Thursday, January 31, 2008

Maccas defeats the haters

The self-elected elite despise Maccas but the people know a good deal

The reinvented fast-food chain McDonald's has bounced back from the Super Size Me controversy to serve a record number of Australians in the past year. An average of 1.2million Australians [out of a total population of 20 million] a day walked through the golden arches in 2007. The franchise, which has 762 restaurants across the nation, notched double-digit growth over the calendar year, a McDonald's Australia spokeswoman said. But only 15percent of sales were its healthy eating options such as salads and fruit juices. The top seller was the cheeseburger.

"Last year was simply our best year ever," Helen Farquhar, McDonald's director of marketing and senior vice-president, said. The fast-food giant has prevailed despite the negative publicity generated by Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary Super Size Me, which highlighted the filmmaker's 11-kilogram weight gain and associated health problems after he ate nothing but McDonald's for 30 days. "There's no doubt that there was huge media coverage given to Super Size Me but it applied more to the US than here," Ms Farquhar said.

"The claims made in that film were untrue in Australia because we were already on a journey of reinvention and had already expanded our menu . and put nutritional labelling on our products when that [film] came out in Australia."

A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed last year that Australia had the fifth highest adult obesity rate behind the US, Mexico, Britain and Greece. Dr Linda Schachter, a physician at The Centre for Bariatric Surgery in Victoria, which specialises in the surgical treatment of obesity, said it was "incredibly disappointing" to hear that more people than ever were eating McDonald's. Dr Schachter said while some people might choose healthier options at McDonald's, the fact was many still ordered fries, which were high in fat. "Society is getting more overweight and obese and it's disappointing to think that nearly 5percent of Australians are eating McDonald's every day," she said.

Ms Farquhar said the reason for strong business growth was because McDonald's was "not just about burgers and fries any more. "We've broadened our appeal and are responding to consumers who are demanding high-quality products," she said. The $2.5 billion company has been transformed over the past six years after a decade of declining sales. Its menu now features lighter options such as salads and sandwich wraps and food is cooked in an oil blend that has 85percent less trans fatty acids. Since 2006 McDonald's has had "percentage daily intake" information on its packaging, so that customers can see the energy content and nutrients in its food.

Andrew Koch, director of independent Sydney agency The Marketing Factor, said McDonald's had repositioned itself in the fast-food market by addressing the issues of fatty food and obesity. "Their advertising used to be aimed at kids, whereas now they offer a broader range of products and are bringing the whole family in. They've convinced the parents too now," he said.

Susie Burrell, an obesity dietitian at Westmead Children's Hospital said, "At the end of the day, McDonald's is a fast-food restaurant." She said while there were healthier options available, children were not going to go to McDonald's and choose a deli choice option over a cheeseburger. But Ms Farquhar said: "We actually sell more salads than any other [fast-food] restaurant or convenience store across the country."


More hopeless government "security" at an Australian airport

Cairns International Airport is not secure, with knives and even firearms regularly slipping through security checks, an airport insider has revealed. The whistleblower told The Cairns Post he had seen scissors and knives overlooked by security officers checking baggage. The baggage checkers had once failed to pick up a 9mm pistol stashed in luggage as part of a Department of Transport security check. "It's ridiculous," he said. "If I wanted to, I could take a bloody machinegun through there."

Airport security contractor ISS Security has rejected the claims that Cairns' airport checks are not up to par. A company spokesman described the failure of staff to detect the fake firearm as a "systems test". "While the test items resemble prohibited items, they are harmless," he said. The firm has been at the centre of recent claims it failed similar tests at Brisbane airport.

But the Cairns airport insider said that despite his repeated protests about lax security and poorly trained employees in Cairns, none of his complaints had been passed on to management. He also alleged that:

* A baggage handler threw a passenger's suitcase on their bag and swore at him when the passenger complained about how long it took to check baggage.

* A security officer suggested an Asian tourist should slap his wife to keep her quiet while they were arguing.

* Security firm senior staff failed to notice a 9mm pistol stashed in a bag as part of a routine security test - despite X-raying it.

* Management failed to act on reports of scissors and knives not being spotted by security staff.

The allegations come only days after the Queensland branch of the Transport Workers' Union called for an investigation into the security of major international airports, including Cairns and Brisbane. TWU branch secretary Hughie Williams said major international airports, including Cairns, routinely failed to meet minimum security guidelines. "With terrorism a real concern, the Government should be following up on these reports," he said. "The TWU demands a full investigation." The TWU also claims it had received numerous reports of inadequately trained security staff last year.

The Australian Federal Police said they provide additional security and logistical support to 11 major international airports, including Cairns, but day-to-day baggage scanning and security checks were all handled by private security firms.

ISS Security's spokesman said the firm was happy with the security standard it provided. "In the many tests carried out, (there) is no indication of low standards of security, nor can it be used to claim there is any threat to public safety," he said. "Standards at Cairns are consistent with world's best practice."


A corrupt government health boss with a bad memory

There seems to be an epidemic of bad memories among West Australian officials and politicians

THE return of WA Inc was felt with full force yesterday when Australia's highest-paid public servant was forced to resign following a damning corruption report linking him to former premier Brian Burke. The West Australian Government is now bracing itself for nine reports, to be released in the next three months, by the Corruption and Crime Commission, all involving Mr Burke's lobbying activities.

The CCC yesterday recommended that the Director of Public Prosecutions consider legal action against Neale Fong, the state's $565,272-a-year director-general of health. Dr Fong resigned shortly after the report was made public, saying he was embarrassed that he had not recalled 33 emails between himself and Mr Burke, but that they had been "totally innocuous". Dr Fong had told the CCC under oath that there was no personal or professional business relationship between himself and Mr Burke and that he had no recollection of any of the 33 emails.

The CCC recommended that consideration be given for Dr Fong to be prosecuted "arising from his representation of his relationship with former premier, Mr Brian Burke". The CCC claimed Dr Fong had engaged in three cases of misconduct, the most serious being that he disclosed to Mr Burke that the CCC was investigating a fellow senior officer in the department.

Corruption authorities have recorded and listened to about 13,000 phone conversations of Mr Burke related to several major lobbying deals. The calls were intercepted for 18 months from the beginning of 2006. Mr Burke himself was unaware all his phone calls and computer traffic was being monitored until he called before the CCC last year to give evidence under oath....

Yesterday's report stated that Dr Fong engaged in serious misconduct by disclosing a restricted matter to Mr Burke, namely that the commission was investigating a senior Department of Health official, Michael Moodie. The health chief was also reported to have engaged in misconduct by telling his minister, Jim McGinty, that he had no recollection of any emails between himself and Mr Burke and that he had no personal relationship with Mr Burke. The commission found evidence to the contrary. The report also found Dr Fong engaged in misconduct by failing to report the disclosure to him by Mr Burke of what the former premier claimed to be confidential cabinet information.

Commissioner Len Roberts-Smith QC said it was inconceivable that Dr Fong had not, could not and did not recall that there were any emails between himself and Mr Burke. A statement by the CCC said: "Although the investigation concerned the facts of Dr Fong's relationship with Mr Burke, there was no allegation against Mr Burke, his conduct was not the subject of the inquiry and the commission expresses no opinion about it in this report."

Dr Fong said: "I am embarrassed that I did not recall the emails from Mr Burke. However, I receive approximately 2000 emails and send 650 emails per month. I receive thousands of text messages, telephone calls and messages and pieces of correspondence every month."


Ratty Australian Leftist becomes a Muslim menace

PICTURE the sitting room of a modest two-bedroom flat at Lakemba in southwest Sydney. Neatly covered floor cushions lean up against the wall beside a shelf full of brass ornaments from the Middle East, while a tank of goldfish bubbles in the corner. It doesn't look like a terrorist's lair. The occupant is a 54-year-old mother of six and grandmother of two, retired and living on a disability pension. She doesn't look like a terrorist.

But this is the most-watched woman in Australia, monitored for the past 20 years by ASIO and described by intelligence analysts as the "matriarch" of radical Islam in Australia. Rabiah Hutchinson snorts with laughter at the description. "They've got it wrong. I am not important. I'm just a 54-year-old granny with diabetes and arthritis. What are they so worried about?"

Ms Hutchinson has been closely watched by Australian authorities since October 2003, when she returned to Australia from Iran, where she had spent nearly two years in hiding after fleeing from Afghanistan amid the US bombing raids that followed the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US. Her passport was subsequently cancelled, based on advice from ASIO to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that she was "likely to engage in conduct that might prejudice the security of Australia or of a foreign country (and) endanger the health and physical safety of others".

Ms Hutchinson remains barred from travelling overseas, believes she is under constant ASIO surveillance and claims her family and friends are continually harassed. After years of silence, she has decided to speak out to deny any involvement in terrorism and accuse the authorities of persecuting her and her family. "It's not just me they're targeting. Now it's my children and even my grandchildren," Ms Hutchinson says. "It's absolutely ridiculous - to think I had any personal knowledge of or contact with Sheik Osama bin Laden. I am absolutely nobody. I just happened to be there."

As she recounts her life story, Ms Hutchinson laughs, sometimes shouts and occasionally weeps - at the memory of friends killed by US bombs in Afghanistan, or the hardship endured by her children because of her activities. She is passionate, funny and articulate, a natural story-teller and eloquent advocate of her faith. Born of Scottish stock and raised in Mudgee, in central NSW, she is also very Australian, describing in a broad Aussie accent how she carried Vegemite on all her travels, even to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

She is certainly extreme - in her absolute and unwavering devotion to Islam. And she is also angry. "When we left Afghanistan, we became among those classified as the most hated people on the face of this planet," Ms Hutchinson says. "And being one of those people means that there are a lot of people on this planet who believe you have less rights than an animal, that you can be tortured, raped, maimed, renditioned and have the most horrific things done to you in the name of anti-terrorism."

Rabiah Hutchinson has been of interest to Australian intelligence since the 1980s, when she was living in Indonesia and joined the rising Islamic resistance movement opposed to the Suharto regime. She had arrived in Indonesia as a 19-year-old backpacker visiting Bali in the early 1970s. There she converted to Islam and married an Indonesian man, with whom she had three children. When they divorced, she returned to Australia, but later went back to Indonesia to study Islam, which she says transformed her life.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Australian government again told by adviser to relax greenhouse cuts

The Rudd Government will have to abandon plans for rigid interim targets for greenhouse gas cuts to allow its emissions-trading scheme to work properly, a senior economist has said. Warwick McKibbin, whose economic models on climate change are being used by Treasury to calculate the costs involved, yesterday added his voice to concerns that mandating a specific cut for 2020 could lift the cost of tackling global warming. "That's the problem with politicians who make promises that can't be sustained," Professor McKibbin said. "I think the Government will realise they can still be credible enough, even if they drop a few things."

Kevin Rudd has said Australia needs interim targets for emissions cuts, beyond its existing pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. The Prime Minister commissioned Australian National University economist Ross Garnaut to advise the Government on how the targets should be set. Professor Garnaut suggested yesterday it would be more efficient to use targets as a guide for allocating carbon permits, rather than as exact and enforceable cuts for specific years.

Professor McKibbin agrees, saying business should in some years be allowed to exceed the target for emissions. "It can't be all or nothing," he said. "There has to be a balance between the environmental benefit and the economic costs, and that's what's missing."

However, a spokesman for Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the Government would not abandon its election commitment on targets. "The Government expects (Professor Garnaut) will raise a number of interesting questions and ideas for consideration," Senator Wong's spokesman said. "Of course, given Professor Garnaut is independent, his ideas may not necessarily reflect government thinking."

WWF climate program director Paul Toni warned that some companies would risk doing nothing to cut emissions if there were no binding interim targets, in the hope they could lobby future governments to soften the rules later. "Instead of the crunch coming in 10 years or five years, there will be some industries that will be asking for further support and will be able to exert pressure," Mr Toni said. "It will just postpone rent-seeking to a date further in the future." Australian Industry Greenhouse Network chief executive John Daley said he favoured less government interference and more market freedom in an emissions-trading system.

More here

Bigoted far-Left educational "resource"

Hate-speech against those evil white people again

A taxpayer-funded program suggests Barbie may be Italian and asks whether she likes Spider-Man in a bizarre bid to tackle racism in childcare centres. But the move may have backfired with the radical blueprint telling teachers the Government itself is a racist institution run by white Anglo-Saxon men. The federally funded childcare resource warns early childhood teachers to be wary of "government policy" that expect "all cultures to conform to a white Anglo Australian way of living".

The book even compares citizenship to the White Australia Policy and attacks the Australian Government whose policies have "been formulated by political parties who historically and even today are in the majority white Christian Anglo middle class men". "Like the White Australia Policy, current government policies of 'citizenship' set out an official framework of what it is to be Australian," it reads.

The 'Exploring Multiculturalism, Anti-Bias and Social Justice in Children's Services' project is funded by the Federal Government and put out by Children's Services Central, a network of children service bodies in NSW. Designed to assist early childcare workers in NSW, the document gives advice on dealing with racism.

It comes after The Daily Telegraph revealed the State Government has funded an anti-racism program in a NSW pre-school for the first time. The pilot scheme at the Auburn Long Day Care Centre involves teaching children the national anthems of different countries and celebrating ethnic festivals such as Chinese New Year and Muslim holidays.

In contrast, the wacky teaching resource uses the Cronulla riots as a case study in an anti-racism lesson entitled "All the Lebs Are Bad Guys". Excerpts from another lesson relays a conversation about Barbie's ethnic origins between a group of young children from different cultural backgrounds.

A spokeswoman for federal Early Childhood Parliamentary Secretary Maxine McKew did not comment on whether the Government would consider withdrawing the resource.


Bill Hayden reflects

Comments from Bill Hayden below inspired by Paddy McGuinness (Bill Hayden is a former governor-general of Australia, Labor leader, treasurer and foreign minister

Tributes to P. P. McGuinness have lately been pouring in from across the nation, and many of them have highlighted Paddy's central role in the nation's journalistic and cultural life. But there is another Paddy, and here is my story of the economic adviser and good mate I knew for more than three decades.

I first met Paddy in 1972 when he came to work with me after I was appointed minister for social security in the Whitlam government. I was looking for a senior staff member, a task that left me somewhat flummoxed as, apart from an electorate assistant, I had never employed anyone before. I needed someone with appropriate qualifications, wide experience and plenty of energy. Max Walsh, editor of The Australian Financial Review, called to say: "I've got just the man for you. You'll like him. He's very much like you." On the appointed day, there was a knock on my office door in Canberra.

Now, bear in mind that I was a short-back-and-sides copper, not all that long off the police beat in Ipswich. And a Queensland cop to boot. So when I opened the door and saw Paddy standing there, I was taken aback: long hair, a generous, almost forbidding beard; he was wearing a black skivvy, black strides, a well-cut, silk-lined opera cloak; he carried a rather elegant walking cane with a moulded silver handle. I took a few deep breaths to get over the culture shock, and then we held discussions. Within minutes, I was won over. He was a man of mild presentational manner and clearly an intellectual force with formidable credentials and experience in economics. He was also very agreeable company.

Although a middle-class intellectual, he never sneered at or talked down to the working class. I'm boots-and-braces working class and that has always been important to me. One of the ALP's problems in recent times has been the small but loquacious and self-absorbed middle-class layer that has attached itself to the party. It consists of the politically correct who are determined to transform our lifestyles, habits and even our thoughts to bring them into conformity with their own standards. All the workers have to do is the grubby, sweaty, mucking-out work in the stables of humanity. Kim Beazley Sr once said at an ALP conference: "When I joined the Labor Party, it contained the cream of the working class; now it contains the dregs of the middle class." That may have been a bit harsh in the circumstances, but there was a kernel of truth in there.

Now reflect on Paddy's newspaper columns over the decades. He always spoke with respect about working-class points of view. "My family's Irish-Australian nationalist background instilled in me a respect for the ordinary class, the battlers, the little people," he once noted. Their expression might sometimes be unpolished or untutored, but their views are based on experience at the rough end of the sociopolitical spectrum, where practicalities are often crucially important. That is why workers can invariably see through people who are using them, or who insist on making impractical arrangements to govern other people's lives, as in the case of Aboriginal welfare policy. And that is why John Howard attracted a majority blue-collar vote at the 1996, 2001 and 2004 elections. The prodigious squandering of our tribal heritage left me dumbfounded.

I recall watching Paddy enter an Ipswich pub in attire that wasn't exactly commonplace in those environs, yet in a very short while he would be engaged in conversation with members of the working class. They were attracted to his personality and his obvious intellectual depth - which he wore lightly, like a well-woven but unpretentiously cut coat - but most of all they relished his company because he clearly respected their points of view.

Paddy was the token male in my office in the 1970s. Gae Raby, head of the office, managed everything, except Paddy. At first, the women didn't know what to make of him. Gae, thinking she would reach out for the soft spot in Paddy's nature, cleared his memorably chaotic desk one day while he was out. On his return, Paddy softly growled: "Empty desk tops belong to empty minds." The women quickly recognised that Paddy was a true gentleman: someone who was always ready to help; who would defend them against some of the more pushy, demanding types who can turn up at a minister's office; and who was good fun after work, offering crackingly good-humoured companionship at a dinner table with cold wine and hot food.

Once I was called into parliament to make a statement on some matter at very short notice. I started to address the house before Paddy had finished writing the speech. And yet, as I spoke, the speech kept arriving, one page at a time.

Peter McCawley, a distinguished public sector economist and a mutual friend of ours, recalls Paddy as a formidable member of the razor gang, as it was colloquially known, during the Whitlam era. The task of this group was to recommend ways to pare back public spending: no easy task for a government with a notable devotion to public spending. Sound familiar? The present-day equivalent would be for the Reserve Bank to modestly increase interest rates in order to gently curb sectoral pressure in some part of the economy, and for the government to then dish out huge tax cuts and institute spending programs that undermine the bank's carefully calibrated measures.

Paddy had so many estimable virtues. He never left a job half done, and it is no wonder the final edition of Quadrant produced under his editorship went on sale just days before he died. He embodied integrity and was always honourable in his dealings: a person of enormous energy and great abilities. Australia is poorer with his passing. [Hear here!]


Less than a year in jail for this trash?

AN unlicensed motorist broke a police officer's arm after leading him on a high speed chase through Brisbane, a court has been told. Sean William Burdon, 28, was today sentenced to three years jail and disqualified from driving for four years after the dangerous incident on August 7, 2006.

The Brisbane District Court was told the chase began when Burdon stole a car from outside a home at Bribie Island, north of Brisbane, about 2.30am (AEST). After almost running down the car's owner, Burdon led police on a 35km journey from Bribie Island to the inner-city suburb of Fortitude Valley. The court was told he reached speeds of 140km/h during the chase, ran numerous red lights and repeatedly swerved onto the wrong side of the road, narrowly avoiding hitting a police car.

He was briefly slowed but didn't stop when police scored a hit with road spikes. The spikes blew out at least two tyres, sending sparks flying as Burdon struggled to retain control of the car.

The court was told his journey ended when he ploughed into gates at the Brisbane RNA showgrounds. Police attempted to wrestle Burdon from the car when he came to a stop, with one officer sustaining a broken arm during the violent struggle. Burdon today tendered a letter to the court apologising for his behaviour, saying he had "rediscovered" himself since the offence. He pleaded guilty to five offences including dangerous operation of a motor vehicle with a circumstance of aggravation and assault or obstructing a police officer.

Judge Hugh Botting reactivated a previous suspended sentence for property offences and also sentenced him to three years jail for these latest offences. He will be eligible for parole in November.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rudd avoids upsetting middle Australia again

The Labor party has been successful in Australia because it avoids creating alienated constituencies -- and any disrespect for Austalia's greatest cricket hero would have been remembered angrily by many. Rudd is even patron of a gun club in his electorate, so even gun enthusiasts cannot complain about him! His stance on the so-called "stolen generation" is also moderate -- fine words but no money

Kevin Rudd has declared "The Don is safe" ruling out a push to dump a question on Sir Donald Bradman from Australia¨s citizenship test. Claiming political interference from former prime minister John Howard, a self-confessed cricket tragic, Labor sources had indicated they were keen to target the cricket question under a review of the citizenship test. A stunning 93 per cent of migrants who have sat for the test in the last three months have passed with flying colours.

Mr Rudd used an appearance on the Sunrise breakfast program today to rule out any move to axe the question on Sir Don from the Australia test. "The Don is safe," Mr Rudd said. But Mr Rudd said today: "I'm unaware of any plans on our part to give The Don the axe - I'm not lining up in that camp." The question asks who is Australia's greatest cricketer and provides a choice between Sir Donald Bradman, (cyclist) Sir Hubert Opperman and (billiards player) Walter Lindrum.

Mr Rudd has also ruled out establishing a compensation fund for indigenous Australians' stolen generation under his plan to deliver a formal apology when Parliament resumes. The Prime Minister confirmed this morning he planned to deliver on his promise to offer a formal apology in the first sitting of Parliament, which resumes in a fortnight. "The intention is to build this bridge of respect between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia," Mr Rudd told the Seven network. "The judgment I have made is ... let's get this symbolic act of apology right and then let's move on together. Both symbols and substance are important - that's the truth of it."

However, he ruled out offering cash compensation, which some activists have warned is crucial to delivering an apology with real meaning. "We will not be establishing any compensation funds," Mr Rudd said.


Citizenship test a 'stunning' success

Hmmmm... I am not sure I agree with the criterion for success here. Is a test that everyone passes of much use? Maybe so in the circumstances but what the test requires and what it brings about would surely be more important criteria for its "success"

FEARS the citizenship test is unfair to migrants have been proved unfounded by a review showing a stunning 93 per cent pass rate. Indians and Filipinos are doing far better on the exam than Brits and New Zealanders. But a high number of newcomers from war-torn states, most of them refugees, are struggling to get through the quiz, according to an analysis released last night. The study indicates that migrants keen to get citizenship are swotting up on their new country and taking the test seriously.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the Government wanted to ensure the test was not a barrier to migrants in need of support. But he said: "The test can play a valuable role in helping new citizens understand the rights and responsibilities of citizenship."

It was introduced by the former government to "assist" people who want to become Australians understand "Australian values, traditions, history and national symbols". The test, which started on October 1, has to be taken by migrants aged 18-60, before they apply for citizenship.

The Department of Immigration review from October to the end of December found 92.9 per cent passed on their first or subsequent attempts. Candidates are allowed as many attempts as they want. But there were some surprises:

The lowest failure rate was 0.9 per cent for the 338 South African applicants, followed by just 1.1 per cent for the 634 from India, and 1.9 per cent for the 254 from the Philippines. The 1103 British migrants had a 2.26 per cent failure rate, and the 282 New Zealanders, 2.8 per cent. Skilled migrants, who made up 44 per cent of the 9043 people from 172 countries who sat the test, had the best pass rate of 97 per cent, and family reunion migrants, 21.6 per cent of participants had a 90 per cent success rate. However, for migrants here on humanitarian grounds [Mostly Africans] the success rate fell to 80 per cent.


The old alliance continues

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has stressed Australia's commitment to the US alliance at the Rudd Government's first official meeting with the Bush administration. Mr Smith also reaffirmed Australia's plan to withdraw its combat troops from Iraq in the first half of this year. But he promised US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during a meeting in Washington, that Australia would try to minimise disruption from the pull-out, offering to consider stepping up civilian aid and expertise.

Mr Smith formally outlined the Government's plan to withdraw the 550-strong Overwatch Battle Group when its rotation in Iraq ends. "That's being done ... in a way to minimise, to absolutely minimise any disruption or difficulty," he said in a joint news conference with Dr Rice. "I don't think for one moment think that that in any way has any capacity to disturb either the good working relationship between the current administration and the new Australian Government, nor to be anything of any significance in terms of a long-standing, enduring alliance." The "indispensable" alliance between the US and Australia transcended governments and administrations, Mr Smith said.

Australia would also consider increasing civilian support to Iraq such as rebuilding infrastructure and helping to support the country's fledgling government. The Rudd Government plans to withdraw most of its frontline troops, but will leave hundreds of troops in supporting roles. Mr Smith also reaffirmed the Government's commitment to assisting in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, where more than 1000 Australian troops are stationed. He told Dr Rice that Australia was particularly concerned about Afghanistan following the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and believed there was need for "significant international community interest".

The pair also discussed climate change and securing democracy, peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region in their "productive and useful" meeting, Mr Smith said. Mr Smith is the highest-level official to visit Washington since the Rudd Government was elected in November. The Prime Minister plans to visit Washington later in the year.

Mr Smith, who is also meeting Vice President Dick Cheney and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, will be at President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech today. Dr Rice accepted Mr Smith's invitation to visit his home state of Western Australia. "It has really been a very good first meeting and I look very much forward to meetings in the future," she said.


Rudd government told "Manyana" on greenhouse targets

("Manyana" is Spanish for "tomorrow" and is often used to refer to not worrying about the future)

The economist advising the Rudd Government on climate change has warned nations against locking in to strict interim greenhouse-gas reduction targets in their zeal to tackle global warming. Professor Ross Garnaut is examining the economic costs of tackling climate change and is due to deliver his report to the Federal Government in the second half of this year. At December's international climate talks in Bali, the Rudd Government refused to commit Australia to interim emissions-reduction targets until the Garnaut review was complete.

Prof Garnaut said it was more important to achieve an overall greenhouse-gas reduction target longer-term - for example over 40 years - than to meet short-term targets in particular years. Instead, the market should decide how quickly to cut emissions, he said. "By focusing on a particular date you may diminish the environmental impact of what you're trying to do and you may increase the economic costs of it," he told ABC radio today. "We're trying to address the question of how we can meet the strong environmental goals in a way that minimises cost. "You have to ask a question about how strongly you focus on particular dates and how much you look at the overall impact over a number of years."

He denied this amounted to a recommendation that governments set looser rather than tighter emissions-reduction targets. "You're looking at a binding total amount of emissions over a long period of time," Prof Garnaut said. "If you just focus on one year or particular years then you can do an awful lot of emitting in other years and so you don't meet the environmental objective that's absolutely crucial - and that's the total amount of emissions going into the atmosphere." However, he acknowledged there was a danger that countries could leave it 10 or 20 years before doing anything if they refused to commit to interim emissions cuts.


Setting standards in Qld. schools

The details are not ideal but more attention to standards is welcome -- and long overdue

CHILDREN will be taught essential subjects such as English, Maths and Science no matter where they are enrolled in the state when they start a new school year today. The Bligh Government yesterday unveiled details of its new "essential learnings" program, aimed at ensuring greater consistency in the subjects Queensland children are taught. The program, which cost more than $8 million to develop, will specify what all students need to know and be able to do at key points in their school lives.

Other milestones for the state's school sector this year include the first full intake of prep children and the introduction of the Queensland Certificate of Education for senior students. Premier Anna Bligh said the program would especially benefit the thousands of students and a quarter of the state's teachers who change schools every year. It will specify the things that all students - whether they go to public or private school - need to learn and will be assessed on.

For example, under the new system, students at the end of Year 5 would be expected to know about the colonisation of Australia including the concept of terra nullius [Leftist crap. The doctine of terra nullius had never been heard of when Australia was colonized by the British], the basics of physics and biology and how to read a map. By the end of Year 7, they would be expected to understand how gravity affects the Earth and other planets, the different roles of local, state and national governments and how to represent and compare data in pie charts and graphs.

The new program will use an "A to E" system of reporting and assessment, where an "A" means a student has demonstrated a comprehensive understanding of a subject and "E" means they have only a basic knowledge of concepts and facts related to a subject.

Ms Bligh said the program heralded a "new era" in school education in Queensland. Education Minister Rod Welford said it still allowed schools the flexibility to organise their curriculum while setting out those things all students needed to learn.

About 480,000 students are expected to enrol in government primary, secondary and special schools this year, while the Catholic and independent student body in Queensland is expected to number about 220,000. About 54,000 children will enrol on the first full intake of prep. Mr Welford will also introduce a scheme which requires all primary school children to take part in physical activities for at least an average of 30 minutes a day.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Many tributes to Paddy

Paddy always despised Stalinism so an amusing and rather curious thing that nobody mentions below is that Paddy worked at one stage for The Moscow Narodny Bank -- during the Soviet years. Peter Coleman mentions it here

TRIBUTES flowed in yesterday from around the world for Padraic "Paddy" McGuinness, a unique character in Australian life and a man who had been central to the country's cultural, journalistic and academic life for more than half a century. The renowned commentator, journalist and self-proclaimed dissenter, a one-time daily columnist on The Australian, died aged 69 at his Balmain home on Saturday after a struggle with cancer.

McGuinness first came to public attention as a student activist - his ASIO file is now on the National Archives website - and was a leading light during the heady days of intellectual ferment in the late 1950s and early 60s that saw the formation of the group known as the Sydney Push. A baffled ASIO officer who examined the McGuinness file summed him up as "an individualist, a non-conformist and an anti-authoritarian".

Both loved and reviled, always dressed in black faux-clerical garb, schooner in hand and holding court in his many favourite drinking holes across Sydney, McGuinness prided himself on pricking intellectual pretension wherever he found it. His exposure of cant and hypocrisy earned him friends from all sides of the political divide.

Greg Lindsay, founder of think tank The Centre for Independent Studies, argued and drank with McGuinness for 30 years. "Paddy was always passionately interested in ideas," Mr Lindsay said. "He was one of the great Australians; dying on Australia Day was very fitting."

Most of McGuinness's career was in journalism - as a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian and as editor of The Australian Financial Review. In recent years he was editor of the magazine Quadrant.

Senior columnist with The Australian Frank Devine, who knew McGuinness for 35 years, said: "Paddy was the quintessential independent thinker, scorning humbug and stupidity. He was a bloodthirsty predator among those he identified as members of the chattering classes."

Long-term friend and columnist Jane Fraser said he was a proud man who had intensely disliked showing his vulnerability in his final months. "He refused to discuss his illness with those close to him and would tell us: 'Mind your own bloody business - and don't send any bloody priests'," Fraser said. "He had that natural charisma which meant people were always fascinated by him. But he was more than generous with his time, whether you were famous, infamous or the cleaner. He wasn't some big blustering crass thing; he was a very sensitive man."

Peter Coleman, former editor of Quadrant, described McGuinness as "a terrific editor to work with, courageous and imaginative". "He published articles no one else would," Coleman said.

Author and new Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle said of McGuinness: "He had a very strong eye for cant, humbug, hypocrisy and people who clothed the incoherence of their ideas in obfuscatory language. When he became editor of Quadrant in late 1997, he declared one of his targets would be postmodernism, which was then the main intellectual infection in our humanity departments of our universities. Within five years, postmodernism was dead."

Windschuttle said McGuinness was also one of the few voices brave enough to raise debate about Aborigines and the Stolen Generation at a time when even to question the topic was derided by the Left as immoral. "He gave a voice to the carers, the workers and the officials whose voices had been deliberately excluded," Windschuttle said.

Professor of economics at the University of Singapore, Henry Ergas, who first met McGuinness in the 1970s, said: "I will always think of him as a reader over my shoulder, reminding me that ideas are so important they need to be expressed clearly, allowing them to genuinely form part of the great conversation of mankind."

McGuinness's funeral will be held at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney at 2pm on Friday. The two speakers, both former employers, will be Devine and former governor-general and long-term friend Bill Hayden.



Below is what passes for high-powered intellect among Australian Leftists. It is from the blog of the "Lowy Institute for International Policy" which seems to have high pretensions.

No mention of scientific facts is made but "feel" is given prominent mention. Once again it is nothing but ad hominem argument and abuse -- which is totally disreputable intellectually. I suspect in fact that our poor old Leftist did not have a clue about how to address the scientific issues involved and thought he could get away with bluff. I think that Frank Lowy, the magnate who founded the Lowy Institute, should be looking for more high-powered employees.

I follow the spurt of superciliousness below with a reply that DOES address the facts. I suppose it is something that they published the reply. The reply is by Alex Avery, son of skeptical author Dennis Avery, mentioned below. Alex is Director of Research at the Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute. He hits the poor old Lowy lamebrains with an actual journal abstract -- almost unfair to such simpletons -- who probably would not even know which way up to hold an abstract, let alone being able to make anything out of it!
Climate skeptics tilting at windfarms

A few weeks ago I, along with most of my colleagues on the staff and the board of the Lowy Institute, received a complimentary copy of a book called 'Unstoppable Global Warming - Every 1,500 Years', by S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery. When I arrived at work there was an enormous pile of these tomes sitting at the Institute's reception.

The book appears to be a fairly standard example of the `climate change skeptic' genre. Contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus captured in the most recent report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the authors argue that most global warming is not caused by human activities but by a natural 1500-year climate cycle, and that it is not nearly as dangerous as the Al Gores of this world make out.

I regret to say that this book does not have an authoritative feeling about it, starting with the spelling error in the publisher's name on the title page. A search of the authors' names by my colleague Kate Mason took us to the far-right reaches of the Internet, including links to research questioning the link between passive smoking and lung cancer, jeremiads against organic food, and the websites of various American think tanks with the word `freedom' in their title.

Anyway, people can write whatever nonsense they like; I'm more interested in the fact that someone, somewhere is sending out thousands of copies of this book to anyone they can think of who may be in a position to influence the public debate. The book's Preface states that: `A public relations campaign of staggering dimensions is being carried forward to convince us that global warming is man-made and a crisis.' It looks like an expensive campaign is being run against those propositions, too.

I doubt whether it is a very effective campaign, though. The sheer oddness of the whole exercise - both the message and the means of communicating it - leaves the distinct impression that history has passed these people by.


A climate sceptic replies

Your comments about my father's book are lacking in any substance whatsoever. Spelling errors and perceived lack of 'authoritative feeling' aside, where is any mention of the reams of cited peer-reviewed research indicating exactly what the title of the book states: global temperatures today are not historically unusual in comparison to relatively recent times (i.e. most recently the Medieval Warm Period) and the existence of a natural, roughly-1,500-year climate cycle?

By all means, let's ignore any and all substance and impugn motives instead. How noble. How enlightened. How . . . sad.

Just so you're not completely in the dark: Dr. Singer's most recent peer-reviewed scientific paper on climate change was published last month (Dec. 2007) in the International Journal of Climatology published by the Royal Meteorological Society. Does that lack an 'authoritative feeling' as well?

As the abstract of the paper states, the authors examined 'tropospheric temperature trends of 67 runs from 22 "Climate of the 20th Century" model simulations and try to reconcile them with the best available updated observations (in the tropics during the satellite era). Model results and observed temperature trends are in disagreement in most of the tropical troposphere, being separated by more than twice the uncertainty of the model mean. In layers near 5 km, the modeled trend is 100 to 300% higher than observed, and, above 8 km, modeled and observed trends have opposite signs. These conclusions contrast strongly with those of recent publications based on essentially the same data.'

Oh, and here is the latest peer-reviewed scientific paper supporting the argument that current temperatures are not alarming and not unusual:

Loehle, C. 2007. A 2000-year global temperature reconstruction based on non-tree-ring proxies. Energy & Environment 18(7-8): 1049-1058.


Historical data provide a baseline for judging how anomalous recent temperature changes are and for assessing the degree to which organisms are likely to be adversely affected by current or future warming. Climate histories are commonly reconstructed from a variety of sources, including ice cores, tree rings, and sediment. Tree-ring data, being the most abundant for recent centuries, tend to dominate reconstructions. There are reasons to believe that tree ring data may not properly capture long-term climate changes. In this study, eighteen 2000-year-long series were obtained that were not based on tree ring data. Data in each series were smoothed with a 30-year running mean. All data were then converted to anomalies by subtracting the mean of each series from that series. The overall mean series was then computed by simple averaging. The mean time series shows quite coherent structure. The mean series shows the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and Little Ice Age (LIA) quite clearly, with the MWP being approximately 0.3øC warmer than 20th century values at these eighteen sites.


Laws to cut costs in family disputes

Anything that keeps money out of the hands of the legal parasites is welcome

LAWYERS profiting from the misery of families fighting over wills will have their fees capped after a string of cases where the bill has exceeded the final inheritance. In one case where the total legal bill was more than $600,000, the plaintiffs were awarded $360,000.

Capping fees will also discourage lawyers caught up in explosive family situations from letting their clients use the courts to vent spleen. They will have more incentive to settle, rather than prolong the process to make more money. Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said he wanted to stop lawyers wiping out estates with excessive charges.

Legal costs in family will disputes routinely ran into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said. "Costs can wipe out a huge chunk of a deceased person's will, leaving family members and dependants with virtually nothing," he said. While judges had the power to cap costs, they rarely did so, and that provision applied only if a case made it to court.

"The proposed reforms give lawyers an incentive to settle before the case gets to court, and will strengthen the judge's hand to cap costs when and if it does," Mr Hatzistergos said. The reforms could include setting a sliding scale of costs, taking into account the size of the estate and the number of claimants, or setting a maximum fee.

