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?


29 February, 2012

Brainless Leftist fools

Negus should have known better. He is a current affairs journalist and interviewer from way back -- but his Leftism has always been obvious. Putting him in front of the Taliban might rearrange his attitudes somewhat

HE'S one of the nation's greatest war heroes, receiving a Victoria Cross for single-handedly storming a Taliban bunker manned with machine-gunners.

They host a lightweight morning gossip show. Now the hosts of The Circle are under heavy fire after airing a photo of a shirtless Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith and calling him brainless.

Among the giggling troupe was veteran journalist George Negus, who laid the astounding sledge that Cpl Roberts-Smith "he could be a dud root".

Just a day earlier, Cpl Roberts-Smith had appeared on Sunday Night for a candid interview about how he and his wife had used IVF treatment to conceive their twin daughters.

Those daughters were just five months old when Cpl Roberts-Smith stood up to draw machine-gun fire towards himself near the village of Tizak in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. That allowed his commander to lob a grenade in the Taliban bunker.

Cpl Roberts-Smith then stormed the bunker alone and killed the two Taliban members inside. His actions allowed the troops to move through and clear the village of Taliban soldiers.

It also saw him become only the second person to be awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia, after it was established in 1991

"I'm sure he's a really good guy, nothing about poor old Ben," Negus said yesterday on The Circle where he was guest co-hosting at the time of the comment. "But that sort of bloke, and what if they're not up to it in the sack?"

Former Channel [V] host Yumi Stynes chimed in on the picture of Cpl Roberts-Smith poolside with: "He's going to dive down to the bottom of the pool to see if his brain is there."

This morning and back on the air Stynes revealed she was getting married, leading some online commenters to suggest it was a stunt to distract from a growing backlash over yesterday's comments.

Yesterday The Circle made an apology on its Facebook page: "Gotta love live T.V.!," the apology read. "What started out as an innocent admiration of one of Australia’s heroes today unfortunately ended up changing direction. "I hope you all know us well enough by now to know that we would never set out to upset anyone. "Your feedback is very important to us and we appreciate your input on a daily basis. "So sorry if we offended any of you today."

SOURCE. More reactions here

Conservatives target free speech restrictions in racial discrimination laws

FREE speech restrictions in racial discrimination laws would be wound back under a federal coalition government.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has revealed the plan to change the laws if he was made prime minister.

The plan would see sections of the Racial Discrimination Act that were used to prosecute Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt last year, after he wrote about light-skinned Aborigines, repealed by the Coalition.

The Australian newspaper reports Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis saying that would mean the removal of provisions that prevent the use of words that could offend or insult.

"We consider that to be an inappropriate limitation on freedom of speech and freedom of public discussion – as was evident in the Andrew Bolt case," he said.

"Offensive and insulting words are part of the robust democratic process which is essential to a free country."

The changes would bring the Act's restrictions on free speech closer to limits found in defamation laws, The Australian reports.

Liability for racial vilification would be limited to comments that humiliate or intimidate.


The Speaker of the House shuts Julia up

It was tempting to rush out and scan the sky for a blue moon or flying pork. The Speaker had ordered Prime Minister Julia Gillard to clam up and sit down. His reason? She was being irrelevant. No one could remember the like of it.

Prime ministers and their ministers have traditionally spent large portions of every question time avoiding what most people would recognise as a semblance of relevance in responding to questions.

The Speaker, Peter Slipper, has the quaint view that questions should be answered.

Resplendent in black robe, white bow tie and barrister's tabs, fresh from his latest ceremonial procession to the House, Mr Slipper decided to enforce his edict at the first opportunity yesterday.

His mood was possibly sharpened by the appearance of the fellow he replaced as Speaker, Harry Jenkins, sporting his own silvery bow tie. The view around Parliament was that Mr Jenkins was gently taking the mickey.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott opened combat with his favourite subject: reminding Ms Gillard that she had promised during the last election campaign that there would be no carbon tax. Now she was introducing just such a tax and had admitted she had made mistakes she regretted, would she "rescind her deception" and put aside the tax until she took it to the next election?

Mr Slipper ordered Mr Abbott to withdraw the word "deception". But when Ms Gillard launched into her answer the full might of the Speaker was exerted.

"Putting a price on carbon was the right thing to do and I stand by it," Ms Gillard began, her eyes turning flinty in the style she has assumed following the Great Unpleasantness of the past week.

And then, in her well-practised manner, Ms Gillard turned the question on its head and got stuck into the opposition, declaring that Coalition MPs might like to explain why they had promised to introduce a price on carbon during the 2007 election campaign. As she reached full throttle, Mr Slipper called for her to be "directly relevant" to the question.

Ms Gillard sailed on, and the Speaker hollered again for her to get back to the subject at hand.

The Prime Minister, who appeared to have been studying Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning depiction of Maggie Thatcher in The Iron Lady, wasn't for turning. It was a battle of wills.

Mr Slipper triumphed. He simply turned off the Prime Minister's microphone, told her she would no longer be heard and sat her down.

Ms Gillard appeared thunderstruck. Speakers in the past have found themselves defrocked for lesser slights to a prime minister's dignity.

But Mr Slipper pretty clearly knows Ms Gillard can't afford to have him back on the benches voting with the Coalition. She needs him exactly where he is, and he is free to behave as independently as he likes. Which, it appears, is quite a lot.


One reason why 39% of Australian teenagers are sent to private high schools

Both episodes below occured at government schools

A BULLIED teenager who suffered horrific injuries when he attempted suicide has died more than two years after his tormenters drove him to despair.

Dakoda-Lee Stainer, 14, suffered brain damage when deprived of oxygen for more than 20 minutes after he tried to take his own life in 2009 following severe bullying.

Left in a wheelchair, unable to speak or walk, and taking food and liquids through a tube to his stomach, the teen died on Valentine's Day this year.

After Dakoda-Lee's tragic story was revealed in The Daily Telegraph last year, close family friends launched a campaign against bullying of the kind that drove the north coast teenager to try to end his life.

Sharon Grady of Yarravel, near Kempsey, yesterday said no one deserved the treatment Dakoda-Lee had suffered, but bullying was still happening. "We have now lost this precious, loving and caring young man who was talented in so many areas," Ms Grady said.

On the day he tried to end his life, the teen, who attended Melville High School at Kempsey, had been accosted by a gang of youths on the school bus after months of relentless attacks by bullies.

About a year earlier another 14-year-old, Alex Wildman, took his own life at Lismore after violent run-ins with fellow students, forcing education authorities to investigate how effectively schools were combating bullying.

Alex's stepfather, Bill Kelly, is suing the Department of Education and Communities for damages, claiming it breached its duty of care to the student.

A major offensive against cyber bullying has been launched in schools.

It involves graphic videos showing the dangers of online bullying designed to frighten students out of using the internet as a weapon to attack other children.

The graphic films, using male and female teenage actors to depict savage bullying scenarios, are so realistic they have shocked children into changing their online behaviour, parents and educators said.


28 February, 2012


Conservative cartoonist ZEG thinks there is still more strife to come in the Labor Party

Five reasons Aussies should feel smug

WE'RE not Greece, in case you were confused. I suppose our government's about as stable. But our collective fiscal funk has recently compelled Treasury supremo Martin Parkinson to point out this obvious geographical fact. So let's cut through the persistent gloom and doom and look at how our country stacks up.

1. Government debt and deficit

As a proportion of gross domestic product, the IMF says we owe 24 per cent. The US has racked up 100 per cent, Italy 120 per cent and Greece 152 per cent.

Yes we have a deficit - tiny by world standards. The IMF says it was minus 2.8 per cent in 2011 and the government has crossed its heart and hoped to (ahem) die that it will be a surplus by 2012-2013.

France's comparable figure was minus 5.7 per cent, Spain's minus 8 per cent and the US's - tut tut - minus 9.5 per cent. Greece's is ratcheting up so fast it will be wrong before I type it: the 2012 forecast is 6.7 per cent.

That country is now widely expected to default and Fitch's credit rating of "C" reflects it. Ours is "AAA".

2. Resources and economy

Remember we were the only Western nation that didn't go into recession during the global financial crisis. One of the reasons was mining.

An embarrassment of riches from resources means we can feed the insatiable industrialisation of developing Asia. Indeed, the governor of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, told Friday's parliamentary economics committee the boom is "still building" and "will take the share of business investment in GDP to its highest level for 50 years".

The mining tax - whatever you think of it - is designed to spread the proceeds.

Meanwhile, most commentators believe the EU is back in recession and Greece never climbed out of it.

3. Interest rates

Here they are relatively high on a world scale, precisely because our economy is strong and needs to be kept in check, but they're also far lower than they were in the 1980s.

As a consolation to mortgage holders, the RBA has a loaded gun if it needs to shoot its way out of another crisis. And if you are cashed up, you are laughing all the way to the proverbial.

4. Employment and wages

This is what's really making us uneasy. And it is hard to ignore headlines about mass redundancies in industries struggling due to factors like the high Australian dollar - for example, manufacturing - as they scramble to stay viable. Others - think retail and media - are under pressure because they're at the pointy end of dramatic consumption shifts.

But it's important to keep it in context. Unemployment last month actually fell slightly to 5.1 per cent, which boffins consider close to full employment. Although that is expected to tick up as global growth slows, some industries, like tourism and mining, are even reporting worker shortages.

Perhaps it's our comparatively cushy existence in Australia that causes us to fixate instead on cost-of-living pressures, however it seems we should stop our whinging. CommSec research using The Sydney Morning Herald archives shows we have far more purchasing power for goods - wages relative to prices - than our parents and grandparents 30, 40 or 50 years ago. Housing is another story.

Want a little more perspective? In Greece they're contending with unemployment of more than 20 per cent and a 22 per cent cut to the minimum wage.

5. Retirement

God bless super. As controversial as its introduction was - and however inadequate it ends up being - it's a salvation for our sunset years. What's more, it's in our names and our control. Many Greeks are instead getting 12 per cent wiped off their pensions.

So it seems Australians' confidence - which a global Nielsen survey of 56 markets has just found is the highest in the developed world - is justified.


Hold the hyperbole, Labor's problems are just same old same old

According to Barry Jones, a minister in the Hawke Labor government, the "current national situation" is at the lowest point he can recall. Writing in The Age on Saturday, he maintained that politics was worse today than when the ALP spilt in 1955, or when Arthur Calwell led Labor to a massive defeat in 1966, or when the governor-general John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam Labor government in 1975, or when Paul Keating lost to John Howard in 1996. As bad as that. He puts Labor's problems down to the inability of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd to work together.

For the most part, this is an exaggeration. In 1955, Labor split primarily over its approach to communism. The Labor split led to the creation of the Democratic Labor Party - it gave first preferences to the Coalition and saved Robert Menzies and John Gorton from defeat in 1961 and 1969 respectively.

Calwell's defeat in 1966 was Labor's eighth loss in a row and was not unexpected. Under the leadership of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, Labor provided good government but Keating fell victim in 1996 to a feeling that it was time for a change. And in dismissing Gough Whitlam in November 1975, Kerr did Labor an unintended favour in that he diverted attention from the disaster that was the Whitlam government.

Certainly the opinion polls at the moment do not look good for Labor. However, like the Coalition, Labor invariably recovers relatively quickly from its darkest moments, provided the party does not split. Labor was down and seemingly out in 1966 and 1975 but back in office in 1972 and 1983 respectively. Labor's inability to win in 1998, 2001 and 2004 reflected the strength of the Howard government and Mark Latham's unsuitability in the last of these unsuccessful campaigns from opposition.

Jones believes that in the 2010 election "there was no debate about ideas" and there was "an infantilisation of debate on refugees and climate change". But it's just that Jones regards Tony Abbott's opposition to a carbon tax leading to an emissions trading scheme as inappropriate. Likewise with the Coalition's hard line on border protection. Opposing an emissions trading scheme and campaigning on border protection may be good policy or bad. But it is not infantile.

In any event, negativity does not amount to poor politics. Today Malcolm Fraser is a hero of the leftist-luvvies set and receives standing ovations at taxpayer-funded literary festivals. It was not always so. Fraser took over the Liberal Party leadership in March 1975. He proceeded to become one of the most negative opposition leaders in Australian history. Under Fraser's leadership, the Coalition defeated numerous Whitlam government bills in the Senate and eventually blocked supply.

In the 1970s, the most authoritative gauge of public opinion was the Morgan Gallup Poll, published in The Bulletin. The last poll taken when Fraser was opposition leader had his approval rating at a mere 29 per cent with a disapproval rating of 53 per cent. The Bulletin headed its report "Fraser's appeal at record low". Fraser went on to record the biggest victory in post-World War II Australia - despite campaigning on an ill-thought-through and, at times, contradictory policy agenda.

On ABC News Breakfast yesterday, 7.30 presenter Chris Uhlmann gave vent to the familiar Canberra press gallery refrain that Abbott's relatively low approval rating might mean he is replaced as Liberal leader. Experienced observers should know that what matters in polling is the party vote - not the leader's approval rating.

Jones, Kevin Rudd and more besides now refer to the events of June 24, 2010, when Gillard replaced Rudd, as a "coup". Not so. What happened in 2010 was not dramatically different from what occurred in 1941 (when Arthur Fadden replaced Robert Menzies), 1971 (when Billy McMahon replaced John Gorton) or 1991 (when Keating replaced Hawke).

Dictatorships have coups. Parliamentary democracies have leadership election ballots. In this system, prime ministers and opposition leaders are chosen by their peers. On The World Today yesterday, Rudd strategist Bruce Hawker declared that Rudd "won the public opinion war but lost the battle in the caucus". But Hawker knows that "people power" has no role in parliamentary democracies, where MPs choose leaders. It was no different when Keating replaced Hawke.

The electorate gets to choose a government in Australia every three years - it's up to elected members of the legislature to choose who will head the executive. Billy Hughes led the conservatives to victory at the 1922 election but stood down as prime minister when he found he did not have the support to form a government.

There is a lot of exaggeration around. However, there is in fact nothing all that unusual about contemporary politics in Australia.


Government cash keeping car industry afloat

GOVERNMENT subsides of more than $300 million a year are the only thing keeping Australian car making alive, says the man who led the small-car revolution that deposed the Holden Commodore.

Mazda Australia's Doug Dickson said subsides as high as $100 million a year for Ford, Holden and Toyota were the only thing keeping them alive as local makers.

The baby Mazda3 was officially Australia's favourite car last year, leading the Mazda boss to question the viability of the Commodore and Ford Falcon.

"If the car makers continue to get subsidies, they will remain here," Mr Dickson said. "It guarantees them dominance and gives them a competitive edge with fleets, government and private buyers, who like the fact that they are here."

Mr Dickson said he "desperately" wanted an Australian motor industry. "As an Australian, I don't care what they make as long as they provide the infrastructure for young Australians to become good at making things."

"As a industry figure I want the industry to be strong because we become a whole lot more important as an industry. Without manufacturing here we would just stand in a long line waiting for attention."


Australia's first 4G tablet on sale today

Telstra is from today selling the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, Australia's first 4G tablet, which it says allows users to surf the mobile web up to five times faster than on other models.

It comes as Australians flock to tablet devices, with analyst firm Telsyte estimating that 1.4 million tablets were sold in Australia in 2011. Over two million tablets are expected to be sold this year.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G - which comes hot on the heels of the Motorola Xoom 2 that Telstra began stocking on February 21- runs Android 3.2 (upgradeable to 4.0 in the future) and includes an 8.9-inch screen, 1.5GHz dual-core processor and front- and rear-facing cameras (3-megapixel and 2-megapixel, respectively).

The device weighs 470 grams and is available in 16GB or 32GB configurations, which will cost $720 and $840, respectively.

Telstra said the 16GB model was in stores today while the 32GB would launch "shortly". There are both plans and prepaid options, with plans ranging from $29 for 1GB of data to $89 for 15GB of data.

"The leap in internet speeds available ... means customers can stream high-definition video and music over the internet, load magazines faster and enjoy rich internet content traditionally confined to a PC screen," said Telstra mobile executive director Warwick Bray.

Bray's pitch to businesses was that users would be able to get web speeds on the tablet that are comparable to those found in the office.

Telstra is in the process of rolling out its 4G network access the country, and it is already available in all capital cities plus more than 80 regional and metro4g politan centres.

The telco recently launched Australia's first 4G smartphone, the HTC Velocity 4G, which Telstra said was its third highest-selling consumer handset on a plan.

The first 4G devices offered by Telstra were wireless broadband dongles in September last year, and between then and the end of January Telstra said it added 100,000 4G subscribers.

Telstra says its 4G network is capable of download speeds between 2Mbps and 40Mbps, while upload speeds are between 1Mbps and 10Mbps. This is about double download speeds on 3G.

When the user is out of 4G coverage areas the tablet is able to revert to 3G, with dual channel HSPA+ support.


27 February, 2012

A wonderful story and an evocative picture

Once upon a time everybody understood the bonds that could form between people and their horses and this picture illustrates that

It was a race against the tide that pulled at the heartstrings.

For three hours, show horse Astro was stuck neck deep in thick mud at Avalon Beach on Corio Bay in Victoria as the tide inched closer.

Rescue crews first tried to pull the 18-year-old, 500kg horse free with fire hoses, and then a winch before a vet turned up to sedate Astro and pull him clear with a tractor.

The crews knew by 5pm the tide would have come all the way in. But within minutes of the waters rising around him, Astro was being dragged up on to solid ground slowly but surely, the team filthy but ecstatic.

Owner Nicole Graham said she and daughter Paris, 7, set off at noon when without warning she sunk up to her waist in thick, smelly muck.

She wouldn't leave Astro's side until he was free. "It was terrifying," Ms Graham said. "Every time I moved it sucked me back down."


For Gillard, the challenge has just begun. For Rudd, this is the end

JULIA Gillard has received the strongest backing ever given to a leadership contender in the history of Labor and the vanquished Kevin Rudd has only mustered the most meagre support in the party's history.

Giving the lie to the inflated numbers the Rudd forces, the Caucus has plumped for Gillard by a winning margin more than two to one giving the former Foreign Minister support from just 30 per cent of his colleagues.

This is not a springboard for Rudd to fight another day and he would do well to adopt the kind of emphatic language used by former US President Lyndon Johnson who delivered a memorable "will not seek and will not accept" speech relinquishing any pretence to the leadership of his party.

The most amazing thing about this result is Rudd was unable to garner even one additional vote from where he was not just two weeks ago, but 20 months ago when he was dumped as Prime Minister.

While Rudd's life is about to become both much quieter and lonlier, Gillard has a challenge of existential proportions. She needs to regroup and get back in control of her government's agenda.

Today's Newspoll, putting Labor in the best - but still losing - position it's been in for about six months, was welcome news for Labor and Gillard but this trend needs to be confirmed and improved upon if the Prime Minister is to feel entirely comfortable and safe.

Senior government figures geuinely believe she can do just that and, if she's given a few months of relatively clear air, she will be able to establish the authority and leadership credentials she has struggle to demonstrate since the August, 2010 election.

Certainly in the months ahead members of the federal Parliamentary Labor Party will be watching colleagues like hawks for any sign of leadership rumbling and corridor talk. There might be plenty of open wounds and some bruised egos among Labor MPs, but there is no stomach for a rerun of the events seen in the last 10 days.

The immediate task for the Prime Minister is to reshuffle her ministry, something she is likely to use caution and sensitivity in bringing about.

Despite some urging for a bold reshuffle, Gillard is likely to keep changes minimal and without a hint of payback or punishment for the handful of Rudd supporters.


Will of the people fails to sway caucus

Old joke: Q. "What's the difference between a caucus and a cactus?" A. "With a cactus all the pricks are on the outside"

Labor has overwhelmingly endorsed the candidate of the unions and the party machine over the candidate of the people.

For a political party that has been super-sensitive to opinion polls in the past, it was a remarkable rejection of the public will.

The people consistently prefer Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard as Labor leader by a factor of about two to one. But Labor has gone the other way by a factor of more than two to one. For a party that is on a steady trajectory to electoral defeat, it was an extraordinary act of steely resolve. Or suicidal madness.

Under the Gillard leadership, Labor lost its parliamentary majority and then proceeded consistently to register the lowest primary vote on record.

And the only polling figures to shift in the past week beyond the margin of error was Gillard’s approval rating.

Yet the vote of 71 to 31 for Gillard suggests that Rudd, on net, has failed to win over any votes since last week. Even more remarkably, he has failed to win any votes since losing the leadership 20 months ago.

Some names have moved from one column to the other on the caucus voting lists, but, on a net basis, the caucus has shown itself to be deeply entrenched in defending Gillard.

This is a violation of one of the customary laws of leadership challenges – that the challenger carries momentum.

The repudiation of Rudd reflects three forces.

First, it illustrates the power of the Labor institutional infrastructure of unions and their caucus outgrowth, the factions. Not one trade union supported Rudd.

Second, it shows the visceral personal dislike for Rudd in the caucus. The great bulk of the caucus would rather protect its comfortable working conditions under Gillard than choose a difficult leader more likely to deliver an election win.

Third, it demonstrates a commitment to continue to deliver its existing agenda. Oddly enough, it is largely an agenda drafted by Rudd.

The 40-vote margin compares with a 22-vote margin in Paul Keating’s first and failed strike at Bob Hawke. So Rudd faces a much bigger task to win in any second challenge. It would take a very dramatic shift to move 22 votes.


Parents can forget about teaching, kids call the shots

This is true. Twin studies show that IQ is overwhelmingly genetic, with NO influence from the family environment

PARENTS fretting about brain-training their babies have been told to relax - children are like "dandelions" that will flourish almost regardless of what you do.

Brain experts say mums and dads worry unnecessarily about their children's development, because the impact of parenting is limited.

New book Welcome To Your Child's Brain, written by neuroscientists, concludes most children can reach their potential with "good enough" parenting because they are born hard-wired for learning.

"Many modern parents believe that children's personality and adult behaviour are shaped mainly by parenting, but research paints a very different picture," according to the book, due for release in May.

"For many brain functions, from temperament to language to intelligence, the vast majority of children are dandelions ... they flourish in any reasonable circumstances."

But while force-feeding babies and toddlers with learning is not the answer, spending quality time with them is important, say authors Sandra Assmodt and Professor Sam Wang.

"Parents are well suited to teach them, just by interacting with their children in everyday life," they said.

Clinical psychologist Dr Simon Crisp said parents should take cues from their children "because they will learn at a pace that suits them".

"The important thing is to develop a culture at home that values learning," he said. "Make learning fun and enjoyable. Happy and relaxed parents will bring up a happy and relaxed child."


26 February, 2012

Slow justice damaging political culture

Like us all, Dr Hartwich (below) knows that all the delay in investigating Craig Thomson is needed to keep Labor in power but he uses comparisons to highlight how corrupt the whole charade is

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but perhaps even more so in Australia. Comparing the speed of Fair Work Australia’s investigation into Labor backbencher Craig Thomson to a snail’s pace is unfair to common molluscs. Following the three-year-long inquiry into Thomson’s alleged misuse of a union credit card is rather like watching tectonic plates drift.

Does it really need to be this way? Is this how such affairs should be dealt with in a liberal democracy?

As it turns out, other mature democracies are more rigorous about similar accusations of personal misconduct. Rather than letting proceedings drag on behind closed doors for years as in the Thomson saga, other countries are quicker in initiating formal criminal proceedings. And even before the results of such trials are announced, there is often enough public pressure on office holders to vacate their positions.

Consider the British MPs who were indicted of false accounting in the parliamentary expenses scandal. After a newspaper had revealed their fraudulent claims in May 2009, they were formally charged in February 2010. Their political parties deselected them from the following election; prison sentences between nine and 18 months were delivered between January and July 2011. Having served a quarter of their sentences, they have meanwhile been released under conditions.

From the first public allegations to court trial to imprisonment and conditional release, the British expenses scandal was shorter than Fair Work Australia’s initial investigation into Thomson.

Losing office can be even faster in Germany. Last Friday, President Christian Wulff resigned after the Lower Saxon state prosecution service had formally requested the suspension of his legal immunity. This followed newspaper reports claiming Wulff had accepted gifts from business friends in return for favourable treatment.

The threat of preliminary proceedings was enough to force the president to resign. Although Wulff maintained his innocence in his resignation speech, he argued that public doubts over his personal credibility would make it impossible for him to exercise the office of head of state.

Wulff’s departure barely took nine weeks. But even that was considered too long by most German commentators, who claimed that public trust in democracy had been damaged by Wulff clinging to power. By staying to long, they argued, Wulff had done a disservice to himself and the office of president.

The speed with which both Britain and Germany have dealt with claims of personal misconduct was quite appropriate in both cases. For the democratic system to be trusted, it is vital there are no lingering doubts about elected office holders. Substantial claims need to be dealt with quickly, and in court, to avert harming the integrity of the political system.

Surely Australia would not want to copy the Italian example in which criminal proceedings against former Prime Minister Berlusconi have been dragging on for years, not least because of political interference.

In any case, even something as slow-moving as tectonic plates may eventually result in an earthquake.


Overcharging cases against Keddies lawyers going slowly nowhere

The moment is here, if not overdue, for us to get up to speed on the latest twists and turns of the Keddies saga. Not only is this one of the most awful cases where lawyers are alleged to have conspicuously and consistently overcharged their clients, as reported in a long-running Herald investigation, but it shows the failure of the legal profession as a self-regulator.

While lawyers may admire the skills with which their own can duck and weave through the system, the public - the consumers of legal services - would view the charade with the contempt it deserves.

A Sydney law firm run by Stephen Firth is acting for more than 100 former clients of Keddies, suing the former partners for the return of overcharged fees. It gives rise to issues of breach of duty, deceit, misrepresentation, and false and misleading conduct.

It is understood another law firm, Wang & Associates, is acting for close to another 100 former clients of Keddies. Just about all of them were involved in accident compensation cases.

In November, it became clear that some of Firth's clients were being approached by anonymous third parties and offered cash to settle their overcharging claims.

This happened behind the back of their new legal representatives.

Firth sought an injunction in the Supreme Court to stop it. The unnamed agents were effectively acting for both the plaintiffs and the defendants.

Robert Stitt, QC, acting for Firth and the clients who were being peeled away, put it to Justice Michael Adams: "An unknown, charitable white knight was going around the suburbs with piles of cash and deeds of release … It's so offensive, that it should be brought to heel."

At this stage, about six of Firth's clients had been approached before their overcharging cases against the former Keddies partners (Tony Barakat, Scott Roulstone and Russell Keddie) had been listed for hearing in the District Court.

It emerged that some of the third-party agents arranging these backdoor settlements were former employees of Keddies.

Undertakings were given to the court by lawyers for Keddies that this would not happen again and, in fact, Adams made orders seeking to prevent Keddies or its agents communicating with former clients who were suing them.

Evidence was presented that in breach of the undertaking and orders, Roulstone had signed a cheque payable to a disgruntled, overcharged client. Roulstone is a former vice-president of the NSW Law Society.

On December 6, Adams asked Barakat, Roulstone and Keddie to show cause why they should not be dealt with for contempt of court. He wanted them in court the next day, as they would probably need to be cross-examined.

"This is serious … There better be a good explanation," the judge said.

On the day, Chris Branson, QC, for the Keddies trio, submitted that the contempt hearing required a properly drawn-up charge, giving full particulars of the alleged offence.

It was all put off until December 12, with Adams saying: "I would like to put on record my grave disapproval" of the attitude of the Keddies partners, particularly Roulstone.

Meanwhile, as part of the District Court overcharging cases, Judge Susan Gibb ordered two barristers, David Campbell, SC, and Tim Meakes, who acted for Keddies clients, to produce documents which divulged the fees they charged in a number of accident compensation settlements.

Campbell and Meakes sought leave to appeal that decision and were turned down on January 31 by the Court of Appeal (in this case, Justices Tony Meagher and Reg Barrett).

Back in Adams's court, things were hotting up. Instead of the contempt hearing coming on in the new year, the judge was asked by Keddies to stand down from the hearing on the ground of apprehended bias. Firth's lawyers protested that this was just another bout of tactical stalling.

Adams delivered judgment on that matter on February 3, rejecting the application and saying that no reasonable person could think he had been biased in the conduct of the proceedings. The contempt hearing was then relisted for February 16.

But on February 9, the Court of Appeal granted Barakat, Roulstone and Keddie a stay of the contempt case against them and gave leave to appeal Adams's refusal to disqualify himself on the grounds of apprehended bias.

The damages case that Firth has also brought against the Keddies trio seems to be stayed as well.

We are now at an indeterminate point. The courts, the disciplinary authorities and the Law Society have to sit on their hands and whistle while these long-winded excursions take their course.

Not a finger has been laid on these lawyers. They all retain the right to practise and they all have a right to contest every single step to hold them to account for the rapacious way some of their former clients were scalped.


Weather watchers confess long-distance vision dodgy

THE weather bureau has revealed Day Seven of its long-range forecasts is wrong most of the time.

The bloopers include a "mostly sunny" outlook one week out from the disastrous Christmas Day hail storms.

"Isolated showers" were the long-range forecast for February 4 last year - the day Melbourne was swamped by flash flooding.

The 40 per cent accuracy rate for Day Seven temperatures is less than what the Day One forecast was 50 years ago, according to data compiled for the Herald Sun.

Weather bureau spokeswoman Andrea Peace has defended the use of seven-day forecasting, but admitted the uncertainty increased dramatically from the four-day mark.

"We use the main global models that are considered to be the best, and there can still be days where even for tomorrow they can all give conflicting results," Ms Peace said.

"The need is still there but people have to understand that it's a guide, it's an outlook and there's a strong possibility that it will change as you get closer to the day."

"Severe weather" was forecast closer to Christmas Day, but thousands of Melburnians were caught out by the storms, with hailstones and flash flooding causing tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Ms Peace said it was difficult to determine the severity of thunderstorms 24 hours out.

The figures show Day One forecasts are more accurate than ever with an 85 per cent strike rate in 2011. And the number of forecast failures - an error margin of 5C or more - was just three last year, 10 times fewer than in 1962. The Day One error margin has halved in 50 years to just over 1C, while the Day Seven forecast averaged a 2.5C error last year.

Ms Peace said technological advances had combined to hone forecasts over the years.

"As we get better computing power, the size of the grids is going to get smaller and smaller, so the computer models will be able to resolve smaller, more localised weather phenomena," she said.


Bureaucrats lose one

I am not at all anti-vaccine but I certainly detest bureaucrats abusing their power

The New South Wales Supreme Court has ruled the state's Health Care Complaints Commission should not have issued a public warning against a prominent anti-vaccination group.

The Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) took the court action after the commission (HCCC) after the warning against it was issued in July 2010.

The HCCC issued the warning after the network failed to comply with its recommendation to disclose on its website that the group's purpose was to provide anti-vaccination information.

The network argued the commission did not have the authority to issue such a warning.

This morning the Supreme Court has agreed the HCCC was not within its jurisdiction to do so.

In 2010 the commission said it had established the network's website contained incorrect and misleading information, and quoted selectively from research. [Rather like orthodox medical research papers, in other words]


25 February, 2012

Health chiefs gag University of Queensland medical students with legal threat

IN AN affront to free speech, Queensland Health has demanded all medical students sign a gag order or be turfed out of their courses.

Students are furious that the University of Queensland medical school has gone along with the ridiculous ban they fear will prevent them from speaking out against wrongdoing or mistreatment of patients.

The students fear they are being coerced into signing the seven-page student deed poll agreeing not to reveal anything. The medical school's online forum has run hot with complaints.

"Of primary concern is the contents of the document which seems to provide disproportionately harsh penalties for students in relation to extremely vaguely worded 'breaches', most of which seem designed to protect Queensland Health, not patients," said one student. "Also of concern is the manner in which students are being forced to sign these documents as a 'requirement' of their placement.

"If students choose not to sign this deed - a document which the students have had no role in writing or drafting and have not even been informed about - then Queensland Health will disallow the student to continue on a placement, effectively meaning their medical studies are over.

"This penalty is by virtue of paragraph 17 (which says): 'This Deed Poll will continue for the duration of the placement, subject to the student's right to withdraw this consent. The student acknowledges that they may withdraw this consent by providing written notice to Queensland Health and the education provider. A withdrawal of consent will affect the student's ability to continue with the placement'."

The unsigned deed warns that "Queensland Health may seek and obtain an ex parte interlocutory or final injunction to prohibit or restrain the student, from any breach or threatened breach of this Deed Poll".

The deed contains a direct threat of legal action. It says: "In the event of a breach or threatened breach of the terms of this Deed Poll, Queensland Health shall be entitled to seek the issue of an injunction restraining the student from committing any breach of this Deed Poll without the necessity of proving that any actual damage has been sustained or is likely to be sustained by Queensland Health."

Another student said there were already adequate privacy regulations. She added: "It strikes me that this is Queensland Health out of control. With an election imminent, they are inappropriately trying to control all aspects of information about their organisation and inappropriately entitle themselves to take harsh punitive action against students. "The document seems to have more to do with protection from comment or criticism about Queensland Health than patient privacy."

Matthew Ramsay, a student from the US, said the document appeared to be an attempt to shut down media scrutiny of Queensland Health and the university medical school. "It's very disconcerting," he said. "It appears to be a cover-up. The medical profession is dangerously close to allowing the Hippocratic Oath to degenerate into the Hypocritical Oath."

He said the medical school was racked with discontent following the nepotism scandal that claimed the scalps of vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger.

Ramsay said he wondered whether it was linked to the controversy surrounding medical student Margaret O'Connell, who kept a diary of shortcomings at the school. O'Connell said students were not properly supervised during a seven-week "rotation" at a Queensland private hospital catering chiefly for the mentally ill. She said doctors made fun of suicidal patients, including one who had threatened to jump into the Brisbane River.

O'Connell complained doctors would not let students attend consultations with them. And doctors made it clear to students they didn't care whether they turned up. The doctors didn't even know the students' names and didn't want to know. "I suspect this gag order is directly or indirectly related to the case of Meg," said Ramsay.

O'Connell said she was asked to see a psychiatrist and failed on a rotation to far north Queensland. But her case was strengthened when she won a glowing report card from Dr Peter Chilcott, director of medical services at Gove District Hospital in the Northern Territory.

Chilcott went further, accusing the university of a witch-hunt. In evidence tendered to the university, he said: "I applaud your courage in taking on the Queensland medical establishment. As you are aware, your time in Gove was cut short by similar slurs and innuendos concerning your mental state. I had no concerns about your time at Gove.

"I was contacted by the medical school to provide reports. "There was no doubt in my mind that the medical school simply wanted me to falsify reports and would have been quite happy for the whole mess up here to simply go away. I told the medical school that I had many concerns about how your case was handled.

"If someone had concerns about your mental state at that time then who better to look into the matter than myself with 38 years of GP experience. I also had at that time a GP trainee who is very experienced in mental health because she was originally on a psychiatric training pathway before switching to general practice. "From my perspective your case had all the signs of a witch-hunt."

Chilcott saw no signs of mental illness, adding: "I did see someone who is 'eccentric'. However, do not take offence at this because I am considered 'eccentric' as well." He said he was happy to support O'Connell's complaints to the CMC and the Ombudsman.

O'Connell has applied for a transfer to other universities. Her complaint is being considered internally.


'Live in the real world' - Judge backs smacks

SMACKING your kids can be OK, a judge said yesterday. Judge Paul Conlon yesterday overturned the assault conviction of a stepfather who cuffed his 13-year-old stepson lightly over the head after he swore at his mother and refused to wash the dishes.

The man also grabbed the boy on top of his arm when he tried to go to the bathroom to get out of chores.

The man had been convicted in Wollongong Local Court of assault causing actual bodily harm after the boy's birth father called police. The court had rejected the man's rarely used defence of "lawful correction".

In a decision that will further inflame the debate about smacking, Judge Conlon said children needed effective discipline. "One of the reasons that so many young persons find themselves in trouble with the law is that there has been an absence of any effective discipline in their lives," Judge Conlon said in the NSW District Court.

"I find that the application of that physical force was reasonable, having regard to the fact that the complainant was a healthy 13-year-old boy," he said.

The judge said there was no way he was condoning violence against children. "However, it is a sad day when caring parents, attempting to impart some discipline to the little princes and princesses, are dragged before our courts and have convictions imposed against them in circumstances such as the present," he said.

Judge Conlon said anti-smacking "experts" did not "live in the real world".


A corrupt Reserve Bank!

Reserve knew of bribes two years before police called. It is hard to know which is worse, the initial offences or the coverup

THE Reserve Bank governor, Glenn Stevens, has admitted his deputy was told in writing of corruption inside the bank's operations in 2007, two years before the scandal became public and it called in the federal police.

But the bank is refusing to release the briefing or the legal advice it relied on when it decided not to report alleged corruption to the police.

Mr Stevens told the federal parliamentary economics committee yesterday the reserve's deputy governor, Ric Battellino, who retired earlier this month, was informed in writing about corruption inside the reserve's currency firm, Note Printing Australia.

