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?


27 February, 2015

Global warming: Australian deserts to expand as tropical circulation changes

Just modelling, which has so far always been wrong

Australia's deserts will expand southward and dry periods will lengthen as global warming alters key tropical circulations, according to new research by US scientists.

The researchers studied how the Hadley Circulation – the movement of warm air and moisture away from the tropics – will be affected if carbon-dioxide emissions continue to rise at the rate of 1 per cent per year.

They found evidence of a so-called "deep-tropics squeeze", in which regions closest to the equator will experience increased convection as air rises faster.

Conversely, the drier sub-tropical regions characterised by descending air and resulting high-pressure systems will expand, according to the research published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our results provide a physical basis for inferring that greenhouse warming is likey to contribute to the observed prolonged droughts worldwide in recent decades," the paper said.

Existing dry zones in Africa-Eurasia, south-west North America and much of Australia will face increased risk of drought, said William K.M. Lau, of the University of Maryland's Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Centre, and co-author of the paper.

"As inferred from the model projections, the global warming effect on expansion of deserts is likely to be already going on," Dr Lau told Fairfax Media.

The paper found that while some components of the Hadley Circulation will strengthen – resulting in increased rainfall in the deep tropics – ther elements will weaken. These findings will aid the understanding of the overall changes under way, he said.

"Detection of changes in the Hadley Circulation has been attempted by many previous authors, with no clear results whether it has strengthened, weakened or [had] no change," he said.

Steve Turton, a climatologist at James Cook University, said the PNAS paper adds to other research indicating the tropical belt is expanding, such as signs that the location of the maximum intensity of cyclone is shifting poleward.

An intensification of deep tropical rainfall would mean more rainfall for regions to the north of Australia, such as Indonesia, Professor Turton said.

A further expansion of the high-pressure belt, on the other hand, means more rainfall missing mainland Australia, and falling in the Southern Ocean instead. "It spells a pretty grim forecast for Australia," he said.

Rainfall is already on the decrease in southern Australia. Important winter rains over south-western WA have reduced by about a quarter since the 1970s, adding stresses to ecosystems and raising doubts about the prospects for wheat farming in the region, Professor Turton said.

Other regions reliant on monsoonal rains, such as the Indian sub-continent, will also likely see a disruption of rainfall patterns, he said.


Muslim Australia:  19-year-old man charged over 'wedding' to 15-year-old

A backyard Islamic marriage between an 18-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl was only discovered when the young bride took herself to a western Sydney hospital believing she had suffered a miscarriage, police allege.

Mustafa Abdel Ghany, 19, was charged on Wednesday with marrying a 15-year-old girl in the backyard of her father's Sydney home in November.

A sheikh allegedly officiated over the ceremony and the couple moved into a granny flat at Abdel Ghany's parents' home in south-west Sydney soon after.

Detectives from the Child Abuse Squad were alerted to the marriage when the 15-year-old attended Bankstown Hospital on January 20 believing she had suffered a miscarriage.

It is the first time the state's Child Abuse Squad has charged a man with marrying an underage girl.

Abdel Ghany was granted strict bail in Bankstown Local Court on Wednesday and ordered not to go near his wife, not to drink alcohol or take drugs and to abide by an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order taken out against him.

His 15-year-old wife, who cannot be identified, had stopped attending high school at the time of her marriage and was not working, police said in documents tendered to the court.

Her parents did not know where she had been living for the past four to five months and had had little contact with her when police spoke to them in January.

When her horrified mother found out about the union, she confronted the couple and was allegedly told by her new son-in-law that he would "finish" her.

"What's done is done. She's my wife. If you want to start a war, I'll finish it," he allegedly told the mother when she questioned why he married her daughter in such a manner.

Police allege that the bride's father, who was present when they married, told police they were simply engaged.

In early February, Abdel Ghany and his parents grew suspicious that his in-laws were speaking to the police.

An intercepted phone call allegedly revealed he planned to harm his bride's parents, police documents state.

In other phone calls, detectives also allegedly heard Abdel Ghany's parents telling him to move his wife's belonging out of the granny flat and into the main house to hide the relationship.

Just days ago, however, Abdel Ghany struck up a relationship with another woman while his young wife was visiting his family in Canberra, police documents state.

"Police allege the accused has stated that he is considering divorcing the victim," the documents state. "The victim is unaware of the extent of the [new] relationship and is hoping that she and the accused will continue to live as husband and wife."

Abdel Ghany, who was 18 at the time of the marriage, denied that the ceremony took place when interviewed by police on Wednesday and has denied having sex with the 15-year-old girl.

A recent report estimated there were around 250 child bride cases across Australia.

NSW police made their first child bride arrest last year.

A 26 year-old man was convicted of several sexual abuse matters after marrying a 12-year-old girl in a backyard ceremony. The imam who oversaw the marriage was also convicted.


Disability Support Pension under fire as bill to write welfare cheques hits $3 billion per year

MOTHERS, young people and women over 65 will be encouraged to get off welfare and into work under proposals being considered by the government.

On the same day he delivered a major report into welfare reform, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison outlined three areas he was keen to pursue in the May budget and beyond.

Parents, especially single mothers, should be encouraged to work by making child care more affordable and simpler, he said.

Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison addressing the National Press Club.

“Because it’s good for their families, it’s good for their income, it’s good for their support,” Mr Morrison told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

And young people should be either learning or earning and prevented from a life of welfare dependency through early intervention programs similar to those in New Zealand.

Mr Morrison said the system needed reform, but would not be drawn on whether he was likely to accept advice to reduce the number of welfare payments to just five.

That is a recommendation of the McClure welfare review which argues for a tiered working-age payment, supported living pension, child and youth payment, carer payment and the age pension.

The minister said long-term reform should not be rushed, but wanted to lay the groundwork for Australians to start thinking about necessary, but hard, changes.

“What we sew now in apathy will be reaped in a future harvest for generations who will not get the safety net provided by those who went before us,” Mr Morrison said.


Queensland moves to bring back homosexual civil unions

QUEENSLAND will reintroduce state-sanctioned civil union ceremonies for gay couples.

As The Australian reported during the recent election campaign, same-sex relationship registrations fell two-thirds in the three years since the Newman government watered down civil union laws by scrapping commitment ceremonies.

Today, Queensland’s newly minted Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath confirmed Labor would honour its election commitment to reverse the policy change.

“It’s something that I’m getting briefings on as we speak,” Ms D’Ath told Fairfax Radio.

“We have made it clear we will change it back. We’re putting in place (measures) to do that now.”

It’s not known when the Palaszczuk government will address this issue. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will visit Governor Paul De Jersey tomorrow to decide when the first parliamentary sittings will occur, and the rest of the year’s parliamentary schedule.

In 2012, when civil unions were rushed through parliament by the former Bligh Labor government, 466 couples affirmed their relationships.

Following the Newman government changes in mid-2012, another 138 homosexual couples formalised their relationships.

In 2013, 227 gay couples registered their relationship. Last year, that had dropped to 184. To January 13 this year, four relationships were registered.

Throughout the period, 4677 heterosexual couples have also registered their relationships.

During the campaign, Ms Palaszczuk also committed to maintaining laws on altruistic surrogacy and no euthanasia.

The LNP’s changes to Queensland’s civil-union laws meant the state is in line with NSW and Victoria in having no official ceremonial recognition. Couples in the ACT and Tasmania can opt for a ceremony.

The legislative changes followed lobbying from the Australian Family Association during the 2012 election campaign and a private meeting between Mr Newman and the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, the day before the legislation was introduced.


26 February, 2015

Training dummies as teachers is not the way to get good teaching

I agree with Christopher Bantick below but he fails to ask WHY dummies are being accepted as teachers.  It's because most really capable people have a fair idea, if only from their own education, that teaching in many government schools is not a pleasant experience.  The low standards of discipline that are allowed to prevail these days can even be dangerous to teachers.  So a requirement for high standards in teachers would simply mean that not enough of them would be recruited.  "Child-centered" approaches sound wonderful but can result in bedlam in the classroom. 

I once taught in a "progressive" (no overt discipline) High School (Chiron College) so I saw what happens. The brighter half of the pupils did well enough -- mainly due to parental encouragement to learn, I gather -- and the less bright half learned nothing at all, though their skill at playing cards improved.  Like so many of its ilk, Chiron college is no longer in business.

I note that the "Summer Hill" school founded by A.S. Neill along "progressive" lines is still surviving -- but as a boarding school only.  So the parents would generally be affluent and like the parents of the students who did well at the school where I taught. So the big lesson is that "progressive" education is not suitable as a mass system but rather something that can work for the children of elite families with a strong interest in education. 

So there are two solutions to low standards in government schools:  Return to traditional standards of discipline and traditional ("chalk and talk") teaching methods.  Only then will the teaching experience once again be positive enough to attract brighter teachers.

In the meantime, there is a tried and proven but mightily resisted  strategy that does work:  Large classes.   There are SOME good teachers and large classes would allow them to spread the benefit of their talents more widely.  Small classes are the holy grail of teaching unions but the research shows that they are beneficial  only at the very earliest ages.  See  here and here  and here and here and here.  By contrast, many Australian Catholic schools in the past had class sizes as big as 60 and yet got results that would be envied today.

ANOTHER report into teaching and another missed opportunity. The report by the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group, tabled last week, repeats the well-worn mantra that teachers are not good enough. The way to improve teaching is to insist on high academic ability on entry. This is not one of the report’s recommendations.

Instead, you have the head of the review into teacher training, Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven, saying the problem is in the university training of teachers. This is disingenuous in the extreme.

Universities can only educate those they accept. If students are admitted with low Australian Tertiary Admission Rank scores to universities, then this is who they educate. Harsh as it may sound, academically, you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. You can’t make a great teacher out of someone who is not academically excellent.

Why teachers fail in the classroom is because they are not, bluntly, bright enough to cope with academic subjects and able students. To this end, the universities have not failed in their preparation of teachers, but they have failed spectacularly in permitting teachers to be trained with substandard ATAR scores.

Only NSW has set a benchmark for teacher entry of at least 70 per cent in three subjects including English before they can qualify for registration.

The Australian Education Union, the peak representative body of teachers nationally, has argued sensibly for a clear lifting of entry requirements. The AEU’s criticism of the review’s failure to recommend high ATAR scores is wholly correct.

“An ATAR score is not the only thing that makes a good teacher, but we need to recognise that a teacher’s academic ability is important and that we need some minimum requirements,” AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe says of the review’s shortcomings.

The AEU is not alone in sharing its disquiet. The Australian Primary Principals Association — a long-time critic of low reception academic standards for teachers — says in a submission to the review that the applications for education degrees need to be “in the top 20 per cent of the population” in terms of academic performance. In other words, a minimum ATAR of 80 before admission is considered.

Moreover, the Office of the Chief Scientist, in a submission to the TEMAG review, was explicit, saying — rightly — that “teaching was not an attractive option” for the “top school-leavers”.

The comparison is damning when teacher applicants with ATAR scores of more than 80 are compared to science and engineering. Teaching draws less than a fifth of Year 12 offers to top ATAR achievers. Science and engineering achieve upwards of 70 per cent.

If this was not enough evidence, an Australian Council for Education Research report found the top-performing systems internationally depend on the entry cohort: “All high-performing education systems recruit their teachers from the ablest students.”

It makes no sense that outstanding teachers can be produced if they are academically incompetent. It also makes no sense that the TEMAG review recommends new teachers “pass a national test placing them in the top 30 per cent of the country for literacy and numeracy”.

This is absurd. If ATAR scores were high, then clearly the students accepted into teacher training would already be adequately literate and numerate.

But what worries me as a teacher heading towards four decades in the classroom is the federal government’s persistence in blaming teachers for its own failings in handling teacher education.

Teachers are the easy beats of education policy. It is an emotive argument and a good one — if your main game is to divert attention away from issues such as funding and family breakdown, and a generation that has difficulty reading anything longer than a tweet.

No matter, the TEMAG review has put accountability squarely back at the universities’ door and has threatened closure of substandard courses. It is quite comfortable about substandard students applying.

Craven, palpably avoiding the critical issue of entrance requirements, says: “We are laying down a huge gauntlet here. There is no doubt that some courses are substandard and will have to improve to survive.”

Craven is chairman of the review and vice-chancellor of the ACU, which has one of the lowest entry requirements for teacher education in the country.

This in itself raises a significant concern. Teaching has become a milch cow for commentators and critics who have either never spent time in a school or whose experience of schools is outdated and ossified.

Everyone has a view, but few have actual present classroom experience.

Independent schools, the system where I work, have always looked for the best teachers academically. It is no accident that independent schools dominate university entrance in courses such as law and medicine.

It is an indictment on Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s competence to handle his troubled portfolio that he has endorsed the review’s recommendations and simply ignored the pressing and obvious need for higher ATAR scores for teachers who enter universities.

It beggars belief that Pyne, at the Australian Council for Educational Leaders’ inaugural Hedley Beare Memorial Lecture, said he is demanding “more rigorous selection” to teaching courses but this does not include minimum academic standards. So misguided is the Minister for Education in his ideas on teacher education that he has sullied Hedley Beare’s place in educational thinking, saying standards are “just not good enough” and that some teaching courses “lag way behind in quality”.

The central issue for both the review under the misguided chairmanship of Craven and the recommendations parroted by Pyne is just how they are going to produce not just good teachers but truly great teachers who are dumb bottom feeders on ATAR scores.


No voters prosecuted despite 7000-plus cases of suspected voting fraud in the 2013 federal election

Not a single person will be prosecuted for multiple voting at the 2013 federal election – even those who admitted to casting more than one ballot paper.

Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said he was "disturbed" that of the nearly 8000 cases of suspected voting fraud passed to the Australian Federal Police, not a single case has been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Of the 7743 suspect cases referred to the AFP, just 65 were investigated and not one will progress to conviction.

Mr Rogers told a Senate estimates committee that the file passed to the AFP included voters who had actually admitted to voting at more than one polling station and cases where the offence had been denied but there was supporting evidence that they had.

Mr Rogers told senators at a hearing on Tuesday night that the legislation enabling the prosecution of voting cheats needed to be overhauled to protect the "perception of integrity" of Australia's voting system.

"I'm the commissioner and I'm disturbed by the numbers I'm telling you this evening," he said.

"I'm uncomfortable with the current situation."

He said the AFP had advised the commission that it would require greater evidence, such as closed circuit surveillance cameras in polling places, to secure prosecutions.

"The main inhibitors are the lack of corroborative evidence available … I've done about as much as I can do with the issue of multiple voting. We've referred more multiple voters to the AFP than, I think, ever before in the history of the AEC," Mr Rogers said.

"There is clearly an issue with the process and it does concern me."

He said it would cost an extra $60 million per federal election to introduce electronic technology that flags when someone has already voted elsewhere, trialled in the 2014 Griffith byelection.

Senator Dean Smith said the integrity of the voting system was of paramount importance and referred to the "raw anger" among his Liberal Party colleagues when a bungle by the commission forced a fresh Senate vote in Western Australia following the 2013 federal election.

The stuff-up ended the career of Mr Rogers' predecessor, Ed Killesteyn. The WA vote resulted in the return of Greens' senator Scott Ludlam and a third Palmer United Party senator, Zhenya 'Dio' Wang.

Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson said the Electoral Commission had briefed him on the problems with prosecuting multiple voters and the matter will form the subject of a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.


Islamic State: Australia poised to send additional troops to Iraq for joint training mission with New Zealand soldiers

A commitment of additional Australian troops to Iraq, likely to number in the hundreds, is imminent, sources have told the ABC.

Australia already has 200 special forces personnel in Iraq and it is understood the extra troops will be part of a joint mission with New Zealand to train Iraqi soldiers.

New Zealand prime minister John Key announced on Tuesday the deployment of 143 personnel to Iraq.

This morning, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force Air Chief Marshall Mark Binskin said Australia had not yet decided the nature of a further commitment.

"I and my New Zealand counterpart have worked very closely on developing options that were put to both governments," he told a Senate committee.

"The Government of Australia is yet to make a final decision."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said there had been talks about an additional contribution from Australia.

"It's been well known for some time that we have been talking to our allies, we've been talking to the Iraqis about what more we could do to assist the Iraqis to reclaim their own country," he said.

"We are talking to our friends and allies.

"Obviously that includes the New Zealanders about what more we can do to help the Iraqi security forces and I'll have more to say in the next day or so."

In an address yesterday to the New Zealand parliament, Mr Key told his countrymen the deployment would be alongside Australian soldiers.

"This is likely to be a joint training mission with Australia, although it won't be badged an ANZAC force," he said.

We are looking at this very closely, it is under review by our National Security Committee but I won't pre-empt any announcement.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop
Officially, the Australian Government has remained tight lipped.

However, Mr Key's announcement of extra troops would not have come as any surprise to the Government or Defence officials.

My Key's speech to Parliament was widely flagged as long as two weeks ago, and the New Zealand defence minister has been in Australia in recent days.

The ABC understands Mr Key phoned Mr Abbott on Monday night ahead of his announcement.

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews welcomed the New Zealand decision during Tuesday's Question Time.

Asked by the ABC if it would mean sending additional Australian troops, a spokesman for Mr Andrews said that Australia's commitment was "always under active consideration".

"Australia continues to talk to Iraq, the US and our other partners about what we can do to support the Iraqi government," the spokesman said.

"No decisions have been taken by the Government to deploy additional personnel."

But the cat may have been out of the bag long before New Zealand's announcement.

In early February, after visiting Australia for the Australia-UK ministerial talks, British foreign secretary Phillip Hammond flew on to New Zealand.

Asked there by reporters about whether the Kiwis should send troops, the New Zealand Herald reported that Mr Hammond said Australia was keen to have New Zealanders join a training mission.

"They are looking at now engaging a training mission – which they are committed to do – which would need another 400 people," he reportedly said.

"They are desperately keen that a contribution to that 400 is coming from New Zealand."

The United States welcomed New Zealand's decision to send troops to Iraq.

"As one of our partners in the coalition, New Zealand has already provided substantial humanitarian assistance to Iraq and Syria," state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"We value the contributions and efforts of all partners in the mission as we work together on a multifaceted and long-term strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL."

Mr Key's announcement makes for awkward political timing for Mr Abbott.

Mr Abbott is due to make his first visit to New Zealand as Prime Minister on Friday.

It would be highly unusual for the Prime Minister to commit to sending troops abroad while himself on foreign soil.

If, like Mr Key, he is to make an announcement in Parliament, he has two sitting days remaining.


Anger as Bill Shorten claims ‘injustice’ for David Hicks

DAVID Hicks trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and described Osama bin Laden as a brother — and yet Opposition Leader Bill Shorten labelled what he did as “foolish” and said he suffered an “injustice”.

With the terror alert at its highest level, Mr Shorten leapt to the defence of the man who former PM John Howard yesterday declared “revelled in jihad”.

Mr Shorten’s comments were also slammed by Liberal MP Andrew Nikolic, who served as a brigadier in the Australian Army in Afghanistan.  “I am appalled by Mr Hicks’ ­actions,’’ he said. “I am also troubled by the failure of the Leader of the ­Opposition to call him out on it.”

Mr Shorten said yesterday: “David Hicks was probably foolish to get caught up in that Afghanistan ­conflict, but clearly there has been an ­injustice done to him.”

Mr Nikolic, who served as a ­brigadier in the army, said: “By his own admission, David Hicks trained and fought with Islamic terrorists such as al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.  “Why is Bill Shorten giving ­succour to David Hicks as someone who he says was merely ‘foolish’ to get ‘caught up’, as if he was some ­wide-eyed innocent abroad rather than a trained terrorist?”

Mr Shorten’s comments came after a US military court quashed a ­terrorism conviction against Mr Hicks on a technicality because his ­actions were not a crime under US or Australian law at the time.

When asked if Mr Hicks was due an apology, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he would not apologise for doing “what was needed”. He said Mr Hicks “was up to no good on his own admission”.

Attorney-General George Brandis said Mr Hick’s actions would today “fall within the scope” of terror laws.

Mr Hicks was detained in US ­detention camp Guantánamo Bay in Cuba from 2001 until 2007 and was convicted of supporting terrorism.

Liberal backbenchers pounced on Mr Shorten’s comments, prompting him to clarify his view late yesterday.

“There’s no doubt Mr Hicks was associating with known terrorists, and that’s absolutely deplorable,’’ he said.

Mr Howard, prime minister at the time Mr Hicks was held in Guantánamo Bay, said the US decision to quash the conviction did not alter the fact Mr Hicks was involved with al-Qaeda.

“The US verdict is about the legal process in that country,’’ a spokesman for Mr Howard said in a statement. “Nothing alters the fact that by his own admission, Hicks trained with ­al-Qaeda, met Osama bin Laden on ­several occasions describing him as a brother. He revelled in jihad. He is not owed an apology by any ­Australian government.’’

Asked yesterday why he was in ­Afghanistan Mr Hicks replied: ­“Having a holiday.”


Lies about wind turbine safety from Leftist public broadcaster

ACOUSTIC expert Steven Cooper is considering launching legal action against the ABC’s Media Watch program for its portrayal of him and his research on the effect of the Pacific Hydro wind turbines on local residents.

On the February 16 edition of Media Watch host Paul Barry dished out a stinging criticism of Mr Cooper’s seven-month study conducted at Cape Bridgewater in southwest Victoria — and the ­reporting of it by The Australian’s environment editor Graham Lloyd and Network Seven’s Today Tonight.

However, in damning the report, the Media Watch team hand- picked a group of pro-turbine ­“experts” — with no real expertise in the field — ignored submissions from genuine acoustic experts, misrepresented Mr Cooper, ­selectively and incorrectly quoted the National Health and Medical Research Council, ignored balancing quotes in the newspaper ­reports and made a number of factual mistakes.

Following his utter disbelief at Media Watch’s misrepresentation, as well as pending legal action, Mr Cooper has also sent a letter to the ABC demanding a retraction.

“Media Watch should be investigating themselves because in that very article they presented so much information that was incorrect and not factual,” Mr Cooper told The Australian.

Media Watch opened its attack on the first paragraph of Lloyd’s January 21 front-page story which states: “People living near wind farms face a greater risk of suffering health complaints caused by the low-frequency noise generated by turbines, a groundbreaking study has found.”

Barry said: “Well, not according to several eminent scientists we talked to and, remarkably, not according to Steven Cooper, the study’s author, who told Media Watch: ‘No, it’s not correct ... You can’t say that noise affects health from this study’.”

Media Watch’s blatant misrepresentation of Mr Cooper is one of the key reasons for his letter ­demanding a retraction and ­pending legal action.

Media Watch selectively quoted the Cape Bridgewater report author to give the impression he rejected certain things in both the Today Tonight report and The Australian’s article when in fact he does not.

Mr Cooper told The Australian his comments were completely taken out of context by Media Watch.

Mr Cooper said by giving his answer in isolation and not explaining the broader context, Media Watch had deliberately misrepresented the facts.

He said that when you looked at all the evidence — not just his report — Lloyd was completely right in his opening.

What the Cooper study found was that sensations, including sleep disturbance, were occurring with specific wind conditions leading to acoustic results.

So despite Media Watch’s nicely edited and manufactured contradiction between the pair, Mr Cooper actually believes Lloyd “is the best journalist writing about wind turbines in Australia”.

In a written response to The Australian, prior to the Media Watch episode, Mr Cooper said: “The study does shows a link between the operation of the wind farm and the disturbances reported by the residents. There is a trend not a correlation (because there is not enough data and that wasn’t the brief). However, one can take the reports of the residents who form the view there is a link to their health impacts.”

Media Watch next marched out it’s so called experts to the tune of, “So how come The Australian and Today Tonight got it so wrong?”

Today Tonight wasn’t given much of a chance to defend itself against that allegation as it was not contacted for comment by the show. Today Tonight Adelaide producer Graham Archer told The Australian he was disgusted at the way Media Watch conducted itself and the way it misled the public.

“They didn’t contact us and I would have thought that was the very minimum of journalistic ethics to call somebody to at least give them a chance to respond to whatever the allegations were, I thought that was pretty shoddy,’’ he said.

“Media Watch were taking a particular point of view that went beyond a critique of the media and they were actually pushing a particular barrow and I’m not sure that’s their role.”

Media Watch’s first “expert” was the head of medicine at Adelaide University, Professor Gary Wittert, who said: “The way The Australian reported this study was really the antithesis of good science reporting. I think a newspaper like The Australian should know better.”

Mr Cooper, and other properly qualified acoustics experts, have said The Australian’s reporting of the study was correct in every ­respect.

What Media Watch failed to report was that Professor Wittert has repeatedly given expert evidence to court cases stating that the ­nocebo effect rather than infrasound and low-frequency noise are directly causing the reported symptoms but Mr Cooper’s data from his acoustic investigation suggests Professor Wittert’s ­expert opinion is wrong.

Other experts lined up to slam the report included the Australian National University’s Jacqui Hoepner and Will Grant, who wrote about it for The Conversation. Grant has a PhD in politics and Hoepner is a journalist and neither has either acoustic or medical training.

Then came the most damning of them all, Sydney University’s professor of public health, Simon Chapman. Professor Chapman is also neither an acoustician nor a medical practitioner.

Professor Chapman has declined to ever directly investigate or visit people immediately affected by wind turbines and, despite this, is happy to refer to them very publicly on Twitter as “anti-wind farm wing nuts”.

He is, in fact, an expert on cigarette advertising, a sociologist and a vocal advocate for the wind ­industry.

And this is the supposedly unbiased “expert” Media Watch lined up to say: “Scientifically, it’s an absolutely atrocious piece of research and is entirely unpublishable other than on the front page of The Australian.”

When The Australian’s Gerard Henderson wrote to Media Watch to ask why it had chosen Professor Chapman in support of the view that “scientifically” there was no proven causal link between wind farms and illness, Media Watch producer Timothy Latham replied: “I am comfortable quoting a professor of public health on the matter, who has previously written on wind farms and health concerns and has, according to his CV, a PhD in medicine.”

Chapman is not a medical practitioner. He has previous told people his PhD is in sociology. It was on the topic of “Cigarette Advertising As Myth: A Re-Evaluation Of The Relationship Of Advertising To Smoking”.

When Henderson pointed this out to Latham he replied: “I outlined in my previous email as to why I believe Simon Chapman is qualified to talk about health and wind farms. Therefore no correction or clarification is required.”

The opinion of Media Watch’s “experts” is in stark contrast to those actually trained in the field who understand the significance of what the Cooper study found.

The Cooper study has been reviewed by some of the world’s most highly qualified acoustic experts who were quoted by The ­Australian.

Dr Bob Thorne, a psycho-acoustician who is qualified to assess health impacts from noise and is considered an expert witness in court, said in a written statement that the Cooper report was “groundbreaking” and had made a “unique contribution to science”.

US acoustics expert Robert Rand, the principal of US-based Rand Acoustics, said in a peer review of the Cooper study: “The correlation of sensation level to wind turbine signature tone level in the infrasonic and audible bands brings wind turbine acoustics right to the door of medical science.’’

And after the broadcast, in a line-by-line appraisal of The Australian story, Ray Tumney, principal acoustics engineer with RCA Acoustics, told Media Watch every aspect of it was “true and ­accurate”.

This is some of what he said: “None of the above in the Lloyd article is misleading or inaccurate nor is it overly emotive by ­comparison with current media practice.

“So the only reason for Media Watch to take this on is if Media Watch is simply unable to accept the outcomes of the (Cooper) study and presumably believes that the study is flawed and Mr Cooper is incompetent. This was certainly the impression given by the MW presentation.

“I submit that MW is not qualified to make such a judgment in such a complex technical area and has gotten carried away with itself in this instance because of its own paradigms and beliefs. My view is that for whatever reason MW has lost its objectivity in this case.”

But what is particularly alarming about the program was that Media Watch researcher Flint Duxfield deliberately ignored the large pool of positive reviews about Mr Cooper’s study.

The Australian has written evidence Duxfield was made aware of the significance of the Cooper report in direct interviews with Mr Rand, but did not make that information available to Media Watch viewers.

In an email to colleagues following the Media Watch program, Mr Rand said he had told Media Watch that after the Cooper findings: “It would be unethical of me as a member of Institute of Noise Control Engineering to wait for the years required for such careful medical research work to be ­completed. I have sufficient correlation already from the neighbours’ reports and affidavits and the measurements done thus far to inform others for designing properly to be good acoustic neighbours.” Media Watch did not disclose this information.

Media Watch ’s attempt to discredit the study — and prove why it should not have been headline news — was also riddled with ­errors.

Barry attacked the tiny sample — three households and six ­respondents. But in his peer review of the Cooper research, Dr Paul Schomer, director of acoustics standards and chairman of the American delegation to the International Standards Committee, said: “It only takes one example to prove that a broad assertion (that there are no impacts) is not true, and that is the case here.

“One person affected is a lot more than none; the existence of just one cause-and-effect pathway is a lot more than none. The important point here is that something is coming from the wind turbines to affect these people and that something increases or decreases as the power output of the turbine increases or decreases.”

Barry didn’t bother reporting Dr Schomer’s comments or professional qualifications but said there was what scientists call selection bias, because all those people already had health problems which they blamed on Pacific Hydro’s wind farm at Victoria’s Cape Bridgewater, 1.6km or less from their homes.

But the The Australian has written advice from a professor of epidemiology that selection bias was irrelevant when the study design is identical to a prospective case series with a crossover component, where people are their own controls, and what varies is their exposure to operating wind turbines.

Media Watch was advised of this but did not disclose it on air.

Barry said all those involved in the study knew if the wind farm was operating because they could see the blades. Here again he is wrong. Mr Cooper said the subjects could not see the blades — especially when they were inside their homes, in their beds, and woken up from a sleep.

This is at best a pointer to Barry and his team not reading the research and at worse false reporting to make a point. Duxfield has admitted to Mr Cooper he “skimmed” the report.

If misrepresentation, hand-picking evidence, dodgy reporting and industry-invested “experts” with no qualifications were not enough, the less than 10 minute segment was littered the errors.

Media Watch blankly asserted that Mr Cooper’s theories were dismissed by a Senate inquiry into wind farm noise in 2011.

Wrong — Mr Cooper didn’t give evidence in the 2011 inquiry.

He did give evidence to the 2012 inquiry chaired by Doug Cameron which had two dissenting reports.

Media Watch pointed out that Today Tonight and The Australian “also omitted to tell us that, as Professor Chapman puts it, there are 24 high-quality reviews about wind farms and health, and overwhelmingly they have been found to be safe”. Again any thorough research would find this is not true. Many of the reviews Professor Chapman cites state there is not a lot of scientific evidence.

The National Health and Medical Research Council recently reviewed 4000 pieces of literature and found only 13 were suitable for evaluation and said none could be considered high quality. As a result it said the impact of wind turbines on health remained an open scientific question and that it would call for targeted, high quality research. A priority area is low frequency and infrasound.

But to bend the facts even further to its cause, Media Watch then selectively quoted the NHMRC to give wind turbines a clean bill of health.

The program failed to tell viewers the NHMRC position is that the quality of existing research is poor and that it will fund more high-quality research.

The show chose only to say the NHMRC had declared: “There is no consistent evidence that noise from wind turbines ... is associated with self-reported human health effects.” In fact what the NHMRC statement said was “there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans”.

It is a subtle but very important difference and the NHMRC went on to conclude: “Given the poor quality of current evidence and the concern expressed by some members of the community, there is a need for high-quality research into possible health effects of wind farms, particularly within 1500 metres.”

NHMRC chief executive Warwick Anderson, in a conference call with journalists, said: “It is important to say no consistent evidence does not necessarily mean no effect on human health.

“From a scientific perspective I see the question as still open.’’

Media Watch admitted an error with its reporting of the NHMRC statement but “stands by it’s story and the expertise on those quotes”.

The program said the Pacific Hydro Cape Bridgewater wind farm acoustic study was just that, an acoustic study.

In its presentation Media Watch failed to make available relevant and available information that would have allowed viewers to arrive at a conclusion other than one predetermined by it.

It misquoted authorities, bent facts, wheeled out pro-industry experts and hand-picked evidence in a report full of mistakes.


25 February, 2015

Newspoll: Abbott Government primary vote rises; Bill Shorten’s personal approval rating drops to new low

UPDATE: PRIME Minister Tony Abbott says he feels young and vigorous and at the height of his powers after the latest Newspoll showed support for the Coalition has risen to a four-month high, while Bill Shorten has crashed to his lowest ever personal approval rating.

Newspoll taken for The Australian shows the Coalition’s primary vote rose three points in the past fortnight to 38 per cent, while Labor’s fell three points, also sitting at 38 per cent.

On a two-party-preferred basis, Labor still leads but the Coalition has closed the gap.

Two weeks ago the Coalition trailed 43-57; today’s Newspoll show a tightening to 47-53 per cent.

Mr Abbott was asked by the Nine Network’s Today host Karl Stefanovic if it felt good to be alive this morning.

“Well, look, Karl you know what it is like to be young and vigorous and at the height of your powers, and that’s exactly how I feel,” he said.  “There are some mornings we don’t feel like that but that is certainly how I feel this morning.”

The percentage of people who were satisfied with Mr Abbott’s performance as Prime Minister rose slightly to 25 per cent, while his high dissatisfaction rating was unchanged at 68 per cent.

But Mr Shorten took a big personal hit, with the percentage of people satisfied with the way he was doing his job as Opposition Leader falling to a record low of 35 per cent, down from 42 per cent.

Those dissatisfied rose to 49 per cent.

The poll was taken over the weekend, when Mr Abbott was in the news talking about his response to terrorists.

It comes two weeks after a vote in the partyroom to spill Mr Abbott’s leadership was defeated 39-61.


Rogue cop admits unlawful assault, dangerous driving and making a false report

But prosecutors want only a slap on the wrist for him

A ROGUE police officer who slammed his patrol car into a motorist, roughed him up, falsely imprisoned him and then lied about it in official reports should only be fined, according to the OPP.

The Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today heard award-winning police officer Kieran John Atkin, 32, had a “brain snap” when he rammed his patrol car into the car of Hillside motorist Anthony Vittori in August 2013.

Former senior constable Atkin — who joined Victoria Police in 2003 — was initially charged with perjury, perverting the course of justice and assault, but today pleaded guilty to reduced charges of unlawful assault, dangerous driving and making a false report.