It is understood some lawyers are charging more than $30,000 for one-day Supreme Court cases, while more complex cases regularly attract fees of more than $100,000. Most disputes are decided in court. About 600 cases are heard in the Supreme Court each year, and 250 or so settled out of court.

Paul Versteege, from the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association, said older people wanted assurance that the wishes set out in their wills would be followed, and their estates would not be consumed by legal fees.

Law Society president Hugh Macken also welcomed the move, saying the legal profession acknowledged the need to address costs. "For a long time now the legal profession has been driving alternative dispute resolution," Mr Macken said. "These proposed amendments reinforce the importance of mediation."


Qld. Emergency wards facing crisis

The good ol' government "planning" again. This is a government that REDUCES the number of beds when it rebuilds a hospital! Despite steady and quite foreseeable population growth

A DRAMATIC increase in the number of patients turning up at public hospital emergency departments has stretched the system to its limit, says State Health Minister Stephen Robertson. He has called on Queenslanders to give overworked hospital doctors and nurses a break after a survey showed 75 per cent of those who go to public emergency rooms for treatment are there because they couldn't get access to a GP or didn't want to pay doctors' fees.

The number of people who sought treatment at Queensland hospital emergency departments last year increased 8.7 per cent from 2006 - nearly five times the usual annual increase, and four times the state's population growth for the period. The flu epidemic in August boosted the figures and the state's 23 largest public hospital emergency departments treated nearly 1 million patients in 2007. "This is what we have to try and deal with . . . we can't just keep forever expanding our emergency departments to cope with ever-increasing numbers," Mr Robertson said. "We have to find ways to deal with this very challenging, increasing demand."

The survey, commissioned by Australia's health ministers, revealed that one out of every three emergency room patients thought they actually needed hospital treatment. But about two out of three went to hospitals because their doctor was not on duty, or that doctor's clinic was closed. The overload has flowed through to add months to elective surgery waiting lists, hospital staff say.

Mr Robertson said new and refurbished emergency departments would be the priority in the Government's record $5 billion capital works spending in 2007-08. "But the problem is that emergency medicine is one of those specialties where there is a worldwide shortage," he said. Mr Robertson today will release the public hospitals' performance report for the December quarter. It will reveal that 929,093 people attended emergency departments in 2007, up from 854,550 in 2006. The 82,774 December total in emergency rooms was the highest in Queensland history.

Mr Robertson said the number of doctors in Queensland had increased from 8453 in 2001 to 9352 in 2006. But the number of GPs per 100,000 people had fallen from 238 to 227, and an increase in the number of female GPs and an ageing male sector had resulted in a decrease in doctor-patient hours.

AMA Queensland president Ross Cartmill disagreed with Mr Robertson that people attending hospital did not need treatment. He estimated that less than 5 per cent should have seen a GP first. "The fundamental issues in our Accidents and Emergencies are not enough staff and a lack of beds."


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Quadrant editor Paddy McGuinness dies

A very sad loss. I have been reading his writings on and off for decades. I even met him once at a Sydney "Push" party. He was a relentless devotee of rationality and the facts, brilliant at pricking popular balloons. He was, like his brother Michael, a man of great circumference, so it is amusing that he lived to 69 and died of something quite unrelated to obesity. I think that he himself must have found some small satisfaction in that when he saw the end coming. I have emailed my condolences to Michael this morning

PADRAIC 'Paddy' McGuinness, a former Sydney Morning Herald columnist and editor of Quadrant magazine, has died at his Sydney home aged 69. Mr McGuinness is believed to have been sick with melanoma for some time and it is this condition which prompted his retirement from Quadrant late last year. Mr McGuinness died at his Balmain home this morning.

"We knew he had been sick, but had only discovered in the past few days exactly what the nature of his illness was," a friend of McGuinness said. "He has been very private about his illness."

A journalist for many years, Mr McGuinness was sometimes criticised for his commentary. "He was a bit of an icon Paddy, but I think a lot of people misunderstood him," the friend said.

During an interview with News Ltd late last year Mr McGuinness said he had been able "to 're-establish' Quadrant as a 'sceptical and non-ideological' journal in the conservative spirit of Samuel Johnson, the literary colossus of 18th century England."

He is survived by a daughter.


Mother's diet shapes offspring's future weight?

Another study of rats, not people and another despicable attempt to prey on the anxieties of pregnant women. The full report is not public yet but all these creeps seem to have discovered is the earth-shattering finding that fat mothers have fat children. Anything to do with genetics? No mention of genetics. That would be against the prevailing religion. And do mothers on a restricted diet get all the nutrients that the baby needs? Even if the baby appears to be OK, is the individual concerned OK in the long term? No mention of that! It is totally inappropriate to be making recommendations to the public based on this scrap of unreviewed research. But we see that the article below is full of confident recommendations from attention-seeking knowalls who obviously would not know the meaning of scientific caution

Australian scientists have made the world-first discovery that a pregnant woman's diet determines whether her baby grows into a fat adult or a skinny one. The research suggests women who are overweight before they fall pregnant, and during it, may condemn their children to a life of overeating and obesity. It reveals that a mother's diet during pregnancy affects the baby's brain circuits, determining appetite and energy expenditure in their offspring. "This suggests that mothers should think twice about overindulging, or using the excuse that they're eating for two during pregnancy," University of NSW professor Margaret Morris said.

Unlike previous studies, the groundbreaking work highlights the pre-natal period as a critical time for "programming of post-natal and adult appetite". It found that even before a woman falls pregnant, she is potentially "programming" a child's future appetite. "The major finding is the dramatic increase in body fat in offspring of overweight and obese mothers," Professor Morris said. Mothers fed a high-fat diet had offspring that were heavier, with more body fat and altered appetite regulators in the brain, meaning they overate, she said.

The results are supported by a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition last year. It found that mothers who eat junk food during pregnancy may produce children who crave the same foods. Professor Morris will present her findings at the Australian Neuroscience Society conference in Hobart this week. She said the study was particularly relevant, given that about 30 per cent of mothers enter pregnancy in an overweight or obese condition.

The study was conducted using overweight female rats who mated with healthy males. The females continued to be fed a high-fat Western diet during and after pregnancy, Professor Morris said. "The mums were overeating for that whole period. We found the offspring were a third heavier than the rats fed a low-fat diet," she said. Professor Morris said the brain pathways regulating appetite in rats were similar to those in humans, suggesting similar trends could be expected in people.

Sydney University nutritionist Dr Jenny O'Dea said it had become "quite well accepted" that a woman's diet during pregnancy impacted on the fetus. "We also know that obesity during pregnancy more often than not causes gestational diabetes and high blood pressure," Dr O'Dea said. She said that although nutritional needs were high during pregnancy, women should not be "eating for two".

Professor Morris studied mothers who were already overweight before they fell pregnant. The experiment results also found their offspring were showing signs of developing diabetes at a young age.

The findings are particularly relevant for overweight mothers, highlighting the importance of maintaining a normal weight before and during pregnancy. Further research will examine how methods of intervention during breastfeeding can reverse bad nutritional habits and overeating.

Susie Burrell, a pediatric dietitian at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, said the study sent a powerful message to women planning to fall pregnant. "They need to get their weight under control before conceiving, and those who are pregnant need to have minimum weight-gain during pregnancy," Ms Burrell said. She said an increasing number of women were overweight before they fell pregnant, creating a "snowball effect". "Their babies are more likely to have a high birth weight. This then leads to lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease."


Big and dangerous hospital hold-ups for ambulances in Victoria

HUNDREDS of ambulances are out of service each day -- stranded at Melbourne hospitals. Ambulances are stuck at hospitals for up to four hours despite government benchmarks that they be free to leave within 25 minutes. Paramedics are unable to respond to new emergencies because the hospitals are full, documents under Freedom Of Information laws reveal.

The Metropolitan Ambulance Service documents reveal alarming numbers of ambulances waiting at hospitals. On average, more than 29 ambulances across Melbourne wait daily at emergency departments for an hour or more. In the first six months of last year, more than 320 ambulances a day were stuck for longer than 25 minutes. The documents reveal:

AN AMBULANCE delivered its patient to the emergency department at the Austin Hospital in three minutes, but waited three hours because there was no bed.

153 AMBULANCES, almost five a day, spent an hour or longer at Royal Melbourne, Grattan St, in May last year.

40 AMBULANCES were stranded for more than an hour at Frankston Hospital in one week.

MORE than 100 ambulances were stuck for an hour or longer at The Alfred in January.

Ambulance Employees Union secretary Steve McGhie said the down time could cost lives. "The reason they're waiting so long is because they can't get their patients off the stretcher," he said. "There is no room for them at the hospitals and ambos have to wait until they find room. "Every minute they have to wait at a hospital is another minute another patient has to wait for an ambulance."

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey echoed Mr McGhie, saying the out-of-service time could mean the difference between life and death.


Australian parents make big sacrifices to avoid government schools

HALF the Australian parents who send their children to private school are finding it a financial strain, and one in 10 families spend more than half their take-home pay on their children's education. Research has also found that about a third of parents who send their children to independent (private) and Catholic schools allocate more than 15percent of their household income to their children's education. Close to 12percent of parents with children at independent schools, and 1.3percent of Catholic school parents, reserve up to half their income for school fees, the report, commissioned by BankWest, found. Some parents - Catholic school (4percent) and private (1.3percent) - dedicate between 50 and 75percent of their household income to school fees.

The report said that 53percent of independent school parents and 47percent of Catholic school parents found paying for their children's education was financially tough. A BankWest spokeswoman said the survey dispelled the myth that only the well-off were educating their children at private schools. Figures show more than 369,000 students attended private schools in NSW in 2006. About 739,000 students attend public schools.

The report found that the average cost of sending a child to an independent school was $14,201 a year, more than double that of Catholic schools. It also found that, on average, independent school parents spend an extra $2300 a year on uniforms, extracurricular activities, textbooks and stationery. Parents had to find $1600 for Catholic schools and $1200 for public schools.

Executive director of the Council of Catholic School Parents Danielle Cronin said she was not surprised by the research, and that while Catholic schools tried to keep fees down, they were a strain on some families. "I think Catholic schools have a very diverse population in terms of socio-economic statistics," she said. "I believe that Catholic schools probably aren't enrolling financially needy families simply because the fees are prohibitive, even though some of the fees are quite low compared to independent schools."

In the report, parents cited the standard of education, discipline, better academic record and resources as the main reasons for sending their children to private schools. They also said the better focus on social values, networking opportunities for their children when entering the workforce, religious education and social opportunities for the parents were important.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Greenhouse cuts would land us in the Middle Ages, says Labor Party sceptic

THE Hawke government finance minister Peter Walsh has warned the Rudd Government that cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 would send Australian living standards back to the Middle Ages.

Mr Walsh, who was at the forefront of Labor's conversion to economic rationalism in the 1980s, heads the Lavoisier Group of hardline climate-change sceptics. In a submission lodged with the Garnaut climate change review, the former West Australian senator disputes the scientific evidence that carbon dioxide emissions are causing rising global temperatures. He points out that the Romans grew grapes in northern England in the first millennium and the Vikings grew cereals in Greenland in the second millennium. "Those much warmer periods cannot reasonably be attributed to anthropogenic greenhouse gases," he says. He also says the temperature on Mars has risen in a similar way to that on Earth.

Mr Walsh says that changes in solar behaviour are a better scientific explanation for temperature changes and that many scientists believe a cooling period will set in within the next decade or so.

The review by Professor Ross Garnaut is examining the economic costs for Australia of tackling climate change.

Mr Walsh tells Professor Garnaut that a mooted 60 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 would have significant adverse consequences: "The latter figure is unachievable without substituting nuclear power in place of coal and crude oil or, alternatively, a reversion to the living standards and population densities of the Middle Ages." He describes emissions trading as the "cargo cult of the 21st century".


Propaganda for toddlers

CHILDREN as young as three are being taught anti-racism lessons as part of the first NSW Government-funded program designed to stamp out bigotry from a young age. The program will be rolled out at a preschool in western NSW and youngsters will be given regular lessons in tolerance and multiculturalism.

The move comes as NSW councils investigate implementing a similar program across all council-funded daycare centres across the state.

The Menindee Children's Centre, in the state's Far West, has just received a $4000 grant to launch the first State Government-funded program of its kind. The focus on racism follows the 2005 Cronulla riots and a recent Government survey which found more than 40 per cent of migrants surveyed had come across "some" or "a lot" of racism in Australia. Claims of racism also blew up recently in the Sydney Test between India and Australia.

NSW preschool's director Hayley D'Ettorre said the centre would use the funding to launch the program, which was to include guest speakers and lessons on international music as well as foods and books. She said the centrepiece of the program would be regular discussions about racism. "It is the biggest part of the program, it will be about teaching tolerance and positive diversity every day," she said.

Premier Morris Iemma said it was necessary to teach our youngest about tolerance. "It is important for our children to learn acceptance of different cultures at an early age," he told The Daily Telegraph. "If we set our children up with the right messages we will ultimately enjoy a more tolerant, accepting and peaceful society."

Local Government Association president Genia McCaffery said they would study the anti-racism program of one western Sydney daycare centre with a view to rolling out a simular curriculum across the state.


China's booming economy likely to shield Australia

THE Chinese economy has posted its fastest growth rate in more than 10 years, underscoring how Australia's commodities-driven economy could steer clear of a United States recession and turmoil in global financial markets. China's gross domestic product growth rate "slowed" in the final months of 2007 to register annual growth of 11.4 per cent, the fastest since 1994. Quarterly growth eased from 11.5 per cent in September to 11.2 per cent in December, compared with the previous year. A sharp slowdown in export growth to the US was more than offset by extraordinary investment in new housing, commercial property and infrastructure.

Jonathan Anderson, at UBS, expects the Chinese economy will still grow at a rate close to 10 per cent in 2008. "China will still be well insulated at home in a US recession scenario," he said. Mr Anderson said arguments about whether China has "decoupled" from the US miss the point: the two economies have never been closely correlated. The Chinese economy grew strongly despite contractions in key export markets during the Asian financial crisis of 1998 and the US-led global recession of 2001.

Shen Minggao, at Citigroup, said China's slower export growth would still be considered fast by the standards of any other country. "The external slowdown led by the US will probably push China's export growth down to below 20 per cent," he said. The strength of developing Asia, led by China and India, means Australian policy makers are still more worried about the prospect of high inflation than lower global growth. Economists at Lehman Brothers said policy makers across the region face a greater risk of overheating than of a sustained slump.

The US Federal Reserve's decision to slash interest rates this week has complicated efforts by the Chinese central bank to manage inflation, which surged to 6.5 per cent last year. American interest rates are now below Chinese interest rates - encouraging unwelcome "hot money" flows from overseas. "This implies that it will be hard for the People's Bank of China to lift rates meaningfully without worrying about attracting more money inflows," said Qu Hongbin at HSBC.

In contrast to Australia and emerging Asia, Japan faces a renewed period of economic weakness. But Chinese economic strength has so far saved Japan from recession. Figures yesterday showed Japanese exports to China rose 8.4 per cent in the year to December while exports to the US fell 4.5 per cent. Last financial year Australian exporters shipped more than three times as much product to Japan and twice as much to China as they did to the US. The US was now Australia's fifth-largest export market, coming in below India.

The latest Chinese economic figures were positive for Australian mining, energy, mining services and engineering companies, said Commsec's chief equities economist, Craig James. "The Chinese economy is continuing to grow at a fast clip and the determination of the authorities is to maintain the pace of growth into 2008," Mr James said. "Chinese demand for commodities is likely to remain strong, underpinning the Aussie dollar at levels close to US85-90c. The main concern is that global energy and food prices will remain high, keeping upward pressure on global inflation. "The Reserve Bank's resolve to lift interest rates would be bolstered by the latest batch of strong economic news out of China."


Left-run NSW choking on bureaucratic incompetence

NSW IS in the grip of a public service meltdown, with the entire NSW public health system to be referred to a special commission of inquiry for the first time in the state's history. Sparked by a blistering report from the NSW Deputy Coroner into the death of 16-year-old Vanessa Anderson, it comes on the heels of an identical inquiry already under way into child deaths and the Department of Community Services.

Having just returned from holiday, Premier Morris Iemma yesterday faced a collapse of confidence in the health system, echoing a similar catastrophe within DOCS in November following the death of seven-year-old Shellay Ward. It was accompanied by the likelihood that the failure of the Government's four-year $300 million public transport ticketing system less then 24 hours earlier will now also be referred to a parliamentary inquiry for investigation.

Following a scathing critique of the health system by the Deputy Coroner Carl Milovanovich, based on his shocking findings into the death Ms Anderson, Mr Iemma adopted his recommendation for a full public inquiry into NSW Health. It would be the third hospital inquiry in as many years but the first to encompass the whole health system, including the state's 500 hospitals.

Mr Milovanovich said a worse level of care could barely have been imagined and slammed the Government for presiding over a problem which has existed for years. Ms Anderson was admitted to Royal North Shore Hospital in 2005 for a mild head injury inflicted by a golf ball. she died after being administered too many painkillers. "As a Deputy State Coroner for the past six years I have presided over many inquests involving deaths in hospitals," he said. "In many of those cases one error or omission, sometimes a serious one led to death, however, I have never seen a case such as Vanessa's in which almost every conceivable error or omission was detected and those errors continued to build one on top of the other." A series of shortcomings, including indecision by medical practitioners, communication failures, staff inexperience or overwork and poor record-keeping, had conspired to claim the teenager's life, Mr Milovanovich said.

The lawyer who headed the previous inquiries into the Camden and Campbelltown hospitals and Sydney Ferries, Brett Walker, looks likely to be handed the task again, which could take up to a year to complete. "We will be establishing a special commission of inquiry to act on that recommendation of the Coroner," Mr Iemma said. "There is nothing here that anyone wants to hide or run away from."

Asked why the Government would not hold a royal commission into the health system, Mr Iemma said: "A special commission of inquiry is broad-ranging and has powers, so let's not get bogged down on what you call it. "Can I also say to the family, our heartfelt condolences on the tragic loss of Vanessa and an unreserved apology for how the system tragically let down the Anderson family and Vanessa Anderson." Health Minister Reba Meagher promised that the inquiry would conduct public hearings.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Woman's death in government hospital was preventable

A MELBOURNE woman who died after giving birth could have survived if her medical treatment had been more timely and organised, a coroner found today. Piyanat Siriwan, 33, died at 2.15pm on April 1, 2004, at the Monash Medical Centre from massive blood loss after giving birth to a healthy baby girl at 8am that morning at the South Eastern Private Hospital in Melbourne's outer east.

Delivering her finding today into the death, Coroner Paresa Spanos said with more competent medical management, including a more timely transfer from the South Eastern Private Hospital, Mrs Siriwan "had a reasonable chance of surviving''. "In that sense I find her death was preventable,'' Ms Spanos said. Saying Mrs Siriwan's transfer between the hospitals was "a study in chaos'', Ms Spanos was critical of Mrs Siriwan's obstetrician Maurice Lichter and anaesthetist Emlyn Williams in their handling of her case on the day of her death, and ordered them to front the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria (MPBV). She recommended the MPBV take whatever "action it deems appropriate against the two doctors''.

Ms Spanos also made an adverse comment about South Eastern Private Hospital not having made Dr Lichter or Dr Williams aware there was an emergency supply of blood available which would have been used to help Mrs Siriwan. She recommended the hospital ensure all doctors were aware of such supplies being available in future cases.

However, Ms Spanos said she did not have any adverse comment to make in relation to the Metropolitan Ambulance Service or the nurses attending Mrs Siriwan on the day, adding that their concern and frustration had been evident. A lawyer for Mrs Siriwan's husband, Harrinat Siriwan, said outside the court that he was too upset on hearing his wife's death was preventable to speak publicly.


An employer's right to fire upheld

It's an important precedent for other, smaller, employers. The more an employer's right to fire is restricted, the less an employer will be inclined to take on new empoyees -- as we see in France, with its high unemployment rate

A Telstra worker, sacked for taking part in a sex romp at a Sydney hotel after a work Christmas party, has lost the right to receive compensation and get her job back. Carlie Streeter was sacked from her job at a Miranda Telstra store in February last year after an investigation into a night of alcohol-fuelled sex and partying with colleagues. Telstra accused Ms Streeter of having sex with a male employee in the bath tub of a hotel room at Cronulla's Rydges Hotel. It was alleged another male employee was in the bath tub at the time when the trio was interrupted by a female employee. The two former male colleagues - Steve Hatzistergos and Aakash Sharma - also lost their jobs over the scandal, along with another unnamed employee.

Bosses were alerted to the incident after another female employee made complaints about Ms Streeter's behaviour on the night to a store manager. Ms Streeter subsequently appealed against her dismissal and won her case. But yesterday, Telstra won its own appeal against the ruling made in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC), which had ordered the telco giant to reinstate Ms Streeter and pay her compensation for lost earnings. The successful appeal means Telstra has no obligation to give Ms Streeter her job back or pay her compensation.

The decision, handed down by a full bench of the AIRC, ruled Ms Streeter's termination was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable. A Telstra spokeswoman last night said that Telstra welcomed the decision. "We are pleased the Australian Industrial Relations Commission have upheld our appeal," she said.

The sex-romp scandal ignited debate about the right of employers to sack workers for bad behaviour while off the job. In September last year a worker sacked by Allianz Australia Services, following a drunken after-hours trivia night, won the right to a full bench rehearing of his claim in the AIRC. The AIRC had previously thrown out his unfair dismissal case, which followed his sacking for threatening a manager with physical and sexual assault.

Ms Streeter has kept a low profile since her sexual exploits were revealed by The Daily Telegraph in August. Her lawyer Kelly Durant yesterday said his client was upset by the commission's ruling and was keen to discuss whether she could launch a further appeal in the Federal Court. "Ms Streeter is unhappy about the decision and feels like justice hasn't been served. This has been a long fight," he said. "She understands that these are matters of law. But she's quite aggrieved by the decision."


Australian economists put the heat on the Stern report

A Productivity Commission paper has criticised the influential Stern review on global warming for making value-laden assumptions that inflated estimates of the economic costs of warming. The internal staff working paper, released as Australia prepares its own version of the Stern review, called the original British review's conclusions "as much an exercise in advocacy as it is an economic analysis of climate change".

It acknowledged Nicholas Stern's contribution to the field, but said it was impossible to say whether some assumptions were "definitively right or wrong". The former World Bank chief economist's review had "erred" in not making key value judgments explicit, or testing different parameters in his modelling, the paper said.

The commission paper, originally prepared for internal use in response to the Stern review's October 2006 release, was published yesterday. It was given to the Labor-initiated Garnaut review, which is modelled on the Stern review, over the Christmas break.

When then Opposition leader Kevin Rudd announced Labor's review last year, headed by Australian National University economist Ross Garnaut, he said Australia needed its own version of the Stern review. "The Stern report to the British Government sent a clear warning that, left unchecked, climate change will have catastrophic economic consequences," Mr Rudd said. Sir Nicholas found the cost of global warming, estimated at between 5 and 20 per cent of global GDP a year, far exceeded the annual cost of mitigation measures, estimated at 1 per cent of global GDP. But his conclusions have been dogged by controversy since their release, the harshest critics calling them biased and alarmist.

The commission paper said some criticisms of the report were justified. The use of high emissions scenarios, pessimistic assumptions on damage costs, and an unconventional method of calculating current and future costs and benefits all tended to "escalate the present value of future costs", it noted.

Sir Nicholas last year appealed to Australia to cut emissions by 30per cent by 2020 -- a call then prime minister John Howard rejected on the basis it would cause thousands of job losses in the coal industry.

An Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics report earlier said the nation's GDP would fall by about 2.5 per cent by 2050 if emissions were cut by 40 per cent. Labor has promised to cut emissions by 60 per cent on 2000 levels by that date. The Garnaut review, due to report in draft form in June, is likely to look at the economic impact of shorter-term targets. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong would not comment on the conclusions of the Productivity Commission document, saying only that she welcomed any paper that contributed to Australia's understanding of climate change impacts. "We will draw on a range of analysis in designing the Government's response to climate change -- including modelling from Professor Garnaut and the Treasury," she said.


Afghanistan troop numbers tipped to stay

THE military may change the mix of its forces in Afghanistan but is unlikely to increase troop numbers, Chief of Defence Force Angus Houston says. Air Chief Marshal Houston yesterday said the Rudd Government had asked for an analysis of the Australian presence in Afghanistan. "I will take some proposals to the Government in the near future (on) where we might make some adjustments to the mix," Air Chief Marshal Houston said. "In terms of the mix, I don't think we'll see any increase in force level. "What we will do is have a look at what we've got on the ground and make recommendations to government."

There are currently 1038 Australian troops in southern Afghanistan, making Australia the 10th-largest provider of personnel to the troubled nation and largest non-NATO contributor. "I think we're carrying our share of the burden," Air Chief Marshal Houston said. "We're in a very demanding and challenging province. "The Government will obviously have a close look at that over time and if they decide to make adjustments, well that's a matter for them."

On the Federal Government's air combat review, the defence chief argued against using the air force's ageing F-111s as an interim measure instead of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets ordered by the former Howard government. Defence last year signed a contract to buy 24 of the Super Hornets at a cost of $6 billion as part of a transition to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter over the next decade. ast month Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon announced a review of the entire air combat spending program. The force has a 2010 target to withdraw its F-111s from service.

"You're running down a capability and then suddenly you've got to turn it around again. That's difficult," Air Chief Marshal Houston said. "What you're faced with is a fairly expensive and extensive upgrade. That's the reality." He said the Super Hornet was a good choice for an interim, multi-use role and readily available from the US.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Yuk! Orange-coloured furniture!

How 1970s!

Kevin Rudd has purged his Parliament House office of all traces of John Howard. He has ordered his predecessor's hand-picked Chesterfield-style chairs and the desk of Liberal icon Sir Robert Menzies to be put into storage. The Prime Minister has wiped his office clean of Mr Howard's interior design touches and restored more contemporary fittings purchased when Parliament House was built in 1988.

Mr Howard was sometimes lampooned by critics for his taste in furniture, particularly following his 1999 decision to spend $10,000 on the green leather suite for his office. Scornful critics charged that the chunky furniture would be better suited to Old Parliament House and that Mr Howard had offended the design atmosphere of his huon pine-dominated office. He had previously dumped his prime ministerial desk in favour of the antique used by his hero Sir Robert - the former long-serving prime minister and Liberal Party founder. The desk had been used by several prime ministers between 1927 and 1973 but mainly by Sir Robert.

A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd confirmed yesterday that all of the furniture acquired during the Howard years had been removed from the Parliament House office and placed in a storage basement. This included the green leather chairs, which had been replaced by the original fabric seats in a pale orange. "The Prime Minister has had the normal furniture taken out of storage and put back in his office," Mr Rudd's spokeswoman said. "The furniture purchased by the previous office is now in storage." She said the changes included the Menzies desk.

More here

Coroner wants inquiry into NSW government health system

THE coroner investigating the death of teenager Vanessa Anderson has called for a full and open inquiry into the New South Wales health system. Deputy NSW Coroner Carl Milovanovich today found the 16-year-old died from respiratory failure after being inappropriately prescribed opiate medication.

Mr Milovanovich said the health system had failed Vanessa at every turn and her death was the result of a systemic failures at Royal North Shore Hospital and other hospitals at which she was first treated. "If one had sat down and planned the worst possible case scenario for Vanessa ... it could have been done better," the coroner told Westmead Coroner's Court. "I have never seen a case such as Vanessa's in which almost every conceivable error or omission was detected and those errors continued to build one of top of the other."

Mr Milovanovich said he continued to see the same staffing training and administrative errors in hospital deaths and called for an inquiry into the health system. "There is little doubt that the NSW health system, while certainly staffed by dedicated professionals, is labouring under increased demand and expectations from the general public," he said. "The government of the day has the responsibility to provide adequate resources, training and staff to ensure the deliver of appropriate and timely medical services. "It may be timely that the department of health and or the responsible minister consider a full and open inquiry into the delivery of health services in NSW."


Officials lose raped deaf girl

QUEENSLAND welfare workers were unable to find a 13-year-old indigenous multiple-rape victim, a profoundly deaf cerebral palsy sufferer whose behaviour had exhausted 43 foster carers and who had been known to the system almost her entire life.

Doctors at Cairns Base Hospital had rung the Department of Child Safety crisis line in an urgent bid to find the girl to treat her for three sexually transmitted infections - chlamydia, gonorrhoea and trichomoniasis - contracted when she was allegedly raped by her 19-year-old cousin at Weipa on Cape York in December. Crisis line staff on December 28 were "unaware" the child was under the care of DCS and had no contact details for her, say case notes provided to the Cape York Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect office and obtained by The Australian.

"A 13-year-old girl who is profoundly deaf, has (fetal alcohol syndrome), cerebral palsy, a learning disability and who has recently been raped," says a doctor in the file. "The best they could do was to give me names of carers. I contacted the Child Protection Investigation Unit (police) and they commenced trying to locate her."

The case of the 13-year-old, who has been supervised by the DCS almost since the day she was born to a 14-year-old alcoholic mother, follows the disclosure in The Australian yesterday of the rapes of very young boys by teenage and pre-teen victims of rape in Kowanyama, to the south of Weipa. It also follows the disclosure in The Australian in December that nine males who pleaded guilty to the rape of a 10-year-old girl in Aurukun had escaped jail time.

The most foreboding file in the case notes of the 13-year-old Weipa victim is the recommendation made on September 3, 2004, when the then 10-year-old was examined by highly-respected paediatrician, Richard Heazlewood. "(The girl) has been in care since November 2003 and has been having access visits to her natural mother in Napranum (near Weipa) and while in Cairns has been attending the Cairns West School," he wrote. "The first stages of puberty are advancing and, according to her carer, she does not mind who she shows this to, which will obviously make her very much at risk back in her home comunity. "(The child) will be best served by remaining in Cairns at the West Cairns Special Impaired Hearing Unit, and also remaining in a stable foster care situation."

That care situation continued until July 2005 when Dr Heazlewood again noted: "(The child) is still attending the Special Education Hearing Impaired unit at West Cairns school. She is demonstrating significant sexualised behaviour, is defiant, has massive tantrums and is quite abusive. "However, her carer is slowly working on these behavioural patterns, with some improvement."

However in December last year the child was in Bamaga Aboriginal community on the tip of Cape York "on a trial placement as 43 foster placements in Cairns have failed. (the child) sexually abusing other children. She is not attending school, her grandmother claims that her mother is drinking and has a new boyfriend, and the child is wandering the streets at night. "The mother is not sticking to the plan of attending school with the child." ....

More here

Marcos Bagdatis stands by 'racist' slur

Greeks still loathe their former Turkish oppressors

Defiant tennis star Marcos Baghdatis, captured on film chanting offensive slogans on a party video, says he was just sticking up for his country. Footage of the Greek Cypriot tennis star arm in arm with the alleged ringleader of a confrontation with police at the Open and chanting "Turks out of Cyprus" has ignited fury among Melbourne's Turkish Cypriot community, with one leader calling for him to be kicked out of the country. Australian Turkish Cypriot Cultural and Welfare Association president Hakki Suleyman accused Baghdatis of a racist attack and said he should be expelled from the Australian Open and booted out of the country.

But Baghdatis today refused to budge. "There has been a lot of coverage of me appearing in a video on," the tennis sensation said in a statement. "In that video from 2007 I was supporting the interest of my country, Cyprus, while protesting against a situation that is not recognized by the United Nations. "Now I would like to concentrate on the tournament and ask everyone to respect that. I love the Australian Open and want to do well here."

Several clips on video-sharing website YouTube show Baghdatis at a barbecue hosted by the Hellas Fan Club after he was knocked out of last year's Open and reportedly singing "Turks out of Cyprus".

Victorian Premier John Brumby warned fans and players there was no room for ethnic rivalries at sports events. "There is no place for ethnic rivalry in sport in our state,'' Mr Brumby said. "It's one thing to get out there and support your player, but it's another to get into the business of ethnic rivalry and there is no place, I think, in Melbourne in our sporting culture for over-zealous ethnic rivalry,'' Mr Brumby.

Mr Suleyman said his association would write to Tennis Australia, the State Government and other organisations calling for Baghdatis to be expelled from the Australian Open and the country for abusing his position. "When you become a professional sportsman you have to be careful about what you are saying and it doesn't matter where you are, you are followed and it can be used against you,'' he said.

But friends of the tennis player, who plays Lleyton Hewitt tomorrow in the tournament's third round, rushed to his defence. Sources today told Herald Sun Online the video was filmed after Baghdatis was knocked out of last year's Open. It was one of about 30 songs sung on the night, a source from the player's entourage said.

Turkey invaded and occupied a third of Greek-controlled Cyprus in 1974. Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria director Bill Papastergiadis denied the chants were racist and that the call for Turks to leave Cyprus was in line with a United Nations resolution. "`It's not exactly expressing a view which doesn't conform with the UN resolution or with the general global view of that incident,'' Mr Papastergiadis said.

Tennis officials are meeting to decide how to respond to the matter, and the Association of Tennis Professionals is meeting Baghdatis' management to discuss the issue.

More here

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On morality in literature

Is there a place for popular culture, represented by films, text messages, internet chat rooms and computer games, in the English classroom, alongside great literature? Mark Howie, the vice-president of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, believes there is. At the Senate inquiry into standards in education, Howie argued that "given the realities of the modern world (where) students are engaged with visual and electronic text every day", English teachers have to "fmd ways in the curriculum of bringing the two together".

I beg to differ: literature, especially the enduring classics associated with the Western tradition, must be given pre-eminent status, but that does not mean I do not understand the appeal of pop culture.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, every boy in my street in the working-class Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows, including me, had a hoard of comic books ranging from the Phantom, Superman and Spider-Man to Batman and Wonder Woman. By the time I reached high school, my taste in entertainment had developed to include James Bond, Modesty Blaise and television series such as The Samurai and endless episodes of Bandstand. On Saturday afternoons I caught up with the heroic exploits of larger-than-life western heroes such as the Cisco Kid and John Wayne and classic films including Ben Hur, The 300 Spartans and Cleopatra.

The funny thing was, none of this found its way into the classroom. At Broady High, English with Mr Clayton and Mr Mackie involved Australian and English poetry, Dickens, Lawson and Shakespeare, and learning how to parse and precis and to write properly structured essays. Thankfully, I also found my way into a reading group organised by the local Anglican minister, who introduced us to books such as Erich Fromm's The Fear of Freedom and The Art of Loving, Konrad Lorenz's On Aggression as well as Plato.

Rather than the tyranny of relevance, where education relates to the world of the student, my teachers saw their role as challenging us by providing an alternative to the often materialistic and superficial cultures in which we lived. The reality is that for many of us, growing up in a housing commission [welfare] estate surrounded by a wasteland of brick and cement, often with violent, alcoholic parents, the transformative and healing power of literature provided a gateway into an imaginative world without which life may have been intolerable. Literature not only provided an escape from the often empty and repetitive day-to-day routine, it also introduced us to an unknown world of ideas, ethical dilemmas and human emotions in an insightful and compelling way.

That literature, at its best, is far superior to popular culture represented by Neighbours, Big Brother, text messages or the ego-driven, self-centred drivel found on MySpace and Facebook should be self-evident. While the texts that constitute the literary canon are re-evaluated over time, the truth is that enduring works such as Euripides' Medea, Shakespeare's King Lear and Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard deal with emotions and predicaments in a profoundly sensitive way, unlike Neighbours or Jean-Claude Van Damme's action movies.

As Bruno Bettelheim and Joseph Campbell point out in discussing the importance of myths, fables and legends, literature deals with the types of heroes and archetypes that are essential for emotional and psychological wellbeing and maturity. Literature is also special in the way language is employed. American academic Louise Rosenblatt points to the unique quality of literature when she differentiates between what she terms an efferent and an aesthetic response.

The skills required to read an Ikea manual are totally different to those needed to read T. S. Eliot's poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The first is concerned with reading in its most literal guise: to understand information as quickly and easily as possible. But reading that requires what Coleridge termed a "willing suspension of disbelief" allows a reader to enter a world that has the power to shock and to awe, and which can speak to one's inner self.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch explains to his daughter the importance of understanding and sympathising with those around us by using the metaphor of standing in somebody's shoes. Literature, unlike texts in a more general sense, is unique in its ability to engender the ability to empathise with others. While the humanising quality of literature cannot be guaranteed, the reality is that in entering into the life of characters, feeling their joy and suffering, and following their exploits and travails, one is made to lose one's sense of self and to value the worth of others.