The briefing was written by an unnamed Note Printing employee and detailed admissions made by its Malaysian and Nepalese agents that they had paid bribes on behalf of the Reserve's firm.

Last year, federal police charged Note Printing with bribing officials in Malaysia and Nepal as part of a criminal inquiry that begun in 2009 after revelations in the Herald. It is fully owned by the bank and overseen by serving and former Reserve senior officials.

The Herald revealed last October that Reserve officials were told in 2007 about the corrupt conduct involving Note Printing's overseas agents, but sought to cover it up instead of alerting police.

Under questioning from the Liberal MP Tony Smith yesterday, Mr Stevens initially told the committee the bank had received no written briefing on corruption inside Note Printing and that concerns raised in 2007 were only verbal and inconclusive.

Mr Stevens also used the hearing to strongly deny claims bank officials engaged in any cover-up, saying he "unequivocally" rejected the claim.

But after Mr Smith interrupted the conclusion of the hearing to press Mr Stevens on the bribery scandal, Mr Stevens conceded his earlier evidence to the committee was wrong and the bank had been advised in writing of corruption concerns in 2007.

"Well, actually, that [what I said earlier about their being no written briefing] wasn't quite true. I have been reminded while we have been talking that in fact the deputy governor invited that person [the Note Printing employee who raised bribery concerns] to put that in writing, which he did and give it to the deputy governor."

When he attempted to further press Mr Stevens about the briefing, Mr Smith was told he had run out of time.

It is the second committee hearing in which the RBA has been forced to correct the evidence it has given about its handling of the corruption scandal, which has so far led to the charging of 10 former bank note executives.

Note Printing's sister company, Securency, which is half owned by the RBA, is also facing bribery charges. At the time of the alleged bribery, both companies were chaired by the former Reserve Bank deputy governor Graeme Thompson. They shared the same agent in Malaysia, who has been charged with paying bribes.

Instead of alerting police to the allegations of corrupt conduct in 2007, the Reserve Bank appointees on Note Printing's board confidentially referred them to the corporate law firm Freehills. The Note Printing board also agreed to conceal from the Nepal central bank information about improper tender dealings involving secret commissions.

The RBA claims Freehills later advised there was no need to go to the police. It has also refused to release the Freehills report.

Mr Stevens told the committee yesterday the bribery scandal was "quite easily the most unpleasant, difficult set of issues I've ever had to deal with in my job".


The Gonski paradox: more red tape, more autonomy, less choice in Australian education

Kevin Donnelly

If we project the Gonski school funding recommendations into the future, it is possible to make some hypothetical predictions.

It is possible they would improve state schools by making them more autonomous and giving parents more input into their running, but they would also further bureaucratise school funding and reduce the range of choices for mothers and fathers.

The contradiction in the Gonski report is this: it argues giving schools increased flexibility and freedom will improve results and raise standards, but at the same time recommends increased bureaucracy and red tape and an accountability regime that will restrict innovation and diversity.

A defining characteristic of the Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard education revolution is its top-down approach. While the Commonwealth government neither manages schools nor employs staff, its national curriculum, testing, teacher registration and certification, and partnership agreements - all linked to funding - have centralised control of education and led to more micromanagement.

Schools would suffer additional compliance costs and red tape under the Gonski recommendation for additional government-sponsored agencies such as the National School Resources Body and School Planning Authorities in the various states.

Then there is the impact inside the classroom. Linking funding to measures such as National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results would exacerbate the negative influence of standardised testing.

The curriculum will narrow, teachers will feel pressure to be bean counters and schools will be forced to contrive ways to ensure that test results improve. As in the US, especially New York, where there is a history of standardised tests and public accountability, there will also be pressure on governments and education authorities in Australia to water down tests and artificially lift results to convince a sceptical public that standards are being raised.

Over the past 20 years or so, school choice in Australia has become a reality. Many parents have voted with their feet, choosing non-government schools. While enrolments in Catholic and independent schools have grown by approximately 20 per cent, government school enrolments have flatlined at a little more than 1 per cent.

Across Australia, some 34 per cent of students attend non-government schools; more than 50 per cent in some capital cities. Critics argue non-government schools have been so successful because of the Howard government's supposedly inequitable socio-economic status (SES) funding model. They also argue the success of Catholic and independent schools residualises government schools and exacerbates disadvantage as they are left with high concentrations of at-risk and poorly performing students.

But there are two problems with Gonski's team accepting these arguments, which will only make the situation in state schools worse. Firstly, parents are choosing non-government schools because of their values, not just their resources. Secondly, labelling state schools as underperformers will lead to fewer enrolments. Parents are naturally averse to sending their children to a school characterised as serving at-risk students, especially when non-government schools are seen to achieve better results.

The report does nod in the direction of increased school autonomy and allowing schools to better respond to the needs and aspirations of their communities. So parents in future could expect co-operative state governments to free schools from a one-size-fits-all model of educational delivery and ensure that schools, both government and non-government, are more able to manage their own affairs.

Gonski argues for more community engagement with schools, for example, and a greater role for parents, businesses and philanthropic groups. This will add to the pressure on governments to give schools control over budgets, hiring and firing staff and their culture and curriculum focus. So parents could have more input into how the local state school runs.

Then again, the Gonski report could also have an unintended consequence. By recommending that government and non-government students with a disability receive equal funding and that such funding should be portable, it could produce a sort of pilot study for a voucher system for all students. Governments would then be forced to acknowledge that parents have a right to choose where their children go to school and to ensure money follows the child and parents are not financially penalised for their choice.

Of course, given the Gillard government's decision to put the report on the backburner, postponing any decisions until after another round of consultations and submissions, its future is uncertain at best.

Given that the opposition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, has argued for the existing SES model and expressed doubts about the report, any future Coalition government is likely to shelve it or accept its proposals very selectively.

SOURCE. A lot of interesting commentary here on Finland, genetics and such things

WA should invest and lower taxes before hoarding revenue

Stephen Kirchner

On 22 February, WA Premier Colin Barnett said his government would announce a sub-national sovereign wealth fund as part of the forthcoming state budget and legislate to introduce the fund later in the year.

The Liberal-National government is committed to ensuring future generations of West Australians have a legacy from this historic period of economic development, built predominantly on the significant but finite resources available to us at present.

Robert Carling and I explain why the premise behind the WA move is flawed in our just released CIS Policy Monograph, Future Funds or Future Eaters? We note that Australia’s resources are not finite in any economically meaningful sense. Well before these resources are exhausted, substitution on both the supply and demand side of commodities markets will have consigned them to being an economic irrelevance. In the meantime, continuing productivity growth and technical progress will mean future generations of Australians will enjoy a much higher standard of living in an economy that will increasingly be dominated by service industries.

To the extent that Western Australia is now enjoying windfall revenue gains, there is no reason why the state government cannot invest this revenue in productivity-enhancing infrastructure and other projects that will yield a stream of valuable services into the future for the benefit of future generations. Government expenditure programs should aim to do this anyway, but it is particularly important to the extent that the revenue streams from the current mining boom are thought to be temporary. Mining revenue could also be used to lower or abolish inefficient state taxes that will expand the economy and grow the state tax base for the benefit of future generations.

Hoarding revenue in financial assets will produce a return in line with the future performance of those assets, but this is likely to be poor compensation for not using the revenue today to increase spending on productivity-enhancing infrastructure and lowering the state tax burden.

Many commentators are justifying the pay rise by saying those who choose to work with the poor are saints. The real question is why is failure being rewarded? Public choice, dear reader. I just wish vulnerable children had a public sector union to advocate on their behalf, replete with tame factional serfs in the Labor caucus.

That feathering their own nests has been the priority at a time when the child protection system is crumbling all around us and stumbling from one crisis to another means that social workers have surrendered any pretensions to their ‘professional’ status.

This sorry episode has reinforced my belief that the answer to the perpetual crisis engulfing child protection is to restore citizen-control over the system by re-establishing decentralised, community-governed child protection agencies.


24 February, 2012

Paid to spread lies on climate (?)

I reproduce below an amusing rant that I happened to come across on an Australian Leftist blog. Note that it is 100% "ad hominem" -- it is all personal abuse, accusations and aspersions. Not a single actual scientific fact is mentioned. But who can blame the author after all? Warmists have no scientific facts to promulgate -- just prophecies and appeals to authority. I am still waiting for someone to dispute the facts that have long been portrayed in the header to GREENIE WATCH. No-one ever has

The anti-climate science nonsense being promulgated by ratbag groups such as Quadrant, the IPA and the utterly degenerate and despicable Catallaxy blog depend on the rantings of a handful of so-called ‘sceptics’. According to the DeSmogblog in a series of posts (the earliest is here) the most prominent of these sceptics are being paid monthly retainers by the libertarian Heartland Institute that are funded by the usual interest groups. Heartland has in the past acted on behalf of carcinogen producers to lie about the dangers of secondary tobacco smoke – its senior personnel were in the employ of these tobacco producers – so its antics should not be unexpected. But the naiveté of the right-wing fools who promulgate and consume the lies spread by this group is surprising.

The dangerous implications of these lies rests in their success in turning the science of climate change into a so-called debate between ‘two sides’ even though the science of climate change is clear. This has been seriously damaging to the cause of trying to take foster community resolve to address climate change and damages the future world that our children will live in. All of those involved – the so-called ‘scientists’ who spread the sceptical nonsense, the right-wing ignoramuses who disperse their lies through blogs, the gutter press and the mindless sheep who provide an audience for these lies and who endlessly recycle their wrong arguments deserve the community’s condemnation. More than that an awareness of the role of such interest group lobbies in undermining informed debate needs to be understood.

It is part of a pattern for this camp – lies on climate science, crank macroeconomic theories and crank views on taxation and the use of economic instruments to address externalities. They are all part of the same web of deceit.

Bob Carter denies here that he is a mouthpiece for Heartland but does not deny he gets paid a monthly retainer by them. Bob is one of the crew of right-wing ideologues who present their views regularly in the News Corporation media such as the Australian – for example this.

Heartland claim one of the documents cited is fraudulent but do not deny the allegations above that they paid climate change denialists. DesSmogblog does not retreat from its position. Wait for a new program of lies from Catallaxy and the IPA – these are the experts in deceit.

Update: DeSmogblog point out an interesting tactic of Heartland. Raise a question about 1 document in 100 pages of documents and seek to throw doubts on the whole lot.

Update: ASIC documents suggest the denialist Australian Climate Science Coalition (Carter, Evans, Kininmonth, Plimer etc) get most of their funding from Heartland.


A conservative fires back

Leftists can hardly open their mouths without spouting abuse but in the Northern Territory, one conservative politician gave a Leftist as good as she got -- and more. She appears to have some Aboriginal ancestry so that may have emboldened her. Being "black" has its privileges

CLP firebrand Alison Anderson hit back at Labor heavy Chris Burns in Parliament labelling him "racist" and "sexist", and revealing he hates the Treasurer - and her mother.

In response to a stinging attack by Dr Burns in Parliament on Tuesday night, Ms Anderson last night kicked back - with both boots. Parliament descended into chaos during the attack, which ended with Ms Anderson being thrown out when she, according to the Government, called a Labor backbencher a " b*tch".

Ms Anderson later denied she used the 'f' word. But she admitted to saying "sookie b*tch" in the heat of battle - and said she intended to apologise.

The Member for Macdonnell began her attack by calling Dr Burns a "bizarre man". She recalled a time, when she was a Labor backbencher, that Dr Burns "mocked a victim of child abuse". "I look across at the Member for Johnston in his twilight, and what do I see? I see a human shell."

She called him a "sexist" and a "racist".

When Treasurer Delia Lawrie jumped up to defend Dr Burns, Ms Anderson offered a biting reply. "Member for Karama, remember Burnsy said he hates you and your mother too," she said.

The ugly feud was sparked after Dr Burns accused her of "despicable" practices during her time working in Papunya. He had read out sections of a book, King Brown Country, saying she'd forced the shop to price gouge and used the funds to buy cars for a chosen few.

Ms Anderson denied all wrong-doing, and threatened to sue Dr Burns if he repeated it outside Parliament. "I give my personal assurance to this Parliament again that I've never been involved in corrupt financial practices and I've never benefited from any transactions at Papunya involving motor vehicles," she said.

Ms Anderson said the book was full of falsehoods and errors, and that she hadn't taken legal action because "in public life, one must accept such blows". She said a detailed Commonwealth report into allegations of fraud and mismanagement at Papunya had fully exonerated her.


BOOK REVIEW: The Climate Caper by Garth W Paltridge, Published by Connor Court, Australia, 2009

Below is part of a very large and informative review. Reading the whole thing definitely recommended

The Climate Caper is a “must read” for the insights it provides into the way the prospect of mild global warming has been beaten up to become “the greatest moral challenge of our times” by a recent Prime Minister of Australia. It provides some extra dots to add to the pattern explained by John Grover’s book The Struggle for Power on the worldwide political campaign against the peaceful use of nuclear power.

Grover’s book could have been called “the anti-nuclear caper”. It describes the worldwide campaign by a network of radical leftwing groups, operating initially under cover of the peace movement and then in the environmental movement. Their greatest institutional achievement came under administration of President Carter when representatives of the movement occupied many senior positions and embarked on the program of massive regulation which now prejudices the economic recovery of the US. In Australia the movement delayed the mining of uranium and prohibits the lucrative industry of storing the nuclear waste of the world and also the prospect of nuclear power.

There is a very major difference between the two campaigns and Paltridge’s book is especially helpful on that topic (though he does not refer to the previous caper at all). The anti-nuclear caper drew no support from reputable scientists, unless you count a handful of outright cranks and some ideologues from non-relevant disciplines. The incredible triumph of that no-growth campaign was to marginalise the entire scientific community. This time around the scientific community is on board and the scientists on the more realistic side of the debate have been marginalised. Paltridge provides a great start on answering the $64K question “how did this happen?”

The book has many striking features, starting with the qualifications of the author.

Emeritus Professor Garth Paltridge is an atmospheric physicist and was a Chief Research Scientist with the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research before taking up positions in Tasmania as Director of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies and CEO of the Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre. He retired in 2002 and remains an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Tasmania, a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.

He provides historical perspective because he was involved in climate science from the beginning of interest in warming, up to and beyond the point where it became inflated and politicised.

He was close to the epicentre of the explosion in the IPCC and he explains how the scientific committees of that body became subservient to the political committee.

On the science of warming he provides a luminously clear explanation of the problems with the models that provide the core of the case for drastic action.

In the Australian policy-making process he was very close to the action when the chief advisor to the Government encouraged a committee from the Academy of Science to water down some potentially damning criticisms of the model he was using as the basis of the proposals that have been taken up by the Administration.

He understands enough of the sociology of science to understand the significance of the rise of Big Science, almost entirely government-funded, and the parallel proliferation of Kuhnian “normal scientists”.

In the same way that John Stone can document the decline of professionalism and quality in the Commonwealth public service because he was there as it happened, Paltridge saw the decline of independence and the spirit of criticism in the scientific community during his career (much due to the same influences described by Stone).

All of this adds up to a compelling case to stop the rush to drastic action to address a so-called problem, namely the prospect of a degree or two of warming over the next century, which will have positives as well as negatives (if it makes any noticeable difference at all).

As a bonus the book is short and very clearly written with a light and humorous touch.

Much more HERE

The moron act of branding normal healthy kids as "obese" has now spread to Australia

A MELBOURNE mother is horrified after a child and maternal health nurse labelled her healthy three-year-old daughter "obese".

Helen Karalexis said the incident occurred when she took Viktoria to the Sunshine Child and Maternal Health clinic for a routine check-up on Wednesday.

Ms Karalexis was concerned this was not an isolated case, and that it was sending children the wrong messages.

Her daughter is 108cm tall and weighs 21.1kg - when the nurse put these measurements into the computer, she told her Viktoria was obese. "I said, 'how can you tell me my daughter is obese? Look at her'," Ms Karalexis said. "She's very energetic, she's always outside playing, she's got a lot of muscle, which is heavier than fat."

The nurse recommended Ms Karalexis switch her daughter to low-fat milk, reduce her meal portions and not give her any cordials, soft drinks or fruit juice. "She almost convinced me my daughter was obese," Ms Karalexis said.

Nurses should not be relying solely on a computer program to determine whether a child was obese, but also use discretion and common sense, she said. "It's hard enough trying to get kids to eat as it is, but this could make them start thinking 'I can't eat this because I'm going to get fat'," she said.

Ms Karalexis urged parents suffering a similar experience to seek a second opinion.

A Brimbank City Council spokesman said discussions were being held with Isis Primary Care, which provides maternal and child health services in the area on its behalf, over Ms Karalexis's allegations.

Isis director of community services Michael Girolami said body mass index (BMI), which took into account a child's age, height and weight, was used to determine if a child was in a healthy weight range.

The online BMI assessment tool was available from the US Government's National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Mr Girolami said. "In this particular case, the child was placed in the 95th percentile, which is defined as "obese" in the chart," he said.

Dietitian Karen Inge said the BMI system had limitations because it measured only height and weight, not body composition, and muscle weighed more than fat.


The drift to private High Schools continues in Qld.

They try to pooh-pooh it below but State schools have to be pretty bad for so many parents to abandon them -- at a considerable monetary sacrifice. Private enrolments are now about 40% of the total, which is huge and getting bigger

STATE high schools are continuing to lose students to the independent and Catholic sectors, figures released today show.

The 2012 Day 8 state school figures - the student data used to allocate staff - show that while primary school enrolments are booming, more than 4000 Year 7 pupils from last year left the sector for private education.

State primary school enrolments rose from 310,104 on Day 8 last year to 317,072 this year - the biggest jump in the sector in recent years. Education Minister Cameron Dick said there was record growth in Prep in state schools, with 1800 extra pupils in 2012, taking the year level to more than 44,700 students across the state.

"This increase reflects the Queensland Government's successful implementation of Prep as the first year of schooling," Mr Dick said.

But the state sector lost about 10 per cent of its Year 7 students when they moved into Year 8 - a figure that was slightly less than in previous years.

About 39,880 Year 7 students were enrolled in a state school on Day 8 last year. The number of students enrolled in Year 8 at state schools this year is 35,712. Overall, state secondary enrolments dropped from 174,737 last year to 174,377 this year.

Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Norm Fuller said this number was "insignificant" and praised his sector.

"I think state high schools offer more opportunities than the non-government sectors because state high schools offer a far broader range of curriculum," Mr Fuller said.

He said state high schools also served some regional, rural and remote areas where non-government schools didn't exist. Mr Dick said the 2012 Year 8 intake was slightly higher than last year, while a record 30,700 Year 12 students were enrolled on Day 8.

He said Queensland was the only state or territory to have increased government school enrolments every year since 2006.

"Nationally, Queensland continues to have the third-highest proportion of students in government schools, with only Northern Territory and Tasmania higher," he said.

"'We know that while state schools have shown increases in enrolments this year of more than 6600 students, we also expect non-state schools to grow when we see their enrolments later in the year."

Overall, state school student numbers rose 1.4 per cent on last year, up from 484,840 pupils on Day 8 last year to 491,449 this year.

Tiny enrolment drops were recorded in the Darling Downs, South West and Far North Queensland regions, with increases everywhere else.


23 February, 2012

Abbott to call election if government falls

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said this morning that he would immediately call an election if he was asked to form government in the wake of Labor's leadership ructions.

Mr Abbott told ABC radio that he was not interested in forming a minority government if the independent MPs remove their support for the ALP government and call a vote of no confidence.

"I don't want to become prime minister as a result of backroom deals," Mr Abbott said. "If I was asked by the governor-general to form a government I would immediately advise an election. We need a real change and the only way we can get real change is with a real election."

Earlier Mr Abbott had seized on Kevin Rudd's resignation as foreign minister as evidence that the Gillard government is unfit for office and that factional interests dominate the party.

In a statement last night Mr Abbott spruiked his party while attacking Labor's internal culture.

"Kevin Rudd has confirmed two things – that the faceless men are running the Labor Party and that the instability at the top of this government is damaging our country," Mr Abbott said. "This government is unworthy to continue in office."

When questioned in Brisbane, Mr Abbott went on to say, "This government is now terminally dysfunctional and this situation has to be resolved as quickly as possible for the benefit of our country."

Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, meanwhile, called directly for an election. "There should be a ballot, but it should be a ballot all Australians can participate in," he said.

Meanwhile, king-making independent MP Tony Windsor has raised the possibility of a fresh federal election if a Kevin Rudd challenge is successful.

Mr Windsor last night said he was getting "sick of the game that was going on" in the Labor Party over leadership.

"If the Labor Party suddenly want to change arrangements in the middle of the stream all bets are off," he told Sky News. "I'm not going to place myself in the middle of some sort of Fantasy Glades [a theme park] game that's going on and expect to just keep endorsing people whoever the revolving door produces. I did a deal with the current Prime Minister."

Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie refused to be drawn on Mr Rudd's decision.

At a morning press conference yesterday, Mr Wilkie said it was in the national interest for Labor to sort out their differences and get back to work. "I will work with whoever is the leader of the country, whoever is the leader of the Labor Party . . . whether it be Julia Gillard, or Kevin Rudd or Simon Crean," he said.

Queensland maverick Bob Katter, who is close to Mr Rudd, declined to comment.

Greens Leader Bob Brown last night said it would have been better if Mr Rudd had made the announcement in Australia as it was an important domestic issue. "It is a big distraction, people are sick of it. At least this is a circuit breaker," he said.

Independent Rob Oakeshott last night refused to buy into the fallout of Mr Rudd's resignation, saying it was a matter for the Labor Party.


Surgery cancelled on anaesthetised woman

A MEDINA woman who has waited 16 months for elective surgery says she has considered ending her life after having three planned surgeries cancelled by the Health Department.

Pensioner Glynse Schmidt, 65, said she went into hospital for colorectal surgery and was put under general anaesthetic, only to wake up and discover doctors had cancelled her operation at the last minute.

Mrs Schmidt has suffered chronic bowel problems for the past six years and has been waiting on the elective surgery list for over a year.

She says she has "no faith" in the Health Department after her most recent scheduled surgery was cancelled on February 19. "They put me back and put me back. I haven't got any sort of life - I've got cramps in my stomach now and it's constant," Mrs Schmidt said.

"If it was going to continue on last year, I was ready to end my own life. "I'd like to put Colin Barnett in my in my shoes for two weeks without medication to see how he goes, he wouldn't last two days."

Opposition Leader Mark McGowan has taken Mrs Schmidt's plea for help to Parliament, demanding the State Government address a "blow out" in elective surgery waitlists.

"Mrs Schmidt is the human face of the Barnett Government's uncaring attitude towards Western Australians in need and it's failure to address elective surgery waitlists," Mr McGowan said.

"As a pensioner, Mrs Schmidt cannot afford private health care so is forced to suffer months on end as her surgery continues to be pushed further down the waitlist because Premier Colin Barnett considers it to be an elective procedure."

Mrs Schmidt says she was "devastated" to learn her surgery did not go ahead after going under anaesthetic in December 2010. She claimed staff at Fremantle Hospital simply told her to go home and gave her no answers when she asked why the surgery was cancelled.

Her next surgery is scheduled for March 22.

Mr Barnett said the cancelled surgery was "clearly not the result anyone would want" but those on the elective surgery list needed to wait. "The elective list is deemed on clinical and medical grounds not to be life threatening," Mr Barnett said.

"I'm not suggesting they're not painful conditions and cause huge frustration to people, but they are not life threatening conditions and therefore there is a wait."

* Health minister defends department

Health Minister Kim Hames today defended the department, saying there was no record of Mrs Schmidt having surgery cancelled while she was under anaesthetic. "I've had my staff go back three times and check the lists to see if we can find any evidence of that," Dr Hames said.

"I find it extremely difficult to believe that someone would be given an anaesthetic and then woken up and said surgery's cancelled."

Dr Hames conceded the pensioner had had surgery cancelled on two occasions but said it was for other patients who were dying of cancer and needed emergency surgery. "Elective surgery is only cancelled for extreme reasons for patients that are absolutely urgent," he said. "I'd be happy to be cancelled if I was in that position - if someone needed my bed to save their life."


Same-sex couples can sign up for civil unions from Thursday as Queensland's Civil Partnership Act comes into effect on March 5

GAY couples are preparing to line up outside the Brisbane registry office on Thursday to sign up for the state's first civil unions.

That's when the Civil Partnership Act comes into effect, with the first ceremonies able to take place on March 5.

It will give gay couples the same legal rights as married couples.

The move comes after gay couples who dined with Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Lodge last night say she acknowledged gay marriage in Australia was inevitable.

Equal rights advocate Phil Browne says that while changing the Marriage Act would be ideal, civil unions are a step in the right direction.


Public sector in dock after review reveals systemic problems

This sounds excellent. One hopes at least some of the recommendations are implemented

PUBLIC sector job cuts, asset sales, congestion tolling, an overhaul of the industrial relations system and the abolition of government agencies have all been flagged following the recommendations of a landmark review of the NSW public sector.

The NSW Commission of Audit was announced by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, after last year's state election and carried out by a former Treasury official, Dr Kerry Schott. The interim report, released yesterday, paints a damning picture of waste and mismanagement.

"The problems this report has uncovered are systemic," it said. "The commission has been surprised at how consistently basic management practices have not been implemented."

Those delivering government services in the state had been forced to make do with cumbersome structures, unnecessary barriers, poor data, unclear reporting lines and ineffective systems. There was a culture of risk aversion, insularity, adherence to procedure and powerlessness, even defeatism, it said.

Dr Schott said the performance of the NSW public sector was "quite poor" compared with its peers and that a four- to five-year reform period would be needed to remedy the problems.

Mr O'Farrell said it "confirms what we've always suspected - that the NSW public sector is performing well below standard and was at that level when we came to office". This had led to deterioration in the state budget.

The report concluded that if the recommended reforms were not implemented then the O'Farrell government's ability to achieve its first-term agenda was "at risk".

Asked to nominate the worst performing parts of the public service, Dr Schott responded they were "everywhere". Among the report's recommendations was that each "cluster" of government departments should review the agencies under them and that the number of agencies be reduced.

"Immediate steps should be taken to group or merge entities where appropriate and abolish them if they no longer serve a purpose," it recommended.

The audit said continual agency amalgamations had contributed to gross inefficiencies. One example identified in the transport cluster showed 130 separate systems were in place to support business processes and reporting. The audit report anticipated that could be reduced to between 12 and 24, saving more than $100 million a year.

Asked to rule out public service job cuts beyond the 5000 redundancies announced in last year's budget, the Treasurer, Mike Baird, said the government would "look at the recommendations before us, manage and balance all the budgetary considerations [and] look at what actions are required".

Other recommendations of the Schott report included a specific unit within Treasury or Finance and Services to "investigate and restructure the lease or sale of assets and businesses to increase funding for new infrastructure".

It recommended Infrastructure NSW and the NSW Treasury examine the introduction of congestion charging for public transport and toll roads to manage demand during peak periods.

It says "charging a higher price during peak periods will convince commuters, who do not have to travel during peak periods, to delay their travel until a later time when the price will be lower".

The audit also recommended a review should be conducted on the NSW Industrial Relations system to create "flexibility" for staff and management and bring it into line with the federal system.

Mr Baird described the report as "a road map for the way forward". It was welcomed by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia as "the clearest diagnosis of the problems that have held the NSW public sector back from delivering world-class services and meeting its infrastructure backlog".

But the Greens MP John Kaye said the report recommended a state "with fewer public servants, less publicly owned infrastructure and more costs for households".


22 February, 2012

A very welcome immigrant influx to Australia

Huge numbers of Australian-born people have some Irish ancestry so an Irish influx is rather like a family reunion. Irish people will find goodwill towards them wherever they go in Australia

A young hairdresser from Northern Ireland knew her prospects were turning sour about two years ago when the "old people" in her county's quiet shops started talking about how grim business had been getting.

"Everybody was talking about it," Brona Quinn, 22, said of Ireland's most recent economic downturn and the impact it has had on businesses and families.

Ms Quinn stuck it out for a couple of years, but about six months ago the strain of working three jobs to get a "full weekly wage," finally took its toll.

She secured a working holiday visa to get to Perth, where she had heard there was work.

"We had family over here they were able to tell us that they'd been to Brisbane, they'd been to Sydney and there was a lot of work in Perth," she said.

A jump of more than 50 per cent in temporary skilled visas from July last year suggests Ms Quinn is not the only one to notice the influx of skilled workers from Ireland, where jobs have continued to disappear following the 2008 banking crisis and ongoing financial instability in Europe.

Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship figures reveal the 3560 Irish workers entering the country on 457 visas since only July last year have almost already pipped the 2010-2011 financial year total of 3890.

Last year's figures were not shy either, topping the previous year's total of 2240 by more than 1500 workers.

Irish workers entering the country on permanent working visas also look poised to double in the 2011-2012 financial year. In December, the financial year halfway mark, the number of new permanent workers was close to the last year's total of 2934.

"All of my friends that I have are here - all in different parts of Australia - all the young people that I grew up with - they're all our here or they've been here or coming out here," Ms Quinn said. "Everyday I'm hearing of somebody new who is coming out or planning to come out."

The Perth reception desk at global recruitment firm HAYS has seen a "significant increase" in walk-ins from Ireland looking for work, according to WA senior regional director Simon Winfield. "Our reception feels like we've got half of Dublin in it on a Friday afternoon," Mr Winfield said.

"I think typically if you've been doing any research then you would probably want to be coming through WA or Queensland at the moment."

Mr Winfield said Irish workers on 417 visas seeking construction or property jobs in WA was nothing new, but he had noticed an increase of about 25 per cent in the past six to nine months.

Ms Quinn was among almost 12,000 Irish citizens who received working holiday or 417 visas between July and December 2011, according to the Department's records. The figures revealed a 30 per cent increase on the same period in the previous year.

"Also the demographic has changed slightly because in the blue collar space we've also seen graduate level and experienced graduates coming into the office as well looking for opportunities," Mr Winfield said.

"We've also seen a significant increase in the number of degree-holding Irish nationals looking at the white collar sector as well as the blue collar."

Accounts, finance, construction and office support are attracting the bulk of inquiries at the HAYS office, Mr Winfield said.

The influx has been bolstered by targeted campaigns HAYS and other firms have run for their clients to attract workers to WA from Ireland as labour shortages in the state related to the mining sector are predicted to widen.

"People are aware of the economic situation in the UK and Ireland and certainly are targeting those locations in the hopes they can find the individuals they're looking to find," Mr Winfield said. "When you compare the economics in Perth to somewhere like Ireland there are an awful lot of people who are keen to take those opportunities up."

Many people who have come to Australia on 417 visas seeking to secure 457s were finding success in WA, according to Mr Winfield. "We are finding that those applicants that are starting on a temporary contract on a 417 visa are becoming sponsored," he said.

Ms Quinn said she hopes to find an employer to sponsor her stay in Australia before her visa runs out later this year.


NSW should fund nurse re-entry - opposition

The Federal govt. is responsible for this idiocy but someone has to stop it

The NSW Opposition has called on the State Government to fund re-entry training for former nurses who face $10,000 course fees to rejoin the health system. If nurses have not worked for at least three months full-time in the past five years they must meet tough new training standards.

However, the cost of the short re-entry course is $10,000, and is only offered in Sydney.

Opposition Leader John Robertson said South Australia paid to retrain its nurses and NSW should do the same. "If we're going to have a health system that delivers good and proper health outcomes, we don't just need graduate nurses coming into the system," he told reporters in Sydney. "We also need experienced nurses back in the wards performing the services and delivering those services to the people who have health needs.

"A nurse, who may well have taken a decision to not continue to work and raise a family, who wants to then come back into the system, is hit up with a $10,000 fee. "It's actually acting as a barrier in us getting experienced nurses back into our system."

The NSW Nurses' Association (NSWNA) is campaigning to have the State Government pay the cost of retraining, and for courses to be run in regional areas. The association is hoping to get 10,000 signatures by the end of March so it can force a debate in parliament about the problem.



Three articles below

School plan to test wealth of parents under Gonski review of education

A very similar proposal was a big loser for Mark Latham in 2004 so why this Gonski apparatchik thinks such a neo-Communist policy would be accepted by any Australian government is a mystery

PARENTS of private school students could face family wealth assessments to determine how much government support their children's schools need as part of recommendations to overhaul the nation's education funding system.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was forced to reassure parents there was no "hit list" of wealthy private schools despite the two-year Gonski review proposing that parents with the "capacity" to contribute more money could be expected to pay up to 80 per cent of the cost of their children's education.

The review also called for a $5 billion funding overhaul to help arrest a rapid decline of Australian education standards.

But Ms Gillard refused to give a financial commitment to the reforms yesterday. The changes put a standard cost of education on the head of every student, with extra loading for disadvantages such as disability and low socioeconomic status.

The Gillard Government has insisted no school would lose a dollar if the reforms were implemented, promising to contribute a minimum of 20 to 25 per cent of funding for all schools.

The Government's response also ruled out an expansion of capital funding from the commonwealth saying, "the scope of proposed new funding contribution may be too large". [Qld.] State education minister Cameron Dick also said it was "premature" to make any commitment to funding.

The Gonski review was heavily critical of the nation's education systems, noting that funding arrangements were confusing.

It said that in the past decade, the performance standards of Australian students when compared with those in other countries have slipped dramatically, from equal second in reading to equal seventh and from equal fifth in maths to equal 13th.

Report architect David Gonski warned the slide would continue and said the funding overhaul was based on the fundamental principle that "differences in educational outcomes must not be a result of differences in wealth, income, power or possession".

As a basic estimate, the report suggests funding of about $10,500 a secondary school student and $8000 a primary school student.

The report recommends governments stump up a minimum of 20 to 25 per cent of that figure for wealthy private schools and expects schools themselves to contribute a minimum of 10 per cent.

However, if parents at a private school were found to have the "capacity" to pay more, they could be expected to fund up to 80 per cent of the cost of their child's education.

The report wants the Government to find a more specific way of measuring family wealth, instead of the present post-code based model.

One exception to the approach to private school funding is the recommendation that non-government schools that do not charge fees and have no capacity to do so, or provide the education of students with very high needs, will be fully funded by the Government.

The Opposition savaged the review, saying the Coalition would not implement a policy that "hits parents in their hip pocket".

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said the approach to private schools would mean higher school fees and feared there would be no indexation for non-government school funding. "We will make sure at the next election that parents and teachers and principals know the coalition will continue the current quantum of funding, plus real indexation," he said.


ALP rejects schools means testing

Schools Minister Peter Garrett has denied means testing parents of private school students will be introduced as part of the government's response to the Gonski report.

In the first public forum held since the report was released on Monday Mr Garrett was asked if the government was planning to introduce means testing. "There is nothing in this report that refers to means testing of parents at all," Mr Garrett said at this morning's forum.

The report says that parents' capacity to contribute financially should be taken into account when determining the level of government support to non-government schools.

The Government has not given any firm committments about the propsoed Gonski reforms - which seek to make school funding more equitable - as it starts a consultation with the community, states and stateholders over the coming months.

Earlier opposition Education spokesperson Christopher Pyne says that the report "hints" at government plans to introduce means testing for schools funding like it has for private health insurance. "Capacity to pay can only mean one thing and that is how much income is available in that household to pay for school fees," Mr Pyne said.

A key part of the government's response to the report was to hold public meetings so that parents and communities could "have their say about this important education issue".

The forum today - at the Department of Education in Canberra - was attended by teachers, parents and education interest groups and streamed online but, disappointingly for the government, the auditorium was only half full.

During the 45-minute forum - which functioned as a question and answer session - Mr Garrett and School Education Secretary Senator Jacinta Collins did the vast majority of the talking.

Forum participants asked a range of questions, such as when schools would see funding, what support would be available to boarders and the representation of Catholic parents in the ministerial reference group.

When asked about accountability for the reforms, Mr Garrett referred to other accountability measures such as the My Schools website.

He said that overall funding for the proposed reforms could not be discussed until the consultative process was complete. This a host of government working groups and consultation with states and stakeholders. "I know it sounds like talk – but it's actually work," Mr Garrett said.

Senator Collins said she could not "pre-empt an outcome" on the government's position on setting up a philanthropy fund to help schools form philanthropic partnerships - as recommended in the report.

Journalists were not permitted in the auditorium during the session but were able to watch the webcast in a room nearby.

"This is a very democratic process" Mr Garrett said, who added that he expected to host similar events across Australia.

Mr Garrett also said the the government hoped to introduced schools funding legislation to parliament before the end of the year.


A reaction to Australia's Gonski proposals from a Chinese perspective

The author below is an Australian with post-graduate qualifications from two Australian universities and who has been living, studying, working and teaching in China since 1978

For the past 7 years I have been teaching at a HK/Malaysian/local tertiary institution joint venture in Suzhou, China which was seen and resourced by the HK side

As part of the government curriculum students are required to study a compulsory higher mathematics course (which is far in advance of anything I've studied at high school in Maths I and Maths II). This course was rigorously taught and examined albeit not to a national standard exam. Of course there was also a compulsory politics and society course, which is mostly taken by the students as a chance to tune out and nap. The examinations are well projected and students provided with model answers. Clearly no one takes it seriously. By contrast the politically correct curriculum of Australian schools appears seen as the raison d'etre and teachers treat it accordingly.