Atkin and his partner Brennan Roberts began following Mr Vittori when they noticed him driving an unregistered vehicle and followed him home.

Vittori accidentally backed into the patrol car outside of his home, then tried to drive in to his driveway when Atkin drove the patrol car into the right rear side of the car, spinning it around and destroying a post box.

Vittori was then roughed up and falsely arrested for conduct endangering life, spending about five hours in the police lockup.

“Atkin’s false version of events has resulted in the man’s false imprisonment for a number of hours,” said magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg.

The incident was filmed on Atkin’s own dash-cam, and the footage was seized after internal affairs investigators raided his office.

Atkin — who was awarded the Tynan Eyre Medal for highest achievement at the Police Academy, resigned from the force last November and has since been stacking supermarket shelves.

He plans to move to Byron Bay.

Mr Rozencwajg said he was “extremely surprised” the Office of Public Prosecutions was seeking only a fine and conviction given the serious nature of the offending.

Mr Rozencwajg also criticised police for taking so long to lay charges.

Atkin will be sentenced next week.


Why parents should stop helping their kids with homework

I am not sure about the "research" reported below but there do seem to be some sensible suggestions

Homework is the cause of many suburban screaming matches and thousands of grey hairs. Many parents feel like they’re going through school a second time around as they sit down with their children each night and help with their homework.

The average Australian 15-year-old spends six hours a week doing their homework, according to the OECD. And a recent Australian Childhood Foundation survey found that 71 per cent of Australian parents feel like they don’t spend enough quality time with their children, because they spend too much time running the household or helping with homework.

Now several education experts are urging parents to stop helping. They say it will give their kids more independence, give parents back their free time and help reduce the number of homework-related arguments at home.


There is extensive research proving that homework has little academic benefit, says associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Sydney and author of Reforming Homework, Richard Walker.

“There isn’t much academic benefit in homework for primary school children. There are some benefits for junior school students and around 50 per cent of senior high school students show some benefit when it comes to academic achievement. But not for primary school kids,” he said.

Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg agrees: “Homework provides absolutely no academic benefit for younger students.

“And parents are demanding it in larger and larger doses, despite the fact that it does nothing. It’s a completely different ballgame in secondary school, but not in primary school.”

But research does show that doing homework helps kids develop “self-directed learning skills” — in other words — initiative, independence and confidence.

Also, homework helps to solidify a sense of belonging and autonomy. It gives kids a sense of control over their lives.

Homework has minimal academic benefits for primary school children.

Homework has minimal academic benefits for primary school children. Source: Getty Images


Associate professor Walker says this sense of autonomy is taken away when parents get too involved in homework help.

“If parents are over controlling and interfering then that really has a negative effect,” he said.

“Some involvement is good for self-directed learning, but if they get too involved and the kid loses their autonomy then it becomes a problem. I think parents have to pull back.”

He says many parents are exerting too much of what he calls “emotional labour”.

“Parents are often tired after a long day at work and having to put in the emotional labour to assist their kids with homework can be quite a burden.”


Education expert from, Ciaran Smyth, says parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.

“You don’t have to be the ultimate expert in everything. Children need to put their hands up for help and parents also need to ask for help. There’s no reason to be stuck. Use your resources — teachers, tutors — just ask.”

Online tutoring services such as — where students can seek help from accredited teachers in a live typed chat from 3pm after school — can help take the pressure off parents.

“I’ve seen so many arguments between parents and children about homework. By removing the burden of having to be the homework help the whole time, parents can reduce the number of arguments, the tension and the bad feelings that come from having to hound your kid all the time.”

If someone else is doing the hard yards helping out with homework, that leaves parents free to do other things and spend more quality (read: argument-free) time with their children, Mr Smyth said.

Parents who get too involved in their child’s homework are doing more harm than good.

Parents who get too involved in their child’s homework are doing more harm than good. Source: Getty Images


Given the lack of evidence to support the academic benefits of homework in primary school, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says primary schools should stop giving kids traditional homework exercises and instead equip them with important life skills.

Some schools are already getting on board.

St Michael’s Grammar in Melbourne asks students to play board games such as Scrabble with an adult and photograph the board as proof.

“Or they choose and cook a recipe for dinner and photograph the results — all of which helps with literacy and important life skills,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.

“These are much more pleasant family interactions than homework. Childhood is hard enough as it is without putting the stress of homework on them.”

Dr Carr-Gregg urges parents to “rise up against the tyranny of primary school homework”

“I’m frustrated that schools aren’t responding to the research. I would be putting it on the parents to educate the schools about what is the current thinking around homework. Homework is not being set correctly at the moment. It’s very poorly coordinated.

“If the school is consistently not receptive to the idea, I would write over my kid’s homework, ‘Sleep was more important, I gave them permission to do this’. I really do want parents to act as their kids’ advocates.”


Monday's 'pension increase' a side show to the real reform needed

 Age pensioners woke on Monday morning to the news that 770,000 of them would be getting a pension increase. Scott Morrison, Minister for Social Services, was on ABC Radio National claiming "...part-pensioners will receive an average increase in their payments of $3.20 a fortnight, $83.20 a year".

While one would have thought that a modest pension increase would be welcome news to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), Executive Director Cassandra Goldie, said "It is extremely disappointing that...the government appears to be prioritising people with investment assets".

The truth is that the $200 million pension increase to begin later in March is neither middle class welfare nor part of the Abbott government's "...plan to support pensioners deal with rising costs of living...", it is nothing more than the routine operation of the pension means test.

It is not the dividends and coupon payments earned from financial assets such as shares and bonds that are means tested. Since 1996 these assets are 'deemed' to earn a rate of return and it is this 'deemed income' that is included in the income test -- regardless of the amount that was actually earned.

The advantage of deeming is that it provides pensioners with some certainty regarding their pension payments rather than leaving them exposed to short-term fluctuations in market returns. By treating all financial investments in the same way, pensioners are encouraged to choose investments on merit rather than on their implications for their pension entitlement.

Under current deeming policy, a single person's financial assets of less than $48,000 are deemed to earn 2%, while assets over this amount are deemed to earn 3.5%. For couples, the rates are the same but the threshold is $79,600.

As of March 20, both deeming rates will be lowered by 0.25%. Lower deemed income means higher pension payments for part-pensioners.

While the deeming threshold is indexed to the Consumer Price Index the rates are set at the discretion of the Minister of the day, on advice from the Department of Social Services, and "reflect rates of return available on a range of financial products".

Since the last revision of the deeming rates in November 2013, the yield on 10-year Commonwealth bonds has fallen by just under 1.5% and, despite recent growth, the All Ordinaries has been trending sideways for much of this time.

It is therefore difficult to argue that Monday's announcement was aimed at "prioritising people with investment assets" though Goldie's assertion that "Those affected are by and large better of...than those relying on the full pension" is correct -- in as far as 'better off' refers to those with greater (assessable) assets.

With the Age Pension projected to account for 12 per cent of the growth in total spending over the medium term there can be no doubt that there is need for pension reform. Unfortunately, Monday's events have shown how the least controversial aspects of pension policy are so easily politicised.


24 February, 2015

Prime Minister Tony Abbott vows to crack down on terrorism in Australia and overseas

AUSTRALIANS who attempt to join up to death cult terrorist groups abroad will be stripped of their citizenship under dramatic new laws to be brought before the Parliament within weeks.

In the first national security address by an Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott this morning warned that the risk of domestic terrorism was unprecedented in the country’s history and now posed a clear and present danger.

Announcing controversial changes to citizenship laws in light of the 110 known Australians to have joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the PM said dual nationals would be stripped of their Australian citizenship if found to be involved with terror groups.

Australian nationals would also face losing citizenship privileges including being allowed to return to Australia, access to consular services and prohibition of travel.

“Today, I am announcing that the Government will look at new measures to strengthen immigration laws, as well as new options for dealing with Australian citizens who are involved in terrorism,” the PM said in an address made at the Australian Federal Police headquarters in Canberra.

“We cannot allow bad people to use our good nature against us. “The Government will develop amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act so that we can revoke or suspend Australian citizenship in the case of dual nationals.

“It has long been the case that people who fight against Australia forfeit their citizenship.  “Australians who take up arms with terrorist groups, especially while Australian military personnel are engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, have sided against their country and should be treated accordingly.

“For Australian nationals, we are examining suspending some of the privileges of citizenship for individuals involved in terrorism.

“Those could include restricting the ability to leave or return to Australia, and access to consular services overseas, as well as access to welfare payments.”

The PM also confirmed that the extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir would be outlawed.  “Organisations and individuals blatantly spreading discord and division — such as Hizb ut-Tahrir — should not do so with impunity,” he said.

“Today, I can confirm that the Government will be taking action against hate preachers.  “This includes enforcing our strengthened terrorism advocacy laws.  It includes new programs to challenge terrorist propaganda and to provide alternative online material based on Australian values.  “And it will include stronger prohibitions on vilifying, intimidating or inciting hatred.

Releasing the findings of a review of the country’s national security architecture, Mr Abbott confirmed that ASIO was now monitoring 400 “high priority” national security cases with several thousand “leads” being investigated.

As revealed by The Daily Telegraph, Mr Abbott announced a new counterterrorism taskforce and co-ordinator to bring the various spy and policing agencies under one umbrella.

“Australia has entered a new, long-term era of heightened terrorism threat with a much more significant homegrown element,” he said.

“On all metrics, the threat to Australia is worsening. The number of foreign fighters is increasing, the number of known sympathisers and supporters of extremists is increasing, and the number of potential terrorists, including many who live in our midst, is rising as well.”

“We have seen the beheadings, the mass executions, the crucifixions and the sexual slavery in the name of religion.

“We know that these are testing times for everyone here — and for everyone sworn to protect democratic freedoms.

“We have seen our fellow Australians — people born and bred to live and let live — succumb to the lure of this death cult.

“Last September, the National Terrorist Threat level was lifted to High, which means a terrorist attack is likely.

“Critics said we were exaggerating.  “But since then, we have witnessed the frenzied attack on two police officers in Melbourne and the horror of the Martin Place siege.

Mr Abbott confirmed that at least 110 Australians have travelled overseas to join the death cult in Iraq and Syria.  “At least 20 of them, so far, are dead,” he said.

“I can’t promise that terrorist atrocities won’t ever again take place on Australian soil.  “But let me give you this assurance: “My Government will never underestimate the threat.  “We will make the difficult decisions that must be taken to keep you and your family safe.”


Let Baldwin speak: #Gamergate chalks up a victory in Australia

On US campuses, disinvitations are all the rage. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), calls to disinvite allegedly controversial speakers have increased fourfold since 2000 - a sad reflection of the intolerance of our times. Little wonder, then, that some young zealots are trying to extend their mania for censoring views they dislike beyond the realm of universities.

The most recent target of this was Adam Baldwin, the sci-fi and action star, who is due to appear at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Sydney and Perth this summer. An online petition calling on the organisers to revoke Baldwin’s invitation hit the news in Australia last month after it gained over 5,000 signatures.

The petitioners had plenty of reasons to dislike Baldwin. He is famous, not only for his acting roles, but also for his disdain for the professionally offended, a group he likes to call the ‘insects of the hour’. Most infuriating to his opponents, however, is the fact that he coined the term #Gamergate, a Twitter hashtag which has become the rallying point for one of the most effective fightbacks against cultural authoritarianism in recent memory. Gamers, united by the hashtag, have chalked up a string of anti-censorship victories over the past few months, beating back boycott attempts, reversing bans on ultra-violent games and ensuring blacklisted titles met their fundraising goals.

Now, it seems #Gamergaters can chalk up another victory. In response to the call to disinvite Baldwin, they created a counter-petition urging Supanova not to cave in to the professionally offended - and it worked. Writing on the Supanova Facebook page, event director Daniel Zachariou stated categorically that ‘excluding someone for their views, even if we don’t share them, goes completely against the spirit of the expo that we’ve presented all these years’. The post also acknowledged the importance of the rebel gamers, noting that, as well as the original petition, there was a ‘second group call[ing] just as loudly to make sure [Baldwin] remained our guest’. In a subtle swipe at the intolerance of political bigots, Zachariou added that ‘inclusiveness is at our very heart’.

Naturally, the bigots took to social media, creating the #SupaNoThankYou hashtag to voice their displeasure. But Twitter is no longer the sole property of the professionally offended, and gamers quickly took over the hashtag. It only took a few hours for the gamers to change the tone from stern outrage to nonsensical mirth-making.

It’s a shame that Supanova had to feel the pressure of a counter-petition before making its final decision. Political tolerance should always be the default option, and should not be overridden by the whims of vocal minorities. That said, the organisers should be applauded for their strong statement against political bigotry - it is an important message that will now serve as a healthy precedent.

And we must also, of course, applaud the gamers - that digital anti-censorship army that continues to impress. Who would have thought that hashtags and online petitions, the chief weapons of the new authoritarians, could be so easily co-opted?


Morrison should reconsider charities backdown

New facts have vindicated Kevin Andrews's strong position on abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC), just as his successor as minister for Social Services has backed away from that Coalition election promise. 

The ACNC boasts that it has deregistered more than 6,000 charities in its first two years of operation. But according to the Guardian Australia this week, only six charities have had their charitable status revoked for illegal activity or for failing to comply with regulations.

The rest-the vast majority-either chose to be removed from the charity register voluntarily or were deregistered because the commission could not locate them. The latter case usually means that the charity in question has ceased to exist. Charities go out of business all the time, and if a charity has no assets to dispose of, it often simply dissolves without bothering to notify the federal government of its closure.

The ACNC was an unprecedented intrusion on the part of the federal government into the realm of civil society. Never before had the not-for-profit sector been subject to its own dedicated federal regulator. You might assume, therefore, that this new regulator was created in response to some particular problem that indicated to the federal government that the sector was not sufficiently regulated before. But no such problem was ever pointed out.

As far back as 2012, Kevin Andrews asked proponents of the new charity commission to explain "the mischief that requires this new monolithic regulatory structure". My 2014 paper Independent Charities, Independent Regulators expressed the same scepticism.

The revelation that only six charities have been deregistered for bad behaviour proves that this scepticism was well warranted. If fraud and wrongdoing are such minor problems in the sector, surely we didn't a multimillion-dollar new regulator with unprecedented powers over charities' internal operations in order to police it.

Scott Morrison has announced that he has "no immediate plans" to continue his predecessor's push to replace the ACNC with a less burdensome body. He should reconsider.


Climate change will halve inflow to SA's biggest reservoir Mount Bold, Goyder Institute warns

More baseless prophecy.  The graph below shows that, if anything, rainfall has been INCREASING in recent years

The flow of water into the biggest reservoir in South Australia is expected to halve over the next century, scientists say.

The Goyder Institute has released climate change modelling for South Australia which paints a bleak picture.

The data includes modelling that Mount Bold reservoir, the state's largest water catchment just south of Adelaide, will see a big reduction in inflow.

As a changing climate brings hotter weather and less rainfall by the end of the century, the scientists say the reservoir will be dry at times.

Institute director Michele Akeroyd says the Onkaparinga catchment which feeds Mount Bold reservoir will change significantly in the next few years.

"The worst-case scenario indicates a halving of inflows into the Onkaparinga catchment over the century. That is against the high emissions scenario, and if you look at the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) data, we are actually tracking on that scenario at the moment," she said.

The SA climate change projections are the product of a five-year study. Previous reports took a statewide view, but the latest report details likely effects for various regions.

Goyder report warns:

SA average annual rainfall could decline 7.8 - 17.4 per cent by end of century.

The Goyder Institute said the changing climate would see the Goyder Line move further south.  The Goyder Line is a line drawn across maps of SA to indicate a rainfall boundary beyond which the inland is considered unsuitable for agriculture.  Rainfall north of the line is considered unreliable for cropping and only suitable for grazing.

The Goyder Institute said the modelling's best-case scenario was carbon emissions maintained at current levels. That would still reduce the inflow to Mount Bold reservoir by one-third by the end of the century.


23 February, 2015

The BOM bombs

They've got global warming assumptions built into all their models so are bound to get things wrong

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has defended the Bureau of Meteorolgy's forecasting after the rapid escalation of Tropical Cyclone Marcia caught most by surprise.

TC Marcia had been forecast to be a Category 1 or 2 as it approached the Queensland coast but quickly gained power and was a Category 5 – the most powerful classification – when it crossed the coast near Shoalwater Bay.

Ms Palaszczuk said the Bureau had been monitoring the situation and providing regular briefings as TC Marcia intensified as it made its way to the coast.

"This is something that they have never seen before as well, going from a low pressure system to a (Category) 1 all the way up to a 5," she said in Yeppoon on Saturday afternoon.  "They'd never seen this in their lifetime, so this was a rare event.  "Now, they're going to go back and look through all the research and try to work out how that happened so quickly.

"But can I just assure everyone, the Bureau of Meteorology, they did everything that they possibly could and they were getting that information out to residents as soon as that information came to hand."

Ms Palaszczuk travelled to central Queensland on Saturday afternoon to receive briefings from emergency responders and inspect the damage.

Standing outside a ruined house in Yeppoon, the Premier said she had spoken with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and requested army assistance, as the rebuilding effort was beyond local capabilities.  "What we can see is right up and down this street and around this community, is the absolute complete devastation," Ms Palaszczuk said.  "These families just want to rebuild their homes and get back in and that's what we have to do. "We need to make sure that we do that as quickly and as thoughtfully as possible."

Ms Palaszczuk said it was likely that power would be restored to the region earlier than first thought. "What we are seeing is some early signs that the power will start coming on very shortly, so that is encouraging," she said.  "But, it will be gradual, so once again people do need to be patient, because it may not be their home that comes on straight away.

"Our priority is to make sure that we've got the generators coming in to both of the communities, to make sure that they can get those essential services up and running."

Localised flooding was reported across south-east Queensland, but Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said the city was fortunate to have missed out on the forecast 120km/h winds.

Still, the Queensland capital was not completely unscathed.  "We have had very little trees and vegetation come down," Cr Quirk said.  "…We are on the tail end of these cyclonic conditions and Brisbane has coped pretty well.  "There has been some pretty high creek levels, but by and large, we have coped pretty well."


Solar experts claim multi-billion dollar subsidies wasted on cheap and dodgy panels

More Australians are buying cheap rooftop solar panels that fail long before their promised lifespan, prompting claims a federal rebate scheme needs to be overhauled to prevent dodgy systems receiving public subsidies.

Solar industry experts say lax rules covering the scheme – which provides incentives of up to $4350 for a $5500 rooftop system –  mean it is not always delivering the environmental benefits promised.  

They blame an explosion of cheap, mainly Chinese-produced solar panels that have flooded the market over the past five years that are failing to provide the 15 years of clean power expected. Installers in four states told Fairfax Media that the worst systems stopped working within 12 months, with others "falling apart" within two or three years.

Problems reported include silicon that cannot stand up to the Australian sun, water egress in panels, fires and defective inverters. The term "landfill solar" is used in the industry to describe dodgy solar systems of uncertain origin.

A recent Choice survey found, while more than 80 per cent of solar system owners were satisfied with what they had bought, 17% of owners of Chinese-made solar systems and 11 per cent of those with a German inverter had experienced problems of some kind.

Peter Britten, technical director at Brisbane-based Supply Partners, said he logged a complaint with the Clean Energy Regulator last May alerting authorities to "blatant loopholes" in the system, but he said his complaint had been brushed aside.

Jarrod Taverna, of Adelaide Electrical Solar & Security, said Chinese manufacturers like Yinglit, ET Solar and Trina were reputable producers, but much of the production that ended up in Australia was outsourced to other factories.

"The quality has gone down in the last few years. The market is more competitive and they are cutting corners to protect profitability," he said.

"Most of them you're lucky to get 10 years, but some of them are falling apart after 12 months. We're seeing a lot more faults now because Chinese-made panels are becoming more prevalent."

The rebate system, backed by both major parties and overseen by industry body the Clean Energy Council, pays the same amount regardless of the quality of the system. A rooftop system in Melbourne attracts a $3705 rebate whether it is a low-quality "tier 3" product or a European-made "tier 1" system made to last 25 years in extreme conditions of Australia.

The rebate is higher in areas with greater sunlight, reaching $4350 per unit in Sydney and Brisbane.

Australia now has more than 1.3 million households powered by solar, making it the biggest market for small-scale systems. Since 2009, $1.6 billion has been paid out to encourage take up through what are known as "small-scale technology certificates".

The certificates have to be purchased by electricity retailers, which pass the cost on to all consumers. Last year the solar scheme was responsible for about 2 per cent of household electricity bills.

Installers say the faults in the system include that the rebate is paid upfront and does not have to be paid back if a system only produces a few years' power, and that there is no limit on the number of rebates a consumer can access.

They say it has encouraged some installers to offer cheap systems of questionable quality at prices that are virtually free to the buyer once the rebate is factored in.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton played down the scale of failures and warned against blaming production faults on systems from one country.

He said the "Chinese success story" had led to prices for solar tumbling dramatically, allowing more households to invest in green energy.

"If someone is getting a subsidy there is an expectation that the benefit to the environment and society equals or outweighs that cost. There are cases of systems not running for 15 years and people have got rid of them, but from our point of view most will run for 25 years," he said.

"There are cases that come up just like in any industry, but failure rates are low."

Bill Yankos, from Bexley in Sydney's south-west, bought a solar system and encouraged seven members of his family and friends to do so. Of those, inverters in five of them had failed within 18 months.

"We were lucky that the electrician replaced them but I know some people have been left with a warranty and no one to honour it," he said.

Matt Vella, of MPV Solar in Gladesville, said: "The tier two and three guys shouldn't be allowed into the scheme unless they have runs on the board. There should be more regulation about which systems are allowed to claim the 15-year rebate."

Melbourne solar installer John Alberti, who installs top quality systems that cost his customers up to $12,000 and also works as a trouble-shooter assessing panels installed by others, said the industry had been "all but destroyed" by shoddy operators.

"You find corrosion, rust, they're flimsy," he says. ``The lamination on the back of the panel has come away and water gets in. But most of the time they're not generating the kind of wattage that was promised."

After Mr Alberti or one of his four staff conduct an investigation on failing panels, they write a report and advise the consumer to contact the panel supplier "to see if they will stand by their performance guarantee and replace the panels. But generally, because the warranty is held offshore, what are your chances? Next to none".

Mr Alberti suggests consumers ask suppliers for a flash test report on their panels  to indicate the wattage for which a penal is rated. He said consumers also needed to establish where the warranty for a product was held. ``If there warranties are held in Australia and there is a problem, you can lodge a complaint with the [consumer watchdog]... otherwise, there is nowhere to go."


Trans Pacific Partnership. What's the deal being negotiated in our name?

Unlikely to get through the current Senate without big carve-outs

When The Lancet and the Australian Medical Journal editorialise against Australia's next free trade agreement it's a fair bet they are concerned about more than just trade.

The Trans Pacific Partnership is the biggest free trade agreement hardly anyone's ever heard of. Bubbling along below the radar for half a decade, it's about to become solid. It is set to deliver much more money and power to US pharmaceutical companies, to criminalise the use of technology in ways that presently don't attract jail time and to set up outside tribunals to reconsider decisions already made by Australian courts.

Taking part is almost 40 per cent of the world's economy - the industrialised nations of Australia, Canada, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Chile, Mexico, the United States and Japan and the less developed nations of Malaysia, Peru, and Vietnam. If China joins later (as expected) it'll be nearly 50 per cent.

It has reached the point where Australia's trade minister Andrew Robb is prepared to put a date on it. "I think it could be ready next month," he says, before adding that there have been slippages before. It was meant to be signed in 2011.

"The meeting we held in December was the first time I witnessed a change from people being predominantly exercised about their own sensitivities to being prepared to find middle ground," he says. "A lot of decisions at the last two meetings were made in areas we previously hadn't been able to touch."

Increasing the pace is the imminent US election season. If there isn't an agreement within the next few months before it starts, political positioning will prevent the US sealing a deal until 2017 when the new president is in place.

Mind boggling in its complexity (the US takes 80 specialists to each negotiation, Japan 120, and Australia 22) the negotiating text is secret. Robb says even most of the negotiators don't know what's in the whole thing. Each knows about little more than the chapter they are working on and there are more than 20 chapters. The text won't be made public until after the leaders shake hands, as is typical in international trade agreements.

But what is known, from draft chapters leaked to Wikileaks and from the generally more open US political system, suggests that it's about far more than trade.


When the US negotiated its 2004 free trade agreement with Australia it pushed to eliminate "price controls", by which it meant the prices set by Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. What it got was an independent review process which had no authority to overturn decisions. Public health expert Dr Deborah Gleeson of La Trobe University says it's only been used twice. For the TPP the US wants something much stronger, the right to appeal against decisions and have them overturned. It would apply to decisions about both the prices charged for drugs and which drugs to include in the scheme (and in similar schemes in other countries).

Among Australia's most expensive medicines are so-called biologics - drugs or vaccines made from living organisms. They are used to treat conditions including breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. To get approved in Australia the manufacturer needs to submit data from clinical trials which remains confidential for 5 years, and is then available to competitors to use in seeking approval for much cheaper versions. The US wants signatories to the TPP to lift the period of exclusivity to 12 years, which is what it is in the US. It would mean up to 7 more years of very expensive biologic medicines in Australia before the prices drop. Gleeson and colleagues reckon the extension would cost Australia more than $205 million a year. Most of the money would go to US owned pharmaceutical companies.

A relatively rich country such as Australia can afford to send more money to the US for its medicines. Poorer nations such as Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam would find it harder.

Robb responds by saying the critics don't know what will be in the final agreement.

"They might know what the US position is but there are 11 other countries, right? A lot of us are waiting to see what the rest of the package looks like. We're not going to give up on something unless we get something somewhere else."

It's that flexibility, the fear that health protection measures could be traded away to get something else that worries organisations such as the Australian Medical Association.

It says the US wants "industry" to have a guaranteed right to contribute to national nutrition policy making in member countries. It would mean letting the food industry help draft anti-obesity campaigns.

If the tobacco industry had been given the right to help draft anti tobacco campaigns they would have taken place later and been less effective.


Australia is currently being sued in an international tribunal by Philip Morris Asia after the tobacco giant lost its case in the High Court against Australia's plain packaging law. It is only able to do that because of an investment treaty Australia signed with Hong Kong. Philip Morris moved its Australian business to Hong kong to take advantage of it.

So-called investor-state dispute settlement procedures are common in international treaties. The US has insisted on them in all its free trade agreements but one. Australia is the exception. The Howard government said no in 2004 arguing that Australia's legal system was good enough to resolve any disputes it would have with the US without the need for an outside one.

This time the US wants a universal system. The previous Labor government refused to have them in any of its trade agreements and believed it was on the verge of getting a carve out for Australia in the TPP because of its strong judicial system. But shortly after taking over the new trade minister, Andrew Robb said he would instead consider agreeing to them on a case by case basis, depending on what he got in return. The statement weakened Australia's ability to get a carve out.

High Court Judge Robert French has complained that the judiciary is being frozen out of the decision making process. It knows more than any other branch of government about what allowing outside appeals beyond the High Court would do to the legal system, but he says as far as he knows, he hasn't been asked.

Intellectual property

The US is demanding extreme extensions in copyright terms. Already in the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement it secured an extension from 50 years after the author's death to 70, something former productivity Commission economist Philippa Dee believes cost Australia $88 million in extra copyright payments. Now it wants to make 70 years universal in those countries that don't have it and to extend the copyright on movies and sound recording from 70 years after publication to 95 years. And it wants to turn into criminal offences breaches of copyright that presently attract only civil penalties.

Robb says none of this is known, in part because the decisions haven't yet been taken, but leaks from inside the negotiations suggest that most of the intellectual property chapter has been finalised.

What's in it for us?

An Australian National University study of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement found there was very little in it for Australia. A recent US department of agriculture study found it would deliver a zero economic benefit to Australia and a zero economic benefit to the United States. For smaller nations the economic benefits are bigger which may explain why they are eager to join and why the US is driving a hard bargain on intellectual property and the rights of its pharmaceutical industry.

Robb is more optimistic. He says we'll like the agreement when we see it. It'll have to go to parliament. Until then he says we'll have to trust him.


Sydney Siege Review Calls for Tougher Laws

Review says Sydney gunman ‘consistently misled immigration authorities’

An Australian government review into a siege at a Sydney cafe in December has recommended tougher visa rules and gun laws, while also declaring there were no notable shortcomings by authorities in the lead up to the event.

Two hostages were killed after a lone gunman took control of the Lindt Chocolate Café, just a few minutes from Sydney’s Opera House and Harbour Bridge, sparking a massive police operation that shut down large swaths of the city. A total of 18 people were held captive during the siege.

A joint review of the incident by the state and federal governments decided “measured changes to laws and government processes,” from tighter visa and citizenship rules to tougher firearms regulations and bail laws, were needed to mitigate risks to public security.

“The review found that there were no major failings of intelligence or process in the lead up to the siege,” said a joint statement by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Mike Baird, the premier of New South Wales state. Still, “we must do everything we can to prevent anything similar happening in future,” they said in the statement Sunday.

An inquest last month heard cafe manager Tori Johnson was killed moments before armed police stormed the building in Sydney’s central business district in the early hours of Dec. 16, bringing to an end the 17-hour siege. Initial evidence also indicated that another hostage, Sydney barrister and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, was killed by fragments of a police bullet or bullets when officers stormed the building, it heard.

In September, Australia’s government raised the national-terror-alert level to high, from medium. At the time, Mr. Abbott warned of potential threats against lawmakers and the Parliament building in Canberra.

Gunman Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old self-proclaimed Shiite cleric with a history of run-ins with Australian law enforcement, held hostages at gunpoint and forced them to put up an Islamic flag in the cafe window during the Sydney siege. Mr. Monis, who was also killed as police stormed the cafe, had earlier entered the cafe as a customer.

While Mr. Monis was on the radar of police and national agencies, he was never deemed a security threat, the review found.

“Mr. Monis consistently misled immigration authorities, including when he secured the initial visa he used to come to Australia,” the statement by Mr. Abbott and Mr. Baird said.

“Because it is possible this could still happen, the review recommends tightening up visa and citizenship processes and laws, including improving the risk assessment policies and information verification processes which inform revocation of visas or citizenship.”

It also recommended counterterrorism officials step up work to recognize signs of radicalization and improve identity proofing procedures.

Mr. Abbott ordered the review after it was found Mr. Monis was free on bail despite a long history of violent behavior and extremist views, and was in possession of a weapon despite stringent gun controls.

He had earlier been granted bail after being charged with accessory to murder in connection with his ex-wife’s death. He had also been found guilty by a court on charges related to offensive letters he sent to the families of deceased Australian soldiers, and had also been charged with sexual and indecent assault.

Last month’s inquest heard that, throughout the siege, Mr. Monis carried a sawn-off pump-action shotgun. The review, which found he never had permission to own a gun in Australia, consequently called for the strengthening of the National Firearms Agreement—laws that restrict legal possession of automatic and semiautomatic firearms in Australia and demand people who keep firearms be licensed.

The state government will meanwhile also look at ways to reduce the number of illegal firearms in New South Wales, it said.


22 February, 2015

School nurses in Queensland

It has just come to my attention that Annastacia Palaszczuk made a big thing during her election campaign of her intention to reinstate the school nursing service.  See a report from 29 January below. She was silent about who axed the service but all the commentary on the matter that I have been able to find implied that it was the conservative Newman government who abolished the service.  But it was nothing of the sort.  The axing was in 2011 and who was in charge then?  Anna Bligh, a Labor party premier.  She was defeated in 2012. See here for what I wrote about it at the time. 

Leftists very rarely take responsibility for their stuff-ups.  All follies are blamed on the other side and the other side's triumphs are claimed by them.  Note how the abolition of the White Australia Policy is routinely attributed to Gough Whitlam when it was in fact abolished by the Liberal Party's Harold Holt. And in the eulogies accompanying the death of Whitlam, I saw nobody admit that  Whitlam's eulogized free university policy was abolished not by the conservatives but by Bob Hawke, a Labor party Prime Minister.  And so on ... 

And here's some fun: the 2011 floods in Brisbane were clearly caused by bureaucratic mismanagement of Brisbane's  big flood-control dam -- Wivenhoe.  And that mismanagement happened under the Bligh Labor government.  The resultant huge claim for compensation has been wending its way through the courts for some time now so should come to a head under Annastacia's time in office. Where will she find the money to pay the billion-dollar bill?  It's going to be amusing.  Major backflip on asset sales predicted

Campbell Newman had been faced with the unpleasant task of defending  Labor party folly.  He is now off that hook.  The Labor party will have to face the consequences of its own mismanagement.   Background:  To save  money, the Bligh Labor government was using the dam for water storage -- thus leaving little reserve capacity for flood control.

The vacant Anna Bligh had lots of money to pay an army of bureaucrats but for water storage and flood control, not so much

State Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has blitzed eight electorates in one day, releasing one policy and promising another will be unveiled on Thursday.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, meantime, has rolled out more promises in the lead-up to Saturday's state election, pledging to spend $295 million on level crossing upgrades.

Ms Palaszczuk said a Labor government would spend $12 million on hiring specialist school nurses over four years if elected.

She said the nurses would help identify any hearing and vision problems in schoolchildren.

"These are specialist nurses so they are not just your standard nurses that you would have in the hospital, so they are specialist, they provide testing in relation to hearing and vision, also provide advice on nutrition and some stages can provide early diagnosis that then can be referred to the hospital," she said.

"This is about getting in early, this is about tackling the issue to make sure our kids get the best start in life.

"We have been listening to what the parents have had to say and they have been absolutely furious that the school nurses have been axed in this state."


Lessons from the David Hicks case

There's some things David Hicks could teach other "foolish" young men who fancy heading overseas to a conflict zone for military training.

That they could end up being cleared of a terrorism offence isn't one of them.

Indeed, if Mr Hicks trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan now, instead of in 2001, he would end up caught in a stronger web of counter-terrorism laws.

There's much to learn from the Hicks case in terms of the challenge Australia will face dozens of times in the future, Monash University professor Greg Barton says.

