more suitable employment.

A no-fault dismissal system could provide for dignity in dismissal by allowing people to focus on managing departure with some financial security. This is the system the best employers use and is also the way Australia has determined to manage the breakdown of the marital relationship. Our political leaders should give this proposal serious consideration.


Woman tells of miscarriage neglect in a Victorian hospital

A PREGNANT woman was made to wait nearly two hours at a Melbourne hospital emergency department before she miscarried her baby in a toilet. And it was more than four hours before Tracey Lake - who was 10 to 12 weeks pregnant - even saw a doctor at Frankston Hospital, her family says.

Health Minister David Davis has ordered an immediate investigation. Frankston Hospital has apologised to Ms Lake, 41, and is reviewing the case.

Her horror unfolded after she visited a GP in pain and bleeding, and was sent to the nearby hospital emergency department for urgent care on February 9.

Her partner, Darren Hall, said the GP rang ahead to the emergency department to let them know of their arrival, and sent a letter with them, explaining she had a "threatened and incomplete miscarriage".

Ms Lake waited at the emergency department for more than an hour before a nurse took her blood pressure, and despite asking for painkillers she was given none. Two hours later she left the waiting room to go to the toilet because her bleeding was getting worse.

"I felt it come out ... I knew I had lost my baby," Ms Lake said. "I started crying, I didn't know what to do, I was pretty upset. "I would have thought, if someone was miscarrying, they would send you straight through. "I don't believe anybody should sit there and lose their baby waiting to be seen to."

When the distressed couple told the triage nurse they had lost their baby down the toilet, the nurse failed to recognise them and started recording their details as if they were new patients. She then told them to sit in the waiting room again, and minutes later the same nurse approached Ms Lake asking for a urine sample, only for the couple to repeat that they had lost their baby, so it was too late.

Ms Lake was then given a bed, and finally saw a doctor at 2.30am, nearly five hours after arriving at the emergency department. She was told her blood pressure was low, and if she lost any more blood she would need a transfusion. Ms Lake had a curette at 4.30am and was discharged later that morning.

Mr Hall admitted the couple may have still lost their baby had Ms Lake been cared for immediately, but he said she did not need to suffer the distress and indignity of losing it in a hospital toilet. "I am angry and disgusted this could happen in this day and age in the health system we are supposed to have," he said.

The referring GP declined to comment.

Hospital executive director Brendon Gardner said the hospital, and especially the emergency department team, "deeply regret" what happened. The nurse unit manager had apologised to Ms Lake, and staff were being interviewed as part of a thorough review of the case, he said. "Processes and procedures at triage will be changed if necessary to prevent such an incident from occurring again," he said.

Health Minister David Davis said he was distressed to learn of the case and his thoughts were with Ms Lake and Mr Hall. "I have ordered my department to ensure that Peninsula Health leaves no stone unturned in an immediate investigation into what happened," he said.


Inquiry call as Building the Education Revolution firms crash

Kevvy's carelessly administered "stimulus" goes from bad to worse

THE nation's most powerful building union has called for a federal government inquiry into a string of corporate collapses on Building the Education Revolution projects, which have left 300 sub-contractors with about 1000 employees owed about $20 million.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union is stepping up pressure on Julia Gillard to launch a public inquiry into the collapse of three construction companies contracted by Bovis Lend Lease on 22 NSW school sites and three NSW public housing projects.

The calls came amid complaints to police over alleged false statutory declarations and threats by Coffs Harbour sub-contractors to launch a class action to recover the money they are owed.

A spokesman for Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans said he would refer the complaints to Brad Orgill's BER Implementation taskforce. But the NSW government had responsibility for BER projects and Senator Evans was working with NSW to resolve the issue.

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said the reference to the Orgill inquiry was "not good enough". "What the minister needs to do is not hide behind yet another government-appointed filter, he needs to take real action to ensure sub-contractors are protected from inept management of the program," Mr Pyne said.

Angry sub-contractors will meet in Sydney today as creditors for Maintek Projects Pty Ltd, owed up to $6m, will meet to discuss the liquidation of the company, which collapsed last week.

CFMEU NSW organiser Andrew Quirk told The Australian yesterday Bovis Lend Lease's administration of the contracts needed to be investigated by the federal government amid suggestions the company failed to act on complaints from sub-contractors that the builders were having problems making payments. "One's an accident, two is embarrassing, but three is an emerging pattern," Mr Quirk said.

"In each case, Bovis have said they will take the concerns on board but nothing has actually happened. And the net result is now $15m and climbing of money owed to small business across NSW, from Coffs Harbour to the Illawarra region.

"It's unconscionable that decent, hard-working small businesses are placed in a position of being unable to meet their obligations to their workers and to their suppliers because Bovis has, at the very least, incompetently managed these contracts.

"Quite frankly, the Australian taxpayer is entitled to expect that a company of this experience and size should conduct itself in accordance with the reputation it has and not carry on like some backyard shonk building a four-storey walk-up in the suburbs."

Last night, a Bovis Lend Lease spokesman defended the company's management of the BER projects, saying all work had been done in accordance with government procurement requirements and that a sub-contractor pre-qualification process was in place across all projects. "This includes independent financial assessments and evaluating experience and capacity to deliver the required works," the spokesman said.

He said the company required builders to submit regular reports that they were paying their sub-contractors in accordance with contractual obligations and would seek to assist the workers. "Where possible, we will seek to have existing sub-contractor deliver the remainder of works," the spokesman said.

Bovis had completed projects in 90 per cent of schools it had been engaged on and only nine schools had been affected by builders entering administration.

Maintek, which had been working on 10 BER projects in Sydney's northern suburbs, became the third builder to collapse in as many months after being contracted by Bovis Lend Lease.

It joined Project Kendall, which collapsed in December leaving four Sydney Catholic schools in limbo, and Perle Constructions, which collapsed last month after failing to pay sub-contractors on two BER schools projects and three NSW housing projects.

The NSW Housing Minister Frank Terenzini told The Australian last night he had referred to police allegations that Perle Constructions directors had signed false declarations asserting that sub-contractors had been paid in order to receive up to $1.6m in progress payments.

The liquidator for Project Kendall, which collapsed owing $4m, is investigating whether similar false declarations were signed to obtain government funded progress payments.

The creditors committee for Project Kendall will meet tomorrow, hours before its principal director, Aaron Kendall, is due to be examined by the liquidator, Mark Franklin, of Worrells Solvency and Forensic Accountants.

Creditors of Perle Constructions, which collapsed owing as much as $10m, will vote today on a deed of arrangement which would return them 27c in the dollar.

However, The Australian understands that Perle administrator Geoff Reidy, of Rodgers Reidy, will recommend against the deed but warn that a liquidation could return as little as 5c in the dollar to creditors.

NSW National Party MP for Coffs Harbour Andrew Fraser backed the calls for an inquiry and said Bovis should be joined to any class action being considered by sub-contractors who were not paid for work on NSW housing jobs in the district.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

16 February, 2011

That good ol' government childcare again

TOGETHER they suffered unspeakable cruelty - years of severe sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the very people there to protect them. But 30 years on from their ordeals, 15 former child residents of a state-funded foster home are fighting back.

A multi-million-dollar class action has started against the State of NSW, lawyers working pro bono in a bid to help the 14 women and one man get the closure they need.

Tucked away in Brewarrina in the state's northwest in the 1970s and '80s was the BethCar facility, a foster home for poor, disadvantaged Aboriginal children who had nowhere else to go.

BethCar was run by a husband and wife team, Burt and Edith Gordon, but the place was certainly no sanctuary for its young residents.

Instead, the plaintiffs - none of whom spoke about what happened there until recent years - were subjected to sexual abuse by Burt, their "father", as young as four years old, with their "mother" Edith beating them if they failed to do what he asked.

In the '80s their son-in-law took over the running of BethCar, but that was no respite for the youths, and he has recently been jailed for two aggravated sexual assaults committed at the home.

One of the plaintiffs, now aged 40, said she had tolerated enough by her early teens. "I actually spoke out when I was 14, and my foster mother, she beat me," she said. "I kept my mouth shut, and eventually ran away."

Other victims will tell the District Court of being forced to endure endless molestation in darkened rooms, while on other nights they hid under beds, terrified, to avoid being the next in line.

Cruelly, their late "father" was held up as a model member of society, an ABC documentary once calling him the region's Father of the Year.

A victim said the legal process, which began three years ago, was like being mistreated all over again. Lawyers have been working for nothing since the case was first lodged in 2008. The statement of claim contends the State was negligent, but the defendant said a variety of agencies funded the facility.


Teachers tied up in red tape

THE just-released National Professional Standards for Teachers, detailing the characteristics of successful teachers and what constitutes quality teaching, apparently, is at the "leading edge of international practice" and is "fundamental to improving educational outcomes for young people".

How do we know? Because Tony Mackay, the chairman of the body responsible for the teaching standards, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, told us so (The Australian, February 10).

In the cliches much loved by Australia's educrats, Mackay boasts that the standards "make explicit the elements of high-quality, effective teaching in 21st century schools", will ensure that "good teachers" become "great teachers" and that the new standards will "enable teachers to constantly strive for excellence".

Mackay also claims the new standards are not about "simple measurement or ticking a box" and that the "standards unambiguously define what is expected of the new teacher and a more experienced teacher".

Not so. The seven standards and accompanying 37 focus areas and 148 descriptors, much like a corporate-inspired, performance management model for staff appraisal, impose a bureaucratic, time consuming and checklist mentality.

The result? Teachers wanting certification or promotion, instead of focusing their time and energy on being effective and inspirational classroom teachers, will have to spend most of their time collecting reams of evidence, attending fruitless in-service programs and genuflecting to education fads such as personalised learning, open classrooms and treating children as knowledge navigators.

Descriptors requiring graduate teachers to "include a range of teaching strategies in teaching", and "Demonstrate the capacity to organise classroom activities and provide clear directions" and "Understand the relevant and appropriate sources of professional learning for teachers" are also vague and generalised.

Most of the descriptors in the AITSL document are motherhood statements reinforcing progressive educational orthodoxy, and the reader searches in vain for any mention of the need for teachers to be judged on how effective they are in raising standards and improving students' results. While testing and examinations should never be the sole measure to judge teachers, students, parents and the wider community have every right to expect that an important aspect of any teacher's employment is to get students to succeed in their studies.

Worse still, the new national standards document, approved by all Australian education ministers last December, fails to detail what evidence will be used to prove that teachers have met the various standards or to ensure that the assessment regime for teachers is rigorous and credible.

The fact that little thought has been given to what evidence will be used to demonstrate whether teachers are effective or not is made worse by the reality that teacher promotion, at least for the first eight to nine years across the different states and territories, appears to be automatic.

Under the present situation, as noted in an Australian Council for Educational Research paper titled Research on Performance Pay for Teachers, "it is rare for increments to be withheld" and it "is difficult to find systematically gathered evidence about underperforming teachers in most school systems".

Much of the Rudd/Gillard inspired education revolution is imported from Britain and the underlying rationale is for increased government intervention and control via bureaucracies and quangos. Copying Britain is understandable given Tony Mackay's involvement with prime minister Tony Blair's favourite think tank Demos and the fact that Tom Bentley, now a senior adviser to Julia Gillard and also with her when she was minister for education, was also involved with Demos as director.

State and territory schools, both government and non-government, are being forced to abide by the dictates of Canberra and ALP-appointed education apparatchiks whether we are talking about the Building the Education Revolution infrastructure program, the national curriculum, national testing or the My School website.

The establishment of AITSL and publication of the National Professional Standards for Teachers are no exception.

Yet there is an alternative. Instead of enforcing a one size-fits-all command and control model, give schools the autonomy and flexibility to design and implement their own approaches to teacher certification and evaluation.

While the Australian Education Union, given its self-interest, opposes giving schools the power to hire, fire and reward teachers, there is increasing evidence that such policies lead to stronger outcomes.

Such freedom explains why Catholic and independent schools, even after adjusting for the socioeconomic profile of students, do so well academically.

Significantly, the British Secretary of Education, Michael Gove, is adopting such an approach in order to rectify the mistakes of the Blair years.

In an interview with Britain's The Guardian, Gove repeated his promise to abolish quangos such as the General Teaching Council for England and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency on the basis that: "There are too many quangos that take up a school's time without leading to any real benefits to standards.

"Teachers tell us that they have to spend hours outside the classroom going to meetings and filling in forms because of bureaucratic requirements. It takes time away from the core purpose of improving learning".


A much ignored petition in Australia

Political correctness trumps the voice of the people

The controversial petition calling for a ban on Muslim immigration has been tabled 48 times in Parliament, The Canberra Times can reveal.

ACT Liberal senator Gary Humphries angered the Muslim community when he tabled a petition on behalf of three Sydney residents last week, calling for a 10-year moratorium on Muslim migration to Australia. Several other senators had declined to do so.

However, an analysis of the history of the petition which appears to originate with the Christian Democrat Party reveals it is not the first time Senator Humphries has tabled it. Another 35 politicians 19 Liberals, six Nationals, eight Labor MPs and senators and two Independents have also tabled it since 2007, several more than once.

The petition calls for Christians to be given priority in immigration and for a 10-year ban on Muslims coming to Australia "so an assessment can be made on the social and political disharmony currently occurring in the Netherlands, France and the UK".

Senator Humphries said yesterday he would have tabled it the first time for the same reasons as last week. Although he disagreed with its sentiments, he had a responsibility to allow people's views to be presented to Parliament.

He was "not anxious to become the patron saint of ... extreme points of view" and sorry the publicity had given some people the chance to express bigoted or racist views, but stood by his decision to table it.

"I would do so, and in fact I will do so, again, because this situation is bound to recur in some form or another; not necessarily this issue, but something else that people consider to be controversial," he said.


More of that wonderful background checking from Queensland Health

Basically zero

Queensland's most wanted man spent most of his 15 years on the run working for Queensland Health.

Convicted killer Luke Andrew Hunter, 42, escaped from Borallon Correctional Centre near Ipswich in February 1996 by cutting through a fence. About 18 months later, he was given a job at Herberton Hospital in north Queensland where he worked closely with patients, the Courier-Mail reported.

Hunter, who in the late 1990s was Queensland's most wanted man and No.4 on Australia's most wanted list, was arrested on Sunday morning in a home at Herberton on the Atherton Tableland.

When Hunter made his escape, he had served just five years of a 21-year sentence for the murder of his lover's husband at Newcastle, New South Wales.

While the whereabouts of the fair-skinned and red-haired murderer remained a mystery to Queensland police, he became a familiar face to the patients and staff of Herberton Hospital as he tended gardens and strolled the wards.

Until his recapture, Hunter worked as a wardsman and groundsman for about $1000 a week under the alias Ashban Cadmiel. He is believed to have got the job with the assistance of the Jesus Group, a religious cult now being investigated for allegedly harbouring Hunter. Most of his duties in the wards involved moving patients and bodies and serving meals.

Hunter was initially employed part time but his position became full time in 2002 as an operational services officer. His wage was between $49,108 and $54,018, with superannuation and allowances taking his package to about $64,000. He started on November 24, 1997, and in the 13 years he was in the job, he may have earned as much as $650,000 of taxpayers' money and accrued significant holiday leave entitlements.

A hospital source said the man they knew as Ashban was a good worker who created a beautiful garden for patients and staff. He also assisted inside the hospital, carrying out wardsman duties involving the lifting and movement of patients around the building.

Police contacted the director of nursing at the hospital last week, after a tip-off, and searched his locker and the hospital's garden shed.

Although the State Government introduced criminal history checks for employees in August 2006, there were no retrospective checks for staff already employed.

A statement issued by Deputy Premier and Health Minister Paul Lucas yesterday said Hunter's employment at Herberton Hospital was "a serious matter and we are taking it seriously". "This person was employed in 1997 when criminal checks were not routinely undertaken prior to Queensland Health employment, as they are now," Mr Lucas said. "Even if there had been criminal checks at the time, this person had assumed a false identity."

Mr Lucas said he "made no criticism of the minister at the time, (the LNP's ) Mike Horan, as the only method of checking that would have established his true identity was finger-printing, which is not routinely undertaken for Queensland Health staff or most other public servants".

"No system is foolproof, but if proper background checks were done at the time, perhaps further queries would have been raised and his past brought to light," Mr Lucas said.

Queensland Health was last exposed in 2005 for failing to conduct adequate checks when it was revealed overseas-trained doctor Jayant Patel was employed at Bundaberg Hospital without so much as a Google search on his name. In June last year, Patel was convicted of the manslaughter of three patients and the grievous bodily harm of another.

Hunter is being held in maximum security at Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre ahead of his next court appearance in March.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

15 February, 2011

Whaaaat! Gillard apologizes for her Australian accent

What an insult to the people she supposedly represents! Just another instance of how Leftists hate the society in which they live, I guess

JULIA Gillard has apologised for her "dreadful Australian accent" during her visit to New Zealand. The Prime Minister was attempting a Maori greeting but mangled it. "I hope it was something Iike that in my dreadful Australian accent," she said.

The misstep came before a speech in Auckland where Ms Gillard heaped praise on Australia and New Zealand's mateship, thanking New Zealand's Civil Defence team for rushing to Queensland after the summer of natural disasters. "You brought mateship, you brought comfort and your work won't be forgotten," Ms Gillard told the Trans-Tasman Business Circle lunch.

She said Australia shared New Zealand's grief over the Pike River mine disaster and the Canterbury earthquake. "At a time of hardship and grief, Australia will always be there to help," she said.

Ms Gillard earlier said she was not offended by the New Zealand Government backdown on plans for her to speak to a session of their parliament in Wellington.

Arriving at a business lunch in Auckland this morning, Ms Gillard said she was honoured by the compromise that will see her address the NZ House of Representatives debating chamber when the parliament is not sitting.

"The details of these arrangements are properly a matter for the parliament of New Zealand. But I will be very, very honoured to be there," Ms Gillard said.

Mr Key dumped plans for Ms Gillard to become the first foreign leader to address the floor of the NZ Parliament this week after Greens MPs said they would block the move because it threatened the country's independence. Mr Key said he wanted to avoid an embarrassing situation where the Greens may disrupt Ms Gillard's speech.

Ms Gillard said she "got on very well" with the conservative NZ leader Mr Key.


Leftists falling out over carbon price

Beleaguered NSW Premier Kristina Keneally has warned Julia Gillard's plan to put a price on carbon represents a critical risk to the electricity industry and taxpayers. Her comments will reignite the debate over compensation to big emitters of greenhouse gases as the Gillard government attempts to secure Greens support for a carbon price this year.

Ms Keneally said NSW had to be prepared for the "coming risk" of a carbon pollution reduction scheme and the sale of electricity assets mitigated the state's financial exposure to the impacts of a carbon price.

NSW late last year sold off a $5.3 billion slice of the state's power industry, but failed to attract any bids in part two of the privatisation, which was shelved earlier this month. "If we had been able to complete the transaction ... we would have taken the taxpayer entirely out of that risk of the CPRS and the cost of that coming back onto them," Ms Keneally told 2GB's Alan Jones. "It's a risk to the electricity businesses themselves."

Her position is at odds with the Gillard government's arguments that a carbon price would help foster investment certainty for the electricity sector, preventing excessive price hikes.

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt seized on the admission, saying the NSW state Labor government was at odds with federal Labor. He said Ms Keneally's statements amounted to an admission that a carbon price would "attack the sustainability and viability of electricity suppliers".

"Kristina Keneally has let the cat out of the bag," he told The Australian Online. "Two things must happen. Kristina Keneally must make clear whether she supports massive increases in power prices under the Gillard government's proposed scheme.

"The second thing is the Prime Minister must make it clear whether she agrees with Kristina Keneally that there will be major impacts on the lowest income earners and on the sustainability of power networks."

Electricity privatisation has a long and troubled history in NSW. Former NSW premier Bob Carr's plan for a power industry sell-off in 1997 was scuttled by union and party anger and, in 2008, Morris Iemma was ousted over his attempts to sell electricity retail companies and put long-term leases on the generators.


Voters disillusioned about "independent" politicians

COUNTRY independents are facing a wipe-out in NSW in a backlash against the MPs who have propped up Julia Gillard's Government. Only one of four MPs is certain to survive next month's election. Peter Besseling in Port Macquarie is under most threat.

The National Party has targeted the area, which is represented in Federal Parliament by Rob Oakeshott. Mr Besseling has been telling his electorate he would never support NSW Labor in the event of a hung Parliament.

A senior National Party source said dissatisfaction over Mr Oakeshott, a former Nationals member, had been noted in the state campaign. "There were signs up all around Port Macquarie that just had, 'Oakeshott you bloody sell-out'," the source said.

"There's no question there is a lot of anger in the community. Besseling is tarred with the Oakeshott brush - they're such close friends, he worked for him, it was Besseling who advised Oakeshott going into the deal with Gillard."

Mr Besseling said that he stands alone. "Rob Oakeshott is Rob Oakeshott, we are independents, we don't always agree," Mr Besseling said yesterday.

Tamworth independent MP Peter Draper won the seat 15 months after it was vacated by Tony Windsor and now faces a challenge because of it. "There will be some sort of effect [because of Mr Windsor's decision to side with Julia Gillard]; I am not sure how big it will be," Mr Draper said. He is up against a National Party candidate, Kevin Anderson.

Dubbo independent Dawn Fardell's toughest opponent will be a former decorated police officer running for the National Party, Troy Grant. Northern Tablelands MP Richard Torbay is likely to retain his seat.



Three current articles below

The good ol' generous Australian taxpayer forks out airfares for visit by illegal immigrants

Leftists love spending other people's money

Mourners have today farewelled family and friends killed in the Christmas Island boat disaster as immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says the Federal Government should not be paying to fly family members to the Sydney funerals.

Relatives and friends of asylum seekers killed in December's boat tragedy off Christmas Island have buried two babies and the father of an eight-year-old survivor in Sydney.

As many as 50 people died when the asylum seeker vessel SIEV 221 crashed on rocks and broke apart off Christmas Island's Rocky Point on December 15.

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison has criticised the sponsored travel arrangements that saw close family members flown from Christmas Island to Sydney for the funerals at the government's expense. "I don't think it is reasonable," Mr Morrison told ABC Radio.

The Opposition says everyday Australians attending funerals around the country are not entitled to such government largesse. "The Government had the option of having these services on Christmas Island," he told the ABC.

"If relatives of those who were involved wanted to go to Christmas Island, like any other Australian who wanted to attend a funeral service in another part of the country, they would have made their own arrangements to be there."

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen defended the decision which he said had been made following discussions the Australian Federal Police, which is responsible for the bodies, had with the families of the victims, and that numbers had been limited to "direct and close" family members.

Mr Bowen told the Australian Online Mr Morrison's comments were regrettable. "At the time of the tragedy there was an appropriate degree of public commentary from the opposition, which rose above politics," he said. "I think it would be better on the day of the funeral that that continued. "It is perfectly appropriate for the Department of Immigration and the Australian Federal Police to make the arrangements that they have.


Labor's $2.5m hotel bill to house asylum seekers

A HOTEL bill of almost $2.5 million a month is being racked up by the Federal Government to house some 500 asylum seekers outside detention centres as it struggles to find a solution to the record number of boat arrivals.

The Department of Immigration has admitted paying $60,000 a night in November last year to house up to 188 people, mainly families, a total bill of almost $800,000, for a fortnight's accommodation at Darwin's Airport Lodge.