And so it was that I listened with interest to the press conference announcing the long delayed Gonski Report on Education in Australia. First of all was the promise that 'no school would lose a dollar of funding per student'. That seems an entirely political statement you wouldn't expect from a politically neutral report.

In China there is no universal education system. There never was. Instead there was a separate fee-based system in which the state owned businesses and government departments paid for the fees of the children of their employees. If you did not work for the government you paid your own fees. The better the school the higher the fees. The higher the government department or state owned enterprise, the better the school their employee’s children attended.

The standards at these schools vary. In the major urban centres schools are set up in a hierarchical manner with major state, provincial, and metropolitan schools leading the pack. Then for those who can’t make it, the private schools take up the slack. Many of the private schools are run by the state schools and universities trading on their name and raking in extra cash.

In poor rural villages where students could not afford to pay fees, the local collective or village pays for the school. Poorly paid, educated and under resourced teachers struggle to make a difference with students who are often pulled out of school to attend to farm work. Today the government is beginning to see the importance of proper educational funding for the countryside to reduce the potential for dissatisfaction and to ensure the best students are identified and streamed into better schools. In the cities parents struggle, as they do in the west, to get their children into the best schools and pay the fees any way they can. Often the whole family will contribute hoping to get a member of the family into the government elite who profit from economic rent and are obliged to spread it around the family. In my development here in Suzhou there are a number of families one might identify as from the village, or at least to be parents and relatives of rich officials.

When I was at school in Beijing in the 70’s the education system had just been restored and while I was sharing a room with a student selected on his social class and political credentials, a new group of students arrived who had passed exams. The tension was informative. The gongnongbing students, or those selected from amongst working class, peasants and soldiers, were looked down on by the xinzhishifenzi, or new intellectuals. Like everything in China however the names do not always match the reality. My roommate, ostensibly selected from among the peasant class, was actually the son of a senior PLA general who lived in the same complex as Deng Xiaoping. He had been ‘adopted’ by a family of farmers, perhaps relatives, in order to qualify. It was clear many other students came from similar backgrounds.

An interesting note was struck by some of these New Intellectuals who praised the exam system saying it would result in a decrease in the number of women attending university as the old system had insisted on a 50:50 split of male and female. Within ten years of the exam system being implemented the government was pondering the problem of how to get more male students into university because women were performing better and out numbering men by a significant majority. At this rate it would be very hard to find enough men for government positions the government sources complained!

At our school, the Beijing Language Institute (now the Beijing University of Language & Culture), our teachers had responsibilities outside the classroom as well as in. Indeed the teachers specifically in charge of our Australian cohort were called our Responsible Persons (fuzeren). Should any of us miss a class, or perform poorly in class, we would be visited by the classroom teacher, in addition to our responsible teacher. The reason for our transgression would be investigated and the teachers would offer to help us. They made it clear that our satisfactory performance was their responsibility. Should we continue to miss classes or perform poorly the visits would continue but we would have to take more responsibility and write a confession, or self-criticism (ziwopiping), which demonstrated our contrition and an understanding that we had to attend classes regularly and abide by the teacher’s direction. In other words it was a form of social contract between the school and the student both sides bore responsibility. There were no authoritarian head masters, but major infractions such as attacking local students resulted in immediate repatriation.

Although teachers in China are legendary for their care for their students, and vice versa, there are examples of poor teachers who just put on a video and leave the students to watch it. The moral standards for teachers are high as well. In my school a married teacher, who was very high in the school party apparatus and also widely loved, was dismissed due to reports he was seen out together with another teacher! School leaders insisted teachers set a moral example. Interestingly many of the local teachers insisted that what teachers did in their private time was no business of the school! In Australia you have to sleep with one of the students to be sacked!

So the central question is how can Chinese teachers teach better on much less money and resources? Dedication? Tradition? Student discipline these days is not what it was. The 'Little Emperors' of China have no automatic respect for teachers. Indeed they have the arrogance of the nouveau riche in demanding their certificate since they paid their fees regardless of the effort put in! School officials spend a lot of their time defending their teachers against rich and or powerful bullies demanding to know why their child was failed (he didn't submit assignments or attend enough classes usually). The rich threaten to sue the school. The powerful say they will have it closed down. The traditional respect for education in China is much threatened.

A possible suggestion for the superior performance of Chinese schools (at least the elite schools in the major cities) is the competitive nature of the Chinese school system in which the best fight for a place in the elite schools. As we all know from the 50's on in Australia we sought to destroy a merit based education system in order to attain equality of educational outcomes. The same number of poor students should finish Y12 as rich students. In China, paradoxically, there is no obsession with a social class based education system as is still displayed in the Gonski Report. It is a merit-based system. As a result China has leaders of extraordinary ability and intelligence who are unfailingly guiding China back to its normal position as the pre-eminent power in the world. Meanwhile, since the Wyndham Report in NSW, Australia has unerringly declined from top of the OEDC countries to the bottom. Is there a lesson there?

Generally I can say that the Gonski Report could have been the same one submitted to Whitlam, or that submitted by Harold Wyndham to the NSW government in 1957 i.e. an extension of class war politics. Even now the comment by nearly all educationalists is the urgent need to address the lack of equality or fairness in the measured outcomes analyzed on a social class basis. There should be a cognizance that we have been addressing this problem by various means since 1950 without closing the gap. A more realistic approach would be to place extra resources where they are needed, both at the level of disadvantage and also at ensuring the top group of students received the most challenging education available globally.

The resulting emphasis on equality of outcomes resulted in a ridiculous system of pre-HSC exams designed to rate the school, so that when applied to the HSC results, each school had an equal share of A's, B's, C' etc. This was a nice bureaucratic solution, which had nothing go do with educational outcomes. Universities insisted on raw scores for admission purposes thus exposing the corrupt nature of the 'trick'.

Finally one must say that the Australian obsession with equality of outcomes in education is odd in a capitalist country in which income disparity is generally wide. It seems to be a denial of the capitalist nature of country by our educationalists. It seems a denial of human nature to expect equality of outcome in education when it is not manifest in any other form of human life.

One aspect common in Chinese schools, which is totally lacking in Australia as far as I know, is that each semester the students are surveyed on their satisfaction with each teacher for each subject. This survey covers such things as punctuality, helpfulness, good communicator, covered topic, allowed participation, as well as general topics about school facilities. The results of the survey weigh heavily on the teacher’s evaluation and at the end of the year the teacher’s bonus is based on this as well a peer evaluation. I was a member of the teacher’s union at the school and of course the union supported such surveys. I can’t see any Australian teachers union allowing such evaluations as they are opposed to any merit based system of teacher evaluation and appear to oppose any moves toward continuous education for teachers. They certainly motivated teachers to maintain professional standards as well as satisfying the student desire to enhance the learning environment.

If there is anything to learn from China it is that the thirty years of human disaster resulted from the same idealism and desire for equality. Stalinist socialism didn’t work there, it did work anywhere in the world. In China in the 1980’s it was systematically undone and an exam based system implemented. The search for the best and brightest does not stop at the school system. Twice every year the government will hold open exams in major centres for those who aspire to work in the government. Of course the system does have ‘Chinese characteristics’ a good score alone is not enough to gain admission to government employment, there is a personal interview, and of course ‘good references’ or background also will be considered.

No one suggests we imitate China. Their excellent performance is due to a highly selective system, national standards and rigorously supervised exams, dedicated and responsible teachers, highly motivated students, and an educational philosophy aimed at teaching to the highest world standards with only the slightest nod to political correctness. But we might learn from that.

Received via email

21 February, 2012

Important things are happening in Brisbane today

When I drove past the "Gabba" cricket ground a little while ago, there was a great stream of brown men headed in that direction. Why? The cricket is on again and after a thrashing by Australia the Indians are facing Sri Lanka today. And the two sides seem to be well matched so the supporters of both are hoping for a win.

There are a lot of South Asians in Brisbane and I would not be surprised if half of them are at the cricket today. Cricket is the main religion in that part of the world.

I have too much to do to attend the match but I get some of the excitement because I live at Woolloongabba and from where I sit at home I hear the roar of the crowd whenever someone hits a six or gets bowled out. I am barracking for India, though I have nothing whatsover against the Sri Lankans. The Pakistanis will of course be barracking for Sri Lanka -- JR

Public service mail delivery (or not)

I have had some parallel to the story below in my own experience. A colleague mailed me a rather large book in a proper padded bag and with the correct address on it. I never got it. It was returned to sender. He resent it in another envelope that included the original bag and its "return to sender" marking and it got through the second time. I wrote a letter of complaint to the Minister about it at the time but never got a reply -- JR

On 21 September I posted a letter with some documents and a cheque at the post office in Mossman, Queensland.

The post office is located on 24 Front Street and the letter was addressed to the council office on 64 Front Street. Although the distance from post office to council office is only a few hundred metres the letter never ever made it there.

An enquiry was lodged with Australia Post where my missing letter with cheque was but they were not interested in investigating the matter.

I decided to do my own investigation and mailed another test letter to the council office, this time with my return address on the back of the envelope. And what do you know, several days later the letter was returned to me, with a sticker stating; "Address unknown"!!

With all the technology available now with smartphones with free QR code software that can generate QR code that delivering a piece of mail would be an easier process.

Would you believe it, even though the post office is on the same street as the council office, and the post office is staffed by long time locals who know perfectly well where the council office is, they sent my letter back to me saying the address was unknown!!!!!

So I phoned the Mossman post office for an explanation of this unbelievable stupidity, and spoke to the manager Belinda Thompson. She did admit that she knew where the council office was (so the address unknown sticker was a lie) but then came up with the excuse that the council office did not have a mailbox at their building so the postie could not deliver the mail there.

I informed her that the building does have doors, and that they even open automatically, so it is extremely easy to walk up to the counter and place the mail there. Oh no, she replied, then the postie would have to get off his bike!!!

Yes, would you believe it, the world has come to the point now that even though I have paid Australia Post to send my letter I can not expect their staff to get off their backside to deliver my letter!

What a great level of service, one letter disappeared and another returned to sender as address unknown, even though they know perfectly well where the address is!


Qld. Labor party candidate expelled for "incorrect" view on homosexuality

A TEENAGE Labor candidate has been expelled from the ALP today after defending claims that homosexuality degrades "our society's values". Former candidate for the seat of Southern Downs, Peter Watson, was forced to resign as a candidate yesterday after being linked to online rants about homophobia and neo-nazis.

Despite the ALP issuing a media statement claiming Mr Watson had flatly denied allegations against him when the controversy came to light yesterday, the 19-year-old on Tuesday morning defended some of the views offered in the 2007 posts.

During a radio interview Mr Watson stood by his earlier claims of links between pedophilia and homosexuality. "I said that homosexuality and pedophilia were linked because there has been some research done and it's been published by the Catholic Church that suggests that 30 per cent of male pedophiles are homosexuals," he said. "I made the comments so I do agree."

Mr Watson, whose resignation was announced in an ALP media release claiming he flatly denied the allegations, said he was not aware of all the allegations at the time the statement was issued.

ALP State Secretary Anthony Chisholm, who issued the media release, said Mr Watson denied the allegations at the time the document was being prepared. "Clearly he has had a change of mind on those matters but clearly the decision to ask for his resignation was the correct one and we stand by that and he is now no longer the party candidate," he said. "We'll be recommending to officers that Mr Watson be expelled because clearly his views have no place in the Australian Labor Party."

Yesterday, The Courier-Mail reported that a teenage Labor candidate has been forced to resign after being linked to online rants about homophobia and neo-nazis. Peter Watson, 19, was stood aside as Labor's candidate for the safe conservative seat of Southern Downs even though the party insisted he was not responsible for some of the highly offensive material.

Among posts under the name "Peter Watson", homosexuals are labelled as "degenerates" who should be "wiped out". "Homosexuality and pedophilia go hand in hand with each other," the post states. "To deal with one you must deal with the other in order to wipe them from society."

In another post under the name "Peter Watson aka Stalinist", the contributor insists he has masqueraded as a neo-nazi to "get information out of the enemy". "I gave the information about the stupid neo-nazis to my comrades and they dealt with the neo-nazis," it states. "Now most of those neo-nazis are in jail or bashed thanks to my lie."

There is also a post in which a "Peter Watson" promises to give out information on fellow Labor Party members as part of his "long battle against the commies in the branch here in Warwick".

One post from 2007 also talks about dressing up as Soviet soldiers to fight the US. "We all attack each other with water guns, rocks, sticks," it says.

ALP state secretary Anthony Chisholm said in a statement that he had accepted Mr Watson's resignation. "Allegations have been made against Mr Watson, which he flatly denies," he said. "We were unaware of these allegations when he was endorsed late last year.

"Nonetheless, I have accepted his resignation so this issue does not distract from the important issues confronting Queenslanders during this election campaign. "We look forward to announcing a new Labor candidate for this seat as soon as we can, to provide a local voice for Labor voters on the Southern Downs."


Battle for Laura: doctors take on NSW Health over girl's crippling disease

Shades of Britain's NHS!

A six-year-old Newcastle girl is at the centre of a major medical storm over whether a debilitating tick-borne disease exists in Australia. Laura France was diagnosed with Lyme disease late last year following tests done on her blood in the US.

Her family and several doctors are convinced she has the illness, caused by a tick bite, but NSW Health disagrees. The department says the disease does not exist in Australia and will not fund any treatment for it. The family is paying $3000 a month for medication typically used to treat Lyme disease.

Laura has trouble walking, struggles to catch her breath, suffers from severe headaches and is lucky to make it through a full day of school. Michelle France said that at night her daughter had trouble sleeping, cried and complained of constant aches and pains.

"On a daily basis it's hard, we have had to buy a stroller to get her around, she is exhausted after walking short distances," Mrs France said. "It's bad enough that Laura is sick, but the battle to find help has been a nightmare."

Since the December diagnosis the Frances have found themselves thrust into an academic battle over Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread by ticks that has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, with up to 20,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Left untreated it can become crippling.

The first reported case of Lyme disease in Australia, based on clinical symptoms, was from the Hunter in 1982.

According to the NSW Ministry of Health, Australian animals do not carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, the microscopic Borrelia burgdorferi. It says occasional positive tests for the disease in NSW are from people who have picked up the infection overseas. Laura has never left Australia.

A Health Ministry spokesman told the Newcastle Herald the US laboratory where Laura's blood was tested was not validated for use in Australia. Her NSW test for Lyme disease came back negative.

Experts agree the bacteria that causes Lyme disease often fail to show up in blood tests, can hide in other parts of the body and false negatives or false positives are common. GP Peter Mayne, who is treating Laura, said NSW Health had its "head in the sand".

Dr Mayne published a paper in the International Journal of General Medicine last year detailing at least 28 positive tests for Lyme disease from Australian-based patients, the majority of whom had never travelled abroad.

"The proof is irrefutable ... there are a very considerable amount of unrecognised and undiagnosed cases in Australia," he said. "The problem is far greater than anyone has acknowledged."

Laura's test results have been reviewed by controversial US-based paediatrician Dr Ray Jones, who has treated more than 10,000 children for Lyme and chronic Lyme disease. Dr Jones confirmed Laura's diagnosis and urged her parents to travel to the US if appropriate treatment could not be found in Australia.


Australia has affordable homes for the young

Eat your hearts out, Poms

YOUNG people have switched from big spenders to big savers as improved housing affordability brings the great Australian dream within grasp once again.

Exclusive research for The Daily Telegraph shows Generation Y are saving 2 1/2 times as much as they spend. In mid-2009 they said they were spending nearly as much of their spare income as they were saving.

Charlie Nelson, managing director of consumer research firm Foreseechange, said: "The big difference is there's been a realisation that they have to actually save money to afford a house and with current interest rates and house prices they think that's within reach."

Since 2003, Foreseechange polled 1200 different consumers three to four times a year, asking what they would do with $1000. In April 2009, those 18 to 29 said they would save $301, spend $293 and pay $406 in debts. In November 2011, they said they would save $528, spend $211 and use $261 for debts.

Sydney's home affordability improved in the March 2011 quarter and again in June and September, said Housing Industry Association senior economist Andrew Harvey.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the current average first-home loan in New South Wales is $297,000, less than it was at the end of 2009. Sale prices support that finding. RP Data said the median Sydney house price in December 2011 of $535,000 was $40,000 lower than at the end of 2009.

ABS data shows the number of purchases by first-home buyers in NSW is at its highest since 2009 and 76 per cent higher than a year ago. In December, 4208 properties were financed by first-home buyers - up from 2431 a year ago.

Rowan Holloway was one of those December 2011 buyers. At 21, Mr Holloway put a note and a picture on a pinboard at home. It was his goal to own an apartment with a Harbour view by the time he was 25. It took longer.

But in January, just before his 31st birthday, Mr Holloway achieved his dream. The IT professional and his girlfriend Jessica Vestin, 25, returned to his family home in Greystanes until they could afford to buy. They "knuckled down" three years ago, forgoing what they called "wasteful spending".


20 February, 2012

Report on Australian education

A rather silly report that sets out impossible ideals. One might have hoped for something more realistic but what we got was an ivory tower fantasy.

It ignores a couple of elephants in the room: The fact that the large black population pulls down standards in the USA and UK and that China will always be ahead of Australia because of their higher average IQs -- particularly when it comes to mathematical ability

No wonder even an ALP government is kicking it into the long grass. Below is the klutz behind the report

A DETAILED report today will condemn education funding as illogical and inconsistent but the Government will only offer lots of consultation in its immediate response.

The report by David Gonski will sound the alarm on Australian school performances and urge that education become more competitive internationally.

"Australian schools need to lift the performance of students at all levels of achievement, particularly the lower performers," the report, started 18 months ago, will say.

"Australia must also improve its international standing by arresting the decline that has been witnessed over the past decade."

Mr Gonski is expected to condemn the current funding system by pointing to an absence of a "logical, consistent and publicly transparent approach to funding schools".

"Every child should have access to the best possible education, regardless of where they live, the income of their family or the school they attend," the report will say.

The Gonski review comes with a forecast that jobs for skilled workers will grow at 2.5 times the demand for unskilled labour, underlining the need for students to complete a high level of schooling if they want to be employed.

Official figures will show that while we are ahead of standards in Britain and the United States, our international rating in key education areas has been dropping when compared to our closer neighbours, particularly China.

Over the decade Australia has gone from equal 2nd to equal 7th in reading; the average 15-year-old Australian maths student is two years behind his Shanghai counterpart.

Four of the finest top school systems in the world are nearby – in Hong Kong, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore. The report will say we have to match them.

Meanwhile, there are inequalities within the Australian education system, with the literacy gap between disadvantaged pupils and those from higher income homes growing to the equivalent of three years of schooling.

Some 89 per cent of Year 3 students from disadvantaged backgrounds are below average in reading, compared to 13 per cent of advantaged pupils.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Schools Minister Peter Garrett have vowed there will be no hit-list of wealthy private schools, a policy which helped destroy Mark Latham's attempt to win government for Labor in 2004.

The Government also has pledged no school will lose a dollar in funding per student and that indexation will be included in any new funding scheme.

The Prime Minister and Mr Garrett plan a wide ranging national consultation on the report's findings, a move which could push out any new funding commitments past the May Budget.

The Government will be limited in the fresh funding round, to start next year, by its determination to get a Budget surplus in 2012-13.

Ms Gillard and her minister will "kick start a a grass roots, nation-wide discussion" with visits to schools and discussions with teachers and parents.

"We will discuss the proposals outlined in the report with the community and talk about what we think our education system needs to drive better and better outcomes for every child in every school," said Ms Gillard in a statement.

Mr Garrett said the inquiry, the first into the fundamentals of the education system for 40 years, was vital because "our future prospects as a country literally depend on having a highly-skilled, well-educated workforce".


Catholic schools fear heavy hit from funding review

That's a lot of voters to alienate

CATHOLIC schools face fee increases of up to 131 per cent, forcing a potential exodus from primary and secondary facilities and campus closures, according to confidential modelling ahead of the Gonski review.

The church is preparing for the Gillard government to radically overhaul funding, amid concerns of a collapse in real-terms of payments to the sector.

The Australian has obtained a confidential briefing note, which contains three modelling scenarios, all of which point to big fee increases in Catholic primary and secondary fees by 2016 and a potential flight of pupils to the government sector.

The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria modelling warns that primary school fees could rise between 92 per cent and 131 per cent by 2016, inevitably forcing out lower socio-economic status students from the system.

The modelling was conducted before School Education Minister Peter Garrett attempted to assuage fears at the weekend of a backlash against the private sector under the Gonski review. His comments yesterday have failed to convince the Catholic sector.

The CECV investigated funding scenarios on the assumption of substantial reform flowing from the Gonski review, with specific analysis of funding maintenance provisions and the removal of any indexation mechanism that went beyond inflation.

The CECV working party reported on February 9, questioning the Gillard government's assertion that no school would lose a dollar. "This assurance does not indicate whether an indexation mechanism will be applied under the new funding model," the CECV says.

The commission, which oversees one of the nation's biggest school systems, warns that any downgrading of funding would have a big impact on fees.

The commission's Gonski working party warns that by 2016 primary school fees could rise by an average of $1197 per student or 92 per cent on the estimated fee for 2013. Secondary school fees could rise by an average of $1903 or 39 per cent.

The dynamic would worsen if the government were to tie funding indexation merely to inflation and remove other provisions.

If this were to occur, funding would effectively stagnate from next year until 2018, with the federal cash injection diving by $828 million.

By 2016, primary school fees would rise an average of $1706 per student or 131 per cent on the estimated 2013 fee, while secondary fees would rise by $2019 a student or 42 per cent based on the 2013 numbers.

"If any of these three scenarios were adopted there will be significant and widespread consequences for Catholic education in Victoria," the commission's Gonski working party warns. "The magnitude of these fee increases would be very likely to lead to an exodus from Catholic schools to the government sector," the working party said.


More lies about the Brisbane flood

Bureaucrats try to cover themselves over the mess that they created

MINISTERS were misled about the risk of a dam failure at Wivenhoe during last year's floods, documents show.

A briefing note, drawn up for Water Minister Stephen Robertson by Water Grid chief Barry Dennien for an emergency Cabinet meeting on January 17, warned that floods like the one being experienced could "overflow the dam's storage compartment", with catastrophic results.

"Should this occur, the dam would fail and the resulting damage and loss of life would be at least 100 to 1000 times greater than that currently being experienced," Mr Dennien wrote.

But this was at odds with the facts known at the time and with published information about the structure of the dam.

Dam levels had already peaked on January 11 at a level almost 1m lower than the point at which safety features designed to prevent a dam collapse begin to come into play.

The first of these are "fuse plugs", safety valves built in to an earth embankment that erode to release water when the dam reaches a certain height.

These were added in 2005 as part of a $70 million upgrade of the dam, intended to make it withstand the biggest imaginable flood, thought likely to occur only once every 100,000 years.

The first fuse plug is designed to be needed only in an "extreme" 1-in-6000-year flood.

By contrast, the official Seqwater report into the floods describes a "large to rare" event, with a 100 to 2,000 year recurrence.

Mr Robertson told the flood inquiry this month that no decisions had been made on the basis of the briefing note at the Cabinet meeting.

But Ms Bligh made a series of public statements during and after the flooding in Brisbane and Ipswich in which she highlighted the dangers of the fuse plugs being triggered.

The briefing note, approved by John Bradley, then director-general of the Department of Environment and Resource Management and now Ms Bligh's top adviser, was requested by Mr Robertson and drafted over the weekend of January 15 and 16.


Australians to be healed from 'Islamophobia' by head of global Islamic organisation -- at the invitation of Foreign Minister Rudd

This week Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has invited Professor Ekmelledin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to discuss “Transition and Change: The OIC and the Islamic World”

Events take place on February 15th and 16th at the National Press Club of Australia and at Griffith University, Brisbane. Following similar events in Europe and Washington, Mr Rudd’s visitor is here to educate and help us overcome “Islamophobia” in Australia.

The OIC, which represents 56 Islamic states, makes up the largest voting bloc of the UN.

United in their effort to limit critical discussion of the Islamic religion and sharia law, these countries refuse to sign the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. OIC members construed the ‘Cairo Declaration’, in which human rights are subject to interpretation by Islamic clergy and sharia law. The OIC is headquartered in Saudi Arabia, a feudal monarchy renown for violation of basic human rights under strict sharia law.

The feigned concern of the OIC with discrimination against Islam and more notably views not supportive of Islam is in contrast to the violent intolerance experienced by non-Muslim minorities in many Islamic countries. Indigenous religious minorities, which are not afforded the same respect, recognition or equality demanded by the OIC for Muslim immigrants in the West.

Author and human rights activist Ayan Hirsi Ali ‘s recent article 'The Global War on Christ-ians in the Muslim World' highlights “... an unrecognised battle costing thousands of lives.” With these facts in mind, there are serious questions democratic governments should be asking the OIC, before taking advice from Professor Ihsanoglu.

Q Society appeals to Mr Rudd to show courage and openly address this discrepancy and the discrimination against non-Muslims, evident in almost every OIC country.

Vilifying critics of Islam and sharia practices as 'islamophobic' is in fact aiding and abetting those who seek to silence the debate about the rise of Islamic sharia, both in the West and in the once secular countries of the OIC.


Disgraceful secrecy about a rogue doctor

Some puffed-up judge evidently had more concern for the welfare of a crook than for the welfare of his victims

Yet more evidence that "regulators" are no protection

A ROGUE surgeon performed unnecessary, unauthorised - and in some cases botched surgery - on 152 WA women in a suspected money-making scheme.

In 141 cases, he risked serious complications, including making the women infertile.

In several other cases, the now-banned medico was responsible for horrific blunders.

His reckless actions carried on unchecked in Perth hospitals for more than four years before he was stopped and banned. Until today, the scandal has been cloaked in secrecy because of a court order obtained by the wealthy surgeon's lawyers.

After a marathon and expensive legal fight, The Sunday Times can finally tell the WA public what happened. But it still cannot name the surgeon.

His patients have told of major surgical errors such as attaching the uterus to the bowel, slicing arteries, performing vaginal "resizings" when they were not needed and incorrectly performed internal procedures.

In 2009, the surgeon, who has since fled the country, pleaded guilty to misconduct and gross carelessness before the State Administrative Tribunal.

One charge related to him performing unnecessary secondary operations without the consent of his patients.

After delivering babies through caesarean sections, he removed benign growths, known as fimbrial cysts, from patients' fallopian tubes. These ranged in size from pinheads to large marbles.

He did not tell his patients or seek their consent for the added procedure which netted him extra money despite the heightened risk of infertility and other serious complications.

A confidential Health Department briefing paper obtained by The Sunday Times shows that between October 2001 and January 2006 the surgeon performed these extra operations on at least 141 patients after he delivered their babies. Eleven gynaecological procedures were also identified.

Authorities first discovered irregularities in September 2005, according to the paper.

It referred to the surgeon's "billing practice" billing hospitals for the original operations and the removal of the cysts, which reaped him an extra $384 to $492 a patient.

The "billing practice" significantly increased during 2004 and 2005.

In May 2006, the Medical Board won an interim order to stop the surgeon performing the second operations. A month later, it applied to indefinitely suspend the surgeon.

A full briefing on the case was provided to then South Metropolitan Area Health Service chief executive Peter Flett, then health director Neale Fong and former health minister Jim McGinty in August 2007. They all agreed that "open disclosure" should occur to all patients who "may" have suffered some harm, according to the briefing.

A month later, authorities began making contact with patients. Twenty-four cases were deemed serious enough to require senior health staff to phone patients and tell them to seek immediate medical attention.

Of those, six were referred to specialists for further checks. Other patients were sent letters informing them they had secondary surgery they did not know about.

Over the same period, several patients filed complaints with the Medical Board over botched gynaecological procedures by the same surgeon.

Thirteen proceedings were launched by the Medical Board against the surgeon, involving nine patients.

The first case, which was filed in November 2005, involved an incorrectly performed hysterectomy that left the woman completely numb in her uterus region. Another case involved repeated botched gynaecological operations on a 16-year-old.

The surgeon left WA in early 2007.

In March 2009, he was permanently stripped of his right to work as a doctor in WA after he was found guilty of "disgraceful or dishonourable" conduct for lying about the complaints against him while trying to get work in South Africa.

Almost all the details of the scandal had been kept secret because a blanket suppression order was granted after the surgeon's lawyers argued he was at risk of self-harm if the case became public.

The Sunday Times won a partial lifting of the order, allowing it to publish today's story. The newspaper spent more than $120,000 in its legal battle. More victims of the surgeon may now surface.

The WA Health Department issued a statement on Friday about the surgeon.

It said: "Dr X was regularly billing for secondary medical procedures while performing obstetric and gynaecological surgery. Independent reviews found that these procedures were not medically indicated.

"WA Health reported Dr X to the WA Medical Board in 2006 following concerns about his practices. Immediate action was taken to stop him from operating in WA and a clinical review was conducted to determine the number of women who may have been affected by the additional secondary procedures. He ceased employment at WA Health in early 2006.

"WA Health identified 141 obstetric and 11 gynaecological patients who may have been affected by the secondary procedures.

WA Health contacted the women, but was unsuccessful in 13 cases despite all efforts. "These women have been offered counselling and referral to a medical specialist if necessary," the report said. "WA Health condemns the actions of this doctor and regrets any harm and distress he has caused patients and their families."

A Medical Board official said: "Ultimately the practitioner was deregistered as a result of the action taken by the board. "Surgical procedures generally involved risk to the patient and it is unacceptable to carry out any surgical procedure unnecessarily.

"It is also unacceptable to carry out a surgical procedure without the patient having given his or her consent."


19 February, 2012

The American Left's hostility to "Big Pharma" is hitting sick Australians

Obama's FDA is doing all it can to make life difficult for drug companies -- meaning that it is now uneconomic or even impossible for them to produce some drugs

SHORTAGES of life-saving cancer drugs are putting thousands of Australian patients at risk. Drugs used to treat childhood cancers, breast and ovarian cancer, the deadly skin cancer melanoma and blood cancer have either run out or are in short supply because of manufacturing problems in the US.

The American drug regulator, the powerful Food and Drug Administration, ordered the upgrade of equipment at several drug manufacturing facilities in the US late last year. While there have been no findings that the drugs are unsafe, the Australian shortage is a direct result of pressure this action has put on the global supply chain.

Australian doctors are now worried they might have to ration supplies, delay treatment or use other medicines that are less effective and can result in serious side effects.

One of the "Rolls Royce" chemotherapy drugs - Caelyx, which is used for ovarian and breast cancer - has already run out and is not expected to be back in supply until 2013. Already national clinical trials using Caelyx to improve patient care in Australia have had to be cancelled.

Oncologists around the country are alarmed and are compiling an urgent submission to the Federal Government to devise a national strategy to secure supply.

The drug shortages have also sparked concerns about medication errors. Since the problem began in the US, one in four doctors have reported medication errors occurring in hospitals. Many of these were because of inexperience with alternative products. Some of the errors involved overdoses.

Clinical Oncology Society of Australia pharmacy chair Dan Mellor said the society had been notified that a number of chemotherapy drugs were out of stock. "Over the past 12 months there has been an increasing number of drugs that have become unavailable, particularly in the US. These are vital anti-cancer drugs," he said.

"The American drug regulator has been inspecting drug manufacturing facilities and towards the end of last year they closed down a number of them because they didn't meet standards. "Those factories were the worldwide solo producers of a number of chemotherapy drugs that are now no longer being produced until the factories can be brought up to scratch."


PM's guarantee on private school funding

FAMILIES fearing big rises in tuition fees have won a crucial guarantee that taxpayer funding to private schools will be protected.

But the Government will dump the current controversial arrangements that deliver big funding increases to private schools every time public school funding rises, regardless of their needs.

For the first time, the Gillard Government will back a pledge that "no school will lose a dollar" under a proposed new funding system, with a promise to offer new indexation arrangements covering grants to private schools.

The big changes proposed by the Gonski report on school funding, led by businessman David Gonski, will be unveiled tomorrow and are expected to endorse the ALP's longstanding push for a needs-based funding model. It will endorse parental rights to choose public or private schools, as vital.

Over time, the needs-based funding model is likely to deliver more money to some low-fee Catholic and independent schools and a big injection of funds to public schools. But the rapid growth in taxpayer funding for rich private schools is likely to slow under the new system.

"What we're saying is indexation will be built into any future model that will assist parents worried about future increases in school costs," Education Minister Peter Garrett said yesterday.

The existing system has been blamed for entrenching disadvantage in the system, ensuring that attempts to inject more funding to students with special needs or living in remote or Aboriginal communities, flowed on to wealthy private schools as well.

Instead, the new measure that determines funding to independent and Catholic schools will be based on an analysis of the cost of educating a child in both the public and private systems.

Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos backed the changes, warning public schools needed a "massive injection in funding".

"Disadvantaged students are up to two years behind other children. Indigenous students are up to three years behind. We don't have a level playing field," he said.


Melbourne in a Greek rush as new wave of migrants arrive

Melbourne is already one of the world's largest Greek cities

MELBOURNE is set for a new wave of Greek migrants as the nation's dismal economy drives away workers in search of jobs.

Fed up with unemployment above 17 per cent, hundreds of aspiring migrants have bombarded local Greek organisations looking for ways to call Melbourne home.

Department of Immigration figures show Australia is on track to record a 65 per cent increase in Greek migrants this financial year, after an influx in the last six months of 2011 as Europe's economic woes deepened.

And Melbourne - which has more Greek-speaking people than any city outside Athens and Thessaloniki - will take the lion's share, says Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne president Bill Papastergiadis.

He said the organisation had been swamped with hundreds of inquiries a month from Greeks wanting migration advice. "That really took effect once the economic situation deteriorated in Greece," Mr Papastergiadis said.

The number of Greeks visiting Australia on short-term visas also increased, with nearly 4000 arriving last year, up 21 per cent on 2009.

Melbourne already is home to more than 300,000 Greeks, with many arriving in the 1950s and 1960s when government migration schemes sought Greeks and Italians.

Lazarus Karasavvidis said his international recruitment and training firm Skillup Australia had witnessed a tenfold increase in the number of Greek people wanting work in Melbourne in the last six months of 2011. "The vast majority of them are young, urban professionals. They're well qualified, they're looking for a new home," Mr Karasavvidis said.

Melbourne's Ellie Doulgeris, 20, said Greek relatives planned to migrate. "Some are willing to stick it through, but things aren't great," Ms Doulgeris said.


Chaos in Qld. schools, warn teachers as uniform but unrealistic national curriculum is rolled out

CHILDREN and teachers are stressed, a statewide computer system keeps crashing and "total confusion" reigns over what has to be taught in state schools under the rollout of the Australian curriculum, teachers warn.

Early Childhood Teachers' Association president Kim Walters said some of the new curriculum content was too hard for the state's youngest children and teachers couldn't download required resources because the network kept crashing or there were access and speed problems.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates agreed there were problems with the network, saying Education Queensland did not have "sufficient bandwidth" to handle the number of users for its online Curriculum into the Classroom (C2C) package.

LNP education spokesman Bruce Flegg said the State Government had failed students by "rushing in the curriculum" before New South Wales and Victoria.

Curriculum concerns at new three Rs

Queensland students this year are among the first in the country to take on the Australian curriculum in all Prep to Year 10 classes in English, mathematics and science.

Ms Walters said curriculum content was another problem, with Preps in particular not ready for some of it. "One of our lessons in the first week ... was recognising the number name F-O-U-R, for four. Some of them can't even recognise their name," she said.

"Just having your 26 children sitting on a mat all doing the same thing at once ... is physically impossible in the first week of school with children who aren't ready to do school yet. I think some of the children are very stressed. "Definitely there are a lot of stressed teachers as they try to do their very best."

She also said teachers were being sent mixed messages about whether they had to teach C2C lesson plans, but EQ had moved to fix this.

Mr Bates said there were "some very stressed teachers" who were trying to do their best with the new curriculum, but there was always going to be teething issues in this "transition year". "Is it too hard? In some cases it might be more than we previously expected, but that is certainly one of the challenges I think teachers are up to," he said.

Mr Bates said there were clear messages about what was expected of teachers in the classroom, but because teachers were so busy with the curriculum the message wasn't always getting through.

EQ had told the Courier-Mail in the past C2C is not mandatory, but teachers continue to report receiving mixed messages about the status of C2C on the ground."

EQ director-general Julie Grantham said the implementation of the national curriculum was challenging and rewarding with the department valuing teacher feedback, "especially around C2C".

Assistant director-general of Information and Technologies Dave O'Hagan said the department was monitoring the computer systems and had upgraded the bandwidth, but there were still challenges in regional areas because of limited broadband availability. He said there were also "some stability issues" which caused the network to crash last week.