"We're going to have Australians coming back from the likes of Syria and Iraq and northern Africa," he says.

"And we're going to have to look at young men who like Hicks made really foolish decisions and did some wrong things, but have come to realise that they did something wrong.

"We have to look at how we rehabilitate and bring those people back into the mainstream. That will play a role in preventing others from being radicalised."

The US military points out that Mr Hicks voluntarily admitted he trained at al-Qaeda's Farouq camp and Tarnak Farm complex in Afghanistan, met Osama bin Laden and joined al-Qaeda and Taliban forces preparing to fight US and Northern Alliance forces near Kandahar in September 2001.

"I have met Osama bin Laden 20 times now, lovely brother, everything for the cause of Islam," Mr Hicks wrote to his family in May 2001.

What he did then was not a crime. It is now.

Australia has a more comprehensive legal regime to deal with the types of situations Mr Hicks found himself in, ANU professor of international law Don Rothwell says.

"If Mr Hicks was to find himself in Syria for example at the moment or Iraq and engaging in these types of activities with ISIS or ISIL, the Australian legislation is now much tougher," he said.

"We're looking at a completely changed legal scenario to that which existed in 2001."

Prof Rothwell adds that in 2001 the US was very interested in scooping up people such as David Hicks to gain as much intelligence and understanding of the Taliban and al-Qaeda as they could following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"That dimension of the threat to the US homeland that existed post-September 2001 and the need to detain all of these people in Guantanamo so they could be subject to interrogation and intelligence gathering, a lot of that scenario has now quite significantly changed over the course of the last 10 or 15 years," he said.

Prof Barton says there's a lot more clarity under current legislation about what happens if someone goes to an area controlled by a proscribed terrorist group.

"There is real doubt about what Hicks knew he was doing at the time, what he understood of al-Qaeda, what his motivation was, et cetera," he said.

"That's not to excuse him. But if somebody went back in current circumstances, much more knowing circumstances, it would be very different.

"Even technology - social media, internet connectivity - means that somebody travelling now to Syria or Iraq is not afforded that excuse, for example.  "They should be expected to be held to account for understanding their actions in a way that is quite different in Hicks' case."

It's unclear whether Mr Hicks himself recognises he did anything wrong.  He believes he was a victim of politics.  "It's just unfortunate that because of politics I was subjected to five-and-a-half years of physical and psychological torture that I will now live with always," he told reporters.

His lawyer Stephen Kenny stepped in to answer reporters' questions about what Mr Hicks was doing in Afghanistan.

Yes, he was there. Yes, he did military training there.  "He was not doing it for the Australian army or the Australian government, but it was not a crime," Mr Kenny said.

Mr Hicks later told reporters he was "having a holiday" when he was captured in Afghanistan, and his critics would "never be happy".

Mr Kenny said Mr Hicks had been declared innocent by the US Court of Military Commission Review, which vacated his 2007 guilty plea to providing material support to terrorism, and it wasn't a technicality. 

"It will be the end of people calling him a terrorist," he said.  "Frankly, he should never have been in Guantanamo Bay."

Mr Hicks' successful appeal of his conviction was predicated on a US appeals court's 2014 decision that material support for terrorism was not a legally viable charge in military commissions for conduct that occurred before 2006.

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis notes that Mr Hicks' admitted activities occurred before Australia's 2002 and subsequent counter-terrorism laws.

"The type of activities that Mr Hicks has admitted to, including training with al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, would likely now fall within the scope of Australian terrorism laws," Senator Brandis said.

Prof Barton said the treatment Mr Hicks endured while held in Guantanamo Bay and the way the legal case against him was carried out were wrong.

"It's clear that Mr Hicks was a foolish young man who got himself into trouble training in Afghanistan," he said. "He's not without fault on that front. But what he went through for five-and-a-half years can't be justified."

There is a long struggle ahead in countering violent extremism, Prof Barton warns, and that requires a more sophisticated approach than what's been employed until now.

"What is clear now is that al-Qaeda and its derivatives have been very effective in mounting a sustained uncertainty at the global scale.  "Groups like Islamic State are the latest manifestation of that and we will be battling them and battling their recruiters and their radicalisers not just on the fields of Iraq and Syria but in our suburbs."


PM Tony Abbott’s fumbles may see Premier Mike Baird drop his election

NSW Premier Mike Baird strikes a chord with the electorate but an almost irrational backlash against the federal Abbott government is destroying the harmonics.

If current trends continue through to the March 28 state election, the unthinkable could happen. The popular Baird could lose government just as his conservative colleagues in Victoria and Queensland were recently swept from office.

A senior Liberal told me that in the worst case result ­extrapolated from polling suggested the Liberals could lose up to 23 seats, putting them within one or two seats of outright defeat.

NSW Liberal Party director Tony Nutt denies the polls are that bad. He says the Liberals are still on course to win though he admits federal politics in the remaining weeks could affect the outcome.

Assuming Baird holds power but suffers significant damage, the pressure would be on Prime Minister Tony ­Abbott’s leadership. He would inevitably be challenged and he would lose. It is no exaggeration to suggest that the ensuing turmoil would have a catastrophic effect on Australia’s global standing.

Investors are already wary. In Victoria, Labor Premier Daniel Andrews has flung open the door to renewed trade union belligerence with his reversal of public order laws and Queensland’s Anastasia Palaszczuk will soon follow suit. Neither leader has a clue about finance and both have promised to follow the disastrous path followed by the two worst federal Labor governments in the nation’s history, those of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Baird is the most popular and the most successful Liberal leader in the nation but as Liberal campaigners are finding as they door-knock in electorates around NSW, voters don’t want to hear about his achievements, they want to talk about the federal government and air their views about Abbott.

Labor Opposition leader Luke Foley is almost unknown and probably hopes to remain that way until after the election. He is just another Left-wing Labor apparatchik who began his political career in student politics, followed up with an apprenticeship in the trade union movement, seven years in the NSW ALP’s head office before being given a seat on the Legislative Council.

He is hostage to Labor Left ideology and just as bereft of constructive ideas and policies as his federal counterpart Bill Shorten or his comrades in Victoria and Queensland.

That he is all but faceless is inconsequential to voters however. They aren’t interested in state personalities.

A narrow win by the Baird government might not be enough to save Abbott, and a hung parliament or a loss would seal his fate.

Ironically, these grim findings come at the end of week in which Abbott and his team went a long way to restoring their credibility despite the usual savaging from the Leftist ABC and Fairfax media.

Abbott did manage to make peace of sorts with his divisively frisky backbenchers but then he sacked long-serving former minister Philip Ruddock from the Chief Whip role late on Friday, causing more questions to be asked about his sense of political timing and judgment.

Otherwise he responded with firmness, dignity and compassion as the Indonesians proceed relentlessly toward executing the two Australian drug traffickers, he has ­attempted to highlight the grave concerns about the state of the economy as repeatedly enunciated by the head of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, and he performed with ­renewed vigour in Parliament.

But the ceaseless denigration of the Coalition by the ABC and the Fairfax media is undoubtedly having an effect.

Their coverage of the long-overdue replacement submarine contract has wholly ignored the reality that both the Rudd and Gillard governments failed to act in a timely manner to ensure that a new generation of submarines would be ready to be phased in as Labor’s hugely ­expensive and largely inoperable Collins-class submarines reached their use-by-date.

Reflecting the adolescent attitudes of their Twitter-­addicted editors and commentators, neither the ABC nor Fairfax has taken the national interest into account.

Abbott owes it to Baird (as he does the nation) to perform at his very best.

South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria are mendicant states. Queensland will soon join them, Western Australia is marginal, but NSW is performing best of all.

The nation simply cannot afford another Labor state.


Water flows to Riverland properties as restrictions expire

The end of irrigation moratoriums throughout the Murray-Darling Basin has the potential to boost economic development in regions that have struggled since the drought, according to Regional Development Australia.

Nearly 300 growers in the Murray-Darling Basin took Small Block Irrigator Exit Grants at the height of the drought in 2009.  They were paid $150,000 to walk away from their crops and were banned from irrigating the land for five years.  As growers moved away, they left a patchwork of unsightly properties many of which became havens for pests and weeds.

In Barmera, 200 kilometres north east of Adelaide, landowner Steve Asimopolous is pumping water again onto his six-hectare block for the first time since he took an exit grant five and half years ago.

The former wine grape grower does not regret taking the Federal Government's grant, but he believes his barren block is wasted without irrigation.

"There was a lot of stress, you had bank managers ringing you up, you had payments and all of that, the drought placed a bit of stress on me at the time," he said.

"I don't want to go back to what I was doing, I don't want to have any permanent plantings.  "My aim is to plant lucerne and an acre or two of tomatoes maybe a bit of garlic to rotate the soil."  Mr Asimopolous will lease water and has no plans to own a permanent entitlement again.

Not all landowners want to return to the land, and many will sell their properties to neighbours with larger operations, according to Regional Development Australia's Nicolle Jachmann.

Ms Jachmann said as blocks are returned to productive use, the region should see an uptick in economic activity.  "The land and fertile soils we have in the Riverland are obviously a scare resource, and there is currently a lot of it we have out of production at the moment.

"The fact that these properties will be able to be used for irrigated horticulture or agriculture opens up a big opportunity for the region to expand its production."

Growers who do want to return are being encouraged to not to go back to growing wine grapes or citrus, and instead look to some of the more niche industries that have emerged since the drought.

Workshops run by the Berri-Barmera Local Action Planning committee have been pushing this message.  "Diversification has been the real the key of these workshops and we're looking a number of industries that these people might be looking at," said project manager Leighton Pearce.  "Things like capers growing in the region, date palms and some aquaponics and hydroponics as well.

"We don't want to see growers exit the industry in the future so we're trying to arm them with the most relevant information on climate and crops so they make the right decisions."


21 February, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says Labor Party shadow treasurer Chris Bowen is a boofhead

20 February, 2015

Australia susceptible to cyber terrorist attacks

Australia remains susceptible to the threat of cyber terrorist attacks, according to the head of the country's first ever Cyber Security Centre.

Australia's inaugural cyber security coordinator, Stephen Day, revealed that as terrorist organizations become more tech-savvy, the risk of a cyber attack on the country becomes more likely, reported Xinhua.

Although Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called for a review of Australia's cyber security strategy, a move that Day described as "sensible", he did suggest that more still needs to be done to make citizens aware of the risks of online crime.

"We are in an arm-wrestle between those who are trying to defend and those who are trying to get around us and at the moment, because there is a general lack of awareness, those who would do us harm are at an advantage," he told News Ltd. "But we are going to catch them."

The last significant cyber terrorist attack occurred in August 2013, when the web sites of media companies such as the New York Times, the Huffington Post and Twitter were allegedly hacked by a Syrian group known as the "Syrian Electronic Army".

During that specific attack, users who clicked onto those respective web sites were redirected to a server controlled by the Syrian group.

According to Day, the Australian government is at risk of similar attacks if it does not improve its online security.

"Some terrorist groups are very well resourced and it is an absolute possibility that they could create significant troubles for national security or economic prosperity," he said.

"We have been working for some years now on improving the defences of the government, but there is a lot of work to be done, there is no doubt about that."

Day also revealed that Australia is at a specific risk of foreign espionage, particularly from industries, rather than international governments.

"There is a troubling increase in nation states stealing intellectual property from not only government, but also from industry," Day said.

"I don't know if all countries are doing it, but an increasing number of nation states are playing in this space.

"The risk has always been there, espionage has been around for a long time ... but the level of activity going into the stealing of intellectual property from big corporations is at a greater level than we have seen before."


Bureaucrat gets a roasting over Hep A in berries

Today show host Karl Stefanovic has accused the head of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) of trying to dodge responsibility for the hepatitis A outbreak linked to imported frozen berries.

In a tense interview on Thursday morning, Stefanovic told FSANZ chief Steve McCutcheon he had 'seriously dropped the ball' for failing to strengthen food safety checks in Australia after similar outbreaks overseas of hepatitis A overseas.

The Today host asked Mr McCutcheon 'Do you feel responsible?' over the scandal, which has so far seen 13 cases of hepatitis A in Australia linked to berries imported from China, with more expected to be confirmed in coming weeks.

'Well the system as a whole is responsible for ensuring the safety is there, so everyone within that system - be it government, be it industry - has a role to play in delivering safe food to Australian consumers,' Mr McCutcheon replied.

'As I said, we've got a very good system in this country.'

Stefanovic retorted: 'Well, according to you it might be a good system.'

He then asked what changes had been made to improve screening of frozen berries since the hepatitis A scare was revealed and product recalls had been issued for Nanna's and Creative Gourmet berries.

'Often people say testing should be increased. I think it's widely understood that in the case of testing for viruses in food it's a very difficult thing to do.'

Stefanovic interrupted him and accused Mr McCutcheon of dodging the question.

'Here's the thing though, and you're well-versed in answering these kinds of questions and layering it and also fobbing off some of the responsibility,' Stefanovic said.

'Despite outbreaks of hepatitis A across the world as a result of contaminated frozen berries you didn't consider them high risk at any point.'

Mr McCutcheon said: 'Well, berries themselves are not what we would consider a high-risk food… but there are a range of things that contribute to safety and clearly some products such as meat and cheese...'

The Food Standards boss was again interrupted by Stefanovic.

'But you're not answering the question Steve, you're not answering the question,' he said.

'There were outbreaks overseas. Steve, I'm sorry to keep interrupting you but there were hepatitis A outbreaks overseas and you still didn't consider them high risk.

'And now we have literally dozens of people with hepatitis A in this country.'

Mr McCutcheon said FSANZ had looked at similar outbreaks in North America and found that there was no need to impose new safety measures in Australia.

Later in the interview Stefanovic said: 'It happened again and it's happened in Australia now.

'Despite it happening in North America you were confident that the systems were all checked and fixed and yet it happened again, you have seriously dropped the ball.

'How can you even sit here this morning on our show and guarantee that the supply of these things is going to be fixed now when you know it hasn't been fixed, when this is just a repeat of what happened in North America? You can't guarantee it.'

At the end of the tense interview, Stefanovic apologised for repeatedly cutting Mr McCutcheon off.

It has emerged that thousands of children are being monitored for hepatitis A symptoms after the now-recalled berries were served at schools and childcare centres around Australia.

Students at 34 Victorian schools, nine South Australian primary schools and child care centres and three Queensland schools may have consumed the diseased berries, The Australian reported.

Berry eaters face up to seven more weeks of uncertainty to see if they have hepatitis A.

Australia's chief medical officer Chris Baggoley estimates one in 100 people who ate the contaminated, imported frozen berries will contract the disease.

But the extent to which they're affected could vary from showing no symptoms to being ill for several weeks.

The average incubation period for hepatitis A is four weeks but it could take as long as seven weeks to show up.

'If someone has consumed the berries and they are well, seven weeks after that consumption they'll certainly be fine,' Professor Baggoley told reporters in Canberra.

By Wednesday afternoon, 13 people in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia had the virus after eating the Nanna's and Creative Gourmet brands of imported frozen mixed berries.

Parent company Patties Foods has recalled four products.

WA health authorities expect to see more hepatitis A infections after the state's first case was confirmed on Wednesday.

Three Wests Tigers NRL players are reportedly having tests after eating the fruit.

WA communicable disease control director Paul Armstrong said there was no need for people who ate the berries and remained well to be tested.

Professor Baggoley said a definitive link between all the cases should be confirmed via special blood tests later this week.


Too expensive, not enough supply and too much regulation: Why you CAN'T buy Australian-grown frozen berries... and it's not about to change

Consumers wanting to make the switch to Australian grown and packed frozen berries in the wake of a Hepatitis A contamination scandal will struggle to find any on the market.

On Wednesday, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce urged shoppers to buy Australian produce following the recall of Chinese-grown frozen berries linked to at least 13 cases of the disease across Australia.

But Australian frozen berry suppliers say they can't get local farmers to supply berries for freezing because they can't compete with overseas importers on price.

Avrom Gamaroff, director of frozen berry supplier Harvestime Australia, said he is forced to import berries from places such as the U.S., Canada and Europe.

'We would love to buy locally, if there were guys in Australia who had commercial quantities of berries we would love to support them,' Mr Gamaroff said.  'But farmers are not prepared to make the investment because they cannot compete.

'We've had to go offshore as much as we would prefer not to, and we've gone to Canada or the U.S. where they've got comparable, if not better, regulatory services.'

Mr Gamaroff said the Harvestime 1kg Mixed Berry pack, which contains berries from Europe and sells for $7.90, would have to be sold at almost double the price if the berries were sourced in Australia.

He said the company could afford to bring the price down to $5.50-$6 if they used berries from China.

Mr Gamaroff said he had seen 'isolated lots' for Australian-grown frozen berries on the market.  'But I have not seen a continuous supply of Australian-grown frozen berries,' he said.

'It all goes back to the fact the farmers don't want to freeze their product because it becomes a commodity and then they have to go up against global supply.'

Australian Blueberry Growers Association president Greg McCulloch, who owns a farm south of Hobart, said Australian-grown berries were mainly used to supply the fresh fruit market.

'Basically we don't have to compete with imports in the frozen berry product because we actually don't produce enough to fill the market,' Mr McCulloch said.  'But even if we did we could never ever match the prices they bring the stuff in for.'

In the wake of the Hepatitis A scandal, Mr McCulloch criticised the Australian government for reacting to the problem too late.

'It happened last year – an outbreak in Scandinavia, same product, frozen berries - no one did anything about it as usual,' he said.

'We can't do anything to upset China – it's OK if we don't upset them but poison our own people.  'That's the attitude.'

Mr McCulloch added that local farmers had to deal with a number of regulatory issues across local and state governments, as well as strict industry compliance measures.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the government is considering toughening up import screening procedures following the food contamination scare.

Companies also have to lift their game, Mr Abbott says, after numerous people who had eaten imported frozen berries tested positive to hepatitis A.  'The bottom line is that companies shouldn't be poisoning their customers,' the prime minister told ABC radio on Wednesday.  'Businesses have an obligation to their customers.'

However Mr Abbott was cool on calls for changes to labelling following the recall of the Chinese-grown berries.

More red-tape and regulation of the private sector could lead to soaring food costs, he said. 'We want safe products but we want safe products at a fair price. Some price is worth paying, but it's got to be a careful balancing act.'

Mr Abbott said he had to respect consumers' 'financial health as well as other aspects of their health'.

Farmers have called for an overhaul of labelling to help people identify Australian grown and packaged food.

On Wednesday morning, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the safest food was 'domestic food'.  'That is why you pay a premium for Australian product. It is clean, green and healthy,' he said.

On Tuesday, Victorian company Patties Foods extended its national recall to include Nanna's Raspberries 1kg packs.  Raspberries appear to be a potential common link in the imported fruit contamination that has left 10 Australians diagnosed with Hepatitis A.

Mr Joyce said health ministers were considering an import review.  'All the health ministers are now basically getting together and if they want to review it, and move the level of screening up ... we are only too happy to test,' he said.

He also backed stricter screening and labelling for imported food, saying labels were needed 'that clearly identifies unambiguously, as soon as you pick up a package, whether it is from our country with our strong ... sanitary requirements'.

'That is making sure that faecal contamination, which is a very polite word for poo, is not anywhere near your food, not going to be put in your mouth,' he added.

Other products on the nationwide recall list are Nanna's Frozen Mixed Berries 1kg packs, and 300g and 500g packs of Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries.


Abbott government senators prepared to cross floor for free speech

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is facing a rebellion in the Senate, with up to half a dozen of his own senators indicating they could cross the floor in favour of changing race hate laws.

In a sign of Mr Abbott's diminishing authority, West Australian senator Chris Back and Queensland Liberal National Party senator Ian Macdonald have told Fairfax Media they will vote in favour of a bill designed to water down the Racial Discrimination Act.

South Australian senator Sean Edwards has given a strong indication he could join them, arguing the act in its current form suppresses free speech.

Mr Abbott pledged before the 2013 election to repeal section 18C of the act after conservative commentator Andrew Bolt was found to have breached the act for his articles about "fair-skinned" Aboriginal people. But the Prime Minister abandoned his pledge last year after a fierce backlash from religious leaders and many Liberal MPs.

This week, Parliament's bipartisan human rights committee found changes to the act would not contravene Australia's international obligations.

Family First senator Bob Day has now proposed removing the words "insult" and "offend" from the act, meaning it would no longer be a prosecutable offence to insult or offend someone based on their race.

Liberal senators Cory Bernardi and Dean Smith have previously pledged their support and have co-sponsored Senator Day's bill. It is also being co-sponsored by Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm.

Supporters for the change renewed their push in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, in defiance of Mr Abbott's decision.

Liberal senator Linda Reynolds has called for a review of the government's approach to section 18C, saying current laws have overreached.

Senator Reynolds said the Paris attack and the Lindt cafe siege in Sydney had confirmed the threat the West faces from extremists trying to undermine democratic values, including free speech.

"I do not believe in Australia we are Charlie," Senator Reynolds said, a reference to the #JeSuisCharlie campaign that went viral in support of free speech.

"Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is a key contributor to this.

"I believe the Australian community must rediscover a way to accept hearing things we do not personally believe in. I don't believe insulting or offending someone should give rise to legal liability and it is my personal view that these laws have overreached and require amendment."

But the West Australian cautioned against rushing any change and called on the government to review its position on Senator Day's bill.

Fairfax Media has contacted every government backbencher in the Senate to sound out their view. Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie will consider her position once a vote is imminent. Senators John Williams and Zed Seselja did not have a position. Senators James McGrath, Bill Heffernan, David Johnston and Matt Canavan did not return calls, while Arthur Sinodinos will vote along government lines.

There is a strong possibility more government backbenchers will cross the floor to support Senator Day's bill.

Frontbenchers are unlikely to cross the floor because they would have to give up their positions. Deputy Whip Anne Ruston said she accepted the Prime Minister's decision to abandon repealing section 18C but believed it could be revisited "when national security is not at such a heightened state".

Labor opposes any changes to the Racial Discrimination Act or section 18C, which was introduced by the Keating government in 1995. The opposition's position means Senator Day's bill will almost certainly fail and make any government senators' support purely symbolic.

Changing the act is regarded as a totemic issue for conservative Liberals. The matter is expected to be raised in upcoming Liberal preselections for Senate seats in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.

 A spokesman for Attorney-General George Brandis said the government would not revive plans to amend the act.

"As the Prime Minister has indicated, changes to section 18C are off the table," the spokesman said.


19 February, 2015

Murder in Denmark shows what happens when you create an immigrant underclass

In an address to the Australian Christian Lobby on October 25 last year, Labor's leader, Bill Shorten, advocated a dramatic increase in Australia's intake of refugees from the Middle East:

"As a generous, prosperous nation – made great in part by migration – Labor believes Australia can play a greater role in the international effort to provide refuge to the persecuted. Nearly two million Iraqis have fled their homes in the face of the ISIL advance – and millions more have been displaced by the conflict in Syria ...

"In government, Labor increased Australia's refugee intake under the Humanitarian Program to 20,000 places a year. Upon coming to office, the Coalition reduced that to 13,750 …"

Actually, the federal government is committed to increasing the humanitarian intake to 21,000 over four years.

Shorten continued: "Given the scope and scale of the current crisis gripping the region, Labor believes that, as a starting point, those seeking refuge from the current crisis in Iraq and Syria should be taken in addition to the existing allocation – and we hope that the government arrives at that view."

The words "those seeking refuge from the current crisis should be taken in addition to the existing allocation" quite clearly do not mean 20,000. It means much more. This is far broader policy than Labor's National Platform, which states: "Labor aspires to progressively increase Australia's humanitarian intake to 20,000 places per year."

Shorten's proposal is basically the same open-ended policy as that of the Greens. He opened the door to a radically large intervention in the enormous social upheaval in the Middle East, which has deep and bloody roots in sectarianism and tribalism, with no end in sight.

The morality of Shorten's rhetoric is glorious. The practicality is not. There is a super-abundance of evidence that a large-scale humanitarian intake creates a corresponding increase in social problems. The most recent evidence comes from socially conscious, socially inclusive and socially wealthy Denmark.

The Danes have methodically built an underclass, a polyglot immigrant, welfare-dependent, high-unemployment, crime-afflicted subculture. This subculture has become a petri dish for incubating social alienation expressed as radical Islam.

As a result of large-scale and poorly defined immigration and refugee intakes, in a country of 5.6 million people 4 per cent of Denmark's population is now Muslim and the Muslim population is significantly over-represented in crime and welfare dependence.

Denmark's policy-makers will never admit they created an underclass through naive, complacent, ideological utopianism. They can't even admit that Muslim terrorism has been incubated in Denmark, let alone admit that it is a byproduct of government stupidity.

This week Copenhagen is paying the price. It is reeling not just from the murders carried out by a Danish citizen, Omar Abdel Hamid al-Hussein, whose Palestinian family arrived in Denmark as refugees, but at the homage to al-Hussein by a group who have embraced radical Islam as an expression of their alienation from the Christian/secular mainstream.

"Allahu akbar" was the now familiar chant of defiance that came from dozens of men who attended al-Hussein's funeral in Copenhagen on Tuesday.

It echoed the menace of the violent cartoons controversy that rocked Denmark in 2005.

More than a 100 young Danish Muslims have left Denmark to take up the cause of Islamic jihad. The pattern has repeated itself across Western Europe, where thousands of Muslims have chosen to join the cause of Islamic State, now dominated by foreign fighters.

In Australia, the last federal government that decided to act as a safety valve for turmoil in the Middle East was Malcolm Fraser's Coalition government, which allowed a poorly monitored refugee stream from Lebanon in the 1970s. As a result, Australia imported, in addition to a stream of constructive arrivals, a self-marginalising, self-perpetuating Muslim underclass that still exists after 40 years.

Something radically more sinister has been incubating within the Muslim community in Australia. Its worst manifestation has been a spate of public murders, or planned public executions, by Muslims who came to this country as asylum seekers. There have been four such attacks, or planned attacks, in just seven months – in Parramatta, Melbourne, the Sydney CBD and southwest Sydney.

It is concerning that three times as many Muslims in Australia have been identified by the government as actively supporting jihad than are enlisted in the Australian Defence Force – more than 300 jihadists compared with only 100 Muslims in the ADF.

All this is why the majority of Australians do not believe that those who destroy their documents and seek to bypass immigration checks should ever be allowed to stay in the country. Rigorous checks have never been more important.

While I admire the generosity of spirit of those who advocate an open-hearted approach to asylum seekers, I rarely see the moral seriousness, the reciprocal acknowledgment, from refugee advocates that policies without limits, as advocated by the Greens, the churches, and in Bill Shorten's October 25 speech, will have serious financial costs and serious social problems attached.


Australian jihadi Khaled Sharrouf beheads a victim while his mate Mohamed Elomar watches on

Two of Australia’s most wanted jihadis are suspected of starring in a sickening new Islamic State beheading video.  In the execution clip, Sydney man Khaled Sharrouf - heavily bearded, dressed in khaki and holding a knife - appears to stand behind a man in black who IS claims is a ‘spy’.  Watching on is a gang of men, one of whom appears to be Sharrouf’s friend and fellow terrorist Mohamed Elomar.

The man who looks like Elomar holds a large rifle as he stands to the left of the man who resembles Sharrouf in the death cult's propaganda video, titled Harvest of the Apostates.

The clip, in which the man on his knees is labelled an ‘infiltrator’, is being investigated by authorities, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Sharrouf and Elomar both fled Australia to join the Islamic State insurgents fighting in Syria and Iraq in 2013 and in July 2014 the Australian Federal Police issued arrest warrants for the disturbed pair.

Sharrouf flew out of Sydney in December 2013 using his brother’s passport and was soon followed by his convert wife Tara Nettleton who brought their five children to the Middle East with her.

The men gained notoriety as part of the more than 100 Australians who have joined Islamic State after they posted disturbing photos of themselves holding up decapitated heads of Syrian soldiers last year.

Sharrouf even got his seven-year-old son to hold up the severed head of a soldier in the Syrian city of Raqqa, accompanied with the caption 'that's my boy', in an image that shocked the world.

A man with Syrian relatives who was contact by Elomar told the paper: ‘He was saying things like “you should repent” and that by joining (ISIS) “you could make up for bad deeds”. He even offered to pay for me to travel over there.’

In January this year, four Iraqi women came forward to accuse Sharrouf and Elomar of kidnapping and enslaving them for two months.  The women, who belong to the religious Yazidi minority, told ABC's 7.30 they were taken from Iraq to Syria by force, and were among thousands of others who were targeted because of their beliefs.

When Islamic State stormed northern Iraq in 2014, they targeted the Yazidis, an ancient Kurdish religious group which IS believes to be infidels. Since 2014, reports of the kidnapping, rape, and forced marriage of Yazidi women has been widely circulated, but the testimonies have been almost impossible to corroborate.

The four Yazidi women, who asked for their names to be changed out of fear of reprisals, identified their captors from mug shots presented to them by an ABC journalist.

The women kidnapped by Sharrouf and Elomar are believed to have been held on the second floor of a building on Newbridge Road, on the outskirts of Raqqa, in Syria.

One of the women, Layla, who claims to have been taken captive said that Sharrouf, who was jailed in Australia for his involvement in a terror plot, threatened to sell the women if they cried.

'He threatened to sell us if we did. He said, 'Why are you sad? Forget about your home and family. This is your home and we are your family now,' she told 7.30. 'Forget about your gods, for good, because we have killed them all,' she said.

Sharrouf told the women that he had been beaten while in jail in Australia, and that when he got angry, he could kill someone because he had 'no mercy in [his] heart'.

Another of the women, Ghazala, said that Sharrouf's five children, who are believed to be with him and his wife, participated in their terrifying ordeal.  'His children were treating us badly,' Ghazala said.  'They had knives and cell phones saying that they will take videos while cutting off our heads because we follow a different religion.'

Ten out of the thirteen members of Ghazala's family are still missing, along with tens of thousands of other Yazidi men, women and children.

Another woman claimed that Elomar would take girls for the night, beat them and sell them on.

'At night he was taking a girl downstairs, and when the girl returned she’d tell us, ‘he told me you have to marry me or else I will sell you, and if you say anything to my wife I will sell you or kill you’,' said one of the women.


Back to basics! Student teachers will have to pass literacy and maths tests before they are allowed to graduate

All student teachers will have to pass a reading, writing and maths test before they can graduate.

The new rule will come into force across Australia in 2016 as part of an overhaul of teacher training.

The government has pledged 'swift and decisive action' to improve the education of teachers, as it releases a report on Friday about how to do just that.

The review, led by Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven, found some courses were not up to scratch and said the standard across the board had to be lifted.

In response, the government will beef up regulator Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.

All universities offering teaching courses face tougher accreditation to make sure standards are high and kept that way.

As part of that new accreditation process, universities will have to prove they have strong partnerships with schools.

This should ensure student teachers get to spend more time in real classrooms instead of university lecture halls and make sure what they are learning matches the skills they will need in the real world.

Professor Craven said having close partnerships between universities and schools was 'the single most important action to be pursued'.

The review found there were many concerns about how 'classroom-ready' beginner teachers were under the current system.

And there isn't enough professional support for new teachers, which can lead to them leaving the job altogether.

The review recommended every new teacher be paired with a highly skilled mentor.

It also said universities must take personal attributes into account when recruiting people into teaching courses, and that trainees should get classroom time early in their study so they can decide if teaching is really for them.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the review set high expectations for everyone involved in initial teacher education including universities.

'It also makes a clear case that providers be held accountable for the quality of the teaching graduates they produce,' he said.

Mr Pyne hopes the majority of the review's five key proposals and 38 recommendations will be implemented within two years.


ABC review finds 7.30 interview was ‘potential breach’ of bias guidelines

IT WAS a fiery exchange that won the interviewer a nomination for journalism’s highest honour.

But now a review into the ABC’s Federal Budget coverage has raised the question of whether an interview on current affairs program 7.30 went too far and breached the national broadcaster’s bias guidelines.

An internally commissioned review by former Australian Financial Review editor Colleen Ryan has found that host Sarah Ferguson failed to pay Joe Hockey due respect during an interview on Budget night last year.

The tough interrogation won Ferguson a Walkley nomination, but Ryan took exception to Ferguson’s first question to Mr Hockey: “It’s a Budget with a new tax, with levies, with co-payments: Is it liberating to for a politician to decide that election promises don’t matter?”

Is this proof the ABC is biased?

Ryan said the question was unnecessarily “emotive” and that Mr Hockey was “rattled” for the rest of the interview and performed poorly.

“I also believe that the average viewer would consider that the Treasurer was not treated with sufficient respect by the interviewer,” Ryan said.

“I felt that the tone of the questioning in this particular interview could have been interpreted by some viewers to be a potential breach of the ABC’s impartiality guidelines … It was the tone of the question … that resulted in the Treasurer appearing to be under attack.

“Personally, I thought Sarah Ferguson’s opening question was a great television moment — but there was an element of disrespect during the interview that could potentially impinge on the question of impartiality.”

Former 7.30 host Kerry O’Brien has also leapt to Ferguson’s defence, dismissing Ryan’s criticisms as “opinion”.

“Ferguson’s job was to keep Hockey honest and cut through to the core issue at the outset,” O’Brien wrote on Crikey.

“In this case, it was clearly the government’s credibility at the most fundamental level, and the subsequent public backlash over many months … shows that Ferguson’s questions were absolutely spot on.”

ABC News director Kate Torney rejected the idea that Ferguson was “aggressive” or biased.  “As a political interviewer, Ms Ferguson is tough but demonstrates a consistently civil and objective approach,” she said.

“She is insistent that those she interviews do not evade important questions and often focuses on contradictions either within policy positions or in the responses of interviewees. The fact that this may make interviewees ‘uncomfortable’ does not necessarily mean that the interviewer is either aggressive or is failing to demonstrate due impartiality.”

Ryan’s review was designed to test the quality, thoroughness and impartiality of the overall Budget coverage on the ABC’s main channel.  While Ryan took issue with a few segments, she concluded that the “overall quality of the Budget coverage was excellent”.

She said a diversity of views were presented, and that parties were not misrepresented or unduly favoured.

“I found no hint in any of the coverage that either stated or implied that any perspective was the editorial opinion of the ABC,” Ryan said.