The figures reveal that, based on the leases the Government had in place at the end of 2010, the average cost across motels, hotels and guest houses around the country was $2.36 million a month.

The revelation comes as Amnesty International accused the Federal Government of backsliding fast on its promise of a humane approach to refugees.

The Government had previously refused to reveal the true cost of its alternative accommodation policy to house families and unaccompanied minors outside detention camps - claiming the contracts with hotels were commercial-in-confidence.

During one 13 day period - from November 10 to November 23, 2010 - the cost of accommodation at the Darwin Airport Lodge was $778,000, including GST.

The cost of flights to and from Christmas Island to bring detainees to the mainland also topped $12 million last year, for an average of $145,000 per charter for 83 flights.

Only last week the Government revealed it would need an extra $290 million this year to cover the rising costs.

"They have a financial crisis on asylum seekers of their own making," Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said. "This is a government paying five-star rates for roadside motel accommodation."

According to the documents, as at October 2010 there were eight motels, hotels or commercial accommodations housing a total of 461 asylum seekers, who the department refer to as irregular maritime arrivals or IMAs.

Refugee advocates claim that the perception that IMAs were enjoying a luxurious life by being housed in motels was ridiculous when some of the accommodation was no grander than a demountable camp. The majority of those in motels were families who were forced to live in small rooms with children for periods of up to six months with no cooking facilities.

The number of asylum seekers arriving by boat from war-torn regions abroad is at a record high, now totalling 6200.


Border security fail could be fatal for the Australian Labor Party

After Federal Parliament returns next Monday, there are sufficient grounds for the opposition to move the first no-confidence motion in the Gillard government. The trigger is the disintegrating credibility of Australia's border security, and the compromising of Australia's territorial sovereignty. On this fundamental moral and political issue, the Gillard government is unfit to govern.

The majority of the electorate takes this issue very seriously as a matter of principle. If a federal government cannot maintain territorial integrity the electorate will inflict political pain. That's why the phrase ''we will stop the boats'' were the first words of the mantra constantly repeated by Tony Abbott when he outperformed the robotic Julie Gillard in last year's election campaign. If an Australian government is perceived to be capitulating to the tactic of fait accompli on its borders by people demanding a right of entry, the government faces political death.

This principle is non-negotiable for most Australians. Thus the Coalition's chief pollster and electorate researcher, Mark Textor, put the words ''stop the boats'' first when he wrote that mantra. ''I put them first because it was the issue voters were putting first,'' Textor told me.

Now, six months on from the election, the Middle East is yet again in flux and the legal sieve that passes for Australia's border security is spiralling out of control. Could the Gillard government stop a big influx of illegal entrants? No. It doesn't have the policies.

None of us know whether we are witnessing a political spring or autumn in the streets of Cairo and Tunis. While the euphoria of people power in Egypt and Tunisia allows for hope, the Middle East has been utterly consistent in delivering political dislocations that eventually wash up on Australia's shores.

Literally. Look no further than the 15 bodies that have found their way, at great expense, to a morgue in Lidcombe. They are the remains of people who tried to get into Australia illegally and died in the process when their boat foundered.

Even as arrangements are made for their burial in Rookwood cemetery this week, the bodies, mostly Iraqi nationals, are the subject of legal wrangling.

It is typical of the legal quagmire that the Gillard government, and the Department of Immigration, have allowed to occur. I used to assume that the Department of Immigration was rigorous, impartial and transparent. I no longer make that assumption. In my dealings with the department I have found it both opaque and politely useless. Because there appears to be no point in dealing with the media unit, I am preparing a list of questions for the secretary of the department, Andrew Metcalfe. He will probably fob off the questions but the process will be public.

Metcalfe's department is busy spending an unprecedented amount delivering an ineffective program on the scale of waste comparable to Labor's national roof insulation scheme or school building program. This time the failure is destroying lives and inviting more of the same on a greater scale.

Last Thursday, the Gillard government asked for another $290 million to fund its border protection program. The opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, responded: ''In 2010-11 the government will spend more than $760 million on people arriving illegally in Australia. This compares to less than $100 million in annual expenditure when the Howard government left office in 2007.''

At this rate of spending, the cost of keeping each detainee has rocketed to $150,000 a year. It is not just the ridiculous cost. It's the mindset. The overwhelming majority of Australians would regard the people smugglers' boats as illegal entries. Yet the Department of Immigration cannot bring itself to use the term ''illegal''. It refers to these incursions into Australian territory as ''irregular''.

No wonder there is backlog of 6000 humanitarian cases clogging the scrutiny and review system. No wonder the Labor government, which railed against the Howard government's detention policies, is opening more and more detention centres. No wonder the centres are all overcrowded, leading the 2010 Australian of the Year, Professor Pat McGorry, to describe them as ''factories for producing mental illness''.

They are mental illness factories, because the vetting process is painfully slow, legal appeals are also ponderous, families are separated, violent disruptions are routine, and self-harm is common.

More than 2000 violent incidents are happening every year in the centres. Last week, in the latest known incident, about 40 detainees were involved in scuffles at the Darwin Airport Lodge detention centre. Six people were hospitalised.

All because this government is achieving the worst of both worlds: encourage the people-smuggler trade then lock up the arrivals.

While the majority of the electorate appear to believe that the last people who should be allowed permanently into the country are those who try to come in illegally, the Gillard government does not even forcibly return people it has ordered to be deported.

It does not automatically reject anyone who arrives without identity papers. Instead, it follows policies laid down by the United Nations Convention on Refugees and other UN protocols.

The combination of more arrivals, more detentions and slow processes means the average time spent in detention has risen to 183 days. Six months. Two years ago the figure was 25 days.

The federal opposition might want to ask why should Australians would want to accept this expensive debacle? A no-confidence motion would also oblige the man who made all this possible, the independent MP Robert Oakeshott, to stand up and defend the indefensible if he voted with the government on this issue.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

14 February, 2011

Gillard to cut the health bureaucracy?

One fervently hopes it is true but I am not holding my breath. The claim that the State Health bureaucracies will end is laughable. Like cockroaches, they would survive a nuclear winter

Julia Gillard last night secured a history-making agreement for a new national health reform plan with the states, after 12 hours of heated talks in Canberra. It was a breakthrough for the Prime Minister who is badly trailing Opposition Leader Tony Abbott despite a series of Liberal controversies.

Ms Gillard said the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Canberra had secured a better deal for patients which would pay for "tens of thousands" of extra treatments and reduce waiting lists for elective surgery and emergency room treatment times.

Extra funds to total $16.4 billion over the coming 10 years will be provided from July 1, but only only with State governments reform of health delivery systems. Some $200 million of the funding will be brought forward for immediate spending.

"When we walked into that (meeting) room today, we didn't have the benefit of one national funding body or the the kind of transparency I have outlined," said the Prime Minister. "We have walked out of the room having ensured we have one national agreement, transparency, proper funding, local control (of hospitals), new investments in primary care, and less bureaucracy. "For people around the country this does mean more money, more beds, less waiting time, more access to the health care they want now."

Missing from the deal was the original demand by the Federal Government that the states kick in a third of the GST revenue to boost the nation funding pool. This demand set by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was preventing a full agreement, and was a political obstacle identified for removal by Ms Gillard.

A national funding pool would ensure hospitals are "transparently and fairly funded", while "a giant axe" will be taken to health red tape and the ending of eight separate bureaucracies of the states and territories.

"The Commonwealth will become 50 per cent partner in growth for the future," said Ms Gillard, pledging to pay for half of hospital cost increases. She also pledged extra primary care, including after-hours GP services.

A heads of agreement was signed tonight but the full agreement will be delayed by the sorting out of "comprehensive technical details" to be settled by another COAG meeting mid-year.


Premiers warn the detail of health reforms still to be hammered out

QUESTIONS are emerging over the detail of Julia Gillard's $16.4 billion health reforms, with state premiers warning of prolonged negotiations over the specifics of the plan.

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett said the introduction of an activity based funding system through a national pool by mid next year was achievable, but stressed it needed to be "well understood and easy to administer".

Mr Barnett said exact state and federal responsibilities under the plan still had to be worked through, while the details of the pooled funding arrangement were yet to be finalised.

Unless the structure of the pool was right, positive health reform could not be delivered, he said.

"We agreed on the broad principles," Mr Barnett told ABC radio. "The detail will not be an easy task, but I've got confidence that some of the best brains in health administration at a commonwealth and state level will be able to solve that problem. "The absolutely critical thing will be the arrangements for management, who has responsibility for what, how the money flows. And if we don't get that right, then the system won't work."

Prime Minister Julia Gillard hit the airwaves this morning to spruik her new national agreement, declaring the blame game was over. She said the deal would provide greater transparency but conceded the "fine details need to be nutted out".

Ms Gillard said an independent body would work out the "efficient price" of hospital services to govern the flow of funding, an innovation she claimed would bolster transparency.

However, father of the Medicare system, Dr John Deeble, told The Australian Online he had doubts about how the efficient price could reasonably be set. "I think that will have to be significantly modified. You can do some sums on what looks to be an efficient cost, but the people who make the decisions are the doctors who treat people. "I'm a bit concerned that the determination of the efficient price will end with great deal of squabbling."

Federal opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton said removing the levels of bureaucracy from the previous Rudd reform plan was a positive.

Rural GPs were also worried the new agreement won't improve services in the bush, because it did not address the issues of minimum standards to ensure adequate services in country areas, or new measures to improve staff recruitment and retention. “It doesn't have a significant shift in terms of the funding models that we can see immediately,” Rural Doctors Association of Queensland president Dr Dan Halliday also told the ABC.

However Victoria's premier Ted Baillieu says the new deal is a better result for patients. It meant more money upfront for Victoria and better protection of Victoria's local health networks and of home and community care. “This is a much better deal than the deal that was in place which Victoria had signed up to,” Mr Baillieu told ABC Radio.

NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell, widely tipped to be the state's next premier, said he needed more time to decide whether to support the health reform deal.

“I won't be a part of any agreement that sells (the public) short once again, as they have been sold short so many times by this state Labor government,” he told Sky News.


Dangers of hidden justice highlighted as News takes aim at secrecy in the nation's courts

The growing reach of suppression orders came under sustained attack over the weekend from the nation's largest publisher, News Limited, the Press Council and one of the most experienced media law judges in NSW.

Model legislation for a national suppression order scheme "sends a shiver down my spine -- and not in a good way", said John Hartigan, chairman and chief executive of News Limited (publisher of The Australian). "This legislation is fatally flawed and has the capacity to send open justice behind closed doors," he said.

Mr Hartigan's concerns about suppression orders were one of the main themes of a paper he delivered on Saturday at a conference on courts and the media at Bond University. He warned that the planned changes to suppression orders would enable judges to close their courts on an additional new "public interest" ground.

Because the scheme did not make open justice its primary objective, it could potentially be used to protect the privacy of the accused, he said.

As well as calling for the withdrawal of the proposed suppression order regime, Mr Hartigan outlined a broad reform agenda aimed at winding back the restrictions that limit scrutiny of the justice system. The main items on his reform agenda are:

* Freedom to use still cameras and television cameras in courts for the opening remarks in cases and judges' sentencing remarks.

* Real-time access to transcripts and documents used in court.

* Removal of "take-down" orders in which judges order material removed from websites.

He told the conference it was time to "halt the suppression orders juggernaut. And the first stop must be the secret state of Victoria."

He said lawyers for The New York Post had not received a single suppression order in the past five years. But News Limited lawyers in Australia had faced more than 500 in the past 12 months and 270 of those were in Victoria.

David Levine, formerly of the NSW Supreme Court, told the conference that last year's decision by the Supreme Court of Victoria to suppress an edition of The Australian Weekend Magazine had been "wimpish".

The magazine was suppressed by Victorian Supreme Court judge Lex Lasry, who had been hearing a murder case. He was concerned that an article in the magazine about an unrelated murder in South Australia with different facts and a different defence might persuade the jury in his case to convict.

Mr Levine told the conference he agreed with this newspaper's criticism that the Victorian Supreme Court had suppressed the magazine too readily. "My general view is the evolution of suppression orders -- particularly in Victoria -- has been especially troubling," said Mr Levine, who was formerly the judge in charge of the NSW Supreme Court's defamation list.

"There has been a change of government in that state. Mr (Rob) Hulls is no longer attorney-general and there might be some liberalisation. I would be hard-pressed to think of a case for a suppression order other than in generally recognised circumstances, and that is traditionally the name of a victim of a sexual assault and in yet-to-be-clarified circumstances involving national security."

Press Council member Prue Innes said the model suppression order scheme was accompanied by a proposal for a public register of suppression orders that had not been thought through. "The information on a public register would have to be so vague as to be almost useless," said Ms Innes, who produced a 2008 report on suppression orders for the media industry's Right to Know coalition.

She said the scheme that had been approved by the nation's governments had misunderstood the Right to Know's position. "I hope that will be reconsidered. As it stands, this proposal in my view is a wasted opportunity," said Ms Innes, who is a former court reporter for The Age and was information officer for the Supreme Court of Victoria.

The dean of law at Bond University, Geraldine Mackenzie, said a lack of open justice led to a lack of understanding about court procedures. "And that leads almost inevitably to a lack of public confidence," she said. "Low public confidence brings with it a lack of support for policy initiatives which would bring reform to the system. It brings a lack of respect for the courts; it undermines the courts' authority."

Ms Mackenzie told the conference she was part of a team that had been working on a major survey of public opinion about confidence in the courts . "The conclusion that can be drawn from our study is that the more information and knowledge people have about the operation of the courts, the more confidence they will have that the courts are acting appropriately," Ms Mackenzie said.


Typical Leftist dishonesty over the fibre broadband boondoggle

For years, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has been citing South Korea to justify his National Broadband Network.

But after a report this week by The Economist's Economic Intelligence Unit ranked Conroy's NBN plan poorly against top-ranked South Korea, Conroy claimed that comparing Australia with South Korea was like comparing "apples with oranges".

This typifies that strategy that Conroy has consistently employed to defend his NBN: when comparisons (no matter how misleading) help your case, use them -- but when they don't, dump on them and anyone making those comparisons. Such hypocrisy is truly galling. This time around, Conroy is actually right on one thing: it is indeed an "apples and oranges" comparison. But that's never stopped him comparing Australian and South Korea before. Critics have pointed out many times that comparing Australia with countries like South Korea is silly (see, for example, "Scrapping NBN tender a huge waste of money", The Australian, August 4, 2009) for many reasons, particularly the enormous difference in population densities -- but he kept making them. Now, when it suits him, he has borrowed his critics' argument and bent it for his own purposes.

Conroy's continued misuse of selective, piecemeal comparisons is the very reason why a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN is required. It may sound obvious, but government policies should serve the public interest; a policy serves the public interest only if -- when implemented in Australia -- it delivers benefits that exceed the costs (and if it delivers bigger net benefits than any alternative policy). Various bits of information can help in assessing the costs and benefits, but selectively highlighting some bits and ignoring other bits is grossly misleading.

If your doctor recommended having a nose job because your mate Fred did, you wouldn't find that compelling.

If she said Fred benefited greatly from the nose job, you'd want to check out whether the benefits were real and what the job cost Fred. And you'd want to think about what benefits you'd get and how much you'd pay.

But suppose your doctor's allusions to Fred convinced you to get the nose job. Just before you're wheeled into theatre, she hands you a bill for 24 times what Fred paid. When you protest, she haughtily replies that of course it costs you more because your nose is different -- it needs much more work than Fred's.

Would you trust this doctor again? No. Would you want to reconsider whether the nose job is a good idea? Yes.

Conroy is the nose doctor of broadband. In announcing the NBN in April 2009, he led with the "Fred" tactic: we'll be joining "world leaders" in FTTH like South Korea. Of course, just because other countries "lead" in something doesn't mean we should copy them. Germany was a world leader in Zeppelin airships. Michael Jackson was a world leader in nose jobs.

Conroy later employed the "Fred benefits" tactics. For example, in a November 2009 speech, he said: "For countries targeting broadband and ICT (information and communications technology) investments to stimulate economic growth, Korea provides a significant example of the capacity to succeed."

He also said: "Although Korea was among the nations hardest hit by the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, the country turned a disaster into an opportunity to grow its IT sector. Spending on broadband and other high-technology equipment helped lead a transformation of the economy . . . By May 2004, about one-third of Korea's exports were from the IT sector."

Actually, South Korea's average annual GDP growth over the last decade (4.2 per cent) is less than half the 9.2 per cent it achieved in the decade preceding the Asian financial crisis. ICT exports were about one-third (33.9 per cent) of Korea's exports in 2004, but Conroy didn't mention that they were already 31.4 per cent in 1999, nor that they had dropped to 26.2 per cent -- below their level before the Asian financial crisis -- well before he gave his speech.

My point isn't that nose jobs and broadband deliver no benefits, but that claimed benefits by vested interests -- like a nose doctor or a minister whose entire credibility rests on defending the NBN -- need to be checked out.

Like the doctor, Conroy avoided cost comparisons. He happily made comparisons with South Korea on what they were doing (FTTH) and in claiming big benefits, but was silent on any comparisons of cost per capita. He only mentioned density-related costs when defending why FTTH would serve a slightly smaller proportion of premises than in Korea.

When the EIU this week said that Australia's NBN would cost taxpayers 24 times more than South Korea's fibre rollout cost its taxpayers, he tried the "your nose is different" tactic. He used population density differences to argue that "trying to compare the rollout in South Korea with the rollout in Australia is fraught with challenges".

Conroy is right that such comparisons are dangerous. Given Australia's much lower population densities, the cost per premises here will be much higher. But Conroy's response begs the key question: given the enormously greater cost in Australia, shouldn't we examine whether the costs are worth the benefits, or whether there is a better way to gain those benefits at lower cost?

Here's another comparison to highlight Conroy's hypocrisy. Conroy attempted to dismiss the EIU's report by holding up one page and saying: "For those who haven't spent the $3000 (to buy the report) I just wanted you to see the entire analysis in this document". Putting aside the fact that this gives grossly misleading impression of how much analysis the EIU did, that's still one more page than Conroy produced when he committed $43 billion of taxpayer money to the NBN with absolutely no analysis whatsoever. Thirteen months later, he produced the Implementation Study. Taxpayers were forced to pay $25m for that, which works out at $45,788 a page. The EIU report is incredibly cheap by comparison and no one is forced to buy it. The Productivity Commission could conduct a cost-benefit analysis for under $2.5m.

But selective comparisons are endemic in this government. While Ireland's economy appeared to be growing, Industry Minister Kim Carr used to it to justify state-funded "industry development" (aka handouts). He didn't present any evidence to show that state funding had caused higher economic growth, or that any benefits were worth the costs. He just hand-waved. Ireland is now one of European's biggest basket cases.

We should decide policy objectively by assessing benefits and costs of the options and choosing the one that best serves the public interest. Unfortunately, this government got it arse-up: it decided policy first and ever since has made any comparison or claim it could to defend itself. If someone makes a good argument that harms the case, the tactic is to dump on them.

Conroy claimed the EIU -- run by The Economist, the most highly respected economics magazine on the planet -- was just spouting "right-wing dogma" in its report.

Conroy does the same whenever other highly respected organisations say something he doesn't like. Last October, he said a cost-benefit analysis would be a "waste of money" because "the OECD are about to complete a major study".

The next month, he cherry-picked a statement about the benefits of broadband from an OECD report to claim that the report supported the NBN, when in fact the OECD damned the NBN as "winner-picking", competition-constraining and very costly and urged that a cost-benefit analysis be conducted.

While dumping on highly respected independent critics, he selectively chooses to cite reports written for vested interests (like IBM) to support the NBN.

Taxpayers should insist that the government ask the independent Productivity Commission to conduct a cost-benefit analysis.


Another step along the road towards medicalizing all problems: Grief now a mental illness

By that standard, the much-respected Queen Victoria was as nutty as a fruitcake

A PUSH to classify grief as a psychological disorder has been criticised by experts as "disease-mongering". Prolonged grief disorder (PGD) will be included in the next edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatrists' bible used to diagnose mental problems.

Bereavement, a normal part of life, has been excluded from previous editions of the manual, but Australian Medical Association spokesman and psychiatrist Tom Stanley says there is significant evidence of PGD. "Occasionally, normal grief will become pathological and, in many cases, it will precipitate severe depression," Dr Stanley said.

Prolonged grief disorder was originally identified by US psychiatrists, but counsellor Mal McKissock, of Sydney's Bereavement Centre, said: "It's nothing more than disease-mongering. "My colleagues in the US get reimbursed only if there's a real sickness, so they created one."

Mr McKissock is concerned about the growing number of patients he sees who have been medicated with anti-depressants. "I'd venture that 50 per cent of the people I see are on anti-depressants - and that includes children, which is outrageous," he said.

"People think they have a disease. They think they're depressed, but they are sad, passionately sad, and it's a natural process."

Former Australian of the Year and campaigner for mental health Professor Pat McGorry said there was a distinction between normal grief and prolonged grief that could lead to severe depression.


13 February, 2011

Little kids bombed out with drugs to save work for their government "carers"

Children as young as one in state care are being given powerful ADHD drugs - against warnings from pharmaceutical companies.

Research by The Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian reveals that the rate of medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder among young people in foster homes is more than double that in the general population.

Even more alarming is that 7 per cent - one in 14 - children under the age of six in care is being prescribed the drugs despite advice they should not be given to people that young.

"It is particularly concerning to hear from carers that children as young as one year of age are being medicated for ADHD," said Children's Commissioner Elizabeth Fraser in a previously unreported study presented to Child Safety Minister Phil Reeves last September.

Youth Affairs Network of Queensland director Siyavash Dhoostkhah said both the Government and the commission were failing in their duty of care to vulnerable children. "It's a scandal of the greatest level," he said. "These young children are being treated as guinea pigs."

Some medications also carry a warning that they can raise the risk of suicidal thoughts.

The use of ADHD drugs for children so young also is at odds with national guidelines issued by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and National Health and Medical Research Council in November 2009. They state: "Medication should not be used as first-line treatment for ADHD in preschool-aged children."

Department of Communities figures show there are 7800 children and young people in foster and other out-of-home care in Queensland. About a third of them are aged under six. The commission's findings mean about 170 young people in that age group are being given ADHD drugs.

The Youth Affairs Network is part of a coalition now preparing a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Mr Reeves refused to comment. A Department of Communities spokesperson said ADHD medication was sometimes prescribed in complex or extreme support cases.


Two WA country hospitals face lawsuits over child deaths

The parents of three dead children are preparing massive lawsuits against the WA hospitals they claim let them down. A mother intends to sue Geraldton Regional Hospital for gross negligence after the death of her six-year-old son, and Northam Hospital will be hit with legal action relating to the treatment of Andrew Allan, 16, and baby Lachlan Hughes. The families confirmed this week they were consulting lawyers, but might not issue writs until after coronial inquests are complete.

The Health Department confirmed it had investigated the case of Sebastian Parman, who was turned away on consecutive days by doctors at Geraldton Regional Hospital in September with a fever, high temperatures and a red rash. His mother, Samantha Piani, said he was not admitted until her own GP wrote a letter saying he needed intravenous antibiotics immediately. The boy died the next morning when his heart failed to cope with a build-up of fluid on his lungs.

Ms Piani said the cause of death was swine flu and pneumonia similar to Andrew Allan, who was not even referred to a doctor who was just metres away in the emergency department at Northam Hospital.