18 February, 2012

Private schooling a big priority for Australian parents

39% of Australian teenagers are sent to private high schools. It makes Britain's 7% look pretty sad. Australian public schools are now largely for the children of the poor, who are more likely to have behaviour problems -- and discipline-phobic public schools now do little to address such problems (though they huff and puff a lot), leading to deaths in extreme cases. Who would not want a safer and more collegial environment for their kid? I sent my son to a private High School, with excellent results

Next time you're walking past a playground or picking up breakfast at a cafe or at the council pool at the weekend, listen in on the conversation of any group of parents with young children. You will probably find them discussing ''which school to choose''. In fact, ''kids' schools'' is up there with ''housing prices'' as the topic my peer group cannot stop talking about.

Education - including the relative merits of public versus private schools - has been well canvassed over several decades. The clear difference today, however, is that the ''right school'' discussion is being had by parents earlier, even when their children are still in nappies. And there is an anxious edge to the conversation. Concern about finding the right school has crept beyond the elite and spread throughout society. With the Gonski school funding review due to release its findings on Monday and the new My School website launched soon after, parents will have even more to think and fret about in coming months.

Last year I conducted a group discussion involving five men in their late 30s; all of them mates. The topics were open-ended. Tell us about your life, the things that keep you up at night, the things you talk about over beers and barbecues. In groups like this, the conversation often veers towards the economy, work, sport and politics. But these men spent most of their time talking about schools. And only two of them had children and they weren't even ready for kindergarten.

They started with a review of public and private schools in the area. These men were prepared to pay substantially more for a house if it was located near decent schools. They had visited the My School website, knew which zone they fell into and the NAPLAN scores of the schools in the area. One man questioned the quality of the public options. "I wasn't aware there were any good public schools around here," he said. He recalled the public school children in his neighbourhood as "complete tools" and "total knuckleheads". There was no way he was sending his offspring to a school with "ordinary units" like that. Another friend agreed. "As a parent you want to give them every chance.''

One of the five men was English, married and had been living in Australia for some time. He was puzzled by the extent to which his friends were focused on where they were sending their children to. "I have had so many conversations about private education since coming to Australia,",he said. "Everyone is very private-focused." When the time came, he and his wife were planning to send their children to any local school closest to them. A few of his mates looked at him blankly. "Sure, you could do that," one of them said eventually. But his tone was cautionary, implying his friend was taking a risk with his child's future. The English bloke began to look worried.

These men accept that a private education does not guarantee great marks in the HSC, achievement at university or career success. "There is an argument that just because you go to a private school you don't necessarily get on in life," one of them remarked. Would it be better to send your child to a public school and spend the money you save on travel, tutoring and other meaningful activities? Despite all this conjecture, the conclusion was that good private education trumps public education every time.

What is driving parent perceptions about schools and the growing preference towards private over public? And why are we talking about it so often and so soon?

Research conducted by Dr Adrian Beavis for the Herald in 2004 sought to identify the factors that influenced parental choice about schools. It showed that one factor stood out when it came to the parental selection of a school. This was "the extent to which the school embraced traditional values to do with discipline, religious or moral values, the traditions of the school itself, and the requirement that a uniform be worn".

To me, this means we have to look beneath some of the upfront reasons parents give about why they choose private schools over public (namely, a better education) and search for other reasons.

Undoubtedly, peer pressure is at work here. If you can afford private education and all your friends are opting for the same, what does choosing the public path say about you as a parent?

Perhaps there is also a fear element. We are looking for peace of mind and are prepared to pay for it, even if we do not have any hard evidence it is going to work. We constantly hear from parents that they believe private education provides a ''nicer'' learning environment - less bullying, violence, sex and drugs and anti-social behaviour.

To be fair, I have met parents whose aversion to public education is based on experience. I interviewed a young mother of primary school-age twins with learning difficulties, who was prepared to take a second job to send them to a private school. She told me: "I hate the local school. My girls are getting behind and their confidence is getting lower and lower every year. There is bullying. The school is too big. You go and see the teachers about getting some support for your kids and they don't want to hear." This woman felt she would have more leverage as a fee payer at a private school than she would as a taxpayer in a public school.

But there are also many who believe parents have more influence on their children than schools do, and that paying tens of thousands of dollars for a child's school education puts too much strain on families and is not worth it.


Green rules deterring new home builders

FAR Northern home buyers are avoiding building new houses because of the cost of government sustainability requirements. That's the findings of the latest Master Builders Regional Survey of Industry Conditions report for the December quarter.

Nearly half the builders surveyed found the increased cost of new housing over existing homes was deterring people from buying or building. "The raft of new requirements (six star, water tanks, etc) imposed on new housing in recent years has added substantially to the cost of building a new home," the report said.

"There are real concerns that the introduction of the carbon tax will further aggravate the differential and encourage people to choose established homes over new homes, despite the fact that the environmental performance of new homes is frequently superior to many older homes."

Master Builders Cairns regional manager Ron Bannah said the extra costs imposed by government requirements were becoming "a real issue". He said water tanks were a waste of money in the Far North. A $7000 3000 litre water tank took less than an hour to fill in a monsoonal downpour and then overflowed, Mr Bannah said.

He said the lack of ventilation in new homes, such as fewer windows and airflow in the roof, because of insulation and other sustainability demands, was causing mould.

Mr Bannah said a carbon tax would add up to $9000 to the cost of a $450,000-$500,000 home.

The waste levy for dumping material from blocks of land was another cost of $30 a metre. "It used to be a $500 exercise, now it's at least three times that," he said.

Dixon Homes managing director Andrew Thomas said most new home buyers accepted the increases as part of the overall price of homes.

He said it was causing people to consider an established home but many still preferred a new home because of lower maintenance costs and they were more energy efficient and modern.


Jeff Kennett calls for penalty rate structure to be overhauled to boost economy, save jobs

As the man who turned around Victoria's economy, Jeff knows a thing or two

JEFF Kennett has revealed his radical plan to reignite the Victorian economy and rescue jobs - scrapping penalty rates.
The former premier says double-time rates should be abandoned for people who work outside normal business hours.

But higher pay should instead be introduced for people working more than 38 hours a week.

It comes as big business is bracing for thousands more lay-offs as massive job cuts at major employers including Qantas, ANZ and Toyota dent consumer confidence. Qantas announced 500 jobs yesterday and put another 1460 under review. Wesfarmers has warned that Target, which is trading at a loss, and Kmart and Officeworks outlets are facing difficult times.

Bonds is sacking 100 workers in Sydney and moving its distribution to Melbourne.

The Australian Retailers Association has warned of widespread cuts as job losses in manufacturing cut spending power.

Consumer confidence fell this week, with 31 per cent of Australians expecting bad economic times ahead, a Roy Morgan survey shows. Interest rate rises by the major banks, independent of the Reserve Bank, were behind the gloomy outlook.

A Treasury official joined the interest rate row, asking why the major banks couldn't have absorbed costs a bit longer given their profitability. Treasury executive director (markets) Jim Murphy told a Senate estimates hearing yesterday: "I would suggest they could hold a bit longer before they increase their mortgage rates."

The further bad news for homeowners is the Reserve Bank expects to keep rates on hold at 4.25 per cent over the next few months until it gets a clearer picture about the true state of Australia's multi-speed economy.

CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian expects the wave of lay-offs to push the unemployment rate to around 5.7 per cent.

Mr Kennett, writing in the Herald Sun, says the penalty rates structure should be overhauled and all penalties scrapped for those who have not worked a 38-hour week. "(Penalty rates) are uncompetitive and stifling job security and growth," he said.

"Those of us who work or wish to work must clock up 38 hours of effort, after which an agreed overtime, for example double-time, applies. "This would prevent an employee who worked an eight-hour shift on a Sunday being paid more, for example, than someone who had worked more than eight hours over more than one day."

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said the idea was a revival of Work Choices, which caused the downfall of the Howard government. "What he's talking about is a significant reduction in the take-home pay of workers in the hospitality, retail and service sectors," he said. "We're talking about people on $17 an hour who rely on penalty rates as a significant part of their income."


Sydney ferries: Another example of government waste and featherbedded unionists

Alexander Philipatos

When it comes to controlling ferry costs, monopolies (private or public) cannot hold a candle to the cost pressure created by a competitive market.

Earlier this week, IPART released a report examining the cost structure of Sydney Ferries and highlighting several areas of possible improvement.

The report included findings from consulting company L.E.K., which estimated that despite some cost savings, yearly costs could be further reduced by 24% from $125 million to $95 million.

These findings are refreshing to hear; however, the story is not new. My report last year about the disappointing performance of Sydney Ferries found that the aged vessels were amplifying maintenance costs, while above-market remuneration and poor workplace culture were straining labour costs.

Interestingly, IPART’s report raised an important but often overlooked question: Over 25% of ferry users earn salaries exceeding $75,000 compared to 11% of bus users and 14% of train users. Given the relatively high proportion of well-to-do individuals using the ferries, the IPART report questioned the basis for subsidising ferries.

I think that to ask this question is to answer it. Throwing large subsidies at an industry that disproportionately services Sydney’s wealthier regions is neither an effective nor responsible use of tax funds. Most of these commuters could and should foot the full cost of their journey rather than be subsidised by the majority of Sydneysiders who do not use the ferries. The government can still use concession fares to subsidise those on low incomes.

But to provide a quality service at the lowest possible cost, government needs to open up the market to competition. A simple analysis of private companies on the Manly route shows costs can be reduced and the industry profitable without subsidising the entire sector.

Two private ferry operators run completely unsubsidised services on the Manly route in competition with the government’s ferry service. The price of a regular adult ticket stands at between $8 and $9.

Contrast this to the government’s service which, after accounting for subsidy (to the tune of 50%–60%), costs as much as $14.

Without the pressure of losing business, Sydney Ferries lacks sufficient incentive to reduce costs and maintain quality service. This is why ferry reform must introduce competition.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 17 February. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Note: My Australian police news blog is getting a lot of entries lately. Two stories about police misbehaviour today alone

17 February, 2012

No wonder the illegals are flooding in to Australia

WASHING machines, microwave ovens, DVDs and plasma TVs are among a 60-item welcome gift pack for asylum seekers offered rent-free homes in the community. To fulfil a promise to move an influx of families out of detention, the Gillard Government is now fitting out each home with up to $10,000 worth of furnishings and electronics. They are given food hampers upon arrival at rented homes where they wait for their claims to be processed.

The revelation comes as border protection authorities reveal they have intercepted two more boats carrying asylum seekers overnight, five boats in the past week, and middle - and high-income families struggling with cost of living pressures brace for cuts to private health rebates and the impact of the carbon tax.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said this morning HMAS Leeuwin intercepted a boat carrying 65 people north north-east of Christmas Island late last night.

HMAS Ararat intercepted a vessel carrying 71 people west of Christmas Island early this morning, bringing to five the number of boats intercepted since last Saturday.

Everything from beds, fridges, mattresses and lounges to an alarm clock radio, clothes hangers and containers for biscuits are being bought in a "household goods formation package" that contains more than 60 items. It includes a television at a minimum size of 53cm.

An average family of five is eligible for $7100 worth of goods, while larger families of more than nine people can be provided with up to $9850 in furnishings, the Opposition has revealed after Senate estimates this week.

Special consideration is given to providing computers, internet access, mobile phones, bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, iPods, games consoles and sewing machines.

There are 97 homes being rented in Sydney suburbs - and funded by taxpayers - at an average cost of $416 a week with families arriving to a hamper of bread, butter, milk, eggs, other "essentials" and cleaning products. Asylum seekers are living in Ashfield, Auburn and Bankstown, Blacktown, Cabramatta, Dural and North Curl Curl.

Families with a baby can access a $750 pack of basic supplies. Phone and electricity connections are also paid for.

The assistance is on top of free doctors' visits, dental care, pharmaceuticals, education and payments of up to $433.25 a fortnight to sustain asylum seekers unable to work. Almost 1600 asylum seekers are housed in community detention across the country.

Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the revelations would disappoint families struggling with cost of living rises.

"The cost of Labor's border protection failures is a slap in the face to every Australian family trying to cope with rising costs of living, made worse by Labor's carbon tax and their abandonment of private health insurance," Mr Morrison said.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government was being responsible in providing asylum seekers with basic provisions while their claims were being assessed. "We have a duty of care to provide essential items such as cleaning supplies, furniture and bedding, and baby items such as prams, for vulnerable asylum seekers in community detention," a spokesman said.

"People do not keep the goods, they remain in a house when a family moves out and are used by the next people who move in. These people are not allowed to work."

Asylum seekers late last year were asking for housing, visas and internet access when they arrived.

For more than five years the Red Cross has been contracted to provide the packages, but the numbers of people in community housing has exploded since Mr Bowen pledged in October 2010 to move most children out of detention. "They are basic supplies, we are not talking about luxury," Red Cross spokesman Michael Raper said.


Bus drivers still sailing past waiting kids -- leaving them in danger

The frequency of this suggests that the driver should be automatically dismissed every time it happens

BRUCE Morcombe fears lessons have not been learnt from his son Daniel's tragedy as complaints continue to flow about children being left behind by buses on the Sunshine Coast.

Information obtained by The Maroochy Journal shows that since January 1, 2010, transport authority TransLink investigated and resolved 49 complaints against Sunbus - almost one a fortnight.

Sunbus is the regional provider that did not pick up Daniel, who was abducted from a known hailing place for buses at Palmwoods in 2003. "Forty-nine complaints over children being left behind is alarming and disappointing," Mr Morcombe said. "Have we learnt anything?

"We are not surprised by those statistics because we have had several grandparents or parents approach us and say their son or daughter was left behind at a bus stop."

Sunbus was unable to confirm the number of complaints where it was found to be at fault but said it had a strict No Child Left Behind policy.

"All complaints made to TransLink and Sunbus are taken very seriously and investigated thoroughly to determine what actually occurred in each instance," the company said in a statement. Sunbus said any driver who deliberately left a child behind under any circumstances could be dismissed. [But is he?]

The founder and executive director of child protection advocacy group Bravehearts, Hetty Johnston, said the figures were concerning. "I agree with Bruce 100 per cent that this is alarming and I don't know what has to happen before they get the dangers," she said.

Mr Morcombe urged local politicians to intervene and demand answers from the Transport Minister in Parliament. "Denise and I were out speaking at schools just last week, but if children are being left behind, it just compounds the issue of their availability to predators," Mr Morcombe said. "Local politicians need to know and the sort of question they need to be asking is: 'What is an acceptable number and what is not?' "


Rogue building unionists off the chain

The Australian Building and Construction Commission, loathed by unions, is a step closer to being abolished, after the government and union-friendly crossbenchers voted in the lower house to end the industry watchdog this morning.

But controversial coercive powers will remain under the new regulator that will operate within Fair Work Australia.

The ABCC, established by the Howard government in 2005 following the Cole royal commission, involved coercive powers to make people talk during investigations, or face jail.
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Workplace Minister Bill Shorten said there was a ‘‘sunset’’ clause to phase the coercive powers out in three years, subject to a review.

The Rudd government first moved to end the ABCC but the Parliament lapsed before a vote was held. The bill will now go to the Senate.

The opposition and business groups are opposed to the scrapping of the commission, saying it will return a culture of thuggery and illegal behaviour. They say the ABCC was effective in improving productivity and ending lawlessness.

Greens MP Adam Bandt and independents Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie supported the government, but Mr Bandt and Mr Katter moved amendments to remove the coercive powers.

Mr Bandt also tried to limit the powers to more serious offences carrying a penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment.
He attacked Labor for not supporting the push to end coercive powers, accusing the government of wanting to keep the laws.

The Melbourne MP said it was outrageous that there were laws that gave less rights to people in the building industry than other workers in Australia.

Mr Katter said he felt ‘‘very uncomfortable’’ that there were discriminatory laws for different groups of society, and the right to remain silent was a basic right.

‘‘We do not live in a jungle,’’ he told Parliament. ‘‘We are a civilised people. The right to remain silent exists in every jurisdiction in the he world, except here.’’ He likened the powers to the Spanish Inquisition.

Amendments to remove the coercive powers were voted down by the government and the opposition.

However, the Greens were able to negotiate changes to the government legislation that removed double jeopardy provisions, which enabled workers to be prosecuted for the same breaches twice.

‘‘The only reason these coercive powers remain is because the government wanted to retain them,’’ Mr Bandt said. “This bill means if you go to work in a hard hat and boots you have fewer rights than people who wear a suit and a tie.”


Who needs a car industry anyway?

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich

On Monday, The Australian reported that struggling car manufacturer GM Holden had agreed to give its employees a substantial pay rise of up to 22% over the next three years. This was surprising coming from a company that depends on ongoing taxpayer support for its survival. However, after decades of car industry subsidies, the public has almost become used to such scandalous behaviour.

It is easy to criticise Holden’s pay deal for the obvious prevalence of lobbying over rational economic policy. It shows the power of unions to extract subsidies from their mates in government. And we could also wonder why ordinary Australian taxpayers should have to pay for the production of cars they are shunning as consumers.

However, the fundamental question is much simpler: Should Australia have a car industry at all?

Supporters of an industry – any industry – always come up with the same arguments: it is a major employer; it generates technological spill-over effects; and it is ‘strategic’ (though the term is seldom defined).

The closer you are to an industry, the more such arguments seem to make sense. After all, nobody likes to see a big employer disappear from one’s city or state. And of course there will always be a few successful or innovative parts of the sector. But do they justify keeping the whole industry alive at enormous costs?

A dispassionate look from the outside may aid a more balanced view. The same arguments being made for keeping Australia’s car manufacturers alive have been made for Germany’s coal industry for decades.

Since the late 1950s, German black coal could no longer compete with imported coal – much of which came from Australia and cost between a third and half the price compared to domestic deep-mined coal. For employment, technological and strategic reasons, German governments continued to subsidise mining for decades at a total cost of about $430 billion with no success in making the industry competitive with countries like Australia; subsidies are scheduled to be phased out by 2018.

From an Australian perspective, it is obvious that Germany’s coal subsidies were a complete waste of money. All these years, Germany could have imported cheaper energy from Australia while saving enormous amounts of money – money it could have spent regenerating former coal towns.

It’s the other way around for Australia: Instead of pumping in billions of dollars into the car industry, Australia could have imported vehicles from countries that are simply better placed to produce them on a large scale. Countries like Germany, for example. The money saved could help find a new raison d’être for places like Elizabeth, South Australia.

Holden’s outrageous pay deal is just the tip of an iceberg of wasted subsidies. Australia needs a car industry as much as Germany needs its own black coal mines.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 17 February. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Note: I have another blog covering Australian news. It is more specialized so is not updated daily. See Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour. The stories are coming thick and fast at the moment.

16 February, 2012

Shark nets sabotaged by Greenies, putting lives at risk

Those responsible for this should be fed to sharks themselves

RADICAL conservationists are cutting down or slicing holes in shark nets, putting the lives of swimmers and surfers at risk.

Nets are believed to have been damaged with knives on four separate occasions and at least once, at Bondi, the vandals cut the net from its anchors, leaving it washed up at nearby Ben Buckler.

Primary Industries Department spokesman Brett Fifield said the department had investigated vandalism at Bondi, Maroubra, MacMasters Beach on the Central Coast and most recently Warriewood on the northern beaches.

"These acts of sabotage are senseless. The success of these nets speaks for itself. Slashing a hole in a net reduces their effectiveness," Mr Fifield said.

"At the end of the day it's about protecting humans with minimal impact on marine life."

Some conservationists have been waging a bitter campaign against the nets for years, claiming they are also killing large amounts of other marine life, including dolphins, whales and sea turtles.

The NSW Greens refused to condemn the attacks yesterday, with MP Cate Faehrmann saying: "Shark nets are indiscriminate killers of harmless marine life and are next to useless in preventing attacks anyway.

"The government should remove them. Given how much harmless marine life are killed in shark nets it's not surprising they have become targets in this way."

Glen "Lenny" Folkard, who survived an attack by a 3.1m bull shark while surfing at Redhead Beach four weeks ago, condemned the damaging of the nets. Mr Folkard said he wondered how the vandals would feel if there was an attack at a beach where they had damaged nets. "You can be against the nets but keep the debate on land," he said.


NSW opens door to uranium miners

LEGISLATION to allow mining companies to explore for uranium in NSW will be introduced to Parliament after state cabinet agreed to overturn a decades-old ban.

The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, and the Minister for Resources and Energy, Chris Hartcher, will announce the decision today, arguing it will help boost the state economy. "It is time for NSW to look at every opportunity to join the mining boom, which is delivering enormous profits and jobs to Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia," Mr O'Farrell said.

He said the first step was to establish the scope of uranium deposits in NSW. The ban on exploration has prevented a clear understanding of potential deposits but the government says it is aware they may exist around Broken Hill.

"We are not about to rush into mining uranium until we have carried out the necessary environmental and exploration checks and have had a mature and sensible discussion about utilising this resource, but we would be crazy not to look at whether this is a viable industry which would deliver jobs and revenue to NSW," Mr O'Farrell said.

The opposition and the Greens oppose the decision, saying Mr O'Farrell is betraying his earlier opposition to uranium exploration in the state.

The Herald revealed last year that Mr Hartcher was considering dumping the ban, after a meeting with the Australian Uranium Association in June.

Mr Hartcher and Mr O'Farrell initially denied they had plans to overturn the ban, but Mr O'Farrell told a conference in December that the government would "review" the ban, describing it as "hangover legislation from the 1970s".

He linked the decision to the announcement days earlier by the federal Labor Party to overturn its ban on uranium exports to India.

The legislation will pass the Legislative Assembly, where the government has an overwhelming majority, but will be opposed by Labor and the Greens in the upper house, leaving its passage in the hands of crossbench MPs from the Shooters and Fishers and Christian Democratic Party, who share the balance of power.

The Opposition Leader, John Robertson, condemned the move to overturn the ban. "This is a massive backflip by the Premier, who only months ago declared his emphatic opposition to uranium mining and exploration in NSW," Mr Robertson said. "The people of NSW didn't vote for Barry O'Farrell so he would set up uranium mines in their backyards."

The Greens mining spokesman, Jeremy Buckingham, said Mr O'Farrell did not take the proposal to the election. "He should seek a mandate before repealing the prohibition," he said. A campaigner with Greenpeace Australia, Julien Vincent, said the decision was "obscene".

The chief executive of the Australian Uranium Association, Michael Angwin, said recent uranium mining approvals by the federal government showed uranium projects could meet stringent environmental standards. "[The approvals] have emphasised a lack of credible threat to the environment," he said.


Black "asylum seeker" ignores the law, killing one and injuring six

He should be sent back whence he came -- as should all law-breaking "asylum seekers"

A 29-year-old man has pleaded guilty in the Perth Magistrates Court to causing a fatal crash near the Perth airport last month.

Guelor Lutumba was driving on a learners permit when he attempted to overtake a truck and collided head-on with another vehicle on Dunreath Drive.

A 40-year-old woman, who was in his car and is understood to be a family friend, died in the crash on January 1. Six other people in both cars were seriously injured.

Lutumba was charged with a number of offences, including dangerous driving occasioning death and contravening a learners permit.

Outside court, his lawyer Marc Saupin said it was a tragic accident. "Mr Lutumba is feeling quite distraught about everything," he said.

Lutumba is due back in court next month where the matter may be sent up to the District Court.


Deliberate distortion of the truth at SBS

by Senator Helen Kroger

Senator Helen Kroger has today asked questions of Mr Michael Ebeid, Managing Director of the Special Broadcast Service (SBS) in Senate Estimates about the controversial screening of the documentary The Promise.

As a result of questions by Senator Kroger, Mr Ebeid revealed that SBS entered into a pre-sale arrangement with the producers of The Promise in full knowledge that the subject matter was going to be controversial.

Questions by Senator Kroger also revealed that when SBS received a series of complaints about the documentary, an internal investigation was initiated to determine if the documentary would be aired. A decision was taken by the review board, which included Mr Ebeid, that SBS would go ahead with the screening.

“What is most concerning about the decision to air The Promise is that SBS appears to have put a business decision ahead of independent assessments which determined that it was offensive to the Jewish community,” Senator Kroger said. “Equally concerning was Mr Ebeid‟s assertion that, with hindsight, he would make the same decision to put the program to air.”

“This documentary was portrayed as fact and any suggestion that it is merely fiction is even more offensive and is an overt slap in the face to the Jewish community.”

“Any suggestion that the Jewish community is "manipulative‟ and "self interested‟, as portrayed in The Promise, is shameful. This documentary fails to portray the continuing valuable and constructive contribution that the Jewish community makes in Australia.”


Note: I have another blog covering Australian news. It is more specialized so is not updated daily. See Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour. It has had quite a lot of posts recently.

15 February, 2012

One-sided climate lessons

LIBERAL senator Cory Bernardi has questioned why a national scientific program for children appears to be teaching only one side of the climate change debate.

During a Senate estimates hearing today, the South Australian senator quizzed the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) about the content of its Carbon Kids program.

Senator Bernardi said the program contained a note for teachers which said climate change was a complicated topic many found "daunting and confusing" and could be controversial, leading to many different opinions. "Yet the information that is produced and distributed to schoolchildren appears only to present a single opinion about what is driving climate change," he said.

"How can you explain that given that the explanatory note for teachers says it leads to many different opinions?"

He said the material contained a number of statements which lead to a single conclusion, that carbon dioxide was virtually solely responsible for driving climate change and presented a range of "apocalyptic scenarios".

The CSIRO's deputy chief executive for operations Mike Whelan said he had not personally seen the material, but envisaged that the program would be consistent with comments made to teachers. He told the senate committee the program had only become his responsibility three weeks ago, but he would examine the material.


An expensive coverup

MORE than $400,000 has been spent since September trying to hurry up the probe into allegations against Labor MP Craig Thomson's but the report is still at least a month away.

Directors of Fair Work Australia, which has been running the probe for more than three years, today admitted there were "legitimate questions" as to why the inquiry has taken so long.

And they told consultants KPMG would be holding an independent review of the investigation and the "unreasonably long time" it has taken.

They tried to speed up matters late last year. About half of the $900,000 the inquiry has been billed by the Solicitor-General for assistance in the inquiry went to attempts to hasten finalisation of the report. The admissions of tardiness are certain to be raised by the Opposition in Parliament.

However, directors of FWA told a Senate estimates committee the inquiry was unprecedented and part of the delay was that one respondent to the inquiry has not yet replied to a draft report. The directors said they were unable to name any of the respondents for legal reasons as the inquiry was still underway.

Since April, 2009, Fair Work Australia has been investigating claims, including alleged misuse of credit cards, against Craig Thomson when he was national secretary of the Health Services Union.

The Opposition is keen for a report to be finalised as an adverse finding could lead to charges against the Labor member for Dobelle, and a conviction force him out of Parliament. The Opposition also would consider a vote of no confidence against the Government he was a member of, based on an adverse finding.

The political sensitivity of the issue has added to pressure on FWA. "I'm of the view that on the face of it the investigation has taken an unreasonably long time," said FWA director Bernadette O'Neill today. "And that that raises legitimate questions as to why it has taken so long."

Ms O'Neill said, "These investigations are unprecedented in terms of size and scale and complexity and are unprecedented and only a very small number have been undertaken. So I do think there are inevitably lessons to be learned about the conduct of the investigations."

Another FWA director, Terry Nassios, acknowledged to the committee that the investigators had indicated late last year the final report would be ready in January. "As at mid-October...I was working on a timeline that by mid-November those letters (to respondents) would have been sent out," said Mr Nassios.

He had thought the investigation would be over by November-December. But he had "misjudged the quantity of material" needed for the letters. One person still has not responded and has until March 5 to do so. He expected a final report in March, because "obviously there is some interconnection between those responses and the final response".

Mr Nassios said the failed deadline became clear in early November. "Half of the cost of this investigation has been expended from September onwards in an attempt to finalise this as quickly as possible," he told the committee. "That is the expenditure with the Australian Government Solicitor.


Long wait for justice by the Chamberlains

"Inconclusive" coroner's finding to be overturned?

THE Northern Territory Coroner Elizabeth Morris is expected to make an early finding on February 24 on the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain, and might possibly make an announcement the same day, following written submissions about the propensity of dingoes to attack children.

The submissions focus on attacks on children, particularly on Fraser Island in Queensland.

Michael Chamberlain will be present with his lawyer, Stuart Tipple, who represented him at the time of the second coroner's inquest 30 years ago. Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, who lives in Western Australia, is expected to attend with her husband, Rick Creighton.

Azaria disappeared on August 17, 1980, from a tent at Ayers Rock. Then coroner Denis Barritt found 31 years ago that a dingo had taken the baby. But the finding was quashed in 1982 following scientific evidence that there had been foul play.

Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murder, and her husband Michael of being an accessory after the fact later that year. The couple were exonerated after a royal commission found in 1987 that much of the scientific evidence was seriously flawed.

There is not expected to be any examination of witnesses on February 24. Ms Morris, who is operating under revised guidelines for coroner's inquests in the Northern Territory, has studied the 1995 finding of the third coroner in the case, John Lowndes.

Mr Lowndes said that although there was "considerable support for the view that a dingo may have taken Azaria, the evidence is not sufficiently clear, cogent or exact to reasonably support such a finding on the balance of probabilities".

The coroner also was "unable to be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Azaria Chamberlain died at the hands of Alice Lynne Chamberlain" or that Michael Chamberlain had any involvement.

The finding was unsatisfactory to the Chamberlains, who believed there had always been evidence to support the dingo attack scenario, and they vowed to keep fighting to have the final piece put into place that will clear their names forever. Ms Morris is expected to be relatively brief in reasons for her decision.


A third of illegal boat arrivals in Australia to get visas

A THIRD of asylum seekers arriving by boat will be living in the community on bridging visas next year under a policy shift, the Immigration Department has revealed to a Senate hearing.

The department expects to save $400 million by moving asylum seekers out of detention centres and into the community, where bridging visas will require them to find accommodation and seek work. So far, only 257 bridging visas have been issued because the program only ramped up in December and January. Immigration Department deputy secretary Jackie Wilson said it is expected 6 per cent of asylum seekers would be released on bridging visas this year.

She said by 2012-13, the department expected 20 per cent of asylum seekers to be in community detention where the department provides housing and support; 30 per cent released on bridging visas; leaving just half of boat arrivals behind wire in detention.

The department has projected asylum seekers will arrive by boat at Christmas Island at a rate of 450 a month in 2012-13 in its budget figures. This figure was ridiculed by Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash. Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe admitted to the Senate committee that, in fact, about 1000 people arrived by boat in November 2011, and 693 arrived in December.

The Immigration Department's budget has continued to blow out due to the federal government's mandatory detention policy for boat arrivals, which has resulted in people being held for years in remote locations while they await the outcome of refugee claims and legal appeals. The department's contract with the private company that runs detention, Serco, is now worth $1 billion over four years.

After the parliamentary impasse on offshore processing Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced in October that mandatory detention would be retained for security, identity and health checks, but bridging visas would increasingly be used. The Immigration Department said yesterday it anticipated a transition period of six weeks when asylum seekers released from detention on bridging visas received support in the community, accessing 89 per cent of the welfare payment, paid by the Immigration Department.

Asylum seekers on bridging visas would have work rights and "the bulk of the group will be able to sustain themselves over time", said Ms Wilson.

The government has failed to gain the agreement of the opposition or Greens to pass its bill designed to overcome a High Court ban on the Malaysia refugee swap.

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott yesterday introduced to Parliament his own offshore processing bill, which he said could be a "circuit breaker". The bill would allow the transfer of refugees to countries that are members of the Bali Process, a regional forum on people smuggling.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government would examine Mr Oakeshott's bill and seek legal advice before finalising its position.

But opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Mr Oakeshott's bill was "a carbon copy of the government's bill", lowering expectations it would gain Coalition support.


An instructive episode showing again the folly of total reliance on computerization

When car electronics go wrong and lock you in -- It's primitive but carrying a tomahawk within reach may save your life

They can make modern motoring more comfortable, but electronics also have the potential to endanger lives. Modern cars may be more comfortable, cleaner and connected than ever, but they also have the potential to cause significant inconvenience, major traffic jams - or even endanger your life.

This morning an Audi A8's entire electrical system shut down while it was travelling south in the Eastern Distributor. It took two tow trucks to move it and caused extensive traffic jams.

Two years ago I discovered how badly things can go wrong with the electronics in modern cars when I was stuck in a $400,000 Porsche that locked me and my family in the parked car.

What turned out to be electronic interference with the transponder key caused by signals from the TV and radio towers near Artarmon on Sydney's north shore shut down all the electronics for the then-new four-door flagship.

Windows up, no air-conditioning and a car that refused to start. After 45 minutes of a cabin fast heating up - and calls to the police and Porsche's assistance line - it quickly turned into a frightening experience. Especially with a none-too-impressed wife and a newborn baby on board.

It ended when a window was smashed from the outside, allowing us to exit via the front passenger window.

It then took two tow-truck drivers 90 minutes to get the stricken Porsche on to a tow truck, battling with releasing the electronic handbrake and locked steering. Porsche has since instigated a worldwide fix to eliminate the interference.

The experience gave me a first-hand understanding of how badly things could go wrong in the event of complete electronic failure. Had there been a fire or if it was a hot day, it could have been a lot worse. And had we not been in mobile phone range, it would have amplified the panic.

Owner's manuals in modern cars aren't always helpful in fault-finding. Ironically there's a push to make them electronic, with some cars already offering both options, while others tuck them away in the boot.

And smashing a car window is almost impossible without something sharp or heavy - like a brick or hammer. Hardly the things you'd be carrying around - nor should you, given the injuries they could cause in a crash.

Car makers have managed to reduce vehicle theft significantly - particularly opportunistic theft such as joyriding - but at the same time they have uncovered a new threat.

Of course, what happened to my family is an extreme example and one that highlights a near worst case scenario.

But it's an example of how far electronics have come in the operation of modern cars. From fuel delivery systems, engine operation, airbag inflation and audio systems to internet and smartphone connectivity, crash avoidance systems, self-parking systems and even door-closing motors, modern cars rely on electronics for most parts of their operation.

Electronics are also the source of many gremlins that will likely require a tow truck and diagnostics computer to fix them. Gone are the days of popping the bonnet and having a tinker yourself.

Car makers set higher standards for fault-free running than consumer electronics such as phones or computers because reliability and durability expectations are higher in cars than they are in most other products. But faults still can - and do - happen, as appeared to happen this morning.

Increasingly, car makers are noticing that issues with fit and finish or mechanical failures are being overtaken by electrical problems.

Ford in the United States learnt the impact of electronics when it fitted the Microsoft-developed Sync voice-operated connectivity system to many of its cars. A respected JD Power Initial Quality Survey found that Ford's ranking dropped from fifth to 23rd, largely due to customer complaints about Sync.

The survey also found that problems with new electronic technologies was increasingly cause for complaints in new cars.

Whether it's complete engine failure, unwarranted warning lights, failed smartphone connectivity or an electronic handbrake refusing to release - as appears to have been the case in this morning's traffic chaos - the impact of electronics on trouble-free motoring is taking its toll.

What to do if you get locked in your car

* Check the owner's manual. Many cars have ways to override electronic systems, even when they fail.

* Call the car company head office for help. Many have roadside assistance with phone numbers, usually on a sticker on the windscreen or in the owner's manual.

* If the car is heating up or you're panicking, phone the police on triple-0.

* If you're out of mobile phone range, smash the window; don't bother with bare hands because you'll need something hard, heavy or sharp. One reader suggested removing the headrests and using the metal supports.


14 February, 2012

Conservatives hit carbon tax again

The opposition has accused the government of crying false tears over the struggling aluminium sector by pointing out that economic modelling by the Treasury forecasts a price on carbon will erode the industry by more than 60 per cent by 2050.

With the fate of 600 aluminium workers at the Alcoa plant in Victoria at the centre of the debate over the economy and manufacturing, the Prime Minster, Julia Gillard, met workers and union representatives yesterday to assure them her government was following the situation closely.

Amid a now frequent stream of job loss announcements, Alcoa has said it is reviewing the future of the plant, citing the high dollar and low international metal prices as factors. It is not blaming the carbon tax, which begins on July 1 and for which the aluminium industry will be generously compensated.

In Parliament yesterday, the opposition attempted to link the present decline in manufacturing to the impending carbon impost, saying it would make a bad situation worse.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, noted that Treasury's modelling showed aluminium production in Australia risked falling by 61.7 per cent by 2050.

Ms Gillard accused the opposition of misrepresenting the modelling and criticised Mr Abbott for exploiting potential job losses as part of his campaign against the carbon price.

The Victorian Labor Opposition Leader, Daniel Andrews, conceded there was not much the federal government could do to help Alcoa. Its problems were largely the realm of the state Liberal government and included such assistance as power price subsidy, payroll tax deductions and co-investing in a new plant to increase efficiency.

The fight came as the latest Newspoll showed the Coalition ahead as preferred economic leaders. This was despite the government feeling the economy is its greatest strength and Ms Gillard's declaration the economy would be at the core of political debate for this year.

Last week, the Coalition floundered when trying to explain when it would return the budget to surplus if elected. The national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, hit back at critics who argued taxpayers should not subsidise struggling industries. He said they would recover once the dollar dropped to parity or below.