18 February, 2015

Tony Abbott trying to save Australia, nation trying to destroy him

FOR crying out loud, can we give this bloke a break? As an Australian, I am sickened by how over the past two weeks the media, the Liberal Party and any number of “commentators” have piled in on top of the Prime Minister like a bunch of drunken schoolies on a wild rampage through Surfers Paradise.

You can imagine the scene. A dude in red speedos moves into a new apartment on the Gold Coast, only to find that the mob of vandals who were in charge of the joint before him have completely trashed it.

A bloke called Kevin deliberately smashed the apartment block’s security system so that anybody could wander into the apartment from wherever they felt like whenever they wanted.

His bogan mate Wayno who liked to sit around all day playing Bruce Springsteen records then ran up billions of dollars in debt – and even though he kept promising to pay it all back, by the time they got chucked out of the block there was a backlog of bills crammed under the doorway that add up to around a hundred million dollars a day.

So Tony and Joe have now moved in and are determined to try to clean up the mess.

What happens? Rather than helping fix it up, the same mob who were responsible for the destruction stand around jeering from the sidelines, refusing to help.

Then a blustering buffoon called Clive wanders past and although he could easily help, he does the complete opposite – stands in the way to stop anything getting done.

Finally, a crowd of journos gathers round. They laugh, they snigger, they boo at every effort Tony and Joe make to try to sort it all out.

Then the mob move in for the kill, sticking the boot in one after the other, loving every minute of it, determined to make sure that whatever happens Tony and his mate will fail.

OK, it’s not a perfect analogy, but it gets the point across. Certainly Tony Abbott as Prime Minister has made some real clangers, not least of which was the oddball (but totally harmless) decision on Prince Philip’s knighthood. There have been some awkward backflips, too – although again, essentially harmless – on cuts to the ABC and so on.

And yes, there will need to be measures to increase government revenue as well as cut spending. But the bottom line remains inescapable: Government expenditure must be reduced dramatically in order to remain affordable into the future, and the three main areas are welfare, education and health. If we continue spending the same vast sums on those three areas that we have become accustomed to, and keep promising ourselves more and more of, we are robbing the next generation of the standard of living that we
now enjoy.

In fact, all of us today are actually Time Bandits – every single day we are reaching into the future and stealing the lifestyle, jobs, businesses, health, education and opportunities that should belong to our kids and grandkids. And we are actively sabotaging the only bloke in town who is not only trying to come to grips with it, but even admits there is a problem.

Australians pride themselves on giving each other a fair go but there is nothing “fair” in the current media treatment of the Prime Minister.

One respected commentator last week based his widely read column predicting the imminent demise of Abbott on – wait for it – two other columnists in the same newspaper predicting the end of Abbott based on – wait for it – gossip and backroom tattle from a couple of anonymous sources. Hello? Sniffing blood in the water, “experts” from all sides are desperate to predict the end of Abbott in what may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Much of the backbench “revolt” was fuelled by individuals panicking not at actual decisions, but at the fact that so-called conservatives were now actively joining in with the ABC/Fairfax lynch mob.

Abbott and Hockey’s survival now depends on two things – both of which appear mutually incompatible.

A sound budget strategy and an uplift in the opinion polls. Almost certainly, as things stand in the current Australian mindset, success in either one of them will only come at the expense of the other.

A responsible, intelligent, carefully constructed reduction in excessive expenditure (yes, that means cuts) in the current frenzied climate will be howled down as “unfair”, “excessive” etc etc.

And the polls will plummet; and with them the best hope we have of avoiding heading down the euro-route to ever higher youth unemployment will disappear for many years (By which time the problem will be a whole lot worse).

The sad irony is that it’s not just Tony Abbott we are desperately trying to consign to oblivion. It is ourselves


Abbott streets ahead on good policy

By Terry McCrann, financial commentator

TONY Abbott has been a very good Prime Minister, leading a competent and indeed effective Government, where it really counts — delivering good policy and good outcomes in the best interests of Australia overall and of individual Australians.

He has been an ordinary and indeed arguably very poor PM in areas where it doesn’t really count, either for the nation or for individuals — the peripheral policy areas and in the winning of popularity contests.

Now obviously, the second of those really does count for the PM, any PM, personally. If you don’t win the key “popularity contest”, the next election, you will cease to be PM. The same goes, as some other recent examples have demonstrated, also for less-exalted premiers.

And as we’ve seen with both Abbott and his two predecessors, you can no longer get away with dismissing “lost” popularity contests — those awful opinion polls and in particular our stablemate The Australian’s Newspoll — with the claim that the only opinion poll that matters is the one on (hopefully, distant) election day.

No, in our hyperventilating 24/7 accelerated social-media world, all the other polls matter very much and brutally for even an incumbent PM who had won a very recent “big one”.

As our old friend Will could better have written for the 21st century: uneasy lies the unpopular head that wears a crown.

It is important to keep stating, because the ABC and the Fairfax media won’t, that PM Abbott, his ministers and his Government, have delivered — fully delivered — on two of the three big and critically important policies taken to the voters at the last election.

They were the promise to abolish Julia Gillard’s carbon tax; thank you PM and environment minister Greg Hunt. And the promise to stop Gillard’s and Kevin Rudd’s boats; thank you Scott Morrison.

There are two very important points to be made about those successes.

The first and obvious one is of a PM and a government delivering on election promises; and not just any old election promises, but absolutely core promises.

Secondly, perhaps less obviously, but far more importantly, they were promises of good policy. The boats went to absolutely core issues of our national sovereignty.

The carbon tax was the single most destructive policy ever visited on our economy.

It is mind-boggling that not just a government, but a supposedly competent Treasury were both so completely unable to understand this.

The PM, Treasurer Joe Hockey and the Government have failed on the third big promise — fixing the Budget.

Hockey was predictably verballed by the Fairfax press last week; he did not tell the party room that we might never get back to surplus, but rather that would be the outcome if steps were not taken to cut the deficit.

That’s the first of a number of important points to be made about this promise. Critically, that government hasn’t “chosen” to not deliver it. It tried to bring the Budget back to surplus — in the process, arguably breaking other, much lesser election promises, but was prevented from delivering by the Senate.

Let me try to explain the difference between a “deliberately broken promise” and an “imposed broken promise” to the logic-challenged journalists at the ABC and Fairfax, by way of Gillard’s infamous “there will be no carbon tax….”

She specifically legislated for the tax. She deliberately broke her promise.

Imagine if instead the three Independents back then in the Lower House had joined with the Coalition Opposition to legislate a carbon tax against the explicit oppositionof the then Gillard government trying to keep its no-tax promise, and this was passed by a Coalition-Green majority in the Senate. That would have been an “imposed broken promise” on Gillard.

The “fixing the Budget” promise was always the least important of the three. It was also debatable in a way the other two weren’t.

How quickly do you seek to cut the deficits? Where do you cut? Revenue or spending? And which revenue and which spending? Do you break specific no-cut promises to deliver on the bigger, overriding promise?

As they say, no other lesser promises had to be or were broken in delivering on the boats and the carbon tax promises; that was never going to be possible with the Budget to fix. On a broader policy level, arguably aggressive fiscal action should have been postponed anyway until the economy was stronger.

Beyond the big three, the Government has been extraordinarily effective across a whole range of policy fronts; in terms of delivering substantive and good outcomes both for the nation and for individual Australians.

Abbott and his trade minister, Andrew Robb, sealed big trade agreements with our three biggest trade partners — China, Japan and South Korea.

It was seriously impressive to see Chinese President Xi Jinping standing patiently in our Parliament House for some hours through signing ceremony after signing ceremony.

Abbott and indeed Hockey had a triumphant G20 (as these things go), despite the sneaky — and failed — attempt by President Obama to impose a “climate agenda” for narrow domestic US party political purposes.

The failures of Abbott, his ministers and his Government, such as they have been, have been broken — more accurately, attempted broken — peripheral promises and gaffes; some real but mostly imagined or created by Fairfax and the ABC, and including such absolutely incidental matters like Prince Philip’s knighthood.

The furore over Abbott’s holocaust reference best captures all this: the deliberately dishonest frenzy that erupted which was at core just plain stupid and showed such a stunning lack of self-awareness on the part of Fairfax and ABC journalists and political opponents.

Abbott did NOT compare job losses to THE Holocaust as Fairfax falsely claimed. Green Senator Scott Ludlum seethed over Abbott’s use of the word which he, Ludlum, had used himself in a very similar context!

Bottom line: by any objective — that is to say non-Fairfax, non-ABC — assessment, this Abbott Government has delivered on its biggest promises. It has also provided effective and competent government.

It and the PM in particular have lost the popularity contest and the “support” of the Fairfax press and the ABC and their leading commentators (sic).

The first is of little real import to ordinary Australians — remember, Kevin Rudd was as great a winner of such popularity contests as he was delivering devastatingly bad governance.

The second is a badge of honour.


Human Rights Commission inquiry’s bias fails detainees

The disgusting old Leftist herself

GILLIAN Triggs says it’s “distressing” that Australia has some children of boat people in detention.  But what should really distress her is that she has just betrayed them.

The best she could now do for them is resign as president of the taxpayer-funded Australian Human Rights Commission and hand over to someone not so obviously an activist.

Thanks to Triggs, the commission’s report she hoped would force the Federal Government to instantly release all children has become impossible to trust.  Any good in it has been destroyed by justified suspicions that it is politically motivated, unfair, inaccurate and one-eyed.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week said Triggs’ commission “should be ashamed of itself”, and no wonder.

The commission last held an inquiry into children in detention in 2004, when — surprise — the Howard government was successfully stopping the boats.  But there was no inquiry when Labor’s Rudd and Gillard governments ruled. There was no inquiry when Labor then destroyed our border defences, lured more than 50,000 boat people and filled detention centres to bursting.

A record 2000 children were in detention under Labor, and scores more drowned. But no inquiry.

True, Triggs says she had “serious concerns” about the children by August of 2012, the year Labor made her the commission’s president.

Indeed, by February 2013 she’d decided to hold her inquiry, yet she waited another year before announcing it. To be specific, she waited until the Abbott Government was voted in.

Triggs said she’d waited because it would have been “very dangerous politically” to have held her inquiry during the 2013 election campaign.

But you can imagine why Abbott suspected from the start Triggs was playing politics.  After all, she didn’t call her inquiry until he’d actually stopped the boats, stopped the drownings and started to empty the detention centres Labor had filled.

Indeed, there are today fewer than 200 detained children, compared to Labor’s 2000.

But only now does the Government realise how much of a setup this inquiry really was.  A real inquiry does not operate like a kangaroo court, deciding its preferred conclusions before it hears a word of evidence.

But the commission in 2013 had a draft plan that assumed “Australia’s immigration system fails to comply with Australia’s obligations”, and which discussed producing a report that by “focusing on children allows the best opportunity to engage the general public” and force “legal changes to the system of mandatory and indefin­ite detention”.

A real inquiry does not have the chairman make false and emotive statements during her inquiry, particularly ones that suggest bias.

But Triggs claimed she’d discovered “almost all the children at Christmas Island were coughing, were sick” and “not being treated”.

In fact, her report last week cited official medical records stating children in detention actually had “a lower rate of respiratory illness ... compared to those in the Australian community” and all “are up to date with their checks and vaccinations”.

A real inquiry does not have its chairman tell the accused they are guilty before they’ve defended themselves.

But when Immigration Minister Scott Morrison fronted Triggs’ inquiry last year, she protested: “How can you justify detaining children in these conditions for more than a year when there is no evidence that this is the policy that is stopping the boats?”

A real inquiry does not have its chairman then verbal the witness to make it seem he agrees with her.

But Triggs’ report last week claims Morrison “agreed on oath ... that holding children in detention does not deter either asylum seekers or people smugglers”.

In fact, Morrison had said the “policy of offshore processing combined with all the others I have mentioned has produced the results collectively” of stopping the boats, and without them “the children get back on the boats, they die again”.

Of course, the commission has been up to this kind of stuff for years.  In 1997 it produced its infamous Bringing Them Home report into the “stolen generations” — the 100,000 children, it claimed, who had been stolen from their parents only because they were Aboriginal.

In fact, no one has been able to identify even 10 such children, and the top “stolen generations” ideologue, Professor Robert Manne, admitted the report “greatly exaggerated the numbers of children involved’’ and its victims’ anecdotes were “unreliable’’.

Enough. We don’t pay the commission $25 million a year to trick us and tell tall tales, even in a supposedly good cause. That eventually shatters trust.

And while Triggs is in charge, the commission will be regarded by many Australians with the deepest scepticism.


Climate of cherry-picking

I pointed out yesterday a fatal flaw in the latest Warmist nonsense from Australia but Garth Paltridge (below) has found some glaring faults too.  He is  a former CSIRO chief research scientist and director of the Antarctic ­ Co-operative Research Centre

THE Australian Academy of Science has released a new document, The Science of Climate Change, aimed at the man and woman in the street. It was prepared on behalf of the academy by leading lights of the global warming establishment. Some day the academy may come to regret the arrangement.

The problem is that, after several decades of refining their story, the international gurus of climate change have become very good at having their cake and eating it too. On the one hand they pay enough lip service to the uncertainties of global warming to justify continued funding for their research. On the other, they peddle a belief — this with religious zeal, and a sort of subconscious blindness to overstatement and the cherry-picking of data — that the science is settled and the world is well on its way to climatic disaster. The academy document fits neatly into the pattern. It is a sophisticated production that tells only one side of the story.

For instance, it does not say, or illustrate with a diagram, that all the mainstream climate models have overestimated the general upward trend of global temperature for the past 30 or more years by a factor (on average) of at least two. Nothing is said about the distinct possibility that the models include feedback processes that amplify far too much the effect of increased atmospheric carbon ­dioxide.

Instead, the document talks about an apparent pause in global warming since 2001. It attributes the pause to some temporary fluctuation in the internal behaviour of the ocean. It does not mention that for many years climate scientists have deliberately played down the contribution of natural oceanic fluctuations to the rise or fall of global temperature. The possibility of naturally induced rises seriously weakens the overall story of human influence.

The document makes much of the belief that climate models can correctly replicate 20th-century global warming only if they include human influences. It fails to make the point that this says very little for the skill of the models or the modellers.

Recent research on the Roman and ­medieval warm periods indicates that both had temperatures and temperature changes very similar to those of the present. Both periods came and went without the benefit of significant human ­emissions of carbon dioxide. The document mentions that ­long-term regional rainfall predictions are uncertain. It doesn’t say that they are probably nonsense. The various model forecasts of the average Australian rainfall for the end of the century range from a doubling to a halving of the ­present 450mm a year. It smacks of cherry-picking to display a map of the output from one particular model that indicates a future ­reduction in rainfall for most of Australia of the order of 20 per cent.

There has been a goodly amount of arbitrary selection (of data, statistical technique and display) in an illustration of the distribution of the change in observed rainfall over Australia in the past 100 years. The southeast and southwest of the continent are shown as a sea of red, suggesting there has been a frightening decrease across the period. No mention is made that a more traditional presentation of the data gives an entirely different picture.

In the southwest, the recent annual average rainfall has simply returned to something close to its value for the 15 or so years before about 1905. In most of the southeast, there has been no statistically significant change at any time.

And so on it goes. Basically the academy has fallen into the trap of being no more than a conduit for a massive international political campaign seeking to persuade a sceptical public of the need for drastic action on climate change. There are more than enough org­anisations already doing that.

Perhaps instead the academy could be persuaded to spend its considerable intellectual capital on problems relevant to the ­general conduct of research — ­problems that the climate issue has brought well into the open. Among them are a peer-review system that is arguably corrupted by groupthink; a deliberate banishment of contrary opinion to the internet; and a publish-or-perish syndrome that is ­completely out of hand.

Maybe the academy could use the resource of its overall fellowship to identify those situations where scientists have too much skin in a political game. US President Dwight Eisenhower foresaw that problem many years ago in his retirement speech to the nation: “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded. Yet … we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could ­itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”


17 February, 2015

You couldn't make this up

The Australian Academy of Science has just issued an updated "explanation" of global warming.  They note that "Most available material ... usually omits some of the basics, such as how scientists know humans are causing global warming and what future projections are based on".  So in their latest "explanation", what did they do to remedy that deficiency?   Below is their full "explanation" of how human activities enhance the ‘greenhouse effect’:
"Today, human activities are directly increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, plus some chemically manufactured greenhouse gases such as halocarbons. These human-generated gases enhance the natural greenhouse effect and further warm the surface. In addition to the direct effect, the warming that results from increased concentrations of long-lived greenhouse gases can be amplified by other processes. Human activities are also increasing aerosols in the atmosphere, which reflect some incoming sunlight. This human-induced change offsets some of the warming from greenhouse gases"

In short, they have done NOTHING to fill the gap they identified.  Their screed is all just assertion and in any case completely ignores the key question of climate sensitivity -- i.e. even if we accept everything they say above about the greenhouse effect, how do we know HOW BIG the effect will be?  Most skeptics do believe that there is some human effect but can see neither theoretical nor empirical grounds for expecting it to be anything but trivial.  It is the Warmists who shriek about it not being trivial but what is their evidence for that?  There is none.  It is all just poorly founded speculation

If that's the best that the scientific establishment can do to explain Warmist beliefs, then the explanation is an utter failure. One wonders if they really believe in Warmism themselves.

Australia's leading science body has reissued its climate change booklet in a bid to improve public understanding of the contentious subject.

The Australian Academy of Science was prompted to update the information based on new research and public questions since its original release in 2010.

Most available material is either too technical for the lay reader and usually omits some of the basics, such as how scientists know humans are causing global warming and what future projections are based on, said Steven Sherwood, a climate scientist at the University of NSW.

"There is so much misinformation or confusing information out there, that we thought it would be nice to gather in one place an accessible explanation," Professor Sherwood said.

About 97 per cent of scientists who study the climate accept that humans are having an impact, with carbon dioxide – mostly emitted from humans burning fossil fuels – the primary driver.

"Even though carbon dioxide is not the only influence on climate, over the long term it will have such a large effect, it has to be brought under control no matter what else we do," Professor Sherwood said.

The academy report notes global carbon dioxide emissions rose at an average annual rate of 3.2 per cent between 2000 and 2012, at the top end of previous projections. These emissions, though, will have to start falling at a pace between 5.5 and 8 per cent for the planet to have a 50-50 chance of keeping temperature increases to within 2 degrees of pre-industrial levels.

World leaders will gather in Paris in December to thrash out a global climate treaty aimed at reducing carbon emissions beyond 2020. Countries, including Australia, are expected to announce their targets by the end of next month.

The heads of Britain's three main political parties agreed at the weekend to phase out all coal-fired power plants unless their emissions can be captured.

The academy report notes average surface warming had slowed since 2001 despite rising carbon emissions but said decadal variability in how oceans and the atmosphere exchange heat meant extra warmth had been absorbed by the seas. Other changes such as the increasing incidence of heat extremes, shrinking Arctic sea ice – its thickness dropping 30 per cent in 30 years – and rising sea levels had all continued unabated.

It is well known that the greenhouse effect is important for sustaining life on Earth – temperatures would be 33 degrees cooler without it. Perhaps less well known is the role rising temperatures have on concentrations of water vapour, a key greenhouse gas.

"When global average atmospheric temperatures rise, global water vapour concentrations increase, amplifying the initial warming through an enhanced greenhouse effect," the report says. "[T]his feedback approximately doubles the sensitivity of climate to human activities."

"For Australia, a warmer future will likely mean that extreme precipitation is more intense and more frequent, interspersed with longer dry spells," the report says.

By the end of the century, a high temperature event that would now occur only once in every 20 years would be occurring annually or once every two years on our current emissions trajectory, the academy says.

While societies and nations will face varying challenges to cope with climate change, many natural ecosystems are likely to face extinction.

Native animals that depend on cooler mountain habitats, for instance, will be particularly vulnerable. Scientists examining the fate of 50 species in the Wet Tropics bioregion in north Queensland found they would be all but wiped out with a 5-degree temperature increase.


Aspiring teachers abandoning HSC maths

One in six aspiring teachers did not do any maths for the HSC, with new research showing the proportion of students starting teaching degrees in NSW without maths beyond year 10 has tripled in the past decade.

The serious decline in maths participation means an increasing number of primary and high school teachers in NSW are in the classroom with only the most basic level of maths.

Researcher Rachel Wilson, a senior education academic at the University of Sydney, warned that the findings had serious ramifications for school students as well as industry and the national economy.

"Not only are we seeing declines in math and science participation among high school students in general, we are seeing a steeper decline among those students going on to study to be teachers," Dr Wilson said.

The research found between 2001 and 2013, the proportion of students who received university offers to study teaching but did not do HSC maths tripled, and those studying 2 unit maths dropped from 30.6 per cent  to 14.2 per cent. The only rise was in elementary-level general maths.

The study also found that the proportion of all students going on to do the HSC without any maths tripled between 2001 and 2013, while there was a small increase in general maths but a decline in 2 unit maths.

Dr Wilson said the big concern was the increasing number of students applying to study teaching who had dropped maths before the HSC.

"Together, these analyses raise serious concerns for maths and numeracy standards and for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and industry," Dr Wilson said.

"In particular, the declining participation rates among prospective teachers are deeply concerning, with the potential to create a vicious cycle of declining engagement with maths in NSW schools."

Dr Wilson said the last external assessment for maths in NSW was year 9 NAPLAN.

"There is a message going to students that maths is not important."

The research comes as federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne released on Friday the long-awaited review into teacher training, which found that too many teaching degrees were not equipping new teachers with the skills to teach students maths and science.

Dr Wilson, who co-authored the report with Honorary Associate Professor John Mack for the International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, said Australia lagged behind much of the developed world.

She said the redesigned HSC introduced in 2001 removed the long-standing requirement for students in NSW to study at least one maths or science subject.

Dr Wilson said this was at odds with the rest of world, where 45 of the US's 50 states required maths to be studied to the end of secondary school, and   Japan, Korea and China had similar requirements.

"The removal of this requirement and the increase in alternative subject choices over the 10-year period must be seen as contributing factors in the declining rates of math and science study," Dr Wilson's paper said.

A spokesman for NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said the state had the highest standards in Australia, with school leavers entering teaching degrees with the HSC required to have three band five results.

"From 2016, before they graduate, education students wanting to work in NSW schools will have to pass a literacy and numeracy test to demonstrate that their numeracy skills are strong enough to teach mathematics," he said.


Melbourne beats Sydney in American students' Google searches for overseas universities

Melbourne ranks fifth in the world for United States students searching for destinations to study abroad, two places higher than Sydney, data from search giant Google shows.

Sydney is often thought of by Australians as our most internationally visible city, but the search data tells a different story.

For US students planning to study overseas, the most searched-for destination is London, followed by Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh.

Melbourne is next on the list at No 5, two places above Sydney, and ahead of Hong Kong, Seoul, Glasgow and Amsterdam.       

Google has also collected data on US students' searches for specific universities, and again Melbourne does well, with the University of Melbourne ranked 13th in the world, one place behind the University of Sydney.

At 33, the University of Melbourne is Australia's top-ranked institution according to the Times World University Rankings, ahead of the Australian National University (45) and the University of Sydney (60).

"We're pleased to be recognised in these rankings, and it reaffirms Melbourne as great destination for university", a University of Melbourne spokesman said.

"It's a testament to the hard work of many staff across the uni, as well as collaboration with various state and national bodies.

"Lots of factors contribute to how Google perceives the university, and we certainly try to optimise for those that we can."

Interestingly, despite its reputation for dullness within Australia, Canberra does very well in the search rankings.

The Australian National University is the most searched-for of Australia's universities, and Canberra itself ranks 10th in the list of searched-for cities.


Bright flight

Most affluent Australian parents send their kids to private schools -- at least for their High School years.  So ....

When I became a father at a frighteningly young age it was a mixture of ideology and lack of money that had me choosing the state system for my daughter. It didn't even occur to me that the state high school where I lived, in Sydney's prestigious eastern suburbs, could be bad.

It was worse than bad. "Bright Flight" had left only the poorest, roughest kids in the area. Girls in micro-minis and with texta drawings all over their thighs smoked cigarettes with slouching, morbid looking boys at bus stops around the neighbourhood.

At a school performance where parents were invited, screaming children ran down the aisles, prompting neither disapproval nor intervention by the seated teachers. At parent-teacher nights, teachers gave glowing descriptions of my kid's performances despite obvious flaws in essay techniques, in general knowledge and grammar.

Eventually, I sent her to a Catholic girl's school. Ten grand a year… ouch!… and I had to pretend I believed in The Almighty, but at least there was a modicum of discipline.

Later in life, when I was better equipped to afford a good school, I put my two little boys into the French system. I figured, I could spend a million bucks putting them through the elite private system and they might make a contact that could get them into the banking system or at least a few stock tips that might set them up for life. Or, I could choose a system that values philosophy, language, history and civil values and all bound in the most secular of educational frameworks.

Hours, days, months, spent on verb conjugation, on learning the poems of Hugo and Rimbaud by rote (and performed in front of their classmates), of complex forays into European history. And they come out of it able to speak, read and write at a high level in two languages.

I figure, I spend the money, I want something concrete. What a party trick...say something in French, kid!

"Bright Flight" is real. The state system, in whichever state you live, is too slack, too willing to let bad behaviour slide. A great student will be a great student anywhere. But an average kid, someone prone to slipping into bad behaviour, what most of us have, will at least have a shot at a decent future if he gets schooled privately.

It shouldn't be this way.


16 February, 2015

Tony Abbott signals crackdown on borders amid terror threat

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has condemned a “brutal” shooting in Denmark as an affront to free speech, and flagged further efforts aimed at securing Australia’s borders amid growing concerns about the threat of terrorism attacks on home soil.

Twin attacks shook Copenhagen over the weekend. One man killed when a cafe hosting an event where a cartoonist who had caricatured the Prophet Mohammed was speaking was sprayed with bullets, and another fatally shot in the head just hours later at the city’s main synagogue. Three police officers were hurt in the cafe shooting, and another two wounded in the second attack.

Danish police have confirmed a man was later killed after he opened fire on police at a train station in the northern part of the city amid a massive man-hunt.

The shootings come in the wake of the attacks in Paris in January at the offices of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, as well as a Jewish supermarket elsewhere in the French capital.

Mr Abbott, in a statement issued today, said the thoughts of all Australians were with the Danish people. “As with the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in Paris, the Copenhagen attack is an affront to one of our most fundamental values — freedom of speech,” Mr Abbott said.

“We stand with the people and government of Denmark in confronting this cynical attempt to undermine that fundamental right.”

Earlier, the prime minister signalled security at Australia’s borders would be ramped up.

Mr Abbott, who will deliver a national security statement on Monday week, said the rise of Daesh, or Islamic State, had seen new threats emerge, “where any extremist can grab a knife, a flag, a camera phone and a victim and carry out a terror attack”.

Authorities on Friday confirmed police and a prayer hall were among targets uncovered by investigations into two alleged terrorists arrested in western Sydney last week.

A number of items were allegedly seized from the home of Omar Al-Kutobi, 24, and Mohammad Kiad, 25, including a machete, hunting knife and homemade Islamic State flag, as well as a video which allegedly shows one of the men vowing to launch an attack in the name of IS.

Al-Kutobi, from Iraq, is believed to have arrived in Australia in 2009 using another person’s passport, and was given a protection visa before being granted citizenship in 2013.

“It’s clear to me, that for too long, we have given those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt,” Mr Abbott said in a statement broadcast today via his official YouTube channel.

“There’s been the benefit of the doubt at our borders, the benefit of the doubt for residency, the benefit of the doubt for citizenship and the benefit of the doubt at Centrelink. And in the courts, there has been bail, when clearly there should have been jail.”

Mr Abbott also hit out at the Grand Mufti of Australia for speaking against a possible ban on the controversial Muslim organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, saying comments attributed to Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed were “wrong-headed” and “unhelpful”.

Dr Ibrahim, the spiritual leader of Muslims in Australia, last week said it would be a “political mistake” to ban the group. The government is seeking advice from security agencies on options for taking action against Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in other countries including Britain.


Industry Group calls for national strategy to address crippling STEM skill shortages

“A lack of critical Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills among the current and emerging workforce is holding back Australian employers in their quest to be more innovative, productive and competitive;” Australian Industry Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.

The negative implications for our economy were highlighted in an Ai Group report released today - Progressing STEM Skills in Australia – which included survey results from more than 300 businesses across the economy.  The survey found that businesses are having difficulty recruiting employees with STEM skills including technicians and trade workers (44 per cent), professionals (21 per cent) and managers (19 per cent).

"This report demonstrates the significant challenges facing Australia's educators and employers to adequately skill the workforce required to build a competitive economy for the future,” Mr Willox said

"Over 36 per cent of the employers surveyed reported their greatest barrier to recruitment of staff with STEM skills to be a lack of qualifications relevant to their business.  Other key barriers included a lack of workplace experience and employability skills (34 per cent) and a lack of applicants with STEM skills (29 per cent).

"STEM skills are essential for the future economic and social well-being of the nation and employment in this area grew about 1.5 times the rate of other jobs in recent years.  Despite this, enrolments and the number of graduates with STEM qualifications continue to decline and secondary school enrolments in mathematics and science are also decreasing. Accordingly the pipeline of STEM skills to the workforce remains perilous.

"There is an urgent need to develop a national STEM skills strategy to lift the level of STEM qualified employees in the workforce to enable the Australian economy to be more competitive and prosperous” Mr Willox said.

Key findings:

*                STEM skills are increasingly important for the workforce and the competitiveness of the Australian economy.

*                Australia is underperforming internationally compared to STEM strong countries.

*                Participation by school students in STEM related subjects is decreasing and our performance in international comparisons is below many other countries.

*                Participation by university students in STEM related disciplines is not keeping pace with the needs of the economy and is low compared to other similar economies.

*                Employers continue to experience difficulties recruiting STEM qualified staff, especially as technicians and trade workers.

*                Australia lacks a national STEM skills strategy and is the only country in the OECD without a science or technology strategy.

*                Australian Government financial assistance to STEM is thinly dispersed, non-systemic and does not contribute to a national approach.

*                School – industry STEM initiatives are characterised by un-coordinated and non-systemic activity.

*                University – industry collaboration, including in STEM fields, is low by international comparisons.

*                There is a need to develop more engaging school curriculum and pedagogy to attract students to STEM and a need to increase the STEM qualified teaching workforce.


Doctors slam NSW Labor's plan for nurse-run clinics

Australia's peak medical body has slammed the NSW opposition's key health policy to establish four nurse-led walk-in treatment centres as a "waste of money".

The Australian Medical Association said the proposed $40 million clinics, modelled on nurse-led clinics introduced in the ACT in 2010, were not supported by evidence and would fragment patient care in the public health system.

"The proposal shows a lack of understanding of the operation of the NSW public hospital system and goes against established evidence of promoting good quality care," AMA (NSW) president Saxon Smith said.

"There is actually evidence suggesting nurse-led clinics can make the quality of healthcare worse."

Lauching the policy on Sunday, Opposition Leader Luke Foley said the proposed clinics would be a "new frontier in NSW health" and would "take pressure off emergency departments".

He dismissed the AMA's criticism as doctors "protecting their patch" and said he was "not interested in turf wars over work practices".

"Go to any emergency department and the hard-working nurses will tell you the people who work there are stressed," Mr Foley said.

Under the proposal, 45 nurses would be employed across the four clinics and would treat minor injuries and illnesses. Two clinics would be opened in western Sydney, one on the NSW Central Coast and one in the Illawarra region, Mr Foley said.

But Dr Smith said the policy was based on a flawed understanding of pressures on NSW hospital's emergency wards, which had had a decline in the least urgent "triage 5" cases over the past few years.

"Our emergency departments are under significant pressure but this pressure is coming from sicker patients. So obviously our push and pull factors are different from the ACT."

Dr Smith also said a 2013 independent evaluation of the nurse-led clinics showed they either increased attendance in hospital emergency departments or had no impact.

But former ACT chief minister Katy Gallagher, who appeared beside Mr Foley at the launch, said a decision to relocate the clinics in the community, rather than within hospital grounds, had addressed this issue.

NSW Premier Mike Baird backed the AMA's attack on the policy.

"They said [Labor's plan is] a complete waste of money, trials have been done and it doesn't work and I think it shows the depth of policy analysis being done by the opposition. The other thing they haven't told us is where the money is coming from," he said.


Fair Work Commission fritters away taxpayers’ funds

LET’S face it, government departments and agencies waste money left, right and centre.

If public servants aren’t sipping espressos made from newly purchased up-market machines, they are attending workshops on positive thinking and resilience. I’m not convinced that years of efficienc­y dividends have really made much difference.

When it comes to squandering taxpayer money, the Fair Work Commission is right at the top of the league ladder.

It has embarked on an expensive and dubious research program, even though there is not a single person employed at the FWC who can credibly judge a piece of research. That also applies to the vast majority of commission members, from the president down.

What is even more concerning is the probity and procedural fairness of the FWC commissioning and funding its own internal research. This never occurred under the previous leaders of the FWC and its antecedent bodies. In part, the legislation was not accommodative, but in any case there was never any funding.

When the FWC commissions its own research and it is presented in a case, does this research rank above other research that may be presented by other parties? What happened to the arrangement that parties to a case could commission their own expert­ witnesses to undertake research­ and these expert witnesses would be subject to cross-examination?

But if this is not bad enough, the quality of the research that the FWC undertakes in-house or commissions is laughable. You only have to read through the completely predictable and undergraduate-quality overview of economic conditions contained in the national minimum wage decis­ions to see what I mean.

But it gets even worse when the FWC wanders off the reservation by asking research questions that it should know cannot be answered­ using available reliable empirical evidence.

Take the study on the impact of changes on the national minimum wage and award rates of pay on employment and hours worked.

We know from employer surveys that about 16 per cent to 18 per cent of workers are paid the award rate only. But because there is no matched sample of employees attache­d to that survey, we can only infer the characteristics of award-paid workers.

We know, for instance, that they are disproportionately employe­d in accommodation and food services, administration and support services and retail trade. We also know that award-paid workers are almost unknown in the public sector.

So when calling for tenders, the FWC should have known that the question being posed was essen­­tially unanswerable. But dangle money in front of the research community and researchers will do their best to grapple with the question as set out.

Because of a need for a comparator group, some researchers thought to look at the highly reput­able longitudinal Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey undertaken by the Melbourne Institu­te at the University of Melbourne.

The trouble is that the key question — how are you paid? — is the most inaccurately answered question in the entire survey.

More than 30 per cent of public-sector workers claim to be paid the award rate only, even though we know that nearly 100 per cent are paid according to agreements. To proceed any further using HILDA data is just plain ridiculous.

But the FWC research project that really takes the cake is the Australian Workplace Relations Study, an expensive, survey-based project that is trying to emulate a large-scale survey undertaken within the federal bureaucracy 20 years ago — the Australian Workplace and Industrial Relations Survey.

The key idea is to assemble a matched data set of employers and employees.

Questions are then asked about employment and workforce management practices, wages and wage-setting, employee engagement practices, use of individual flexibility arrangements and the like. Employers are asked to provide information about their businesses, including ownership, age and financial performance.

But here’s the thing: the response­ rates of the survey are so low that there should be no analysis of the results undertaken becaus­e of the complete lack of reliability of the data.

Indeed, it was very clear as the survey progressed that real trouble was brewing. Not surprisingly, many employers simply refused to fill in the hard-copy booklets and, in desperation on the part of the FWC, employers were offered a shrunk-down online version instead­. This would take only five minutes to fill out.

Even so, the overall response rate was less than 18 per cent. Indeed, of the more than 17,000 employers contacted, only 1500 filled out all four employer questionnaires. This is a response rate of less than 9 per cent. Joke as a descriptor does not even come close.

(My guess is that quite a lot of employers were none too impressed about filling out a survey from the FWC, an organisation that keeps them waiting on the phone for hours and then suggests they access the non-binding inform­ation on its appallingly designed website.)

And the employee response rate was even lower than employers’. It is not possible to determine from the information provided the matched response rate of employers and employees at the same workplace. Less than 10 per cent would be a reasonable guess.

Any sensible researcher would call it quits at this stage. An expensive survey has been attempted but, for various reasons, the response rate is totally inadequate, giving rise to unrepresentative and biased responses.

But because no one in the FWC really understands the first thing about research, it has gone to the next stage of undertaking some preliminary analysis of the survey results. This surely must be some sort of prank, although it was not released on April 1.

But wait, there’s even more. There is going to be a conference based on the survey — readers, please stop that guffawing — with draft papers required by April 10.

You will also be pleased to know that there is to be a pre-conference data workshop on June 24 and the full AWRS conference during the following two days.

Surely there is someone sensible in the FWC — the president, the general manager? — who will pull the plug on these expensive events now that the survey has failed so dismally.

I also pose the question to the employer groups that are represented on the FWC research committee: what do you think you are doing, apart from providing a convenient veil of respectability to this nonsense?

So here’s a tip for Joe Hockey: the FWC is clearly significantly overfunded. So when you are hunting around for budget savings­, think mega-efficiency dividend extracted from the FWC.

For probity and procedural reasons, there is a case for including in the Fair Work Act a specific prohibition of research being undertaken or funded by the FWC.

In the meantime, Employment Minister Eric Abetz needs to get on with the task of making some sensible appointments to the FWC and these appointees can then politely suggest that the internal researc­h folly be dumped.


15 February, 2015

Palaszczuk sworn in as Qld premier

GOVERNOR Paul de Jersey swore in the Labor leader and her interim cabinet at Government House on Saturday morning. Jackie Trad has been sworn in as deputy premier and Curtis Pitt as Treasurer.

It was a closed door ceremony as the Labor government was handed power while a media pack watched through windows.

Ms Palaszczuk has also taken on the portfolios of education, training, employment, justice and the attorney-general.

Health, state development, infrastructure, transport, environment portfolios will be held by Ms Trad.

Mr Pitt will hold the trade, police and emergency services, resources, housing and public works and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander portfolios.

The trio will take control of those ministries until Labor caucus convenes to vote on other ministers.

The new premier rushed from the swearing-in to the funeral of former Labor minister Anita Cunningham, but said the ceremony was good.  "Very good thank you, I have to now attend to funeral in Bundaberg, so thank you everyone, thank you very much," she said.

Ms Trad said the swearing-in of the Labor government was a tremendous honour and the culmination of three years of hard work.  She said the Palaszczuk government's number one priority would be boosting jobs and getting major projects going.

"(The premier) will be absolutely driving jobs growth in this state because Queenslanders need jobs, working Queensland families need that income so that they can live decent lives," Ms Trad said. "I know that Annastacia's passionate about it, we all are."


Palaszczuk letter spells out Labor’s none-too-palatable policy plans for the state

Unions once again to rule the roost

I BELIEVE I have cracked the secret code. The Labor Party’s missing policy agenda for Queensland is revealed – in some gory detail – in a letter that has been under our noses for more than a week.  It’s signed by Annastacia Palaszczuk and provides a window into the socialist thinking that will dominate the Labor Government.

The letter points to profound changes in everything from health, transport and local government, to planning and education.

It also outlines Labor’s blinkered approach to accountability and integrity. And it shows plans to welcome back unions by inviting them to dominate the public service.

I’m afraid it means the speedy surgeries promised by the outgoing LNP government will almost certainly end. In a bid to appease unions, Labor will stop the outsourcing of surgeries to private hospitals.

Contestability will also be banned across government, so expect public service numbers to soar to take up the slack. If that happens, the state wages bill will skyrocket.

As outsourcing comes to a close, it is inevitable that union power will be strengthened in the public service, especially in the massive health, transport and works departments.

Meanwhile, Labor’s pledge for an investigation into political donations will not include an examination of funding from the party’s most generous benefactors – the unions.

It would be laughable to have an official inquiry into donations without including the unions, which bankrolled Labor candidates, as well as providing cars, signs and manpower. The unions clearly have a vested interest and must be included in any inquiry.

Next we see solicitors and barristers will be invited to help frame new gang laws. That’s fine, in theory. However, I’m told some of those involved still represent the criminals the existing laws were designed to catch.  A potential conflict-of-interest minefield awaits the unwary. Some new members who are lawyers will be scurrying to the integrity commissioner for advice.

Labor’s total ban on asset sales will give Palaszczuk a most perplexing problem. The State Government will not be able to sell the defunct Executive Building, or any other obsolete or redundant assets.

The letter, from Palaszczuk to Nicklin independent Peter Wellington, is Labor’s lifeline to power and is historic. It also contains errors.  In the opening paragraph, Palaszczuk writes, lawyer to lawyer, to Wellington: “I also wish to highlight that Labor, which has won the majority of seats in the 55th parliament …”

Wrong.  Labor, of course, does not have a majority. It’s a major gaffe in such an important agreement. And if Labor did have a majority, it certainly wouldn’t pander to the likes of Wellington.

“Labor’s opposition to asset sales remains resolute,” Palaszczuk writes. She included government-owned corporations. Even Labor folk are wondering what will happen to the superfluous staff and assets when Energex, Ergon Energy and Powerlink are rolled into one company and Stanwell and CS Energy into another.

There is a very real risk that many people will be paid to do nothing, just as they were in the Beattie era when railway stations closed.

The letter also says Labor “remains committed to the Fitzgerald principles”.  “This includes a commitment to … make public service appointments in the public interest, without regard to personal, party political or other immaterial considerations.”  Really? I’ll be watching the appointment of the directors-general with much interest.

The letter seems to sound the death knell for hospital boards. “Labor will review all contestability processes within Queensland Health and the hospital and health services,” it says.  “Previously in government, Labor had a policy of employment security and no contracting-out provisions. Labor will restore this policy.”

How it will restore the policy is not spelled out. Will we see a return to the Bligh era and hire an office tower full of bureaucrats? And who will pay for them?

In return for his vote, Wellington has negotiated some tasty little sweeteners for himself.  He has been guaranteed “proper resources for independent members of parliament in minority governments”.  “This includes an extra staff member in an independent MP’s electorate office, and a policy adviser based at Parliament House in Brisbane.”

Wellington also wants the developers of the massive Caloundra South residential project to pay extra infrastructure charges, placing the project in jeopardy.

At the same time, Wellington won a pledge for a Palaszczuk government to stop the associated Halls Creek development known as Caloundra South South.

Neither of these developments is in Wellington’s electorate, so why is he imposing his will over that of the elected members?

Remember that Wellington and Palaszczuk railed against the LNP for interfering with approvals. Now they are happy to interfere, as the letter clearly confirms.

Pot, kettle, black.

Wellington has also won Palaszczuk’s support to sack Crime and Corruption Commission acting chairman Ken Levy, who was referred to police by Labor in Opposition.  Is it right and proper for any government to demand Levy be turfed out before the investigation is complete? Where is the presumption of innocence?

Imagine the outcry from the Labor Party and its friends in the judiciary if the LNP had terminated a statutory official without a skerrick of evidence of any wrongdoing.

Palaszczuk’s letter might leave historians pondering all sorts of questions.


Revealed: Gillian Triggs’s agenda

THE Human Rights Commission’s report into child detention was engineered as an “advocacy tool” for policy change and focused­ on children for political effect, internal documents ­reveal.

The commission documents were released last night as ­Attorney-General George Brandis refused to deny claims he ­had offered commission president Gillian Triggs an inducement to stand down a fortnight before her report, The Forgotten Children, was released on Wednesday.

Professor Triggs, when she ­advised former immigration minister Scott Morrison of the inquiry in January last year, wrote that it “will assess whether the laws, policies and practices relating to children in immigration detention meet Australia’s international human rights obligations”.

But a draft project plan, dated April 2013, assumes “Australia’s immigration system fails to comply with Australia’s obligations” under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It anticipates a “report is used by Commission and NGOs as an advocacy tool in meetings with key government decision-makers and in relevant national and international forums to build momentum for change”.

“The underlying assumption of this project (and our broader work in this area) is that faced with enough domestic and international criticism and pressure regarding its practices relating to children in immigration detention, the Australian government will reform those practices.”

A draft workplan, also from April 2013, reveals that the commis­sion focused on children for political ­effect.

“Focusing on children allows the best opportunity to engage the general public, and to reach bipart­isan political agreement on making policy and legal changes to the system of mandatory and indefin­ite detention,” it reads.

The Coalition will seize on these documents, released by a Senate committee examining Professor Triggs’s motivations for the inquiry, as evidence of a conspir­acy to discredit Australia’s bipart­isan child-detention policies.

Social justice groups — including Amnesty International, Caritas, World Vision, UNICEF, Save the Children and Plan — have called on the government to implement the commission’s recommendations, including a royal commission and releasing all detained children within four weeks.

The Coalition has rejected those recommendations, with Tony Abbott branding the report a “transparent stitch-up” and a ­“blatantly partisan politicised ­exercise” of which the commission should be “ashamed”.

Many MPs, some of whom have spent months privately ­agitating for Professor Triggs’s ­removal or the abolition of the commission, are now saying openly that her position is “untenable”.

Senator Brandis’s office would not deny yesterday a report that a representative of the Attorney-General made Professor Triggs an offer last month of “some other opport­unity” if she stood down.

Labor’s legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus said last night that the government “cannot hear criticism”, and its attacks on the commission “show all the signs of a government in meltdown”.

“The reports of inducements offered by the Attorney-General to the president of the Human Rights Commission to resign are even more concerning,” he said of the Fairfax Media report.

Professor Triggs, who declined to comment, has more than two years remaining in the role and can be removed only for reasons such as bankruptcy or misconduct.

Giving evidence to the Senate inquiry on November 20, she admitte­d to discussing the idea with then Labor ministers Tony Burke and Chris Bowen, including a meeting with Mr Burke during the election caretaker period.

Professor Triggs later retracted this after being told that the meeting would have been “entirely inappropriate”.

The documents contain no evidence that she discussed the inquiry with either minister.

However, they show she did meet Mr Burke during the caretaker period “as a consequence of his invitation to brief the president on the newly announced regional resettlement arrangement” with Papua New Guinea.

In her testimony, Professor Triggs said the inquiry was ­delayed to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of a previous inquiry into the detention system, and it would have damaged the commission if the hearings were held during an election campaign.

In the foreword to her report published this week, Professor Triggs claimed that she made the decision in February last year because­ there were then more than 1000 children detained “for longer periods than in the past, with no pathway to resettlement”.


Fair Work Commission relaunches civil case against former MP Craig Thomson

Former federal MP Craig Thomson will be hauled back before a court after the national industrial umpire reopened a civil lawsuit alleging rampant union credit card misuse.

The Fair Work Commission will pursue the ex-secretary of the Health Services Union on multiple charges that collapsed during his criminal trial due to incorrect wording by the prosecution.

The commission's general manager, Bernadette O'Neill, announced she has filed documents in the Federal Court seeking to "re-enliven" parts of the case against him for allegedly swindling union money on fine dining and sex with prostitutes.

Mr Thomson was convicted of several charges but spared a jail term last year when a County Court judge imposed a $25,000 fine for using union money on "self-indulgent" spending.

The former Labor member for the NSW seat of Dobell was found guilty of 13 counts of theft, related to the withdrawals of $5650 from ATMs while using HSU credit cards, money he was not authorised to use on himself.

He was found not guilty of 49 fraud charges because Judge Carolyn Douglas found the prosecution had worded the charges incorrectly.

In the re-launched civil case, which was put on hold during the criminal trial, the Fair Work Commission is now chasing Mr Thomson for $243,000 in compensation plus penalties for breaches of federal law and union rules.

"In Mr Thomson's recent criminal trial it was not found that he did not engage in this conduct, rather, it was found that the framing of these charges did not support a conviction," Ms O'Neill said.

"It is in the public interest for Mr Thomson to be held to account for his alleged conduct."

Mr Thomson's lawyer, Chris McArdle, said on Wednesday the previous charges against his client had failed due to a "lack of substance because they are not true".

"The only incorrect wording in the charges was that 'he did it'," Mr McArdle said.

"We were looking forward to this being out of Mr Thomson's life sooner rather than later ... This matter will have to be assessed all over again. And all the rude bits will be addressed and will be found wanting in this jurisdiction as they were in the other."

Mr McArdle said he had "utter confidence" in the Federal Court of Australia.

Ms O'Neill said she believed her agency had "good prospects of success" in the proceedings. The Federal Court trial is scheduled to start on March 30.


13 February, 2015

Schools admit they are 'struggling' to deal with the rise of radical Islam

Principals are struggling to deal with the students and parents who are falling under the sway of radical Islam, according to a group representing educators.  The Australian Principals Federation has welcomed the Victorian government's move to introduce new measures to deal with the growing problem in schools.

A state education spokesman said the department was working closer with police and had nominated staff in regional officers to work with Victoria Police counterparts 'to provide advice and support to schools'.

It comes after one principal told Fairfax Media of his struggles to help two children whose parents have left Australia to Syria to fight with Islamic State in the Middle East at his state-run primary school.  'We have to work extra hard to ensure students don't take up their parents extreme beliefs,' he said.

'I have them singing the national anthem with the Australian flag and say what a lucky country they live in.'

The school is made up of a lot of children from the Shiite, Alawite and Sunni Muslim communities.

Since then, there had been a rise in suspensions of students as they fought at school.

'What's happening in the Middle East does impact here - the families are divided in their beliefs,' he said.

The Australian Principals Association branch president Peter Kearney told Daily Mail Australia 'several issues' about 'social cohesion' had been raised with the group by principals. 'One thing we see is that where there are tensions in the community then there are tensions in the school,' he said.

Mr Kearney said radicalisation in students and children had been 'a battle for principals' but they were unsure about how to deal with it.  'What are the guidelines, where do you go? What do you do when children behaving extremely? It's quite complex for principals to make a decision without rules,' he said.

'Kids, for example, who come from different religious groups have different ways to wear uniform. Boys might like to have their ankles exposed deliberately. And [principals ask]: "Is that is they way we like to wear our uniform?"

'Parents like the fact that children show their strength, it's what their beliefs are, that is required for what they do for their religion.

'We might not thing its important but it's the start of all sorts of wedges.'

The former principal's comments come after concerns grow for the vulnerability of teenagers being recruited by terror group Islamic State.

Abdullah Elmir - dubbed the Ginger Jihadi - who went missing from his western Sydney home has appeared in a number of recruitment video for the extremist organisation in Syria.

Another teenager who was suspected of having ties to terrorism was Numan Haider who was shot dead by police last year after he stabbed two officers in Melbourne.

But Mr Kearney stressed this behaviour was not isolated to one religion.  'Most of the stuff schools deals with, it's confronting because of the ability to recruit other kids,' he said.

'The culture of schools is always open to challenge. The last school I was principal of had 64 nationalities.'

A Victorian Department of Education spokesman said education was key to ensure young people were not marginalised and 'embrace the values of respect, diversity and tolerance'.

'Schools, like other areas of the community, can be environments in which children and young people may become marginalised, or the victims of racial, cultural or religious intimidation or bullying,' he said.

'The department has strengthened its relationships with Victoria Police, and has nominated staff in regional offices to work with their counterparts in Victoria Police to provide advice and support to schools.

'The department has appointed one of its senior advisers to work with government and non-government schools on initiatives to promote racial and religious tolerance and social cohesion, and to identify how best the department can support these initiatives.

'The department's nominated staff in regional offices are always available to advise and support school principals who may have concerns about a student’s safety or well-being.'


'Halal money' funds terrorism: Jacqui Lambie

Jacqui Lambie is threatening to introduce a private senator's bill to stop what she believes is "halal money" funding terrorist group Islamic State.

In a late-night address to the upper house on Tuesday, the outspoken independent senator questioned whether halal certification funds militants in Syria and Iraq.

She said she was prompted to look into the issue after receiving hundreds of emails from concerned residents.

A study the Tasmanian senator commissioned the parliamentary library to examine exposed some "surprising facts" that alarmed her.

Certifiers are not legally required to disclose their fees, nor is there a formal reporting or auditing system to ascertain whether funds are being misused, she says.

"Given that our enemies in Islamic State are receiving a steady cashflow to control their caliphate in Syria and Iraq, why isn't there a legal requirement in Australia for halal certification fees to be disclosed?" Senator Lambie said.

"And given that our nation is on high terrorism alert, while hundreds of Australian Islamic State sympathisers are fighting our ADF forces in Iraq, why is there is no formal reporting or auditing mechanism in Australia to ascertain whether monies paid for halal certification are misused?"

Senator Lambie warned if the government failed to answer her questions, she would introduce legislation to close such "legal loopholes".

"(The loopholes) could allow financing of terrorists and Australia's enemies through halal money," she said.

She's not the first politician to raise the issue.

Nationals MP George Christensen last year wrote an opinion piece suggesting consumers who bought halal products could be funding Islamic extremism.


Sydney terror plot: Suspect arrived in Australia illegally on false passport

TWO men accused of planning an act of terrorism knelt before an Islamic State flag and pledged to stab the kidneys and necks of Australians.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has told parliament security agencies have shown him a video in which the men make the pledge.

“I swear to almighty Allah we will carry out the first operation for the soldiers of the caliphate in Australia. I swear to almighty Allah, blond people, there is no room for blame between you and us. We only are you, stabbing the kidneys and striking the necks,” he quoted them as saying.

He described the contents of the video, seized during police raids in Sydney on Tuesday, as “monstrous extremism”.

“I don’t think it would be possible to witness uglier fanaticism than this, monstrous extremism than this,” he said.

Mr Abbott repeated the video dialogue even though NSW police yesterday asked for the contents to be kept confidential.

“Madam Speaker, I do want to thank NSW Police, the Australian Federal Police, and our security agencies for the work they did to forestall this attack but, Madam Speaker, we need them now more than ever.

“This is a metastisising threat because under current conditions, under the influence of the Islamist death cult, all you need to be a terrorist is a knife, a flag, a camera phone and a victim. That’s all you need.

“Madam Speaker, we can defeat this threat. We will defeat this threat. We must defeat this threat and I am confident that this Government has the will to do so, Madam Speaker. We have the will to defeat these evil people. We have the will to protect our way of life.”

The accused, Omar al-Kutobi, 24, and Mohammad Kiad, 25, had their charges heard in court today. They will apply for bail in four weeks with the court hearing photographic and video evidence would be used in the case against them.

Mr Abbott said Australia needed its security agencies more than ever as it faced a metastasising threat.

“Under the influence of the Islamist death cult, all you need to be a terrorist is a knife, a flag, a camera phone and a victim. That’s all you need,” he said.

“We must defeat this threat and I am confident that this government has the will to do so.”

Earlier today Mr Abbott said Australia must be more careful about giving potential migrants the benefit of the doubt after revelations one of Sydney terrorism suspects might have entered the country with a false passport.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton also has asked for an urgent review after being advised one of the men arrested on Tuesday might have flown to Australia with the fake documentation in 2009.

Al-Kutobi arrived in Australia by plane in 2009 as an Iraqi national using another person’s passport, a senior intelligence source has confirmed to The Daily Telegraph.

They also confirmed that he was granted a protection visa soon after and that he was then granted citizenship in 2013.

That he had arrived using a false passport was only recently discovered. 

It was also confirmed that the second man charged, Mohammad Kiad, entered Australia in 2012.  He was granted a visa under the family and spousal visa arrangements.

Kiad was receiving welfare, a Newstart allowance, at the time of his arrest.  It is believed he applied for and was granted welfare within 12 months of arriving in Australia.

Al-Kutobi had also previously been on a Newstart ­allowance.  However, he was not at the time of his arrest.

Mr Abbott says the terror raids show Australia needs to be more vigilant about its border security, and more careful about future migrants.

“If you look at the Martin Place murderer, he had been given the benefit of the doubt at every stage by our system,” he told Fairfax Radio.  “I suspect the same will turn out to be the case with these people.”

Australia should not give people permanent residency or citizenship without being confident they were here for “the right reasons, which are to join our team, to make a contribution, to accept our values, to be part of the big Australian family”, the prime minister said.

This morning Mr Dutton said there were about 50,000 people who also arrived on boats around that time, hampering intelligence agencies’ ability to check every person thoroughly. “It is a difficult situation, particularly that period of time, for the intelligence agencies,” he told Nine Network on Thursday.

“Borders, at that stage, were fairly porous in Australia, with boats just coming every day.  “If the system is being overwhelmed by tens of thousands of people coming by boat, it doesn’t matter if they come by boat or plane, it’s pretty hard for the security agencies to conduct the thorough searches they need to conduct.”

The men appeared before Fairfield Local Court on Wednesday and didn’t apply for bail, which was formally refused.


Fines over rogue selling by energy companies

A VICTORIAN energy retailer has been fined $20,400 by the consumer watchdog for allegedly engaging in misleading door-to-door sales conduct.

IPower Pty Ltd, trading as Simply Energy, was issued the infringement notices by the ACCC over two separate instances in 2014 in which sales representatives selling Simply Energy products visited the homes of two consumers in Victoria.

The sales reps allegedly told the consumers there was an “urgent problem” or “something wrong” with their existing supply, when this was not the case.

The ACCC says it had “reasonable grounds to believe that IPower made false or misleading representations about the standard or quality of goods in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law”.

The payment of a penalty specified in an infringement notice is not an admission of a contravention of the ACL — the ACCC can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe the law has been breached.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said the consumer watchdog would continue to take appropriate enforcement action against retailers who do not comply with their legal obligations.

“Consumers have a right to expect that door-to-door sales representatives will not make false or misleading representations, or otherwise engage in unlawful sales tactics,” he said.

While the big three energy retailers — AGL, EnergyAustralia and Origin — have stopped residential door-to-door sales altogether as a result of ACCC action and the Do Not Knock consumer campaign over the past 12 to 18 months, many smaller retailers have stepped in to fill the gap.

Simply Energy has been the subject of 25 complaints through the Do Not Knock website in the current financial year, a number of which have been referred to the ACCC.

It also received more than 1300 complaints to the Victorian Energy and Water Ombudsman between July and September last year — a disproportionately high number based on its market share.

Simply Energy has just 6 per cent market share in electricity, but attracted 10.7 per cent of total complaints to the EWOV. Similarly, with 6.1 per cent market share in gas, it attracted 9.4 per cent of complaints.

“When we look at the complaints we receive through the Do Not Knock website, the number for Simply Energy is higher than for any other business,” said Gerard Brody, chief executive of the Consumer Action Law Centre. “It seems to us there are still a lot of problems in this sector.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Simply Energy said: “Simply Energy takes its responsibilities regarding door-to-door sales very seriously. We have very strict processes and protocols in place governing the activities of our sales agents.

“We have conducted a thorough investigation of the incident raised by the ACCC. While we believe there are some questions about the alleged incident, Simply Energy accepts the ACCC decision.”

Anne Whitehouse, chief executive of industry self-regulatory body Energy Assured, said there were an estimated 1200 door-to-door sales agents currently operating in Australia, working for just a handful of energy retailers.

Those include Simply Energy, Lumo Energy, Red Energy, CovaU and Alinta Energy. AGL and Origin no longer use door-to-door agents for residential sales, but do for small business.

Ms Whitehouse said her organisation received an average of five complaints for every 10,000 homes visited, a figure that has remained relatively static for the past few years.

She defended the industry’s right to use door-to-door sales, as many smaller retailers do not have the marketing budget to reach consumers through other means. “It’s a very low-involvement product. For many smaller retailers this is the only way to gain market share,” she said.

Since 2012, nearly 300 door-to-door sales agents have been deregistered and slapped with five-year bans for poor behaviour, according to Energy Assured. Many of those have now begun selling private college courses.

The news comes after the Federal Court earlier this week ordered Origin Energy Limited and two of its subsidiaries to pay penalties totalling $325,000 for making false or misleading representations in relation to potential discounts.


12 February, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says the Labor party is out of ideas

Closing the Gap report 'profoundly disappointing', Tony Abbott says

Ever since the missionaries were booted out, Aborigines have been going backwards and there is no sign of that changing

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he is hopeful the gap in Indigenous disadvantage will be bridged within the next two decades, but concedes the failures revealed in the Closing The Gap report, released today, are profoundly disappointing.

In an address to Parliament, Mr Abbott said the latest Closing the Gap report showed that overall, Aboriginal people were leading healthier lives but he acknowledged difficulties existed in improving Indigenous employment and education.

He said he was committed to working harder to get kids to school.  "As far as I am concerned, there is no more important cause than ensuring that Indigenous people enter fully into their rightful heritage as the first and as first-class citizens of this country," Mr Abbott said.

"We must strive and strive again to ensure that the first Australians never again feel like outcasts in their own country.

"In about 15 or 20 years, hopefully the gap will be closed, hopefully health outcomes will be much the same for Aboriginal Australians and the rest of us."

Closing the Gap 2015 key points

No progress in halving the gap in Indigenous employment outcomes

Small gains in Indigenous life expectancy

Early childhood enrolment target not met

No overall progress on halving reading and numeracy gap

Slower progress on infant mortality gap

On track to halve gap in Year 12 attainment

Mr Abbott reported to Parliament some improvements in education and health outcomes, but said the targets for closing the life expectancy gap, early childhood access, reading and numeracy and employment had either not been met or were not on track.

"Much more work is indeed needed because this seventh Closing The Gap report is, in many respects, profoundly disappointing," he said.


Tasmanian Greenies fighting fracking

A NEW community group formed to raise awareness of fracking will hold a public meeting at Campbell Town next week.

Frack Free Tas is demanding a permanent ban of the controversial mining practice of fracking in Tasmania.  The group joins farmers, winemakers, the dairy industry and the State Government’s Department of Health in raising serious concerns about fracking, which is a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock.

The concerns range from the potential for groundwater contamination to degrading the state’s clean, green image.

A State Government imposed 12-month moratorium on the practice ends next month.

Monday’s meeting is at 6pm at the Campbell Town town hall. There will be another public meeting in Hobart on Wednesday and a rally at Parliament Lawns in Hobart on February 28.

PetraGas, a subsidiary of oil and gas company Petratherm, was awarded a petroleum exploration licence earlier this year covering about 3900km2 in central Tasmania.

The state has coal resources, especially in southern and eastern Tasmania.

Cattle and sheep farmer Brett Hall has been a vocal member of a campaign to ­prevent fracking in the ­region. Mr Hall of Lemont, east of Oatlands, said the mining company had not answered questions about environmental risks associated with exploration and drilling.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been used in NSW and Queensland for coal seam gas extraction. Only two shale gas wells have been drilled in Australia.

“Landholders need to know their rights in relation to exploration licences and also what happens when these resources are commercialised,” Mr Hall said.  “We have been able to secure some of the most highly regarded speakers in their area of expertise for the meeting.”

PetraGas says the proposed project would avoid methods that have caused debate interstate.

Managing director Terry Kallis said extractions from Tasmanian shale deposits would involve fracking, but would occur as deep as 1km underground and would pose no risk to aquifers


HRC says children's rights breached

The discredited Gillian Triggs at work again

CHILD asylum seekers should be moved into the community within a month and a royal commission set up into their treatment in immigration detention.

BUT the government has dismissed a Human Rights Commission report making these recommendations as redundant and not based on current circumstances.

The commission's 10-month inquiry into children in immigration detention found prolonged and mandatory detention causes significant mental and physical illness and breaches Australia's international obligations on rights.

There were hundreds of reported assaults against children and 128 teenagers harmed themselves between January 2013 and March 2014.  More than a third of children had serious mental health problems.

The commission wants the government to ban indefinite detention, close the "harsh and cramped" Christmas Island immigration centre, get kids off Nauru and appoint an independent guardian for unaccompanied minors.

It says a royal commission is needed to get to the bottom of how much harm has been done to detained children, why mandatory detention and offshore processing continues, and whether children should be compensated.

"There appears to be no rational explanation for the prolonged detention of children," the commission's report, released on Wednesday, states.  "The mandatory and prolonged immigration detention of children is in clear violation of international human rights law."

The government disputes this.  "This has been a longstanding point of difference between the government and the commission and the government does not accept the commission's findings," Attorney-General George Brandis told parliament.

The government is also critical of the timing of the commission's inquiry, which began in 2014.

It points out the number of children in immigration detention peaked in mid-2013 under Labor, with nearly 2000 kids locked up.   Now there are just 162 children still detained.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton - who only took on the job in late December - says many of the commission's recommendations reflect existing government policies and are "superfluous".

"Other recommendations would mean undermining the very policies that mean children don't get on boats in the first place," he said in a statement.

The report states previous immigration ministers, including Mr Dutton's predecessor Scott Morrison, agree holding children for prolonged periods doesn't deter people smugglers or asylum seekers.


Animal activists face fines under new bill

ACTIVISTS who do not immediately hand over footage of animal cruelty would face a fine under proposed law changes.

THE changes proposed by West Australian senator Chris Back would also prosecute people who trespass onto or vandalise animal enterprises like battery farms and piggeries.

Dr Back, a veterinarian, said his increasing concern over people breaking into properties and endangering animal and human safety inspired him to put the private senator's bill forward. 

"We want to make sure if there is cruelty going on to animals that we have the best option to actually get on top of it, to stop it," Dr Back told AAP.  "If someone's been so motivated that they want to film it, that that visual image can be made available to the appropriate authorities, so indeed if it is happening, it can be used in evidence."

Dr Back said breaking into and vandalising farms or factories put the animals that lived there under "minimal disease conditions" at risk.

Damage to property such as trucks, trailers and buildings also put people in danger and destroyed their livelihood.

"There is no lawful occasion that a person should vandalise other people's properties, threaten them, put them at risk or indeed invade the privacy of their property," he said.

The bill was introduced to parliament on Wednesday.


11 February, 2015

Peta Credlin powerful, opinionated and protective: Julie Bishop

Abbott can't win.  Either he's a misogynist (according to the unhinged Gillard) or women have too much influence over him.  His chief of staff, the gorgeous Peta (above), is a woman and so is his deputy, the impeccable Julie Bishop.  But nothing will satisfy the  Sydney Morning Herald of course

Peta Credlin is powerful, opinionated and "very protective of the Prime Minister", says deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop.

In a thinly veiled warning to Mr Abbott a day after he survived an attempt to oust him from office, Ms Bishop said the Prime Minister must respond to backbench concerns about his office.

MPs and ministers have long complained that Ms Credlin is too controlling. Ms Credlin and Ms Bishop clashed last year after the Prime Minister's Office vetoed her attendance at a climate change summit.

Ms Bishop successfully sought cabinet permission to attend but was told she would be chaperoned to the event by Trade Minister Andrew Robb.

"Peta Credlin is a very powerful figure in the sense that she's strong, she has a lot of opinions and she is very protective of the Prime Minister," Ms Bishop told the ABC.

"She was an indispensable part of our team in opposition. Now, the Prime Minister is very close to Peta, she obviously provides him with good advice and they work together as a team."

Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro complained on Sunday of a culture of "fear and intimidation" within the government. Immediately after the ballot on Monday, MPs told Fairfax Media that without Ms Credlin's removal, Mr Abbott's internal standing would not improve.

Ms Bishop said Mr Abbott "must respond" to backbench concerns if they are valid but stressed the way the Prime Minister ran his office was a matter for him.

 "People have been very frank and very blunt in their assessment of the performance of the Prime Minister's Office and the Prime Minister is a smart man, he will take those issues into account," she said.

"His particular staffing arrangements are a matter for him ... I don't expect him to tell me what to do with the staff in my office."

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison echoed Ms Bishop's view in a short media conference at Parliament House on Tuesday. When asked if Ms Credlin should resign he did not endorse her position.

"That's a matter for Tony Abbott. I don't give him lectures on his staff and he doesn't give me lectures on mine," he told reporters.

A government "star chamber" is notorious for vetoing minister's preferred staffing choices. Backbenchers have also said there have been attempts to control who they employ in their electorate offices.

But when asked if he stood by his chief of staff after the failed spill motion, Mr Abbott said he and his staff had taken a "good, long, hard look at ourselves" and resolved to do better.

Ms Credlin is married to the Liberal Party's federal director, Brian Loughnane. MPs have privately and publicly complained this creates a climate where complaints about either the party's administrative wing or political arm can't be raised with either side.

Mr Abbott has been urged to resolve the situation but said on Monday that the arrangement had been in place for five years and had not hurt the government.

"It certainly didn't stop us from having a very good result in the 2010 election. It didn't stop us running a very strong opposition throughout the last term of the Parliament," he said.

"It didn't stop us getting a very good result in the 2013 election. Frankly, it didn't stop us doing a lot of good things last year, whether it be stopping the boats, repealing the carbon tax, getting the three free trade agreements negotiated.

"Now, I say to people that my door is open, I am available to people, and if they're anxious about talking to person X or anxious about talking to person Y, they can talk to me."


Perth mother charged with slapping four-year-old son in the face

When a person of any age is hysterical, slapping their face is a common way of calming them

A PERTH mother charged over slapping her four-year-old son in the face was taken away in tears from her home in a police van.

Police charged the woman with assault after a member of the public reported seeing the alleged incident at a shopping centre. The woman’s husband and father of the boy said it happened after the child went into a meltdown.

“She’s slapped my son to the side of the face, which is probably uncalled for, but it was done,” he told 6PR Radio on Monday. “He was rebelling a bit so she’s clipped him on the side of the face, not necessarily aiming for that.”

The man said officers stopped his wife in the car park to inspect their three children and later arrested her at the family home, taking her away in a police van.

He said there was no history of abuse against the children and their son was not injured.  “They were all bruise free, not a mark on them,” he said.  “But they were mortified at the fact that their mum was in trouble, who was also broken down in tears.”


Leadership spills are ho-hum - let's see some politicians who stick to their values

By David Leyonhjelm, Liberal Democrats Senator for NSW.

With a Prime Minister's job on the line, you might think that there was a buzz of excitement around Parliament House on Monday – a feeling that history was being made before our eyes. But you'd be wrong.

The mood at Aussies Cafe, where politicians, staffers and media queue up to buy their flat whites, was summed up by the phrase: here we go again.

Leadership spills are getting a bit ho-hum. For some years now we've seen images of Important People in Suits Doing Power Walks Down Corridors. Same pictures, same suits, same power walks, same corridors, same platitudes, same concerned looks - just different people.

This feeling of deja vu belies Mr Abbott's assertion that Liberals and Labor are cut from different cloth. In fact, both are hostage to backbenchers in marginal electorates protecting their jobs by defending big spending government programs. And indications are they will further come to resemble each other.

Mr Shorten has been delivering platitudes about spending our way to economic growth and budget recovery.  Like a drowning man seeking to pull himself up by his own hair, Mr Abbott seized on these platitudes with all his might in his Press Club address.  Expect to hear a whole lot more about how spending money on childcare and infrastructure will save us all.

Of course, Mr Abbott will try to distinguish himself by outdoing Labor on national security issues at the expense of our freedoms.  But Mr Shorten won't let Abbott get too far ahead in that race: he shares the lazy view that being tough on national security is a vote winner.

We also won't see as many clashes between Liberals and Labor in Parliament.  The government is looking for ways to avoid having decisions made in the Senate at all. For example, it is effectively abolishing the agency that reviews Freedom of Information applications by starving it of funds rather than by putting the bill to abolish it before the Senate.

And with Mr Abbott winning the spill by an unconvincing margin, leadership speculation will continue to be the order of the day, as it was in the Rudd-Gillard years.

This meant Monday's spill attempt was of little consequence to me.

Had Malcolm Turnbull won on Monday, it's unlikely the legislation coming before us in the Senate would have noticeably changed. I enjoy Malcolm's company and he is much more likely to support my Freedom to Marry Bill, but the conscience vote issue is likely to be considered by the Coalition party room in any case.

The bigger question is who will lead the Liberals into the next election.  The bookmakers are usually right about these things, and they say Malcolm Turnbull is most likely. Few of the Liberals I've spoken to would take the juicier odds on offer for Tony Abbott.

The only person winning from all this is Mr Shorten. It's entirely possible that thanks to the turmoil, he will win the next election. The bad news for Bill is that if the current mood in the electorate continues, opinion polls will start to bite him in the bum as well. It's just as likely he'll be toppled by another candidate who will then lead Labor to defeat in the next election.  More in the parade of one-term wonders!

Australia can only stand so many poor governments before it starts to bite us, too. Is there any alternative to this depressing probability?

Wouldn't it be refreshing for the Liberal leader to accept that he can't outspend Labor, and to concentrate on convincing the public of the need to fix the budget and economy regardless of the consequences for popularity and the next election?

Wouldn't it be refreshing for the Labor leader, whoever that may be, to plan for his next stint in government rather than pretend that the status quo is just fine?

Too many of our politicians don't really seem to believe or stick to anything. Julia Gillard was passionate about addressing climate change, until she wasn't. Tony Abbott was passionate about the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, until he wasn't.  If our leaders don't believe in anything much, then it stands to reason that there's nothing much to lose by changing them around, and much good theatre to be had in the process.

This could all stop if we had political leaders of all persuasions with values they believe in, who can articulate those values, and keep articulating them until they win, and then stick to them when they do.


Pink batts, day of reckoning for public servants

A group of senior public servants found to be at fault for their roles in the fatal home insulation scheme will learn their likely fates this month, the government's workplace authority has confirmed.

The Public Service Commission says it is close to finalising reports on the conduct of the officials at the departments of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Environment in the run up to the ill-fated scheme, which cost the lives of four young workmen, in 2009.

The royal commission on the affair, which published its report in September 2014, was scathing about the conduct of senior bureaucrats and even some of their hired private sector consultants.

Commissioner Ian Hanger, SC,  found "the failings of senior management assured the failure of the project" and that senior bureaucrats may have breached the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct in their handling of the program.

Mr Hanger made adverse findings against 19 individuals, who were not all publicly named, but it was unclear which of the officials named by the royal commission are being examined by the Public Service Commission.

Mr Hanger found that senior officials failed to provide candid advice to ministers, that they lacked subject-matter expertise and did not to provide leadership of the program.

The royal commissioner left it in the hands of the Prime Minister to decide whether public servants should be disciplined.

The Public Service Commission told The Canberra Times this week that it had been working on a review of "roles and responsibilities" of some of the bureaucrats involved in the scheme and that it expected the review to be complete within weeks.

"Drawing on the findings of the Home Insulation Program Royal Commission, the Australian Public Service Commission is undertaking a statutory review of the roles and responsibilities of individual public servants during the Home Insulation Program, with regard to the governance and accountability arrangements at the time," a commission spokeswoman said.

"This review is expected to conclude within the next month."

Among those named in the royal commission were Environment Department assistant secretary Beth Brunoro and senior public servant Aaron Hughes, now Comcare general manager.

Two external contracters were also named – risk consultant Margaret Coaldrake and project adviser Janine Leake, who charged taxpayers more than $1800 a day for her work on the Home Insulation Program but who admitted she was unclear what her role was.

Senior government lawyer David Hoitink was criticised for offering the incorrect advice that states would be solely responsible for the safety of insulation installers.

The oral evidence and poor recollections of former senior Environment managers William Kimber, and Simon Cox, came in for attention from Mr Hanger and he also found  Environment Department senior public servants Kathy Belka and Kevin Keeffe failed to candidly brief their minister, Peter Garrett, on the dangers of insulation installation.


10 February, 2015

Bikies are not the only Bad Boys in Queensland!

Queensland's Maleny Dairies has come out against the halal scammers and declared they will keep prices down and will refuse to be bullied into paying a halal tax on their product. Their stance has had overwhelming support from everyone except the regularly-out-of-touch Courier Mail.

The move by the Maleny dairy farmers is an important one because the Halal protection racket that supports dubious anti-Australian and overseas causes can only be stopped if the Government makes it illegal for companies to comply with threats from halal certifiers.

The Maleny Dairies' Facebook page which has 24,000 likes and 3,000 shares since yesterday indicates the strength in the groundswell of angry objections from regular Aussies to a tax on Australian food from Muslim opportunists who are demanding certification fees for everything from milk to plastic containers. A brief look at their site showed thousands of comments supporting the dairy farmers' stand with a couple of comments suggesting it was silly because, "milk was halal anyway".

The Courier Mail stupidly took this to mean these comments were objecting to the dairy farmers' stand and falsely claimed, "others had accused the farmers of promoting xenophobia" with this ridiculous on-line headline: HALAL: "Maleny Dairies' Facebook post on Halal certification sparks customer backlash"

Well, the backlash is on all right, but not from the dairies' customers... they seem in full agreement.

The Mafia-style halal extortion racket was up in lights in Perth when police recently arrested a Dr Ratab Jeneid, Chairperson of the WA Halal certification Committee, with $8million worth of methylamphetamine and $380,000 cash in his possession. Janeid was also charged with illegally carrying unlicensed firearms.

Five of his associates from the Muslim Halal organisation, run from the same mosque, were also charged with various drug and firearm offences. The Courier Mail unfortunately did not carry that story.

Via email from my Toowoomba correspondent

Queensland election result still uncertain

Interesting that Jackie Trad will be the deputy Premier under a Labor government.  Trad is of course an Arab name but Ms Trad is of Maronite Christian background rather than Muslim.  The wife of outgoing Premier Newman is also of Lebanese Christian origin

LABOR was on the brink of ­claiming government in Queensland last night as it picked up the key seat of Maryborough, but any victory could be short-lived with the possibility of a by-election within weeks dictating another change of government.

The ALP’s Bruce Saunders was 800 votes ahead of the Liberal ­National Party’s Anne Maddern in Maryborough yesterday with only 200 votes left to count, ­although postal votes will still be received until tomorrow.

Winning Maryborough would give the ALP 44 seats in the 89-seat Queensland parliament, but independent Peter Wellington has indicated that he would support the ALP in the event of a hung parliament, giving Labor its crucial 45th vote.

ALP leader Anna­stacia Palas­zczuk was not claiming victory yesterday, nor was newly elected LNP leader Lawrence Springborg conceding defeat.

Doubt remains over Ferny Grove, a marginal seat in which the ALP is 414 votes ahead of the LNP.

But the Palmer United Party candidate has been disqualified as he is an undischarged bankrupt, and late yesterday he had posted 985 votes.

The Electoral Commission Queensland said late yesterday that it would continue counting votes in all electorates and declare a final result in all seats, and any challenge to that result may only take place after the result had been declared.

The LNP has foreshadowed it will challenge the result and Mr Springborg said the election outcome was “going to hinge more on what happens in Ferny Grove than it will hinge on any other seat”.

“The very real possibility of the matter being deliberated in the Court of Disputed Returns, it means that no particular party ... can confidently say they have 45 seats or more,” he said.

So Queensland faces the very real prospect of installing a Labor government that must then rely on winning a by-election, possibly within weeks of taking office, to stay in office.

On Saturday, the LNP elected Mr Springborg, who has led the Coalition to three defeats, and ­another former leader, John-Paul Langbroek, as deputy after premier Campbell Newman lost his seat of Ashgrove last weekend.

Mr Springborg held a press conference at an ambulance ­station yesterday to make the point that the services of government were still running under a caretaker government, and this should last until there was a clear result.

“I don’t think this has ever happened in Australia before,’’ he said.

“We’ve had a premier lose their seat on election night, we’re facing an immediate by-election and there is no clear picture whether any party has enough seats to form government. Caretaker can continue until we get certainty.”

Seats still in play are Whitsunday and Mount Ommaney, where the LNP is ahead but the ALP feels it has a chance, and Lockyer, where Pauline Hanson is 183 votes behind the LNP’s Ian Rickuss.

Katter’s Australian Party, which won two seats and has not yet indicated which side it will back, claims it will play a pivotal role in the next government, ­regardless of which party is in power. “It would make for a very unstable government if they (Labor and the LNP) didn’t treat the crossbenches very well,” said KAP leader Rob Katter.

“We think that we’re going to have a lot of power in the next ­government.”

The ALP is set to unveil the ­nation’s first all-woman leadership team, with its environment spokeswoman, Jackie Trad, to ­become Ms Palaszczuk’s deputy premier if the party can win office.

It would be a meteoric rise for Ms Trad, who entered parliament after the 2012 election in a by-elect­ion for the seat of South Brisbane caused by the resignation of former premier Anna Bligh, for whom Ms Trad was a staffer.

While Ms Trad was one of the more effective members of the ­opposition in parliament last term, her elevation comes mainly because of the dominance of the Left faction, which is set to claim half of the 14 ministries available.


University of Sydney goes green

Divest from Israel; divest from carbon producers.  What's left?  Will feminism cause them to divest from firms led by men?  This could get amusing

In a first for Australian universities, the University of Sydney has announced it will substantially reduce the carbon footprint of its listed share portfolio over the next three years. By setting a reduction target of 20 percent relative to the footprint of its current listed equity composite benchmark, the University is visibly demonstrating its commitment to addressing climate change.

The decision follows a comprehensive review taking into account leading practice on sensitive investments, and the current global views and actions surrounding fossil fuel investments.

The review considered a number of options, including whether to divest entirely from the fossil fuels industry. It also highlighted the complexities of reducing an investment portfolio's carbon footprint. For example, divesting entirely from all companies with an interest in fossil fuels could result in divesting from companies that are also committed to building renewable energy sources. In addition, there are many companies that do not produce fossil fuels who are nonetheless heavy emitters.

Based on the review's findings, the University of Sydney believes a whole of portfolio approach to reducing its carbon footprint is an effective and meaningful way to address climate change.

In an innovative step, the University will ask its listed equity fund managers to build a portfolio of investments that enables the University to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 percent - in just three years. The University will measure and publicly report progress towards this goal annually.

The University's Vice-Principal (Operations) Sara Watts said, "The new strategy balances the University's obligation to manage funds wisely on behalf of our students, staff, donors and alumni with its desire to address climate change and protect Australia's heritage.

"This strategy will give the University a legitimate voice in the conversation on how organisations can best address climate change risks. The University's strategy signals to the entire market that investors are concerned about the impact of climate change and expect contributing sectors to respond with plans to reduce their emissions."

In addition, the University:

* Has become a signatory to the CDP (formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project), the world's largest source of company-reported emissions data, and a global movement urging companies to disclose carbon emissions and set targets to reduce them;

* Has joined the UN-led Portfolio Decarbonisation Coalition, a coalition of investors who collectively are committed to decarbonising $US100 billion of its investment assets;

* Will incorporate carbon footprint reporting capability into the selection and review of listed equity investment managers; and

* Will further expand its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) framework to put in place ethical investment standards that support the economic and social rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


The sad loss of Australian slang

As an oldster I feel this particularly.  I love our vivid Australian slang but never write it and seldom speak it -- as many people no longer understand it.  It survives best among working class people and Aborigines

Could there be anything more dinky-di Australian than sitting under the scoreboard at the wonderfully named Aussie-Drain Oval in Simpson, Western District, munching on a barbecued snag and sauce on Australia Day?

It was all Aussie flags, anthems and Down-Under rural mateship last week at Corangamite shire's big Oz Day celebration (coincidentally, the mayor's birthday too) and a bonzer-beaut time was had by all.

This is a slice of God's own country where a cheery "G'day how are ya" still prompts the age-old Aussie echo ("Yeah, g'day how are ya?") and that certainly came as a relief to me. Reason: a couple of weeks earlier a lady named Helen Speirs had fired in a letter to the Colac Herald, alarmed at a perceived change in Australian social behaviour. So incensed was Helen that she wrote in verse:

New Year's Day went for a walk with dogs not one but three,

I saw some cyclists riding by and I know that they saw me.

A kid about five was riding close and I said "G'day" to him

He just stared at me, not a word he said, perhaps he was slightly dim.

There was more – but the gist was this: of all the passing Colac-ites that morning, no-one had time for a "G'day". The concern here is that we are talking about the bush, where Australian culture has traditionally held firm against creeping Americanisation, the process that has turned 20th century "blokes" – and women too – into 21st century uni-gender "guys".

The Aussie bush and its native fauna have given us some wonderful slang: "Mad as a cut snake." "Flat out like a lizard drinking." "I'm as dry as a dead dingo's donger." Some of the best insults and hoots of objection derive from the same source: "He's got a kangaroo loose in the top paddock." "Pig's arse!" But as Gazza, a country-singing dairy farmer and friend of the family from Terang, told me later that Australia Day, this kind of banter is disappearing.

What a tragedy that would be in this increasingly homogenised and PC world. Thirty years ago that snag and tomato sauce at Aussie-Drain Oval might well have been offered as a "mystery bag and dead-'orse" but such terminology is rare these days – perhaps it risks contravening food regulations or some Equine Equality Act.

Give Kevin Rudd his due here. Six years ago he threw a "fair shake of the sauce bottle" into a prime ministerial exchange but, as one commentator remarked at the time, Kev ended up a flamin' galah. It is "fair suck", not "shake", with a bottle of dead-'orse. Slang or not, you have to get it right.

Dead-'orse is the sort of colloquial rhyming slang by which a bloke once fondly (or otherwise) dubbed his wife "the trouble and strife" and turned Aussie kids into "billy-lids" (which roped in another Aussie icon, the bushman's billy in which you boiled your bush tea).

But rhyming slang – reputedly imported by Cockney migrants – seems to be fading in Australia too, despite its determined championing by exponents such as 3AW's Ross Stevenson. (He once outlined his technique of shaving in the shower this way: "To dad-and-dave in the Eiffel Tower? I just run my onkaparingas over my boat-race as I go.") Think about it. When is the last time you heard of someone going to the "rubbidy" for a beer? Or grabbing the car keys to "hit the frog and toad"?

On an earlier Australia Day sojourn the bonny bride and I stayed at Rushworth in northern Victoria. A large black labrador was in the habit of sitting in the middle of the hotel corridor, getting under patrons' feet. "Don't mind him," said the publican. "We call him Pothole – always in the road."

Happily, nicknames seem still to be part of Australian life. The redhead called Bluey, the medico dubbed Doc Death. Rare is the AFL footballer without a sporting sobriquet – at last resort, team-mates will just add a vowel to the surname. Johnno. Walshy. Nor does there seem a lack of Aussie larrikins to spice up other designations. Last time we drove down the Tasmanian east coast the sign at the Wet Marsh Creek had been re-daubed Wet Arse Creek.

But what about all those gems from the Aussie lexicon of yore? The days when, if you missed work because of illness, you were "off crook" – and if you got worse you could eventually "cark it". When a bloke, fancying a sheila, would try to "crack on to her" – and if he failed miserably he "wouldn't come within coo-ee". When, if you tried your hardest regardless of success, you "gave it a burl". Or when a dog dug a hole in the vegie patch and his master threatened to "introduce him to the Julius Marlow" [shoe].

The sass, the wit, the irreverence. That was the Aussie trademark. Is it all vanishing into the global melting pot?


9 February, 2015

Does a private school education justify the extra money that it costs?

This is pretty hokey data below -- of the sort we expect from Leftists.  Not mentioned below is the sample in which State schools did better than private schools. If we dig, however, we find that "out of the 60 most advantaged schools in the state, public schools scored above 90 in 38 per cent of their exams, on average, while the rate was 26 per cent in private schools".  So the figures do not derive from an overall  public/private comparison at all but rather from a very limited comparison of a small and select number of schools.  And it is highly likely that the "advantaged" State schools had similar amenities and offerings to the private schools.  The parent and citizen committees would be very active in such schools.  So the comparison tells us very little.

And note that the unmentionable is a factor.  The second highest performing school, James Ruse state school, is overwhelmingly Chinese and we all know what a difference that makes.  See here, for instance.   So once again, the study is shallow.

The one thing the figures do tell us is the key role of the students rather than the school.  It's who your fellow students are that matters most.  Children from successful families are probably going to be more advantageous classmates in many ways  -- less disruptive etc.  So getting your kid into a "good" (affluent) school (private or public) is important if only because of the fellow students there.  And "good" state schools are few in many parts of Australia.  So there is good reason not to gamble on a State education.

The authors below in fact acknowledge that.  They say: "The substantial contribution to their success is the capacity and background of the kids they enrol. Almost 90 per cent of the schools which topped the HSC last year were also the most advantaged schools in NSW, showing social class is a far stronger indicator of how a school will rank than the quality of teaching."

And, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago: "In choosing your son's school, you are choosing his friends for life.  Except for the army, men rarely make new friends far into adulthood, and even if they do, their old school friends will still usually predominate in their friendship circle.  So choosing a school is choosing a lot for a son.  What sort of friends do you want  your son to have?  He will tend to have smarter and more socially competent friends if you send him to a private school.  And if you send him to a sink school ...."

The state's expensive private schools are spending $3.3 billion more on their students each year than equally advantaged public schools, despite achieving the same academic results, a new report has found.

This excess cash is more than the total amount spent annually in the 600 most disadvantaged schools in the state, where critics argue the money would be better spent.

The analysis is the latest in a series by researchers Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd that examines data from the My School website.

They found private and Catholic schools are investing significantly more money per student than public schools. Yet, when comparing schools with similar students, they are achieving similar or worse results.

Among moderately advantaged schools, for example, public schools spent $10,932 per student on average in 2012, the most recent data available.

Yet, to achieve similar results, Catholic schools spent an extra $588 per student and independent schools spent $1389 per student more, much of which comes from school fees.

Among the most advantaged schools, the average spend per student was up to $22,000 in private schools, more than double that spent on similar public school students.

When looking at all schools across the state, the excess money spent on students who achieve the same results as their cheaper public school equivalents was $520 million in the Catholic system and $2.77 billion among independents.

The executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, Geoff Newcombe, would not respond to Fairfax Media's questions except to say "analysis of this type is ideologically driven and has no useful educational purpose".

A spokesman for the federal education minister, Christopher Pyne, said increased money was allocated to disadvantaged schools under the needs-based model introduced in 2014.

Tim Hawkes, the headmaster of The King's School, published an article on his website last week in defence of spending money on a private education.

"Most parents I speak to are looking for a great exam performance in year 12. But, this is only part of what they are looking for," he said. "They are also wanting a school that pays a lot of attention to values, that advances a faith position, that has a strong co-curricular offering, that offers boarding, that has strong accountability."


Prayers for Tony

Hi friends,

Tony Abbott is at Mass each morning in Canberra and has his rosary in his pocket, clearly saying the prayers of the rosary. If Turnbull gets in we will have someone who supported IVF, Gay Marriage and calls himself Catholic.

I think that there is a collective ADHD in society at present where people cannot utter a principle, let alone act according to one. There is a milling about for novelty and new 'policies' and not much thought put into it. I think any leader would find it hard to tone down the restless troops given the ties.

Let us pray for Tony Abbott as - the other options are pretty awful. Please send on this request to friends and ask for rosaries for Tony. And you don’t have to be a Catholic to pray.

God bless

From an email forwarded by my Toowoomba correspondent

UPDATE:  The rosaries seem to have worked

South Australia wants to go nuke

And it's a Labor party government pushing it

SOUTH Australia will hold a Royal Commission to investigate the state's possible role in the production of nuclear power.

PREMIER Jay Weatherill said South Australians should be given the opportunity to consider the practical, financial and ethical issues raised by a deeper involvement in the nuclear industries.
"We are home to one of the largest uranium deposits in the world and after more than 25 years of uranium production, it is now time to engage in a mature and robust conversation about South Australia's future role in the nuclear industry," he said on Sunday.

He said the Royal Commission was the first of its kind in Australia, as they usually looked backwards at things that had gone wrong.

It will explore the opportunities and risks of the state's involvement in the mining, enrichment, energy and storage phases for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

"Royal Commissions are a trusted and reliable means to establish the facts with which the people of South Australia can engage in this important debate."  Independent experts would also be engaged to help in the commission's work.

"We need a clearer understanding of the world's demand and use of nuclear energy," he said.  "We also need a deeper understanding of our state's and the nation's energy needs and how they are likely to develop in the future.

"This Royal Commission will also look at the opportunities and risks associated with this sector.  "Some people describe the potential economic benefits as enormous while others describe the risks as unacceptable."

Consultation on the form of the Terms of Reference will begin on Monday and the Royal Commissioner will be appointed soon.

Liberal leader Steven Marshall said the premier's announcement was a distraction, although the opposition supported the inquiry which was in line with its stated position before last year's SA election.

Business SA welcomed the Royal Commission, saying the organisation had previously called for a "mature debate" of the nuclear energy industry in SA.

"WE have almost 25 per cent of the world's uranium so there is a huge economic potential for SA that could be a 'game changer'," said CEO Nigel McBride


Don't pour funding into the leaky child care bucket

ideas-2The Prime Minister's speech at the National Press Club this week was meant to set the tone for government policy in 2015. The speech contained some discussion of the  government's so-called 'families package', including the fact that the policy focus, and funding as well, will shift from paid parental leave to childcare.

This is a mixed blessing. My colleague Matthew Taylor this week explained why Abbott's pet PPL scheme is best buried, but the danger lies in the instinct to direct the additional taxpayer's money into a childcare system which is broken.

A promising sign is that Social Services Minister Scott Morrison has rightly compared childcare rebates to the First Home Owner's Grant. Childcare subsidies simply push up prices (since providers will continue to charge what the market will bear) and do nothing to improve issues of affordability and access. Morrison is also right to point out that the workforce participation effect of this extra spending has been minimal.

The only way to increase supply and exert downward pressure on costs is to promote competition in the childcare sector. One way to do this is to remove barriers to entry that restrict new entrants into the market.

Unfortunately, government policy continues to head in the opposite direction. The latest attempt to crack down on so-called 'dodgy' family day care providers will only exacerbate the chronic national shortage of child care places. Unsurprisingly, established players like this idea.

An alternative approach is for the government to take a step back from the Gillard-era national standards which require ever-more highly trained staff and lower staff-to-child ratios. My research has shown that the evidence simply does not back up the 'quality' arguments used to justify the new regulations.

The Productivity Commission has also pointed to areas such as council zoning restrictions and onerous reporting requirements that inhibit growth in the number of childcare places and can compromise service quality.

Childcare is a complex policy area that involves all three levels of government, and it is clear that the whole system needs fixing. Simply fiddling around the edges with a boosted subsidy scheme is not an option. If more funding is devote to childcare without structural reform, this will be like pouring water into a leaky bucket.


8 February, 2015

Climate change drove Australia's record hot year, unofficial report claims

The usual suspects (Steffen, Flannery) are at it again.  Since there is no statistically significant evidence that there has been ANY global warming for 18 years, the claims of change below are simply false.  Steffen is a long-time Warmist extremist. A while back he  described the debate in the media over the basics of climate change science as ”almost infantile”, equating it to an argument about the existence of gravity.

Australia's hottest year on record would not have happened without climate change, according to a new report.

The country experienced its hottest day, month, season and calendar year in 2013, registering a mean temperature 1.2C above the 1961-90 average.

The Climate Council says recent studies show those heat events would have occurred only once every 12,300 years without greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

"In fact, we can say the 2013 record year was virtually impossible without climate change; it wouldn't have happened," Will Steffen, the author of Quantifying the Strong Influence of Climate Change on Extreme Heat in Australia, told AAP. "I mean, no one would bet on odds of one in nearly 13,000."

Based on analyses of data and model outputs, the report says climate change triples the odds that heatwaves of the 2012-13 Australian summer will happen as frequently as they do.

It also doubles the chances of them being as intense. "We're looking at pretty hard numbers on the odds of those things happening without the underlying warming trend due to greenhouse gases," Mr Steffen said.

"In my view, it's extremely powerful, conclusive evidence that not only is there a link between climate change and extreme heat, climate change is the main driver of it."

Mr Steffen found record hot days have doubled in Australia the last 50 years, and that during the past decade heat weather records were set three times more often than cold ones.

The report also claims heatwaves across Australia are becoming hotter, lasting longer, occurring more often and starting earlier.

2014 was Australia's third-warmest year on record behind 2013 and 2005, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.


Formerly militant TWU eats humble pie

They went close to destroying Qantas before the CEO grounded the fleet and showed them how close they went to losing all their jobs with the airline

Qantas Airways has won a significant victory as part of its quest for all employees to agree to an 18-month pay freeze after workers represented by the Transport Workers Union voted in favour of a new deal that includes the wage freeze.

The enterprise bargaining agreement with the TWU represents 2600 employees, making it the largest single agreement covering part of Qantas's unionised workforce. In total, 70.32 per cent of TWU workers, which include airport, catering and freight employees, voted in favour of the deal. The ballot closed on Friday.

The victory for Qantas means 7000 staff in 11 employee groups have now agreed to the wage freeze, including licensed engineers, short-haul pilots and Jetstar and UK cabin crew. Qantas is implementing the pay freeze as each EBA comes up for negotiation.

"We're really pleased with this result, which came after good faith discussions with the union," a Qantas spokeswoman said. "This is a fair and reasonable agreement which provides both the business and our employees with certainty."

The 18-month wage freeze in the three-year TWU agreement will apply from July 2014 and end on December 31 this year. In 2016 and 2017, the employees will receive a 3 per cent pay rise.

In return for the TWU leadership agreeing to put the deal to a vote of its members, Qantas gave undertakings to improve superannuation and training provisions and better access to long-service leave. It also gave a guarantee that if Qantas splits its international operations to allow a foreign investor to take up to a 49 per cent stake, TWU employees would continue under their existing arrangements.

"The onus is on Qantas to honour their commitment to engage with the workforce," TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said after the vote. "We will be seeking to establish full-time secure jobs during the life of the agreement in return for the acceptance of wage restraint."

He said Qantas's recent financial turnaround would be factored into the TWU's next pay and job security claim. UBS last week said Qantas could report a $1 billion pretax underlying profit this financial year, which compares with a $646 million underlying pretax loss last year.

Under Mr Sheldon's leadership, the TWU has been viewed as one of the most militant unions representing Qantas employees. Mr Sheldon has made harsh critiques of the Qantas management team, including chief executive Alan Joyce. After Qantas last year announced plans to cut 5000 jobs over a three-year period as part of a $2 billion cost-cutting exercise, Mr Sheldon threatened to launch a campaign of "civil disobedience" against the airline. He said he would be willing to be arrested, but in the end, such action never eventuated.

Jetstar pilots represented by the Australian Federation of Air Pilots will next week conclude a vote that would open the door for them to take industrial action against the airline. Jetstar pilots last year voted overwhelmingly against a new EBA which included the 18-month pay freeze, with 95 per cent rejecting the deal. If taken, the industrial action has the potential to disrupt flights.


Abbott ridicule just a distraction from Labor’s economic mess

IN the great sum of political stuff-ups, Tony Abbott’s captain’s calls to reintroduce dames and knights and giving Prince Philip an Australian award, just don’t make the cut.

They might attract ridicule, justly, but they’re not going to stop the building of a new hospital or a new airport.

That’s precisely why Labor’s mocking mountebanks and media proxies have concentrated their commentary on these inconsequentialities — they remain hellbent on their true task, which is to divert attention from the squalid state of Labor’s stinking legacy.

In addressing the National Press Club yesterday, the prime minister went to themes which the Coalition must constantly repeat from now until the next election.

The economy IS the fundamental concern of the nation. Without a sound economy, there would be no environment for the Greens to infest, no national security for them to undermine, no social benefits for the Labor Party to whinge about, no dole for their supporters to bludge on.

While it is absolutely deplorable that Labor cowardly ransacked the national estate, it would be inexcusable for the Coalition not to try to restore the economy to a sound footing. Abbott is focused on the future as he faces the slings and arrows of an economically delinquent opposition and barbs from a handful of disloyal colleagues.

He dumped his unpopular PPL — not that it was ever going to be passed — which is more than either of his predecessors did with their reeking failures, the catastrophic unwinding of the Howard government’s effective border protection policy and the disastrous carbon dioxide tax.

Rudd and Gillard did nothing but deliver chaotic government and when their failures were reported the Labor Party tried to censor the press.

Abbott addressed the nation not with soaring words and visionary rhetoric but with plain and honest talk about our kids’ future and our grandchildren’s future. He mentioned tax cuts for small businesses, a families and jobs package, a crackdown on supporters of terrorism and he made it clear that in future he won’t be handing out any gongs.

But the core message is about responsibility. Sooner or later, he said, all responsible MPs have to put the long-term national interest ahead of their short-term political interest and there’s no better time to start than now.

He might have added that responsible Australians should be prepared to put the long-term interests ahead of their selfish short-term gains but that may well have offended those who are more interested in a hand-out than a hand up.

The address was a first step in regaining the debate ceded to the sniggering classes. His cabinet needs to pick up these themes and run hard with them.


Paid parental leave scheme levy without the Paid parental leave scheme?

Tony Abbott has abandoned his enhanced PPL scheme, but word is that the tax earmarked to pay for it (a 1.5% levy on larger company profits) may be kept anyway. This would be bad policy and cynical politics.

The levy came from the book of budgetary smoke and mirrors. It enabled Abbott to appear to deliver on a promise to cut company tax from 30% to 28.5%, while giving up little revenue. In reality, the levy was a company income tax by another name, and would have left company tax at 30% for the larger companies that pay most of the tax. The result would have been a messy two-tier company income tax, with rates of 28.5% and 30%.

The proposal had a particularly nasty twist - denial of dividend franking credits for the levy. This would supercharge the revenue yield from the levy at the expense of shareholders, and quite possibly mark the beginning of the end of the dividend imputation system.

The logic behind the PPL levy was always spurious, but without the PPL it is even more so. I have never liked tax levies for specific purposes because they facilitate higher taxation by drawing bogus links between components of general revenue and expenditure. The link between the PPL levy and PPL was spurious, and the link between the levy and son-of-PPL will be even more bogus.

Making large company profits the target for additional taxation looks more like populist contempt for 'big business' than rational tax policy. There is no economic case for tax policy to distinguish between large and small companies. Policy should focus on the reality that among all taxes, company income tax on firms of all sizes is one of the most harmful to investment and economic growth.

Australia's 30% rate needs to be reduced to a more internationally competitive level, but it may have to wait. The right thing to do now is to set a single company tax rate at the lowest level the budget can afford in the current circumstances.


6 February, 2015

Queensland Election: Independent supports Labor to govern

Independent MP Peter Wellington has announced he will "conditionally" support the Labor Party to form government in Queensland.  He has given a commitment that there will be confidence on the floor of parliament, but will be voting bill by bill.

Mr Wellington said his commitment comes despite "significant offers" from the LNP, but the experienced MP he said he would not stand for any illegal activity.

"My support is conditional on the basis that there is no illegal activity, no allegations of corruption, and most importantly, it's about providing stability to govern Queensland," he said.