Literature is essentially moral in focus, unlike utilitarian texts produced for commercial or entertainment reasons. It is wrong to suggest literature provides simplistic answers to complex ethical dilemmas, but fables such as The Iliad, children's stories including C. S. Lewis's Narnia books and more recent works by Patrick White and David Malouf address issues related to right and wrong and what constitutes a good life.

Contemporary approaches to English are driven by a mantra of change. Arguments in favour of dealing with new technologies, including the internet and computer games, are couched in terms of looking to the future and accommodating the demands of the information-driven 21st century. What this ignores is Eliot's point that continuity is as important as change. As such, the knowledge, understanding and wisdom represented by our literary heritage is essential in giving students an understanding of the present and the ability to deal with the future.

Eliot argues that the need is: "To maintain the continuity of our culture - and neither continuity, nor respect for the past, implies standing still. More than ever, we look to education today to preserve us from the error of pure contemporaneity. We look to institutions of education to maintain a knowledge and understanding of the past."

The article above by KEVIN DONNELLY appeared in the "The Australian" on January 19, 2008

Dumbed down teaching degrees in firing line

Even a Leftist government is perturbed! But you almost have to be a dummy to want to take up teaching in today's chaotic government schools

A SLIDE in the entry standards for students training to be teachers in Queensland universities has prompted a threat from the Bligh Government to refuse to recognise an education degree as an automatic qualification into the state's school system. Education Minister Rod Welford accused some universities of "desperation" by continuing to lower the academic bar school-leavers have to clear to be accepted in to a teaching degree course.

He said that, if the slide continued, education authorities might need to introduce extra testing and screening measures for graduates wanting to become teachers so professional standards were maintained. "I'm growing increasingly concerned at the desperation by some universities to fill their quotas by allowing what appear to be underperforming students attempting to become teachers," Mr Welford said.

He was responding to an analysis of education degrees on offer in Queensland this year, which showed that several universities were accepting some students with an OP score as low as 19 [where a top score is 1] into their teacher-training courses. The analysis of course information held by the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre showed that it is commonplace for universities - particularly regional institutions - to offer education degree courses to school-leavers with an OP of 17 or lower.

Mr Welford said these institutions were doing a disservice to teaching as a career choice. "My fear is that by going lower and lower in the OP scale the universities are damaging the professional standing of teaching," he said. "If it's too easy to get into, people don't see it as the highly significant and noble profession that it is."

While minimum entry levels have fallen at some universities, teaching continues to attract high achievers. Mr Welford said many students with ordinary OP scores did end up being outstanding teachers, and not everyone with an exceptional academic record at school necessarily made a good teacher. But, he said, the approach of some universities to their teaching courses was "more about bums on seats than it is about quality teaching". He said it was important to ensure universities produced education graduates who were "capable and successful students". "Otherwise we will reach the point where education systems and departments will simply not be able to recognise a degree alone as a qualification for entry as a school teacher."

But university administrators defended the lowering of cut-offs for teaching degrees, insisting academic attainment was not the only indicator of to who would make a good teacher. University of Southern Queensland Dean of Education Nita Temmerman said it was important the state's teachers were made up of the best and brightest but that an OP score was "only one indicator of achievement". USQ has an OP cut-off of 19 for most of its education-degree courses, but Professor Temmerman said that once in a degree course, students with ordinary OP scores regularly did better than their more academically gifted counterparts. "Kids with an OP of 16 have outperformed academically kids that have come in with an OP2," she said.

Professor Toni Downes of the Australian Council of Deans of Education, said academic rank was an important factor for trainee teachers but not to the exclusion of other qualities in students. "What parents want most is for teachers to be passionate and committed about their childrens' education," she said. "I never graduate somebody who I would not be proud to have teach my children."


Child welfare bureaucracy could not cope with homeless boy

He was placed with carers with whom he was happy but -- bureaucracy -- the carers were "too old"

A STRING of casual emails about the case of a homeless 12-year-old boy have sparked outrage from a magistrate who is demanding answers from the [NSW] Department of Community Services. The Children's Court heard that welfare workers discussed the plight of the boy, who had been reported to DOCS 10 times, in "Hi Lana . . . cheers Kev" messages.

The court's senior magistrate Scott Mitchell said the response to such a significant matter affecting the future of the boy, whose mother is a drug user, was unsatisfactory. He demanded answers from DOCS director-general Neil Shepherd after being told there were no permanent carers available to look after 12-year-old boys. In a stinging rebuke, he said Mr Shepherd should lay down the law to the welfare agencies paid to find care places, including the Wesley Mission, which was involved in this case. But he questioned whether Mr Shepherd may be too timid to do so.

The embarrassing emails, tendered to the court, were the latest scandal to hit the embattled department. The emails were sent between a DOCS case worker, Lana Martin and Kevin Mezzone, the boy's case worker with Wesley Dalmar, the Wesley Mission's home-care services. In his judgment handed down this month, Mr Mitchell accused Mr Mezzone of "grudgingly" saying it may be possible the boy could stay with foster parents where he was happy but who had been assessed as suitable for only medium-term care because of their ages - they are in their late 50s and early 60s.

DOCS had asked the court for an order placing the boy in care until the age of 18. He had been reported to DOCS 10 times for neglect, poor hygiene, malnourishment, not attending school and because of his mother's homelessness. His mother, a drug user, is medically disabled, suffering diabetic-linked nerve damage. His father has nothing to do with the family.

In May last year the "very obese" boy was taken into care and placed with the couple. Since then he has been going to school and has lost weight. Mr Mitchell said he had already adjourned the case once but DOCS had not addressed the problems of finding somewhere permanent for the boy. He said Wesley Dalmar should not have been allowed to take control. He said he would give DOCS one more chance to address the boy's future and adjourned the case to January 24. DOCS refused to comment.


Bumper-sticker righteousness

A cheap claim of virtue and wisdom

I HAVE this visceral dislike of bumper-sticker moralisers. These are people who go out of their way to advertise what they take to be their own exalted moral sensibilities, but do so at no cost to themselves and without the messy business of having to weigh costs and benefits or to choose between stark alternatives where none is particularly pleasant or easy. It's all form and no substance for these people, and there's no shortage of them around.

Take those who plaster "Save the Whales" stickers on the back of their cars but miss the irony that it's an upmarket Toyota to which they're attaching the thing. Saving the whales is great in principle, but not if it involves forgoing an expensive new Lexus. Far better to bring a lawsuit that has no chance of being enforced.

Or what about many of those who announce that we should "Save Darfur"? Nowhere do they tell us how this is supposed to be accomplished. Through the UN, perhaps? But that organisation is famously hostage to the vetoes of the five Security Council members. It is an organisation that is congenitally unable to stop anything, be it slaughter in Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burma or ... well, you get the idea.

Indeed the only remotely plausible way to stop massacres in Darfur, and indeed just about anywhere else on the planet, is for the US to do something militarily, as it did in Bosnia and Serbia under Bill Clinton (when the Yanks bombed and bombed and bombed some more, all without the imprimatur of the UN, for the information of those who punctiliously assert that only UN-authorised actions are acceptable). But, of course, most people who put "Save Darfur" stickers on their cars would be horrified at the prospect of US military action.

What they mean is that saving Darfur, in the abstract, as a general notion, as some warm, fuzzy abstraction, is a jolly fine idea. So count them in. But if it were to require making unpalatable choices - killing people, propping up the least bad alternatives and so on - well, then stop right there. This is about feeling good about oneself and showing that one cares.

Signing or ratifying the Kyoto Protocol strikes me as comparable. For many it's all about feeling good about themselves, not about looking to see what works, what is possible, how to balance economic growth and people's adaptability against achieving worldwide reductions. My criticism is much deeper than the well-known fact that Al Gore's Tennessee mansion wolfs down 20 times more electricity than the average American household. Sure, hypocrisy is never all that hard to find. But the more important criticism has to do with whether Kyoto has the slightest prospect of being successful.

A study on the website American Thinker claims that in the seven years between the signing of Kyoto in 1997 and 2004, carbon emissions from countries that signed the treaty rose 21per cent, while among non-signers they rose 10per cent. And Australia, until recently a non-signatory, had a slower increase than Canada, a loud, vocal and proselytising signatory. If that's correct, then what exactly is the benefit of Kyoto? I mean that question seriously, not rhetorically. What good has come from Australia signing up to the thing? (I'm assuming we didn't do it in order to allow ourselves to pump out even more carbon with the other signatories.)

Has anyone else noticed that as soon as the Rudd Government ratified Kyoto and advertised its good intentions, all the heat (if you'll pardon the expression) went out of the issue. It's as though one has only somehow to signal one's on the side of the angels - or at least willing to talk the talk - and that's that. But even a moment's thought is enough to make it clear that whatever the extent of the global warming problem, it is most definitely that: global. And China and India have made their positions clear. (I would say they are defensible positions, too.) They want economic growth. They want to alleviate poverty. If that means 2C or 3C more by the year 2100, so be it.

And both those giant developing countries well know that the West became rich because of cheap energy. Now it's their turn. The gap between their view of what will amount to a fair sharing of the burden of cutting greenhouse gases and the view of the European Union, to say nothing of the US, is so wide, it takes someone wholly divorced from reality to see any prospect of the divide being bridged. As one well-known commentator remarked, "The Kyoto approach is dead and buried." The same person also pointed out the practical flaws in carbon emissions trading schemes.

If you are serious about cutting carbon dioxide emissions, you need to make them more expensive. So you can tax them or you can create a system to ration such emissions. Alas, rationing schemes not only discriminate against new entrants and provide rent-seeking opportunities to those operating the system, they don't really work. We don't set up a complicated alcohol or tobacco rationing system with tradable rights to drink or smoke. We tax these products. The EU carbon trading scheme hasn't worked and won't work. It's more of the form-over-substance charade.

You see, if you approached the problem in terms of taxing carbon dioxide, it would become too obvious just how high the costs would be of achieving a 70 per cent reduction (or even half of that). One can't help noticing that despite endless rock concerts, declarations and meetings of the great and the good, very little in practice has been done and global emissions continue to rise.

Meanwhile, the one obvious, clearly beneficial policy that we could adopt in Australia, namely to build nuclear power stations, dare not speak its name in polite Labor circles. This Government won't even sell uranium to India, even though nuclear power is the only remotely plausible way that enormous country will slow the increase of its emissions.

You see, it doesn't matter that India is a democracy, a huge and successful democracy. It hasn't signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, old boy. And rather than weigh the costs and benefits of what to do and then make a hard call, we're going with the bumper-sticker brigade on this one.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Rudd is from a less unhinged generation

I think that the article below makes some interesting points but I also think that it considerably overstates the importance of generational effects. Ordinary people got on with their lives much as before during the '60s, regardless of the bees in the bonnets of the intellectual lightweights who thought they were so wise. The State where I live was run in the early '60s by the very conservative "honest Frank" Nicklin and only ill health caused him to retire. He had no trouble winning elections.

In 1968 he was succeeded by another member of his conservative party -- that determined squasher of disorderly student protests, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen -- and Sir Joh got big approval ratings for his very conservative policies -- ending up running Queensland for nearly 20 years. In 1974, he gained a remarkable 59% (actually 58.97%)of the popular vote -- just a tiny touch above what Ronald Reagan got (58.8%) in 1984. In a Western democracy, those percentages spell "landslide" -- and the landslides concerned were for very conservative candidates.

One is left to argue that the educated elite were much more affected by the '60s and that their role in running things amplifies the effect of the '60s. That may be true to some degree but to get to rule anywhere they still had to be voted into office by ordinary people so it still comes back mainly to how the views of ordinary people vary from generation to generation

One of the interesting and important things about our new Prime Minister, culturally as opposed to politically, is that he is our first post-baby boomer leader. Technically he may have been born at the very end of the boomer cohort, but he is in no sense a child of the 1960s. During the pivotal year of 1968 -- the year of the Paris student riots, the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the Cultural Revolution in China, the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in the US, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia - Rudd was still in primary school.

Even if you regard the '60s as finishing in Australia at the end of 1975, Rudd escapes them. He was still at high school. At university he was not a radical activist but a Christian activist and a nerdy, hard studying student.

Perversely, it was the post-baby boomer generation that John Howard always thought he stood a good chance of winning, whereas the baby boomers were permanently sour on a conservative such as him. We have all been influenced by the '60s, of course, but the hard-core baby boomers got the most direct radiation damage.

Culturally, the '60s were very toxic. I have always felt about them much as W. H. Auden felt about the '30s:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade.

The '30s bore some resemblance to the '60s in that substantial numbers of intellectuals defected from the Western tradition and threw their lot in with the extremist and mad ideology of Marxism. In the '60s, many repeated exactly this error, but many also embraced a far wider series of cultural disorders than just Marxism.

But the contrast between the '30s and the '60s is more instructive than the similarity. The '30s, for all their treachery, produced some genuinely great art. Think of the writers you associate with the decade: Graham Greene, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell. These were genuinely great artists. Now name me a similar list from the '60s. You can't. Very little work of any artistic consequence emerged from the '60s. Instead it was a decade of destruction and nihilism, of self-regard so intemperate and unqualified that it tore art apart, as it tore apart most cultural values.

The very worst of the '60s occurred on Western campuses, which became scenes of violence, riots and intolerance. The key idea of the '60s was to abandon all restraint. Very few of the decade's gurus had the intellectual courage to think through what the abandonment of restraint really means. It means, in the end, the pure glorification of power.

For civilisation is all about restraint. So, too, is art. Sometimes a conservative period can be followed by a creative liberalising reaction. This is really what happened when the liberal Edwardians succeeded the conservative Victorians. That is partly why Edwardian literature and art, and the literature and art from just after that period, remain so attractive. They were created by people who were rebelling against a previously conservative period, but their rebellion was a restrained rebellion, both in method and intent. It did not imply the abandonment of restraints altogether, or of standards.

In Australia, certainly, the '60s do not stand in relation to the '50s as the Edwardian period stands in relation to the Victorian. For a start, the '50s were a period of incredible creative energy in Australia -- Patrick White, C. J. Koch, Hal Porter, Randolph Stow, Morris West, John O'Grady all began publishing in the '50s. Martin Boyd published three of the four novels in his magnificent Langton tetralogy then. Quadrant, the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated small magazine in Australian history, was born in the '50s.

When baby boomer activists of the '60s say how boring and provincial Australia was in the '50s, they are either saying that they did not know Australia very well in the '50s or simply that they themselves were boring and provincial.

The radical '60s, as they played out in Australia, were completely derivative of the US, a pale imitation of radical chic from New York and San Francisco. Even in the U.S., the '50s are being much re-evaluated, not least through David Halberstam's fascinating book on the subject a few years ago.

Of course, there were elements of the '50s that were objectionable, in Australia as in the US, especially the greater tolerance of racism. But the characteristic response of the '60s was not problem-solving. Instead it was a wholesale rejection of everything that Western culture had consisted of until that point. There was an authentically Orwellian inversion of language and meaning. Marriage was patriarchal oppression. Hallucinogenic drugs were a path to higher consciousness. Sexual exploitation was freedom. Liberal politicians were fascists. Communist totalitarians were liberators.

And for most of the leaders, and many of the practitioners, of '60s culture, the whole universe became entirely self-centred. The only thing that counted was "authentic" experience. There was no such thing as truth, the only question was whether it was true for you. Standards of any kind were regarded as oppressive, academic standards most of all. It is not overstating things to say there was a kind of madness abroad in the culture in those days, not a whimsical eccentricity but a wilful, self-indulgent, nihilistic and destructive madness.

Much that is wrong with our culture today --- especially the hatred of the Western tradition among many intellectuals and the self-obsessive, critical sterility of much academic theory -- comes directly from that time. One of the qualities most hated under the '60s ethos was sound and orderly process. Thus if you had a grievance at university, real or imagined, you didn't pursue it in the normal way, you smashed in the vice-chancellor's office.

An insistence on good process is an inherently conservative virtue. It is telling that Kevin Rudd has promoted himself so much as a politician of good process. His promise during the campaign of so many inquiries and reviews and panels and commissions can be lampooned or criticised as ineffective. But it can also be seen as the promise of sound, perhaps exhaustive, process to deliver sound policy.

This is merely one of the ways in which Rudd shows himself to be alien to the spirit of the '60s, which was above all a desperately impatient and intemperate spirit. That Rudd is so much the polar opposite of that spirit, even emphasising his conventional religion as opposed to the militant and intolerant secularism of the '60s ethos, is, literally, a blessing. The '60s are dead at last. Let's dance on their rotten grave.

The article above by GREG SHERIDAN appeared in the "The Australian" on January 19, 2008

Call for inquiry into public hospital death at hands of a Saudi


The NSW Opposition has called for the parliamentary inquiry into Royal North Shore Hospital to be reopened to hear evidence from a senior anaesthetist who raised concerns about the hospital's practices with a coroner. Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said she would push to reopen the inquiry after Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich, who is investigating the death of teenage patient Vanessa Anderson, said it was not his role to canvass broader issues at the hospital.

Vanessa, 16, suffered a seizure and died two days after her skull was fractured by a stray golf ball in November 2005. The inquest has heard she received no anti-convulsant drugs and was prescribed Panadeine Forte and the painkiller Endone, a combination three medical experts described as inappropriate.

Mr Milovanovich was set to deliver his findings last July, but adjourned the inquest after senior anaesthetist Dr Stephen Barratt wrote to him raising concerns about Sanaa Ismail, the anaesthetics registrar who increased Vanessa's dose of Endone. As the inquest resumed yesterday, Michael Williams SC, for the Anderson family, also sought to question Dr Barratt about his wider concerns at the hospital, but Mr Milovanovich limited the doctor's evidence to matters relevant to Vanessa's treatment.

Dr Barratt told Westmead Coroner's Court that Saudi-trained Dr Ismail "unfortunately has an issue of needing to save face" and invented stories. While he backed down from his initial assertion that this was a "cultural issue", he said: "She will not admit to mistakes." Recalled as a witness, Dr Ismail - now a senior registrar at the hospital - repeated her evidence that she misread Vanessa's medication chart, not realising she was on high-strength Panadeine Forte rather than ordinary Panadeine.

Dr Barratt told the court that two incidents earlier in 2005 had triggered his concerns about Dr Ismail's performance when unsupervised. However, when cross-examined by Dr Ismail's barrister Stephen Barnes, Dr Barratt conceded there was "little or nothing" in either incident to raise safety concerns. He agreed that an internal investigation cleared her of mistakes in treating the first patient, who went into cardiac arrest while in labour.

The court heard Dr Barratt had been "impaired" by extreme anxiety when he contacted the coroner and was prescribed medication less than three weeks later. Outside court, Vanessa's father Warren Anderson said the six-month adjournment had been difficult: "We just want the truth about what happened to our daughter." Ms Skinner will move to reopen the parliamentary inquiry so Dr Barratt could testify "about all of the matters he wanted to canvass". Mr Milovanovich will hand down his findings on Thursday.


Surprise! Welfare housing crime-plagued

When was it otherwise?

Prostitution, drugs and violence are crippling Brisbane Housing Company's affordable housing projects, according to residents. And the Kelvin Grove Urban Village would be a paradise lost unless the State Government and Brisbane Housing Company provided support for the jobless who had been lumped together there. Residents feared reprisals ranging from violence to burglary and being labelled a snob for speaking out against the developments which were built to house low-income people and those in "transition from crisis". "The concept sounds great but the reality doesn't seem to be working," Kelvin Grove resident Peter Jeremijenko said.

The movie stuntman lives on the edge of the urban village, where his family has lived for three generations. He recently adopted a friend's guard dog and advised his neighbours to do the same after a series of break-ins. He has been fighting BHC for about 10 years on development issues and has recently been trying to find out how many former prisoners are housed in the four blocks of units in the urban village. "This is the most beautiful place in the world to live, but right now we have some social issues that need to be fixed," he said. "There is a lot of good in their design (of the urban village) but there are fundamental flaws in filling it first with BHC (tenants). "The diversity is great and I can see this turning into a great area if they can get it right."

BHC chief executive David Cant yesterday admitted there were ex-prisoners and mentally ill living among the company's properties but said they were a small percentage. He said it would be paternalistic and judgmental to suggest that these people could not live alongside ordinary pensioners. About 40 per cent of BHC tenants describe themselves as disabled physically or mentally and about half rely on Centrelink. "These people have to go somewhere," Mr Cant said. "It's too prescriptive and judgmental to say they can't live beside a little old lady. People have to be given a chance. "That's part of our mission. We exist to house low-income people. "But we seek to create balanced communities."

He accepted there had been crime problems in some of the developments but many had been resolved. He said he was unaware of prostitution claims in the Bowen Hills development. He said BHC was strict about crime and would pass on any evidence to police.


Conservative path is the best bet for Australia's Liberal Party

Kevin Rudd was elected on John Howard's policies so it would be amazing to abandon those policies

IT was 2000 and up-and-coming NSW state MP John Brogden confidently declared that Liberals must match their progressive economic policies with progressive social policies. Citing social policy examples such as multiculturalism, gay marriage and decriminalisation of drugs, Brogden proposed a program of social liberalisation that would transform the Liberal Party into what he described as "consistently liberal, not a hybrid of economic liberalism and social conservatism". It was a vision that promised to radically reform the Liberal Party and make it relevant to what he perceived was a new generation of voters who had grown up in a "modern, tolerant, progressive Australia".

Yet in the short period that intervened, the Howard government proved, almost as if deliberately, that the opposite was true. Slashing personal income tax rates, erasing $96billion of government debt, opening up the workplace to competitive market pressures and the introduction of private health care incentives are just a few examples of Howard's voracious appetite for economic reform. But in virtually the same breath, the Howard government reaffirmed marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, pursued a "tough on drugs" strategy, rejected indigenous apologism and replaced multiculturalism with integration, among its many socially conservative projects.

John Howard summed up his approach in 2005 when he described himself as an "economic liberal and a social conservative", and rejected incompatibility between those two strands, suggesting that it was "some of the oddest pieces of political philosophy" to say that an economic liberal had to be a social libertarian. Until the 2007 election, this formula delivered Howard unprecedented electoral success, particularly among Australia's youth.

Clive Bean, a key contributor to the Australian Election Study of voting behaviour (which is conducted after each election), found that for the first time more young people voted Liberal than Labor in the 2004 federal election. Analysis of what influenced the youth vote is even more instructive. The former government's stance on social issues was at least as influential as economic considerations when young people cast their ballots. That analysis is consistent with studies demonstrating young Australians are reacting against the liberal-progressive values of their parents. According to a 2005 study carried out by marketing firm Clemenger BBDO, called Tomorrow's Parents Today, young people are significantly more conservative than their parents. They are more likely to volunteer, to give to charity and to go to church. They are also more likely to marry and plan to have children earlier.

Despite an emphatic victory for Labor at the 2007 federal election and a shift in the youth vote, the success of Howard's formula has surprisingly been left intact. And Kevin Rudd knows it. After all, the media and marketing reinvention of Labor as a Howard-like conservative force was a recognition of the success of Howard's formula of blending free-market economic policy and socially mainstream values. Which is why, for example, Rudd went as far as to slap down his party's foreign affairs spokesman on the issue of opposing the death sentence for the Bali bombers. He has also repeatedly referred to himself as an economic conservative, rejected gay marriage and made his Christian beliefs a matter of public record.

The constant and successful use of catchphrases such as "new leadership", "fresh ideas", "plan for the future" and the Kevin07 brand meant Labor was distinguishing itself not on the basis of a Left or progressive policy agenda but, rather, on personality and the impression of being more forward-looking than Howard. In many ways, Labor's 2007 campaign capitalised on the strong electoral synergy between free-market thinking and mainstream social values. But with proposals to make an apology to the stolen generations and a subsequent legal liability of possibly more than $1 billion, plus an Australian bill of rights and allowing civil unions between homosexuals in the ACT, Labor is slipping back to its natural place on the Left of the political divide.

This creates an opportunity for the conservative side of politics to take back ground and reassert its place as true representatives of the Australian mainstream. To take advantage of this opportunity, blending social conservatism and economic reform will be the key not only to electoral success of the Liberal Party, but to locking in Australia's long-term prosperity for future generations.

Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull have publicly recognised that securing Australia's future prosperity demands rising to the challenge of an ageing population and collapsing age-dependency ratios. With a diminishing productive base, workforce participation rates will decline and be unable to sustain increasing levels of welfare. That pressure will require governments to look towards more family-friendly policies which lead to more children and reduce welfare dependency: a clear example where combining economic and social policy can be good policy and good politics. As Howard often said, there is no institution that is a more efficient deliverer of social welfare than a united, affectionate, functioning family. According to Howard: "It's the best social welfare policy that mankind has ever devised."

It is the blending of our economically progressive and socially conservative traditions that will enable us to embrace policies that are family friendly but still firmly placed in the free-market framework. The fortunes of the Liberal Party and Australia will be best served if we seek to achieve the right mix.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Rudd's plan to beat inflation -- by spending cuts!

Although I was virtually alone among Australian conservatives in predicting that Rudd would be roughly as conservative as he said he was, this still has rather gobsmacked me. This is as fiscally conservative as you get

Kevin Rudd will fight inflation with a "hardline" budget surplus target of up to $18 billion to be achieved through savage spending cuts. Outlining in Perth today a five-point plan to fight inflation, the Prime Minister will set a new target for the budget surplus of 1.5per cent of the nation's gross domestic product. The move follows the Howard government's pledge made during the election campaign to maintain a budget surplus of 1 per cent of GDP.

Mr Rudd will also flag new policies to create "real incentives" for private saving. He did not elaborate on the measures yesterday at a "community cabinet" session in Perth during which he and his ministers took questions from the public, but the reforms could include policies to encourage superannuation and savings plans to promote home ownership. These measures would have the potential to take pressure off home interest rates by slowing the surging pace of consumer and business spending that has the Reserve Bank worried.

Blaming the Howard government for failing to tackle inflation, Mr Rudd will also warn of new spending cuts to be unveiled in the May budget, beyond the $10 billion savings plan outlined in last year's election campaign. However, the Prime Minister yesterday signalled that he remained committed to delivering tax cuts of more than $30billion, and warned the current tax system was "too complex" and served only the interests of accountants. [Hear here!] "The future of the national economy is core business for the new Government of Australia," Mr Rudd will say in his speech today. "We are embarking on a hardline approach to fiscal discipline - aiming for a budget surplus of at least 1.5 per cent of GDP in 2008-09, provided growth prospects remain as currently anticipated. "This is higher than the target outlined by the previous government as recently as November. "It won't be easy. In going to the election we announced $10billion in savings over the forward estimates. We will be looking to make savings beyond that through our razor gang."

Mr Rudd, who proclaimed himself an "economic conservative" during the election campaign, had previously pledged to maintain a budget surplus of 1 per cent of GDP. But with Wayne Swan warning on Friday that inflation was likely to remain at or above the Reserve Bank's target of 3 per cent over the next 18 months - and the shockwaves of the sub-prime credit crisis buffeting consumer confidence and the Australian share market - the Rudd Government is determined to act.

The second edict of Mr Rudd's five-point plan, after setting the budget surplus target, is to examine "all options to provide real incentive to encourage private savings". [Hear here!] The third priority is new policies to tackle the chronic skills shortage.

Mr Rudd will also argue that the Government must provide national leadership to tackle infrastructure bottlenecks. Finally, the Government will aim to deliver "practical ways of helping people re-enter the workforce and removing disincentives to working hard - to lift workforce participation".

In his speech, Mr Rudd will argue Australia faces conflicting economic currents including "a global economy (led by the US), which appears to be slowing, an ongoing terms-of-trade boom driven by Asia-Pacific economies and significant domestic inflationary pressures at home". He will warn that the inflation challenge Australia faces "is very much the Liberals' parting gift to the Australian economy". And he will mock Mr Costello's election claim that "inflation is right where we want it". "A decade of neglect of the twin investment deficits in infrastructure and skills [Mainly by Leftist State governments] has meant our economy has been ill-prepared to deal with the demand surge flowing from the terms-of-trade boom," Mr Rudd will say. "The inflation problem we currently face has not emerged overnight. It cannot be solved overnight. But we can start immediately. And we have."

Australia's current gross domestic product, a measure of national income, including wages and profits, is about $1.1trillion. This suggests the Rudd Government, on current settings, would unveil a first budget surplus of between $16billion and $18billion. Peter Costello announced in his final budget last May a forecast of an underlying cash surplus of $12.7 billion. This was updated in the Mid-Year Economic Forecast Outlook released during the election campaign to show a surplus of $14.4billion, which is about 1.25per cent of GDP.

John Howard later predicted the budget surplus could be 50per cent higher than the $14.4billion forecast. "Budget papers show that in the last three fiscal years, the final surplus has been at least 1.5 per cent of GDP, or 50 per cent higher than the 1per cent figure projected in the original budget forecasts for each year," the then prime minister said in November. If this trend continues, the Rudd Government will comfortably achieve its new target of a surplus of 1.5per cent of GDP.

Mr Rudd, who toured flood-stricken towns in Queensland early yesterday, later jetted to Perth to join his ministers in meeting voters at the Canning Vale College. Pledging a more open style of government that would "listen" to the community, he answered questions from the floor during the "community cabinet" session. Grilled on the tax system, he pledged fundamental reform. Mr Rudd said he understood the tax system needed to be simplified and vowed to "get the balance right".

The Treasurer told the meeting the Government was committed to tax reform but admitted "it will take time". "There is no magic pudding out there," Mr Swan said.


Australians spend more on their housing

These findings certainly vindicate John Howard's call for State and local governments to be less obstructive about new housing developments

Australian homes are the least affordable in the world, with regional cities including Mandurah outside Perth and Queensland's Sunshine Coast emerging as among the most expensive. A survey of 227 cities published in the 2008 Demographia study of international housing affordability suggests the Rudd Government should not focus exclusively on Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

The least affordable cities in Australia are Mandurah, a commuter town 74km south of Perth, which is ranked 6th in a list of the world's least affordable cities, and the Sunshine Coast, a favourite holiday destination of Kevin Rudd, which is ranked 7th. Sydney is ranked the 11th least affordable city in the international survey.

The least affordable place to live in the world is Los Angeles, but because Australia has the most cities - 18 - in the top 50, it is the least affordable nation for housing. "Australia (with New Zealand) has the most unaffordable housing in the surveyed nations," economist and report author Wendell Cox said. "There are no affordable markets in Australia and there are no moderately unaffordable markets. Twenty-five of the 28markets are rated severely unaffordable. "All of the large capital cities (Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide) are rated severely unaffordable. The best ratings are seriously unaffordable in three smaller markets, Maitland (NSW), Ballarat and Bendigo (both in Victoria)." Perth, ranked 19th, is almost on a par with London, which is the 18th least affordable city. The 24th least affordable is another West Australian city, Rockingham, a holiday destination 47km south of Perth.

"It's not just the big cities. This study confirms that affordability is also a problem in areas including Mandurah, the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast," Property Council of Australia chief executive Peter Verwer said. "It's important with these new cities that we don't make the same mistakes, which is put a ring around and them and say: no more development beyond here. That just makes prices rise. "Australia's dismal performance highlights the need to reverse the policies that created today's artificially inflated house prices.

"On average, Australian families are forced to spend 6.1 times their entire household income to buy a typical home compared to 3.1 times in Canada and 3.6times in the US, and that's before interest charges. "In Sydney, the multiple is 8.6 and Melbourne is 7.3, but it's even higher in some of Australia's fastest-growing cities, including Mandurah, (9.5), Sunshine Coast (9.3) and the Gold Coast (8.6)."


I love plastic bags

Is anyone else irritated by the teenage lass at the supermarket showing her disdain when you opt for a free plastic bag over her suggestion of a purchased green bag to ferry home your groceries? Or is the lack of intellectual rigour in the whole debate about plastic bag use annoying you? Of course, it is politically correct not to like them; to front at the shops with a handbag full of crisp green or red or yellow or purple bags to carry your purchases. And it's politically incorrect to argue what I'm about to do here: that perhaps plastic bags might not be the environmental bogie we claim.

But in the absence of cold, hard facts about how people are using plastic bags, and what alternatives they are using to replace them, people who choose to use them should be left alone. And certainly not made to feel bad by someone trying to shame them into buying another green bag.

New Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who his friends would say had a lack-lustre election campaign, hasn't helped the debate by rushing in and demanding all sorts of things. Especially since he is still to receive the report that reviews options to reduce plastic bag litter from a working group set up last year by environment ministers. But until that report brings down a stronger case, those looking down their noses at their neighbours using the bags should read the Productivity Commission's report on the issue. It, in short, suggests policy makers should examine whether other options - such as tougher anti-litter laws - would be more effective than banning plastic bags.

It does this in a weighty report that looks at all sides of the argument. It says that while plastic-bag litter could injure marine wildlife, claims at least 100,000 animals are killed each year are not supported by evidence. It says research commissioned by the Australian Government shows only 0.8 per cent of plastic bags become litter, that plastic bags account for only 2 per cent of all litter items, and about 2 per cent of annual expenditure on cleaning up litter is attributable to plastic bags. Given that, it is fair to ask why asking for a plastic bag at a supermarket now appears a more heinous crime than throwing a cigarette butt out the window of a moving car or dumping picnic wrappers at the beach. And if plastic bags represent only 2 per cent of all litter items, why are they getting all the attention over the other 98 per cent?

Back to the Productivity Commission report, which finds that smaller retailers have signalled they would switch to paper bags if a ban was imposed on plastic bags. But this is what the commission says: "Again, this could lead to unintended environmental costs. For example, the greenhouse gases emitted in producing a paper bag have been estimated to be around five times greater than those from producing a plastic bag."

The issue of what people use instead of plastic bags has been raised elsewhere, too, with suggestions the reduction in use of plastic bags has led to an increase in kitchen tidy bags and bin liners - which use much heavier plastics. That's relevant given some research suggests two-thirds of all plastic bags taken from supermarkets are being used for kitchen rubbish. Those who don't use them in kitchen rubbish could be risking the ire of the water commissioner if they're hosing out their bin too often.

The Productivity Commission makes many other points: that consumers want them or wouldn't use about 4 billion of them each year; that a ban could cost retailers; and that any ban would need to include exemptions on health grounds, to pack meat, for example. The commission closed its report suggesting an investigation into the environmental impacts of plastic-bag litter and consideration of why the big reduction in bag use in recent years had not translated into an environmental improvement.

Banning plastic bags or introducing a tax on them might make Garrett feel warm and fuzzy, but that's not the best way to move forward on policy. What he needs to do is wait until he receives a report from environment ministers, probably in April, investigate those areas suggested by the Productivity Commission and put forward a plan based on facts, not rhetoric. No one doubts plastic bags cause environmental damage - but there are usually two sides to every story. As politically incorrect as it may sound, the bags might not be deserving of the bad wrap they're getting.


Child rapists repeatedly set free

The "sickening" lack of justice for child rape victims, even after courts find their attackers guilty, has left children's advocates despairing. Some say this apparent disregard for abused children could embolden child sex predators and discourage victims from seeking justice. Fewer than a third of rapists convicted of abusing children aged over 10 see the inside of a jail cell. Of the handful who are imprisoned, the sentences average just two years.

Figures obtained by The Sunday Age from three Sentencing Advisory Council reports show that men aged over 40 who rape minors - especially those in their care - are more likely to be sent to jail than younger offenders, but many still escape prison terms. If the rapist is aged under 20 and the victim is over 10, the rapist is almost certain to walk away with a community-based order. The figures come in the wake of comments by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, who accused judges of being insensitive to child sex victims' suffering after Justice Michael Kelly ridiculed the impact statement of a man who was raped as a 13-year-old by a 24-year-old male.

The figures relate to a five-year period from June 2001, when a total of 307 people (including 11 women) were convicted of raping children aged under 16. Fewer than half, just 141, were sent to jail. But a breakdown of the figures reveals a wide variation in sentencing patterns depending on the victim's age. Victoria's County and Supreme Court records show that of the 193 people convicted of raping children aged 10 to 16, just 60 were jailed; 39 received wholly suspended sentences.

Childwise chief executive Bernadette McMenamin said the low sentencing rate for sex crimes against children over 10 showed many victims were being treated as adults by the courts. "Child sexual abuse is child sexual abuse," she said. "No matter what the age or age difference. You are still a child and people fail to recognise that - it is still childhood." The abuse of an older child could sometimes have a more devastating impact.

Another report, on the sentencing of rapists of children under 10, revealed higher imprisonment rates, with 59 of the 86 rapists being sent to jail. The third report examined the treatment by the courts of adults who raped children in their care, authority or supervision. It showed judges were least tolerant of predatory teachers, foster parents, youth workers, sports coaches, religious ministers and health professionals, with 22 of the 28 who were convicted being sent to jail.