Indian group plans Qld's biggest coal mine

Indians are not embarrassed about using coal

An Indian conglomerate is planning to build Queensland's biggest coal mine, west of Rockhampton in the state's central region, including a new town, runway, railway and port facilities.

The Adani Group has proposed a new open-cut and underground mine, mostly on the Moray Downs cattle station, about 100 kilometres north of Emerald.

The cost of construction is expected to be at least $6 billion and the mine would produce about 60 million tonnes per year, with a mine life of more than a century.

If the project goes ahead, Adani says it would be the largest investment by an Indian company in Australia. The company is also planning to establish a new town to deal with the Carmichael mine's remote location. It says it would also build an airstrip for fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers, along with new railway and port facilities at either Abbot Point or Hay Point.

Adani says exports would predominantly service the Indian domestic power market. Adani officials are talking to the Federal Government about special visas to fill jobs with overseas workers.

Queensland Mining Minister Stirling Hinchliffe says he would prefer the company to use locally-sourced labour. "I have given a very clear message to the companies involved, including Mr Adani directly, that we have a very high expectation about the role that Queenslanders will play in these projects," he said.

Mr Hinchliffe also says there is not sufficient infrastructure in central Queensland's Galilee Basin to cope with the major new mining project.

He says Alpha is the closest town to a number of proposed new mines and its urban infrastructure cannot support them. "Alpha has a population of about 500 people - the reality is that on one of the three or four mines that are being worked up in the Galilee Basin, the construction workforce for a period at the beginning of the development of the mine would be in the order of 5,000," he said.

Mr Hinchliffe says the project is still in its early stages. "It is a massive project, a massive development - there is a long way to go in terms of regulatory and environmental approvals," he said.

However, AgForce president Brent Finlay says the rural lobby group is concerned about the sale of grazing land for mining. "Any change of ownership or any change of land use, particularly when it's very good agricultural land, is a concern to us," he said.

"Whether the whole area's going to be taken out of agricultural production or whether only a small area will be and the rest still used for agricultural production, we'd like to know as soon as we can."


Foreigners are not going to take Australia's food

Dr Stephen Kirchner

The debate over foreign investment in Australian agricultural land has seen the merger of capital xenophobia with the age-old myth that the world is going to run out of food. The suggestion is that we need to lock down our agricultural land to secure future food supplies.

The merger of food security and xenophobia as an issue has a long history. Sir William Crookes’ 1898 ‘The Wheat Problem’ predicted not only that the world would run out of grain but that ‘the great Caucasian race will cease to be foremost in the world, and will be squeezed out of existence by races to whom wheaten bread is not the staff of life.’

Crookes would have been astounded to know that the world’s population would quadruple in the following century, that world incomes would increase by a factor of 20 and yet real commodity prices, the ultimate measure of resource scarcity, would decline. This was in part due to a tripling of agricultural productivity during the twentieth century.

This increase in productivity has seen a decline in land under cultivation, not least because of the shift from carbohydrates to hydrocarbons as a source of fuel. Even since 1960, almost all of the increase in demand for grains has been met through increased yields rather than land under cultivation. It is productivity growth and global free trade and investment that underpins food production, not ownership of land.

Capital intensity is the key to agricultural productivity, and foreign investors have capital in abundance. Much of the foreign interest in Australian agriculture is in agribusiness rather than land. Foreign investors see Australian agribusiness as an ideal way to gain exposure to growing Asian markets via Australian exports. Foreign investors want Australia to become an even bigger food producer and exporter.

It is not hard to imagine extreme scenarios such as war, natural disasters, or a collapse in world trade that could threaten food security. In extreme circumstances, the Australian government could impose export controls on food, subsidise domestic consumers and producers to buy food in world markets, and expropriate foreign investors. Even the most strategic and mercantilist of foreign powers would find their investments in Australian agricultural land of little use in such circumstances.


The Japanese attacks on Darwin in WWII were disastrous

IT is not hard to make the case that when war came to our shores with the bombing of Darwin on February 19, 1942 - 70 years ago next Sunday - Australians behaved abominably. There was panic, looting, cowardice, desertion and a stampede south to get out of harm's way.

Yet we could ask ourselves today: if you were under attack from waves of Japanese aircraft dropping more bombs than fell on Pearl Harbor, were unprepared, had not received any training drills, had no warning, had no leadership and feared imminent invasion, might you have behaved in the same way?

It took many years for the awkward truth to emerge about the panic and abject failure of leadership following the bombing. By any analysis, it was not a good look. Yet the negative truth masked other, equally true, stories of courage and heroism among soldiers, sailors and civilians alike.

An embarrassed official wall of silence sprang from John Curtin's government's belief that the less the public was told, the better. The reasoning was that the truth would have rocked national morale, eroded the nation's will to fight, caused fear and possibly panic in the populated south and harmed the war effort.

This is probably true. Australians had been shaken by the speed of the Japanese advance through Asia. The supposedly impregnable British fortress of Singapore had fallen just days earlier, the northern parts of New Guinea were occupied, and suddenly the war was on our doorstep.

The government decided that news of the Darwin disaster would have a devastating impact on morale in this hour of great peril.

But suppressing the news was also in the government's interest. Any understanding of the devastation caused would have shown the failure of the government to anticipate or prepare for attack, the shameful incapacity of the military to react with any skerrick of leadership and the bungling and confusion of the Northern Territory's bureaucracy.

Yes, events after the bombing were shameful. But they were not the people's shame. The bombing raids were carried out by the same Japanese carrier-based taskforce which had launched a surprise raid two months earlier on the American Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor. This "day of infamy" brought America into the war.

The first wave of bombers was spotted passing over Bathurst Island to the north of Darwin half an hour before the first bombs fell. News of the sighting was radioed to the RAAF operations centre in Darwin, but was ignored by officers on duty because they believed the aircraft were American Kittyhawks returning to Darwin.

No air raid warnings were sounded in Darwin until seconds before the first bombs exploded. This led to many deaths. Even a couple of minutes' warning would have allowed many civilians to take cover in slit trenches.

The first aircraft pattern-bombed the city and airfield, and they were followed by dive bombers and Zero fighters, which targeted ships in the harbour. Eight ships were sunk and many others set on fire. The munitions ship, Neptuna, was tied up at the inner wharf when it copped a direct hit. It exploded with the loss of at least 45 lives. Men were blasted into the sea, burning with fuel oil: some were rescued in acts of extraordinary bravery, but many others perished.

The first wave of the attack lasted 40 minutes. An hour later, the second wave began with high-altitude bombers pummelling the RAAF base at Parap, site of the present Darwin airport. At least 22 aircraft were destroyed, including two Catalina flying boats.

The Japanese encountered little resistance. A lone Kittyhawk managed to meet the incoming fighters but was quickly shot down. Anti-aircraft gunners fought hard but with little effect. They had received no training.

The raids left Darwin stunned. Chaos, bordering on anarchy, reigned. Civilians looked to the government-appointed NT administrator, Aubrey Abbott, for instructions but he dithered, expecting the military to take control. Almost immediately, word spread of an imminent invasion. Civilians began a southward rush by any means available. The panicky exodus became known as the Adelaide River Stakes, as people packed whatever possessions they could manage and took cars, bikes - even the council sanitary cart - or walked towards Adelaide River, 10km to the south. The exodus may have been chaotic, but a civilian rush to leave a battlefield is hardly a cause for shame. Instead, the finger of shame can be pointed at the military.

After viewing the total destruction at the airfield, the RAAF station commander ordered his men to meet at a kitchen station half a mile down the main south road and half a mile into the bush. This order was passed on by mouth and was inevitably corrupted. Some men went three miles down the road; others seven. Some men simply took to the bush. Four days after the bombing, 278 RAAF personnel were still missing. One made it to Melbourne in 13 days.

Meanwhile, administrator Abbott had called on army provosts - military police - to assist civilian police. They were a motley bunch who declared themselves to be in charge. There were reports that the MPs, drunk and waving pistols, instigated the looting which followed the bombing.

At Government House, Abbott was busy organising civilian police to help him remove liquor from the cellar and to pack the official crockery so it could be shipped south. The lamentable lack of leadership up north was also evident in Canberra. The government was stunned by events.

First newspaper reports said there had been "considerable damage" in Darwin, but later stories told of minimal impact.

Two deaths, said one report, when the real figure was at least 243. Japanese bombs ineffectual, said another, when the truth was that Government House, the police station, the hospital, the post and telegraph offices, half the city and the entire airfield had been flattened.

On March 3, the government appointed judge Charles Lowe of the Victorian Supreme Court as a commissioner of inquiry to investigate the raids. He left by plane at 1.30am the next day, and began hearings on March 5.

The next day he cabled Canberra saying Darwin in its present state could not be defended and urgent supplies and reinforcements were needed. Lowe's inquiries continued almost around the clock for five days. Dozens of witnesses were cross-examined.

On March 10, the commission adjourned to Melbourne, where hearings resumed on March 19 for a further five days. On March 27, Lowe presented his first report to government, but it was not made public until 1945, when it was tabled in parliament and all but ignored by politicians, the military and the press. The awkward truth was still too raw to be dealt with.

Lowe used temperate language in his report, but there was no mistaking his meaning. He blasted top RAAF brass for a lack of "competent leadership", which had led to "deplorable" outcomes. He said the quality of the men was not unsatisfactory, but they had been failed by a lack of training and a lack of leadership.

Many of those military men who absconded into the bush had not been trained in the use of rifles, had only a few rounds of ammunition, and were unwilling to "hang around to be massacred by the Japanese."

Lowe rebuked Abbott for failing to plan for an air attack and for dithering before handing power to the military. But he refused to criticise him for removing liquor and crockery that otherwise would have been looted.

He also acknowledged the "many acts of heroism" during the raids, with special mention of nurses at the bombed-out hospital and a prisoner, "Sinclair by name", who was released from Fanny Bay jail during the raid and who "performed magnificent service" in providing first aid to the injured before reporting back to jail. Lowe recommended he be pardoned.

While Lowe made his recommendations for increased defences for Darwin - including four fighter squadrons - air attacks continued. Between February 1942 and November 1943 there were 64 bombing raids on Darwin, and others on Townsville, Katherine, Wyndham, Derby, Broome and Port Hedland.

For decades, the debacle of Darwin lay submerged in the national consciousness. But, just as it took decades for the importance of the Kokoda Track battles to become recognised, it has taken many decades for the true impact of the Darwin raids to be understood.

Last November, US President Barack Obama visited Darwin and told assembled troops: "It was here, in Darwin, where our alliance was born - during Australia's Pearl Harbor.

"Against overwhelming odds, our forces fought back, with honour and with courage. The days after Darwin were tough. Some thought Australia might fall. But we dusted ourselves off. We picked ourselves up. We rebuilt. "And thanks to the extraordinary generation of troops, we went on to victory - in the Coral Sea and at Midway and at Milne Bay."


13 February, 2012

Tough laws on people smuggling are a con


Occasionally I spend a day wandering from trial to trial in the Downing Centre, Sydney's giant justice factory. It's one way of keeping in touch with certain aspects of the city. A while ago I began to notice small dark men in the dock, always with an interpreter.

These are the crew from the Indonesian boats that carry asylum seekers to our shores, charged with people smuggling and farmed out by the Commonwealth to the states for justice. There are lots of them: as of last September, almost 200 had been convicted and another 251 were due before the courts.

The trials generally follow the same pattern: a naval and a federal police officer are flown down from north Australia to give evidence, followed by half a dozen passengers from the boat, who are brought from some distant detention centre to confirm that the accused was in fact responsible for sailing the vessel. The evidence can be interesting when the passengers describe their journey from home in some detail.

If you attend one of these trials, which are open to anyone, you will notice a strange thing. Although our leaders have long assured us the crew of these boats are vile people smugglers preying on human misery, in fact they often seem to come from far more wretched circumstances than their passengers.

These are frequently well educated people such as engineers who, despite the problems that made them leave home, were wealthy enough to raise something like $10,000 for the passage of each member of their families. And most of them have a future in Australia. The fishermen, in contrast, are the poorest of the Indonesian poor - as their appearance indicates, they come from the fringes of the Javanese empire.

Often they were ignorant of what they were doing. At his trial a fortnight ago, Abdul Suares from Sulawesi described how he and three boys were placed on board SIEV 228 at the last stage of its journey, and watched in confusion as the main crew took off in another vessel. He said he had been offered $540 for a crewing job and had not been told he was going to Australia. (The trial resulted in a hung jury.)

They are generally illiterate and face almost certain incarceration for three years, far from their families, followed by a return to an impoverished village. It's true they won't face persecution on their return, but there are circumstances in life just as bad as the risk of being persecuted.

I am not trying to compare one person's misery with another's, just pointing out that, in human terms, the virulence with which Australia punishes these crew members, nearly all of whom are found guilty and receive a mandatory three years in jail, is very odd. It fulfils no conceivable policy objective. Jail sentences are supposed to punish, but this is excessive: other criminals receive less for offences involving considerable violence or sex crimes.

Deterrence is another objective of sentencing, and probably three years in jail will deter these men from crewing a boat to Australia again. But, again, the same effect could be achieved with a shorter sentence. As to deterring others from committing the same offence, word about sentences handed out in the Downing Centre does not seem to have reached Indonesia's outer islands, because the boats keep coming.

Apart from not being effective, the policy is also hugely inefficient. One source high in the justice system estimates each trial costs about $250,000, while the jail time served is another $219,000 per prisoner. The large number of trials - for which NSW has been given no extra resources by the Commonwealth - is clogging up our justice system, placing increasing pressure on the courts, the Legal Aid service, and the prisons.

A lot of this could be avoided if, as in almost all other criminal matters, a plea of guilty were rewarded with a discount off the sentence. But because of the mandatory sentence here, no discount is possible, so most of the accused chose to go to trial in the faint hope something might turn up.

If a government policy does not fulfil any admirable objective, and is grossly expensive, we usually look for a political explanation. But if this one was supposed to appeal to anti-boaters by being tough on people smugglers, it has woefully failed to find its main targets.

Last year in the District Court, Judge Brian Knox sentenced Asse Ambo for bringing SIEV 229 and its 53 passengers to Australian waters. His honour (as I reported at the time) went to the trouble in his judgment of describing the nine stages in the human supply chain that brought its 53 passengers from Tehran and Baghdad. They paid about half a million dollars in total for the journey. How much did Ambo receive? Two hundred and seventeen dollars.

This is typical of the government's almost complete lack of success in catching the people smugglers who really matter.

In the four years to last September, just five organisers had been convicted here. As for overseas, Canberra likes to boast about its efforts to work with other governments to catch the big boys, but this is unproductive: in the same period, one organiser had been convicted in Indonesia while three people had gone down in Malaysia for harbouring illegal immigrants.

If anyone believes locking up poor fishermen is effective or reflective of success in the government's more general efforts against people smugglers, it's time Alan Jones disabused them. Someone is playing a cruel trick on those citizens concerned about border security.

Unhappiness with what is happening is simmering in the judiciary. About 10 judges have spoken out against the system in courts around the country, mainly upset by the mandatory sentences they have to give, both the principle and the length.

Last year Judge Knox said in his judgment it was difficult to see how mandatory sentencing could be reconciled "with the duty imposed by the Crimes Act to deliver a sentence which is 'of a severity appropriate in all the circumstances of the offence'."


Homosexual marriage bills make their ill-fated debut

TWO separate private member's bills to legalise same-sex marriage will be introduced today in a historic move for the gay rights movement.

Labor backbencher Stephen Jones will present his bill to legalise gay marriage while Greens MP Adam Bandt and Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie will sponsor a second bill.

Mr Wilkie's bill, however, carries a caveat that religious ministers will not be obliged to perform same-sex ceremonies.

But with Labor MPs allowed a conscience vote on the issue, the twin bills appear doomed to be voted down by the combined forces of its Labor opponents - including Prime Minister Julia Gillard - and the Coalition.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has refused to allow a conscience vote and warned Liberal MPs last year against crossing the floor in contravention of party policy, which opposes same-sex marriage.

Yet another bill seeking to legalise same-sex marriage will be introduced later this year with the Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young announcing her intentions to seek to present a bill in the upper house.

Mr Bandt has aired fears Labor and the opposition have colluded to water down Mr Jones' bill to civil unions, which is not expected to go to a vote for several months.

But Mr Jones told ABC radio today that assertion ''was putting the cart before the horse''.

The expected introduction of the backbencher's bill comes after December's national conference voted to reverse the party's long-standing opposition to same-sex marriage.

While Mr Jones will make history as the first ALP member to attempt to legalise same-sex marriage; he will also be the first government MP to introduce a bill that is voted down by his own party.

The member for the blue-collar seat of Throsby in the Illawarra region in NSW, says he has the support of ministers and of the Left but admits he does not expect the bill - which will propose to amend the Marriage Act to include gay and lesbian couples - to pass the House of Representatives.

But he said the prospect of defeat was not a deterrent as the legislation was "a reflection of the basic Labor Party values of equity and fairness''. ''I have not been a crusader on this issue,'' Mr Jones said. ''I came late but it is about how we treat people and the respect we afford their choices.''

Labor backbencher Andrew Leigh said this morning he intended to support the Jones bill, while his Western Sydney MP colleague David Bradbury confirmed he would not vote to legalise gay marriage.


Red tape blocks school science lessons

IT'S the age-old question - which came first, the chicken or the egg? Queensland's 650,000 school students are now unlikely to be given the chance to find out after a recent crackdown was ordered on egg hatching in classrooms. In a decision criticised for tying schools up in more red tape, teachers must now submit a 15-page application form before their students can watch chickens hatch from eggs in an incubator.

Teachers are now saying the paperwork is too time-consuming and they won't bother with the once-popular classroom activity. The application form is the same one used to gain approval to dissect rats and toads in school laboratories.

The ruling that books and chooks don't mix has led to the cancellation of dozens of hatching kit orders after some Catholic schools booked incubators in time for Easter before realising they now needed formal approval from the Queensland Schools Animal Ethics Committee.

Exasperated owners of hatching kit businesses fear at least 1000 unwanted embryo eggs that had been pre-ordered must now be destroyed.

Ann Richardson of Henny Penny Hatching said schools had been threatened with fines of more than $30,000 if they hatched eggs in the classroom without formal approvals, which could take six months. "Teachers are just finding it too hard," she said. "There was no negotiation. We don't know what to do."

One teacher wrote to Ms Richardson in dismay at the decision, saying bean plants would prove a poor substitute for her life-cycle classes.

Opposition education spokesman Bruce Flegg said the paperwork burden had made it "virtually impossible" for teachers to continue the activity. "It is really a case of bureaucracy and red tape being imposed on the education of our children to their detriment," he said. "Any animal, whether at home or school, should be treated humanely, but our children have a right to learn about the natural world."

Teachers were previously able to conduct chicken hatching in schools without formal permission.

But Animal Ethics Committee project officer Brad McConachie said that has changed after advice from the State Government that poultry programs in schools needed formal approval by the committee under the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 code of practice.

An Education Queensland spokeswoman said chicken hatching was complex and the welfare of the animals needed to be taken seriously.


Sluggish health watchdog

"Arrogant" is the word repeatedly used for the TGA. Any lessons they have learned from the Pan Pharmaceuticals debacle are obviously the wrong ones

WHEN worldwide panic about faulty breast implants hit Australia in the lead-up to Christmas, the head of the medicines regulator, Rohan Hammett, was already halfway out the door.

Mr Hammett quit as national manager of the Therapeutic Goods Administration on December 23. Late this month he takes up a new job in his home town of Sydney as a deputy director-general at the NSW Ministry of Health.

It could not be a worse time for the TGA to be without a leader. Only two days earlier simmering concerns over silicone gel implants made by the French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) had erupted into a crisis. The French government warned women could "potentially be in danger" from the rupture-prone implants, with suggestions they could cause cancer. It ordered the 30,000 Frenchwomen with PIP implants to have them removed.

Germany followed suit, and Britain's National Health Service offered to remove the implants free of charge for any worried patient.

In Australia, however, where 12,300 PIP implants have been sold, the TGA continues to reiterate the advice it has given women for two years: there is no need for "routine removal" of PIP implants.

Yet its advice was based on inaccurate patient data. When the scandal broke, the TGA had recorded only 34 unconfirmed cases of Australian women whose PIP implants had burst. Now it has confirmed 134 cases of ruptured implants and another 15 are unconfirmed. It expects this number to rise.

Whether it is a flu vaccine that causes seizures in children, hip replacements that leak toxic metal into the blood or faulty breast implants, the watchdog appears slow off the mark.

A former ministerial adviser who dealt with the TGA recalls how the medical boffins holed up in its bunker in the suburbs of Canberra had little comprehension of the public's sensitivity to health scares.

The chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia, Michael Moore, blames "arrogance fuelling incompetence" at the TGA. "It's almost defence by omission," he said. "They think they don't have a problem because they don't have the data to tell them they have a problem."

The watchdog is caught between women terrified their implants are leaking toxic chemicals, science that has not conclusively proved the devices do pose a threat and the PIP distributor, plastic surgeons and the federal government, none of whom want to pay for the removals and replacements of the suspect implants.

The TGA's handling of the PIP scandal will now be the subject of a Senate inquiry amid criticisms its flat-footed response is symptomatic of how out of touch it is with the public. "We rely on the TGA to be our watchdog," said Senator Nick Xenophon, who instigated the inquiry. "This is a clear case of where the watchdog needs a guide dog more than ever. This is yet another tragic example of serious flaws in the way our therapeutic goods regulator works".

Politicians, health lobbyists and bureaucrats speak of an "arrogant" regulator that is too slow to respond to public health scares and constrained by its industry funding. The government's promised overhaul of the TGA has now taken on a new urgency.

Brendan Shaw, who represents drug companies as the head of Medicines Australia, said while the TGA was considered one of the best regulators of its type in the world, it had a communication problem. " … it needs to be out there talking about what it does and why it makes decisions," he said.

Those familiar with the TGA date its insularity back to the Pan Pharmaceuticals debacle. Its recall of all Pan products in 2003 cost taxpayers nearly $120 million in compensation payments to the Pan founder, Jim Selim, and his customers and suppliers. The Health Department started to keep a closer eye on the TGA and it retreated from the public eye.

"The TGA was completely gung-ho then, now they're like a rabbit caught in the spotlight, they're just frozen," one parliamentarian who grills TGA managers at Senate estimates hearings said.

He recalls Mr Hammett regularly saying "if we had a 'retrospectoscope"' when trying to justify the regulator's actions. "He's not a bad bloke, he had to clean up a bit of a mess and protect the institution so he couldn't bag it."

Mr Hammett was not available for interview, and The Sun-Herald was not allowed to speak to the bureaucrat acting as TGA national manager.

Shaw believes the TGA, which reports to the federal Health Minister, must respond more quickly to public concerns. "With the ageing population, the growth of the internet and social media, the whole community is taking a more active interest in health," he said.

Patient advocates are incensed by what they perceive as the TGA's relatively passive response to the implants issue.

The founder of the Medical Error Action Group, Lorraine Long, questions how the TGA can be working in the best interests of patients when it is wholly funded by medical manufacturers. "They're compromised straight away," she said.

Mr Shaw laughs at suggestions TGA executives are being wined and dined. "It's been hard to pick up the phone and find people in the TGA," he said. "It hasn't been as open and as outgoing as it could be … They pay for their own lunch."

There are signs the regulator might be changing. In December the government released a blueprint for reform, including greater transparency, better engagement with the public and increased scrutiny of implants. It will be up to Mr Hammett's (yet to be named) successor to ensure they are delivered.


12 February, 2012

SCHOOL CRACKDOWN: Dud teachers face axing in deal worth millions

Good if it actually happens. Government schools cannot afford to be too fussy, though. It's mainly the least talented of graduates who go into teaching these days. Trying to teach in an undisciplined school is only for the desperate -- aside from a few idealists

POORLY performing teachers will be sacked in a landmark education reform to be rolled out nationally.

In return for signing up to the Federal Government's teacher hiring policy, aimed at improving standards, state governments will be offered cash handouts worth millions.

The national reforms will need to be agreed to by each state and will be first rolled out in Queensland and New South Wales. The Queensland Government will be offered $7.5 million, and the NSW Government will be offered a handout of more than $12 million.

In a move that will break the longstanding deadlock about whether principals can hire and fire, school management will be given free rein to take over the recruitment and management of teachers and support staff.

School boards and councils will also take over the budget control and strategic planning, giving parents a greater role in oversight of their school operations. They will also be given the right to set salaries for teachers and contracts for school maintenance, such as cleaning.

"To get the best results we need principals to have the powers to get and keep the best teachers," Prime Minister Julia Gillard told The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

NSW government schools have the most centralised decision-making processes in Australia. All staff hiring is also centralised out of the state Department of Education, which has the say on hiring and firing of teachers.

The PM will announce the reforms ahead of the release of the Gonski review of school funding, due next week. It will be the first review of how schools receive funding since 1973 and is expected to call for major injections of funds into an education budget that tops $36 billion annually.

As federal education minister, Ms Gillard introduced the My School website and the Naplan tests, which brought in national standards for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in reading, writing and numeracy.

The Federal Government will withhold the additional funding if the State Governments do not sign up to the harder reforms, specifically around the hiring and firing of teachers by principals.

The onus is now on NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell to submit an implementation plan to the Federal Government to prove how he would lift education performance.

Inability to hire and fire staff has been one of the principals' greatest gripes. Principals will now become more accountable for their school's performance. A trial of the reforms will involve 325 schools in NSW over the next two years.


Good intentions but clean energy price too high

There are few things more dangerous than a bad policy built on good intentions. Communism springs to mind ("commune" is such a lovely word). The vast public housing estates built across the English speaking world in the 1960s and 1970s are another. The first famine in the Soviet Union, and the social dystopia in "the projects", should have quickly revealed that the policies were misconceived. Yet because the values behind the policies were ostensibly noble, they continued to operate on the original intention rather than the results. So it is with the government's Solar Flagships program.

"Renew" is also a gorgeous English word that carries with it a cache of that precious and elusive substance - hope. I don't want to disparage the search for diversified and sustainable energy security. I am concerned, as a taxpayer, that we get value for the $10 billion largesse we are pouring into renewables, as the price of Bob Brown's support for a minority government.

The policy was this week mugged by reality when both its Solar Flagship projects crashed. A $300 million grant to photovoltaic Moree Solar Farm must now be re-tendered because the proponents failed to attract matching private investment, in part because BP Solar, which was providing the technology, announced it was getting out of solar globally. (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic have all slashed solar subsidies and four of the biggest solar systems suppliers have filed for bankruptcy in the past 10 months). A solar thermal project at Chinchilla in Queensland (which has suffered a $300 million cost blowout since July 2011) has had to be granted a six-month stay of execution because it is yet to secure a customer.

The former Labor Leader Mark Latham now looks prophetic in his December 2011 statement: "The Government has put aside $10 billion for so-called 'industry development' … this is the biggest industry slush fund in the history of the nation. The technologies aren't ready, the businesses aren't established to absorb this money in any productive way."

Latham is an echo of growing unrest among the more hard-headed inside the ALP, including those committed to "urgent action on climate change". Kevin Rudd's former economics adviser, Dr Andrew Charlton, referred in his Quarterly Essay 44, to "the wide gap between rhetoric and reality when it comes to clean energy … Neither wind nor solar power can currently provide continuous base-load power … these sources deliver nothing to the grid when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining". Charlton's thesis supports public investment over time but warns: "Trying to roll out large-scale renewable energy with current technology would be a terrible waste of money. We would spend billions of dollars installing expensive and inefficient renewable power with technology that will soon be outdated".

The British Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, this week faced a revolt of 101 MPs demanding a dramatic cut to a £400 million subsidy to the "inefficient" onshore wind turbine industry. They were not without a factual basis for their concerns after Verso Economics' March 2011 evaluation of The Economic Impact of Renewable Energy Policy found that: "Policy to promote the renewable electricity sector … is economically damaging. Government should not see this as an economic opportunity, therefore, but should focus debate instead on whether these costs, and the damage done to the environment, are worth the … climate change mitigation".

That finding is supported by Bjorn Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus Centre, which commissioned five economists to review renewables policy. Their advice? "Cutting carbon is extremely expensive, especially in the short term, because the alternatives to fossil fuels are few and costly."

The only source of large-scale, storable, renewable energy is recharge-pumping hydro-electricity. But the Greens believe climate change has permanently reduced rainfall and were founded in Tasmania on a commitment to stop the construction of dams. In a Brown/Gillard government, the taxpayer can look forward to massive, well-intentioned but poorly targeted spending on immature technologies that will deliver little enduring benefit.


Anti-obesity propaganda blamed for new eating disorder among children

DOCTORS have started treating a new type of eating disorder, warning aggressive anti-obesity campaigns are driving healthy children to starvation.

The phenomenon has been seen by Victoria's three leading paediatric services, with doctors hospitalising children who have lost up to a third of their body weight over a few months in an irrational desire to stay thin.

Royal Children's Hospital chair of adolescent health Susan Sawyer said this eating disorder, affecting children at the upper end of the healthy weight range, was only starting to be documented.

"When you're older and overweight it's a very simple message that weight loss is good for you," Prof Sawyer said. "The difficulty with young people is that even if they are moderately overweight, they are still growing height-wise and are at risk of over-interpreting public health messages of 'low fat is good' to suggest that 'no fat is better'.

"For all intents and purposes, these adolescents have anorexia nervosa in terms of how unwell they are, the distorted body image and the amount of weight loss, but they are at a normal weight. "This is very new."

Austin Hospital's medical director of mental health, Richard Newton, said he believed some of the nine and 10-year-olds being treated were becoming ill from "the panic" created by anti-obesity campaigns. "We need to be giving healthy weight messages that don't vilify fatness, but actually encourage health," Associate Prof Newton explained. "Some of the health messages we give create panic.

"We have to reassure young people that if they do have a weight problem, it doesn't mean that makes them a bad person. "We need to encourage people to not just consider physical health, but emotional wellbeing as well."

Monash Children's head of adolescent medicine Jacinta Coleman said children developing this type of eating disorder could become sick quickly. "The kids we're seeing are at the upper end of their healthy weight range, not necessarily obese but on the more overweight side, and there is so much pressure on kids to lose weight," Dr Coleman said.

"They need to understand that you can be healthy even at a heavier weight, as long as you're active, eating nutritious food. "I think that's where the message is getting misinterpreted."


‘Building a new economy’ – really, Prime Minister?

Robert Carling

Throughout economic history, people have fretted about where the jobs will come from to replace those lost in declining firms and industries. We never seem to learn the lesson that they have always come from somewhere, as long as the private economy was allowed to get on with doing what it does best.

At times, concerns about declining industries are heightened by the general economic climate or the high profile of the firms or industries in decline. Australia is going through one such episode of heightened public concern as a result of the pressure that the strong Australian dollar is putting on industries such as motor vehicle manufacturing.

At its peak in the 1960s, Australian manufacturing – sheltering behind a high tariff wall – employed upwards of 1.35 million people, or more than one in every four in the workforce.
If someone in authority had announced in 1970 that manufacturing was destined to shed 400,000 of those jobs over the next 40 years, there would have been panic. How could the labour market replace 400,000 jobs and absorb the normal growth of the labour force?

Yet that is exactly what happened. Since 1984, for example, manufacturing shed 150,000 jobs (and agriculture another 70,000), while ‘health care and social assistance’ generated 800,000 more jobs; ‘professional, scientific and technical’ 600,000; construction another 600,000; retail trade 500,000; education and training 400,000; and so on.

The structure of the economy is always changing. This reality makes nonsense of the recent discovery by politicians of a ‘multi-speed economy’ – as if it has ever been anything else – and of Julia Gillard’s speech last week about ‘building a new economy’ – as if the one we’ve got is in ruins. What we are witnessing is structural change around the edges, albeit at an accelerated pace due to the high exchange rate, the high terms of trade, and the mining boom. To describe it as ‘building a new economy’ is just self-serving hype from a government that wants to be seen as thinking big and firmly in charge.

If there ever really was a need to build a new economy, God help us if we had to rely on government to do it. The only contribution government should make is to apply consistent macroeconomic, trade, competition and regulatory policies that give the private sector the best shot at maintaining high employment at high levels of productivity and low levels of inflation. This framework has no room for policies that shelter declining industries. Resources must be allowed to move to their most productive uses, and failing firms must be allowed to fail. But those employed in declining industries should not just be thrown on the labour market scrapheap. There is a case for structural adjustment assistance so that a 50-year-old car industry worker, for example, can be retrained and work happily and productively for another 15 or 20 years rather than spend the rest of his life as a dependant of the state.


Amnesty on truth

Despite its pretensions, Amnesty has been a far-Leftist organization for a long time -- JR

Sara Hudson

I’m ashamed to admit I was a member of Amnesty International in high school. Back then I proudly wore an Amnesty badge on a black beret. Now I cringe at the memory of my naive self lapping up their hyperbole.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that Amnesty International is urging a parliamentary human rights watchdog to investigate the federal government’s plan to crack down on school truancy by linking welfare payments to school attendance. The article claimed that a recent evaluation of SEAM (Improving School Enrolment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure) found that suspending welfare payments did not improve school attendance.

However, that is not what the evaluation actually found. According to the report, attendance rates improved in the two communities where SEAM was trialled – from 74.4% to 79.9% in the Northern Territory and from 84.7% to 88.7% in Queensland.

Where an enrolment notice was sent, 82% of families in the Northern Territory and 84% in Queensland provided enrolment details without the need for a welfare suspension. Of the 4,688 parents in the SEAM communities, only 85 had their welfare payments suspended under the enrolment component and seven under the attendance component.

When critics complain about government’s actions to improve remote Indigenous school attendance, what is it that they expect government to do? Let parents get away with not sending their children to school?

Quarantining people’s welfare because their kids don’t attend school may seem heavy handed, but the consequences of not enforcing school attendance are worse. Already there are tens of thousands of young people in remote communities who are unable to read and write. Do we want this cohort to grow exponentially, or do we want to nip it in the bud?

A recent ad campaign by the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) asked the question: ‘If 80% of kids in Sydney couldn’t read would you lend a hand?’ The same question could be asked about school attendance.

Granted, low school attendance is not the only reason for educational failure in remote Indigenous schools. Education departments across the country, with their separate curricula for Indigenous children, are also to blame.

In one Homeland School, an activity book based on a children’s picture book by Mem Fox is used for all the children aged 5 to 18 (or whatever age children decide that school is boring and stop going altogether).

Instead of complaining about government’s efforts to improve Indigenous school attendance, Amnesty should be complaining about what Indigenous children are being taught when they are at school!


11 February, 2012

"Overcrowding" in Sydney State schools?

Class-size is a snark. All the evidence shows that it is teacher quality that matters, not class size.

A point not mentioned below is that the turning to State schools mostly seems to be happening in affluent suburbs, where the quality of the pupils keeps standards up

STUDENTS in government primary schools are struggling in classes of more than 30 children as wealthy families turn their backs on expensive private colleges to save thousands of dollars in fees.

Booming public school enrolments have stretched teachers in many popular and high performing primary schools to breaking point as class sizes have jumped to as high as 32 after Year 2.

Children in their first three years of school -- who are not required to sit national literacy and numeracy tests -- have government-mandated small classes with as few as 19 students.

But in senior primary school years children are often forced into large classes, exceeding the upper ceiling of 30 laid down by the NSW Department of Education and Communities.

Data showed enrolments in the best government primary schools has been rising rapidly in recent years, particularly since parents have been able to monitor school performance in the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (Naplan) tests.

Public school enrolments have increased by 8400 across the state since 2009, with northern Sydney a major hot spot.

Government schools in the city's north, up against heavily marketed independents, have recorded the greatest increase in students -- 5100 over the past three years.

At Caddies Creek in western Sydney enrolments have jumped from 220 when the school opened in 2003 to 925. Mona Vale Public on the northern beaches has increased from 799 three years ago to 900. Others have risen by more than 60 per cent in six years.

Relieving principal at Mona Vale Public Greg Jones said families who would have opted for a private education were saving $20,000 a year by choosing the local government school.

"It reflects the community having increasing confidence in public education . . . we are not losing them (new students) so there is very little leakage," he said.

But a rigid staffing formula administered by the Education Department, under which schools can lose a teacher if student numbers decline by just a few, has made it almost impossible to keep all primary classes at under 30.

The Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations said large class sizes in the upper years of primary school was an issue, particularly as students in Year 3 and Year 5 were required to sit the Naplan tests.

Allison King, from Wahroonga, has three children. Her eldest, six-year-old Malachi, is in Year 2 at Waitara Public School. She believes small class sizes are important: "They're still quite little in Year 3 and with all the literacy and numeracy tests they are doing they need so much attention. I wouldn't like Malachi to be in a big class."

In a bid to juggle a limited number of teachers and classrooms, schools are forming composite classes or using "team teaching" -- with 45 or 50 students in a room with two teachers.

Education Department data showed some schools now had up to 19 composites.