She dismissed the review into the treatment of her son as "trying to sweep serious flaws under the carpet" by saying he was struck down by two serious illnesses that likely cost his life. "They did not do blood samples or take swabs, nothing," she said. "The only reason they found out he had swine flu was because of the autopsy. They only discovered he had pneumonia when the pediatrician reviewed an X-ray taken the previous night and noticed an accumulation of fluid on his lungs. "I said, 'How can that happen? They sent him home the previous night saying it was clear'," she said.

Ms Piani said the trauma has prevented her returning to work as a nurse.

The parents of Lachlan Hughes are still awaiting a report into the death of their 12-day-old baby, who died after two visits to Northam Hospital in August. He was assessed by a midwife on the first occasion. They took him home, but returned the next day after he began coughing up mucus and was having problems breathing. A doctor and midwife assessed him, and he was again sent home. He died 32 hours later.

His heartbroken mother, Sarah, 25, said this week she and her 31-year-old husband, Phillip, would likely sue Northam Hospital for negligence. "We are pretty sure the review will come out more on our side," she said. "Lachlan's illness should have been diagnosed a lot earlier. If it was, he could still be alive today."

In September, an inexperienced nurse sent Northam High School student Andrew Allan home with breathing problems and a temperature of 40C. He died a few hours later in his bed. His parents, Kylie, 44, and James, 46, intend to take legal action, citing gross negligence.

A review into Andrew's death exposed basic treatment blunders and CCTV footage revealed he could barely walk and collapsed into a sofa just after he entered the hospital.

Since the scandal was revealed by The Sunday Times, new statewide directives have been issued relating to hospital emergency care. The changes include:

* Every patient must be surveyed by a qualified triage nurse before a secondary assessment in an emergency department.

* Anyone with a high temperature must be seen by a doctor.

* Discharge of a patient from rural hospitals where there is no GP needs to be reviewed and carefully considered by an experienced and credentialled emergency nurse.

Additional CCTV cameras and monitoring stations will be installed at Northam Hospital.

The Health Department said it could not comment because all three deaths were subject to coronial inquiries.

The nurse at the centre of the Northam Hospital controversy has been sacked "due to the seriousness of the incident" and his "failure to co-operate" with a Health Department review into the circumstances surrounding Andrew's death. He remains registered subject to an investigation by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

The agency said it was bound by legislation and could not comment.


Another labelling fail

Customers overlooking unit pricing

Shoppers are spending more at the checkouts because they are not using unit prices to work out the cheapest brands. Research shows that fewer than 50 per cent of shoppers overseas look at the unit price when buying groceries and experts say the take-up rate in Australia is as low. Unit pricing was introduced here just over a year ago.

[I'd like to see the research behind that 50%. I see lots of people in my local supermarket loading up their trolleys but it's a rarity to see them stop and read a label. What people say they do and what they actually do can be two different things.]

Gary Mortimer, from QUT's School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations, said that with so much information on labels, like price, barcode, size and description, shoppers could be overwhelmed, or simply not have the time to do the maths.

Ian Jarrett, of the Queensland Consumers Association, which has been lobbying for unit prices to be printed in the same type size recommended for packaging labels, said there were big savings to be made.

His survey of prices at one supermarket came up with a trolley full of savings. For example, sultanas in six small packs cost $10.38 a kilo but only $3.79 a kilo if bought in a 1kg bag. A tub of Meadowlea margarine cost 50c for each 100g if bought in a 1kg tub, 70c for each 100g if bought in a 500g tub or 78c in a 250g tub.

But Dr Mortimer said there was a need for caution. "A larger packet may be cheaper per gram than a smaller packet but if you have to pay a higher retail price to start with, it becomes a false economy if you end up wasting half the contents of the larger packet because you simply cannot use it all."

He said it was also important to remember unit pricing did not take into consideration such things as different plies of toilet paper and different concentrations of products such as washing detergents and cordial. "Unit pricing does not capture different densities, concentrations and strengths and these need to be taken into consideration," he said.

Mr Mortimer said different demographics were attracted to unit pricing. "There are some shoppers who think 'I am pretty well paid, I don't need to save money'," he said. "And there are some Gen-Y shoppers, and particularly male shoppers, who think 'I want to get in and get out. I don't have time to look at the different numbers on the ticket'.

"But if you are a mum with three kids from a working-class environment and need to buy 800g or a kilo for lunches for the kids and dad this week and you can wait to be served, you can make a saving."


Speculate, Speculate, Speculate

Medical researchers seem to do little else. The claim below that sunshine lowers MS risk is totally naive. What their results more likely show is that people in poor health don't go out much

The Australian love affair with the great outdoors may have contributed to lower rates of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to research from The Australian National University.

The Ausimmune Study, coordinated by Associate Professor Robyn Lucas from the ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment and involving researchers from across Australia, found that people who spend more time in the sun, and those with higher vitamin D levels, may be less likely to develop MS.

MS is a chronic disease of the brain and spinal cord and has long baffled researchers, who continue to search for its cause and cure. This study, published in the February 8 2011, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, takes us one step closer to understanding the risk factors that may lead to MS.

Associate Professor Lucas said that many people who experience preliminary symptoms of the sort that occur in MS – known as a ‘first event’ – go on to develop the disease. The Ausimmune Study found that the risk of having a first event was lower in people with higher sun exposure – over the whole of their lives as well as in the months preceding the event, compared with unaffected people of the same age and sex and living in the same region of Australia.

“People with the highest levels of vitamin D were also less likely to have a diagnosed first event than people with the lowest levels,” she said.

The study is the first to look at sun exposure and vitamin D status in people who had experienced a first event with the type of symptoms found in MS.

“Previous studies have looked at people who already have MS,” said Dr Lucas. “This has made it difficult to know whether having the disease led them to change their habits in the sun or their diet. That is, it has not been possible to work out if low sun exposure or vitamin D cause the disease or were caused by having the disease.”

Associate Professor Lucas said that the study showed, for the first time in a human population, that the effects of sun exposure and vitamin D act independently of each other, with each having a beneficial effect in decreasing the risk of a first event.

“Further research should evaluate both sun exposure and vitamin D for the prevention of MS,” she said.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

12 February, 2011

Short cut to public hospital efficiency

By Dr Jeremy Sammut

After the irrelevancies of the silly season (‘Should Julia have worn the pants-suit to the flood emergency?’) it’s a relief that the focus is about to switch back to the core business of government – public administration.

According to last Saturday’s Weekend Australian, Prime Minister Gillard will simplify Kevin Rudd’s hospital reform plan at next week’s Council of Australian Government meeting.

If the report was correct, the Commonwealth will no longer become the ‘majority funder’ of public hospitals.

Instead of paying for 60 per cent of the ‘efficient’ price of each public hospital services, the Commonwealth will only pay for 40 per cent of efficient price. Because no significant increase in Commonwealth health spending will be needed to fund the new federal payment system, Canberra will not have to claw back 30 per cent of the state’s GST revenue.

The Department of Treasury is said to have been closely involved in the re-jigging of the government’s policy. There is much to recommend the modifications.

The efficient cost is to be determined by an independent national hospital pricing authority. Setting a national price is a very complex task. But this was always the best feature of the Rudd Plan because financial transparency and accountability will be promoted.

When federal funding is exclusively delivered at the efficient price, state governments will either have to cut the waste and reform their bureaucratic hospital systems, or bear the extra cost of providing hospital services inefficiently.

What Treasury seems to have realised is that this policy outcome can be achieved unilaterally, simply by converting existing federal funding into an ‘efficient’ payment. A looming brawl with state premiers over the allocation of the GST can be entirely avoided.

The revised approach broadly resembles the National Competition Policy of the 1990s, which also used federal payments to promote market-based reform in government utilities.

The goals here are not as ambitious in terms of structural reform – no one is yet talking about privatising public hospitals.

But during an era when billions of taxpayer’s dollars are blithely wasted on batts and broadband, any policy which supports the efficient use of scarce resources is a welcome change for the better.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 11 Feb. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Law lets NSW private schools expel homosexual students

A SENIOR Anglican bishop calls it "appalling" and a gay and lesbian rights group condemns it as "deeply offensive", but the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, backs a NSW law that allows private schools to expel gay students simply for being gay.

Through a spokesman, Mr Hatzistergos, described the 30-year-old law as necessary "to maintain a sometimes delicate balance between protecting individuals from unlawful discrimination while allowing people to practise their own beliefs".

A relic of the Wran era when homosexuality was still a crime, the law exempts private schools from any obligation to enrol or deal fairly with students who are homosexual. An expulsion requires neither disruption, harassment nor even the flaunting of sexuality. Being homosexual is enough.

Introducing the little-known law in the early 1980s, the then attorney-general Paul Landa told Parliament: "The facts of political life require acceptance of the claim of churches to conduct autonomous educational institutions with a special character and faith commitment."

But the churches are now divided. The Anglican bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, told the Herald: "I don't think our schools would want to use it."

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney declined to distance itself from the legislation. A spokeswoman said: "The focus for our schools has always been on supporting our students regardless of the circumstances."

Political support may also be fracturing. "It is an unusual provision in this day and age," the shadow attorney-general, Greg Smith, told the Herald.

He cannot speak for his party, only himself. "I personally think it is something that should be reviewed, looked at with a view to perhaps changing it. Times have changed."

The chief executive of ACON, Nicolas Parkhill, condemned the law as "deeply offensive, patently unethical and damaging to our society on multiple levels. Recent research shows that young same-sex-attracted people are up to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers and that 80 per cent of the verbal or physical abuse they experience occurs in schools.

"Allowing religious schools to reinforce this negative experience by giving them the right to expel the victims of homophobic attitudes is incomprehensible."

Although "not untroubled" by the legislation himself, the chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, told the Herald the 130-plus low-fee schools in his association saw no reason to ditch the law. Many of the schools regard unrepentant gay students as "disruptive to the religious teaching of the school", he explained. "What we seek to do is to be able to take appropriate action which may include expulsion."

Brigadier Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby has no qualms about the law. The head of the influential Christian pressure group said a church school should have the right to expel any openly gay child.

"But I would expect any church that found itself in that situation to do that in the most loving way that it could for the child and to reduce absolutely any negative affects.

"I think that you explain: this is a Christian school, that unless the child is prepared to accept that it is chaste, that it is searching for alternatives as well, that the school may decide that it might be better for the child as well that he goes somewhere else. I think it's a loving response."


More "stimulus" waste

As car parks go, the new federally funded one in Fisher Street, Cabramatta, is definitely five-star: clad entirely in native hardwood inlaid with images of porpoises, set in landscaped gardens and topped with a 200-panel solar system feeding into the grid.

There is only thing missing: cars, with not even an oil stain marking any of the 172 pristine, polished concrete bays.

Charles Gream, a local resident, took daily photographs of the electronic display that listed the number of available spaces and confirmed its accuracy with a quick walk through, before the display was turned off recently.

"I reckon it's running at about 3 per cent," he said. "Without a doubt it's the most car-free part of Cabramatta."

The solution to this, says Fairfield Council, is to build more car parks. It has promised two, including one the mayor and local state Labor MP, Nick Lalich, hopes RailCorp will build for commuters on the site of the Cabramatta Inn.

It is not clear why RailCorp would build a car park when the federal Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, said the Fisher Street car park was built for commuters who are parking in local streets rather than paying charges of up to $20 a day.

When the council announced in 2009 it was going to use $5.6 million from the federal government's economic stimulus package to help build the car park, locals predicted it would be a white elephant. Fisher Street is east of the rail line, 500 metres from Cabramatta's shopping district west of the line, where parking is in short supply.

The council insisted at the time that stimulus funding was available only if it began work on the car park within six months and Fisher Street was the only site available for a quick start.

A spokesman for Mr Albanese said yesterday that the location and success of the car park was a matter for the council.

He denied the $5.6 million the government committed was stimulus funding, although Mr Albanese's press release from 2009 said "through the Rudd government's economic stimulus package, we are investing in major projects like this".

The project is listed on the government's Nation Building economic stimulus plan and there is a sign on the car park stating that it is funded as part of the economic stimulus plan. But Mr Albanese's spokesman was adamant: "It's not stimulus money," he said.

With car parking a hot issue in the state election, the Liberal candidate for the seat of Cabramatta, Dai Le, called on the council to immediately allow the Fisher Street car park to become a fully operational free commuter car park.


Cameron is right, and multiculturalism has failed

Some relevant facts from Australia

Andrew Bolt

HOW mad has multiculturalism made us? Dangerously so, when it’s had us financing even an Osama bin Laden fan club.

Let me tell you of this perfect example of all that’s wrong with multiculturalism, a policy to sponsor what divides us.

Then you might understand why the speech British Prime Minister David Cameron gave last week, demanding an end to the great multiculturalism disaster, must be heard here, too.

The Islamic Youth Movement used to meet in Australia’s biggest mosque, the one in Lakemba presided over by Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, for years the Mufti of Australia, despite praising suicide bombers, backing the Hezbollah terrorist group, calling the September 11 attacks “God’s work against oppressors” and saying uncovered Australian girls invited rape.

Among its activities, the IYM published a magazine called Call to Islam, edited by Bilal Khazal.

In it appeared fawning interviews with members of some of the world’s worst terrorist groups, including the one that bombed the World Trade Centre in 1993 and another that killed 58 tourists in Luxor, Egypt.

It even interviewed—and praised—al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, who’d already declared war on the West and was planning his September 11 attacks on the United States.

It also published articles by extremists such as its translator, Keysar Trad, now head of the Islamic Friendship Association, who wrote: “The criminal dregs of white society colonised this country, and now, they only take the select choice of other societies, and the descendants of these criminal dregs tell us that they are better than us.”

Now here’s how our government-funded prophets of multiculturalism and their fellow travellers dealt with this hotbed of imported hate and us-against-them separatism.

Khazal’s youth movement was not punished (at first), but given three government grants. Two were multicultural grants totalling nearly $7000 from the NSW Government, to teach its supporters not English but Arabic.

The other was a federal work-for-the-dole grant to spruce up its office and arrange its library of propaganda.

Yes, true. How perfectly multicultural. Here were our multicultural commissars, so broad-minded, encouraging young Muslim Australians to keep their distance, speak Arabic, loathe their new home and recruit others for their jihad.

So tolerant of us. So insane.

In 2001, SBS, the multicultural broadcaster, filmed him [Hilai] in his mosque praising suicide bombers as “heroes” days before September 11.

Then came the terror attacks, and rather than show Australians proof that the ideology that had just killed 2985 people, including 10 Australians, was shared in at least part by our most prominent Muslim cleric, SBS destroyed the tape.

It would give us the “wrong idea”, it claimed. Which actually means the “right idea”—about Hilali, Islam in Australia and the multicultural project of which SBS is a beneficiary.

It is true that our politicians have quietly rowed back a bit already from the extremes of the multicultural policies they so stupidly inflicted on us.

Even the Gillard Government no longer has a minister for multicultural affairs, rebadging that position as Minister for Citizenship instead. Meanwhile, extremists are more likely to be shunned, and multicultural agencies proclaim loyalty to Australian values, even if they do little to promote them.

It’s taken Muslim immigration to break multiculturalism here as it has in both Britain and Germany, where the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, three months ago declared the policy had “failed, utterly failed”.

Whether I keep wearing my Dutch clogs and eating poffertjes—or wear R. M. Williams and eat pies—is entirely my personal business, and there’s no public benefit in a government grant to make me stay more “Dutch”.

Similarly, it’s no business of, say, the Victorian Government to encourage groups that are marked off along racial, ethnic or religious lines.

Yet watch it go, showering $10 million a year in multicultural grants on the Somaliland Society of Australia, Burmese Muslim Community Association, United Women’s Group of Liberia, Hellenic Writers’ Association, Mexican Social and Cultural Association, and 2000 more of their like.

Our governments’ most fundamental duty is not to keep a community divided into tribes, but to defend the shared values that are our only hope of making a one out of many.

So how about a little more loving for the things that unite us, whether it’s our history, symbols, institutions or traditional values?

More here

11 February, 2011

Hefty bill for Muslim women's privacy at public swimming pool

Why can't the local mosque pay?

RATEPAYERS could be stung up to $45,000 to install curtains at a public pool so Muslim women can have privacy during a female-only exercise classes. The City of Monash has won an exemption from equal opportunity laws to run the sessions outside normal opening hours. The council says the privacy screen is needed for "cultural reasons".

It follows moves by other councils to introduce women-only sessions for the Muslim community, such as Greater Dandenong asking a tribunal to approve a ban on uncovered shoulders and thighs for those attending a family event at a pool.

Special exercise classes for women will be held at the Clayton Community Centre every second Sunday evening after VCAT gave the green light this week.

Ross Buscemi, director of refugee charity group the New Hope Foundation, said his organisation had lobbied for the sessions on behalf of Muslim women, mostly from African countries including Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. Mr Buscemi said the women had sought separate classes for cultural reasons and curtains or blinds were needed to protect their privacy because the centre had glass walls.

"At night, when the lights are on inside, everybody in there can be seen - it's a broader privacy issue, not just for the women," he said. "It's stopping anybody perving on anybody in there really."

But Ratepayers Victoria president Jack Davis said it was disgraceful for councils to subsidise programs that segregated people. "People come to Australia because it's a better place," he said. "So then you should become Australian and abide by the customs of Australia, not change Australia to suit your customs from another country."

Monash councillors accepted that the women couldn't use the pool in normal hours for cultural and religious reasons. They were told the special classes would address issues such as "obesity, social isolation and lack of physical strength".

Monash mayor Greg Male said the council sought funding from the Victorian Multicultural Commission to help meet the $45,000 cost of curtains or blinds for the pool.

Similar women-only programs at public pools are run at Monash University, Dandenong Oasis recreation centre and the Don Tatnell Leisure Centre in Parkdale.


Climate adviser Garnaut misses the point

Henry Ergas

IN his recent report on Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Climate Change Action, Ross Garnaut argues that urgent action to reduce emissions by setting a carbon price would be in Australia's national interests.

To reach this conclusion, the report considers the costs and benefits to Australia of emissions reduction. It should be commended for doing so, as that brings vital discipline to the debate. Yet even accepting the report's account of the science, its assessment overstates the benefits of immediate action and understates its costs and risks.

The difficulties arise even if one assumes that effective international agreement on mitigation is reached, allowing Australia to reap long-term benefits from mitigation efforts. As the report recognises, it would still need to be established that those benefits outweighed costs.

Whether that test is met is affected by how costs, incurred now, and benefits, decades away, are converted into a comparable measure in the present. There are no easy answers as to how this should be done. It is obvious, however, that no one would accept an offer to invest $1 today in a project that would return only $1 70 years from now.

The compelling reason for rejecting that offer is its opportunity cost: were that $1 invested in government bonds, its value in 70 years (assuming, as per Australian experience, inflation-adjusted annual returns of 3.5 per cent) would exceed $11.

As a result, $1 in 70 years is only worth some 9c today: because a sacrifice of merely 9c can secure a riskless claim on $1 in the distant future. And if the relevant alternative yields higher risk-adjusted returns than government bonds, the offer is worth even less.

Future benefits must therefore be discounted in line with returns on alternative investments. Doing so need not involve placing less weight on future generations' welfare than on our own. Even if equal weight were placed on the welfare of all generations, opportunity costs would still be crucial.

Consider mitigation action costing $1 billion today but yielding an environmental benefit valued in 2111 at $50bn. Assume also the $1bn could instead be invested at an expected annual return of 6 per cent. Future generations would not want us to undertake that mitigation, as the alternative would yield over $300bn, compensating them six-fold for the foregone environmental gain. Choosing the mitigation investment would therefore be unethical and irrational.

This is not to deny it can be appropriate to discount long-term net benefits at a lower rate than net benefits next year. For example, future returns may be uncertain: the alternative might yield not 6 per cent but only 2 per cent. If the 6 and 2 per cent outcomes are equally probable, the correct discount rate gets closer to the lower value the further in the future one goes.

But even taking that into account, the report's discount rates are far below opportunity costs, especially if mitigation diverts resources from other investments. The effect is to greatly overstate the value today of mitigation's future benefits.

The report tries to justify this by reference to what it calls a normative approach to the discount rate. But there is nothing particularly normative about ignoring opportunity costs; nor does the report address the many distortions ignoring opportunity costs creates.

Rather, the report suggests that even if higher discount rates were used, mitigation could still be worthwhile if it reduced the likelihood of catastrophic outcomes. True, the possibility of catastrophic outcomes creates a case for insurance. But the question remains whether unilateral mitigation in fact provides that insurance.

This question is especially acute if two points are accepted: first, that it is uncertain whether effective international agreement will be reached; and second, that whether Australia imposes a carbon price may have some impact on prospects for international agreement but that impact is hardly decisive.

A scenario must therefore be considered in which we engage in unilateral mitigation, as the report recommends, but international agreement is not reached, and the catastrophic outcome it fears eventuates.

In that scenario, unilateral mitigation would certainly make us poorer. That is undesirable in itself. Additionally, by impoverishing us, it would diminish the resource pool on which we could draw in responding to the catastrophic outcome and increase the welfare cost of adjustment.

Unilateral mitigation would, in other words, be anti-insurance: it would increase the cost of the very risks the report paints. Faced with that possibility, the report's own logic, of maximising net benefits to Australia taking account of uncertainties, would command a prudent decision-maker not to undertake unilateral mitigation.

This is all the more the case as postponing mitigation allows costs to be avoided, but will have little effect on benefits.

That is obviously true in the scenario in which mitigation is and would remain unilateral, as in that scenario, mitigation cannot yield benefits. However, even in the alternative scenario, in which there is eventual agreement, delay will be worthwhile so long as the costs of mitigation do not increase more rapidly than the return on alternative investments.

Historically, annual returns on capital in Australia have been around 8 per cent real. Given continued rapid progress in low emissions technologies, delay is unlikely to cause Australia's mitigation costs to rise more quickly than that, particularly if the delay is relatively short.

Taking into account these benefits of postponement both in the scenario in which agreement is reached and in that in which it is not, the report's logic would again tell against unilateral action.

The report avoids this conclusion by not modelling costs and benefits in the scenario in which we abate but the world as a whole does not. It ignores that scenario altogether.

This is inconsistent with the risk assessment framework it rightly recommends.

The report's conclusions are therefore not properly made out. Until they are, its calls for immediate unilateral action, with all its costs, remain unconvincing.


Australia's scrap metal navy

Two-Thirds of the Royal Australian Navy fleet could not operate at full capacity at some stage of the first half of last year, putting the force under pressure to scale back its activities around the world.

The parlous state of the navy is revealed in full for the first time by figures that show 38 of the fleet's 54 vessels were at some stage hit by faults, repairs, operational restrictions or crew shortages in the first half of last year.

The navy was further embarrassed last week when it was unable to send any of its three main amphibious support ships - HMAS Tobruk, HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla - to Queensland to assist in recovery efforts after Cyclone Yasi because the ships were either out of action or unseaworthy.

According to the navy's figures, which were provided in response to questions on notice from opposition defence spokesman David Johnston, each of the navy's six Collins-class submarines spent between five and 12 months of the year to last June in dock undergoing repairs or maintenance.

On average, the submarine fleet was seaworthy for only 32 per cent of the year because of faulty diesel engines, broken generators, crew shortages and maintenance. The troubled fleet cost $325 million to sustain during that period.