But children's advocates say the overall low imprisonment rates will not deter child sex abusers. They fear they will instead discourage victims and their families from reporting child rapes - the vast majority of which never make it to court. Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Joe Tucci said the low imprisonment rate was appalling. A Royal Children's Hospital study of 106 children who were sexually abused, showed charges were laid in just 12% of the cases, and only five resulted in prosecution, he said. "Without convictions and punishment it reinforces for these children what these perpetrators have told them 'You are to blame, you made me do it because you didn't say no the first time'. It's sickening. We fail our children all the time," Mr Tucci said.

Sentencing Advisory Council chairman Professor Arie Freiberg said an offender's age seemed to determine whether they were jailed. He said the heaviest sentences were dealt to adults in positions of authority or care. "It's as much about breach of trust as it is the sexual offence," he said. "These children are not only unable to consent, but the age group is so significantly different . there can be no excuse that she was my 'girlfriend'."

Former prison chaplain Father Peter Norden said jail was no place for young sex offenders because it linked them with recidivist sex criminals. Instead, health, social and educational interventions worked best in rehabilitating young offenders. Childwise will release a booklet next month to help parents recognise potential predators.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Australian kids get distorted and inadequate history lessons

By Christopher Bantick

As we begin to think about celebrating Australia Day, the armbands will be dusted off. There will be the black armbands of shame over European colonisation, and the white armbands triumphantly boasting the nation's achievements won from a hostile land. The symbols of armbands illustrate how increasingly divisive Australian history has become, whether this is the protracted battle of the "history wars", where interpretations of indigenous ownership and colonial occupation have been raging, or the "culture wars" between previous prime minister John Howard's view of the past and Labor's.

Now with Labor in power, a new front has opened over how history is to be taught. While Labor has agreed with the Howard view of the need for a national curriculum, the critical question is: What will it contain? Australian history has become so contentious and politicised that it no longer is a subject of content and commonly agreed facts. Instead, it has morphed into an ideological minefield. Those who lose out are the kids.

Am I overstating the case? Consider this. In New South Wales schools, children as young as eight have been taught, from a government-approved textbook and distributed to NSW schools, the Sorry Song. The song. written by Kerry Fletcher in 1998 for Sorry Day festivities, contains the following words: "If we can't say sorry, to the people from this land, sing, sing loud, break through the silence, sing sorry across this land. We cry, we cry, their children were stolen, now no one knows why."

This is one example where a broad and well-rounded representation of the past has been sacrificed for an ideological position or, more bluntly, the indoctrination of eight-year-olds.

An uncomfortable reality is that there are many children in Queensland classrooms who know little history. They would fail the citizenship test on knowledge about Australia's past and society. Why? They have no factual basis. The assumption is otherwise. As then-immigration minister Kevin Andrews said in May last year: "It is the sort of thing you would expect someone who goes through school in Australia would know by the end of secondary school, and probably in some instances by the end of primary school." Wrong!

But it has not taken federal Labor long to take the high ground over history in the classroom. Where Howard wanted all Year 9 and 10 students to undertake a compulsory and factually-driven Australian history course measured out in a series of milestones, federal Labor has other plans, as Education Minister Julia Gillard indicated through a spokeswoman last week. "Australian history is a critical part of the curriculum and should be included in all years of schooling, not just for a few years in secondary school. The government will work co-operatively with the States and territories through Labor's national curriculum board to implemenmt a rigorous content-based national history curriculum for all Australian students from kindergarten to Year 12."

There is a little word missing here: facts. Moreover, there is no mention of another: chronology. The Labor take on the past sounds like the states will write their own content under broad national guidelines. It is conceivable that students will be receiving- at the whim of teachers and schools - content that although fitting a broad sense of a national curriculum has little national coherence.

Moreover research has consistently shown that children learn most successfully when they can see sequential links and associations. The British Inspectorate of Schools charged with monitoring standards, Ofsted, had this to say last year about students studying topics in isolation. "Children do not understand the chronology of what they have studied and cannot make links between important historical events."

The omission of a factual emphasis and stated chronology in the Labor plan, and let's keep in mind facts are different to content, is at odds with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's preferred position. In July last year, the then-leader of the opposition said: "Our young kids just need to be introduced to the facts in our history and facts in our society and then later on as they move through high school they can start rnaking up their own minds about what is right and wrong."

This view would seem at variance with his deputy Gillard's ideas and, curiously, squares with the Howard attempt to ground children in factual knowledge about the past. The moot point is: What will Labor's national history curriculum include? Children should be taught about their past free from ideological positions and political spin - a point Gregory Melleuish, Associate Professor of Politics at the University of Wollongong, noted in August: "In recent times there has been a move to consider history in political rather than professional terms. Many professional historians are more interested in serving political causes than historical ones."

Moreover, evidence shows that children don't want the politics. The History Teachers Association of NSW, in a submission to a Senate inquiry into school standards in July, noted students do not like politics in the classroom, or indigenous history. HTA executive officer Louise Zarmati said: 'This is a somewhat delicate subject but they don't like the indigenous part of Australian history. The feedback I get is that they are not prepared to wear the guilt. I think it sparks a lot of racism."

The fact is that Australian children are effectively being disenfranchised from knowing about their past while governments bicker about the politics of history. It is a sad indictment on the education system that many grandparents know more about Australian hisdtory than their children and certainly their grandchildren. That is something to worry about.

The article above appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on January 20, 2008

Trendy spiritualism 'breeds unhappiness'

No prizes for guessing which way the votes of the groups mentioned below would go

Young people who embrace trendy, self-focused spiritualism are more anxious and depressed than those who believe in God or reject religion altogether, a survey shows. A major Queensland study of 21-year olds suggests that the shift away from traditional religious beliefs to new-age religions is not making young adults happier.

The survey quizzed 3,705 people on their beliefs in God, higher powers other than God, as well as their church-going habits and other behaviours. Young adults with a belief in a spiritual or higher power other than God were at more risk of poorer mental health and deviant social behaviour than those who rejected these beliefs, said study author Dr Rosemary Aird, a population health researcher at the University of Queensland. Young men who held non-traditional religious views were at twice the risk of being more anxious and depressed than those with traditional beliefs.

"This study suggests that new forms of religiosity demand further research attention to understand the extent that religious change is linked to population mental health and social behaviour among younger generations," Dr Aird said.

The research is believed to be the first in Australia to examine young adults' religious and spiritual thoughts, behaviour and feelings. Dr Aird found only eight per cent of young adults attended church once a week, a trend linked to lower rates of antisocial behaviour among young men, but not females. She said individualism was the common thread in the shift away from traditional religious thoughts to non-religious spirituality. "This focus on self fulfillment and improvement over others' wellbeing could undermine a person's mental health with many people feeling more isolated, less healthy and having poorer relationships," Dr Aird said.

She said so-called new spirituality promotes the idea that self-transformation will lead to a positive and constructive change in self and society. "But there is a contradiction," Dr Aird said. "How can one change society if one is focused on oneself?"



I think that this is basically nonsense. Food GLUTS will remain the problem, as they have for many decades. But it's an interesting bit of backlash. Sometimes you need one bit of nonsense to counteract another -- as we have seen with the revival of nuclear power as an "answer" to so-called global warming

A WORSENING global food shortage is a problem far more urgent than climate change, top Australian scientists have warned. The Australian Science Media Centre briefing heard why prices for some staple foods had risen by as much as 60 per cent in the past year, and how dramatic price rises are expected to sweep across all staples in the near future.

Executive director of the Australian Farm Institute Mick Keogh said dairy products, grain and poultry had seen the strongest price rises in recent months. Beef and lamb were forecast to follow, with nationwide livestock shortages taking the average price for a cow from $700 a head 12 months ago to $1400 a head going into autumn.

Key speaker at the national science briefing Professor Julian Cribb said the security of our food supply is "the global scientific challenge of our time". The problem was more urgent even than climate change, said Professor Cribb, from the University of Technology in Sydney, because it will get us first . . . through famine and war. "By 2050 we will have to feed the equivalent of 13 billion people at today's levels of nutrition," he said. "This situation brings with it the very real possibility of regional and global instability. Investment in global food stability is now defence spending and requires proportionate priority."

A "knowledge drought" - the lack of innovation to address farm productivity challenges - had added to the crisis, Professor Cribb said. He called for a massive increase in public investment in agricultural research and development.

Farmers face challenges posed by drought, climate change, rising oil prices, erosion and nutrient loss combined with more demand for food stocks and biofuels. Global grain stocks have fallen to their lowest level since record-keeping began in 1960, while Australia's sheep flock is at its lowest since the mid-1920s, with about 86 million. In September last year 2007 the Australian Bureau of Statistics found consumers were paying 11.9 per cent more for basic food items than they were two years before. That is almost double the Consumer Price Index rise of 5.9 per cent during the period.


Play portrays Mohammed as a homosexual

You don't believe it? You are right. That would be MOST "incorrect" -- maybe even "racist". In Canada, it would probably get you prosecuted for "hate speech". But mocking Christian beliefs is OK of course

A play that depicts Jesus as a gay man who is seduced by Judas and conducts a gay marriage for two apostles has been condemned by religious leaders as it prepares to open in Sydney. The Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, questioned the integrity of Corpus Christi and expressed his outrage at the "unhistorical and untrue" depiction of the son of God and some of his disciples as homosexual. "It is deliberately, not innocently, offensive and they're obviously having a laugh about it," he said. "It's historical nonsense and I wouldn't want to go and see it. Life's too short."

Australian Family Association spokeswoman Angela Conway said the play's creators had committed "a big enough crime" by neglecting to treat Christianity and Christian believers with more sensitivity. "The ideas are offensive and really border on blasphemous. It's just completely fanciful and self-obsessive," she said.

The play's director, Leigh Rowney, is unrepentant. "I would be surprised if people bothered to protest outside the New Theatre . but if they did, bring it on," Rowney said.

The play, which will open at the New Theatre in Newtown on February 7 as part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, provoked protests and bomb threats in the US. Death threats were sent to playwright Terrence McNally, who draws parallels between the rejection he faced as a young gay man growing up in Texas and Christ's persecution.

Rowney, a Christian, denied the play mocked Christ but said it would upset some Christians. "I think it humanises Him in a way Christians might find difficult because we like to believe God and the son of God are ultimately divine and above all of us. "I wanted this play in the hands of a Christian person like myself to give it dignity but still open it up to answering questions about Christianity as a faith system."


Saturday, January 19, 2008

It's easier to move up Down Under (?)

This study is naive. It ignores American realities. It uses statistics for the USA as a whole. Statistics for whites only would be very different

The great American dream of going from rags to riches is more of a reality in Australia, although we are less inclined to believe it, a new study has found. The study by Andrew Leigh at the Australian National University has found Australian sons are more likely than American sons to achieve a higher income than their father. Overall, he found Australia was home to more "class-jumpers" than the US, with a person's position in society less likely to be determined by birth. "It is easier to move from rags to riches in Australia than it is in the United States," Dr Leigh said. "Particularly for those who begin in poverty, Australia offers a greater chance of rising up the income ladder."

In a new paper titled Intergenerational Mobility In Australia, Dr Leigh drew on four separate surveys of Australian men born between 1910 and 1979. The study considered men only, because mothers had historically lower levels of participation in the workforce from which to make comparisons. It found that of sons born to fathers with jobs putting them in the bottom fifth of the population by income, 12 per cent had climbed into the top income bracket in their working lifetime. Similar surveys in the US found just 5 per cent of sons could expect to make the jump in just one generation.

"It's contrary to the national myth that a lot of Americans have about themselves, that although there is a lot of inequality, anyone can make it to the top," Dr Leigh said. But while Americans may be overly optimistic about their prospects, separate surveys suggest Australians are overly pessimistic. Thirty-nine per cent of Australians agreed with a statement that poor people were trapped in poverty, compared with just 29 per cent of Americans who thought the same. Similarly, 40 per cent of Australian respondents felt income was determined by luck, compared with 30 per cent of Americans who felt that.

Dr Leigh said there were many reasons for Australia's higher social mobility. "Increases in health care coverage and expansions in education attainment are among the policy reforms that might have been expected to increase intergenerational mobility." Australia's convict past and heritage of free settlement had also helped to create a relatively classless society, whereas Americans faced an uphill battle, given the vast chasm between rich and poor in that country. [Translation into plain English: Australia does not have America's largely uneducable black underclass. Nor does it have a Hispanic underclass which is not much better]

But the study also found income mobility was a two-way street in Australia. Of sons born to fathers in the richest 20 per cent of the population by income, 17 per cent had slipped into the poorest 20 per cent later in life.


Anger at kindergarten sex lessons

The usual Leftist attempt to debauch children

A PARENT has complained her five-year-old daughter was taught sex education at a school in Hobart and revealed she was assaulted by two boys in her class just after the visit from Family Planning. The claims have prompted calls for the course only to be taught with parental consent. The parent, who did not want to be named, said her kindergarten child had come home and "said the word vagina". "I was shocked," she said. "They were taught what a penis and a vagina was, which I don't think they should in kinder. "I told the principal if I had known anything like that was going to happen, I would have kept my kids at home all week."

The parent said her child told her about the alleged assault when she put her to bed that night. "That's when she told me that two boys in her class had put their hands down her pants, and she said she bashed them," the mother said. "She said it happened in the dolly corner. "There were three adults in the room and 16 kids and no one saw it. She said she did tell the teacher, but the teacher seems to think she did not tell."

Pembroke Labor MLC Allison Ritchie said the allegation would be investigated. "I have had an undertaking from the Education Minister's office that this incident will be fully investigated," she said. Ms Ritchie said she had also heard complaints from people delivering the course, who had turned up to a school in the North-West only to find parental consent had not been sought. She said the children were part of a protective behaviours course.

The complaint parent said her six-year-old and nine-year-old children had all been put through the course. "I never knew it was happening until they all came home and said," she said. "I don't think they should do it at that age, maybe Grade 6 or Grade 7, not kinder and prep. "But the principal said the Government said it was compulsory for kids to learn about their bodies at that age. "They told me that it was Family Planning, they came in to talk to the kids about their bodies, who could touch them and who could not."

Ms Ritchie said all schools should ensure that parents had the opportunity to give their consent and view the content of such courses. "Parents should absolutely be able to opt out," she said. "It is not compulsory for every child. "You might say I am happy for my Grade 7 child to participate, but not my kinder child." Ms Ritchie said most schools were doing the right thing and gaining consent.


A private firm would never be able to get away with this

The NSW Government's defective fleet of natural gas-powered buses will soon be back on the road - but with the same faulty part that forced the squad out of service in the first place. Commuters were forced to wait more than an hour for a service after 200 buses were grounded last year when a broken steering arm on one bus was found to potentially be replicated in the rest of the vehicles. Now the Government is promising to redeploy the buses but with the same - potentially faulty - steering part.

Transport workers have expressed concern over the Government's move, with one online forum of transport workers questioning whether the replacement part is up to scratch. "Presumably the 'replacement stock' is existing product made to the same specs as those which failed," one wrote. Others said the State Transit Authority engineering section had told them the same thing. A spokesman for Transport Minister John Watkins confirmed the replacements parts would be the same specifications as the failed part.

Mr Watkins yesterday said he expected 60 buses would be back on the road by the end of the week and a further 100 additional parts would be delivered by early February. "All replacement parts will be inspected as part of regular service inspections. State Transit will never put buses on the road unless it is sure they are completely safe," he said.

State Opposition transport spokeswoman Gladys Berejiklian said she had safety concerns about the new-for-old replacement parts, given how swiftly the fleet was grounded in December. "Those parts are ticking timebombs and they compromise safety," she said. "I'm concerned newer versions of the part are going in. Given the buses were taken off the road so suddenly and now we are told it's OK to have them on the road. Clearly it was a safety concern so what is different now?"

A Mercedes-Benz spokesman yesterday said the replacement parts should not show the same fatigue cracks, "for at least 200,000km". He said Mercedes was working on a longer-term solution for the buses. "In parallel with replacing these components, Mercedes-Benz will develop and implement a longer-term technical solution," the spokesman said.

The company is paying to replace the part in the entire fleet but a letter from Mercedes to the STA and RTA revealed the buses would have to be regularly tested with a redesigned part not being ready for some time. A letter recommending the gas buses be tested regularly to check they are safe said: "this procedure will give us some time to engineer a new part as a final version. This will take some time as engineering, test and certification have to be performed."


Book publishers goof again

Colleen McCulloch and J.K. Rowling collected a heap of rejection slips in their early days too

Two Sunshine Coast women have hit on the right ingredients for success - all four of them. In one of those meteoric success stories that usually only play out in Hollywood movies, Kim McCosker and Rachael Bermingham are pinching themselves after their modest, homespun, self-published cookbook 4 Ingredients was announced as a surprise Australian bestseller of 2007.

With 385,000 copies sold, the little unillustrated book of 340 simple recipes each using a maximum of four ingredients was only outdone by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It even beat the highly publicised The Secret by Australian-born television producer Rhonda Byrne (267,200 copies) and Bryce Courtenay's The Persimmon Tree (166,000 copies).

Fast friends since kindergarten in Stanthorpe, McCosker and Bermingham - both 37 with young children - said their success should inspire anyone with a good idea and the courage to back themselves. Rejected by publishers who said there were too many cookbooks around already, the duo persevered and funded their own printing with a first run of just 2000 - then phoned a local newspaper, which ran an article on them.

"Everything just snowballed," Bermingham said. ABC radio did a bit on the book and this was followed by a stint on television's Extra, which was seen by a Big W executive who ordered 2500 copies. Now there's a second book on the way and TV contracts are being finalised. "We wanted something so we just went out and did it," Bermingham said. McCosker said: "All the publishing houses that weren't taking our calls six months ago are now throwing bottles of Moet at us."


Friday, January 18, 2008

Victoria police not surrendering yet

It seems that they are not yet ready to adopt the British policy of hiding in their police stations while "minorities" run riot. See e.g. here

An aggressive, fearless and increasingly violent Generation Y is forcing police to rethink tactics and training as more people under 25 openly take on authority, Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon declared yesterday. The Victorian police boss said the level of disrespect being exhibited on the streets was getting worse and she laid the blame squarely on Generation Y. Young men and women born after 1984 were increasingly using technology - SMS and the internet - to gather in numbers and intimidate police. "We are seeing a level of aggression that our police officers are seeing within the city itself that is much worse," Ms Nixon said yesterday. "I think it's a generational issue. It is the Why - W-H-Y - Generation. They really are far more aggressive. They'll cluster more and will send SMS and a lot of their friends will come," Ms Nixon said.

A recent study of GenerationY in NSW by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research revealed that almost one in 10 people born in the state in 1984 had a criminal record by the time they turned 21.

In an unusual break from the police tradition of playing down the level of violence in the community, a frank Ms Nixon said alcohol-fuelled violence was on the rise and was forcing a change in strategies. "We have to be training our officers differently, and we are," she said. "We have to take a much harder line than we have before."

Ms Nixon's candid comments came just days after she attacked a group of teenagers for their behaviour at a suburban house party on the weekend, which turned ugly as revellers hurled bottles at police. The confrontation escalated to the point that the air squad and the dog squad had to be called in to deal with up to 500 youngsters and ended with up to $20,000 damage being done to police vehicles by the drunken teenagers.

It came as Ms Nixon defended her officers who resorted to the use of capsicum spray to subdue unruly fans at the Australian Open tennis tournament. One of the officers trying to evict members of the crowd for chanting offensive statements on Wednesday described how he was pushed and shoved by the spectators and that he feared being hurt. Footage of the confrontation revealed angry fans - including young women - shouting abuse at police and openly defying the officers.

Ms Nixon, deflecting the use of pepper spray, which was described by critics as heavy-handed, said police had no choice these days but to take a much more aggressive approach to unruly behaviour. "We think this issue around violence in the community is growing and that's why we're not going to tolerate it," shesaid. "We've come down hard, and some people will agree with us sometimes and don't agree with us others. But that's part of the process. We're not going to tolerate it any more." The police's approach would be one of zero tolerance, Ms Nixon said. "We think we've got to a point where we're seeing so much more violence on the streets than we've ever seen in Melbourne in the inner-city," she said. "The state Government has given us new powers to exclude people. And we've now got our summer blitz operation where we've given extra resources to officers to be able to actually take control back (so) people need to realise we're not tolerating it any more."


Airport screening ludicrous in Australia too

The company responsible for security at Brisbane's airports has failed two Federal Government weapons tests in the past three weeks, casting a further cloud on safety levels at the international and domestic terminals. Transport Department inspectors slipped two knives past screeners working for contractor ISS Security as part of random checks on anti-terror measures in the nation's airports.

The failures come amid controversy over security at Brisbane's airports after a former Australian Federal Police officer and six former ISS employees revealed regular and unreported security breaches. The concerns included two knives being found on passengers who had already passed through security checkpoints before boarding flights and broad failures of screeners to monitor passengers and baggage. More current and former ISS workers came forward to detail concerns, revealing how Transport Department inspectors had recently slipped knives in a backpack and a briefcase past screeners. They followed another failed random test in the second half of last year.

Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said he would not seek meetings with the workers who detailed the security flaws. Mr Albanese said his office would "determine the facts" from ISS and its contractor, the Brisbane Airport Corporation. The BAC and ISS have refused to answer detailed questions and insist that security at the airports is already of "the highest standard".

The Queensland Workplace Rights Ombudsman's Office confirmed it was investigating complaints about rostering and workplace safety at Brisbane airport. The investigation is expected to be completed next month. Ombudsman Don Brown is also completing a report on employment practices within the contract security industry.

The Flight Attendants' Association of Australia and the Australian Federation of Air Pilots said they would welcome inquiries into security at Brisbane airport. Flight Attendants' Association president Steven Reed said an inquiry should be held into whether the Government should be outsourcing airport security. "It really is a matter of national security. It amazes me that because of the need for cost-cutting it is farmed out," he said. "It is vitally important to have a regulator overseeing the whole thing." He said it might be more appropriate for airport security to come under the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

The Australian Federation of Air Pilots said domestic pilots regularly lodged complaints about inconsistent and lax security. Executive director Terry O'Connell said the organisation would welcome an inquiry.


Another "peaceful" Muslim in Australia

A man who had ammunition in his pocket and a loaded pistol on the back seat of his car when he was pulled over told police he was, "going hunting with my uncle". The gun was ready to fire when police pulled over Mahmud Jihad, 26, in Rooty Hill on Tuesday. Also in a bag in the back seat was a tazer, Mount Druitt local court heard yesterday. A further three pistols - including a Russian semi-automatic - were found when police raided Jihad's Shalvey home later the same day. Along with the cache of guns and ammunition found in the bedroom of the builder's labourer, was $59,550 in cash.

Jihad yesterday faced court on 15 charges, including having a firearm in a public place. The court heard Jihad was sentenced to 12 months' jail in 2005 for similar offences. Jihad's estranged parents and sister were in court yesterday when he applied for bail. His lawyer Charles Zarb argued that although his client had priors for similar offences, he had always turned up at court, even when a jail sentence was likely.

But prosecutor Pauline McCann said Jihad's actions demonstrated that he was an active risk to the public. Jihad was refused bail and remanded in custody to appear again on March 28.


Global Warming Hysteria in "The West Australian"

By Roger Underwood -- a research manager and bushfire (forest fire) specialist with over 40 years experience of bushfire management in Australia and overseas

Over the last 6 months, readers of The West Australian newspaper have been subjected to a barrage of hysteria over global warming. Very bad news stories of one kind or another are published almost every day, all with the common theme that civilisation as we know it is about to be destroyed.

Some of these stories are simply laughable, like the article asserting that a rise in temperature of 1-2 degrees will result in the extinction of the karri forest. Another reported that rising sea levels (caused by global warming) will, amongst other calamities, lead to a killer increase in salinity in the Swan River. Many readers were surprised by this, since the Swan River is a tidal estuary in its lower reaches, and is fed by the salt-laden Avon River in its upper reaches.

Day after day The West Australian delivers stories unequivocally foretelling the melting of ice caps and glaciers, death of forests, disease outbreaks, the collapse of agriculture, social disruption, loss of coastal communities and beaches, catastrophic storms, floods, droughts and bushfires. All of this is based on an unquestioning acceptance of the theory that human-induced CO2 emissions are causing the world to heat up, and an unquestioning belief in the link between projected warming and ghastly consequences.

I am curious about this lack of editorial scepticism. When it comes to reporting politics or community issues, journalists generally pride themselves on pricking sacred balloons, cutting down tall poppies, exposing spin and highlighting hidden agendas, in short doing what journalists do. The West Australian is quite good in this area, even if their judgement is not always infallible. They have not been afraid to attack government Ministers or powerful Union bosses or to probe politically-incorrect issues, such as alcoholism and education in Indigenous communities. But on global warming their stance is one of uncritical acceptance of Worst Case Scenarios.

The whole package of political game-playing and agenda-driven alarmism is taken at face value and delivered on to readers as if the newspaper was a propaganda pamphlet, rather than a mature organ of the Australian media.

It is not just The West Australian. ABC current affairs journalists to a man and woman are also promoters of Global Warming Apocalypse. A good example was the recent segment on The 7.30 Report which suggested that a slight projected increase in temperature would result in a regime of completely unstoppable bushfires. This proposition was put to the gullible journalist by a climatologist and an environmental activist, neither of whom had any experience in bushfire science or management. No one with this knowledge or experience was interviewed.

And just before the Global Warming True Believers launch their barbs at me, I assure them that I accept the idea of climate change - the climate is always changing. I am also concerned about air pollution from industry and vehicles. However, I regard as unproven the theory of `accelerated global warming" as a result of human CO2 emissions. And I consider the worst-case scenarios uncritically presented as fact by journalists to be unhelpful to a community struggling to make sense of a complex issue.

There are risks associated with constant promotion of Worst Case Scenarios. The first is that people will start to shrug their shoulders, feeling that the whole situation is beyond hope: the planet is doomed, so we might as well live for the minute. This leads to the second risk: doomsday projections becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.

The one-sided reporting of the global warming debate is perhaps explained by the fact that journalists are frightened of presenting both sides of the global warming story. They do not want to alienate those powerful sections of the community who will attack them if they do, i.e. environmentalists, academics and business interests profiting from global warming alarm.

Alternatively we are just seeing another example of the professional immaturity of the Australian media. I have observed that they have always regarded dramatic disasters and fearsome calamities as more newsworthy than everyday life or good citizenship. Thus trees being chainsawed to the accompaniment of wailing protesters is a far "better" story than a forest quietly regrowing under the stewardship of dedicated foresters. I can see no solution to this.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cable to slash broadband speed, cost

A new undersea internet cable would break open Australia's broadband market, bringing faster download times and lower prices, Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said today. The $200 million Pipe Networks PPC-1 cable will rival Telstra and Optus pipelines, linking Sydney to the Pacific island of Guam to provide a third international broadband link to Australia's east coast. It is due to open in June next year and Pipe Network executive director Lloyd Ernst today said PPC-1 was undercutting its competitors' prices by 50 per cent. "One of our potential customers has already made the comment that PPC-1 prices are 50 per cent lower,'' Mr Ernst said..

At today's launch in Melbourne, Senator Conroy said the new cable "fit very neatly'' with government plans for a super fast fibre optic broadband network, by increasing the broadband carrying capacity from overseas. He hoped to make announcements setting out the pathway for the fibre to the node competitive bid process in the "next couple of weeks''.

Senator Conroy said PPC-1 would open up broadband competition, driving down prices and increasing speeds. "This $200 million project has the potential to improve Australia's international communications transmission capacity and increase competition in the Australian telecommunications marketplace,'' Senator Conroy said. "This is great news for Australia's internet users because the result will be faster and cheaper broadband.''

Mr Ernst likened his company to budget airline Tiger Airways, saying he hoped to "disrupt'' the broadband market and drive more competition. "It's a little bit like the discount airline model, the idea behind it is that by bringing competition in and really starting to get people to compete with other, we hope that our competitors will come through and start to be aggressive with their pricing,'' Mr Ernst tosaid. "We've really tried to be disruptive with our prices.''

He said he hoped competitors would start cutting their prices now the new pipeline was set to go ahead. "I would hope so, if I was in their position I definitely think that that's what they would try to do,'' Mr Ernst said. "This is Qantas discounting their airfares with talk of Tiger starting up.''

Internet service providers Primus, Internode, iiNet, Telikom PNG and VSNL are among those already signed up on PPC-1 contracts, making the project viable, despite any price wars which may ensue. The 6900 kilometre pipe will run through government protected zones, sometimes up to nine kilometres under the sea surface and will connect to existing infrastructure in Guam, a US territory in the western Pacific Ocean which connects to the US and Asia.


British medical education bungle good for Australia

A BLUNDER in a jobs recruitment program in the UK will result in relief 19,000km away with hundreds of doctors set to migrate to Australia to help fill staff shortages in our ailing public hospitals system. More than 5000 British medics have found themselves unemployed after failing to get a training post at hospitals in the UK. Two years ago, with critical shortfalls in the number of doctors, the British government lifted the number of places available at training schools and centralised the recruitment system. But it failed to take into account how many places there were available in hospitals to provide internships or hands-on training for the medicos to complete their training.

The British Medical Association said yesterday the only winner would be Australia, with hundreds of young doctors applying to complete their training and fill critical staff shortages. Most of the doctors have applied to work in NSW and Queensland hospitals but a BMA spokesman said hospitals across all states could expect British applicants in the next few months when the true number of training posts available became clear. "It's just a ridiculous situation," a spokesman said. "They increased the medical school places but gave us a situation now where there are only between 8000 and 9000 places (in the UK) but about three times as many applicants. "Not being able to complete their training means they have to put their careers on hold, take a non-training job or practice abroad. The loss to the UK is a gain for countries like Australia and we know a number who are planning to head there."

Dr Robert Thomas spent a year at a NSW Central Coast hospital but was one of the few to find a place in the UK to complete his training. "I was lucky but a lot of my friends are still planning to travel to Australia to work in hospital accident and emergency wards," he said. "I think you will find most will go there for training but will stay there for good. The life is so much better."

An official inquiry into how thousands of doctors missed out on UK places last week concluded the government and Department of Health should be stripped of responsibility for the recruitment system.


Department of Child Safety fails again

Staff shortages and poor record keeping compromised the Department of Child Safety's case management of a three-year-old Gold Coast girl who died within months of being reunited with her mother. A spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that the review on the September 18, 2006, death of the little girl had been completed. The child - the youngest of four children - had been reunited three months earlier with her mother who had overcome her heroin addiction after being jailed in March 2004. Police alleged the little girl had more than 90 bruises and injuries on her face and body.

Her mother, 36, was charged with manslaughter after allegedly asking a neighbour for cigarettes and advice as her daughter's body turned to "jelly" inside a Nerang half-way house. Key issues identified as affecting the department's capacity to properly manage the case included:

* High staff turnover at all levels and ongoing shortages, which impacted on decision-making.

* A lack of advice about responses to the needs of high-risk infants.

* A lack of support agencies and referral services in the geographic location.

* A lack of adequate recordkeeping, which affected decision-making.

The spokeswoman said the department was aiming to attract and retain appropriately qualified staff and was reviewing the methods used to improve case management. The implementation of a fully computerised, Integrated Client Management System was improving record keeping, she said.

Opposition Child Safety spokeswoman, Jann Stuckey, said it was concerning the Government was continuing to praise itself for reforming the state's child protection system.

During a committal hearing last year, the woman's legal team foreshadowed a defence, saying the girl received a fatal laceration to her head when she slipped in the bathroom. The woman will go to trial on January 28 in the Brisbane Supreme Court. She faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.


The wowsers will run out of things to ban

Crisis looms. Corporate empires could be laid waste, countless jobs lost and millions of dollars in public funding disappear unless something is done now to open up new markets. No, we're not talking about the Australian car industry or the rural sector but that great growth industry of recent years, the do-gooder lobby group. Judging by the news reports of the past few weeks, very shortly the wowsers [killjoys] and the self-righteous of this country will soon run out of things to ban and areas of our lives to control and intrude upon.

Think about it. What a flying start to the new year for the nanny state. We ended 2007 with calls to ban smoking in outdoor areas such as the Queen Street Mall, because some people apparently get upset at a whiff of tobacco smoke mixed in with the miasma of car exhaust fumes. Not to be outdone, the ever sanctimonious Australian Drug Foundation then suggested a ban on alcohol on planes because a small minority of passengers get squiffy to the point of being obstreperous. Then we welcomed 2008 with federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's harebrained commitment to force all internet service providers to provide a "clean feed" to Australian homes which will censor all the naughty bits that the Government doesn't think fit for working families.

This is because some parents apparently don't supervise their children's internet usage, or fail to install their own filtering software. Who knows what vile filth their delicate progeny might see - possibly images of sweating semi-naked young men kissing and hugging in an orgy of homo-erotic excitement. If that's the case, then don't let them watch the soccer. Easy.

Anyway, news then emerged that various state governments are testing speed-limiters for cars because a small minority of drivers act like bloody idiots on the road. Anyone picking up a theme here? Something to do with imposing a blanket restriction or ban on everyone because of the behaviour or wishes of a vocal minority? Or maybe society forgetting the concept of people taking responsibility for their own actions?

That said, the professional campaigners - from the rabid anti-smokers to the Citizens Against Neighbours Who Have Cats That Once Killed a Bird (it was a noisy miner and we're better off without it, so get over it) have just about had their way. Short of the Temperance League making a comeback, there's not much alleged good for many of the do-gooders left to do. So to protect the sinecure of countless professional crusaders, new fronts of attack on our personal freedoms need to be opened up. Here's a few helpful campaign suggestions:

* Road Safety: Ban caravans. In one move you will remove the single greatest cause of road rage in Australia by removing this poison from our nation's automotive arteries. Countless lives will be saved, greenhouse emissions will be reduced and any selfish bastard caught venturing on to our roads towing a Viscount or Millard can spend the rest of their miserable life making a useful contribution to society by making number plates at the nearest correctional facility. While we're at it, let's also campaign to ban all smoking in cars because it could be distracting, and make it illegal to sell vehicles with a radio for the same reason. In fact, in terms of dangerous driver distractions, let's ban young children in cars as well.

* Food: Food kills. To reduce the obesity epidemic in Australia, we need to introduce patron care to supermarkets, in the same way that all the fun of getting absolutely rat-arsed at the pub has been taken away from us. Next time a plumper pushes a trolley laden with potato crisps, frozen pies, ice cream and soft drink up to the checkout, they should be firmly told they've already had too much and can't be served . . . just expand the "No more. It's the Law", campaign.

* Gambling: This one's red hot and ripe for milking a bit of funding for a smart campaigner. There's probably years of sound bites and donations to be extracted from a campaign to rid our society of a scourge that first appeared when the convicts off the First Fleet saw their first two flies on a wall. Who knows, there might even be a Senate seat and federal sinecure in it for a slick operator.

Someone's already done pokies, though, so maybe a crafty campaigner could shift their holier-than-thou indignation to horse racing, bringing you into opposition with big government and big business - a sure fire attention grabber and donation attracter.

* Booze: Alcohol has to be the next big one on the radar. The smoking battle is just about won, so let's demonise anyone who likes a tipple because a minority act like galahs when they've had a few too many. Warning labels would be a good start, followed by rationing. "Sorry sir, you've had your three standard drinks. I can't serve you any more." There's a decade or two of lucrative righteous self-aggrandisement in that one.

Actually, I'm wrong in my original premise about the do-gooders running out of nanny state campaigns. There's a wealth of untapped opportunity. We could have shower-cams to monitor our water usage - a bit like speed cameras but potentially more profitable depending on how you use the footage. What about installing noise meters in all homes to monitor barking dogs, power tools and loud stereo abusers?

Or perhaps we should consider banning columns like this because they take the piss out of the narrow-minded and sanctimonious and, judging by the fan mail I receive, offend a minority of people who wouldn't have enough functioning brain cells to look up "satire" in the dictionary let alone understand the definition. Get a life people. Then live and let live as you see fit. And leave the rest of us alone.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Four current reports below

Cash boost no health cure

ABOUT 4000 people on Queensland's elective surgery waiting lists will have their treatment fast-tracked by a Rudd Government cash injection. But it could be weeks before anyone determines who will benefit from the extra money, the first tranche in the delivery of Federal Labor's election campaign health pledges. Under the plan thrashed out between the federal and state governments in Brisbane yesterday, Queensland will receive the $27.6 million it asked for to help shift its backlog of 35,000 patients waiting for elective surgery.

State Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the first of the extra surgeries would begin within a month and include ear, nose and throat, neurological, ophthamological, orthopedic, urological and vascular procedures. But the Australian Medical Association cautioned there were 8600 people waiting longer than they should.

The funding to tackle Queensland's notoriously stubborn surgery waiting lists is part of $150 million offered by Treasurer Wayne Swan yesterday as a downpayment on the Rudd Government's four-year, $600 million health funding plan. It is also the fifth attempt since November 2005 to clear waiting lists by injecting extra funds into the public hospitals system.

But Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said "fruitful negotiations" yesterday provided new hope and she was "very confident, if today is any sign, that we will be able to work well for the benefit of all of the country"....

Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser said the funding would be used to target those patients waiting longer than clinically recommended for their elective surgery. The latest quarterly public hospitals performance report shows 35,061 patients sitting idle on elective surgery waiting lists.

AMA Queensland president Dr Ross Cartmill cautiously welcomed the announcement. "It is more expensive to treat people in the private sector, so fewer people will be able to be treated," Dr Cartmill said. "It is good news that there is the potential to treat around 4000 people but we should bear in mind we are still talking about a small number."


Nurses offered cash to come back

No word about improving their absurdly overstretched working conditions

QUALIFIED nurses no longer working in the health system will be given financial incentives in a bid to lure them back to work, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said. The $87 million scheme aims to attract 7750 of the 30,000 nurses across Australia not currently working back to the profession within five years. Under the plan, cash bonuses of $6000 will be available to nurses who return to the health workforce after being out for more than a year. They will be paid an extra $3000 after six months back on the hospital ward and a further $3000 after 18 months. Hospitals will also receive a contribution of $1000 for each nurse to assist with retraining costs.

Mr Rudd outlined the scheme at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital today, saying the move would go some way towards assisting the predicted shortfall of 19,000 nurses across Australia by 2010. "This will not be the end of our announcements on this matter but is a solid start in dealing with what is an impending shortfall in the overall supply of nurses," Mr Rudd said. He said the Federal Government would now write to state and territory governments and hospital representatives to outline the administrative arrangements for the plan. He said the government was committed to a similar scheme for nurses in residential aged care facilities.


Pass all nurse trainees, teachers told

LECTURERS at a Brisbane nursing college were instructed to pass all of their students regardless of their performance. The investigation by the Queensland Nursing Council into Shafston College last year found that the college's Head of School of Nursing, Gay Carran, gave a directive to teachers that "no student should fail".

One witness, who was a senior nursing lecturer at Shafston from January 2004 to June 2006, told David Price, who undertook the investigation for the council, that students who had failed an occupational health and safety exam were allowed to re-sit the test two more times. She said in one re-sit exam, she and a colleague were told by Ms Carran to "mark students' work on the spot, immediately return unsatisfactory papers to students, and coach them until they obtained correct answers".

Ms Carran, who was also interviewed by Professor Price, denied she had given the directives but was reported as saying: "You always have to err on the side of ... let's be fair to the student. Ms Kemp (a Shafston nursing teacher) used to be black and white. If a student didn't pass, they were failed. We spoke to Ms Kemp about this as 'you can't do this because students are paying good money for the course'."

Five other former teaching staff at the college who were interviewed as part of the investigation supported the existence of the "no-fail" directive from the college management. Professor Price's investigation also found the college allowed some incompetent students with poor English to graduate with a nursing diploma last year, qualifying them to become enrolled nurses.

The college came under scrutiny after a graduate told a former Shafston lecturer she felt "unsafe" as an enrolled nurse at Brisbane's Prince Charles Hospital. Details of the investigation were submitted to the Queensland Supreme Court as part of the case brought by Shafston Nursing against the Queensland Nursing Council.

The council has not renewed the college's accreditation, which expired on December 31. The council has also placed restrictions on the activities of graduates from Shafston College. Shafston has since cancelled its nursing course, which was scheduled to begin in three weeks, and has suspended teaching for continuing students, some weeks away from graduating. About 500 students - of whom about half are from overseas - are being directed to a similar course offered by a South Australian private educator or to nursing programs at TAFE.

Professor Price's investigation was conducted in July last year and involved interviews with five former teaching staff, current senior staff and an inspection of the Shafston Nursing campus at Brisbane's Spring Hill. Students were charged up to $16,000 for the 55-week course. In its defence, Shafston claimed in documents submitted to the court that the witness statements were flawed because the former staff did not necessarily understand exam re-sit requirements. The college also rejected the idea it had allowed incompetent students or those with poor English skills to pass. The QNC has imposed strict restrictions on Shafston students who graduated in the last trimester of last year. Shafston and two of its graduates have separately taken the QNC to the Supreme Court in an attempt to have the restrictions lifted.


Ambulance patients waiting too long in NSW

CRITICALLY ill patients are being forced to wait a combined 718 days a year on trolleys outside hospital emergency departments, figures from the NSW Ambulance Service show. The statistics, for P1 category patients such as road accident, stroke and stabbing victims, monitor the time those rushed to hospital by ambulance have to wait before being admitted. Across the state's public hospital one million minutes - or 718 days - were lost to the delays in 2006-07, News Ltd says. Gosford, Royal Prince Alfred, Wollongong, Royal North Shore and Liverpool Hospitals were the worst offenders.

Dr Sally McCarthy, vice-president of the Royal Australian College of Emergency Medicine, blamed the blockages on a lack of emergency beds. "This reveals the true problem about what is wrong with our health system and how the State Government is refusing to listen," she said. An unnamed ambulance officer said "people on death's door" were waiting for treatment.


Rainfall could smash records

We were repeatedly told that the "drought" was a sign of global warming. So the floods must be a sign of global cooling, right? Or am I missing something?

BRISBANE has already exceeded its average January rainfall in the first two weeks of the month - as north Queensland continues to faces severe floods. Locals in Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays are bracing for yet more heavy rain today after the monsoon conditions wreaked havoc across the region yesterday. But in the southeast, the consistent rain has brought welcome relief from drought conditions with dam levels now above 25 per cent for the first time in month. Last night's rainfall gave a slight boost to the southeast's water supply with Somerset Dam receiving 18mm, North Pine 10mm and Wivenhoe 5mm. The combined storage today stands at 25.78 per cent.

Brisbane has already recorded 124mm of rain in January - outstripping the monthly average for the entirety of January of 120mm. And rain is forecast for the next six days until at least Monday of next week. With more heavy falls, Brisbane could be on track to pass the highest recent January total of 280mm in 1995. The city received 279mm in 2004.

In north Queensland, flood warnings remain in place for the Proserpine and Don rivers, which began rising with a storm on Sunday night. The bureau says the Don River at Bowen peaked at five metres around 3am today, causing moderate flooding. Further rises are likely today with heavy rain forecast, and widespread flash flooding is expected to continue in coastal areas south of Ayr to Mackay, particularly around Proserpine.


Rudd slashes old department's budget

Good God! He really is cutting something back!

KEVIN Rudd has taken the axe to his former employer, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, slashing its budget by more than $57 million and withdrawing 19 overseas diplomatic positions. The $57.2 million cuts will include slicing two positions from a team that is negotiating a free trade agreement with China and axing an entire program to promote Australian cultural exports, The Australian has learned. Travel and entertainment allowances have also been cut.

Any hopes within DFAT that the Prime Minister's sympathies for his former employer and colleagues might shield the department from Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner's cost-cutting drive have been dashed. A spokesman for Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the Government did not believe the savings would adversely affect its foreign policy priorities. However, senior officials within the department told The Australian yesterday they were dismayed the cuts had been made when the department was already operating with a bare minimum of staff and at a time when the Rudd Government had committed to an increased role for Australia in a diverse range of areas, including climate change, the UN and in Asia and the Pacific.

An administrative circular issued last week by departmental secretary Michael L'Estrange advised departmental officers that the department had been required to deliver cuts. Since the department runs very few programs, the main way to achieve those cuts has been through the withdrawal of 19 overseas positions by June 30 this year. The travel and representation allowances for all officers have been cut across the board by 10per cent. The representation allowance covers the cost of entertaining foreign dignitaries and other officials. DFAT has already been required to deliver an efficiency dividend over successive years, reducing its expenditure by 1.25per cent while maintaining services. A one-off additional 2per cent efficiency dividend had already been imposed by the Government.

The department apparently looked at closing some diplomatic missions altogether but was told this was not an option. Officers have been advised there will be no forced redundancies and any lay-offs would be through natural attrition. The positions cut include those at the level Mr Rudd served during his seven years with the department from 1982 to 1988. Mr Rudd served as third secretary in the Australian embassy in Stockholm and as first secretary in the embassy in Beijing. In 1988, he was promoted to counsellor and later to the senior executive service. Despite a commitment by Mr Rudd to make it easier for journalists and the public to obtain information such as policy documents and costings about the public service, neither the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or DFAT would confirm which overseas positions had been withdrawn, although staff whose positions have been cut have been advised.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Andrew Robb accused the Government of misleading the public during the election campaign and of short-sightedness. "At no time during, or in the lead-up to, last year's election did Labor say that a Rudd government would be reducing Australia representation overseas," Mr Robb said. "Labor's $10 million cuts to the team that are negotiating a free trade agreement with China is short-sighted and could derail an important bilateral process." Mr Robb said cutting two members of that team made a mockery of Simon Crean's claims, reported in The Australian last week, that there would be no cutbacks to the team negotiating a free trade agreement with China. "This is another example of Labor saying one thing before the election and doing another thing afterwards," he said.

"I am very concerned that Labor will be cutting the foreign affairs budget by almost $58million over the forward estimates despite total silence about any cuts in the lead-up to the election and constant bleatings about our balance of trade situation. "The cuts in staff positions in overseas posts will have negative consequences for Australian tourists and ... businesses. "The Foreign Affairs and Trade positions that are held in other countries ... are to assist Australians when they are travelling and to assist Australian companies expanding into overseas markets." ....


Monday, January 14, 2008


Your government will protect you (NOT). Three current reports below:

11 lost innocents: Safeguards fail our most vulnerable

Eleven Queensland children were allegedly killed by their parents or their parents' partners last year. All were under the age of seven. They included some of the seven children known to Queensland's child protection system who were fatally assaulted in 2007.

Queensland Homicide Victims' Support Group chief executive officer Jonty Bush said it was alarming that the 11 children killed represented almost 20 percent of the 56 Queensland homicide cases in 2007. Ms Bush said the shocking statistics and the alleged murder and rape of a girl, 10, by her father at Bribie Island on New Year's Eve indicated the state was failing miserably in protecting its most vulnerable. "Urgent steps must be taken to ensure Queensland doesn't have another year like last year," Ms Bush said. She called for tougher penalties for those convicted of manslaughter of a child and longer time in jail for those serving life sentences for child murders.

Seven parents and four partners of parents have been charged over the child deaths last year, which include:

January: Palm Island girl, 14 months, died in Cairns. Her mother's partner, 18, was charged with murder, rape and torture.

April: A four-day-old Mt Isa girl died. Her mother was charged with murder.

June: A Gold Coast father, 25, who fled after a car crash that killed his sons, aged seven months and two, was charged with manslaughter.

July: A Cherbourg mother, 23, was charged with murdering her son, aged seven. Two Toowoomba boys, aged one and four, were allegedly killed and their mother's boyfriend charged with murder.

September: A Margate boy, aged two, died and his parents, aged 32 and 34, were charged with manslaughter and torture.

The article above is by Kay Dibben and appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on January 13, 2008

Inaction on abuse exposed

NEARLY 2700 cases of suspected child abuse across Queensland have no case worker allocated to investigate and assess the alleged maltreatment. The revelations came as the Department of Child Safety announced the deployment last week of a special flying squad to Cape York to tackle a backlog of child protection notifications there.

A Child Safety Department spokesman confirmed a team of 12 child safety officers, seconded from around the state, had begun arriving in the Cape as part of an "assessment and investigation strategy to ensure the safety and wellbeing of indigenous children in the region". "The assessment team will travel throughout the Cape and Torres Strait over a six-week period to ensure all current child protection notifications are assessed," a departmental spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman did not comment when asked whether the department had been stung into action following recent revelations of the multiple rape of a 10-year-old Aurukun girl in the department's care and the non-custodial sentences given to the six boys and three men who pleaded guilty to her rape. The spokeswoman said the initiative was among several ongoing strategies by the department to reduce backlogs throughout the state. She said the recruitment and retention of staff in rural and remote areas was particularly difficult and meant those officers who were working in the Cape Torres office - servicing the Cape - had heavy caseloads.

Opposition child safety spokeswoman Jann Stuckey said although the decision to send a team of seconded workers to the Cape was welcome, it did not resolve some of the critical issues facing the agency, including high staff turnover and inadequate training.

The new data on the number of outstanding suspected child abuse cases was obtained by The Courier-Mail from the Department of Child Safety after Minister for Child Safety Margaret Keech failed to provide it in answer to a question on notice posed by Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney. The figures, current as at December 31, also showed that a further 2708 initial assessments were awaiting finalisation. But worrying though the data appeared, it actually represented a 45 per cent drop in the initial assessment backlog published by The Courier-Mail in October 2006.

The department claimed that none of the total 5405 unallocated and incomplete assessments were priority one cases - where children are considered to be at very high risk of serious abuse. North Queensland, which includes Cape York, had the smallest backlog at 420 cases, with 195 of those awaiting allocation of a case worker.


Assault cases `hidden'

STATE Government departments are failing to inform each other of violent assaults against children in indigenous communities. The claim has been made by a veteran police officer. In a damning submission to the Crime and Misconduct Commission, Detective Senior Sergeant Murray Ferguson lists a series of Government failures to protect children from abuse and neglect at Doomadgee and Mornington Island. Det Sen-Sgt Ferguson received a State Government award four months ago for his child-protection work in the communities. His submission, based on five years in both communities, was compiled in response to a CMC inquiry into policing in indigenous communities. The submission says:

* The Children's Commission notified the Child Safety Department about the welfare of children but the information was not passed on to police.

* Health and Education staff were reluctant to be proactive with child protection as they were overwhelmed by the problem.

* "On occasion", child-safety officers looking after the region downgraded notifications to eliminate the need for police.

The Child Safety Department has come under fire over a series of bungled cases, most notably for taking a 10-year old girl out of foster care and returning her to Aurukun, where she was gang raped. The Sunday Mail also revealed last week that an investigation into the murder of a four-day-old baby unearthed a backlog of more than 100 possible cases of child abuse and neglect in the regional child safety office in Mount Isa.

Det Sen-Sgt Ferguson's submission highlights problems that go back years. In one case, a nurse who went to work at Mornington Island in 2006 found medical practitioners and nurses were not fulfilling their reporting requirements. "A child (13) stabbed in the back of the head was not reported to either (Child Safety or police) until the chart was reviewed by the health nurse."

Det Sen-Sgt Ferguson refused to speak to The Sunday Mail, saying his submission was confidential. But in it he said the housing crisis at Doomadgee and Mornington meant that "children routinely sleep with adults . . . (which) presents the perfect opportunity for adult sexual predators to prey on young children".

Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said findings, opinions and recommendations by Det Sen-Sgt Ferguson were personal commentary and not the service's official position. "Senior officers . . . examined the material and have addressed any appropriate issues," he said.


Australia's centre-Left government to fund a home-grown "green" car

What a laugh! But half a billion dollars down the drain is not so funny. It's a prime example of how Green/Left governments are completely out of touch with business realities

THE Rudd Government is forging ahead with attempts to create a home-grown green car, hoping to generate $2 billion worth of investment in the ailing auto industry. Industry Minister Kim Carr is overseeing work on an election promise to create the car, which could rival other successful energy-efficient models such as the Toyota Prius [In his dreams!]

The Government has pledged to put in half a billion dollars to create Green Car Partnership over a five year period from 2011. Senator Carr said: "This fund will generate $2 billion in investment to develop and build fuel-efficient cars in Australia and will be developed in consultation with the sector as part of the upcoming review of the auto industry. "The automotive industry is of vital importance to the Australian manufacturing sector and to the Australian economy more broadly. "The industry currently faces a range of challenges, such as climate change and the environment and consumer demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles."

Australians have been slow to embrace green cars. There are not any manufactured here and only 3200 hybrids were sold in 2006. [Which shows the usual good sense of Australians]


Caesareans heading to danger level

THE number of caesarean births in Australia is reaching unmanageable levels, placing lives at risk and tying up thousands of hospital beds, operating theatres and health workers with a costly elective procedure. With caesarean rates now about 30 per cent, anxious governments and health groups in Australia and overseas are trying to turn back the tide, as evidence of the harm caused by repeat surgical births mounts and doubts emerge about the protection a caesarean birth is thought to provide. Modelling by the NSW Department of Health, which has been obtained by the Herald, shows that a rise of just 1 per cent in elective caesareans would come at the cost of a huge rise in "occasions of service", diverting scarce clinical resources from other areas.

About 90,000 babies are born in NSW each year, so that 1 per cent increase would mean hundreds more caesarean sections, as well as more bed days, in already overstretched public hospitals. If the caesarean rate rises to 39 per cent - which many experts fear will happen soon - it will mean thousands more surgical births every year. In a public system that is hundreds of beds and thousands of staff short, and in the midst of a mini-baby boom, that extra strain would be unbearable, obstetricians and midwives warn.

Doctors are quick to point out that, when the health of the mother or baby is at risk, or in an emergency, a caesarean is often the safest way to give birth. There is further evidence that private obstetricians' fees are eating away at the Medicare safety net, meaning taxpayers are bearing the brunt of the increases in elective caesareans at state and federal levels.

Such is the concern that NSW Health organised a meeting of the state's leading midwives and obstetricians to develop strategies to reduce the number of women choosing elective caesareans. Six months later many who attended that meeting despair at the absence of a coherent, statewide plan to reduce the number of women who elect to give birth surgically without a medical reason. The director of women's and children's health at St George Hospital, Michael Chapman, believes the rate of elective caesarean sections could be reduced by at least 5 per cent if women were presented with "accurate information in a believable manner".

Professor Chapman said there were strong health and economic arguments for reducing the number of elective caesareans. A caesarean was at least twice as expensive as a vaginal delivery, he said. "The State Government has to face this issue - we have gone up from 2260 births three years ago to 2700 this year [at St George Hospital] and, with a 30 per cent caesarean rate, that is an extra 100 caesars . it is pushing our operating lists to the limit."

A professor of women's health, nursing and midwifery at the Royal Hospital for Women at Randwick, Sally Tracy, said that not only was it far riskier for women to have caesareans when there was no medical reason, but there was now overwhelming evidence that it carried great risk for babies, too. "Up until now . caesarean section was first and foremost done to protect the baby," she said. Yet a study by Professor Tracy, published in the journal Birth last month, found babies born in an elective caesarean at full term were almost twice as likely to be admitted to a neo-natal intensive care unit as those born vaginally. Professor Tracy's research is one of a dozen studies in the past year cataloguing the harm from elective caesareans.

Last month, in its "committee opinion" on elective caesareans, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said surgical birth resulted in a longer hospital stay for the mother, increased respiratory problems for the baby and greater complications in later pregnancies.

A spokesman for the Minister for Health, Reba Meagher, said a policy was released last year to prevent elective caesareans before 39 weeks of gestation unless there were medical reasons. Maternity services were being reviewed, and the Government expected a new policy to be finalised this year, he said. [Don't rush, now!]


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Student unions on brink of extinction

Great news! They were just a honeypot for Leftists

STUDENT union membership has plummeted by up to 95 per cent since the Howard government made it voluntary, leading to a widening gap in student services between elite and regional universities. National Union of Students (NUS) president Angus McFarland said while some of the more wealthy universities were able to supplement the lost income from union fees, that was not the case for other, less well-off institutions. "It's meant that we've seen a widening of the gap between the rich universities and poor universities," he said. "UNSW and Sydney University can afford to prop it up. But at Charles Sturt University, Wollongong University and the University of Western Sydney, we've seen that there's had to be a significant demise in income and organisations are struggling."

Mr McFarland said that at Wollongong University, the student newspaper was now run entirely by volunteers, the second-hand book shop had closed and a child-care subsidy provided had been removed. At the University of Newcastle, student-association run entities had cut staff numbers by 65 per cent, the events budget had been slashed, there was no more free Centrelink and tax advice and a computer lab has been closed. At the University of Western Sydney, Mr McFarland said funding for clubs and societies had been reduced by at least 50 per cent, a shuttle bus service had been closed and most of the staff positions were gone.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard said the Rudd Government would work with universities "to restore vital student services that the previous Liberal government trashed". "The Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis, will be conducting consultations with universities, student societies and clubs on the best way to ensure vital services like child care are provided," she said. "Federal Labor will obviously allow students to voluntarily organise themselves but we think the most important thing is to ensure vital student services are restored."

Mr McFarland said the NUS would not advocate a return to compulsory membership with upfront fees, but it wanted changes to be made and was compiling a discussion paper canvassing options, which it hoped to present to the Federal Government next month. "We're looking at what's happening across the world, at how it works in the UK, Western Europe and other places," he said. "All students should be able to access quality student organisations and services."

NUS figures show huge drops in union membership since 2006. The University of Newcastle Students' Association had 15,000 members in 2006 and 800 last year. The University of Wollongong Students' Association had a drop in membership from 10,000 to 1000. At Sydney University, union membership dropped from 40,000 to 10,000.


Shape up or ship out

The cabotage racket: Another restriction of trade where the general public are the losers

GOUGH Whitlam's government came to power in 1972, at the end of a long boom. Neither an external shock, such as the threefold increase in the price of oil in 1973, nor the domestic problem of an inflationary break-out in wages were seen at the time as compelling reasons to delay the implementation of Labor's reform agenda. "Rolling out the program" was the new regime's mantra and undoubtedly sealed its fate.

Comparisons between the Australian economy then and now are of strictly limited usefulness, because of the enormous growth, investment, diversification and reforms of the intervening years and the emergence of major trading partners such as China and India. Even so, we are faced with another hike in the price of oil and the prospect of recession in the US economy. At this juncture of the political cycle, a new Labor Government is once more beginning to confront the possibility that another long boom may be coming to an end and preventing the rolling out of its program.

The next year will be a rigorous test of the claims to economic conservatism by Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan in recent months. What's at stake is not simply the decision-making over which they have immediate responsibility, but restraining ministers - especially those from the Left factions - who are keen to honour pre-election commitments, regardless of the cost to the national economy.

Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has never pretended to be an economic conservative. His announcements on the thorny issue of cabotage last week suggest that he's far more concerned about humouring the Maritime Union of Australia than putting downward pressure on inflation. The pay and conditions of Australian crews and the protection of the domestic shipping fleet have become so sacrosanct that he's announced a new review of maritime policy and flagged vast public expenditure.

On Monday he told The Australian: "This review will be about boosting Australia's international competitiveness and finding ways to increase coastal shipping's share of the domestic freight market. The Howard government was too busy picking fights with unions to fix the major infrastructure and skill shortages on Australian ports and ships". He also said he wanted "to use incentives to increase investment in the billion-dollar domestic industry", undertaking that the inquiry would canvass the issue with unions and shipowners.

The Australian Shipowners Association's reaction was utterly predictable. They know a rent-seeking opportunity when they see one. Chief executive Lachlan Payne said "shipowners would welcome the review because many other national governments provide financial support for their shipping industries".

When organised capital speaks in this way, I suppose allowances can be made because it's the voice of self-interest from an industry with long-standing grievances. But it seems as though the old arguments about an open economy v protectionism are going to have to be endlessly refought in caucus. Where is Peter Walsh, the self-described "failed finance minister" of the Hawke years, when his party needs him most?

Australia's domestic fleet is, with some obvious exceptions, old, rundown and slow. Given its cost structure, there aren't many really profitable routes left. The historical successes of the Maritime Union of Australia in driving up the cost of employing Australian crews have discouraged most shipowners from making significant new investments. Having laid low the industry that fed it, the MUA expects federal Labor to underwrite more jobs and endless featherbedding for its members and the public purse to pay for it.

Opposition transport spokesman Warren Truss says: "Our domestic mercantile fleet is not cost-competitive, generally speaking, because the terms and conditions of seafaring awards are exceedingly generous by world standards." Foreign-flagged vessels, especially from East Asian ports, do the work far more cheaply. Lifting the domestic fleet's share of the domestic freight market above its current level of about 80 per cent would inevitably be inflationary because consumers would have to pay more in passed-on freight costs than they do now.

He's also concerned that the existing legislated preference for using domestic ships might be unreasonably extended, so that it applied to ships six days from the relevant port and result in perishable cargoes such as foodstuffs rotting on the docks.

Truss believes that coastal shipping is an important element of national transport infrastructure, providing it's competitive on price. "If you can't use ships for domestic transport, then you have to rely on other means, notably trucks. A single ship with 30,000 tonnes of carrying capacity equates to about 100 semi-trailers on roads between the capital cities that are already clogged. Rail and coastal shipping will have to bear a much larger share of the burden, because our trans-shipping freight needs will double by 2025."

Truss thinks "the worst single impact on Australian industry of extending cabotage is that it would suddenly become cheaper to import a wide range of manufactured goods than to trans-ship locally made goods from one state to another. This is already evident in primary industry, where for example it is cheaper to import grain from overseas to feed farm animals than it is to move it from Western Australia to the eastern seaboard. The upshot would be that for every job preserved or created for MUA members, it would cost up to 10 jobs lost in our factories."

Although you'd expect that arguments such as these would weigh on the minds of MPs representing highly industrialised electorates, recent history suggests it's doubtful whether anything Truss has to say would cut much ice with the MUA. As transport minister in 2000, John Anderson was embroiled in a strange dispute in the Federal Court, which was dismissed with costs against the union. Anderson noted the inflexible approach that the union had taken in the court hearing. "The union representatives even bizarrely claimed that an Australian ship which might be only two feet (61cm) long and capable of transporting only 10g of cargo should be used before another foreign flagged vessel, even if the load to be carried was 100,000 tonnes". He concluded: "Unfortunately it is clear that the maritime unions see the existence of shipping as serving only the interests of their members, rather than the broader interests of Australian industry and the community."

Whether the MUA still entertains fantasies of a Tom Thumb fleet is anyone's guess. However its national secretary, Paddy Crumlin, referred triumphantly last week to a recent meeting with Albanese, noting: "He said we'd be going back to the platform." The platform in question consists of some ambiguously worded resolutions from last year's Labor national conference.

The former Opposition spokesman on transport, Martin Ferguson, distanced himself at the time from Crumlin's gloss on the resolutions and the claim that Labor was committed to extending cabotage. Ferguson assured the media there were "no private deals" to further restrict foreign shipping on domestic coastal routes. All he said he was committed to was holding an independent review of cabotage and an increased emphasis on training Australian seafarers.

As I reported at the time, Crumlin wasn't having a bar of it. He pointed out that the ALP policy was explicitly linked to restoring higher pay and conditions for foreign crews working on coastal waters, as upheld by the High Court but overturned by the Howard government's legislation. Crumlin said: "What Martin is saying is a nonsense, because he tied the High Court to the resolution." Ferguson replied, insisting that "there is no agreement as to the outcome of the review and people need to appreciate that the environment now is very different to what it was in 1996".

Ferguson is of the Left but he's a pragmatist rather than a class warrior. It's hard to imagine him giving Crumlin much to celebrate, had he become transport minister, let alone announcing to The Daily Telegraph, as Albanese did last month, that he was Sydney Airport management's "worst nightmare". The crucial question is the extent to which the review is directed to drive up the cost of foreign crews in our coastal waters, with a view to eroding the cost-competitiveness of foreign-flagged vessels, and to contributing to the operating costs of local shipowners.

Truss says: "It would be an enormous step backwards for Australia and its open economy if we were to start subsidising one sector in that way. Every sector can mount some sort of argument for protecting its members, but it's beyond our capacity to engage in that level of subsidy and it would undermine the overall strength of the economy."


Labor ignores the Left on education

EDUCATION 2008: an education revolution or the same old story?

In his first parliamentary speech as leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd tagged education as a key policy issue. In the months leading to the November federal election, the ALP released a series of persuasive policy papers that presented a coherent and convincing narrative about what needed to be done to strengthen Australia's education system. Much to the chagrin of those on the cultural Left who would prefer the ALP federal Government to advocate a new-age and feel-good approach to education - illustrated by Australia's dumbed-down, outcomes-based education model of curriculum - the incoming Government's education revolution involves computers, increased testing and accountability, rigorous standards and a back-to-basics approach.

Unlike previous Labor governments, which attempted to stem the flow of students from government to independent and Catholic schools by restricting non-government school funding, the Rudd Government has also accepted parents' right to choose where their children go to school and has guaranteed the funding formula introduced by the Howard government, at least until 2012.

Looking ahead across the next 12 months, will Rudd and Education Minister Julia Gillard be able to deliver? Given that the Council of Australian Governments and the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs - both federal-state-territory organisations - are now fully ALP-controlled and given the apparent goodwill on all sides, there is every reason to feel optimistic.

This is especially so given events at the state level during the past year or two. Tasmania has modified its OBE-inspired Essential Learnings approach to curriculum, the West Australian Education Minister has done an about-face and now argues that OBE fails to deliver, and Queensland has adopted a basics approach to English as a subject. OBE has disappeared from the educational lexicon, to be replaced by concepts such as content and performance standards and personalised learning.

Late last year, state and territory governments released Federalist Paper 2, which argues for the central importance of academic subjects, that the public has every right to know about school and teacher performance, and that the success of an education system should be measured not simply by how much is spent but by how well students learn.

On the level of rhetoric and, in some instances, in practice, it appears the tide has turned and that Gillard's description of herself as an educational traditionalist is not out of place. After debates throughout 2007 about falling standards, the impact of political correctness and postmodern gobbledygook on the curriculum, especially literature and history, and the best way to attract and reward teachers, it appears that 2008 signals a period where criticisms will be addressed and the system strengthened.

Optimism about 2008 should also be tempered by the fact that an education system, especially one suffering from provider capture, is similar to an oil tanker: it takes a long time to change direction and set a new course.

Rudd, in the ALP's election policy paper Establishing a National Curriculum to Improve our Children's Educational Outcomes, stresses the importance of an academic and rigorous approach to curriculum. Parents and teachers expecting dramatic changes this year in what is taught will be disappointed. Labor's national curriculum is not set for delivery until 2010 and the party has promised to give control of the project to bodies responsible for the parlous situation that exists.

When in opposition, Rudd and education spokesman Stephen Smith argued that teachers and schools should be held accountable for performance and that increased investment in education should be linked to improved outcomes for students.

While a national approach to rewarding teacher performance has yet to be agreed on, it appears any model put forward in 2008 will be of little value. Not only is there no intention to link rewards for teacher performance to students' results, as measured by improved learning outcomes, but the model being suggested is overly bureaucratic and onerous in terms of compliance and only available to a minority of teachers, thus doing nothing to alleviate the issue of teacher shortage.

There is also the additional concern that holding schools accountable for performance, while imposing a state-mandated, often dumbed-down curriculum and denying them the right to hire and fire staff, is unfair.

Fulfilling the election promise to give all senior school students access to computers and the internet, while superficially popular and in line with the mantra of becoming the knowledge nation and competing in an information technology-rich world, does nothing to address the most important issue: how best to attract Year 12 students to teaching as a career and how best to support and reward them when in schools.

The baby boomers, who make up the majority of the teaching profession, are rapidly heading for retirement and researchers agree that about 30 per cent of beginning teachers leave the profession after four to five years. Mathematics and science teachers are especially difficult to recruit and keep in the profession, and in some areas, especially Western Australia, many classes will begin this year without qualified teachers.

While some, such as the Australian Education Union, argue that the supposed bad press about teachers is to blame for the shortage, there are other factors that must be taken into account. In Victoria, for example, the ALP Government places many teachers on short-term contracts, denying them job certainty and any guarantee of continuity in their chosen profession. The quality of the curriculum and the rate and constant nature of educational reform is also significant in terms of teacher anxiety and burnout.

WA's adoption of OBE, whereby teachers are forced to implement a decidedly cumbersome, unfriendly and burdensome curriculum, as argued on the Perth-based People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes website (, has led to teacher frustration and angst.

In Tasmania, the recently retired president of the teachers union, Jean Walker, argued that the state's adoption of Essential Learnings presented the greatest challenge the union had faced in protecting teachers' working conditions. In 2008, whatever curriculum initiatives are planned, care should be taken that teachers are not, once again, overwhelmed and that they are given a substantial role in what is being designed.

Generally, teachers are not well paid and it is ironic that across Australia, especially in Victoria and Western Australia, ALP-controlled governments are refusing to meet teachers' demands for better pay and conditions. Given the research suggesting that, along with the quality of the curriculum, teachers are the most important determinant in how well students learn, it stands to reason that they should be better rewarded.

Luring the right Year 12 students to teaching as a career is also vitally important. Many of the boomers now in the system are only there because of government-sponsored studentships that paid for their time at university and college. While moves to reduce the Higher Education Contribution Scheme payment by students undertaking teacher training in maths and science is a start, maybe it is time to re-introduce studentships.

A submission by the Australian Secondary Principals' Association argues that teacher training must better prepare teachers for the reality of the classroom and, based on a survey of beginning teachers, concludes that teacher training is"at best satisfactory" as a preparation for teaching and in "several areas it is clear that they (beginning teachers) felt that they were significantly under-prepared".

Much is on the agenda for 2008. The danger is that the attempted solutions are based on past practice, one where committees and bureaucracies work in isolation from schools, and governments impose initiatives based on short-term political expediency or whatever is the most recent education minister's plan.

The alternative? Give schools greater autonomy and freedom to best reflect the needs and aspirations of their local communities, as with charter schools in the US. Give more parents the ability to choose where their children go to school by introducing educational vouchers, a system in which the money follows the child to either government or non-government schools and there is a greater reliance on market forces to improve quality. Now, that would be an education revolution.


Now fruit juice is under attack

Juice makes you FAT!

THE nation's love affair with fruit juice could be making us fat, experts say. Juice junkies who quench their thirst with super-size drinks might be shocked to know their daily refreshment has more sugar and calories than a can of Coke. As post-Christmas diets and the summer heat send Australians flocking to juice bars, nutritionists have warned that their health-kick efforts could make them put on weight. "Juice is a good, nutritious way to gain weight," dietitian Melanie McGrice said. "Most of us already have a high-kilojoule diet, so for people who are weight conscious they really don't want the extra kilojoules contained in juice. A piece of fruit and water is always going to be a far better choice."

An examination of popular fruit juice brands conducted by Fairfax Media reveals some contain more sugar and kilojoules than soft drinks, and up to half the average daily energy requirement. And compared with fresh fruit and vegetables, they contain less fibre and fewer nutrients. Even red cordial has fewer kilojoules than some fruit juices.

Ms McGrice said that many consumers who believed juices were a healthy alternative to soft drinks were unaware of the number of calories they contained, particularly in large-size concoctions offered by juice bars. For example, a 650-millilitre Boost Juice Tropical Crush has 1391 kilojoules, while a Nudie blueberry and blackberry crushie has 237 kilojoules per 100 millilitres. Coles's Farmland apple juice contains 180 kilojoules per 100 millilitres - the same as Coke.

Dietitians Association of Australia spokesman Alan Barclay said that, although most juice contained nutritious vitamins and minerals, for most people the health benefits were outweighed by the kilojoule content. "Juice will only make you put on weight, so any health benefit will be counteracted by extra kilos," he said.

Catherine Saxelby, author of Nutrition For Life, said the problem with juice was that it contained all the fruit sugar, or fructose, and kilojoules of fruit without the fibre, meaning it was all too easy to overconsume. A 650-millilitre cup of apple juice, she said, contained the kilojoules of four apples but took only a fraction of the time to consume. She called on juice bars to stop offering big sizes at only slightly higher prices and to include a smaller-size alternative. "Those big size portions are a bargain people can't refuse," she said.

"Fibre is the thing that fills you up and stops you overeating, but the juicing process removes that. I would like to see drinks produced in 200-millilitre sizes, not 650 millilitres, which would fit into our diets a lot better. "The bottom line is that half a cup a day, or 125 millilitres, of juice is the maximum we should drink."

Boost Juice marketing manager Jessica Cleeve said the chain had recently sold 250-millilitre smoothies as part of a promotion and was considering making them a permanent option. "If customers haven't been active, it requires a more measured intake of all food and beverages, including juice. If they have been active, then go for it - if not, go for a smaller size. It's all about balance." Nudie marketing manager Sally Draycott said its drinks were meant to be drunk in 250-millilitre serves. "Our drinks are very filling so you can't really overindulge in them - you have to be pretty gluttonous," she said.

A Deakin University survey last year found that juice and other fruit drinks, including cordial, were a bigger problem than soft drinks in childhood obesity.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

To translate or not translate: The great Australian slanguage

The dilemmas faced by the Australian novelist writing below are ones that I too am often racked by. I would dearly love to use the great and vivid resources of my native Australian speech in what I write but that would make a lot of what I write incomprehensible outside Australia

It was the good news every first-time Australian author hopes for: an American publisher eager to buy the US rights to my novel Listen. I probably should have expected what followed: "They want to make a light line edit, just to Americanise any sayings or words." No cause for alarm, especially when I've heard of some authors being asked to change the setting of their book from Australia to the US. (In 1980, the US distributors of Mad Max insisted on dubbing the whole movie, convinced that American audiences would not be able to cope with Australian accents, let alone slang. "No worries" became, nonsensically, "Don't worry", and not even in Mel Gibson's voice, which must've been galling for an actor born and raised in Peekskill, upstate New York.)