The carer of two primary school children in southwestern Sydney, who did not wish to be identified, said she had been told by a teacher that the quality of learning dropped when classes became larger than 25 students.

"I once complained to a teacher because they didn't mark my child's homework when she was in Year 3 -- the teacher said they didn't have enough time to get around to marking every child's work," the carer said.

"This year the principal wants classes to stay at 27 but I think it will increase. This is because some children haven't even come back from holidays yet and are yet to be placed in classes."

Chairwoman of the Public Schools Principals Forum Cheryl McBride said most of her classes at Canley Vale Public in Sydney's west had 29 or 30 students.

"We would love to have smaller sizes . . . if you are a quality teacher you can be even more effective with smaller numbers," she said.

"Disadvantaged schools also find (larger class sizes) more challenging than affluent areas.

"But it is about competing priorities and I rate the need for more counsellors, help for special needs kids and teachers' salaries ahead of reducing class sizes."

Ms McBride agreed public schools were attracting families who might otherwise have sent their children to private schools.

An Education Department spokesman said $710 million had been spent reducing class sizes in primary schools. They now averaged 24 across all grades.

Sydney regional director Dr Phil Lambert said improved academic performance, exciting programs and "connectedness" between the school and parents of students were reasons why government schools had become more attractive. [Dream on!]


Dam engineers accused of using report to cover up their negligence

The sleepy public servants who misused Brisbane's perfectly adequate flood-control dam and flooded Brisbane, killing several people

A SENIOR Seqwater executive has defended the writing of a critical March report by four dam engineers accused of mismanagement of the Wivenhoe Dam during last January's floods.

Seqwater general manager of water delivery Jim Pruss has taken the stand Saturday morning at the flood inquiry to explain his role in the preparation of the report released in early March 2011.

The report is at the core of serious accusations levelled against the four engineers alleged to have disobeyed the dam manual and used low release strategies during the critical January 8/9 weekend before the flood peak last January 13.

Counsel assisting Peter Callaghan has directly accused the engineers inside the inquiry of confecting the March report to cover their tracks.

Mr Callaghan has also questioned why the engineers created a "retrospective" report by going over old data instead of recalling exactly what occurred.

Mr Pruss told the inquiry he had played a supportive role in the creation of the report and acted in "a governance role".

During the report's preparation the dam engineers would meet and decide on a process to meet the deadline which only allowed one month's preparation, he said. "We were really kicking this around in interactive sessions."

Mr Callaghan said there were concerns the report was compiled with reference to data without any attempt to capture any personal recollections of the dam engineers.

Mr Callaghan asked whether Mr Pruss agreed there was the danger of a "displacement" effect in the retrospective manner in which the report was prepared. "The record... might displace unrecorded memories of the engineers," he said. "I agree that is possible," Mr Pruss said.


Paramedics detail Queensland Ambulance Service staff shortages

Your government will look after you -- NOT

SERIOUS staffing shortfalls in the Queensland Ambulance Service have been revealed in a secret file that has been compiled by frontline paramedics.

The covert audit of crew shortages and station closures, obtained by The Courier-Mail, shows communities in some of the state's busiest areas are regularly being left exposed.

Despite fears of career damage or job loss, paramedics logged almost 150 examples of understaffing in recent months. The campaign, not driven by their union, includes details of shifts not being filled, 24-hour stations unattended - often at night - and officers working alone or cobbled together with staff from other areas.

Officers say the "roster holes" are caused by a "cost-sensitive management" and there simply are not enough people to cope with a rising workload, or to cover leave.

The QAS has denied the service is undermanned and says the recent Report on Government Services 2012 showed it had the highest ratio of officers per 100,000 people in the country. It said it had increased numbers by 29 per cent since 2006-2007 and there were now 2596 officers.

However, the on-road figures are considerably less, with an average 450 frontline staff on annual or accrued leave (time off in lieu) each week. Illness also takes a toll, with paramedics each averaging 79 hours of sick leave a year.

The most regular cases of understaffing logged by officers were on the Gold and Sunshine coasts. Staff shortages were also recorded at Redland Bay, Kenmore, Beenleigh, Logan West, Rockhampton and nearby Yeppoon. December was the worst month, with 83 shifts not filled at the Gold Coast, Beenleigh area and Ipswich.

On January 21, the Gold Coast was two crews down when surf lifesavers called for help after a mass rescue of six tourists at Coolangatta. First on the scene was a single officer. QAS confirmed the first unit assigned, at 2pm, was a single responder who arrived within 10 minutes, followed five minutes later by a back-up crew. Six officers attended.

A QAS spokesman said the single officer had been left short after her partner went home sick.

The Gold Coast was 15 paramedics down that day, 12 were replaced by relief or overtime provisions, but then a further two had gone home ill, leaving the region five short.

A paramedic logged that, on September 28 last year, the night shift at Coolum was moved to Nambour and a heart attack in Coolum led to a 17-minute response time. QAS confirmed the incident but it denied that Coolum had been closed.

Boxing Day brought the high-profile case where celebrity chef Matt Golinski waited 29 minutes for a paramedic at a Tewantin fire tragedy while nearby crews attended other jobs. A lone officer came from Maroochydore and a police officer had to drive the ambulance to hospital.

Paramedics told The Courier-Mail their unprecedented "snapshot of the real state of resourcing" had been a last resort. They said the log told a story of increasing pressure and mounting potential for disaster. "All we want is our shifts to be filled so we can serve the community effectively," an officer said. "The system is running too lean and the pressure on us is enormous.

"There are holes everywhere and busy areas like the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are seriously short, especially over the holiday period where they run the same rosters as the rest of the year. This is madness given the population can double during these times."

Paramedics say the QAS would rather see a station close for the night than pay overtime or source casuals: "We only have bare-bones staffing and are worried about what would happen if we have a major incident, such as a bus crash."

Another officer said he believed management was doing the best it could, given the funding available. The QAS gets $575.8 million a year as part of the Department of Community Safety's $1.8 billion allocation.

QAS said it had a three-step plan for filling vacancies caused by sickness or leave. First, it can draw on excess staff from a 13-week relief ratio. If this is not possible, casual staff can be employed and, if neither of these options are possible, overtime can then be utilised.

The service's January data shows that even with this strategy, 26 shifts could not be filled on the Gold Coast and seven on the Sunshine Coast.

"Shifts may not be able to be filled for a variety of reasons, including sick leave, parental leave, maternity leave, military leave as well as WorkCover absence and resignations," a QAS spokesman said.


Carbon tax to hit car jobs

CAR parts and plastics manufacturers warn their industries could be the next to shed jobs because the carbon tax will hit them hard.

And the future of Alcoa's Geelong smelter and 600 workers' jobs was no clearer after high-level meetings yesterday involving the company's bosses, Premier Ted Baillieu and federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Regional Cities Minister Denis Napthine revealed only that discussions had been "frank" and Alcoa had made no specific demands.

Mr Abbott called for the carbon tax to be dropped to save the jobs, saying: "With the carbon tax, the aluminium industry is essentially dead in this country."

The Federal Government, which is giving the aluminium industry $3.5 billion in compensation, said the big problem for Alcoa was the soaring dollar, not the tax.

Despite previously flagging that the carbon tax would be a significant cost to the company, Alcoa said yesterday it was not a factor in its decision this week to launch a review of its loss-making smelter at Point Henry in Geelong.

But car parts manufacturers, who employ about 43,000 Victorians, took the opportunity to warn a carbon tax could be a decisive impost on a fragile industry.

Federation of Automotive Products Manufacturers chief executive Richard Reilly said continuing government help would be needed. "We are going to be impacted by a carbon tax, and our competitors (overseas) won't," he said. "If we want to have a car industry, we need continued co-investment."

Vinyl Council of Australia chief executive Sophi MacMillan warned the combination of a high Australian dollar, imported products and the impending carbon tax would "weed out" many exposed businesses. "It is difficult for the manufacturing sector in Australia at the moment across the board whether you are in plastics or other materials," she said.


Another triumph of airport security

A STUN gun found on an aircraft departing Melbourne has sparked a federal police investigation, amid concerns about airport security. The stun gun was discovered by cabin crew during final checks of the aircraft before the take-off of Virgin Australia flight DJ229 from Melbourne's Tullamarine airport to Adelaide yesterday.

Virgin Australia spokeswoman Emma Copeman said the stun gun appeared to have dropped out of a passenger's bag as a member of the cabin crew rearranged items in the overhead locker.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) were called and confiscated the weapon. Police questioned passengers sitting nearby before clearing the aircraft for take-off, Ms Copeman said. No one was removed from the flight, she said.

Ms Copeman said the airline thoroughly checked flights upon arrival, and the stun gun was not detected when the aircraft arrived arrived earlier at Melbourne Airport.

"They check the flights completely after they arrive and depart and there was no reports of anything on the flight beforehand," she said. "I believe (the stun gun) fell out of a bag that was on the aircraft."

The AFP said investigations into the incident were continuing, adding that there had been no danger to travellers on the aircraft, they said.

Melbourne Airport spokeswoman Anna Gillett said the flight, scheduled to depart for Adelaide at 2.40pm (AEDT), was delayed only a little by the incident.

She said although the airport would work with the AFP investigators, it would not be conducting its own inquiries into how the stun gun could have evaded airport security.


Australian whisky catching up?

Australian wine has certainly caught up with the best in the world

A NEW multi-million-dollar whisky distillery run by renowned maker Lark will be developed at heritage Redlands Estate in the Derwent Valley [Tasmania]. The distillery and tourism project in Plenty will convert the 150-year-old estate, built by convicts, into a unique, world-class attraction.

Project developer and Redlands property owner Peter Hope said the development would include a distillery for premium, single-malt whisky. There would be cellar door sales at a visitor centre, a gift shop and tasting room housed in the old coach house.

Mr Hope said it would also include tourist accommodation in the restored building, restoration of one of Tasmania's earliest bakeries and a carriageway through Redlands Estate to the adjacent Salmon Ponds.

Bill Lark, internationally known for his award-winning Tasmanian whisky, said it would be one of only a few distilleries in the world which grew its own barley and made malt on site using a traditional process.

Mr Lark said the proposed distillery would produce 60 barrels a year initially, or about 10,000 bottles of whisky. "We'll be the only distillery in Tasmania and one of only a few in the world with a paddock-to-bottle process," he said. "We will be growing the barley, malting, distilling and bottling on site."

Mr Hope said tourists would be able to see the barley grown on the estate, irrigated by Australia's first convict-built irrigation canal system, which links with the Salmon Ponds.

The Hope family bought Redlands Estate, formerly a well-known hop farm, about four years ago. They are restoring many of the hidden features of the unique property. These include its heritage-listed buildings and gardens, which boast specimens of some of Australia's oldest European trees.


10 February, 2012

Federal government hits private health insurance

Private health insurance is an expensive item and this rise could well push some people out of the system -- particularly if they have large families. Pushing yet more people into the already overworked public system will hit the poor most of all

ABOUT 2.4 million wealthy Australians will pay up to $1000 a year more for health cover from July after Labor rescued its private health rebate reform, which delivers half of its projected budget surplus next year.

The government's means test on the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate is expected to receive parliamentary approval next week. Greens MP Adam Bandt backs it, Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie is "inclined to support it" and regional crossbencher Rob Oakeshott is understood to be supporting the measure.

The policy change will raise $746.3m in 2012-13, and is crucial to the government's bid to achieve its $1.5 billion surplus.

Passage of the measure through parliament three years after it was first proposed - and after it was twice rejected - will mark a significant victory for the government.

The private health rebate means test is a key plank in Labor's drive to clamp down on middle-class welfare that has also disqualified families earning $150,000 or more from the Baby Bonus and Family Tax Benefit Part B and frozen the indexation of family welfare payments until 2014.

Victorian Health Minister David Davis and health funds yesterday warned that the measure would force tens of thousands of people to drop their health cover and many more to reduce their cover, increasing the pressure on the public hospital system. And the opposition warned that it could force some doctors to withdraw their services from rural communities.

The means test would push up the price of health insurance for families earning more than $166,000 and singles on more than $83,000 a year by between $315 and $935 a year.

Families earning more than $258,000 a year and individuals more than $129,000 a year would lose the rebate entirely.

The government is still battling to win Greens support for an element of the legislation that will increase the tax penalty that applies to wealthy people who do not have private health cover.

Greens leader Bob Brown yesterday said his party would "concede" and support a rise in the Medicare levy surcharge if the government put the $80m a year it raised directly into a public dental scheme.

However, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said she would not be "reading the newspapers one day and making a policy announcement about dental the next just because the Greens ask it".

Senator Brown confirmed his party would support the means test yesterday; Mr Oakeshott declined to comment; and Mr Wilkie said: "I can say that I am inclined to support it."

The government says three out of four, or 7.7 million, health fund members will be unaffected by the change and it predicts that only 27,000 will drop their health cover when their subsidy is reduced or abolished.

"It's important to remember that most people will not lose the subsidy entirely; as their incomes increase, the subsidy will decrease," Ms Plibersek said.

Health insurers have predicted 1.6 million health fund members would quit their health cover over the next five years if the means test goes ahead.

Mr Davis told state parliament yesterday if tens of thousands of Victorians dropped or reduced their cover because of the means test, "there would be a significant impact on the public health system".

"That would necessarily put greater pressure on the public health system, emergency departments, elective surgery lists and so forth," Mr Davis said.

Australian Medical Association chief Steve Hambleton said if the means test increased the pressure on public hospitals, the federal government should have to top up public hospital funding.

Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton said many Australians would face higher premiums as a result of the means test and younger and healthier people might quit their cover, pushing up premiums for everyone else. "Half the nation has private health insurance and if you drive people out of private health insurance on to the public system that's already overstretched, we'll just get bad health outcomes."

Private Healthcare Australia chief Michael Armitage said he would not stop lobbying MPs to stop the means test until a vote was taken.

"My experience is until the vote is counted, no one can count on any vote," he said.


Demand for public hospital emergency care on the rise countrywide

DEMAND for emergency department care in Australia rose by almost 40 per cent in the past decade. A new study shows the growth in demand exceeded population growth.

Prof Gerry FitzGerald, of the Queensland University of Technology, said the ageing population might partly explain the rise. "The growth in demand for ED services is a partial contributor to the crowding in EDs," he said.

Researchers found that there was no evidence increased demand was because of patients turning up inappropriately.

The results were published by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.


Feds support new brown coal power station

Brown coal has been a great resource for Victoria because it is so cheap but Greenies hate it because it does give off some real pollution. The new plant aims to reduce pollution

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson will this morning throw a lifeline to a contentious coal-fired power plant project in Victoria's Latrobe Valley that is subject to a legal tussle with state environmental authorities.

Mr Ferguson will also pledge $100 million of Commonwealth funds for CarbonNet — a carbon capture and storage project in the Latrobe.

The Greens are strongly opposed to the controversial HRL power plant project at Morwell. In granting the project a six-month extension, Mr Ferguson will make it clear that this is the last lifeline for a project that began under the Howard government.

Following this morning's announcement, green groups will likely accuse Mr Ferguson of a double standard after he pulled the pin this week on a dawdling solar project, the Moree Solar Farm, which was in line for $306 million in government help.

Mr Ferguson re-opened the bidding on the solar money, allowing three other shortlisted projects to have another shot.

The six-month extension to the controversial HRL Dual Gas project near Morwell will allow the project to meet the terms of a contract first established by the Howard government.

The Resources Minister says this will be the final extension given to the project, which has been under way since 2009, and is the subject of a legal challenge by Environment Victoria.

Mr Ferguson has firmly rebuffed the green opposition, and argued the project, which aims to optimise brown coal and lower its emissions, should have the opportunity to proceed.

"Despite political pressure from the Greens and others, the Australian government has treated the HRL grant with the same measure of good faith that we've shown to other challenging clean energy technologies – including the Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund grant to Solar Systems," Mr Ferguson says.

"The government is absolutely committed to a technology neutral approach and proper administration of grant programs in accordance with due process."

In Morwell this morning, Mr Ferguson will argue the $1-billion-plus CarbonNet project will provide job opportunities in the Latrobe — and preserve the value of brown coal as Australia moves to lower carbon dioxide emissions.

"I hope today's announcement takes us one step further to not only shoring up the value of Victoria's brown coal resource, but perhaps more importantly helping to secure the economic future of the Latrobe Valley," Mr Ferguson will say this morning at a function in the regional city of Morwell.


Negligent education bureaucrats in NSW hit disabled children

AN investigation into the debacle that left hundreds of disabled students without school transport has blamed senior bureaucrats at the NSW Department of Education, but cleared Education Minister Adrian Piccoli.

Former director-general of education Ken Boston today handed his report into the bungle to Premier Barry O'Farrell, who said it demonstrated a "systemic breakdown" within the department.

On the first day of the school year, 740 disabled students were left without transport, after operators pulled out of some runs at the last minute because of complaints over a new payment system.

Mr Boston's report is scathing of the department's handling of the operators' complaints. He says the department repeatedly failed to tell Mr Piccoli that some students could be left without transport, even though it had known since October there was a risk that would happen.

"The prevailing culture seems to have been one of telling senior officers, and even the director-general and the minister, what it was thought they wanted to hear, not what they needed to know," the report says.

"I criticise the Deputy Director-General, Finance and Infrastructure and the Director of Finance Shared Services for failing to deliver this $80 million program of vital importance to the most vulnerable children in NSW, and their parents.

"They have damaged the reputation of the Department of Education and Communities in the opinion of the transport operators, the community and the NSW Government." Mr Boston recommended disciplinary action be taken against both senior education officials.

Mr O'Farrell, who received the report at 11am (AEDT), said he was angered by the report's findings. "What the report details is a systemic breakdown in the Department of Education and Communities in relation to this transport scheme for children with disabilities," he said in Sydney.

"As I read the report I got increasingly angry at what was clearly a lack of focus by the department on the needs of those children and their families. "I have asked the Director-General of Education and Communities to implement the recommendations and advise me what action will be taken against the two senior staff members about which Dr Boston made specific recommendations of disciplinary action."

The State Opposition has demanded the sacking of Mr Piccoli, saying he should have acted when he was told there were problems with the contract last year. However, Mr O'Farrell defended his minister, saying his department had failed to advise him about the potential debacle despite repeated requests for information.

"Mr Piccoli and his staff have at all times sought to handle this as is appropriate," he said.

Mr Piccoli said he was angry that he didn't get the sort of advice that he should have been getting from the department. "I asked all of the questions I should have asked," he said. "I should have been given better advice and more accurate advice so that this problem could have been averted. "The advice that was given to me was insufficient, wrong.

"The Boston report clearly says that the department have let me down and the Government down, but have most importantly let those parents down of those students who were affected on the first day of school."


Telstra forces BigPond customers to use Hotmail

This sounds very pesky. I store a lot of photos in a "blog" facility associated with my Bigpond A/c. Will they have to be moved to a new address? Altering addresses would create a huge workload

TELSTRA is set to ditch its BigPond email service and force its 4.2 million Australian customers onto Hotmail and Windows Live accounts.

BigPond users' addresses won't change, but their emails, photos and data will now be stored online in a cloud-based server operated by Microsoft.

The change will apply to all users with a Telstra BigPond Webmail or Myinbox account from April.

Telstra media head JB Rousselot said account holders would be given help to make the switch.

"To assist customers we have set up a dedicated self-help website including 'how to' videos, Q&As and updates on progress of the changeover," he said.

"Our social media channels and 13 POND are ready to help our customers if they need help with moving photos, blogs and other applications."

But the Herald Sun believes those who choose not to transfer their material may risk losing it entirely.

More than 500,000 Victorian accounts will be affected in what is an extension of the alliance Telstra formed with Microsoft in 2008.

Kevin Grobler from Microsoft Australia said the new system would expand existing services and more readily enable sharing.

"The value for BigPond customers is that Hotmail offers a fast, secure and reliable email service," he said. The new system offered "enhanced security features, and virtually unlimited storage of photos and documents in the cloud with SkyDrive".

A spokesperson for Telstra indicated the account migration would most likely begin in April or May.


9 February, 2012

Who stole the "stolen generation"?

There was in fact no such thing, just social workers doing a job that they are now too afraid to do. Rather than taking black kids away from abusive families, they now just let the black kids die: Another malign effect of Leftist lies

But there WAS authoritarian treatment of blacks in earlier times. And who was it doing that? The following is a brief excerpt from a biography of Ned Hanlon, a LABOR party Premier of Qld. and still a revered figure in the ALP. Labor Premier Peter Beattie named a hospital after him a few years back

How odd that the left yammer on about the stolen generation but glide over REAL discrimination against Aborigines

As the minister largely responsible for the development and implementation of the A.L.P.'s welfare policies, Hanlon held assumptions and attitudes that had important consequences for the character of Queensland society. Under his administration Aborigines continued to be subjected to 'enforced population transfers, confinement to particular areas under relatively arbitrary and quite authoritarian regimes, excessive moral scrutiny, interference in intimate human relationships, supervised breeding, imposed placement and calculatedly inferior educational training for their children, control over their labour conditions, wages and personal property, and even suppression of their ''injurious" or menacing ''customs" or practices'. In these ways, Aborigines who, in their 'natural' state—according to Hanlon—were 'about 1,000,000 years behind the white race', were 'protected' by the state.

$1bn to keep "asylum-seekers" in detention

THE Federal Government has been handed a $1 billion bill for the running of Australia's detention centres.

Foreign-owned global security company Serco secretly renegotiated its contract with the Department of Immigration just before Christmas.

The new four-year contract to manage immigration detention centres - including Maribyrnong in Melbourne - has quadrupled from the original figure of $280 million.

The Opposition labelled the blowout a failed "stimulus program" for asylum seekers. The number of detention centres has increased from 12 to 20 under Labor.

While the centres accommodate visa overstayers and illegal workers, the Government admits they make up a small number compared with asylum seekers.

"When Labor came to office there were just four people in detention who had arrived illegally by boat," Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said. "After four years of policy failures on our borders, this grew to more than 5600."

The variation to the contract with Serco - from 2009 to 2014 - was made on December 2 last year. It had been revalued in July last year to $712 million, meaning the cost blowout in the past nine months is almost $400 million.

"The original contract did not cover the number of sites we have now expanded to," Immigration Department spokesman Sandi Logan said. "It has been driven by a simple reason - the expansion in the number of centres in the network."

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the new contract would not affect the Budget.

Greens senator Sarah Hansen-Young said boat people should be immediately released from detention into the community.


Medical tourism hits Australia too

It's common in Britain

FOREIGNERS are taking up hospital beds, many without paying, and leaving hospitals with millions in unpaid bills. Angry doctors say the burden effectively pushes Australians down waiting lists.

More than 30,000 foreign citizens were treated in Victoria's hospitals in 2010-11, leaving the state's healthcare system with $6 million in unpaid bills. Many did not pay, sparking calls for travel insurance to be made a visa requirement.

While most international patients were treated after falling ill or being injured while here, thousands made the most of the state's world-class medical amenities for non-urgent treatments.

Less than half of the 11,372 international patients given a hospital bed were facing medical emergencies, with more than one in five having elective surgery and even more filling maternity wards, Health Department data released to the Herald Sun reveals.

The number of foreigners admitted to hospital has almost tripled in six years. Emergency departments are seeing twice as many foreigners as six years ago, treating 19,429 in 2010-11.

The most common reasons visitors use our hospitals are births, maternity services, kidney failure, cancer, colds, flu, injuries and infections.

Foreigners using our hospitals most commonly come from India, China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, Fiji, the US, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. None of these countries are among the 11 with whom Australia has reciprocal healthcare agreements.

But their citizens accounted for more than half the foreigners admitted to our hospitals and treated in emergency departments.

Monash Hospital was the most popular, treating almost 4300 foreign patients, followed by Royal Women's with 3103.

Stephen Parnis, Australian Medical Association state vice-president, said making insurance a visa requirement for foreigners should be considered.

All doctors would be concerned by foreigners coming to Victoria to have a baby or seek elective care and "effectively pushing Australian citizens further down the waiting list". "If people have the means to come to Australia on an international holiday they should have the means to make allowance for their own healthcare," he said.


Ned Hanlon's "Free" hospitals are not so free anyore

Ned Hanlon's "free" Qld. hospitals pre-dated Britain's NHS by 5 years -- 1944 vs. 1949 -- but the trajectory has been downward for both

PARENTS of children with ear, nose and throat problems are being told to consider paying for private treatment, despite living in one of the most disadvantaged areas of southeast Queensland.

Doctors in Logan, south of Brisbane, are at a loss to know where to refer children who have ear, nose and throat conditions for public treatment.

The Mater Children's Hospital is accepting only some ENT referrals and, despite Queensland Health's promises of a pediatric ENT service at the Logan Hospital, it is yet to receive funding.

A recent letter, signed by Logan ENT surgeon Bernie Whitfield, suggests general practitioners should consider referring the patient to a private practitioner.

"Due to high demand the Mater Children's Hospital is unable to accept routine ENT referrals and is returning them to Logan," the letter says. "Unfortunately, Logan Hospital is currently not funded to provide pediatric ENT services and we are unable to review your patient."

ENT director at the Princess Alexandra and Logan hospitals, Ben Panizza, said Logan received a minimum 30 pediatric ENT referrals a week but was not equipped to deal with them.

"That's led to approximately 1000 kids waiting to be seen," Dr Panizza said. "That's probably a figure which is on the conservative side. "There's a huge unmet need for pediatric ENT services in the Logan area.

"We've got the manpower to do it, we need the capital requirements from Queensland Health for outpatient facilities and theatres to allow us to do this."

Australian Medical Association state president Richard Kidd called on Queenslanders to lobby MPs and Health Minister Geoff Wilson to take urgent action.

He said children who needed ENT procedures, such as having grommets inserted, would be condemned to potentially years of partial deafness if they failed to receive the surgery. "That's a major impediment in their social and educational development," said Dr Kidd, a general practitioner.

Logan Hospital Medical Services director Jennifer King said funding had been marked to create a dedicated pediatric outpatient area.

Mater Children's Health Services executive director Mark Waters said if patients could not be seen within 12 months, they were notified the appointment could not be accepted so alternative arrangements could be made.


8 February, 2012

Opposition to coal seam gas based on worst-case scenarios

Scot MacDonald

IN THE United States, the emergence of the shale gas industry is creating thousands of jobs and breathing economic life into depressed regions.

Australia, and in particular regional Australia, has a similar opportunity with coal seam gas.

As a member of the NSW legislative council inquiry into coal seam gas, I’ve listened to hours of hearings, read countless submissions and spoken to dozens of stakeholders.

Most of the witnesses were very negative towards the nascent industry and, other than industry spokesmen or government officials, few were openly supportive.

Of those who opposed coal seam gas, I can’t recall a single piece of evidence or data to support their case. They were based on NIMBYsm, supposition, emotion and worst-case scenarios.

I’ve lived and worked in regional NSW or Queensland for more than 30 years.

In all that time, the mantra has been more regional jobs, more regional businesses, better infrastructure, reversing population decline, building export businesses, keeping our children in local jobs and so on. Now we have the prospect of an industry in coal seam gas that can deliver on those aspirations.

While no one can argue with the need for environmental caution and appropriate safeguards, the unwillingness to see the positives in the industry has been confronting.

What has disappointed me the most has been the failure of leadership and vision in our regional communities.

With the exception of the mayors of Gunnedah, Narrabri and Tamworth, local government representatives have been happy to be silent or run with the crowd.

For me this is an intergenerational issue. While those with assets are eager to “lock the gate” and maintain the status quo, the cost of turning our backs on coal seam gas will be borne mainly by future generations.

North West NSW can become the source of cheap, accessible, reliable energy.

In a world where all these features will be scarce, our region has the opportunity to transform itself from an agriculturally dependent, low-employment, low-growth, low-income demographic to a dynamic, developing, mixed-economic region with a key comparative advantage of affordable energy. Right now, international investors are looking for these features to build energy reliant industries.

For example, North West NSW is a heavy importer of nitrogen fertilisers for agricultural production. Perhaps we could follow the US trend to build fertiliser factories close to the source of its major raw material, which is gas.

Right now, these opportunities are being seized in places like the USA and Canada.

I would like to challenge the army of economic development officers, chambers of commerce, regional development boards and local governments from Tamworth to the Queensland border to take up the challenge for their communities of seizing this once-in-a-century game changer.


Rupert Murdoch's MOTHER is still alive

At that rate Rupert will be around for a while yet

DAME Elisabeth Murdoch is celebrating her 103rd birthday today.

The philanthropist and mother of media titan Rupert Murdoch will celebrate with friends and family, including grandson Lachlan Murdoch, at a concert in her honour at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

Born on February 8, 1909, Dame Elisabeth was 18 when she met and married newspaper journalist Keith Murdoch. They had four children - Helen, Rupert, Anne and Janet.

Known for her work in child health and welfare and the arts, Dame Elisabeth reportedly supports more than 100 charities annually.

She is also an avid gardener and regularly opens up her immaculate gardens at Cruden Farm, near Melbourne, to the public.


1500 hospital beds closed in Victoria

A SECRET nurse bed toll reveals more than 1500 Victorian hospital beds were closed in a month. Fed-up nurses have recorded bed closures for the first time, saying it is occurring on an unprecedented scale.

Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick blamed the closures on the State Government's failure to provide hospitals with adequate funding. "The diagnosis is grim. Our hospitals are very sick and failing Victorians," Ms Fitzpatrick said.

The beds, which included paediatric, surgical and intensive care, were closed for varying periods between December 23, 2011, and January 25, 2012.

The Australian Medical Association and the Government said beds were closed in holiday periods because medical staff took leave and fewer operations were performed.

"The numbers of beds that were being closed over that period was about par for the course," AMA Victoria vice-president Dr Stephen Parnis said.

Ms Fitzpatrick said they accepted that surgeons took holidays, but only 40 per cent of the 1516 beds were surgical.

"There aren't fewer people attending emergency departments," Ms Fitzpatrick said.

"People don't stop having strokes in January ... they still have medical conditions that require hospital treatment."

A hospital source told the Herald Sun nurses were frustrated by emergency department queues and surgery cancellations.

"Waiting lists are so long, we should be operating and clearing the backlog, there shouldn't be closed beds," he said.

Ms Fitzpatrick said empty beds were unacceptable, particularly after the Government stated the nurses' industrial action, which closed almost 1000 beds, had "threatened patient safety and welfare".

The union, which is in dispute with the Government over pay, nurse-to-patient ratios and health assistants, will publish the bed toll on its website.

Department of Health figures show in the past four years there were between 834 and 1026 bed closures in December.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister David Davis said up to 20 per cent of staff from major health services might be on leave during December and January.

She said the Government had promised 100 new beds in its first year and had increased health financing.


Greens press case for billion-dollar dental scheme

As usual, the Greens are to the Left of the ALP

The Greens are insisting the Federal Government allocate at least $1 billion in this year's budget to meet a commitment on taxpayer-funded dental care.

The Greens have proposed introducing a Medicare-style dental scheme, which could cost about $5.5 billion, and a report on the feasibility of the plan is due from the National Advisory Council on Dental Health this week.

The Opposition thinks the Government is gearing up to scrap the dental deal with the Greens, after Prime Minister Julia Gillard said honouring the commitment needed to be weighed up in the budget process.

Greens health spokesman Richard Di Natale says he is optimistic, but wants significant start-up funds.

"There are existing schemes that can be used, but we think that unless you're talking about a scale of investment in the order of $1 billion or more that you're not going to make the necessary inroads in this year's budget that we need to make," he said.

"We do have an agreement with the Government that there needs to be significant investment.

"I'm optimistic that they will follow through with the recommendations of that report which I'm sure will recommend a significant investment in dental health over the coming years."

Greens MP Adam Bandt asked Ms Gillard whether she would honour her commitment to the Greens. In answering, the Prime Minister detailed spending commitments the Government had made to date, and then added: "But as we weigh what we can do in the budget process, we will of course make the appropriate fiscal decisions for the nation."


7 February, 2012

Parents camp out for exclusive enrolment

Shades of Britain! Ascot is of course a high socioeconomic area. It's the smarter and better behaved kids that make the school

PARENTS are sleeping on the footpath outside a popular state school in order to gain an enrolment spot for their children. Dedicated mums and one dad camped on the footpath in tents and chairs outside Brisbane's Ascot State School on Sunday night, in an effort to secure their child a coveted place.

While students who reside within the school's catchment area are guaranteed enrolment, others must vie for the remaining spots.

Education Queensland's Chris Rider said applications for students not living within the catchment zone were accepted annually from 9am on the first Monday in February.

Parents started arriving from 4pm on Sunday for yesterday's sign-up day. One woman whose child graduated from Year 7 last year, was lining up to secure a place for her second child. "We only want the best for our kids," mother-of-two Kerry Douglas said.

New Farm resident Georgie Robson said she had left her children with her husband while she camped at the school. "One of the girls did a drive by. We'd planned to get here about 10 but someone rang us and said 'get your skates on there are already four people here'," she said. "We dropped everything and left our husbands with our kids. I've got four kids under four and just went 'sorry got to go'."

The women said the publication by The Courier-Mail of the school's audit results, which showed the high calibre of Ascot State School, had reinforced the desire to enrol their children there. Ascot State School received top marks in the audit data for the highest performing school. Ascot, along with Eagle Junction and Wilston, are Queensland's most sought after state primary schools.

The mothers said they had been planning the camp-out for a year.

Holly Westaway said she had calculated property choices in order to improve her children's chances of getting into the school. "We moved from the Gold Coast and rented in the area just so we could get our children into the school," Mrs Westaway said. "Then we bought a street away."

Mr Rider said schools, such as Ascot State School, had developed enrolment management plans in consultation with the P and C, parents and the school community. "When developing an enrolment management plan, schools allow for in-catchment growth during the school year and ensure an even spread of students across all year levels," he said.

The audits, set up as part of the State Government's school improvement agenda, were carried out at all 1257 state schools and education centres in 2010, with 460 schools reaudited in 2011.


Queensland Health charade

Job ads give only the appearance of action on a bloated bureaucracy

MARK Twain, responding to his obituary in a New York newspaper, announced: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." So, too, is Premier Anna Bligh's claim that "Queensland Health as we know it is over".

Over the past two Saturdays, QH has advertised locally, interstate, and nationally, offering 19 senior positions - all top-level bureaucrats, presumably with generous salaries, but no clinical qualifications whatsoever - comprising 17 "chief executive officers", one "chief operations officer" and one "executive director".

What Bligh calls QH's "sick administrative performance" certainly calls for a thorough cleansing of the Augean stables. The Jayant Patel tragedies, the payroll fiasco, the incomprehensible decision to build a new children's hospital in Bligh's electorate, the apparent theft of an estimated $16.6 million of taxpayers' funds, are all symptoms of a bureaucracy which is terminally incompetent. But is the employment of 19 additional high-end health bureaucrats the solution?

Out of every taxpayer dollar paid to QH, as little as 25c, perhaps only 20c, gets through to clinical service delivery. Actual clinicians represent less than three-eighths, perhaps as few as a third, of QH's 70,000-plus workforce.

Compare the British Colonial Office in 1935, when a mere 173 civil servants sufficed to administer an empire encompassing a quarter of the world's population and a similar proportion of its land mass. But then, empire-building within QH expands at a far quicker pace than the British Empire ever did.

The recent advertisements are obviously intended not to attract serious applicants. The closing dates - ranging between February 13 and 27 - are extraordinarily short. And there is no mention of pay scales or other benefits; not even a non-specific reference to an "attractive salary package". Their manifest object is to give the appearance of a recruiting effort, when the positions are already earmarked for internal promotions.

Under caretaker conventions, as summarised in the Bligh Government's own Cabinet Handbook, "a caretaker government should avoid, wherever possible, making appointments of significance in the caretaker period". The Government will be in caretaker mode from not later than February 19, when Parliament is dissolved. The published closing dates make it practically impossible for any external appointments to be considered before then.

Indeed, if external applications were being seriously sought, finalising such appointments before the election would be difficult. And what would be the point of advertising positions which an incoming government may not - most probably, will not - wish to fill; which an incoming government may - most probably, will - make redundant?

What, moreover, would be the merit in making external appointments to positions which are unlikely to exist under a new government? Why would anyone - let alone a person qualified for such a job - bother applying for a post which may never be filled; or accept such a position, before March 24, knowing that it is likely to be abolished?

Yet, eight weeks after Bligh announced that "Queensland Health as we know it is over", that organisation is not only alive, but still expanding, with the publication of advertisements for 19 bureaucratic positions at the highest echelon.

The position descriptions require the successful applicants to adhere to "Queensland Health policy"; provide "regular performance reports to ... Queensland Health"; and "Ensure ... engagement with ... Queensland Health".

The "Key skill requirements/competencies" include "personal qualities consistent with the Queensland Health values ... and leadership framework". The Director-General of Queensland Health is listed as a "key stakeholder" with whom successful applicants "will be required to engage, liaise or negotiate".