The navy's surface ships were also hard hit by problems, with eight of its 12-frigate fleet running on "lower levels of operational readiness" as "crewing gaps" affected trials, training and regional engagement in the six months to June last year.

Likewise, its fleet of amphibious, replenishment and hydrographic ships was riddled with problems, ranging from engine and hull defects to shortages of crew.

Senator Johnston said the figures revealed a level of disrepair in the navy that was shocking and unacceptable. "I want to know who is accountable for this multi-billion-dollar mess and how have we come to this," Senator Johnston told The Australian. "Virtually all force element groups are about 70 to 80 per cent laid up through maintenance and are non-operational. Clearly this is not good enough."

Navy chief Russ Crane told The Australian last night that a shortage of trained crews had contributed to lower operational readiness levels for some ships. "We have some pressures in terms of manning," Vice Admiral Crane said.

While navy recruitment had bounced back strongly, there was an imbalance between the numbers of trained and untrained crew, which was limiting the options for the navy. "We have a lot of very young, inexperienced people in the training system," he said. "We need to train our way out of the surge of trainees we have at the moment."

A navy spokesman said the situation was improving with 496 more trained people now than at the same time last year.

Vice Admiral Crane said that, despite the pressures, he saw no immediate need to scale back the tempo of naval operations. "I am comfortable I have sufficient capacity to meet the requirement directed to me by the chief of the defence force," he said.

Navy figures show that all six hydrographic ships were affected in the first half of last year by either defects, crew shortages or upgrades. The navy said eight of its frontline Anzac and FFG frigates had operated "with managed crewing gaps and conducting lower levels of operational readiness activities such as scheduled maintenance, trails activities, training exercises and regional engagement activities".

The amphibious and replenishment fleet had crewing shortfalls, HMAS Tobruk had a hull defect, HMAS Sirius an engine defect and HMAS Kanimbla had unexpected maintenance delays.

Vice Admiral Crane said the availability of submarines and submarine crews had improved in the seven months since the 2009-10 financial year and that the navy would be creating a fourth submarine crew that would ease pressure further.


Must not mention that falafel is popular in the Middle East, apparently

McGuire is an influential figure in Australian radio, TV and sport

Eddie McGuire has been accused of peddling "disgusting" stereotypes over a jibe he made about Sydney's western suburbs during his breakfast show.

McGuire, who is president of Collingwood AFL club, was taunting Greater Western Sydney Giants coach Kevin Sheedy when he dismissed the ethnically diverse part of the city as "land of the falafel".

He said any recruits signing to the Giants would soon get tired of living there. "I've just a put a team together of your 17-year-olds who'll be sick of living up in the land of the falafel in western Sydney playing in front of a 12,000-seat stadium that's still not put up," McGuire said.

The jibe, although meant jest, has angered listeners. Mazhar Hadid, a councillor for the Sydney west suburb of Liverpool, described the comment as "completely inappropriate".

"Eddie McGuire is supposed to be a very respectable person but this comment is just insulting to the residents of the western suburbs," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

An official from Greater Western Sydney Giants said the comment was "disgusting" and sent the wrong message.

Kevin Dunn, an academic at University of Western Sydney and expert on racism in Australia, said: "It's a flippant remark and a silly stereotype. It just betrays an ignorance.”


High cost of the Australian Federal Left's weak-kneed immigration policy

The cost of Labor's border protection policy has blown out by $480 million as a stretched Immigration Department struggles to cope with a record 6000 detainees. Taxpayers are forking out tens of millions of dollars in extra staff and to bolster patrol boat operations in northern waters, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Customs has also been forced to employ an extra 37 full-time staff to cope with the influx of asylum seekers who are mainly from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The blow-out - which the Coalition claims could more than double in the next 12 months - follows last year's record arrival of 134 boats carrying 6535 asylum seekers.

It comes amid reports the first funeral will be held shortly following December's Christmas Island tragedy that killed up to 40 asylum seekers.

The high costs of processing people fleeing their homeland was highlighted with an additional $290 million outlay for the immigration agency, announced yesterday. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said this reflected "a rise in the estimated number of asylum seekers requiring processing in 2010-11, the extra time to be spent in detention as a consequence of [last year's] High Court decision, and the increasing number of people found not to be genuine refugees".

Another $190 million will be spent on building two new detention centres, including the new facility at Inverbrackie in the Adelaide Hills.

"As a result of the Government's failed border protection policies, more boats are coming, more people are in detention in record numbers and people are staying longer in detention." Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said.

Mr Morrison said the Government will now spend more than $760 million on people arriving illegally in Australia in 2010-11, compared with less than $100 million annually when the Howard Government left office in 2007. "The total budget blow-out since Labor started rolling back the strong border protection regime they inherited is now more than $1.4 billion and counting," he said.

Documents obtained through FOI show the number of patrol days involving Customs and border protection vessels has grown from 3092 in 2008 to 3529 last year. An extra 23 marine crew have been hired since August 2008, when the Labor Government abolished temporary protection visas - a decision the Coalition claims has contributed to the record arrivals.

"We do not apologise for requiring asylum seekers to undergo the required health and security checks before being released from detention," Mr Bowen said. "We will not apologise for providing alternative accommodation for vulnerable families and children, rather than the high-security detention centres and the barbed wire solutions of the Howard Government."


10 February, 2011

God I hate this deliberate dishonesty about blacks

Gillard has actually made a great leap forward below in recognizing that Aborigines have a responsibility towards themselves. The usual Leftist propaganda is that it is all whitey's fault.

But the failure to recognize that Aborigines are born different is still poisoning the well. The poor old boongs CAN'T behave as whites do. It's not in them. They have neither the motivation nor the abilities. The way they live makes perfect sense to them even if whites throw their hands up in horror over it.

Aborigines have their own remarkable abilities and attitudes but they are not ours. They deserve respect for what they are but they will never be us. They are brilliantly adapted to their original lifestyle with observational and other abilities that can only make us gasp -- and it is no fault of theirs that we have radically changed their environment into something to which they are not well suited.

And the description of the pleasant young woman below as "indigenous" is just a slap in the face to real Aborigines. She is quite clearly about as indigenous as I am, even though she may have a small degree of Aboriginal ancestry. What sort of a message is it sending to real blacks when such a person is held up as an ideal to them? An ideal that they CANNOT aspire to?

I could say a lot more but I know I am already pissing into the wind. Abos are in general friendly, sociable and very polite people. Let them run their own race!

Jasmine Miller

Julia Gillard has appealed to indigenous Australians to change their behaviour to reach a position of equality with white Australians on a range of measures, declaring it will be extremely difficult to close the life-expectancy gap by the target year of 2031 with current progress.

Presenting the third annual Closing the Gap report to parliament yesterday, the Prime Minister said there was no chance the target would be met sooner and she would use the government's Closing the Gap initiative as a "call for changes in behaviour".

"A call to every person, to every family, to every community: to take care of your children; to take a job when you find one; to create a safe environment; to send your kids to school, pay your rent, save up for a home; to respect good social norms and to respect the law; and to reach out to other Australians," Ms Gillard said. "If I speak strongly, it is because I have listened to indigenous people who do these things already. People like Chris Sarra . . . people like Noel Pearson."

The report details progress in six target areas set down by the Rudd government in 2007 to reduce disadvantage in health, education and employment.

Improvements in immunisation and access to healthcare have meant the target to halve infant mortality rates by 2018 were on track, the report said.

Another target -- providing education to four-year-olds in all remote communities -- could be met within five years. There has also been improvement in three other targets -- halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children by 2018; halving the gap for indigenous students in Year 12 attainment rates by 2020; and halving the gap in employment outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians by 2018 -- but more needs to be done.

Eighteen-year-old Jasmine Miller, who was raised by her grandparents in Ceduna on the west coast of South Australia, was one indigenous student who finished Year 12 last year after gaining a scholarship.

This year she will be a full-time tutor at a school in Alice Springs and next year she will start a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of South Australia to become a primary school teacher. "Being raised in a small town, I want to give back," she said of her decision to work as a teacher.

Kevin Richardson, the principal of the high school Ms Miller attended, Immanuel College, said he had high expectations for all of the college's students. "We do not engage in what could be called the 'racism of low expectations'," he said.

The Prime Minister said the final target -- closing the life-expectancy gap by 2031 -- was the hardest of all to meet. "That means the life expectancy of indigenous men will need to increase by over 20 years and the life expectancy of indigenous women will need to increase by over 16 years by 2031," Ms Gillard said. "This is a 30-year target. No one thinks it can be achieved sooner. Indeed, it will be extremely challenging."

Indigenous Northern Territory independent MP Alison Anderson said she doubted the government would meet its goals to close the gap with its current policy settings.

"I think they are still heading down the same road with separate policies for indigenous people under a different banner, and if they stick to this they will never close the gap," she said. "I think it's absolutely pathetic. There are no real job opportunities in remote communities. This is just to tick the boxes of the bureaucracy."

Tony Abbott called for statistics on achievements in health, education and work to be published monthly and new targets to be set for indigenous communities, including 100 per cent school and work attendance to be met within 12 months.

The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples co-chairman Sam Jeffries said there needed to be a broader effort to close the disadvantage gap. "The congress will also explore the idea of state and territory governments following the federal government's lead and also make annual responses to the work they are doing to close the gap," Mr Jeffries said.

Close the Gap Campaign co-chairman and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda welcomed the government's agreement to begin developing a long-term national plan to close the gap in indigenous life expectancy by 2030.


Greenie forest management behind fires again

A local council at the centre of Perth's bushfire disaster has admitted it implemented a strict "no controlled burning" policy for more than a decade over large tracts of managed bushland that fuelled Sunday's devastating firestorm.

As police last night charged an off-duty police officer with starting the blaze by using an angle grinder during a total fire ban, the City of Armadale - deemed one of the state's most fire-prone local government areas - confirmed the heavily vegetated Lloyd Hughes Park had been subject to the strict ban since at least February 7, 2000, when the current management plan was adopted by the council.

With public anger also growing over the reliability of early warning systems and the general handling of the emergency by various authorities, the final tally of destroyed homes has been put at 72.

Late yesterday, Robert James Stevens, 56, was charged by summons under the WA Bushfires Act with carrying out an activity in the open air that causes or is likely to cause a fire. Mr Stevens, who is on leave, faces fines up to $25,000 or 12 months jail, and will appear in court on March 15.

There were fears for his safety after he went missing following the revelation that an off-duty policeman had started the devastating blaze accidentally.

But Mr Stevens reportedly contacted police today and was questioned by officers before being charged, PerthNow reports.
Yesterday, the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) said it was powerless to impose its 8 per cent burning targets on parks controlled by councils or private landholders, whose awareness of fire risks was "highly variable".

DEC fire services manager Murray Carter defended the organisation's management of Banyowla Regional Park which also went up in flames, adding that fire-risk management was difficult when responsibility fell to multiple authorities and individuals with differing views.


Useless health regulators

If people knew they were on their own they might be more cautious -- but they have the illusion of being protected by government regulation

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is calling for submissions as to how it can improve its transparency. Which is not before time, given that a recent spot check of 400 so-called alternative medicine products found that nine out of 10 breached TGA regulations.

I decided to put my own two bobs' worth in. In the interests of transparency, I reproduce an edited version of my own submission to the review here. It's not as good as the more detailed submissions from Choice magazine and the Consumers Health Forum of Australia, but I found writing it to be, well, therapeutic. I wrote:
At the moment the TGA appears to operate as a rubber stamp for health fraud. It beggars belief that the "Aust L" "self-assessment" system allows people to sell untested products for medicinal use without having to provide so much as a jot of evidence for their efficacy.

The fact that a recent spot check found that 90 per cent of so-called complementary and alternative medicine products do not comply with regulations shows that the system is broken.

To help with transparency:

* All "Aust L" listed products should carry a warning box stating something to the effect of "The makers of this product have shown zero evidence that this product works for any disease or condition or that it can improve your general health or wellbeing."
Products that are known to be scientifically implausible should be labelled as such. The labelling should explain that scientific implausibility doesn't mean that "it works but we don't know how"; that it means "it can't possibly work as claimed unless much of our accumulated knowledge of physics, chemistry and physiology is completely wrong".

* The complaints process should not be so completely opaque. Some weeks ago I used the TGA's online complaints submission to submit a complaint (about the sale of colloidal silver for human consumption and the treatment of serious diseases in what seems a clear breach of the Therapeutic Goods Act). When I called to check up on the complaint a week later I was told it had never arrived so I had to re-submit it by email. Complaints submitted online should get a receipt number, like you do when you pay a bill online.

* People who make complaints should be informed of the result of the investigation - if indeed any investigation takes place. I have no idea whether my complaint will be investigated, and I get the impression that I will never find out unless I keep hassling people to check up on it.

* The TGA should be issuing a hell of a lot more advisories. The list of advisories is very short and threadbare. For instance, there is only one mention of homeopathic "immunisations" - a warning from 2002 not to use homeopathic "vaccines" for meningococcal disease. There is no warning about homeopaths selling useless "immunisations" for other diseases (including whooping cough, a serious respiratory infection that has been killing Australian children again in recent years). Also, there are no warnings about colloidal silver, ear candling and countless other things on which Australians are wasting their money and risking their health every day.

* There should be real consequences for breaching the Act. As long as the manufacturers and retailers of alternative nostrums feel free to scoff at the TGA they will continue to put people's health at risk.

What do you think? Do you think the TGA should do more to tell consumers that there is no evidence to support many of the remedies being sold in pharmacies, supermarkets and health-food stores? Do you think people who want to sell alternative remedies should have to prove that they work before they can be approved for sale? Submissions to the TGA review close tomorrow, by the way.


Overwhelming load of new red tape for universities

NEW reporting requirements under the federal government's $500 million program to boost participation among the disadvantaged have been criticised for lacking evaluative rigour while creating excessive red tape.

The government's proposed reporting guidelines under the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program were released for discussion last week but left many equity executives reeling at the level of detail required, without there being an effective process for evaluating whether outreach programs were working. Under HEPPP, the government has allocated $505m from 2010-13 towards boosting the participation of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

The bulk of the funding, about $379m, is being paid as a loading for low-SES undergraduate enrolments. The balance, $126m, is for outreach partnerships between universities, schools, governments and community groups. Much of this will be allocated by competitive grants.

The Group of Eight was among those planning to propose a series of changes to the program. Concerns include that reporting on the use of so-called partnership funding appeared to focus on just counting numbers of students involved in outreach activities rather than the depth or effectiveness of programs.

"It is accountability for accountability's sake. They are asking for an enormous amount of detail without a depth of analysis or evaluation," director of student equity at the Australian National University Deborah Tranter said, adding that the usefulness of the proposed reporting requirements was "highly questionable".

"There are no requirements for an objective, independent evaluation process," said Ms Tranter, who is also co-convener of the Equal Opportunity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia.

"A process of evaluation and reporting that is academically valid and rigorous, and is practical, is what is needed," she said.

A group of independent experts could be established to devise such a process. It could include student and parent surveys and the tracking of students' decision-making once they leave school.

Ms Tranter said without such evaluation universities might fail to learn from each other about what works and what doesn't.

There is also concern that the program could be vulnerable to being shut down by future governments if it can't prove it is working. The Cameron government in Britain has discontinued Aimhigher, a similar program.

Pro vice-chancellor (social inclusion) at Monash University Sue Willis said using a quantitative rather than qualitative approach to evaluation would encourage universities to spread their money too thinly, effectively exchanging coverage for effectiveness.

"Spreading it thinly won't do the job. It may look fair but it will be spuriously fair," Professor Willis said.

Professor Willis, who is also convener of the Go8's Social Inclusion Strategy Group, said the department appeared to be open to feedback.

Director of equity at Queensland University of Technology Mary Kelly said the government should hold universities accountable for their spending under the program, but she wanted to see "less focus on operational detail and more focus on quality, depth and impact of program activities".

She said universities should be asked to outline a medium-term evaluation strategy.

"After this initial collection of reports there should be a national conversation on what it means, whether there is room for a national approach to impact tracking, how we will share good practice with each other," she said.


9 February, 2011

Tackle 'extreme Islam before it's too late', conservatives warn

AUSTRALIA risks becoming a nation of "ethnic enclaves" that unknowingly buys livestock slaughtered "in the name of Allah", senior Liberal MPs have warned.

Opening up a new political faultline, former immigration minister Kevin Andrews lashed out at political leaders who failed to speak out on the rise of extreme Islam, claiming the silence contributes to the rise of One Nation-type movements.

Another Liberal frontbencher, Mitch Fifield, warned of the danger of "parallel societies" developing as has occurred in Europe where hardline Muslim groups preached sharia law rather than Western values.

Amid a robust debate in Europe over failed "state multiculturalism", Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi warned Australia must avoid the mistakes of nations that allowed religious fanatics to prosper "before it is too late".

The Government and the Greens dismissed the fears, saying the nation should focus on the "positive" aspects of its diverse ethnic heritage.

"There is a risk (of enclaves) in Australia," Mr Andrews told the Herald Sun. "What actually concerns me the most is that we can't have a discussion about it."

Senator Bernardi warned of a growing "cultural divide" in Australia as hardline followers of Islam turned their backs on mainstream values.

He cited the advent of Muslim-only toilets at a Melbourne university and the halal method of meat slaughter as cultural practices that must be opposed. "I, for one, don't want to eat meat butchered in the name of an ideology that is mired in sixth century brutality and is anathema to my own values," he said.

Senator Fifield, the Coalition's spokesman on disability, said he agreed with former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett that Australians needed to guard against rising ethnic hatred. "Australians certainly revel in diversity and embrace different cultures but they expect everyone to integrate and sign up to mainstream values," he said.

But Labor's parliamentary secretary on immigration, Kate Lundy, dismissed these concerns. "The Australian community is uniquely diverse and we have a proud record of successfully leveraging the benefits of migration," she said.

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young called on MPs to focus on positive aspects of our ethnic mix.


"Stick a pin in a map" government planning

It's only taxpayers' money! Super clinic sites chosen without any study of need for them

LABOR faces fresh charges of pork-barrelling after conceding it decided to establish 28 taxpayer-funded GP super clinics without assessing existing medical services in the chosen locations.

In an admission that lends weight to opposition claims that the $650 million scheme has been used to benefit marginal seats, federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has revealed her department did not do any research on GP services before she chose the sites.

Her concession yesterday sparked opposition outrage and came as the Australian Medical Association's Queensland branch revealed Ms Roxon's proposal for two GP super clinics on the Gold and Sunshine coasts would serve areas that already had high levels of doctors per head of population.

Tony Abbott continued his attack on the health rollout, announcing plans to redirect $10m from the super-clinic program to flood relief for Queensland to avoid the need for a $1.8 billion flood levy.

The continuing controversy over super clinics came as senior Labor ministers backed Julia Gillard's flexibility over a new public hospital funding deal with the states ahead of Monday's meeting of the Council of Australian Governments in Canberra.

Several MPs and ministers told The Australian that the Prime Minister was right to leave open the possibility of significant change to a health deal brokered with the states last year by Kevin Rudd to break through opposition by non-Labor states. They said Ms Gillard's declaration on Monday that her key aim was improvements to patient care indicated a flexibility that should assure voters she was focused on results, not processes.

Ms Roxon yesterday strongly defended Mr Rudd's deal and warned that any backflip on health reform at COAG would be dangerous and "put the entire federation at risk".

During the 2007 election campaign, Mr Rudd proposed to spend $280m building super clinics to provide bulk-billed GP services as well as a range of other services, including diagnostics, specialist suites and pharmacies.

As the projects were rolled out, the opposition complained that the clinics were being placed in marginal electorates for Labor's political convenience.

And GPs practising near some of the clinics complained they were losing business to super clinics and could not compete because of the taxpayer subsidies.

A second round of GP super clinics costing $370m were promised in last year's election.

In a response to a question on notice from opposition primary healthcare spokesman Andrew Southcott, Ms Roxon revealed: "The Department of Health and Ageing did not undertake an analysis of existing primary healthcare providers."

Dr Southcott, a doctor, seized on the response as proof the program was "more about the political health of Labor candidates in a tight election" than the real health needs of local communities.

"The location of the GP super clinics was no doubt selected in consultation with the national secretary of the ALP rather than the secretary of the Health Department," Dr Southcott said.

Queensland Australian Medical Association president Gino Pecoraro said the Sunshine Coast had one GP for every 865 people, the highest ratio in Queensland, while the Gold Coast had one GP for every 1011 people, the state's third-highest ratio.

"Tully Hospital has lost its roof in Cyclone Yasi and Ipswich and Toowoomba has damaged health services," Dr Pecoraro said. "Here's $22m quarantined for GP infrastructure on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. Why not use it where it's needed?"

Ms Roxon defended the clinics yesterday, using a speech to declare the program a success. "The program is already making a huge difference in many communities where it has been difficult to get doctors, and/or where there is high population growth," she told the Australian Health Care Reform Alliance in Canberra

"The opposition should be ashamed for wanting to rip apart this program, when it is delivering much-needed health infrastructure to communities around the country," Ms Roxon later told The Australian.

The minister said GP super clinics were being built in areas of need or where they could help relieve pressure on local hospitals.

The Sunshine Coast community faced a range of health pressures, including rapid population growth and a high proportion of children and elderly people.

The Gold Coast GP super clinic would help to meet the health needs of a rapidly growing population, high proportion of people with chronic disease, high proportion of Aborigines, children and the aged, and a hospital under pressure, she said.

Government sources said yesterday Ms Gillard wanted to deliver the key proposed outcomes of the Rudd reform package and was prepared to make concessions to secure agreement.


Gillard's paler shade of Green

THE Gillard government's $1.5 billion slashing of green schemes is a turning point in Labor's political maturity; it signals a re-think about green programs, a scepticism about "feel good" environmental gestures and a tougher line on industry protection disguised as clean energy.

The spending cuts send several messages: Labor is serious about bringing a new realism to its green programs; Gillard is betting the house on the main game of getting a carbon price and beating Tony Abbott on this front; as PM Gillard has less interest than Kevin Rudd in industry intervention policy; and the savings signal a leadership team ready to make more cuts to underwrite the 2012-13 budget surplus goal. Gillard was blunt: "Some of these [green] policies are less efficient than a carbon price and will no longer be necessary." Yes, that means a new direction.

The biggest saving is $429 million across the forward estimates from killing the Cleaner Car Rebate Scheme, known as cash for clunkers. To call this scheme a shocker is too polite. Announced last July, Gillard pledged a $2000 rebate for owners of pre-1995 cars who purchased a new, low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicle, hoping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one million tonnes.

In short, spending more than $400m to reduce emissions by one million tonnes would cost taxpayers more than $400 a tonne, about 40 times the initially proposed carbon price a tonne under Labor's emission trading scheme. It was an idea so bad it could not survive, yet testimony to what politicians will do under green mania. Gillard is sensible to put it behind her.

The next main green saving is $234m across the forward estimates and $401m over the program life from winding up the Green Car Innovation Fund. This was Rudd's baby and his dream. It was part of his new car plan with Rudd telling parliament on World Environment Day, 2008: "We do not just want a green car; we want a green car industry."

For Rudd, it began as a $500m fusion to retain automotive industry jobs and meet the climate change challenge. The industry was to match the government's contribution on a three-to-one dollar basis. Climate change action would become a core task for manufacturing industry. In the end it was a huge $1.3bn fund bid up by Rudd and administered by Industry Minister Kim Carr.

The industry entered into commitments but would have preferred more of the funds as direct support rather than under the "green car" banner.

Gillard's winding up of the fund defies both the car industry and the trade unions. It will be cheered in the Treasury and Productivity Commission. In August 2008 Productivity Commission chairman, Gary Banks, attacked Rudd's initiative, in effect, as a fraud. He said the fund "would be unlikely to yield significant innovation or greenhouse benefits if it were all allocated on a similar basis to the first $35 million instalment."

This was a reference to Rudd's Tokyo announcement to subsidise Toyota on the hybrid Camry out of Altona in Melbourne. Critically, Banks said an effective ETS should render "many pre-existing emission-reduction schemes redundant." Guess what? Gillard has started to accept this argument.

The car industry chiefs from Toyota, Holden and Ford wrote to Gillard on Monday evening accusing Labor of broken commitments. But Labor's power centre has moved from Rudd to Gillard. Have no doubt, this reflects a sharp Gillard-Rudd difference on both industry and climate change that could become more significant down the track. Head of the Chamber of Automotive Industries, Andrew McKellar, says abolition of the fund is an "unwelcome surprise" and accuses public servants of misleading their ministers on the issue. But the mood within cabinet at this decision was for a discipline not apparent during the Rudd era.

The Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, another ambitious Rudd idea, loses $55m over the forward estimates but stays alive with strong ongoing funds. Another theme behind the savings is practicality, witness $500m saved across the forward estimates (though much of this is available later) by cutting back on support for large solar projects and carbon capture and storage projects.

The conclusion is manifest: the value here is not yet available. One cabinet minister said: "What's more important: helping rebuild after the floods or backing a solar hot water rebate?" Such decisions reflect the "cleaning up" strategy already being implemented by Climate Change Minister Greg Combet and his parliamentary secretary, Mark Dreyfus.

Last April Combet announced the termination of the $2.4bn home insulation scheme debacle. Under Combet and Dreyfus both the green loans and green start schemes (offering energy assessments to households) are terminated at a saving of $129m. This followed the Auditor-General's September 2010 report that the green start program could not be implemented without acceptable control of risks.

In short, the failure of multiple green schemes since Labor came to power in 2007 constitutes a stunning story of public administration and policy failure.

Senior ministers say the principles guiding future green policy must be the allocative efficiency of markets, attention to equity and proper service delivery. But the big play is pricing carbon. No final decisions are taken but Combet's December 17 speech gave the critical clues. Labor is looking at a fixed carbon price in the short-term evolving into an ETS with a market price down the track with more ambitious targets decided not at the start but only at this transition point.


NBN to cost 24 times South Korea's faster network, says research body

The Labor party's NBN is like some sort of vampire that nothing can kill

THE National Broadband Network will cost taxpayers 24 times as much as South Korea's but deliver just one tenth the speed, according to one of the world's most respected economic research organisations.

A paper released by the Economist Intelligence Unit today criticises Labor's broadband network on a range of fronts. The report assesses the plans of 40 countries to enable high speed broadband development, assessing the target speeds, rollout time frame, cost and regulatory provisions to deliver a final ranking.

The research body marks Australia down in its government broadband index because of "the huge cost to the public sector" of the NBN. It also loses points due to limited private-sector involvement, high government intervention and the exclusion of state and municipal authorities from the plan.

The report highlights the disparity between the cost of the network - estimated at 7.6 per cent of annual government revenue - and the cost of the South Korean network, which is estimated at less than one per cent.

The report does score the NBN highly for having a target speed of 100 megabits per second, but it says Sweden, Finland, Estonia and France have all set similar targets with much lower costs.

Opposition Communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull seized on the study's findings.

"Now the Economist Intelligence Unit joins the long list of expert observers, both international and local, who are utterly dismayed by the reckless spending of the Gillard Government on the NBN," Mr Turnbull said. "The study confirms, yet again, that this NBN project should be the subject of a rigorous cost-benefit analysis by the Productivity Commission."

Australia scores 3.4 out of five on the index, trailing South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, France, Spain and Denmark, but it ranks the NBN ahead of broadband plans in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.


Copt this!

By Michael Danby

On New Years Eve this year, Egypt’s Christians celebrated the coming of the New Year. As they began to leave the Saints Church in East Alexandria, Cairo, a large explosion went off. 22 men, women and children were killed, and 98 people severely injuring, a Jihadist suicide bomb ripped through the Alexandria’s premier Coptic Church

The Copts represents 10% of the 80 million people in Egypt, and are the largest Christian community remaining in the Middle East. They are a link to ancient Egypt, as their Coptic language is the last remnant of the language of the hieroglyphs. Their culture and traditions pre-date Islam. The attack was not isolated, and came after months of escalating violence against the Copts in Egypt.

Many of the victims of this atrocity attack have relatives here in Australia, where the Coptic Community is 80,000 strong. Violence against the Copts in the Middle East has had consequences here too. On Coptic Christmas (7th January) four churches in Sydney were listed amongst 64 worldwide as targets by Al Qaeda.

Like many Australian Jewish religious sites, they too were forced into intensive private and government security lockdown

The attack on the Coptic Church in Egypt, and the subsequent protests that followed the bombings were some of the first public signs that the Mubarak regime was losing control. This of course all predates the current upsurge against Mubarak.

No amount of Grecian 2000 hair dye can hide the fact that Egypt’s tyrant, Hosni Mubarak, is in his mid 80’s. Prior to the demonstrations against Mubarak, I argued in News Ltd online publication The Punch, that in the campaign against the Copts, coupled with the blatantly rigged parliamentary elections, meant the end of Hosni Mubarak’s scheme to install his son Gamal, laughably known as ‘Gary’, will not happen. Game over with that one.

Egypt’s security chief, Omar Solmain, now installed as Vice president may be able to perpetuate the relatively secularist Egyptian regime. It is possible that the army backed, pro-Western regime will collapse. Despite the identical parrot calls of Fairfax’s McGeough, Koutsoukis and Fisk, there is much doubt about whether the Muslim Brotherhood or even an ostensible secularist like Mohamed El Baredei would run Egypt any better.

ASPI’s Carl Ungerer was right to point out that an election that brings the brotherhood to power may be the last election Egypt has.

The dramatic attacks on the Coptic Christians in Egypt, had an immediate effect in Australia involving the Al Qaeda listing of four local Coptic churches. Surprisingly, back around New Year, none of our Australian, Jerusalem-based reporters ventured to Alexandria or Egypt over that period. They are all in Cairo now, but this news lapse wasn’t just an Australian phenomena. Jeffrey Goldberg writing in the Atlantic Monthly, noted what he thought was ”the lackadaisical coverage of the most important story coming out of the Middle East now.” It’s easier to report from the comfort of Jerusalem’s coffee shops or sound off about the dreadful Israeli’s with Palestine confederates at the cosy American Colony hotel.

Goldberg was right to see the wider murderous anti-Christian campaign in Egypt and Iraq, indeed as a phenomenon throughout the Middle East. Just last October, Al Qaeda boasted of its slaughter in a Baghdad church. There Jihadists murdered 58 men, women and children in church, including priests praying at the altar; 80% of Iraqi Christians have fled the country targeted particularly by Al Qaeda of Iraq.

Christians are under siege from Islamist in the Palestinian territories. Only in Lebanon where the disgraceful Christian warlord General Aoun is in alliance with Hezbollah is there a brief reprieve for Nasrerllah’s benighted Christian collaborator . With his assistance, Iran via Hezbollah been able to install their proxy, Najib Mikati, as Prime Minister of Lebanon.

Counter intuitively to the perverse BBC/Guardian/Fairfax worldview about the Middle East, only Israel has seen the number of Christians increase from 34,000 in 1948 to 151,700 (according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics Report of 2010). Where is World Vision, Care or the Uniting Church, off on the same tangent with Israel-obsessed radicals of the Middle East Council of Christians?

In contrast, Pope Benedict insisted that: “Government’s do more to protect religious minorities.” Mubarak’s maladroit response was to withdraw the Egyptian Ambassador to the Vatican. Pope Benedict argued “Words are not enough in confronting religious intolerance, there must be a concrete and constant effort by the world’s nations”. US President Obama and French President Sarkozy also specifically denounced the anti-Coptic violence. There were questions about whether Australia had spoken out loudly enough. Although a delegation of senior Labor politicians led by Federal Minister Martin Ferguson, in which I participated, had a very useful meeting with the Coptic Bishop and most of Melbourne’Coptic Ministers.

Waheed Ra'fat, one of the managing editors of Mubarak’s NDP’s Al-Watani Al-Yom publication, with the usual diversionary and delusional , reacted to the attack on the Copts as follows.

"Mossad is the accused because it stands to benefit most from distracting Egypt's attention from what is going to happen in South Sudan on January 9]. .. The Mossad has a strategy of instigating fitna [civil war, disagreement and division within Islam.

Just as local Egyptian writer Mona Eltahawy writes: “Meanwhile, the uprisings are curing the Arab world of its obsession with Israel. Successive Arab dictators have tried to keep discontent at bay by distracting people with the Israeli-Arab Conflict.”

She obviously had in mind the Governor of Sinai who said Egyptian officials believed that a fatal shark attack in one of their resorts could have been a “plot” by the Mossad. And remember Saudi authorities arrested “a Zionist vulture” last month, in reality a bird tagged in a Haifa University bird migration experiment.

Peter Day, writing in the Australian Spectator, noted the violence against Egypt’s Christians meant its fate was on the line.

“Hani Shukrallah, an independent journalist and former editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, writes in the paper that an Egypt free of its ancient Christian Coptic minority is for the first time not beyond his imagining. He hopes to be dead before that: ‘This will be an Egypt which I do not recognise and to which I have no desire to belong’.”

Sadly we need to be aware that the Middle East faces something wider even then the fate of Egypt. It is another aspect of Al Qaeda Jihadist war- the systematic attempt to drive Christianity out of the Middle East. This organised attack on Middle East Christians is but a part of the Salafist war waged against the world. It is fought by their many satellites and franchises from the Algerian “Salafist front of the Combat and Call”, to “Jemah Islamiya” in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Home grown Jihadists are what we in Australia have to fear the most. Fortunately for Australia, our security agencies and laws have so far foiled all attempts of terror attacks on mainland Australia. Even if all Jewish and Coptic sites in Australia have to remain highly guarded, it may be necessary so Australia continues to avoid mass causality attacks.


8 February, 2011

Prominent conservative politician wants Australian way of life for all

Australians must be vigilant about the threat from ethnic hatreds, and migrants should accept our way of life, says former premier Jeff Kennett.

As Europe debates whether multiculturalism has failed, Mr Kennett said Victoria had avoided the sort of "shocking experiences" in places like Britain, but there was no room for complacency. "You do have to make sure that you don't allow the issues of countries overseas to become imported here," he said. "People make the choice to come to Australia and have to accept our way of life."

Mr Kennett was responding to controversial comments by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who at the weekend dubbed multiculturalism a failure in the UK and linked it to the rise of Islamic extremism. "Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream," Mr Cameron said.

Mr Kennett said society should be vigilant about growing ethnic enclaves, but the trend in Melbourne was for migrant groups to spread out as they grew richer.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the PM emphatically supported multicultural policies and did not believe they had failed in Australia. Asked if Mr Cameron's speech was inflammatory and likely to cause division, the spokesman said: "The United Kingdom's policy decisions are a matter for the United Kingdom."

But John Roskam, head of the free-market think tank The Institute of Public Affairs, said Mr Cameron's stance was a warning to Western societies to promote their culture. "They have to communicate their values," he said. "People who become citizens of a country have to sign up for those values."

Melbourne's Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart said multiculturalism had succeeded but a big challenge was to ensure people respected each other's right to practise their religion and "be as they are".

Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president Ikebal Patel said Mr Cameron's attack on multiculturalism was simplistic and trivialised the policy.


Leaders are right to confront failures of multiculturalism

British Prime Minister David Cameron is no redneck member of the lunar right. On social issues, his positions tend to be liberal, in the traditional sense of the term. This makes Cameron's speech on radicalisation and Islamic extremism at the Munich Security Conference at the weekend of particular note.

When in opposition, the Conservatives were at times critical of Blair Labour's anti-terrorism legislation. But it seems that in government the Conservatives - now in coalition with the Liberal Democrats - have taken a tough-minded approach to extremism. Cameron has followed German Chancellor Angela Merkel in distancing himself from multiculturalism.

I used to be a strong supporter of multiculturalism and, at times, was critical of John Howard's apparent disdain for the concept. However, on reflection, I am coming to the view that some of Howard's critique was essentially correct and that Cameron and Merkel are saying what needs to be said in Europe.

The concept of multiculturalism worked well enough, provided it was understood that all groups within Western societies supported the system of democratic government and the rule of law that applied equally to all citizens. For the most part, this was the reality of Australian multiculturalism throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

The problem is that, particularly in western Europe, the rise of radical Islam has led to a situation where a small minority of Islamists reject the West while choosing to live within Western societies, where they enjoy economic, political and religious freedoms along with health and social security benefits.

Last October Merkel addressed the youth wing of the Democratic Christian Union at Potsdam. There has been no official release of her speech, but there is no disputing the content. Her message was simple - namely, that what the Germans call "multikulti" has not worked.

Multikulti - meaning that anyone who wanted to come to Germany could do so and that everyone living there could get on with each other - was advocated by the Greens in the 1980s and '90s and enjoyed support from the Social Democrats.

This was an example of leftist utopianism. It led to a situation where little attempt was made to inculcate new settlers with any sense of national pride or patriotism.

Merkel was also critical of German policy in the 1960s, when there was a belief that all guest workers who came to Germany would return to their countries of birth after a few years. This did not happen with the Turks. From the late 1960s Australia began taking Turkish migrants on the understanding they would become Australian citizens. The Turks proved to be successful settlers; in Germany, on the other hand, little attempt has been made to integrate Muslim immigrants into German society.

Merkel recognises German society has a right to expect those who choose to live in it will learn German and adapt to the mores of the German state. She is reported to be critical of forced marriages within some Muslim families.

Germany continues to seek - and attract - immigrants and remains an accepting society in which no radical right-wing movements have emerged, unlike some other western European nations. But Merkel has come to the view that multiculturalism, as practised in Germany, has failed. Thilo Sarrazin, the former governor of the Bundesbank who happens to be a Social Democrat, has reached a similar, if more stridently expressed, opinion.

The British Prime Minister and the German Chancellor do not agree on some issues. Yet both are pragmatic politicians who have reached their assessments on multiculturalism as a result of empirical investigation.

In his address at the weekend, Cameron clearly distinguished between Islamic extremism and Islam; his target is the former, not the latter. He criticised what he terms the "soft left" who "lump all Muslims together, compiling a list of grievances, and argue if only governments addressed these grievances, the terrorism would stop". He pointed out that "many of those found guilty of terrorist offences in the UK and elsewhere have been graduates and often middle class".

Cameron believes that the ''doctrine of state multiculturalism" has led to a weakening of Britain's collective identity. He advocates less "passive tolerance" and a "much more active, muscular liberalism". Like Merkel, he wants to "confront the horrors of forced marriage", the victims of which are girls and young women. And he wants Britain to promote "freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality". He also proclaims the need for immigrants to speak the language of their new home.

The policy matters addressed by the leaders of Germany and Britain have already been covered by Christopher Caldwell in Reflections on the Revolution in Europe and Peter Berman in The Flight of the Intellectuals. Caldwell recognises that "Islam is a magnificent religion" but makes the point that "it is in no sense Europe's religion and it is in no sense Europe's culture". Berman is critical of well-regarded intellectuals such as Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash who have criticised the Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose life has been threatened due to her apostasy and her public campaign against Islamist extremism.

Traditionally immigrants have accepted the societies where they have willingly sought to live. This is no longer always the case, with calls for the imposition of sharia and the like.

Cameron and Merkel are correct in criticising multiculturalism and what it has become in western Europe - namely, a focus on what divides democratic societies. In Australia and the US, multiculturalism has not had such a negative effect. But it is reasonable to assume that it might do so one day unless we adopt a muscular approach to the affirmation of democratic rights.


Homosexuals to be immunized against anal cancer?

The immunisation program that protects girls against the virus linked to cervical cancer should immediately be extended to boys to prevent other cancers, a leading epidemiologist says.

Vaccinating boys against the human papillomavirus (HPV) would help stem a drastic rise in some cancers, particularly among homosexual men, said Andrew Grulich, the head of the epidemiology and prevention program at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research at the University of NSW.

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee will consider next month an application to provide the Gardasil vaccine free to boys.

About 90 per cent of all anal squamous cell carcinomas are caused by infection with HPV. But an unwillingness to discuss the disease had led to a lack of awareness and research, said Professor Grulich, the senior investigator on the project.

Anal cancer had increased by about 3.4 per cent annually in men and 1.9 per cent in women since 1982, according to the study published in the journal Vaccine.

Unpublished research by Professor Grulich and his team indicated that in some inner-city suburbs the rate of anal cancer was up to 30 times higher than in the general population.

He said the federal government should immediately include boys in its free HPV vaccination program. "But we do have to recognise that even if we do that, just as it is for women, it could be 20 to 40 years before the maximum benefit is obtained," he said.

He was developing a screening program to detect the early signs of problems caused by HPV.

Anal cancer linked to HPV infection occurred most commonly among women, many of whom said they did not have anal sex, Professor Grulich said.


Victoria's desalination bungle deepens

DOZENS of shattered farmers plan to sue the contractor behind Victoria's desalination plant after crops were wiped out by floods.

Pakenham farmers claim their properties were flooded because of inaction by project contractor Thiess, which had been warned about the potential for serious flooding. They claim they lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of crops, machinery and property.

Documents seen by the Herald Sun reveal concerns were raised last September after the construction of a pipeline through Pakenham's McDonalds Drain was completed.

Koo Wee Rup flood protection advisory committee member Charlie Huyskens said the work destroyed a levee that protected farmers on one side of the drain. But Thiess hadn't restored the 100m protective bank, he said.

Class action specialist Slater & Gordon confirmed yesterday it would meet affected farmers on Friday. Up to 100 people were expected to attend.

Mr Huyskens raised his concerns at a meeting with Melbourne Water representatives in September. "I told them, you can't just remove a levee from a drain and not replace it, because if we get heavy rain we are going to flood," Mr Huyskens said. "Looking back, I'm sorry I was right, because now we're all suffering."

Mr Huyskens said a project engineer phoned him to discuss the levee replacement. "He didn't tell me why they wouldn't replace it but he said if and when the time came they would monitor its water levels. Well it's too late now," he said. Workers tried to build a temporary levee on Saturday morning after the drain had already flooded.

Mr Huyskens, a retired farmer, said the deluge had destroyed thousands of hectares of crops.

Turf farmer Steve Cole said he would be out of business for weeks after he lost more than two thirds of his farms. He said it meant there was little work for his 20 staff but that he would find a way to continue to pay wages. "Floods are floods... but when you suffer because of someone else's negligence it's hard to swallow," Mr Cole said.

Water Minister Peter Walsh confirmed the Government was investigating the flooding of six houses under the assumption the levee bank had not been reinstated to its full height.


7 February, 2011

Green tape makes the poor poorer

An extreme illustration of what a shortage of building land leads to can be seen in the house pictured below. It is a former workman's cottage in an inner Western suburb of Sydney, is infested by termites, has no floor and is uninhabitable. It has just sold for $800,000

According to English humourist Auberon Waugh, the urge to pass new laws must be seen as an illness, not much different from the urge to bite old women.

Perhaps Julia Gillard recognised this in abandoning the cash-for-clunkers scheme. Designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this was to give new car buyers a $2000 rebate to scrap pre-1995 cars.

Premature scrapping of serviceable older cars creates a used-car shortage, and this raises the prices of used cars that are mainly bought by younger and poorer people. Giving cash for clunkers would have allowed politically powerful people to parade a phony environmental sensitivity while getting others to pay the cost.

It is not the only example of such hypocrisy. Self-selected political elites also use environmental concerns to prevent housing developments. Even though urban land comprises only 0.5 per cent of Victoria, and even less for Australia as a whole, regulations restrict city growth.

This creates housing land shortages, increases the cost of land for housing and inflates new house costs.

People without their own homes lose out. But existing homeowners benefit from increased house prices and can therefore have much to gain from supporting planning restraints in the name of environmentalism.

Last week, the think-tank Demographia released price data for detached housing in 325 housing markets in seven countries. Prices in Melbourne and the rest of Australia were, except for land-starved Hong Kong, the highest among the countries examined.

The analysis showed that to buy the average Australian house in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth required 7.1 years of the average household's income (nine years for Melbourne). For comparable US cities, it is 3.3 years, and in Britain, where houses are smaller, 5.1 years. For the sample of 82 world cities with populations over one million, Melbourne's house prices are the 79th highest (Sydney's are 81st).

Demographia demonstrated that government planning restraints creating a scarcity of housing land were the overwhelming cause of Australia's high prices.

Self-proclaimed housing experts have denied that high housing prices in Australia result from our planning and regulatory system. Some have said high prices in Australian capital cities are seen in all seaside cities. Yet house prices in US coastal cities like Houston and Tampa are a third of Melbourne's. Inland Bendigo's house prices are actually double those of Houston, the world's space research centre.

Some said high Australian house prices stem from low interest rates making them more affordable. Yet interest rates are far lower in Britain, the US and Canada, but houses are cheaper.

Others blamed high house prices on demand pressures from immigration. But low house prices in cities like Houston, Dallas and Atlanta are accompanied by far higher immigration levels than in Australian cities.

The Demographia analysis shows the high Australian house costs are overwhelmingly caused by the high costs of land. For a block on the Melbourne outskirts planning regulations, on my reckoning, add $80,000 to the cost of a new house.

Government intrusion in our lives reduces overall prosperity and often the poor face particularly adverse impacts.


Some babies' brains damaged by mothballs

So they want to ban a very common and very effective household precaution. Why do we all have to suffer for the benefit of a few? Should not the at-risk groups be responsible for avoiding whatever is harmful to them? And whatever the do-gooders suggest in place of napthalene will undoubtedly be found to be also problematical eventually (as with trans fats). I'm going to stock up on mothballs. I have been using them to good effect for decades

EXPERTS have called for a ban on the sale of mothballs containing the chemical naphthalene, warning that they pose a risk of severe blood problems and even brain damage for significant numbers of Australian babies.

About 5 per cent of Australians of Asian, African, Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent have an inherited enzyme deficiency, and affected babies can suffer blood-cell breakdown if placed too close to fabrics stored with naphthalene mothballs.

In severe cases this causes jaundice and the yellow pigment linked to jaundice, called bilirubin, can build up in the brain. This causes a condition called kernicterus, triggering neurological problems and sometimes brain damage, The Australian reports.

Australians of predominantly Anglo-Saxon or indigenous background are less commonly affected, but naphthalene can also cause red cell breakdown in those without the G6PD deficiency.

In a letter to the Medical Journal of Australia published today, three pediatric experts from Sydney and one from Christchurch say at least three babies suffered from the brain complications in the past three years. One of them died.

William Tarnow-Mordi, director of the Westmead International Network for Neonatal Education and Research at the University of Sydney, said affected babies could develop massive breakdown of their red blood cells within hours of being wrapped in clothing stored with mothballs containing naphthalene.

"The lifetime costs of caring for a baby with kernicterus are many millions of dollars," Professor Tarnow-Mordi said.

The European Union banned the supply of naphthalene products in 2008, and Professor Tarnow-Mordi said he and other experts were working with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to see whether similar action should be taken in Australia.

"Health authorities in Australia already inform parents about the dangers of mothballs with naphthalene. Without further measures, more babies could sustain brain damage or die," he said. "A total ban on mothballs with naphthalene may now be the safest course."


Health professionals stymied by bungling bureaucracy

HUNDREDS of health professionals have been stuck in limbo after a bureaucratic bungle stripped them of registration and insurance. Some Queensland medicos have been banned from working for weeks because of delays and paperwork disputes with the new national registration system.

Dentists and psychologists in Queensland, and physiotherapists and nurses in Victoria and NSW, who have been caught up in the drama, have been Warned by Medicare to stop bulk-billing.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, the [Leftist brainchild] new independent national registration body that began in July, was yesterday still scrambling to fast-track applications.

AHPRA said it had no choice but to strike off medicos for failing to renew their registration but some health professionals across Australia say they were never issued the paperwork and their phone calls and emails went unanswered for days.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon and state Health Minister Paul Lucas told The Sunday Mail they were taking the matter seriously, but federal Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton said the “shambolic” system needed immediate fixing.

Brisbane psychologist Hayley Webster, a doctor for nine years, was told by Medicare on January I8 to immediately stop bulk-billing because she had been deregistered. Dr Webster, who now cannot legally practise, said: “Every day, I’ve got to ring up seven or eight clients and tell them about the mix-up and I have to cancel.”

She said she never received paperwork with a log-in and password to allow her to renew her registration. AHPRA on Friday increased the operating hours of its call centre and has published on its website the fast-track application form.

The above report appeared in the Brisbane "Courier Mail" on Feb. 6

Yet another government computer bungle

Have they ever heard of beta testing?

THOUSANDS of shooters are furious they can't get firearm permits because of problems with a $6 million computer system introduced by the State Government to "streamline" processing.

Queensland Police Service implemented the Weapons Licensing Management System in late November with a switch to an online service expected to save $7.5 million in staff "efficiencies" over five years.

After more than two months, shooters and dealers said it was still not working. Delays have led to staff lay-offs and now threaten to send businesses to the wall. The state's largest firearm dealer, the Qld Gun Exchange in East Brisbane, has 800 customers waiting for permits and more than $800,000 worth of stock in limbo.

"Customers can't collect their guns unless they have a permit and we can't get paid until they collect their guns," owner Dave Augur told The Courier-Mail. "We have had to put off seven of our 24 staff and things are looking pretty grim."

Mr Augur said Permit to Acquire applications for those in the system and seeking extra firearms used to take two weeks to gain approval. This had blown out to months.

More than 100,000 firearms are registered to Queensland sporting shooters, hunters, professional shooters, farmers and security companies.

Shooters Union of Queensland president Graham Park said firearm owners were angry they had been hit with a 150 per cent fee rise and told changes would improve the process. "We were initially very supportive," Mr Park said. "But they have taken our money and not delivered on their promise of greater efficiency. This backlog is unacceptable."

Mr Park said the old process of collecting an application from police and faxing or mailing it to the Weapons Licensing Branch usually got a result in about a week. Now, it could take two months "if you were lucky".

QPS admitted there had been teething problems with "data migration" and additional staff had been assigned to "catch-up". A spokeswoman said there were about 4000 Permit to Acquire applications to be processed.

"Extra staff and extended work hours are being implemented to reduce the delays and to have applications processed as quickly as possible," she said. "It is anticipated that the applications will be within standard tolerances by March."


6 February, 2011

Milk Fascists

Why can't the do-gooders let people take their own risks if they want to? I drank raw milk for a time in my childhood with no visible ill-effects. It did taste better. Most of us kids got TB from it but hardly noticed. We were all healthy country kids so it was just another childhood illness akin to flu which came and quickly went -- leaving us immunized against TB for the rest of our lives. The milk was a very pleasant vaccine.

Dairy inspection standards are now however much stricter than the negligible ones of my far-off childhood so any infection these days is a tiny risk -- and we all take risks

The thirst for raw milk straight from the cow's udder has created a clandestine market among consumers who say it is healthier and tastes better. However, food authorities are determined to stamp out what they say is a highly dangerous and illegal practice.

Peter Melov, of Bondi, was recently fined $53,000 for selling raw milk and raw-milk products through a now-defunct organisation, Global Sov. The products were sold online and at an organic food market in Bondi Junction. "Everyone was coming in asking us for raw milk, and a few shops in Bondi had it, so I thought 'I'll just sell it'," Mr Melov said.

Selling unpasteurised milk and cheese for human consumption is illegal, but it is available to buy under names like "bath milk" in certain health-food shops and markets. The Sun-Herald understands some raw-milk aficionados have exploited this apparent loophole, buying "bath milk" for drinking. Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan said companies selling raw-milk products were putting lives at risk. "There is sound scientific evidence pointing to the risks associated with consuming raw milk," he said.

Mr Melov, who was found guilty in Downing Centre Local Court of 43 breaches of the Food Act, said he had received no complaints from customers, and the NSW Food Authority had not warned him that he was doing anything wrong. He would not risk selling raw milk again, he said. "It was like we had been dealing drugs. "If we had just got a phone call, we would have complied completely with the Food Authority."

Medical microbiologist Dr Vitali Sintchenko, of Westmead Hospital, said there were sound reasons why selling raw milk was banned. "There are potential pathogens and toxins present in raw milk that can be life-threatening," he said.

Cheesemaker Will Studd has advocated changes to the legislation banning raw milk. "If we have such a healthy dairy industry, what is everybody so concerned about?" he asked. "Why aren't consumers allowed to enjoy milk in its natural state?" With the right regulation, there would not be any alarm about consuming raw milk and its products, he argued.

Fellow cheesemaker Franck Beaurain does not think it is necessary to relax existing regulations. "I really believe you can do a good job with pasteurised milk. I can't say it [raw milk] tastes better than pasteurised."


Melbourne council flies "gay pride" flag instead of Australian flag

ST KILDA'S council is fending off flak over its decision to hoist a gay pride flag in place of the Australian flag. There are three flagpoles on most of the council’s town halls, but this week, while it kept flying the local and the national Aboriginal flags, the Australian flag was taken down. “The gay pride flag replaces the Australian flag, which is at the highest mast head,” City of Port Phillip mayor Rachel Powning confirmed this morning.

In a feisty interview with 3AW’s Neil Mitchell program today, the mayor denied suggestions it was degrading the Australian flag. “It doesn’t reflect in any way a view by council that does not think the Australian flag is an important national symbol,” she said. But not everyone agrees, with the council accused of pandering to minority groups by flying the gay community flag above other town halls.

Port Phillip Council's move to give the rainbow flag priority in the lead up to Sunday's Pride March in St Kilda has sparked outrage. RSL state president Maj Gen David McLachlan said councils should realise that they represent all Australians and not one particular community group.

“Whether people are heterosexual or homosexual or alternate they are Australians and the primacy of the flag in protocol is the Australian flag and that should be flown before all other flags," he said.

British Australian Community president Barrie Hunt said the move was insulting to the majority of Australians especially as two indigenous flags had been allowed to keep flying. “I can't see why they can't leave the Australian flag up," he said. “Take down the indigenous flags and put up the gay pride ones and the Australian flag. What's wrong with that?"

But Port Phillip Mayor Rachel Powning said the only protocol issue was that no flag could be raised above the Australian flag. “So what we do is take down the Australian flag temporarily prior to the Pride March and raise the rainbow flag," she said. “The important thing is that we always have the Australian flag on display in the council chamber which is the most important area in any town hall."

Cr Powning questioned why the flag issue was only raised when the council honoured the gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex and transgender communities. “It makes me wonder why people raise the issue at this time because we replace the Australian flag on United Nations Day, Sorry Day and Naidoc (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week," she said.

Cr Powning confirmed that the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag were still flying in the lead up to the Pride March. “We think this is a very important event to support,” she said.

She said the council was following its own protocol on the issue, which allowed the Australian flag to be taken down in exceptional circumstances. “The protocol states that the Australian flag will be flown from the highest pole on every day of the year from all of our town halls, with the exception of a number of events including … pride march.”

A similar exception applied to United Nations day, Sorry Day and NAIDOC week, she said, although the policy was silent on how long those flags could be flown instead of the Australian flag. “Many of our residents are in fact gay people. And what we’re doing is sending a message to our residents that diversity is very important to the City of Port Phillip.”

She said the Australian flag continued to be unfurled in the council chamber.

The Pride March, held from noon this Sunday, February 6, from Fitzroy St to the Catani Gardens aims to support the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.


Greenie ideology hurts kids

Air conditioning causes global warming so must be stopped, you see

PARENTS from hundreds of schools have resorted to paying for basic resources such as airconditioning, even while the federal government's Building the Education Revolution has spent millions on new "green" classrooms with only natural ventilation.

As temperatures reached 42.2 degrees in Sydney yesterday – and after a record run of extremely hot days – the NSW Parents and Citizens' Associations said families were commonly being asked to fund cooling that should be publicly funded.

"It is a serious health and safety issue," said NSW Primary Principals Association president Jim Cooper. He said more buses and trains had airconditioning than classrooms, but children and teachers had to endure six hours in the heat, not half an hour. "The bottom line is it's very difficult to concentrate and focus when you're in a room with a temperature of 35 degrees-plus."

But parents were asked not only to buy the airconditioners but to fund their maintenance and contribute to the power bills, said Sharryn Brownlee of the Central Coast P&C.

Only 30 per cent of public schools have air-conditioning provided by the Department of Education. Just 20 per cent of new classrooms built under the BER have air-conditioning systems. The Department of Education only provides airconditioning in heat zones with a mean January average temperature of above 30 degrees.

But the NSW Teachers Federation president, Bob Lipscombe, said airconditioners should be installed in all classrooms. "It’s extraordinary in this day and age, when just about every public building and every private building requires airconditioning, that classrooms do not get it as a matter of course," Mr Lipscombe said. "The Department is being unreasonable to expect teachers to work in temperatures in the high 30s."

The NSW P&C president Helen Walton said: "It’s not just heaters and airconditioners. We are talking about raising money for everything from providing boxes of tissues in classrooms to paying for extra staff. That’s completely unacceptable." Her association estimates several hundred schools have self-funded airconditioning over the past few years across NSW.

Mr Cooper, from the Principals Association, said funds raised by parents contributed to the purchase of six new airconditioners at his school in Albion Park, near Wollongong. "It was a lot of money for us but it was regarded as a high priority for the children," he said.

Berowra Public School, in Sydney’s north, and Havenlee Public School, near Nowra, have both raised thousands of dollars to put towards airconditioning. A survey by the Australian Education Union found 92 per cent of NSW schools had engaged in fundraising in the past year. "The [schools] which are most affected are the ones which sit just outside the designated heat areas and aren’t eligible for air conditioning despite having very high temperatures throughout summer," Mr Cooper said.

Mosquitoes in the state’s north meant "teachers can’t leave the doors and windows open for ventilation so conditions just become stifling".

Classrooms designed under the BER use passive temperature control techniques such as insulation and natural ventilation.


Responsible management of "stimulus" funds 'may have prevented flood levy'

Mismanagement of the government's controversial school halls program has resulted in $2.6 billion of taxpayer-funded waste that could have struck out the need for a temporary flood levy, says the federal opposition.

Speaking in a Senate hearing yesterday, Liberal frontbencher Brett Mason said cost data for the Building the Education Revolution scheme showed billions could have been saved if state-run projects had been completed as efficiently as those done by independent or Catholic education authorities.

"Based on the taskforce's own data, if the state governments in NSW, Victoria and Queensland were as efficient in achieving the same price per square metre as the independent school authorities in these three states, the taxpayers would have saved as much as $2.6bn," Senator Mason said.

"If they were as efficient as the Catholic authorities, the saving could have been around $1.5bn and now, because she has wasted so many billions of dollars, Ms Gillard is forced to slap people with another tax."

Queensland, NSW and Victoria account for roughly 70 per cent of school hall projects under the BER scheme, with 19 per cent of the 23,714 total projects nationwide yet to be completed. Cost per square metre was about 50 per cent greater in state schools than independent ones and about 30 per cent greater in Catholic schools.

The Gillard government has announced a $1.8bn flood levy, budget cuts and project deferrals to pay for flood reconstruction.

Head of the BER implementation taskforce Brad Orgill, who fronted the Senate hearing yesterday, did not dispute the figures but put the disparities down to "good and bad systemic differences". These included access to a school board and greater parental involvement between independent, Catholic and state-run schools.

"I suspect the differences between the government's ability to produce value for money as opposed to Catholic or independent schools goes to the fundamental differences between the three authorities," he said. "I stand absolutely by the data . . . but there are systemic differences . . . which I think are important."


5 February, 2011

Limits on advertising dangerous for democracy

By Andrew Norton

Earlier this week, the Australian Electoral Commission released figures on political expenditure for 2009–10. Australia’s miners reported spending $22 million on their campaign against the mining super-profits tax. In 2007–08, the union movement spent a record $28 million on their fight against WorkChoices. Both the miners and the unions succeeded in getting policies altered.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday, columnist Peter Hartcher concurred with a 2007 Liberal Party view that spending on this scale is a ‘dangerous development for democracy.’ He feared that interest groups could veto policy, making it harder to implement needed reforms. Views of course differ on the merits of the mining tax and WorkChoices. But if governments launch major policy attacks on sections of Australian society, it can hardly be dangerous for democracy if their targets respond noisily and forcefully. This is what democracy is all about – differing views being expressed, with the public ultimately deciding who is most persuasive.

The real dangerous developments for democracy are the various attempts by governments to curb these protests. New South Wales has already imposed a state election campaign spending limit of just over $1 million for groups not standing for office. The Queensland government proposes an even more restrictive $500,000 for its state election campaigns. A promised federal review of election laws will almost certainly canvas similar political expenditure controls. Governments are protecting themselves from their critics.

What could be left uncapped is government propaganda. The AEC’s disclosure system does not apply to government, and so misses our biggest source of political advertising. Labor budgeted nearly $40 million for a campaign in favour of the mining tax, and the Coalition spent an estimated $55 million of taxpayers’ money promoting WorkChoices. Restricting non-government spending without controlling government advertising would further imbalance the political system in favour of the state.

It’s pretty obvious why political parties want to nobble their opponents. But I cannot understand why political expenditure laws get so little criticism from everyone else.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 4 Feb. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Australia’s familiar past

By Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich

Magic happens in old books. The thoughts and observations of writers long deceased come alive at the turn of yellowed pages. Deciphering antique fonts, touching dried-out leather covers and smelling aged paper, there is no more sensual bridge to the past.

It is surprising, however, how much of this magic still sparkles even in an electronic copy. Thanks to the digitalisation of the world’s great libraries, little treasures are now available at a mouse-click from your home computer.

A Swiss newspaper recently asked me to write an essay on the cultural relationship between Australia and the Old World. During my research, I stumbled on this book about Australia on Google Books. Written by an obscure German author and published in Leipzig in 1870, it got me hooked after the first few pages. The excitement was not so much because the book had opened a window into Australia’s history. It was rather because the past sounded so much like the present.

The author reports almost breathlessly about Australia’s remarkable economic achievements of the previous decades. The country is in the grip of a commodity boom, although the term for it at the time was ‘gold rush.’ Australia’s bustling cities are growing fast and are described as world class by the German visitor.

It is fascinating what the writer has to say about Melbourne in the last 1860s. Though only really established some 30 years earlier, the city already shows many of the landmarks of today’s Melbourne. The main newspapers are called The Herald and The Age; the State Library and Parliament House had just opened; and there was Chinatown in Little Bourke Street.

The Australians in the book come across as practical, hard-working and civic-minded. After the catastrophic floods in the Nepean district in 1867, Sydneysiders donated large amounts of money to help with the reconstruction. Apparently, the event was followed by a long discussion about building dams to prevent any such events in the future. At least Australians of the time escaped an extra tax to pay for them.

A dip into Australia’s history, seen through the eyes of a foreigner, is revealing. The pragmatism and egalitarianism so closely associated with Australia today are certainly not an invention of our times. Australia has obviously changed over the past 140 years, but perhaps not quite as much as we think.

As for the magic that is happening on yellowed pages, I couldn’t resist ordering a physical copy of the book from an antiquarian dealer.

Fortunately, some things have changed since the book was published: I won’t have to wait three months for it to arrive from Europe.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 4 Feb. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Gillard dumps Rudds health reform

JULIA Gillard is preparing to dump Kevin Rudd's plan to make the Commonwealth the dominant funder of hospitals, favouring an alternative model so unpopular among states that any hope of reaching a national health reform agreement appears lost.

After 12 months of wrangling with the states and the signing of a historic health funding agreement in Canberra last year, the Federal Government is developing a new model to deliver its funding directly to hospitals, and without the states receiving promised funds for expenditure growth and capital works, The Weekend Australian reports.

In an attempt to finalise the new health funding agreement before the meeting of state and federal leaders in Canberra on February 14, the Federal Government has put forward a tough new proposal from Treasury and Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The aggressive action threatens to cost states that do not agree $15 billion in new funding with almost $5bn slated for NSW, $3.8bn for Victoria and $1.7bn for Western Australia.

Ms Gillard's new position was relayed to state officials by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Terry Moran at Melbourne's Sarti Restaurant and Bar on Thursday night. Somewhat pointedly, it happened without the involvement of Department of Health head Jane Halton.

Mr Moran reportedly said the Prime Minister's position was not negotiable - something the states took as a sign Ms Gillard was adopting a "crash or crash through" attitude - and would be outlined in a commonwealth paper at the next Council Of Australian Governments meeting on February 14.

While interpretations of the Gillard model differ, several state government sources told The Weekend Australian there would no longer be any clawback of the GST - a key sticking point for Victoria and Western Australia - but, in return, the Commonwealth would revert to its original position of funding only 40 per cent of the health system.

Mr Rudd - after initially threatening to take over state-run hospitals if he could not achieve reform - struck a deal that would have made the Commonwealth the dominant funder, taking 60 per cent responsibility, including future growth, in exchange for roughly 30 per cent of the states' GST payments.

Furthermore, the Commonwealth contribution would no longer go into state pools to be distributed to hospital networks, but directly to the planned hospital networks themselves, perhaps from a national pool or via a Medicare mechanism, which has previously been questioned by Western Australia.

Last night, sources in one state said the Gillard model was "about a finance grab, not about health reforms", while others remained unsure of the detail and whether Mr Moran was acting with the imprimatur of the Prime Minister.

Ms Gillard would not comment, Mr Moran could not be contacted, and Health Minister Nicola Roxon's office would only say that the negotiations, which some described as fast-moving, and ever-changing, would continue ahead of COAG.


Corporate advertisers insist on rigid political correctness

Christopher Pearson

GRAHAM Young is the founding editor of a well-regarded e-journal called On Line Opinion, and is a regular contributor to The Australian. I'd describe him as belonging in the centre of the political spectrum, perhaps tending to mild conservatism.

In December he published a piece arguing the case against gay marriage by the pro-family campaigner, Bill Muehlenberg, and then a series of spirited exchanges on the merits of the argument. It was not the first article he'd run on the subject ; that honour had gone to Rodney Croome, a gay activist. Nor were most of the essays run opposed to gay marriage.

Young commented on the blog in mid-December. "The On Line Opinion approach is one that many find difficult to accept, and we are currently under attack from a number of gay activists because we dared to publish [Muehlenberg's essay] which is mostly a pastiche of comments by gay activists, even though the majority of articles I can find on the site support gay marriage. And by attack I mean attempting to intimidate me, sponsors or advertisers. How ironic . . . when we are sponsoring the Human Rights Awards."

When I spoke to him on Wednesday, Young said it wasn't the first time advertisers had made life hard. A group called Ethical Investments had objected after their ads sometimes appeared on pages alongside articles questioning anthropogenic global warming.

On account of the Muehlenberg piece, Young told me two major advertisers had just pulled out: the ANZ Bank and IBM. Comparing this year's January gross ad sales with last year's, he calculated that revenue from his main category of advertising had fallen by 96 per cent. Young is worried that these bizarre decisions will adversely affect other websites as well as his own and could even lead to some of them closing down.

Courts might construe that as the result of an indiscriminate secondary boycott, in contravention of the Trade Practices Act.

That's because Young and a group of other political sites have formed a network called The Domain, to bundle up their readers as a more attractive package for advertisers. The sites are very diverse in terms of ideology, from the ultra-leftist John Passant, to the more mainstream centre-Left Larvatus Prodeo, Club Troppo, Andrew Bartlett, skepticlawyer and the likes of Henry Thornton and Jennifer Marohasy.

Obviously I don't agree with much of what some of them say and the tone of some is more virulent than you'd find in the letters page of The Australian. But clearly they have a right to exist and issues of principle are at stake here that go to the freedom of political debate in this country and the character of our civilisation.

I share the view most editors and journalists once took for granted. Almost any rational argument, no matter how abhorrent, deserves a run.

Aside from advocating terrorism, the only exceptions that come to mind are pieces casting doubts on the existence of the Holocaust and apologias for legalising sex with children or animals.

If anyone is proposing to compromise the freedom of political debate on Australian blogs, it shouldn't happen without a full debate and, like most people, I'd rather it weren't big corporations making the decisions.

So I approached the public relations people at IBM and the ANZ Bank, to find out whether the decision to punish an article against gay marriage by withdrawing their ads was corporate policy.

It seemed inherently unlikely that those organisations would want to express a view either way on such a contentious social issue, let alone in doing so to make decisions that put the survival of other, independent political blogs with a range of positions on the issue in some degree of jeopardy.

It also occurred to me that the sums were small enough - thousands of dollars a month, rather than tens of thousands - so that the decisions might have been taken at one remove, perhaps by the delegated authority of an advertising agency which might be trying to exercise some "soft pink power". In 20-odd years as a magazine editor, I sometimes encountered that sort of malarky.

The initial responses from the PR people in both corporations was that it was news to them and they'd get back to me before my deadline. The ANZ's Stephen Ries replied first. "ANZ does not advertise on any opinion-type websites that may cause offence or segregate any individuals or group. In this instance our advertising was placed through an automatic advertising placement service and once we were alerted to the content we removed our advertising.

"The removal of our advertising should not be viewed as a violation of free speech; it's simply that we choose not to advertise on blogs that do not align to our organisational values."

Oh, brave new world! Apparently anything less than uncritical endorsement of gay marriage no longer aligns with the ANZ's organisational values. What's more, the loss of ad revenue to all the blogs in the Domain network, irrespective of each site's stance on the issue, is neither here nor there and has nothing to do with their freedom of speech.

It's also worth noting that despite the blanket assurances of not advertising on opinion websites, the ANZ was advertising on [Leftist] New Matilda on Friday.

IBM's Matt Mollett's reply was more gnomic. "To optimise reach with its target audiences, IBM continuously reviews and refines its advertising strategy based on a range of considerations, including demographics and content."

Young suspects that the peg on which to hang the internal decision to withdraw advertising within both organisations was a code developed by IASH, the Internet Advertising Sales Houses, which he declined to sign.

The code is a triumph of political correctness gone mad, and badly needs rewriting. Schedule C provides that IASH Australia members "are forbidden to place advertising on sites containing barred content - in other words, any of the inventory defined below - in any circumstances. Content articulating views intended or reasonably likely to cause or incite hatred of any race, religion, creed, class or ethnic group. Content articulating views calculated to cause offence to or incite hatred of any individual or group."

The last sentence is the loopiest in the schedule. It forbids anything that might offend anyone. This would neuter not just contentious articles but the free flow of comment on them that gives blogs their character. As Young says, this section threatens any Australian discussion site. "No newspaper could sign up to this and have discussion threads that were anything other than anodyne."

Apart from making hay with the issue of free speech, I expect the other blogs will kick up a huge fuss, online and in court, about being incidental victims of a secondary boycott. Skepticlawyer blog's Helen Dale, with expertise at the bar and a gift for self-promotion, should have a field day.


Victoria's Education Minister Martin Dixon launches new bid to restore order in classrooms

TEACHERS will seize back control of their classrooms from unruly students under a bid to restore discipline in Victorian schools. The new Baillieu Government will next week push for new laws allowing principals to search students, lockers and school bags for weapons and other dangerous items.

Education Minister Martin Dixon also wants to reverse students' declining respect for authority. He wants to put a stop to bad language, sloppy dress and mobile phones in class.

It follows a surge in schoolyard violence, with Victorian schools now reporting more than 12 assaults every week. Over the past decade, the number of students aged 10-14 committing violent acts has jumped by 80 per cent. "Put simply, violent behaviour in the school yard will not be tolerated," said Mr Dixon, a former principal with 15 years' experience.

"These new powers will ensure principals and teachers have clear authority to maintain order and safety in schools. "We want to send a strong message that we will protect that authority."

Mr Dixon said restoring respect was his top priority. "There's a growing number of parents that have got a lack of respect for any level of authority, whether it be police or school principals," he said. "(And) there's an increasing use and threat of violence in schools. "Assaults, verbal or physical, on teachers and principals used to be unheard of, but they do occur now. It is an issue. We've got to protect principals from that too."

Under the legislation to be debated in Parliament next week, principals would have the power to order students to open lockers and school bags, and turn out their pockets, to prove they were not carrying weapons. Any potentially dangerous items - including glass bottles, sporting equipment and trade tools - could be confiscated.

The legislation would not permit teachers to conduct body searches, but would legally protect them for handling prohibited items, such as knives or guns, before handing them over to police.

Mr Dixon said he was personally opposed to mobile phones in classrooms, sloppy dressing and swearing in school grounds. But principals would set the rules and penalties in their own schools.

Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh said the move would make schools safer.


4 February, 2011

Latham slams Gillard's childlessness

Latham could have a point, despite the derision below. He is a devoted parent himself and you don't get to be leader of the ALP unless you have a few brains. Character is another matter of course

If we were armchair psychologists, we might think Mark Latham had issues with women. In particular, women in power, and even more in particular, the woman who outraced him in talent and tenacity to become Prime Minister. It's never a good look to follow a trend set by Bill Heffernan, but alas, that is what Latham has done, by relating the Prime Minister's perceived deficiencies directly to her childlessness.

In his latest assault on journalism, the former Labor leader takes issue with Julia Gillard's leadership style, in his column "Latham's Law", published by The Spectator Australia. Reading it is like watching someone have a fit - you wince because you know it's going to get much worse before the ordeal ends. Latham opines that Gillard appeared wooden when interacting with locals after the Queensland floods. He says she is "not a particularly empathetic person - displaying, for instance, noticeable discomfort around infant children".

OK, you think, fair enough, but then he delivers this portent of doom: "The femocrats will not like this statement but I believe it to be true … " And so you brace yourself. "Anyone who chooses a life without children, as Gillard has, cannot have much love in them," he concludes. As opposed to Latham, of course, who is known as a great spreader of love and a favourite of little children.


A Green ivory tower inhabitant

Ian Lowe is President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Professor of Science, Technology and Society and former Head of the School of Science at Griffith University

Prof. Ian Lowe has let the cat out of the bag. He makes a telling statement in arguing for renewable energy instead of nuclear energy in Why vs Why: Nuclear Power, Pantera Press, Sydney, 2010.

He claims that the 2030 energy demand can be met by wind (50%), solar (40%), hydro, tidal, and geothermal (10%). He then states:

“Altogether, the area needed for energy supply would be about 1.3 % of the Earth’s land area.”

Doesn’t sound much, does it? Trouble is, this amounts to almost 200,000 sq. kilometres! To put this in perspective, this amounts to covering every square inch of VICTORIA with renewable energy collectors.

This is bigger than many nation states. And this would be based on putting the best case forward for renewables, so the real amount would be much larger.


Solar power fail in South Australia

Difficult to maintain

A SOLAR power station in the state's Far North has been idle for more than a year. The station has been out of action for four of the past seven years.

The Government-owned $3.7 million power plant at Umuwa, in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, was upgraded in 2008, but was switched off just over a year later because of safety concerns.

Originally built in 2003, it also was shut down in 2005, for three years, before receiving a $1.2 million taxpayer-funded upgrade.

The 715MW hour station was built to cut the community's dependence on diesel and was supposed to save 140,000 litres of diesel and 400 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Opposition MP Steven Marshall, who is a member of the Aboriginal Lands Committee, said the Government needed to fix the problem before "moving on to the next photo opportunity".

"This is an example of complete ineptitude, wrong priorities and tokenism ... combining to leave Aboriginal people at a disadvantage," he said.

Uniting Care Wesley indigenous policy officer Jonathan Nicholls said he had been "frustrated" a request for information on the project's status last year from Aboriginal Affairs Minister Grace Portolesi had been unanswered. "We accept it is difficult to repair and maintain certain things in remote communities, but we are not comfortable with this sweeping things under the carpet," he said.

Ms Portolesi said the plant had been out of action because of "complex issues relating to meteorological conditions," including electrical storms and wind-blown dust. She said maintenance of the plant had been the responsibility of a private company which went into administration about a year ago.


Dam management needs to be weather-savvy

By Andrew Dragun, an adjunct professor at Griffith University and the editor of The International Journal of Water.

With cyclones now queuing to get into Queensland, it is timely that the Premier reminds us that "preparation is our best defence".

Certainly it makes sense to batten down the hatches and move vulnerable people away from potentially dangerous locations. Hopefully, with such proactive initiative, no one will be hurt and with a bit of luck the storms will abate early. Clearly, positive preparation is a good way to manage a potentially catastrophic situation.

While the present spate of cyclones is thankfully sparing already flood-ravaged southeast Queensland, it is the case that the effects of weather over the past six months have been more severe in the southeast than in most of the state. The Bureau of Meteorology confirms that the intense La Nina weather pattern will persist for a few months yet; just because the present cyclone track is a bit further north does not mean the southeast should become complacent.

Unfortunately, we are in the wettest month of the year, February, when there have been twice as many floods in southeast Queensland since 1840 than in January. Heavy weather systems seem to ambush the region from every direction and are compounded by sea surges and king tides.

Being prepared in such uncertain and risky circumstances would seem to be good defence and proactive policy, as Anna Bligh has suggested. The management of Wivenhoe Dam surely fits into this box.

Risk management of a large dam should be a dynamic consideration, so it is important to consider how circumstances have evolved and been managed over the past nine months or so as weather systems and supply levels have changed. This allows us to focus on the main risks confronting dam management at this time.

Wivenhoe Dam reached a low of about 15 per cent in August 2007 during a long dry spell dominated by El Nino-type weather systems. This implies a high risk of running out of water and no risk of flood. Subsequently, after several years where the Southern Oscillation Index was mildly positive for lengths of time, Wivenhoe reached full supply level of 98 per cent in March 2010. Hence there was a low risk of running out of water and a low risk of floods. The dam was, however, maintained at FSL despite advice from the BOM that a very strong La Nina had been established as early as July 2010, which meant there was low risk to water supply and increasing risk of floods. The dam was held at FSL following three minor flood events in October and December 2010, when there was a low risk to supply and a high risk of floods. The dam levels were not reduced in the week before the Brisbane floods, despite public warnings of a heavy rain incident in southeast Queensland from the BOM and an increasingly high risk of floods.

There was no release of water from the dam in the early phase of the flood, leading to the need to dump the 645,000ML on January 11, which may have been the biggest contributor to the flood. This at a time when there was no risk to supply and exceptionally high risk of floods. Following the flood and with the phase of king tides over, there has been no move to reduce water in the dam, even though the threat of further heavy rain has not diminished: that is, there is a low risk to supply and moderate risk of further floods.

Over time it is obvious that the risk of running out of water abated while the risk of flooding increased dramatically. However, the management of the dam has remained the same throughout, despite radically different weather outlook, supply situation in the dam and flood outlook.

Since the dam managers say they have managed by the book, it should come as no surprise to find that the operating manual for the dam does not contain guidance to managing risk, there is no calculus for determining the FSL and there is no methodology for taking into account changing weather.

The flood monitoring and forecasting system at the dam takes account of river and rainfall data collected from a radio telemetry network of 100 field stations within the catchment and predicts scenarios of dam inflow based on forecast and potential rain in the catchments. That is all. Simply put, the operating manual enables the operator to respond to actual changes in the Wivenhoe Dam level according to exact measures of those changes in the prevailing weather incident.

To put this in context, a cyclone heading into Brisbane from the east may be halfway up the Brisbane River before it begins to make an impression on the Wivenhoe catchment, which is then picked up by the radio telemetry. Presumably the forecasts and potential rain then kick in to yield a prediction that the dam might begin to fill. But until the scenario heights get triggered the dam stays shut.

And then it really begins to rain on Brisbane, as it can do. The dam is filling rapidly and big dollops of water need to be released to save the dam. Of course the cyclone is also causing a sea surge and a king tide is running. Unfortunately, the dam release takes about 36 hours to get to Brisbane and out to sea.

And it is too late to be proactive and take precautions with the next Brisbane flood. The dams may be gone and Brisbane could be transported out to Moreton Island.

So why take the risk? At this stage the risk profile of Wivenhoe Dam and the Brisbane region can be summarised as follows. There is a high risk of cyclones, rain and flooding on the Queensland coast for the next couple of months. There is a high risk of being ambushed by heavy weather systems from all directions. There is a high risk of sea surge with coastal cyclones. There is a high risk of king tides after February 17.

There is no risk of drought next week, or even much of one this year. There is no risk of running out of water for about five years, even if there is no rain. All the regions' dams are full to overflowing. The regional grid is operational. An additional capacity of 200,000ML has been added at Hinze, and the new desalination and water recycling infrastructure has been commissioned (to be immediately mothballed).

It looks to be a no-brainer, really. All the risk looks to be on the flood side of the ledger and it is hard to see the value of a few hundred thousand more megalitres of supply water in Wivenhoe at this stage of a dire rainfall-heavy weather cycle

The lack of action in these circumstances is difficult to fathom. It may be that changing operating conditions on the dam now may be considered an admission of error and thus too risky, given the potential for class action suits arising from the January floods.

Preparation is our best defence and a little political leadership to get down Wivenhoe Dam to manageable levels would be a proactive and low-risk step in saving the Brisbane Valley from another devastating flood.


Labor party tax claims deceptive

Julia Gillard is facing a make-or-break year. This is the last year of leeway before the federal budget has to be in surplus. In 2012-13 the Gillard government has to budget for a surplus, and deliver it too.

Gillard gave a rather strange speech to the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia this week. She made all the usual noises: world-class education and Australia's a great nation and so on. She also claimed her government was a low-taxing government and that in 2011-12, this coming fiscal year, commonwealth revenue as a share of gross domestic product would be lower than for every single year of the Howard government era.

While the literal meaning of Gillard's words is true, the meaning of her statements is fundamentally misleading. Treasurer Wayne Swan has been telling anyone who will listen that government revenue has collapsed due to the effects of the global financial crisis. The Rudd-Gillard government has been "low-taxing" because its efforts to be high-taxing have more or less failed; revenue sources dried up during the GFC.

The then Rudd government did promise in its first budget to keep taxation as a share of GDP below the 2007-08 level.

But for the "small" problem of the budget deficit, it looks like the Rudd-Gillard government has met that promise. Budget deficits are deferred taxation - the money will have to be paid back at some point through increased taxation.

The Howard government tended to run budget surpluses, which are either deferred spending or deferred tax cuts. A government that runs a surplus is taxing too much, while a government that runs a deficit is spending too much or, perhaps, taxing too little. Of course Gillard would have us believe the Howard government generally spent too little, although not even Rudd, who famously said, "This reckless spending must stop", thought so at the time.

In order to compare like with like, it is necessary to adjust the revenue figures over time, taking into account over-taxation and under-taxation.

To that end I had a look at commonwealth receipts as a percentage of GDP and subtracted surpluses and added deficits. It quickly became apparent the current and deferred tax burden under the Gillard government in 2011-12 will be higher than in any year during the Howard era. Debt and deficit is being used to claim superior economic management when the increased tax burden has simply been shifted to future years.

Yet Gillard couldn't resist the temptation to pillory the Howard government for excess spending in its last term of office. Indeed it was high, and the Gillard government has committed to a spending cap of about 2 per cent growth. Yet we are invited to believe that the Rudd-Gillard government has been disciplined in its spending.

Over the life of the Howard government spending grew, in real terms as measured by CPI, by 3.54 per cent on average each year. The equivalent figure for the Rudd-Gillard government, including over its forward estimates, is 3.32 per cent. When I look at real spending in non-farm GDP deflator terms, Howard government spending grew only by 2.9 per cent while the Rudd-Gillard government equivalent is 3.3 per cent.

We can't even conclude they're as bad as each other. The Howard-era data is historical; most of the Rudd-Gillard-era data is forecasts. If the Gillard government is as disciplined as it hopes, it will be as bad as the Howard government was. But fiscal discipline has been foreign in Australian public finance for some time.

Why is this year particularly difficult? This coming fiscal year requires the federal government to cut spending in real terms (as measured by CPI). All governments like to decrease the rate of spending and claim that as a budget cut. That won't be enough this time. Tax receipts are more or less at the long-term average while spending is way above the long-term average. A claim that the government is low-taxing is clearly the start of a campaign to butter up the electorate for increased taxes. We have already seen the flood levy, and the carbon tax and a bank super-profit tax are not far behind. These taxes will breach the Rudd government's first budget promise.

Government spending over the past few years has been undisciplined. Rather than being timely, temporary and targeted, the spending has gone on too long and too indiscriminately.

Swan, who foolishly promised that "come hell or high water" the budget would be in surplus in 2012-13, needs to deliver. Given the original promise of a cap on tax receipts, the surplus can only be achieved by spending cuts. We will know on budget night whether he can deliver - anything less than real cuts of about 1.1 per cent of GDP will indicate yet another broken budget promise.


3 February, 2011

Research achievements among Australian universities

Detailed ratings here. As a graduate of the University of Qld., I was pleased to see it ranked third. All three of the universities where I have studied made it into the top 10, in fact. The big surprise was a former technical college (QUT) squeaking into the top 10

Note, however, that there is a large element of subjectivity in the whole exercise

JANUARY 31 was a landmark day for Australian universities. With the release of the first national report of the Excellence in Research for Australia initiative, we have, for the first time, a comprehensive evaluation of our research achievements against those of our global peers.

The picture is impressive. In total, 65 per cent of units were assessed as performing at world standard, including 21 per cent above and 13 per cent well above the rest of the world.

ERA draws together rich information about discipline-specific research activity at each institution, as well as information about each discipline's contribution to the national landscape. It was a huge exercise. ERA took into account the work of 55,000 individuals, collecting data on 333,000 publications and research outputs across 157 disciplines. In all, 2435 areas in 40 institutions were assessed by committees comprised of distinguished Australian and international researchers: that is, those who know the field interpreted the data. The committees had access to detailed metrics and a range of other indicators (including results of more detailed peer review of individual works held in online repositories).

Australia has lagged behind its international counterparts in the implementation of a research evaluation system. South Africa has been evaluating researchers for more than 20 years, the British exercise was first introduced in 1986 and the New Zealand exercise in 2003. Because of a long gestation, we have been able to use an Australian Bureau of Statistics classification system designed for Australasia and learn from problems elsewhere, consulting the best available expertise to assist in the design of the initiative, as well as using the latest advances in information tools and technology.

This has enabled us to deliver the exercise in a cost-effective manner. Compared with international equivalents, ERA should be seen in the context of an annual investment in research in universities of more than $2.5 billion.

So, what does it mean for government? ERA enables the government to assure the public its investment in our universities is producing quality outcomes. Planning for future investment to build on strengths or develop new areas, encourage collaboration and allocate critical research infrastructure will now have a much stronger basis.

For universities? Leaders can also use ERA outcomes for planning and to guide investment. Potential research students and staff will be able to make informed choices about the best places to go, with the strength of the area, not just reputation or geography in mind. Business will also be able to find the universities with the best of the expertise they need.

ERA 2010 shows the strong research areas in Australian universities include astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, electrical engineering, history, and health and medical science (including cardiovascular medicine, human movement and sports science, immunology, oncology and pharmacology). These complement areas such as marine and climate science, food science and agriculture, where the lead is taken by our science agencies such as the CSIRO.

There is a strong correlation between excellence and areas that have won competitive research funding. The strength of medical science is not surprising, given these areas have had a separate funding council, a history of strong leadership and many successes (including most of our Nobel laureates). Other areas such as geology, plant biology and electrical engineering have support from the Australian Research Council, other government programs and from industry.

The picture for the humanities, arts and social sciences is more complex. ERA has recognised in a formal way for the first time the work of the many talented creative and performing artists doing research in our universities. Traditional disciplines such as history have both depth and breadth. In others (such as psychology, cultural studies, banking, accounting and business) the excellence is concentrated within a smaller number of institutions. The Australian National University aside, there have been fewer opportunities for scholars in these areas to devote themselves substantially to research in the way that has been possible for some areas of science, medicine and engineering. The drive to collaborate to access infrastructure (and the necessary government funding) has also helped many of the areas in science and technology develop the necessary concentration and scale needed to sustain world-class research teams.

ERA has had its critics. A view that applied research would not be recognised has not eventuated. Crop and pasture production, materials engineering and resources engineering and nursing all performed well. Similarly, newer interdisciplinary areas such as environmental science, nanotechnology and communication and media studies have demonstrated excellence despite predictions to the contrary.

Finally, the assumption that measuring research quality will improve what we do has often been challenged. This underestimates our competitive culture. On receiving his results, one vice-chancellor reflected that he was reasonably happy with the outcomes for his university but confident they will have improved by 30 per cent in the next one.


Total negligence from yet another public hospital

Mother nearly bleeds to death

REBECCA Cooksey experienced every expectant mother's nightmare on Friday. She was sent home from hospital only to give birth two hours later in a parked ambulance. Ms Cooksey then haemorrhaged after delivering daughter Hayley and lost 3.5 litres of blood.

She and fiance Scott Andrews are demanding answers, claiming a member of hospital staff told them "having a home birth was a nicer experience".

The 22-year-old mum said she had been in "full labour" when she presented at Kaleeya Hospital in East Fremantle at 4pm Friday. But at 6.15pm she was told to return home to Yangebup a 25-minute road trip. "She could barely walk when we arrived at hospital," Mr Andrews, 23, said. "The hospital actually told me that having a home birth was a nicer experience. "They were full, but said Bec's contractions weren't close enough. She was having up to six contractions in 10 minutes. "I was very pissed off. I literally thought I was going to have to deliver this baby."

Mr Andrews said they had made midwives aware of difficulties during the pregnancy and also the fact that his partner had haemorrhaged after the birth of their first child, 22-month-old Bella.

The couple were only home for 20 minutes before Mr Andrews had to call an ambulance because Ms Cooksey was in considerable pain. He had tried, without getting through, to phone Kaleeya Hospital for advice. The ambulance tried to get Ms Cooksey to King Edward Memorial Hospital, but the baby arrived as the vehicle was parked near the Narrows Bridge about 8pm.

Both the Cooksey and Andrews families demand answers to why the hospital failed to properly care for the young mother. "If Scott hadn't called the ambulance when he did, she would have bled out on the couch," Ms Cooksey's mother Deidre Livesey said last night.

Mr Andrews' mother, Robyn, believes hospital staff showed poor judgment.

A Kaleeya Hospital spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on the details of individual patients, but Ms Cooksey's case would be reviewed.


Australian Govt. has power to deport Afghan illegals to Afghanistan

The Federal government insists it does have the power to deport failed asylum seekers from Afghanistan under a new agreement with the Afghan government. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen signed the deal with Afghan Refugee Minister Jamaher Anwary earlier this month.

Mr Bowen hailed the deal as a major breakthrough in border security. But Dr Anwary appeared to back away from the deal in comments aired by the ABC on Tuesday. Dr Anwary says the deal does not allow Australia to involuntary deport failed asylum seekers back to Afghanistan and claims to the contrary are propaganda.

But Mr Bowen on Tuesday insisted otherwise. "Of course, it's the preference of the governments of both Australia and Afghanistan - and the United Nations High Commissioner - that these returns be voluntary wherever possible," Mr Bowen's spokeswoman said. "But the MoU does provide for involuntary returns."

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the agreement appeared to be unravelling after just two weeks. "Just like the never-never East Timor solution this is another foreign affairs mess in asylum policy," he said in a statement. "It remains an open question as to whether the government will now follow through, especially given the confusion surrounding the Afghan agreement."

The agreement, which is not legally binding, has been condemned by rights groups that fear returned Afghans will be put in danger.


Unionist wreckers on the march

THE preoccupation with deficits and monetary policy has drawn attention away from yet another problem area of economic management, this one almost entirely brought on by the federal government's decisions.

The Fair Work Act was the government's response to Work Choices and was built on the premise that the economy had nothing to fear from an activist trade union movement. Giving unions more power in the workplace, it was argued, would not be followed by greater militancy or by an inflationary push for higher wages and better conditions. We may be about to find out just how wrong these assumptions have been.

On behalf of the Australian Mines and Metals Association, I have been analysing the results of a survey of industrial relations personnel within the mining and resources sector.

The resources sector is the one area of the economy that has had more than just a return to normal economic conditions. Looking at the sector allows us to make judgments on the effect of the new IR arrangements on a host of workplace issues in the one growth area of the private sector.

And the reason for choosing a survey instrument was to ensure the results spoke for themselves without the need for high-end interpretation. The questions were designed to find out what was taking place at the workplace and to gauge whether conditions were improving, unchanged or getting worse.

The first question simply asked, "How would you describe your current workplace relations environment?", and in interpreting this result it is important to note that this has been the second survey conducted, not the first. The first was undertaken in April last year just after the Fair Work Act came into effect. At the time the result showed a very encouraging index level of 75.9 out of a possible 100.

There was, thus, before there had been much familiarity with the new system, a general willingness to see the new arrangements in a positive light.

We now find, only six months later, that the index level has fallen to 65.1, a fall of more than 10 points. As more has been discovered, there has been a widespread and unmistakable deterioration in the overall level of satisfaction.

And in looking at the survey results and the comments made by respondents, it is not hard to see why. Start with the "right of entry" provisions. The act allows union officials to enter work sites whether there are members on the premises or not. All that is needed is potential members present. The result is, as was undoubtedly intended by those who framed the act, a far greater presence in the workplace of union officials across the industry.

And the effects of this union presence are showing up in the data. Bargaining has become more difficult. Workplace flexibility is being diminished. Industrial action is harder to deal with. Direct engagement with employees is being restricted.

The survey portrays an industry facing more difficult times in making workplace adjustments just as the demand for the products of our resources sector is picking up. Reducing the industry's ability to respond to increased demands for its products will make a return to high rates of non-inflationary growth an even greater challenge than it already is.

It is possible to argue that the resources sector is exceptional. But what makes this survey particularly important is that the problems being faced in this area are the same kinds of problems that are going to be faced by each and every industry as they begin to pick up momentum.

The AMMA survey results should, therefore, be seen in the context of the results of the January 2011 ACCI survey of investor confidence. What that survey showed was that wage costs were the single greatest constraint on business investment.

These figures dovetail perfectly with the results of this survey of the resources sector, since we are now looking at the consequences of an industrial relations system that, as the AMMA results show, is increasingly unable to hold the line on the growth in wages and other labour costs.

Moreover, the data suggests that the industry may also be increasingly unable to make the workplace changes necessary to respond to the economic adjustments the recovery process will demand.

You can say it is a new system and that things will be fine once everyone gets used to the act and what it requires. That is one possibility.

The other possibility is that the act has opened up the potential for serious industrial relations harm and that the inflationary pressures that have been contained until now are about to undermine the sector before spilling across the entire economy.

A serious review of the act, to ensure this none of this happens, must be an early item on the government's agenda.


2 February, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG mocks the corruption in the NSW Labor government

How out of touch can a Leftist economist get?

Ross Gittins, below, wants Australians all to say "Sieg Heil" and "Heil Gillard", apparently. He wails that his Fuehrer can't get no respect. He is totally oblivious of the fact that respect has to be earned. And a government that (for instance) is pigheadedly determined to waste $46 billion on a fibre broadband network that hardly anybody wants deserves no respect whatever

Gittins proves once again that all Leftists are Fascists at heart

So alienated have we become from the work of government we regard it as a giant soft cop - a magic pudding, where the idea is to take out as much as possible ("I've paid taxes all my life .") and put in as little as possible. How is this circle squared? Who knows, who cares?

But there's more to this affair than just our pathological objection to paying more tax. It's a dramatic demonstration of the way Australians are losing the ability to fall in behind a leader.

All of us know the nation's problems won't be overcome without decisive leadership. We regularly bewail our politicians' lack of courage and conviction, their reluctance to risk their personal survival in the country's best interests.

Yet we give our leaders so little loyalty. The announcement of a government decision is taken as the occasion for the outbreak of dissent. All those with a reason for objecting cry out and their criticism is amplified by the media, whereas those who agree fall silent. No one feels obliged to actively support the leader, even if just because she is our leader and someone has to accept ultimate responsibility for deciding what we'll do and how we'll do it.

Of course, no one wants to live in a country where the leader's will is never challenged. We each have the democratic right to oppose all government decisions by all legal means. But we also have the democratic right to support, defend or even just acquiesce in the judgment of the people we elected to lead us. [Who questions that right? I think Gittins really meant "duty" -- in the best Fascist style. Hitler called it the "Fuehrerprinzip"]

Why are we becoming so much more prone to arguing the toss than falling into line? How do we imagine making leadership so much more difficult for the leader of the day will leave us better governed? Why are we training our governments to timidity?

Part of the explanation is partisanship - our willingness to put loyalty to party ahead of loyalty to our community and its need for effective leadership. I didn't vote for these people, so I'll regard everything they try to do as illegitimate.

Trouble is, there is little partisanship running the other way. Consider the deathbed bastardry of Labor's own Kristina Keneally in objecting that NSW taxpayers deserve special concessions under the levy.

No, there's more to this than partisanship: there is a general loss of loyalty and respect for whoever is our leader. The government is always and everywhere fair game. Consider the lack of public censure of the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, for his utterly obstructive behaviour.

Having narrowly lost the last election, he's behaving like a spoilt child, refusing to support any policy proposed by the government, whether good, bad or indifferent.


New rules to give NSW women equal representation

The last shriek of a dying Leftist government. Hitler saw evil in the over-representation of Jews in the top levels of German society. His socialist successors see evil in the over-representation of men in the top levels of modern Western societies. The routine Leftist inability to look at people as individuals rather than as group members is the same

Women will make up half of new appointments to New South Wales government boards and committees by the end of next year, the State Government says.

In a bid for gender equality, Minister for Women Jodi McKay announced the package which includes an "if not, why not approach" to equality, at the Rural Women's Awards last night. "Women comprise over 50 per cent of the NSW population yet currently only 38 per cent of all NSW government board and committee positions are held by women," Ms McKay said. "We want to make sure boards and committees better reflect the communities they serve as well as provide improved access to the benefits of a wider talent pool."

The new rules mean agencies will need to regularly report on progress, and more resources will be made available to encourage women to nominate for positions, including how-to guides, information sheets and case studies. "We'll also provide quarterly public reporting on how we're tracking towards the 50 per cent target," Ms McKay said.

A review will take place in 2012, which will consider whether further measures should be introduced, such as legislation, to increase the rate of progress towards gender equality.


Big retreat from Greenie schemes in NSW

Kristina Keneally is promising to axe electricity bill rises of $100 in a $1.5 billion bid to calm voter anger over power prices. The Premier also flagged she would soon announce an electricity rebate for households earning less than $150,000 a year. The moves come after months of revelations and campaigning by The Daily Telegraph to ease the pain on working families around the state.

"I can't make bananas any cheaper, I can't make the cost of petrol any cheaper but I can do something as the Premier of this state about electricity prices and that's what I'm doing," she said yesterday.

Ms Keneally said the Government would pay the entire cost of its $1.5 billion solar bonus scheme, until 2016, rather than all electricity users being charged. To pay for the promise, the Government will strip its Climate Change Fund almost entirely of money for green projects until 2020, including scrapping its long-running rainwater tank rebate. The policy change will spare the average electricity consumer a $100 rise in 2011-12 and $50 a year after that.

The Premier will announce today that all uncommitted funds for the Climate Change Fund, which is already paid from electricity and water bills, will be redirected to pay for the Solar Bonus Scheme. The Climate Change Fund would be increased by 1 per cent from 2012 - the increase to be funded by industry.

Ms Keneally said the announcement was the first of several measures she would announce soon to cut prices. Measures would include rebates and delaying the infrastructure spending of electricity companies, and would cut into the projected 30-42 per cent rises IPART has authorised over three years.

Ms Keneally said the Government had extended its rebate scheme on electricity bills "to all healthcare concession holders" but was "mindful there are a lot of working families doing it tough". Those families included households earning up to $150,000 a year, she said.

"The [federal] family tax benefit cuts in at about $150,000 ... and on paper that might sound like a lot but in reality when you're facing rising mortgage prices, rising food, childcare and electricity, it starts to get tough," she said.

Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell will come under pressure to back the promise - the second backdown on the solar bonus scheme.

Yesterday was the deadline for bids for the second tranche of the state's electricity assets - none were received after revelations last week the Premier would not proceed with the sale before the election.


Climate looters

Climate alarmists join looters in exploiting flood tragedy

Disasters bring out the best and worst in humanity. For most, it's a time to set aside petty differences and unite in a common cause. Altruism becomes the norm and genuine heroism common. For a rancid few, however, the temptation to take advantage of tragedy and chaos cannot be resisted. As always, the recent floods have been accompanied by a smattering of looting and price gouging amidst overwhelming acts of selflessness.

Nor has the looting been restricted to property and purse. Some have seized the chance to blame climate change and push the alarmist agenda. They are what might aptly be described as climate looters. To their credit, the majority of proponents of global warming have not attempted to claim the floods as due to human induced climate change. However, for a few it seems the temptation was too great to resist and, as might now be expected, the media have afforded them prominent coverage. Also not unexpectedly, the ABC has been prominent in propagating this blatant alarmist opportunism.

Interestingly, both here and overseas the alarmists who have attempted to promote the idea that these floods are due to human induced climate change have taken such a noticeably similar line of presentation one might be forgiven the impression they were following an agreed upon approach. They first cite a brief disclaimer stating that the cause of individual weather events such as this cannot be known with certainty. This is immediately followed with the suggestion that, of course, increasing incidence of extreme weather events is exactly what we should expect from climate change. The remainder of the discussion then accords with the assumption that this is the cause.

The ABC was a first responder along this line in a news story dated Friday, December 31, 2010 and titled, "Climate expert says more extreme weather likely". To assure the viewer received the desired message it was helpfully sub-titled, "Nobel prize-winning scientist David Karoly says Australia's current extreme weather is evidence of climate change."

This was followed up by a similar item on the Midday Report of 20 January 2010. This one featured Prof. Matthew England of the UNSW Climate Change Centre speculating on the role of CO2 in the floods.

Not to be outdone by the similarly named Oz network, the American ABC ran a similar story on 13 January. In this one Derek Arndt of the NOAA National Climatic Data Center and Richard Somerville from Scripps, UCSD were interviewed. This report went for a Hat Trick in which the floods here, in Sri Lanka and in Brazil were all attributed to GW with the recent blizzards in the U.S. tagged on for added impact.

Another example in the same vein appeared in The Australian of 11 January. It featured an interview with Professor Will Steffen, the executive director of the ANU Climate Change Institute. In it he said, "... there was no direct link between global warming and the tragic flash flooding in Toowoomba.." ; but, then went on to say that climate change would lead to heavier, more frequent rain. However, the headline was, "Global warming will cause further extreme weather patterns, climate change chief says" and the subtitle, "One of Julia Gillard's top climate change advisers has warned that global warming may cause more extreme rain events."

As to any possible merit to these claims, let's briefly consider but a few important facts. The Bureau of Meteorology has posted on its website a most interesting document entitled, "Known Floods in the Brisbane & Bremer River Basin, including the Cities of Brisbane and Ipswich". For Brisbane it shows 10 previous major floods since 1840. Eight of these were in the 60 years from 1840 to 1900. Six of these were higher than the current flood. The record for Ipswich shows 21 major floods with 9 between 1840 to 1900 and the longest period free of major floods being the past two decades. If an increasing greenhouse effect is having any influence on the frequency and height of floods in this region it would seem we might benefit from more of it.

Another most important consideration with regard to the frequency and intensity of floods in this area is the major and now well documented influence of natural climatic cycles, specifically El Nino/La Nina and the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO). In particular Dr. Stewart Franks and colleagues from the Newcastle University School of Engineering have published a series of studies on this. They have clearly demonstrated a strong correlation between the frequency of severe flooding and La Nina events occurring in the negative (cooler) phase of the IPO. As the phase length of the IPO is about 3 decades and the positive (warmer) phase has just recently ended, it should be expected that over the next few decades increased flooding is likely. (For more on these studies click here, here, and here.) For a recent (24 January) ABC radio interview with Dr. Franks click here.

Despite multiple publications in peer reviewed journals, the climate alarmists must be either unaware of this whole body of highly relevant work or have chosen to not mention it. It would seem that if their expertise is not lacking, their honesty must be. The only apparent reason for ignoring key evidence offering significant capacity to predict the broad pattern of frequency in flooding events is that it is founded on natural cycles and thus does not support the claims of the climate alarmists.

The attempt to attribute these floods to global warming is only a rerun of a similar attempt with tropical cyclones after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Since then several years of below average storm activity plus statistical studies showing no recent trend of increase have left the warmists looking for a new alarm. The floods have provided it, if they can just insert GW as the suggested cause and keep ENSO/IPO unmentioned....

Regardless of all this, for GW to remain credible temperature must keep increasing. It's pretty hard to sell catastrophic warming when millions of people all over the world are suffering from bitterly cold weather. At this point all we have is a purported 0.7 degree C increase in average global surface temperature over the past century. This is about the same increase as may be encountered in moving a hundred miles closer to the equator or while eating breakfast on many mornings. It is, however, not nearly so certain.

The global temperature record is fraught with multiple uncertainties. These include poorly maintained and badly sited stations, an increasing sampling bias in favour of urban over rural weather stations and unexplained "adjustments" to data. All of these have contributed to warmer readings over time irrespective of any change in the actual climate. Not only is the margin of uncertainty larger than the purported warming, but there is also no means to determine what portion of any warming trend might be due to natural variability and what, if any, is due to human influence. Worse yet, there is good reason to suspect that much, if not all, of the claimed warming trend is an artefact of deliberate selection and manipulation of data such as has been found to have occurred in the fabrication of the infamous hockey stick graph and just recently in the New Zealand national temperature records.

Although the claimed warming is highly uncertain, the unadjusted raw data from numerous rural stations demonstrate no clear warming trend and those from urban areas show a distinct warming with increasing urban growth. Whatever contribution increased atmospheric CO2 might be having on a global scale, it must surely be very small.

The expenditure on and level of concern about climate change has been out of all proportion to the barely detectable and highly uncertain warming trend of the past century. Attention and resources have been diverted from the very real and dangerous natural variables and events of climate. It has also distracted from the far more urgent political and economic problems now threatening most developed nations. It is time we take a deep breath, get a grip on ourselves and start to reconsider what should be our most urgent priorities. It is also time to begin exercising some healthy disregard for unverified computer models, priggish academics claiming to be experts, ill-informed concerns of urban greens over things they know nothing about and the self-righteous bleatings of sundry activists who presume to know better than we do about how we should conduct our own lives.

The entire developed world is now suffering from a systemic economic malaise. This is already critical and promises only to become worse. The fantasy of clean green renewable energy is a delusion we cannot afford. In actual practice it has proven to be not nearly so friendly as imagined. It has also proved to be too costly, meagre and inconsistent to be a viable solution to our energy needs. The ongoing push to squander billions of dollars and sacrifice our economies on the altar of climate change is dangerous nonsense. Like sundry other isms, Climatism is a triumph of belief over evidence, of righteousness over reason. Whether the prophets of this one are destined to be rendered into harmless fools or dangerous fanatics ultimately depends upon the power we accord them.

More here. (See the original for links)

1 February, 2011

Another tired old Leftist sneer at national pride

Australians have got a lot to be proud about and the surveys reveal that national pride is widespread in Australia. But the pseudo-humorous writer below has nothing but contempt for people who display the Australian flag on their cars. Flags on cars are mainly flown on Australia day, anyway, which is surely an appropriate day to fly them.

His comment on people who want immigration reduced is particularly odious. He implies that they are gun-carrying racists. Since about two thirds of Australians want immigration restraint he must think that he is a very superior person.

The whole piece drips contempt for all sorts of Australians. His fellow haters on the Left will laugh, however

I quite like the Australian flag, and indeed the nation it represents. Certainly it could be improved a bit by the removal of the Union Jack from the corner (though that is an argument for another column), but generally the old girl does a pretty good job of whatever it is that flags are supposed to do.

There is, however, a considerable gulf between a dash of patriotism and national pride, and naked jingoism.

And here we're talking about those bloody plastic flags that flutter feebly from car windows at this time of year, screaming "Look at moi, look at moi!" which (in the world of Kath and Kim at least) rhymes with the equally boorish chant of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!"

The funny part of this is you're more likely to see the little plastic flags adorning a Hyundai than a Holden ute. This does tend to beg the question of why, if you are so fervently patriotic that you feel the need to advertise the fact, do you drive a Korean-made tin can powered by two rubber bands and an overworked hamster?

Actually, the way motorists choose to decorate their cars can be quite informative, telling you a lot about what sort of driver you are sharing a particular stretch of road with.

Pair up the Aussie car flag with a bumper sticker that sports the slogan "F--- off, we're full", for example, and you have enough character-profiling to deduce that the driver is road-rage incarnate and definitely not the sort of bloke to greet with a single-fingered salute when he cuts in front of you at high speed. In fact there's every chance he keeps his One Nation membership card in the glovebox next to his handgun.

Then there's the shiny new four-wheel-drives with stickers advertising which elite private school the owner's progeny attend and whether said children are rugby or hockey brats.

This just screams out rich Ascot mummy with total disdain for the great unwashed around her, who will tend to wield her vehicle like a German Panzer tank crushing all before it.

Often this species of driver is also sighted with those increasingly ubiquitous "My Family" montages on the back . . . OK, so you've got a partner, you've procreated more often than is probably healthy for the national gene pool and you have two dogs. What do you want, some sort of medal?

This is an "It's all about me" driver who thinks nothing of trundling along at 30km/h below the speed limit in the fast lane and assumes handicapped parking spaces are just that handy.

Baby on board? Another breeder. Bully for you. Line up for your medal behind the My Family brigade.

Another one to watch for are larger vehicles festooned with stickers from exotic destinations like Winton, Birdsville and Broken Hill. If there's a tow bar attached to the vehicle you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to assume it's probably an elderly caravan owner which, by definition, means automotive sociopath: "I've paid my taxes, so it's my bloody road."


Should Italian and Chinese lead the new curriculum?

Foreign languages are an enthusiasm of mine and I have some qualifications in three of them -- but I cannot for the life of me see why everybody should study them. Learning a foreign language is a huge task (and really huge if the language is Asian) and that diverts energies from the large range of other important subjects. And for what? I doubt that 1% will become translators as we have plenty of naturally bilingual people in Australia anyway (children of immigrants)

Should all students have to study a second language before year 7 as planned under the new national curriculum? The curriculum will cover 11 foreign languages with Italian and Chinese the first to be developed.

Latin and other classical languages have been left out, raising concern. Language teachers say this is a major omission because a knowledge of Latin and Ancient Greek underpins understanding of literature, art and the English language. The sign language Auslan has also been left out, also raising concern.

Italian and Chinese have been given first priority because the national curriculum authority says they "represent languages that cater for the greatest range of learners". "Chinese is a national priority, and Italian is learnt by the largest number of students in the primary years and the second largest number of students enrolments over all." Indonesian, Japanese and Korean are also deemed national priorities as part of the second stage of the language curriculum development.

Traditional European languages including French and German and Spanish will also be included because they are among the most commonly taught languages in Australian schools. The national curriculum authority has included Spanish as a "language of global importance".

Parents are hotly debating these priorities, with some saying the options are too narrow and locking their children into choices too early. Some say they want their children to have wider language choices until at least year 10.

Parents have been telling talk-back radio this morning that they disagree with the national priorities given to some languages over others.


Three years jail for speech??

Prosecutions for speech are mercifully rare in Australia and this one is troubling. Everybody gets abused at some stage. Conservative bloggers get it almost daily. So people have to learn to get used to it. The fact that the abused person was Jewish is of course unpleasant but the abuser was an obvious nut anyway.

A substantial part of the student body at the University of California would have to be locked up under the criteria adopted in this case

The High Court of Australia has found a right to free speech in the constitution so this verdict could be overturned if it is appealed

The Jewish victim of a verbal racial attack that was posted in a video online says a three-year prison term given to the man who called him a "racist, homicidal maniac" outside a Perth supermarket is not enough.

Brendan Lee O'Connell, 40, was sentenced in the District Court in Perth yesterday after being found guilty on Friday of six racial hatred charges.

Chuckling and smiling as the counts were read out to him, O'Connell appeared unaffected by the sentence handed down by Judge Henry Wisbey. O'Connell represented himself before a jury after firing the lawyer who had been defending him against an accusation that he posted an anti-semitic video online.

He faced seven charges related to the posting of a verbal altercation he had with Stanley Keyser and Timothy Peach, who are Jewish, and was found guilty on six.

An argument broke out between the three men at an IGA supermarket in South Perth on May 2, 2009, where a Friends of Palestine group was holding a protest against Israeli oranges. O'Connell was using a video camera at the event and in a video he later posted online, he labelled Mr Keyser a "racist, homicidal maniac". "You have a religion of racism, hate, homicide and ethnic cleansing," he said in the video.

During the trial, O'Connell refused to acknowledge Judge Wisbey when he entered the court and, instead, rose to bow to the jury.

Judge Wisbey said O'Connell showed no remorse and his behaviour "was that of a bully".

About a dozen supporters in the court cheered when O'Connell labelled the proceedings "a kangaroo court" and gave a long, repetitive rant about the King James Bible and the Constitution. As he was led out of court, O'Connell shouted: "Don't forget about the Gazans!"

Outside court, Mr Keyser said O'Connell had forced him to "suffer" for 18 months. "I wish he was in [prison] for longer," he said as he rushed passed reporters.

Family friend Steve Lieblich told reporters it was a "very distressing" time for the Keyser family who were happy to have it over. "I think it was a victory for decency and against bigotry and prejudice," he said. "On this occasion it was the Jewish people who were the target of this bigotry but on future occasions it could be Muslims or Asians or any group, so we we should all be happy about this result."

Mr Lieblich said he hoped O'Connell would have time to reflect on his views during his prison term. He said the internet made it easy to "spread hatred" and it was important to address the issue. "This has got nothing to do with free speech," Mr Lieblich said. "There's clearly a limit to free speech, there's a limit to all freedoms we have in society because we have to consider others. "Words can hurt and cause a lot of damage and people need to recognise that they have to watch their words."

O'Connell's sentence has been backdated to January 24 and he will be eligible for parole, but a date for that period was not specified in court.


Two mental patients killed by Victorian hospital staff

A PATIENT suffocated after security guards restrained him face down on the floor in Frankston Hospital’s psychiatric ward, a coroner has heard.

A hospital analysis of Justin Fraser’s death found two security guards and four orderlies who restrained Mr Fraser, 37, were in a "heightened fight response" and "focused on prevention of further aggression in the heat of the situation". "The wellbeing of the patient was a secondary priority," clinicians found in a report provided to the Health Department.

The clinicians said the staff who restrained Mr Fraser on October 26, 2007, had not been properly trained in the risk of maintaining a patient in a prone position. They therefore could not assess his condition, resulting in "delayed recognition that he had become clinically compromised and acutely unwell".

The court heard that Mr Fraser, a voluntary patient who had schizophrenia, had threatened to harm himself and staff. The security team responded to a nurse’s "code grey" call — used when staff face violence.

After the team restrained Mr Fraser in the ward, he was moved to a seclusion room, where he was found to have stopped breathing. He is thought to have died of positional asphyxia, a form of suffocation that can occur when someone is restrained in a position that stops them breathing properly.

Mr Fraser’s death followed the asphyxiation death of another psychiatric patient - Adam White, 31 - at Maroondah Hospital six months earlier. Coroner Peter White will investigate both deaths because of their similarities.

Senior Sergeant Jenny Brumby, counsel assisting the coroner, said Adam White was an involuntary patient at the time of his death on April 20, 2007. "Mr White … exhibited an episode of violent physical behaviour towards security staff members, which resulted in a struggle and staff restraining him in the prone position on the floor," she said in an opening address. "Mr White stopped breathing while being held in this position and an unsuccessful resuscitation attempt was undertaken."

Mr Fraser's wife, Sharon, said she had dinner with her husband and left him in good spirits in the ward about 8.30 the night before his death. She was stunned when a doctor phoned at 3am to say he had died. "It was a pretty blunt call. I thought it was a prank," she said. "I went in and had my time with Justin and said goodbye to him. I remember the room was bare and he was on two vinyl mattresses. I saw blood on the floor, and his T-shirt was cut."

Senior Sergeant Brumby said the adequacy of hospital policies on restraining aggressive patients and whether staff response to the situation was justified were among issues to be explored during the inquest.

Peninsula Health executive director of mental health, Jan Child, said specific training on the dangers of prone restraint and positional asphyxia were now provided to staff called on to act as "aggression management teams" at the hospital. Policies and training had been strengthened so it was "very, very clear that at all times a clinician should be in charge of the whole response and code grey".


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.