As it happens, I spend half my time in the US. A handful of American friends have already read my book and it's true that occasionally a word or expression has stumped them. "What is an arvo," [afternoon] one asked, "and where can I get one?" Our use of pissed to mean drunk is completely baffling, since in the US it means angry. It's true too that, as my Australian agent Fiona Inglis grumbled, "We have had to work out what sidewalks and sophomores and jelly donuts are, can't they use a bit of nous and work out our expressions?"

But since it's not my intention to baffle any reader, I was sanguine about this light line edit. It's exciting to have your novel published overseas, but changing Aussie expressions and customs for local markets can get out of hand So why did my bottom lip start trembling when I got the edited manuscript back from my editor in New York and saw that "big-noting yourself" might become "bragging" [not the same at all], that a beaut bloke could turn into a great guy, or that a strong man might lose his Mallee and become simply fit as a bull? [The normal Oz expression is: "Fit as a Mallee bull"]

It's not as if all the characters in Listen speak dinky-di Strine, but they are Australian, and I like the way Australians speak. The world is homogenising fast enough. Don't get me wrong: I love my American editor, Allison Dickens, at Plume, a US imprint of Penguin. How could I not love someone who in her first email to me said: "Listen is exactly the novel I wanted to buy when I came to Plume last fall. Thank you for writing it for me!" I'd met her, ( knew she "got" my book, with all its many characters and their complicated lives. I wanted to make things easy for her. But not to the extent of allowing "sooky" to become "emotional" [should be "wussy"]

Then there was the title. My German publisher, Heyne, had said simply that Listen didn't work as a title there, so they renamed it Ein Leben Lang: A Long Life, but having the sense too of lifelong. I understand that a title that works in one country may not work in another. So when Allison told me she was getting less than enthusiastic responses to Listen in-house at Plume - "a little quiet" and, more brutally, "flat" - I knew we'd have to come up with something new. A hundred back-and-forth suggestions later, the US title is likely to be Without a Backward Glance, a phrase that Allison lifted from the text: apt, evocative and (we hope) memorable. On this matter at least, everyone seemed happy.

But another, perhaps even bigger issue had been raised; something that had never occurred to me, and no one had commented on before: underage drinking. If you'd asked me, "What about the underage drinking in your novel?" I would've said, "There isn't any; you've got the wrong book." But wait: there are a couple of references to the possibility of underage drinking occurring, at a 16-year-old's birthday party, for example. And look: on page 355, three teenage girls having dinner with the mother and a grandparent of one are "allowed a glass of wine each".

My American editor wanted to remove every one of these references. In the margin beside one where a teenager is offered a glass of wine (which she refuses) by her aunt, Allison had written, "Let's take this out, since it wouldn't happen here." But, I thought, it isn't set here. It's set in Australia, where it might very well happen, so let's leave it in.

The more I thought about this, the more peculiar it seemed, especially since the equally glancing references to pot-smoking and the several fairly detailed sex scenes had gone unremarked. Then someone told me that a mother in Virginia was jailed for 27 months for having supplied beer and wine at her son's 16th birthday party. She'd taken the keys of any guests who arrived by car, so there could be no driving: everyone was to stay the night. No one got drunk; indeed, many of the kids, when tested, had no alcohol in their systems. No one got hurt, and this woman had no previous record of any kind, not even a traffic fine. She was originally sentenced to eight years in jail, reduced to 27 months on appeal. And if you look online at any of the numerous blogs and chat sites presently discussing this matter, you will see that many Americans are of the opinion that "she got what she deserved".

None of this, may I say, had been any kind of issue for the German publishers, and I note that on the appropriate page of Ein Leben Lang, "die Madchen happily ein Glas Wein trinken". True, every word had to be translated and "chook" [chicken] was clearly not going, to make the cut, and probably not "daggy" either.

Their cover also features a photograph of Uluru, a little odd for a novel that only manages to get as far out of Melbourne as Wilsons Promontory, with occasional visits to a farm in Somerset, England. My German publisher was a little sheepish about this. but swore she knew what she was doing, and clearly did, because in May, its first month of release. Ein Leben Lang sold 12,000 copies.

In New York, still debating the alcohol references in my novel, I asked my US literary agent for her opinion. "When it comes to kids, people here are uptight," she said. "In the end, do you want to risk losing even a single book sale just to keep the scenes in?" A perfectly valid question, to which my unhesitating answer was "yes". I put this to my editor, who (and this is why I love editors) said, "This is your decision, what you change or don't change. I always say, it's your name on this book, not mine."

She also suggested a glossary for Australian words and expressions that just could not be replaced, or which I couldn't bear to lose. It's not a long one, but at least my American readers will now have the opportunity, to find out what an arvo is, and a wowser [which is in fact originally an American expression], a bunny-rug, and a shag on a rock. And I feel quietly confident that they'll be better, happier people for it.

The article above appeared in the "Review" section of "The Australian" on January 12, 2008

Extra years at school pay dividends?

I have not read the original study behind the article below but I have inserted some comments about initial doubts that come to mind

Forcing students to remain at school increases their income over their lifetime, with new Australian research showing every extra year of education adds 10 per cent to their salary. A study by Australian National University economists Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan found that the increased income was almost three times the wages students lost by staying at school. "States that raised the school leaving age in the 1960s substantially increased the lifetime earnings of individuals," it says. "Recently announced increases in the school leaving age ... are likely to have a beneficial effect on individuals growing up in those states." The school leaving age in most states is 16 but many states recently introduced requirements for students to remain in education, training or a job until 17.

The findings contradict a report by the Centre for Independent Studies last month, which rejects the idea that providing more education and training will improve the job prospects and wages of high school dropouts. In the paper, CIS social research director Peter Saunders argues the best way to help the bottom 25 per cent of school leavers is to increase the number of unskilled jobs, not to give them better skills. "The solution to the skills shortage lies in policies like delayed retirement and increased female participation in the workforce," Mr Saunders said. "The solution to unskilled joblessness lies in generating more unskilled employment."

Dr Leigh, a research fellow at the ANU Research School of Social Sciences, said yesterday the issue of increasing the proportion of students completing school or an equivalent qualification was a matter of long-term social policy. "The Government ought to think of the skills shortage in terms of the life chances of somebody who gets 10 years of schooling in a modern economy," he said. "Having a good base of general skills is going to be the most valuable thing we can give kids these days. "I'd love to pay less for a plumber but we should be more worried about what a high school dropout is going to earn 20 years from now, not whether we have cheap plumbers or someone to drive a truck at the mines."

The study, to be published in the international journal Economics of Education Review, is the first to estimate the economic benefit of staying at school, comparing the effect of raising the school-leaving age and the age at which students started school. Dr Leigh and Dr Ryan used income data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey of about 12,000 people, including those aged 25 to 64 years who had completed school in Australia. For every extra year of school, the gross income was 13 per cent higher. [This is of course a naive research method. Comparing the earnings of people who stay on at school versus dropouts is completely uninformative. The dropouts would mostly be the dummies who would have done badly anyway. The naivety of this method is why the next two methods were used]

The study then examined the length of education determined by when people started school. Most states have a single entry date with students having to turn a certain age, often five years, by a cut-off date. As a result, some children born within a month of each other start school a year apart. If both leave school aged 16, the first student will have an extra year of schooling. With this measure the researchers estimated income increases of 8 per cent a year for the extra year. [There's something a bit fishy here. Did they look only at kids who left school promptly at age 16? I doubt it, as that would have been an unrepresentative subset. But if they looked at all kids in the cohorts concerned there is another problem: Doing just one extra year would leave the kid with an incomplete qualification. So many will have gone on to do two extra years. This creates another selectivity bias. The improved results may be because of the brighter subset of the sample who did not drop out and who never intended to drop out]

The study then examined the effect of governments raising the minimum age at which students can leave school. Students forced to attend an extra year earned about 12 per cent more a year. Comparing the three methods, the study estimates the benefit of extra education is 10 per cent a year in increased income, even after taking into account the lost earnings from starting work later. [Similar comments to the comments on the second study above plus the very dubious exactitude of comparisons between different State education systems]


Leftists approve uranium mine

AUSTRALIA'S fourth uranium mine is expected to be up and running by the end of the year with a key approval secured yesterday. The Honeymoon uranium mine, 80km northwest of NSW town Broken Hill, has had its Mining and Rehabilitation Plan (MARP) approved by the South Australian Government.

Uranium One Australia executive vice president Greg Cochran said construction of electricity and water supplies for the mine would start immediately, with the aim of producing the first uranium in the last quarter of 2008. The South African company had hoped to be in production by March but issues including a review of the mine's design had pushed the time frame back, Mr Cochran said. "A huge amount of work had gone into the MARP and the final document is a blueprint for best practice in establishing a uranium project," Mr Cochran said. "Construction work on infrastructure at the Honeymoon site will be carried out according to our schedule of commencing production later this year. We have started employing personnel and, once production reaches steady state levels, we expect to employ approximately 60 people at the mine."

The Honeymoon mine will use the in situ leach mining method, which involves pumping water-diluted acid underground, where it collects uranium, and then recovering it on the surface. Mr Cochran said the company still had to get its radioactive waste management plan approval from the Environment Protection Authority, which was imminent following the MARP approval. The mine is expected to produce about 400 tons of uranium oxide a year for seven years. Mr Cochran said Uranium One had revised the budget for the mine but was yet to release a revised figure from last year's working number of $48 million.

Acting Minister for Mineral Resources Development Michael Atkinson said the mine would add about $40 million to the state's export figures. He welcomed the 60 new jobs that would be on offer. Opposition resources spokesman David Ridgway welcomed the approval but said the Government had to do more to ensure infrastructure investment in SA kept pace with new mining developments. Australian Conservation Foundation nuclear-free campaigner David Noonan said the mine would pollute groundwater with uranium waste - a claim which is denied by the company.


Most destined to lose battle of the bulge

MILLIONS of Australians are locked in the battle of the bulge - and most are destined for defeat. New research shows about half the adult population made New Year's resolutions to fight the flab. And most of the estimated 2 million Victorians who plan to lose weight in 2008 want to shed at least 10kg. But experts say many are heading down the wrong track, turning to fad diets, self-help books and other doomed quick fixes. "We know that most people who lose weight on a diet will regain it and most of those will regain it with interest," Deakin University nutrition expert Dr Tim Crowe said. "Not seeking out the latest quick-fix Hollywood fad diet should be No.1 priority."

But the national Newspoll survey found such quick fixes were exactly what most people pinned their hopes on. It found 55 per cent of people surveyed were looking for an easy answer, while just 42 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women intended to consult a doctor.

Dietitians Association of Australia spokesman Dr Trent Watson said individually tailored advice from a professional was essential. Dr Watson said diets, pills and wonder foods proclaiming fast weight loss should be avoided. "If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is," he said. Dr Watson, from Clued on Food, said sensible weight loss of 1kg a week for men and 500g a week for women could be achieved with healthy eating plans. Healthy diets were based around foods from the four core food groups: fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals, meat and dairy. But it was important to allow for the odd treat....

The Newspoll survey of more than 2000 adults, commissioned by drug manufacturer Abbott Australasia, found half of Australians made New Year resolutions to lose weight. But just a quarter of them believed they would achieve their goal. Of those who went on a diet at the start of 2007, 68 per cent had gone back to their old ways within six months. The weight loss rollercoaster is fuelling a boom in sales of self-help literature, with eight diet books in the top 10 bestsellers list this year.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

More on the "stolen generation" myth

A big new article has just appeared on the subject. It is written in a rather bitter way, which suggests some personal involvement with the matters discussed. A few excerpts below:

In this article we will examine the above-alluded-to Stolen Generation, and the price Aboriginal children are currently paying for this exercise in unadulterated financial greed.

The entire saga had its genesis in (then) Barbara Cumming's genuine book about her childhood experience at the hands of Australia's Northern Terroritory Christian orphanage operators, a manuscript that was hijacked by bureaucratic ideologists and twisted into the incredible story of the Aboriginal Stolen Generation.

The high priests of Equal Rights and Equal Opportunity (who are dedicated to anything but), orchestrated the solicited testimony of socially and psychologically-scarred and embittered individuals who had been raised without the critical emotional necessity of nurturing families. Nor had these individuals any knowledge of parallel history which should have put their experiences in the real-world context of the times.

Many of the part Aboriginal Australians who had been raised in orphanages, eventually discovered their long-lost families who, when confronted by the suffering of their abandoned progeny, denied all culpability. Well, did anyone really expect them to say to their children "Yeah, mate, I was the selfish and self-indulgent bitch who was too pissed to feed you, or even to shelter you? I forgot about you for a few days while on a bender and bloody welfare took you away. Frankly, you got in the way of my drinking".

Instead, they did what the vast majority or parents would do in such a barbed situation; they either went into compulsive denial, or lied.

What was not revealed in the media is that all cases were reviewed annually, with consideration of family reconciliation the prime objective. Sadly, it was rare for such mothers to be successfully assisted back to sobriety and reconciled with their children. And this was a welfare system the values of which applied to all children: Aboriginal, European, Chinese or Polynesian. In fact, for a century, Australia was one of the few European countries to recognise moral and physical accountability for racially mix-bred indigenous children. Elsewhere, they were abandoned to an often outcast existence....

The Stolen Generation publicity resulted in white social workers, when they attempted to rescue neglected and abused Aboriginal children, were shrilly accused of stealing a second generation. This resulted in a notoriously spineless and self-serving social work profession being intimidated into turning its collective back on a surge of:

* Aboriginal neglect and abuse

* Failure of Aborigines to send their children to the hundreds of Aboriginal community schools provided by government

* Failure of Aborigines to accommodate western knowledge about malnutrition and disease

* Refusal to take up employment and enterprise opportunities (encouraged in this parasitism by the insidious and ironically named Community Development Employment Programme - CDEP).

Transparently now, the spurious Stolen Generation campaign, aimed purely at financial compensation and profitable litigation, has prevented thousands of Aboriginal children from being protected or rescued.

It has also prevented publicity and recognition of the terrible choice many tribal Aboriginal mothers had to make; at least up until 1977, wherein their promised husbands and husband's families insisted they give up their half-white children to welfare, or depart permanently from the clan/family environment, which they had never been separated from for even a second of their lives.

When one understands that the concepts family and happiness and life were utterly indivisible in Aboriginal thinking, this was no choice at all and these women had to surrender their children as "unwanted"; an act that caused inconsolable anguish for both mother and children for as long as they lived.

Lutheran missionaries alone, helped many such mothers, as did one Native Affairs patrol officer who worked on Groote Islandt; but for the vast majority of tribal mothers in this category their suffering has never been recognised or relieved, and their circumstances not brought to the attention of their children, who would like to know that they were not simply rejected, and that they were loved, but were simply victims of an unpreventable and inevitable clash of cultures....

Finally, it should be understood that research for this article was based on the vast NT experience, and people from other parts of Australia may have suffered isolated circumstances wherein Christian church and state departmental roles became blurred and Aborigines were genuinely victimised. Moreover, acknowledging the history of corruption of state governments, it would be surprising if this were not the case, and these are then criminal matters and as such should be dealt with on an individual basis and not as a politicised national campaign


A new tribute to Australia's Left-run schools

Half of Australians lack modern-world skills

Half of all Australians lack the minimum reading, writing and problem-solving skills to cope with life in the modern world. A new survey on life skills by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals 46 per cent of the population, or seven million people, would struggle to understand the meaning of newspaper and magazine articles or documentation such as maps and payslips.

And 53 per cent reached just the second of five levels in a practical numeracy test, while 70per cent, the equivalent of 10.6million people, only managed to progress to level 2 in a series of problem-solving exercises. "Level 3 is regarded by the survey developers as the minimum required for individuals to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work in the emerging knowledge-based economy," said the ABS report, Adult Literacy and Life Skills.

The survey of almost 9000 people, which included a written life-skills test, was also done in seven other developed countries. Switzerland and Norway came out well ahead of Australia, while the US ranked much lower across all age ranges. Italy was the poorest-performing country of those participating. One stark difference in Australia was gender. Women were stronger at understanding written material than men, but males were better at understanding documents such as maps. And when it came to numbers, women did considerably worse. [An old, old story. Nothing to do with genetics, of course. It's just all these coincidences that keep piling up] While 53 per cent of men achieved (the acceptable) level 3 or higher, only 42 per cent of women managed the same. And almost twice as many men as women reached the top levels of the numeracy test.

Management consultant and social commentator Wendy McCarthy said the results were further evidence Australia was becoming a society increasingly divided into two classes. Ms McCarthy said a decade of neglect of the public education system was to blame. "It's a huge opportunity lost," she said. "It clearly demonstrates that if you don't invest in public education, except as a safety net, if you don't make it sexy, interesting, exciting, a way to get into the next world, you will slip back - and that's what's happening to Australia. "We will look back over the last 10 years and realise with some horror how much we overemphasised the value of the individual and overlooked the common denominators in our society."

The ACT was the best-performing state or territory in terms of literacy and numeracy, followed by Western Australia and South Australia. Tasmania performed worst. While people whose first language was not English achieved lower literacy scores than the general population, comparisons with a 1996 survey show considerable improvement in literacy levels of this cohort.


Rudd to scrap Howard's history

Howard came up with this at the last minute -- too late to entrench it in any way

The Rudd Government is expected to scrap plans to force the states to introduce compulsory Australian history classes in years 9 and 10 from next year. The new Government is also expected to dump a controversial model Australian history syllabus released by former prime minister John Howard on the eve of the election, after it was criticised for being overly nationalistic and "barely teachable".

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Julia Gillard has told The Age that although history would be a compulsory component of the national curriculum for parts of the secondary school years, the new Government would work collaboratively with states and territories, rather than impose things on them. "Australian history is a critical part of the curriculum and should be included in all years of schooling, not just for a few years in secondary school," she said.

The Government would work with the states and territories "to implement a rigorous, content-based national history curriculum for all Australian students from kindergarten to year 12". It would also refer the former government's Guide to Teaching Australian History in Years 9 and 10 to the National Curriculum Board.

States accused Mr Howard of waging a phoney "culture war" and playing politics when he announced in October that high schools would have to teach 150 hours of Australian history - and that it would be a condition of $42 billion in federal funding. The detailed course, overseen by a four-member panel including conservative historian Geoffrey Blainey and political commentator Gerard Henderson, listed more than 70 milestones ranging from indigenous settlement to the Sydney Olympics.

Professor Tony Taylor, whose draft was the basis for the Henderson-Blainey panel, said he believed the model Australian history syllabus would now be "dropped like a hot potato". "I think it's dead as a doornail," Professor Taylor said. "The prime minister's final document was too close to a nationalist view of Australia's past." He was highly critical of changes made to his original draft. Although it was not the political sermon some feared, the model syllabus was too content heavy and teachers would have found it hard to race through. "I think that was almost entirely a Howard push," he said. "It's too close to nationalism, too removed from a Kevin Rudd, regional and global world view."

Professor Taylor said he believed the new Government would take a broader view and make history, rather than stand-alone Australian history, a core part of the curriculum.

Professor Blainey expected Labor would appoint a committee to make its own syllabus. "Since the committee I was on was appointed by a Liberal government, I think Labor would choose a different cross-section of people," Professor Blainey said. "Most new governments like to do things their own way." He did not think Australian history enthusiasts would be dismayed by a broader history that included a substantial Australian component. "On the other hand, if Australian history became one of 10 cigarettes in the pack they might be disappointed," he said.

Mr Howard used the "history wars" to bludgeon states over what he called "incomprehensible sludge" being taught in some classrooms. Although the states were angry at being bullied with a national history curriculum linked to funding, The Age understands they broadly support compulsory history with local variations.


Where humans live, coral fails - study

So it's not global warming after all! Generalizing from the primitive economies of much of the Caribbean to areas such as Australia's Great Barrier reef would be hazardous, however. It may be hard for outsiders to believe, but something like the most Northern 500 miles of the reef is bordered by an almost uninhabited coast -- a Greenie paradise, really. Odd that most Greenies live in those evil big cities isn't it?

The world's coral reefs are in alarming decline, but what - or who - is most to blame? A groundbreaking study published today singles out human settlement, especially coastal development and agriculture, as the main culprit, even more so than warming sea waters and acidification linked to global warming. The study focuses on the Caribbean, where declining reefs are endangering species of wildlife as well as tourism and fishing that are vital for the local economy, says lead author, Camilo Mora, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. "The continuing degradation of coral reefs may be soon beyond repair if threats are not identified and rapidly controlled," he said.

Teasing apart the complicated web of factors driving reef destruction - overfishing, runoff of pesticides and pollution, hurricanes, climate change - is crucial for devising the best conservation strategies. There might not be enough time for second or third chances, Mr Mora said. But a welter of contradictory evidence, most of it gathered from single sites, has made it nearly impossible to figure out what causes what.

Which is why Mr Mora and University of Miami marine biologist Robert Ginsburg decided to compare several large-scale databases that had never been systematically cross-referenced. Focusing on corals, fishes and macroalgae, or seaweed, in 322 sites across 13 countries in the Caribbean, the study matched environmental and ecological data against patterns of human population density, coastal development and agricultural land use. Also included were data on hurricanes, biodiversity, fish populations and coral disease. Sifting through all these statistics showed clearly that the number of people is the main driver of the mortality of corals, along with declining fish biomass and increases in algae.

But different kinds of human activity resulted in different impacts, the study revealed. Higher population density in coastal areas produces more sewage and depletes fish stocks, both of which are directly responsible for coral mortality. But chemical discharges from agricultural land drives an increase in macroalgae, which is indirectly linked to coral loss.

Warmer sea surfaces are also contributing to coral decline, but not hurricanes, said the study, published in the journal Nature. "The human expansion in coastal areas inevitably poses severe risks to the maintenance of complex ecosystems such as coral reefs," Mr Mora said. Within a reef, predators prey on plant-eating fish, herbivores graze on seaweed, which in turn interacts with living coral. "A threat in any one group may escalate to the entire ecosystem," Mr Mora said. "The array of human stressors ... are significantly affecting all major groups of coral reef organisms."

The study also concluded that while Marine Protected Areas help restore fish populations, they do nothing to protect coral. A fifth of the world's marine reefs have already been destroyed and half are threatened because of human impact, whether directly or as a consequence of rising temperatures driven by climate change, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Coral reefs support some of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world, including many species that depend on reefs for shelter, reproduction and foraging. Coral reefs also provide livelihoods for 100 million people and form the basis for industries such as tourism and fishing, worth $US30 billion ($34bn) a year, says the IUCN.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Centre-Leftism has an honourable pedigree in Australia

I was recently asked to wax prophetic about Australia's new government for a new British site called International Relations. Below is my stab at it. I am sure that many of my fellow Australian conservatives will accuse me of being a Pollyanna but time will tell

The new Rudd government in Australia is not a new phenomenon. I don't think it is any secret that Tony Blair learnt much of his centre-Leftism from Australian centre-Leftists like Bob Hawke. Like Blair, Hawke made rather a mess of his country in some ways but the overall outcome was positive -- particularly in the area of much-needed market-based economic reforms. Hawke was to a degree Australia's Margaret Thatcher. And in foreign policy Hawke was sound too: Pro-US and pro-Israel.

If there were any doubt that Rudd will be walking in Hawke's footsteps, perhaps what he campaigned on to get himself elected will be instructive: To almost all the policies of the long-lived conservative administration of John Howard, Rudd simply said: "Me too" ("I also"?).

It is true that Rudd has a committment to remove Australian combat trops from Iraq but who does that remind you of? It reminds me of a man whose surname would be pronounced in his native Scotland as "Broon". And the Americans are also now of course on the brink of phasing down in Iraq.

And the Australian withdrawal will certainly be less precipitate than the British one. Discussions between Rudd and the U.S. administration have apparently been cordial and there is little doubt that the actual withdrawal date will depend on the circumstances on the ground in Iraq. Rudd has expressed some concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people after the Western withdrawal and it would appear that such a concern will have more weight with him than it apparently did with the British.

I think that the major realistic concern that Australian conservatives should have about Rudd is which way he will go with judicial appointments. Australia's High Court has been notably more conservative than the U.S. Supreme Court. Labor Party State governments have appointed some remarkably incompetent women to judicial office in the name of affirmative action (I beg forgiveness for being too cautious to name names) so it remains to be seen whether or not Rudd too will go down that path with the High Court.

But in foreign policy there is no doubt that there will be only micro-changes in direction. Rudd has emphasized that he wants to be more than a one-term Prime Minisiter and to achieve that he has to respect the strong conservative tendencies of the Australian electorate. He will be mindful that he got elected by adopting the conservative policies of John Howard.

And it was his policies that were the foundation of Howard's long stay in office. No one would accuse John Howard of having any charisma so there can be nothing else that got him elected several times. Rudd's only advantage is that he does have some charisma. But charisma gets you only so far and the hard-working bureaucrat that is Kevin Rudd will not be relying on it at all.

Patients regret apnoea surgery

ALMOST two-thirds of people who undergo surgery for sleep apnoea suffer persistent side-effects and almost a quarter regret their decision to go under the knife. The findings were made by researchers at the University of Adelaide, whose study, published in this week's edition of the British Medical Journal, recommends surgery for obstructive sleep apnoea be performed only after a case review by an ethics committee.

Between 2 and 4 per cent of Australians have sleep apnoea, with middle-aged, overweight men the main sufferers, about 24 per cent of them experiencing the condition, which collapses the upper airways during sleep, sometimes stopping breathing. Treatment usually begins with weight and alcohol management and use of breathing apparatus applying continuous pressure while sleeping before surgery is considered.

Adam Elshaug, a lecturer at the University of Adelaide, reviewed reports from around the world, including his own audit of 94 patients in Adelaide. He found that up to 62per cent of 21,346 patients who had surgery reported persistent side-effects such as a dry throat, difficulty in swallowing, voice changes and disturbances of smell and taste. Up to 22 per cent regretted having surgery. "The success rates were relatively low, ranging from 13 per cent for certain procedures, up to 47 per cent for the more advanced procedures," Dr Elshaug said.

The number of patients undergoing surgery for obstructive sleep apnoea is growing, with 3585 private patients recorded nationally in 2005, up from 3242 in 2004. Sleep specialists and surgeons agree surgery should not be the first port of call for apnoea sufferers, but say it is a viable option for patients who do not benefit from other treatments.

Sam Robinson, an ear, nose and throat surgeon who works with the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, said it was "nonsense" to restrict surgery to clinical trials overseen by an ethics committee. "Modern reconstructive surgery will give a satisfactory response in 70 to 80per cent of patients, maybe up to 90per cent," Dr Robinson said.


Leftist Victorian government tries to ban bicycles!

Not very "Green"

Rail staff are refusing to force commuters to get their bikes off peak hour trains as the State Government's ban descends into a farce. Industry sources yesterday said that the ban was unpopular and unworkable. The Herald Sun last month revealed the Government would ban bikes on peak-hour Connex and V/Line trains from January 1. The decision was hidden in a government document and published on the Metlink website.

A government spokesman said commuters would not be fined but urged rail staff to take a common-sense approach and advise passengers of the rule. However sources said it was impossible to enforce the ban without official warnings or fines. "Authorised officers, station staff, conductors -- none have the power to enforce it, so they're just not doing it," a source said.

Acting Premier Rob Hulls said: "There's been no decision made about rescinding (the ban). The fact is passengers on trains want to be able to travel in comfort." However Public Transport Users Association president Daniel Bowen said: "Given no fine has been specified and because of the way it applies to peak services, the ban is almost unenforceable. "V/Line's definition of peak hour includes all trains into Melbourne before 9am. "So . . . even people boarding a train leaving Geelong at 5am and arriving in Melbourne around 6am can't take their bicycle."

V/Line's Daniel Moloney said its ban operated since January 1. Mr Moloney also said V/Line had no plans to ask the Government to reverse the decision. Connex spokeswoman Kate De Clercq said staff had been told to advise passengers of the law.


Bonegilla Migrant Centre part of history

This is where hapless European refugees after WWII were fed British-style food -- which many saw as a continuation of their persecution

Block 19 at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre near Wodonga has been placed on the National Heritage list as the centre celebrates its 60th anniversary. Bonegilla, on the Murray River, was open between 1947 and 1971, with more than 300,000 people passing through its doors. It was the longest-operating migrant centre in Australia.

Bonegilla joined the MCG, the Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef, among others, on the list last month. Henk Bierman, vice-chairman of the Bonegilla Steering Committee, said people involved with the centre had tried to have it listed for years. He said it had a great place in history because it touched the lives of so many people. "Basically, there are a million and a half Australians walking around who went through the centre or are a descendant of someone who did. That's pretty amazing," Mr Bierman said.

Between 1947 and 1957, the migrant centre processed more than half of the 170,000 mainly displaced persons who came to Australia from war-torn Europe after World War II in what was one of the biggest post-war refugee efforts. They arrived from all parts of Europe -- including Holland, Greece, Poland, Yugoslavia, Germany, Russia and Czechoslovakia -- in an effort organised by the International Refugee Organisation and the Federal Government. The centre played a pivotal role for migrants beginning a new life, by helping them integrate to their new country.

Built in 1941 as an army camp, only Block 19 remains of the 24 blocks erected. It comprises a visitors centre and hosts exhibitions and tours. The heritage list includes places and buildings that are considered to have provided natural or cultural significance. It is decided by experts from the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Bonegilla is the 75th addition to the list.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Deluded Leftist memories

By Gerard Henderson

As someone once said, old soldiers never die. Quite a few, having abandoned the sword, keep battling with the pen or keyboard. So it is with the Pakistani-born British radical Tariq Ali. Once one of the most prominent student radicals in the West during the late 1960s and early 1970s, he is looking back with fondness on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the student revolutions that are said to have shaken the world in 1968.

Last Saturday the Herald carried Ali's recollections on 1968 under the heading "The year that changed the world". On the same day The Weekend Australian Magazine's cover story focused on seven Australians who recalled "the year the world changed". Both Ali and those of his Australian counterparts who remain on the left exhibited a lack of comprehension about what really happened or, rather, did not happen in 1968.

According to Ali: "What was remarkable about 1968 was the geographical breath of the global revolt. It was as if a single spark had set the entire field on fire." He was referring to attacks on US forces in Vietnam, demonstrations in such Western democracies as the US, France, Italy, Britain and West Germany, along with opposition to the communist totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia. But the fact is that the US was not militarily defeated in Vietnam in 1968 nor were the Western democracies overturned that year. Indeed, Richard Nixon was elected US president in November 1968.

Some of the Australian activists of four decades ago exhibited a similar sense of self-delusion. The painter George Gittoes recalled that "everyone was mad in 1968". The newly retired Labor politician Meredith Burgmann declared that "anyone from that time will tell you - we really thought the revolution was about to happen". According to the filmmaker Albie Thoms, in 1968 or thereabouts "everyone started self-medicating". Even today, the likes of Gittoes, Burgmann and Thoms seem unaware that about 1968 they mixed with a few members of the left intelligentsia. At the time the overwhelming majority of Australians were a quite sane lot who did not believe in the likelihood of imminent revolution and were not into the drug culture.

There is little evidence to support the view that 1968 was the year that changed the world. During the 20th century many years were more significant, including 1914 (the outbreak of World War I), 1917 (the Bolshevik Revolution), 1933 (the coming to power of Hitler's Nazis in Germany), 1939 (the outbreak of World War II) and 1989 (the effective collapse of European communism).

Certainly 1968 was a big year for news. In addition to violent student demonstrations in the Western democracies, 1968 witnessed the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in the US. Yet, despite such traumas, Western democracy prevailed as an institution. Within a little more than a decade the Conservative Margaret Thatcher was in 10 Downing Street in London and the Republican Ronald Reagan resided at the White House in Washington. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party's Malcolm Fraser prevailed over Gough Whitlam in late 1975. At the time Fraser was the enemy of the left intelligentsia Down Under.

It is true that 1968 was significant in that it marked the beginning of the decline in European communism. The Soviet Union's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 discredited European communism, even though its demise was to take a further two decades. Those who resisted communist totalitarianism in Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, the Soviet Union and elsewhere were the real heroes of 1968. The fact is that most of the student demonstrators and their fellow travellers supported communist dictatorships elsewhere. Most notably in China, where Mao's Cultural Revolution turned an entire nation into a prison ruthlessly administered by the communist elite. Later the 1968 set was to support the communist revolutions in Vietnam and Cambodia, which led to mass murders, incarcerations and refugees. And, of course, the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro remains a leftist hero to this day.

As the one-time leftist David Horowitz wrote in his autobiography Radical Son, the New Left in the US "was not an innocent experiment in American utopianism, but a self-conscious effort to rescue the communist project from its Soviet fate". This succeeded for a while when, following the cancellation of military aid by the US Congress, the anti-communist government of South Vietnam collapsed in 1975 in the face of the Soviet-supplied North Vietnamese Army. But in time the likes of China and Vietnam abandoned the hardline communism for which they were admired by the student revolutionaries in the West.

Many of today's baby boomers, in Australia and elsewhere, have never expressed regret for having supported some of the most brutal dictatorships the world has known. Take, for example, the British commentator Beatrix Campbell, who has a regular slot on Phillip Adams's ABC radio program Late Night Live. Writing in the Sunday Times on October 28, Neil Lyndon commented that Campbell is "never called to account for the fact that as a young subeditor on the communist Morning Star newspaper she took state-subsidised holidays in the odious Eric Honecker's East Germany".

The events of 1968 had little impact in the West. As David Caute pointed out in The Year Of The Barricades, the New Left in the West at the time engaged "in a murderous battle with the state, supposedly to arouse the working class from its torpor, in reality to play out social frustrations and personal fantasies". It was much the same in Australia, albeit without the extreme violence. This is widely accepted today, except by those old soldiers who seem to remain fossilised in 1968.


First love yourself ....

Paul Hasluck, a talented writer who went on to become Australia's Governor General in the 1970s, recalled scenes which were commonplace during his childhood in Western Australia in the 1920s in his autobiography, Mucking About.
Kalgoorlie schoolboys seemed to be given to chanting derisive rhymes. There were convent schools as well as state schools. The state school urchins used to follow the convent boys down the streets chanting.
Catholic dogs jump like frogs
And eat no meat on Friday.
Catholic dogs jump like frogs.
In and out of the water.

Hasluck's recollection reminds us that not so long ago -- within living memory -- it mattered very much whether you were Irish or Polish, Jewish or Protestant, Chinese or Filipino. But those difference -- as pundits analyzing Barack Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses never cease to point out -- seemed have become less important over the decades. In that context, Bishop Nazir Ali's warning that "no-go" areas have cropped up in Britain are all the more astounding. The perverse accomplishment of the Multicultural Project has been to reverse the process of community building it set out to hasten.

Why this paradoxical result should be the case is an interesting question to consider. Hasluck's biography itself provided a clue to the answer. The public space increased as love for the nation increased. As people began to identify themselves as Australians the relative differences between them decreased, as did the jeerings. But not only did a healthy patriotism actually expand the public space, it was, Hasluck argued, the prerequisite to respect between nations -- an observation that would shock the politically correct multiculturalist, who normally believes the precise opposite. Hasluck's argument is simple and commonsensical and for that reason probably incomprehensible to the post-modern. Describing his feelings following a return from England as a child, he wrote:
My own deeper love and knowledge of Australia is refined by a shared love of England. In love of our country each of us realizes a common humanity coming from deep wells. A feeling for one's own country is the clearest way to feeling deeply for men in other countries. The folly and failure of so many attempts by internationalists to do good comes from the fact that they lose sight of the true goodness in other countries when their own senses are blunted to the goodness of their own.

The observation that a genuine appreciation of other cultures must begin with a respect for one's own may seem self-evident until one realizes how rarely it is made. That argument naturally extends itself to a critique of multiculturalism. Having destroyed the feeling of security that comes from belonging to a larger home, the country, multiculturalism has left nothing for individuals but a retreat into the doubtful safety of sect, race and tribe. The Pale is back; and we are all beyond it.


Shakespearean Marxism axed

DESPITE his humiliating electoral defeat, former Prime Minister John Howard has won a final battle against some of his greatest foes - the left-wing forces of political correctness. Postmodernism, under which senior high school students were controversially asked to interpret Shakespeare from Marxist, feminist and racial perspectives, has been quietly dumped by the NSW Board of Studies.