In the same media statement on December 12, Bligh gave her personal assurance that the bureaucrats responsible for "the sick administrative performance" of QH "have nothing to fear"; that "their jobs are safe" - promises which no incoming government would be silly enough to repeat. Does it make sense that QH would be advertising nationwide to recruit another 19 top-drawer bureaucrats, rather than redeploying some of the tens of thousands whom Bligh has personally promised never to sack?

So, are these advertisements just another monumental stuff-up by QH and the Bligh Government, or something more sinister? Is it, as it appears to be, a last-ditch effort to fill some cushy positions with another 19 "Labor mates"?

Are QH and the Bligh Government attempting to lock in a future government to their own road map of how "the sick administrative performance of this mammoth organisation" should be perpetuated? Or merely to saddle taxpayers with the cost of 19 redundancy packages for those who are most to blame for the "sick administrative performance"?


Typical bureaucracy: Locked gate traps residents during bushfire

In a bureaucracy no-one is responsible and no-one gives a damn

Black Saturday survivors David and Justine Boscaglia at the locked gate near their Kinglake West home on Coombs Rd.

A COUPLE who lost their home on Black Saturday say residents were trapped in their own street during a total fire ban on Sunday because of council bungling.

David and Justine Boscaglia, of Kinglake West, said Whittlesea City Council installed a gate at a fire access track in Coombs Rd more than a year ago to prevent it becoming a hoon playground and had not unlocked it.

Mrs Boscaglia said the couple rang the CFA - which has a key - on Sunday and crews arrived only to discover the padlock appeared to have been swapped. "Basically residents of Coombs Rd are entrapped on a day of total fire ban. It's crazy," she said. The mercury reached 27C in the Kinglake area on Sunday.

Mr Boscaglia said the gate to the track, owned by Melbourne Water, had been locked for two weeks.

Whittlesea Council CEO David Turnbull said an investigation had been launched into why the gates had not been unlocked.


2011, and the Unlucky Country finally gets a carbon dioxide tax

Australian voters entered 2011 with the pre-election commitment of Prime Minister Julia Gillard still sounding in their ears: "There will be no carbon [dioxide] tax under a government that I lead".

Nonetheless, cognitive dissonance had already arrived on the Canberra political scene, in the shape of the Multi-Party Committee on Climate Change (MPCCC) that was established in late 2010 in order to plan for the introduction of just such a tax.

Thereafter, the political year yielded a spectacular display of chicanery, scientific malfeasance, media bias and economic and social irresponsibility, all underpinned by a confusion of both purpose and morality and accompanied by an uncertainty of outcomes: and that’s just the global warming picture.

The way that science works

Climate change is self-evidently a natural process. Warmings, coolings, cyclones, floods, droughts and bushfires have been coming and going since long before human industrial processes started adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere; and, indeed, since before there were humans at all.

The appropriate question is therefore not whether climate change is “real”, but the more specific one of whether human-related greenhouse emissions are causing dangerous global warming.

Scientists assess such speculative ideas against a norm called the null hypothesis, which, following long historical practice, is fashioned to be the simplest interpretation of any given set of material facts.

The null hypothesis for today’s observed climate changes is therefore that they are of natural causation, unless and until specific evidence accrues otherwise.

Contrary to prevailing political belief, and to the alarmist messages that come from the UN’s discredited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), much amplified by environmental organisations and a compliant media, scientists have searched for this accrual in vain.

Instead, tens of thousands of scientific papers published in reputable journals delineate changes in climate and the environment, and ecological responses, that are entirely consistent with the null hypothesis of natural causation. In contrast, not a single paper exists that demonstrates an evidential cause-effect link between change in an environmental variable (be that more or less storms, floods, droughts, cyclones, honeyeaters or even polar bears) and warming caused by human-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Given the astonishing amounts of money that are now poured into climate change research, it is no surprise that 2011 saw the publication of several thousand more scientific papers that contain data relevant to this problem. But it may perhaps be to some readers’ surprise that these papers simply added yet more evidence in favour of the validity of the null hypothesis.

2011 in review: the two universes of climate change

The 33 selected discoveries and events discussed in the main review represent but a small part of the recent evidence that challenges the belief that dangerous global warming is being caused by human-related carbon dioxide emissions. Contradictions of nearly every shibboleth of the AGW faith are present on the list, and every argument that has been advanced in favour of the speculative dangerous warming hypothesis is now feeling the breeze of contradictory fact. Many additional articles that contradict the prevailing wisdom can be found in the more comprehensive reviews of the Non-governmental International Committee on Climate Change (NIPCC).

The 2011 climate year, then, as judged from both media coverage and new scientific literature, has confirmed the existence of two entirely parallel universes of climate thought.

In the first universe, independent scientific and public opinion are moving inexorably towards the rejection of climate alarmism and the costly measures that are perpetrated in its cause. An important manifestation of this opinion was the recent publication of a reasoned statement of disagreement with warming alarmism in the Wall Street Journal, signed by 16 independent scientists. Their conclusion is that global warming is not a serious problem, and that even if it were the solutions being offered wouldn’t fix it anyway.

In contrast, the IPCC and its supporters, who include the Australian government as one of the most faithful acolytes, continue to project unrelenting alarmism. Towards which end they encourage the implementation of expensive, unnecessary and ineffectual measures that they claim will mitigate dangerous warming, such as carbon dioxide taxation and the massive subsidisation of feel good eco-bling like solar farms and windfarms.

Yet the IPCC is a discredited organisation that remains under heavy attack, and its forthcoming 5th Assessment Report is facing a barrage of fundamental criticism even before its publication. For the distinguished Dutch chemical engineer and philosopher of science, Professor Arthur Rörsch, has issued a critique of the draft version of this report, entitled “Post-modern science and the scientific legitimacy of the IPCC’s WGI AR5 draft report”. Noting that the IPCC is a political organization that applies post-modern “logic” to the science that it summarizes, Rörsch calls for thorough independent investigations to be instituted into climate change policy in Europe, thereby mirroring conclusions drawn, and similar calls made, by independent scientists in Australia, Canada and other countries over the last five years.

The political costs of irrational climate policy

The huge social, environmental, economic and (so far limited, but increasing) political costs of pursuing irrational climate policies have to date simply been swatted aside, both in Australia and overseas.

But now that major discrepancies have emerged between genuine scientific knowledge and IPCC advice, sensible policy reappraisals are occurring in many countries. In these circumstances, the compulsive Australian self-harm of continuing to demonize carbon dioxide emissions has become politically enigmatic – not to mention the ultimate ironic twist that the emissions are actually environmentally beneficial, and additionally so at a time of likely global cooling.

When the accumulating new research knowledge, and the reassurance that it provides, are compared with the statements and actions of the Australian government during 2011, an enormous disconnect becomes apparent. And when measure is taken also of the present state of Australian public opinion, and of the rapidly shifting, worldwide political movement away from climate alarmism, and away from punitive measures against carbon dioxide, that disconnect morphs into full blown cognitive dissonance.

In which state of mind, the Labor-Independent-Green government in Australia last year passed what must be the worst legislative package ever approved by a federal parliament. “Worst” because it marks a direct attack on the cheap power prices that formerly underpinned the Australian economy, thereby being a direct attack also on the living standards of all citizens – and especially the less well-off.

Those with the most to lose include not only individual citizens, but also the very lobby groups that have so assiduously fomented the dangerous warming scare.

Including, in particular, environmentalists (because anti-carbon dioxide measures, and the destruction of wealth and landscape desecration that go with them, harm the environment), scientists (because piping a called tune is the very antithesis of science), business interests (because shareholder value is never going to be enhanced by encouraging large and irrational increases in the cost of power) and politicians (because their atavistic need to be elected will not be facilitated by sharply attacking the living standards of their constituency).

The way forward will be determined by an election

The Australian government and its climate-alarmist supporters are now trapped deep inside a blind alley with walls that are labelled “scientific consensus” and “public consensus”. These have always been political siren calls, but the first is a nonsense by definition, and, in that fickle fashion that public opinion often exhibits, the public consensus dramatically reversed its direction during 2009-2010, partly because of the Climategate affair and the attendant loss of IPCC’s virginity.

Former British PM Margaret Thatcher well understood that it is the nature of consensus policy-making to spawn legislative stupidities such as Australia’s carbon dioxide legislation. As she said so well:

"Consensus is the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot [otherwise] get agreement on the way ahead."

Well, people did object but a carbon dioxide tax has still become law, and as they pass from 2011 into 2012 Australian voters are probably less interested in pondering causes, consensual or otherwise, and more interested in action towards rectifying what they see as an economically damaging, expensive, regressive, ineffectual and unnecessary new tax.

They are therefore likely to be contemplating closely the carefully chosen words of Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott:

"We have a Prime Minister who is the great betrayer of the Australian people. She was absolutely crystal-clear before the last election – 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. We [the Coalition] can repeal the tax, we will repeal the tax, we must repeal the tax. I am giving you the most definite commitment any politician can give that this tax will go. This is a pledge in blood. This tax will go."

Barring unforeseen and extraordinary circumstances, and terminally bored though we all are with the debate already, the next Australian federal election will therefore be won or lost on the global warming/carbon dioxide tax issue.

By pulling out of the Kyoto protocol, and scheduling formal Senate hearings on global warming from independent scientists, as they did in December, Canada has blazed a new trail.

The question is whether Australia’s Coalition partners will now muster the courage to honour Mr Abbott’s pledge, and to administer the bureaucratic restructuring and legislative repeal that is needed to restore sanity to our national climate policy.


6 February, 2012

Leftist hatred of Qantas

Unionists don't care if they destroy their own jobs. They just want a win

QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce has said he has "grave fears" for the future of the airline if laws are changed to increase wages for international staff and to keep heavy maintenance in Australia.

Mr Joyce also told a Senate Inquiry the Qantas Group may have to sell its budget offshoot Jetstar and withdraw from services connecting Darwin and Cairns to Asia and Europe if the amendments go ahead.

Mr Joyce and Jetstar CEO Bruce Buchanan are facing a grilling at the inquiry in Canberra today.

Among the issues the inquiry will address is the possibility that Jetstar has broken Australian immigration laws by bringing in foreign flight attendants at lower wages on long daily rosters to work domestic flights.

The committee met twice last November to consider two bills - one concerning flight crew arrangements and the other the enforcement of the intent of the original Qantas Sale Act of 1992.

Mr Joyce said he had "grave fears for the future of Qantas" if the legislative proposals come into effect.

Amendments to the Qantas Sale Act, which was introduced to ensure Qantas remained a majority Australian-owned flag carrier while also answering to shareholders, would strangle its capacity to run its business, he said.

Senator Nick Xenophon's proposed amendments include requiring that a Qantas Group airline such as Jetstar conduct the majority of its heavy maintenance in Australia. "Jetstar would then be confronting competitors who enjoy a lower cost base by doing virtually none of their heavy maintenance in Australia," Mr Joyce said.

"Those of us running Qantas would have to face a choice: allow Jetstar to fail within the confines of the Qantas Sale Act, or sell it to allow it to succeed outside it."

Mr Joyce also said amendments to the Cabin Crew Bill would destroy jobs, especially in regional Australia. "Whenever Qantas Group airlines use foreign crew and Australian crew on the same flights, Australian crew operate under Australian wages and conditions and foreign-based crews on the terms and conditions of their domicile country where they are employed and where they live," he said. "This is standard practice adopted by airlines all over the world."

Mr Joyce said this occurred on a limited number of flights within Australia involving a domestic sector of an international flight, enabling it to service regional destinations such as Cairns and Darwin.

"If the amendments are passed, and international crews are treated as Australian in terms of wages and conditions on domestic legs of international flights, we will no longer be able to viably operate those international services," he said.

"The proposed amendments would quite simply force the Qantas Group to withdraw from services connecting Darwin and Cairns to the tourism and trade markets of Asia and Europe."

Mr Joyce said Qantas must adapt or die.


Call for overhaul of emergency ward wait times

REDUCING the time patients spend in hospital emergency departments to under four hours saves lives, a new study suggests.

Researchers studied six Perth hospital emergency departments before and after the introduction of a "four-hour rule" which aimed to discharge or admit 90 per cent of patients within that time.

They reported a 13 per cent reduction in the number of deaths in the three largest hospitals. That equated to about 80 lives in 2010/11.

"The introduction of the four-hour rule encouraged hospitals as a whole to share the responsibility for, and help solve the problem of overcrowding in EDs," the researchers wrote in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.

"This whole-of-hospital approach appears to have led to better communication between the EDs and the wards, with an increased appreciation of each other's problems and challenges.

"While these findings apply to the West Australian health system, there is no reason to suspect that other Australian health systems should fare differently if their hospitals similarly commit to whole-of-hospital reform."

The latest Queensland Health figures show only 69 per cent of patients requiring a hospital bed in December were admitted to one within eight hours of arrival at an ED.

Commenting on the research, Canberra-based emergency specialist Drew Richardson said new national emergency access targets, to be rolled out in 2012, would progressively require a higher proportion of ED patients to be treated within a four-hour time frame.

Professor Richardson, of the Australian National University Medical School, said although he supported the four-hour targets, he called for more research.

"This study suggests very firmly that there was a reduction of death rates in association with the reduction in time spent in the ED, but it doesn't prove it," he told The Courier-Mail.

"We require more data. One of the things the study did not look at was people who died outside of hospital. You've got to be absolutely sure people aren't going home from hospital and dying. I don't think they are but that is something you've got to be sure of. "A more definitive study is required."

In a separate Medical Journal Australia article, Judy Lowthian, of Melbourne's Centre of Research Excellence in Patient Safety, and colleagues, suggested a significant redesign of the emergency health care system would be needed to achieve four-hour targets.

"Current models of emergency and primary care are failing to meet community needs at times of acute illness," they wrote.

"Given these trends, the proposed four-hour targets in 2012 may be unachievable unless there is significant redesign of the whole system."


Muslim privacy comes at a cost to ratepayers

Why can't the local mosque cough up?

RATEPAYERS will pay for a $21,000 blowout in the cost of special curtains to protect Muslim women's privacy during female-only exercise classes at a suburban pool. Monash Council has approved the extra cash, bringing the cost of the curtains to more than $66,000.

Last year, it won an exemption from anti-discrimination laws to run the women-only sessions at its Clayton pool, but failed to get a Victorian Multicultural Commission grant to pay for the curtains.

Monash councillor Denise McGill yesterday questioned the amount. "We could have bought 600 (Islamic) swimsuits for the price we are paying for the curtains," she said. Cr McGill said she did not oppose the sessions, but believed the money could be better spent.

Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Nazeem Hussain said: "The purchase of these curtains, and whether they are too expensive, is a decision for the councillors to make, and if the constituents aren't happy ... they are able to object."

Monash Mayor Stefanie Perri said it was wrong to say the sessions were only for Muslims or other minorities. "This ... will allow women from all backgrounds the opportunity to enjoy a girls' night out in Clayton and will include a series of dry exercise programs, including Zumba and yoga classes," Cr Perri said.

As reported in the Herald Sun last year, the push for the sessions came from a group of mainly African Muslim women. Council accepted a screen was needed for "cultural reasons". Women will pay a fee for the classes.

The extra money needed for the curtains will be drawn from Monash pool funds.


John Roskam and the IPA -- a conservative crusade

John Roskam’s political sensibilities were kindled at age 14, when he read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” in one night. Combined with his parents’ small-business, anti-Communist leanings, the book inspired a passion for free market liberalism that continues 30 years later.

“You could not be anything other than in favour of the individual and individual choice after reading “Animal Farm”, says Roskam, 44, the executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). “It highlights the dangers of unrestrained collective action.”

Just don’t label Roskam – or the IPA – as “right-wing”. “If journalists describe the IPA as right wing, I email or ring them and ask them how is the IPA right wing?” he says. “Right wing is Pauline Hanson.”

Roskam prefers to describe the IPA, which he has led since 2005, as a free market think tank. Over the past four years, its member numbers have soared from 300 to 1500, taking its budget to $2.4 million, and broadening its funding base from big corporates to individuals.

“The Gillard government is bad for Australia but good for the IPA – we’re expanding,” says Roskam, but adds that all so-called “independent” think tanks need to diversify away from corporate funding.

His CV is a classic think tank mix of law, commerce, academia and politics, plus a stint at global mining company Rio Tinto. Indeed, it was a fellow law student at Melbourne University, John Daley - who now leads the Grattan Institute - who suggested that Roskam apply for his first job at the Liberal Party, as a junior research assistant for Victorian MP Don Hayward.

Roskam worked with Hayward for two years from 1990, when Hayward was shadow education minister, then for a heady year after Premier Jeff Kennett came to power in 1992 and shut hundreds of schools.

He continued his education focus with two years in David Kemp’s Canberra office, when Kemp was education minister for the Howard Government. As a senior adviser, then chief of staff, he says politics taught him the importance of working closely with people, especially in the public service.

“Successful reform, whether in the corporate sphere or the public sector, requires commitment and buy in and participation from all the people involved,” he says.

After two years working in corporate affairs for Rio Tinto in Melbourne and London, Roskam returned to Australia to begin a PhD on Robert Menzies, which he hopes to one day finish. “I have 80,000 words of a PhD and 200,000 words of notes.”

It was not long before he was back in politics, however, spending a year as executive director of Liberal Party think tank The Menzies Research Centre in Canberra, before moving to Melbourne to join the IPA.

As for the biggest issue facing Australia in 2012, Roskam says the country must take advantage of its economic strength to lift educational standards.

“Even with the GFC, Australians have become accustomed to living in a boom, but we are not taking advantage of it,” he says. “Our productivity is declining, our education standards are still low – I spent eight or nine years in education policy – and we still have a very high proportion of underachieving students, including year 10 students who can’t read.”


5 February, 2012

Leftist fear and loathing of a mining magnate

By Ian Hanke (Ian Hanke is director of communications and strategy for the H. R. Nicholls Society)

LIKE many people who write about her, I don't know Gina Rinehart. But I think I would like to. A person who can stir so much passion and debate would, I think, be stimulating company.

The mining magnate, Australia's richest person, appears to be someone whose mere name spreads alarm throughout the left. Among the cadres of sometimes complacent and compliant journalists, she is deemed to be a right-wing ogre.

It seems that by taking a substantial shareholding in Fairfax Media (which owns this newspaper as well as The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review), this one person is going to tear down society - and the media will be a tool, putty in her hands, to do just that.

The left try to tarnish her because her views are not in accord with their own.

Rinehart's views, according to people who don't know her, are on the "far right of the political spectrum", as academic and former Greens candidate Clive Hamilton told readers of this page yesterday. Rinehart has been vilified because she appears not to share the left's concerns about climate change and because she is advocating turning the north of Australia into a special economic zone with tax breaks.

Nothing new in that; it has been advocated for years.

Apparently she knows the businessman Hugh Morgan, who was instrumental in setting up the H. R. Nicholls Society, which advocates workplace relations reform. And Morgan, we are told, is also close to the - shock, horror - Institute of Public Affairs, which supports liberalism and a free market.

It is clear Rinehart must be a fiend, albeit via association.

And some sections of the media are quick to snap up this "conspiracy". According to some reports, Rinehart has "extreme views" on Australia's economic direction and her raid on the Fairfax share register is about "wielding influence and gaining political access in the corridors of Canberra", rather than being the action of an investor.

Yet this is a dubious proposition. With a reported worth of $20 billion, Rinehart already has access and influence.

And she has been dabbling in the media for the past couple of years. In 2010 she bought a substantial stake in Channel Ten. It is alleged, without much evidence, she was responsible for The Bolt Report, the show hosted by controversial columnist Andrew Bolt - and, of course, Bolt is anathema to the left because he refuses to bow to their orthodoxy.

Yet let us just say, for the sake of argument, that Rinehart was indeed responsible for the commissioning of The Bolt Report. That program, with its "unorthodox view", consistently out-rates Ten's more traditional Meet the Press. People seem to like watching The Bolt Report, where alternative views are given an airing. Can't have that, can we?

And now, by increasing her stake in Fairfax, Rinehart has again rattled the cages of the self-appointed cognoscenti, those guardians of the left who believe they, and only they, have correct policy settings for Australia - and that you should be damned if you disagree.

Certainly, it would seem Rinehart does not share the left's values, and good luck to her for that. We do, after all, live in a pluralistic society in which we should foster alternative views.

Yet some on the left seem to believe her views should preclude Rinehart from sitting on the Fairfax board if she gets the required shareholding.

What is wrong with a person with an alternative view of the world to that of the self-appointed guardians of the media sitting on the board of a media company? Nothing, I say. In fact, I say this could be damn good for Australia.

Fairfax is a company that has been ailing for some time. Its share price has collapsed. Five years ago it was selling at about $5 a share. It had fallen to as low as 54¢ recently and is now about 80¢ after Rinehart's foray. For shareholders in Fairfax, the value of their holdings has gone up by about 15 per cent since her move. Surely that is good news.

Instead of reading this foray as some dreadful attack, it should be embraced as a sign that one of Australia's most successful business operatives has endorsed not only an ailing business empire but also the media sector more broadly, which has also been languishing. To me, the investment, alongside her 10 per cent stake in Ten, signals there is still value in traditional media, even as the world moves to new platforms.

If Rinehart does take up a board position at Fairfax, it is to be hoped she brings the dynamism to the task that has made her what she is.

Fairfax needs an injection of new ideas. We have already seen some: the appointment of Greg Hywood as CEO and new editors at the AFR. But the company has long been in need of a radical shake-up and Rinehart, with her acumen and alternative view of the world, may well help provide it.

So I say, good luck to her. If she acts as some kind of lightning rod for change at Fairfax, that will surely be a good thing - except for those who feel only those in accord with their own view of the world should sit on a media company's board.

And, who knows, maybe her appointment will act as a catalyst for views other than the left's orthodoxy to be seen and read across the broadsheet mainstream of the Fairfax empire.


They do: Qld sets same-sex union date

Queensland's first same-sex civil unions are set to occur in a month's time, a move Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser is heralding as the sign of a “modern, progressive state”.

The enactment of the civil partnerships law will come three months after it was passed with support from most Labor MPs and one independent but opposed by the Liberal National Party and other crossbenchers.

The state government will today announce the law formally commences on February 23, meaning the first civil unions could occur on March 5, following the 10-day waiting period required after paperwork lodgement.

That timeframe should mean the scheme will remain in place if the opposing LNP wins office as expected on March 24, because its leader, Campbell Newman, has indicated the law would only be scrapped if no couples had entered into such arrangements at the time of a change of government.

Mr Fraser, who championed the civil unions push in a move dismissed by the LNP as a “stunt”, said the enactment of the law would be a “landmark and historic occasion” for the state.

“I know that for many people this day has been a long time coming,” he said in a statement.

“While it isn't marriage, it is the next best thing and as far as a state government can go in promoting relationship equality.”

The legislation allows any couple, regardless of their sex or sexual orientation, to formally register their relationship as a civil union and have a ceremony if they wish to.

Attorney General Paul Lucas said couples would be able to lodge the paperwork with Queensland's Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages from February 23, and then have their civil unions formalised from Monday, March 5.

Mr Lucas said ceremonies would be able to be held at the registry or at various magistrates' courts from the start date, while “notaries” to preside over ceremonies in other settings would be appointed from April.

“This legislation removes the artificial and arbitrary barriers to same-sex couples having their relationship formally and legally recognised,” he said.

“I expect many couples to use the progressive laws to see their relationship recognised either through registration or a formal ceremony and I congratulate them in advance.”

The civil unions bill was passed in State Parliament on November 30 during the final sitting week of the year, with the support of most Labor MPs along with independent MP Peter Wellington.

Four Labor MPs, the entire LNP parliamentary team and most cross-benchers voted against the laws, with some opponents arguing the civil unions scheme mimicked marriage, which they believed should remain between a man and a woman.

Mr Newman, who does not yet sit in Parliament but announced LNP MPs would vote as a bloc against Mr Fraser's private member's bill, has previously vowed to repeal the law “if it can be”.

During an interview with in December, Mr Newman indicated he would not push ahead with scrapping the law if civil unions had already occurred at the time of a change of government, because of the impact on couples who had entered into such partnerships.

“If that had occurred that would obviously be an unacceptable and intolerable situation for them, so in that scenario we wouldn't be doing anything,” he said.

Mr Fraser today took another swipe at the LNP for not letting its MPs put forward their own personal views during the parliamentary debate, and called on Mr Newman to stand by his pledge if he won the election and civil unions had already occurred.

“There are thousands of Queenslanders to whom these laws mean so much. The whole state will hold Mr Newman to account and see if he stands by his word,” Mr Fraser said.

Mr Newman, who has revealed his personal support for allowing same-sex marriage, has previously dismissed Mr Fraser's civil unions push as a “stunt” and “distraction” and argued any change should be done at a federal level so there was consistency from state to state.


Protectionism hurts us all

It is no coincidence that each week brings news of another manufacturer forced to lay off staff, reduce their hours or shut up shop completely. Confronting a high Aussie dollar and an army of cheap labour overseas, it was the turn of Holden and the manufacturers of Mortein, Reckitt Benckiser, to announce job losses this week. Such events are invariably accompanied by calls for more industry assistance.

What you might not hear so much about is that the government already pours many billions of taxpayers' dollars each year into assisting industries to survive. The two most common forms of assistance are tariffs - duties imposed on imported goods to give local producers a leg up - and direct budgetary assistance, comprising direct subsidies and tax concessions.

"Hey, didn't they abolish all the tariffs already?" I hear you thinking. Well, no, tariff rates have been dramatically reduced since the 1980s, but remain in place on many manufactured goods like cars, clothing and food. Did you know that Australia still imposes tariffs on grapes and softwood conifers?

The Productivity Commission's latest annual review of industry assistance shows the gross value of these tariffs to Australian import-competing industry was $9.4 billion in 2009-10.

However, such tariffs also impose a penalty on other businesses which rely on imported goods to do business, such as construction firms and retailers. This input penalty is estimated to cost about $8 billion a year, bringing the net value of tariff assistance to the entire Australian economy down to just $1.4 billion.

But while tariffs have fallen out of fashion, and rightly so given the costs they impose on consumers and other businesses, industry continues to clamour for direct government subsidies and tax concessions. Australian industry received some $7.9 billion from such assistance in 2009-10. About half came in the form of direct payments and half in tax concessions.

To put that into perspective, the cost of budgetary assistance to Australian industry is approaching half of the federal government annual spending on defence ($21 billion) and a third of what it spends each year on education ($30 billion). These are no small bickies.

So where does it all go?

Across all industries, about one-third goes to research and development. A quarter is spent on industry-specific assistance, followed by small business grants and tax offsets (18 per cent) and 8 per cent on export assistance.

Manufacturing continues to enjoy the most privileged position of government protection due to tariffs. But its share of budgetary assistance has shrunk recently, from 36 per cent of assistance in 2003-04 to 23 per cent in 2009-10. Services industries, which employ around two-thirds of workers, have enjoyed an increasing share of assistance, up from 28 per cent to 46 per cent.

Peering closer, property and business services enjoy the highest level of budgetary assistance, $799 million a year, of all the 34 industries tracked by the commission. Coming in second place is finance and insurance ($794 million), thanks to tax concessions designed to transform Australia into a "finance hub". Vehicles and parts comes in third, with $721 million, thanks largely to the Automotive Competitiveness and Investment Scheme. Car industry assistance, then, accounts for a little under 10¢ in every government dollar spent on industry assistance.

Next time you hear an industry calling for more assistance, remember it all adds up. The hidden cost for tax taxpayers is either higher taxes or less spending on health, education and other services - sometimes both.


A land of tough talk and thin skins

If there is anything to be learned from this year's jingoistic festival of self-congratulation, it's that we're not as tough and laidback as the cultural mythologists say.

Dr Charlie Teo's Australia Day speech acknowledged our "hidden and sometimes overt racism". He told of a visiting Indian neuroscientist being spat on and his daughter told to "go home" because she looks Chinese.

Most interesting were the sort of public responses posted on the Daily Telegraph blog, which suggested "It's we white Australians that cop it". This was no rare sentiment. One commenter claimed the "Australian Labor government was racist against it's [sic] own people". There was no example provided, but this recurrent fear of government favouritism towards foreigners has been in the backwater of Australian politics for some time.

Commonly, it manifests on talkback radio in shrieking complaints about welfare, asylum seekers and immigration. There is latent anger among those who feel taxpayer dollars are unjustly spent on these programs instead of propping up "real Australians", a term impossible to deploy without ingrained racism.

The Challenging Racism Project at the University of Western Sydney found 84.4 per cent of Australians polled believe there is racial prejudice in this country. It is not for nothing that a well known satirical world map, which depicts the US as "freedom and Jesus" and Russia as "mail order brides", brands Australia with a single word, "racists". But tell Australians this and they get very defensive, very sensitive. We don't take criticism well.

Consider a second story, its protagonist the benign blogger Jennifer Wilson, who had the audacity to call commentator Melinda Tankard Reist a closet Baptist. Tankard Reist took such umbrage that she threatened Wilson with a defamation suit if the offending posts were not removed and an apology issued.

As Wilson has pointed out, as a commentator, Tankard Reist has ample public space to defend herself against any accusation. Hypersensitivity, again, appears to have provoked an extreme response. Equally, the huge support for Wilson on Twitter - not a medium predisposed to backing someone like Tankard Reist - has an air of extremity to it, like an over-zealous witch-hunt to shouts of "There she is - get her!"

Finally, a continuing tale that dates from November, when a News Ltd writer called Alison Stephenson penned an editorialised "news" story with her despairing view of A Night With The Stars, a one-off TV special hosted by Kyle Sandilands and Jackie "O" Henderson. No master of understatement, Sandilands's reaction was to call her a "fat bitter thing" and "a piece of shit".

The response from much of the community was to condemn Sandilands and call for his sacking from Southern Cross Austereo. This did not happen, but such was the uproar that more than 15 sponsors pulled their support.

This was not enough for those hellbent on Sandilands's demise, who then organised movements with the sole purpose of seeing him off. Last week, a blog called "Sack Vile Kyle", also campaigning on Facebook and Twitter, successfully petitioned Jenny Craig to withdraw its sponsorship of the show. This was hailed as a major victory and press releases flew across the land. Two ad executives have also been made redundant, portrayed as scapegoats to the cause.

There has long been an elitist witch-hunt against Sandilands, which has taken on a competitive nature among those vying to be the final scalp-taker. But what were the actual crimes? Sandilands needn't have been so incensed or so rude about the opinion of a crusading journalist earning a hundredth of his wage. It was silly that he responded in a crass way, yet his detractors have painted it as the crime of the century.

Emotion, it seems to me, rules the roost more than ever in Australia, while sober argument is relegated to an afterthought. Perhaps that's inevitable. But what we can avoid is this tendency to slice down anyone who breaches our little bubble of sensitivity. It is a censorious instinct that seeks to silence such people, not conducive at all to the flourishing of free speech or our supposed culture of larrikinism.

Those who cry foul do so because these "offensive" attacks cut to deep insecurities, which are often based in truth.


4 February, 2012

Hardly fair to vulnerable children

Dr Jeremy Sammut comments on how deserved is the "community worker" pay hike

For the last three years, I have been arguing that Australia’s failing child protection system is being run in the interests of social service providers and not ‘at risk’ children.

In the name of ‘family preservation,’ state community service departments are leaving children for far too long with highly dysfunctional families and only remove them as a last resort when they have been damaged, often permanently, by parental neglect and abuse.

While the childhoods and life opportunities of children ebb away into intergenerational disadvantage, social workers employed in the public sector and non-government ‘charitable’ organisations receive taxpayer funding to provide an array of support services that try and fail to do the impossible – fix broken families with serious drug and alcohol, domestic violence, and mental health problems that can’t be fixed.

The Fair Work Australia decision on Wednesday to award ‘equal pay’ to more than 150,000 community sector workers at a cost of $2 billion to taxpayers is indecent in its illustration of the political problems in the child protection system.

Forget that the decision is based on dodgy comparisons – why should someone with a three-year social work degree have income parity with a trained economist or scientist? Sadly, the federal government was not only willing to support the claim but also provided the $2 billion additional funding to foot the higher wage bill at a time of looming economic woes.

Many commentators are justifying the pay rise by saying those who choose to work with the poor are saints. The real question is why is failure being rewarded? Public choice, dear reader. I just wish vulnerable children had a public sector union to advocate on their behalf, replete with tame factional serfs in the Labor caucus.

That feathering their own nests has been the priority at a time when the child protection system is crumbling all around us and stumbling from one crisis to another means that social workers have surrendered any pretensions to their ‘professional’ status.

This sorry episode has reinforced my belief that the answer to the perpetual crisis engulfing child protection is to restore citizen-control over the system by re-establishing decentralised, community-governed child protection agencies.


Another sinking renews 'stop the boats' call

OPPOSITION immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says efforts in the Malaysia boat disaster are focused on "recovery and rescue". At least eight asylum seekers were found dead early yesterday after their boat capsized off southern Malaysia while en route to Australia. Grave fears are held for about six others who are missing. Thirteen people made it to shore.

"The effort at the moment always has to focus on recovery and rescue," Mr Morrison said in Sydney today.

He said the Coalition remained committed to its policy of reopening the detention centre on Nauru, the reintroduction of temporary protection visas (TPVs) and the towing of boats back to Indonesia. "That is the policy that's proven, that is the policy that's strong and that's the policy that should be restored to stop the boats," he said.

Mr Morrison said there would be no more talks with the Government about resurrecting the offshore processing of asylum seekers. "There is no further talks because the Government has refused to change the legislation," he said.

"The Government clearly has been seeking to do nothing other than trash the Nauru option with their ridiculous costings, which have been lampooned around the country. "They have no serious intention of destroying temporary protection visas, we know they won't turn the boats back."

This week's boat accident comes two months after more than 200 asylum seekers drowned when their vessel sank after leaving for Australia from East Java in Indonesia.


Shortage of State school places in Victoria

Rapid population growth fuelled by out of control immigration must bear much of the blame

Exclusive figures from the Education Department reveal for the first time the increasing struggle many parents face to get their children into popular government schools.

The records show 224 primary and secondary schools now have enrolment restrictions. They are either capping the number of students or using map boundaries. Some use both.

Families missing the cut are forced to move closer to their first choice - boosting real estate prices around the most popular schools - or settle for other options.

Both the State Government and Opposition say there are enough schools to cater for demand overall.

But some parent groups, principals and community advocates argue there are not enough schools where families need them most, and that "unpopular" public schools need more resources.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said while increasing numbers of parents were opting for public education, they could not be blamed for picking some schools over others. "It's laughable that governments advocate parental choice when they're not comparing apples with apples," she said.

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Frank Sal was surprised by the number of schools with restrictions, but said state and federal funding of public education was too low. "We must provide the support needed to all government schools that enables them to attract and retain teachers, as well as instil confidence in their local community," he said.

Education Minister Martin Dixon said the Government was closely monitoring the changing needs of communities.

There were many reasons schools got to the point of needing caps and boundaries, including reputation, areas of specialisation and population growth.

"Some parents choose a school on a drive-by, so if there's a brand-new building out the front, that's often an attraction," Mr Dixon said. "It's so important for parents not just to listen to their neighbours, but to go into the school ... and make an informed decision."

Pitsa Binnion, principal of McKinnon Secondary College, a successful zoned school in Melbourne's east, believes boundaries create some misconceptions.

"We have to de-mystify the boundary issue," she said. "Many parents ... need to understand that wonderful things are happening in government schools (across the board)."

Opposition teaching profession spokesman Steve Herbert said the Government had undermined schools' ability to provide for their communities by "slashing capital works funding".


Officialdom closes ranks over dam coverup

There is even an implied threat to freedom of the press

FLOOD Inquiry commissioner Justice Cate Holmes has defended her deputy, dam expert Phillip Cummins, against conflict of interest allegations as the flood inquiry resumed this morning.

The Courier Mail today revealed Mr Cummins was working as a consultant for a company on the payroll of Wivenhoe Dam operator SEQwater. "There has been no conflict," Ms Holmes said when the inquiry convened.

But Ms Holmes also said she only became aware yesterday that Mr Cummins was a staff member with a consultancy hired by SEQWater to oversee the revision of the dam manual.

Ms Holmes opened the hearing on Saturday by addressing The Courier Mail's front page headline and report. "All of that has the appearance of a calculated attempt to undermine the Commission and its work but I will not draw any conclusion about intent until I have given the editor and the journalist involved the opportunity to explain themselves," she said. "Whatever its intent the potential for its effect on public confidence in the Commission is obvious."

News Queensland editor-in-chief David Fagan and The Courier-Mail editor Michael Crutcher released a statement in response to Justice Holmes' words.

"The Courier-Mail stands by today's front-page story and by the journalists who wrote it," Fagan and Crutcher said in the statement. "Our obligation is to present the facts to our readers. The facts of this story are not in question. "The inquiry has substantial work ahead. This includes explaining to Queenslanders how it missed pointers to crucial evidence that forced the inquiry's resumption. If not for the work of newspaper journalists, that evidence may not have been uncovered."

The inquiry reconvened last week only after reports by The Australian and The Courier-Mail newspapers forced the commission to question its earlier findings.