"I've given a commitment that I'll make sure there is confidence on the floor of parliament, that Treasury will be able to continue to function, but if there is any proposed changes to the laws in Queensland that impact on my electorate, I'll be voting according to how those laws will impact on my electorate.  "It may be the case that on occasion, I will be voting against the Labor party's proposed agenda.

"But at this stage, I'm making it very clear I will be supporting Annastacia if my vote is necessary."

Mr Wellington said he made his decision because a lot of the same people involved in the LNP government's last term were still there.  Mr Wellington said Lawrence Springborg, who he understood to be the official LNP representative in the talks with the crossbench, was being "undermined" by his party.

"Lawrence is one person," he said.  "He is not able to totally control what happens in the Liberal National Party. "I believe he's being undermined by people in his own party."

He blamed an old adversary - Campbell Newman - for the situation within the LNP ranks.  "We have Premier Newman refusing to allow the Liberal-National Party to have a meeting to resolve the issue of leadership and because of Premier Newman's decision to refuse their members to have that meeting," he said.

"You have now got Lawrence [Springborg] put forward as the official voice of the Liberal-National Party, you have Steve Dickson the minister and member for Buderim running around, you've got Scott Emerson out there, you've got Fiona Simpson and you've got some other parties who I am not going to name, who are also out there jockeying for various groups.  That is not a recipe for stability.  "We need stability and I have made a decision.

"The Katter boys at the moment are saying wait another five days.  In five days time they might say, wait another five days.  Look, quite frankly, I can't speak for the Katter boys.  I have made a decision.  We had discussions yesterday, I spoke last night, it is up to them as to what their decision may be."

Mr Wellington said he had been promised that under a Labor government the limit for undeclared political donations would be returned to $1000 from $12,800, a key priority for Mr Wellington since the LNP altered donation legislation mid-term.

"I have a promise from Annastacia that she's agreed to," Mr Wellington said.  "More importantly, I've asked Anastasia if she would look at when those donations are being made that the donations have to be revealed there and then to the Electoral Commission," he said.  "Real time. Real time. That is  important. We need to make sure that there is no more of this secret donations to candidates or political parties.

"The whole range of issues that I have been consistently lobbying for Anastasia has agreed with and it part of her commitment."

Mr Wellington said the LNP had made "significant" offers in exchange for his support, but would not elaborate.  "There have been some very significant offers made from the Liberal-National Party not just to myself but to the members of the Katter party," he said.

"I'm not going to go into that but can I simply say my decision has been made and what I believe the right decision for Queensland.

At this stage, neither party has enough votes to form government.  The two Katter MPs have asked for more time, saying any declaration was "premature".


Greenies versus bushfire control

WESTERN Australia needs to have more controlled burns to curb the risk of out-of-control bushfires, the premier says.

FIREFIGHTERS have been working for a week to save lives and homes in the state's south from a bushfire surrounding Northcliffe.
The blaze has burnt more than 80,000 hectares of karri and jarrah forest.

Fewer controlled burns have been done in WA since 2011, when two prescribed burns at Margaret River and the Perth Hills destroyed more than 100 homes.

Premier Colin Barnett said on Thursday that more controlled burns were needed in vast forest areas despite opposition from local communities.

"I think we need to take a stronger stand," Mr Barnett told Fairfax radio.  "In those areas of vast forest, it's a natural phenomenon. You will get lightning strikes and you will get bushfires. It's been going on for millions of years."

Northcliffe resident Brad, who lives on a bush block and has held out until Thursday to leave town, told ABC radio he did not agree with prescribed burning because he did not believe it worked.

He said he would rather be forced to leave the forest-enveloped town and live with the risk of big fires than have authorities clear it every few years so the area resembled parkland.

"I think the loss of habitat, flora and fauna is far more destructive than what we've seen for the odd big fire that comes through," Brad said.

Roger Underwood, chairman of prescribed burning advocacy group Bushfire Front and veteran firefighter, told AAP this week that WA was the world leader in prescribed burning in the 1970s and '80s, but that was no longer the case.

Mr Underwood said Australia was "doomed to savage bushfires" without prescribed burns.

Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis said prescribed burns would not have prevented the Northcliffe bushfire because it was sparked by lightning.

He also said the karri and jarrah forests of the South West were the key reason they were so popular, and removing vast tracts would not go down well.


Government crackdown on 'fly-by-night' colleges

The Abbott government has flagged a crackdown on "fly-by-night" private training colleges, including potentially banning colleges from luring students into vocational courses by offering free iPads and other inducements.

New Assistant Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham will tell the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Thursday that rorts in parts of the vocational education and training sector are as bad as those seen in the Rudd government's home insulation scheme.

Private colleges have been exposed for offering free iPads and laptops for students to sign on to ­taxpayer-subsidised courses they often do not complete.

The value of HECS-style loans for vocational students has blown out from $325 million in 2012 to $1.5 billion last year under relaxed conditions introduced by the Labor government – double the expected rate of growth.

"The absence of adequate standards around the recruitment of students, information surrounding their debts and the quality of training provided has seen this scheme abused and some vulnerable Australians taken for a ride," Senator Birmingham, who has responsibility for the vocational training sector, will say.

"Frankly, some of the behaviour is reminiscent of the fly-by-night operations established under Labor's Pink Batts scheme."

The government will consider banning inducements such as free iPads or cash rebates as well as introducing tougher marketing guidelines and enhanced duty of care requirements.

Some students are signing up for "free" courses without knowing there is a loan attached or the level of debt they are taking on, Senator Birmingham will say. 

"Training providers, students and parents have also raised concerns about students signing up for courses of only one unit – a miraculous duration to complete a higher level Diploma or Advanced Diploma level courses," he will say.

Senator Birmingham will single out the "remarkable proliferation" of Diplomas of Management and Business as evidence of the need for tougher eligibility criteria for access to VET- FEE HELP loans (similar to HECS loans for university students).

Enrolments in these diplomas surged by 170 per from 2012 to 2013 and by a further 195 per cent the following year. The 56,000 extra enrolments equates to $770 million in federal government loans.

While the government remains committed to the growth of the loan program, Senator Birmingham says it "will not support abuse of this scheme by people out to make a quick buck at the expense of the vulnerable and the taxpayer".

A Senate inquiry is currently scrutinising private training colleges and their access to federal subsidies.


Justice Betty King slams Law Institute of Victoria for delay in referring crooked lawyer to police

Your regulators will protect you -- NOT

A SUPREME court judge has slammed legal regulators after hearing it took them years to refer a crooked solicitor who confessed to stealing millions of dollars to police.

Suburban solicitor Alan John Munt, 61, confessed to ripping off almost $5 million from clients to the Law Institute of Victoria in September 2009, but it was not until December 2012 that police were called in.

Justice Betty King today criticised authorities for taking almost six years to bring Munt, who has fully cooperated with authorities, before her.

“Everyone’s got a lot of explaining to do,” Justice King said.  “I want to hear from the Law Institute of Victoria why they sat on it. What business is it of theirs to sit on it? (The victims) have waited an awful long time for it to get here. It’s not good enough.”

Most of the misappropriated money was used on personal expenses, to prop up a failing soft drinks investment, or to pay interest on a Ponzi scheme he was running from his Emerald firm.

Most of the victims were retirees who thought they were putting their savings in to mortgage-back investments.

Munt has declared bankruptcy and many investors have no chance of ever seeing their money.


5 February, 2015

RBA cuts interest rate to historic low of 2.25 per cent

THE Reserve Bank has cut interest rates to a historic low of 2.25 per cent in one of the most keenly anticipated central bank board meeting announcements in months.

The decision was welcomed by treasurer Joe Hockey who said a cut to interest rates is good news for business and households.

The Reserve Bank cut the cash rate by a quarter of a percentage point to a new record low of 2.25 per cent.

“This is good news for Australian families and it’s good news for Australian business,” Mr Hockey told reporters in Canberra. “The government is working hard to take the pressure off interest rates by keeping inflation low.”

Mr Hockey said combined with a fall in petrol prices Australians had received the equivalent of a three-quarter of one per cent cut in interest rates.

The treasurer said the Reserve Bank had “more room to move”but that this latest cut would lift business and consumer confidence.  “The shackles are off the Australian economy,” he said.

“I say to Australian business ... go out there, have a go, employ more Australians because the costs of doing business are down.” The treasurer said he expected the banks to pass on the cut immediately across the credit spectrum and not just limit it to home loans.

An International Monetary Fund report due out within days would show global economic headwinds remain of concern, he said.

The central bank’s last move on the official cash rate was in August 2013, with an easing from 2.75 per cent to 2.5 per cent.

Today’s cut means monthly savings for mortgage holders ranging from about $50 on a $300,000 loan to $120 on an $800,000 loan.

After the RBA’s announcement the Aussie dollar took an initial leg lower, and has been extending losses against the US dollar, falling more than 1.5 per cent to below $US0.77.

In its announcement, the RBA said, “The Australian dollar has declined noticeably against a rising US dollar over recent months, though less so against a basket of currencies. It remains above most estimates of its fundamental value, particularly given the significant declines in key commodity prices. A lower exchange rate is likely to be needed to achieve balanced growth in the economy.”

The RBA also noted that the Australian economy continues to grow below-trend, while the unemployment rate is now expected to peak at a higher level than had been previously forecast.

Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens said: “Forecasts for global growth in 2015 envisage continued moderate growth.

“Commodity prices have continued to decline, in some cases sharply. The price of oil in particular has fallen significantly over the past few months. These trends appear to reflect a combination of lower growth in demand and, more importantly, significant increases in supply. “The much lower levels of energy prices will act to strengthen global output and temporarily to lower CPI inflation rates.

“In Australia the available information suggests that growth is continuing at a below-trend pace, with domestic demand growth overall quite weak.”

The move is likely to take the typical standard variable mortgage rate down to 5.7 per cent and discounted variable rates to 4.85 per cent — the lowest cost of mortgage debt since July 1968.

Lower mortgage rates have the potential to add some fuel to what are already strong housing market conditions


An Australian politician has gone off to fight the Islamic State – brilliant

Comment from Britain.  Chuka Umunna is a black British dandy and snob in the parliamentary Labour party

Imagine Chuka Umunna hanging up his immaculately tailored suits and heading off to Syria to do battle with the Islamic State. Or Ed Balls ditching his unconvincing blather about how Labour would resuscitate the British economy in preference for picking up a gun and knocking off some ISIS nutters. Imagine if some of the Labour-leaning laptop bombardiers who pepper the British press put down their spittle-flecked iPads and actually filed off to war against IS rather than filing 800 words about why the armies of the West should launch a war against IS.

Crazy, you say? An unacceptable demand to make of politicians and opinion-formers who have serious jobs and nice homes? Not so fast. For it appears that this very scenario has just unfolded in Australia. Matthew Gardiner, head of the Northern Territory branch of the Australian Labor Party, has apparently gone off to Syria to fight alongside the Kurds against IS forces. Gardiner, who was also secretary of the Aussie trade union United Voice, and is a former soldier who served with the Aus army in Somalia in the 1990s, is thought to have left Australia a few weeks ago after making connections with Kurdish militants online. Where most Western politicians talk a good fight against IS, Mr Gardiner seems keen actually to fight one.

There is much to admire in Mr Gardiner’s reported move. He is, it seems, acting on his convictions, putting himself on the line for what we can assume to be his pretty stand-up beliefs: that the Islamic State is a backward and dangerous force and the Kurds deserve solidarity and help. His alleged actions also expose the shallowness of other Western politicians and observers who talk endlessly about the need to launch wars against evil forces overseas — everywhere from Yugoslavia to Iraq to Syria — yet who would never deign to get their manicured hands dirty by actually picking up a gun. Where earlier leftists trekked to Spain to physically fight for their moral beliefs, the greatest exertion that today’s laughably self-defined heirs of Orwell are willing to undergo is to flick through a thesaurus to come up with the juiciest words possible to describe their anger at the various wicked things happening overseas.

Ours is age in which too many people live vicariously through the military interventionism of Western armies. Bereft of the old, clear politics of left and right, lacking any serious moral or political vision, politicians and observers alike prefer to stage fantasy battles between Good and Evil in far-off fields and then watch them on their TV screens in the hope that they will imbue their sad, anchorless, post-ideological existences with some clout and meaning. And the fact that these interventions make things worse, turning tinpot states into post-states in which all manner of odious forces can take root and take power (think Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya)? Don’t mention that. All that matters is that, for a few weeks or so, Westerners who have watched politics and morality at home fall apart can temporarily reconstruct it on the rubble of someone else’s war and hardships.

Well, Mr Gardiner shows, if the reports are correct, that there is another way. That you can fight on the ground with local forces who might actually make a real difference and create a new, potentially democratic system — something a Western missile is utterly incapable of doing. He has shown that it is possible to get to the Kurds, to train with them, to work with them. So, those Westerners who are relatively young and relatively fit and who have spent years demanding that we Do Something about nasty forces overseas — now your’s chance. Follow Matthew Gardiner. Take up arms. Fight the backward armies. Do something.


Qld.: Energex whistleblower claims culture of waste, inefficiency

A FORMER insider of state-owned power corporation Energex has given a damn­ing assessment of staffers whiling away their days while collecting paypackets far outstripping market rates.

Energex whistleblower Cally Wilson has made a submission to the federal ­energy regulator alleging a “public sector mentality” was racking up costs borne by consumers through their power bills.

“Energex staffing levels, based on my observations, are excessive for its actual needs,” Ms Wilson, a former treasury analyst before quitting last year, has told the Australian Energy Regulator of her time at Energex headquarters.

“Walking around the building, I saw row upon row of employees spending large amounts of their day engrossed in personal activities while … employees often spend large parts of their days in unproductive meetings.

“Staff are provided exceedingly generous income and benefits compared to commercial standards for the same roles.

“This in itself contributes to an inefficient workplace, as once people are in jobs that provide pay and benefits well in excess of market conditions, employees are more likely to cling to jobs.”

The submission urges the regulator to take a “razor” to Energex’s latest revenue bid, which influences network costs – making up about half of power bills – for the next five years.

An independent review into network costs commissioned by the outgoing Newman government found that an alarming 647 staffers earned more than 1½ times their base salary across the three state-owned network businesses – Ergon, Energex and Powerlink.

And 27 staff doubled their base pay in 2011-12, likely spawning “lower levels of productivity”.

Energex staff are virtually unsackable due to longstanding “no forced redundancy” clauses.

The Courier-Mail spent a day at a coffee shop a short walk from Energex’s $90 million Newstead base mid last year, witnessing a series of laid-back meetings.

One employee was heard joking with three Energex staff: “Don’t rush, you still have another two hours until you have to be back.”

The Courier-Mail revealed early last year that taxpayers were forking out $100,000 a month for more than 100 people whose jobs no longer existed but who could not be sacked.

An Energex spokesman said it was impossible to respond to inefficiency claims before seeing the submission, but blamed overtime for excess staff pay.


Is mathematics Confucian?

The author below thinks so

Chinese Australians consistently outperform their peers in mathematics and according to QUT researcher Michael Mu this is not only because of pushy parents or motivated students.
Mr Mu's research has found in addition to a strong emphasis on mathematics, Chinese Australians' mathematical achievement is also passed down through generations.

Mr Mu, who is undertaking his PhD through the Faculty of Education, said Chinese cultural identity counted in mathematical success.

As part of his study, Mr Mu surveyed 230 young Chinese Australians relating their mathematical achievement to their level of association with their Chinese cultural dispositions.

"I found there is a trend showing Chinese Australians' mathematics learning is influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the values and expectations that they get from their cultural identity," he said.

"It's not only about Chinese parents pushing their children at mathematics, or students putting in more effort, or the belief that Chinese students have a great interest in maths, it's much more deeply rooted in their cultural history."

Mr Mu said "habitus" or as it was more commonly understood as structures that generate, but not determine, certain cultural dispositions, was what pushed Chinese Australians to do well at maths - and it could be done consciously or unconsciously.  "The importance of mathematics is steeped in Chinese tradition and culture. It is part of Confucius ideas and beliefs," he said.

"Chinese traditions and beliefs play an important part in Chinese culture and they are passed down from generation to generation. "Despite some possible imperfect intergenerational reproduction, Confucian way of being, doing, and thinking continues over thousands of years.

"This perception becomes the underpinning mechanism that leads to Chinese Australians' putting in more effort in mathematics learning and therefore better mathematics achievement compared to their counterparts."

Mr Mu's study is published as "Does Habitus Count in Chinese Australians' Mathematics Achievement?"


4 February, 2015

Queensland election 2015: Pauline Hanson could make political comeback

Pauline Hanson has emerged as a player in the Queensland election result, as preferences indicate the former One Nation leader on track for a political comeback.

After the final count on Monday, Labor was predicted to fall over the line with the required 45 seats, leaving the incumbent Liberal-National Party government in Opposition with 40 seats and still scrambling for a new leader after Campbell Newman's loss.

Counting on election night indicated Ms Hanson was likely to fall short in her bid to win the seat of Lockyer from sitting LNP member Ian Rickuss but early preference counting has favoured Ms Hanson, increasing her chances of winning.

That would leave Queensland with four politicians on the cross bench, including long-time independent MP Peter Wellington and two Katter's Australian Party MPs.

But the result continues to fluctuate, leaving Labor reluctant to claim victory and the LNP hopeful it may sneak back into government, with Katter and possibly Ms Hanson's support.

Meanwhile, a divide has emerged between the LNP executive and parliamentary arm,  with both sides duking it out in a battle for party leadership,

Deputy leader Jeff Seeney had planned on resigning his position at a party room meeting on Tuesday to allow a new leadership team, believed to be Treasurer Tim Nicholls and Health Minister Lawrence Springborg on a unity ticket, to take the party forward.

Mr Seeney said he was falling on his sword to allow the party to heal after the shock election result, which may see the party, which spent 14 years in opposition, back there after just one term in government.

 "I have in the past found that leadership contests are very divisive and if we can avoid that, in this particular situation, that would be a great outcome," he said.

" That is why I have spent all day yesterday and this morning working towards that situation and that is the very reason I am standing aside, because if I stand aside then there is a completely new leadership team and hopefully that new leadership team can take their positions without the divisiveness that those leadership contests produce. "

But just hours after announcing the meeting, it was scuttled and Speaker Fiona Simpson was making a strong play for the leadership.  "I would love the job but this isn't just about what I want," she said.  " I am flattered though by the polls that show there is strong support for me across Queensland and in Brisbane.  "I am consulting with colleagues and I hear from the people of Queensland. "I hope that people see I have been fair in the way I have done that."

While the LNP leadership games play out, Labor MPs have stayed quiet, hesitant to claim victory with the result "so up in the air".

More than 75 per cent of votes had been counted by Monday afternoon, but the electoral commission announced a further 600,000 declaration votes could be added to the count. It warned a result in some seats may not be available until next week.


Queensland election 2015: Former treasurer Keith De Lacy says Labor not ready to govern after shock result

Former Queensland treasurer Keith De Lacy says the Labor Party did not expect to win Saturday's election and may not be ready to govern the state.

The LNP had been tipped to win the election but has won only 39 seats compred to Labor's 42, with caretaker premier Campbell Newman losing his seat of Ashgrove to Labor's Kate Jones.

Mr De Lacy, who was treasurer from 1989 to 1996 under former Labor premier Wayne Goss, said the inexperience of Labor's potential ministers could have a destabilising effect on the business sector.

"The big concern I think, and speaking on behalf of the business community, is a period of paralysis when very little gets done while the government works itself out and how to take itself forward," he said.

"The very important game in this country, in a democracy, is being a minister and nobody tells you how to do it.

"I remember, a long time ago now, the best part of 30 years, going into the treasurer's office, you know, the big mahogany desks and red leather armchairs and just shaking my head and saying 'what the hell am I doing here?'"

He said inexperienced ministers must build strong relationships with their departments.  "There's a lot of intelligent people there with a lot of experience," Mr De Lacy said.  "There's a lot of good advice in the department, make sure you utilise it and consider it.  "Don't surround yourself with 'save the world teenagers' and think you're going to get all the advice from them."

He said Queensland's economy was at a crossroads.  "The resources boom is finished, which way are we going to move?" he said.
"The last thing we need in this state is a confidence shock."

He said Labor must focus on economic growth and paying off the state's debt.  "The two big challenges is the debt and delivering social policies," Mr De Lacy said.  "The only way you can address both of those is with a growing economy.

"But if we get into a situation where we're focusing on a whole range of other issues, rather than economic growth, confidence as a consequence declines, the economy declines, the whole situation deteriorates."

Mr de Lacy said Queensland's debt was a big disadvantage. "If anybody out there believes that we don't have a massive challenge in terms of the budget in Queensland they're living in another world," he said.

"And that means pain for Queenslanders. We've got major problems here in terms of spending. "It's a massive and a major challenge and that's why I keep saying economic growth is the best thing you can have helping you.

"You cannot spend more than you earn, the most fundamental, simple budgetary principal in the human race, yet we haven't woken up to it."

But Labor's Jackie Trad said the Labor party had a very clear plan for Queensland.  "If Labor forms government, what you will get is maturity, you will get discipline and you will get jobs growth," she said. "We will roll up our sleeves and we will get to work, working, listening, collaborating with everyone, business, unions, the community sector, everyone."


Punters bet on banks after Reserve Bank cuts interest rate

Half of my portfolio is in banks so I like this

Investors have increased their bets on bank shares in response to the latest cut in official interest rates, even though lower rates tend to squeeze lenders' profit margins.

Commonwealth Bank shares hit a new record high of $90.67 after the Reserve Bank cut the cash rate to 2.25 per cent on Tuesday, while Westpac, NAB and ANZ Bank shares were also up strongly.

The jump in bank shares reflects a market-wide surge in high-yielding stocks. It comes despite bank lending margins being squeezed as interest rates fall. This is because a bank's interest-earning assets, loans, are greater than its liabilities, or deposits.

If banks reduce rates on their deposits and loans by the same amount, the overall result is lower profit margins.

"Basically, lower interest rates means lower margins," Bell Potter analyst TS Lim said. "You lose more on interest income, as opposed to saving on interest expense."

Shareholder funds held by banks also make lower returns when rates fall.

Despite these headwinds, big bank shares have been star performers in an environment of record low rates.  Research by Macquarie analyst Mike Wiblin this week found the big four banks' share prices had outperformed the ASX 200 significantly during the last cycle of interest rate cuts between November 2011 and August 2013.

A key reason was that the cutting cycle gave the banks an opportunity to "reprice" their mortgage books; lowering their mortgage rates by less than the reduction in the cash rate.

The country's biggest bank, CBA, was the strongest over the period analysed by Wiblin, outperforming the ASX 200 by 30 per cent, while Westpac, the second-biggest mortgage lender, was ahead by 23 per cent. ANZ outperformed by 20 per cent and NAB, which has been challenged by its British business, fared 4 per cent better than the index.

Bank share prices are also benefiting from a broader "search for yield" among investors as returns from bonds and cash are at record lows.

Even at Tuesday's record intra-day high of $90.67, CBA's estimated dividend yield for this financial year is 4.6 per cent, before franking credits.

Lower interest rates can also benefit banks because lower repayments for borrowers can result in fewer bad debts, and can encourage credit growth.

This has been occurring recently; banks' provisions for bad and doubtful debts are at 20-year lows, a trend that benefits their bottom lines.

Housing credit has also accelerated to its quickest pace in four years but it is still growing far slower than before the global financial crisis.

Even with another rate cut confirmed, Mr Lim is doubtful about the chances of a significant lift in lending growth.

Many consumers would continue to pay down debt and banks would be wary of regulators cracking down on lending to housing investors, he said.

Aside from the soft economic outlook, banks also face pressure to hold more capital, which reduces returns.

A report from Standard & Poor's found the big four were outside the top quartile of best-capitalised banks in the world, which is consistent with the the view of the financial system inquiry.


Federal education minister Christopher Pyne praises weird and extravagant new university building

The Education Minister drew audible gasps at the opening of the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at UTS  when he launched a spirited defence of his government's embattled higher education reform.

"The wonderful thing about this building is that it shouts out that the University of Technology Sydney is in the race for higher education - that it is a real competitor and that it is not content to sit back and receive large government support," he said.

The Education Minister has struggled to gain support for the tertiary reforms which would decrease university funding by an average of 20 per cent and allow them to set their own fees, as well as extending funding to private colleges and TAFE.

Mr Pyne was unable to have the reforms passed by the senate in December, and last week said he had set himself a two-month deadline to pass the changes.

In his speech on Monday Mr Pyne criticised what he said was an unwillingness to recognise overseas competition and the importance of international tertiary students to Australian's economy.

 "That competition is something that governments and Australians can't pretend  is not happening," he said.

Mr Pyne praised the $180 million spent on the Frank Gehry building as showing a focus on quality and innovation as opposed to the university using the funds to build several buildings.

"It's not enough to have 41 very good universities, we must have the best university system but also the best universities in the world," said Mr Pyne.

He said that proposed higher education reforms would mean that university vice-chancellors could charge more if they believed they were providing a better course and facilities. 

"If UTS has the best entrepreneurship MBA in Australia it will be able to attach a real value to that rather than it costing the same as another MBA in Australia-regardless of whether they are the same quality in that course," Mr Pyne said.

The speech was in stark contrast to Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, who did not focus on the reform. He praised the building as the "most beautiful squashed paper bag I have ever seen."

Attila Brungs, a Vice Chancellor of UTS, said: "Just as the Opera House put Australia on the map for the arts, the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building will confirm Australia's place as a global innovative leader."


Former Rudd candidate Samuel Miszkowski donates $200K to Liberal Party

In 2007, Samuel Miszkowski sold his house to contest the safe Liberal seat of Moncrieff on the Gold Coast.

Such was Mr Miszkowski's enthusiasm to join the march of "Kevin 07" as a Labor candidate he cashed in $372,000 in property and assets to finance his own campaign and ran under the slogan "Sam's the Man".

But, less than a month out from the election, he admitted to feeling "neglected" when Kevin Rudd could not recall his name during a media conference.

Mr Miszkowski almost quit the ALP but contested the election, struggling to make an impression on sitting Liberal Steve Ciobo who survived with a muscular two-party preferred result of 64:36 in his favour.

So it might come as a surprise to Mr Miszkowski's former ALP comrades that he is at the centre of one of the largest single donations to the Liberal Party in 2013-14.

He is listed as the financial controller of Mist Consulting, located in the Gold Coast suburb of Bundall. Mist donated $200,000 to the federal Liberal Party, according to returns released by the Australian Electoral Commission on Monday.  Mist Consulting did not donate to Labor.

Contacted by Fairfax Media, Mr Miszkowski said: "I was left hanging like a shag on a rock by the ALP when I ran."

He said he viewed the Liberal Party as having "potential going forward" but after the weekend landslide against the Newman state government he was no longer so sure.

"We might just give up donating at all to either side," he said. 

According to the Australian Business Register, Mist Consulting is the entity behind Friends of Israel (Queensland).

Mr Miszkowski, who is a director of the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland and a former director of the Gold Coast Jewish Community Council, said that was just a registered trading name that had not been used and the donation had nothing to do with the Israel lobby, as claimed by the Greens on Monday.

Interviewed after his failed election bid, Mr Miszkowski revealed his family's opinion of selling their home. "(They're) not happy – it's not an adventure we'd repeat," he said in 2008.


3 February, 2015

Another confirmation:  Unusually hot weather in Australia goes back a long way

Australia's notorious BoM has made various declarations to the effect that modern-day temperatures in Australia are unprecedentedly high.  A recent very hot summer in Sydney was particularly targeted as "proof" of global warming.  So it is interesting to find records of Sydney weather centuries ago.  We do of course have the observations by Watkin Tench showing that Sydney had disastrously hot weather in 1790 but other sources of data are obviously very welcome.   We now have a compilation from two other early sources.  See the abstract below.

The compilation was done by Warmist scientists so it is amusing that they make no direct comparisons between average temperatures then and average temperatures now.  From what Tench reported it is a slam dunk what to conclude from that.  The authors do however concede that the general picture of weather events in Sydney in the late 18th century is extremely similar to the picture these days.  So I think it is safe to conclude that there has been no warming in Sydney for over 200 years.  I wonder how global warming missed Sydney?

A climate reconstruction of Sydney Cove, New South Wales, using weather journal and documentary data, 1788–1791

Joëlle Gergis et al.


This study presents the first analysis of the weather conditions experienced at Sydney Cove, New South Wales, during the earliest period of the European settlement of Australia. A climate analysis is presented for January 1788 to December 1791 using daily temperature and barometric pressure observations recorded by William Dawes in Sydney Cove and a temperature record kept by William Bradley on board the HMS Sirius anchored in Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) in the early months of the First Fleet’s arrival in Australia. Remarkably, the records appear comparable with modern day measurements taken from Sydney Observatory Hill, displaying similar daily variability, a distinct seasonal cycle and considerable inter-annual variability.

To assess the reliability of these early weather data, they were cross-verified with other data sources, including anecdotal observations recorded in First Fleet documentary records and independent palaeoclimate reconstructions. Some biases in the temperature record, likely associated with the location of the thermometer, have been identified. Although the 1788–1791 period experienced a marked La Niña to El Niño fluctuation according to palaeoclimatic data, the cool and warm intervals in Sydney over this period cannot be conclusively linked to El Niño– Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions. This study demonstrates that there are excellent opportunities to expand our description of pre-20th century climate variability in Australia while contributing culturally significant material to the emerging field of Australian environmental history.

Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Journal 58 (2009) 83-98

Disappointing result for minor parties in Queensland

THERE is only one minor party with a presence in Queensland’s new parliament and for all his money and bluster, it’s not Clive Palmer’s.

The 2015 election was almost as bad for the minor parties as it was for the Liberal National Party.

Katter’s Australian Party has managed to keep two of its three MPs, but Clive Palmer’s lofty political aspirations failed to eventuate.

At one point in the lead-up to the election, the federal MP proclaimed his party was out to win government.  He told voters he’d stand candidates in all 89 seats, and take on his once beloved LNP to end its allegedly corrupt and damaging reign.

But that was before the only two MPs in his party jumped ship. In the end, the federal MP’s party fielded just 50 candidates and managed just five per cent of the vote.  And its star candidate, John Bjelke-Petersen, fell dismally short in his efforts to unseat Mr Palmer’s arch enemy, Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney.

As for that other federal political brand that’s so often reached into Queensland, well she did better than expected. Pauline Hanson’s bid to win the seat of Lockyer, west of Brisbane, wasn’t the complete disaster some had predicted. She managed a respectable second. At last count she was trailing the LNP’s Ian Rickuss 46 per cent to his 53, after preferences.

Perhaps the real surprise in terms of under performance was the Greens.  They ran a strong campaign, primarily hung off threats to the future of the Great Barrier Reef, but despite that the swing towards the party was just 1.1 per cent.

The Greens were never going to win a seat in the Queensland parliament, but MPs had been hoping the focus on the reef would translate into a bigger jump in support.

Still, the Greens can rest content in the knowledge their preferences helped defeat the LNP. And the Greens senator for Queensland Larissa Waters tweeted that it was the party’s best ever result at a state election.

As for the three independents who were recontesting their seats, only one has survived, with Peter Wellington living to serve another term in Nicklin.

But Alex Douglas and Carl Judge - the two former LNP MPs, who jumped ship to the Palmer party only to abandon it to become independents in the run up to this year’s poll - well they’re looking for new income streams.


Pervasive corruption in the NSW police

As the state's top police officer prepares to take the stand at a sensational police bugging inquiry next week, questions have emerged about his possible role in a shadowy taskforce set up with the intention of spying on a journalist.

On September 9, 2012, Fairfax reporter Neil Mercer published explosive details in The Sun-Herald about Strike Force Emblems, a long-buried internal police report into Operation Mascot, an anti-corruption surveillance exercise that controversially involved the secret bugging of more than 100 police officers and civilians on the back of suspect warrants and allegations.

It can now be revealed that nine days after the story was published, the force's professional standards command launched Strike Force Jooriland to monitor the veteran reporter and hunt down the police whistleblower leaking critical information to him.

When NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione appears before the parliamentary committee on Wednesday, he is likely to be grilled on how the operation came to be approved.

Mercer had remained oblivious to Jooriland until last Friday when he appeared as a witness before the  inquiry.

"I am completely gobsmacked," he said on Saturday, adding: "You're exposing allegations of serious wrongdoing and criminal offences.  Their response is, let's shoot the messenger and then screw the whistleblower."

MEAA chief executive officer Paul Murphy also expressed alarm, stating: "The professionalism of a journalist and the ethical responsibility to protect confidential sources needs to be respected at all times, regardless of the type of inquiry."

As Mercer was left to nervously dwell on the nature - and extent - of the surveillance, biggest questions surround the broader roles in the bugging affair played by Commissioner Scipione and NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn - who at one stage was an acting commander of the special crime and internal affairs unit (SCIA).

"We can't comment on matters that are currently the subject of an investigation by the Ombudsman," said a police spokesman when asked who had triggered the hunt.

On Friday, the inquiry heard explosive allegations about a mass cover-up that blanketed the police corruption investigation, Operation Mascot, which ran between 1999-2001.

Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas was a central target of the surveillance operation, which he testified had ruined the careers of many officers and triggered a suicide.

Ms Burn had been a senior officer within the operation which at one stage, was commanded by current Commissioner Scipione. The hearing heard that some affidavits presented to NSW Supreme Court judges had contained no information to justify surveillance, and some content was false. It emerged that during the operation, Ms Burn's unit had secured a warrant to bug Mr Kaldas and his family - despite no evidence of any wrongdoing.

Against the wishes of the NSW government, the inquiry was established last year in response to complaints about the amount of time taken by NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour to investigate the scandal. On Friday, Mr Kaldas launched a scathing attack on Mr Barbour, about his treatment. "We, the police, could not treat criminals this way and neither should we," he said.

Mercer had earlier published details of the secret Emblems report which showed Ms Burn had come under investigation, following a string of complaints relating to the investigation. While the report stated there was no evidence to bring criminal or disciplinary charges against her, it noted inquiries into those complaints had hit a wall after access to crucial documents and witnesses was repeatedly denied. It was also revealed that in November 2001, Commissioner Scipione, then commander of SCIA, had been warned some officers within the branch were concerned about the legality of the telephone taps and the release of  "fictitious information" to gain listening devices. The inquiry resumes on Tuesday.


An education theorist goes practical

 Education commentator Jennifer Buckingham is no ivory tower researcher. For five years, she’s worked closely with a school in Raymond Terrace, a low-income town near Newcastle NSW, in an effort to improve its students’ results.

Jennifer Buckingham is a prominent advocate of school choice. She’s middle class and strongly believes parents should be able to choose where they send their children to school. So which primary school did she choose for her two daughters?

Raymond Terrace Public School, located in the low-income town of the same name, just north of Newcastle in NSW. More than half its students are from the bottom quartile of socio-economic rankings and about a fifth are indigenous, both indicators that are statistically linked to lower academic outcomes.

Buckingham says that when her eldest daughter, who has just graduated from year six, started at Raymond Terrace in kindergarten it was perceived by many in the town "as a school people wouldn’t deliberately send their children to".

What makes her choice of school all the more interesting is that Buckingham is an education policy specialist and research fellow at a right-wing think tank, the Centre of Independent Studies (CIS).

From her perch at the CIS, Buckingham is a strong advocate of private schools and their role in providing wider choice to parents. Yet she chose a struggling public primary school for her daughters. Why? "I could see the potential at Raymond Terrace Public School, and thought that I had something to contribute,"she says.

Buckingham and her husband, Scott Chapman, both grew up in Raymond Terrace, which sits on the banks of the Hunter River half an hour north of Newcastle, and it’s where they now live. Chapman actually attended Raymond Terrace Public School, but both the school and the town were then quite di fferent. In the years since, there’s been an infl ux of public housing and the level of wealth has fallen.

"None of my old friends sent their children there," Buckingham says. For the first year or two after her eldest daughter started kindergarten in 2008, she didn’t dare reveal to school principal John Picton that she worked as a think tank expert in education policy. "Working with the CIS, you don’t necessarily know how sympathetic a school principal is going to be," says Buckingham now.

For his part, Picton says he had no idea that one of his school mothers was a well-known education policy specialist and was shocked when he found out. He knew Jennifer, at that time, not as Buckingham but by her married name. "At kindy orientation, I wasn’t introduced to this educational researcher," Picton says.


But along with the right to choose, another part of Buckingham’s education credo is that parents should be able to be in fluential in their children’s schools – and that is exactly what she has done. With Picton at the helm, and plenty of input from Buckingham, Raymond Terrace has seen a remarkable lift in performance.

In 2008, Raymond Terrace’s Naplan results were level-pegging with similar schools in the area. The latest available 2013 fi gures show it is signi ficantly ahead of its peers. It is also well ahead of the three other primary schools in the town – two public, one Catholic.

At a time when Australia’s schools are seen to be failing – with literacy and numeracy standards falling against comparable countries, and a sharp ideological divide over the Gonski funding scheme and the national curriculum – Raymond Terrace stands out as an example of what can be achieved in an individual school by a committed principal who has solid support.

The Raymond Terrace story is also notable on another level. Buckingham is an education commentator who walked the talk and enrolled her own children in a failing school she intended to help improve. What were the secrets to lifting the school’s performance?

For Picton, the discovery that he had a school parent who was not only a respected education researcher but also wanted to be more involved with the school came at the right time. He had spent most of his teaching career in low-socio-economic-status schools, and when he arrived at Raymond Terrace nine years ago there were many problems. "The place didn’t have good results and the staff were negative about what the expectations could be of the kids," Picton says. "That was the pedagogy that they were introduced to and were using."

Once he knew Buckingham’s background, the pair started talking about how to improve things. "I realised that John was interested in what I had to say and vice-versa," she says. "My getting involved in the school didn’t necessarily send it on a di fferent path. It was already on that path. All I was able to do was, with my contacts and connections, provide some extra support and external guidance than might have been available otherwise."

One key development was a visit from noted educational reformer John Fleming in 2010. Fleming’s 10 years in charge of Bell eld Primary School in Melbourne is one of the celebrated success stories of turning around a failing school, and last year Fleming was appointed by federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne to be deputy chair of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership.

Fleming came to Raymond Terrace to o ffer his advice. It was a turning point in Picton’s willingness to engage with Buckingham. "Had John Fleming been a waste of time, I probably wouldn’t be here talking to Jennifer today,"says Picton. It led to three "pillars" – principles set then which the school still operates by.

One is explicit teaching, where the key skills of reading, writing and maths are taught explicitly and directly to students and then practised repeatedly until testing shows they have got it. This is in contrast to still-popular education theories in which children are expected to master these fundamental building blocks of knowledge by exploring for themselves.

Another is building a relationship with the children, and expecting teachers to get to know each child well and understand what they are capable of, with the aim of boosting self-esteem.

Last, there is creating high expectations, in which children and parents are encouraged to aim for the best.


Buckingham was also instrumental in bringing to the school an early-intervention reading program for children whose literacy was lagging. She had heard of the work that Macquarie University’s Kevin Wheldall and Robyn Beaman had done in developing a phonics-based instruction in which children systematically learn the sounds for each letter and how to join the sounds into words. They turned their work into two programs for schools to help struggling readers – MultiLit and MiniLit.

When Buckingham discovered that Wheldall was looking to do research in a school, she seized the opportunity. "I thought, that’s a way of tapping into this program which has been getting such great results," she says. The result was that MultiLit, MiniLit and a bevy of researchers came to Raymond Terrace to work with the children who were falling behind.

Buckingham joined in, deciding to do a PhD on literacy and social disadvantage with Macquarie University, drawing her research data from the school. She completed the doctorate last year.

At this point, there was another positive development for the school – more money. Five years ago, it was given $400,000 extra annual funding for four years under the federal government’s then national partnerships program. Picton says when he heard the news, he went straight to Buckingham and said: "We’ve got $400,000. What would you do with it?"

Drawing on Buckingham’s advice, Picton decided to spend half the money on a mentoring scheme. He employed two new teachers so that two of the school’s experienced teachers could become full-time mentors. It was a risk, says Picton. "We thought that sta ff might have been quite reluctant to open themselves up to observation and demonstration of lessons. But because of the credibility of these particular teachers, it was taken on board early," he says.

The intense mentoring of teachers was the key to embedding Picton’s "three pillars" across the school. When a child moves up a year, they are taught in the same way using the same terminology. "You can go into your next class and roll on with it using the same language,"says Picton.

Based on his experience, Picton fi rmly believes that low-income children are not condemned to perform poorly at school. It’s all about expectations, he says. "If you set high expectations, if you build relationships with your kids, if you trust in their ability to be able to learn, you will get the results from them. There’s no reason why they can’t."

"If you listen and observe the dialogue and interaction of the kids in our school compared to five years ago, it’s amazing," Picton says.

Naplan scores bear this out. In 2008, Raymond Terrace was in the middle of the pack of schools from similar socio-economic areas for numeracy, reading, writing, spelling and grammar plus punctuation.

In 2013, Raymond Terrace is either at the top or close to it for all five skills in both years three and five. Nationwide, more and more students are being withheld from Naplan, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that some schools keep poorly performing students out of the tests in order to improve their results. But that’s not how it is at Raymond Terrace. "Every child is encouraged to participate,"says Buckingham. "It’s a really big thing not to game the scores. It’s important for every child who can do the test to do the test."

That includes children in the school’s classes that cater to special needs – Down syndrome, autism and hearing problems."It does have an in fluence on our scores,"says Picton. But he says Naplan is an important diagnostic instrument. It tells teachers how students are performing and whether they need special attention.


2 February, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has a suitably gruesome toon on the Queensland election result

Comment on the Qld election from a Toowoomba correspondent

The major theme of the Qld ALP election campaign was not to sell off government assets. But here's some background from a Leftist site in 2009

"On May 21, Ipswich MP and transport minister Rachel Nolan told state parliament that QR was “not for sale”. Twelve days later, on June 2, Bligh announced the sell-off, which she hopes will raise $15 billion to balance the state’s budget. The government will also scrap the eight-cents-a-litre fuel subsidy to save $2.4 billion over four years. The Bligh government is pushing full steam ahead with privatisation with barely a hint of party room dissent. Only two MPs in the 51-strong Labor caucus, Evan Morehead and Jo-Anne Miller, opposed the plans.

Union opposition was so weak that the former Liberal-National Party leader, Lawrence Springborg, who had floated ideas of privatising QR during the election campaign, could make a show of criticising them from the left.

None of the leaders of the railway unions will countenance proposals for industrial action to oppose the sell-off.

Many government assets have been sold since Labor won office in Queensland, with little or no opposition: the SGIO, now Suncorp (1998); the Totalisator Agency Board (1999); the Dalrymple Bay coal loader (2001); the retail arms of the Energex and Ergon electricity companies (2006); the Golden Casket state lottery agency (2007); Cairns, Mackay and Brisbane airports (2008)."

My reaction is utter disgust at the ill informed  Qld voters who have believed the Labor liars and will now have a Premier who didn’t know what the GST percentage was.   She is in the same vacuous mould as the other feminasty frightbat Labor politicians.  Most older voters know that the Socialists have been working on dumbing down the Australian population for over 30 years and they are now getting results.  A dumb, lazy population who cannot see the wood for the trees.  I don’t know why the Coalition politicians don’t call the left wing traitors out for being Communists and why they did not list all of the assets the Bligh & Beattie Governments sold off to pay off their wasteful debts.

However, the Coalition parties need to be able to reach down to these voters because they now have the power to topple Coalition Governments who are working hard to fix up the financial morass those same dumbass Labor Govts have left them. 

The only consolation is that now Qld Labor will have to work out how to pay off the massive $80 billion debt they left behind.  And the dumb voters could not even remember why they kicked them out last time. The media largely ignored these sales.  So the voters even re elected Labor has-beens who contributed to the mess. 

I despair for Australia now.  I am getting ready to compose a vitriolic letter to that old Queen Alan Jones who sold out his conservative audience.   I am going to distribute his e-mail address for others to do the same.

At one stage at our booth in Toowoomba  we had 9 Unionists in their green T shirts standing at the gate handing out those Don’t sell our assets cards.  In fact they took over almost the whole fence with a huge banner saying the same. 

As for the whole left wing media, print and TV -- plus Clive Palmer and Alan Jones -- they are despicable, selling out Australia by aligning with Labor.   The LNP have retained almost all of the seats in South West Qld although there may be a recount in Toowoomba North where we think we will win when postal votes are counted.

I am over TV news – I cannot stand to see the same old Labor traitor faces gloating in conjunction with their commie mates in the media.  As for Tony Abbott I think he is like Mr. Magoo.  I hope his colleagues misplaced loyalty does not translate into the same disaster federally.

If Federal Labor pull the same collusion with all of the other minor parties and win Federally then we can expect the hordes of Islamic boat people to return in their thousands as Labor and the Greens work to completely wreck Australian society as we know it.

How can one party hope to win with every other party plus the left wing TV, ABC, SBS, Ch 7, 9, 10, the print media (the majority of all newspaper) and radio media (ABC and SBS and now Alan Jones and Clive Palmer) conspiring to bring down elected Governments from the day they are elected?  God help my country.

Queensland election: State wakes to new political landscape

A new political landscape will greet Queensland, with Labor set to take back power after just three years.  Three seats, Mansfield, Maryborough and Whitsunday remained undecided on Saturday night, but Labor was expected to pick up enough to form a majority government.

Even if Labor falls short, it is likely to have support of both Katter Australia Party and independent Peter Wellington in a hung parliament.

It was a result no George Street player had predicted, with even Labor insiders conceding a win was almost impossible at the outset of the campaign.

LNP members quickly dubbed Annastacia Palaszczuk the "accidental Premier", noting that not even federal leader Bill Shorten had expected the Inala MP to pull off what has become a political comeback for the history books.

While the LNP looks back at what went wrong, with many pointing to federal issues, potentially signalling the end of Tony Abbott's prime ministership, Labor, which campaigned on a "no asset sales" and "united Queensland" platform, which was light on policy detail, was looking forward.

"One thing is for sure, we won't be moving into the Executive Building within hours of the result," one source said.

"You may have noticed that she [Ms Palaszczuk] said grace, dignity and humility a bit during the campaign.  I think she is on notice that we will have to follow that.  We've seen what happens."

Given the shock result, cabinet positions are still unsure, with Ms Palaszczuk now bound by her promise to reduce the ministry from 19 to 14 spots.

LNP government decisions will now come under review, potentially placing some projects, like Queen's Wharf, in doubt, but Labor insiders were keen to push that no decisions had been made yet.

State sanctioned ceremonies for same-sex couples are expected to be reinstated, while acting head of the Crime and Corruption Commission, Ken Levy, has been put on notice.

Beyond that, Labor will have to walk a tightrope, between their promise to be economically responsible and maintain the LNP's fiscal spending, and improve frontline services, without off-loading the state's assets.

Having run a campaign on "modest"  campaign promises, many are now wondering how Labor will pull it off, without increasing the state's debt.

They have committed to consolidating the state's power assets with no forced redundancies, something which was investigated under the Bligh Government, but ultimately discarded.

"It's going to be tough and we will be feeling our way forward," one Labor staffer, who didn't want to be named said.

"But I think we all know we have to just keep talking to people. A lot of mistakes were made during the last government that we can learn from."

Ms Palaszczuk, speaking to "true believers" in Richlands, part of a move to take Labor back to its roots, said she wanted to "put the past three years behind us".

"Who would have thought three years ago, we would have been making history tonight," she said.


How Victoria's ALP leader made a road rod for his own back

Stuck with undeliverable policies due to dishonest claims and  promises

If there is one lesson to heed from Tony Abbott's ongoing woes, it is that voters have little tolerance for leaders who say one thing and do the opposite.

Daniel Andrews knows this well. In the lead-up to the Victorian election - as Abbott's unpopularity began to rub off on Denis Napthine's campaign - Andrews would occasionally reflect on the public's intolerance for politicians and broken promises.

If elected, the Labor leader declared, an Andrews government would be different. It would "deliver on each and every one of the commitments we've made". It "would not waste even a single day" in office. And it certainly wouldn't follow the path of the embattled Prime Minister, whose latest missteps appear to have trapped him in a downward spiral of his own making.

"I think Tony Abbott is living through the consequences of breaking your promises and I will never provide that sort of leadership, because it's no leadership at all," Andrews told an audience of 100 undecided voters at a debate in Frankston, days out from November's poll. "That's my commitment, that's my bond and that's your choice."

Two months later, Victoria's new premier and cabinet have made a solid start. But by setting such a high benchmark - presenting as a leader of conviction, whose government could deliver on just about everything - Andrews has created a first-term straitjacket with little room to move. The Coalition, now led by a fired-up Matthew Guy, will no doubt exploit this at every opportunity.

Take Labor's transport policies. When Treasurer Tim Pallas admitted the Metro Rail Link would be difficult to deliver in the current economic environment, the opposition accused the government of backing away from one of its signature election policies.

When figures this week suggested an $180 million discrepancy in the costings of Labor's West Gate Distributor, the opposition claimed Andrews had blown out the price tag and lied about the truck project being "shovel ready".

And when Andrews declared on radio that the federal funding for the East West Link ought to be redirected or "we can't remove 50 dangerous congested level crossings, we can't improve public transport and we can't improve a suite of local roads", the opposition said this proved Victorians were misled about Labor's policies being "fully funded and fully costed".

The problem for Andrews is that not only did he talk a big game during the campaign but, by slaying a one-term government, he also showed what is possible when small-target oppositions relentlessly apply the blowtorch of scrutiny against their adversaries.

Now in office, Labor is starting to feel the heat, with its biggest transport promise - abandoning the East West Link - likely to prove the most challenging.

Andrews can't renege on his word and build the road, because doing so would be political suicide, particularly in the inner city where the Greens have already captured two lower-house seats, Melbourne and Prahran.

He also can't afford to spend too much money paying out the consortium, as this would leave the government exposed to ongoing claims it misled voters by insisting "there will be no compensation paid" beyond the initial costs of tendering and preparing the project.

And he can't even take the extraordinary option of legislating to void the contract without the support of the Greens and micro parties in Parliament's new upper house, where Labor has only 14 out 40 seats.

In other words, the government is in a genuine pickle over a contract it repeatedly claimed "isn't the worth the paper it's written on". Its main option is to negotiate a way out of the deal with minimal pain to taxpayers - but even then, the consortium might want more than the public deems palatable for a non-existent road. How much is too much?

Based on a complex formula written into the contract under the former government, compensation could reportedly be up to $1.1 billion - more than half the $2 billion the state would have spent building the first stage of tunnel. And even if the final settlement turns out to be somewhat less (Arnold Bloch Leibler lawyer Leon Zwier and banker John Wylie have been hired by the government to negotiate a deal) it's still likely to be viewed as an outrageous waste of public funds for a project that won't be built.

Abbott wasn't far off the mark when he described the situation as "insane" but both sides of politics ought to share responsibility for the mess we're in. Labor backflipped on the East West countless times before finally opting to abandon contracts in an attempt to wedge the Coalition before the election. The Napthine Government, buoyed by Canberra's support, charged ahead with little regard for the public's right to know whether the road stacked up. As the business case has since revealed, it struggled to stack up at all.

The former government could reasonably argue it had a right to proceed - after all, the 2013 state budget revealed contracts would be signed by October last year, so the timing was hardly a surprise. But what doesn't wash is the secrecy surrounding the project, the way in which voters were duped by spin, and the appalling "side letter" guaranteeing a hefty payout to the consortium if the contract was cancelled. Given that opinion polls suggested for months that the Coalition was likely to lose the election, you can't help but question the motivation of those who sealed the deal.

But that's partly the point. Melbourne's population is soaring, yet the city's transport needs continue to be thwarted by political bickering, reckless decisions, and under-investment. Labor may have won the election, but broader infrastructure challenges remain, and Andrews will be expected to confront them. After all, he promised a lot - and we all know what can happen to first-term governments that over-promise and under-deliver.


A leaflet

The following leaflet was put into letterboxes in Prahran, Melbourne.  Very educational, I think:  How to win enemies and fail to influence people.


1 February, 2015

A conservative loss in the Queensland State election

A good government will be replaced by a very vague one.   Even ALP governments do at times govern quite conservatively in Qld so we can only hope that some solidity lies behind the very vague undertakings of the Qld. ALP.

The loss is clearly due to Mr Newman not communicating well.  He needed to constantly drum in the huge debt that the previous ALP government had left behind for Queenslanders.  Every time he announced some cutback he should have constantly stressed why.  He did not and now Queensland will pay the price.

The ALP have no program for the budget and have ruled out asset sales so there will have to be even more borrowing.  We will get to the point where more of the state revenue is spent on interest payments than in providing services to Queenslanders.  Fortunately, interest rates on borrowings are very low at the moment but that may not last as the international economy revives

Prince Philip is a great bloke who deserves this knighthood

Prince Phillip was first recognised by ex-Prime Minister Bob Hawke and was not ridiculed.  Our journalists need to do some research so that people are presented with facts

It was with joy that monarchists young and old around the country woke to the news that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was named a Knight of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day Honours.

This singular honour is much more than a fancy golden trinket; it is a uniquely Australian way of recognising pre-eminent service to the nation and humanity, and it is only right that Prince Philip, a person who has devoted his life to the service of the Commonwealth and the people of Australia, be honoured in this way.

The Prince has visited these shores 23 times ... criss-crossing the nation and meeting people from all walks of life, his last visit being in 2011 at the age of 90. 

Some republicans and social media obsessives, upset and bewildered at the dwindling support for a republic in Australia, have criticised the fact that a non-resident has been recognised with an Order of Australia. This is absurd. Many incredible people, including Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa, have been recognised for their outstanding contributions to humanity with an Order of Australia, even though they don't call Australia home.

Was it not Bob Hawke, a republican prime minister, who recommended that Prince Philip receive what was then Australia's highest honour? It is rare indeed for anyone to show the level of commitment to service of Prince Philip, and the award announced on Australia Day was entirely appropriate, recognising the service of a great bloke to a great nation.

Duty and service have been the hallmarks of the life of Prince Philip, whose vitality and enthusiasm throughout his long life have helped immeasurably to contribute to the success of the hundreds of charities which have him as their patron in Australia. His passionate commitment to humanitarian endeavours and conservation has won him respect and admiration worldwide.

Prince Philip made his first visit to Australia in the 1940s during World War II while serving in the Royal Navy, and he has made it a regular port of call ever since.

The Prince has visited these shores 23 times (seven of them flying solo), criss-crossing the nation and meeting people from all walks of life, his last visit being in 2011 at the age of 90. He has been central to pivotal events in the life of our nation, including the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the 1962 Perth Commonwealth Games, the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973, and the bicentenary in 1988, just to name a few.

Never one to shirk the responsibility of service to the community, Prince Philip founded the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme in 1956 which has helped tens of thousands of young Australians reach their potential and encouraged them to serve their community.

As the husband of the Queen of Australia, Prince Philip has been a constant source of strength and support, and together they have served the people of Australia with dignity, compassion and good humour for more than 62 years. This is one of the reasons why support for a republic remains at record lows (particularly among the young) and why the royal family's popularity is undiminished.


Strange days indeed for a ridiculed prime minister

TONY Abbott will deliver a make-or-break address at the National Press Club on Monday. It will be the last chance he has to begin any recovery from his self-inflicted wounds before the Liberal Party room meeting on February 9 and the beginning of the parliamentary year

Despite the many sound initiatives and reforms his government has achieved — from stopping the boats to pointing the nation toward economic recovery — he has proved to be a greater danger to his own prime ministership than Bill Shorten, or Clive Palmer, or any other figure from the Labor Party or ranks of the whacky cross-benchers. His decision to bestow a knighthood on Prince Philip, a trivial matter really, has been seen by many as an indication that a character trait that was once dismissed as a somewhat odd but acceptable quirkiness actually reflects an unacceptable dissonance with community sentiment.

Abbott should have been thinking of modern Australia on Australia Day — something he obviously did with the appointment of anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year — not about a distinguished but ageing member of the Royal family.

After the ridicule his ­ill-advised reinstatement of knights and dames attracted last March, the disbelief and hostility that greeted the announcement of the Duke’s honour was always going to be magnified.

It was seen as provocative at best, offensive at worst, and lacked any strategic insight. There was no conceivable political gain for Abbott or the Liberal Party.

Nervous Liberal backbenchers are doing the numbers but they cannot decide whether Julie Bishop or Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison hold the key to their future, or even whether the very act of political assassination would in fact be an act of political suicide.

A hardcore of Abbott supporters, including Christopher Pyne and Scott Morrison, believe the situation is not yet irrecoverable. Others are not so certain but hope that the party room meeting will see a resolution and that, over the next nine days, Abbott can radically demonstrate change.

Some of those speaking out are opportunists, some are permanently angry people, none so far has indicated firm support for a chosen successor yet, and the real proxies for possible replacement candidates have not revealed themselves.

Not that the party’s problems can all be sheeted home to Abbott. Treasurer Joe Hockey has also failed to cut through with the critical message that the nation’s economy could not survive another period of Labor government and that unless there is bipartisan support for urgent reform now the economic future of our children and grandchildren is absolutely imperilled.

One thing does appear certain and that is the PM’s chief of staff Peta Credlin is unlikely to be moved (though she could opt to take another position), no matter what Rupert Murdoch, my employer, may wish. Abbott is not of a mind to be seen to be beginning to kowtow to the tweeted comments of any media proprietor, no matter how much he may personally like or respect that person.

Faced with a feral Labor Party, fickle cross-benchers and jumpy colleagues, his challenge is to lay down a clear, coherent agenda that is acceptable to the public — and he must sell it.

He knows he must present strong arguments to his party before advancing any policy and that he must have third party endorsements ready before ideas are rolled out to the public.

He has to convince voters that the blame for ongoing disheartening political stagnation lies with the recalcitrant Labor Party and the intractable senate.

He has to convince his colleagues that he fully understands the gravity of the situation, that he knows that it extends beyond those whose intellect struggles to reach the 140-letter count of the Twittersphere.

He can’t ask his party for forgiveness again if he makes a capricious Captain’s Choice without seeking permission or fails to communicate a policy reversal.

When he speaks to the nation on Monday, he has to admit to the problems and outline his solutions.

He should demonstrate his determination to ensure national security is a main priority, that the Lindt cafe siege and the Paris slaughters have given him even greater resolution to fight Islamism here.

His remarks on the economic outlook, taking into account the falling oil and commodity prices, should be to the ordinary taxpayers and those who rely on those taxpayers for their social security assistance.

He will know within the week of delivering the address whether or not time has run out.


Prime Minister Tony Abbott to dump Paid Parental Leave Scheme

TONY Abbott’s $20 billion Paid Parental Leave Scheme is expected to be put on ice next week until the budget is back in surplus to help pay for a family package that will focus on boosting childcare.

The move by the PM to effectively jettison one of his signature policies — which has little support among colleagues — comes as several senior Cabinet ministers conceded next week was now regarded as "make or break” for Mr Abbott’s leadership.

With nervous ministers now privately warning the discontent among backbenchers was potentially uncontrollable, a major shift on paid parental leave is regarded as a critical circuit breaker.

"It is that bad,” one minister said. "Next week has to be very good for him, or no one can guarantee what will happen.”

Mr Abbott yesterday insisted he would "absolutely" lead the Coalition to the next election, as he sought to reassert his political authority.

Visiting businesses in Colac, in the marginal Victorian seat of Corangamite, Mr Abbott sought to turn the debate back to the economy, after days of destabilising complaints from colleagues sparked by his decision to award a knighthood to Prince Philip.

He also firmly backed his beleaguered chief of staff Peta Credlin.

"I absolutely accept that there was a bit of dismay over a call I made earlier this week. I understand, but look, others might be distracted by this — I’m not," he said.

"I’m sure if I went into the pub to talk about it, they’d say it was a stuff-up. I’d take that on the chin and then we’d discuss other subjects"

While no serious number-crunching is under way and Mr Abbott’s position is in no immediate danger, a predicted bloodbath in today’s Queensland election for Campbell Newman’s LNP will be partly blamed on him.

Mr Abbott said he was "thrilled" to have strong colleagues like Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop, who polls have shown are more popular than the PM.

"It’s a very strong team and one of the reasons why so many members of the team are able to perform so well is because they have got a very good captain," he said. "It takes a good captain to help all the players of a team to excel.’


Did a crooked cop skate?

Ex-Gold Coast police chief Paul Wilson left service with unresolved findings of misconduct against him.  The Gold Coast cops are notoriously corrupt

The former chief of police on the Gold Coast left the Queensland Police Service (QPS) last year with unresolved findings of misconduct against him for inappropriately disclosing confidential police information.

The ABC can reveal Assistant Commissioner Paul Wilson was facing a Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) recommendation for disciplinary action when he left the service in January 2014, with a formal send-off and a Commissioner's Award for Meritorious Service.

The ABC understands he also received a significant severance payout.

Court documents show that three weeks before his departure, the CMC found Mr Wilson had inappropriately disclosed police information, leading to the identification of a Crime Stoppers informant.

The documents, which emerged in civil litigation in the District Court in Brisbane, include a letter from the CMC describing an investigation into allegations Mr Wilson had abused his position as a senior officer to gain an advantage in a bitter family dispute over his mother's estate.

They show other senior QPS officers became involved in an investigation of Mr Wilson's brother Robert after anonymous complaints to Crime Stoppers that Robert Wilson planned to murder his mother to get his hands on her money, and had previously murdered his father.

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Nothing was found to substantiate the allegations against Robert Wilson and he subsequently complained to the CMC about his brother's conduct.

The CMC's acting director of integrity services, Darren Brookes, wrote to Robert Wilson on December 24, 2013 telling him the anti-corruption body had found there was insufficient evidence to warrant the recommendation of any criminal charges against Paul Wilson.

"However, the investigation did find that AC Wilson had inappropriately disclosed information and QPS documents ... resulting in the Crime Stoppers informant being named and identified," Mr Brookes wrote.

According to the letter, the CMC investigation had also found that, based on the available material, Paul Wilson was in breach of procedural guidelines for professional conduct relating to conflicts of interest and rules regarding "improper use of QPS information".

"Therefore, we have recommended to the Queensland Police Service that consideration be given to taking disciplinary action against AC Wilson for misconduct under the Police Service (Discipline) Regulations 1990," the CMC official wrote.

"Accordingly, the CMC has referred the matter to the QPS for that purpose."

The QPS confirmed it received the referral, telling the ABC it was handled by Commissioner Ian Stewart.

By the time the CMC letter was sent, the QPS had already announced Mr Wilson's departure from the service, making this public on December 19.

A QPS spokesman told the ABC it had first learned of the CMC investigation in October 2013.

Asked if the CMC misconduct finding or investigation had had any bearing on the timing or nature of Mr Wilson's departure, the spokesman said: "Any response impinges on the privacy of Mr Wilson."

The QPS declined to reveal details of any severance payment to Mr Wilson.

Wilson siblings in long-running dispute over mother's estate

The CMC letter is attached to an affidavit filed by Robert Wilson in a long-running dispute with his brother Paul and sister Joan Clifford over the estate of their mother, Kathleen Wilson, who died in April 2014.

The documents include police memos and Crime Stoppers logs that originated in an earlier case relating to the mother's competency in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).

Paul Wilson had filed in QCAT logs of six Crime Stoppers calls in which a confidential informant had claimed Robert Wilson planned to murder his mother in order to defraud her estate.

The memos show Deputy Commissioner Ross Barnett had briefed the then head of the QPS Organised Crime Group, Detective Superintendent John Sheppard, about the allegations against Robert Wilson in January 2012.

Detective Superintendent Sheppard wrote in a May, 2012 memo to Assistant Commissioner Mike Condon - head of State Crime Operations Command - that he had uncovered the identity of the Crime Stoppers informant and interviewed him.

He found the informant "was not aware of any specific act or incident that could be interpreted as (Robert Wilson) threatening or committing violence towards his mother".

"He offered no direct evidence of any offence that may have been committed," the detective wrote.

Detective Superintendent Sheppard wrote that he had then briefed Paul Wilson.

"He was appreciative of what had been done to that point. He also accepted the difficulties that the criminal investigation into his brother's actions was facing," he wrote.

Detective Superintendent Sheppard told Assistant Commissioner Condon that he had discussed the matter with the head of the fraud squad, Detective Superintendent Brian Hay, and recommended the file be passed to him.

The Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) told the ABC its predecessor, the CMC, had written to the QPS on January 8, 2014 "to report on the outcome of the investigation and to recommend the consideration of disciplinary action against Assistant Commissioner Wilson and the provision of managerial guidance to two other officers".

A spokesman for the CCC said it would be inappropriate to name the other officers.

"Disciplinary action is the responsibility of the QPS," the spokesman said, adding that the timing of Mr Wilson's departure from the QPS was "a matter for Mr Wilson and the QPS".

Robert Wilson fails in bid to block eviction order

Robert Wilson was his mother's carer prior to her death and had been living in her house in the Brisbane suburb of Tarragindi for the past three years.

Last week, he failed in the District Court to block an eviction order in favour of Paul Wilson and Ms Clifford and left the house on Thursday.

As the eviction deadline passed, the ABC witnessed Paul Wilson - accompanied by a crew of removalists - greet police officers who were checking the building had been vacated.

Paul Wilson chairs the Brisbane Central committee of Crime Stoppers and was a director of Crime Stoppers between 2005 and 2007. He is also a director of the Police Credit Union.

He began his career in the QPS in 1974, working as a senior detective in the Whitsundays and as the divisional commander in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane before taking the reins on the Gold Coast, where he was responsible for 1,400 sworn officers.

His last posting was to the Police Academy, from where he was given a send-off at which Commissioner Stewart presented him with a Commissioner's Award for Meritorious Service.

The QPS said such medals were at the discretion of the Commissioner.

Mr Wilson's website, describes him as "one of the truly great leaders ... a hypnotic storyteller and enthralling voice on modern leadership".

Mr Wilson did not respond to emails and calls from the ABC.


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?

My son Joe

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

Bureaucracy: "One of the constant laments of doctors and nurses working with NSW Health is the incredible and increasing bureaucracy," she said. "It is completely obstructive to providing a service."

Revered Labour Party leader Gough Whitlam was/is a very erudite man so he cannot have been unaware of the similarities of his famous phrase “the Party, the platform, the people” with an earlier slogan: "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer". It's basically the same slogan in reverse order.

Australia's original inhabitants were a race of pygmies, some of whom survived into modern times in the mountainous regions of the Atherton tableland in far North Queensland. See also here. Below is a picture of one of them taken in 2007, when she was 105 years old and 3'7" tall

Julia Gillard, a failed feminist flop. She was given the job of Prime Minister of Australia but her feminist preaching was so unpopular that she was booted out of the job by her own Leftist party. Her signature "achievements" were the carbon tax and the mining tax, both of which were repealed by the next government

A great little kid

In November 2007, a four-year-old boy was found playing in a croc-infested Territory creek after sneaking off pig hunting alone with four dogs and a puppy. The toddler was found five-and-a-half hours after he set off from his parents' house playing in a creek with the puppy. Amazingly, Daniel Woditj also swam two creeks known to be inhabited by crocs during his adventurous romp. Mr Knight said that after walking for several kilometres, Daniel came to a creek and swam across it. Four of his dogs "bailed up" at the creek but the youngster continued on undaunted with his puppy to a second creek. Mr Knight said Daniel swam the second croc-infested creek and walked on for several more kilometres. "Captain is a hard bushman and Daniel is following in his footsteps. They breed them tough out bush."

Index page for this site


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"Marx & Engels in their own words"
"A scripture blog"
"Some memoirs"
To be continued ....
Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).
Queensland Police -- A barrel with lots of bad apples
Australian Police News
Paralipomena (3)
Of Interest


"Food & Health Skeptic"
"Eye on Britain"
"Immigration Watch International".
"Leftists as Elitists"
Socialized Medicine
QANTAS -- A dying octopus
BRIAN LEITER (Ladderman)
Obama Watch
Obama Watch (2)
Dissecting Leftism -- Large font site
Michael Darby
Paralipomena (2)
AGL -- A bumbling monster
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Bank of Queensland blues

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