The board is adamant it is just a "normal turnover" of the list of elective subjects offered to HSC candidates in the English Extension 1 course - rather than a reaction to critics who savaged postmodernism as subverting the classics by failing to help students appreciate them or gain full meaning of the texts.

But students who opted for the postmodern elective in previous years are horrified at its passing, among them outstanding all-rounder Mikah Pajaczkowska-Russell. The former Sydney Girls High School student, who has just scored a UAI of 99.75, said critics misunderstood the value of postmodernism for HSC English. "It is so easy to criticise texts . . . but they are not about undermining Shakespeare or traditional texts," she said. "They look at truth and reality . . . I find it invigorating." Ms Pajaczkowska-Russell, who will take an arts/law degree at Sydney University this year, singled out the postmodernism elective for special praise among her 11 HSC units.

But to Mr Howard, who campaigned long and hard to reinstate traditional values in school curriculums, postmodernism was "anything I don't like". His government threatened to cut education funding to states that did not fall into line on a raft of Commonwealth demands. Postmodernism will be dropped from the list of electives available to students in HSC English Extension 1 from 2009.


India Resisting Correctness

The cricket brouhaha continues in Australia:

"India have suspended their tour of Australia while they appeal against the suspension of spin bowler Harbhajan Singh for racial abuse.

Singh was banned for three Tests after he was alleged to have called Andrew Symonds - the only non-white player in the Australian team - a "monkey".

And the Indian cricket board (BCCI) have responded by halting the tour with two matches of the four Test series still to play. A statement from the BCCI said: "The board will appeal to the International Cricket Council to review the decision of the match referee and suspend its operation till the appeal is disposed of."


Comment by JR: Nobody knows the exact conversation that was the basis of the uproar but the black guy came up to the Indian while the Indian was at the crease (i.e. about to bat) and started to abuse him. So the Indian probably said something like: "Get lost, monkey". That is a grave sin in politically correct circles but the Indians obviously regard it as a reasonable comment in the circumstances and one not deserving significant punishment.

I have had Indians tell me with evident passion that cricket is their religion so continuation of the ban on the Indian player will be very badly received in India and will certainly lead to animosity against Australia -- so I do hope that commonsense trumps political correctness eventually. New Zealanders still bear a grudge against Australia over a cricket incident (just say "underarm bowling" to any Kiwi and you will see) so arousing Indian hostility as well would be most unfortunate.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Eating large fish poisons young children?

The article below says it does. I guess we must not mention that tuna is a very large predatory fish, that the Japanese eats heaps of large tuna and that the Japanese have unusually long lifespans. Note that no actual harm was reported below -- just opinion

Parents have been warned against feeding large fish species such as swordfish, marlin and shark to young children because of the danger of mercury poisoning. High levels of mercury - linked to developmental delay and brain problems - have been found in three children in Sydney. Health officials said yesterday the children, aged 15 months to two years, had eaten fives times the recommended amount of fish. In all three cases, details of which were published in the Medical Journal of Australia, they were fed congee - a rice and fish porridge used in Asian communities as a weaning food.

Health experts yesterday said that "small children should eat small fish". NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher said too much of certain types of fish could be "detrimental to children's health". "Incorporating two to three serves of fish per week into kids' diets is a good thing, but some parents may be overdoing it with certain species known to be high in mercury," she said.

Study co-author Stephen Corbett, of the Sydney South West Area Health Service, said children should still have fish in their diets. "Including fish in an infant's diet has many health benefits including building a strong heart and nervous system," Dr Corbett said. "But some fish may also contain mercury which is not good for young, developing children. "It is important to be aware how children can enjoy the many important benefits of seafood while reducing exposure to mercury."

Acting Minister for Primary Industries Linda Burney said: "An easy rule ... is that when whole the fish should be the size of an average plate." Chief Scientist with the NSW Food Authority Lisa Szabo said most fish were low in mercury but longer-living predatory fish built up mercury levels. "These fish such as shark or flake, swordfish, marlin and broadbill should not be included in the diet of small children," Dr Szabo said. "If they are eaten they should be limited to one serve per fortnight with no other fish eaten that fortnight.

"Examples of low mercury fish commonly available are rainbow trout, ocean trout, flathead, kingfish and whiting - canned tuna and salmon are also good low mercury options." Processed fish products such as fish fingers, patties, cakes, balls and bakes are made from a variety of fish including species low in mercury such as hoki and hake.


The following excerpt from Wikipedia gives some background on tuna

Due to their high position in the food chain and the subsequent accumulation of heavy metals from their diet, mercury levels can be relatively high in some of the larger species of tuna such as bluefin and albacore. As a result, in March 2004 the United States FDA issued guidelines recommending pregnant women, nursing mothers and children limit their intake of tuna and other types of predatory fish. However, most canned light tuna is skipjack tuna and is lower in mercury

Leftist apology inconsistency

Terrorism doesn't need to be apologized for but what your well-meaning grandparents did does!

Australia has a problem with apologies. On the one hand, there is increasing pressure on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to say sorry to the nation's indigenous people for past wrongs and on the other there is the expectation David Hicks should apologise for his terrorist involvement. But there is also an inconsistency here. Why is it that the very people who are demanding an apology to Australia's indigenous people are strangely silent over Hicks? It would seem there is a clear division over what is appropriate.

The idea of saying sorry seemingly puts things right, at least for indigenous Australians, but for Hicks, this is not an expectation. Why? The left of politics has claimed the moral high ground over the need for an apology to indigenous Australians and in demanding Hicks be brought home. If you disagree with the need for an apology for indigenous Australians, you are marginalised as some kind of redneck, racist conservative, and if you are insistent on an apology from Hicks, well you're being a bit tough.

Do you think I'm wrong? Consider the facts. Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson, a man respected for his measured views, had this to say last month on the issue of an apology and what Mr Rudd faces: "He can deal with the apology in accordance with the cultural left's desire to reassert the left's position in the culture wars. "The problem with just managing the issue is that Labor and the left have made much of Howard's refusal to apologise -- they have used it as a cultural bludgeon -- and there will be extreme sensitivity to the manner in which Rudd chooses to deliver the apology."

Then there is the hardline view of Lowitja (formerly Lois) O'Donoghue, a patron of the Stolen Generation Alliance. "Don't use apology. We want sorry," Mrs O'Donoghue says. She wants the removal of children described as "evil" and "cruel".

While there is no insistence from the left on Hicks apologising, does he need to apologise at all? His father, Terry Hicks, doesn't think so. According to Hicks's father, he has done nothing wrong. On Hicks's release from prison, he father said: "What's he got to apologise for? He has done nothing wrong; he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Hicks was captured alongside Taliban fighters. The same enemy which is targeting Australians and an enemy which has taken four Australian soldiers' lives. But that's OK. Now if Mr Hicks's logic was applied to the people who are alleged to have taken part in the removal of Aboriginal children, could they not also argue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

The left would not accept that. Why then is it an acceptable defence for no apology from Hicks? As much as Mr Hicks may say of his son that "nothing has been proved", the reality is Hicks, by his own admission, was an al-Qaida true believer and provided material support for terrorism.

The Aboriginal community can demand an apology for deeds done in the past with no present-day participants being responsible. So, is it not then reasonable to ask Hicks if he has recanted from his previous terrorist sympathies?

Sometimes the truth comes from an unlikely source. The actor Charlton Heston was on the money when he said in 1999: "The most important thing a man can learn -- the importance of three little words, 'I was wrong'. These words will get you much further than 'I love you'."

Do the supporters of Hicks believe an apology is unwarranted? Hicks gave support to al-Qaida. He is also an avowed anti-Semitic. Hicks's supporters, in not asking for him to publicly declare his repugnance of terrorism, let alone reconsider his anti-Semitic views, implies complicity with an acceptance he does not need to show contrition, let alone the reassurance he has changed.

It defies credibility that Hicks, on leaving Yatala jail, did not want to talk as he may have compromised the plea bargain he struck to secure his release from Guantanamo Bay, That sounds just a bit too convenient, cute even. An apology, so Mrs O'Donoghue believes, is a short sentence: "Sorry."

It is disingenuous to insist on an apology for the Stolen Generations, but remain silent on a convicted terrorist supporter who would have put the interests of al-Qaida and the "lovely brother" Osama bin Laden before his compatriots. If Hicks doesn't get it, someone should tell him.


Educators can also learn from what already works

As our approach to teaching embraces more traditional methods, the overseas experience can inform our choices. Looking back over the past 12 months, it is clear that 2007 was a watershed year for education. Much of what has been argued on these pages in terms of increased testing and more rigorous examinations, adopting a back-to-basics approach to curriculum, holding schools accountable and better rewarding teachers, is now mainstream in terms of the debate and is being advocated by ALP state and federal governments.

How can we ensure, though, that initiatives planned for 2008 and beyond will be effective in raising standards, better supporting teachers and schools and ensuring that students receive a well-balanced, academically sound and fulfilling educational experience? One approach is to learn from what is happening overseas, in addition to our own experience, and to evaluate classroom practice by what the research suggests works.

Ensuring that children are literate and numerate in the early years of primary school is critically important and there is an increasing consensus overseas about the best way to teach such skills. In Britain, the Rose report, in part based on the success of the Scottish school Clackmannanshire, recommends adopting a synthetic phonics approach to teaching reading, a recommendation the British Government has accepted. In opposition to the prevailing whole-language approach -- whereby, on the assumption that learning to read is as natural as learning to speak, children are taught to look and guess and memorise words by sight -- synthetic phonics "is a sounds-based approach that first teaches children the sounds of letters and how they blend into words, before moving to letter combinations that make up words".

Adopting a more structured approach to literacy and numeracy is also supported by the US research associated with Project Follow Through. The billion-dollar nationwide project evaluated different approaches to teaching and concluded that formal methods of classroom interaction, described as direct instruction, are more effective than the type of teaching associated with Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education. Summarising what we can learn from Project Follow Through, Australian mathematics researcher Rhonda Farkota noted: "Student-directed learning has consistently more negative outcomes than those achieved in traditional education ... On all measures of basic skills, cognitive development and self-esteem, it (student-centred learning) was shown to be vastly inferior to traditional education."

One of the most respected and influential international tests is the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, held three times since its inception in the mid-'90s, involving 46 countries and testing students at years 4, 8 and 12. On identifying the characteristics of education systems that achieve at the top of the table -- the results place Australia in the second 11 -- it is possible to identify what leads to success. Stronger performing systems place a greater emphasis on competitive examinations and testing (which are often used to stream students in terms of ability), give teachers clear and succinct road maps detailing what is to be taught, and expect students to master essential knowledge and understanding associated with the key disciplines at each year level.

Research carried out by German academic Ludger Woessmann also concludes that top-performing TIMSS countries have a robust non-government school sector, which leads to increased competition and pressure to do well, schools have autonomy over hiring, firing and rewarding successful teachers, and the influence of teacher unions is restricted.

While critics of George W. Bush's initiative No Child Left Behind -- whereby federal funding is linked to education systems setting clear objectives in terms of raising standards, students are regularly tested, classroom practice is based on what the research suggests works and there are consequences for underperformance -- argue that NCLB has failed, the evidence suggests otherwise. As noted by US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, setting performance targets, regularly testing students and holding schools accountable have raised standards, as reflected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. She states: "According to NAEP, more reading progress was made by nine-year-olds from 1999 to 2004 than in the previous 28 years combined. Maths scores have reached record highs across the board."

Given that many overseas education systems have been implementing the types of initiatives on the agenda in Australia for 2008, such as moving to a national curriculum, increased testing and holding schools accountable, it is also vital that we learn from their mistakes. As argued by the conservative US think tank the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, too much testing, forcing teachers to focus on the basics and imposing a centralised, top-down approach that fails to recognise the unique quality of individual schools can be counterproductive.

Forcing unproven and faddish curriculum change on schools and making them conform to inflexible and intrusive accountability measures can also overwhelm and frustrate teachers, leading to the type of situation evident in Western Australia, where teachers are deserting classrooms and it is impossible to attract newcomers to the profession.


A beacon in safe hands

By Christopher Pearson

JANUARY marks the departure of Paddy McGuinness from the editorship of Quadrant after 10 years in the chair. His term in office roughly coincided with John Howard's, and it came as no surprise that he should have decided a change of government and the end of an era was the right time to step down. As Keith Windschuttle, his successor, prepares to take up the reins, it's timely to consider the magazine's recent achievements and its role in the future.

The first thing to be said is that, under McGuinness, Quadrant has enjoyed a period of stability and widespread, steadily growing influence, a welcome development in a magazine once regarded as the in-house journal of the curmudgeonly Right. Because the editor had been an economic adviser to Bill Hayden, during his time as Gough Whitlam's treasurer, and worked before that for the Moscow Narodny Bank, thoughtful people of the Left could hardly write him off as a baleful reactionary, as they'd often done to his predecessors. When he took the job, one of the first things he did was to appoint Hayden chairman of the editorial advisory board, on which, for our sins, both The Australian's Imre Salusinszky and I also serve.

Past and present Labor luminaries, including the former federal finance minister, Peter Walsh, the former member for Adelaide, Bob Catley, the former Opposition leader, Mark Latham, and the present speaker of the South Australian parliament, Jack Snelling, have all been associated with Quadrant in one way or another and have written for it. The magazine has a settled policy of publishing people from across all the ideological divides, partly in the hope of attracting a broader readership and provoking debate but also in recognition of the cultural and political pluralism of the Australian polity.

McGuinness's guiding principle as an editor seems always to have been to "let a hundred flowers bloom", providing the authors could mount rational arguments. On occasion, this led to the publication of some very abstruse theoretical essays. I particularly remember one on the psychopathology of terrorism, and another on, of all things, the scriptural grounds for abstaining from alcohol. Because the editor was also "no respecter of persons", he was inclined to give good articles by relatively obscure writers a run. Just about the only excluded category was the semiotics industry, which he's always referred to as "the higher silliness" and which was in any event vastly over-represented in the rest of Australia's literary magazines and journals of cultural theory.

How McGuinness has managed to combine publishing such a diversity of newer talents with providing space for established writers who have been regular contributors to Quadrant, often for upwards of 30 years, I can't imagine. Although some older writers are a pleasure to deal with until the day they die, most tend to monomania. It must have been a delicate balancing act, and I imagine that he's much indebted to Les Murray, the country's pre-eminent poet, who serves as literary editor, and the deputy editor, George Thomas.

We can be confident that Windschuttle knows it will be a hard act to follow. I've recently had occasion to consider just how hard, because it's a job I expressed some interest in myself. That said, he's a worthy successor and a friend and, like most of Quadrant's supporters, I wish him well. He's urbane, funny, a great conversationalist, an eminent scholar and, through his publishing house, McLeay Press, a cultural entrepreneur in his own right. But he has an image problem which he will need to overcome early on in his editorship if he's to make the most of the opportunity.

Windschuttle's problem as editor is the flipside of his success as one of Quadrant's most effective contributors. It was his misfortune to stumble, much to his surprise, on the fact that an awful lot of Australian frontier history was based on outright lies and misrepresentations on the matter of alleged massacres of Aboriginal people. His essays and book-length work on the subject have acutely embarrassed some prominent first-contact historians, along with their friends and allies in other branches of the profession, and they hate him for it. Some, who could best be described as polemicists, have gone beyond reasoned argument and branded him a denialist, as though he were in the same category as the sceptical Holocaust historian David Irving.

Others have laboured, pretty much in vain, to question his grasp of the subject and scholarly methods. He has been vilified so routinely and for so long that most of the academic Left has made up its collective mind that he's beyond the pale, without even bothering to read him. Aboriginal issues are still totemic for large sections of the Left, in the sense that it's a subject where moral vanity and other passions run high, and to hell with the facts. The media especially take every opportunity to sneer at Windschuttle and question his credentials. Howard, a politician whose dry sense of humour has been widely underestimated, decided he was just the kind of battle-hardened dreadnought to appoint to the ABC's board. Unfortunately, it has only intensified the public perception problems he now has to address.

My advice, for what it's worth, is that he should by all means continue his Aboriginal history research, because it is important work, but decide not to print it in Quadrant. There's no shortage of other places for him to publish. He needs to establish in the public mind that his work as a scholar is distinct from his editing activities and that he is prepared to undertake a self-denying ordinance and maintain a structural separation of roles for the sake of the magazine. There may be a compelling case for deciding Aboriginal history is too contentious a subject for Quadrant to touch at the moment and that the best way to turn the situation around quickly is by a stream of dazzling issues focused on other subjects. If that seems too much like a surrender, other fine but less controversial historians such as Michael Connor, the author of The Invention of Terra Nullius, could surely be pressed into service.

Some will say this advice is completely at odds with the contrarian spirit that gives little magazines their identity. If the editor can't publish whatever he likes, including his own work, what's the point of the exercise? It's a position with which I have some sympathy. But there is a venerable tradition that holds that an editor is like the conductor of an orchestra, who already has enough to worry about and shouldn't try to be a soloist as well. Like McGuinness, over most of the 20-odd years that I edited The Adelaide Review, I deliberately avoided appearing in its columns except in editorials. Editors exercise quite enough power as it is, commissioning work and deciding what to print, and their hardest and most important task is helping writers shine, whatever one might think about the particular merits of their arguments.

There is another consideration worth pondering. Arguably the time has passed when small magazines could hope to survive on local sales and a little corporate support and advertising revenue. Big business has been increasingly reluctant to support independent magazines since the mid-1980s, especially when they're thought of as overly political or opinionated and likely to offend any group seen as stakeholders. Quadrant has more than pulled its weight in debates over economic and industrial reform over the years but some of the corporates have defended their failure to fund it, as opposed to local think-tanks, for example, by saying that it seemed "too doctrinaire".

Perhaps the solution lies in targeting privately owned, unlisted businesses that don't have to truckle to shareholders and can back their own judgment. Wherever it comes from, Quadrant badly needs seed funding for a couple of projects that could set it on a sounder footing. The first is a complete electronic edition and archived back issues, with the potential for paid subscriptions throughout the Anglosphere, supported by a decent marketing campaign.

The other obvious step is to pay two or three of the country's best essayists on any given month top rates to produce pieces that the magazine's existing audience and, with luck, a far wider audience will come to see as indispensable reading. It's in the nature of things at small magazines that there should be large disparities between the pay of regular contributors, who generally speaking already have a professional income, and emerging stars. Besides, a rising tide of sales and subscription revenue would lift everyone's pay rates.

The election of the Rudd Government and Labor's coast-to-coast ascendancy pose great challenges to Quadrant. Perhaps we've never been more in need of lively, independent magazines. For the next few years the commentariat may prove to be the de facto opposition. Forums where policy can be discussed in substantial 5000-word articles are likely to be one of the most important checks and balances on executive power. Yet the best chance of persuading the political class - as Quadrant showed in the way it conducted the debate on economic rationalism - is by remaining a broad church, above the fray of partisan politicking.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Health and Child Safety bureaucracies protect their own "territory" rather than those they are supposed to help

RARELY has an issue progressed from tragedy to mystery to disgust and onward to public controversy with the rapidity of the death of a 10-year-old girl on Bribie Island last week. It began as a holiday eyebrow-raiser, assumed an added sadness when murder was revealed, took on an air of mystery when the child's father was found at Mt Glorious, became nauseatingly horrific when allegations of incestuous rape surfaced and turned into outrage when it became apparent the alleged killer had been released after being treated for mental illness.

Now we have an inquiry into why the system failed an innocent child and into an apparent failure of Queensland Health and the Department of Child Safety to communicate. Still, it took almost a week for Health Minister Stephen Robertson to cut the gordian knot and order his outfit to even start talking to Child Safety if kids are seen to be at risk.

Fortunately, genuine public interest - as opposed to public prurience - has ensured the issue will be investigated by the loftily named Health Quality Assurance Commission rather than disappearing into the mysterious caverns of in-house public service inquiry. Media coyness and legal skittishness have taken second place to common sense. Hopefully, the departments will be struck by the same blinding light rather than skulking behind the traditional wall of confidentiality.

While the underlying causes of the Bribie Island tragedy are probably complex, the events are simple. It seems the alleged perpetrator was a troubled man who stacked on such an act at a shopping centre that he was taken to Royal Brisbane Hospital and held for two weeks, a considerable time in a hard-pressed frontline facility. An involuntary treatment order is imposed only if there is an "imminent risk that a person may cause harm to himself or herself or someone else" yet he was released into a position of sole responsibility for four children.

It defies belief that during those crucial two weeks his family situation was not apparent. It doubly defies belief that Child Safety was not informed. That department, presumably, would have had at least a passing interest, as the children had been the subject of complaints. But maybe not, given that its "low level" categorisation of the problem was so catastrophically wrong.

When it comes to mental illness (still to be legally tested in this case) a public duty of care overrides fragile concepts of individual responsibility. Mental illness presents major difficulties in diagnosis and treatment. It is doubly difficult in a society cracking up under self-induced stress and in which facilities are disgracefully scarce. In this case, professionals made a bad call that led to Health making a fatal decision not to pass on the information to Child Safety. Mistakes happen and have to be forgiven. However, there can be no forgiveness if this child died simply because a dysfunctional department is bureaucratically eggbound.

It comes as no surprise that the Health Department is again at the centre of a human tragedy. Despite all the headline events of recent years it seems chronically incapable of operating sensibly, efficiently and humanely. Child Safety has such a disastrous record that its very title sometimes seems a cruel misnomer. The fact that 57 children known to the department died in one calendar year speaks for itself. Ironically, both departments are largely staffed by good, intelligent, well-trained and kind people. Yet, they let us down so badly and so regularly.

Successive ministers seem so overawed by the baffling complexities of the Health and Child Safety portfolios they are incapable of kicking bums and banging heads together. In this instance it was a simple case of making them talk to each other. Kindergarten stuff, really.


Nurses turned off by disorganized government hospitals

A third of the experienced nurses lured back to NSW public hospitals under a Government program have left again. Three days after Premier Morris Iemma bragged about the recruitment of a record 1618 new registered nurses, internal government figures show Nursing Reconnect, which was designed to address a lack of experience, is floundering. The figures, obtained by the NSW Opposition under freedom of information laws, show 1647 nurses had returned to the public hospital system under the program since it began in 2002. But 479 of them subsequently left, for other employment or to take time out.

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said the Government had spent more than $6.5 million on Nursing Reconnect, meaning each returning nurse cost more than $4000 in refresher training and administration. "The Government spent $1.9 million recruiting people who subsequently left," Ms Skinner said. "Only 107 nurses have been recruited this year, compared to 807 in 2002. "The cost of Labor's recruitment program is rising while the number of nurses signing up is falling. Nurses won't want to come back to work while [Health Minister] Reba Meagher and the Iemma Government continue to mismanage our hospitals."

On Thursday, Ms Meagher announced the new recruits, saying that Nursing Reconnect had "attracted 1650 nurses back into the profession". But she failed to mention the high attrition rate. Yesterday Ms Meagher said the most common reasons why nurses had left were family commitments and to work elsewhere as nurses. The majority who had rejoined had stayed, she said.

NSW Nurses Association professional officer Annie Butler said improvements to conditions and pay were essential to retain nurses. Their workload had increased as ancillary positions were cut, and the frustration of seemingly minor challenges, like finding enough pillows, was immense.


Hospitals serving junk food

This attack is crazy. People are not in hospital long-term. The important thing for hospital food is for it to be appetizing -- so that patients will eat it and keep their strength up

ARTERY-clogging junk food [Pure ignorance speaking there. Careful research has found NO EFFECT of dietary fat intake on cardiovascular disease] is widely available at hospitals across the state and Queensland Health has no plans to ban it. Despite implementing some of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the country, Queensland Health says it will not follow the lead of Western Australia, which last week moved to rid its hospitals of all unhealthy foods

Queensland's Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young, admitted serving up food with a low nutritional value at health-care facilities was sending the public the "wrong message". "It is about everything in moderation," Dr Young said. "The problem is we need to provide more alternatives (to calorie-dense, less nutritional foods)."

Under the WA initiative, all unhealthy food and drinks must be removed from hospital and clinic cafeterias and vending machines by January 1 next year. But there are no rules on what food can be sold at Queensland hospitals and some serve up exactly the kinds of food they warn their patients to avoid. Prince Charles Hospital, for example, is one of the top specialist coronary-care facilities in the country - but just 100m from the doors to the cardiac-care unit are artery-clogging snack foods sitting under heat lamps waiting to be eaten, The Sunday Mail discovered last week. Hot chips, burgers, chicken, pizza, various fried snacks and hot dogs were just a few items on the menu at the hospital's Breeze Cafe. A plated meal bought from there featuring a hamburger and fried chips carried hundreds of calories and levels of dangerous saturated fats far in excess of the recommended daily intake.

Ironically, the cafe raises money for medical research, including coronary care. It was a similar story at food outlets and vending machines at other Brisbane hospitals, including the Mater, Princess Alexandra, Prince Charles and the Royal Brisbane and Women's. While all had a healthy option on their menus, the fare on offer is dominated by fried foods and sugary snacks.

Dr Linda Selvey, population health senior director for Queensland Health, said the department would monitor the WA initiative, but would leave the Queensland public to make their own food choices. "Queensland Health has, at this stage, chosen to use a colour-code system as we believe that when Queenslanders are given access to healthy foods, they have shown they can make the correct choices," she said. Under the Queensland plan, all private, commercially-run food outlets in facilities operated by Queensland Health will be required to comply with the department's Better Choice strategy.

Greg Johnson of Diabetes Australia is surprised more is not being done to reduce the availability of unhealthy foods, particularly as it had been proven that obesity is a main factor in Type 2 diabetes. He said 60 per cent of adults and 30 per cent of children and adolescents in Australia were overweight or obese. "We're not a lucky country of healthy athletes," he said.


Educational realism growing

The booming demand for tradesmen has accelerated a disturbing education trend, with the number of male school-leavers applying for university falling for the 10th year in a row. The latest tertiary admission figures reveal that just 38 per cent of university applicants are male, down from more than 42 per cent a decade ago. Pat Smith of the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre said the latest figures were worrying. "It's getting worse. It is a drain which is a concern for Queensland tertiary institutions," he said.

The overall number of applicants has also declined by about 1000, with 50,400 students applying for the 1400 courses on offer this year. The fall in male applications over the past few years averages 1355 students annually. Many of the male school-leavers not going on to uni have been lured by the big money on offer in the mining and building industries. Qualified tradesmen in some high-demand areas can earn more than $100,000 by the age of 21.

Gold Coast carpenter Kane Anderson, 18, who graduated from All Saints Anglican School, said he decided in Year 11 his best option was to take up an apprenticeship. "After three years' work, you can earn more than $100,000. Then you can start your own company and it just keeps growing and growing. "A lot of my friends are all doing different trades. Carpentry is one of the most popular. I'll be 21 when I finish, still young and earning good money."

But other young men who have decided against a degree in favour of a wage as an unskilled labourer have been urged by education authorities to reconsider and apply mid-year for university spots. The first round of university offers will be released on Thursday, with seven out of 10 applicants expected to get their first preference. The most popular courses this year are natural and physical sciences (up 16 per cent on last year), engineering (up 14 per cent) and architecture and building (up 8 per cent). Education (down 18 per cent) has experienced the biggest drop....

National Union of Students president Angus McFarland acknowledged school-leavers were faced with difficult decisions. University students could be left with a debt which ranged from $30,000 to $500,000, he said. "It's not surprising that a young man or woman who has the option of going to university and studying for four years or going into a trade and getting $100,000 will make that decision to work."


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Howard only 1.5% from being PM again

It felt like a Labor landslide. Yet John Howard and his Coalition government came within 1.5% of holding on to power at the recent federal election, final figures show. The Australian Electoral Commission says the Coalition ended up with 47.44% of the two-party vote after strongly outpolling Labor in the record 2.5 million postal, pre-poll and absentee votes counted after election night. The final count shows the election was closer than it appeared on election night. Not only did the Coalition haul back Labor's lead in overall votes, but the election outcome was decided in an extraordinary number of close seats that could have gone either way.

In the end, Labor won 83 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, the Coalition 65 and independents two. But nine of Labor's 83 seats were won by margins of less than 1.5%. Had the Coalition won them, the seats would have been split 74-all, with two conservative independents holding the balance of power - and most likely using it to give John Howard a fifth term in office.

Labor's narrow wins included Maxine McKew's victory over Mr Howard in Bennelong (by 1.4%), the Victorian seats of Corangamite (0.85%) and Deakin (1.41%), and three seats won by tiny margins: Robertson (NSW, 0.11%), Flynn (Qld, 0.16%) and the Darwin seat of Solomon (0.19%). With just 320 more votes in the right places, the Coalition could have cut Labor's majority to just 10 seats, a less than commanding tally. With fewer than 6000 more votes in the right seats, it could have held onto government.

But there was even more luck on the Coalition's side. It won 13 of its 65 seats by less than 2%, five of them by less than 0.22%. They included the Melbourne fringe seat of McEwen, which former tourism minister Fran Bailey held by just 12 votes (0.01%), the Brisbane seat of Bowman, held by 64 votes (0.04%), the former Labor seat of Swan, won by 164 votes (0.11%), and the Queensland seats of Dickson (0.13%) and Herbert (0.21%). All told, the Coalition won half its seats - 32 out of 65 - by majorities of less than 6%. Labor won 25 of its 83 by the same margin, including the seat of Melbourne, where Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner beat the Greens' Adam Bandt by just 4.71%.

Most of the 57 MPs in marginal seats now face new uncertainties, with federal redistributions likely in every state except South Australia before the next federal election. The electoral commission has begun the process of redistributing the 15 electorates in Western Australia, and will begin redistributions in Tasmania and the Northern Territory later this year. Population shifts will also require it to once again carry out redistributions in Queensland and NSW in 2009, with Queensland gaining a seat and NSW losing one. By January 2010, it will be Victoria's turn.


Don't rush back to unfair dismissal laws

By Barry Cohen, a former Labor environment minister

If the term mandate has any meaning at all, the Rudd Government has a mandate to repeal Work Choices. The Leader of the Opposition has indicated he accepts the voters' decision, so there shouldn't be a problem. If there is, there will be an early double dissolution and the Coalition will lose another 20 seats. Unquestionably, Labor can destroy Work Choices, but it would be wise to move slowly, particularly in dealing with unfair dismissal.

My opposition to unfair dismissal has been well documented in columns in The Australian, but if press reports are to be believed I am not alone. Apparently there are plenty in cabinet and caucus who aren't keen to return to the unfair dismissal rules of the Hawke-Keating era. The Howard government failed miserably in arguing its case against unfair dismissal. Ministers pointed out it was restricting employment, but they never explained how and why. There was considerable public debate about workers' rights but no mention of the rights of employers, and small-business employers in particular.

The term unfair dismissal slanted the debate one way right from the beginning. It implied that all dismissals were inherently unfair. No one favours unfair dismissal but fairness is in the eye of the beholder. No employee believes they were fairly dismissed. The definition of a small business varies but is generally accepted as being one with fewer than 20 employees. The Australian Chamber of Commerce suggests that there are approximately 1.9 million small businesses with 3.5 million employees. That's a fair slice of Australia's workforce.

Most business owners are former employees who have struck out on their own because they want to be independent. The risks are many and varied because of the variety of trades, professions and commercial activities that come under the small business umbrella. Many invest their life savings and mortgage their home and business while working and worrying around the clock.

Some succeed, but up to 70 per cent fail in the first three years. The majority is lucky to eke out a living, with many earning less than their employees and without any of their entitlements (holiday pay, sick leave, paid public holidays and so on). When there's a credit squeeze or recession, or they simply make mistakes, they ask themselves why they didn't let someone else do the worrying.

Are there bad employers? Of course, but most treat and pay their staff well, if only because it makes for a happy and productive workforce. No sane employer sacks staff that are doing a good job. Are there bad employees? It's a silly question because we all know the answer.

In recent discussions with a friend who was defending unfair dismissal, I recounted some misdemeanours committed by those I had employed during 50 years as an employer. They ranged from the perennially late to one who stole a fortune from the business, and another who regularly failed to show up after a heavy night out. My friend responded: "But they can be sacked under the soon to be reintroduced unfair dismissal legislation." Really?

The previous legislation required an employer to furnish three warning letters, but that didn't guarantee that the employer wouldn't be involved in protracted and costly negotiations with the Industrial Relations Commission. And even if they won the case, the employer was invited by the magistrate to provide some go-away money to the employee. The assumption was that anyone running a business could afford to pay. It was fine if you happened to be Woolworths, but not if you owned the corner shop. Faced with continued angst and legal costs, the employer invariably paid up.

The difficulty with unfair dismissal is prescribing in legislation the thousands of possible disagreements that can occur in the workplace. At present the legislation is loaded overwhelmingly in favour of the employee. With the assumption by many union officials that everyone in business is rolling in money, what's a few months' extra wages to the "rich" boss? And what of the employee who is doing a good job but the employer finds someone who can do it better? Unfair? No. Unlucky? Yes. An owner is entitled to make decisions that can mean the difference between success and failure. Providing the employee is given adequate notice and full entitlements, there should be no argument.

Reverse the situation and imagine the reaction if a long-term employee who has been paid and treated well for many years walks into the boss's office and says, "I've been offered a better job." Should the employee be penalised for unfair departure?

The tricky part for the Government is to draw a line between a small number of genuine unfair dismissals and the right of employers to hire whoever they wish to hire. If you think that's easy, try drawing up behavioral rules for married couples.

What the Government needs to turn its attention to is the Howard government's casualisation of the workforce. Genuine casual workers are easy to define. They are retirees, students, housewives and the like who only want a few hours' work a week. Increasingly, however, full-time workers are being designated as casuals and losing all their entitlements. They may receive a slightly higher rate of pay, but when business is slow they can be stood down or sacked without notice. Consequently their average take-home pay is much lower. It is reasonable for an employee to be given a three-month trial period as a casual, but after that any worker who works more than 25 hours a week should be considered permanent. If the Rudd Government wants to help low-income workers, this is the area in which it should concentrate.


Woman hit by taxi says charges to be dropped

Cowardly Cowdery (notorious pro-criminal NSW DPP) at work again, by the looks of it

Jenny Franco says her worst fears have been realised after she was told that charges against the taxi driver accused of running her down will be dropped. Stuart Russell Graham, 55, was behind the wheel of a cab that allegedly struck the 23-year-old at Miranda, in Sydney's south, on February 20 last year. Ms Franco, who was dragged 150 metres along the road, lost her left eye and spent three months in hospital. Graham was charged with dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm and with failing to stop and assist.

In November, the Downing Centre Local Court heard that Graham's lawyer, Brett Thomas, had asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to drop the charges against him. The court was told police investigations were continuing and the DPP was awaiting a psychiatric report while considering Mr Thomas's request. Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the DPP said she could not comment on whether the case against Graham would be dropped, as the matter was before the courts. Mr Thomas could not be reached for comment.

However, Ms Franco told Channel Seven the DPP had told her the charges against Graham would be dropped. She is reportedly due to meet the DPP on Monday, with the charges to be formally dropped during a court hearing on Tuesday. "It was actually my worst fear," she said. "It scares me to know that this accused taxi driver gets to walk scot-free, possibly return to his work and . possibly hurt someone else."

Ms Franco's mother, Ludy, said her daughter was too traumatised to go back to where the accident happened. She said her daughter had been living in an apartment in the city, away from the family's Miranda home and the scene of the accident.


Australia still a magnet for British migrants

'Wanted Down Under' programme returns to British TV -- putting migration to Australia in the spotlight. As Britain fills up with blacks and Muslims, Australia fills up with Brits. I think it is clear which country has the better of the bargain

As the second series of 'Wanted Down Under' returns to the BBC, a new wave of families are shown sampling life in Australia with an eye to emigrating permanently. With the series documenting life on the Australian immigration fast track, the Australian Visa Bureau looks at the lessons other British migration hopefuls can take from the programme.

The immensely popular 'Wanted Down Under' sees presenter Nadia Sawalha joining a number British families as they're given a look at life in Australia ahead of possible migration. The series takes a realistic look at the reason why emigration has become such a popular option in recent years, as well as the very real demands that come with forging a new life in Australia.

Tom W. Blackett, Official Spokesperson of the Australian Visa Bureau comments: "Seeing 'Wanted Down Under' return to TV screens should be welcomed as essential viewing for any family considering permanent migration to Australia. The idea of moving Down Under to start anew is one that more and more people are considering, and it's important that we see getting an Australian visa as the very concrete reality it is, rather than an unattainable ambition."

"However, 'Wanted Down Under' doesn't shy away from showing the potential difficulties involved in pursuing Australian emigration. While you'll almost certainly be eligible for permanent residence if your job is listed on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL), there are a number of unexpected pitfalls involved when navigating the legislative requirements alone. It can be a time-consuming process that we'd recommend assigning to a trained migration consultant, which can be done by completing an Australian visa application.

"However, the message the programme presents is still a valid one; if the job that you do is on the MODL list of those in short supply in Australia, you are under 45 and you are thinking of emigrating, then the Australian government will help to fast track you through the immigration procedure"

Australia needs skilled immigrants: Anyone applying for an Australian visa should begin by completing the Australian Visa Bureau's online Australian visa application to see if they meet the Australian visa requirements.


Friday, January 04, 2008

More Muslim madness

No doubt the girl was threatening the a*hole's "honour" by showing a normal interest in boys

A TEENAGER was last night strangled by her father before he took his own life. Neighbours were alerted to the tragedy by the "howling screams" of the 14-year-old girl's mother, who made the gruesome discovery shortly after 6pm. Police and ambulance crews rushed to the Stevens St, Pennant Hills townhouse in Sydney's northwest, arriving to find the girl unconscious and her father dead.

Distraught neighbours last night said the evening calm was shattered by the mother's distraught screams. "The scream was heard down the street. It was horrible," one neighbour said. It is understood the family were originally from Iran and had signed a two-year lease on the property three months ago.

Paramedics desperately tried to revive the teenager but she was pronounced dead a short time later. Police said the girl had been strangled but did not reveal the father's age or cause of death. A police spokesman last night confirmed the deaths of the teen and her father were being investigated as a murder-suicide. "Investigators don't believe a third party is involved. The exact cause and nature of the deaths will be established in a post mortem," the spokesman said.

The officer-in charge of the investigation, Inspector Michael Begg last night declined to talk about the incident when contacted by The Daily Telegraph.


NSW: 4200 nurses quit every year

What happens when you overwork nurses in order to employ more and more of those lovely bureaucrats

NURSES are leaving public hospitals faster than the Government can replace them despite a record 2368 graduates starting this year. The NSW health system is haemorrhaging nurses at a rate of 10 per cent - 4200 positions - a year, leaving existing staff overworked. Premier Morris Iemma yesterday admitted, while visiting Royal North Shore Hospital, that it was difficult to recruit and retain nurses.

However, embarrassingly for the Government, Mr Iemma also conceded in front of his embattled Health Minister Reba Meagher that Royal North Shore Hospital needed to return "to the forefront". Ms Meagher has been under siege over the hospital's performance, since staff and patients revealed a series of horror stories about the hospital's performance last year. Continually forced to defend the hospital, Ms Meagher yesterday looked on as Mr Iemma did the talking.

"I have taken a number of small steps to address the issue here at Royal North Shore Hospital," he said. ". . . to restore the reputation of the hospital as well as continue to improve the health services. "There are challenges, as there are in any hospital. "We are taking extra measures to address that." The hospital will be allocated 128 nurses at the end of this month, one of the largest intakes in the state. However, it still needs another 22 experienced nurses to fill the hospital's current shortfall. But difficulties remain as bullying and harassment of nurses has tainted RNSH. Long-serving staff have complained publicly of being intimidated by senior management.

Trying to soothe the hospital's bruised reputation, Mr Iemma assured new recruits: "I can promise the graduates that anyone who intimidates . . . will be dealt with, and dealt with very strongly. "I guarantee these graduates there is no place for bullying."

Despite the Government's recruitment push, a global shortage of nurses is placing strain on hospitals. NSW Nurses Association acting president Judith Kiejda said an ageing work force was having an impact on the health sector. "Some (nurses) do leave for overseas, career changes but a lot of the losses come down to retirement," she said. "There are a lot of nurses who are coming up to retirement far more than we are bring in the new ones."

New graduate, Emma Bowen, 20, said she was not put off by the negativity surrounding RNSH. "I did my practice here (at Royal North Shore) and really enjoyed it," she said. "I had excellent support."


Your government will look after you (NOT)

Despite nine calls, no one came for dying man

THE family of a man bashed to death during a Christmas Day game of beach cricket called triple-0 six times but still had to drive the dying man to hospital themselves because neither the police nor ambulances arrived in time. Combined with three other direct calls to Geraldton police station, north of Perth, which raised concerns about the escalating violence at Sunset Beach that night, the family of William Rowe made a total of nine calls asking for police or medical assistance.

It is understood the quality of information in some of the calls may have been affected because the callers were under duress. But in the end no police or ambulance vehicles arrived at the beach, forcing the frantic family to drive an unconscious Mr Rowe to hospital with another family member who had been struck in the face with a bottle during an attack in the beach car park.

A man, 21, and a group of [black] teenagers have been charged over the attacks, which began while Mr Rowe, 49, a farmer, and his family were enjoying the game of beach cricket. In a written response to questions on the handling of the tragedy, the acting police commissioner Chris Dawson defended the inability of the police force to respond fast enough to calls for help.

He said that one of the four high-priority incidents that prevented officers from going to the beach was a home burglary. The others were a violent domestic argument and an incident involving a man armed with a knife. Mr Dawson continued to refuse to give specific times for those incidents.

Detailing the calls from Sunset Beach, he said police arrived about 21 minutes after the first of the calls, by which time the Rowe family was on its way to hospital and most of their alleged attackers had left. "On the information available to them at the time, I am satisfied Geraldton police made the right decisions," he said. He told The West Australian that of the six triple-0 calls made, five were made for ambulance and hospital assistance and one was to police, who had arrived at the empty beach car park by that stage. Mr Dawson said that he would wait for the State Coroner's findings into Mr Rowe's death. The findings could take more than two years to be handed down.


Want to be a doctor? Try your luck

The usual Leftist hatred of merit -- and the examinations which detect it -- at work

The University of Sydney's medical school may turn its admissions process into a lucky dip and scrap applicant interviews in the biggest overhaul of its selection policy in 10 years. The proposals are among options being investigated by a working party to ensure admissions to the university's most prestigious course are fair and snare the best students. The dean of the school, Bruce Robinson, commissioned the review because he was concerned the current process failed to predict which applicants would succeed as students and doctors.

Students are selected through a combination of interviews, grade point average and performance in an exam known as the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test, used by 11 universities. But the test had never been properly scrutinised, Professor Robinson said. An internal review had found no difference between students who scraped through and those who scored highly.

The working party is considering a ballot system used in the Netherlands, with each applicant's name put into a lottery. Outstanding HSC students would get more chances. "It may be just as reliable as anything else," Professor Robinson said. "I'm just not sure the way we're doing it at the moment is the best way or the fairest way. There is no perfect way."

The University of Queensland has eliminated interviews from its admissions system after a review cast doubt on their value. Kim Oates, who is reviewing the University of Sydney program with Kerry Goulston, said there was little evidence the interview system was valuable. "What's really interesting is that a few years after graduation most people working in hospitals can't tell what medical school the students have been to," Professor Oates said. "And I think that's because the hospital system moulds you as well."

However, the University of NSW says the attrition rate in its undergraduate program has been halved since interviews were added to the admissions process in 2002. In its own recent review, the body that developed the current exam, the Australian Council of Educational Research, concluded it was a good predictor of success. Marita MacMahon Ball, the general manager of higher education programs, said there was a correlation between students' results and their first-year exam results. [Is that all? And how big is the correlation?]


Welfare reforms 'not enough'

DISABILITY pension recipients who are able to work at least part-time should be required to seek a job, according to the OECD. The Paris-based economic advisory body said the welfare to work reforms introduced by the Howard government last year did not go far enough to reduce Australia's $25 billion bill for disability and sickness benefits. In a major report on disability benefits, the OECD has urged the Rudd Government to embark on a fresh round of welfare reform that would also put pressure on employers to retain sick and disabled workers.

Employment Participation Minister Brendan O'Connor said any government response to the report would be made in consultation with people with disabilities, employers and experts. "The Rudd Government believes we can improve on the systems currently in place, and we intend to ensure that people with disabilities receive greater opportunities for education and training to ensure their job prospects are maximised," he said.

The report will put pressure on the Government to act because, from Opposition, Labor frequently used the authority of the OECD to attack the Coalition on issues ranging from infrastructure to industrial relations. The Coalition's welfare reforms, opposed by Labor and the disability lobby groups, imposed a work test on new applicants for the disability pension, but left the 700,000 existing beneficiaries untouched. The OECD says only 1per cent of people on a disability pension find work each year. It says the Howard government's welfare reforms created problems by forcing people eligible for the disability pension but with the ability to work part-time on to the Newstart unemployment benefit rather than the more generous disability pension. Not only is the unemployment benefit 20 per cent lower, it is taxed and is less flexible about how much work can be done before benefits are lost.

The OECD says the Government should revisit the welfare review led by Salvation Army chief Patrick McClure in 2000, which recommended a single working-age benefit for the unemployed, the disabled and sole parents. This would "simplify the system and avoid undesirable incentives to move from one benefit to another". As a first step, the OECD urged that younger disabled people who have been receiving the pension be required to seek work, later extending to all disabled people. It should also be easier for people on disability benefits to suspend their entitlement so they would not lose it if they found work for a period.

The OECD said the Government should require employers to put more effort into keeping on people with sickness or disability. More than a third of people applying for the disability pension were previously unemployed. It suggested this "could be related to the fact that sick employees can be fired relatively easily". Anti-discrimination laws did not provide sufficient protection for workers with disabilities. Employers were required to provide 10 days' sick leave, but had no obligation beyond that. The OECD said the Government should follow the example of other countries in mandating the minimum sick leave for a longer period.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Public hospital negligence leads to tragedy again

A Traralgon couple is planning to sue the local hospital because their baby was born with severe brain damage after allegedly being deprived of oxygen. Tobias Vizard was not breathing at birth, but was resuscitated in a Latrobe Regional Hospital birthing room and spent two weeks on life support. His life expectancy is short, and his disabilities include cerebral palsy and possibly quadriplegia. Mum Julia Williams said she and her family pleaded for an emergency caesarean as her son's heart rate plummeted and he could not be pushed through the birth canal during labour on August 17 last year.

It was more than two hours after her waters broke that Tobias was delivered naturally but with a hypoxic brain injury, believed to be caused by a lack of oxygen. The pregnancy was in its 40th week and contractions started on Tobias's expected birth date, a fortnight after ultrasounds indicated there was nothing wrong. He is now living with brain damage more severe than that experienced by many very premature babies.

Tobias's father, Brian Vizard, is deaf and cannot hear his son struggling for air at night to know when his airways need to be cleared. However Ms Williams said they were determined to make the most of each day together. "He was dead when he was born. He was dolphin blue, and I didn't understand what was going on until I saw them resuscitating him in front of us," she said. "We don't ever wish this to happen to anyone. You don't know what it is like to have a newborn and they are saying he is not going to make it. "But he is beautiful to look at. He doesn't look handicapped, apart from the cerebral palsy in his hand."

The distressed parents are seeking legal advice from Maurice Blackburn lawyers. Latrobe Regional Hospital spokeswoman Jan Rees confirmed the hospital investigated the birth, but said she could not comment because legal action had started. The matter has also been referred to the Health Services Commissioner, but details of the investigation remain confidential. The commissioner can enforce a compensation payout following conciliation, provided that litigation does not proceed. The Royal Children's Hospital, which treated Tobias in the weeks after his birth, declined to comment because it did not want to influence potential legal action.


Victorian government schools not so "free"

Government schools that have wrongly charged parents for voluntary fees will be forced to pay families back under a State Government crackdown. Exclusive figures seen by the Herald Sun reveal taxpayer-funded state schools netted a staggering $168 million in voluntary fees in 2006 alone. The total is more than three times as much as parents contributed in 2004.

Government documents, seen after a three-month wait under Freedom of Information laws, show four schools raised more than $1 million each. Another 45 schools raised more than $500,000 from their local communities in 2006 alone. Schools received an average of more than $106,000 each from voluntary fees, with some hitting parents for more than $300 per student. Select-entry Melbourne High School ($1.69 million) and Box Hill Senior Secondary College ($1.13 million) raised the most from voluntary fees in 2006. Schools in low socio-economic areas, such as Frankston High, Footscray City College and Narre Warren South P-12 College, were among schools that raised more than $500,000 from local parents.

When the Herald Sun anonymously rang Balwyn High School earlier in December, we were told parents must pay the voluntary fee of $345 per student. Swan Marsh Primary School, near Colac, received nothing in voluntary fees. Navarre Primary, west of Ballarat, received $20.

Non-compulsory fees vary between schools, but often run into hundreds of dollars. Welfare agencies are bracing themselves for an influx of calls from thousands of stressed families whose schools are bullying them into paying fees when first term starts on January 30. Some schools have banned students from attending camps, accessing the internet and taking woodwork projects home because their parents have not paid voluntary fees. Some schools have organised special payment plans if parents are unable to afford a lump-sum amount.

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development policy stipulates state schools must not force parents to pay optional fees. Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said at least 100 schools would be audited from March to ensure they are complying with fundraising guidelines. Ms Pike said schools must clearly state which items parents are expected to pay for, and which are voluntary financial contributions. Schools with a history of breaching the guidelines will be on the audit list while a small number will be selected randomly, she said. "Most of our schools do the right thing, but if we find schools who are over-charging parents they will have to pay the money back," Ms Pike said.

The Government rejected the Herald Sun's request for figures from 2007, claiming the data was not yet available. Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon said the millions paid by parents proved the State Government was under-funding education. "Voluntary levies are fine for extras and schools are not relying on them to prop up budgets, but $168 million begs the question if schools are being funded properly -- and the answer is no."

Open Family youth worker Les Twentyman said more than 1000 families were expected to approach the service for help with fees in January. "It just makes me livid that schools are forcing parents who certainly can't afford it to pay, or they will withhold materials and resources from their kids," he said. "This is an outrageous situation." Victorian Council of Social Service deputy director Carolyn Atkins has previously told the Herald Sun voluntary fees caused heartache for some families. "Some students are being denied access to art or music, which really should be seen as core elements of an education," Ms Atkins said.


A more realistic comment on the "risk" to corals

Corals may move from warming seas. A change from the garbage about corals dying out. Corals already have a huge North/South geographical range -- which means a huge range of temperature tolerance

If their watery world continues to warm as climate change scientists predict, Western Australia's corals may head south to cooler climes. That's the message from US and Australian researchers who compared the behaviour of the state's corals then and now. Since "then" was 125,000 years ago, University of Queensland paleoecologist John Pandolfi and geologist Benjamin Greenstein of Cornelle College in Iowa are confident their findings are not a short-term blip.

The implication is that conservation managers should help ensure that corals have an "escape route" beyond existing parks and protected areas, claimed Professor Pandolfi. "Paving the way to southern refugia is a step in the right direction for coral conservation," he argued. "These refugia could be very important for reseeding northern reefs if the environmental conditions return to a more favourable state."

According to their research _ reported in the journal Global Change Biology _ fast-growing branching corals, Acropora, will likely be the first to move, possibly as far south as Margaret River or even around the corner to Albany. "We've already seen some movement of the Acropora," said Professor Pandolfi, with UQ's Centre for Marine Studies. "Rottnest Island (off Perth) has Acropora coral and it didn't have any 20 years ago," he said.

Along with Professor Greenstein, Professor Pandolfi took advantage of Western Australia's "natural laboratory", a 1500-km-long stretch of living and fossil coral reefs. They paired five ancient and modern reefs: two at Ningaloo and Shark Bay in the north, two more in the Houtman-Abrolhos Islands and Geraldton-Leander Point and the most southerly site at Rottnest Island. They assessed the diversity and distribution of coral species living in the ancient and modern communities and then compared the data. The results suggested that coral diversity expands and contracts according to the water temperature.

While that gives hope that if reefs can shelter in cooler refugia they'll survive global warming, Professor Pandolfi said he and Professor Greenstein looked only at temperature. He claimed managers must work to protect reefs from human impacts like pollution, as sea and carbon dioxide levels rise and stress the coral. "The better the health of the reefs the better off they'll be in handling change," said Professor Pandolfi. "We have to keep an eye out and give them a chance to escape."


Now councils are banning kites

Using "safety" to attack the recreations of normal people again

A [NSW] council has taken the crazy step of banning kites in a popular park, with the declaration of war on fun upsetting local families. Parents are outraged Shellharbour Council has moved to outlaw kite flying in a local community reserve, robbing children of a popular activity. The kite prohibition was listed among other banned activities such as carrying guns, lighting fires and horse riding.

Lincoln Steel regularly takes his children to Flinders Reserve, in the centre of Shellharbour, and is appalled his family now faces a $100 council-issued fine if they fly a kite. "How stupid is that. You can do just about everything else but you can't fly a kite," Mr Steel said. Mr Steel noticed the sign about four weeks ago but it emerged yesterday even the Council is having second thoughts about its tough stance on harmless fun.

When told of his Council's kite-flying ban, Mayor David Hamilton yesterday ordered a full investigation. He promised The Daily Telegraph that if investigators failed to find a serious safety reason for the ban, the sign would be torn down. "It will have to be a very good reason because that is what parks are for, parks are for kids to enjoy and families to enjoy," he said. "I've got grandkids myself and on numerous occasions I have taken my grandkids to fly kites, I am at a total loss to say why that sign is there."

The kite ban was only brought to Mr Hamilton's attention over the weekend. He said he had been unaware a sign had been posted at the reserve. Mr Hamilton said if a serious risk to children flying kites was found, such as overhead powerlines, he would take the ban seriously.

Deputy Mayor Michele Greig supported Mr Hamilton's investigation but she also said kite flying could be a dangerous activity. "Children's safety is the No. 1 priority," she said. "If it is a safety issue, I have no problem (with the ban). It is Council's role to make it a safe environment for people to use it."

Mr Hamilton said his investigation was taking extra time because of the long weekend but he hoped to resolve the issue as soon as possible.


More bureaucratic contempt for the taxpayer

Public servants will be ordered to pay for their own massages after chalking up more than $200,000 in taxpayer-funded rub downs. The practice was widespread under the former Howard government, with the former prime minister's own department enjoying more than $6000 worth of back rubs at taxpayers' expense. Figures tabled in Federal Parliament show the government's total massage bill in 2004 topped $108,710 - the equivalent of about $200 worth of massages per public servant. In 2005, at least $89,000 was spent on publicly funded rub downs for the nation's bureaucrats.

Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen has previously labelled the practice a "blatant waste of expenditure". Mr Bowen's spokesman this week said the minister would be advising his agency heads that massages were not an appropriate use of taxpayers' funds. Other ministers are expected to follow Mr Bowen's lead and ban taxpayer-funded massages as the Rudd administration moves to clamp down on government largesse and wastage. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has already set up a razor gang to save taxpayers billions of dollars in wasted expenditure in order to take pressure off inflation and interest rates.

The Courier-Mail reported last week how Australian diplomats feared losing millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded perks in the drive to slash spending. Australian embassy staff enjoy some of the best perks in the public service, including access to 37 taxpayer-funded holiday houses.

The use of massages is common in the private sector to keep employees healthy and reduce sick leave levels. Some of the biggest users of massage services under the previous government included Australia Post, whose staff were treated to $55,000 worth of rub downs, the Australian Bureau of Statistics ($10,120) and Treasury ($17,000). The cost of the massages varied from $10.86 to $15 for 15 minutes. Public servants in the Industry, Tourism and Resources Department were entitled to spend up to $110 a year on massages by way of a "healthy living subsidy".


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Australian Jihadi is a misfit

It's only the opinion of a Leftist journalist but it sounds credible

The Fairfax journalist who met David Hicks after his release from jail says she believes he would find it hard to communicate with those who expect him to apologise for his actions. The journalist, Penelope Debelle, says the convicted terrorism supporter appears to have reflected on his actions during his time in detention and jail.

Mr Hicks had been expected to make an apology when he was released from Adelaide's Yatala prison on Saturday. However a statement read by his lawyer after the release thanked supporters, but added only that Mr Hicks was not strong enough to speak.

Ms Debelle says her brief meeting with Mr Hicks and his father Terry yesterday confirmed that Mr Hicks' re-adjustment to society would be a slow process. "Having met him, [it] is very obvious he's not a confident enough person, he's not socialised in an easy way," she said. "He's just not skilled enough - socially skilled enough - to deal with unwanted attention."


Do the defence bureaucrats EVER get anything right?

Frigates 'can't go to war' despite $1.4bn upgrade

The navy's front-line fighting ships cannot defend themselves and are unable to be sent into battle, despite a $1.4 billion upgrade. A navy insider close to the 4000-tonne Adelaide Class Guided Missile Frigates has revealed the ships' complex electronic systems are not working properly. He told The Advertiser that sending the 1970s ships to war would be like sending a VK Commodore to race at Bathurst.

Senior officials now admit that the 1997 frigate upgrade project was a "debacle" created by the Howard Government's decision to maximise the sale price of the Sydney-based contractor, Australian Defence Industries, when it was sold to the French firm, Thales.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon described the upgrade as "another nightmare" Labor has inherited from the previous Coalition government. The project is four years late and includes four ships - not the original six.

The navy insider, who asked not to be named, said sailors were quitting because their ships could not be deployed to the Middle East or any conflict zone. Navy chief Vice-Admiral Russ Shalders last year refused to accept the first ship in the program, HMAS Sydney, for "operational release" as its fighting systems did not function properly.

The whistleblower said the ships' anti-missile and anti-torpedo systems could not be integrated. Their electronic support measures (eyes and ears for detecting incoming airborne threats) were "a joke". "That means they would be going into a war zone virtually blind," the sailor said. "The torpedo detection system cannot be integrated." The ships also are unable to us long-range chaff, which confuses enemy missiles and takes them from ships, link their helicopters to war-fighting data and integrate towed and on-board sonars to detect enemy torpedoes.

The sailor said what angered him and comrades was the gross waste of taxpayer funds when the navy could have bought virtually new and more capable U.S. Navy Kidd Class Destroyers in the late-1990s for a bargain price.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the upgrade was "another nightmare" Labor would have to manage. "We are, however, determined to deliver the level of capability required for our navy to operate safely in various areas around the world," he said. The best news from the project has been the integration of the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile for self-defence. That is not enough to send them to war.

The total cost of the upgrade is $1.46 billion, or $360 million per ship. Government auditors say up to 98 per cent of the money has been paid to Thales despite the project being four years late and not one ship being operational.

The officer who inherited what is widely regarded as the worst contract signed by the Commonwealth since the Collins "dud subs" submarines, Commodore Drew McKinnie, said that, despite all the problems, he was confident the project would deliver "significant improvements" to the ships. The head of Major Surface Ship Projects with the Defence Material Organisation said he was seeing "much improved performance" from radar sensors.


More on Australia's proposed internet censorship

It sounds entirely defensible, at first: the Federal Government plans to protect unwary children by blocking violence and pornography on the internet. Yet this simple sounding initiative - barely discussed during the election - is riddled with technical, financial, moral and social complexities. The Government's plan, overseen by Telecommunications Minister Stephen Conroy, would require internet service providers (ISPs) to block undesirable sites on computers accessed by all Australians.

A seething Dr Roger Clarke, chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation, bluntly described the proposal as "stupid and inappropriate". He said not only was it unworkable, but it was a sinister blow to an individual's rights to use the internet without censorship. "Not only will it not work, it is quite dangerous to let the Government censor the net and take control out of the hands of parents,' Clarke said. "It is an inappropriate thing for them to be doing. Mr Conroy is like a schoolmaster playing God with the Australian population, all because of the dominance of a moral minority."

Conroy's view is that the legislation - compared by critics to Chinese-style internet censorship - will render unseen the most vile and extreme sites only. "Labor makes no apologies to those that argue that any regulation on the internet is like going down the Chinese road," Conroy said. "If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor Government is going to disagree."

One problem for the Government is that blocking child porn may unintentionally block acceptable sites. The history of the internet is full of such examples; one blogger found that, due to spamware set to block ads for sex drug Cialis, he was unable to publish the word "socialist".

Another problem, according to civil libertarians, is that policing the net should be left to parents - not a big brother-style bureaucracy. And, if it is disingenuous to compare Labor's policy to China's malevolent control over web access to its citizens, it is equally disingenuous of Rudd's Government to claim the issue simply relates to child pornography. There are genuine concerns that the Government - backed by morals groups such as Family First - will in time extend the powers outside of their intended target area.

Also of concern is that, under the Government's plan, users would be permitted to "opt out" of the scheme - and might therefore find themselves listed as possible deviants.

Service providers fear any legislation would be "the thin end of the wedge", heralding widespread censorship. Besides, what evidence is there that young children using the web are regularly stumbling across child pornography? Sites used by paedophiles are well hidden and frequently relocated to avoid detection.

On a practical level, ISPs fear the mass blocking of sites could slow internet speeds and cost millions of dollars to implement. Crucially, the Government has not explained how such a system would be paid for or who would monitor it. The truth is, despite the policy having been part of Labor's manifesto since 2005, and following claims the Government is "engaged constructively with the sector", no one has the faintest idea how such a system would work.

It is expected any future filtered feeds would be based on a current voluntary UK system operated by British Telecom. Sites identified by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (AMAC) would be "blacklisted" and then blocked by the servers. The ability for download speeds to be maintained would depend on the exact number of sites blocked - it is suspected around 2000 sites could cause problems. A user typing in the address would be sent to an error page or possibly - as in Scandinavia - redirected to a police page.

However, ISPs fear a system based on key indicator words could rapidly clog the system. In the UK the Internet Watch Foundation has its encrypted list of 1200 paedophile and race-hate sites updated twice a day. Even still, it is unlikely to deter computer savvy paedophiles here from simply relocating their sites or from swapping pictures on message boards or in forums, thus rendering any filter impotent.

So far the industry, although eager not to be seen to be dragging its feet on child pornography, has been noticeably reticent in its response to Labor's plans. Internet Industry Association spokesman Peter Coroneos was keen to emphasise the work already being done by service providers in supplying free filters. They are likely to clarify their position after ACMA runs simulated tests on a filtered network later this year. "We obviously want to know if this will have an impact on network performance," Coroneos said. "At the moment we don't know what the extent of it will be, what it will cost, and whether it will set a precedent for other changes. We just don't know if it is feasible."


Leftist logic: If people are failing a test it must be a bad test

Some looniness from Australia's new Leftist government. I think the test could be better but the percentage who fail it is no evidence of that

The Federal Government will review the operation of the citizenship test after the release of figures that show more than a fifth of those sitting it are failing. Since the test was introduced in October 10,636 citizenship tests have been sat around the country, and 2311 were failed. Under laws introduced by the previous government anybody wanting to become an Australian citizen must now pass a 20-question, computer-based quiz on Australian history, "values" and way of life and demonstrate an adequate knowledge of English. Only residents who have lived here for four years can apply for citizenship. Those who fail to meet the 60 per cent pass mark can resit the test as often as they want until they get it right.

While in opposition, Kevin Rudd gave his backing to the scheme, as well as to plans to make new arrivals to the country sign a so-called values statement saying they agreed to abide by the Australian way of life. However, the new Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, confirmed yesterday that the Government would review the citizenship test in light of the poor test result returns and could make wholesale changes. The Government would assess the process to see whether improvements could be made, Senator Evans said. "The citizenship test should be about increasing awareness of citizen's responsibilities and of the Australian way of life," he said. Regardless of the problems, the minister encouraged people to continue sitting the test.

The former prime minister John Howard was directly involved in crafting the themes covered in the test. Despite the high failure rate, the test questions, which are drawn from a pool of 200, are comparatively simple and only need be answered in multiple-choice format. A sample question asks the applicant to say which one of three given values is important in modern Australia: that everyone has the same religion; that everyone has equality of opportunity; or that everyone belongs to the same political party.

Another asks which Australian was most famous for playing cricket: Rod Laver, Sir Donald Bradman or Sir Hubert Opperman. Others questions include the colours of the Aboriginal flag; the number of states and territories in Australia; and where the 1956 Olympics were held. All the answers are contained in a 46-page booklet that applicants can obtain free over the phone or the internet.

When the test was introduced the immigration minister Kevin Andrews denied it was racist or an election stunt, and said new immigrants needed to better integrate into the community. The test was opposed by the Liberal backbencher Petro Georgiou, who warned it would create unreasonable barriers for some people wanting to become citizens, especially those who could not speak English or read and write properly.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

I'm on the side of the African father in this one:

I never once laid a hand on my own son during his childhood but I did not have a son like this guy does

A TERRITORY father who allegedly held his 12-year-old son captive in dog chains and gave him a "flog" has been banned from seeing the boy.

The father made a nine-minute emotional speech to contest the no-contact order in the Darwin Magistrates Court on Friday, blaming his son's punishment on the "unprofessionalism" of NT police to control the boy. But Magistrate Greg Cavanagh said the African refugee was not to contact his son - who was now in the care of Family and Children Services - without supervision, as the boy had been allegedly found by police "tied by dog chains to his bed with other restraints to his ankles and hands". It was not revealed how long the boy had been tied up for.

The father, raising his voice to the magistrate, said he "did nothing wrong to my son" and was trying to discipline him for "running with gangs". "My son has been misbehaving in a way that you cannot support it," he said. "(He) tried to burn out the house that I'm renting (and) damaged the car of one of our relatives." He said his son was also planning to steal "people's bags" from a nearby supermarket. "What a shame," he told the court.

"We call police several times. They can't do anything. So I tried to discipline him in my own way. "Not to kill him, not to hurt him, not to do anything. I gave him a flog, that's what I do ... And I'm telling you that I use the (dog) chain to chain (him) so that he cannot run away."

The father said he was "a very responsible parent". "I'm not an alcoholic, I don't smoke, I don't take marijuana. I'm a Christian." He said he had been "the target of the Northern Territory police" and begged Mr Cavanagh to help him and his family flee Australia. I didn't come to Australia to get another war. I run from the war (in) my country," he said. "But I found another war in Australia from the NT police."


Want to be as bigoted and as violent as you like? Become a Muslim!

That seems to be the Leftist gospel anyhow -- as we see from the Leftist love-affair with Australian terrorist David Hicks

According to Terry Hicks, his son David has no reason to apologise to anyone about anything. This explains why the anticipated apology was missing from David Hicks's statement, which was read to the media by the lawyer David McLeod after his client's release from Adelaide's Yatala prison last Saturday. The absence of an apology has been welcomed by members of David Hicks's fan club and the civil liberties lobby. Certainly no known supporter of Hicks has argued that he should be contrite for his past statements or deeds.

Yet there is no need to analyse the case against Hicks advanced by the United States and Australian governments and/or other agencies. The case against the self-confessed terrorist supporter is evident in the letters that he wrote to his family in Adelaide shortly before his capture by Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan, who handed him over to US forces.

Some of this correspondence was released by Hicks's family and was cited in the Hicks-friendly documentary The President Versus David Hicks, which was directed by Curtis Levy and Bentley Dean and shown on SBS TV in 2004. Other Hicks letters were presented to the Federal Magistrates Court in December, during the Australian Federal Police's successful application for a control order with respect to Hicks that went into operation after his release from prison.

We know from Hicks's own hand that he (i) joined the Taliban in Afghanistan, (ii) trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and personally met its leader, Osama bin Laden, on numerous occasions, (iii) attempted to kill (and maybe did kill) individuals on the Indian side of the Kashmir Line of Control, and (iv) advocated the overthrow of what he termed "Western-Jewish domination". We also know that Hicks expressed the view that "Western society is controlled by the Jews with music, TV, houses, cars [and] free sex". And we know that he praised Islamist beheadings for those who disagree with Muhammad, and proclaimed the benefits of "being martyred" and being "well trained for jihad".

The David Hicks fan club and its allies in the civil liberties lobby are engaged in an unpleasant double standard here. Just imagine what this lot would have said if the Reverend Fred Nile, the leader of the Christian Democratic Party in NSW, had claimed that "the Jews have complete financial and media control" in Australia. Or just imagine what would have been the response had Nile boasted that he had fought on the Indian side of the Line of Control and fired "rocket-propelled grenades 200 metres from a bunker" holding two soldiers of the Muslim faith.

Without question, in such a situation, a Christian like Nile would have been condemned as an anti-Semite and a Muslim killer. But a different standard applies when a Muslim convert like Hicks engages in anti-Semitism or admits to trying to kill Indian soldiers, of whatever faith.

Yet the response to Hicks from his supporters is a combination of gush and denial. Writing in the Adelaide Independent Weekly, Hendrik Gout described Hicks as an "idealistic and foolish would-be mercenary". Since when did support for the terrorist bin Laden and the murderous al-Qaeda group amount to idealism? Moreover, Hicks has never denied fighting with Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Nor has Hicks denied crossing back into Afghanistan from Pakistan after al-Qaeda's attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph last weekend, the Democrat senator Natasha Stott Despoja criticised the Australian Federal Police for outlining "in excruciating detail everything they had on file about Hicks" to the Federal Magistrates Court. It seems she is in denial about his evident anti-Semitism and his past support for terrorism. Stott Despoja also criticised the fact that the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, supported the AFP's application for a control order over Hicks - maintaining that the Rudd Labor Government "failed its first test on national security and has shown itself to be little more than a clone of its predecessor". In fact, the control order does little to inhibit Hicks's freedoms and makes sense in view of what he himself has said about his past association with terrorism.

Certainly, as the former foreign minister, Alexander Downer, has acknowledged, the US mishandled the Hicks case and was too slow in placing him before a military commission. I argued this, both publicly and privately, in the lead-up to Hicks's military commission last year. But the fact is that Hicks's legal team, in the US and Australia, erred in refusing to accept a plea bargain when it was available.

As Leigh Sales documented in her book Detainee 002: The Case Of David Hicks, "Hicks could have been back in Australia years ago, instead of sitting in Guantanamo Bay for several years" but for the stance taken by his friends. Sales was criticised in The Age by the academic lawyer Gerry Simpson for her "distracting insistence on balance and pragmatism". It was yet another example of a Hicks supporter wanting to avoid the facts.

In his statement Hicks maintained that his "readjustment will be a slow process and should involve a gentle transition away from the media spotlight". Right. Yet the David Hicks fan club is already talking up the prospect of his selling his story to the media. Many of its members are well-off professionals. If 500 of them contributed $1000 each to his rehabilitation, there would be a $500,000 fund for Hicks and no need for him to risk his health by moving back into the media spotlight. A good idea, to be sure. But don't bet on it. It's a lot easier to endorse moral stances than, as the saying goes, to tap the mat with hard cash.


Opposition says rights fights 'to clog courts'

The Victorian Charter of Human Rights, which comes into force today, will allow disgruntled residents to bog down the Supreme Court, according to Opposition justice spokesman Robert Clark. He said the laws would be used by people trying to overturn the decisions of democratically elected bodies on policy issues, such as homework being imposed on children.

"It will be unlawful for any public authority to act in a way incompatible with a human right, as defined in the charter," he said. "As well, whenever an issue arises in a court about whether an existing law is compatible with a 'human right', either party can ask to have the issue referred to the Supreme Court. "Every time such an issue arises in Supreme Court or County Court proceedings, the parties must notify the Attorney-General, who has the right to intervene.

"However, the charter gives no rights to better services from the Brumby Government to citizens waiting months for pain-relieving surgery or those unable to squeeze on to overcrowded trains, or those struggling to get early intervention or respite care for their special-needs child."

Attorney-General Rob Hulls rejected the claims. "It is simply common sense that basic human rights such as freedom of expression, protection from torture, the right to vote and freedom from forced work be enshrined in a single piece of legislation," he said.


Wicked waste because of "security" craziness

The bitch concerned needs to be found less demanding employment. Grange is virtually holy to most Australian wine-drinkers

A brewery executive was on the verge of tears when he had to smash two bottles of Australia's best known wine, worth $3000, at the airport. Neil Grant, the southern region general manager with Fosters Australia, ran foul of the tough security rules at Melbourne's Tullmarine airport as he was about to board an Emirates flight to the UK. "I was going to conferences in Scotland and Ireland, and grabbed a 1980 and an '82 Grange from my personal cellar," Mr Grant said. He estimated the two bottles were probably worth about $3000.

But he'd forgotten about the 100ml liquid rule applying to carry-on luggage, and although the precious Grange slipped through Customs he came unstuck at the final security check. "I had the lady from hell, who said 'No sir, this is going to be bloody destroyed' even though the Emirates people were happy to find my baggage and pack it for me," he said.

"I said 'this is like a work of art, it's irreplaceable, do you know what you're doing here'. "She had them in her office and I said I wanted to put them in the wheelie bin myself. "I was worried that they'd just go downstairs and someone would open the bin and there's two bottles of Grange, so I smashed them. "I thought if I'm not going to be able to drink them, nobody is. "I'm still in mourning over it."

Mr Grant said he wanted to take the Grange overseas to share with others at the conferences and show off some of Australia's best produce. "They were just totally inflexible about anything we suggested to get it fixed," he said. "I offered to open it there and then and let everyone have some, but they said 'No sir, you can't do that here'."


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?