Meanwhile, Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser sprang to the defence of the flood inquiry on Saturday. He says claims of a a cover-up by the government were "baseless". "Commissioner (Cate) Holmes has set out all of the relevant details and set out why there is no conflict of interest here. There is no benefit to the commissioner concerned," he said in his Mount Coot-tha electorate.

Asked if inquiry member Phillip Cummins should stand down, Mr Fraser said: "This government continues to have confidence in Justice Holmes who is fiercely independent and fiercely capable ... there is no conflict here.

"This is a commission which is holding extra hearings because it wants to get to the truth. Any suggestion that this is anything other than a truth-hunting exercise and one which is being carried out with fierce independence I think it false and is not reflected in the facts."

Mr Fraser said it was a mistake to suggest Mr Cummins had done anything wrong. "What he has done is agreed to work for a company into the future on other projects after the end of the inquiry."

Mr Fraser also disputed claims that further documents had been withheld from the inquiry. "All documents that the government had available were provided to the commission of inquiry. No document is being withheld. All relevant evidence and all people are available to provide both statements and to appear before the inquiry.

"This government wants to get to the truth as much of the people of Queensland. We have provided absolutely everything ... there is to be no stone left unturned."


Hostile b*itch found wanting again

It would seem that it is only her Aboriginality has kept her in her job as long as it has

THE career of the magistrate Pat O'Shane has been delivered another blow, with the NSW Supreme Court finding she was biased and prejudged matters before her in court when she dismissed a traffic infringement case last year.

Already referred to the NSW Judicial Commission over her decision to dismiss the charges against a man accused of assaulting a paramedic, Ms O'Shane, 70, was yesterday lambasted by a Supreme Court judge who found her conduct in the traffic case "fell short of the required standard of a trial judge".

Justice Peter Garling overturned the magistrate's decision last August to dismiss the police case against Ali Elskaf, who was fined for turning left against a red arrow. The NSW Director of Public Prosecutions had appealed against the decision.

Justice Garling ordered the matter be returned to the local court to be "dealt with by a magistrate other than O'Shane". "In light of … the failures identified in this case I can have no confidence that Magistrate O'Shane would, if this matter was returned to her to complete, undertake the further hearing of it in accordance with the law," he said.

Justice Garling found Ms O'Shane threw the matter out of court before the police prosecutor had a chance to make his case, refusing to allow him to present two of his four police witnesses and accusing the two who did give evidence of delivering "claptrap" and a "bag of lies".

Ms O'Shane told the prosecutor that he could call only two police to give evidence because it was only they who allegedly saw Mr Elskaf run the red light while driving his black Ferrari in Macleay Street, Kings Cross. "I can indicate to you immediately, sergeant, that it won't assist you in the least," Ms O'Shane told the prosecutor when he tried to call the other two police.

Ms O'Shane then told the prosecutor she did not believe the evidence of the first two police and, on this basis, he did not have a case. "The court doesn't just accept a bag of lies and say that's enough to establish a prima facie case. In this case that's exactly what I've received," she said.

When the prosecutor objected to the officers being described as liars, Ms O'Shane responded: "Sergeant, I don't want to have to really dot every 'i' and cross every 't' for your benefit."

Justice Garling found that, in forming her opinion of the witnesses, Ms O'Shane had ignored the fact that much of their evidence had gone unchallenged during cross-examination.

To accuse the officers of lying in these circumstances was "a clear error of law and a denial of procedural fairness". The magistrate had been "biased" and had already made her mind up about the case.

She had treated the prosecutor like "an errant school student", taking over the conduct of his case, and had been unwilling to listen to his submissions about the strength of the evidence. "In that respect, her honour's conduct of this matter fell short of the required standard of a trial judge acting properly," Justice Garling said.

The judgment is a further blow to Ms O'Shane, whose career is already in doubt after the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, ordered that her behaviour be examined by the Judicial Commission following her decision in a case where she had suggested that a paramedic, Christopher Martin, didn't like "blacks".

Justice Garling said it was difficult to understand how she had made such errors, given it was not the first time the "proper procedure has been … pointed out".

Last night, the Attorney-General, Greg Smith, said he would be asking the Judicial Commission to consider this latest case in its inquiry into the conduct of Ms O'Shane. She could not be contacted by the Herald for comment.


3 February, 2012

Wivenhoe Dam report 'a fiction' as engineer grilled

The plain fact is that if the flood compartment had been kept empty as long as possible, as it should have been, Brisbane would not have had a flood. Once the State Labor government decided to use it to store drinking water, very careful management of the dam became needed. And bureaucrats are not careful

WIVENHOE Dam engineers have been accused of concocting a fictitious and self-interested report of their conduct in the lead-up to last year's flooding of Brisbane, as it emerged that the document was written with the assistance of a top public relations firm.

In a series of heated exchanges at Queensland's recalled floods inquiry yesterday, SEQWater's principal engineer of dam safety, John Tibaldi, was grilled over a report he penned in the weeks following the January floods, which accounted for the actions he and his fellow engineers took.

At one point, Mr Tibaldi choked up in tears under the questioning.

Commissioner Cate Holmes, a Supreme Court judge, reconvened the inquiry after The Australian revealed evidence that appeared to show the dam was employing less severe flood mitigation strategies than those detailed in Mr Tibaldi's report.

As well as SEQWater officials and engineers being called to testify, Premier Anna Bligh has been asked to submit a written statement to the inquiry. Ms Bligh said she would provide a comprehensive statement by Monday and would submit a copy of her diary and relevant documents relating to the meetings and briefings she attended at the time of the floods.

Mr Tibaldi told the inquiry the report used raw data collected during the flood -- including lake levels and outflows -- and he then matched the data to the release strategies prescribed in the dam manual, known as W1, W2, W3 and W4. He said he had no recollection of asking the three other dam engineers which strategies they were using at various times during the disaster, but prepared the report based on the raw data and subsequently sought their approval.

"I tried to match the strategy transitions against the data that was available to me (and) just made conclusions based on that data as to when strategy transitions had occurred," he said.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Peter Callaghan SC, suggested the manual was therefore used to analyse and justify the decisions taken by the four engineers -- Mr Tibaldi, Robert Ayre, Terry Malone and John Ruffini -- rather than dictating the decisions they took at the time.

"But (the report) is a fiction," Mr Callaghan said. "It is something that you created at the end of January. It doesn't represent a single thing that actually happened during the event, does it? "I suggest to you that you and the others have shown a disregard for the manual in this event, and in the preparation of the report, you have simply shown a disregard for the truth."

Mr Tibaldi rejected both suggestions, saying the engineers did not decide which flood-mitigation strategy they employed. Rather, he argued, it was automatically dictated by the data received at the time.

Justice Holmes then asked: "In other words, you seem to be saying that once you hit 68.5 (metres height in Lake Wivenhoe), it's black and white, you're in W3, there's nothing transitional in that?" Mr Tibaldi replied: "No."

Under strategy W3, the primary concern is to release a larger volume of water immediately to protect Brisbane from flooding. The Australian last month uncovered evidence in logs and other documents -- some of which had not been publicised -- that indicated that while the lake reached 68.5m at 8am on Saturday, January 8, the dam operators remained in strategy W1 and did not employ strategy W3 until late on Sunday or early on Monday.

Under strategy W1, the primary consideration is rural communities and infrastructure such as bridges.

Mr Tibaldi told the inquiry the report was written with the assistance of a firm called Rowland, which "helped me with the grammar". He said he was unaware of the company's status as a leading public relations firm.

Mr Tibaldi maintained he and the other three Wivenhoe engineers used appropriate strategies during the flood and he was "not particularly concerned" about technical breaches of the manual because the actions they took "unquestionably" reduced the flood peak.

He agreed with a statement put to him from Mr Ayre's new statement to the inquiry in which he said "strategy labels were generally only attributed after the event as part of the reporting process".

Mr Ayre's statement noted there was an aversion to using the W-terminology, since documents were being circulated to those outside the dam operations.

Yesterday's evidence has boosted the hopes of southeast Queensland communities intent on seeking compensation from the government, if it is demonstrated the flood was exacerbated by poor management at Wivenhoe Dam. SEQWater confirmed it was privately insured.

In a statement to the inquiry, dated yesterday, Mr Ayre denied misleading the inquiry: "At no time have I been imposed upon to create any false or misleading aspect of the Flood Event Report."


New Leftist labour laws turn firms off hiring workers: survey

LABOR'S federal workplace laws have led to increased labour costs, a rise in employee absenteeism and declining or flatlining productivity, according to a national survey of senior managers charged with implementing the new rules in their workplaces.

The annual survey of the nation's human resource managers found that 47 per cent believed operating under the Fair Work Act would decrease the willingness of their organisation to employ people over the next three years. Only 6 per cent said it made them more willing to hire people.

An estimated 690 human resource professionals participated in the Australian Human Resources Institute survey, with 30 per cent of those surveyed engaged by companies employing more than 1000 workers and one-third engaging between 100 and 499 workers.

The institute previously surveyed members about the legislation in 2010 and the latest results show managers are increasingly negative about the impact of the laws.

Peter Wilson, the institute's national president, said while many managers had expressed optimism and goodwill about the Fair Work Act in 2010, the "prevailing impression a year later is that the legislation needs fixing".

The Gillard government is undertaking a review of the act, with many employers pushing for substantial changes.

"The findings demonstrate that the people in the workforce with responsibility for implementing its provisions are experiencing difficulties that are costly, and negatively affect the capacity of businesses to operate productively for the benefit of all stakeholders," Mr Wilson said.

"At a time when the global outlook is very uncertain and international competition is extremely tough, the current act is not serving the Australian workplaces very well at all."

Professionals participating in the survey were asked whether their organisations had experienced an increase or decrease in a series of outcomes that they believed were directly due to the introduction of the legislation.

An estimated 58 per cent said their labour costs had increased, while 26 per cent said the level of absenteeism had risen, compared with 13 per cent who expressed that concern in 2010.

Just 5.6 per cent believed productivity had increased as a result of the laws, compared with 29.3 per cent who said it had decreased and 61 per cent who said there had been no change.

Forty-one per cent said union visits to work sites had increased compared with 29 per cent in 2010, while more than one-third complained that Labor's unfair dismissal laws made it harder to make employees redundant.

Almost two-thirds of those surveyed provided commentary with their responses, with much of the negative comments focused on increases in vexatious unfair dismissal claims and how the laws had reduced employer flexibility to hire casuals, vary hours, negotiate contracts and manage underperforming employees.

There were also complaints about the time required to be spent on workplace bargaining and the increased need for legal advice and record keeping.

"The unions have become bullish . . . Bully-boy tactics abound," one respondent said. Another said: "You can't terminate underperforming employees and they know it. "Management and other employees look at it and say, 'HR does not have the balls to do anything.' However, we are unable to."


Century of ocean warming good for corals, research shows

Another nasty one for Hoagy and all the other Warmists. Hoagy has been very quiet in recent years

A GOVERNMENT-run research body has found that the past 110 years of ocean warming has been good for the growth of corals spanning more than 1000km of Australia's coastline.

The findings undermine predictions that global warming will devastate coral reefs, and add to a growing body of evidence showing corals are more resilient than previously thought - up to a certain point.

The study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, peer-reviewed findings of which were published today in the leading journal Science, examined 27 samples from six locations from the West Australian coast off Geraldton to offshore from Darwin.

At each site, scientists took cores from massive porites corals - similar to a biopsy in humans - and counted back to record their age in much the same way tree rings are counted.

Although some cores extended to the 18th century, they focused on the period from 1900 to 2010.

The researchers found that, contrary to their expectations, warmer waters had not negatively affected coral growth. In fact, for their southern samples, where ocean temperatures are the coolest but have warmed the most, coral growth increased most significantly over the past 110 years. For their northern samples, where waters are the warmest and have changed the least, coral growth still increased, but not by as much.

"Those reefs have actually been able to take advantage of the warmer conditions," said Janice Lough, a senior AIMS research scientist and one of the study's authors.

The key question is how warm the water can get before the positive effects are reversed. [Why should they be reversed? That is just ideology speaking. Warmth is generally good for all life] Lab studies have typically measured the effect of short-term, rapid changes in temperature and water chemistry; these mimic, for example, coral-bleaching events that are known to be devastating.

Much harder to measure are the long-term effects of gradual warming, such as those caused by climate change.


Debate rages after call for smacking children to be made illegal

READERS have overwhelmingly rejected a call for an outright ban on parents smacking their own children. At 1.15pm, more than 91% of 6500 votes cast said the practice should not be outlawed as debate raged among commenters.

The debate was sparked by this morning's Herald Sun report of comments by Dr Gervase Chaney, the head of Australia's peak paediatric body, who called for mums and dads to be banned from disciplining their children with physical force. He said it was no longer OK for parents to argue "it never did us any harm" - and called on colleagues to stand up for children's rights.

Speaking today, World Vision Australia head Tim Costello admitted smacking his own children but backed calls for an outright ban. Rev Costello admits he smacked his own children and sympathises with parents who have, but said it is not the right way to discipline. “I think smacking should not be allowed, it should be banned to prevent abuse,” he said.

He has been echoed by Dr Joe Tucci, CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation, who said his organisation had been campaigning for a ban for the past 15 years. "We think children should be afforded the same level of protection under law as an adult," he said.

"I don't believe parents necessarily set out to hit their kids, but if they are frustrated, angry or upset with the child it can inadvertently lead to them hitting too hard or in places where it does leave an injury and I don't think parents want that."

Ban 'too interventionist'

But former Australian of the Year and CEO of Child Wise Bernadette McMenamin rejected calls for a ban and said it would leave parents thinking they lived in a nanny state.

Ms McMenamin, whose brother was the victim of abuse as a child, said smacking needed to be stopped – but through education, not the law. "I think it would make parents feel like the Government is going too far, taking over the parental role,” she said. "Setting a law for no smacking, I know where the professor is coming from, but parents would find that far too interventionist and a nanny state."

Ms McMenamin has a child of her own whom she has never smacked and said parents who do smack their children did so for the wrong reasons – and risked escalating smacking into child abuse. "I do not believe that smacking is a useful disciplinary tool, it's about the parent taking out their frustration on a child,” Ms McMenamin said. "If you smack a child, how can you tell what is a smack and what is a punch? "It may start with an odd smack, but it can escalate.”

Political reaction

A spokesperson for Premier Ted Baillieu said this morning there were "no plans to change the law as it relates to the smacking of children".

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews also said he did not support a change in the law. "A parent's first duty is to care and protect their child, and Victoria already has strong child protection laws in place," he said. "Parenting is hard and it's not made any easier by unenforceable and intrusive proposals like this."

Federal political figures have also opposed a ban on smacking kids, saying criminal law should not be applied to parents. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey told Sunrise that parents had the responsibility to protect their children. “There are some things that the criminal law shouldn't be involved with,” he said. “In raising children, parents have a responsibility.”

His thoughts were echoed by Minister for Population and Communities, Tony Burke, who also appeared on the program. “These experts, there are helpful ideas they come up with, the naughty corner and these different ideas for raising kids,” he said. “I’ve found a lot of that really helpful with my own kids, but to start saying the criminal law and legal penalties is the way to deal with this - parents do it tough enough already."

Australia 'lagging behind'

Dr Chaney says Australia is lagging behind other countries in outlawing smacking, describing some cases as tantamount to child abuse. He is pushing for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians paediatric and child health division to officially support a ban as the body reviews its policy on smacking.

His comments come after The Royal College of Paediatrics in Britain this week called for a ban on smacking, saying too often "today's smack becomes tomorrow's punch".

In Victoria, parents can smack their children as long as the punishment is not "unreasonable" or "excessive".

The issue has polarised opinion in Australia - the Presbyterian Church last year backed the right of parents to smack their child within existing common-law parameters. The church's submission to a state government inquiry said there was "a significant body of research confirming its utility in raising children well".

Victorian Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary said he did not support smacking, but he was worried a ban could be misused and unfairly punish some parents. "The way children are disciplined should be thoughtful and respectful," he said.


Flag maker gets lots of free publicity

A DEFIANT flag-maker says Nazi flags flying outside his home will not be removed.

Angry members of the Jewish community have demanded the swastika and SS flags flying outside the Carrum property be removed, according to Mordialloc Chelsea Leader.

Flag-maker Rob Boot said he would not remove the flags from his front yard along the Nepean Highway because of the complaints. "I’m just a flag salesman and it's just merchandise to me," Mr Boot said. "I’m at liberty to display what I want on my own property. "There’s no political message behind it at all."

Mr Boot said he did not believe the flags were offensive. "It would only be in really poor taste if I flew them with the Israeli flag," he said.

Earlier today, Chaiyim Ben Ariel spotted the swastika, which is flying with another flag bearing the SS logo, while driving along Nepean Highway. "Everyone in Australia and all over the world knows what this represents," he said. "It is so in your face. According to the law he is allowed to sell this crap."

Mr Ben Ariel and his friend, Yeshayah Halevi, have decided to demonstrate outside the home business in protest against the Nazi symbols.

They are not the only people to take offfence at the flags. Chelsea RSL president John Morris told Leader he thought flying the flags was "very unpleasant." "It’s in very poor and it offends the memory of our fallen soldiers and I feel for the Jewish community too," he said.


2 February, 2012

Wages tribunal attacks community services in the name of "equality"

Why not pay everyone exactly the same wage? That's where the logic (or illogic) leads.

The Federal government has promised funding to help pay the bigger wages bill but that will get mired in the bureaucracy. There is no doubt some organizations will have to put off staff to make ends meet

ALMOST 150,000 community sector workers, mostly women, have been awarded a pay rise by the industrial umpire in a landmark test case. Fair Work Australia granted an equal remuneration order sought by several unions, including the Australian Services Union, which was supported by the Federal Government.

The industrial workplace relations tribunal said the pay increases should be phased in over eight years rather than six. The pay boosts will range from 19 to 41 per cent, equating to wage rises of between $6324 and $24,346.

Australia Services Union (ASU) Sally McManus welcomed the decision as a huge win, not just for the community sector, but for equal pay in Australia. “We’re happy, in fact we’re ecstatic,” she said. “We’re hoping this decision will go towards putting a dent in the 18 per cent pay gap between men and women in Australia.”

The ASU said they were disappointed the pay increase will be phased in over eight years rather than the six years originally sought.

The Fair Work decision comes after the Federal Government appealed to the industrial tribunal in November for pay rises in the community sector which would be backed by a $2 billion funding commitment.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at the time community sector workers, who are mostly women, were underpaid and it was time they got equal pay for their work.

About 120,000 of the sector’s 150,000 workers are women and employees mostly work in social services, welfare and the caring professions.

Big employers in the area include Mission Australia, Amnesty International, Oxfam, The Catholic Church and Greenpeace.

Ms McManus said they will now be calling on the state governments to join in and support the pay rises.

The majority of the full bench of Fair Work Australia said they decided any equal remuneration order made should be based on the wages in the modern award. "The proposals in the joint submission are consistent with that requirement," FWA said.

"Importantly, the percentage additions to the modern award wages, as varied from time to time in annual wage reviews, will provide an ongoing remedy for the part gender has played in inhibiting wages growth in the SACS (social, community and disability services) industry."

The increases at each wage level and the further four per cent loading will be introduced in nine instalments annually on December 1 between 2012 and 2020.

FWA vice president Graeme Watson disagreed with his colleagues, saying the wage claim did not stand up to scrutiny.

During the hearing, the Victorian Government made a submission warning of potential cuts to jobs and services if the wage rise cost more than $200 million over four years.


New drug gives hope to hepatitis C sufferers

A DRUG set to cure thousands of Australians with hepatitis has been hailed as the most exciting development in the field in years.

Victrelis has been approved by medicines watchdog the Therapeutic Goods Administration and is awaiting listing on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Hepatitis Victoria chief executive Helen McNeill said the drug would boost the cure rate for the most common strain of hepatitis C from 50 to 80 per cent.

"Fifty-five per cent of people have the genotype 1 strain, and it often responds very poorly to treatment," Ms McNeill said. "The chance of increasing the opportunity of a cure using this new drug is very exciting. It is the biggest breakthrough in years."

More than 55,000 Victorians have hepatitis C, the leading cause of liver transplants.


Hospital system a 'dog's breakfast'

A Hobart GP has told a parliamentary inquiry health budget cuts are decimating the system. Dr Graeme Alexander has told a Legislative Council committee that Tasmania is a dog's breakfast. The committee is examining the impact of the health system's $100 million budget cut this financial year.

The Claremont GP says Tasmania was already winning the wooden spoon in all areas of health care before the cuts and GPs are now in a precarious position.

Dr Alexander says he has patients with gallstones who he knows will probably never receive surgery. "Equally I have patients with hernias who will probably never be operated on." "The only way they will, is if they get a serious complication."

Dr Alexander says the only lifeboat for a sinking system is a federal takeover of health.

The inquiry heard yesterday that patients were going back to Emergency Departments because they are being discharged too early.

Neroli Ellis from the Nursing Federation said bed shortages are already impacting on patients, with many being re-admitted to the Emergency Department because they are discharged too early. "Anecdotally, nurses tell us people are coming back on rebounds."

"So they're coming back into Emergency that should not have been discharged as early as they were, or they may not have been able to cope at home etc, that they are coming back in."

Ms Ellis says elective surgery patients are also presenting to the emergency department at the Launceston General Hospital. "They're now seeing 35 to 40 per cent of their theatre lists on emergencies which truly has increased quite dramatically."

"So they're not true emergencies, however, because they're waiting so long on the elective list now they're becoming emergencies."


No vote at all is better than a win for the No

It is always a good time to remove racially discriminatory provisions from the constitution. Except when such a sensible act might be defeated at a referendum for failing to obtain an overall majority and a majority of votes in a majority of states and there are unintended consequences.

Mark Leibler, co-chair of the expert panel whose report Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution was handed to the Prime Minister last week, clearly understands this. According to a report in The Weekend Australian Leibler has acknowledged that the suitable time to put a referendum proposal is when there are "the best prospects of success".

I was a keen supporter of the constitutional proposal on Aborigines, which was put to the electorate on May 27, 1967. It enjoyed the support of Harold Holt's Coalition government along with the Labor opposition led by Gough Whitlam, the Democratic Labor Party and independents.

The question was clear. Australians were asked if they agreed the provisions that barred Aborigines from being counted in the census and prevented the Commonwealth from making laws with respect to Aborigines should be deleted from the constitution. The total "for" vote was a record 91 per cent.

In May 1967 Holt presided over a popular government, having achieved a huge victory the previous year. Even so, the additional proposal put to the people in May 1967 was comprehensively defeated. Australians were also asked whether they supported breaking the "nexus" between the House of Representatives and the Senate, which would have made it possible to increase the number of MPs in the lower house without adding to the number of senators.

Only 40 per cent of electors supported the idea. There were two problems. The proposal was complex - many voters did not know what "nexus" meant. And it could easily be represented as giving more powers to politicians.

All the members of the House of Representatives supported the proposal to break the nexus. Opposition was led by 10 senators - most notably the DLP's Vince Gair and Frank McManus along with disaffected Tasmanian Liberal Reg Wright. The "no" case had scant money. However, as George Williams and David Hume point out in People Power, "the No campaign was vigorous and astonishingly effective".

Today it is common to say that no referendum proposal has a chance of succeeding unless it enjoys bipartisan support. The lesson from 1967 is that the backing of the Coalition and Labor will not necessarily deliver a "yes" outcome.

The next, and last, time the Australian electorate agreed to amend the constitution occurred in May 1977 when Malcolm Fraser's government, with Labor's backing, obtained support for three out of its four proposals. In 1977 Fraser too was a popular prime minister - almost midway between his record victories in January 1975 and January 1977.

Labor's sole postwar referendum success took place in September 1946 and gave the Commonwealth power to make laws with respect to social security benefits. Bob Hawke was the ALP's most successful prime minister. Yet, in the 1980s, he lost all six referendum proposals.

Leibler's cause is a noble one. He believes the time has come to remove the remaining race-based provisions in the constitution - namely, Section 25 and Section 51 (xxvi). However, he respects the founding fathers and recognises Australia is "one of the most peaceful and democratic nations in the world".

The problem is one of timing and complexity. At the moment, opinion polls are consistently reporting that the Coalition is leading Labor about 55 per cent to 45 per cent. In such a political climate, it is highly unlikely any government could initiate a successful referendum amendment. The expert panel with Leibler and Patrick Dodson as co-chairs is a representative group, on which the Liberal Party is represented. It is not clear how the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and his colleagues will respond when they consider the report.

The potential problems turn not on what is proposed to be deleted from the constitution but what might be added. The panel proposes that the constitution should contain provisions aimed at securing the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. At any referendum, this could raise the complex question of who is an indigenous person entitled to such advancement.

In his decision in Eatock v Bolt last year, Federal Court Justice Mordy Bromberg felt the need to address Aboriginal identity when discussing a group he referred to as "fair-skinned Aboriginal people". Justice Bromberg accepted that the term Aboriginal Australian applied to "a person of mixed heritage but with some Aboriginal descent, who identifies as an Aboriginal person and has communal recognition as such". However, he did not rule out the possibility "that a person with less than the three attributes of the three-part test should not be recognised as an Aboriginal person". This is the kind of debate that Australia does not need right now.

Already some Aborigines, whose priorities do not focus on constitutional change, are being criticised for not going along with the panel's proposals. For example, on the ABC TV program The Drum last Thursday, leftist activist Antony Loewenstein attacked Warren Mundine as a "Murdoch pet who hates everything about mainstream society". This is mere abuse posing as analysis.

This sort of line of attack against critics, or any allegations labelling Australians as racist if the proposal is rejected for being too complex, would be counter-productive. The 1967 referendum on Aborigines worked because the political timing was correct, the proposal was straightforward and the extremes of left and right were relatively silent.


1 February, 2012

Robust response to Aboriginal flag burners in NT

A LABOR politician last night last night slammed her colleague for calling a group of children who burned the Australian flag "little pricks".

Marion Scrymgour hit back at Rob Knight after he made the remark during a radio interview on Monday. "His comments are not helpful at all, and I don't think Rob's little army should carry on this emotional debate," she said on Facebook. Ms Scrymgour was responding to a post from one of Mr Knight's supporters, congratulating him for his stance.

Mr Knight last night said he stood by his comments. "I absolutely condemn the burning of our flag," he said. "I don't believe any cause has ever been served well by burning any flag."

The minister was inundated with public support yesterday with scores of Territorians flooding the NT News website and social networking sites to back the politician over his controversial remarks.

But his boss, Chief Minister Paul Henderson, was less convincing in his support. "Rob's got to answer for his own comments, but I think he's expressed sentiment," Mr Henderson said in a press conference yesterday. "Now whether I would have expressed it in those terms is another matter, but what we have here is a different discussion taking place in the Northern Territory."

The CLP again attacked Mr Knight over the remarks yesterday. Opposition leader Terry Mills said the flag burning was a deeply offensive act, but that Mr Knight had responded in a crass way.

"Trashing the flag is an offence. It offends the sensibilities of this nation, particularly for our defence forces," he said. "But for a community leader to respond in such a low level and crass way I think diminishes the high office that he holds."


Queenslanders want school performance made public

ALMOST two-thirds of Queenslanders believe teaching and learning audit results of state schools should be publicly released.

A poll on found 62 per cent of 2120 respondents wanted to know how schools performed, while 38 per cent did not think the results should be released.

The Courier-Mail's publication of the audit results on Saturday caused a furore among teachers and principals, with the Queensland Teachers' Union directing members to suspend participation in the process.

Political leaders are divided over the issue with Premier Anna Bligh backing the release, saying parents had a right to know, while LNP leader Campbell Newman dodged questions on whether he would continue the audits if his party won government.

"There's this obsession that's being created about doing the measurement, the testing and the measurement and the reporting, rather than helping the kids," he said.

Opposition education spokesman Bruce Flegg said he supported parents having the right to information about their schools but wanted to know more about the cost and benefits before deciding about publication or whether they should still be run in Queensland.

Teachers are now pursuing a way of keeping future teaching and learning audit results from being published, despite the State Government saying it believes parents have a right to the statewide information.

The QTU opposed a Right to Information application by The Courier-Mail late last year for the results, endorsing last November to suspend participation if the outcomes were ever published. That suspension was put in place on Monday.

The union argues it had secured an agreement the statewide results would not be published and any publication of them was misleading.

Every state-run school and education centre was audited in 2010, with 460 re-audited last year against world-class benchmarks in eight teaching and learning practices.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said they were now considering discussing the future of the audit as part of their impending Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA), including a possible guarantee of confidentiality as part of the EBA.


Interference claim: MP investigation needs investigating, says union chief

The stink of corruption: Craig Thomson's conviction would lead to the downfall of the Gillard government so it must not be allowed to happen

The national secretary of the Health Services Union has called for an immediate inquiry into Fair Work Australia over its investigation into the alleged misconduct of the embattled Labor MP, Craig Thomson, and other senior union officials.

Ms Jackson, the national secretary of the HSU, says the investigation - first flagged in 2009 - was taking far too long and raised the explosive possibility of government interference into the process.

"There needs to be a competent, external inquiry into the goings-on at Fair Work Australia," Ms Jackson said. "Why has it taken so long? Why are we still waiting for answers? And why are we in this position? We need this to end."

Fair Work Australia is investigating allegations of misuse of a union credit card by the Member for Dobell, Mr Thomson, when he was national secretary of the HSU. Fair Work Australia first looked at the case in April 2009 but it did not begin a formal investigation until March 2010.

Ms Jackson said she could not rule out government interference into the inquiry but would not provide details or evidence to support her claim. "Anything is possible, but what I've seen in the last six months has been nothing but appalling," she said.

"The conduct of officials at the HSU, the conduct of certain government ministers about what they have been saying and not been saying privately to people, it all gets back to me."

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten denied any knowledge of anyone in federal government interfering in the Fair Work Australia investigation.

Cabinet secretary Mark Dreyfus said Ms Jackson herself had said she had no evidence for her allegations. "People should lay off independent public servants that are going about their job," he told Sky News this morning. "This is an independent statutory agency and when it's finished its investigation and made its report public, that's the time for comment on it."

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, repeated his call for the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to release details of all communication she has had over the Thomson affair. "The prime minister has got to come clean," he said.

"She has to detail every involvement between her, her office, the ministers and their offices and Fair Work Australia over this, because the only way Julia Gillard survives as prime minister right now is because she has the tainted vote of Craig Thomson in the parliament."

Mr Abbott said yesterday he will not move a no-confidence motion in the government over Ms Gillard's former staffer's involvement in the Australia Day protest when Parliament returns next week but was likely to do so if and when Fair Work Australia made adverse findings against Mr Thomson.

The Liberal Party backbencher, Jamie Briggs, defended Ms Jackson's actions saying the union secretary was just "truth-telling". "It's some pretty hard questions for the prime minister to answer today," he said.

Ms Jackson said she was not gunning for the fall of the Gillard government but that it was the fault of Labor if they lost their majority in the House of Representatives in the event Mr Thomson was forced out of Parliament.

"That would be a catastrophic outcome, but this is not of my making. It's not of the making of our union," she said. "The government should have taken more care in preselecting their candidates. This was not a surprise to them."

She also accused sections of the HSU membership of withholding crucial information from the investigation. "There's critical information that the union is withholding from the membership," she said. "But the leadership in NSW is trying to gag debate within this union and I think they hope that it all goes away and it's not going away."

Ms Jackson pledged to release more information to Fair Work Australia by Friday and has launched the website today called Clean UP HSUeast! which will detail more allegations against the senior membership.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told ABC Melbourne Radio this morning that he didn't respond to "conspiracy theories" when asked about Ms Jackson's comments and that he didn't even have the phone number of Fair Work Australia.

Ms Jackson responded that she was "totally offended" at Conroy's implication that she was "a conspiracy theorist".

Ms Jackson has been banned by the HSU from speaking publicly about the allegations and said she was speaking out as a union member.
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Claims for job losses jump under new Leftist regulations

UNFAIR dismissal claims continue to rise under the Fair Work Act and have increased by more than 10 per cent a year since the laws took effect in mid 2009.

The number of claims is now running at about twice the level of the final year of Work Choices.

Nearly 8000 dismissal claims were lodged in the first six months of 2011-12 with Fair Work Australia, a rise of 11 per cent from the same time a year earlier.

The opposition workplace relations spokesman, Eric Abetz, said more employers were paying "go away" money to get rid of claims and the Coalition would seek to cut the number of claims. "One would want to see a reduction in the number of claims to ensure people aren't using this simply as an opportunity to milk some more money out of an employer, just on the basis they can," he said.

Senator Abetz would not say how the Coalition's policy would reduce claims but said it would watch closely submissions to the Fair Work Act review.

The Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, told the Herald that millions of extra workers now had rights after the Fair Work laws took effect, while there was only a "small increase in the number of claims".

"The Liberals' industrial relations policy must be in a witness protection program, because no one can find it," he said. Mr Shorten said while the Coalition complains about the current system it "won't tell us what rights it will take away from people".

Industrial relations is a fraught area for the Coalition after its Work Choices policy contributed to its 2007 election defeat. That policy exempted all businesses with 100 or fewer staff from unfair dismissal laws.

Labor restored dismissal rights for millions of workers although in businesses with fewer than 15 staff they have more limited protections.

The new data, released by Fair Work Australia, shows claims have nearly doubled since 2008-09, the last year of the Work Choices system.

The data also includes strong growth in general protections claims which relate to discrimination and freedom of association.

Senator Abetz said he suspected the actual claims would be higher still, with anecdotal evidence that employers are prepared to pay off sacked workers before a claim is lodged.

The secretary of the ACTU, Jeff Lawrence, said while the number of workers covered by federal laws have tripled the number of claims have only doubled.

He said nearly all claims were settled, usually for less than a month's pay. "There is no evidence that this is 'go away money', rather than the employer making a genuine payment of compensation in recognition of their wrongdoing and/or paying out entitlements," he said.

The National Retailers Association executive director, Gary Black, said dismissal claims should be limited to discrimination claims and unfair dismissals laws should be abolished.


In politics as in life, fruit doesn't fall far from the ministerial tree

Peter Costello

Leave aside who told who what. The fact is the Prime Minister's office thought it was legitimate politics to organise an Aboriginal protest against her political rival.

As a taxpayer-funded "media adviser", Tony Hodges sent a tip-off to the Aboriginal tent embassy that Tony Abbott was nearby so they could do what? So they could go and protest against him.

And this is the key point. As far as Hodges was concerned the Aboriginal activists were legitimate assets to be used for partisan benefit. The only thing he had to do was to give them the message without leaving fingerprints. But Hodges wasn't up to that. So he had to fall on his sword to protect his boss.

Next time you hear the sound of handwringing coming from the Gillard government about how much they care for indigenous people, remember: they don't care nearly as much about them as they care about Tony Abbott. If they can use them to get at him, they will.

When I saw this my mind went back to the day Kevin Rudd made his apology in Parliament to the "stolen generation". A large overflow crowd gathered outside to watch the event on a big screen - indigenous and non-indigenous. Rudd's speech was received well with much applause and many tears. Then the Opposition Leader rose to speak in support. It was a difficult speech for Brendan Nelson. It involved repudiating the stubborn refusal of John Howard to use the word "sorry".

Howard loyalists were not happy about Nelson's turnaround and Nelson went out on a limb. If he had not given it bipartisan support that day, it would not have been the triumph that it was for Rudd. Rudd owed him a lot for that.

But the crowd did not warm to Nelson's speech. Some even stood up and turned their backs to the screen as his speech was broadcast. It was assumed that he had antagonised indigenous Australians. Later it was discovered that prominent among those turning their backs and demonstrating against Nelson were Lachlan Harris and Tim Gleason from the Prime Minister's staff.

Isn't that a coincidence? Different prime minister, different staff, but both engaging in attempts to fan indigenous protest against a Liberal leader.

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to successfully address indigenous disadvantage. But one thing that does not do it is political staff trying to manipulate indigenous issues for partisan advantage.

These are only two examples where staff have been caught in the act. I suspect there are many more but they have involved much more sophisticated political staff.

Before we get too hard on the staff, it is worth remembering the tone of an office is set by the minister. I always found a courteous minister had a courteous office, a trustworthy minister had trustworthy staff. People employ those who reflect their own values and beliefs. Was Richard Nixon unlucky to have those Watergate types - such as Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Colson - or did it say something about Nixon himself? Where did Hodges get the idea it was his job to spark indigenous protests against Abbott?

Which brings me to the hilarious performance by Anthony Albanese who went to the National Press Club to deliver an oh-so-serious attack on Abbott the day before the Australia Day riot. It turned out that his chief attack line was against the political rival of a fictional president played by the actor Michael Douglas in the movie The American President. Albanese says we shouldn't blame him for the blunder because he only read out a speech given to him by a staffer.

It makes you wonder what those Labor staffers are up to. Perhaps when they went to work in government they thought their lives would imitate art. In Hollywood, people organise demonstrations against opponents, do dirty tricks and get Oscars for doing so.

In the real world, actions have consequences. You learn that when you grow up.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative