Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Barrier Reef extinct in 20 years: Stupid Greenie claim

Odd that coral reefs have survived all the past warming episodes in Earth's history! Odd that coral thrives most in the WARMER waters of Northern Australia! The reef is thousands of kilometres long and stretches from barely warm waters in the South to very warm waters in the North. So it clearly can handle large temperature variations. Coral is mainly tropical. It LIKES warmth! What barefaced lies Greenies tell!

The Great Barrier Reef will become functionally extinct in less than 20 years if global warming continues at its current pace, a draft international report warns. A confidential draft of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), obtained by Melbourne's The Age newspaper, says that global warming will cause billions of dollars of damage to coastal areas, key ecosystems and the farming sector without massive greenhouse gas emission cuts.

In a chapter on Australia, the draft IPCC climate impacts report warns that coral bleaching in the Barrier Reef is likely to occur annually by 2030 because of warmer, more acidic seas. The reef is one of several iconic areas of Australia identified in the report as key hot spots for climate vulnerability. Others include the Kakadu National Park's wetlands, the Murray-Darling Basin and alpine zones in southern Australia.

Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Don Henry said the report was a big wake-up call. "They are saying our beloved Barrier Reef is at grave risk," Mr Henry told Sky News. "We've got a major economic and environmental problem unless we heed the call of these scientists. "I think the science is getting clearer about how just how serious and urgent it is."



A scientific theory is to be judged in an Australian court! The judgment is more likely to turn on prestige rather than science, however. Many well-informed people do question whether the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS. There are some murky episodes in the history of research on the question -- with the "discoverer", Gallo, being an undoubted crook driven by a huge ego.

Nonetheless, on the evidence I have seen so far, I am inclined to conclude that HIV does cause AIDS -- chronic skeptic though I am.

All AIDS is not the same however. The defence would do better to concentrate on the case of African AIDS only. They call anything AIDS there.

The Perth skeptics have a critical survey of the main scientific evidence here

Leading scientist Gustav Nossal has stepped into a courtroom showdown, labelling a group of self-styled experts who claim HIV does not exist as "a considerable scientific embarrassment". Sir Gustav, Australian of the Year in 2000 and an immunologist of global stature, will join upto six leading Australian HIV-AIDS scientists in Adelaide this week to give evidence in the appeal of an HIV-positive man convicted of endangering the lives of three women.

Andre Chad Parenzee, 35, was convicted in February last year on three counts of endangering life. South African-born Parenzee - who had unprotected sex with the women but failed to tell them he was HIV-positive - is in custody awaiting sentencing and faces up to 15 years in jail.

Sir Gustav and the eminent scientists will dispute Parenzee's two defence witnesses, Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos and Val Turner, who lead the Perth Group of HIV-AIDS sceptics. During two weeks of evidence at the appeal hearing late last year, the Perth Group witnesses presented scientific research and arguments claiming that HIV does not exist and was not responsible for the global scourge of HIV and AIDS. The defence hopes the hearings will lead to a retrial and acquittal.

HIV-AIDS specialists believe the case has the potential to set a dangerous precedent for public health campaigns and the criminal law. Sir Gustav yesterday called the HIV sceptics "a very considerable embarrassment" to Australian science. "HIV-AIDS is the most serious communicable disease ever - worse than the bubonic plague. It is a pretty serious thing to set yourselves up attacking the science behind it," he said.

South Australian prosecutors will today continue their cross-examination of Ms Papadopulos-Eleopulos, a medical physicist at the Royal Perth Hospital, and Dr Turner, who told the court last year he was an emergency medicine specialist. They believe HIV has never been isolated as an antivirus, since its discovery in the early 1980s, and that it does not cause the AIDS disease and cannot be transferred by sexual contact.

Up to seven prosecution witnesses will begin appearing from Thursday, when Emeritus Professor Peter McDonald of Flinders University will take the stand. He is an expert in infectious diseases. On Friday, the Royal Perth Hospital immunologist Martin French will take the stand. Next Monday, two HIV-AIDS researchers, including world-leading researcher associate professor Elizabeth Dax, will take the stand. Several of Professor Dax's papers have been quoted by the Perth Group and the prosecution has accused them of misrepresenting Professor Dax's findings. Professor John Kaldor of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology is scheduled to appear next Tuesday, followed on Wednesday by professor David Cooper, director of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research at the University of NSW.

Sir Gustav will appear next Wednesday if he chooses, otherwise he will send a written report to the court. From his office at the University of Melbourne yesterday, he rejected the claims made by the Perth Group. "The evidence of AIDS being due to a virus is as strong as any other infectious disease you care to name - from measles to polio," he said. "I was recently chairman in a meeting of the foundation that gave $300 million to finding an AIDS vaccine - I doubt Bill and Melinda Gates would be giving that money if AIDS was not caused by a virus."

Monash University professor Suzanne Crowe, head of the Burnet Institute's HIV Pathogenesis and Clinical Research Program and not a witness in the case, said that unless the prosecution wins the legal showdown, it would set a "dangerous precedent" in the global AIDS fight.



With debate building about nuclear energy as an alternative, greenhouse-friendly power source, Australia has a new nuclear reactor - and it's already up and running. The new OPAL reactor replaces the old HIFAR facility at Lucas Heights, south of Sydney, which will be officially decommissioned today. OPAL is loaded with uranium and will produce 20 megawatts of power - enough for a small town - when it's fully operational.

But it's not the power plant Prime Minister John Howard said he'd be happy to have in his backyard while recently arguing the merits of nuclear energy. The OPAL reactor will be used for medical, industrial and research purposes, rather than cooking your dinner or running your air-conditioner. Its cooling water just isn't hot enough to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. "I suppose you could have a shower with it but that's about all," said Ron Cameron, director of operations at the Lucas Heights research station run by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

So if it isn't powering our cities, what's Australia getting from this $350 million reactor? Neutrons, according to ANSTO. Neutrons are the key to nuclear fission - when a uranium atom splits in two, it releases a load of energy and it also releases two neutrons. If these neutrons collide with another uranium atom, that atom splits as well, releasing another two neutrons, and so on, producing a chain reaction. In a nuclear power station, it's the energy that's harvested. But in a research reactor such as OPAL, it's the neutrons. "We have one of the most consistent neutron fluxes in the world. We have a very high reliability," Dr Cameron said. That reliability has given ANSTO about 15 per cent of the world market for processing the silicon chips that go inside electronic items from mobile phones to supercomputers.

But whether it's for research or power, critics question the risks of running a nuclear reactor in Sydney's backyard - such as a meltdown which potentially releases radioactive contamination into the environment. Dr Cameron said there was very little risk of that happening with OPAL because it operates at a low temperature, as opposed to power-producing reactors which run at higher temperatures, with a minimum of three people monitoring it at all times.

ANSTO is somewhat less keen to talk about the disadvantages of a nuclear reactor, but Dr Cameron admitted that over its 40-year life, OPAL will generate several cubic metres of high-level waste, which it intends to store in a remote location in the Northern Territory. Intermediate-level waste, produced in the manufacture and handling of radioisotopes, will be stored in a building the size of a small house. For many, the question remains whether that's an acceptable price to pay for the claimed medical, scientific and industrial benefits of a research reactor. A nuclear power station will produce hundreds of tonnes of waste.



But Australia's Leftists don't seem to know what is going on around them

In the campaign for the 1997 general election in Britain the then Labour Opposition leader Tony Blair famously declared that his three highest priorities were "education, education, education". In 1999 he unveiled a 10-year reform agenda. Blair said that previous governments had neglected education, and promised to significantly increase funding as a percentage of gross domestic product. He said investment in education was essential to ensure the workforce was highly skilled to boost productivity gains and promised an "education revolution". Sound familiar?

Australia's Labor Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, has promised an "education revolution" underpinned by funding increases to raise expenditure as a percentage of GDP to boost productivity gains. Blair's so-called "Third Way" has become a template for democratic socialist parties around the world. Given Rudd has unashamedly lifted Blair's education terms and rhetoric, it is instructive to examine the Blair "education revolution" for the likely directions Rudd will take.

At the heart of the British reforms has been a much stronger focus on accountability and measurement of school performance. League tables which rank school performance were introduced in 1992, but Blair has expanded them and used school performance data to apply pressure and target funding. He said there would be "no hiding place for schools that were not striving to improve". The tables now include an "improvement index" to show which schools have shown steady improvement, or decline. More recently, Blair has added "value added" tables which show the average progress pupils make while at individual schools. This type of performance reporting has been introduced into Australian schools but has been fiercely opposed by education unions as well as state Labor governments.

School report cards are one of the most important performance indicators. In response to complaints from parents that they could not decipher the jargon on school report cards, it is now a condition of federal government funding that parents be provided with report cards in plain English and with children rated on a five-point scale. Unions have fought this at every turn.

One controversial aspect of Blair's reforms has been the involvement and funding support of the private sector in some government schools, contributing about a fifth of the capital cost and having a say in how a school is run, with limited influence over curriculum. Blair is reported to be considering plans to provide government schools with much greater autonomy through "radical reforms" that would give "more power to parents". This would involve giving school communities greater control over the hiring and firing of teachers and school principals and allow greater flexibility to innovate. It would mean parents being given a fuller picture of the individual progress of their children.

The Howard Government has consistently called for parents to be given more information about the performance of schools, teachers and students. The funding agreement also requires state governments to provide greater discretion at the school level to hire teachers, and requires a range of school performance data to be provided to parents.

With universities, the Blair Government introduced a scheme closely modelled on the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) introduced by the ALP. It has since introduced variable fees and received a report that recommended students pay about a quarter of the cost of their studies, the same average rate as for HECS. In recent times, the Blair Government has urged universities to reduce their reliance on public funding.

On January 7 Blair announced plans for tax relief for property owners if they donate their homes to their former universities, as part of efforts to create endowment funds for higher education. He also outlined plans for a scheme where cash donations to universities will be matched by government funds, to promote a culture of philanthropy. As the British Minister for Higher Education, Bill Rammell, said last year, "the UK Government is already a minority shareholder in universities" and "we should not worry if over time public funding continues to reduce as a proportion of the total funding the higher education sector is able to generate".

If Rudd is serious about a Blair-style education revolution, he will be disappointed to find that most of these reforms have been introduced by the Howard Government, and in some cases are further advanced than in Britain. These reforms have been resisted by state Labor governments and education unions. The key challenge for Rudd will be to deliver on the hype. No matter what form his education agenda takes, he will be confronted by staunch opposition from the all-powerful education unions and state Labor governments. Already the unions are threatening to withdraw election campaign funds from federal Labor. Rudd can steal the rhetorical clothing from Blair. He is yet to demonstrate he has the courage for the battle.


Radio station 'vilified' Lebanese people

Truth is no defence in the kangaroo courts ("Tribunals") that have sprung up in many countries to police political correctness:

"Leading Sydney broadcaster 2GB was guilty of vilifying Lebanese people when presenter Brian Wilshire said they were inbred and had very low IQs, according to an investigation by the media watchdog.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority found yesterday that a 2005 broadcast on the top talk station was a breach of the Commercial Radio Code of Practice. Wilshire made his remarks in a talkback segment late at night just days after the Cronulla riots.


For some facts on the Muslim inbreeding problem in Australia, see here. See also here on Muslim IQ.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Surgery by doctors who have had no sleep for days!! There's nothing like the government to look after you! Thankfully

A trainee surgeon has told how she feared she would kill a patient, after being forced to work four days straight without sleep. The surgical registrar, from a major southeast Queensland public hospital, said she routinely had to operate on patients when she was so tired she felt drunk. I haven't killed someone yet, but probably one day it's going to happen because of my lack of sleep," she told The Sunday Mail. "I'm regularly operating on people when I haven't had sleep for two days. I know I'm making mistakes, I am just fortunate they haven't been any huge errors. "I know some of my colleagues have made errors and they're also worried."

The medic said anyone who spoke out risked being kicked off the surgical training program. She said that over the Christmas long weekend, she worked from Friday to Monday without sleeping at all. Junior doctors - residents and interns - are also working excessive shifts on relatively low pay while they try to establish themselves. They say "mandatory" eight-hour breaks between shifts are non-existent.

"It feels a bit like when you were 16 and you had a really big binge-drinking session," said the surgeon. "Of most concern to me is, I think, your hand-eye co-ordination skills go after two days. Performing surgery in those conditions is poor." She said the most dangerous shifts were on weekends, when doctors were commonly "on call". The weekend shift involves staying at the hospital from 7am Friday until Monday afternoon, and sleeping no more than three hours at a time. "We just need our mandatory break. You need someone to cover you," she said.

The surgeon spoke out as Australian Salaried Medical Officers' Federation president Don Kane seeks an urgent meeting with Health Minister Stephen Robertson to try to combat dangerous work hours. "Queensland Health has sat on its hands and done nothing. It is all promises," Dr Kane said. The union has been keeping examples of "horror shifts" to expose the dangerous working hours. In some cases, doctors had reported working three weeks without a day off.

The shifts continue five years after an overworked junior doctor was involved in a young girl's death. Elise Neville, 10, died two days after being sent home by a junior doctor in charge of Caloundra Hospital's emergency ward in 2002. Dr. Doneman was 20 hours into a 24 hour shift. He did not admit the girl to hospital or perform tests that would have shown she had a serious head injury.

Judge Debbie Richards, from the Queensland Health Practitioners Tribunal, said in 2004: "If this tragedy leads to nothing else, it should lead to the abolition of such brutally long shift hours." Dr Kane said little had changed since.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said he was concerned by the doctor's comments but blamed long hours on a national shortage of doctors and said hospitals had always used on-call shifts. "That's been a feature of doctors' working hours for you would have to close hospitals, particularly in rural Queensland." He said the Government had been on a recruitment drive to increase the number of doctors in the state and decrease working hours. Rural Doctors Association president Christian Rowan said solo doctors in remote areas were routinely rostered to work 22 days on, then six days off. The Australian Medical Association's Alex Markwell said Queensland's public hospitals relied on junior medics working long hours. "If they go home because they're tired, there's not necessarily anyone else to do their work. People can die if there's no doctors around," Dr. Markwell said.

The above report by David Murray appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on January 28, 2007

New school curriculum proposals still far too vague

The latest approach to an Australian national curriculum is too vague to be useful, writes Kevin Donnelly

Arguments in favour of a national curriculum are not restricted to Australia. While the US is also a federal system and responsibility for education rests at the local level, groups such as the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation argue for a national approach to detailing what students should learn and the expected levels of achievement. In a recent paper published by the Fordham Foundation, "To Dream the impossible Dream", four approaches are put forward to achieve a national curriculum.

The most aggressive approach is for the central government to enforce a national curriculum that replaces state-based models. The second approach is voluntary and states would be invited to opt into a national svstem designed by the federal government. A third approach is to allow states to continue to develop local curriculums, but to ensure that in each of the different syllabus or framework documents there is common content and skills. The final approach is to allow states to develop their own curriculum documents but for the central government to evaluate them against an agreed benchmark.

Given that both major Australian political parties, at the Commonwealth level, have signalled education as an election issue - in particular, concerns about standards, the quality of the curriculum and the possibility of a national curriculum - it is useful to relate the above four models to the Australian scene. In the same way that the Howard Government has mandated student report cards in plain English and with A to E gradings, the Commonwealth Government could try to force states and territories to adopt a national curriculum by threatening to withhold federal funding.

But Australia's Constitution makes such a course of action problematic and unlikely, as education is the preserve of the states, and the danger is that adopting a one-size-fits-all approach will enforce mediocrity if the model adopted is dumbed down and politically correct. Imagine Western Australia's outcomes-based education approach or Tasmania's Essential Learnings writ large across the nation.

During the early to mid-1990s, we attewmpted the second model, represented by the Keating government's national statements and profiles that detailed learning outcomes in various key learning areas and the expected levels of performance. Such was the substandard nature of the Keating national statements and profiles -- based, as they were, on the experimental and new-age OBE approach -- that the July, 1993, Perth meeting of education ministers refused to endorse the national curriculum.

Now, concerning Statements of Learning, the states and territories, in collaboration with the federal Government, are involved in implementing a variation of the third model. Statements of Learning are defined as "the key knowledge, skills, understandings and capacities that all students in Australia should have the opportunity to learn and develop in a domain, irrespective of the state or territory in which they live". Instead of coercing the states and territories or going to the expense of developing a comprehensive curriculum, a lighter approach is being adopted. The Statements of Learning do not cover a school's entire curriculum, restricted as they are to elements of core subjects such as English, mathematics, civics and citizenship, information and communications technologies and science. The statements relate only to years 3, 5, 7 and 9 and, while states and territories are being asked to integrate them into their own curriculum documents, there will still be a good deal of local variation as states and territories have the right to develop their own curriculums.

Given that the Australian education ministers endorsed the various Statements of Learning in August 2006 and states and territories have until January 2008 to implement the new curriculum approach, it is surprising that there has been no public debate about the usefulness and academic rigour of the statements. The first point to make about this third approach to developing a national curriculum is that it is low-risk and it plays safely into the hands of those responsible for the current parlous state of Australian education.

Whereas the practice in places such as South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and the US is to benchmark local curriculum internationally in order to ensure what is developed is of the highest international quality, the Statements of Learning are based on what exists within Australia. Instead of clearly defining essential knowledge, understanding and skills that all students are expected to learn, the statements are generalised and vague on the whole and in line with Australia's adoption of OBE.

The refusal to stipulate clearly what all students should learn, regardless of where they go to school, is based on the mistaken belief that schools and teachers must be given the freedom to relate what is taught to the special character of a student. As argued by those responsible for the Statements of Learning, the strength of the approach is that it "leaves systems, sectors and schools with flexibility and autonomy to integrate these statements into their own curriculums in a manner which suits the diversity of students' needs and types of schools across the country".

Again and again, research suggests that what teachers need are clear, concise and unambiguous syllabuses, or road maps, of what they are expected to teach. Instead of having to reinvent the wheel. teachers are thus freed to focus on improving classroom practice, mentoring one another and professional development. Neither the Keating government statements and profiles nor the Statements of Learning are syllabuses and, as such, are not of much practical use to teachers. If governments are serious about a national curriculum, year level-specific syllabuses in key subjects should be developed. Such syllabuses should be internationally benchmarked, academically sound, concise and teacher friendly and, if developed at the federal level, offered to schools on a voluntary basis.

Details about the "Statements of Learning" can be found here

The above article appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on January 27, 2007

Rubbery university standards

MORE than a third of overseas students are completing their degrees at Australian universities with English so poor that they should not have been admitted to tertiary study in the first place. The results of a study by the demographer Bob Birrell confirm widespread concerns expressed by academics over the past decade that the Federal Government's focus on drawing fee-paying students from overseas has led to a collapse in university academic standards. They have complained about the way fee-paying students - who now number 239,000, and who contribute 15 per cent of tertiary income - have brought pressure on universities to ensure pass levels, and an epidemic of plagiarism among some groups of foreign students.

The study showed that 34 per cent of graduating students who were offered permanent residence visas last year were unable to achieve a "competent" English standard in their test scores. Among Chinese students, who are driving much of the growth in export education, the figure was as high as 43.2 per cent. More than half of South Korean and Thai students could not meet required English levels.

"It does raise serious questions about Australian university standards," said Professor Birrell, a Monash University academic and author of the report, published in today's People and Place journal. "How do they get in in the first place? The next [question] is, how do they get through university exams with poor English?"

The Department of Immigration will only issue higher education visas to students who reach band six - a "competent" standard - in the International English Language Testing System. But other types of visas only require students to reach band five. Many students arrive on these visas and use them as a back door to universities.

"We've got mountains of anecdotal data from individual lecturers complaining and people expressing concern [about standards], but this is the first time that confirms those concerns are correct," Professor Birrell said. Professor Peter Abelson, a visiting scholar at the University of Sydney, said universities often turned a blind eye to plagiarism and ineptitude among international students because they relied on their income. "[These figures] are a very stunning result, but not entirely surprising to people who are in tertiary education," he said. Students with poor English were able to pass through university because so much of their assessment work was not done under examination conditions, he said.

But universities said the data did not necessarily prove standards were softening. Professor Gerard Sutton, the president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, said it was possible the foreign students who had failed to reach a score of six on the International English Language Testing System had scored poorly in the speaking component of the test, which may not have been a critical skill in the course they were taking. "I don't accept that there's a problem in universities in terms of soft marking of international students," Professor Sutton said. [How much evidence does he need?]

Professor Birrell said the results were an indictment on the professional associations that accredited students and allowed them to proceed with residency visas. The report said the Australian Nursing Council would not accredit graduates unless they scored seven in the language test. Dennis Furini, the chief executive of the Australian Computer Society, said his members had not complained about English standards. "In IT, it's more important to know the programming language than the English language."



A HERCULEAN effort is on to save Victoria's koalas, among the creatures hardest hit by wildfires. Dozens of people, companies and organisations have pitched in to help thousands of koalas devastated by fire around Warrnambool, known as the state's koala capital. Locals liken the community spirit to that seen after Ash Wednesday. Children are gathering gumleaves to feed injured koalas and motel owners have provided towels and blankets to wrap them in.

Melbourne stuntwoman Sue Anderson is climbing trees to rescue injured koalas and arborists are using their cherry-pickers to pluck others from burnt trees to safety. An anonymous woman has signed a blank cheque for Koolix Kafe to cater to volunteers rescuing koalas and the cafe owners are providing cheap meals. Harvey Norman staff have donated a $300 evaporative cooler to keep burnt koalas cool and Bunnings has handed over timber to make temporary enclosures. Speedee Laundry Services owner Alan Walder has turned his washing machines over to clean dirty and bloodied blankets and towels.

A makeshift koala hospital has been set up in the nearby Purnim public hall, where children sit patiently feeding parched koalas drip by drip. Kindergarten assistant Cheryl McKinnon opens the hall each day and places gum leaves collected by children in fresh buckets of water. Her hat stand from home is at the triage treatment centre to hold the drip tubes to supply medicines and fluids. When not in the hall, she is home washing dozens of towels and blankets used to wrap koalas...

Koalas not killed by fire are being found by the dozen, too injured to climb down from their burnt trees. Lucky survivors who have escaped injury face cruel starvation because of the devastation to their habitat. Dr Ong has spent every weekend with her vet husband Chris Barton co-ordinating dozens of local vets and vet nurses as they treat injured koalas brought in.....

More here

Monday, January 29, 2007


Why must non-Muslims be barred from them?

A row has erupted over Muslim-only washrooms at La Trobe University that can be accessed only with a secret push-button code. Muslim students have exclusive access to male and female washrooms on campus, sparking claims of bias and discrimination. The university and Islamic leaders have defended the washrooms as vital to Muslim students' prayer rituals.

A university student, who did not want to be identified, raised the issue with the Sunday Herald Sun this week. Australian Family Council spokesman Bill Muehlenberg said concerns over the exclusive facilities were valid. "Do we have a Christian washroom or an atheist washroom?" he said. "The whole thing is madness." Mr Muehlenberg said the separate facilities were divisive. "If Muslims are saying 'we are good Australians and want to integrate', why are they insisting on separate washrooms?" he said.

Victorian Muslim community leader Yasser Soliman said the washrooms were necessary. He said the separate facilities were also due to concerns from non-Muslim students. "Muslims need to wash their feet before prayer and in the past there have been complaints about them washing their feet in sinks, so this is a happy medium," he said. Mr Soliman said most universities provided Muslim-only prayer and washrooms for students.

A La Trobe University spokesman said the washrooms were established with the advice of senior Muslim religious leaders. He said the university also had a Christian chapel with a meeting room and four chaplains from major denominations had offices. La Trobe University Christian Union vice-president Richard Thamm backed the washrooms. "It's part of their religion, they need to wash in a special way before they pray," he said.


Senior Australian conservative politician targets Left for stance on Iraq

Labor's exit strategy for Iraq is the product of entrenched pessimism in the political Left and a flawed pursuit of soft options, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says. Mr Downer yesterday launched a broad defence of Australia's involvement in the US-led war on terrorism as the Howard Government faces increasing pressure to end its military commitment in Iraq. He laments the "self-loathing" of the Left, saying it will only embolden extremists bent on imposing Islamic rule on the world.

The narrative of the Left, he said, had always been "either post-revolutionary heaven on Earth, or this year's version of catastrophe". Its avoidance of confrontation and tough decisions played into terrorists' hands. "In the West, the political Left often exhibits a kind of self-loathing that argues we have brought this battle with terrorism upon ourselves," Mr Downer said in a speech to the Young Liberals' national convention in Melbourne last night. "That the terrorists can trigger this predictable self-loathing within the Left, that it runs prominently in the media, that it saps the public's appetite for the struggle, that it places pressure on politicians -- none of this is an accident. The terrorists' attacks and propaganda are designed to produce these debilitating debates in the West."

As Labor pushes for phased withdrawal from Iraq, polling last week showed 62 per cent of Australians opposed the Government's handling of the war, including 41 per cent of Coalition voters. A pre-Christmas poll found more than 70 per cent believed the war was not worth fighting.

Prime Minister John Howard has shrugged off the figures, again insisting that withdrawing from Iraq would hand victory to terrorists. Mr Downer said while Britain's Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair had recognised terrorism could not be defeated without diplomacy and military might, the ALP was a "world away from Blair's clear and assertive view".


Where the Greenies are heading us

Today I present a straightforward solution to ending the water crisis. Starting immediately, we must ban beer and Coke and stop eating beef. The production of all three is sucking the world dry. And let's face it: we'd be healthier without them.

The evidence is compelling. Did you know it takes nearly four litres of water to make one litre of XXXX [beer]? And did you know it takes 55,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef? That is more water than in my backyard pool for goodness sake.

"Yes, those numbers are valid," CSIRO water expert Wayne Meyer says. Professor Meyer says the amounts of water required to raise cattle could be as high as 100,000 litres in some places where evaporation is highest. The figure includes the amount of water required to grow fodder to feed the animals. Then there is the water the cattle drink and the vast quantities used in abattoirs to slaughter them. Brisbane's Cannon Hill abattoir, for instance, uses more than 580 million litres of water a year.

By now I know vegetarians will be cheering and cattlemen fuming under their Akubras. Drought and government neglect has created a water nightmare for business, especially for food producers. More than half of our top 20 commercial water users are in the food or beverage business. Professor Meyer says city folk have no idea of the volumes of water required to put food on the table. It takes 500 litres of water to produce a kilogram of spuds. It is thirsty work for a planet that will have to double the rate of food production by 2050 to meet soaring population growth, says Professor Meyer.


Government concealment of childcare breaches

Nearly 50 Queensland childcare centres failed to meet strict safety standards last year, but State Government laws prevent them being named. More than 73 compliance notices were issued to 48 childcare centres during spot checks in 2006, instructing them to either fix unsafe buildings and equipment, employ extra staff or improve their recordkeeping, cleaning and maintenance. But parents will never be told of the breaches, and the Communities Department will reveal only the regions where the centres were located.

Two centres - one in Brisbane and one in the Wide Bay area - had their licences revoked last year, but the department said confidentiality provisions in the Child Care Act also prevented those centres being publicly named. Communities Minister Warren Pitt said the number of centres issued with compliance notices represented only a fraction of the facilities operating in Queensland, and indicated that most were for minor problems.

Mr Pitt said the safety of children was "paramount" and the department had conducted more monitoring visits last year. "As there were 2212 licensed childcare centres in Queensland by the end of last year, the compliance figures show that only about 2 per cent of licensed childcare centres received notices during 2006," Mr Pitt said. "These figures show that the sector, as a whole, is operating well."

The figures come a week after the department revealed Wilbur Rhino Child Care Centre in Townsville, which cared for up to 75 children, had its licence suspended because of concerns over its management. The department again would not detail the concerns, but said they did not relate to child abuse. It was unclear why that centre was publicly named, but the two other centres which had their licences revoked last year were not.

Under the current system, departmental officers visit childcare centres and alert the licensees if there are any problems. If they fail to rectify the problems, they can be fined or, in serious cases, have their licences suspended and revoked. During 2006, the Wide Bay-Burnett area recorded the highest number of breaches at 25, following by the Mackay-Whitsunday region and far north Queensland. These ranged from problems with the buildings and equipment, inadequate staffing or qualifications to bad record-keeping, health and hygiene.


Global cooling?: "Summer rains and a cold snap had Victorians retrieving their winter woollies yesterday - the coldest January day in seven years. The city [Melbourne] reached a cool top of 18.9C as yesterday's welcome rain dumped an average of 7mm on the city. The state's lowest minimum on Friday night - zero degrees - was recorded at Mt Baw Baw. Mt Buller and Mt Hotham recorded maximums of 7C. But the Department of Sustainability and Environment said the light showers failed to help firefighters in the state's northeast. "The rain neither helped nor hindered," duty officer Richard Alder said."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Idiotic political posturing

We have been down this road before with the Ord river boondoggle in Western Australia: Lots of water was flowing out to sea in a remote area so huge dams were built at great expense to conserve the water for irrigation. Problem: There was almost nothing you could grow there that was commercially viable. Nobody seemed to notice then that the world is chronically plagued by unsellable food surpluses (owing to equally idiotic interventions by other governments) and nothing has changed since. Growing stuff does not mean you can sell it at a sustainable price. Government efforts to pick business winners are almost invariably laughable and this is no exception. If dams are to be built they should be built where there is already a demand for them. I live in a large Australian population centre that is allegedly drought stricken yet it rains here several times a week. There is NO shortage of water -- just a failure to dam it.

North Queensland could become the "food bowl of the world" under a proposal to catch thousands of gigalitres of water and irrigate vast tracts of the desolate Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York. Prime Minister John Howard yesterday appointed Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan to head a taskforce to investigate water and agriculture development in the north as part of his $10 billion national water plan. The vision is to turn the region into a garden of Eden by harnessing some of the estimated 88,000 gigalitres of water lost in run-off in north Australia each year.

With one gigalitre equal to 1000 megalitres the options are immense, Senator Heffernan told The Courier-Mail yesterday. He said the inquiry would look at harnessing the 60 per cent of Australia's total run-off that flowed through three major catchments. "This is. . . about opening up new opportunity," he said.

Peter Kenny, president of the nation's peak farmers group AgForce, said the north had the potential to become the "food bowl of the world". "There is assumption by climatologists that most of the rainfall in the future will be in the northern part of Australia," Mr Kenny said. Wilderness Society spokeswoman Larissa Cordner said: "Moving irrigated agricultural development into northern Australia will be an unmitigated disaster both for the environment and economically."


PM uses Greenie language to support Federal takeover of big river systems

Prime Minister John Howard yesterday labelled himself a "climate change realist", saying Australians could never return to a relaxed attitude towards water. "I regard myself as a climate change realist," he said while announcing his $10 billion water plan. "That means looking at the evidence as it emerges and responding with policies."

Mr Howard said the evidence pointed to a contraction in weather systems that traditionally brought southern Australia winter and spring rains. "Our rainfall has always been highly variable," he said. "The deviation around average rainfall is enormous and it seems to be getting bigger."

However, Mr Howard said the Australian continent was by its very nature a dry place. Australian water management systems had to be resilient and sustainable regardless of the truth or otherwise of climate change. "They must be geared not to a world of steady averages that rarely materialise but to the variability that has been part of Australia's climate since time immemorial," Mr Howard said.

He said Australians could never return to the days "when you could hose down the car". "We need to make every drop count - on our farms, in our factories and in our homes," Mr Howard said.


Phonics still being ignored by teacher-training colleges

Education faculties will have to abandon their unscientific ideology of reading if children across the nation are to be guaranteed basic literacy. This claim is made by Max Coltheart, a leading member of the group of 26 academics, mostly psychologists, whose open letter to former education minister Brendan Nelson inspired a national inquiry into how reading is taught. In his first assessment of the outcome of the inquiry, which reported in 2005, Professor Coltheart of Macquarie University has warned that unless Dr Nelson's successor, Julie Bishop, takes on the education academics he holds ultimately responsible for poor literacy, the inquiry will have been wasted.

Professor Coltheart, an advocate of the phonics method of teaching reading, said as far as he could tell not a single education faculty had shown any sign of heeding the reformist recommendations of the inquiry. The faculties were wedded to the failed whole-language method, he said. "They're so defensive, they won't do it unless they're compelled to," he told the HES. "Most of them are of a very unscientific frame of mind. They hate the idea that you can even measure reading. Is (Ms Bishop) going to compel them to (reform) or is she going to shelve (the report)?"

Ms Bishop said the commonwealth did not have the power to force education faculties to adopt the report's recommendations. But she pointed to the requirement that states submit from May next year to annual national literacy and numeracy testing for students in years three, five, seven and nine as a condition of the federal funding agreement. "This testing will place significant pressure on university education faculties to produce teachers with the skills to more effectively teach reading, grammar, mathematics and other key skills," she said. It was up to the states, as employers of most teachers, to insist that education faculties turn out graduates with the right skills to teach literacy.

Terry Lovat, from the Australian Council of Deans of Education, disputed Professor Coltheart's image of education academics as captive to the whole-language method and hostile to phonics and the Nelson inquiry. "I think that if the whole-language approach ever dominated, it has not done so for 15 years: it's a straw man," Professor Lovat said. He said the inquiry, on which he sat, had been influenced by the education deans in finding that classrooms needed a balance between direct instruction phonics and indirect "literacy saturation". Education faculties, including his own at the University of Newcastle, were well aware of the report's recommendations and were taking them into account in regular internal reviews.

The debate about teacher training is expected to reach a new pitch this year. A federal parliamentary inquiry into teacher education is expected to report before March. Labor's education spokesman Stephen Smith has unsettled teacher unions by endorsing "a rigorous assessment" of teacher performance in the classroom.

Professor Coltheart said the public debate about reading tended to assign blame to teachers but they themselves were victims of the unscientific culture of education faculties. "Somebody's got to be blamed for (poor literacy) and it looks to me it's the faculties, and if Julie Bishop does nothing she can be blamed, too," he said. He said surveys suggested that up to 20 per cent of children and adolescents emerged with very poor literacy.

With Melbourne University's Margot Prior, Professor Coltheart has written a 5000-word analysis of the Nelson inquiry and its aftermath. It is expected to be published soon by the Australian Academy of the Social Sciences. "(The inquiry found that) the whole-language approach to the teaching of reading, currently the most widely used approach to the teaching of reading in Australian schools ... is not in the best interests of students, especially those students who are having difficulty learning to read," they write.

They say this method disapproves of direct instruction in rules for translating letters of the alphabet into sounds. They say the method holds that children learn to read and interact with texts to create meaning for themselves, just as they learn to talk without any explicit teaching. They say that any successful reading program has to begin with so-called synthetic phonics, in which children are taught to read by matching letters with sounds and putting them together into syllables. They say a thorough overhaul of teacher training is necessary. "(But) we know of no plans for the universities to improve the training of teachers in the science of reading, and in evidence-based methods for teaching reading and assisting children with difficulties in learning to read. "This is despite the fact, noted in the Nelson report, that it is currently possible for Australia's future teachers to complete a bachelor of education course with less than 2 per cent of total credit points devoted to instruction in the teaching of reading."


Abbott [Catholic] to tackle Rudd [Leftist alleged Christian] on political faith

Australia's involvement in the Iraq war and the Howard Government's WorkChoices industrial relations laws can be justified by Christians, according to Health Minister Tony Abbott. And Mr Abbott, a staunch Catholic, also believes it is far-fetched to claim a drive for social justice should be a necessary starting point for Christians. He will advance his arguments in a speech to the Young Liberal national conference in Melbourne today as he seeks to broaden the debate about the place of religion in politics.

In his speech, he will savage Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, who has accused the right wing of the Howard Government of attempting to hijack religion for political purposes and to demonise Labor as somehow godless. According to notes prepared for his speech and obtained by The Weekend Australian, Mr Abbott will accuse Mr Rudd of seeking to commandeer God and demand he cease attempting to "shame" Christians into voting Labor. The former student priest will argue Christians are called upon to seek good in all people but not to ignore human weakness or assume evil has ceased to exist.

"That's why there is no single, authoritative Christian position on the Iraq war, climate change or border protection," he will say. "On these issues, what mostly matters is what's likely to work out for the best in an imperfect world. Reluctantly perhaps, a Christian could conclude that sending extra troops to Iraq, for instance, might make more sense than leaving the sectarians to their own murderous devices."

While Mr Abbott does not argue that the war should be seen as a clash between Christianity and Islam, he uses the example to demonstrate his point that both sides of politics can illustrate their political arguments in line with religion. He also rejects Mr Rudd's view that Christian tenets of social justice accord with Labor philosophies such as fairness in the workplace. "I respect Rudd's faith," he says in the speech notes. "I just wish he would stop feeding the myth of the Christian right without some evidence. "Governments, unlike individuals, cannot act on the basis of faith, only reason. The difference between the Government and many of its critics is that its senior members think that the values of the Ten Commandments are as much common sense as religious dogma."

Mr Abbott will also respond to challenges from Mr Rudd that he justify, in Christian terms, the WorkChoices laws, which encourage greater use of workplace contracts. "From a Christian perspective, indeed, from a commonsense one, the test of fairness should not be whether workplace conditions are set by unions, industrial commissions or contract, but whether they produce more jobs, higher pay and fewer strikes," the speech notes say. "Some employers' hard bargains threaten people's income growth, but some unions' hard bargains threaten their jobs."

He will call on Mr Rudd to deliver policies, not rhetoric, to show he is interested in the values of Christians, not just their votes. "The depth of a politician's convictions is usually measured by how far he's prepared to take them when they work against his immediate political advantage."


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Protected cop in trouble after all

[Above: Hurley and the political appointee who tried to protect him from prosecution]

Palm Island policeman Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley will be prosecuted over the death-in-custody of Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee. Former NSW Chief Justice Laurence Street has handed in his review of the circumstances of Mulrunji's death and is understood to have said there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Snr Sgt Hurley over the death. Attorney-General Kerry Shine this morning confirmed he had received Sir Laurence Street's legal opinion in relation to possible charges resulting from the death of Mulrunji on Palm Island in 2004. Mr Shine said Sir Laurence had recommended Snr Sgt Hurley be charged with manslaughter and he had asked the Crown Solicitor to initiate a prosecution as soon as possible. He said Sir Laurence Street's report would not be released until after any trial took place in fairness to Snr Sgt Hurley.

Mr Shine said Sir Laurence, a former New South Wales Chief Justice, had considered the brief of evidence provided by the Director of Public Prosecution Leanne Clare. "Sir Laurence has advised me that he believes there is sufficient admissible evidence exists to support the institution of criminal proceedings against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley for manslaughter of Mulrunji," Mr Shine said. "Furthermore, Sir Laurence believes there is a reasonable prospect of a conviction."

Mr Shine said Sir Laurence was asked to consider (1) whether sufficient admissible evidence exists to support the institution of criminal proceedings against any person with respect to the death of Mulrunji; and (2) whether a reasonable prospect of a conviction before a reasonable jury exists in the event a prosecution is brought against any person.

Mr Shine said Sir Laurence had emphasised that his role was not to determine whether Senior Sergeant Hurley was guilty of an offence, but rather to determine whether he should be put on trial. "In light of Sir Laurence's opinion, and having given very careful consideration to the matter myself, I have decided it is in the public interest that this matter should be resolved in a court," he said. "I have today instructed the Crown Solicitor to take the necessary steps to initiate a prosecution as soon as possible. "I ask that, given the pending legal proceedings, the media show restraint in their reporting of this matter so that Senior Sergeant Hurley can be assured of a fair trial."

Mr Shine said the fact that Sir Laurence had formed a different opinion to that of Ms Clare was in no way a slight on her. "The best legal minds often differ on matters of law - even in the High Court of Australia it is common for differing judgments to be recorded," he said. "In my view, Ms Clare has acted within the scope of her duty and her authority."

Mr Shine said the Government's intention remained to table Sir Laurence's opinion in State Parliament. "We will do so as soon as it is legally appropriate, but it is likely this will not be until after the court case to ensure the fairness of the prosecution is not compromised," Mr Shine said. The Beattie Government contracted Sir Laurence Street to review the case following widespread protest after Ms Clare found that Hurley had no case to answer. Shadow Attorney-General Mark McArdle said Mr Shine was likely to find himself in a legal minefield dealing with the outcome of Sir Laurence Street's review. "It is imperative that any report by Sir Laurence is made public and Mr Shine fully explains what steps he will take and why," Mr McArdle said.


PM supports new dams

Permanent water restrictions in our cities should be no more acceptable than electricity rationing, Prime Minister John Howard says. Mr Howard said he remained confident Australia could eventually drought-proof its urban centres. But with the exception of Perth, no major Australian city has invested significantly in augmenting their water supplies for decades, he said. In the case of Brisbane, decisions to build new dams were cancelled and "then nothing else was done", the Prime Minister said.

Mr Howard attacked the mentality of state governments that tried to constrain demand by imposing water restrictions instead of investing in water infrastructure. That strategy allowed the states to preserve the cash flow of their water utilities which often paid out large dividends, he said. "The continuation of the drought has shown the strategy to be a foolhardy one," Mr Howard said.

Under the plan, city water providers will be made to invest in dams, desalination plants and other infrastructure or lose federal funding. "Water solutions will vary from place to place. The truth is we have the capacity to drought-proof our large cities. "What is needed is more investment, sensible pricing and an end to state governments using water utilities as cash cows."

Australian Democrats leader Lyn Allison praised the water plan. "Better late than never," she said. "The Prime Minister has also come a long way in acknowledging the needs of the environment."


Being Australian

If you plan on spending Australia Day driving around in a ute while eating a meat pie and listening to Land Down Under, you qualify as the quintessential Aussie, according to a poll of Australians. And if you're heading for a barbeque at Bert and Patty Newton's better still.

Despite decades of multiculturalism, the Top Taste Lamingtons Aussie Poll has revealed stereotypical Aussie lifestyle is alive and well. The meat pie is our favorite Australian fare (56 percent), followed by the lamington.

Ian Thorpe, Kylie Minogue and television couple Kath and Kell are the celebrity icons that Australians are most happy to embrace.

When it comes to language our favorite Aussie word is "Gday", followed by "crikey", (thanks Steve Irwin) while Australian's happy-go-lucky attitude emerged in our favorite phrases "He'll/she'll be right mate (51 percent of votes) and "Don't get your knickers in a knot" (26 per cent).

The nationwide survey of 400 Australians aged 18 to 50 on all things Australian voted swimmer Ian Thorpe as the celebrity who made us most proud to Australian, followed closely by "singing budgie" Kylie Minogue. Interestingly veterans Bert and Patty Newton were our favorite couple closely beating Kath and Kell from TV comedy Kath and Kim.

It wasn't the Socceroo's World Cup performance in 2006 that was named the nation's greatest sporting moment. It was winning the America's Cup in 1983.

And forget the stubbie holder, the ute is considered the greatest Aussie invention, given the top vote by Australian blokes. The sheilas opted for the Hills Hoist, which came a close second.

In true larrikin spirit, the myth that Australians most want people overseas to believe is that we keep koalas and kangaroos as pets (41 percent) and that drop bears are a growing threat. (27percent).

We also see ourselves as a nation of Aussie Norms [couch potatoes] (41 percent) with few identifying with the likes of businessman James Packer (seven percent).

Australian entertainer Barry Crocker said the poll shows the national holiday brings out the "true blue Aussie in all of us''. "We all get a bit patriotic around Australia Day, so it's a great time to celebrate all the things we love most about being an Aussie. "Australian myths and slang words are all part of our mystique overseas, I think if you said yakka, drongo or chunder outside of Australia people would be calling for a translator! This is a good thing because it shows the rest of the world that Australia is unique, with its own distinctive culture. "I'm a huge fan of letting non-Australians believe the myths and stereotypes; the more people who think we ride kangaroos to work the better!"

"How could you not love Kylie and Thorpey? Two of our country's greatest ambassadors, who can both pull off wearing very tight shorts! I love meat pies and lamingtons too, the perfect national food to eat and bring out the dinky die Aussie in you on Australia Day."

Other poll findings were:

National Priorities: 39 per cent of Aussies want to see an improvement in our attitude towards the environment, followed by 31 per cent saying an increased sense of neighbourliness/ friendliness amongst the Australian public should be a priority.

Honorary Australians: Prince Frederik and the Finn brothers come almost equal at 34 per cent and 35 per cent respectively, as the people we would most like to become honorary Australians.

The Country: 80 per cent of Aussies surveyed say they would raise their kids here in Australia over anywhere else in the world.


Parents still fleeing government schools, despite high costs

Parents sending their children to southeast Queensland's leading private schools are facing fee hikes of up to 14 per cent. For some, the cost of private education will top $13,000 for senior students this year. Even at more affordable Catholic schools, rising fees are putting pressure on struggling families, according to Parents and Friends Associations of Queensland executive director Paul Dickie. "The cost is a big problem for parents," Mr Dickie said. "Some will find it extremely difficult. "Any increase is going to restrict the number of families that can afford to send their kids to Catholic schools."

This year most of the leading private schools in southeast Queensland have lifted their fees by around 7 per cent. That has pushed the cost of a senior education well above $10,000 a year for at least eight of the most prestigious institutions.

The Southport School is one of Queensland's most expensive, charging $13,115 for students in Year 11 and 12. Headmaster Greg Wain admitted some families would have trouble paying that. "Not all our parents can pay the fees easily," he said. "Some do struggle and we're very cognisant of that." Mr Wain said the higher fees reflected increased salaries for teachers, rising interest rates and new technology costs. "Certainly for our parents, there's an expectation that there be national to international level facilities, including such things as swimming pools, rowing programs, leadership programs and extensive music programs," he said. "All of them are quite expensive to resource."

While The Southport School offers an all inclusive fee, other private schools also impose regular levies, which add thousands of dollars to the annual bill for parents. At Brisbane's Anglican Church Grammar school at East Brisbane, parents will pay $12,982 to educate a child in Years 8 to 12. Churchie also charges a non-refundable enrolment confirmation fee of $1150, along with levies for book rental and outdoor education and a $300 compulsory annual contribution to the building fund.

One of Brisbane's leading girls schools, Somerville House at South Brisbane is charging $10,620 for students in Years 7 to 12 this year, with added technology and excursion fees and a voluntary building levy.

If students are boarders, the financial slug at most schools will be at least as much as the tuition fees. But Independent Schools Queensland operations director David Robertson said the increasing cost of private education was not deterring parents. "It would seem the enrolment growth in our sector is continuing, which would indicate that parents still believe they are getting good value for money," he said.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Nation at risk from tyranny of tolerance

AUSTRALIA'S long-term difficulty in dealing with the now politically defunct noun "multiculturalism" is not unique to this country. It is not even unique to this time. In London earlier this week a newspaper columnist dug out some old quotes from Winston Churchill in 1938, then merely another politician but a man whose time was about to come. They were dark days as Churchill watched the tyranny of Nazi Germany spread across Europe and, as the Nazis pushed their violent, intolerant ideology on the world, the British Government simply looked on. Stunned mullets.

They were seemingly unwilling - or unable - to deal with the problem. "I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf," Churchill observed. He was never short of a quotable line, was ol' Winston. But he also warned that "if a moral catastrophe should overtake" Britain, future historians would sit back and be baffled as to how a great nation allowed itself to be destroyed so easily. Well, folks, who's to say it isn't happening again?

How many of you noticed that those Christmas cards you have no doubt recycled by now actually said Happy Holidays, and not the religiously correct Merry Christmas? Were the Christmas lights down in your neighbourhood this year? It wasn't so long ago that Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore thought it was a good idea to cancel Christmas decorations in the city so - and how many times are we hearing this? - as not to offend Muslims. Just this week concert promoter Ken West tried to ban the Australian flag because he believed it would invoke racial violence. Aside from showing common sense was officially dead and buried, West did a pretty good job of indicating the spirit of rock 'n' roll is in the early stages of rigor mortis as well.

Australia is not unique in its troubles, though. In England last week a woman graduating with her Metropolitan Police class refused to shake the Police Commissioner's hand because it was against her Muslim faith to shake hands with any man not her husband or a close relative. What did the commissioner do? Privately, they say, he was outraged at the lack of what we Westerners call manners. But he agreed, so as "not to cause a scene". For any right-minded person, though, shouldn't the immediate thought have been: If she cannot touch men, then how is she supposed to arrest them? The commissioner should have stripped her of her badge there and then. These are all examples of this politically correct pandering to other religions gone completely wrong. They are occurring at the disintegration of our own culture. Sure, this woman was entitled to her religious beliefs but when it comes to policing, the greater welfare of the community should have been put before her interests.

Sadly it wasn't, which is symptomatic of the problem in England, in Australia, and throughout the Western world. In a bid to stay modern, be fair and accept every man as equal, countries opened their borders to differing religions, races and persuasions when, according to the rhetoric, we should all have then joined in a group hug. It hasn't quite worked out that way. Hardline fundamental Muslims have moved in, happy to accept the freedoms and benefits of our culture - whenever it suited - while around the world their kill tally continues to rise. They sell their hate-mongering DVDs in western Sydney and then we excuse them because we are a "tolerant" society.

Well, it says here that tolerance these days is just cowardice dressed in a palatable mask. The true meaning has been lost in this dog's breakfast of political correctness. By pandering to religious sensibilities in such a manner Australia is just weakening its own culture and going down the path of ruin. Australia is a wonderful country and deserves protecting. It should not be allowed to be overrun by fundamentalists preying on our weakness to show "tolerance".

The small light of hope this week was Prime Minister John Howard's decision to reflect the feelings of the majority of this country by changing the multiculturalism portfolio to a citizenship portfolio. While it is hard to ignore the change could simply be an election stunt from Honest John cashing in on the wider feelings of the electorate, the hope is it is more a case of astute politics. With no more astute politician in Canberra, he gets the early benefit of the doubt.

Australia needs to be protected not just from the fundamentalists but from ourselves - from the dimwits all too willing to give this country away in the name of tolerance. For a long while Churchill was a lone voice in his opposition to Hitler, even becoming virtually banned from the BBC for being too anti-German. He was proven right only when it was almost too late.


Experts divided over obesity issue

Australians aren't getting fatter at all, according to a group of academics who claim the obesity epidemic is a money-wasting illusion. National and international researchers will convene in NSW on Thursday to argue that statistics supporting obesity and its health consequences are much more uncertain than people realise.

However, the concept has been met with intense criticism from a leading diabetes expert who says it "comes from another planet". The conference organiser, Jan Wright, says the commonly reported belief that Australians are generally fat, and growing all the time, is a "beat-up" with its own agenda. "There's no epidemic," says Professor Wright, associate dean of education at the University of Wollongong, which will host the event. "There's not these radical increases in terms of overweight and obesity like everybody thinks, so the entire argument is wrong from the start."

Prof Wright says there is no longitudinal figures to support expanding waistlines and most calculations rely on the Body Mass Index (BMI), not an accurate marker of obesity. "Using that scale, the entire All Black team would register as obese, so that can't be right."

She said many industries - especially fitness, food and pharmaceuticals - have a vested interest in perpetuating the obesity "myth" because they can make money out of the solutions. Many scientists also support the concept because, says Prof Wright, there is a huge amount of funding thrown at the area by governments. "Money is a huge motivator for people to support the position that there is an obesity epidemic," she said, "but millions of dollars are being wasted".

During the three-day conference, called Bio-pedagogies, academics, including people from the UK, Canada and New Zealand, will develop a plan to stay the momentum of the obesity argument, she said. But Paul Zimmet, director of the International Diabetes Institute, immediately discounted the "myth" concept as "from another planet". "We conduct the national Australian diabetes and obesity study and there's no question from the data that obesity is on the increase," Professor Zimmet said. "There's no illusion here, no scare-mongering - this is really wrong."


Wrongly-accused "fathers" may sue

One of the five men accused of being a deadbeat dad by a government agency hopes to contact his namesakes to pursue legal action. Trevor Holden said he plans to speak to the four other Mr T. Holdens wrongfully sent legal letters by Victorian Legal Aid's Child Support Service to see if they are interested in joining a class action against the service. The five men were all sent stern letters ordering them to declare they fathered the same child in 1994, or to send $550 for a DNA test to prove they were not its parent.

Among those accused were a teenager who was only three when he supposedly fathered the child; a 79-year-old man; a husband celebrating his anniversary; and another who was impotent. At least three of them faced relationship problems with their partners or families after being accused of being involved with a woman named in the letter.

Legal Aid's managing director Tony Parsons said the letters were sent by a junior lawyer not following the service's policies and he has since apologised to the men. But Trevor Holden, of Cheltenham, said the apology did not make up for the damaged caused and although he did not necessarily want money, he believes further action is warranted. "I've had a few people calling up to see if I am taking action and saying I have a case . . . I think we should because nothing like this is going to blow away with just one apology letter," he said.

Mr Holden also called for the sacking of the lawyer who sent the letters. "I wouldn't want to see the guy keep his job doing that, that is for sure," he said.

But Slater and Gordon family lawyer Chris Nehmy said it would be difficult for the men to mount a case. "If there was a divorce that eventuated from it then they would have to prove it was the sole reason, and then they would have to prove the quantum of loss," Mr Nehmy said.

The Victorian Privacy Commissioner is also unlikely to investigate. [One government agency protecting another]


Australian Leftists sponsored mad sheik

Prime Minister John Howard today challenged NSW Premier Morris Iemma to explain why the NSW Labor Right worked to ensure Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilali became an Australian citizen. The controversial Islamic cleric has reportedly floated the idea of running a candidate against Mr Iemma in his seat of Lakemba, just days after the sheik drew criticism for his comments on Egyptian television that Australians were liars and that Muslims were more entitled to live in Australia than Anglo-Saxons sent as convicts in chains. It follows the stir he caused last year when he compared immodestly dressed women to "uncovered meat".

Mr Howard said it was Labor's fault that the sheik was now an Australian citizen. "Perhaps Mr Iemma could explain to the Australian people why the Labor Party in western Sydney applied the pressure it did in the 1990s to make sure Sheik al-Hilali became an Australian citizen," he said. "Everyone knows that the pressure from the NSW Right, of which Mr Iemma is a member, from (former prime minister Paul) Keating to Mr (former Speaker Leo) McLeay overturned the view of the then Labor immigration minister Chris Hurford, that sheik (Hilali) not - because of his anti-semitic statements - be given Australian citizenship. "He is an Australian citizen now because of the NSW's Right of the Labor Party, because of the actions of Mr Keating and Mr McLeay and others, with whom Mr Iemma has been closely aligned."

Writing in The Australian newspaper last year, Mr Hurford said that after becoming immigration minister in 1985 he refused to renew Sheik Hlali's temporary visa, which had already been renewed a number of times, or grant him permanent residency. However, then-treasurer Mr Keating, and Mr McLeay, who both had seats in western Sydney, and former Labor senator John Button were reportedly among a number of government ministers who were behind a push to help the sheik become an Australian. Former Labor immigration minister Gerry Hand reportedly finally succumbed in 1990 and granted the sheik permanent residency under the watch of Mr Keating, who was acting prime minister at the time


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Multiculturalism dumped

More than 30 years after the Whitlam government introduced Australians to multiculturalism, the term has been officially discarded by the Immigration Department. Prime Minister John Howard used yesterday's reshuffle to excise the word from Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The department will now be known as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in one of Mr Howard's more powerful gestures about the way we now view arrivals.

The PM denied his decision to dump the term was an attack on the concept. He said he believed "citizenship" adequately reflected the desires of the Australian people about the path of a newly arrived immigrant. "I don't think the term (multiculturalism) is defunct," he said. "I think the desired progression is for an immigrant to become an Australian. Simple as that."

Mr Howard said a vibrant immigration process was essentially about bringing newcomers into the fold. "I think the title of the new department expresses the desires and the aspirations (of the people) and that is that the people who come to this country become Australians," Mr Howard said.

Former [Leftist] immigration minister Al Grassby [above] gave Australia multiculturalism under the Whitlam government in the early 1970s. The word encapsulated a new approach to immigration, allowing individual cultures to flourish beside one another rather than forcing conformity to the accepted norm. Australian historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey began writing about the difficulties he saw engendered by the concept in the 1980s.

The Opposition said the new branding would not change the nature of the department. Labor's Immigration spokesman, Tony Burke, said the new minister, Kevin Andrews, would continue to do Mr Howard's bidding. "The real limitation on getting a fresh start is the policies that (former minister) Amanda Vanstone was pursuing were always the policies that John Howard wanted," Mr Burke said. "And if Kevin Andrews has shown anything with his record in the past, it's that he's willing to follow the precise scheme laid down by the Prime Minister."


West Australia scraps most of proposed "postmodernist" education system

Far-Leftist education "experts" rebuffed after public protests

The Western Australian Government has essentially abandoned most of its controversial Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) system in a major overhaul. OBE faced strong opposition from teachers and parents last year but the Government refused to back down, insisting many elements of the system would be introduced this year. But today, new Education Minister Mark McGowan said teachers would be allowed to assess year 11 and 12 students using traditional marks and grades, rather than levels and bands.

Other changes include the introduction of compulsory exams for all year 12 students, except those doing trade certificates. Teacher juries will be established to review 50 new courses for senior school and a new syllabus will be created for kindergarten to year 10 by the end of the year. The new mathematics course will be deferred until 2009.

Mr McGowan is expecting overwhelming support from teachers. "I don't see that there has been a great deal of wastefulness," he said. "What we've done is listened to where there needs to be some change and we've made those changes... "The key aims of what I've taken to the Curriculum Council are to give teachers a greater say over courses because they know what works best in the classroom, and I have great faith in the capacity and ability of teachers."

Association of Independent Schools spokeswoman Audrey Jackson says the changes to the education system are sensible. "Although it sounds as though it's a wholesale change, it's not, in terms of the way that teachers will teach and what they will teach," she said. "That hasn't changed, so I don't see the timetable as being a problem."

Catholic Education Office spokesman Ron Dullard says the overhaul is a marked improvement and will reduces the strain on teachers, parents and students. "If the parents and the teachers aren't working together and happy with it, the students can't do the job that they need to do," he said. "So I certainly think that it's in everybody's interest that we do this."


More false paternity accusations

When are we going to hear that the lawyer responsible for this has been fired?

A 79-year-old grandfather, a man who was impotent and a husband left with some explaining to do are the latest men falsely accused of being deadbeat dads. The mistakes follow revelations in yesterday's Herald Sun that Victoria Legal Aid's Child Support Service had accused Tyler Holden, 15, of fathering a child in 1994 when he was just three.

Legal Aid's managing director, Tony Parsons, said on Monday that Tyler Holden's case was a "one-off". But four more men, also named T. Holden, were accused of fathering the same child.

Yesterday, three of them and their families told of the distress caused by the bungling government agency's clumsy attempts to chase child support payments. Mr Parsons admitted that a junior lawyer sent heavy-handed letters to five men. The legal letters ordered the men to declare they were the child's father or send $550 for a DNA test to prove they weren't.

One of the men, Trevor Holden, said the threatening letter drove a wedge between him and his partner, Sue. Trevor was away with their young children when the letter arrived, so Sue opened it. She was so devastated she couldn't speak to him, instead confiding in her sister, who called the shocked man. Trevor said the letter created a huge problem for his family. He said a medical condition had made it impossible for him to father children in the early 90s. "I was a hyperdialysis patient at the time and not everything was working until I had a transplant. But that was only eight years ago and this kid is 12," he said. "Sue said, 'I want to know what is going on. I want to know the truth about what you have done'. "She had second thoughts about me, and it was made worse because 20 years ago I used to go out with a girl of the same name as the mother."

Another Trevor Holden and his wife Dianne said their recent anniversary was ruined by doubts about his fidelity caused by the letter. "After 25 years of marriage, it did not do us any good," the Mooroolbark man said. "I work out in the field a lot, so to make her believe me was pretty difficult."

A 79-year-old T. Holden got a letter, and his wife opened it. She said she never suspected her husband of infidelity. "He is 79, so I knew it was not his child. But he was not very happy about it and I think it is absolutely disgusting," she said.

Four of the five men received apologies after yesterday's Herald Sun article, but Legal Aid has been unable to contact the fifth. "It was a one-off in the sense that it was a one-off stuff-up by my organisation and this lawyer," Mr Parsons said. "It involved five letters, but it is the only time it has happened in my time here." The lawyer who sent the letters was being "counselled in the strongest possible terms" and the agency was reviewing its processes, Mr Parsons said. He said in most cases a mother knows the name and address of the father and identification is not an issue. Staff were trained to search phone books and electoral rolls when identity was in doubt, but never to call the person. The agency also uses private investigators, but asks the mother to make the first contact to ensure they have the correct person. "All of those things broke down," Mr Parsons said. "Just occasionally we have to send a letter when we are in some doubt. But we don't send the type of letter we sent to T. Holden."


Mother gives birth in toilet

Another great example of "Don't care" public hospitals

A mother says her baby daughter was born in a hospital toilet bowl and had to be rescued after staff ignored her screams for help. Kay, 24, was in the final stages of labour when she was rushed by ambulance to Monash Medical Centre on Tuesday last week. In a statement to the Herald Sun yesterday, the hospital said it regretted "the birth did not go according to plan".

At the hospital, the Mt Waverley mother of two was told to wait in a standard share room instead of being directed to a birthing suite, despite having contractions fewer than two minutes apart. "A midwife saw me when I came in and pressed on my stomach once. Nobody checked if I was dilated. I didn't even get offered a Panadol," Kay said. An hour after arriving, distressed and screaming in agony, she went to the toilet, where she gave birth to a girl.

Her husband Michael, who had become frantic, had hit an emergency buzzer in panic to try to get help, but he said none came in time so he kicked down the locked door and ran in, pulling the infant from the toilet bowl. Kay said she was terrified her daughter could have died, and described the ordeal as horrific. "I thought she could have been seriously hurt, or worse. If it wasn't for Michael coming to my aid, I don't know what the result would have been," Kay said. "It was the most traumatic thing we have had to go through. I would have thought it would have been one of the happiest times of our lives, but it was terrible."

Kay said Michael pressed the emergency buzzer three times, but no one responded until after a nearby caterer alerted medical staff. "When someone finally came, Michael asked why it took so long and they told him the buzzer didn't work," Kay said. "I was completely shocked. It is an emergency buzzer. This was an emergency."

But the director of nursing at Monash Medical Centre, Kym Forrest, said in a statement to the Herald Sun: "The buzzers were checked and both were working. The obstetrician and midwives were in fact alerted to the baby's arrival by the buzzer being sounded from Kay's room." Ms Forrest also denied the door had been kicked in. "It is a dual lock which can be opened from both sides and this was the way access was achieved," she said.

But Kay said the toilet cubicle, complete with broken door, "looked like a murder scene". "There was blood everywhere. I was screaming. It was just horrible," she said.

The couple are seeking a formal apology, but Ms Forrest said they had not lodged a formal complaint with the hospital. "We regret that Kay did not have the birth experience our midwives strive to provide to all the mums in their care," Ms Forrest said. "We are as disappointed as Kay and Michael that the birth of their second child did not go according to plan, but babies have a mind of their own sometimes."

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey called for the Government to investigate: "It is just lucky the baby was not seriously injured in this fiasco." A spokeswoman for Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said it was an operational matter for the hospital to deal with.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Teaching Muslims moderation

Young Muslims will be taught Australian-friendly Islam under a Federal Government plan to stop them falling prey to extremists. An approved Islamic curriculum will be rolled out by a consortium of universities, including Griffith University in Brisbane, to counter the teachings of Muslim firebrands who preach intolerance and hate.

The establishment of the $8 million national centre of excellence for Islamic studies comes amid outrage over comments by leading Australian Muslim clerics Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali and Sheik Feiz Mohammed. Sheik Hilali was universally condemned last year for comparing immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat that attracted cats. He has since threatened to run against NSW Premier Morris Iemma in the electorate of Lakemba in Sydney's southwest.

Sydney-born Sheik Feiz, who is now living in Lebanon, is being investigated by federal police for producing videos labelling Jews pigs and calling on young Muslims to die for Allah.

The proposed course will be open to anyone interested in Islam, including religious and community leaders. And while welcomed by the Muslim community, there is concern it could become a breeding ground for Islamic extremists. Yasmin Khan, a member of the Prime Minister's Muslim Reference Group, yesterday said proper background checks would be needed to make sure it was not hijacked by radicals. "I would hate to think that was a remote possibility," she said. "But you have to be prepared. There are complaints about university courses having a left-wing or right-wing viewpoint all the time."

Ms Khan said the course would look at Islam with a western perspective. "I don't know the exact mechanics of it, but it will be an opportunity to provide guidance in Islamic religion," she said. At the moment, anyone seeking advanced knowledge and understanding of Islam has to travel to the Middle East. The Australian-based Islamic classes will be held on campus at Griffith, the University of Melbourne and University of Western Sydney, as well as eventually via distance education. The initiative is part of the Federal Government's action plan to build on social cohesion, harmony and security.

A spokesman for Sheik Hilali said Muslims were tired of getting picked on. "We need to make sure that we are taken seriously . . . getting them to stop picking on us every time there's an issue but also in terms of acknowledging that there are strong (Muslim) candidates who are capable of serving this nation in the political arena," he said.


GREENIE LOGIC: Possums are in pest proportions but are still "endangered"

In New Zealand there are so many millions of possums that the New Zealanders kill them on sight if they can. And everywhere in Australia they live in cities along with the people. They THRIVE in cities. I live in an inner-city area but I see them nightly walking along the broadband cable above the street in front of my house. And I certainly hear them at night on my roof!

To some they're just pests that make a racket in the roof at night. But possums are an important part of Sydney's ecology and one that appears to be under stress from increasing urban sprawl and population density. [BOTH of those?? Both fewer people and more people are bad??]

A study by a Sydney academic suggests the marsupials are dying on northern Sydney roads at a rate that could eventually impact on the viability of their populations. Macquarie University's Tracey Adams found close to one possum per day was perishing on one 40 km stretch of road alone, a death toll which was worsened by the impact of cats, dogs and foxes.

She has successfully lobbied for the introduction for the creation of two trial bridges to allow urban possums to cross major roads. ``I wouldn't think that these kinds of losses would be sustainable in the longer term,'' said Adams, a research officer with Macquarie's Department of Biological Sciences and a Masters Degree student. ``Possums play a role in pruning the trees, adding to the newgrowth and in seed dispersal.''

Adams was motivated to study the impact of vehicles on suburban possums after noticing the high number of dead marsupials by the side of the road during her daily commute. She decided to scientifically log the number of fatalities that occured along both sides of a 40km stretch of road in the Ku-ring-gai area. Specific roads studied included Lady Game Drive, the Comenarra Parkway, Bobbin Head Road and Ryde and Mona Vale Roads. She was surprised at the high rate of deaths. Over two years she logged 585 possum corpses by the roadside. She said she believed the actual death toll from the roads was likely to be higher as some possums probably crawled off to die or had their bodies taken by predators before they could be counted. Counts were conducted twice weekly.

Her research suggested the majority of possums were killed close to street lighting. Adams said as well as having an impact on the local ecology the sight of a dead possum was upsetting for some motorists. Tourists visiting area national parks frequently use the roads involved in the study. Adams successfully lobbied groups including the Wildlife Information and Rescue Service (WIRES), Macquarie University and Ku-ring-gai council for funds to construct two possum bridges in East Linfield.


Food industry choking on red tape

Rules and regulations are strangling innovation and are overdue for a purge

The Australian food industry at first glance appears to be thriving. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics recently highlighted that its value-added contribution to the economy had increased by more than $3 billion between 1995-96 and 2004-05 to be worth around $20 billion in that year. However, when you take a closer look at this key sector, there are some major concerns.

Firstly, the sector's R&D spending has declined relative to other manufacturing sectors in the past few years. Its growth rate is lower than other major manufacturing sectors such as machinery and equipment and publishing. Furthermore, the share it contributes to GDP has been shrinking over the past 25 years. Clearly, all is not well within the food industry.

It is not difficult to identify one of the causes of this malaise. Food businesses must hurdle a multitude of rules and regulations just to remain in business, let alone to introduce a new product or process. This is not to say that unsafe practices or processes should be allowed but simply that regulation tends to breed regulation, and we are now at the tipping point for the food industry.

More and more, consumers are demanding benefits from the foods they purchase beyond that of simple nutrition. Health conscious consumers want to take control of their health and they expect to take on some "do it yourself doctoring" for diet-related chronic disease. This new trend was recognised by the Australian Government when it announced its Better Health Initiative at COAG in February last year. The initiative emphasises prevention and early intervention rather than treatment.

The health benefits of foods are a key driver for industry innovation and have been a centrepiece of two government initiatives under the $137 million National Food Industry Strategy (2002-07), the food innovation grants scheme and the National Centre for Excellence in Functional Foods. But the benefits don't just accrue to consumers and industry from this form of innovation. Governments also reap rewards as the striving for "better for you" foods has an indirect, positive impact on government health funding by improving the health of the nation and contributing to reduced healthcare costs.

It is lamentable that the food regulatory system works against effective innovation in responding to this initiative. Take the example of an application to allow fruit and vegetable juices and drinks, soups and savoury biscuits to be fortified with calcium. Lack of calcium in the diet contributes to osteoporosis in old age. The application showed that increasing calcium intake through these foods had the potential for reducing osteoporosis in the elderly, a disease with a cost burden, according to Access Economics, of $9 billion annually.

The initial proposal was accepted by the regulatory agency, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in December 2001. The proposal took almost two years to pass each stage of assessment and public consultation before it was submitted to the Australia New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council in September 2003. The Ministerial Council returned the proposal to FSANZ for reassessment, citing numerous areas for review, many of which had already been covered and reviewed thoroughly in the first stages of assessment.

FSANZ reviewed and returned the recommendation to the Ministerial Council in March 2005 and it was again returned (by a majority) to FSANZ in May that year. FSANZ once again reviewed and returned its recommendation for approval to Ministerial Council and the application was finally gazetted in November 2005. It took four years for this simple request to become part of the food standards code: an unacceptable delay that cost the industry market access.

Another example, fortified beverages, resulted in a lost opportunity of $350million for Australian manufacturing. Australian consumers have shown that they appreciate the opportunity to purchase water and juices with vitamins added to complement their lifestyle. This growing market has been available to New Zealand manufacturers for import into Australia for many years but until recently it was not open to Australian manufacturers. Changing the rules had the potential of increasing Australian jobs, providing niche products for the smaller independent beverage bottlers to explore, and expanding what is now only a small market in Australian non-alcoholic beverage exports. It took four years from 2002 to late 2006 for the Australian Beverages Council to steer an application through the regulatory morass to level the playing field with New Zealand.

Unlike most Ministerial Councils that set policy and permit their agencies to set the rules that allow the policy to be expressed, the Food Regulation Ministerial Council has power of veto over the regulations proposed by the agency. In this case, the council has not one but two opportunities to veto decisions of the agency, first by a single vote and second by a majority vote.

The current system must be fixed. The duplication of review responsibilities given to both FSANZ and the Ministerial Council creates inefficiencies and an additional cost burden. The veto powers of each member of the Ministerial Council, without regard to the constituents that that minister represents, allows Australia's smallest state to stand in the way of a proposal supported by its largest state.

The food regulatory framework was last reviewed in 1998 (Blair review). Its purpose was to simplify food regulation in Australia and New Zealand. However, the sad fact is that the operation of the new system has accumulated even more excessive red tape and poorer delivery in commercial time frames. It has disadvantaged industry without generating the benefits consumers and government deserved from the reforms. Given the difficulties that are needlessly added to the process of bringing new products to market, manufacturing overseas is beginning to look like a preferred option.

The Australian Government recognised this problem 15 months ago and offered a short-term and a longer-term fix. Recognising that some of the delays in the system were the product of the act under which FSANZ operates, the Government undertook extensive stakeholder consultations to streamline the operations of the agency. These were agreed in early 2006 but the bill to amend the act still hasn't been introduced to Parliament 12 months later.

The Prime Minister commissioned the Productivity Commission to report on reducing the regulatory burden on business (Red Tape Review) as a longer-term solution. The Red Tape Review highlighted issues for attention, calling for a reconsideration of the Australian Government's role in the food regulatory system, including aspects of enforcement, which are currently a states and territories responsibility. The Government's response was to endorse the recommendations and initiate a review to report.

The Government announced this week the appointment of the independent chairman of this review, Mark Bethwaite. The review is to be completed by April 2007. The outcome of this review and the implementation of changes by all governments will determine whether the excellent science and knowledge in Australia can be turned into commercial opportunities for the food and agriculture industries.

It is not just commonwealth regulations that stifle industry. The states and territories have the responsibility for enforcement of food regulations and this can lead to a lack of uniformity in response due to resource constraints, which itself creates uncertainty for industry. For example, is it better to set up in NSW, which has a single agency for food matters, or in Victoria or Queensland, where responsibilities are spread across a number of agencies? With 80 per cent of food manufacturing concentrated along the eastern coast of Australia, the Victorian Government has taken leadership in the national reform agenda to build on its competition reforms by reducing the regulatory burden in its food regulatory system. Victoria commissioned an inquiry into food regulation in September 2006 through the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission. This is a welcome opportunity and may lead to the establishment of a one-stop shop for food regulation in Victoria, similar to the establishment in NSW some years ago of the NSW Food Authority.

The clock is ticking for food manufacturing in Australia. Delays in reform will increase the potential for more R&D to leave Australian shores. It is imperative that the food regulatory system returns without delay to the fundamentals of protecting public health and safety while removing unnecessary impediments to innovation and competitiveness.


Instinctive Leftist bias at Australia's national broadcaster

Long-time ABC journalist Maxine McKew's decision to help Labor win the next federal election hardly enhances the national broadcaster's reputation as fair and balanced

Some truths are so self-evident that they are hardly worth debating. Yet one of these - that a certain bias shapes news and current affairs coverage at the ABC - still provokes outrage at the Ultimo/Southbank staff cafeterias. The bias, to be sure, is not deliberate; it's not as though Aunty's journalists sit around in dark corners and plan how they will slant their program in favour of their friends and causes. But there is little doubt that, notwithstanding their denials, most reporters and producers at the public broadcaster naturally dress a little to the Left.

Of course, there is a lot to like about the ABC. Its websites and the service provided by regional radio and News Radio are outstanding. Many journalists there - especially those who have no time for the union's "Vietcong-style industrial tactics" - are intelligent, extremely well-informed individuals who are almost always on the pace with breaking news. At a time when political and current affairs programs are being dumbed down on commercial television, it is heartening to know that at least one network takes ideas and public affairs seriously. On balance, the taxpayer is better off with the ABC than without it.

But when it comes to the quality of the news and current affairs programs, our public broadcaster could be so much better if a certain bias did not cloud so many stories. Sure, ABC TV and radio journalists insist they keep their political opinions to themselves and merely produce objective and truthful inquiry. But, like everyone else involved in the political process, ABC journalists also have strong views about pretty much everything, no matter how neatly they put such baggage aside on air. (Just ask Sydney and Canberra news readers Juanita Phillips and Virginia Haussegger, who pen opinion columns for The Bulletin and The Canberra Times respectively). When recently challenged about the corporation's Left flavour by a listener, ABC radio's Virginia Trioli (a former opinion columnist with The Age) told her Sydney audience that she no longer voted at elections: that's how she maintains her objectivity. It is a nice idea, but personal opinions don't start and stop at the ballot box.

ABC journalists, like journalists in general, may say that they never allow their opinions to shape their reporting. They may even see themselves as perfect arbiters of ultimate truth. But this is a pretension beyond human capacity. Sometimes, a journalist's personal views cloud their news reports, their choice of topics and their analysis. Again, it's not deliberate; it just happens.

Which brings us to the news that former ABC stalwart Maxine McKew will help Kevin Rudd and the ALP beat John Howard and the Coalition in this year's federal election. McKew, who was an ABC journalist for more than 30 years until she quit the national broadcaster last month, will now be a special adviser on strategy to the Labor Party.

She is hardly alone; at one time or another many ABC journalists have worked for the Labor party (think of Barrie Cassidy, Kerry O'Brien, Mark Bannerman, Alan Carpenter, Claire Martin, Mary Delahunty and Bob Carr, among others). In contrast, how many prominent ABC journalists have worked for the conservative side of politics in recent decades?

Now, McKew, like the aforementioned Labor-oriented journalists, will say in good faith that she never consciously went out of her way to favour the ALP and criticise the Liberals on air. After all, as Bob Hawke and Paul Keating will attest, ABC journalists often offend Labor as well as Coalition governments.

This is true. But this misses the point about real bias: it comes not so much from what party the journalists attack; it comes from how they see the world. A left-wing conspiracy is not necessary at the taxpayer-funded behemoth, because (most) ABC journalists quite spontaneously think alike. Former BBC staffer Robin Aitken once said he could not raise a cricket team of conservatives among staff at the British public broadcaster. Could an indoor cricket team be raised at the other Aunty? Not when so many ABC workers are creatures of a culture that is divorced from the thoughts and attitudes of mainstream Australia.

How else to account for the fact that ABC presenters often identify conservatives as such but not those on the other side of the ideological spectrum? Thus, according to Lateline's Tony Jones, the right-wing Mark Steyn is a "conservative polemicist", whereas the left-wing journalist Robert Fisk is "one of the most experienced observers of the Middle East". No left-wing labels are necessary. Perhaps conservatives need to be identified because in the world-view that prevails at the ABC, they are outside the mainstream.

How else to account for the fact that the one ABC show that challenges the prevailing orthodoxy is called Counterpoint: Michael Duffy's Radio National program, which airs conservative voices and ideas?

And then there's the ABC's Insiders. Although a conservative commentator is accommodated on the program every Sunday morning, he (either Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman or Gerard Henderson) is always outnumbered by two other more liberal counterparts and sometimes host Barrie Cassidy. The token conservative's input, moreover, is often regarded by the panelists not as a contentious contribution to the debate, but as a flat earther's fit of extremist nonsense. Incidentally, during its 15 years of existence, Media Watch has never been hosted or produced by anyone in the centre, let alone right-of-centre. Why?

All of this might also explain why certain stories that would appeal to a conservative audience are played down. For instance, during the week of Ronald Reagan's death in June 2004, Lateline virtually ignored the Republican president's life and times. No stories, no features, no debate. Nothing. Yet several months earlier Jones went weak at the knees remembering John F. Kennedy 40 years after the liberal leader's death. Instead of affording similar treatment to a conservative leader - much less having a debate about Reagan's place in history - Jones focused on tributes flooding in for another American legend who died that week (musician Ray Charles) and he browbeat Alexander Downer on the topic of Australia's (as it turns out) non-role in the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq.

Now, more honest friends of the ABC insist that we need Aunty to "balance" the so-called shock jocks on commercial radio and the right-wing columnists at News Limited newspapers. So, the argument goes, what difference does it make that ABC journalists are lefties? But those who hate talkback programs or The Australian's opinion page can take solace in the fact that they aren't subsidising Alan Jones or Janet Albrechtsen; taxpayers who subsidise the ABC to the extent of more than $800 million a year don't enjoy that peace of mind. Besides, the need for balance is there in the ABC Charter; it is the legislative quid pro quo for public funding.

Of course, there is nothing wrong in Left-liberal voices being heard on the ABC. It's just that there should also be a place for conservative, more contrarian, voices: and these should not be put on air with some sort of health warning. At the very least, there should also be a place for the silent majority: that is, a good percentage of the population to whom the ABC purportedly answers.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Flag ban an 'insult' to Aussies

How the elite hate the patriotism of ordinary people! And is not the elite reaction to the deeds and attitudes of a tiny minority an example of that evil, overgeneralized "stereotyping" that they condemn in others? By the same logic, all American blacks are to blame for the actions of the criminal minority.

Big Day Out organisers face a public backlash after the New South Wales Premier predicted mass displays of red, white, and blue in defiance of a ban on the Australian flag at this Thursday's event. Senior politicians have called for Big Day Out to reverse its decision immediately, with Prime Minister John Howard saying the event itself should be cancelled unless the ban was overturned.

Reports that flags would be confiscated at the gates of Thursday's event at Homebush led to a chorus of complaints from senior Labor and Liberal politicians, the RSL and the Sydney Chamber of Commerce over the Big Day Out decision. Mr Iemma said he was examining legal avenues to challenge the request, which will apply to the Sydney event only.

BDO Organiser Ken West was quoted as saying fans' behaviour last year in the wake of the Cronulla riots and the recent ethnic violence at the Australian Open tennis tournament had forced his hand. "The Australian flag was being used as gang colours. It was racism disguised as patriotism and I'm not going to tolerate it," Mr West said.

While BDO today said Mr West had been misinterpreted, it still urged fans to leave their flags at home. "It's an insult to all Australians and they ought to withdraw it (the ban) immediately," Mr Iemma said. "Kids will have the tattoo on their nose, they'll have the t-shirts and they'll fly the flag." "You don't punish the overwhelming majority of decent law-abiding citizens that want to have a good day out, enjoy music or sport, just because there might be some louts in the crowd who want to get in the crowd and intimidate others," he said.

The Prime Minister said the Big Day Out should be cancelled unless organisers reversed their decision to ban the flag. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said the situation was "doubly wrong in the lead up to Australia Day". "Organisers have got it plain wrong when they try to hide our flag as if it's some symbol of shame. It's not. We should fly it with pride," he said on Channel 9.

Federal parliamentary secretary for immigration Andrew Robb said the flag was not the problem. "If they have got a security problem, they need to deal with that, not with the flag. The flag is a symbol of unity," he said. "To compare the flag to a gang colour I think is just outrageous, and totally unacceptable."

The RSL also describing the decision to ban the flag as "outrageous", while the Sydney Chamber of Commerce said a flag ban jeopardised the city's reputation as an events host. Director of the chamber Patricia Forsythe said such a ban gave an impression that major events in Sydney had been hijacked by gangs, and could damage the local economy. "Major events such as the Big Day Out generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs for the Sydney economy," she said. "Sydney can't afford the perception that our major events ... (are) threatened by extremists and thugs."

The Big Day Out's website carried a statement this morning, saying: "Contrary to the reports in the media, it was never our intention to disrespect the symbolism of the Australian or any other flag." It said: "We are not banning the Australian flag but are simply discouraging its use for anti-social purposes at the Big Day Out. "In recent times, there has been an increased incidence of flags brandished aggressively and this has led to increased tension. "Our only intention in discouraging this activity at the Big Day Out is to ensure that our patrons are not subjected to this aggressive behaviour. "With all this in mind and the aim to create a happy, peaceful MUSICAL event, organisers would like to request that fans please leave their flags at home." The organisers said there was no need for the Australian flag to be waved at the Sydney concert as it was not an Australia Day event.

Mainstream headline act Jet have a black and white version of the flag as the backdrop for their set. Frontman Nic Cester said they used this version to display their pride in being Australian. "I can't tell anyone else what to do but we as a band are very proud to be Australian and we don't want to feel we are not allowed to feel proud because of the disgusting actions of people who don't represent Australia, in my mind," he said.

The Big Day Out event tours six cities in Australia and New Zealand but the flag issue has only been raised in Sydney, where the festival has been shifted to the day before its usual Australia Day date to avoid nationalistic overtones.



This is the drought that was supposed to be caused by global warming. It's been raining several times a week for months where I live (Brisbane, Southeast Queensland) at the Northern end of Australia too. So it's global cooling now? Don't hold your breath! The first picture below shows flooding in Tasmania and the second shows flooding in South Australia, the third is from Queensland:


A torrential downpour caused havoc across the state yesterday, leaving parts of Hobart almost a metre under water. Traffic in Hobart's northern suburbs was plunged into chaos for several hours in the afternoon as major roads were transformed into rivers, with overflowing drains spewing torrents of water into the paths of vehicles.

Some motorists -- particularly those in 4WDs -- opted to battle through the waist-deep water along parts of the Brooker Highway before police closed the road, while others abandoned their vehicles after they slid off the road or began to fill with water. Civilians were spotted attempting to direct traffic as fleets of tow trucks and council crews battled to restore order under the stormy skies and wet conditions, which were the consequence of a monsoon raging in the Northern Territory.

Swollen suburban creeks also streamed across onto the roads and footpaths. Hobart's rivulet was a torrent of white water and fire trucks and police cars dotted the city as a spate of security alarms were set off. A Tasmania Fire Service spokeswoman said firies had attended more alarm calls in one 24-hour period than they would normally attend in three weeks. Firefighters attended 53 fire alarms activated after flooding caused electrical faults. Electrical faults caused a fire in the substation under the Island State Credit Union building in Victoria St, Hobart, and at the Tasmaid Pura Milk factory in Lenah Valley and Cadbury Schweppes at Claremont.

Fire crews used pumps to stem rising waters at Cadburys until contractors arrived. Crews also assisted with flooding at various locations across the city. Police radio rooms were inundated with calls from concerned citizens, although few accidents were reported.

Businesses, particularly those in Derwent Park, worked madly to mop up their showrooms and offices. Jack Mekina, owner of Mekina Technologies on Derwent Park Rd, said he and surrounding business were facing large clean-up and damage bills. "The whole showroom is swimming in a metre of water, it's running like a river. I've been here seven years and have never seen anything like it," he said.

Ten patients had to be moved from the Old Repatriation Hospital in Davey St to the Royal Hobart Hospital as parts of the building flooded, and Woolworths in Campbell St also closed due to flooding. Sport was also disrupted, with major events including the cricket at Bellerive and racing at Elwick called off.

The massive downpour was the climax of three days of showers across the state. While the south of the state was worst hit yesterday, the north was also wet, particularly on Friday and Saturday. As much as 55mm of rain was recorded at Quarmby Bluff in the 24 hours to 9am yesterday, 45mm at Port Davey and 44mm at Strathgordon.

Bushy Park Roadhouse owner Gaylene Fenton was taken by surprise when her business was flooded on Friday, along with nearby houses. "There were frogs and worms in the shop and water everywhere. I've never seen so much rain," she said. The shop needed lots of cleaning before it reopened the following day, as well as help from the fire brigade to pump out the water, but she said at least local farmers were happy. "We desperately needed the rain and the farmers are happy. It's just a pity it had to come all at once," she said.


South Australia:

Unsealed roads devastated by flooding across South Australia's outback could be closed for days as crews attempt to repair bitumen roads, remove debris and mud and rebuild concrete floodways.

Families and a busload of tourists are stranded in the Flinders Ranges town of Hawker, 400km north of Adelaide, after it was cut off by heavy flooding over the weekend. The State Emergency Service expects the road to Quorn to be opened later today. "The roads have literally disappeared so where there was a floodway there is now a hole of three or four metres," a spokesman for the state Department of Transport told ABC radio.

The Bureau of Meteorology reported that 150mm of rain fell within 48 hours in Hawker, seven times the January average.

Mayors of towns hit by flooding have also called on governments to provide relief funding for businesses and homes damaged by water. "It may well be that we have to approach the federal Government for a state of emergency type funding to do this," Whyalla mayor Jim Pollock told local radio.



The drought broke across large tracts of western Queensland at the weekend as a monsoon low delivered rain pastoralists have been waiting nearly seven years to see. But the rain was moving northeast towards the Gulf of Carpentaria last night leaving southeast Queensland still in a dire drought, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. The huge system defied forecasts on Saturday, moving east from central Australia and dropping record rainfall on parts of Queensland's far west.

All roads to Bedourie were flooded and the town cut off, after 169mm was dumped late Saturday night. "It's gone from drought to flood," said weather bureau senior forecaster Jeff Callaghan. "Bedourie only had 65mm of rain all last year." Another 28mm fell yesterday, according to the bureau.

The bureau issued flood warnings for the Paroo and Bulloo rivers and Georgina and Eyre creeks. Winds up to 90km/h accompanied the rain. Other west Queensland towns receiving significant rain were Boulia, 77mm, Thargomindah, 68mm, and Birdsville, 39mm, according to the bureau.

The only hope for the parched southeast to receive anything more than a few storms over the next few days was the monsoonal system's unpredictability, Mr Callaghan said. "You get this incredible rain all around Queensland except for here, it's amazing," he said.


Leftist State governments hit homebuyers

And they claim to be on the side of the little guy!

The Federal Government has urged the states to cut stamp duties on conveyancing and to release new land for development to make housing more affordable. Commenting on a report released yesterday that showed housing affordability had fallen to a 22-year low, acting Treasurer Peter Dutton said that in 2005/06 the states collected $10.8 billion in stamp duties. "This is more than double the amount they collected in 2000/01 and comes despite record amounts of GST going to the states and territories,'' Mr Dutton said. "Property taxes, such as stamp duty and land tax, now make up, on average, 32.5 per cent of the total revenue raised by the states from their own imposed taxes. "This is up from 22.6 per cent in 2000/01.''

He said that in Western Australia the situation was even worse, with property taxes making up 43 per cent of total state sourced revenue, despite record levels of GST from a booming economy fuelled by the resources sector. Stamp duties on a median priced property in Perth add, on average, $20,500 to the cost of the purchase, he said.

The survey released yesterday by Australia's peak building body, the Housing Industry Association (HIA), showed that for the first time Perth housing for first-home buyers is now less affordable than Sydney. "With Perth now overtaking Sydney as the most expensive market for first home buyers it is time for the Western Australian Government to cut this excessive level of stamp duty and give back to the people who are helping to make Western Australia such a prosperous state,'' Mr Dutton said. "I call on all the state Labor governments to cut stamp duty on conveyancing now and make housing a whole lot more affordable for first home buyers.''



They are some of Australia's most trusted household brands. But as part of a campaign against childhood obesity, the independent consumer watchdog is naming and shaming the food manufacturers who are making children fat. "All natural", "low GI" and "real fruit" are just some of the descriptors used on 10 market-leading snack foods and beverages targeted at children and analysed by Choice. But even a single serve of these products can pack in as many kilojoules as a Big Mac and a middy of beer - without satisfying the tummy rumbles.

Arnott's, Uncle Tobys, Nestle and Ribena are among those named in the report, to be made public today, with two cereal-based products, hailed by the manufacturers for their energy-building qualities, leading the pack in excessive fat and sugar content.

Health-conscious parents are likely to feel dismay when they learn that one of Australia's best-loved brands - Milo, albeit in cereal form - contains almost as much sugar as and even more fat than the much-maligned Kellogg's Coco Pops. And while the childhood lunchbox staple of Arnott's Tiny Teddy biscuits may have been credited with single-handedly resurrecting the local biscuit industry more than a decade ago, a single 27-gram pack with accompanying pink dipping goo takes out top honours for cramming the most kilojoules into the least amount of food. Another lunchbox stalwart which has long been promoted by its manufacturer as a healthy children's drink, Ribena, consists of little more than sugar and water, while its essential ingredient - blackcurrants - makes up just 5 per cent of content.

Choice's spokeswoman, Indira Naidoo, said the association was exposing the market leaders because advertising and labelling led many parents to believe they were buying healthier alternatives to more overtly marketed junk foods. One product singled out by Choice, Go Natural's berry pieces in yoghurt, was even located in the health food section of a big supermarket, despite being laden with trans fatty acids. "Part of these foods' popularity is due to the misleading claims made, leading parents to believe they are not as unhealthy as they really are," she said. "But even a small serve can be as dense in kilojoules as a small meal."

Nestle's director of corporate and external relations, Peter Kelly, said Choice was confusing consumers and making "an unhelpful contribution to the debate over what constitutes a healthy diet". The kilojoules per 100 gram serve criteria used in the analysis meant that a child would have to eat three and a half bowls of Milo cereal to reach the 100-gram serving, he said, while almost seven bars of Uncle Tobys fruit roll-ups - also made by Nestle and singled out by Choice - would have to be consumed to reach the 100-gram target. "As we all know that simply doesn't make sense," Mr Kelly said. "It's a pity Choice has not taken the opportunity to provide consumers with some useful education on what is a very important subject."

But a spokeswoman for Arnott's told the Herald that choc-chip Tiny Teddy biscuits with strawberry dip were already marked for culling. The decision had more to do with low sales than their 80 per cent sugar and fat content, she said.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Doctors' dirty secrets

THOUSANDS of Victorians have been unwittingly treated by 98 doctors with mental health, drug or alcohol problems. Victoria's Medical Practitioners Board has been monitoring the practising doctors closely. Some have had to submit urine samples for drug testing three times a week. Others underwent random drug testing.

The Medical Error Action Group, which campaigns for patients' rights, says the doctors should stop practising rather than be "monitored". "If these doctors have drug problems they should not be practising," group spokeswoman Lorraine Long said. "What about the patients? This information is not readily out in the public domain. It must be. "The medical board has its health committee to assist doctors, but what are their plans to protect patients?"

In the past two years, 31 of the sick medicos were monitored for drug abuse, 11 for alcohol abuse, 45 for psychiatric conditions and 11 for cognitive impairment. This week, 59 of the doctors were still practising. There were 16 referrals to the Victorian Medical Practitioners Board's health committee in 2004-05 -- 11 of them for psychiatric conditions. But the latest figures from the board's health committee -- to be released next month -- will show only 39 of the 98 monitored doctors ceased practising medicine this year. Curbs were lifted on six practitioners who had been monitored for long periods. They were deemed to be practising safely.

A spokeswoman for the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria said the health committee was established to help rehabilitate doctors suffering medical or psychological conditions. "The reality is any doctor who is at risk is not practising," she said. "The health committee is designed to keep doctors in safe practice and also as a way of protecting the community. "There is already an acute shortage of doctors; we want to support these doctors. "It is also important to remember there are 20,000 practising doctors in Victoria."

A recent report by the AMA showed that some doctors worked up to 113 hours a week. Medical practitioners with significant health problems are monitored for three years. Notifications about doctors' health comes mostly from colleagues or treating medical practitioners. Some are from Department of Human Services drug and poisons unit. As part of monitoring, conditions are imposed on the doctors' registration, including the doctors' hours of work; supervision and regular screening for substance abuse. The board noted in its annual report that the continuing increase in the number of medicos suffering from cognitive impairment "continues to trouble the committee".


Violent mother 'a risk'

More insane "child welfare"

A violent, drug-addicted woman who bashed her mother then beat her ex-partner as he held their daughter has gained unsupervised care of the child. "Donna" -- whose real name cannot be published for legal reasons -- was handed care of the 32-month-old girl in the Children's Court of Victoria. The magistrate went against recommendations from the Department of Human Services and police.

Donna's mother and her ex-partner's mother yesterday labelled the system a "failure" after the ruling, warning it could wreck the little girl's life. Donna, 23, left her mother battered and her daughter, "Lily", distraught in a violent rampage last January. She bashed her former partner's car windscreen, smashed through the front window of her mother's home with a block of wood, then attacked the 49-year-old woman.

Donna's mother had been looking after Lily and said she did not want to return the "malnourished" baby because Donna was abusing drugs. "She came through my front window, then headed towards me swinging the block of wood, screaming 'give me my daughter'," she said. "I managed to grab the wood from her, but then she starting punching, kicking and kneeing me. She punched me into the wall, giving me a black eye."

Donna then kicked her way through a locked bedroom door, behind which her ex-partner was hiding with Lily, before beating him, she said. Donna was found guilty in Ringwood Magistrates' Court of assault, recklessly causing injury and two charges of criminal damage and received a 12-month community order without conviction. After the attack, Lily was removed from Donna's care.

Donna was diagnosed with chronic mood disorder, substance dependence, histrionic personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. But the Children's Court ruled that Donna should have the girl, with an order that she be monitored by department workers for three months. But with the supervision order now expired, Lily's grandparents fear for her life. "Lily deserves so much more but, if she stays where she is, she won't have a chance of a decent life," Donna's ex-partner's mother said.

Donna admitted the attack, saying her mother tried to take her baby away. She also said her mother's funeral "could not come soon enough". The magistrate said this week he could not recall the exact details of the case.


Young Libs push flat tax, school vouchers

The next generation of Australia's conservative political leaders wants a flat tax, a voucher scheme for Australia's schools and a ban on intelligent design in science classes. The Young Liberal Movement's annual convention in Melbourne next week will warn the party that taxes remain too high and debate is needed on a flat tax. A superannuation-style health savings scheme has also been devised to offer an alternative to private health insurance and could be traded between family members offering no-gap cover.

And the younger generation is also unimpressed with Australia's academics, suggesting a trimester system at higher education institutions, on the grounds that "students and many academics do nothing for six months of the year". "The reality is many researchers do no research whatsoever and are paid large salaries to teach 14 hours per week for 26 weeks of the year," the proposed policy argues. [Spot on!]

Clearly underwhelmed with Treasurer Peter Costello's tax cuts that delivered $21.5 billion over four years in the last budget, the conference will also vote to support indexation of personal income tax brackets to inflation. Delegates to the conference will debate whether "Australia has some of the highest tax rates in the world", warning that "it is imperative that tax rates are cut and that individuals are allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labour". "Flat taxation is the fairest form of taxation, whereby each individual pays the same percentage of his or her income tax," the policy states.

The conference will debate education policy, with intelligent design in science curriculums rejected on the grounds it is designed to inject theology into science. There are also proposals to offer a voucher scheme that would pay education grants straight to parents to be used in public or private schools. Parents could top up the grant to send their children to an expensive private school or gain a place at a low-fee private school or a public school.


Fry me kangaroo brown, sport

KANGAROO is hopping from supermarket shelves to dinner tables faster than you can say Skippy. Shoppers are finding that our national emblem is one of the leanest -- and cheapest -- meats, with sales skyrocketing in the past year. Roo meat is selling for at least 30 per cent less than beef and lamb. Last week kangaroo fillet was selling at Coles for $17.95 a kilogram compared with $26.99 a kilogram for Scotch fillet.

Coles spokesman Jim Cooper said customers were growing to love kangaroo with sales growing by 25-30 per cent each year for the past two years. Australia's only kangaroo supplier, Macro Meats in Adelaide, supplies mince, sausages, fillets, kangaroo tail, kebabs and mini roasts. "Supermarkets have embraced it, whereas before they were cautious," Macro Meats managing director Ray Borda said. "Price definitely has something to do with it."

Unlike cattle and sheep, kangaroos were thriving in the drought, producing top quality meat, he said. "They have been in the best condition we've seen. They are the ultimate survivor."

Mildura chef Stefano De Pieri serves kangaroo at his Spanish Grill restaurant at the Grand Hotel. "It's a very gamey, sweet and tender meat," he said. "It's best served simply. Everyone can cook with it. "

Meanwhile beef and lamb prices are set to rise significantly if the drought breaks. Meat and Livestock Australia said more farmers will try to rebuild herds and will hang on to animals, creating a shortage. Until then, prices should remain stable.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

More stupid medical bureaucracy

If you are a Pakistani doctor killing people regularly that is fine but if you just take a break for once you are negligent! And a bureaucracy that fails to consider the impact of its decisions is CLEARLY negligent. These dummies wouldn't know malpractice if they fell over it

Eight Kingaroy doctors have labelled the Medical Board of Queensland's suspension of a colleague as "absolutely disgusting". Patrick Lip, who has practised in the nearby South Burnett town of Wondai for 36 years, was suspended last month after allegations that his response to an emergency had contributed to a patient's death from a drug overdose.

A letter to Dr Lip, signed by the eight general practitioners and faxed to Health Minister Stephen Robertson, said other doctors in the region were finding it hard to cope with the extra workload resulting from his suspension. "For this to happen three days before Christmas was badly timed and is absolutely disgusting," the letter said. "There must be thousands of patients dependent on the very devoted medical services you have offered over the past 30-odd years. "Our real concern is for these patients now having to find another GP in an area that is totally short of doctors in any case."

The doctors said their Kingaroy surgeries had been swamped by requests from Dr Lip's patients to join their practices. "Unfortunately, most are already very busy working 12 hours on a daily basis, and many of your patients are turned away," they wrote. "The situation is intolerable and the future looks dismal."

Wondai Mayor David Carter said he knew of at least one patient who had travelled 90 minutes to Gympie to see a GP since Dr Lip's suspension. He said the suspension had created great angst in the town. Cr Carter said Dr Lip was the type of doctor who still made house calls. "I've been that ill myself, my wife has called and he came straight round," Cr Carter said.

Dr Lip, who has appealed his suspension, has declined to comment on legal advice. A Queensland Health spokeswoman said the department was very committed to maintaining GP services in rural and remote areas. But she said it also had a duty of care to ensure patient safety. The Medical Board of Queensland said it was working hard to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.


False economy in governmental failure to plan ahead -- but the Greenies love it

The article below notes that it is a delusionary saving when spending on development needed for future growth is cut but does not mention that water-supply planning and provision was routinely effective while it was left in the hands of the engineers. Once Greenies started their hysteria about dams, however, the engineers found themselves talking to the air

Keeping the water running and the lights on are such basic requirements of modern society that people are entitled to take them for granted. But the mismanagement of these core responsibilities by state governments over the past 20 years is letting the public down.

True, governments could not predict the drought, at least not its severity, and it was not so many years ago that concern about climate change seemed to be confined to Al Gore and fellow zealots. We could even be generous and say that few predicted that air-conditioning would spread so rapidly that the peaks in electricity demand suddenly became much steeper, requiring larger overall capacity and putting strains on existing systems.

But prudent planning suggests that developing just one new water source in the past 20 years for Australia's major cities the desalination plant in Perth is inadequate. During that time, Australia's population has increased by four million or 25 per cent. Moreover, the assumptions about how much can be drawn from existing capacity have changed. A further 25 per cent increase in population by 2032 could be accompanied by a 15 per cent reduction in available water in the eastern states and South Australia, according to the CSIRO.

Squeezing more out of existing resources has been public policy not only in water and power generation but on other infrastructure such as public transport. Capital spending in these areas has been running down for most of the past two decades, with only recent years seeing some increases. The states have had other priorities: putting money into the running of high-profile public services such as health services, education and police and giving pay rises to public-sector employees.

Nor were they reluctant to use their utilities as cash cows. In the private sector, dividend payments of 60-70per cent of after-tax income are normal. But during the latter stages of the Carr government in NSW, the Hunter Water Corporation was routinely paying dividends and taxes to the government of more than 100per cent of its operating profit and as high as 184per cent. The Beattie Government in Queensland demanded special dividends of $150 million in 2001-02 and $30million in each of the next three years from its electricity company Energex, money it had to obtain from borrowings.

As well, the states reacted to the economic mismanagement of Labor governments in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia during the 1980s by adopting conservative economic benchmarks, such as completely eliminating debt. This made about as much sense as a family living in a tent until they saved enough money to buy a house. The first target for savings to support this policy was capital spending.

Only in recent years have the states moved back to the practice of borrowing to develop long-lived assets, spreading some of the costs to future generations who will benefit from the facilities. The irony is that, by opting for what they thought was sound economic management, governments have been caught mismanaging the nation's assets.

A breakdown of figures supplied to The Australian by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that in the '60s state and local governments regularly allocated 2per cent or more of gross domestic product to capital spending for electricity, gas and water supply. Twenty years ago, the figure was down to 1.4 per cent but it was after that the fall became precipitous. By 1994, capital spending in this area had halved to 0.7per cent, including 0.2per cent from the private sector. The '90s were the decade that private investment started contributing to the development of these sectors on a significant scale. But it did little more than replace falling government spending, keeping the overall ratio at the same low level. Only in recent years, as the consequences of 20 years of neglect have stared governments in the face, has the figure started rising, running at 1.1per cent during the past three years. But this is still barely half the proportions of 40 years ago.

There is no hard and fast rule saying that spending on the nation's infrastructure should be maintained at a particular level. The years following World War II was an era of nation-building projects, including the Snowy Mountains Scheme and large dams. Dams started falling out of fashion a few decades ago. The Goss government in Queensland (which included a senior adviser named Kevin Rudd) decided shortly after its election in 1989 not to proceed with a new dam at Wolffdene. The Carr government cancelled plans drawn up decades earlier for a new dam on the Shoalhaven River and decided against raising the height of Warragamba Dam. But whether or not dams were the answer, letting capital spending in these areas halve or more suggests neglect.

"The criticism is not so much that they should have built a dam but that they did nothing else," says federal Parliamentary Secretary for Water Malcolm Turnbull. "The critical thing is to make a decision. The problem now is that you have a lot of infrastructure being built in a great panic and when you do that you end up paying a lot more than you otherwise would." The honourable exception is Western Australia, which reached the conclusion earlier that it was not good enough to rely on historical rainfall averages to plan for the future and which, in the five years to 2005, spent two to three times as much per capita on water infrastructure in Perth as the levels in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.

Contrary to the impression created by the states, water is not scarce. In a study last September, the Business Council called this "one of Australia's greatest myths". It explains: "The perceived shortages are due to artificial limits on supply to our cities and an inability to allocate water to its highest value use in rural areas. If we allocated water for environmental purposes for example, to restore river health and allowed market pricing and the laws of demand and supply to operate as they do in every other market, there would be no talk of shortages or the need to curb economic growth."

Nor should a shortage of money be a factor, according to a recent report to the Howard Government by Marsden Jacob Associates. "Virtually all water businesses supplying the capital cities have significant financial capacity to fund both increased levels of capital expenditure and the dividends to state governments," it says. "The strong balance sheets and ability to raise additional revenue demonstrate that none of the major water businesses is under any immediate cash constraint."

The political hurdle is higher prices. Despite being the driest inhabited continent in the world, Australia has some of the lowest prices for urban water: below $1 per kilolitre (1000 litres), compared with $2 in Britain and approaching $3 in Germany and Denmark. The Australian price works out at 1c for every 10 litres of water of drinking quality. The BCA study points out that the average Australian's electricity bill is four times that for water. Marsden Jacob says if the same approach to cost recovery was adopted for water as for other services such as electricity, gas and telecommunications, revenue levels for the capital city water authorities could rise by 33 per cent or up to $600million a year.

Former Kennett government minister Mark Birrell, who chairs Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the peak industry organisation, is an optimist. He believes water restrictions in capital cities can be removed within five years. "Policy makers know the changes that are necessary," he says. "Rural areas need a private market for water and in metropolitan areas we need to look at the trifecta of recycling, desalination and new catchments. But you have to bring communities with you that have often been fed a diet of parochial geographic arguments along the lines that 'this is our water and you can't use it over there'."

As to the best way to supply water in future, there is no shortage of options. "I am neither ideologically nor hydrologically opposed to dams," Turnbull says. "I am agnostic, it depends on the circumstances. The only thing I would say - and this is speaking with a high level of generality - if you are talking about the big Australian cities, you should be giving a higher priority to expanding your non-climate-dependent water sources, which means things like desalination and recycling."

The economics suggests the same. The Marsden Jacob study calculated that for Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Newcastle sourcing new water supplies from dams would cost up to $3 a kilolitre - the same maximum price as desalination - although the cost for both can be lower depending on location and other circumstances. Recycling water to drinking standard and putting it back into the water supply would cost up to $2.61 per kilolitre, accessing groundwater up to $1.58 and re-using stormwater up to $1.50. There also are more expensive ways of obtaining water, such as rainwater tanks, calculated to cost up to $5.60 per kilolitre, and long distance pipelines, at up to $9.30. The report argues that for most big cities the best sites for dams already have been taken and environmental considerations could stretch the planning and approval processes out to 10 years.

Governments are running the risk of being caught short on electricity supply in the same way as they have on water. Sudden spikes in demand, such as during a heatwave, mean that in most states the top 10 per cent of generating capacity is needed for 1 per cent or less of the time. The spread of air-conditioning means that these fluctuations are getting bigger, with each rise in temperature requiring increasing amounts of capacity. The blackouts in Melbourne this week were caused by transmission rather than generation failures but maintenance and other problems meant alternative supplies were not readily available.

Some forecasts of demand show potential shortages in Victoria, South Australia and NSW over coming years. While peaking plants are being installed, there are few plans to expand baseload capacity. The Carr government, which failed to win party and trade union support to privatise the electricity industry, ruled out further substantial government investment in electricity generation in 2004. Nine years since the much heralded announcement of a national electricity market, the ability for states to buy power from each other remains limited.


Hate beyond reason

Another day, another outrageous series of comments by an Australian sheik. Sydney-born Sheik Feiz Mohamed calls Jews pigs and urges Muslim children to find fulfillment as jihad martyrs. Though the group with which he is associated commands the patronage of hundreds of young people, we are assured that his extremist views appeal only to a tiny minority.

Let's be quite clear. The overwhelming majority of Australian Muslims clearly do not support this kind of extremism. They should not have to bear the burden of the bad name that such comments create. However, it is entirely reasonable to ask just what proportion of Muslims do hold views similar to the sheik's, or which might otherwise be seen as genuinely extremist. The US Middle East scholar, Daniel Pipes, argued in a book a few years ago that about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the world's Muslim population held radically extreme views, including support for jihad.

In a fascinating piece in this week's Financial Times, Turkey's foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, often seen as one of the most Islamist-inclined foreign ministers Turkey has had, called on the peoples of his region to recognise that their most serious problems were home grown. He wanted them to stop blaming outsiders and get on with the business of reforming their own societies. He said it had been impossible for a mainstream to develop and wrote: "We now find that only extreme voices from the region are being heard, misrepresenting their cultures and societies ..."

Turkey is a successful society and a functioning democracy. Gul's contribution is forthright, brave and praiseworthy. And yet here is a question. Do the extremists really represent a tiny fringe or is there some much bigger mainstream part of Middle East society that supports extremism? More particularly, is there an element inherent to Islam itself that lends support to extremism?

It is right to treat religion with respect. Islam has produced magnificent cultural artifacts, much profound human culture and a generally good moral code. It contains great spiritual depth and associated intellectual discipline. But given how much violence and extremism are generated in the name of Islam it is now just not satisfactory to dismiss all this as merely a perversion of Islam.

Perhaps two elements make it more liable to extremist misappropriation than other religions. First is its high militant content. Second is the failure to distinguish between the political and the religious order. Most religions contain an injunction to improve the world, but Islam, in the view of many of its followers, requires a strictly and directly Islamic world, in which civil matters are ruled by explicitly Islamic precepts and institutions.

It is difficult to get a guide to Islamic public opinion anywhere. One of the best is a joint Asia-Europe Institute and University of Malaya survey of Malay Muslim opinion in Malaysia. I have referred to this survey before, but not previously given its results in any detail. It was exhaustive in its methodology. About 65 per cent of Malaysia's population is Muslim, and only Malay Muslims were surveyed. Malaysia is a moderate and generally tolerant country. It does not persecute its religious minorities, and it has developed successfully economically so that it can just about be considered a middle-class society. Certainly it is vastly more successful and wealthy than it was 20 years ago. If there's a Muslim population anywhere that should feel happy and content it is in Malaysia. Successful, increasingly rich, Islam afforded a special status in the constitution, Malays given substantial financial, educational, housing and other preferences, persecuted by no one, they should be among the least paranoid people in the Muslim world. If they are, then that is disturbing, for the results of the poll are unsettling to say the least. Here are highlights:

* 73 per cent of Malays, if they could choose only one identity, would choose Muslim first, only 14 per cent would choose Malaysian while 13 per cent would choose Malay. So Islam trumps citizenship, which only just edges out ethnicity.

* 77 per cent believe Malaysians should be allowed to choose their own religion but this is contradicted by a massive 98 per cent believing that Malaysian Muslims should not be allowed to change their religion. Freedom of religion means you don't have to convert to Islam, but if you are a Muslim you should have no right under the law to change your religion under any circumstances. This belief is very widespread throughout the Muslim world.

* 73 per cent said their parents had had the greatest influence on their development as Muslims, an encouraging sign of the strength of indigenous Malay traditions as opposed to contemporary Middle East influences.

* 49 per cent thought the Malaysian Government sufficiently Islamic, but almost as many, 47 per cent, thought it was not sufficiently Islamic.

* 77 per cent do not want Malaysia to become an Islamic state like Iran, but 18 per cent do want Malaysia to become an Islamic state like Iran.

* 57 per cent say Islam and politics should be separate but a substantial 40 per cent say they should be mixed.

* 57 per cent do not want strict hudud laws (stoning for adultery, and so on) implemented in Malaysia but 32 per cent do want hudud laws.

* 60 per cent say non-Muslims should not be subject to hudud laws but nearly a third, 28 per cent, actually want hudud laws to apply to non-Muslims. Similarly, some 31 per cent want sharia (Islamic law) to replace the Malaysian constitution.

* 77 per cent, a staggering figure, believe that Malaysia's existing sharia laws (which govern family matters for Muslims) are not strict enough.

* 76 per cent believe men and women in Islam have equal rights.

* 57 per cent believe wives could disobey husbands to work, but 47 per cent say if the husband forbids work, the wife should obey.

* 97 per cent, encouragingly, believe it is acceptable to live alongside non-Muslims and 79 per cent believe Malays should learn about other religions.

* 62 per cent believe suicide bombings are wrong but a disturbing 12 per cent (the exact mid-point of Pipes's estimated range) support it.

* 1 per cent like the US, 45 per cent dislike it and 39 per cent hate the US.

* 3 per cent like Europe, 38 per cent dislike it and 19 per cent hate Europe.

* 4 per cent like Australia, 37 per cent dislike it and 18 per cent hate Australia.

Overall, these results are staggering. They show a substantial residual moderation, but a degree of genuine intolerance among even the majority and authentic extremism among a substantial minority. It's hard to believe Islamic opinion is not substantially more extreme in the Middle East. The task of reforming the extremism in Islamic cultures remains vast.


Australian advertisement too sexy for prudish New Zealand

New Zealand airport officials deny they lack a sense of humour, despite banning a billboard with a lacy bra-clad Jennifer Hawkins clutching a stuffed rhino with the caption: "Feeling horny?" The lingerie ad featuring Australia's former Miss Universe was declined by Auckland International Airport, which felt it was a "step too far".

"The bottom line is the airport has a vast array of people of different nationalities, different ages, and our view was that it was just not in keeping with general airport image and brand," the airport's general manager retail Nick Forbes told NZPA.

But Forbes, an Australian, felt it was unfair to say airport management lacked a sense of humour. "If you straw-polled most of the people around our office they just had a good laugh and think it's great," he said. "On a personal level I don't really have an issue and not many people probably do but we've got to try and be sensitive." Forbes said the airport had had billboards in the past that some found inappropriate and wanted to tread carefully. The airport had declined "very little" advertising. "That one was maybe just one step too far."

The lingerie billboard is not the first airport billboard in New Zealand to raise eyebrows. In December, the Advertising Standards Complaints Board upheld a complaint about a Christchurch billboard for cars which showed a late-model car beside a partial image of a "long legged woman in a brief pair of shorts" who appeared to be hitching a ride. The heading of the billboard read, "Drive Bling Bling, Get Bang Bang!"


Saturday, January 20, 2007

'Jihad' sheik to face new police probe

The firebrand cleric who went overseas just days before some of his cohorts were rounded up in the nation's biggest counter-terrorism raid is the subject of a new police investigation, after a call for children to join jihad as holy warriors appeared in a DVD being sold in Australia.

Sydney-born Sheik Feiz Mohamed's radical sermons - available on the internet and on DVDs and videos - have become popular with Muslims around the world. In one video, running on the hugely popular website YouTube, he admonishes his followers in English for not "sacrificing a drop of blood" as martyrs.

Australian Federal Police said yesterday they had begun inquiries into Sheik Feiz's DVD encouraging jihad, which is believed to be unclassified in Australia and illegal to sell. NSW Premier Morris Iemma accused the cleric yesterday of inciting terrorism. "This DVD goes a lot further than vilification," he said. "The sort of incitement that the DVD encourages is incitement to acts of violence and acts of terror."

Sheik Feiz, a member of Sunni Islam's fundamentalist Wahhabi sect, left Australia for Lebanon in late 2004, just days before federal and state police and ASIO conducted raids in Sydney and Melbourne, arresting 23 people on terror-related charges. The cleric calls two of the accused terrorists close friends and knew all of the Sydney men arrested. He has links to almost every notable member of Australia's Islamic community and continues to direct his Global Islamic Youth Centre - the nerve centre of Islamic youth in Sydney, setting the tone for 4000 youths, their families and fraternities. Along with Sheik Mohammed Omran in Melbourne and Sydney's Sheik Abdul Salem Mohammed Zoud, he is considered one of Australia's leading radical clerics. Unlike Sheik Omran and Sheik Zoud, Sheik Feiz preaches in English with a strong Australian accent rather than Arabic.

In the video running on YouTube, which could not be dated, he criticises Muslims in Australia for not sacrificing their blood as martyrs and for putting lifestyle ahead of action in response to massacres of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. "In our times it is the fear of death, the fear of sacrificing your finger, your toe, a drop of blood that is more honourable than anything else," he says. "Why? Because martyrdom to us is, is not as appealing to us, as it was to those ancestors, the great warriors ... who lived around the best creature that walked the earth, Mohammed."

The YouTube video follows revelations in a British documentary that Sheik Feiz's collection of DVDs - called the Death Series - were being sold by children in the carpark of a mosque in the British city of Birmingham. In that and another series called Signs of the Hour, made about four years ago, Sheik Feiz labelled Jews "pigs" and exhorted children to jihad. "We want to have children and offer them as soldiers defending Islam," he says. "Teach them this: there is nothing more beloved to me than wanting to die as a mujahid. Put in their soft, tender hearts the zeal of jihad and a love of martyrdom."

In an exclusive interview with The Australian, Sheik Feiz said that every one of those remarks could be put in context. "The jihad I speak of is not one of violence," he said. "It is one of personal struggle against things like mischievousness, temptation and personal harm. I have never advocated violence against Australians or anyone embracing the Australian way of life. I have never called for people to be harmed. If anyone fights you for what you are, you defend yourself. "I don't believe in suicide bombing, I don't believe in violence against others. We don't invite that, we don't encourage that. We denounce that. This is not Islamic law and it is not moral."

He said he regretted the remark about Jews being pigs and said this was made in the days following the images of a young Palestinian, Mohammed al-Dura, being pinned down with his father in crossfire in Gaza in 2002. The boy was killed and the images became an enduring propaganda tool for the Palestinians during the intifada years. "That remark was made in the heat of the moment and I regret it," Sheik Feiz said. "It was not something I should have said and is not something I believe."

B'nai B'rith Anti-defamation Commission chairman Michael Lipshutz said the Muslim community had to publicly distance itself from anti-Semitic individuals and organisations.

However, Muslim youth representative Fadi Rahman said the reaction to the four-year-old video that authorities have been aware of for nearly as long was an example of prejudice against the Muslim community. "This is what tells us we will never fit in no matter what we do. "It's telling the kidsthey're always going to be marginalised."

Acting Attorney-General Kevin Andrews said the matter was being investigated by the relevant authorities. "It's offensive to the Australian people, it's reprehensible, it's particularly outrageous that certain groups in Australia, such as the Jewish community, have been highlighted in these comments and we condemn the comments," he said.

Experts believe the DVD material - recorded in 2004 - would escape federal sedition laws, which were passed in 2005 as part of the federal Government's terrorism legislation, but may fall foul of other laws. University of NSW law lecturer Andrew Lynch said NSW racial vilification legislation might apply to Sheik Feiz's description of Jews as pigs, and the videos could be in breach of the federal criminal code, which prohibits incitement to commit an offence. While the Mufti of Australia, Taj Din al-Hilali, sparked national outrage by comparing scantily clad women to uncovered meat, Sheik Feiz once told a meeting at Bankstown, in Sydney's southwest Muslim heartland, that indecently dressed women were setting themselves up for rape.


Muslims wary of Howard DVD message

Australian PM not allowed to be Christian?? The court case referred to is an absurdity which was recently thrown out

A new religious row is heating up after it was revealed that Prime Minister John Howard recorded a goodwill message for an Australia Day prayer event organised by a controversial group involved in an anti-Islamic court case. The Prime Minister has appeared in a DVD message for Catch the Fire Ministries, which is sponsoring a multi-denominational gathering in Melbourne on January 26.

Member of the prime minister's Muslim Community Reference Group and former president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Yasser Soliman, said today Mr Howard should have thought twice about making the DVD. "Of course the Prime Minister is free to address anyone he chooses," Mr Soliman said. "But what he says is extremely influential and what he fails to say is also influential. I would hope that he would clearly condemn hate speeches in all their forms, irrespective of who the perpetrators are. "It could be perceived that he might have a different standard for some sectors of the community than he has for other sectors in the Australian community, and that would be sending a very dangerous message here and overseas."

Catch the Fire's Pastor Danny Nalliah, who is organising the event, was one of two Catch the Fire ministers charged under Victoria's vilification laws in 2002 for allegedly saying Muslims were demons. Pastor Nalliah denied he made the controversial statement and said today the Victorian Court of Appeal backed that last month. "There is nowhere (on) record that we ever said Muslims are demons," Pastor Nalliah said on ABC radio. "I would never say that. And secondly we never said all Muslims are violent."

Pastor Nalliah has refused to divulge what Mr Howard has said in his recorded message for fear it will be taken out of context. "I have kept it confidential up until Australia Day," he said. "The best thing is for the media to come and listen to it firsthand on Australia Day, then say what they believed they heard the Prime Minister said."

Pastor Nalliah said the event at Festival Hall next Friday involved a wide range of religious groups including the Salvation Army, Presbyterian and Anglican churches and smaller organisations. It's about coming together to pray for a nation and I think it's a great opportunity," he said. Pastor Nalliah said the prime minister was not the only politician to give their support to Catch the Fire. "In the past we have had our former deputy prime minister John Anderson speak at our meetings. "(Treasurer) Peter Costello did, so did Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile last year."


Racial taunts claim against police

This crazy guy doesn't realize that the vilification laws are only there to protect Muslims!

A JEWISH man assaulted and racially vilified by footballers last year has lodged a complaint against Victoria Police with the Equal Opportunity Commission. Menachem Vorchheimer has claimed that the racial vilification against him at St Kilda was authorised and assisted by Victoria Police and an off-duty police officer. The off-duty senior-constable was driving the busload of footballers from the Ocean Grove Football Club when Mr Vorchheimer was racially abused by the footballers, who yelled Nazi slogans and made machinegun motions. He also received a black eye when he went to retrieve his traditional Jewish religious hats, which were stolen from him during the incident.

It is the first such complaint lodged against Victoria Police in the Equal Opportunity Commission. Victoria Police confirmed they were aware of the complaint. They said the force's ethical standards department was investigating the incident and would now also consider the complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission. Detectives were also continuing to investigate the assault, as well as the theft of Mr Vorchheimer's Shabbat hat and yarmulke.

Mr Vorchheimer is unhappy with the way police have investigated the actions of the senior-constable, and lodged the complaint after meetings senior officers. In his submission to the Equal Opportunity Commission, he alleges the off-duty officer encouraged, authorised or assisted people under his control to make racial and religiously offensive remarks. "It was the behaviour that (the officer) encouraged, authorised and assisted that incited the theft of my Shabbat hat and yamulke, and incited the subsequent physical assault that left me with significant injury that required medical attention, and has left me physically and emotionally scarred," Mr Vorchheimer alleged.

He told the Herald Sun he believed the officer should have been suspended while the investigation into his actions was under way. "I fundamentally believe, as I believe all Australians do, that a nation's police force needs to conduct itself in the highest possible moral and social regard," Mr Vorchheimer said. "After all, it is the police force that is charged with enforcing the laws that act to protect the community and provide boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable codes of conduct."

The Equal Opportunities Commission complaint is expected to go to a full hearing.


Nation must get precedence over ethnicity

Sheik Hilali's outbursts point to what's wrong with multiculturalism, and a policy change is overdue

It looked really good on paper. Immigrants would be encouraged to retain their distinct cultural identities on condition that they subscribed to the tenets of Westminster democracy. But since September 11, multiculturalism has been taking a beating at home and abroad. In Britain the emergence of home-grown Islamic terrorism has caused a serious re-evaluation of that policy.

The British Government for many years adopted a hands-off multicultural policy that allowed Muslim extremism to flourish throughout England without impediment. Until his arrest in 2004, Abu Hamza al-Masri openly preached holy war against the West from the pulpit of north London's Finsbury Park Mosque. And this official attitude of anything goes facilitated an influx of fugitive jihadis into Britain that caused its capital city to become known in intelligence circles as Londonistan.

At Finsbury Park, Scotland Yard was astonished to find a clear links between word and deed. In addition to thousands of jihadi propaganda videos, police found a cache of weapons and forged passports in the mosque basement. The BBC reported that intelligence agencies believed al-Masri and his acolytes were "linked to dozens of terrorist plots around Europe and beyond".

Over here it was all supposed to be different. The Australian brand of multiculturalism intended to maintain a fine balance between sectarian rights and mainstream responsibilities. Minority groups would be free to follow their creeds as long as they did not contravene the values of democracy. And in the event of such a conflict, the tenets of Australian multiculturalism mandated that individual rights, gender equality and religious freedom would always reign supreme. However, in practice this principle has gradually been eroded by the sordid abrasives of political correctness and calculation. Case in point: Islamic firebrand cleric Taj Din al-Hilali, who once again made the news by claiming on Egyptian television that by rights Australia should be a Muslim country.

But because ALP heavies thought that Hilali could deliver votes in Sydney's southwest, they pressured the Department of Immigration and Multicultural And Indigenous Affairs to overlook his history of incitement to racial hatred. Needless to say, Hilali got his permanent residency and citizenship. And Osama bin Laden groupie Mohammed Omran has suffered no repercussions for selling jihadi literature at his Melbourne bookstore or teaching that 9/11 was a US conspiracy against Islam.

Such policy mishaps, foreign and domestic, have inflicted a major haemorrhage on popular support for Australian multiculturalism. There is a wide public sense that this policy is losing the battle for Muslim hearts and minds to the siren song of radicalism and resentment. And the sight of establishment Islamic leaders last year convening in Canberra to petition the Prime Minister on behalf of Hezbollah only served to reinforce that belief.

It is said that in politics perception is reality. And the key to the clarity of any political program is the words that are used to describe it. And herein lies the problem. At its core, the word multiculturalism implicitly elevates ethnic tribalism over national commonality. The term makes express reference to factionalism without specific mention of the unifying factors that are supposed to be the pride of this policy. It sends the message that diversity is an end in itself, rather than merely a means to the end of a better Australia.

Having never read the fine print of government policy statements, most Australians base their outlook on the impression created by the nomenclature of the program. And this ambiguity between what the word multiculturalism purports to mean and what it really does signify is a recipe for confusion and disharmony. Similarly unsatisfactory are the amorphous references to the rule of law that feature in government policy statements on multiculturalism. The real question facing Western democracies is not rule of law but, rather, which law is to rule.

In several European nations, Muslim leaders have begun to press for the application of sharia law to their communities. And because sharia constitutes a distinct legal code, there is nothing in the strict definition of Australian multiculturalism that would preclude such a demand in Brunswick or Lakemba. In fact, that is precisely what the radical Muslim Hizb ut-Tahrir movement is doing when it calls for a Taliban-style Islamic caliphate in Australia.

But I categorically reject such moral relativism. I make no apologies for my belief that one wife is better than four, or that the amputation of limbs for petty theft is pure barbarism. Australian democracy is the direct ideological descendant of the English common law system, and I contend that Westminsterism is ethically superior to Wahabism.

At times ideas can have real-world consequences. And the conceptual shortcomings that mar the core of Australian multiculturalism have spawned hesitancy and confusion in its application. In the popular mind, this policy has bungled one of the pre-eminent social challenges of our era: the rise of radical Islam in our midst. If there is any chance of salvaging the positive elements of this program, then it must be comprehensively repackaged and rebranded.

We must set aside the terminology of multiculturalism that has been compromised by fecklessness and ineptitude. And in its stead we should adopt a national compact whose title explicitly emphasises the primacy of national obligations over separatist privileges. An Australian Compact would achieve this end by clarifying the standards of behaviour that are mandated by our democratic polity. Rather than nebulous generalities, the compact should employ specific language that will establish detailed behavioural expectations as well as penalties for their violation. Properly conceived, an Australian Compact will constitute an important tool in our effort to avoid the sort of inter-ethnic strife that is now engulfing parts of Europe. It is the cultural imperative of our time.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Use children as troops, says Muslim preacher

Sydney's most influential radical Muslim cleric has been caught on film calling Jews pigs and urging children to die for Allah. Firebrand Sheik Feiz Mohammed, head of the Global Islamic Youth Centre in Liverpool, delivered the hateful rants on a collection of DVDs called the Death Series being sold in Australia and overseas. "Today many parents, they prevent their children from attending lessons. Why? They fear that they might create a place in the their hearts, the love, just a bit of the love, of sacrificing their lives for Allah," Sheik Feiz says in the video. "We want to have children and offer them as soldiers defending Islam. Teach them this: There is nothing more beloved to me than wanting to die as a mujahid (holy warrior). Put in their soft, tender hearts the zeal of jihad and a love of martyrdom."

An Australian citizen born in Sydney who has spent the past year living in Lebanon, Sheik Feiz was exposed this week in a British documentary Undercover Mosque. Investigators found Sheik Feiz's DVDs being sold by children in the carpark of the Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham and other Islamic bookshops. The entire set can be bought online for $150.

"The peak, the pinnacle, the crest, the highest point, the pivot, the summit of Islam is jihad," he declares in the film, before denouncing "kaffirs" (non-Muslims). "Kaffir is the worst word ever written, a sign of infidelity, disbelief, filth, a sign of dirt." In an excerpt from a video lecture series called Signs of the Hour, Sheik Feiz then ridicules Jews as pigs.

Sheik Feiz - who just two weeks ago said he felt like an "alien" in his own country - leads about 4000 followers through his Global Islamic Youth Centre in Sydney's southwest. He also accused Australian authorities of being over-zealous in their approach to clerics like him. "There are no sheiks preaching chaos there. No one is telling people to raise arms against the Australian community," he said. Sheik Feiz left for Lebanon just before the arrest of 23 men in Sydney and Melbourne in November 2005.


Gun laws don't stop Muslim gangs

From the waistband of his blue jeans, the Sydney underworld figure pulls out a black handgun and dumps it on the kitchen table in front of me. With his other hand he produces a thick wad of bank notes from his jacket pocket. The $5000 he places next to the 9mm Glock pistol, he assures me, is enough to buy another one. "I can get you a handgun in five days. If you want an automatic weapon like a AK47 (Kalashnikov assault rifle) it will take a little longer and cost twice as much. How many do you want?"

Faisal, not his real name, is linked to a feared Sydney crime gang that has been caught up in a deadly feud with a rival gang, which has allegedly left at least four people dead and numerous others shot in the legs - a classic underworld warning tactic known as "kneecapping". It is the same criminal gang that is alleged to have bought seven rocket launchers stolen from the army and then allegedly onsold five of them to Sydney terror suspect Mohammad Elomar. Allegations have been made about how the seven rocket launchers - which can penetrate concrete and obliterate vehicles - fell into the hands of Sydney's underworld and ultimately an alleged terror cell.

An insight into the murky world of arms dealing in Sydney came last week when alleged dealer Taha Abdulrahman, 28, appeared in court charged with arranging the sale of the rocket launchers to gang leader Adnan Darwiche, who is now in jail. Documents tendered to the court state for the first time the alleged interconnections between suspected terror cells and the criminal underworld - including how Sydney man Mohammed Touma was an alleged associate of Darwiche, while his brother Mazen Touma was an alleged member of the terror cell along with Elomar.

I arranged to speak to Faisal in a house in Sydney's western suburbs, to talk about the hundreds of shooting incidents that have rocked Sydney in the past few years and to gauge the availability of guns and weaponry on the streets. He is unequivocal about the ease with which firearms can be purchased. Get the cash and it's a just a matter of days while the underworld connections receive the guns from their suppliers. "It is a matter of ordering what you want and then waiting," Faisal says.

Police statistics appear to bear this out. Last year, there were 3500 illegal guns seized across NSW. Everything is on offer from pistols and the highly prized Glocks, which are easy to conceal and can unload 17 rounds in a matter of seconds, to Uzi machine guns and hand grenades. The anti-tank missiles stolen from the Australian army were bought for about $15,000 each. "Crime figures have access to weapons, but they are mainly second-hand and they get them by dealing among themselves," says Detective Superintendent Ken McKay, the commander of the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad. The MEOCS was set up to investigate crime in Sydney's southwest, the suburbs of which have been dubbed Australia's deadliest because of the spate of drive-by shootings and murders.

Its predecessor, Taskforce Gain, had made more than 1300 arrests, including 12 for murder and attempted murder and 178 for firearms offences. Many of the offences were committed in Lakemba, Greenacre, Condell Park, Punchbowl and Auburn, the suburbs that stretch around the Arab heartland of Sydney. It is in these so-called badlands that the suspected terror cell allegedly bought five rocket launchers from Darwiche.

Michael Kennedy, a former NSW police officer turned academic specialising in Middle Eastern crime gangs, says terrorism and organised crime have overlapped around the world, particularly with the Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. "But most of the time the overlap relates to entrepreneurial activity by terrorist groups and organised crime networks. The gangsters to make money and the terrorist groups to raise funds," Kennedy says.

Police have recovered only one of the rocket launchers. The others allegedly bought by Elomar, who police say joked he was going to blow up NSW Parliament or Lucas Heights, have not been located. Police have been searching forest and bushland around Sydney to locate the weapons as well as a stash of firearms the group is alleged to have obtained.

NSW police began warning about rising violence and the use of increased firepower by criminal gangs as far back as the mid-1980s. By the '90s, the problem was obvious with the growing gang violence involving notorious gangster Danny Karam, who was murdered in 1998 and whose associates have gone on to become members of the Darwiche gang and terrorism suspects. Kennedy says those suspected of involvement in terrorism "had simply decided they don't want to be criminals, they want to be zealots".

In 1999, the then NSW commander of crime agencies, Clive Small, established a firearms trafficking unit to identify the source of the firearms, dealers, supply routes and use. It was the first of its type in Australia, resulting in more than 235 people being arrested and charged with 1100 gun-related offences. Police have also seized 1500 illegal handguns and 3400 longarms (rifles, semi-automatics and machine guns) as well as hand grenades and explosives.

The commander of the NSW Firearms and Regulated Industry Crime Squad, Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec, says gun seizures are down because there "is a shrinking market". Kerlatec says most guns seized were second-hand and were obtained mainly by theft and illegal diversion rather than being imported illegally. The police are now using a system known as Integrated Ballistics Identification System to match the guns to crimes and often find that a firearm used in one shooting will turn up at another, sometimes involving a rival group. Even though serial numbers on the weapons might be removed, police ballistics tests can link the weapon to a shooting crime.

A Sydney underworld gang member who has "rolled" told police they continuously bought and sold pistols and machine guns. His statement reveals how gang members bought pistols, including 9mm Glocks and SKS semi-automatic rifles, and kept them in a number of safe houses around the city. When they wanted to dispose of a hot weapon they would either melt it down or sell it interstate.

As part of a crackdown on guns, the NSW police spent 2003-04 inspecting all licensed gun owners and where they kept their weapons. In NSW, there are 135,000 licensed gun users and 600,000 registered guns. Kerlatec says tighter security has cut theft almost in half. As armed guards are known targets, stricter controls led to a 50 per cent reduction in the number of guards carrying firearms. Investigations by the Australian Crime Commission, the nation's peak law enforcement agency, have also resulted in 1300 guns being seized or quarantined in the 2005-06 year. The ACC used its coercive powers to target firearms brokers, suppliers and dealers. But the ACC's key finding was that Australia needed a sustained and nationally co-ordinated effort targeting the supply of the firearms black market and its brokers.

In the year to September 2006, there were 23 shooting murders in Sydney, and 31 attempted shooting murders according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. In the same period there were 36 other shootings. And Kennedy says gangsters will remain "tooled up". "This is what organised crime does," Kennedy says. "There is no code of conduct. They don't go to uni and do ethics for gangsters ... People are doing what they have do to to survive. If we have a proliferation (of people being armed) it is because there are a lot of people who feel the need to have them."

Faisal naturally blames the authorities for inflaming tensions between rival "crews" by telling each side that the other was responsible for shooting at them. He maintains he is a marked man and he can't appear on the streets of southwest Sydney without a gun for protection. As he conceals the pistol in his jeans, he says he will continue to carry it when he moves around the area. It is the only chance he has to protect himself against being "knocked".


Giving icons the boot: It's not all bleak news for Australian manufacturers

Defending the Blundstone bootmaker's decision to close its Tasmanian factory and move its manufacturing to Thailand and India, company chief executive Steve Gunn made a telling observation. Most people, he said, think Blundstone boots are made overseas already . . . and they don't care. Blundstone boot wearers want value for money more than they want Australian-made boots. This view is as practical as the down-to-earth boots the company makes. And it shows that the millions of dollars spent by government trying to prop up the company and save 300 jobs in Tasmania has been wasted. This is the lesson of globalisation and as China and India continue to expand and free trade agreements are signed throughout the region, it is a tide that cannot be resisted. The subsidies given to Blundstone to limp along would have been better spent retraining its workers to find employment elsewhere.

This is not to say there is no room for manufacturing in Australia. But successful local products are most likely to be either in niche markets or innovative and highly value-added. They are most likely to be knowledge-based such as financial expertise, healthcare and education. Meanwhile, higher dividend and tax payments from the resources boom is underpinning job-creating local service industries such as hospitality and tourism. And while wage pressures from the booming mining sector are squeezing manufacturers, it is not all bad news. Former Reserve Bank governor Ian Macfarlane told a house of representatives standing committee before his retirement last year that business investment had grown at an annual 12 per cent a year for the past three years, even after stripping out the buoyant resource sector. Investment in manu facturing, which Mr Macfarlane said many people assumed had floundered, was in line with the average. It's just that the export of jobs manufacturing low-technology goods such as work boots cannot be resisted and should be seen in a wider context than the loss of yet another "Aussie icon", particularly when it matters least to the people who actually buy, and wear, the boots.


Australia's Climate is not Changing

Statistician Jonathan Lowe looks at the specious reasoning of what was once a scientific body -- the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. I guess the real scientists at the ABM hope that people will disregard the politically safe conclusions that they put their name to and look instead at the actual statistics, as is done below:

Recently, the ABM produced their 2006 weather report as shown here.

They specifically go out to show that "Our Climate is Changing". Well it always does of course, but they specifically mean global warming.

With regards to rainfall they say that

Australia has experienced marked rainfall trends over the last 50 years with declines over southern and eastern Australia and increases across the northwest.

and then continue to say in the next paragraph:

The dry conditions in southern and eastern Australia in 2006 have continued the long-term rainfall deficiencies in many regions, some of which extend back more than five years.

Long term is 5 years? Has rainfall decreased in last 50 years or 5 years?

They conclude that

Aspects of this multi-year drought are highly unusual and unprecedented in many areas. Understanding the role that climate change has played in these anomalies is an area of active research.

Nice conclusion. I guess that global warming only applies to the south east of Australia. So lets check the stats, as given directly from the ABM website:

Sure last year was very light on the rainfall, however it wasn't the lowest. This occurred in 1982. And whilst the last 5 years of rainfall in south eastern Australia have been low, it is not the lowest in the last 100 years. The period of 1940 to 1944 produced 75mm less rainfall in south eastern Australia than 2002 to 2006. But of course we are led to believe that this is the worst drought in 1000 years, isn't that right?

So the ABM suggest that this long term trend of 5 years is highly unusual and unprecedented. A simple analysis of the figures above show that this is far from the truth.

So has, as they claim, south east Australia had significant decreasing trends in rainfall? Statistically speaking unfortunately not (t = 1.29, p = 0.2). So the ABM's final conclusion to prove that our climate is changing with great emphasis on the current drought is, well, not true at all.

Is Australia's Climate Changing? Well not according to rainfall as the ABM suggests. Next up we'll look more closely at temperature around Australia.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

How Australia confronts militant Islam

A nation's blunt refusal to back down to terror

Australians are sometimes accused of being direct, even blunt. But this way of going about things seems to have worked well enough when dealing with the threat of radical Islamism Down Under. Its approach is worthy of close examination — not least in Britain. And what has been accomplished so far, though controversial, has been done with a high degree of bipartisan co-operation.

Like other predominantly Anglo-Celtic nations, Australia is a tolerant and accepting society — in spite of what some members of the domestic left intelligentsia and the civil liberties lobby proclaim. While not without racial tensions, Australia has a relatively low level of ethnically motivated crime and a relatively high level of inter-marriage between the numerous ethnic groups. The country has not fought a war of independence or a civil war and has not been in imminent danger of invasion — even though Japan briefly considered doing so in 1942. Al-Qaeda’s act of war against the United States on September 11, 2001, was the first major attack to take place on American soil. Similarly, Jamaah Islamiyah’s bombs, which exploded at the Bali tourist resort in Indonesia on October 12, 2002, brought civilian Australians into the front line. Some 20 Australians were murdered on 9/11. The Australian death toll at Bali was 88 — a horrendous toll for a population that is about a third that of Britain.

Australia’s Prime Minister, John Howard, happened to be in Washington on 9/11. Australia immediately committed special forces to the war against the Taleban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, which was under way when Mr Howard’s Liberal-National Party conservative coalition defeated Labor, led by Kim Beazley, at the election in November 2001. Labor supported Australia’s commitment in Afghanistan but opposed Mr Howard’s decision to commit Australia to the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq (in support of the US and Britain) in 2003.

Despite their differences on Iraq, the major parties have been more or less united on the need for a tough-minded approach to national security. Mr Beazley generally supported Mr Howard's anti-terrorism legislation and his position has been followed by Kevin Rudd, who took over as Opposition leader last December.

While the political conservatives dominate Australian national politics at the moment, the social democrats are in office in the six states and two territories that comprise the federation. By and large, the Labor Premiers, who control the police forces, have backed Mr Howard on national security. This amounts to strong bipartisan support — since about 80 per cent of Australians vote for either the conservatives or social democrats.

Since 9/11 — and particularly since the Bali bombing — the debate on national security in Australia has been frank. Australia is an immigrant nation and Muslims have been part of the immigrant experience for more than a century. Muslims from Afghanistan, Turkey and South-East Asia, among other places, have settled in well and made a significant contribution to Australian society. Yet, as in other Western democracies, there is a radical Islamist presence in Australia that has been growing in recent years and that owes its allegiance to Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The composition of the Australian Muslim population is significantly different from that of Britain. Radical Muslims — or their parents or grandparents — have come mostly from Lebanon or North Africa, with some from the sub-continent. In addition there are a few home-grown converts to the cause — the best known of whom are David Hicks, who is held at Guantanamo Bay, and Jack Thomas.

The evidence indicates that all radical Islamists in Australia were either born there or entered the country on valid visas. Asylum seekers, who arrived unlawfully, have not comprised a potential threat to national security.

It so happens that the approach advocated for Britain by Martin Bright in his important Policy Exchange pamphlet When Progressives Treat With Reactionaries is consistent with what has occurred Down Under over the past five years. Put briefly, the Australian system takes Islamist ideology seriously. It does not deal with radical Islamists. It confronts extremists’ views, rather than seeking to co-opt “pragmatic” radicals who happen not to be in favour of the use of violence in the here and now for purely tactical reasons. After the bombings of 7/7 in London, Tony Blair declared correctly that “the rules of the game had changed”. In Australia the rules changed dramatically some time earlier. A few recent examples illustrate the point.

After the shock of 7/7 Mr Howard established a Muslim Community Reference Group and said that no radicals would be invited to join. When Sheikh Taj Aldin al-Hilali (the Mufti of Australia) ventured into Holocaust denial, Andrew Robb (the Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism) let it be known that he would not be reappointed to the group. Last February Peter Costello (Mr Howard’s deputy) publicly declared that, if the radical Muslim cleric Abdul Nasser Ben Brika really wanted to live under Sharia law, he might choose voluntary deportation to Iran. The next month the Prime Minister told Reuters TV that Australia could not ignore “that there is a small section of the Islamic population which identifies with some of the more extremist views associated with support of terrorism”. In New South Wales the former Labor Premier, Bob Carr, and his successor, Morris Iemma, have made similar candid statements where necessary.

There remains a significant terror threat in Australia — with some convictions for terrorist-related offences and a number of Muslim men in Sydney and Melbourne awaiting trial on serious charges. However, the tough line on security seems to have worked well and there have been no terrorist attacks.

The Howard Government has let it be known that radical Islamism is also a threat to the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community and reminded its leaders of their responsibilities to resolve potential problems in their own self-interest. This approach has strengthened the position of moderate Muslims.

Meanwhile, the conservatives, with the support of social democrats, have advanced the cause of citizenship tests as a means of emphasising that all who choose to live in Australia are expected to sign-on to our democratic values. Moreover, imams have been advised to preach in English. There is little backing in Australia for the extremist right-wing view that Muslim immigration should be banned. But there is bipartisan support for tackling the real threat posed by radical Islamism in a direct, even blunt, manner.


Australia's mathematics teaching below India's

The quality of maths and science education in Australia has been ranked below countries such as India, where 40 per cent of the population cannot read or write. In its annual report on global competitiveness, the World Economic Forum ranks Australia 29th for the quality of its maths and science teaching and 12th for the quality of its educational system. Singapore, Finland and Belgium lead the 125 countries assessed on the quality of their maths and science education, with India ranked in seventh place, the Czech Republic in eighth and Tunisia ninth. Other countries ranked higher than Australia include Romania, Estonia, Barbados, the Slovak Republic, Serbia and Montenegro, Lithuania and Indonesia, as well as OECD countries including New Zealand.

The assessment by the WEF, an independent organisation that hosts an annual gathering of global political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, is at odds with other international studies assessing the performance of Australian students in maths and science. These include the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment, which ranked Australian students fourth among 41 countries in scientific literacy in 2003.

The world's longest-running study of maths and science - Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study - also assessed the mathematical and scientific knowledge of Year 4 and Year 8 students in 2003 and ranked Australia in the top 15. But the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia said yesterday the WEF rankings were based on an assessment by industry and major business of Australia's maths-science capabilities. APESMA chief executive John Vines said the lack of confidence expressed by business in the standard of Australian education reflected workforce issues. "It's consistent with the concerns we've been expressing for some years about the shortage of qualified maths and science teachers in the classroom," Mr Vines said.

He said the federal Government's failure to address the problem by providing incentives for scientists to retrain as teachers indicated it was not "fair dinkum" about solving the problem. "It's a clear strategic issue for Australia whether it wants to be a country that has the capacity to design and develop its own infrastructure and resources defence capabilities," he said. "They're all underpinned by strong skills in science and there doesn't seem to be the evidence that the Government is taking that issue seriously enough."

The Australian reported earlier this month that a big package of initiatives in school education and science taken to cabinet by Education and Science Minister Julie Bishop was rejected. The newspaper has also reported on the low prestige attached to studying science, reflected in university entrance scores that require a higher mark to study fashion design, sports management or traditional Chinese medicine than a science degree.

The WEF report, released late last year ahead of next week's Davos gathering, calculates a global competitiveness index based on factors judged critical to driving economic productivity and competitiveness. They are grouped into nine pillars that include health and primary education, and higher education and training. The rankings are based on an analysis of available data as well as the results of an executive opinion survey of more than 11,000 business leaders last year. The quality of education measures secondary and tertiary enrollment rates as well as the quality of education as assessed by the business community. "In particular, we take into account the quality of science, maths education, and management schools, as well as the availability of specialised training for the workforce," the WEF says.

The report says education and training are emerging as key drivers of competitiveness: "Today's globalising economy requires countries to nurture pools of well-educated workers able to adapt to their changing environment."


20 years needed to fix Australian science education

Australia has already lost its scientific knowledge base, creating a problem that will take two decades for the education system to redress. CSIRO chief of mathematical and information sciences Murray Cameron said yesterday the decline in maths and science skills would take 20 years to solve. "We haven't generated enough of the next generation (of scientists and mathematicians) and our capacity to do so will decline markedly over the next 10 years," he said.

President of the Australian Council of Deans of Science John Rice said the knowledge base of science and maths teachers in schools was 20 years out of date and said governments were doing little to upgrade their skills. "We have lost our level of scientific and mathematical knowledge. It's already gone," he said.

A study by the World Economic Forum, reported yesterday in The Australian, ranked Australia 29th out of 125 countries for the quality of its maths and science education as assessed by business and industry. The rankings by the WEF, an independent organisation of global political and business leaders, placed Australia behind India, the Czech Republic and Tunisia. But the WEF report is at odds with international assessments of the academic performance of Australia's students, which rates them in the top 15 or higher out of up to 50 countries.

Professor Rice, dean of science at the University of Technology, Sydney, said the discrepancy reflected the ability of students to perform well academically without skills required by industry. Professor Rice and Dr Cameron said the lost scientific knowledge base was caused by declining numbers of students choosing careers in maths and science. Talented students turned to more lucrative courses such as law and medicine.

A large proportion of science and maths teachers were not qualified in the discipline, meaning students were not taught the same depth of knowledge and were eschewing advanced maths and science courses. "Because people have downplayed science and maths, you aren't getting the higher calibre students taking up maths and science. They're going elsewhere to other jobs, leaving a very large vacuum," Professor Rice said. "The turnaround time to change that is quite long. In the end, it's 20 years." He called for an overhaul of maths and science teaching, which he described as too removed from real world.

Dr Cameron said the WEF findings reflected the loss of high-calibre students from science and maths. While first-year maths at university 30 years ago attracted the top 100 students in the state, today they were doing well to attract 10 of the top 100. "We need more good graduates going into schools to excite students and then become the next generation of good teachers," he said.

Engineers Australia president Rolphe Hartley said the number of engineers trained in Australia was half the OECD average. "Governments have lost the plot in this area. We have a shortage of qualified maths and science teachers and governments need to look at teacher education," he said. Business Council of Australia director of policy Patrick Coleman urged governments to invest in the development of teachers.


Anger as traffic fine scam charges dropped

The kingpin gets off free. More corruption in high places? Rather what one expects in NSW

The man hundreds of NSW drivers blamed for traffic offences totalling $80,000 says he's "stunned" at a decision by the state's police to drop charges against a Sydney car tycoon alleged to have been involved in the scam. Adelaide businessman Jim Vassoss said he was "shocked and sickened" to learn that police would not pursue charges against Charlie Touma. Mr Touma is the director of a sports car rental company in Kings Cross, in Sydney's inner-east, which specialises in renting luxury vehicles and high-end sports cars, including Ferraris and Porsches.

Mr Touma, 31, the principal of Sportscar World Rental, was facing five charges of making a false statement to obtain money and five charges of intentionally making a false statement in a statutory declaration. Mr Touma was alleged to have been one of 300 people who had falsely claimed Mr Vassoss was behind the wheel of a car at the time it was involved in offences such as speeding. The statements were made in relation to five traffic offences allegedly committed in May and June 2005, incurring fines totalling $430. But prosecutors told Deputy Chief Magistrate Helen Syme that the charges had been dropped and would not give any further explanation.

Hundreds more motorists have appeared in Sydney courts in recent weeks after officers from Strike Force Kindilan charged 238 people with involvement in the scam. This follows investigations by the State Debt Recovery Office into driver declarations between 2002 and last year that their driving offence was committed by Mr Vassoss. The declarations were made by offenders who believed Mr Vassoss was dead. At the time, he was suffering from cancer.

Mr Vassoss believes his personal details were supplied to those in the scam after he hired a sports car in Sydney in 2002. "I'm pretty stunned by this, I must say... shocked and sickened by it," Mr Vassoss said yesterday. "I got no warning whatsoever."

A colleague of Mr Touma's, who gave his name as Ziggy, said no comment would be made until further discussions were held with lawyers. This was unlikely until tomorrow, he said. After yesterday's hearing, Mr Touma's defence team requested a costs application take place to recover a computer system and other office materials seized by police during a raid on the businessman's William Street offices in November last year. That application has been scheduled for February 1.

Last week, a motorist who falsified statements to escape a traffic fine was jailed for three months. Michael Triganza admitted signing a false statutory declaration as part of a scam to avoid two speeding fines he incurred in March 2004 and February 2005. He had claimed his car was being driven by Mr Vassoss.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007


The State of Victoria has "anti-vilification" laws designed to punish "offensive" speech about other races and religions. The best-known application of them was a prosecution of two Christian pastors who dared to quote some of the more ludicrous passges from the Koran. That conviction was just recently thrown out by a higher court, however -- as the implication of saying that you could vilify Muslims simply by quoting their holy book was thought-provoking, to say the least.

Recently, however, a case came up where a Jew was most clearly subjected to racial abuse. This should have been an open and shut case for a vilification prosecution. But what has happened? No mention by the police or any other authority of a vilification prosecution. Only a prosecution for the assault that happened at the same time is being mentioned. The vilification laws must only be for protecting Muslims!

The latest details of the case below:

A senior officer investigating the attack last October on Melbourne resident Menachem Vorchheimer said police are close to pressing charges over the incident. Detective Superintendent Rod Wilson, who is heading the Ethical Standards Department's (ESD's) investigation into the conduct of an off-duty officer who was present during the alleged antisemitic assault, told the AJN he was "pretty confident" that criminal charges would be laid against at least two men over the October 14 attack.

Vorchheimer was walking on Balaclava Road, St Kilda East, on Simchat Torah with his two children, when at least one man on a minibus carrying 20 players from Ocean Grove Football Club shouted antisemitic taunts at him through an open window. Vorchheimer then approached the bus for an apology, but instead had his hat and kippa taken from his head by another player. Both men have admitted their part in the incident. However, a third man, who allegedly struck Vorchheimer across the face, has not come forward.

Detective Superintendent Wilson said that in the event that a suspect is not identified, the three men who witnesses have placed at the window at the time of the attack could be charged with aiding and abetting the assault. He said both the criminal and internal investigations into the matter were complete and awaiting review by the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) and the Office of Police Integrity (OPI), respectively. Detective Superintendent Wilson told the AJN he also planned to contact both the OPP and OPI this week to "expedite the matter". "It's in the public's interest for this matter to go before the courts," he said.

Earlier this week, Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Anton Block called on the police to resolve the matter as soon as possible. "Our collective patience will run out at some point in time," he said. But Block stressed the need for the community to allow the police to carry out a thorough investigation. "The worst thing that could happen is a prosecution where the accused are found not guilty [because the case was rushed through]. I'd rather they work [longer] to build an infallible case."

Detective Superintendent Wilson said he hopes to have a preliminary result by January 17, at least in the internal investigation, when he is due to meet with Vorchheimer and Jewish community officials.

The off-duty officer, who was driving the minibus at the time of the assault, told the ESD he tried to silence the football players who were shouting racial taunts at Vorchheimer, a claim that has been corroborated by witness statements. However, the ESD is investigating whether his attempts to move the bus from the scene, despite it being cut off by another vehicle, constituted responsible conduct. Detective Superintendent Wilson said the conduct of the off-duty officer could lead to suspension, retraining or some other disciplinary action, but that it was unlikely to result in criminal charges.

Vorchheimer told the AJN via email this week that a conviction in his case was the only way the Jewish community could be assured of feeling "safe and secure in our own streets". Liberal Member for Caulfield Helen Shardey this week criticised the government's handling of the case, accusing it of not adequately enforcing its Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.


Leftist gobbledegook about an old, old and perfectly simple story

That both men and the media pay a lot of attention to attractive women is too simple a summary for the wiseheads below

She burst into the public arena last year as the face of Australian tourism's cheeky, laid-back "So Where the Bloody Hell are You?" campaign, but in less than a year Lara Bingle has morphed into a combination of Cleopatra, Mata Hari and Paris Hilton, all wrapped up in one voluptuous, man-eating, wife-terrifying, 19-year-old package. Worst of all, she has preyed on the nation's most helpless, hopeless fools for love - footballers and cricketers. While the discussion in coffee shops and at barbecues all over the country this week has been about Bingle, the question left hanging is where the bloody hell are the men in all this? ....

Bingle, who has been keeping a very low profile of late, may well not be an innocent waif, but is she really the devil incarnate? "It goes back to an ancient kind of stereotype surrounding beautiful women," says Associate Professor Catharine Lumby from the University of Sydney. "They have a magical, evil power over men. There's a deep fear of the power of women's bodies, and Bingle has been turned into a media stereotype, like a siren from Greek mythology, luring helpless men to disaster and then heartlessly moving on. "It's concerning to see how an individual can be so stereotyped, and the coverage has been quite mean-spirited. We often see this kind of treatment of attractive female celebrities."

Profound misogyny and class-based resentment underpin the way Bingle has been presented, says Dr Anna Hickey-Moody, from Monash University's faculty of education. "The coverage reflects a variety of anxieties. Lara is the young woman from Cronulla, an area that has been grossly stigmatised in the media, represented as an abject place, and she's seen as a vagabond female who is ruled by her sexuality. Whenever something threatening happens, it's easy to construct an old story to explain it, but in this case the story doesn't seem to have much to do with her. What gets left out is that the men she's involved with are responsible for their own actions."

Women's rights have come a long way in the past few decades, but some attitudes towards sexuality remain profoundly conservative, says Professor Joy Damousi from the University of Melbourne, who is co-writing a book on football spectatorship. "The femme fatale is such an easy target in the media. You think of other targeted women like Kate Moss. The media really do like scapegoating, and women are better scapegoats than men, I think, because women's sexuality is still so feared," she says.

By being associated with footballers and cricketers, Bingle has entered a domain where men can virtually do no wrong, Professor Damousi says. "Male sportsmen are so iconic in our culture that they're elevated to a status almost beyond reproach. In a place like Melbourne they're bigger than pop stars. When they get in trouble they're seen as young blokes who need to sow their seeds. The justifications just keep coming.


Man dead for 10 months given surgery date

It's getting as bad as Canada!

A man who has been dead for almost a year was scheduled for surgery today at Queensland's biggest hospital. The blunder has stunned grieving mother Ann Heath, 66, who says her son Michael Trindall, 45, should never have been on a public waiting list.

Mrs Heath was bracing herself for the first anniversary of her son's death when the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital sent a letter in December to advise the date of his surgery. "What can anyone else to do me? I have lost my son and I have to put up with this garbage," Mrs Heath said.

The revelation comes just weeks after Premier Peter Beattie announced the Government would tender for a broker to manage its public hospital elective surgery waiting lists and a short time before the latest waiting list surgery data is released. It's also nine months since Mr Beattie claimed the state's health system had "turned a corner".

Mrs Heath, who received the letter four days before Christmas, said she was overcome by anger. She said it was ironic that as thousands of people wait for public surgery, Queensland Health booked a time for her dead son, who died at the Gold Coast's John Flynn Private Hospital last February.

A spokesman for Health Minister Stephen Robertson said Mr Trindall was due for his annual check-up with a urologist. But Mrs Heath said her son had private health insurance and although he received chemotherapy for his pancreatic cancer at the RBWH, all other procedures were done at private hospitals. "And besides, he had pancreatic cancer, he didn't have anything wrong (for which he would need to see a urologist), and he was already dead. There's no excuse," Mrs Heath said.

In a statement to The Courier-Mail, a Queensland Health spokeswoman said: "This is an extremely regrettable but unavoidable situation. "(The) RBWH was not notified of the patient's death (and) it is simply not possible to track all patients, including those treated in private facilities. "In this instance, Queensland Health had no way of knowing of the patient's death. "A letter of apology and an explanation will be sent to Mrs Heath."

Mrs Heath has accused the Government of incompetence and insensitivity and has asked her local Liberal MP Jan Stuckey to get some answers. Mrs Stuckey, a former nurse and wife of a GP, said the case highlighted how shambolic the public system still was. "She wants to know why Michael's name appeared on the waiting list when he had passed away 10 months prior," Mrs Stuckey said. "Mismanagement and incompetency of our public health system is both legendary and shameful. "Patients hope they live long enough to get on to the waiting list, and then it could easily be the wrong patient."


Cancer patients warned off soy-rich foods

This will upset the Tofu brigade

Cancer patients are being warned to avoid foods rich in soy because they can accelerate the growth of tumours. The Cancer Council NSW will issue guidelines today, warning about the dangers of high-soy diets and soy supplements for cancer patients and those people in remission from cancer. At particular risk are people suffering from hormone-dependent cancers, including breast and prostate cancer - the two most common types of cancer in Australia. Cancer survivors are also being urged to avoid high doses of soy, as they may be more vulnerable to a relapse.

Research has found high consumption of soy products can also limit the effectiveness of conventional medicines used to treat the disease. "There is evidence to suggest that women with existing breast cancer or past breast cancer should be cautious in consuming large quantities of soy foods or phyto-oestrogen supplements," a position statement from the Cancer Council says. "Women with current or past breast cancer should be aware of the risks of potential tumour growth when taking soy products. "The Cancer Council does not support the use of health claims on food labels that suggest soy foods or phyto-oestrogens protect against the development of cancer."

Health experts are particularly concerned that breast-cancer sufferers who take soy or phyto-oestrogen supplements could feed the disease and reduce the effectiveness of their treatment. Soy, which is present in soy beans, soy milk, tofu, tempeh and some breads, contains phyto-oestrogens that mimic the actions of hormones in the body. This means it may interfere with cancer drugs such as Tamoxifen, which works by suppressing the female hormone oestrogen.

Men with prostate cancer are also being warned against high soy consumption, as phyto-oestrogens may imitate the male hormone androgen. Although the Cancer Council has warned against soy supplements, it believes an occasional intake of soy food is still safe for cancer patients. Cancer Council nutritionist Kathy Chapman said soy supplements could contain dangerously high doses of phyto-oestrogens. "If you were a woman with breast cancer and thought, 'I'm going to radically change my diet and have very large portions of soy at every meal', it could be a problem," Ms Chapman said. "For someone who has tofu once or twice a week and drinks a bit of soya milk, it's not so much of a problem."

Soy has earned a reputation as a natural "superfood" that cuts the risk of breast or prostate cancer, and is commonly included in women's health supplements. This claim was based on findings that cancer rates were lower in Asia, where soy consumption is high. But soy would lower the risk of contracting cancer "only a little", according to the Cancer Council. "While they may have a protective effect, there is also some evidence that phyto-oestrogens may stimulate the growth of existing hormone-dependent cancers," the council's statement said. The risk of contracting other non-hormone-dependent cancers, including bowel cancer, would be unaffected by soy intake.

The Cancer Council was prompted to investigate the issue after being inundated with questions about the role of soy in cancer patients' diets. "We felt we were getting a lot of calls on our hotline about this topic," Ms Chapman said.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

University prohibits funding of political clubs

(The clubs affected will be mostly far-Leftist ones. How odd that they cannot support themselves! Suckling on the taxpayer's teat is all they know. It's about time they got a lesson in non-parasitic politics)

Students at one of Australia's most politically active universities have been banned from using campus funds to finance political clubs. Victoria's La Trobe University is using the Howard Government's voluntary student unionism legislation to refuse financial support for any of the campus's political clubs and societies.

"Purely and simply it's discrimination and is the antithesis of what university is supposed to be about in terms of people bringing up ideas and debating," said the president of La Trobe's Student Representative Council, Sarah Cole. "Most people would consider that as a key part of university life and getting a degree."

The university confirmed the arrangement was part of a new funding agreement to support the student union and its affiliated non-political clubs and societies but would not comment further. It is estimated the legislation will cost universities and student organisations $160 million annually from the loss of the compulsory levies.

But the La Trobe Student Representative Council, which is refusing to sign the deal, says it will lose university funding worth $240,000 if it is found to be financially supporting any political groups. "We can't find any part of the (Government's VSU) legislation that necessitates this," Ms Cole said. "It seems like it's partially motivated by people within the university administration who just want to stop political clubs from being active on campus."

Following the introduction of the Government's VSU legislation, which came into force in July last year, student bodies in universities across the country held fears that political clubs would have their funding cut back. Michael Nguyen, president of peak student body the National Union of Students, said he was unaware of other campuses taking the VSU legislation to such extremes. "It hasn't been explicit but university administrations have been saying this kind of thing in funding negotiations," he said. "The general sentiment is that universities are wishing to implement the intent of the VSU legislation which is to restrict political activities."

La Trobe - which has a long tradition of left-wing student political activism - appears to be the first university to adopt a hardline approach to funding for political groups on campus. Political clubs are the only clubs to have been targeted with the funding agreement. Sporting clubs and societies are able to operate as usual.


Hilali like Hitler: Muslim leader

A prominent Muslim leader has likened Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali to Adolf Hitler, saying the outspoken mufti is doing as much damage to Islam in Australia as the German dictator did to Christianity. The Australian Federation of Islamic Council's legal adviser, Haset Sali, labelled the sheik's recent diatribe on Egyptian television against Western "liars and oppressors" as insane and said the comments had horrified thevast majority of Australian Muslims.

"He has been about as helpful to Islam in Australia as Adolf Hitler was to Christianity during the Second World War," Mr Salisaid. "Hilali increasingly chooses to rewrite what he thinks should be in the Holy Koran, and his sick and vile comments in his recent interviews are not only un-Islamic but also inhumane and highly disgraceful."

The sheik, who is still holidaying in Egypt in what was supposed to be a self-imposed exile, went back on Egyptian television at the weekend to apologise for his comments that immigrants had more right to live in Australia than "Anglo-Saxons who arrived ... in shackles".

The mufti said his comments had been taken out of context - the same claim he repeatedly made following the furore that erupted after he likened immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat. The sheik's musings on his adopted country, which aired in the Egyptian television interview last week, stretched to bizarre claims about Australia's "nudist streets" and beaches. "There are nude beaches in Australia, and if one goes there wearing clothes is fined (sic). And there are streets like that, too."

NSW Premier Morris Iemma dismissed Sheik Hilali's defence that he had been again taken out of context. "He is a man who, really, we should not attach too much credibility to, because he just doesn't have any," Mr Iemma told Southern Cross radio.

Sheik Hilali also said during the interview screened last week that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had influenced a judge who handed down a 55-year sentence to Lebanese Muslim gang rapist Bilal Skaf. He had claimed that prior to September 11 the "worst crime in Australia had received seven years' jail".

The sheik's spokesman in Australia, Keysar Trad, conceded yesterday that the comment was inaccurate. "The seven-year reference is a generalisation," Mr Trad said. "We know that that's not an accurate statement. He wasn't trying to be accurate. He was just making generalisations and nothing but generalisations to stress a point." Mr Trad said Mr Sali's comments were tainted by his involvement in the brawling over AFIC leadership. "I'm disappointed in him," Mr Trad said. "In the circumstances it's debatable whether hecan make a fair comment or not."

John Howard was nonplussed yesterday at being labelled "Mr Me Too" by Sheik Hilali because "he wait for any news from America to say, 'me too'." "The sheik's great problem is that he's becoming a standing embarrassment to his own community," said the Prime Minister. "He is hurting their reputation in the eyes of their fellow Australians and I ask them in their own interests to do something about it." But AFIC, which has the power to abolish the position of Mufti of Australia, is in receivership and fresh elections for a new executive board are not expected until next month.

Mr Sali, who was once close to the sheik but has become a fierce critic, said Australian Muslims needed a head Mufti as much as they needed a "crocodile in the back garden" and described Sheik Hilali was like "a bull in a china shop. "In reality, Sheik Hilali is no longer the Mufti for Australia," Mr Sali said. "Although when it suits him he likes to call himself the Mufti of Australia."


Conservatives target Rudd's 'radicals'

A new front has been opened in the assault on Kevin Rudd's restyled Labor, with an attempt to create the perception of a party dominated by left-wing radicals hiding behind a conservative leader. The attack, by Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne, highlights an effort to drive a wedge in the minds of voters between the federal Labor leader and his parliamentary team. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing said Mr Rudd's image as deeply conservative was absurd, given that the people who delivered him his leadership were left-wingers.

Mr Pyne's attack on Mr Rudd's team reflects a belief that the new Labor leader is a serious threat to the Government. In the lead-up to this year's election, Mr Pyne said he would urge voters to look beyond Mr Rudd when considering a Labor government. "I'm concerned that the public knows that when they are buying the Labor Party they are buying a lot more - they are buying a leftist agenda," he said. "The cast of characters behind Kevin Rudd would make the Adams family blush." He will set out his election assault in a speech at a Young Liberals conference this month.

The Coalition attacked Mr Rudd within an hour of his appointment on December 4, launching a website with a disparaging animation. The rapid response is consistent with Liberal polling showing voters are attracted to Mr Rudd. "Kevin Rudd is presenting himself as a conservative Labor leader, but behind Kevin Rudd are the same old people who have always been there, nothing has changed," Mr Pyne said. "People like Julia Gillard and Kim Carr in the Left and the union movement, these people's views haven't changed. On the fundamentals - private health insurance, private and public schooling, foreign policy issues and the US alliance - these people's views are extreme and unwelcome."

He said that even on Middle East issues, the people behind Mr Rudd had opinions that needed to be exposed. "The people behind Kevin Rudd have views that are diametrically opposed to the views of the majority of Australians," he said. "Kevin Rudd can pretend to be one thing and not the other to the Australian people but the views of his supporters are on the record and the public needs to know those." Mr Pyne said Australians would be shocked if such people took power. "The settled views of the public on the economy, private and public education and health would be put in danger by many of the people who back Kevin Rudd," he said. "Many of the people who he owes the leadership to are the ones that would have control."

Liberal frontbencher Greg Hunt warned that Mr Rudd would replicate the economies of France and Germany under a "social democratic" model and be governed by the ideas of leftists such as Noam Chomsky.


Australia's other drug war

The scourge of drugs in our schools is one of the big fears facing all parents as their children grow up. But increasingly concern is turning to the cocktail of mind-altering substances being fed to youngsters before they leave home in the mornings. Tens of thousands of children are being prescribed drugs for a series of mood and behaviour disorders ranging from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to depression. "There is a medical civil war going on and the victims caught in the crossfire are the kids who have no say in it," says Dr George Halasz, a Melbourne-based psychiatrist.

Lined up on one side are the GPs, child psychiatrists and other specialists who believe medication is a safe, simple and effective way of relieving the suffering of children and adolescents, and controlling symptoms that cause them to struggle at school and socially.

On the other side are colleagues who criticise what they see as massive over-diagnosis and unnecessary use of potentially dangerous drugs that have a largely unknown long-term effect on developing brains. No anti-depressant has been approved in Australia for the treatment of depression in anyone aged under 19, but they are still prescribed.

Federal figures for 2003 show 250,000 prescriptions for Prozac and similar drugs - selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) - were issued to children and adolescents. That was 30,000 more than the previous year. Three-quarters of them went to people aged 15 to 18, with about 15,000 going to children under 10. The figures do not indicate how young the children on anti-depressants are, but a 2004 study that tracked more than 5000 mothers and their children found that "it is common for children as young as five to be perceived to manifest a variety of symptoms of depression and/or anxiety".

Black Dog Institute chief Professor Gordon Parker has prescribed Prozac to an eight-year-old boy, reluctantly and only after consulting with two other child psychiatrists. "His mother, who also had a very bad depression, had several children and they were all happy except this one boy who would come home from school and say, 'I want to be dead.' " After about three weeks on Prozac, the boy was "wonderful". Several attempts were made to take him off the medication but within three or four weeks his condition deteriorated each time. The use of anti-depressant drugs for children under 12 "should be done rarely and by specialists and with great care", cautions Prof Parker.

A study by Professor Jon Jureidini of the Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital concluded children and adolescents should not be placed on anti-depressants. "The drugs do not work and there is a possibility they may be dangerous for a small group," he says.

In 2004, the UK banned the use of all SSRI anti-depressants except Prozac for young people and the US Federal Drugs Agency asked manufacturers to include warning labels after experts found a link between anti-depressants and increased risk of suicide in children and teenagers. The danger was said to be greatest at the start of treatment, when there was a change in dosage or if it was suddenly withdrawn. Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration gave a similar warning and reiterated that the drug companies advise against the use of the medications to treat people under 18 for depression.

The Australian Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee recommended that where anti-depressants were prescribed for children and adolescents it should be carefully monitored and done only as a part of "comprehensive" patient management, preferably with cognitive behaviour therapy. ADRAC documents show that since close monitoring of prescriptions to children began in 2005, more than 1600 adverse reactions had been notified. Of these, 827 related to children aged under 10 and the drugs had been linked to two suicides and a death from heart failure. Another 833 adverse reactions were logged for youths aged 10 to 19, including links to three deaths.

Dr Brett McDermott, director of the Mater Child and Youth Mental Health Service in Brisbane and spokesman for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, says: "I think Australia has got it right. There are very safe anti-depressants and we are not prescribing them lightly. "Depression is a severe condition and I don't think you can withhold treatment because a small amount have side effects." Dr McDermott said GPs were competent to prescribe to adolescents but the younger the child, the more important it was they saw a child psychiatrist. "I would be very reluctant to prescribe anti-depressants to kids in primary school," he said.

Dr Halasz and others fear the use of drugs to treat depression could follow the explosion in ADHD medication. "The US, Canada and Australia are the world gold, silver and bronze medal-holders in terms of prescribing drugs to children," he said. Prescriptions in Australia for the most common medication - dex-amphetamines- rose from 96,000 a year to 232,000 between 1994 and 2004. In August 2005, the other popular ADHD drug Ritalin was added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, reducing the cost from $49 to as little as $4.70 for concession card-holders. Over the next six months, the number of Ritalin scripts issued soared from 523 a month to more than 5800, with no apparent decrease in other medications. Queensland prescription numbers have grown at a rate second only to that in Western Australia.

A world authority on ADHD, Professor David Hay from Curtin University in Perth, says one possible reason for the high number of cases is that GPs are allowed to diagnose ADHD in those two states. Elsewhere, it can be done only by child psychologists or psychiatrists. ADHD is "extraordinarily complex", with a high risk of mis-diagnosis, says Prof Hay. "We have to make sure we are measuring a problem in the child and not the parent's perceptions. I don't think it's done well enough."

A Federal Government study found 11 per cent of parents reported their children had symptoms consistent with ADHD. Dr Halasz says the true figure is more like 1 per cent and that many are being wrongly diagnosed. "Parents are between a rock and a hard place. They always want to do the best for their children," he said.

In the US, it is not uncommon for schools to insist parents medicate their children to modify their behaviour as a condition of remaining at the school. Youth Affairs Network of Queensland director Siyavash Doostkhah says it also happens regularly here - even though it is illegal. Denise, a Brisbane northside mother, says that happened to her son John who was branded a "bad" child all through pre-school. "This came to a head when he had only been in Grade 1 for approximately four months when the principal came to me and told me I either put my son on medication or he would be expelled."

Queensland University of Technology education PhD student Linda Graham recently completed a study of school responses and concluded that children who do not fit the "norm" are made scapegoats. "Parents of children who can be described as 'hyperactive' or 'distractable' are under pressure to medicate their children so they can fit into an overwrought, under-funded public education system," she said. "The load is lessened when difficult kids are diagnosed with something that qualifies for support funding or when parents oblige the school by shifting the problem to their local pediatrician."

She backed claims by child psychiatrists to The Sunday Mail of parents being pressured by schools to get diagnoses of conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. Students with ASD qualify for teacher-aide support funding while those with ADHD do not. Proponents of ADHD medication point to the fact that it has helped thousands of children to control their impulsive or hyperactive behaviour, to focus and concentrate better, to improve their school performance and to increase their social skills.

Dr Halasz agrees it would be unethical to withhold the drugs from the very small group of children who really require them but argues that just because a child functions better after taking them is not proof that the child was ever "ill". And he warns there have not yet been any long-term follow-up studies of the effects. "There could be a sleeper effect. In 20 years we could have a whole generation acting differently."


Monday, January 15, 2007

Resource envy -- what the Greenies have in mind for us all

They have managed to create water-scarcity (and thus water envy) by their constant opposition to new dams. In Victoria they even went one further -- by persuading the State government to pour already-dammed water down the Snowy river as an "environmental" flow. Now if only they could make OTHER resources scarce by their ceaseless agitation. Their "Greenhouse" nonsense COULD make electricity scarce. How they would enjoy that!

Margaret Norriss is living in fear. The retired teacher is so scared of the emergence of water vigilantes that she doesn't dare hose her front garden, even though she has been using a rainwater tank for the past nine years. "The whole thing is turning the community against one another," Ms Norriss told The Sunday Age. "It's becoming like Big Brother and I'm starting to feel very uncomfortable." Although the State Government will not reveal until next month the number of calls it has received to the new Dob in a Water Cheat line, it restricted to a trickle water to three households for breaches committed between 2003 and 2006.

Like an increasing number of Melburnians, Ms Norriss is terrified of being wrongly accused of breaking the new water restrictions. Terrified at the thought of a knock on the door from the "water police". She has hung a sign on her front fence declaring only non-town water is in use. But that hasn't stopped the abuse and glares of people as they slow to pass her Northcote home. "Sometimes human nature is wonderful and people pull together in the most amazing ways, but I believe we are moving into a situation where people are getting quite nasty, and I'm really starting to get paranoid," Ms Norriss said.

She is not alone. Garden envy is rife and threatening to spill over to open hostility as the State Government asks the community to anonymously "dob in a water cheat". While Melburnians bemoan the death of historic elm trees lining the Yarra and despair over the state of their yards, a drive around suburban back streets reveals a vast array of thriving gardens, complete with lush, green lawns.

For those adhering to the new restrictions and using grey, rain or bore water to maintain their treasured gardens, the only defence from the prying eyes of neighbours is the signs that are springing up in front yards from the leafy, expansive homes of Toorak to the workers' cottages of Thornbury and Williamstown. Even Deputy Premier and Water Minister John Thwaites, who is also Minister for Communities, has recognised the problem and suggested that people hang home-made signs in their yards. Monash University academic David Dunstan fears the growing hysteria about water is threatening our sense of community as "neighbour is pitted against neighbour". "I think it is most unhealthy and potentially dangerous," he said, adding that neighbourhood trust and goodwill was being replaced with "a climate of suspicion".

Last week, The Sunday Age highlighted the emerging culture of "dobbing" and sparked a number of debates on talkback radio. Many listeners confessed that they were spying on their neighbours' water usage. "The Government is encouraging neighbour to spy on neighbour and dob them in," Dr Dunstan said. "Rather than appealing directly to people to save water, they are now saying your neighbour is your policeman and we will provide the stick to support them." He goes so far as to liken the situation to the rise of fascism in pre-war Germany and Stalinist Eastern Europe, where people could not even trust their family. "Nobody felt safe because they could be visited at 4 o'clock in the morning. It's an extreme example, but these were the means by which totalitarian societies kept their population in fear."

Four years ago, Len Williams and his wife built a new front fence at their Surrey Hills home and planted roses, gardenias and camellias. Just before Christmas, he rigged up his own recycling system of pipes, garbage bins and filters to re-use the grey water from the kitchen and bathroom. "I don't want to lose the plants," he said. "The money I spent in setting the water system up is nothing compared to what the replacement cost of the plants would be." His wife told the neighbours they were using grey water, but Mr Williams said it was still necessary to make a sign to hang on the front fence. "It's not only neighbours; a lot of people walk past and I don't want people to think that we are breaking the water restrictions by watering what appears to be on the wrong day," he explained. Like Ms Norriss, Mr Williams said he feared the "knock on the door" following a misguided complaint.

Still, others like former National Australia Bank boss Frank Cicutto and his wife, Christine, told The Sunday Age they installed the sign in their yard to encourage others to use recycled or tank water. The couple's spokeswoman said Mrs Cicutto, who was raised in the country, was very concerned about the water shortage and had insisted on the installation of rainwater tanks when the $8 million Canterbury mansion was built.

LJ Ryan and her husband have recently laid turf at their new Toorak home, and although they qualify for an exception to the restrictions, she said they felt compelled to let people know they were only using tank water. While they were primarily driven by the desire to encourage others to use non-town water on their gardens, Mrs Ryan conceded that there was also a fear of being wrongly reported to the authorities. "We were concerned about what the neighbours think, because you don't want to be seen to be flouting the restrictions," she said.


Year 12 English students study SMS, podcasts


Show and tell is one assessment task suggested for Year 12 English students in South Australian schools by the state's curriculum board. Changes to the state's English curriculum this year also include the study of SMS, podcasts, graphic novels and song lyrics. Teaching resources authorised by the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia for assessing students in the English Studies course, which is the literature course, include ideas for "non-text-based" activities. "Choose three objects which are of significance to you, and explain their importance in your life," the document says. Other activities suggested include giving demonstrations of packing a picnic basket, reading astrology charts, making a cake, giving a facial or grooming a dog.

English Studies is based on the critical study of texts, while English Communications is a broader study of the power and role of language in society. From this year, as part of their study of personal communications, English Communications students in Year 12 will have the opportunity to study text messages, along with family gatherings, letters and telephone calls. Other forms of communication studied under the various topics include talkback radio, junk mail, press releases, chat rooms, online shopping and podcasts.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop yesterday lamented the studying of text messages in lieu of time-tested classics such as Shakespeare, particularly in states such as South Australia and Queensland that do not have English as a compulsory subject for all school students. Ms Bishop said that as part of the development of a national curriculum framework in English, she would like to see Shakespeare included as a compulsory text. "I strongly encourage state education authorities to include Shakespeare and other classics in their curriculum," she said. "An appreciation of the best literature available should be an essential part of schooling. I would encourage state education authorities to aim higher, for higher standards."

Ms Bishop described the study of text messages in Year 12 as illogical, and said most students would know more about it than their teachers. "By replacing the teaching of the classics with courses that encourage them to text, are you encouraging students to take the easy path? It's not challenging or stretching students." Ms Bishop said the introduction of national literacy tests from 2008 would include assessment of spelling, grammar and punctuation not currently tested in state-based assessments. "The difficulty is not having students learn how to send text messages, but having them speak correct English."

Jury Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Adelaide, Penny Boumelha, welcomed the idea of English being compulsory for school students. Professor Boumelha said that teaching students how to write text messages was of little value in an English course. In the curriculum document, text messages form part of the communication study. A spokesperson for the assessment board was unavailable yesterday.


Flesh-destroying ulcer infection reaches NSW

The first case of a flesh-eating ulcer infection in New South Wales has been reported, prompting warnings for doctors to watch out for the disease. The Bairnsdale ulcer, which kills human skin cells, fat and blood vessels, was first diagnosed in Australia in 1948, on the Victorian coast. Infection rates in the state have more than doubled in the past three years, with 61 people diagnosed in 2006, and cases have also been declared in Queensland and the Northern Territory. Now NSW has recorded its first case - a 42-year-old man who developed the condition after sea-kayaking near the town of Eden in the state's far south.

The ulcer is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans, which is found naturally in the environment. It is not known how humans become infected with the disease, which is common in Africa, but it is believed to be transmitted by mosquitoes. A scab on the kayaker's ankle developed into a gaping wound which grew over five months before he was admitted to a Melbourne hospital last January to have the lesion excised.

Officially declaring the case in the latest Medical Journal of Australia, infectious diseases experts said it was the "first strong evidence" the disease had spread into NSW. "Australian primary care clinicians need to be aware that the ulcer may occur in NSW to ensure early diagnosis and treatment," wrote Paul Johnson from Austin Health in Melbourne.

The finding came as Australian plastic surgeons, GPs, physicians and public health experts set down new guidelines recommending people use insect repellent and wear protective clothing while in disease hotspots. Professor Johnson and his team also advised colleagues confronted with large ulcers to use both antibiotics and surgery. Other new research published in the journal suggests that in a quarter of cases the disease will still spread after surgery if antibiotics aren't used.


A government aged-care hospital at work

Melbourne is at the moment in the middle of one of their notoriously hot summers. But no airconditioning or other coooling for you if you are old and poor and sick there

Airconditioning, lights and radios have been switched off and windows locked with curtains drawn to slash power use at Melbourne's biggest rehab and aged-care hospital. The bans at the 400-resident Kingston Centre were introduced on January 4, as the outside temperature rose to 39C [102 degrees F], a Sunday Herald Sun investigation has revealed.

Kettles, toasters and microwaves also have been unplugged at the sprawling, dilapidated century-old Cheltenham hospital while patients and elderly residents sweltered in the dark. And tougher restrictions -- yet to be triggered under the power-saving regimen -- will see all non-clinical computers switched off, laundry and machinery operation scaled back, out-patients' service closed and at-risk residents sent home or to other facilities. A plan to replace hot meals with sandwiches has been mooted, prompting fears that patients who have difficulty swallowing could be at risk of choking. Staff have told how they found it difficult to find door locks with their keys in the darkness. And patients reportedly stumbled and almost fell in the gloom.

The draconian regimen was exposed after the Sunday Herald Sun saw a directive from centre bosses to department and ward managers, which was sent on January 4, ordering "Stage 1" actions. The directive read: "All managers, please note we are currently at 80 per cent usage of power on site due to the hot weather . . . " Southern Health spokesman Kim Minett confirmed restrictions, but said there were limits to how much electricity use the old building could cope with


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Your government will protect you -- again

A rapist and more than 40 other sex offenders have had their bans on working with children overturned so they can pursue jobs that will bring them into contact with youngsters. The convicted criminals have applied over the past 12 months to be removed from the New South Wales prohibited person list so they can take up jobs with or near children, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show a 41-year-old man convicted of indecently assaulting a nine-year-old girl has been approved to work unsupervised with children and young people. The man - who was convicted in 2005 - went to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal to get lifted the ban on working with children.

In another case a man, 49, who as a 23-year-old raped a woman, 27, after assaulting her in a park, has won the right to take a job as a bus driver, bringing him into contact with children. He had chased the woman as she walked her dog at night, then pulled her into long grass where he had sex with her. The man received a six-year jail sentence.

The Administrative Decisions Tribunal, imposing conditions requiring him to see a psychiatrist and banning him from smoking cannabis, said it was satisfied he did not pose "a real and appreciable risk to children".

But the tribunal refused to lift a working-with-children ban on a doctor who indecently assaulted female patients during medical consultations. It said: "... there is a real risk that the applicant might physically or verbally abuse children if he were to return to child-related employment."

Figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph show bans on 29 sex offenders were lifted in 2005-2006 by the Commission for Children and Young People, 13 were lifted by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal and one by the Industrial Relations Commission. In 2004-2005 31 sex offenders had bans lifted by the CCYP, eight by the ADT and one by the IRC. The data show sex offenders continue to thumb their nose at the system despite revelations in The Daily Telegraph more than a year ago that perverts were seeking jobs as school bus drivers, teachers, sports coaches and even youth workers.

It is more than year since the Iemma Government flagged new laws outlawing sex offenders from working with children. NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People Gillian Calvert said the legislation took effect this month strengthening the check system. "Approvals to change a Prohibited Person status are not granted lightly," she said.



The Bard may soon return to Queensland schools as the Federal Government considers making Shakespeare compulsory for English students. Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said the compulsory study of Shakespeare was one of a range of options being considered for English students. Ms Bishop, expected to step up her overhaul of Australian education this year, said that for centuries schoolchildren had been enriched by the English playwright. She was considering reintroducing the Bard as a compulsory part of the English curriculum, she said. "I would say that is one option. But English itself is not even compulsory in Queensland schools at the moment," she said.

Ms Bishop has indicated a willingness to use federal funding as a bargaining chip to force states to improve curriculums. She wants English and history reintroduced as compulsory subjects across the nation. Ms Bishop noted British research released this week showing Shakespearean language "excites the brain".

Ms Bishop said Shakespeare's plays were not the only literary classics she wanted back in the classroom. Australian literature from Banjo Paterson to Patrick White also could enrich young minds, as opposed to "deconstructing that trashy reality show Big Brother".

The Federal Government has backed its belief in the Bard with a $50,0000 investment in the Bell Shakespeare Regional Teacher Scholarships program, which kicks off this year. The investment will provide 12 English teachers from regional and remote schools with a program to build expertise in bringing Shakespeare to life.


When government schools are no good ....

There is a huge demand for private education in Australia in a desperate attempt to escape Left-run non-education in State-government schools. Around 40% of Australian teenagers are now sent to private schools. But huge demand forces up prices -- as it always does. Australia's most famous conservative government -- the Menzies (Federal) administration -- long ago instituted a semi-voucher system by giving grants to private schools -- thus going over the heads of the State governments. Federal grants to private schools are however still much less per head than what State governments spend on their schools

Some of Sydney's most prestigious private schools are charging parents as much as $4000 in non-refundable fees to enrol their children, on top of tuition fees that can cost more than $20,000. Annual fees for senior students this year will be as high as $21,117 at Cranbrook, $20,967 at Kambala, $20,913 at King's and $20,826 at Sydney Grammar. At Cranbrook School, a non-refundable enrolment fee of $4615 is payable on acceptance of a place. Parents must also pay a non-refundable fee of $300 to make an enrolment application. The school generates about $1 million each year from enrolment fees and more than $23 million in tuition fees. Under its funding arrangements for private schools, the Federal Government no longer takes into account the amount of non-refundable fee income a school generates.

Lyndsay Connors, who heads the NSW Public Education Council, said schools were no longer penalised for the extra income. "This kind of impost by private schools on parents would normally be their own business," she said. "But in this country, these schools are not only provided with public funding, but with ever-increasing amounts of it. The least they could be required to do is let all of us shareholders know what all this public and private money is being spent on. What exactly are we subsidising?"

St Ignatius' College, Riverview, charges a non-refundable enrolment fee of $4000, King's $3600 and Sydney Grammar $3470. Loreto Normanhurst and Loreto Kirribilli each charge $3000 and Abbotsleigh $1720. St Andrew's Cathedral School charges a non-refundable enrolment fee of $2000 a family. Overseas students are also required to pay an enrolment bond of $18,500 and a NSW Board of Studies charge of $700 for each year 12 student sitting the HSC. Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) charges students $1000 to enrol and another $2000 to confirm the enrolment. Both are non-refundable and in addition to annual fees. Year 11 and 12 students pay a total of $37,950 over two years, paid in five instalments.

Its headmaster, Timothy Wright, said the fee was designed to deter parents from making an application if they did not seriously intend to enrol their child. "You might find parents put their names down at four or five schools and four of those schools make plans for that child arriving," Dr Wright said. "If a school suddenly found that 10 per cent of their expected enrolments didn't come, they would have a serious problem." Dr Wright said income from non-refundable fees helped fund the sizeable costs associated with running the enrolment office.

The Association of Independent Schools' executive director, Geoff Newcombe, said non-refundable fees were intended to provide certainty for parents and schools and to discourage parents from making multiple applications. "In many cases, a late withdrawal means that the school would have difficulty in filling that place for a term or two - even though they have waiting lists - because the parents have enrolled in another school," Dr Newcombe said. "Many schools use that as a contribution towards the school's capital fund and towards the bursary scholarship fund."



A war is brewing in the US between Australia's humble meat pie and America's hot dog. Two major Australian meat pie companies, Four'N Twenty and Vili's, have launched grand expansion plans in the US designed to win over American tastebuds. In the not too distant future in Manhattan, Aussie meat pie carts will compete on busy street corners with the city's famous hot dog stands. Vending machines will sit alongside Coke and chip machines offering hot meat pies for hungry Americans on the go. Sports venues such as New York's Yankee Stadium or Los Angeles Lakers' Staples Centre will smell like the MCG or SCG, with American sports fans offered the Aussie meat pie in addition to the traditional hot dog, nachos or hamburger.

At stake are billions in export dollars for Melbourne-based Four'N Twenty and Adelaide's Vili's. "It's the greatest Western market in the world and it's untapped," says Joshua Kearney, who is leading the push by Vili's in the US. "There are a few people in the US here and there that make their little boutique pies, but there's no one like Vili's who can do it on our scale."

Despite the size of the US, with its 300 million residents, the meat pie is a stranger to Americans. When Americans think "pie", it is dessert, whether it's an apple, pumpkin or banana cream pie. Many turn their noses up at the thought of meat in a pie and both companies agree the key is getting curious Americans to taste a meat pie. "Right now, Americans can get a hot pocket or Jamaican beef patty, but when they eat the Australian product their first comment is: 'Well, it tastes really good'," says Florida-based Edward Beshara, who is heading Four'N Twenty's expansion into the US.

Vili's Kearney, based in Las Angeles, has had a similar experience. "We have to tell Americans it's a savoury and not a sweet," he says. "We tell them it's like a shepherd's pie, because there are a lot of Irish and British descendants in America, they understand that."

Americans also take a different approach to tasting a meat pie. "They always want to break it open and have a look at what's inside," Kearney says. "They're worried about what's in it and ask you 10 times over exactly what's in it. "You tell them it's beef and they ask: 'What cut of beef?"'

Expat Australians are not so picky. Vili's sold 4000 pies for $US7.50 each to the mostly Australian fans at last year's G'day LA AFL exhibition match between the Sydney Swans and the Kangaroos in Los Angeles. Vili's stocks were sold out before half-time, an amazing feat when the crowd for the game was just 3000.

Four'N Twenty and Vili's will be spreading the word today in Los Angeles at one of the key G'day USA Australia Week events at the Australian Made Food and Wine Trade Expo. Their pies will be among 200 Australian food products showcased for 400 representatives from some of America's largest supermarkets and retailers. The two previous G'Day food expos have generated more than $1 million in new sales in the US for Australian companies. "Typically, pie exporters think the key challenge to them will be overcoming US food and labelling regulations," says Australian Trade Commissioner in Los Angeles Kylie Hargreaves. "In fact, the key obstacles are the American consumer's lack of familiarity with meat pies and then the sheer scale of the US marketplace. "Managing your production and distribution channels in the US is normally what makes or breaks an Aussie pie exporter."

Kearney, the 27-year-old chief executive of his family's company, Aussie Imports, which has the US rights to distribute Vili's products, has secured a key distribution deal with American food giant US Foodservices. "They have 78 distribution centres across America, so that will give us some serious penetration in restaurants, pubs, clubs, sports venues," Kearney says. "Anyone across America will be able to get a Vili's pie." Kearney is also teaming up with Hollywood celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck to offer Vili's pies in LA's premier indoor sports arena, Staples Centre, which is home to the LA Lakers and Clippers basketball teams and ice-hockey team the LA Kings.

Four'N Twenty's Beshara is also pursuing US sports stadium deals, as well as race tracks, convenience stores, airlines, universities and amusement parks. "We are working on that (sports stadiums) right now," Beshara, an Australian who has lived in the US for 27 years and owns the Four'N Twenty US distribution rights through his company OzePie, says. "With a lot of the stadium feeding now they're trying to incorporate all different types of cuisine, whether it's from different cultures or even a different twist on American comfort food." Beshara also has the US rights to another Australian food icon, Pavlova Pantry.

Vili's and Four'N Twenty will also tempt Americans with sausage rolls and pasties. "We're bringing in the traditional meat pie, the beef and cheese, beef and BBQ, a pie with no trans-fat, sausage rolls, pasties and the party versions," Beshara says. Vili's and Four'N Twenty also hosed down talk they were bitter rivals in the US. "We're competitors in Australia, but we don't see it the same way in the US," Kearney says. "It's a huge market in the US with 300 million people. We could do business here happily and not even see each other."


Saturday, January 13, 2007


I have received the following email from a reader who is an inmate of a government High School:

As a year 11 student in **** with more than a passing fancy for history, I took Modern History as one of my choices in the second semester of school. I wouldn't know anything about Australian history from that class, there was not a single mention of it apart from a very brief look at Australia's role in the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War is a case in point about why History in schools is failing miserably, or at the most generous, being changed into -- as you so eloquently put it -- a "politically correct, ideological prism." The Vietnam War was portrayed in a rather interesting fashion, as a Communist North reaction against American imperialistic ambitions on the region. No mention was made of the North's continued covert support of terrorists or its intentions to invade and then annex the South.

The class even from the very first was told to look critically at the American conduct of the war. We looked at the Mai Lai massacre, which was a horrible abomination, but instead of treating it as an isolated case (which it was probably not). It was used to illustrate an imaginary trend and we then proceeded to spend the six weeks examining American conduct in great deal.

A personal favourite was the curriculum's view of the Tet offensive; it was not treated as a communist attack on cities full of non combatants on a national holiday. Instead we looked at the conduct of the Americans in dealing with it, every report of heavy handedness, every possible picture that could possibly be used to attack America was brought up. No mention was made of the massacres which the communists perpetrated in which thousands were killed.

Even more entertaining was the constant left wing rants from many of my co-students. I have heard communism called many things in front of me, but a good system which helped all the people, that was a first. So I guess that Marx must have been rolling in his grave when the Soviet Union was formed, with Gulags (people need to go somewhere), with the God-Comrade Stalin (better a man who tries to be god than god), with the KGB (someone needs to keep the Proletariat and reactionaries in order) and with the mass starvation of the Poles and Ukrainians (they tried to be different) and all the other trappings of the Russian version of communism. He must have died again when China fell to God-Comrade Mao better than God-Comrade Stalin (he was a peasant), then died again when God Comrade Mao used peasants instead of Marx's beloved industrial workers (is that communism?), then once more when Mao then proceeded to starve millions, and Marx's beloved industrial workers and less than loved peasants (Stalin at least cared, he hoped). Which sadly the class did little to damp or in anyway impede in fact it encouraged it.

A measure of respect can be aimed at people who have read Marx and understand the finer principles of Communes and the like, even if they like a grievously flawed philosophy. There were too many flaws in the way the class was presented to list but that is one example. The teacher was exemplary. The scorn in this letter is directed solely at a curriculum that is so utterly biased it destroys the notion of history: A curriculum in which questions for essays in which the only answers could be biased (however hard I attempted to do otherwise), where evidence for the exam could have come from a whose who of left wing images and views of the Vietnam War, where choices were coaxed to fit a narrow biased view that a bunch of left wing ideologues intent on ruining the world under the weight of their "good" intentions want the entire world to meet.


Controversial mufti Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilali was today urged to "keep his mouth shut" as Muslim groups distanced themselves from his latest shocking comments. NSW Community Relations Commission (CRC) chairman Stepan Kerkyasharian branded the mufti's outburst outrageous, though Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said nobody took the sheik seriously any more.

Sheik Hilali said in an interview on Egyptian television that Australian Muslims were more entitled to be in the country than those with a convict heritage He attacked Western values and said: "The Western people are the biggest liars and oppressors and especially the English race."

Kuranda Seyit, executive director of the Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations (FAIR), today said the comments were the sheik's extreme personal opinions and did not represent the views of the majority of the Muslim community. "I would like to reiterate to all Australians, including our people of Anglo-Saxon heritage, that there is no substance to the idea that Muslims have more of a right to Australia than the early settlers," he said. "We are all Australian and we should all respect and support one another as Australians." Mr Seyit said he was saddened the mufti had made more divisive comments and suggested the Lebanese community consider "sending him out to an early pasture". "We are all just shell-shocked. Muslims just want to get along and be a part of the nation, not as outsiders whom others only see with disdain," he said.

The president of the Muslim Women's National Network of Australia, Aziza Abdel Halim also voiced her disapproval. "Unfortunately, the sheik does not understand Australia's history as many of the early Australians were good and loyal nation-builders," Ms Halim said.

Mr Kerkyasharian said: "To go overseas and say there is no freedom for Muslims in Australia is absolutely outrageous and I'm sure that the vast majority of Muslims in Australia do not agree with him. "They would rather have him shut his mouth and not say any of these things." Speaking on Macquarie radio, Mr Kerkyasharian urged the Muslim community to consider whether the controversial cleric was the right man to lead them. "We (the CRC) have got a position of saying we accept the community as they are, but they (the Muslim community) really have to think about it. "(Sheik Hilali) is a man who purports to be the leader of the Muslim community and he is doing the community a gross injustice. "It's about time we all united together and said to this guy: 'Enough is enough, keep your mouth shut and sit back in your chair'."

Islamic Friendship Association president Keysar Trad, a close friend of the mufti, said some of the cleric's comments were "ill-advised". But Mr Downer brushed off the mufti's remarks this morning. "I don't think people are really taking him terribly seriously any more, this sort of nonsense about convicts and so on," he said on ABC radio. "Look, I'm a South Australian. South Australia was never a convict colony, so, you know, I'm very relaxed about what people say about convicts."

The cleric has been under pressure to step down since he sparked outrage with his comments in a sermon in Sydney in September, at that time likening immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat and suggesting they invited sexual assault


Victorian police force is corrupt: ex-judge

VICTORIA'S police force is riddled with "deep-seated and continuing corruption" that will only be flushed out by a powerful and wide-ranging royal commission. Don Stewart, one of the nation's most respected judicial figures, says Victoria Police and the Bracks Labor Government oppose a royal commission because they do not want the extent of corruption within the force made public. "They know that it would reveal what they don't want revealed," says the former Supreme Court judge and founding head of Australia's first national crime agency.

Dismissing arguments that dirty police are already being driven out of the force through the courts, he says the recent convictions of senior Victorian officers on corruption charges are "the tip of the iceberg". "The arrest of some corrupt police only proves that corruption is deep-seated and continuing," Mr Stewart says in a book to be published in March.

The Australian revealed on Monday that the Office of Police Integrity - an offshoot of the Ombudsman's office - was launching an investigation into possible links between corrupt police and organised crime, including allegations that corrupt officers had protected underworld figures.

Mr Stewart - who conducted three royal commissions, including one into drug trafficking that led to the establishment of the National Crime Authority, which he then headed from 1984-89 - said cleansing Victoria Police was a "herculean" task. "Only a wide-ranging royal commission will do it," he told The Australian. His criticisms are expected to reignite debate about whether the Victorian Government has done enough to tackle police corruption. The state Government rejected growing pressure for a royal commission in 2004, opting instead to set up the Office of Police Integrity, which it claimed would be a de facto standing royal commission. The OPI has since been criticised for failing to do enough to tackle corruption.

Mr Stewart is one of the most senior legal figures in Australia to warn that Victoria has failed to address police corruption. In 2005, former royal commissioner and former ASIO head Edward Woodward said corruption in the state was at its highest level ever. In his book Recollections of an Unreasonable Man: From the Beat to the Bench, to be published by ABC Books, Mr Stewart, 78, challenges public claims by Victoria's Chief Police Commissioner, Christine Nixon, and the state Government that recent corruption trials were proof that "the Victorian police are upright, honest and true". "I take the opposite view," he says. "Why the Victoria Police don't want, and the Victorian Government will not have, an independent wide-ranging judicial inquiry into police corruption, such as was had in Queensland and NSW, is obvious. They know that it would reveal what they don't want revealed." Mr Stewart says that, while head of the NCA, he met opposition from many members of Victoria Police, whom he describes as "bad as any". He says he had to terminate the secondments to the NCA of a number of state-based police because of concerns over their conduct.

The Victorian Government, Victoria Police and OPI all last night rejected Mr Stewart's call for a royal commission. A government spokesman said the OPI was independent and had the powers of a royal commission. "Over 100 charges have been laid against former and serving members, resulting from work undertaken by the OPI and Victoria Police Ethical Standards Department," the spokesman said. A Victoria Police spokesman said: "Justice Stewart is entitled to his opinion, however, Victoria Police has a proven track record in not only identifying corruption but also successfully investigating and prosecuting corrupt officers."

An OPI spokesman said the debate about whether Victoria needed a royal commission into police corruption had "moved on". The OPI had a range of powers, including coercive powers to force witnesses to answer questions, telephone tapping powers and the ability to hold public or private hearings. But unlike a short-lived royal commission, it was an ongoing body, the spokesman said.

Victoria Police was criticised by one of its own corruption investigators in October for failing to investigate adequately up to 24 allegedly corrupt officers in the force. Mr Stewart declined to comment on the effectiveness of the OPI, but held up the NSW Police Integrity Commission as an "excellent model" for fighting police corruption.


More police corruption in NSW -- and still little prospect of reform

It comes as no surprise that an independent report has found that “serial sexual harassers” in NSW Police have been allowed to continue their activities under a “culture of protection”. The reality is that NSW Police has been repeatedly it has a problem with sexual harassment, yet has failed to fix the problem. Will it be any different this time around? If history is anything to go on, no it won’t.

The report by sexual discrimination law expert Christine Ronalds, SC, handed over yesterday says serial harassers had previously escaped punishment in the force. “Failure to act on information related to sexual harassment and known harassers occurs too often, with a range of excuses offered to protect the harasser. As a consequence, the harasser is not stopped,” it says. And Ms Ronalds told reporters: “There has been a culture of police officers protecting other police officers. That culture needs to change so that those who are the harassers are not being protected and the victims are the ones who are provided the protection and a safe working environment.”

Now let’s turn back the clock:

1988: A survey of female police officers in NSW finds that all 168 respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment. Only nine per cent said they had reported it.

1995: A survey of 1,500 NSW female police officers finds 80% had experienced `uninvited teasing, jokes, remarks or questions of sexual nature’; 64% had `received or been shown offensive or pornographic literature’; 60% had been the victim of `uninvited sexually suggestive looks or gestures’; 56% had been the victim of `uninvited and deliberate touching, stroking or pinching’; and 48% had been the victim of `uninvited pressure for dates’. Only 17 per cent reported what had happened.

1996: Then NSW Assistant Commissioner (now Victorian Chief Commissioner) Christine Nixon tells a conference on women in the police that she is startled by the level of sexual harassment in police forces and says mechanisms needed to be found to deal with the problem.

2002: A inquiry into sexual misconduct at the NSW Police College at Goulburn finds 23 officers had sex with current or former students. Misconduct included having sex while on duty, providing a favoured student with exam questions and demanding a sexual favour in return for passing a student.

2005: NSW Police Superintendent Mark Szalajko tells a policing conference: “Sex discrimination and sexual harassment are significant issues for the NSWP. Policies implemented by the NSWP will have had little impact on the frequency of incidents of sex discrimination and sexual harassment.” He says one of the reasons for not reporting sexual harassment was the “code of silence” culture within the force.

2006: The NSW Ombudsman releases a report showing there had been 18 complaints of sexual misconduct since 2003 at the NSW Police Academy. The report revealed entrenched attitudes within the force and cast doubts on its preparedness to take sexual misconduct seriously, saying action against offending officers “in many cases has been too little, too late”.

That last report prompted Chief Commissioner Ken Moroney to appoint Ms Ronalds to investigate further. Her report makes 79 recommendations, which Commissioner Moroney says will be considered. It’s something we’ve heard before.

You can read the full Ronalds report here as a PDF.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Shockingly low level of literacy in West Australian students

About one in five students who completed Year 7 in Western Australia last year are functionally illiterate, failing to meet minimum national standards in reading, writing and spelling, and performing well below the national average. But two years ago when the same group of students were in Year 5, they recorded one of the nation's highest performances in literacy tests, with more than 90per cent reaching the minimum standard.

The 2006 results of the West Australian Literary and Numeracy Assessment released late last year show almost 84 per cent of Year 7 students met national reading standards while about 85 per cent met writing standards and 84 per cent met numeracy benchmarks. By comparison, 92 per cent of the same students in Year 5 met reading standards for that level of school, with 87 per cent meeting the Year 5 writing standard and the numeracy standard. Nationally, 91 per cent of Year7 students in 2004, the latest available figures, met the reading benchmark while among Year 5 students nationally, almost 89 per cent met the reading standard. When last year's group of West Australian Year 7 students were in Year 5 almost 94 per cent met the reading benchmark, a national report says.

The head of the federal Government's literacy review, Ken Rowe, said part of the problem had been the poor teaching of reading in previous years, with inadequate teacher training compounded by the whole language method, which relied on children recognising words rather than sounding them out. Dr Rowe, from the Australian Council for Educational Research, and the University of Western Australia's Bill Louden, who have just completed a literacy and numeracy review for the state Government, said a flattening of results was expected between Years 5 and 7, reflecting the onset of adolescence and the more demanding standards.

But national reports show some states report a rise in student performance, compared to when the same students were in Year 5. The national benchmarks adopted by all states and territories define the levels of literacy and numeracy a student needs to make sufficient progress at school. The reading standard for Year7 says students should be able to identify the main purpose and idea of a text and make connections between the ideas and information. The examples given include labelling a step in a flowchart, identifying the meaning of an unknown word and interpreting a simple simile such as "spaghetti ends dribbled from his mouth like wet mop ends".

The acting executive director of curriculum standards in the West Australia Education Department, Chris Cook, said the literacy and numeracy trends remained stable over time, indicating student performance had not significantly changed. "To achieve the Year 7 benchmark in reading, students are expected to apply sophisticated interpretation and comprehension skills to dense and complex texts that take into account the reading ability required in secondary school. This is significantly more demanding for students than the standard expected in Year 5," she said.

Professor Louden said the state's results had remained stable over the past few years. "My first hypothesis if there's a drop-off in the score is that the benchmark has changed or the items around the benchmark were a bit harder."


Unfortunate victims of fashion: If you can read this, don't thank outcomes-based education

One need not have a doctorate in education to understand that if one stops penalising students for spelling and grammar mistakes in English classes, and instead allows them to treat a promotional movie poster as a "text" equivalent to a book published between proper covers, academic standards will inevitably decline. Or to grasp that an overweening emphasis on largely disproven student-centred teaching methods such as constructivism might not be good for teaching students the fundamentals. Or to think there might be something wrong when teacher training colleges spend just 10 per cent of their time teaching how to teach. Yet in falling for precisely these fallacies, the educational establishment of Western Australia - and indeed state governments across the country - have allowed young people to make it to Year 7 and beyond while remaining functionally illiterate.

The verdict is in on Western Australia's great experiment in throwing over musty old teaching methods in favour of the trendiness that is outcomes-based education, and the results are not pretty. According to figures from the state's Department of Education, just 80 per cent of Year 7 students meet the reading benchmarks, or base standards. The numbers also show this same cohort of students has gone backwards since being tested two years ago. And similarly poor results have been recorded in the field of numeracy.

While it is easy to snicker at the outrages of Western Australia's curriculum boffins, it must never be forgotten that ultimately lives and careers are at stake. The one in five Year 7 students found to be functionally illiterate will, if corrective measures are not taken quickly, help form a low-skilled underclass with few employment prospects - all due to an educational fad. Nor is this a problem solely confined to Western Australia. Urgent remedial reading programs are required to try to catch those students left behind by fads and trends. And education ministries across the country need to abandon the faddism that threatens to create a permanent underclass at a time when Australia is in urgent need of skilled workers.



No doubt he wants to ban coffee too. That's FULL of the evil caffeine and lots of people drink it with that ghastly, fattening MILK and SUGAR!

Governments have been urged to consider banning the sale of caffeinated soft drinks to children following Australian research showing caffeine only increases addictiveness. A Melbourne study, published in the most recent issue of international research journal Appetite found caffeine added to cola-based drinks did not enhance flavour, but did increase their addictiveness, adding to childhood obesity problems. Study co-author, Deakin University's Russell Keast yesterday said his findings were "absolutely conclusive" that people could not detect the caffeine flavour added to cola-based drinks. But he said children might find themselves becoming addicted to the caffeine, without realising it. "It's a problem for children," he said. "We're talking about children, who don't have the cognitive ability to understand why they're getting more irritable, more moody."

Dr Keast said there was a "very strong cause and effect" between soft drink consumption and obesity, with previous research showing a person's chance of obesity rose 60 per cent with each extra can of soft drink they consumed. "Soft drinks have been linked to childhood obesity and caffeine has been linked to increased consumption," he said. "So I think overall that the picture is while caffeine adds no flavour activity to these soft drinks, it is potentially an issue the government perhaps should look at regulating, certainly in schools, to see if maybe caffeinated soft drinks and maybe soft drinks overall shouldn't be marketed to school children."

Dr Keast said banning the drinks' sale to children under the age of 18, in the same way alcohol was banned, could be one approach for governments to explore. "I think if that's a regulatory approach, that sort of thing should maybe be considered. I don't know what the best options are, how you would go about such things." Dr Keast last week emailed his report to federal Health Minister Tony Abbott and Victorian Health Minister Bronwyn Pike.

Mr Abbott last year slammed soft drinks as being "very, very harmful" for children except as an occasional treat, but stopped short of promising tougher laws.

Dr Keast said yesterday that research into the effects of caffeinated soft drinks would continue, with funding being sought to do similar studies in Thailand, where childhood obesity was also a growing problem. The six-month Melbourne study, conducted jointly with Lynnette Riddell, repeatedly tested 30 people aged in their 20s to see if they could detect the caffeine flavour in cola-based drinks.


Is Christianity the new socialism for Australia's new federal Leftist Leader Kevin Rudd ?

An interesting but rather confused comment by a former State Leftist leader below. He wisely does not tackle theology or specific policies so that leaves rather vague what he is driving at. He mainly shows how conservative Australia's mainstream Left has become

Kevin Rudd's unequivocal statement that he isn't and has never been a socialist seems to have raised little or no interest in Labor circles. Once upon a time, declarations of support for socialism were common among Labor leaders. It didn't mean they were committed to the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, but it did mean a rejection of the inequalities, inefficiencies and irrationalities of market capitalism and support for a strong public sector in a mixed and less commercialised economy.

The democratic Left defined itself by its historical and critical analysis of market capitalism, its support for the mixed economy and its embrace of the values associated with Enlightenment liberalism, most notably freedom and equality. Labor politicians supportive of this package of values, analysis and policy were quite happy to call themselves democratic socialists. In the context of the great battles of the 20th century, between capitalism and socialism and between democracy and tyranny, democratic socialists played a crucial role in winning the working class to democratic politics by offering hope for a better world than that which had created two world wars and the Depression.

By the turn of the century, the world had changed significantly, and with it the language and politics of the democratic Left. The downfall of communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was not just a defeat of an authoritarian and statist version of socialism, it was a win for capitalism and the market as a system as well as a set of values. Market capitalism came to be viewed as a force for good with the new Centre-Left's claim to legitimacy being its greater ability to manage such a system in the era of globalisation. Belief in the market was seen not just as a way of allocating resources but as a tool for regenerating the public sector. Indeed, it was often Centre-Left governments that pushed liberal economic reform and market-based public sector reform the hardest.

Capitalism was successful for so many that talk of its inefficiency or irrationality meant little to the average voter. The prospect of self-advancement also neutralised the political impact of growing inequality in wealth. Indeed, the focus of policy proposals for equality shifted as the women's movement, campaigns for gay and lesbian rights and support for multiculturalism and indigenous claims gathered strength. In this context, Labor's talk of socialism was clearly out of place and inappropriate, even as a weapon of critique. What had been a faith in an alternative way of imagining human society, albeit applied in the democratic world of negotiation and compromise, became an ideology whose use-by date had long passed.

With the critical analysis of capitalism gone and the policy proposals associated with it discredited, all that was left from the past were the values of liberty and equality. What had been a means to an end (democratic politics) became an end in itself. A shift in self-description followed, with labels such as New Labour and the Third Way used in the battle against the traditional enemies on the Left and the Right.

There was a price to be paid for this embrace of managerialism. Some of the territory once occupied by the democratic Left was taken up by the populist Right and the green Left with their critical account of global capitalism and its implications for the people and the environment. However, although these developments complicated the task, Centre-Left parties were still able to mobilise election-winning majorities or at least sufficient votes to be the main players in coalition governments in many parts of the democratic world. This was particularly so when they embraced the social dimension of human existence and attached support for the community to their commitment to liberty and equality.

Consequently, it is not capitalism that Rudd attacks today but "market fundamentalism", and inasmuch as he seeks a defining principle for his politics, he turns to his Christian faith rather than socialism. This is a good illustration of the fact that religions are no longer wrapped up and disposed of solely as private concerns. Rather, they are accepted as topics for serious dialogue on all sides of the political spectrum. However, the question remains: can the social gospels replace socialism as the "light on the hill" for Labor politicians?

Inasmuch as I know anything about their content, they are truly radical in what they expect of an individual and what they dream of for society. Rudd is right to see Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an outstanding representative of this radical and worldly Christianity. In fact, many scholars go further and, while saying it is a mistake to link Christianity to a party political agenda, point to a socialist ethic as inherent within the Christian traditions of theory and practice.

Has Rudd finished up with a position that he disavowed as a starting point for his politics? Perhaps he has in mind the conclusion that theologian Karl Barth reached about the role of the church: "It may have to speak very conservatively today and very progressively or even very revolutionarily tomorrow, or vice versa. It cannot have a program because it has a living master whom it has to serve in the most varied circumstances and situations."

We might conclude then that Rudd has kept alive the Christian concept of hope but not tied it down to a democratic socialist analysis and reform agenda that was a product of 20th-century realities. Of course, hope has always had a battle on its hands in a world of less than perfect, some would say sinful, human beings. The potent mixture of social science and social activism that characterised 20th century democratic socialism showed the way. What Labor needs is not so much the language of socialism in either its secular or religious form but a crisp analysis of global capitalism, Australia's position, and what has to be done to meet the challenges of social dysfunction, global warming and international anarchy. As Nye Bevan put it in a speech to the British Labour Party in Blackpool in 1949: "The language of priorities is the religion of socialism."


Thursday, January 11, 2007


Or the Japanese diet, for that matter? Countries that seem especially healthy in one way or another often have their characteristic diet promoted as the secret to a long life. On the figures below, I expect the Australian diet will now be similarly promoted -- a diet heavy in big Macs, KFC, chips (French fries), fried food generally, Coca cola and everything that the food faddists deplore. When will the world discover the health-giving wonders of fat-heavy meat pies and Vegemite sandwiches -- to say nothing of Lamingtons and Iced VoVos? Pardon me while I duck out for a nice sausage roll -- encased in flaky pastry that's greasy with fat! You can get them anywhere in Australia

Figures recently released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that Australians are among the longest-living people in the world, with an average lifespan of 78.5 years for males and 83.3 years for females born "Down Under."

But the figures drop by around 17 years for indigenous Australians, whose average life expectancy in 2001 was 59.4 years for males and 64.8 for females. Several factors, including poverty, discrimination, substance abuse [including pervasive alcohol abuse] and poor access to health, are believed to affect the lifespan of these original Australians.

For the rest of the nation, the capital Canberra -- often derided as boring and soulless -- is statistically the best place to sustain a long life. The lakeside city's 325,000 people enjoy the longest average lifespan, with women living to 84 years and most men to 79.9. Built to resolve a bitter 1908 dispute between Sydney and Melbourne over which should be capital, modern Canberra has the wealthiest and best-educated population in Australia. The city's unemployment rate hovers at barely 2.8 percent, while weekly wages are well above the Australian average at A$1,208 (US$941), backed by a booming information technology industry and government salaries.

At the other end of the scale is the sparsely populated outback Northern Territory, cinematic home to "Crocodile Dundee." The territory accounts for only 1 percent of Australia's 20 million population. Men there live to 72.5 years on average, while women live to 78.2. More than a quarter of the population are aboriginal Australians, who often live on remote communities with poor access to jobs, health and education services and have one of the lowest life expectancies.

Australia's nationwide average life expectancy for males is exceeded only by Iceland and Hong Kong while the female life expectancy is exceeded by Japan and Hong Kong.



Joe Hockey, the federal Minister for Human Resources and the Minister Assisting the Minister for Workplace Relations, says below that the Labor Party's latest attacks on the federal Government's Work Choices reforms ignore the real story in the greater Australian workplace

In recent months, the Howard Government's critics have changed the angle of attack when it comes to workplace relations. No longer able to deny that the vast majority of Australians are better off following a decade of workplace deregulation, the Labor Party and others now accuse the Government of turning its back on families.

Labor's new case is built around the false assumptions that the Work Choices reforms offer no protections and that an individual worker is incapable of negotiating an agreement that improves their circumstances. Work Choices, as academic David McKnight claimed in these pages last week, could mean difficulties for those juggling work and family responsibilities.

McKnight's stance highlights how the debate has shifted. The original charges against Work Choices were simple: the reforms would bring about mass sackings and a wages race to the bottom. But 10 months of bumper employment growth - 200,000 jobs have been created and 80 per cent of those are full-time positions - and higher real wages exposed those charges as little more than base scare-mongering.

Claiming Work Choices is anti-family is another populist angle, but does it stack up? Just like reams of industrial regulation didn't stop unemployment hitting double digits when federal Labor was last in power, it seems dubious to claim more red tape will diminish working hours.

Indeed, recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows people spent less time at work in the first six months of Work Choices. Average weekly hours decreased by 0.7 when compared with the same six-month period of 2005. The long-term trend shows that the substantial growth in average weekly hours under the previous Labor government stabilised when the Coalition came to power and is now starting to enter negative territory.

The figures also underline the thousands of family-friendly agreements that have been struck across the country. I met a man who cut grass at a sugar mill in north Queensland. An inflexible award stipulated standard working hours but he signed an AWA that allowed him to start early and get home to pick up his kids from school. Or there was the Tamworth truck driver who was able to attend his daughter's school concert for the first time after signing a more flexible AWA. And then there were the Perth seafood processors in The Weekend Australian who were able to overcome the difficulties posed by a seasonal industry and negotiate AWAs that moved them from casual to permanent work.

This is a move I've witnessed hundreds of workers make in other parts of the country, where general industry awards cannot take into account the circumstances of every individual worker or their employer. A permanent job doesn't just mean greater certainty. It also means you can apply for a mortgage. Of course, there will always be bad employers - just as there will be bad employees - and the trade unions will do their best to blame every example of irresponsibility on Work Choices, regardless of the facts. Sadly the notion of balance is unlikely to feature prominently in the unions' campaigns this year.

Will the good work already done by the Office of Workplace Services to police rogue employers be recognised? Will reports of workers trading away penalty rates acknowledge the substantial wage rises that flow from these deals? Will the unions concede that Work Choices provides for choice, as the 70 per cent of workers who have chosen to negotiate collective agreements demonstrates? Will the protections enshrined by Work Choices, such as a 38-hour week, personal leave, four weeks' annual leave or parental leave, be given their due?

I doubt we will get an affirmative answer to any of those questions. Yet the notion of balance lies at the heart of this Government's workplace relations reforms. In his book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman talks about three eras of globalisation. The first began when Columbus set sail in 1492, lasted until 1800, and involved trade between nation states. The second era, according to Friedman, spanned the next 200 years and was driven by multinational companies propelled by falling transport and (later) telecommunications costs. And the third era is one where some individuals and small groups are able to collaborate on a global platform made possible by the convergence of the personal computer and high-speed internet.

This platform can mean many things, including allowing more people to work from home, facilitating multiple employers or helping more women enter the workforce. The way we work has changed. More flexibility is required. The platform allows people to balance work and family in a way that suits them.

Governments have a responsibility to create policy that responds to changes such as those described by Friedman. A rigid award-based system may have worked for traditional industries but we need to look at new policies that encompass new economy workplaces. If trade and entrepreneurialism are going to be increasingly driven by individuals, then we must have a workplace relations system that acknowledges this.

This is the part about Work Choices that our critics don't understand. Whether it is the product of self-interest or an outdated us v them mentality, Labor and unions don't think workers can be trusted to make that choice. Australians know a bad deal when they see one. If AWAs are so bad, then why have more than one million been signed? All the workers I met last year who chose to sign an AWA were pleased with their decision.

This Government has demonstrated its commitment to Australian families though a wide range of assistance and tax benefits. Work Choices is a system of flexibility balanced by a range of protections aimed at securing this country's future economic prosperity. It should not be viewed in isolation as Labor would like, but as one plank in a platform that strengthens that commitment. We believe that a strong economy, not endless workplace regulation, is the best way to guarantee a job. We believe in the power and capacity of the individual to choose what best suits them and their families. Australians make choices about so many things in their lives. Why should they be prevented from making decisions for themselves in the workplace?



Australian total job vacancies in the three months to November rose 5.9 per cent, seasonally adjusted, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Job vacancies rose 21.4 per cent over the year to November. Seasonally adjusted job vacancies totalled 163,700 in the three months to November compared with an upwardly revised 154,600 in the previous quarter.


Labor party now waters down its opposition to labour market deregulation

Labor would retain controversial Howard Government laws allowing the nation's 800,000 contractors to set their own deals with employers in a new push to recast itself as a friend of the aspirational class. The Opposition, which just weeks ago voted against the legislation, yesterday backed the intention of the laws to allow genuine independent contractors the flexibility to arrive at their own work arrangements. But Labor independent contractors spokesman Craig Emerson foreshadowed possible toughening of the laws to prevent "sham contractor arrangements" being forced on workers by unscrupulous bosses.

His comments, which were cautiously accepted by the ACTU, provide further signs that Labor under new leader Kevin Rudd will craft policies to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation while retaining the Government's emphasis on allowing greater workplace flexibility. Labor industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard said last week she would consider allowing high-income earners greater flexibility to trade off award conditions in exchange for higher pay in individual contracts.

Labor remains opposed to Australian Workplace Agreements private contracts and has vowed to rip up the Government's Work Choices laws if it wins office, but the comments by Dr Emerson and Ms Gillard, who is Deputy Opposition Leader, indicate a shift on less-vulnerable workers. The nation's independent contracting workforce is dominated by agriculture, forestry, fishing and construction workers, as well as truck-drivers, computer experts and professional service industry workers. The Productivity Commission estimates there are about 800,000 of these, but Independent Contractors of Australia claims the figure is closer to 1.9 million - or 20 per cent of the working population.

Parliament last month passed the Independent Contractors Act, exempting independent contractors from state industrial laws, with the exception of those working from home in the clothing and textiles sectors, and contract owner-drivers in NSW and Victoria. The bill was strongly opposed by the unions and Labor, which described it as a backdoor method of stripping workers' rights. The Government amended its original legislation to ban employers from dismissing workers and rehiring them as contractors.

But Dr Emerson said the amendments did not go far enough, revealing that Labor was considering the use of clearer definitions of contracting, similar to those used by the Australian Taxation Office. Dr Emerson said one of the ATO tests for an independent contractor, which Labor wanted to mirror, was that contractors derived no more than 80per cent of their income from one employer. He would investigate giving the courts guidance on a sham arrangement between an employer and a contractor, because he was concerned the Government might have deliberately left the definition vague. "Without being overly prescriptive, I would like to look at bolstering the common law definition by giving guidance to the courts on what constitutes a sham arrangement that might include the tax office definition of a sham arrangement," Dr Emerson said.

Labor's plans mirror those proposed by the Government's House of Representatives backbench committee, but ignored by the Government. "The legislation will allow the courts to see through sham arrangements," Dr Emerson said. "To support independent contractors, I'll also discuss with colleagues options for inexpensive legal remedies of complaints by contractors of unfair contracts being imposed on them."

Dr Emerson, Labor's small business spokesman, played down the role of unions in small business, further distancing the party's approach from the intervention sought by some unions. "It's too costly for unions to organise for so few members in a workplace. Unions have not sought from me special privileges in dealing with small business, and would not expect to get them," he said. Mr Rudd appointed Dr Emerson to the new portfolio to counter the Government's appeal to contractors.

While unions have opposed independent contracting, concerned it is a vehicle for undercutting industrial employee awards, ACTU president Sharan Burrow yesterday said she cautiously backed Labor's plans.

"We need to have detailed discussions clearly with Craig at this point, but we look forward to sitting down and discussing these issues in order to protect working people, whether they're dependent workers or they are genuinely independent contractors," she said. "If Craig is set to eliminate sham contracting arrangements, if he is about providing for genuine choice ... and there's a genuine reform of the legislation so there's an intersection with sound tax law then I think that's a good start."

John Howard dedicated a separate policy platform to contractors in the 2004 election campaign, which he said reflected "the ever increasing contribution that independent contractors make to our economy".

Hobart telecommunications engineer and independent contractor Scott Bailey-Stewart said protecting Australia's independent contractors was a smart and necessary move considering the country's skills crisis. Mr Bailey-Stewart, an independent contractor for the past 10 years, believes strong laws to support independent contractors are essential for the Australian labour market.

"Independent contracting is really a win-win situation for workers and companies," he said. "It's a flexible approach to the workforce and is essential considering we have a skills crisis in this country."

After working for Telecom (now Telstra), Austel and Hydro Tasmania, Mr Bailey-Stewart - a telecommunications engineer - quit to start up on his own as an independent contractor in 1997. "There's no way I could be an employee any more."


Labor makes its bid to win back ute-man

Sole contractors are doing all right, and Labor knows it

The ALP has finally admitted what happened to the legions of hard-working tradesmen and women who once formed the backbone of the party. They have struck out to become independent contractors and the aspirational heart of Middle Australia. Unfortunately for the ALP, they have become increasingly loyal to John Howard. This recognition is implicit in Craig Emerson's admission that Labor will retain the Coalition's new independent contractor laws. Dr Emerson's position represents a welcome change in thinking from the ALP, away from the class-war rhetoric that workers are the victims of capitalism rather than its beneficiaries.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd set the framework to recapture Labor's lost workers with the appointment of Dr Emerson as frontbench spokesman for the service economy, small business and independent contractors. Dr Emerson said the ALP acknowledged people's right to choose how they organised themselves in the workplace, whether it be through the trade union movement, as genuine independent contractors or in small business.

However, yesterday's concession on independent contractors was not without caveat. Labor has pledged to better define in law what constitutes a sham contract, designed to force workers to become independent contractors against their will. The Coalition has already recognised the need for safeguards in this area, including amendments to its original bill. The changes seek to avoid the misrepresentation of employment terms as an independent contracting arrangement. The Coalition amendments prohibit employers from forcing workers to become independent contractors by making false statements. There are also penalties for dismissing or threatening to dismiss a person for the sole or dominant purpose of engaging them as an independent contractor to perform substantially the same work.

Dr Emerson says these safeguards do not go far enough and require clarification. However, Labor has finally admitted that the shift in Australia's employment profile towards contract workers has not been a one-way street where evil bosses have foisted unwelcome new arrangements on their workers. In fact, while employers like the arrangements because they can reduce paperwork and associated on-costs, sole contractors overwhelmingly prefer the arrangements because they are more flexible, profitable and tax-effective.

Labor's pitch to recapture ute-man is to be applauded. The ACTU has offered muted support, subject to having detailed discussions with Dr Emerson on the issue. Ultimately, the devil will be in the detail. Small business must also be alert to Labor's plan to arm contractors with simplified legal remedies for allegedly unfair contracts. As the unfair dismissal laws have shown, legal remedies that are simple and easy to access for disgruntled and vexatious employees can be an overly expensive and productivity-sapping measure for small business owners. But adopting some of the definitions of sham contract arrangements already contained within the Taxation Act, as recommended by a government-majority House of Representatives report, appears reasonable. Dr Emerson's recognition of independent contractors acknowledges a system that is working well. It is hoped such thinking points the way to a broader reappraisal by Labor of its industrial relations approach, most notably the rollback of the Government's work choices legislation, which, like the independent contractor laws, is working well.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Canberra vetoes mosque

Islamic leaders are demanding an explanation from Foreign Minister Alexander Downer after plans for the Saudi Government to invest in the construction of an Adelaide mosque were vetoed by Canberra. The Foreign Minister revealed yesterday that the Government objected to a proposal for Saudi cash to be injected into development of the new mosque, which is believed to be located at Park Holme in Adelaide's southern suburbs.

Mr Downer said federal authorities had also been investigating broad concerns on funding sourced from the Middle East after concerns that mosques could become breeding grounds for extremists. "Obviously we don't want to see any extremist organisation penetrate into Australia," he said.

But Ali Vachor, secretary of the Islamic Society of South Australia, which manages the Park Holme mosque, told The Australian the decision had halted construction of the building. Mr Vachor said a "great portion" of funding for the development was being sourced from overseas and had not been approved. "What was required from the overseas party for them to send the money was permission from the Government, the concerned Government to sign a piece of paper," Mr Vachor said.

Construction was halted after the laying of a concrete slab and prayers are being conducted in a recreation room. Mr Vachor said yesterday the Islamic Society of South Australia would seek an urgent meeting with Mr Downer to determine the reasons behind the Government's decision. The mosque is the same holy place used by Iraqi Kurd Warya Kanie, who came to Australia as a refugee in 2003 and was granted citizenship two years later. Mr Vachor said Mr Kanie, being held by coalition forces in Iraq, regularly attended the Park Holme mosque. Mr Kanie, 39, told his family in Adelaide that he was going to look for a wife, but he allegedly told a friend that he was leaving Australia "to go on jihad". Mr Kanie was captured by coalition forces in Baghdad in mid-October. He has since been held as a security detainee for allegedly engaging in anti-coalition activities.

"There is a prima facie case apparently, according to the Iraqi authorities and coalition forces there," Mr Downer said. The Foreign Minister said the Government had discussed funding of mosques in Australia with the Saudi Government "in particular". He said: "This is of course a matter that goes back well before 9/11. "There has been concern internationally, not specifically to Australia, about some elements in Saudi Arabia which is the heartland of Wahibbism and Sufism ... trying to spread that particular extremist interpretation of Islam. "Historically the Saudi Arabian Government has provided funding (to overseas mosques), I'm not saying there's anything illegitimate about that ... but we can obviously express a view to the Saudi Arabian Government." Mr Downer said Mr Kanie and the Park Holme mosque's funding were "not related" to the best of his knowledge.



An ultra-radical Muslim group banned in many countries will promote support for an Islamic superstate in a seminar in Australia this month. Christian critics claim that the seminar, to be conducted by the group Hizb ut-Tahrir, will be a recruiting ground for extremists. Hizb ut-Tahrir believes that the caliphate - a part of the world under Muslim rule that, at its peak, ran from Spain to Iran and beyond - is about to be re-established.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and most Muslim countries in the Middle East because of alleged links to terrorism, including the bombers behind the 2005 London attacks. It is not banned in Australia but is controversial because it opposes democracy and Muslim integration, has tried to recruit young Muslims and ran a lecture last year titled "Israel is an illegal state that Muslims will never accept".

A promotional video for the January 27 Sydney conference on the internet site claims the world was "plunged into darkness" on March 3, 1924, the date when Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk ended the Ottoman caliphate. "The consequences were unimaginable: death, destruction, chaos, exploitation. After 80 years of the absence of the khilafate (caliphate) the Muslim world has awakened from its slumber, and the umma (the community of all the world's Muslims) is ready to resume its political destiny," the video says. "From the darkness will emerge a new light."

Some observers have expressed fears that the conference will be used to radicalise Muslims in Australia and recruit extremists. A spokesman for federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said group members would have to be careful about what they said at the conference and remember that Australia was a harmonious society.

Melbourne Anglican minister Mark Durie, author of a book comparing Islam and Christianity, said in a widely distributed email: "If we wake up in 10 years' time and wonder what went wrong, historians who are able to look back and analyse the rise of radical Islam in Australia will identify events such as this conference as part of the answer." Dr Durie said yesterday Hizb ut-Tahrir was a major world force for radical political Islam, with links to terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and had strategies for Australia. He said the purpose of the conference was to "inspire and mobilise Muslims to establish Islamic government in the medieval model of sharia law with no concession to other principles such as democracy or human rights". "They want to legitimise the caliphate as a political aspiration."

Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman Wassim Doureihi said the purpose was to highlight the reality of political struggle in the Muslim world and the obligations of Muslims in Australia to raise these issues, and to raise awareness of the caliphate. "The caliphate is a political reality. It's imminent. There is a burgeoning Islamic revival, and it's only a matter of time before the caliphate is a state," he said. Asked if he wanted sharia in Australia, Mr Doureihi said yes, by peaceful means. "Islam is universal. The caliphate would be a role model for the rest of the world." Mr Doureihi said Hizb ut-Tahrir sought to win hearts and minds but denied that the group in Australia was shadowy or extremist, saying non-Muslims were welcome at the conference. He said the conference was a forum to discuss concerns and misconceptions and there was nothing extremist about noting the Muslim world's plight or advocating peaceful change.



Queensland doctors say lives could be put at risk because hospital care throughout the state is being compromised by management problems. Patients in the north Queensland city of Townsville have this week been left with no public hospital staff to provide elective cardiac surgery, because three surgeons are on holiday and two registrars are on unspecified sick leave. All open-heart surgery at Townsville Hospital has been postponed and patients needing immediate surgery were being referred to Brisbane. A management meeting is being held at the hospital today to find a solution to the surgery problem.

The Townsville Bulletin reported the problem stemmed from a dispute between two doctors working at the hospital. But Australian Medical Association Queensland President Zelle Hodge said the situation was symptomatic of a wider problem. "We do know in other areas of care that there is a possibility that the service will be compromised because of the lack of ability to address some of the issues at a management level," Dr Hodge said. "All that happens is if you shut down one service you are putting extra demands on another service and we already know we have huge waiting lists throughout Queensland. "And in areas like cardiac surgery ... it compromises the ability of Queensland Health to offer good patient care."

She said she knew of at least two other regional hospitals, which she did not name, where there were ongoing management problems. "This is of grave concern because it just means that although we've had a lot of rhetoric from Queensland Health about their desire, at the upper echelons, to change the system our clinicians at the coalface are telling us they are not seeing the appropriate change," she said.


Global cooling hits Australia's hottest town

As the rest of Australia sweltered through its 11th-warmest year on record, one famously hot town set a new mark for its coldest year. Maximum temperatures in the northwest West Australian town of Marble Bar came inalmost 3C below average lastyear. In its world-beating heatwave, from October 31, 1923, to April 7, 1924, the maximum temperature never dropped below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8C). That record still stands. But last year, Marble Bar recorded an average maximum of 32.5C, well below its long-term annual norm of 35.3C.

The mining town made its mark while the rest of the country recorded an average temperature 0.47C above the 1961-1990 norm. Marble Bar's previous coolest year, in 92 years of records, was 1978 (33.5C). Perth meteorologist Glenn Cook said clouds, rain and cyclones in Marble Bar's hottest months had kept a lid on temperatures. Mr Cook said the town received falls of about 50mm in September, 30mm in October, 15mm in November and 10mm last month, a period when it normally had a total of 10mm. It registered 448mm in the rain gauge last year, well above the normal annual total of 311mm.

Len Lever, a Marble Bar resident for 37 years, said last winter felt cooler but summer was as hot as usual. Mr Lever, 69, said ex-cyclone Isobel brought only 3mm of rain. "It's nice now. It's cooled the country down for a while."


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A whitewash of black crime and racism

The most disturbing element in the murder of 17-year-old Andrew Farrugia in Griffith during the early hours of 2007 was the inevitability that someone like Farrugia was going to be killed by members of the feral underclass that exists in many rural towns with large Aboriginal populations. Andrew Farrugia died for one reason only. He was white. This is the defining reality of his murder. It is the most important single fact in this tragedy. Whatever the outcome of any trial, there are ample witnesses who have told police that this not only appeared to be an unprovoked attack but a case of black on white violence.

After Farrugia had been beaten senseless, one of the youths who had attacked him allegedly turned to onlookers and boasted: "This is how we roll in this town." Who exactly is "we"? Right from the start, the police and media reports of this crime smelled of censorship. It took just two phone calls to Griffith to discover what was being left out: the perpetrators were young Aborigines who had been cruising for a brawl, and it was a common occurrence.

This was nowhere to be found in news reports for days. Finally, after two accused appeared in court charged with killing Farrugia, a paragraph was inserted into the bottom of one news story, not in this newspaper, that the two 15-year-olds arrested "had strong ties to the local Aboriginal community". Thus, their lawyers argued, they should be allowed bail. Bail was refused because it also emerged during this court appearance that one of the accused had a criminal record.

The long initial silence about this case raises several wider issues. Go to the news section of the NSW Police website and you will find an informational G-string: it provides the bare minimum. For example, another murder took place over the weekend when Sione Matevesi, 22, who had a job and a stable life, was stabbed and murdered early on Saturday by a group of drunks. Who are the police looking for? This is the information provided by the NSW Police website: "Police are looking for a group of men described as wearing dark clothing."

Oh, that is extremely useful. The NSW Police Media Unit is a paradigm of drip-feed information, a policy that comes down from the top. It is part of a much broader and more serious problem, the whitewashing of the official depiction of the realities of criminal life in Australia.

This begins with the piccaninny complex that dominates the welfare bureaucracy, education system, court system, university system and the ABC. The piccaninny complex is one of the reasons we've thrown a generation of young Aborigines into the gutter, including a generation of zombies - the living dead in rural and remote Australia of petrol-sniffing children, disproportionately under the primary care of drunks. As one of Australia's most prominent anthropologists, Peter Sutton, wrote in Anthropological Forum back in 2001: "The contrast between the progressive public rhetoric about empowerment and self-determination and the raw evidence of a disastrous failure in major aspects of Australian Aboriginal affairs policy since the early 1970s is frightening."

Nothing has changed. We've known for years there is endemic child abuse within many remote and rural Aboriginal communities, yet had the absurdity of the "shock revelation" last year that child abuse is rampant in many Aboriginal communities. This was fully seven years after publication of the Robertson report into domestic violence in indigenous communities in Queensland, chaired by Boni Robertson, an Aboriginal academic. The report found:

"Violence is now overt; murders, bashings and rapes, including sexual violence against children, have reached epidemic proportions. "A majority of the informants believed that the rise of violence in Aboriginal communities can be attributed to the so-called 'Aboriginal industry' in which both indigenous and non-indigenous agencies have failed in many ways to deliver critical services. "The taskforce believes the number of violent offences is much higher than the officially recorded data. Taskforce researchers heard many stories about crimes that women did not report for fear of reprisals from the perpetrator, his kinfolk or the justice system. "The harsh reality is that many families are now trapped in environments where deviance and atrocities have become accepted as normal behaviour and as such form an integral part of the children's socialisation."

For years, white ideological activists and Aboriginal racists within the welfare system have been accessories to domestic crime and rampant child abuse. They have actively covered up the problem, rationalising and protecting perpetrators, and perjured themselves in court.

Soon after the Robertson report was released, Dr Stephanie Jarrett told a symposium into domestic violence in Aboriginal communities: "Lawyers use cultural rights to reduce penalties for domestic violence. "Cultural rights carry the risk of placing Aboriginal victims of domestic violence outside the scope of state intervention," she said. "Where does this leave Aboriginal women? Domestic violence is the major source of Australia's internal refugees." Jarrett's PhD thesis was based on a study of a culture of violence inside one Aboriginal community, part of a much wider pathology of violence which immemorially predated the arrival of Europeans.

Our society has to start treating Aborigines as human beings, not mendicants and piccaninnies who either exist within a feudal communal land system our legal system has invented for them, and/or in a culture of excuse, welfarism, denialism and double standards that guarantees both economic stagnation and cultural (as distinct from racial) extinction. All accompanied by a deadly silence.

Andrew Farrugia was killed by racists. The time for whitewashing, blame-shifting and rationalising racism in any form is over.


"Work for the dole" is working

Nearly 1600 single mothers forced to look for part-time jobs under the Howard Government's welfare-to-work policy have found employment. Figures show that the Government forced 3724 parents off single parent benefit and on to the dole between July 1 and December 8 last year, telling them to find part-time work. Of those, the Government boasts that 1580 people, mainly women, found jobs, typically in sectors such as retail, financial services, hospitality and community services. Under welfare-to-work reforms, single parents will go on the dole and be forced to look for work when their youngest child turns eight. At September last year there were 423,000 sole parents on the parenting payment.

News of the reforms, introduced in last year's budget, sparked anger from the welfare sector, which described the changes as unfair. The employment rate for sole parents with dependant children rose by 3 per cent to a record high of 52.3 per cent in June last year, well above the 42.8 per cent recorded in June 1996. Employment Minister Kevin Andrews said the Government's privatised employment agencies, Job Network, had increased placements for single parents overall from 13,300 in September 2004 to 40,300 in September last year. He said the proportion of single parents on the pension reporting that they had worked at least once in the financial year had increased from just over 40 per cent in 2003-04 to nearly 50 per cent in 2005-06, Mr Andrews said. "It is clear that recent strong labour market conditions are providing numerous opportunities to help more sole parents with dependent children to move into paid work," he said.

Under rules announced in May last year, single mothers have to accept a job that leaves them just $25 a week better off than they would have been on welfare. At the time, Mr Andrews said that a job would be considered financially suitable if the parent was at least $50 a fortnight better off after taking into account the costs associated with working, including childcare. John Howard had been forced into an embarrassing backflip promising that single parents who refused a job because they could not find appropriate childcare would not lose welfare payments. In a statement, he said: "If no suitable childcare is available, or the cost of care would result in a very low or negative financial gain from working, the parent will not be required to accept the job." Labor workforce participation spokeswoman Penny Wong said with parents expected to work 15 hours a week, that meant an hourly rate of $1.66


Nuclear family makes a return

Economic prosperity and record low unemployment rates have reversed the decades-long growth in single-parent families. New figures reveal that Australia's economic boom has strengthened the traditional family unit, achieving a chief aim of the Howard Government. The Government last night attributed the change to its strong economic and family policies, while the Opposition said there was still much to do to make Australia truly family-friendly.

Demographer Bob Birrell, who produced the data, said it showed women found employed men more attractive than men on the dole. Dr Birrell's analysis, based on ABS Labour Force Survey data, reveals the percentage of families with children under the age of 15 headed by a sole parent - either male or female - declined from 22.9 per cent in 2001-02 to 21.5 per cent in 2005-06.

For at least the past two decades the number of families with children under 15 headed by sole parents increased to the point where "we were getting nearly one in every four headed by a sole parent," said Dr Birrell, director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University. "It shows that there have been some very favourable consequences from the strength of the economy, particularly over the past five to six years."

A spokesman for Family and Community Services Minister Mal Brough said the Government had put in place a number of family-friendly policies and maintained a strong economy to help families financially to support their choices. "Having said that, we also appreciate that many single parents find themselves in that situation for reasons outside their control," he said. "Clearly, creating more jobs, as the Howard Government has done, is important for the providers in all family structures."

Labor Treasury spokesman Wayne Swan said the decline in single-parent households should be lauded. But he said: "Australia has a long way to go in making our workplaces and the services governments supply as family-friendly as possible."

There were about 500,000 single-parent families in Australia in 2005-06. Dr Birrell and Genevieve Heard - a researcher with the Centre for Population and Urban Research - argue that the new trend reflects the strength of the economy. "That share (of single-parent families) has now fallen a little, and that is very important in Australia because it gives some hope to diminishing one of the major sources of disadvantage in our society, which is the difficulty these kids in sole-parent families face in competing for education and jobs."

New figures also reveal that for males aged 25-34 who were employed full-time in 2005-06, 61.6 per cent had a wife or a partner, whereas for males who were unemployed in the same age group only 33.6 per cent had a partner. "The strength of the Australian economy has a lot to do with this," he said. "A major factor in determining partnering is the economic situation of men. The higher the levels of employment the better particular men are at being able to take on partnering responsibilities. "More men are able to take on family responsibilities, and women are more likely to see a man who is full-time employed as a better prospect than one that is not in the workforce or who is part-time or unemployed."


Global warming still a fear, not a fact

After more than 200 years, you would think that non-Aboriginal Australians would be used to the fact that the continent experiences great variability in its climate, oscillating between years of too much rain and years of too little. Yet each time we have one of these naturally occurring events, there have been calls for something to be done about the weather. And there have always been people prepared to make alarming predictions and offer simplistic solutions to phenomena that are still not completely understood by meteorologists and climatologists.

On the banks of the Warrego River in the western Queensland town of Charleville, there is a monument to this recurring foolishness. In an attempt to break the prolonged drought that began in the mid-1890s, the self-promoting Queensland meteorologist, Clement Wragge, used six funnel-like devices to fire shots of gunpowder into clouds to make them release their moisture. The experiment was an embarrassing failure. Two of the devices exploded and the remainder failed to produce any rain. It helped end Wragge's official career, although it did not end his career as a paid spruiker to credulous audiences wanting certainty from their climate.

Now, of course, every flood, drought or cyclone is seen through the prism of the continuing debate about global warming. And there are those prepared to play on people's fears with exaggerated and simplistic claims that demean the debate and the depth of scientific inquiry that is being conducted on the issue. Tim Flannery's article in Tuesday's Age provided a good example of this. To take just one point, it is nonsense to suggest, as Flannery did, that the present drought is the worst in 1000 years.

Whenever someone claims that a weather event is the worst since records began, it is important to remember that reliable climate records only go back for a century at best. And even after the establishment of the Bureau of Meteorology in 1908, the records remained very patchy, and periodically became even more so when cost-cutting governments forced the bureau to restrict its record-gathering activities. With a relatively brief climate record, it does not take much for a drought to be portrayed as the worst on record, or for a temperature to be described as the highest on record.

Even so, the evidence does not suggest that the present drought is even the worst in 100 years, let alone the worst in 1000 years. Moreover, even a bad drought will have less effect on Australians today than droughts have had in the past, when the economy was much more dependent on the farming sector and farmers were less able to ameliorate the effects of drought. Present projections suggest that the present drought will cause less than a 1 per cent decrease in Australia's GDP, whereas droughts in the 19th and early 20th centuries almost invariably triggered an economic depression as farm incomes collapsed.

After making his alarmist claim about the drought being the worst in 1000 years, Flannery leaps from one insupportable conclusion to another, with his claim that this supposedly "extraordinary drought" is a "manifestation of the global fingerprint of drought caused by climate change", and his implication that Australians need to prepare for a state of permanent drought. In fact, Australians would do better to prepare for the floods that will almost certainly follow this drought as they have done in the past.

As for the "global fingerprint of drought", whatever that means, droughts in Australia have often occurred in tandem with droughts elsewhere in the world. A century ago, such simultaneous drought events were blamed by Clement Wragge on the "inevitability of cosmic law", although meteorologists nowadays are more likely to ascribe the cause to cyclical changes in ocean temperatures.

Despite Flannery's claim to base his alarmist arguments on science and common sense, few scientists working in the field of weather and climate would be as definite as Flannery in predicting our future climate. It was only a few years ago that meteorologists were unwilling to predict the weather more than a day or two ahead. Although they now routinely make forecasts for a week ahead, the public are sensible enough to realise that the longer the prediction the less reliable it is likely to be. Similarly with seasonal forecasts, which the Bureau of Meteorology now issues despite them enjoying limited predictive ability. You certainly would not want to bet your farm on them just yet.

Predictions about the likely climate to be experienced 50 or 100 years hence are even more problematic. Although the past few decades have seen huge leaps in our understanding of the ocean-atmosphere interaction, and huge increases in our computing capacity, no serious climatologist would attempt to predict the future global climate with the sense of certainty that Flannery purports to do.

In particular, there remain great uncertainties about the extent to which human activity is responsible for the increase in global temperatures over the past few decades, and whether or not such increases are largely driven by a natural cycle that will reverse itself in coming decades.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Melbourne's black crime problem

Victorian police are being urged to set up a special taskforce to tackle gang violence and lawlessness among young African migrants living in Melbourne's inner-city housing commission estates. The push - led by rank-and-file police and terrified neighbours - is backed by the state's powerful police union, which claims sections of the African community need to be "properly educated" in Australian values.

"The Sudanese are very difficult to deal with - they come from a lawless background and they really have to be properly educated about Australian society's standards," the Police Association secretary, Senior Sergeant Paul Mullett, told The Australian. Police in Melbourne's inner north and social workers are demanding resources to help deal with the problem.

"What's actually emerging in Victoria is the establishment of in particular youth gangs and ethnic gangs, and our members just don't have the resourcing support to proactively police these gangs," Sergeant Mullett said. Police union members who worked around the high-rise public housing blocks in areas such as Flemington and Fitzroy were worried about their safety and becoming more reluctant to work there, he said. He called for a special taskforce or for departments to "establish taskforces of their own" to tackle gang activity.

Sergeant Mullett warned that more proactive police programs were needed to build better communication with African communities and prevent group violence from escalating to the levels seen in Sydney's Cronulla riots. "A core function of policing is to connect with the community and to connect with different races," he said.

Victorian Community Council on Crime and Violence member Bob Falconer said yesterday some police and academics had failed to acknowledge the existence of street gangs because they did not want to be seen as singling out the ethnic groups involved. "Invariably there are ethnic-based issues and often visible minorities involved, and political sensitivity of that seems to frighten them off the issue," said the former Victorian deputy police commissioner. He said while a taskforce would not be a "silver bullet" in overcoming all of the problems, it would improve the cultural and social understanding between the community and the authorities.

Youth worker Les Twentyman said while there were African gangs involved in crime and violence, there were also gangs from other ethnic origins such as Pacific Islanders and Lebanese. He said gangs were an escalating problem that would eventually lead to "no-go zones" in Melbourne if they were not properly addressed by police.

Inspector Scott Mahony, who handles multicultural policing issues in Melbourne's western suburbs, said Victoria Police was working on improving its rapport with the African community. He said a DVD was being produced "in their own language presented by people in their own community that will explain to them what is the role of police in the situation". Inspector Mahony said while he did not believe there was a problem with gangs, police needed to improve their understanding of African culture.

Jesuit Social Services chief Julie Edwards said her organisation, which has worked with the African communities in Flemington for more than two years, had seen no evidence such gangs existed. While boredom and unemployment affected some young Africans in the area, she said, "I haven't seen that translated to violence".


Another unused government medical facility

A private business that acted like this would quickly go broke

An operating theatre in one of Queensland's busiest hospitals sits idle four years after being built, while waiting lists for surgery grow. The purpose-built "E1" theatre has never been used since the new Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane was rebuilt in 2002.

The State Government is considering a bid from the Australian Medical Association Queensland to set up a brokerage system to cut waiting lists by arranging for patients to have publicly-funded surgery at private hospitals. Meanwhile, the operating theatre on the fourth floor of the hospital in Woolloongabba continues to gather dust.

After being contacted by The Sunday Mail, a Princess Alexandra spokesman said the "E1" operating theatre would be brought into use next month. But Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said it was "a travesty" that it had taken so long to begin operations in the theatre while thousands of people were on waiting lists. "It seems to be a recurring theme with certain areas within Queensland Health that there's inefficient use of expensive resources," he said. "This is a classic example. There are people writing to my office and contacting me - people whose parents have had operations cancelled three or four times."

The latest available figures for the June to September 2006 quarter showed the number of people waiting for elective surgery had grown in 12 months from 34,641 to 35,665. Those needing urgent operations had blown out 45 per cent and the list for semi-urgent surgery grew by 65 per cent. Health Minister Stephen Robertson argued that the system was more efficient than in the past and that any growth in waiting lists was due to the large number of people moving to Queensland.

The Sunday Mail first revealed 17 months ago that the "E1" operating theatre was being used as a storeroom. Hospital officials said at the time it was not needed. After being contacted by The Sunday Mail last week, a hospital spokesman said: "The theatre is due to have cases put through it in February this year. "It will be used mainly for liver surgery." The spokesman said it was the last operating theatre to be brought into commission and any further growth would require the construction of new facilities.


Greenie dam-hatred imposes huge costs on householders

Melburnians are drilling bores in their backyards to pump groundwater for gardens and lawns. As stage 3 water restrictions enter the second week, desperate Melburnians are paying up to $20,000 to drill bores into aquifers to secure water. Drillers have received hundreds of phone inquiries since the restrictions came into force on January 1.

Gardens can be watered only twice a week with a dripper system or hand-held trigger-nozzle hoses at limited times, while watering lawns remains banned.

Melbourne's groundwater is managed by Southern Rural Water, which has been inundated with requests for bore licences across the state during the past year. To drill a bore for domestic use, residents must apply for a licence, which costs $510 and can take up to a month to receive because of the demand.

Thomastown bore driller Barry Scriven said people were willing to spend whatever it took to secure water. "We have had to stop answering the phone because it's too busy," he said. It costs about $200 a metre to drill for a bore. Water in some areas can be 10m deep, but others are 50 or 100m down. "If you asked people 10 years ago to spend $15,000 on water for the garden they would have thought you were crazy," Mr Scriven said. Not all areas of Melbourne would be able to access good quality water with salinity a problem in some areas of Melbourne, including some eastern suburbs.


Standards being rediscovered in West Australian schools

Apparently a response to great public dissatisfaction with previous "postmodernist" policies

The WA Government could banish unruly public school students to special units, under tough new discipline measures. Education Minister Mark McGowan said he would look at setting up the units later this year as part of moves to improve order in state schools. He also wants students to wear traditional uniforms, including blazers and ties.

The Minister insisted he was not trying to be heavy-handed. But he said he was concerned that one or two disruptive students could spoil a classroom. "I just want to ensure that parents can send their kids to government schools which have pride and offer a safe, disciplined learning environment,'' he said. "I think that's what parents want. "I don't want to expel students. Every student has a right to an education and I want kids to go to school until they're 17.

"But, certainly, we can look at alternative education options for seriously disruptive students where they won't be able to disrupt classrooms. And I would want to do this later this year. "We can look at having special reintegration units, where we take the most difficult students out of classes and make sure they are intensively managed by professionals trained to deal with such problems.'' He said that in regional areas the units could be on school premises. In the metropolitan area, there could be separate facilities. "It's also not fair on students who don't fit into a normal school environment to have to continue in a place where they don't learn anything,'' he said. "So this would help those students, as well.''

Mr McGowan also said he did not want state schools to emulate their US counterparts, which had poor quality uniforms, causing image problems. WA schools can choose their own uniforms within certain parameters, such as restrictions on wearing denim, which started this year. "But I would certainly encourage schools, particularly at a high school level, to go for more traditional styles of uniform,'' he said. "This would be button-up shirts, blazers and even ties for boys. And for female students, proper dresses and skirts and blouses. "I won't force schools to do this because I know one size can't fit all in WA because of different weather conditions, but they should do it where possible. "I think a decent uniform shows that the students have pride in their school. It represents to parents a sense of discipline and it helps teachers identify any intruders in the school. "And it's often a cheaper option where you don't have the fashion contests that have sometimes gone on when we've had a bit more of a liberal uniform policy in the past.''

He said presentation was "incredibly important'' in encouraging parents to send their children to public schools. "The appearance of young people is an important part of that overall presentation,'' he said. "And just having pride in your appearance and your school would improve the behaviour of students. "I want public schools to be excellent and I want them to be able to compete with private schools and attract parents on the basis of choice.''


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Muslim terror attack planned for Australia

Numerous Sydney buildings, including the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor and others housing US companies, were terrorist targets for illegally-bought Australian rocket launchers. The Saturday Daily Telegraph can reveal alleged terrorists who obtained five of the launchers - believed to have been stolen from the Australian army - discussed using them on the US targets. One of the targets was a high-rise building near Hyde Park which is the base for American Express. Another was the nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas said today.

Yesterday, a 28-year-old unemployed Leumeah man was in Central Local Court, charged with illegally obtaining and selling seven of the stolen rocket launchers. Taha Abdul-Rahman was arrested in his Eliza Way home early yesterday following a joint investigation by NSW Police, Australian Federal Police and ASIO. He was charged with two counts of dishonestly receiving stolen Commonwealth property, seven counts of possessing a prohibited weapon, seven of selling a prohibited weapon to an unauthorised person and one of possessing ammunition without a licence or permit.

In court documents it was alleged Abdul-Rahman sold seven of the weapons to murderer Adnan "Eddie" Darwiche in 2003. Darwiche [a Lebanese Muslim] is serving two life sentences over his role in a gang war that involved a string of fatal shootings in Sydney's southwest at that time.

It is alleged Abdul-Rahman sold one rocket launcher to Darwiche on September 30, 2003, at Liverpool. He then allegedly sold him another six launchers on October 9, 2003, at Claymore. Police have only recovered one of the launchers from Darwiche - who had agreed to assist police. At a police press conference yesterday, officers revealed they believed five launchers had found their way into the hands of one or more Sydney terror suspects. Abdul-Rahman did not apply for bail or appear in the courtroom and was remanded to appear in Central Local Court again next Wednesday.


A Federal attempt to reduce the tragedy of abortions

"Jawboning" -- High profile argument

Tony Abbott attributes Australia's high abortion rate to women whose lives are under control but view childbirth as a "terrible inconvenience". The Health Minister said cultural changes were prompting more women to abort pregnancies and called for greater soul-searching by those considering terminations.

"Once upon a time, women who found themselves pregnant were culturally conditioned to have the baby and have it adopted out," he said. "These days, there is very different cultural conditioning. "This is particularly the case for women who have got their whole lives ahead of them or women who have got things nicely under management - a baby, or an extra baby, is a terrible inconvenience."

Mr Abbott was backed by a survey that showed 20-something women in stable relationships were most likely to have unwanted pregnancies. In an interview with the Herald Sun, Mr Abbott said the national abortion rate - estimates put it at 84,000 a year - was too high. The Government's new 24-hour pregnancy counselling hotline was the best way to help women make informed decisions about pregnancy. A devout Catholic and abortion critic, Mr Abbott also offered qualified support for contraception. He defended the role his Christian faith played in his political life: he always separated his job and his religion.

His comments followed a storm over the appointment of a Catholic welfare agency to help develop the hotline. Centacare will help develop guidelines for the service, enraging pro-choice activists. But Mr Abbott said counselling was aimed at supporting women, not influencing them. "The whole point of this is to try to ensure that, whatever decision a woman makes, it really is her decision and not something that has been forced on her by social conditioning," he said.

He did not want to remove women's right to abortions. "Absolutely not - I think every abortion is a tragedy, in a sense, but I am not going to be judgmental about people who decide to have an abortion," he said. "In the end, it's a matter for the individual facing those circumstances to decide." Mr Abbott believed contraception had its place but offered limited elaboration. "I think there are ideals of behaviour which people should strive for," he said. "If, for whatever reason, those ideals are not going to be met, people should be prudent, so to speak." His views on abortion and other subjects were not part of a personal religious crusade. "I have never done anything because I feel that religion mandates it," he said.

A national study released late last year found 56 per cent of women with an unplanned pregnancy kept the baby. Almost 30 per cent had an abortion, 13 per cent miscarried and 2 per cent offered the baby for adoption. Women aged 25-29 were the most likely to become pregnant accidentally, followed by women aged 30-34. Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare suggest there were 84,218 abortions in Australia in 2003, or one for every three live births that year. But it is difficult to calculate because raw Medicare figures can also include miscarriages.



Some lucky British nurses discover the wonders of tropical Cairns. Brits from North of Watford generally settle well in Australia

The first of more than 70 nurses from the English town of Stoke-on-Trent have reported for work in tropical north Queensland. The group of medical staff lost their jobs in a round of health spending cuts last year and were due to start 2007 on the dole. But when managers at Cairns Base Hospital heard about their plight they flew to Britain to offer them jobs.

The first of the Stoke nurses are on the wards in Cairns and enjoying the laid-back Queensland lifestyle. Katey Kitchen, 22, migrated with her boyfriend at the end of last year. "I had only been working as a nurse in Stoke for a year before I was made redundant," she said. "I was really upset. I didn't know what I was going to do. "Now I'm so glad I applied to come to Cairns. The atmosphere at the hospital is great and I love the weather. "We've booked a dive course for February and can't wait to get out on the reef. Life's brilliant here."

As well as the Stoke contingent, Cairns Base Hospital has a hired a further 80 nurses from hospitals across Britain. Most are due to arrive in the next few months but Katie Hollis, 31, arrived from Birmingham three weeks ago. "I'm married to a Cairns guy and we were looking to move here anyway, so it was a real stroke of luck when I heard about the recruitment drive here," she said. "Now I smile to myself every time I walk out into the sunshine after my shift."

The 150 British nurses - who are bringing about 250 partners and children with them -will solve the hospital's staffing problems and take the nursing roster to 700. Director of nursing Glynda Summers said she was thrilled with her recruits. "They are very well-trained nurses and they hit the ground running when they arrived here," she said. "They're settling in very well and they loved spending Christmas in Cairns."

Cairns businesses have offered jobs to the nurses' husbands and wives and local developers have agreed to reserve three new unit complexes exclusively for their families. The hospital has even devised a "tropical chums" scheme to help the newcomers settle in, matching Australian members of staff with the new recruits.

The Cairns nurses are part of an influx of foreign health professionals into Queensland. No statewide figures are available for the numbers of overseas staff recruited directly by individual hospitals, but Queensland Health's "Work For Us" recruitment drive has so far brought 98 overseas doctors, 53 nurses, 46 allied health staff and seven dentists to Queensland. Another 648 applications are being processed.



Authorities will not take the necessary measures to prevent bush fires for fear of offending radical environmentalists

With dismaying predictability, bushfires in south-eastern Australia have devastated some of the country's state forests and national parks, put at risk the lives of thousands of firefighters who have heroically sought to contain them, and caused substantial loss of property, particularly in Victoria and Tasmania.

What is most alarming about the recent outbreaks is that they come at the beginning of summer, and their intensity can only be expected to grow as the weather gets hotter, drier and more windy.

Undoubtedly, the current drought has aggravated the problem; but the almost total absence of fuel-reduction burns - now part of the policy pursued by bodies such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service in New South Wales and the Department of Sustainability and Environment in Victoria - has contributed to the crisis.

In Victoria, bushfires consumed over 300,000 hectares early in December. For the first time in living memory, the fire-fighting organisations, the Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment, conceded that they could not put the fires out, and they would burn for weeks until rain extinguished them.

Fire-reduction strategy

By contrast, the Department of Sustainability's Chief Fire Officer admitted that only 7,000 hectares was burned between last autumn and spring in low-intensity fires designed to get rid of the forest litter which turns bushfires into wildfires. (SBS News, December 8, 2006).

This is just one thousandth of the 8 million hectares of forest land which the department has responsibility to manage. They might as well have stayed at home.

According to the Victorian Association of Forest Industries, this compares to a yearly average of 225,000 hectares burnt in fuel-reduction burns in the decade from 1974-75 to 1983-84. Until about five years ago, the figure had averaged just 80,000 hectares, which fell to 40,000 hectares by 2003, still over five times the area subject to controlled burn-offs this year.

The reason why government departments have effectively abandoned fuel reduction strategies is that they have accepted the greenies' argument that their job is to minimise human activity (particularly logging) and preserve "biodiversity". They have accepted the greenies' claim that periodic low-intensity burn-offs reduce biodiversity.

In fact, low-intensity fires are far kinder to both flora and fauna than wildfires which inevitably devastate everything in their path and put human lives in grave danger.

It is curious that environmental groups, so vociferous about the effect of CO2 on climate change, have remained completely silent over the millions of tonnes of CO2 released by the bushfires which have cut a swathe through south-eastern Australia in recent weeks.

Peter Garrett, newly appointed shadow minister for climate change, has said nothing on the issue, nor has the environmental group Greenpeace, which has opposed fuel-reduction burn-offs and staged several spectacular stunts in an effort to save "ancient forests" threatened by logging.

The Wilderness Society, which first grabbed the spotlight 30 years ago in its campaign to save the Franklin River, and still raises money on the basis that it is saving the forests, has also been silent as some of Australia's old growth forests have literally gone up in smoke.

The Australian Greens, who led the campaign to prevent the timber industry getting access to timber from native forests, have also remained completely silent in the face of the bushfire crisis.

Since 2002, Australia has faced an escalating problem from bushfires, owing to an unwillingness by governments to take the necessary actions to minimise the bushfire threat.

After every forest conflagration, there have been state and federal inquiries into the causes of the bushfires, and what needs to be done to address them.

Every one of these inquiries has recommended - sometimes in muted language, for fear of offending radical environmentalists who have set the agenda for forest policy - a program of what are sometimes called "cold fires", fuel-reduction burn-offs through bush land in the wetter months of the year, to get rid of dead trees, branches and leaf litter which fuel forest fires.

It has been known for many years that such fires, if carried out every six to eight years, prevent the build-up of forest litter which turns bushfires into wildfires.

In Western Australia, the only state where successive governments rigorously conducted widespread fuel-reduction burns until recent years, there have been no comparable disasters. Studies conducted in Western Australia have shown that regular burn-offs of 10-15 per cent of forests reduce the amount of forest litter to a level where bushfires can be controlled, and do not develop into wildfires.

Until governments introduce mandatory legislated targets for fuel-reduction burns in both National Parks and State Forests, as a means of preventing further wildfires, the present problems will simply get worse.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Australia's anatomy courses for doctors given an F by the students

Largely because of trendy bullsh*t teaching methods

Almost three in four medical students say they are taught too little anatomy during their medical degree - and more than a third don't even think they have been taught enough about how the body works to be a competent doctor when they graduate. A survey of more than 600 medical students also found more than half - 53.7 per cent - thought their knowledge of anatomy was inadequately assessed. And nearly 90 per cent of students agreed that the traditional, guided style of anatomy teaching was "more effective" than the alternatives.

In many medical schools, traditional teaching has been increasingly replaced by a self-directed process where students research topics themselves in groups. The findings - which have already been sent to the federal Government as part of a submission for its current review of medical school curriculums - are likely to reignite a controversy revealed in The Australian earlier this year, after senior doctors warned the state of anatomy teaching in Australia's medical schools was so bad that public safety was at stake.

The survey was conducted by the Australian Medical Students Association, partly in response to the revelations. Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said the findings would be considered as part of the government review, which is due to report later this year. Ms Bishop called on medical school deans to consider the findings carefully. "If 75 per cent of medical students believe the quality of education they are receiving is wanting in some way, that should be taken seriously by our medical schools," Ms Bishop said. "It reinforces the Government's action in setting up this inquiry in the first place."

The survey found more than half the students also cited pharmacology and radiology alongside anatomy as subjects that were given too little time in courses. Many students also criticised selection interviews, with about a quarter saying they were not objective enough, and the trend to tutors who are not medically qualified.

And while most students were in favour of the modern problem-based learning techniques, the report found there was "significant room for improvement as 25 to 30 per cent of students didn't respond positively" to all questions on the topic.

AMSA president Rob Mitchell, a fifth-year medical student at Monash University, said the survey showed medical education was still of high quality. Overall, 71.3 per cent of surveyed students agreed their course would turn them into competent doctors. "There's a perception, and I emphasise it's a perception, that students don't receive enough anatomy teaching," Mr Mitchell said. But students also valued the newer subjects that had squeezed traditional subjects including anatomy - such as ethics, communication skills, and cultural awareness - and did not want them cut back.

Survey respondent Claire Wise, a fifth-year student at Monash, said she could "echo a lot of students' concerns" on anatomy teaching, which she said needed to be more guided and relevant. "When there's 10 students standing around a cadaver and dissecting a muscle, it's not as clinically relevant as when a doctor sits us down and tells us about a patient with a head injury he had last week, and which arteries were damaged, and we can see an MRI scan," she said. "We can relate it to a patient, and more time needs to be devoted to that."

Barry Oakes, a former associate professor at Monash University and a longstanding critic of the cutbacks to anatomy teaching, said universities had "failed miserably" to compile written benchmarks detailing what medical graduates needed to know.

Paul Gatenby, a member of the Committee of Deans of Australian Medical Schools, agreed time for anatomy and some other subjects had been cut back but said this was inevitable given the "explosion of medical knowledge in the past 50 years". "Is there so little anatomy taught that students are dangerous? I don't accept that at all," Professor Gatenby said.


Anatomy of a crisis: Medical students vent spleen at substandard teaching

(Editorial comment from "The Australian")

Eight months ago, The Australian reported that anatomy training was in many cases so poor that students could make it to the last year of medical school and not be able to visually distinguish between a beating heart and a liver, or correctly identify the location of the prostate gland. So it is not surprising to discover that Australians studying to be doctors are increasingly concerned they are not being taught the fundamentals, according to a survey just released by the Australian Medical Students Association. It does not make for happy reading. A majority of students do not feel their training places enough emphasis on vital subjects such as anatomy and pharmacology. About 30 per cent of students are neutral or pessimistic when asked whether they will leave college well-equipped to become competent doctors. And less than four in 10 respondents agreed that when they finished their medical course they would "know enough anatomy to become a competent doctor".

There are many reasons why medical students are not getting the training they want and so vitally need. Among them is a concern expressed by AMSA members that the Howard Government's drive to increase medical school places might ultimately come at a cost to quality. Culturally, too, medical schools have, like so many other institutions, fallen victim to the fashion for dismantling traditional structures without replacing them with anything similarly useful or effective. Thus traditional lectures have been replaced by such supposed innovations as problem-based learning, where instructors (who are often not doctors) are not allowed to tell students what is right and what is wrong, leaving them to work it out for themselves. Hard science must compete with an increasing emphasis on soft topics such as cultural sensitivity. Certainly medicine is about more than just mechanics, and doctors should be trained to deal with patients' minds as well as their bodies. But while humanities courses can be watered down without harming anyone beyond those paying for the degrees, medicine is a serious business. To go down the same soft road in medical faculties is to write a prescription for disaster.


Greenie dam-hatred finally starts to turns off taps

Some Brisbane households may soon not have enough water pressure to run taps after City Hall admitted to progressively turning down the mains pressure under a radical scheme to conserve water. Brisbane City Council water spokeswoman Jane Prentice also said residents would have to personally foot the bill to increase pressure by purchasing a booster pump, at a cost of up to $1000. The pump would also need to be installed by a plumber and electrician.

Those likely to be most affected will be residents of apartment buildings and homes on hillsides and hilltops, along with homeowners whose renovations included the installation of extra upstairs faucets. Cr Prentice said some inner-city areas had been secretly tested and a full roll-out would be completed by mid-year. She said council would notify major industry in coming weeks and homeowners over the next two months. "We will be giving plenty of notice that the pressure is being reduced and homeowners may have to put in booster pumps," she said. [How kind!]

Brisbane's ageing inner-city water pipes leak up to 13 million litres a day. Stopping that would help the municipality hit stringent State Government water-saving guidelines. As The Courier-Mail reported yesterday, the Queensland Water Commission this week slammed councils for having fallen behind their target to save 62 megalitres of water per day by fixing leaks and pressure.

Cr Prentice said water pressure delivered to a property's boundary would not fall below the national standard of 210kPa, or the strength to shoot a column of water 21m into the air at the property's boundary. However, she conceded that it could drop below that mark once inside the boundary. Brisbane properties currently receive over 300kPa. "Some people at the bottom of the hill (currently) get lovely pressure but at the top sometimes you need a pump," Cr Prentice said. "We have found old apartments are unlikely to have the boosters and that water pressure can drop out in an upstairs ensuite for example. "This is particularly evident for those people who have renovated and live on hillsides. But I don't think it will affect many people. Some people might find it is under the 210kPa by the time it gets up the hill or to the top of the house, but it is only the Council's responsibility to deliver national standards and we will do that."


Conservative cartoons rare in Australia

Why do Australia's leading cartoonists favour a left-wing point of view? asks Janet Albrechtsen. She seems to overlook that there are quite a few American conservative cartoons

There is nothing like an end-of-year anthology to collect all the evidence. Each morning during the past year, many of you, like me, will have tucked into your Cornflakes and chuckled at your favourite cartoonist in the morning newspaper. Taken individually, each cartoon took a well-aimed pot shot at a deserving target. But you, like me, probably had a nagging suspicion that something was missing. Then it dawned. All the pot shots seem to come from one side of politics. And all the targets from the other. Is there no such thing as a conservative Australian humorist?

The anthology that inadvertently assembles the evidence is the Best Australian Political Cartoons of 2006 edited by Russ Radcliffe. This collection of witty, occasionally hilarious, sometimes magnificently insightful cartoons sums up the year's events as seen by cartoonists from our major, and sometimes minor, newspapers.

Perhaps the pick of the bunch is by Andrew Weldon in The Big Issue, a newspaper sold on street corners. Weldon depicts John Howard's growing political stature with a handy chart that shows the ever-increasing tendency of cartoonists to draw Howard as a small man - he shrinks every year - only increases his electoral appeal. It's a neat thesis topped off with a plea for cartoonists to start drawing the Prime Minister as a tall man, in the hope that his popularity will then shrink. Funny stuff.

But the gaping hole is that one side of politics gets off almost entirely scot-free. Of the 186 cartoons, the few that mock Labor do so from the Left, attacking former Opposition leader Kim Beazley over his Australian values-for-visas policy (admittedly a dopey idea). We are treated to images of him in a scratching, clawing punch-up with Howard as the two leaders apparently fight for the same xenophobic moral low-ground over national identity. There's another one with the same leaders belting out their own dog whistle politics via a trumpet. Funny, huh?

While both cop it from the cartoonists over Australian values, when it comes to other issues, the poison pen of the cartoonists in this collection is aimed only in one direction - to the Right. The top picks of the year on anti-terrorism laws, for example, have Australia literally going to the dogs with the PM and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock suckling a fierce "terror" Rottweiler. Bill Leak's sedition edition of The Australian is blank with a chuffed PM remarking that there is "nothing to worry about in the paper today". Too bad that the average punter apparently supports these laws by a wide margin.

Similarly, the top 14 pick of industrial relations cartoons all veer in the same direction. It's fair enough that The Age's Matt Davidson has Howard, the sculptor, chipping away at a statue emblazoned with "Workers' Rights". And that The Sydney Morning Herald's Alan Moir has Howard and a group of raping, pillaging Viking employers behind a cannon blasting employees to smithereens. And so on.

But where is the lampooning of Labor's fraudulent IR campaign, its symbiotic relationship with the unions or the irony that the so-called progressives now want to drag 21st-century workers back to the 1950s nine-to-five salaryman paradigm? On Iraq, no mention of Labor's white flag cut and run policy. Instead, we get a Left-Wing Garage Sale from The Age's John Spooner where "everything must go" - secular humanism, free speech, feminism, democracy and science. Labor's farcical leadership problems get a passing stab but what of its retarded policy on uranium mining and its agonies over teacher standards? Where are the digs at Labor's new-found recognition that passive welfare hurts? And so on.

And the Greens demonstrate even more powerful layers of Teflon. With nutters on the Left of the calibre of Bob Brown, you might think it rich pickings for our cartoonists. But Green hyperbole and inner-city populism gets a free kick every time. It seems the further to the Left you travel, the more untouched the terrain when it comes to our cartoonists.

It is possible that the fault lies with the anthologist. Maybe Radcliffe is simply a hopelessly irredeemable old leftie whose funny bone only works when struck from one side. And true it is that a conservative government in Canberra will inevitably mean anti-conservative japes are more topical and easier to make. But does that explain why apparently only one side of politics does lampoonable things?

No. Sadly the best explanation is likely to be the obvious one. There are no conservative funny men, or women, in Australia. Or at least none that our publishers and broadcasters will air. Sure, there used to be at least the token right-wing humourist. But even those guys - such as Tim Blair, former columnist at The Bulletin and now opinion editor at The Daily Telegraph and The Australian's Imre Salusinszky - have moved on to bigger and better things. Indeed, with this cartoon anthology slotting snugly into those shelves of your local bookstore, groaning under the weight of the latest diatribes against the nasty conservatives, you kind of get the feeling that Australian publishers can't find any right-wingers at all, funny or not.

But back to our best cartoons of 2006. To borrow from Julius Sumner Miller, why is this so? Can it really be the case that more than 52 per cent of voters who elected the Coalition Government don't enjoy cartoons, or that cartoonists can't find something that might appeal to them. The editorial stance of newspapers is at most only a partial explanation - although no one seriously expects The Age to poke fun at their secular gods on the Left.

Nor is this some wacky conspiracy where, in the dead of night, scruffy cartoonists sit around planning how to join forces to shift the country on their pet issues. Cartoonists, no doubt, sincerely believe in their causes. The explanation lies not in some cartoonists' conspiracy, but in the cartoonist's cast of mind. There is a natural leftist habitat for the cartooning kind.

So I'll leave you with a larger but somewhat cheeky hypothesis. Left-wing politics is essentially an emotional, instinctive utopian kind of world peopled by romantics and dreamers. Conservatism is, on the other hand, more rational, analytical and pragmatic. That is why creative types tend to come from the Left. Right-wingers, by contrast, have real jobs.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Another waste of health dollars by government

A MULTIMILLION-dollar hyperbaric chamber built at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital more than four years ago has never been used. Although demand for hyperbaric medicine has soared in Queensland in recent years, the chamber is unlikely to treat its first patient until next year. The Government yesterday defended its decision to refer public patients requiring decompression treatment to the Wesley Private Hospital as a better use of taxpayers' money.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson's spokesman said to commission and then operate the RBWH chamber for a year would cost $1.7 million. The Wesley Hospital provided the service last year for less than $1 million. "Until now, it's been cheaper to go through the Wesley . . . than to commission the one at the RBWH," [An interesting confession!] he said. "We're actually saving taxpayers' money." The Wesley has treated Queensland Health patients recommended for decompression treatment since 1998.

When asked why the Beattie Government had decided to build the RBWH hyperbaric chamber in the first place, Mr Robertson's spokesman replied: "I've got no idea." The chamber was built when Wendy Edmond, who has since retired from politics, was health minister.

The number of public patients treated in the Wesley hyperbaric chamber has almost doubled in three years, from 1083 in 2002-02 to 2097 last year. In 2002-03, the hospital treated 1083 public patients in its chamber but by last financial year, that had swelled to 2097.

Decompression chambers are used to treat a variety of patients, not just divers suffering from the bends. Patients who have had surgery on blood vessels are sometimes put in a hyperbaric chamber to assist in the repair of oxygen-starved tissue. Decompression treatment is also covered by Medicare in cases of difficult-to-heal wounds.

The Opposition and the Australian Medical Association Queensland both condemned the Government for building the chamber and then failing to use it. "It's crazy," said AMAQ president Zelle Hodge. "You'd have to ask why didn't someone do an appropriate cost analysis before this was built." [He's joking. Governments don't do that if it seems good for a self-inflating press-release at the time] Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Lanbroek accused the Government of mismanagement. "We've got this hyperbaric chamber that's supposedly the best in the southern hemisphere. What do we have to do to get it up and running as it should be for Queensland patients?" he said.

Mr Robertson's spokesman said the Minister last month had signed approval for Queensland Health to explore the possibility of running the RBWH hyperbaric chamber as a public/private partnership with a view to have it operational by 2008.


Make mine a happy meal, thanks

I pointed out the positive role of McDonalds in hospitals on Dec. 20th., 2006 here so I was pleased to see the realistic article below. Referring to campaigns to get McDonalds out of hospitals, I said: "The fact that for many people the McDonalds is the most comforting and reassuring part of a hospital does not matter, of course. The do-gooders must have a demon to attack"

I CAN'T say I ever pictured myself as a fervent spokesman for McDonald's, but I can say anyone jumping on the bandwagon to save us from Maccas at the Royal Children's Hospital has never had a child who needs treatment there.

There is an old saying that there is good in everything and that one only has to look hard enough to find it. Unfortunately, for us, it is staring us right in the face. My daughter has been an outpatient at the RCH nearly all of her life for a seemingly endless stream of EEGs, ECGs and MRIs. On the morning of our regular visits the conversation usually goes like this:

Can I take dolly to kinder today for show and tell?

Sorry darling, but you have to go to the hospital today.


Can I have a Happy Meal?

Of course, darling.

Yay! What a difference the promise of three nuggets, a small chips, a bottle of water and two bobs worth of a toy promoting the latest kids' movie can make. It's the chasm between having a terrified child in the car who is crying that they don't want to go and one who can't wait to get there. To a parent this is absolute priceless gold.

On the occasions I have to work and our daughter requires a protracted procedure, it also provides a place where my wife can sit and have a coffee while our little bloke has a swing on the monkey bars. So he's happy to go, too. Job done all around.

To write off Ronald McDonald House as merely a clever marketing tool does not give any credit to the contribution that has been made, or the hope given to the people who have had to avail themselves of this centre. Our hearts go out to them.

Yes, obesity is a problem. But there are many ways to tackle it. This current posturing only serves to remove a tiny oasis of joy for people who are in a desert of misery. Most of whom are far worse off than our personal situation. So on behalf of those parents that have had, have now, or will have children that need to attend the RCH, we ask the nobly intentioned to turn their focus to issues that do not involve wiping the smiles from the faces of sick kiddies.


Global cooling continues in Queensland

I live in Southern Queensland and I can testify from personal experience that we have indeed had a long spell of amazingly cool summer weather here. In Britain it is not uncommon for people in some years to say: "We didn't have a summer this year". That is almost true of Southern Queensland lately

Has the weather gone crazy? It should be the time of year that Queenslanders are decked out in thongs and boardshorts, sweltering under the state's famous sun. Instead this summer is turning out to be more like those Christmases usually only suffered by southerners. The "Mexicans", meanwhile, are lapping up an unseasonal burst of Queensland-style weather.

While Brisbane's rainy skies yesterday meant the temperature struggled to reach 25C, almost five degrees below the long-term average for January, in Melbourne the mercury soared to 33C - seven degrees above normal.

To make matters worse, the 37mm of rain which fell on Brisbane's central business district yesterday (and up to 50mm at Caboolture and on Bribie Island) failed to make any difference to the region's record-low dam levels. Despite the rain bringing fresh hope for some farmers in the state's west, the city's dam catchments missed out again yesterday. Just 5mm fell at Somerset Dam and just 1mm at Wivenhoe. The only dams in the state topped up in recent days were the Fairbairn Dam near Emerald (up from 12 per cent capacity to 14 per cent) and the Kinchant Dam near Mackay (up from 76 per cent to 80 per cent).

SEQ Water operations manager Rob Drury said 50mm of solid rain in the catchment was required to start any significant inflows to the southeast's dams, with a further 100mm then required immediately to lift their combined levels by just 10 per cent. That level was at just 23.7 per cent yesterday. The only good news is that yesterday's falls are likely to cut consumption as gardens would not need to be watered for a couple of weeks, particularly with more rain forecast over coming days. "Even smaller falls of between 10-20mm will add welcomed extensions to our current supplies," Mr Drury said.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Vikash Prasad said there was a chance the "dam areas" would receive some showers and storms early next week. But he said the long-term outlook remained bleak. "The rainfall is likely to be below average in southeast Queensland (for the next three months), mainly due to the El Nino weather pattern we have had so far," Mr Prasad said.


For any humour-deficient Greenie who may read this, I should point out that the heading on the article immediately above is sarcastic

Government: Do as I say, not as I do

A government that created a water shortage by its deliberate inaction is still wasting water itself

Public servants are wasting millions of litres of water as the rest of Victoria goes dry. Bureaucrats using taxpayer-funded toilets and showers churned through millions of litres of water in the past financial year at the same time as almost 200 Victorian towns endured water restrictions. The Herald Sun can reveal that government water use has jumped by 137 million litres, or about 25 per cent, in the past financial year.

Ten departments used 680 million litres, significantly higher than the previous year's 543 million litres. The same amount of water would supply 3400 Melbourne households a year, or fill 272 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The Department of Education and Training was one of the worst offenders, almost doubling its water use, while the Justice Department's water use rose from 9.9 million litres to 22.6 million. The figures - except for those from the Department of Primary Industries - apply to water used by public servants in their offices.

The true figure is much higher. Two departments - Steve Bracks's Premier and Cabinet and John Brumby's Treasury and Finance - have been unable to work out how much water they have used because of metering problems at their offices, both at 1 Treasury Place. Only one department - Water Minister John Thwaites's Department of Sustainability and Environment - reduced water consumption, cutting 6.1 million litres from its yearly consumption after being ordered by Mr Thwaites to cut back. A furious Mr Thwaites, who is acting Premier, has demanded an immediate audit of government water use, blasting the wastage as unacceptable.

Just last month he told the Treasury - one of the two departments that cannot count its own water use - to find water savings across every department. "Any increase in water consumption by government departments is totally unacceptable," Mr Thwaites said yesterday. "At a time when the general community is saving water, government departments must set an example. "The figures are particularly disappointing when the previous year showed an 18 per cent water saving across departments. "But this year the figures from some departments are unsatisfactory and will be improved."

The Government said a range of reasons had contributed to the increase, including an increase in employee numbers because of the Commonwealth Games and errors in metering across some government departments.

The official water wastage is revealed as 3.6 million Melburnians move to stage 3 restrictions and dozens of cities and towns endure a second year of severe cuts. The Department of Sustainability and Environment, which cut its water usage to 39.5 million litres, has installed dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals in all its male toilets and low-flow shower heads and flow-restrictors on all taps. It's now installing dual-flush cisterns in all its female toilets across the state. "As a result of concerns I had about the drought and government water use, before Christmas I asked the head of Treasury to ensure departments maximised water savings and worked with office building owners to install water-saving measures," Mr Thwaites said. "There will also need to be increased sub-metering, as a number of departments share office buildings with other tenants but the whole building is served by only one meter. "We will ensure all departments implement such water-saving measures. "We will also work to make recording of water use more rigorous."

The figures are based on the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 financial years - the most recent figures available - and are contained in departmental annual reports tabled in Parliament late last year. The Department of Primary Industries used most of the water: its consumption rose from 322 million litres to 419 million litres last year. However, the department does not separate its office usage from its field usage. Most of its water is believed to be used on field activities such as running fish farms and nurseries and on laboratory experiments.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Warming not global: 'faster in Australia' (??)

Some very strange logic below. I guess it's the logic of the Church of Global Warming

Australia appeared to be suffering an accelerated Greenhouse effect, with the pace of global warming faster across the country than in other parts of the world, climatologists said today. The world's driest inhabited continent, already suffering one of its worst droughts, was waging its own unique climate war, said Australia's Bureau of Meteorology yearly climate report. Half the country was desperate for water and the other half was awash with a year's rainfall for the entire continent. [So no overall effect!!!]

"Most scientists agree this is part of an enhanced Greenhouse effect," bureau senior climatologist Neil Plummer said. "Temperatures are actually rising a little bit faster over Australia compared to the global average, and we know that of Australia's 20 hottest years, 15 have occurred since 1980".

As the first cyclone of the summer bore down on Australia's northwest coast, bringing more rain and potentially destructive winds, the report revealed extraordinary climatic contrasts. Some areas experienced rare summer snow falls over Christmas to dampen bushfires, even as the drought tightened its grip and major cities imposed tough restrictions on water usage.

While the nation received above average 2006 rains, with 490mm of rain falling against the 472mm average, key water catchments and rivers shrivelled in the food bowl southeast where most Australians live. "Rain fell, but just not in the most populated areas. Most Australians would certainly have seen 2006 as a dry year," Mr Plummer said.

Australia's average temperature for 2006 was 0.47C above the long-term average, but it was only the eleventh warmest year since 1910, the bureau report said. And despite record daily temperatures in the southeast, last year was cooler than 2005 due to a very active tropical wet season early in the year.

Mr Plummer said an El Nino weather event in the Pacific Ocean bringing severe drought to eastern Australia was responsible for much of the variation, but that was beginning to weaken. "What we see on the rainfall is a signature of El Nino. There are signs that is weakening and most times we see a breakdown in late summer or autumn, and usually a good break with lots of rain."


See below for some of the history not mentioned above


Australia's worst drought so far came a century before climate change appeared on the national agenda, writes historian Geoffrey Blainey

Some say this is Australia's worst drought in 1000 years. This idea has grown long legs, jumped around the nation and might never quite be brought to heel. That's the trouble with some ideas. They so capture the imagination that they have no need for facts.

No evidence has been produced to support this theory which somehow escaped, as a wild runaway, from the special water summit held in Canberra last month. Of course, this Australian drought is serious and a source of human misery. But is it really the drought of the past millennium? The Australian Bureau of Meteorology, which has earned a strong reputation internationally, thinks it wisest to extend the nationwide rainfall record only as far back as 1900. Historically that cut-off date is a pity because it excludes most years of a drought that was already severe.

From that long period of reliable records since 1900, a surprising fact emerges. While much of the television news makes us think, in this phase of rising temperatures, that Australia is in a uniquely dry period, it is not. The most arid years have not arrived with the present phase of warming. The years of lowest rainfall were 1902 and 1905, at the end of the Federation Drought. Will this climatically nervous year shatter these old records for meagre rainfall? The answer, even before 2006 is completed, has to be "no". In Australia as a whole this is not a drought year in 1000. It is probably not even a drought year in 10.

Our collective memory has forgotten how dry was the period during and after the long Federation Drought. Counting the deserts as well as the dairy lands, Australia received less rainfall during the first half of the 20th century than has fallen in the most recent half-century. There were numerous droughts between 1895 and 1950. In contrast, the wetter years came thereafter, the wettest being 1974. It is strange to contemplate that 2000 was Australia's second-wettest year on record. Admittedly a nationwide summary of rainfall does mask the acute regional variations. Furthermore, that summary does not reveal whether a lot of a year's rainfall was slow and soaking or fell in a cloudburst. But the nationwide average is still a vital statistic in an era when for the first time people are encouraged to look at the weather on a wide, even a world scale.

Somehow, word has spread that global warming inevitably means less rain all around. As a result, the whole of Australia is thought to be suffering. But it is not. In this drought, as in the Federation Drought, some regions in the tropics have been unusually wet. The amount of tropical rainwater running out to sea this year has been massive.

Today's drought, miserable as it is for the rural victims, is not the most damaging, the most painful, in Australia's history. What counts is not the raw records of poor rainfall but the total impact of a drought. In the earlier era when this nation relied heavily on its rural industries, it was more vulnerable to drought than is today's multisided economy.

As recently as the 1930s, the primary industries formed the biggest sector of the economy, even being ahead of manufacturing. Rural industries were huge employers, provided far more than half of the nation's exports and were the lifeblood of the railways, which dominated the state budgets. Farms provided hay and fodder, a main fuel for city transport in the era of the horse. Therefore a drought, by crippling these all-important rural industries, inflicted severe hardships on the cities as well as the countryside.

The Federation Drought, running roughly from 1894 to 1902, dwarfed today's drought in economic terms. The mighty wool industry, more important than mining is today, was crippled by drought and, to a smaller degree, falling prices. NSW in 1891 pastured 62 million sheep, but in the following 10 years that figure was halved. Queensland lost nearly two-thirds of its cattle. The economic effect on rural towns, and even on many Brisbane businesses, was crushing.

The Federation Drought was disappointing, partly because a generation had come to believe that much of its country was relatively reliable for grazing. They had heard such statisticians as Henry Hayter of Melbourne proclaim that there was no limit to the cattle and sheep that could feed contentedly in this continent.

Yancannia, west of the Darling, was one of the huge sheep stations that displayed the defiant new climate. In 1887 the station held a record flock of 171,000 sheep, though there was a tendency to overstock. Then the seasons turned turtle. For the 14 years to 1890 the rainfall averaged 12 inches (about 305mm), but for the next 20 years it averaged just over seven inches, much of which fell in cloudbursts. In the 1890s alone the sheep numbers fell by two-thirds, though the rabbits did not. The old wool port of Wilcannia, as a local historian noted, "was left without even the few inches that would float a paddle-boat". Most of that huge district fell officially into the hands of the receivers, namely banks and finance companies. In contrast, no bank today is heavily weighed down by the burden of worthless rural properties.

Many pastoralists tried to move their flocks and herds to distant regions offering some grass and water. The sides of many bush roads, however, were soon littered with animal bones. In 1899 near Rockhampton, 11,000 sheep died on one short journey.

The drought was so severe that nearly all traffic on many outback roads was halted. Typically, the policeman at Innamincka reported that a teamster had been on his way from Farina but so many of his 84 horses had died that he was forced to abandon the three wagons. That was even before the drought became acute.

On some sheep stations there was no shearing at the appointed time because the shearers could not get through. In others there was no work because the sheep had died. In 1901 the protector of Aborigines for west Queensland travelled 1600km and found even the wildlife had largely vanished. He counted seven bustards, five kangaroos and one emu during that long journey.

The camels took over much of the carrying as the drought intensified. In at least half of the nation the camel became the main carrier. In 1963 I interviewed a man who had become a camel teamster at the back of Marble Bar a half-century previously. He said the far outback "would have broken down" but for the camels.

The year 1902 was possibly the worst experienced by wheat farmers. In the two big wheat-exporting states, NSW and Victoria, the yield was pathetic. For a time, much of the flour used in Australian bakeries came from Indian, Brazilian, Argentinian and especially American wheat.

Towards the end of that drought a young NSW poet, Dorothea Mackellar, wrote verses that became almost a nationalist war cry for a later generation. She affirmed, "I love a sunburnt country". While declaring her affections she was also making a revolutionary statement in the eyes of many farmers struggling to make a living. They did not want a sunburnt country.

The cities, most of them, suffered from the Federation Drought. They coped largely because, by today's standards, they consumed little water. About three of every four houses in Australia had no sewerage. At a guess, two of every three Australians bathed only once a week, and family members used the same water, one after the other. City residents did not expect to water their lawns in a drought, while their vegetable gardens - more extensive than in today's back yards - were often watered with a bucket.

It may be argued that the drought would have been less harmful if there had been a mining boom like ours. In fact, extending from Mt Lyell in Tasmania to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and Charters Towers in Queensland, a vigorous mining boom was bubbling alongside the drought.

That boom was not enough to tint the overall picture, for the inescapable fact was that Australia's economy depended, then more than now, on adequate rains. Today Australia has prosperity alongside a severe drought. In 1900 that combination was impossible.

This is one of the stark differences between that drought and this. The economy today is so buoyant that governments can afford to pay for drought relief - more than has been so far given. During the Federation Drought there was little money to pay for drought relief.

Though the total Australian economy had been hit by the bank crashes in 1893 and by falling commodity prices in the next few years, the long drought deepened and prolonged the Depression. Europeans did not wish to emigrate to such a drought-stricken land. In the 10 years from 1896, Australia's net gain from migration averaged a pitiful 500 people a year. Once the drought was over, immigration soared.

Such a punitive drought spurred a crusade to build large reservoirs to supply cities, towns and farms. It led to a new emphasis on irrigation. That great national era of dam-building finally came to an end around 1980, after multiplying the available water a thousandfold. This present drought in the cities and large parts of the farming country is more manageable because of what earlier Australians constructed.

It is very difficult to compare even the bare statistics of droughts since each has a different shape and longevity. As a broad generalisation, this drought in most farming areas has run for only two-thirds of the time of the Federation Drought: say five years compared to eight or nine years. But this drought is persisting.

In Victoria this drought is entrenched, having commenced about nine years ago. But it is still too early to say whether, measured in rainfall alone, it is worse than the drought of 1894-1902. Significantly, Victoria has experienced many of its dry years during this latest half-century, and 2006 is likely to be one of its worst. Perth, like Melbourne, has its own pattern, and its recent run of dry years has been long.

The huge Murray-Darling Basin, the most productive rural area on the continent, has been hit particularly hard by this drought. This year the overall rainfall across the basin is not quite as low as in 1902 but the runoff into the Murray River is much lower. Here is the heartland of the present drought, indeed of several earlier droughts.

Maybe the majority of climate scientists are pessimistic about Australia's future climate. Public opinion has caught this mood, less perhaps from the scientists than from the way the radio and TV media condense and package the daily news. Public opinion believes that global warming and Australian droughts go hand in hand. Therefore the public will be surprised to learn that, across Australia as a whole, this year will not go down as one of extremely low rainfall.

The past 15 years of rising temperatures have not been a period of exceptional water scarcity. Ours is not the 15-year period receiving the lowest rainfall: that record belongs to the Federation Drought and its aftermath. On the other hand, the loss of water through evaporation is probably higher than in 1900, though there are no nationwide statistics to confirm this.

This drought, with its bushfires, is formidable. More important, it is not yet over. But this is no justification for exaggerating its magnitude. The Federation Drought, in its social and economic impact on the nation, was far more devastating. That verdict will probably remain true, even if this drought continues for several years.


Gloves off for the rumble in the blackboard jungle

Kevin Donnelly says school education has become a burning issue that will only get hotter in 2007

Education has certainly been a barbecue stopper in the past 12 months. On these pages, as well as across the media more generally, barely a week has gone by without debates about topics as diverse as Australia's second-rate ranking in international maths and science tests, the dumbing down impact of outcomes-based education and the fact that state governments are under-resourcing schools; both government and non-government.

At the start of 2006, Prime Minister John Howard entered the debate with his comments about the parlous state of history teaching in our schools. Not only are students taught a black-armband view, but as a consequence of the "new history", the focus is on victim groups and students no longer celebrate the grand narrative associated with our growth as a nation.

The Prime Minister entered the culture wars with his complaints about the destructive impact of postmodern gobbledegook on English as a subject, especially literature. The moral and aesthetic value of literature is lost as students are made to analyse texts in terms of power relationships, and graffiti and SMS messages are on the same stage as Shakespeare and David Malouf. It is significant that David Williamson, somebody not normally associated with the PM's conservative agenda, also publicly criticised the way classics are undermined as a result of forcing students to interpret literature through a politically correct, ideological prism.

While much of this year's debate has focused on national issues - such as the need for plain-English report cards, the introduction of assessment of students on a five-point scale of A to E and the viability of a national curriculum - state and territory issues have also been prominent.

Such were the concerns in Western Australia about the destructive impact of extending outcomes based education into years 11 and 12 and the inept and insensitive way the then state education minister, Ljiljanna Ravlich, handled the situation, that Premier Alan Carpenter was forced to hose down the issue by postponing the introduction of the new certificate and, eventually, by dumping the minister from the portfolio.

In Tasmania, as a result of teachers being forced to adopt what was termed essential learnings - an approach to curriculum where traditional subjects are replaced by generic skills such as world futures and social responsibility - the education minister responsible, Paula Wriedt, nearly lost her seat at the state election and, like Ravlich, was eventually demoted.

While some educationalists, such as the Adelaide-based academic Alan Reid, argue that the education debate is being fuelled by social conservatives, the fact is that in Tasmania, much of the fight against essential learnings has been led by the local branch of the Australian Education Union. The union argued that teachers were being drowned in a bureaucratic, cumbersome and confusing curriculum regime that destroyed the joy of teaching.

As is evident on Perth-based internet site, much of the criticism of OBE has been led by classroom teachers of various political persuasions. That opposition to OBE transcends political boundaries is highlighted by criticisms made by the NSW Labor Education Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, midway through the year in support of the PM's stance, and the way both Kevin Rudd and new federal shadow education spokesman Stephen Smith are echoing widespread concerns about falling standards and a lack of academic rigour in the curriculum.

There is no doubt education will continue to be a significant issue in 2007, especially given the coming federal election. As with this year, much of the debate will focus on the value of OBE and whether students are receiving a sound education. Debates about the impact of the culture wars on subjects such as history, English and science will alsocontinue.

What other issues might be on the agenda? While not receiving much publicity over the past 12 months, except for calls for increased accountability, the need to attract teachers to the profession and to properly reward them will be seen as vital.

Research by Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan, both academics at the Australian National University, suggest that teacher quality, as reflected by the academic aptitude of beginning teachers, has fallen. Teacher surveys carried out by the Australian Education Union show that many of those who have recently entered the classroom do not see teaching as a long-term commitment.

Teachers need to be paid more and better supported in their professional development. Instead of having to re-invent the wheel by designing their own syllabuses, teachers should be given clear, concise road-maps of what to teach, and be given more time to mentor one another.

While accountability is important and better teachers should be rewarded and underperforming teachers dealt with, it is vital that any proposed system is not overly intrusive and bureaucratic and that the complex and demanding nature of teaching is recognised.

Coupled with properly rewarding teachers is the need to give schools the power to hire and to fire staff and to allow decisions about the school curriculum and management, as far as possible, to be made at the local level.

Supporting parental choice in education will also be on the agenda in 2007. The fact that about 40 per cent of year 11 and 12 students now attend non-government schools - and given the attraction of selective government schools, especially in NSW - it's obvious parents want to choose where their children go to school and that a "one size fits all" approach no longer works.

In the US, school vouchers, where the money follows the child, are increasingly popular in areas such as Washington DC and Milwaukee and the reality is that Australia already has a de-facto voucher system - depending on which non-government school the child attends, both state and federal governments subsidise a percentage of the cost.

As a general rule, while education is often debated, Australians tend to spend more time discussing sporting events and sportsmen and women such as Shane Warne, Ian Thorpe and Cathy Freeman. In 2006, education became a topic of strong media interest and public debate, and 2007 will be no different.


Most lethal killer found

Scientists believe they have captured the most lethal creature on the planet in north Queensland. The tiny but deadly irukandji jellyfish is believed responsible for killing American tourist Robert King off Port Douglas five years ago.

In a piece of detective work worthy of Hercule Poirot, stinger expert Lisa-Ann Gershwin has spent years scouring north Queensland waters for the highly venomous and near-invisible culprit. Her breakthrough came on New Year's Day when the previously unknown, peanut-sized creature, trailing four tentacles, ghosted under her spotlight about 8pm off the jetty at Mission Beach. Comparing stinger cells taken from Mr King at Cairns Hospital in 2002 with the newly-discovered species, researchers found a perfect match.

"This is the killer," Dr Gershwin said. "We knew it existed but we have never before captured one live and healthy. These are a wicked, highly venomous, dangerous animal, that drop for drop are the most lethal on the planet."

The high-profile death of Mr King off Port Douglas in 2002 sent shockwaves through the state's multimillion-dollar tourism industry and led to a taskforce to investigate the little known irukandji. Irukandji syndrome, caused by other species of the tiny jellyfish, is known to cause excruciating back pain, sweating, and nausea, but until the 2002 incident, not death. "We know almost nothing about these animals," Dr Gershwin said. "But now, with this new specimen, we can start to find out more."


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

An ostrich policy towards refugees

Cabinet documents from 1976 reveal then prime minister Malcolm Fraser ignored warnings about accepting Lebanese Muslim refugees deemed unlikely to have the qualities required for successful integration.

He was not the only PM to ignore such warnings. Paul Keating went against the advice of immigration minister Chris Hurford and over-ruled warnings from intelligence agencies to accommodate a request for permanent status for the controversial Sheik Taj el-Dene Elhilaly.

According to the Cabinet documents released yesterday, the Fraser cabinet was told that many of the Lebanese Muslim refugees were unskilled, illiterate and of questionable character. Those shortcomings are still reflected by a number of members of the community which has gathered around Hilaly at the Lakemba mosque and are highlighted by the statistics on employment and welfare and in the crime rates.

History has shown Fraser, who stood by as Indonesia consumed East Timor, to have been a rather hollow man.... Faced with the reality that the temporary relaxation of immigration standards opened the doors to a number of undesirables, he told The Australian he rejected such a conclusion and disingenuously blamed more recent governments for alienating modern Muslim youth by failing to help them integrate.

It might seem a no-brainer to suggest that Australia should only accept refugees willing to make an effort to integrate - that is surely what was needed then, and now. Most refugees are more than grateful to the nations which offer them shelter. For whatever reason, significant numbers of Lebanese Muslims feel they are entitled not to join the wider community while accepting the hospitality of those whose taxes funded their flights to safety. Prime Minister John Howard has recognised the problem, saying: "I do think there is this particular complication because there is a fragment which is utterly antagonistic to our kind of society and that is a difficulty."

However, in response to direct pleas from the UN High Commission for Refugees, Australia is now receiving members of another group who are showing a reluctance to integrate - from war-torn Somalia and the Sudan. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph last Friday, Mr Howard acknowledged that things were "hard" for African refugees because "the cultural differences are great". That's all well and good and, while most refugees acknowledge that they have some responsibilities and obligations to the nations which provide them with asylum, Australians have also learnt from tragic experience that there are some who don't feel any obligation to respect the culture and traditions of their hosts.

There is also an unhealthy fifth column in academia and legal circles which argues against Australian customs in favour of cultural statements antagonistic to our Anglo-European heritage. Thus we have seen it argued in our courts that young Muslim men are culturally averse to the equality of women. More recently, West Australian magistrate Colin Roberts was faced with an 18-year-old Sudanese man who police allegedly caught lighting fires. It was suggested to the magistrate that the alleged offender may be suffering a mental condition and he was remanded in custody.

Rightly so. But the previous week, The Australian reported that young African refugees may have become habituated to violence because of their experiences at home, and might find it difficult to accept that carrying weapons is unacceptable in Australia. True, but as we have seen from the violence wreaked by members of a minority within the Lebanese Muslim community, we have imported such problems in the past. What are we doing to ensure that we are not importing similar problems for the future? We should not have to wait another 30 years to set this matter right.


Continued teacher resistance to grading

Morris Iemma made it personal when he said he couldn't understand his children's school reports. The NSW Premier strongly advocated the use of A to E grades in school reports on the ground that they would alert parents to any learning difficulties as early as possible. But it seems his Education Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, has not personally interfered with the reporting system at her child's school, which has ignored the Government's requirement for all reports to include the A to E scale.

Schools were originally told to grade subjects from A to E, but opposition from teachers forced Ms Tebbutt to soften her position and allow schools to use an equivalent five-point scale that describes grades as outstanding, high, sound, basic and limited. Schools using the alternative scale had to provide a key showing how the A to E grades matched up with the descriptive scale. "Schools who choose to grade students using word descriptors instead of A to E must explain on each report that the words equate to the A to E scale," Ms Tebbutt said at the time. But in its end-of-year reports, the school Ms Tebbutt's child attends used a descriptive scale without any reference to the A to E scale. The word "achieved" was used instead of "sound".

The Federation of Parents and Citizens' Associations of NSW said the C grade had caused confusion for many parents who had associated it with a poor performance. The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maree O'Halloran, said Ms Tebbutt's child's school had made a professional judgement about its report format. "I hope that the Government supports them, just as the Teachers Federation supports them in that choice," she said. Ms O'Halloran accused the Government of trying to put a positive spin on the new reports by commissioning a study of parent responses. "The focus group commissioned by the Government didn't really test parent opinion because the questions they asked were very narrow and the methodology they used was flawed," she said. "The Government is trying to put a positive spin on what has been for them a debacle."

The president of the Federation of P&C Associations, Dianne Giblin, said she had received mixed feedback from parents. A spokesperson for the minister said 80 per cent of public schools had adopted the five-point grading scale for their end-of-year student reports.


Greenie dam-hatred now hits washing machines

Will we be told how often we can take a shower soon?

Victoria will lead a national push to have the sale of water-guzzling washing machines and shower heads banned. The crackdown comes as Melbourne had its first day of stage 3 restrictions and the state struggled to get on top of the water crisis, which has seen water storages drop to record lows. Acting Premier and Water Minister John Thwaites said the Government would turn its focus from outdoor water restrictions to indoor water savings, with 80 per cent of household water used indoors. "We can't do it alone, they're (the appliances) manufactured all over the country," Mr Thwaites said. He would approach all of Australia's state and federal water ministers to have all inefficient washing machine models and shower heads phased out.

And the Government hasn't ruled out expanding its rebate program to help Victorians cover the cost of replacing old washing machines with more efficient machines. "We are encouraging people to use low-water-use dishwashers and washing machines but we're not forcing it at this point because most people are choosing to use low-water devices," Mr Thwaites said. "But we will have to move to more severe regulation if that doesn't work."

Mr Thwaites was spruiking the Government's $1000 rebate for large water tanks yesterday, and reminded the public about rebates for people who replaced their old shower heads with low-flow heads. Melbourne has been on stage 3 restrictions for just a day, but it appears likely the city will go to unprecedented stage 4 restrictions, which ban all water use outside the home, by mid-April.

South East Water's 140 inspectors have the power to hand out on-the-spot fines for repeat offenders who breach water restrictions - and even to cut water supplies to a trickle to punish the worst offenders. The powers came into effect yesterday but South East Water refused to say how many people, if any, had been fined or had their supplies restricted. Until December 31, the government-owned water authority had warned 2000 people, but issued no fines against those who breached water restrictions, despite the Government's tough talk. South East Water managing director Dennis Cavagna said the authority believed education was the best way to address water restrictions. "We are keen to make sure people do comply and if they do flout them we will come down hard on them," he said. Mr Cavagna said the restrictions were equivalent to severe restrictions that were implemented in Melbourne in 1982 and 1983.

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu maintained the need for a dam on the Maribyrnong, and said restrictions such as those in Melbourne didn't work. "We have barely been saving at all," he said. He said Melbourne should have been on stage 4 restrictions already. "The Government has left it all too late. They have done stuff-all," he said.


Oh dear! 2006 only 11th hottest year

How pesky for the Greenies. All that extra CO2 in the atmosphere and nothing to show for it! Hot one year and cold the next despite steadily rising CO2. Much fast-talking needed

Melbourne has had its driest year in almost 40 years and Australia had its 11th hottest year since reliable records began in 1910. Temperatures around Australia were almost half a degree above average last year and October was the warmest it had ever been. The Bureau of Meteorology's climate statement tomorrow is expected to say the nation's mean day and night temperature for the past 12 months was about 0.42C above average. While 2005 was the hottest ever (1.09C above average), the result for 2006 is still in line with trends towards higher temperatures.

Parliamentary secretary for the environment Greg Hunt said the pattern of warming was linked to the drought with higher rainfall in the north of the country and lower in the south. [That sounds pretty pesky too] "What this shows is that there is an overwhelming need for water recycling to end the massive waste of water occurring not just in Melbourne but in east coast cities of Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast," Mr Hunt said. "It is almost unthinkable that we are wasting hundreds of billions of litres a year of recyclable water at a time both of drought and a longer-term trend to drying in the south."

Tomorrow's weather bureau statement will say Australian temperatures have risen, on average, about 1C since the middle of last century. Rainfall patterns have also changed with more rain in the northwest over the past 50 years and less in the east and southeast. Melbourne had its eighth driest year since records began in 1855. Just 437mm of rain fell in 2006, well below the annual average of 637mm. Regional centres were also well down with many registering their lowest rainfall. Shepparton, Albury-Wodonga, Sale and Ballarat all recorded record lows. A sprinkling of just 0.6mm in Melbourne on New Year's Eve brought the annual total to the lowest since 1967, when just 332mm of rain fell.

Weather bureau senior forecaster Scott Williams said Melbourne had not received above-average rainfall since 1996, when 777mm was recorded. "That was also the last time our water storages were above 80 per cent," he said. Melbourne's water levels stand at 38.9 per cent. Regional centres were even drier last year. Shepparton recorded a record low of just 183mm -- about a third of the 563mm annual average. In Albury-Wodonga, 290mm of rain fell in 2006 -- not even half the 737mm average. Ballarat, too, registered its lowest total with a mere 302mm, Bendigo had just 326mm. Other towns to have record lows include Nhill, Nathalia, Dookie, Benalla, Dargo, Drouin and Bonnie Doon. But yesterday brought fresh hope with scattered storms across the state. Maryborough had 11mm and Lake Eildon 4mm in the six hours to 3pm. And Licola, the tiny alpine town in the line of bushfires last month, enjoyed a New Year's Eve downpour of 28mm.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Poll: 85pc support English test for migrants

Public support for a citizenship test that requires a basic grasp of English has risen since the proposal was unveiled three months ago, with four out of five Australians now backing the plan. The Australian can reveal that the ability to read safety signs in the workplace will be the standard of English required to pass the language component of the Howard Government's citizenship test.

Under a proposal put forward by the Government, migrants who have lived in Australia for four years can apply for citizenship, but must sit a test on "basic aspects" of Australian society, including an English language component. Prospective citizens must also agree to defend Australia "should the need arise".

A Newspoll survey, conducted exclusively for The Australian on December 15-17, shows more than four out of five people - or 85 per cent of respondents - agree that English should be a requirement for migrants who want to become citizens. The result is an increase on the 77 per cent of Newspoll respondents who backed such a test in September, shortly after Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs Andrew Robb released a discussion paper on the issue. The support for making knowledge of the English language a requirement of citizenship was strongest outside the capital cities, where 90 per cent of respondents agreed. Older respondents were marginally more supportive, with 86 per cent of respondents older than 50 backing the plan, compared with 82per cent aged 18 to 34. Support for the proposal was strongest among Coalition voters, at 93 per cent, compared with 79per cent of Labor voters. Overall, only one in eight respondents, or 12 per cent, were against the proposal. Almost two-thirds of respondents - or 64 per cent - were strongly in favour of the proposal.

Mr Robb welcomed the Newspoll figures yesterday. He said setting the test's standard of English at a level where candidates could read safety signs at work was reasonable. Opposition citizenship spokesman Tony Burke said Labor supported the standard adopted for the test. He said he was not concerned by the lower level of support for the English requirement among Labor voters. "Seventy-nine per cent is still an overwhelming majority," Mr Burke said. "The Australian community knows how important speaking English is to successful integration."

But the proposal has many opponents, including former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser and former governor-general William Deane. Their criticisms include concerns the test could exclude migrants who would make a contribution and that it stigmatises ethnic and religious groups. John Howard will move to formalise the proposal this year, but faces party opposition


Prime Minister was warned on Lebanese migrants way back

Immigration authorities warned the Fraser government in 1976 it was accepting too many Lebanese Muslim refugees without "the required qualities" for successful integration. The Fraser cabinet was also told many of the refugees were unskilled, illiterate and had questionable character and standards of personal hygiene.

Cabinet documents released today by the National Archives under the 30-year rule reveal how Australia's decision to accept thousands of Lebanese Muslims fleeing Lebanon's 1976 civil war led to a temporary collapse of normal eligibility standards.

The emergence of the documents raises the question of whether the temporary relaxation might have contributed to contemporary racial tensions in Sydney's southwest, which exploded a year ago into race-based riots in Cronulla. Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser rejected yesterday any link and said modern Muslim youth felt alienated because governments had not done enough to help them integrate into the general community. "I suspect the schools weren't equipped (and) I suspect the communities weren't equipped," Mr Fraser told The Australian.

But demographer Bob Birrell said the relatively depressed nature of Sydney's Muslim community could easily be linked to the lack of education and work skills of the 1970s migrants.

John Howard was accused of inflaming public hatred towards the Islamic community last February when he warned that aspects of Muslim culture posed an unprecedented challenge for Australia's immigration program. The Prime Minister said while he remained confident the overwhelming majority of Muslims would be successfully integrated, there were unique problems that previous intakes of migrants from Europe and Asia did not have. "I do think there is this particular complication because there is a fragment which is utterly antagonistic to our kind of society, and that is a difficulty," he told The Australian then. "You can't find any equivalent in Italian, Greek, or Lebanese, or Chinese or Baltic immigration to Australia. There is no equivalent of raving on about jihad, but that is the major problem. "I think some of the associated attitudes towards women (are also) a problem."

Mr Fraser's first full year in office, revealed in the papers released today, saw a frenzy of decision-making, with the cabinet making more than 2000 decisions and receiving more than 50,000 pages in submissions - twice the workload shouldered the year before by the Whitlam government. Troubled by a deteriorating economy, the government unleashed a razor gang to slash spending. The abrupt ideological shift from free-wheeling Labor idealism to economically dour conservatism triggered cabinet policy tensions and an epic battle between Mr Fraser and the bureaucracy on economic policy.

In September 1976, as a humanitarian response to the civil war raging at the time between Lebanese Christians and Muslims, cabinet agreed to relax rules requiring immigrants to be healthy, of good character and to have a work qualification. The war claimed 50,000 lives and displaced 600,000 people, many of whom fled to Cyprus, where Australia set up processing facilities in the capital, Nicosia. Australia accepted 4000 Lebanese immigrants in 1976. A cabinet submission of November 30 called for a return to the normal arrangements. The Fraser government boosted immigration numbers from 55,000 in 1975-76 to 70,000 in 1976-77.

Mr Fraser told The Australian that cabinet had relaxed entry qualifications as a humanitarian response to the Lebanese civil war in line with Australia's international responsibilities. He said it would be wrong to assert that current tensions in the Muslim community came about because his government had allowed "bad people" to enter the country. Current racial tensions related to people born in Australia - not the immigrant refugees, he said. "From my point of view, I think the education system and the community have got to take a pretty fair part of the blame (for current problems)," Mr Fraser said. "If there were known to be problems in relation to the Lebanese, maybe the very pertinent question is: why weren't some special efforts made to ward off future difficulties?"

Immigration minister Michael MacKellar told colleagues in 1976 officials had cited concerns about health and character requirements, personal qualities and the migrants' ability to integrate. Whereas earlier Lebanese intakes had involved an even split of Christians and Muslims, the submission said 90 per cent of the migrants were Muslims and that a high percentage were illiterate and unskilled. The officials had warned that many refugees were misrepresenting their background during interviews in "deliberate attempts to conceal vital information", Mr MacKellar reported. And he said most of the applicants were being sponsored by relatives living in Sydney's southwest, where overcrowding was emerging along with evidence that husbands were leaving wives and children "without adequate support" to travel to Lebanon seeking displaced relatives.

The Commonwealth Employment Service and Department of Social Security had reported difficulties at Campsie, in Sydney's southwest, which had a high proportion of migrants. Half were unemployed, and local schools were reporting fears they would run out of classrooms. Cabinet agreed with Mr MacKellar and authorised him to issue a press release attributing the decision on curbing the intake to concerns about a lack of work opportunities for the migrants.

Mr Fraser said he would be surprised if no mistakes had been made by immigration officials over the years, but that Australia had "done pretty well" out of the refugee intakes from areas of civil conflict.

Dr Birrell, who heads Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research, said a study last year had shown Lebanese Muslims in southwest Sydney were less well-off economically than Lebanese Christians. Dr Birrell said this reflected the lack of work skills and education of many of the refugees who arrived in the 1970s.


Appeal by 'Catch the Fire' pastors allowed

The incredible lower court ruling that reading out passages from the Koran is "hate speech" has been knocked on the head. Previous post on the appeal on August 29 (Scroll down). General background here

The Court of Appeal (Supreme Court) of Victoria has ALLOWED the appeal sought by Catch The Fire Ministries, Pastor Danny Nalliah and Pastor Daniel Scot. All three justices - Nettle, Ashley and Neave - agreed that the appeal should be allowed. In particular, the argument that the Tribunal had wrongly interpreted Section 8 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, the basic section that sets out the offence of religious vilification was successful.

The Court gave orders that the Tribunal orders re 'penalties' (advertisement, not saying similar things) be set aside, and that the matter be sent back to VCAT to be heard by a different judge with no new evidence. The Court also ordered that the costs relating to the previous Tribunal hearing and the next one be decided by the Member who hears it.

The Court ordered that the Islamic Council of Victoria pay half of the costs incurred by Catch the Fire Ministries and the pastors in conducting the appeal. Pastor Danny Nalliah and Pastor Daniel Scot welcomed the decision, as the statements made by the Justices show that the decision by Judge Higgins was flawed.


Plan to send parents back to classrooms

Better late than never to give people the education they should have got first time around

Western Australia's new Education Minister wants to send parents back to school in an effort to improve the reading, writing and numeracy skills of their children. Mark McGowan said yesterday there was "anecdotal evidence" that giving parents the right teaching skills would improve their children's education.

The state's smartest student, Christopher Mofflin, 17, from Hale School, Perth, yesterday credited parental support for his 99.95 Tertiary Entrance Examination score, saying they encouraged his reading at an early age. "I first started really reading in Year 3 when they gave me a copy of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings," Christopher said, after being awarded one of two Beazley medals in the state.

Mr McGowan said pilot programs could be made available to all parents, but they should be targeted at those who had children with learning difficulties. "Where children aren't doing as well as they could ... we could invite parents back, work with them, show them how to teach their children these basic skills," he said. "It's about getting parents involved to show parents what they can do to assist their children. There is concern about young people not being able to have the basic competencies ... and it would be irresponsible of me not to investigate options to deal with that."

Mr McGowan has recently touted an overhaul of the state's history curriculum as he tries to boost the Carpenter Government's tarnished standing in the education sector. Former minister Ljljiana Ravlich had a year of calamities in the job.

Christopher's Beazley Medal was based on results including 100 per cent for French and 98.8per cent for physics. Student Michael Gibbings, of Harvey College of Agriculture in the state's southwest, won the vocational studies Beazley Medal


Monday, January 01, 2007

Your government will protect you -- in its usual negligent way

Queensland: Plenty of money to pay an ever-expanding bureaucracy but no money for basics

Volunteer rural fire- fighters were told to stop using old vehicles, but haven't been given replacements.

Coverty Rural Fire Brigade, near Kingaroy, had to stop using a 1949 truck and 19705 utility. First Officer Col McGregor said the brigade had relied on the vehicles to carry water, equipment and personnel. "They won't allow us to use them, but they won't give us new vehicles to replace them," he said. The brigade had been left with a truck that could carry only two people to a fire.

The ban on old vehicles comes after The Sunday Mail last year revealed fire-fighters at Ambrose, between Gladstone and Rockhampton, were using a battered old truck that traffic inspectors had ordered off the road.

Mr McGregor said local fire authorities last year insisted the 12-member Coverty brigade get rid of any vehicles older than 20 years. The brigade had reluctantly sold its van, which was almost 60 years old. The van had been slow, but was better than nothing, Mr McGregor said.

But fire service rural operations director Paul Adcock said old vehicles could cause a safety risk and Coverty had not needed three trucks. "The situation with brigades like Coverty is that they are what we call traditional rural fire brigades, or farmer brigades," he said. "Generally we don't supply that class of brigade with a vehicle. "We provide slipon units and trailers and things like that which are much more suitable to a farm-type environment.

Volunteers from Aldershot Fire Brigade, near Maryborough, also say they have been left with a truck that can carry only two people. First officer Norm Rymer said State Emergency Services Minister Pat Purcell promised to replace the 13-year-old vehicle. "I took it to the Minister so he could see it. He wanted to see a relic that seated only two people. He said he'd do something about it, but he's done nothing. "I've been in the brigade three years and they were trying before then to get it replaced." The brigade's 14 members were warned against using their own vehicles to travel to fires as they might not be covered by insurance.

Mr Adcock said Aldershot's vehicle would be replaced in 2008/09.

(From "THE SUNDAY MAIL" December 31, 2006 Page 11)

Australia's Inhofe?

(Senator Inhofe is the most vocal global warming mocker in the U.S. Congress)

Controversial Liberal backbencher Dennis Jensen has defied John Howard on climate change just months after the Prime Minister personally intervened to prevent him being ousted from his blue-ribbon Perth electorate of Tangney.

The former CSIRO scientist, who alarmed conservatives earlier this year when he said he would be happy to have a nuclear reactor in his electorate, has written to constituents to encourage them to be sceptical about global warming. Dr Jensen insists the argument over climate change is not clear-cut, despite the Prime Minister accepting that global warming is a real issue. Mr Howard has appointed a taskforce to examine the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

"There have been many predictions of dire consequences if global warming is not tackled in time, but what are we tackling and will any initiatives we take have any effect?" Dr Jensen says in a letter posted on his electorate website. The letter and website contain links to a number of articles that question whether global warming is a recent phenomenon, including a savage critique of Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

Article above from "The Australian" of December 30, 2006

Women 'moved on' from feminism

John Howard believes young Australian women have entered a post-feminist era and "moved on" from the need to measure their lives by success in a career. Discussing the rise in births triggered in part by the Coalition's baby-bonus scheme, the Prime Minister told The Sunday Telegraph he thought young women had "a greater awareness now of the disadvantage of postponing having children too long".

Mr Howard said they realised that if child-bearing was left too late, it produced "complications". "Fortunately, I think today's younger women are more in the post-feminist period, where they don't measure their independence and freedom by the number of years they remain full-time in the workforce without having children," he said. "I think they've moved on from that sort of demonstration phase. "I don't mean demonstrations in the streets and so on, but in the sense that they thought: 'I'll be letting the sisterhood down if I don't stay in the workforce until I'm a certain age.' "I think they're more confident and everything."

Mr Howard would not indicate whether his thoughts were influenced by his daughter Melanie - who is in her early 30s and was married in September, 2003 - and whether she might be expecting a child. He said it was not a matter on which he would comment.

"I think what I would claim in relation to such things is that we support choice, and that we don't measure women's achievements and women's rights by the number of full-time female participants in the workforce."

Mr Howard said that when most Australian families decided to have children, they wanted to be in a situation where "in the very early years, in the very early stages, somebody - usually the mother - is at home caring for the child full-time". Then they would go back into the workforce, usually part-time. He said the most common family grouping was what he called "the one and a half to one and a quarter", where there was a full-time breadwinner and the other partner worked part-time.

"Some of them return to full-time work, but the norm is not two people in the full-time workforce from the time a child is born. "That is not the norm, and I think you have to have policies that accommodate all of those choices. "In the last figures I saw, about 27 per cent were one and a halfs, 18 or 19 per cent were two full-timers and about 22 per cent were on single incomes. "When you add the first group and the third together, its more than double the other one."

Mr Howard said all choices had to be accommodated. He believed Coalition policies did that, without trying to tell people how to organise their lives.

Adi Levy, 26, who has a 15-month-old son, Jacob, said starting a family younger had many advantages. "I love being a young mum. I have so much more energy and patience than I would have if I was 10 years older," Ms Levy said. "Provided you're ready for it and you're financially stable, it's a good idea to start young; it's fun. "My aim is to have three children before I reach 30, but we'll see how we go."

Australia's fertility rate is at its highest level since 1995. Women aged 30 to 34 continue to have the highest fertility rate of all women (117.5 babies per 1000 women in 2005) - the highest for this age group since 1964. This reflects the continuing trend of delaying motherhood. Fertility rates of teenagers and women aged 20 to 24 continue to decline, although teenage fertility has increased in some states and territories. The median age of mothers giving birth in 2005 was 30.7 years, 3.4 years older than mothers in 1985.


Storm brings baby boom

Great news. Being born in Innisfail myself, I am delighted to see it

Meet Larry's legion. Far north Queensland is on the cusp of a baby boom and it owes it all to Tropical Cyclone Larry. When the Category 5 storm cut power to thousands of homes just over nine months ago, couples walked away from their lifeless televisions, lit candles and snuggled. "You can tell there was a lot of loving going on at the end of March," said Innisfail region Coca-Cola sales manager Shane O'Brien.

The legacy of all that love is beginning to show in cyclone-affected regions. Mr O'Brien's wife Joanne gave birth to Flynn - conceived during the three weeks their Upper Daradgee home was without electricity - nearly two weeks early on December 17. "No sport, no TV . . . see what happens," Mr O'Brien joked. "You'd be out all day working, cleaning up after the cyclone, and come home absolutely exhausted and end up going to bed early. "There was nothing else to do."

The O'Briens are not on their own. Across Innisfail and its surrounding towns, there are pregnant women everywhere: strolling through the main streets, packing into doctors' waiting rooms and filing into ante-natal classes. "Everyone's talking about how many big bellies and babies there are around the place," said expectant mum Kathryn Dryden.

Joanne O'Brien and workmates Melanie Worth and Dayle Mauloni all became pregnant within weeks of each other. Mrs Worth's son Harry was born nearly 11 weeks premature on October 6. "We think he might have been the first of the cyclone babies," she said.

Johnstone Shire Mayor Neil Clarke reckons the swollen bellies represent his constituents' resolve to rebound from the lows of 2006. Mrs O'Brien agreed, saying the baby boom was cause for celebration after the trials brought about by Larry. "Flynn's birth has brought us a lot of joy and has put everything into perspective," she said. "We had all that bad luck and suddenly it turned to good luck."

Although hospital birth figures are yet to reflect Innisfail's growth, new arrivals Leonardo Kenderick, Clayton Daley and Tanna Hooligan were evidence of it at Innisfail District Hospital.


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