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

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


31 January, 2010

Carhire: Avoid Europcar. Their predatory practices continue

Car rental outrage

Last year I rented a car from Europcar's depot at Coolangatta Airport. Four days later I returned the car and it was inspected: "No problems. Have a good flight."

Europcar's "courtesy call" on my message bank awaited me at Sydney Airport and stated that my credit card would be charged for damage to the car's rear. I made a furious call and learned that the damage was detected during washing. I demanded photos, which duly arrived, with the advice my card had been debited $381.25.

The photos revealed a minuscule black mark to a car I hadn't rented. Given only 86 minutes between inspection and billing, no time was wasted in washing the vehicle, detecting and assessing the alleged damage, obtaining and approving a written quotation and then authorising and debiting my card.

I sent a number of letters, including one from my solicitor, to Europcar. When Europcar caved in, insult was added to injury by its company secretary advising "that Europcar's decision to reimburse the amount was made purely as a goodwill gesture".

- Mel Bloom

Fuel for thought

Following a recent trip to Britain, I arrived home to find an additional charge on my credit card of $1500 from Europcar.

The car we were allocated at the Fulham Broadway branch had a broken key bound up with tape.

On expressing my concern, I was informed that this car was the only one available and the key was working. I also noticed some glue residue on the fuel cap and was informed "it's nothing to worry about".

As it turned out the missing tag and sticker from the fuel cap said "diesel only". Not realising these omissions I filled up with petrol and broke down at night in the Yorkshire Dales.

After appealing to Europcar about the charge I was informed "that it is the customer's responsibility to check what type of fuel the vehicle requires prior to refuelling and, as in this case, when this has not been made clear on the key or fuel cap, it would be deemed especially necessary to clarify this".

- Janet Reynolds

Car scrape

I read Mel Bloom's experiences with Europcar Coolangatta where he was charged $381.25 for minuscule damage to a car that was not even the one he had rented. I had a similar experience with Europcar at Launceston Airport last year.

A "courtesy call" to my message bank awaited my return to Brisbane and said my credit card would be charged $260.23 for a scrape on the front guard. This "scrape" was invisible to me in the photos but there were pre-existing scrapes, scratches and chipped areas, some rusty.

I said I would seek the car's hire records for a history of others subjected to similar treatment. Fortunately, the photos also showed a front tyre lacking sufficient tread; reason enough to have the matter resolved in my favour.

- Chris Longden

Rental quarrel

I, too, had a similar experience as Mel Bloom (Traveller, January 9) when I hired a car for four days from Europcar at Launceston Airport in 2005.

I returned the car washed and undamaged except for scratches already indicated on the signed condition report. It was Sunday morning and the Europcar counter was unattended so I deposited the key in the key slot at 9.30am.

Two days later I received a letter from Europcar advising it had debited my credit card $356.30 for damage to the front tyre, wheel trim, bumper and guard. It provided undated photos of the damage but no photograph of the entire vehicle.

The charge had been made to my credit card at 9.52am, so in the space of 22 minutes the company had supposedly checked the car and obtained quotes.

The quotes I asked for and received were not dated, so I phoned the two businesses named on the quotes and they told me they didn't open on Sundays. When I challenged Europcar it said the quotes were guesstimates. I phoned my credit-card provider for advice and it took on the case. After three months the $356.30 was credited to my card. The lesson: ensure a company representative checks the car with you when you return it.

- Lynda Simpson


Patients in Queensland government hospitals malnourished

Just like government hospitals in Britain. And the solution is very British too: More bureaucracy. That it's more nurses that are needed to help feed the elderly is beyond their tramtrack socialist comprehension

ONE in three patients in Queensland public hospitals is suffering from malnutrition, according to a State Government report. The Queensland Health briefing paper says malnutrition is "highly prevalent" in hospital patients and residents in aged care facilities. It said malnutrition could be costing Queensland more than $13 million a year. It was blamed for extended hospital stays, causing illness and disease, and exposed the department to legal action.

Liberal National Party health spokesman Mark McArdle said he was concerned that the Government had slashed health budgets by cutting patient food services. Health sources said hot meals in some hospitals had been reduced from three to one per day. "This is Third World . . . this is seriously affecting patients' recovery and ultimately tying up desperately needed hospital beds," Mr McArdle said.

In documents obtained by the Opposition under Right to Information laws, it was revealed that Queensland Health first examined the problem in 2003, but did nothing about it until 2008. A July 2009 report for Director-General Mick Reid warned of the dangers of malnutrition. "Due to the emphasis placed on the high and increasing prevalence of obesity and related disorders, there is little awareness of the existence and extent of the other extreme, malnutrition," the report said.

Queensland Health's Patient Safety Centre conducted a six-month investigation in 2008. It found that 30 per cent of hospital patients and 50 per cent of aged care facility residents suffered from malnutrition. It was estimated to have cost taxpayers $13 million in 2002-03.

The centre recommended the establishment of a malnutrition prevention manager within Queensland Health, to be paid $120,000 a year.


Parents act on schools information

PARENTS rocked by the My School website have already begun pulling their children out of poorly performing schools. At the same time, principals from Sydney schools that rate highly on the Federal Government website have received dozens of calls from parents wanting to transfer their children, the Sunday Telegraph reports.

The unprecedented interest in the website, launched last Thursday, is set to cause further fallout this week as more parents try to make last-minute changes to enrolments at the beginning of the first full week of school.

Public School Principals Forum chairperson Cheryl McBride said parents were already removing their children from schools that recorded poor numeracy and literacy results. "There are certainly anecdotal reports coming through from principals," she said. "On Friday morning, I heard of some parents of children at a western Sydney school who were extremely upset and were threatening to withdraw their children."

Ms McBride said principals were particularly concerned about how parents of pre-schoolers would react. She was worried parents whose children were due to begin school next year would be turned off their local school if its results lagged.

Under current Department of Education guidelines, all public schools must accept enrolments from students who live in the local catchment area, regardless of the existing number of pupils. Parents can enrol their children at public schools in other areas only if the school has vacancies. They are accepted at the principal's discretion.

Some highly ranked schools, such as Cheltenham Girls High, at Beecroft, and Killara High, on the lower north shore, already have more than 1200 students enrolled this year.

St Francis of Assisi Regional Primary School, at Paddington, posted one of the highest average scores in literacy and numeracy across junior schools in the State. Principal Louise Minogue said a handful of parents called her on Friday to discuss future enrolments. "Someone I spoke to, their child doesn't even begin school for a couple of years but they were worried whether the child would get in. "It's amazing how many people have gone to the website."

Federation of Parents and Citizens' Associations of NSW president Di Giblin said she had heard of parents already transferring their children out of the worst schools. Ms Giblin said she advised parents against taking such drastic action, but conceded "a small percentage" would move suburbs to nab a place at a coveted school.


Immigration detention centre continues to grow

Australia's Christmas Island detention centre is expected to keep growing as "asylum seekers" continue to arrive

Labor in opposition called it a white elephant, the Australian of the Year has labelled it a factory for mental illness, while the federal opposition says it's a visa factory. However it's described, the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre is never far from the spotlight.

A group of Tamils staged a peaceful protest inside the compound this week, which included a short a hunger strike that has now ended. Refugee advocates say the Tamils are angry about a mobile phone ban and long processing times, inflamed by the fast-tracking of asylum seekers from the Oceanic Viking who struck a deal with the federal government after refusing to disembark from the Australian customs boat in Indonesian waters.

Built by the former Liberal government at a cost of more than $400 million, the centre has operated only under the current federal Labor government. Tucked away on Christmas Island's northwest point, the detention centre is holding about 1564 asylum seekers. The latest boatload arrived on the island for processing on Friday. Despite the monsoon season asylum seekers continue to arrive in Australian waters bound for Christmas Island, with one group intercepted last week just one nautical mile (less than 2km) to the north of the detention centre.

Last year Immigration Minister Chris Evans announced capacity of the centre and other facilities on the island would be doubled from 1200 to 2200, at a cost of $40 million, to cope with the expected influx of asylum seekers. A Department of Immigration and Citizenship spokesman said the current capacity is 1848.

Senator Steve Fielding and opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison visited the island last week to inspect the detention facilities, which also include alternate accommodation for children and women, along with traumatised asylum seekers. Senator Fielding likened the accommodation for most as 'akin to a motel'. He said Australians did not need to be concerned about how detainees were being looked after other than those who are living in tents erected to provide further capacity at the centre. 'It's very good accommodation, I think people are well fed, they're well looked after, I think the only concern is the tent city and quite frankly they are at capacity and bursting at the seams and that just can't continue,' he told AAP.

Senator Fielding said both he and Mr Morrison were kept away from the protesting Tamils who were sitting outside under a shaded area near the centre's oval. 'We were kept well away from there, in one way it would have been nice to go and chat to them about their concerns but they were very concerned about making the situation worse,' he said. 'They're basically saying they are going to remain on a hunger strike until they're treated as human beings. 'The conditions here are quite good so I'm not so sure exactly what they are complaining about.' Mr Morrison said some of the detainees had been living in tents for 28 days. [How sad!] The federal government had to realise it had a problem and the real issue was to halt the number of boats arriving, he said.

The hunger strike had been triggered by the fact asylum seekers from the Oceanic Viking had been given a special deal to fast track their cases that others had not, Mr Morrison said. 'I don't think they have a claim frankly when it comes to their treatment, I think their treatment here is outstanding,' he said.

Reports of interviews with detainees showed people smugglers were selling a good product to asylum seekers bound for Christmas Island, which was essentially a 'visa factory', Mr Morrison said. He said detainees reported people smugglers were saying the only country to come to was Australia. 'They never said that about Australia when the coalition was in government.'

Boats will continue to arrive, both Mr Morrison and Senator Fielding say. And with the boats come the immigration workers, the police, customs staff, health workers and security guards needed to run the detention centre. The remote island, 2600km northwest of Perth, is closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland.


Bureaucratic attempts to restructure welfare-devastated Aboriginal life are going nowhere

THIS should be a time of progress and optimism in the remote Aboriginal communities of the Northern Territory. Vast reform efforts are under way, huge resources have been committed to transforming the social map, hundreds of new houses are being built or at least are on some official drawingboard, the commonwealth's emergency response is entering a much-advertised sustainable development phase.

Even the town camps of Alice Springs are being cleaned up as part of a $130 million transformation plan. New local government shires are in place across the bush to streamline public services and oversee the creation of 20 "growth towns". There is a remote service delivery headquarters in Darwin and a fresh philosophy of consultation is in the air.

"Grassroots inputs will help the tree to flourish," declares the commonwealth's co-ordinator-general for services to remote communities, Brian Gleeson, in his first report. His Territory-appointed counterpart, development expert Bob Beadman, speaks eagerly of government agencies and indigenous people keen for change, "all poised for the communities to develop a sense of wellbeing and place in society, and taking the opportunity to move forward with the options modern life has to offer".

Why, then, are fights and feuds still the chief markers of time's passage in the Aboriginal societies of the centre? Why is there a pandemic of marijuana use among the young, to go with the mass alcoholism seen in the itinerant camps of Alice Springs? Why are funerals and hospital visits the key events of the social calendar?

In a bid to take the true pulse of the central Australian bush and gauge the effect of the latest reform program, 2 1/2 years since the initial intervention on John Howard's watch, Inquirer this month made a 3000km journey through the far reaches of the Western Desert, visiting communities and outstations.

Despite the rhetoric being pumped out in Canberra and Darwin, it is plain that another policy failure is unfolding across the inland: money is being poured into the region, nourishing support staff and project managers but failing to benefit the indigenous citizens it is intended to help. Indeed, under the present dispensation little has changed and little can change: power over local affairs has been withdrawn from the communities while the welfare and training systems in place constitute a perfectly structured trap.

The consequences are widely felt. A dreadful disconnect between the administered and the administrators is palpable. What does one register in a typical desert community in this new progressive era? Depression, lassitude, a deep lack of purpose or involvement in the economic patterns of the wider world.

There are routine paid tasks to be done by locals: cleaning, rubbish collection and the like. They are overseen by managerial outsiders and helpers, tellingly referred to as staff and accommodated in little white mini-suburbs set apart from Aboriginal living areas.

But the incentives for community members to remain in the workforce or develop skills are minimal: it takes 20 hours of work a week before a remote community labourer has earned as much as he or she receives in standard welfare payments.

Beadman is one of few senior officials prepared to comment publicly on this dilemma. He says "it will take time, persistence and hard-headedness to move people out of dependency", and he cautions that he is hearing reports that remote community locals are refusing jobs at shires and stores. He even canvasses "breaching" welfare recipients who decline to work. But the flow goes both ways. Inquirer saw locals in one community approaching shire officials and pleading for work, to be told none was available.

Inquirer heard testimony that a senior local shire worker on approved leave for ceremonies was terminated because of his absence. The trap of joblessness, however reached, is profound: it is the key feature shaping the communities.

Hence, remote life's unhurried rhythms: dogs gather in their packs, card games wear on, queues form at the shop, police cars drift by on patrol. For many residents, the critical issue at any given time is the next trip into Alice Springs, where drink, drugs and casino gambling are on offer.

At least Canberra is well-informed these days about the surface conditions in the remote Territory. A network of 50 government business managers is in place, observing the 70-odd prescribed communities targeted by the initial intervention. Some of these managers are engaged, some ineffectual; some benign, some unpopular. All of them file detailed intelligence reports to Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Canberra department charged with running the emergency response's next phase, when the word intervention will be retired, and "normalisation" put in its place.

These reports which, somewhat creepily, are not shared with the target communities, are transmitted to the remote service delivery board of management in Darwin and they serve as the basis for fine-tuning policy. But since their writers speak no desert language and must rely on paid local "engagement officers", such documents catch little of the mood of discontent and cynicism that has spread through the communities.

The immediate weight of administration is now shouldered by the new shires, Territory local government bodies set up two years ago and virtually insolvent due to their funding arrangements and bizarrely ruinous IT costs. On paper, these organisations had strong potential as vehicles for the democratic control of regional priorities, for in the centre the remote shires cover exclusively indigenous populations and have indigenous councillors.

But as soon as the local shire councillors began trying to influence events on the ground, the bureaucrats hit back. Long lectures on separation of powers now consume shire meetings; Aboriginal councillors and mayors have come to realise the public service has once again clawed back control over their lives. One desert shire has 42 highly paid administrators where seven were needed in the old days when community councils operated; its human resources department alone employs three people.

Much of the tone of community life stems from the ground conditions. Overcrowding is still the key factor in the Aboriginal bush, the chief source of conflict, tension, ill-health and poor education outcomes: hence the critical importance of the $672m Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure program for public housing which, after two years has yet to have any effect in the centre. Take Kintore, the celebrated home of the modern desert painting movement, with its population of about 500. Here prominent artist Yuyuya Nampitjinpa lives in a block house with 27 residents while next door, shire councillor Irene Nangala has 29 people living in her home.

Yet no new houses will be built in Kintore. The repairs and renovations that have been scheduled will be carried out without the involvement of the local training and housing contractor. Six houses in the community stand derelict and a further two, formerly used for Aboriginal housing, have been taken over for health and social service use.

Take little Haasts Bluff, where three home renovations "to city standard" will be carried out when 18 houses need urgent repairs. Even the scope of the renovation works has been scaled back in recent months. Consider the prospective "growth town" of Papunya, where broken houses dot the landscape and many of the population of 300 live 15 to a dwelling: the renovations budget has been cut from $3.2m to $1.9m as SIHIP's program costs have blown out. Nineteen houses in the community will be worked on, at $100,000 each, maybe after Easter this year. Again, no new houses will be built in such places. Thus the largest Aboriginal housing project ever mounted in the Territory will not have the slightest effect on the overcrowding crisis in these communities.

A telling example of today's "whole of government" approach to housing is provided by recent initiatives at Imanpa, a small, functional settlement just off the Lasseter Highway leading to Yulara. Imanpa has 18 houses for its 200 people. Many houses are very full: one holds 17 family members from four generations. There are several modern houses reserved for the handful of outside staff; there is also a new police station.

Now the Territory police want to build a larger police station alongside the community to patrol the highway and three big new houses for its officers as well. Imanpa, understandably, feels over-policed: its leaders are up in arms and say they will not approve the new station unless their own people also get some new housing. Imanpa's promised repairs and renovations budget under SIHIP has already been cut from $1.1m to $700,000, or about $75,000 for each house due to be repaired: enough, on a rough estimate, for a new kitchen and laundry once the outside work crew fees have been factored in.

These are the kinds of new figures that have been quietly provided in recent weeks to the desert communities; they are, understandably, not being widely advertised by the responsible commonwealth and Territory government departments.

In theory, it should be simple to kick-start economic activity in such a landscape when so much needs to be done. Workforce training should be the first growth area. In practice, training leads nowhere: many young remote community men have already been trained as builders under the last housing program, and will now be trained again under SIHIP.

Training is outsourced by government and specialist companies are installed in larger centres. They offer skills judged useful in the brave new world of the centre. Basic courses for the mining industry are the main fare. Tourism, the obvious main chance, is a little exploited opportunity. Mutitjulu community lies next to Uluru and next to a giant tourism complex with 1000 workers, built on Aboriginal land; yet no Mutitjulu local holds a job at the Yulara resort.

There is, of course, another model for Aboriginal social development in the bush beside the vision of growth towns filled with Western businesses. For the past three decades, the dream of a contained life on outstations has held seductive sway in policy circles and, as a result, scores of small, far-flung huddles of houses and facilities dot the desert landscape.

Millions of dollars worth of infrastructure has been concentrated in these places. But many of the outstations now stand empty for much of the year as their occupants congregate in Alice Springs.

During a swing through the Kings Canyon outstation, Inquirer saw deserted facilities, damaged equipment and broken work buildings. At one large, vacant outstation, the houses had been vandalised by the abandoned pet camels. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage had been sustained, the septic tanks were full to overflowing, maggot casings lay thick in stagnant pools on the lounge-room floors.

From such cameos of wilful neglect, it is easy to concoct a bleak view of outstation life and the slim prospects for its successful prolongation in the centre. But there are counter-examples. Consider tiny Wanmarra and the details of its circumstances. Wanmarra outstation has 11 residents, six of them diligent market-garden workers on a community development employment program, the work subsidy scheme now being phased out by the commonwealth. There are three neat, solid family houses, all in perfect condition. Two of them were built by the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission two decades ago. Wanmarra has a cool room for the food crops it grows: tomatoes and watermelons trucked off regularly for sale in Alice Springs.

Peter Abbott, the young Community Development Employment Projects co-ordinator for the area, spells out the dilemma. It lies in the core economics of the outstation. A full crop of fruit, once sent out, may earn $3000; the program wages available for him and his fellow workers are $200 a week. "The only good thing," he says, "is we're sitting on our country and we're not somewhere in town. It makes us happy."

Wanmarra illustrates several features of the outstation model: how hard it is to make a living in the desert and to profit from the exiguous market opportunities of the centre; how much, too, depends on personal commitment. But it also shows that the welfare life is not an inevitable temptation; nor must bush houses decay within 10 years of their construction. There is a sharp, implicit lesson. It is precisely the policies of the commonweath and Territory governments, and the signals they still send, that favour the outcomes we see across most of Aboriginal central Australia.

How to recraft the model? The first step is to grasp the tone of the emotional landscape in the communities. Despite the new vogue in Canberra for constant consultations, senior bush men and women feel they have been marginalised and ignored. A mood of gloom and resignation has taken hold now that the emergency response has been smothered by a new tide of bureaucratic initiatives. Never have there been so many outsiders living on communities, and living off them, as locals well know. What limited autonomy once existed at the level of the remote community councils has been prised away and new tiers of administration imposed.

Welfare persists, though in more tightly constrained fashion. Some public housing is being provided, though at the cost of enforced leases over Aboriginal land. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Aboriginal people in the centre's remotest settlements are now being policed and watched more than they are being helped. The intensity of the outside attention tends to backfire: it infantilises and erodes capacity, rather than builds it up. Money flows in, but it is being spent on the outside contractors and providers of services rather than on bush jobs.

A complex new architecture of governance has been put in place but it is, once more, an architecture that blithely ignores the traditional patterns of Aboriginal social authority and contributes to the breakdown of old ways. Such is the map as the freshly badged policies of sustainable development begin to bite.


30 January, 2010

The "Stolen Generations" myth is just another Leftist fraud -- entirely at variance with the facts

Summary below by Keith Windschuttle, Australia's most painstaking historian. He looks at ALL the evidence

In his 2008 parliamentary apology, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd endorsed the estimate by Peter Read, the university historian who first advanced the concept of the Stolen Generations, that 50,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly removed in the 20th century. Read had written that governments removed children as young as possible and reared them in institutions isolated from any contact with Aboriginal culture. "Welfare officers, removing children solely because they were Aboriginal," he said, "intended and arranged that they should lose their Aboriginality, and that they never return home."

The majority were allegedly babies and infants. The SBS television series First Australians claimed most of the 50,000 were aged under five. Henry Reynolds explained the rationale: "The younger the child the better, before habits were formed, attachments made, language learned, traditions absorbed."

It is not difficult to prove these assertions are untrue. When you look at the surviving individual case records in NSW, as I did for the period 1907 to 1932, they reveal that 66 per cent of the 800 children then removed were teenagers aged 13 to 19 years. Some 23 per cent were aged six to 12, and only 10 per cent were babies to five-year-olds. Most of them came from Aboriginal welfare stations and reserves. Two-thirds of the teenagers went not to institutions but into the workforce as apprentices.

For white children in welfare institutions, apprenticeship was then the standard destination too. At the time, for both white and black children, apprenticeship meant leaving home for four years and living with an employer. The principal occupations targeted by these job placement schemes, agriculture for boys and domestic service for girls, were the same for both black and white apprentices.

In Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory in the first half of the 20th century, laws and policies forbade the removal of full-blood children. The policy for segregated reserves across all of central and northern Australia, where full-blood populations still predominated, had been defined in Queensland in 1897. One of its principal aims was to preserve the ethnic integrity of the full-blood population by prohibiting sexual relations with Europeans and Asians. For J. W. Bleakley, the Queensland chief protector who also wrote the commonwealth policy that prevailed in the 1920s and 1930s, this was a matter of great principle. "We have no right to attempt to destroy their national life. Like ourselves, they are entitled to retain their racial entity and racial pride."

Only half-caste children could be removed. However, in WA, half-castes could not be removed under the age of six. In the post-war Northern Territory, 80 per cent of children in the Retta Dixon Home in Darwin and almost all those at the St Mary's hostel in Alice Springs (the Territory's sole institutions for part-Aboriginal children) were of school age, between five and 15. This was not surprising since the main reason for these homes' existence was to provide board for children sent by their parents to go to school.

The idea that most children were removed permanently is also untrue. In NSW, 80 per cent of those sent to one of the three Aboriginal child welfare institutions stayed there less than five years. Those aged 12 to 15 typically remained for months rather than years. Long-term residents were limited to those who had no parents willing or able to care for them. Rather than attempting to destroy Aboriginal culture, institutions for these children performed a temporary care function for disadvantaged and dysfunctional families, the same as welfare institutions for white children.

Those made apprentices were away from home for four years but could return for annual holidays. Their case files show that once their apprenticeships were complete, a majority returned home.

Another falsehood is that parents were not allowed to visit children in institutions. In NSW, the Aborigines Protection Board not only permitted this but from 1919 onwards it gave parents the money for the rail fare plus "a sustenance allowance" to do so. There is plenty of evidence of Aboriginal parents visiting their institutionalised children in NSW, SA and WA. As one inmate of the Cootamundra Girls' Home said, "my father, he always used to come over on pension day, and me birthday". At the Retta Dixon Home in Darwin, up to one quarter of those accommodated were working women, several of them single mothers with their children.

The notorious Moore River Settlement in WA was an institution for destitute Aborigines of all ages. Indeed, most children went there with their parents. Only a minority of children at Moore River, a total of 252 from 1915 to 1940, or 10 a year, were removed from their families. This was out of a state population of 29,000 Aboriginal people.

What support there was for the Stolen Generations thesis came from quotations taken out of context by politically motivated historians. Read claimed the files of individuals removed by the Aborigines Protection Board revealed the motives of those in charge. "The racial intention was obvious enough for all prepared to see, and some managers cut a long story short when they came to that part of the committal notice, `reason for board taking control of the child'. They simply wrote `for being Aboriginal'."

My examination of the 800 files in the same archive found only one official ever wrote a phrase like that. His actual words were "being an Aboriginal". But even this sole example did not confirm Read's thesis. The girl concerned was not a baby but 15 years old. Nor was she sent to an institution. She was placed in employment as a domestic servant in Moree, the closest town to the Euraba Aboriginal Station she came from. Three years later, in 1929, she married an Aboriginal man in Moree. In short, she was not removed as young as possible, she was not removed permanently, and she retained enough contact with the local Aboriginal community to marry into it. The idea that she was the victim of some vast conspiracy to destroy Aboriginality is fanciful.

Rather than acting for racist or genocidal reasons, government officers and missionaries wanted to rescue children and teenagers from welfare settlements and makeshift camps riddled with alcoholism, domestic violence and sexual abuse. In NSW, WA and the Territory, public servants, doctors, teachers and missionaries were appalled to find Aboriginal girls between five and eight years of age suffering from sexual abuse and venereal disease. On the Kimberley coast from the 1900s to the 1920s they were dismayed to find girls of nine and 10 years old hired out by their own parents as prostitutes to Asian pearling crews. That was why the great majority of children removed by authorities were female.

The fringe camps where this occurred were early versions of today's remote communities of central and northern Australia. Indeed, there is a direct line of descent from one to the other: the culture of these camps has been reproducing itself across rural Australia for more than 100 years.

Government officials had a duty to rescue children from such settings, as much then as they do now. Indeed, the major problem was that state treasuries would not give the relevant departments and boards sufficient funds to accommodate all the neglected and abused Aboriginal children who should have been removed.

The other great myth about the Stolen Generations is that children were removed to "breed out the colour". It is certainly true that two public servants responsible for Aborigines in the 1930s -- Cecil Cook in the Northern Territory and A.O. Neville in WA -- subscribed to a proposal for radical assimilation. Cook said in 1933 that he was endeavouring "to breed out the colour by elevating female half-castes to white standard with a view to their absorption into the white population". Neville said in 1937 that if such a scheme were put into practice we could "eventually forget that there were any Aborigines in Australia".

There are two problems with this case. For a start, the proposal was, as its name said, about "breeding", not the removal of children. It was a plan to oversee the marriage of half-caste women to white men. In practice, it was a failure. Part-Aboriginal women preferred men of their own background and few wanted to marry white men. By 1937, Cook confessed he had overseen fewer than 50 such marriages in his time in office.

Second, those who proposed it were never given the legal authority by their ministers or parliaments to institute such a scheme. Nor were they given enough funding to do so. Neville constantly complained about the tiny budget he received, half that of NSW for an Aboriginal population three times as great. He was never funded to undertake a program of inter-marriage and assimilation. Indeed, the Native Administration Act of 1936, now demonised by historians, inhibited his ability to breed out the colour by defining half-caste people as "natives" and forbidding their marriage to white people or those of lesser descent.

An earlier generation of historians support my interpretation. In his 1972 book Not Slaves, Not Citizens, Peter Biskup declared Neville's program "an unequivocal failure" that was "quietly dropped". Biskup said of the 1936 act: "Instead of being bred out, colour was being bred in." In Shades of Darkness, his history of Aboriginal affairs from 1925 to 1965, Paul Hasluck said the proposal was too unpopular with white voters and their elected representatives to ever have been implemented.

Yet recent historians and commentators have persisted in describing this proposal as "a massive exercise of social engineering" and an instrument of genocide. Robert Manne, professor of politics at La Trobe University, described it as commonwealth policy: "The officials in Canberra and the minister, J. A. Perkins, gave support to Cook's proposal for an extension of the Territory policy to Australia as a whole."

This is false. The truth is that Perkins, minister for the interior in the Joseph Lyons government, in a carefully worded statement to the House of Representatives on August 2, 1934, denounced the proposal. He said: "It can be stated definitely, that it is and always has been, contrary to policy to force half-caste women to marry anyone. The half-caste must be a perfectly free agent in the matter."

From 1932 to 1934, Cook had tried several times to get approval for his proposal from the Lyons cabinet. None of the letters and reports that circulated between Darwin and Canberra on this issue ever mentioned that it had anything to do with removing children. The whole discussion was about arranged marriages.

Once Lyons and his ministers learned about Cook's plan, and especially after being subjected to the embarrassing publicity it generated in both the Australian and English press, they wanted nothing to do with it. On September 19, 1933, cabinet sent the proposal back to the department unapproved. Bleakley's alternative recommendation for segregated reserves that retained the Aborigines' "racial entity and racial pride" remained commonwealth policy for the duration of both Cook's and Neville's tenures in office.

None of the historians of the Stolen Generations have ever reproduced Perkins's statement. Nor have they reported any of the other critical reactions made by Lyons to the press. On June 23, 1933, the Darwin newspaper, the Northern Standard, quoted Lyons government sources saying: "It is all a lot of rot." But you won't find that quoted in any of the academic literature on this topic.

Manne is not the only offender here but, as a professor of politics, he had the greater public duty to tell the full story. However, he stopped short of revealing that the events concluded with cabinet throwing out the proposal and the minister denouncing it in parliament. To have told it all would have publicly disproved his case about the Stolen Generations and the allegedly racist and genocidal objectives of government policies in the 1930s.


Traditional educational methods get results

WHEN you are already learning Sanskrit, Latin, Spanish and putting on a Shakespearean production each year, the national literacy and numeracy tests might seem like a cinch to children at John Colet School.

Gilbert Mane, the headmaster of the independent school in Belrose, which came sixth overall in a ranking of NSW primary schools based on results from NAPLAN tests, said the students also studied philosophy and meditation.

While other schools have abandoned traditional grammar, John Colet has maintained a strict approach. Its students also learn their times tables the old-fashioned way, by rote.

"Most of our parents are more interested in character building, spiritual values, our enriched curriculum and the overall care we take to build on every individual child's strengths and abilities," Mr Mane said.

"All our children, regardless of ability, study classical languages, philosophy and perform annually in a Shakespeare play. This raises the academic level naturally without the need to hothouse the children or 'teach to the test'."

Mr Mane said the 150 students shared a love of learning and were taught by a committed and passionate teaching staff. He was pleased with the results but warned parents against using them as the only measure of success.


Christmas Is detainees 'have nothing to complain about'

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison has stirred up controversy during an inspection of Christmas Island, saying that protesting asylum seekers have nothing to complain about.

Mr Morrison has been visiting the island's detention centre with Independent Senator Steve Fielding to speak with detainees and inspect the facilities.

His description of the island as a 'visa factory' and Mr Fielding's comment that the island's facilities are too attractive have drawn the ire of Labor MP Michael Danby, who nicknamed the pair "Laurel and Hardy" and accused them of fear mongering.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans says he has been told 130 Sri Lankans are staging a peaceful protest, including a hunger strike. But Mr Morrison says the facilities are first class and the protest is a cry for attention. "I think Australians can rest easy about the treatment of asylum seekers on Christmas Island," he said.

"I think this is more of a cry for attention rather at this stage rather than anything of any great seriousness, and frankly they have nothing to complain about in terms of the facilities or the services, or the treatment that they're receiving on this island. "I think we have a lot to be proud of in the way that people are being looked after here. I thought the standard of facilities at least met that standard, if not better in some cases."

Activist groups say more than 350 detainees are staging a peaceful protest and hunger strikes against the time it is taking to process their claims. Earlier, Senator Evans said the protest would do little to help the detainees' cause. "I want to make it very clear to them and to the community ... we're not going to be responding to this," he said. "What we are going to do is ensure proper process is followed - that is people have to have had their health, identity and security checks and then they have to have been successful in their application for protection."



Three current articles below

Save the planet! Stink out the homes and spread the gastro

The extremists who now infest local government would rather give you the trots if that’s what it takes to turn you green:
Residents in Penrith are furious after their council cut rubbish collections to once a fortnight. And to make matters worse they have cut the size of their bins at the same time.

Mothers with babies have been forced to store 14 days worth of dirty nappies, while residents have found maggots and some have complained to the local health service…

Penrith took action after the NSW Department of Environment began supporting the cut from weekly to fortnightly services two years ago in a bid to force more people to recycle. So far four councils across NSW have reduced collections and others are set to follow.

But a leading public health expert said thousands of residents were at risk of salmonella and gastro.
Why are our green fuhrers so happy to hurt humans to “save” an inanimate planet? Or is it just the power to bully that gives them their kicks? Cutting the sizes of people’s bins is just the kind of vindictiveness that appeals to the inner totalitarian.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Climate sceptic warmly received during debate

LORD Christopher Monckton, imperious and articulate, won yesterday's climate change debate in straight sets. Forget facts and fictions, numbers and statistics, this British high priest of climate change sceptics is a polished performer, even against the most committed of scientists.

Aided by Adelaide's Professor Ian Plimer, Lord Monckton cruised to victory before a partisan crowd of suits and ties, movers and shakers. Hundreds of them were there for the sell-out, $130-a-head Brisbane Institute lunch – and scepticism was applauded.

Climate change scientist Professor Barry Brook and teammate Graham Readfearn, The Courier-Mail's environment blogger, were stoic in argument (even if Mr Readfearn may have foot-faulted once or twice and had to be pulled into line by moderator Ray Weeks).

But Lord Monckton is a seasoned campaigner, if not a scientist, reviled and ridiculed as he is in some quarters for his view that many are too alarmist about global warming. "As every risk manager knows, you can't just evaluate the risk of whatever it is you're frightened of, you also have to evaluate the risks inherent in the precautions you take to prevent whatever you're frightened of," Lord Monckton said.

Professor Brook argued that even if projected rates of climate change were wrong, the issue would force the world to take a big step towards a more sustainable future. "We know that the climate is changing but we don't know how much . . . If the rates are wrong we will foreshorten the period society has to go through from an old, Victorian, model of industrialisation to a more modern model," he said. Mr Readfearn urged caution in buying climate change science from non-scientists.

SOURCE (Video at link)

Australian green scheme 'close to collapse'

ONE of the Rudd Government's key climate change initiatives is close to collapse amid claims of widespread rorting [fraud] and mismanagement. Just six months after its launch, the $70 million Green Loans scheme to get Australians to install energy-efficient products will be lucky to survive past March without millions more in taxpayer funding.

Similarities are already being drawn between Green Loans and the Government's bungled $3.2 billion home insulation subsidy scheme. A Senate inquiry into the insulation rebate scheme is probing accusations of malpractice, rorting and mismanagement.

The much-vaunted Green Loans program was supposed to run for three years but is being bled dry by a flurry of unregistered operators. So far, there have been just 1000 subsidised loans approved for solar power and water-saving and energy-efficient products. Now thousands of people who paid $3000 each to become Green Loans assessors will be thrown on the unemployment scrapheap if the scheme collapses.

Instead of using only registered training organisations, unregistered groups were allowed to conduct audit training courses, with one earning $300,000 in one weekend by packing 200 people in a class at $1500 a head.

The Opposition's environment spokesman, Greg Hunt, yesterday called for a "full-scale investigation", claiming the program had been a fiasco. But the Federal Government yesterday defended the scheme, with a spokesman for Environment Minister Peter Garrett saying it had "stimulated significant growth in the market for household sustainability assessors". He said the scheme's future would be considered "in the context of Budget deliberations".

Brisbane's Gillian Steele said she thought the project had "a lot of merit" when she paid $3000 for herself and her daughter to be trained as Green Loans assessors. "I'm frustrated and disappointed," she said yesterday.


29 January, 2010

How I became a racist

This poor woman can't get over her delusion that all cultures are equal

I’m sitting in my lounge room looking at the swag of contemporary political philosophy books I own, simmering with resentment at the noise the uneducated wogs downstairs are making.

My family moved to Balmain when I was a teenager and until recently I’ve mainly lived in the Inner West of Sydney. I tried the Eastern Suburbs for a while but decided it was too cashed up and pretentious for my left-wing sensibilities. So I stayed close to Glebe and Newtown, went on the right marches, studied the right subjects at uni, and voted for the right political party.

But a couple of years ago my boyfriend and I found ourselves priced out of the inner city rental market - a direct consequence, I told myself, of my lack of materialism and desire to pursue a modest creative life.

We moved to south-western Sydney - to a suburb I had never even visited - where our newly renovated two bedroom apartment with large balcony and lock-up garage sets us back a mere $330 a week.

I now live in an epicentre of multiculturalism where Anglos are almost non-existent, and so at 41 I find myself a minority for the first time in my life. And I don’t like it. The median strips resemble the streets of Bombay - continually littered with household rubbish. We’ve renamed the corner fruit and vege shop The Rotting Fruit Emporium where the over-ripe produce is certainly cheap but has the molecular structure of cask wine.

The butchers which specialises in halal meat, particularly goat, is as hygienic as the average outdoor dunny, and the Bongo Mart, the local equivalent of a convenience store, has never stocked anything by Kraft, Arnotts or Cadbury’s.

Of course, the trouble with being immersed in difference is not that I can’t get organic truffle oil pasta or a babycino but that I’m confronted with the fact that what I thought were my values - reflected in those books with their bleeding heart titles like On Toleration, The Ethos of Pluralisation, and Multicultural Citizenship - seem to be so easily eroded by minor council violations committed by anyone I consider ‘other’.

Indeed, my self-righteousness received a boost from said council when they recently launched a ‘Quit the Spit’ campaign, designed to deter ‘foreigners’ ignorant of ‘our ways’ from gobbing all over the street. I’ve even begun to yell the slogan at people who violate it.

I’m stumped as to how the culturally specific conventions by which I live my life have come to be immutable, universal laws of nature in my mind? What’s happened to me? I’ve become the type of person I was always most intolerant of: an intolerant person. It’s positively unAustralian


Australian public health spending on course to disaster

KEVIN Rudd has declared 2010 a year of "major health reform", warning that health spending alone will outstrip state tax revenues within two decades. In the latest in a series of speeches in the lead-up to Australia Day, the Prime Minister yesterday warned that Australia faced the choice of cutting pensions, health services and aged care; running massive deficits; or, his preferred option, boosting productivity as the population aged to help lift tax revenues.

Mr Rudd told a reception in Sydney that the states' health spending was already growing at 11 per cent a year compared with revenue growth of 3 to 4 per cent a year. "Rapidly rising health costs create a real risk (that), absent major policy change, state governments will be overwhelmed by their rising health-spending obligations," he warned. "If current spending and revenue trends continue, Treasury projects that the total health spending of all states will exceed 100 per cent of their tax revenues, excluding the GST, by around 2045-46, and possibly earlier in some states. That is why 2010 must be and will be a year of major health reform."

The big-ticket item remains a new carve-up of commonwealth and state responsibilities to fund and run the nation's public hospitals, with pressure on the federal government to act at next month's Council of Australian Governments meeting. The Rudd government promised during the last election campaign to take over hospitals if the states failed to lift their game by this year. The Prime Minister must now decide whether to embrace a single-funder model for hospitals, with the commonwealth to fund health facilities, but the states to run them.

Mr Rudd said growing health-spending pressures would account for two-thirds of the total projected increase in government spending over the next 40 years. "Forty years ago, Australian government spending on health equated to 1.2 per cent of gross domestic product," Mr Rudd said. "In 2010, Australian government health spending equates to 4 per cent of GDP. And the Intergenerational Report projects that it will rise to 7.1 per cent in 2050. "In dollar terms, that's an increase of over $200 billion by 2050 and equates to an increase in average Australian government health spending per person in real terms from $2290 today to $7210 in 2050."

Australian Medical Association president Andrew Pesce said a single funder would help stop some of the blame game between the states and the commonwealth. "When things go wrong, the states blame the commonwealth," Dr Pesce said. "If there's a single funder, at least you know who is responsible for the money. The commonwealth would be the insurer or purchaser of healthcare and the states would run hospitals."

Mr Rudd surprised and angered health groups by failing to deliver a new agenda on health reform at last month's COAG meeting in Brisbane, but the issue is expected to take centrestage when premiers hold their next meeting, next month. Beyond the central issue of who funds and runs public hospitals, other items to be discussed include primary care and who, other than doctors, should have access to Medicare payments -- such as nurses. There is also a push by aged- care providers again to introduce some form of high-care nursing home bonds and reforms to help fund new infrastructure needs as the population ages.

Health groups have recently complained their patience is wearing thin as the government fails to act on promised reform. But senior Rudd government sources argue the Prime Minister was deliberately taking his time to get the policy right.

In the short term, the rising costs will make for another tough budget for Health Minister Nicola Roxon, who must deliver new spending cuts after targeting private health insurance rebates, IVF and cataract surgery in the last budget.


Higher taxes will rescue Australia's government healthcare system?

Left-leaning economist Ross Gittins replies to the above article. He says that taxes will have to rise but it won't hurt because they will be sliced from a bigger pie. He overlooks the British experience that pouring money into socialized medicine does little to improve standards of care. The money mostly goes on more bureaucrats. Despite a doubling of expenditure in recent years, British hospitals are CUTTING BACK services -- and have been doing so for some time. All economist Gittins sees is money. That the whole system needs to be rethought from scratch seems beyond him

Welcome to another year of media manipulation by our political leaders. Don't you love it? The Rudd Government is sitting on two major economic reports - from the Henry review on tax reform and Treasury's third intergenerational report - and some day soon it will let us see them. Meanwhile, it's leaking to journalists or dropping into speeches bits and pieces from them.

In the week leading up to Australia Day, Kevin Rudd gave a series of speeches in each capital city purporting to outline the findings of the intergenerational report on the implications of our ageing population. His version was both debatable and - I think we'll find - quite misleading.

In "sounding the alarm bells" on the effects of ageing, his first point was that it will lead to much slower growth in our material standard of living. Whereas average real income per person grew by 1.9 per cent a year over the past 40 years, Treasury's projections show it growing by only 1.5 per cent a year over the next 40.

This is likely because of slower growth in the size of the workforce. It may not seem much of a slowdown but compounded over 40 years it means real income per person would end up being $16,000 a year lower than otherwise by 2050. But, by my calculation, there's another, unauthorised way to view that comparison: rather than rising by about 110 per cent over the next 40 years, our real incomes are projected to grow by a paltry 80 per cent.

Rudd apparently views this gap with great concern and automatically assumes all of us do, too. He vows to take the steps necessary to prevent this slowdown in the rate of growth in the economy's production of goods and services.

How? Mainly by increasing the rate of improvement in the productivity of our labour - the average amount of goods and services produced by an hour of work. On average, our productivity improves by about 1.6 per cent each year, partly because of increased investment in equipment and other physical capital but mainly because of improvements in labour-saving technology.

If we could increase this rate of improvement to average 2 per cent a year, Rudd tells us, we wouldn't miss out on each being that last $16,000 a year better off by 2050. Just think of all the extra stuff you could buy with an extra $16,000 per family member.

Rudd, like all politicians (and business people and economists) assumes our values are primarily materialist. He's flaunting it, trying to prove Labor is just as good at delivering greater material affluence as the Liberals are.

As always, the implicit assumption is that we can have greater affluence without paying any price in reduced environmental or social amenity. Somehow, I doubt it.

It was from this intergenerational report that we were advised last year of Treasury's latest projection that the population is expected to grow more than 60 per cent in the next 40 years, from 22 million to 36 million.

From what we can tell, the report makes no claim this huge growth in population - with all the pressures it will bring on the environment, urban transport and housing - will make a significant difference to the rate at which our real incomes are likely to grow.

Rudd's second point is that the ageing of the population threatens the sustainability of government budgets. It "will result in higher costs for health, aged care and the age pension", he says. "It will also result in a smaller proportion of the population being in work, thus slowing the rate of growth of government revenues."

The key spending pressure will be on healthcare, he says. Forty years ago, federal government spending on health was equal to about 1 per cent of gross domestic product.

Today it's 4 per cent and by 2050 it's projected to be 7 per cent. (And that doesn't count the huge growth in health spending by the states, nor the growth in yours and my private health insurance and out-of-pocket payments.)

Rudd says the looming pressure on government budgets leaves us with three options: first, "cut health spending, reduce aged care and reduce payments for people entering retirement". No dice. Second, permit "long-term unsustainable budget deficits". No dice.

But third: boost government tax revenue by increasing participation in the workforce and "most critically, by boosting the productivity of the workforce". Ah, the easy option. Thank you. Sorry, but I'm not buying. Rudd's analysis is alarmist and highly misleading. There's a fourth option for covering the expected higher spending on healthcare that Rudd's not game to mention but is the most likely way we'll end up paying for it: higher taxation.

And there's nothing wrong with that. Everything we already know about the implications of ageing for government budgets tells us the higher costs associated with the greater proportion of old people are actually quite manageable. The main reason for the expected growth in health spending is the high cost of the many advances in medical technology we'll be taking advantage of.

In other words, Rudd, as Peter Costello did, is trying to "pathologise" the expected growth in health spending: make something good (our greater ability to prolong our lives and make them healthier) sound like it's bad (the elderly will be putting an intolerable burden on taxpayers).

According to the Government's projections, our real incomes are likely to grow about 80 per cent over the period. There's no good reason we shouldn't choose - as we assuredly will - to spend a higher proportion of that on improving our health and longevity. And since, for good reason, we pay for our healthcare mainly via the public purse, this will involve higher taxes. Simple as that. Pity Rudd lacks the courage to tell us so.


Amazing: Migrants with HIV, cancer allowed to settle in Australia

Chronically ill foreign workers and their families, including those with HIV-AIDS, will be allowed to settle in Australia for the first time as the Immigration Department loosens its stringent health rules to alleviate the skills shortage. The department is widening a loophole that lets it waive the health requirement for some sick dependants of Australian citizens.

Taxpayers will spend nearly $60 million on healthcare for 288 migrants granted special clearance last financial year to live in Australia, despite failing health exams. These included 59 cases of HIV infection, 10 of cancer and 26 of intellectual impairment. Most of the waivers were granted to the foreign partners of Australian citizens.

Now the federal government wants to widen the health loophole in a bid to lure skilled immigrants who otherwise would be turned away on the grounds of illness, mental health or chronically ill family members.

But NSW -- the strongest magnet for new migrants -- has so far refused to sign the change, which requires state and territory agreement because of the potential drain on their hospital systems. In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into Australia's treatment of disabled migrants, the Immigration Department warns that removing health restrictions could strain health services already in short supply, such as organ transplants or dialysis. "Additional migration, particularly if current health restrictions were to be removed, could lead to increased pressure on healthcare systems," it says. "Any significant change to the current health requirement would need to be considered in the context of potential impacts on health and welfare expenditure . . . particularly in terms of prejudice to the access of . . . citizens and permanent residents to healthcare and community services."

Departmental data reveals that 42 health waivers were granted to foreign workers on temporary skilled visas during 2008-09. The department plans to extend the waivers to workers seeking permanent residency, and those who have set up businesses in Australia.

Health bans were lifted last financial year for 138 temporary immigrants seeking to remain in Australia -- at a total cost to taxpayers of $19.5m in health and community services. Another 150 immigrants who applied offshore were granted waivers, at an estimated cost of $38.2m. HIV was the most common health condition, involving 59 cases at a cost of $14m, with 26 cases of intellectual impairment at a cost of $1.2m, and 10 cases of cancer, at a cost of $751,500. The department knocked back applications from another 1586 would-be migrants who failed health tests -- at an estimated saving to taxpayers of $70m.

Federal parliament's migration committee began inquiring into Australia's treatment of disabled migrants after Immigration Minister Chris Evans intervened in 2008 to grant permanent residency to a German doctor whose son had Down syndrome.


28 January, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is appalled at the amazing waste by the Leftist NSW government on failed transport projects

The social class effect on education now clear in Australia too

Leftism leads to some odd outcomes. To avoid making poor schools look bad, the Australian government classifies schools on a social class basis. Schools in wealthy areas are compared with other schools in wealthy areas and poor schools are compared with poor schools. And hey presto! It doesn't matter much whether the school is a government one or a private one. Schools drawing on wealthy areas all do well, with only random differences between them. Once again we find that social class is by far the biggest influence on educational outcomes. Why? Rich kids tend to be smarter and kids from wealthy areas also tend to be better behaved. There are not many disruptive ferals or "minorities" in wealthy areas. Note that Australia's Leftist Prime minister sends his kid to a private school. Leftist politicians do the same the word over, despite it being against their ideology. "Equality" is only for "the masses". Some pigs are more equal than others, as Orwell said

PUBLIC schools in wealthy areas are outperforming some of the nation's most expensive and prestigious private schools in reading and writing, according to the Rudd government's controversial new My School website. But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's old school, Nambour High in Queensland is struggling, with Year 9 results below the average of all schools national literacy test results across Australia in writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy.

For the first time, the national literacy and numeracy tests of nearly 10,000 public and private schools are available for parents to compare online and the results are in many cases surprising. The website, which has been criticised by some teachers and principals, went live at 1am this morning and has experienced some technical problems. Education Minister Julia Gillard said today the technical difficulties reflected the fact that parents were “voting with their fingertips” to log on and check their school at 3am, 4am and 5am. “What that means is around the country parents were hungry for this information,” she said. “The site is experiencing huge demand. Obviously people are very enthusiastic to jump on the My School website and to have a look at their local school. So if people try again, obviously we're trying to space demand during the day.”

The deputy prime minister said while she had the greatest respect for teachers she was determined not to buckle in the face of teachers' unions threats to disrupt NAPLAN tests this year in a protest against the site. “The AEU has called this one wrong,” she said.

The website uses complex methodology to compare statistically similar schools to reveal some private schools are "coasting" by performing above the average of all schools but in some cases below the performance of similar schools. For example Geelong Grammar's Toorak campus in Victoria, which charges nearly $30,000-a-year in Year 12 fees and was once attended by Prince Charles, performed substantially below the average of similar Year 3 schools in spelling. It was also below the average of similar schools in reading, grammar and numeracy.

A comparison with other similar schools claims Year 3 students results at Geelong Grammar were "substantially below" the performance of similar public schools at Camberwell Primary in Melbourne, Castle Cove Primary in NSW, Epping North Public School in Sydney and Stirling East Public School in Adelaide. By comparison, students at the James Ruse Agricultural High School in Sydney, a selective public school for the "gifted" performed substantially above the average of similar schools and all schools in Australia across all measures.

In WA, girls at the Presbyterian Ladies College at Peppermint Grove, where fees can top $18,000-a-year, were below the average of similar schools in Year 5 reading, spelling and grammar and substantially below average in Year 5 and Year 7 numeracy. However, the school remained above the average of all schools across Australia.

At the Cranbrook School in NSW, where media heir James Packer once attended, students were below the average of similar schools in Year 9 results for reading, writing, spelling and grammar. However they were substantially above the average across all schools in Australia.

In Adelaide, students attending the prestigious Prince Alfred College, which educated cricketing greats the Chappell brothers, Year 3 and Year 5 results were below the average of similar schools in reading. Year 5 test results were also below the average of similar schools in writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation.

At St Peters College boys school in Adelaide, which boasts of "three Nobel laureates, forty one Rhodes scholars and eight state premiers", results were below the average of similar schools in writing, spelling and grammar for Year 3 NAPLAN results. By Year 5 results had improved with students outperforming all schools but still close to the average of similar well-heeled schools.

In the ACT, Radford College, a private school Mr Rudd's son Marcus attends, students outperformed similar schools in reading, writing, grammar and numeracy. Tony Abbott's old school St Ignatius Riverview at Lane Cove in NSW, students performed substantially above the average of all schools but below the average of similar schools in Year 9 results for writing and grammar.


When will they ever learn?

Australian defence bureaucrats always want to buy cutting edge technology -- which often does not work. When will they learn to buy the best of what is available "off the shelf" -- i.e. already-proven equpiment. They could, for instance, have bought Swedish "Gotland"-class boats, which are so good that the U.S. navy has recently hired one.

Instead of cutting edge equipment, what we often end up with is useless equipment, as seen below. It's the politicians' job to impose a bit of realism on the starry-eyed enthusiasts but the politicians are mostly just as bad

THE navy's trouble-prone $6 billion submarine fleet has been reduced to one operational boat, raising serious questions about the long-term serviceability of the six Collins-Class vessels designed to serve as Australia's frontline strike weapon. Chief of the navy Russ Crane yesterday confirmed a generator failure last week on board HMAS Farncomb meant the submarine would have to be returned to dry dock for urgent repairs.

Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said by his count, the Royal Australian Navy's operational submarines were now down to one - HMAS Rankin - and the government had a major maintenance crisis to solve.

Citing security grounds, the navy declined to answer questions from The Australian about the number of submarines it can put to sea. However, senior defence sources confirmed Senator Johnston's claim that only one boat was available for training and operational duties.

Farncomb's generator failure marks the latest in a run of serious mechanical problems plaguing the Collins-Class fleet. In a brief statement, Vice-Admiral Crane expressed frustration at news of the latest mechanical breakdown. "I am very disappointed by this development," he said. "Navy will continue to work with the Defence Materiel Organisation, industry and ASC (Australian Submarine Corporation) to determine the extent of the issue and rectify this problem. "We are working hard to ensure this fault is rectified as soon as possible. "The Australian public, the Defence organisation and our navy family expect nothing less."

Battered by morale problems linked to crew shortages and engine malfunctions, the generator breakdown is just the latest blow against the elite silent service. As reported in The Australian on October 12, the submarine fleet is already operating under severe restrictions because of crippling mechanical and maintenance problems linked to chronic engine problems. Under ideal conditions, the RAN likes to have two subs ready for deployment, two in training or basic maintenance and two in deep maintenance.

But some senior engineering experts have warned that the Swedish-supplied Hedemora diesel engines may have to be replaced - a major design and engineering job that could take years to fix and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. So serious are the problems that DMO has placed the Collins boats at the top of their "projects of concern".

West Australian Senator Johnston said a major hole existed in Australia's front line of defence. "I think we're down to one and that's (HMAS) Rankin tied up at (HMAS) Stirling (navy base)." The woeful service record of the Collins-class subs raises questions about the RAN's ability to operate a planned expansion of the fleet to 12 new boats recommended in last May's Defence white paper.


New Liberal Party website in the works

THE Liberal senator sacked from Malcolm Turnbull's front bench for online comments about a colleague risks courting controversy again with the web. South Australian Cory Bernardi, now parliamentary secretary assisting Tony Abbott, admitted to The Australian yesterday he had provided web hosting and a domain name for a new political website,

Five days before it opens for business, Menzies House is already billing itself as "the No 1 Australian site for conservative, centre-right and libertarian thinkers and activists". It provides no details of who is behind the site, but its motto reads: "There's room for everyone." The claim has provoked derision from some of the Right warrior's parliamentary colleagues. "There won't be room for everyone if Cory's pulling the strings," one joked to The Australian.

Senator Bernardi insisted he would be "absolutely removed" from editorial decisions. "I thought this was an excellent idea because there is not a single area on the internet . . . where those who are Liberal supporters can gather, debate, discuss," he said yesterday. "I've been dealing with the editors but it's all their baby now."

But one of those editors is a member of Senator Bernardi's own staff, Chris Browne. Another is Tim Andrews, the former president of the Australian Liberal Students Association, a grouping that traditionally backs the party's Right. Senator Bernardi told The Australian he had emailed his parliamentary colleagues last week to promote the site and ask for contributions.

Senator Bernardi was sacked from the front bench last year for refusing to retract claims made online that one of his colleagues, believed to be his fellow South Australian and factional rival Christopher Pyne, had told him during a golf game: "I live in a Liberal seat so I had to be a member of the Liberal Party to get into parliament. If I lived in a Labor seat I would have joined the Labor Party."

Independent but party-aligned websites are becoming increasingly powerful around the world as leaders' offices tighten their grips on parliamentarians and party machines. British political commentators have claimed the five-year-old Conservative Home website has supplanted the London Daily Telegraph newspaper as the in-house journal of the Conservative Party.



I have given up recording here the disaster that QANTAS/Jetstar constitutes but anyone thinking of flying on either airline will find all the latest horrors chronicled on my QANTAS site


Three articles below

Official Australian climate alarmist retreats a little

Most of the remarks by Britain's John Beddington below are as alluded to yesterday in a post sourced from Andrew Bolt. But at that time Penelope Sackit had only alarmist things to say. In the report below we see that she has moved closer to Beddington's more responsible position. Beddington is a biologist and Sackit is an astronomer. Neither sounds like a plausible expert on climate science but Penny is probably the one who is most aware of that deficiency -- so she sticks to dogma for fear of making a mistake. I am beginning to think that my qualifications in social science make me as good an "expert" on climate matters as many of the so-called experts

THE impact of global warming has been exaggerated by some scientists and there is an urgent need for more honest disclosure of the uncertainty of predictions about the rate of climate change, according to the British government's chief scientific adviser. John Beddington said climate scientists should be less hostile to sceptics who questioned man-made global warming. He condemned scientists who refused to publish the data underpinning their reports.

Australia's chief scientist, Penny Sackett, told The Australian last night she shared Professor Beddington's concerns. Professor Sackett said climate change was a scientific reality but there was a need for absolute openness and rigour in the presentation of evidence, including recognition of which aspects of climate change science were imprecise and required further research.

Professor Beddington said public confidence in climate science would be improved if there were more openness about its uncertainties, even if that meant admitting that sceptics had been right on some hotly disputed issues. He said: "I don't think it's healthy to dismiss proper scepticism. Science grows and improves in the light of criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can't be changed."

He said the false claim in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report that the glaciers would disappear by 2035 had exposed a wider problem with the way some evidence was presented. "Certain unqualified statements have been unfortunate. We have a problem in communicating uncertainty. There's definitely an issue there. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be the level of scepticism. "All of these predictions have to be caveated by saying, `There's a level of uncertainty about that'."

Professor Beddington said particular caution was needed when communicating predictions about climate change made with the help of computer models. "It's unchallengeable that CO2 traps heat and warms the Earth and that burning fossil fuels shoves billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. But where you can get challenges is on the speed of change. "When you get into large-scale climate modelling, there are quite substantial uncertainties. On the rate of change and the local effects, there are uncertainties both in terms of empirical evidence and the climate models themselves."

He said it was wrong for scientists to refuse to disclose their data to their critics: "I think, wherever possible, we should try to ensure there is openness and that source material is available for the whole scientific community." He added: "There is a danger that people can manipulate the data, but the benefits from being open far outweigh that danger."

Professor Sackett said there was no real dispute within the scientific community about the reality of climate change but she wanted non-scientists to have greater access to the evidence to help inform the necessary public debate about crafting policy responses to the problem. "The public must be provided with the best possible advice," Professor Sackett said. "It must have available to it some understanding or the ability to develop an understanding about which issues the science is quite clear on and where there is less precision in our understanding." For example, Professor Sackett said, while the reality of climate change was clearly understood, there was less certainty about its effects on rainfall patterns in Australia. More research was required before conclusions could be drawn with any scientific confidence.

She said the work of Australian climate change scientists had been "quite good" and that people should not assume that because some British research had been questioned there was a doubt over the existence of the phenomenon.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said the scientists were correct, and he accused Kevin Rudd of taking a "McCarthyist" approach to anyone who disagreed with his views on climate change. "While I happen to believe the balance of science is that there is climate change, unlike the Prime Minister I believe it is a breach of democratic responsibility to demonise scientists and the three million Australians who disagree with me," Mr Hunt said.

Phil Jones, the director of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit and a contributor to the IPCC's reports, has been forced to stand down while an investigation takes place into leaked emails allegedly showing that he attempted to conceal data. In response to one request for data, Professor Jones wrote: "We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?"

Professor Beddington said that uncertainty about some aspects of climate science should not be used as an excuse for inaction. "Some people ask why we should act when scientists say they are only 90 per cent certain about the problem," he said."But would you get on a plane that had a 10 per cent chance of crashing?"

Mike Hulme, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia, said: "Climate scientists get kudos from working on an issue in the public eye, but with that kudos comes responsibility. Being open with data is part of that responsibility." He criticised Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, for his dismissive response last November to research suggesting that the UN body had overstated the threat to the glaciers. Mr Pachauri described it as "voodoo science". Professor Hulme said: "Pachauri's choice of words has not been good. The question of whether he is the right person to lead the IPCC is for the 193 countries who make up its governing body. It's a political decision."


Climategate gives lord of the sceptics plenty of ammunition

The visit to Australia this week of Lord Christopher Monckton - the world's most effective global warming sceptic - couldn't have been better timed. Hot on the heels of the "Climategate" email leak, which called into question the "tricks" used to sex up the case for the war against global warming, have come back-to-back revelations tarnishing the reputation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

First domino down last week was the claim in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 - the one that won it a Nobel Prize - that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. As one of the most dire climate change outcomes, this claim received enormous publicity and was often cited by politicians. But, it turns out, the evidence was based not on credible peer-review science, but on an unsubstantiated report by the environmental group World Wildlife Fund for Nature. It stemmed from a 1999 beat-up in the popular journal New Scientist that featured an interview with an obscure Indian scientist, Syed Hasnain, who has since admitted his glacier prediction was "speculation". Hasnain now works for the Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi, whose director-general, Rajendra Pachauri, is also head of the IPCC.

Even murkier is the fact the glacier furphy reportedly netted lots of grant money for the institute. "My job is not to point out mistakes," Hasnain told The Times of London. "And you know the might of the IPCC. What about all the other glaciologists around the world who did not speak out?" Yes, what about them indeed. Are scientists just cowardly? The mendacity of the IPCC came to light when the Indian Government fact-checked its glacier claim. Belated scrutiny of the 2007 report has uncovered other bogus claims, and at least 16 WWF references.

The next domino to fall was the IPCC's assertion that global warming was to blame for weather disasters such as hurricane and drought. The Sunday Times in London reported this was based on an unpublished scientific paper that had not been peer reviewed, and that, when it was published in 2008, had found no link.

The latest revelation is that an IPCC claim about the Amazon rainforest was also drawn from a WWF report. The IPCC says it is simply a "human mistake" to parrot WWF press releases, as if they are credible science and not green propaganda, and no one bats an eyelid.

Well, except Monckton, who has been batting his considerable eyelids (large because of a thyroid ailment) for years over bogus claims. He even succeeded in having a table in the 2007 report corrected after he pointed out that it overstated sea-level rises tenfold.

Having been singled out for vilification last year by Kevin Rudd in an extraordinary speech, Monckton finds the times suit him well. Rudd's vehemence attracted the attention of semi-retired engineer John Smeed, who splits his time between Lane Cove and Noosa. He and another engineer, Case Smit invited Monckton to Australia, footing the $100,000 bill for his eight-city tour from their own pockets, offset by donations.

I was invited to a small lunch for Monckton this week, hosted by Smeed and a Newcastle engineer, Jeff McCloy. In person, Monckton is taller and more serious than he appears on screen. Being a mathematician he has a logical mind, as well as irrepressible self-confidence, which makes him a formidable opponent for climate alarmists.

Andy Pitman, a co-director of the University of NSW's Climate Change Research Centre, complained on ABC radio this week that climate sceptics are so "well funded, so well organised [and] have nothing else to do . . . They are doing a superb job at misinforming and miscommunicating the general public, State and Federal Government." Huh? How can climate alarmists pitch themselves as the underdog when they have had on their side the full force of government (and opposition until lately), media (apart from a few individual holdouts) and big business?

Public opinion has changed as the credibility of the IPCC ebbs, the crippling cost of climate change measures becomes apparent and the array of rentseekers and phonies grows. Monckton is a man whose time has come because he owes nothing to anybody and he has the capacity to interpret the science to a public looking for answers.

As an adviser to Margaret Thatcher, he learnt that when you make policy about an issue that is outside your expertise, you must distill it down to one proposition. In this case, how much will a given increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause warming? The answer determines whether or not you spend trillions of taxpayer dollars "and wreck the economies of the West". Monckton pored over scientific papers on climate sensitivity and concluded the IPCC exaggerated climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide at least sixfold, so we have time cautiously to decide whether or not to attempt to change global temperature.

In any case, he says, what if every nation agreed to cut emissions by 30 per cent in the next 10 years? The "warming forestalled would be 0.02 celsius degrees, at a cost of trillions. There's no point doing it."

The last refuge of alarmists is the precautionary principle, in which we "give the planet the benefit of the doubt". But Monckton says bad policy guided by the precautionary principle has already led to the death of millions of people as the transfer of farmland to grow biofuels meant less food, higher prices, food riots and starvation. He cites the United Nations special rapporteur Jean Ziegler, who said growing biofuels instead of food when the poor were starving was a "crime against humanity".

Monckton says public opinion is "galloping" in his direction, which bodes ill for Rudd as he prepares to push through his emissions trading scheme next month.


Perils of population growth

Australia has a problem of immigration quality -- large numbers of unskilled, welfare dependant and crime-prone "refugees" are being let in -- but it has no problem with population quantity. Australia is roughly the size of the continental USA yet has only 14% of America's population. The map below should be instructive too. But accomodating more people would mean clearing more trees; building on more grasslands; building more dams and building more roads -- all of which are of course a horror to any Greenie

DO you get the feeling your back yard is getting smaller? Or that the patch of turf you laid last year has disappeared to be replaced by a slab of concrete? It’s one of Australia’s most pressing issues, yet political leaders refuse to do anything to stop it. I am referring to Australia’s surging population growth. Recent projections that Australia will have to accommodate 35 million people by 2050 - up from 22 million at present - is a worrying prospect.

In the post-World War II years, the rallying call in this country was to populate or perish - a response to the fear of military invasion from a powerful northern neighbour. This gave us the Baby Boomer generation, which is now nearing retirement and creating imminent pressures of an aging population.

The greying of the nation has prompted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to espouse a new call for a “big Australia”, propelled by a higher birth rate and increased immigration. It’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem. What will happen in another 50 years? Will another prime minister call for an even bigger population boom to replace the generation reaching retirement then?

The population debate has been hijacked until now by economic greed and rationalism. The argument has been that the higher the population growth, the greater consumption will be and therefore economic prosperity and profit - at least for the wealthy few in society. Little or no attention has been paid to the limited availability of natural resources, the dire effect on the environment and loss of quality of life as more people compete for living space in our cities.

It is good to see that questions are finally being raised about Australia’s sustainable population. This week enterpreneur-adventurer Dick Smith became the latest in a string of forward thinkers who criticised Government plans to encourage population growth, saying Australia did not have enough water or food to support millions more people. He also urged slashing immigration and discouraging women from having more than two babies, thereby allowing population growth to be contained.

Just because people in many other countries have to live in cramped high-rises in concrete urban jungles does not make it a lifestyle model Australians should aspire to.

In 1798, the Rev Robert Thomas Malthus published his Principles of Population in which he stated: “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”. He predicted that endless population growth would block progress towards a utopian society. As an Anglican minister, Malthus, believed that God had created an inexorable tendency to human population growth for a moral purpose, with the threat of poverty and starvation designed to teach the virtues of hard work and virtuous behaviour.

We carry a responsiblity to make the world a better place for the generations that will follow. Australia is well placed to embark on a journey to a more sustainable future. The future of the country may depend on it.


27 January, 2010

Another day of national celebration, but forget about a republic or new flag

Some realism from a rather disgruntled Leftist below:

AUSTRALIA should become a republic. But it won't for a very long time, if ever. There's a better than even chance that the change won't come during the lifetime of any Australian alive today.

The political system, and Australians' deteriorating attitudes to politics and politicians, will see to that. The republican question is now what used to be called in the newspaper game a "hardy annual": a predictable, intrinsically inconsequential story that can be trotted out at the same time every year to little lasting effect.

This Australia Day weekend the hardy annual sprouted a little extra foliage with Ray Martin's revival of the suggestion that the nation should change its flag and ditch the Union Jack. That idea used to get around with the republican argument back in the 1990s, until republicans, excited by the prospect of a referendum aimed at ditching the monarchy, judged it to be too toxic and dumped it.

All these years later, the change-the-flag idea retains the same noxious qualities, unloved by politicians and the talkback radio crowd, and met with gold-plated indifference by the wider public. Republicans ignore these responses at their peril.

In a rational world, a nation such as Australia - incredibly fortunate and fabulously wealthy compared with most of the globe - should not be so resistant to changing its status and its flag. But it is. And that resistance will grow.

Australia is becoming an increasingly nationalistic and jingoistic country, a nation of flag-wavers, as evidenced by the motorists who affixed Chinese-made plastic flags on their cars and the young people - males mostly - who wandered the streets, and sports and entertainment venues, wearing outsize flags as capes in the past few days.

This is bad news for republicans because that nationalistic impulse and the growing adherence to the flag as a national symbol - and the aggression with which the flag is sometimes brandished - are affirmations of Australia as it is. Their statement is simple: the country is great, it does not need improvement, so tamper with it at your peril.

Flag-wavers do not question their country, they exalt it, and with every year their numbers grow, as do the nationalistic and patriotic atmospherics that accompany each successive Australia Day. As prime minister, John Howard used to take care at election times to declare Australia "the greatest country in the world". The line was always well received. One of his enduring legacies is the rise of an inherently more conservative attitude by greater numbers of Australians towards their country.

This makes it harder to sell the republican argument, which at its heart says something is wrong with Australia's national arrangements that must be fixed. There is no consensus within the society that this is the case.

It is probably the case that a majority of Australian voters favour the idea of a republican Australia, as the polls suggest. But the numbers are not overwhelming. And there is often a big gap between what people tell pollsters and what they do. They say they want governments to provide greater services but they bitch about every extra tax dollar, for example. And Australians have not liked voting "yes' at referendums since Federation.

The truth is that there is absolutely no urgency attached to the change and it's hard to see the circumstances in which there ever will be, unless Britain decides to declare war on Australia. Would it make us richer or make our streets safer? No.

The move to a republic would merely offer an improvement on an already functioning set of arrangements, a very hard sell in the heat of a hard-fought referendum campaign.

In any case, what sort of republic are we talking about? There is no single view: the republican position is in a pre-adolescent state. There are minimalists and there are direct-electionists, with few real signs of an accord.

Since the 1999 referendum, when the minimalist proposal attracted 45 per cent of the vote and failed to carry one state, the direct-electionists have argued that every non-monarchist is obliged to fall in behind the idea of an elected ceremonial head of state. Speaking for myself, they are dreaming. The last thing this country needs is more elections and more politics, which is what this model would bring, no matter what they say. Certainly some minimalist republicans will shift but I would never back it.

As for the political obstacles to a republic, they seem less surmountable by the day. Labor is uniformly republican but the Liberals will always be split on the republic, with the bulk of the party membership - understandably for a fundamentally conservative party - arguing vigorously for the status quo.

That alone would probably be enough to sink any referendum, especially in a wired world where email avalanches, viral campaigning and the hit-and-run style of the blogosphere get results. Witness Malcolm Turnbull's recent defenestration as leader. Anyway, we can have another talk about this. How about, say, late January next year?


Nanny state can't save us from ourselves

If we choose to accept any risks from (say) getting fat, what right has the government got to tell us not to do that?

This month Manly Council erected a surfboard-shaped sign at its most famous beach to instruct board-riders how to behave in the surf. Two years ago the council installed a $26,000 safety fence at the notorious "jump rock", where the young and young-at-heart plunge into the ocean below. This year it pledged to have rangers patrol the area, intent on catching thrill-seekers in the act. But their efforts haven't stopped the kids from jumping, and the fence has simply turned out to be an expensive ratepayer-funded diving platform.

That parents, teachers, doctors, priests, and other assorted experts claim to know best about the potential risks and dangers we face - both individually and as a community - is nothing new. But the expectation that government should legislate to protect us from these risks and dangers is.

This poses some fundamental questions about citizens' relationship with government. Protecting our physical security - for example from threats of war, violence and other types of crime - is at the core of what governments do. But how far does the definition of security extend?

Does it extend to protecting us from diseases, from addictions, or from other risky behaviours? How far should government go in telling us what we can and can't do for our own good? And what happens when, after weighing up the risks and benefits, we decide we don't want to be protected?

There are increasing calls for more regulation of junk food, and ideas such as a junk food tax are frequently floated in the media. The scientific evidence is pretty clear - a diet of ice-cream and chips will probably make you fat and in turn lead to problems like diabetes and heart disease. Your chances of living a long and healthy life diminish.

But what if you cherish the ability to sit down to a nightly Big Mac and Coke more than the prospect of living to 90? Sure, it's self-destructive and short-sighted, but a look around any shopping centre food court will confirm that it's a decision plenty of people make. So should it be the role of legislators to tell them not to?

What happens when, in an effort to protect our health and safety, rules and regulations trample on other things we value?

The stern-faced, beach-ball popping fun police at the cricket have become the stuff of infamy. But the public reaction to their unbending rules suggests many people are willing to risk getting covered in warm beer if it means they get to enjoy the Mexican wave.

Not all legislative efforts to protect us pose a problem. But for rules and regulations to be effective - and legitimate - they must be ones that people want to follow. They should reflect the community's values, not try to shape them. We happily submit to airport security measures, wear seatbelts, and drive on the left side of the road because there is a community consensus that following these rules is beneficial for us individually and as a group.

But risks to our safety, security and health involve trade-offs. While one person will gladly jump out of a plane with a parachute attached, another will decide it's just not worth the risk. When it comes to questions of health, safety and security, individuals will make widely differing decisions.

It's little wonder then that so many efforts to control the public's "risky" behaviour fail so miserably. Despite a long-standing prohibition on drugs, survey data show that nearly 40 per cent of people 14 years and over have tried illicit drugs at least once in their life, with about 15 per cent saying they have consumed them in the past year. The alcopops tax was designed to curb binge drinking among teenagers. The actual effect was not to cut their alcohol intake but to increase their consumption of hard liquor such as vodka. And authorities' unsuccessful attempts to regulate away alcohol-fuelled violence suggest they haven't learnt anything since the days of the six o'clock swill.

When a law is widely ignored or deplored by enough members of the community, we have to ask whether the problem lies with the people ignoring the law or the law itself.

Arguments for or against the nanny state rarely get to the heart of the issue. When, if ever, is it appropriate for government to protect us from ourselves? And when trade-offs between, say, security and enjoyment need to be made, who should decide?


Tell off deficient teachers, says Federal education boss

Julia seems to be a lot more conservative than her pre-ministerial record suggested

TEACHERS identified as underperformers by the Government's new school rating system should expect to be roused at by disgruntled parents, the Education Minister, Julia Gillard, says. The My School website, to be launched on Thursday, will allow parents to compare schools and will have enough data to pinpoint specific subject areas of underperformance, potentially identifying the responsible teachers.

Following a briefing on the website yesterday, Ms Gillard told the Herald the Government welcomed the fact that the website would empower parents to badger school staff to lift standards. "We would expect parents to have robust conversations with teachers and principals," she said. Ms Gillard said teachers were already trained to deal with complaints on parent-teacher nights. Now, parents would be armed with even more information with which to complain. "This should put pressure on people," Ms Gillard said.

The Australian Education Union is fiercely opposed to the website, saying it will lead to the publication of league tables and cause schools and students to be stigmatised.

Ms Gillard pointed to more than $2 billion that has been earmarked towards addressing disadvantaged schools, improving teaching standards and lifting literacy and numeracy standards. "We're going to shine a light on some schools that need a helping hand and we are ready to work in partnership with those schools with new money and new programs," she said.

The website will publish a range of information, including national test results, student and staff numbers, and attendance rates for each of the nation's almost 10,000 schools. Each school will be graded using a colour-coded system on its national tests performance in the areas of reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and numeracy for years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Each school will be compared with about 60 other schools that cater to "statistically similar" student populations, according to a specially developed Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage. Each school will also be compared against the national average. The website will be updated each September based on results of tests conducted in May.

Ms Gillard accepted that, especially with smaller schools, it would be easy to identify the teachers responsible for subjects for which the school had been poorly marked.

The Australian Education Union, which represents more than 180,000 teachers in government primary and secondary schools, has threatened to boycott this year's national literacy and numeracy tests in protest. The union's federal secretary, Angelo Gavrielatos, said his main concern was for underperforming students who could be just as easily identified as their teachers. "They know full well there will be damage caused to students," he said.

He noted that a set of protocols for school data collection and reporting devised in June by the education ministers omitted from protocols of only a year earlier an ethical principle to guard against harming members of the community. The principle says: "This could occur where the privacy of individuals would be compromised or where the reputation of an institution or group of people would be damaged through the publication of misleading information or stereotyping." Mr Gavrielatos said by "omitting this principle, education ministers conceded that there will be 'harm' to individuals and schools as a result of the creation and publication of league tables".

Barry McGaw, who is chairman of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, which created the My School website, said schools in wealthy communities that were performing below expectations would be exposed. Mr McGaw said it would show which schools in affluent areas were "coasting".



With lots from the redoubtable Andrew Bolt. Six current articles below

Conservative Federal politicians still looking for a non-destructive climate change policy

FEDERAL Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has hinted his climate action plan will centre on storing carbon in soil and planting more trees. But the Government is preparing to release modelling which will rubbish Mr Abbott's plan. Highly placed Government sources said an analysis of an Opposition carbon sequestration plan found it would cost taxpayers $10 billion but fall short of targets to cut greenhouse emissions.

Mr Abbott, who again pledged his climate action plan would not be a "big tax" like Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's scheme, has cited research showing a 50 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions could come from improved land management techniques. His plan yesterday received some reserved support from Ross Garnaut, the man who was appointed to head Mr Rudd's climate change review. "Let me say that there's something in the idea of focusing on biosequestration (locking up carbon through tree planting or better agricultural practices)," he said.

Mr Abbott, who yesterday toured a NSW farm said to be a world leader in carbon capture, will release his climate change strategy within a week. The strong focus on agriculture he is believed to be planning was also agreed to by the Government after the ill-fated negotiations with former leader Malcolm Turnbull. "What our policy will involve is encouraging things that will actually help the environment and reduce emissions," Mr Abbott said.

But the Government modelling is believed to show that 30 million hectares of land would need to be involved by 2020 if the Opposition aimed to achieve 150 million tonnes of carbon savings by then. The modelling estimated that each year for a decade, an average of 3 million hectares of land – about half the size of Tasmania – would need to be involved.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said Mr Abbott had only days to come clean on his policy. "If Mr Abbott cannot release a fully costed policy that outlines a clear pathway to reach the bipartisan emissions cuts he has committed to, it will confirm he cannot be trusted on climate change," Senator Wong said.


Be alert but wary on climate claims

Doubts over modelling and emissions trading schemes are justified, says the following skeptical article from "the Age", Australia's most Leftist major newspaper

PRE-COPENHAGEN, the global warming debate had been captured by prophets of doom and the language of apocalypse. This was particularly off-putting in a discussion that depends on high-quality science, cool logic, and careful argument. It raises old suspicions. The West has already experienced theories of impending environmental disaster-with the Club of Rome launching a successful scare campaign in the 1970s about the world running out of food. Its book, Limits to Growth, sold 30 million copies. Hardly a decade had passed before its predictions were proved wrong.

Of course, the objective case for global warming is separate from the manner in which some of its proponents have publicised it. And, it should be judged on its own merits. Nevertheless, I must confess to being wary of causes that attract pseudo-religious enthusiasm and intellectual fanaticism.

Current predictions of global warming and its long-term effects depend on computer-generated mathematical models. There are two major problems with such models. First, their relationship to reality is compromised by the simplifying assumptions they have to make in order to reduce the number of variables they can take into account to a workable number.

In economics this means they are next to useless for long-term prophecy. We are confronted every day with how poor economic commentators are at prediction. If this is true in the domain of economics, how much more the case is it for climate, where the potential variables are vastly greater?

The second problem with mathematical models is that they assume current factors will continue as they are-major ones will stay major, minor ones minor, and no significant new ones will emerge.

History is a story of the rise of the unexpected. Having said this, some predictions are better than others. For instance, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report projects greenhouse gas emissions. In the limited case of carbon dioxide over the next two decades, there is some plausibility to the predictions - given current dependence on coal-fired power stations and the long development times needed to switch modes of electricity generation. However, when it comes to linking emissions to rising world temperatures, the models become fanciful.

The New York Times, hardly an enclave of climate scepticism, featured an article on September 23, 2009, which admitted that global temperatures have been stable for the past decade, and may even drop in the next few years. Surely, this trend may be an anomaly, but its existence does raise a serious question mark, for all but true believers.

Some disciplines in both the arts and the sciences are highly speculative, and that makes their theories and predictions unstable. Does climate science belong here? I have my suspicions. For instance, climatologists told us for a decade or more that climate in south-eastern Australia - and in particular, rainfall - was determined by weather patterns and sea currents across the Pacific Ocean. Now, suddenly we are being told that it is rather the Indian Ocean that is critical.

The claims made about the science have been rash, asserting dogmatic certainty about human-induced warming when the reality is that the overall picture is quite unclear. This has now backfired, with the IPCC admitting mistakes in its 2007 report, and the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit, which the IPCC has drawn heavily upon, shown to have been, at the least, devious in the results it has made public.

There may be some link between the rashness of the global warming campaign and the haplessness of the politics that has followed. The best current bet is that, after Copenhagen, emission controls is dead as a serious international issue. And further, only some environmental disaster that can be convincingly linked to climate change will rekindle it. The "sceptics" have won the politics.

The clumsy politics is international and local. An emissions trading scheme, as proposed by the Australian Government, is very bad policy. It is a form of taxation on carbon under another name. To tax carbon will lead to thousands of pages of regulation - a godsend to bureaucracy, but paralysing for initiative and industry.

To give one example: taxing carbon, especially in Australia, would make little sense unless agriculture is included within the scheme. Farmers tell me that the amount of carbon dioxide released from the soil during ploughing depends on the depth of the furrows. There will need to be different regulations for different types of ploughing. Multiply this small particular across the range and complexity of Australian agriculture and our farmers will be looking at a code of regulations that will make the Taxation Act look like a kindergarten primer. One of the benefits of Copenhagen is that an ETS may now be politically dead in Australia.

Leaving aside the reservations I have expressed here, what if the gloomy predictions about global warming and its consequences turn out to be justified? It is not prudent for us humans to throw too much muck up into the sky.

So where does that leave us? We do need emission controls, but they should be kept as simple as possible. Why not just target major polluters, and notably coal-fired electricity generation? But Copenhagen has rendered even that futile for a trivial world polluter such as Australia, given that China and India have made it clear they will not be cutting back on their use of coal.


It’s over. Even "The Age" is crumbling

By Andrew Bolt

The ultimate sign that the tide is turning agains the great global warming scare: "The Age" publishes an opinion piece by a sceptic [see above]

UPDATE: For Victorians wanting to hear just why the global warming scare is collapsing, I pass on this email:
You are invited to attend the Melbourne public lecture by Viscount Monckton of Brenchley

Renowned world-wide for his knowledge of global warming and the eloquence to convey his message.

In: the Ballroom of the Sofitel Hotel (25 Collins St.) At: 5:30 pm. On: Monday February 1st.

Lord Monckton will be introduced by Prof. Ian Plimer (author of best seller “Heaven + Earth") who will also participate in the Question and Answer period after Christopher Monckton’s main address… Admission will be by “donation” of $20 at the door…

Enquiries should be directed to Case SMIT ....
UPDATE 2: Another sign that the global warmists’ crusade to cut emissions is going nowhere - and that the weather isn’t matching their predictions, either:
The queue of ships at the world’s biggest coal port, Newcastle, is near its longest level since before the financial crisis and waiting times are at a one-year record.

In a sign of the booming demand for coal, figures published this week show 58 ships were waiting on Monday, just shy of the pre-Christmas peak of 60, which was the longest queue since mid-2007. Average waiting times for vessels at the port have also blown out to a fresh one-year high of 17.86 days, the Newcastle Port Corporation figures show.

The trend, mirrored at key ports around the country, points to the soaring demand from coal buyers in China and Europe, after severe winters caused a surge in demand for electricity.
UPDATE 3: Speaking of which:
Towns such as Thredbo, and Cooma in the NSW Southern Tablelands, reported a brief flurry of snow this morning, Bureau of Meteorology Duty forecaster Jane Golding said… Ms Golding said summer snow was a rare occurrence in towns such as Cooma. “In Cooma, records began there in 1973 and we’ve never had any observations of snow there in December, January and February,’’ she said.
UPDATE 4: And in further chilling news, more evidence that a colder world is much more dangerous than a warmer one:
The United Nations is raising concerns over the worsening humanitarian situation in Mongolia, brought on by drought and temperatures hitting minus 40 degrees Celsius in most provinces. The extreme weather conditions, known locally as the Dzud, have already caused the deaths of more than one million livestock, as supplies of fodder dwindles.

Ten signs that the warming scare is collapsing

By Andrew Bolt

ONCE global warming was “the great moral challenge of our generation”. Or so claimed the Prime Minister.

But suddenly it’s the great con that’s falling to bits around Kevin Rudd’s ears.

In fact, so fast is global warming theory collapsing that in his flurry of recent speeches to outline his policies for the new decade, Rudd has barely mentioned his “moral challenge” at all.

Take his long Australia Day reception speech on Sunday. Rudd talked of our ageing population and of building stuff, of taxes, hospitals and schools - but dared not say one word about the booga booga he used to claim could destroy our economy, Kakadu, the Great Barrier Reef and 750,000 coastal homes.

What’s happened?

Answer: in just the past few months has come a cascade of evidence that the global warming scare is based on often dodgy science and even outright fraud.

Here are just the top 10 new signs that catastrophic man-made warming may be just another beat-up, like swine flu, SARS, and the Y2K bug.

1. Climategate

THE rot for Rudd started last November with the leaking of emails from the Climatic Research Unit of Britain’s University of East Anglia.

Those emails from many of the world’s top climate scientists showed them conspiring to sack sceptical scientists from magazines, hide data from sceptics, and cover up errors.

One of the scientists, CRU boss Phil Jones, even boasted of having found a “trick” to “hide the decline” in recent temperature reconstructions.

Jones was also on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so influential in convincing us our gasses are heating the planet that it won the Nobel Prize.

But he showed how political the IPCC actually is by promising in yet another email that he and another colleague would do almost anything to keep sceptical studies out of IPCC reports.

Just as damning was the admission by IPCC lead author Kevin Trenberth that the world isn’t warming as the IPCC said it must: “We cannot account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

2. The Copenhagen farce

MORE than 40,000 politicians, scientists and activists flew to Copenhagen last month - in clouds of greenhouse gasses - to get all nations to agree to make the rest of us cut our own emissions to “stop” global warming.

This circus ended in total failure. China, the world’s biggest emitter, refused to choke its growth. So did India. Now the United States is unlikely to make cuts, either, with Barack Obama’s presidency badly wounded and the economy so sick.

Not only did this show that Rudd’s planned tax on our emissions will now be even more suicidally useless. It also suggested world leaders can’t really think global warming is so bad.

3. The Himalayan scare


Which country’s chief scientist defends science?

By Andrew Bolt

Draw your own conclusions about which chief scientist is best defending science against dogma and politics.

THE impact of global warming has been exaggerated by some scientists and there is an urgent need for more honest disclosure of the uncertainty of predictions about the rate of climate change, according to the British Government’s chief scientific adviser.

John Beddington was speaking after an admission by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that it grossly over-stated the rate at which Himalayan glaciers were receding. Professor Beddington said that climate scientists should be less hostile to sceptics who questioned man-made global warming. He condemned scientists who refused to publish the data underpinning their reports…

“I don’t think it’s healthy to dismiss proper scepticism. Science grows and improves in the light of criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can’t be changed,” he said.
THE planet has just five years to avoid disastrous global warming, says the Federal Government’s chief scientist. Prof Penny Sackett yesterday urged all Australians to reduce their carbon footprint… “Australians can make an enormous contribution, so why would we not rise to this challenge and this opportunity,” she told a business conference in Melbourne.

Prof Sackett refused to comment on the failure of the emissions trading scheme to be passed by the Senate this week. She said her role was as an adviser to the Government and not a commentator on public policy, but she did not deny her appointment a year ago was a political one.
At some stage there will have to be an accounting among scientists who failed to defend the tenets of their discipline in an age of politically-motivated unreason, and who failed to defend the few sceptics who dared to speak up and were punished for it.


"Stacking" the IPCC

"Stacking" is an old custom on the Australian Left. It means to ensure that some deliberative body (e.g. a Labor Party branch) is mostly composed of people whom you favour and who will therefore decide what you want them to decide -- JR

By Andrew Bolt

How to stack the IPCC. First, let the Rudd Government have sole power to nominate Australia’s IPCC authors:
The IPCC has started work on the preparation of the Fifth Assessment Report that will detail the state of climate change knowledge, and has issued an official call for authors…

The Department of Climate Change (DCC) operates as the National Focal Point for IPCC activities and is inviting Australian experts to nominate for Coordinating Lead Author, Lead Author and Review Editor roles. Interested parties are requested to read the background information and email for an Australian Government nomination form. This form will require interested parties to detail their qualifications, areas of expertise, recent publications and contact information.

The Australian Government will select nominees to put forward to the IPCC based on selection criteria that will be provided to interested parties. The IPCC Bureau will then select these positions.
What chance this side of Armageddon that Kevin Rudd or Climate Change Minister Penny Wong will nominate a sceptical scientist to the IPCC? Ditto for Britain and other nations where alarmist governments rule.


26 January, 2010


Commemorating the landing of the first white settlers in Australia, it is a national holiday that is becoming increasingly popular. Lots of cars are driving around today with Australian flags on them, which never used to happen. I suspect that it is a backlash against all the multicultural preaching that floods the schools and the media.

My relatives on my mother's side have for many years marked the day with a family get-together over a BBQ lunch and we did so again today. I spent a fair bit of time talking to Peter, my cousin once-removed. He is an academic like me and very well-informed about most things, but particularly China. He married a Han Chinese lady and his Eurasian daughter, Michelle, was there today, as she usually is. She is still in High School but growing up fast and it was a pleasure to see how bright, confident, articulate and animated she is. With good looks as well, she will go far.

Peter was one of the earlier examples of a tall Caucasian man grabbed by a Chinese lady -- something that is now very common in Australia. Chinese ladies tend to like tall Caucasian men and when they want something they get it. I said that to Peter and he said: "They sure do!" With a daughter like Michelle, however, he has every reason to be pleased with his decisions.

My son Joe has a commendable modesty. When someone remarked that Joe is now on staff at university, Peter asked him "In what capacity?" Joe replied "duster cleaner". It was a joke of course and taken as such but a bit of self-deprecation always goes over well. He is in fact classed as being a faculty member solely because he is a Ph.D. student. He receives a well-paid scholarship while he is studying that is very competive. Many apply but few are chosen. So he has no financial pressures or worries. He is still frugal, however. He tells me that he often has porridge for breakfast "because it is cheap". I was like that when I was young too so heredity strikes again. It is a good warranty that he will always have a comfortable life.

My cousin Shirley is the family genealogist and she brought along a lot of photos of relatives that I have not met, which was interesting. The number of relatives I have in my home State of Queensland is quite amazing. There were a lot of big families in the past whose children also had big families and I come from one of them.

The do was held at my brother Christopher's place, as it usually is. He is always a quiet but genial host. There were probably around 20 of us there all told.

Happy Australia Day!

From Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich, a German academic economist and a temporary resident of Australia

When I arrived on these shores for the first time about ten years ago, a friendly immigration officer at Sydney airport prepared me for everything that was to follow. Looking at my passport he asked: ‘Ever visited Australia before?”. I denied, but he kept on asking: ‘Ever been to England?’ When I said ‘yes’, he gave me a big smile and said ‘It’s just like England, only warmer.’

Ever since that day, I have been wondering what he meant. Next week’s Australia Day is perhaps the best opportunity to give it some more thought.

I guess back in 1788 at the time of the arrival of the First Fleet nobody in his right mind would have called Australia a warmer version of England. However, that didn’t keep the Brits from naming all sorts of things after British places – or just straight after themselves. Governor Macquarie did a lot of things, of course, but above all he ensured that nowadays you cannot walk for five minutes straight without running into a Lake Macquarie, a Macquarie Street, a Macquarie University, or a Macquarie Lighthouse. Ah, and if you lose oversight in the process you can find orientation in the Macquarie Dictionary.

Macquarie was a Scotsman, of course. So if Australia was a warmer version of anything British at all, it would have to be a warmer Scotland. Just without the whisky.

But why then was the ‘first state’ called New South Wales? Is it a new South Wales? Or a new, south Wales? And what made the early Brits think of Wales anyway when they set foot in Australia? Are there cockatoos flying around Cardiff? Where there kangaroos grazing on Mt Snowdon? Who knows.

The original contrariness has remained with Australia until the present day. If countries could suffer from schizophrenia, it would be called The Australian Disease. Because Australia is everything, but simultaneously it is also the opposite of everything. All clichés of Australia are correct, even if you turn them into their very opposite.

Yes, Australians are uncomplicated – but watch the bureaucracy. Yes, Australians like their surfing and barbecuing – but no other nation spends as many hours at work. Yes, Australians love the bush – but hardly any other nation is as urban. And finally, Australians love to be close to the sea – only to place the nation’s capital far away from it.

Having thought about it for ten years, I think I have come closer to the solution. Now I know what this cheeky immigration officer wanted to tell me when he promised me a warmer England. Because a warmer England is a contradiction in terms: In England, if it’s more than twenty degrees and doesn’t rain, the BBC calls it a heat wave.

And just like that, Australia is a contradiction in terms: antiauthoritarian and bureaucratic, patriotic and cosmopolitan, urban and rural, hard-working and relaxed. But always in its own way – the Australian way: Never a copy of anything else, and most definitely not a cheap copy. And why copy anyone else when you are living in paradise? Happy Australia Day!

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated January 22. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Australians love their meat pies

And if they are so bad for you, how come Australians have one of the world's longest life-expectancies? -- longer than any of the much-praised Mediterranean countries, in fact. It shows how little the food faddists know

Early results of an exclusive Courier-Mail online poll found the meat pie was a clear front-runner as Australia's national dish with 29 per cent of votes. But a typical meat pie is packed with 2000mg of sodium, nearly half the recommended daily dose of salt, and contains both high-fat protein and high-fat carbohydrates.

In a close second – nearly as popular and as unhealthy – was a snag in bread [hot dog], with 21 per cent of votes. The barbecue favourite contains up to 1200 kilojoules and would take an hour of aerobics to burn off.

Dietitians Association of Australia spokeswoman Julie Gilbert said Australia's favourite dishes reflected the fact we're the fattest. "While these foods might be uniquely Australian, they are no longer considered treats and have become part of our everyday eating and that's the problem," she said.

Sunshine Coast pest controller Mark Hayman, 28, said the old slogan "football, meat pies, kangaroos and holden cars" proved why the humble pie was quintessentially Australian. The pie-loving tradesman said he tried not to eat his favoured national dish too often, because he knew it was hardly the healthiest lunch. "I do have mates who go for a surf and then hoe into a meat pie," he said. "They usually buy two and they don't care at all that they're not good for you."

Mr Hayman said the meat pie was a typical "tradie's smoko". "All tradesmen have their favourite places to get a pie, so if you want to get a good pie, speak to a tradie."

The Courier-Mail's online poll found roast lamb was the third most popular dish with 14 per cent of the votes, while pavlova and steak were the top choice for 6 per cent of readers. Salt and pepper squid captured just 4 per cent of the vote. Fish and chips scored 3 per cent, prawns 7 per cent and lamingtons attracted 5 per cent, while spaghetti bolognese was preferred by just 1 per cent.


An amusing Australia Day stunt

("Whinge" is an Australian/British word that translates roughly as "whine". It is the sort of thing that an overtired baby does)

CONTROVERSY is set to be fried up today with an Australian egg company launching a cultural dig at the British. Named the "Whingeing Pom Egg", they feature a frowning face – the opposite to the usual Sunny Queen smiley eggs.

The carton says the eggs: "help you wake up cranky and keep on whingeing all day long". In a press release, the company claims it studied "behavioural traits of the Poms in their natural habitat". It quotes Associate Professor Lliam Anderson: "Our research found that the English preferred to wake up in a less optimistic, less good-humoured mood.

"Further still, we found that the gene responsible for whingeing is larger in Poms than any other race, particularly Aussies, confirming that whingeing is actually part of the Brits' generic make-up."

A spokesman for Sunny Queen Eggs said the results of the research "sparked an innovative approach to meet the needs of the English consumer". Sunny Queen Eggs launched a Facebook site and website last night to canvas votes on whether Australia was ready for the Whinging Pom eggs, and announced plans to trial the eggs in Melbourne and Sydney today.


Australians becoming more cultured?

"Ocker" is Australian slang for an uncultured working class person, rather like the American "redneck". In general, neither ockers nor rednecks care a hoot about whether they are cultured or not -- nor should they, in my view. De gustibus non disputandum est -- JR

AUSTRALIA'S ocker image has been replaced with a sense of sophistication that leaves little room for old tall poppy jealousies, a leading social researcher says in his snapshot of the country in the 21st century. On the eve of Australia Day, Mark McCrindle yesterday outlined the way the nation had evolved in the past 25 years, drawing on a series of surveys and studies to reveal an Australia that now sees itself as a cultural hub rather than just a land of sweeping plains.

"If you were to do an ad or a theme song with a video clip of Australia Day, it wouldn't be the kangaroos hopping around in the outback and the dusty red centre and the untouched beach, as much as it would be a city festival with a whole blend of coloured faces and that evening culture of cafe style," he said. "It's a shift beyond the bloke and the cobber and she'll be right mate and the Akubra and the beer. Australia has, in so many ways, come of age. There is a growing sophistication here. Some of the cliches that we held of Australia, how we saw ourselves even as late as the 1980s, have moved on."

Mr McCrindle said the changes come from a combination of a growing multicultural diversity, growing up and acceptance of our place in the world. "In business and in innovation and medical technology, we see ourselves not as the land Down Under – out of the way and isolated from the epicentre of the world, but actually closer to the new power in Asia and home to global cities and metropolitan and cosmopolitan 24/7 cafe culture cities."

"When you move into a bigger population centre, as Australia has, there's enough going on here that we don't have to be insecure about someone else making a go of things. We don't rip down our stars as much but rather give them a fair go. "The tall poppy syndrome is almost like a small-town syndrome or a small-school view where you don't want to see the person from your school succeeding."

When asked to nominate a phrase that best characterises the Australian spirit, more than one quarter of people nominated "good on you mate" and "g'day mate" but there was a cultural cringe about some iconic phrases. While Australians are predominately positive about phrases like "Down Under" and "true blue", other patriotic phrases such as "Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi, Oi, Oi", "crikey" and "dinky di" split the country with many feeling negative about them.

The research found that one-third of Australians were increasingly feeling more proud of their country.


Popular Australian entrepreneur and philanthropist fears the impacts of high immigration levels

PLANS to massively boost Australia's population are a bad idea and must be stopped, entrepreneur Dick Smith says. 'The Federal Government favours a "big Australia" and wants to increase the country's headcount from 22 million to 35 million by 2050, largely by immigration. But Mr Smith said this was ridiculous.

"We need to do something about this incredible increase," he said at an Australian of the Year dinner in Parliament House today. "No one is allowed to talk about it ... I am."

Mr Smith said Australia did not have enough water or food to support millions more people. It was crazy that seawater was being desalinated for drinking water to supply a booming population. "I believe in 100 years time people in Australia will be starving to death."

The intake of skilled migrants should be slashed and women should be discouraged from having more than two babies, Mr Smith said. He believes nine out of 10 Australians do not want a population boom. Mr Smith is working on a documentary on the issue.

The Government wants to increase the population because it means more young taxpayers to pay the rising health and pension costs of the ageing population. But a recent poll showed most people did not like that plan and some green groups have voiced concerns about the environmental costs.


25 January, 2010

Economic freedom and economic prosperity. Australia scores well

By Greg Lindsay

In a show of economic strength and resilience, Australia came in at 3 (as it did the year before) and New Zealand scored 4 (up one place) behind Hong Kong and Singapore in the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom released by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal on 20 January.

The Index, which ranked 179 countries, is based on 2008 data and compiled in the second half of 2009, and given the impact of the global financial crisis, you’d be right in thinking that getting an accurate picture would be tricky. Ireland is ranked fifth, so it remains to be seen what the picture will be next year. Also, as the Index is a relative measure, not an absolute one, there will always be room for improvement here and elsewhere. Nevertheless, a higher score is clearly an indicator of something that is working, and higher is unquestionably better.

The Index does not aim to incorporate political or other freedoms, and some might regard this as a shortcoming. I do not. There are many other such ratings that do this, as well as those that endeavour to measure prosperity, quality of life, and so on (the Legatum Prosperity Index is one). But if we were to toss in a couple of additional categories that incorporate some of these measurements, then both Australia and New Zealand would score better again and almost certainly jump over Hong Kong and Singapore. Australia and New Zealand are clearly the places to be. The last three placegetters, Cuba, Zimbabwe and North Korea, clearly are not! There are though some hopeful signs at last for Zimbabwe.

What the Index of Economic Freedom does well is to highlight the institutions and conditions necessary to be such great places. The rule of law, property rights, ease of starting businesses, which is two days in Australia and one in New Zealand (the world average is a staggering 35 days, indicating that entrepreneurial endeavour in too many countries must be a nightmare), strong and open financial sectors, low or no corruption, flexible labour markets (about to be sorely tested in Australia), low levels of inflation, free trade, and so on.

If Australia and New Zealand are doing so well, then given the methodology, it follows that others aren’t. This is no time for us to be complacent though, and further improvements necessary here (such as reducing taxes and regulation) will be guides for others. That is one of the most important things these ratings can do: provide signposts. A ‘you too can be like us’ flashing neon.

For more on the Index of Economic Freedom, go here

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated January 22. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Amazing "justice"

One in eight convicted rapists spend no time in jail

ONE IN EIGHT convicted rapists have walked free from Queensland courts without spending a single night in jail for their crimes. Figures obtained by the State Opposition reveal that 21 men convicted of rape and a further five convicted of attempted rape in 2008-09 were not given a custodial sentence.

Deputy Liberal National Party Leader – and LNP justice spokesman – Lawrence Springborg urged the Bligh Government to back mandatory jail terms for rapists. "Rape is rape no matter what the circumstances," Mr Springborg said. "It can never be justified and must be punished by jail."

The Government's own figures showed that one in eight rapists (21 of 161) convicted in court walked free in the past 18 months and about one in six (5 of 28) for attempted rape. The release of similar figures in 2008 set off a storm when then Attorney-General Kerry Shine said some rapes only had a "minor effect" on women. Premier Anna Bligh slammed him, labelling his comments "insensitive". Mr Shine was forced to apologise, saying he did not mean to offend. Four months later he was out of Cabinet.

Mr Springborg said the Government should amend the Penalties and Sentences Act to ensure judges impose a jail sentence on convicted rapists. "That's not extreme and it's not controversial," he said. "It's . . . justice. Different sides of politics often debate whether a jail sentence is too weak . . . There should be no debate when it comes to the basic question of should a convicted rapist spend time in jail. "Bligh and Labor try to duck this issue by saying the courts are responsible for handing down the sentences. They are. "But it is the Government that is responsible for writing the sentencing laws. And, if those sentencing laws stipulate that a convicted rapist must serve time in jail, then the courts will have to comply. The ball is in Ms Bligh's court."

The maximum rape penalty is 25 years, but the average jail time is four to six years.

Figures obtained by the Opposition also showed that – of 468 offenders convicted for armed robbery in 2008-09 – 131 did not spend a night in jail or more than one-in-four. Of 323 convicted for serious assault, 103 escaped prison time – almost one-in-three.

The Acting Premier and Attorney-General Paul Lucas said judges, not politicians, were in the best position to determine sentences. "Judicial independence is a cornerstone of our democracy and mandatory sentencing regimes undermine this system," he said. "Not only has the Government increased penalties for a number of offences but we have introduced new offences, such as serious assault, to reflect community concerns about offending behaviours. "It is clear that increased penalties have resulted in more people being jailed, as evidenced by our rising prison population at a time when the offending rate in the community is relatively stable."

Mr Lucas accused the Opposition of failing to back new Government laws aimed at dismantling and disrupting outlaw motorcycle gangs. [Apparently rape is OK but belonging to a motorcycle club is not! The only people disrupted by the government's brain-dead laws will be normal bike riders. Criminals will evade the law with ease, as they do now]


Another rogue overseas doctor in a public hosital

Helen Kerner trusted her "nice, clean-cut" neurosurgeon when he said he had performed the delicate spinal operation she required 1500 times before. The 60-year-old was confused when she woke up incontinent, still in pain, with no feeling in her legs or pelvis, and upset when he tried to discharge her from hospital two days into recovery.

But when Suresh Surendranath Nair confessed that his "drill slipped" during the procedure, severing several nerves in her spine, Ms Kerner said she felt sorry for the doctor, who was then 38. "I felt like 'my goodness me, he must be feeling awful for what he's done'," Ms Kerner said. "But not now, not now, I'm pretty angry now."

The Health Care Complaints Commission is reportedly reviewing all surgery performed at Nepean Public Hospital under the direction of Dr Nair, 41, who faces drugs charges following the death in November of a 22-year-old student in his $1.7 million apartment. Sydney West Area Health Service has admitted a breach of duty of care in Ms Kerner's case.

Another neurosurgeon described the procedure, performed in 2006, as a standard operation and said Dr Nair's mistake was "usually so rare as to be virtually unheard of". The Malaysian-born, Australian-trained surgeon's registration had been suspended in 2004, after an appearance before the NSW Medical Board's Impaired Registrants Panel. He was suspended again in 2008 and on November 26 last year, following his arrest.

Ms Kerner, a former relief manager at Anglicare second-hand shops, said she did not know Dr Nair had been suspended when she was referred to him in 2006. "I had very bad back pain, sciatic pain, and all the doctor had to do was remove a bone spur away from the nerve, just grind it away from the nerve," Ms Kerner said. "The drill slipped … and my life changed, completely changed."

Sydney West Area Health Service would not comment. Dr Nair's solicitor, Mitchell Cavanagh, said he was not aware of the case and had not yet been able to discuss it with his client.

Ms Kerner, formerly a keen dancer and gardener, now uses walking sticks because she cannot feel her left leg and her foot is deformed. She is bowel and bladder incontinent, has lost all sexual function and lives with constant, severe pain in her legs and feet, according to a statement of claim filed in the NSW Supreme Court. "I'm very depressed. I wake up in the morning crying sometimes … I'm very embarrassed to go out because of things that happen," she said. "That's my life now. I don't have one."

Ms Kerner said she knew something was wrong as soon as she woke up. "I spoke to Dr Nair the next morning and he didn't tell me he slipped with the drill … He told me [he] stretched one of the nerves and it had to be repaired," she said. "He said within three months it should heal itself and I believed him because he's my doctor." Her confusion was compounded when Dr Nair tried to have her discharged from hospital two days after the procedure, before she had been seen by an continence adviser or physiotherapist.

It was not until Ms Kerner noticed the word "severed" written on her observation chart that she pressed for answers. At a meeting Ms Kerner said she attended with her then partner, the hospital's nursing manager and a clinical liaison officer, Dr Nair confessed his mistake. "I said, 'But you didn't tell me that before' and he said, 'Yes I did' … " she said.

At a second meeting attended, according to Ms Kerner, by her continence adviser and a friend, two hospital administrators told her she could sue for negligence. Legal proceedings began in November 2008 and Sydney West Area Health Services wrote to Ms Kerner's solicitor on November 3 last year, admitting a breach of duty of care.

"As far as I'm concerned the hospital should have got rid of him at the start, in 2004," Ms Kerner said. "If he was gone I wouldn't be like this."

Dr Nair has been in police custody since January 9 after he breached his bail conditions, which prohibited him from hiring prostitutes or taking illicit drugs. He is due in court on March 1. The State Coroner is also investigating the death of an escort, Victoria McIntyre, whose body was found in Dr Nair's apartment last February.

A NSW Supreme Court hearing in July will determine what compensation and damages NSW Health must pay Ms Kerner.


Poll shows Aussies want immigration capped

AUSTRALIANS are spooked by record high immigration and also believe the country is increasingly racist, according to an exclusive Sunday Mail poll by Galaxy. Two-thirds of respondents - 66 per cent - think the Federal Government should cap immigration rates. Of these, 72 per cent of Australians polled favour an immigration cap, while 55 per cent of those who live here but do not consider themselves Australian also favoured an immigration cap.

Leading immigration expert Dr Bob Birrell said the figures show "the tide is turning". "It's a significant finding because it suggests public discussion of congestion and house prices may be beginning to bite," Dr Birrell said yesterday.

In the past four to five years, polling indicated Australians were reasonably comfortable with immigration levels, which are based on a Government target of around 190,000 a year.

The results come as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott used an Australia Day Council address during the week to raise immigration issues, stand by the tough stance on boat arrivals in the Howard era and suggest he favoured more migration to boost our population. "My instinct is to extend to as many people as possible the freedom and benefits of life in Australia," Mr Abbott said.

Dr Birrell said the economic shock of the global financial crisis, increasing house prices and continuing controversy over illegal immigration would have played a part in changing opinions. He also pointed to the fact that only 55 per cent of non-Australians were in favour of an immigration cap, compared to 72 per cent of locally-born Australians. Dr Birrell said Australian-born people took a more negative view of immigration, because they did not like their culture threatened by change. "(Many people) like things the way they were when they came into this world. Some see it as a threat to their inherited culture," he said.

More than half the respondents felt Australia had changed for the worse in the past 20 years. But the poll also shows we're basically happy with our flag, our national anthem, and with the standard of living.

Galaxy polled 1000 residents nationwide on Thursday and Friday, and found that we rate meat pies as our favourite national dish and think Australian history lessons should be compulsory in secondary schools.

And the poll, taken when Prince William was in Australia, shows we are confused about whether the nation should remain under a monarchy, with 44 per cent in favour of a republic, 27 per cent opposed, and a whopping 29 per cent undecided.

And, perhaps reflecting recent controversy over the violence inflicted on Indian students in Melbourne and Adelaide, 52 per cent of respondents think we are a racist nation, 45 per cent say we're not and 3 per cent are undecided.

And while 63 per cent rate the standard of living the best thing about Australia today, only 5 per cent rated multiculturalism the best thing.

The Galaxy poll found:

52 PER CENT of respondents think Australia has changed for the worse in the past 20 years, while 39 per cent think we have changed for the better and 9 per cent have not noticed any change.

OLDER Australians noticed the biggest change, with 67 per cent aged over 50 saying they think the country has changed for the worse.

60 PER CENT think the Aussie notion of a fair go still applies, with young people aged between 18 and 34 the most optimistic and 68 per cent of that age bracket agreeing the country still gives people a fair go.

HALF the respondents think we are not sympathetic to the plight of Aborigines, compared to 37 per cent who say we are.

60 PER CENT want us to stick with Advance Australia Fair as our national anthem, with only 14 per cent voting for Waltzing Matilda.

45 PER CENT are against the idea of removing the Union Jack from the Australian flag, while 27 per cent support it and 28 per cent are undecided.

37 PER CENT consider meat pies our national dish, ahead of roast lamb (28 per cent), lamingtons (12 per cent) and pavlovas (11 per cent).

Galaxy principal David Briggs said that while Australians felt they had much to be thankful for, "there is concern within the community that the nation is changing for the worse, with too much focus nowadays on careers and wealth," said.

He said Asian respondents had been the most optimistic, with 62 per cent of those who considered themselves of Asian ethnicity saying they believed Australia was changing for the better.

The findings come as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd implored Australians to keep up the fair-go spirit. In Brisbane yesterday to hand out Australia Day awards, he said Australians were noted for their "fair go" attitude and should put their differences aside. "It doesn't matter where you come from, whether you've grown up rich or poor, whether you've grown up in the country or the city, whether you've been to the finest private schools or the humblest state school," he said.


Alarming bureaucratic meddling in workplace relations

EMPLOYERS are alarmed that businesses and workers could be subject to compulsory arbitration of workplace disputes, after federal Labor's industrial tribunal threw out a proposed deal agreed between one of the nation's biggest employers and a prominent union. Business groups said they were concerned the newly empowered Fair Work Australia was becoming more interventionist after striking out the deal between Woolworths and the shop assistants union.

In what lawyers said was a "significant departure" from previous rulings, the tribunal last week rejected the proposed deal because it did not require nor allow third-party arbitration in relation to a dispute unless both sides agreed.

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard last night acknowledged the ruling was important, and signalled the government could intervene. "The commonwealth understands this is a significant decision and we are getting advice on the matter," a spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said. "We understand Woolworths will be appealing the decision and the commonwealth will then make a decision on whether or not to participate in the proceedings."

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz said the decision by commissioner Greg Smith contradicted Ms Gillard's previous position on the workplace laws. "Julia Gillard said compulsory arbitration would not be a feature of the Fair Work legislation, and it was only going to have a very limited scope," Senator Abetz said. "Commissioner Smith's decision doesn't fit in line with what Julia Gillard told the Australian people." Senator Abetz said he believed an appeal against the ruling should be lodged.

Business groups said yesterday they were increasingly concerned that Fair Work Australia was prepared to strike out workplace deals reached in good faith between companies and unions representing employees. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the tribunal had recently rejected another proposed deal, despite a firm and a union agreeing to it.

The chamber's director of economics and industry policy, Greg Evans, said: "While two hot days don't make a summer, and it is early days for the new Fair Work laws, it would nonetheless be a major concern to business if the newly empowered Fair Work Australia was going to regularly throw out agreements made in good faith between employers and employees. "ACCI will be closely monitoring the tribunal's decisions over coming months and will be taking our concerns directly to government if necessary."

The Australian Mines and Metals Association said, "other than when an important part of the economy was being disrupted by a dispute", employers and employees should be able to choose how issues were resolved. "It is important for parties to be able to access Fair Work Australia where required but it's also important that employers and employees are free to choose other dispute-resolution mechanisms," an spokeswoman said. "Taken further, if the employer and employees and, where appropriate, union representing those employees, can all agree on a set of terms and conditions in their workplace, there should be very limited capacity for third parties to prevent those arrangements."

The proposed agreement rejected last Thursday by Mr Smith was to cover workers employed at Woolworths' produce and recycling distribution centre in the Melbourne suburb of Mulgrave. Under its proposed dispute-resolution procedure, either party could refer the matter to the tribunal for conciliation. They could agree to have the matter arbitrated but, if either party did not agree, the matter could not come before Fair Work Australia.

Mr Smith described this provision as a "power of veto" and found it did not meet the requirements of the Fair Work Act. "(The act) must be read as creating an obligation to include a procedure that either requires or allows Fair Work Australia or another independent person to settle disputes," he said.


24 January, 2010

Vegemite labelling changed to suit Muslims

Vegemite is more than a food. It is a beloved Australian icon -- so this is not going down well. Why cannot it remain simply Australian? Islam is nowhere near typical of Australia. Vegemite is simply a yeast extract so it doesn't breach Muslim and Jewish food laws anyway. My large jar of Vegemite simply gives nutritional information where the Halal certification now appears. Is that not more useful to the vast majority who buy Vegemite?

VEGEMITE has gone halal in a bid by food giant Kraft to make the national "treasure" available to Muslim Australians. The label on Australia's most famous spread has changed in recent months to include halal certification in a move some have described as "ridiculous" political correctness. "Islamic communities are proud Australians and they want to be able to eat our national icon as well," Kraft spokesman Simon Talbot said. "We don't own Vegemite. The people of Australia own Vegemite. We're just the custodians and we want to make sure Vegemite is available for everyone."

Muslim leaders have congratulated Kraft for introducing the labels, but Family Council of Victoria secretary Bill Muehlenberg questioned the company's motives.

"This is a private company trying to make money," Mr Muehlenberg said. "I don't think they care a rip about offending the tastebuds of Muslims. "Why do we have to keep bending over backwards to please minority groups? There are only 300,000 Muslims in Australia out of 22 million people, which is a very small percentage. "Of course, there's a case for making allowances for different cultures, but aren't we getting a bit carried away with political correctness here? It's ridiculous."

Mr Muehlenberg feared the halal labelling was also a sign of "Islamisation" of western countries. "We're already seeing sharia law courts operating in Britain," he said. "Where does it end?"

Since the labels were changed in August, Kraft's head office has received regular phone calls from people complaining about the halal labelling on Vegemite. "People have called us with some fairly strong views about Australian society and culture," Mr Talbot said. "These are views that we at Kraft don't agree with. We don't engage in racist or bigoted commentary. "But for every call we receive asking about it, there is a call to say how proud they are to see it's halal. We are also proud of our kosher, halal and vegetarian products."

Vegemite has been certified kosher for more than a decade. When Kraft decided to scrap kosher Vegemite production in 2004, the backlash from Jewish consumers forced the company to do a backflip.

Yasser Soliman, Islamic Council of Victoria past-president and executive director of Diversity Connect International, said the halal certification on Vegemite was a sign Muslims were "becoming more Aussie".


Sex abuse accused father fights back

It's about time that lies such as this were penalized. But how come it takes a private prosecution? Where are the authorities in this?

A DAD cleared of claims he sexually abused his kids is now hitting back at his ex wife. The man is accusing his ex-wife of perjury, assault and threatening to kill. The legal action, believed to be a first for Victoria, will set a controversial precedent and could open the floodgates to similar cases.

"Bill", whose identity cannot be revealed for legal reasons, is alleging his wife deliberately lied when she made allegations that he had sexually abused their children. His affidavit was accepted by the Melbourne Magistrates' Court last week, a hearing date has been set for next month and a summons was due to be served on Friday. The case stems from a criminal trial during which Bill spent two years fighting charges based on his wife's allegations.

He was eventually acquitted, but the ordeal cost him his job, his home and about $450,000 in lost income and legal costs. The case is also based on similar accusations of sexual abuse of their children made by the ex-wife during a bitter Family Court battle. The Family Court judge found Bill's ex-wife to be violent, untruthful, lacking moral values and responsible for the psychological and emotional abuse of her children - but still gave her custody of the two girls, now aged 9 and 11, because they had become estranged from their father. By contrast, Bill was found to have shown "laudable forbearance in the face of the most challenging circumstances".

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show about 2.5 million Australians are denied access to family because of family law proceedings, and about 680,000 fathers see their children as little as once a year. ABS figures also show 700,000 children have no meaningful contact with one of their non-custodial parents - mostly fathers.

Bill said yesterday he was bringing the case because he felt betrayed by the justice system. "The Family Court have cut me off from my children effectively because of false evidence brought by my wife," Bill said. "In 2005, she went to the police and made the allegations and then prepared the children on what they should say. The result was my kids were taken away from me. "I proved my own innocence and that she had lied on both occasions - in the criminal trial and in the Family Court matter. "My life with my kids was destroyed. If people can lie in court and hurt others by their utterances and statements, what is the point of the law?"

The case will intensify the current national debate over the operation of the Family Court and the principle of shared parenting, which is under attack by women's groups and is being reviewed by the Rudd Government.

Bill's ex-wife is facing charges of perjury, assault and making a threat to kill. The charges allege that she knowingly and wilfully made 10 pages of false statements to police in September 2005 and perjured herself by repeating the allegations in a sworn affidavit during a Family Court hearing in 2008. She is also accused of threatening to kill Bill in 2004 and of assaulting him with chopsticks and fingernails in 2000.

Law Institute of Victoria chief executive Michael Brett Young said private criminal prosecutions were rare, but not unheard of. "This man will have to prove his case, like anyone else, in the criminal courts," Mr Young said.


Bad behaviour by African "sportsmen" in Brisbane

They don't seem to get the idea of sport. So we have the inevitable attempt to play the race card, of course. If they had simply said that they were unfamiliar with local customs and then apologized for offending people they would no doubt have got a much better outcome. That is the sort of thing that Western whites are always expected to do when they offend some minority

A TEAM of African refugees has been blocked from playing after accusing basketball officials of racism. The Hoop Dreamz team has lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland, alleging victimisation by Brisbane Basketball and its parent organisation Basketball Queensland.

Mediation has begun but Basketball Queensland says the players will only be allowed to compete in the new season, beginning next month, if they split up and join different teams. Basketball Queensland says that it is necessary because referees have felt threatened by Hoop Dreamz players and spectators and the sporting body has a duty of care.

But team coach David Yohan claims they have been subjected to "institutionalised racism" and the move is a huge blow which has devastated the youngsters. "They can't believe what's happened," he said. "They thought Australia was a place of opportunity. If they could do something with their lives, this would be the place to do it."

Ethiopian-born Mr Yohan formed Hoop Dreamz, initially playing in a public park in Yeronga, to help keep fellow refugees off the streets and out of trouble. The 24-year-old's success has brought tributes and awards. In November he received a young leader medal in News Ltd's Pride of Australia awards and last Thursday, Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman presented him with a Young Citizen of the Year Award. Hoop Dreamz entered two teams in the Brisbane Basketball tournament last season and, in a dream debut, both made their grand finals last September, the under-18s taking the title.

But their joy quickly soured. Complaints about on-court behaviour during the under-20 grand final resulted in three Hoop Dreamz players being suspended. But Basketball Queensland then went further and commissioned an independent report by lawyer Simon Harrison into allegations by officials about the behaviour of some of the team's supporters. Mr Harrison said that, during the final moments of the final, with Hoop Dreamz likely to lose, a minority of supporters "became agitated and that agitation spilled over into what has to be regarded as inappropriate and, in some circumstances, aggressive behaviours".

The report says that Brisbane Basketball general manager Tracey Wroe, who was officiating at the game, feared for her safety after being surrounded by a group of 30 to 40 supporters after rebuking them for bursting balloons and that she was later assaulted by two girls who threw coins, which hit her in the face. A number of supporters and independent witnesses made statements denying there was threatening behaviour and alleging racist comments by officials. Mr Harrison said he found no evidence of "racist behaviour or attitude".

Officials rang police, reporting a brawl involving 50-plus people outside the stadium after the game but a police report says the group was moved on without incident. Mr Harrison recommended that Basketball Queensland's code of conduct be read to the Hoop Dreamz team before their next game.


Obstructive teachers could face fines

National website My School will be launched this week, giving parents unprecedented access to student results for every school in the nation. Saying it was "a major tool for transforming education in this country", Education Minister Julia Gillard yesterday said she was determined the site would succeed. She said it would help identify the most advantaged and disadvantaged students and the country's richest and poorest schools.

But - with teachers threatening to boycott the national literacy and numeracy tests, the results of which are posted on the site - Ms Gillard said she had sent a stern warning the Rudd Government would take whatever action necessary to ensure the site contained as much information as possible. "I've pointed out that, under our workplace relations laws, if you take unprotected industrial action our law provides for the complainant to be penalised," she said. "I've said I won't rule anything in or out to ensure that national testing is done and done well."

Parents logging on to the website - to be launched on Thursday - will access information on student-teacher ratios, attendance rates, reading, writing and maths results for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 for the past two years plus results for national literacy, numeracy tests as well as Year 12 exams. Every primary and secondary school will have its own page, showing the number of boys, girls and indigenous students enrolled.

Ms Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the site would also measure wealth, with a socio-economic rating system for comparisons. "If you compare schools that are teaching similar kids around the country and you see that kids from one school are doing twice as good as the others, it's not the kid's fault - it's what's going on in the school," she said. Ms Gillard said it would be the first time parents and teachers could access so much information about their school. "I think it will spark a lot of conversation between parents and teachers ... it's going to drive better engagement and interest in their children's education."


Hardline attitude to illegals aids immigration overall -- says Australian conservative leader

Tony Abbott has moved to portray his tough border protection stance as pro-immigration, arguing that it helps to maintain public support if people think immigration is controlled by the government rather than by people-smugglers. The Opposition Leader, in an Australia Day speech last night, urged minority leaders to respect mainstream Australian values, just as they demand respect for their own, arguing that would help to bolster public support for immigration.

And Mr Abbott called on Kevin Rudd to take some "courageous decisions" to meet projections of an extra 13 million people by 2050. "It's good that the Prime Minister is talking about the need for planning and for courageous decisions to meet the challenges of the mid-century," Mr Abbott said. "It would be even better if he would actually make some prior to the next election."

Mr Abbott used his address to the Australian Day Council in Melbourne to defend a tough border protection regime, arguing it was consistent with a large and inclusive immigration policy. "In fact, it's probably essential if the public is to be convinced that Australia's immigration policy is run by the government rather than by people-smugglers," he said.

Mr Abbott said 67 per cent of Australians thought the immigration intake was too high in 1993 but that had dropped to 34 per cent by 2004, even though the immigration intake had increased after the Howard government toughened its border protection regime. He warned critics of tough border protection that their concerns could "end up undermining Australia's traditional openness to immigrants". "The last thing that any Australian should want is to make recent immigrants feel unwelcome in their new country," the Opposition Leader said.

Mr Abbott said people should be especially concerned that ethnic Indians could have become the victims of racially motivated crime: "It would be an affront to our self-perception as a society where people are judged on their merits rather than on their skin colour."

Mr Abbott likened the controversy over Muslim cleric Taj Din al-Hilali's comments on women and Jews to Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Daniel Mannix's criticisms 90 years earlier on the conduct of World War I. He argued that there had hardly been a time when there were not some reservations about the loyalty of some ethnic groups, but "thus far at least" all had eventually become as Australian as everyone else.

Mr Abbott said immigration had been a success almost unparalleled in history, but it regularly featured as an issue of concern. Factors contributing to this included an increase in unauthorised boat arrivals, raising fears that Australia's borders were again uncontrolled.

He said there was a concern about whether the natural and built environments could cope with the population pressures.


23 January, 2010

Australians to pay the price of Greenie dam-hatred

Water charges are set to spiral in desalination squeeze

HOUSEHOLDS will pay hundreds of dollars extra for water as state governments splash $9 billion of taxpayer funds on energy-guzzling desalination plants that will produce nearly a third of capital-city supplies within two years. The seawater purification "factories" - which can pump out enough drinking water each year to fill Sydney Harbour - will operate around the clock at taxpayer expense, even when high rainfall means their expensive output is not required.

Water utilities yesterday warned urban water prices would spiral in line with the rising cost of electricity needed to operate the massive plants in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and the Gold Coast.

The Water Services Association of Australia, representing most of the urban water utilities nationally, estimated water providers would use up to four times as much electricity as they moved from dams to desalination. "The cost of building desalination plants will be reflected in water prices across Australia," executive director Ross Young told The Weekend Australian. "Electricity prices are only going to go upwards, so operational costs are probably going to climb steadily. "In places like Melbourne in the next four years (water) prices are going to double."

By 2012, water bills for Sydneysiders will rise $103 a year purely to pay for the cost of running the city's first desalination plant, costing $2.4bn, due to open at Kurnell within weeks. Household water bills will soar nearly a third - from $663 to $904 - in the Melbourne metropolis over the next three years, once a $3.5bn plant - the nation's biggest - comes online at the end of next year. In southeast Queensland, where a $1.2bn desalination plant opened on the Gold Coast last year, water bills are forecast to rise about $60 annually until 2013. In Adelaide, where a $1.83bn plant will open at the end of next year, water bills will increase $84 this year for an average household. In Perth, which will open its second plant next year, the average household water bill will rise 10 per cent over the next three years, costing high-use households as much as $164 a year more.

Mr Young said higher bills would give consumers an incentive to save water. "Any resource given away free is always exploited," he said. "If water is priced too low there's no incentive for conservation or to upgrade infrastructure. "We shouldn't underestimate the power of a price signal."

CSIRO urban water research division leader Alan Gregory said electricity made up a quarter of the total cost of building and running a desalination plant. "Just the energy component alone will drive up the cost of water," he said. "You haven't got to be Einstein to work out that prices will go up. It's unavoidable."

A CSIRO analysis for the Water Services Association has found that desalination plants use seven times more electricity than conventional water treatment plants. The research reveals that energy consumption by water utilities would rise 400 per cent if they switched entirely to desalination for city water supplies within 20 years. Energy use would soar by 260 per cent if utilities sourced 40 per cent of their water from the ocean.

The National Water Commission has calculated that the running costs of a typical desalination plant would jump 16 per cent if an emissions trading scheme is introduced that prices carbon at $50 a tonne.

Critics of the states' massive investment in desalination yesterday dismissed the technology as "financially risky". Stuart White, the director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures, at the University of Technology, Sydney, said the desalination plants roped taxpayers and consumers into paying for water that might not always be necessary. "Once you build them, there's the imperative to operate them," Mr White said yesterday. "Sometimes (it's) a contractual imperative . . . flat-out." In Sydney, where dams are now half-empty, the new Kurnell plant will run at full capacity for at least two years, regardless of rainfall levels.

Operators of the desalination plants are trying to douse the debate over greenhouse gas emissions by buying "green power" from sources such as wind farms. But in Western Australia, the government pricing watchdog has vetoed the Water Corporation's plan to charge its consumers the extra cost of buying more expensive experimental green electricity to power Perth's desalination plants.

The West Australian Economic Regulation Authority's chairman, Lyndon Rowe, said yesterday the role of the Water Corporation was to "provide water to consumers at the least possible cost". "If a government itself wants to sponsor the research (into renewable energy) it's fine, but it shouldn't be a cost borne by water users," he said. Mr Rowe likened desalination plants to "water factories". "We can produce all the water you like but it can't be free," Mr Rowe said. "It should be paid for by the users, to encourage people to use water wisely."


Fifth-generation serviceman injured, traumatised and abandoned by the military

The defence bureaucracy at work again

ANDREW Bird has dealt with the victims of Taliban torture in Afghanistan, the worst of natural disasters in Pakistan, human failings in the Solomons and the constant threat of death on repeat deployments to Iraq.

Through the worst of it, this fifth-generation serviceman felt he had the Australian Defence Force behind him. Indeed, as an army media officer, he often had the best soldiers, top brass, diplomats and politicians alongside, and ordinary Australians there for the ride, too, given they would see his authorised footage and photos.

But leaving Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital two years ago, head bandaged and throbbing, Major Bird could not have felt more alone. Having sustained serious ear trauma in a helicopter depressurisation in southern Afghanistan, Major Bird had just undergone surgery that would save his balance, but not the hearing in one ear, nor prevent the ringing in the other ear.

This once proud officer found himself facing medical discharge, with the early symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and no one in the army to help him through. "All through that, mate, army was f . . king missing in action," Major Bird, 34, told The Weekend Australian this week. "I came out of hospital, head in bandages, and had to get a taxi back to my apartment. The bloody taxi driver had to help me up to my apartment -- it was a f . . king disgrace."

Spending so much time overseas and being constantly on call fractured Major Bird's personal relationships, and he found no military structure to fall back on. Unable to recover his health, or his usefulness to the army, Major Bird was eventually shunted off to the Department of Veterans Affairs to consider his care and financial needs. Six weeks ago, his promising career came to an end.

As revealed this week, a decade of conflict has seen the DVA accept liability for 9134 injuries and illnesses from 3884 personnel as a result of their time in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Rudd government has emphasised its commitment to the continued health and wellbeing of the troops and is expected to push through improvements this year.

But for Major Bird, building a new life on the Gold Coast, change could not come soon enough. He was made to undergo repeated medical reviews -- and a senior bureaucrat had him in tears when she suggested his condition wasn't as bad as the doctors thought. The paperwork was extensive and often indecipherable, especially for someone such as Major Bird who was on heavy painkillers, and whose PTSD affected his memory, his confidence and feelings of personal safety.

Defence is now improving its mental health programs and transition arrangements, while the DVA is working on its paperwork and reducing the number of medical reviews required.

Major Bird wants a special army cell to guide injured and ill troops through treatment and rehabilitation, their dealings with the DVA and the move back to civilian life. "Even on my last day I didn't get a phone call, no letter," he said. "You would have got better support had you come back dead."


Parents slap down teachers' union on school league tables

PUBLIC-school parents have expressed anger at a union-led campaign against league tables, accusing the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens of failing to consult them and misrepresenting their views.

The NSW P&C Federation has joined with the Australian Education Union in warning of the detrimental effects of league tables and condemning a new website that allows direct comparison of schools' performances.

But there is concern among parents that the federation is too closely aligned to the NSW Teachers Federation and is pushing a union agenda that does not reflect the views of parents, who are in favour of greater transparency and accountability.

Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard will launch the website My School on Thursday, staring down teachers' threats this week to boycott national literacy and numeracy testing. The website will allow parents to compare the performance of schools in NAPLAN tests against those of statistically similar schools.

Pevlin Price, the outgoing president of the P&C association at Normanhurst High School, in Sydney's northwest, said many parents were strongly supportive of greater accountability by schools. "Are we going to push on without knowing what the facts are?" Mr Price said. "Who are we protecting? "I am really disappointed that the P&C has not consulted on this issue. If they asked every individual school P&C (for its view), they would have got a very different response."

David Ogilvie, a member of a P&C council at a primary school on Sydney's north shore, said many parents disagreed with the views expressed by the P&C Federation and were strongly supportive of the My School website. "I think generally parents think its a good idea," Mr Ogilvie said. "I personally don't understand the P&C Federation or the Teachers Federation's point of view. "The parents I have spoken to are more than impressed by the steps the government is taking here in terms of transparency. "I don't believe the argument that schools that aren't performing are going to be further disadvantaged. I think the reality should be quite the opposite -- that if these schools aren't performing then the Education Department and the ministers should be addressing the issue of why they are not performing."

The federal government does not support the creation of league tables but is unwilling to introduce measures to ban them.

The NSW Federation of P&Cs president Dianne Giblin said yesterday the data that would be available on the My School website would be simplistic and comparing schools would result in a narrowing of the curriculum.

Northern Sydney Regional Council of P&C Associations president David Hope said while he supported the position of the P&C Federation on league tables, he said the issue of accountability and transparency was far broader. "We need to ensure that the education system doesn't let down individual students or particular schools," he said.


Police not interested in attacks on Indians

Covert racism?

WHEN attacks on overseas students emerged as a serious problem, the issue did not even rate as an agenda item for Australia's peak police council, according to Freedom of Information advice. "It's extraordinary, given what we know was going on at the time," said Mark Briskey, head of the Australian Graduate School of Policing at Charles Sturt University.

The attacks were not discussed at the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management in the 17 months to last November, the Attorney-General's Department confirmed. Nor were the attacks discussed by the supporting Senior Officers Group, despite strong warnings from the Chinese, Indian and Indonesian embassies about the safety of their student nationals from as early as 2008. The regular police meetings were held late in 2008 and as recently as June last year, at the height of the student unrest and as Kevin Rudd was calling for calm, amid talk of vigilante groups of Indian students protecting fellow nationals.

Mr Briskey said it was highly unusual that this wasn't a significant issue of discussion at either the MCPEM or SOG. "It shows a failure to address this in a more urgent manner."

A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said the Police Ministers Council did not meet specifically on the attacks "as the issue was the subject of a special taskforce established by the Prime Minister". State and territory police agencies attended meetings of the Prime Minister's taskforce, which met regularly for six weeks from June 2 last year, the spokesman said.

Despite requests from the HES, Home Affairs declined to say whether the Prime Minister's taskforce had produced a report, or to give an account of its activities and achievements.

Monash University's Chris Nyland said the FOI advice suggested the authorities had failed to take the attacks seriously enough. "Given at the time the Prime Minister and the premiers were assuring us that all possible resources were being [put] into this issue, this is a matter of concern," Professor Nyland said. "This is a sign that the issue wasn't considered to be of sufficient importance to organise a meeting for."

Mr Briskey, a transnational crime expert who used to be a senior investigator with the Australian Federal Police, also called for more co-ordinated action to deal with visa fraud. He said Australia and India should jointly investigate criminal elements involved in visa and document fraud to better protect overseas students. "There should be a dedicated bilateral approach between Australia and India looking at fraudulent and unethical education and migration agents in both countries," he said.

Last year The Australian highlighted claims of a people-smuggling operation centred on student visas. Mr Briskey said while there was a federal working group on overseas students, he knew of no dedicated investigatory group unearthing links that have damaged the Australian export education industry.

Tony Pollock, chief executive of IDP, revealed last October that some overseas students had become victims of "a highly integrated chain" of exploitative education and migration advice, access to dodgy colleges, part-time work and accommodation. "This could be construed as people-smuggling," he said. The Weekend Australian also reported that education agents were implicated in a trade in providing falsified bank and loan statements from corrupt bank staff, with the Immigration Department cancelling the applications of 500 Indian nationals.

Mr Briskey said the AFP and the Immigration Department had a combined taskforce that looked at people-smuggling. "[But] this [chain of student exploitation] is below the radar of what's being looked at as the primary people-smuggling problem," he said. "It's the opposite side of people coming by boats. By far the largest number of illegal entrants come by aircraft." He said a bilateral investigatory approach was essential. "This is something that walks the tightrope between organised crime and opportunistic business practices that could be criminal in both India and Australia."


22 January, 2010

Call for action

The Greens have indicated that they may do a deal with the Labor Party on the Emissions Trading Scheme. If they vote with the Government in the Senate, Labor needs another two votes to pass the legislation.

There is a rumour about that Senator Boyce (Liberal QLD) intends to support the Rudd Government's ETS legislation when it is re-submitted to the Senate. If you are a Queenslander (or even if you're not?), you may consider contacting the Senator to express your opinion.

Keep the pressure up .... politicians only respond when they think the may lose a few votes. Boyce's email address:

There is a Victorian Senator, Judith Troeth, who is also wavering ... her email address:

Green rise in power, fuel costs

VICTORIANS could face higher electricity and petrol prices from July 1 if the Rudd Government adopts a carbon tax proposal by the Greens to break the climate change policy deadlock. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he would examine the idea and was open to discussions with all parties.

The Greens called for a $23-a-tonne carbon tax to be introduced for two years. The temporary tax would raise $10 billion a year, of which $5 billion would be paid as compensation to low and middle-income households to shelter them from higher electricity and energy prices.

Industry and small business would get about $2 billion in assistance with $1.2 billion given to help poor countries deal with climate change.

Unlike the Government's plan, petrol would be hit by the tax and it could add about 5c a litre at the pump. Electricity generators would also miss out on compensation, but farming will be excluded.

The plan aims to put the Greens back into the national debate about climate change, after they were effectively sidelined by the Rudd Government last year as it sought to strike a deal with the Coalition's former leader Malcolm Turnbull.

Greens leader Bob Brown said it was urgent and essential that a deal be struck in the short term, to begin the quest to reduce climate change, while a proper plan was worked out for the longer term. "Our job is to help get the climate change bus going again," Senator Brown said.

Mr Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme was blocked by the Senate last year. It faces defeat again when Parliament resumes.


Australian health bureaucrats think they know better than the doctors

EXCESSIVELY strict interpretation of rules governing the prescription of human growth hormone is compromising the care of children with medical conditions that make them abnormally short, specialists say.

The doctors say officials are rejecting legitimate applications to put children on the program, and restricting others to doses too low to be effective, after changes at the Department of Health and Ageing that have made new staff reluctant to continue a tradition of informal agreement over who should qualify and instead insist on the letter of the rules.

They want the department to update its regulations based on new research showing larger doses should be given early in a child's treatment for maximum effectiveness, and to consider research suggesting it is useful in a wider range of disorders.

But the department has made a submission to the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, which sets rules for subsidised treatment, arguing for more tightly defined eligibility and dosage criteria.

The Australian Paediatric Endocrine Group had made a submission arguing for more liberal prescribing, its president, Andrew Cotterill, said.

Dr Cotterill said he understood the department's dilemma, but he wanted "to work … to develop a process that is gentler around the hard edges". The prescribing system had previously worked as a "gentlemen's agreement" in which public servants usually accepted specialists' advice that patients needed the drug if they fell marginally outside the criteria. But the approach had toughened and more applications were being rejected. "The current medical literature is pointing towards the first year of treatment [offering] the best chance of a response," Dr Cotterill said, meaning children should be moved quickly towards the maximum dose if they did not respond to lower doses. But the rules say the dose should be increased slowly.

Growth hormone is prescribed to about 1500 children a year, costing typically $5000 to $10,000 a patient. More than half goes to those whose failure to grow has no known cause - but only if they are in the lowest 1 per cent of the expected height range based on their parents' statures. Other reasons include the genetic Turner syndrome, which affects only girls, cancer radiotherapy to the head, and kidney failure, along with hormone deficiency resulting from biochemical imbalance.

A Sydney endocrinologist, Maria Craig, said officials were "reading the guidelines very literally and overriding clinical experience … So much has to be taken in the context of a child's age, ethnic background, bone age, and [stage of puberty]. To have guidelines that are overly prescriptive just doesn't make sense." Dr Craig said the official dosing regime when a child started on the hormone was already conservative, offering "one of the lowest doses by global standards".

The chairman of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, Lloyd Sansom, said a special meeting in December had discussed how the hormone might be used to treat chromosomal abnormalities and other disorders and "certain issues about dose escalation". He said the process was intended to set general terms for public subsidy and recommendations had been sent to the federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon. A separate committee of specialised doctors could advise government on individual cases, but it was the Health Department's prerogative to make the final funding decision. "There is a limited health dollar, and decisions have to be made that can sometimes seem draconian," Professor Sansom said.


Leftist feels uncomfortable with Australian patriotism

He is quite horrified that we celebrate our national day (Jan 26th) with some enthusiasm. See below. He wants us to make the day "silly". The old leftist propaganda about internationalism and multiculturalism is beginning to wear off. Australia has got a lot to celebrate but a miserable Leftist sees only faults. How odd that the whine appears on the site of Australia's "national" broadcaster

Long before it came to symbolise some sort of football, meat pies, kangaroos and Sam Kekovich view of aggressively asserted Australianism, January 26 traditionally marked nothing more than the sunny end of the silly season: that moment when working Australia shook the sand out of its togs and dragged its bronzed and rested form back to work. After Australia Day, the Year Proper could begin.

That was a concept of the national day we could all agree with, a simple, innocuous, seasonal marker. It would be impossible this time next week, for example, for the Victorian premier to announce that he has just appointed a Minister for The Respect Agenda. If he does it this week we know he's just being silly. If he did it next week we'd seriously have to fear for his sanity. But between silly seasons, some time back, something happened to Australia Day.

It was at about the same time that inane and tuneless chants of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" began to ring beerily from the sporting terraces; about the same time that the Australian flag began to take on a subtly shifting significance beyond a merely formal drape of bright bunting. About the same time that Anzac Day, once a quietly reverential and nostalgic gathering of old soldiers, was appropriated to the greater cause of Nation Building and Aussie Pride. About the time people started tattooing the Southern Cross on their shoulder blades, chests and ankles.

Every year of late we've had a similar discussion round Australia Day, wondering whether it was an occasion that was truly inclusive. It is, obviously, a particularly sensitive spot on the calendar for indigenous Australians. It marks -- and I offer this information for the young people reading who have been betrayed by an education system that long ago consigned even the rudiments of history to, ah, history - Australia Day marks the moment the first governor of NSW pulled up in a jolly boat somewhere near the end of the third runway at Sydney airport, raised a flag and began the random discharge of firearms. Sheep, binge drinking and urban sprawl would follow.

Black Australians trace a certain amount of dispossession and misery to this moment, and that is where the "is this a day for all Australians?" conversation has traditionally settled. That point still holds, of course, Australia Day for Aboriginal Australians is a day of invasion, the beginning of a slow, cruel conquest.

These days though, Australia Day is leaving a lot of the rest of us, black white and brindle, behind as well. For most of my life expressions of national pride were seen as gauche and unfortunate embarrassments. We used to look at the rampant flag waving of Americans and raise a sardonic eyebrow. We'd happily admit to our Australianism but in a quietly understated way.

That's no longer the fashion for many in our community, no longer the fashion in particular among that vocal, demanding common denominator who seem to be the trend setting cohort in our culture, the populist mass whose fickle political preferences and aggressive self assertion make them the target market in much of the national discussion.

It has to be said that they are leaving a lot of us cold, and behind. The politicians pander, through self interest, to the flag wavers and star tattooers leaving a big chunk of the rest of us to wonder what happened to this place that it is suddenly so sure of itself, suddenly so chest thrusting, flag draped and proud.

For a lot of Australians the country's meek sense of quiet confidence has long been its greatest charm. For a lot of us national pride is the most empty sort of boast. A lot of us resent the subtle pressure to join the collective heave of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. A lot of us would like to see Australia Day slip back into something quieter and gently daggy. Stop taking it seriously. Make it silly again.


Heeding the political lessons of Glaciergate

Governments must constantly question the science, says the editorial below from "The Australian". Pleasing to welcome the editors of Australia's national daily to the ranks of the climate skeptics

THE UN's admissions on Glaciergate are welcome, but the international body has sustained damage from its sloppiness in reporting climate change data. Its claim to speak as the authority on climate science is reduced now that its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been forced to back down over a claim that some Himalayan glaciers would probably disappear by 2035.

The IPCC's statement yesterday that the "clear and well-established standards of evidence" had not been properly applied to the claim, is an attempt to put the best possible spin on a blunder that has reverberated around the world since it was revealed last weekend. In fact Glaciergate, in large part, is about an extraordinary reliance on a third-hand source - a news story published in New Scientist almost a decade before it was included in the IPCC's fourth assessment report of 2007.

It doesn't get much more humiliating than that for a body that has positioned itself as the global scientific authority on climate change.

Until now, that authority has been acknowledged, with the 2007 report accepted as the underlying framework for discussions at the recent Copenhagen summit. While the limits of the report and the IPCC's processes have been noted, developing and developed countries alike recognise the need for some sort of consensus document if there are to be any workable solutions negotiated at a global level.

That willingness to accept the IPCC's data on climate change - albeit with reservations at times - will be tested now that its reporting methods have been revealed. This is not good news for the planet, given the need for reliable and credible assessments of scientific data on global warming. Also unhelpful is the defensive stance adopted by the IPCC when it argues that the error does not undermine the report's claims of major glacier loss in the Himalayas.

Chairman Rajendra Pachauri would have us believe this is a case of "slipping up on one number", thus ignoring what the error reveals about the culture of the IPCC, a culture that allowed it to rely on a statement from a WWF environmental campaigning document, which in turn relied on the New Scientist interview with a single scientist. The problem was apparently compounded by the inversion of a date in an earlier paper.

Part of the problem is the IPCC's diffuse and complex system of working groups and review processes. While this may be the only practical way of synthesising thousands of research findings from around the globe into an accessible document for world leaders, the modus operandi builds in significant room for error.

As we have noted before, that is fair enough so long as the shortcomings are recognised by policy-makers. But politicians prefer certainties - not caveats - when they make the case for action on climate change to voters.

The real lesson is that our political leaders must continue to question, probe and analyse the evidence before committing to policies with profound consequences. This is not about letting the IPCC off the hook. Nor is is about denying the science. It is about applying a healthy degree of scepticism to scientific claims that drive policy.


21 January, 2010

Doctors highlight a cancerous medical bureaucracy in Queensland

Medicos wage war on billions wasted on bureaucrat jobs

AUSTRALIA'S peak medical group will demand Queensland Health stop hiring bureaucrats as part of a new name and shame campaign targeting the hundreds of millions of dollars it claims are being wasted in hospitals. The Australian Medical Association will today unveil a "War on Waste" campaign in a bid to highlight problems in the beleaguered health system, ahead of proposed reform by the Rudd Government later this year.

AMA Queensland president Mason Stevenson last night told The Courier-Mail the campaign would attempt to pressure both the state and federal governments to act on health reform, given an estimated $4 billion was being wasted nationwide. The group claims, for example, one in 10 surgery patients is admitted to hospital and prepared for surgery but discharged before their operation because of a lack of theatres. "The wastage is widespread and is costing lives," Dr Stevenson said.

The move comes amid a heated debate over a proposed federal takeover of hospitals, with the Rudd Government still considering recommendations from a top-level report.

But the Bligh Government last night produced a letter written last year by Queensland Health director-general Mick Reid asking to consult with the AMA about red tape. It claimed that request has been met with silence from the AMA.

The AMA campaign includes a list of questions Queensland Health will be asked to answer within two weeks, including how much extra hospital floor space bureaucrats have been given in the past decade. The AMA has also called for a moratorium on hiring bureaucrats, saying department figures showed the number of administration jobs had swollen from 5060 to 13,645 positions since 1995. Doctor jobs, meanwhile, had risen from 3095 to 6715 positions.

But Health Minister Paul Lucas defended the administration staff, saying they were crucial to taking paperwork from doctors and nurses who had been hired in record numbers. He instead accused the AMA of trying to introduce its own red tape and waste. "The AMA criticises Surgery Connect now but this is just sour grapes from an organisation that in 2006 supported the initiative and wanted to charge the State Government a $1.7 million 'management' fee to administer the program," he said. "Every hour of paperwork taken out of doctors' hands by booking clerks and patient liaison officers is an extra hour spent treating patients."

But Dr Stevenson said a moratorium was necessary to stop wastage.


A "Soviet style" hospital bureaucracy in NSW

Over the past 18 months I have spent an inordinate amount of time in public hospitals in NSW, not as a patient but as a witness to the ordeals of family members. There were multiple trips to the emergency department - where elderly people were piled up in corridors - and wards in which four very sick people crammed in one room managed to be pleasant to each other while overstretched nurses remained cheerful and the doctors adept.

There was the hand clinic with an inexplicable waiting time every week of four to six hours, but with world-class doctors fixing broken fingers for free, and the deserted endocrinology clinic, which a specialist opens by himself on Saturdays so his sickest patients don't have to wait.

I walked along deserted corridors at night and marvelled at how such a massive, ingenuity-sapping bureaucratic institution somehow still manages to save lives and bring out the best in people who work there. Two things were notable: first, the professionalism, expertise and good humour of most doctors and nurses; and second, the extent to which they must work around a government bureaucracy of Soviet-style ineptitude. Their successes are in spite of the system, about which they are openly scathing.

How did our hospitals become so remote from the needs of patients and the good sense of medical professionals? Two doctors with a combined total of more than 80 years in the NSW public hospital system, and a passion for public service, are speaking out about their experience of the "chaos, tragedy and sometimes downright farce" they have encountered in the second half of their careers.

Dr John Graham, the chairman of the Department of Medicine at Sydney Hospital and Sydney Eye Hospital, and Dr X, a staff specialist physician at a large hospital in the Northern Tablelands, (who cannot give his name for fear of being sacked) say the problem is not a lack of funding but the dead hand of bureaucracy. They have prescribed the remedy to restore public hospitals to their former place among the most trusted and well run institutions in the country: to reinstate local autonomy, with independent hospital boards taking full control of the budget.

Dr X, who is also a senior officer in the army reserve who served in Rwanda, Afghanistan and Banda Aceh after the tsunami, knows a thing or two about organising medical teams. "I have an appreciation of organisations, of command and control, of man management and of assessing clinical priorities and planning for them," he says. "In criticising the Department of Health, I am not an anarchist or privateer; I believe in our public institutions."

He says the amalgamation in 2004 of the Hunter and New England Health services into one giant administration was "an absolute disaster". "I can honestly say that in my three decades here I have never seen the system more dysfunctional. It just gets more and more bloody difficult."

His hospital is so stretched for doctors he has been without a day off and on call every second night since November. In an impassioned letter written on New Year's Eve while he was on call, he stated: "At the moment I have no resident medical officer, no registrar or secretary. I am expected to be all of these. "Meanwhile, in hospital I have patients waiting for investigations and treatment which will not be available for several weeks [due to holiday closures]. I am being pressured to discharge patients before they are ready, and to not admit patients who should be admitted.

"I am supposed to compromise patient care in order to save the hides of non-clinical incompetents who make irresponsible decisions without any consultation or consideration of the likely consequences. "Such a situation would never have occurred when communities had 'ownership' of their local hospitals and governed them though their local hospital boards . . . "And it is not as though the Hunter-New England Area Health Service is short of money; with a budget of $1 billion dollars, you could be forgiven for thinking that the staffing of its hospitals with appropriately experience doctors would be a priority."

Like Dr X, Dr Graham traces the rot back to the 1980s and 1990s when local hospital boards were replaced with area health services. In a policy paper for the Centre for Independent Studies in October, he argued that "the disastrous reorganisation of public hospital administration over the past 25 years needs to be reversed". Decision-making in hospitals used to be quick and effective, but now "funding is not spent optimally and trust, co-operation, morale and institutional loyalty has been sapped . . . Resource misallocation involving extraordinary growth in the size and cost of the bureaucracy has led to a massive waste of taxpayer's money."

The bimonthly department meetings that he attends at Sydney Hospital show how dysfunctional the system has become. "The department's time is mainly occupied in dealing with centralised directives issued by the South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service and NSW Health . . . Doctors and nurses these days are forever wasting time and energy complying with the new sets of orders issued by an intrusive, arbitrary, and seemingly unaccountable bureaucracy." For instance, there are new rules issued to medical staff every day about everything from handwashing to how to write a blood test request or talk to the grieving relatives of a patient. "They're constantly telling you your business," Dr Graham says.

And if you buck the system, "there is a lot of heavy-handed pressure brought to bear, especially on younger doctors and nurses. NSW is really like what it would have been in Moscow 20 years ago." Dr Graham, who is semi-retired, says that he is able to speak out because he is in the "lucky situation where they can't hurt me".

In an indication that the deteriorating state of our hospitals will be a major election issue, the Australian Medical Association this week called for wide-scale health reform in its submission to the 2010 budget. It's about time someone listened to the doctors.


Prince William popular in Australia

Yesterday, from his impeccable performance on an Australian Army rifle range to his conversation with a disadvantaged youngster about rap music - an exchange which passed off more successfully than anyone might have imagined - William gave the impression of a Prince who could do no wrong. The newspaper headlines are already the stuff of which St James's Palace could scarcely dream. "King of the Kids" said one front page about his meeting with a group of children; "How Willie Wombat charmed The Block" said another about his visit to the deprived inner city suburb of Redfern.

Before he had even started William appeared to have won over the female population of Sydney; yesterday it was his chance to see if the Army was as easily impressed. At the firing range at Holsworthy the Prince, who has spent four and a half years with the Armed Forces, shot at targets 100m away with an F88 Austeyr - a rifle he has never used before - and a Minimi machine gun.

Getting his shots within a spread of 150mm would have been deemed a pass; Prince William got his down to 104mm. "For someone who has just picked up a weapon that is excellent," said Lance Corporal Peter Phillips, a section commander with Alpha Company of 3 Bn Royal Australian Regiment. "If we had a soldier that came in on the first day and did that they would be a master shot in a couple of weeks."

At a homeless centre the Prince - and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd - was treated to a rap performance by four disadvantaged young blacks. "Awesome!" said the Prince. "Get them signed up straight away!" Asked about his own taste in music, William said: "Mine is very varied. A bit of rock, a bit of Linkin Park, Kanye West." "That's my man!" said Austin Anyimba.

After the laughter died down, the Prince added: "I've done something right then. Quite rappy. I cannot do beat box. I normally get a bit of stick for my interest in music."

Chris Reason, who has been covering the visit for Channel 7, said: "He is doing exceptionally well. That moment at Redfern was absolutely historic. For someone of his stature to go there was deeply appreciated. "He is carrying on the legacy of Diana in so many ways. Australians are a cynical and hard bunch with a republican streak. But they have a genuine affection for this member of the Royal Family."

SOURCE. More detail here and here

Does Monckton go too far?

Janet Albrechtsen says that Lord Monckton should not call Warmists Nazis and Communists even though Warmists frequently abuse skeptics that way. She may be right

IS it too much to ask for a measured climate change debate in 2010? Looking back at 2009, it's hard to think of a more frustrating debate than the one about anthropogenic global warming.

One side says the science is settled and will not countenance dissent. Within that group sit the alarmists who preach death and destruction, those who define humanity as the problem and those who have long harboured an ideological grudge against Western progress. Those on the other side of the debate say man-made global warming is all bunkum. Though they describe themselves as sceptics, for many of them the science is equally settled: in their favour.

And in between is a far larger group of people, those who are open-minded and genuinely sceptical, who are trying to understand the debate as best they can. Yet frustration only grows at the extremism on both sides.

So what will Christopher Monckton bring to this exasperating state of affairs? The former adviser to Margaret Thatcher is in Australia next week, speaking about the flaws of the push for a global solution to global warming. Last year, Monckton blew the whistle on a draft Copenhagen treaty that political leaders seemed keen to keep away from the prying eyes of taxpayers, who will fund the grand promises.

While nothing concrete came out of Copenhagen, the push for global commitments and a foreign aid bonanza continues. And in this respect, Monckton has plenty more to say. He has written to the Prime Minister outlining legitimate concerns that billions of dollars will be wasted on a problem that does not exist.

When Monckton talks about the science he is powerful. Watch on YouTube his kerb-side interview of a well-meaning Greenpeace follower on the streets of Copenhagen last month. With detailed data behind him, he asks whether she is aware that there has been no statistically significant change in temperatures for 15 years. No, she is not. Whether she is aware that there has in fact been global cooling in the past nine years? No, she is not. Whether she is aware that there has been virtually no change to the amount of sea ice? No, she does not. Whether, given her lack of knowledge about these facts, she is driven by faith, not facts. Yes, she is driven by faith, she says.

To those with an open mind, Monckton's fact-based questions demand answers from our political leaders. To this end, he will impress his Australian audience over the next few days. Unfortunately, while Monckton has mastered the best arts of persuasion, he also succumbs to the worst of them when he engages in his made-for-the-stage histrionics. In Copenhagen, when a group of young activists interrupted a meeting, he berated them as Nazis and Hitler Youth. Elsewhere he has called on people to rise up and fight off a "bureaucratic communistic world government monster". This extremist language damages his credibility. More important, it damages the debate. You start to look like a crank when you describe your opponents as Nazis and communists. You can see how it happens. Talking to a roomful of cheering fellow travellers, the temptation is to hit the high gear of hyperbole. But if your aim is to persuade those with an open mind, this kind of talk will only turn people away. Warning people about the genuine threat to national sovereignty from a centralised global-warming bureaucracy is one thing. Talking about a new front of communists marching your way is another. It sounds like an overzealous warrior fighting an old battle.

The debate about global warming is as much a political debate as it is about the science. Writing in Macleans earlier this month, Andrew Coyne highlighted the errors made by the global warmists who deride their opponents. "If your desire is to persuade the unpersuaded among the general public, the very worst way to go about it is to advertise your bottomless contempt for your adversaries. That the IPCC scientists reacted in this way shows how unprepared they were, for all their activist enthusiasm, to enter the political arena."

The great shame is that those on the other side of the debate are making precisely the same error. And that is why Monckton's fact-based concerns are left unaddressed by our political leaders. They have sidelined him from debate. Kevin Rudd has not responded to his letter. Tony Abbott will not meet him. Neither should he. There is no political gain for the Opposition Leader in doing so.

And the reason is clear enough. Inflationary language deflates an argument. Moreover, Monckton is making the worst political error at the worst possible time, right when this debate is slipping from the control of those determined to punish countries for their carbon emissions. Even The Guardian's resident alarmist George Monbiot admitted last November, "There is no point in denying it: we're losing. Climate change denial is spreading like a contagious disease."

It's neither denial nor a disease, of course. Just healthy scepticism. And it's growing in all the right directions for all the right reasons. Scepticism about the science: the revelation that scientists massaged data to suit their case has damaged the public's trust in the scientific community. Scepticism about the costs: after Copenhagen, we now know more about the grab for a new gravy train of foreign aid from developed nations set to flow to developing countries under the cloak of climate change. Scepticism about the government: the Rudd government will come under increased pressure to explain its rush to implement an emissions trading system ahead of the rest of the world. And scepticism about the role of a campaigning media: even the BBC Trust has called for a review of the BBC's cheerleading coverage of climate change. What took it so long? Large sections of the Australian media are no less complicit in the same kind of climate change advocacy.

In 2010, healthy scepticism will continue to rise against the global warming alarmists. But only if those such as Monckton treat the public with respect by sticking to the facts and using measured language, not fanciful claims and name-calling.


20 January, 2010

Health ID cover-up for some exposes risks

THE same people who claim a new national health identity system will be safe from fraud will be able to get fake ID to keep their own records secret. While every Australian will soon be assigned a 16-digit health ID number, politicians and other "well-known personalities" will be able to take advantage of false identities to stop their records falling into the wrong hands.

The 16-digit health number is a "building block" towards national electronic health records, which will be eventually shared among health professionals. The federal agency responsible for the rollout yesterday conceded the safeguards would be built into the system to "mitigate against the potential risks of exposure to this information". But access to the extra level of protection offered by the false IDs, known by the federally funded National E-Health Transaction Authority as "pseudonymisation", will not be widespread. "Pseudonymisation is not intended to be a generally available option," a spokeswoman for NEHTA said.

She said there was a "need to provide special protection for vulnerable people such as "well-known personalities" and victims of domestic violence. "With the universal allocation of individual healthcare identifiers to all Australian residents, there is a need to provide some form of special protection for vulnerable individuals to mitigate against the potential risks of exposure of this information," the spokeswoman said. The numbers, called "individual healthcare identifiers", or IHIs, will store only names and dates of birth and will not contain clinical information. The numbers will "tag" medical results such as blood tests and X-rays. The process is designed to ensure the right results are about the right patient.

Someone with one of the false IDs would be given a token which they could use the same way as they would their own identifying number. Although every Australian will be issued with an IHI number, they can choose not to use it. But people who did want an IHI number with an alternative identity would have to make a special application.

Despite the concession that an extra level of protection would be given to some, the NEHTA says the system is secure. NEHTA clinical head Mukesh Haikerwal said the system would include an audit trail, which would mean any individual would know where someone had accessed their records. Dr Haikerwal, a former president of the Australian Medical Association, said: "You will never satisfy everyone in regards to privacy, but I have far more confidence in the future of e-health and the security of its records than I do in the current system. "If confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship is in any way compromised, I would have no part in it." [Haikerawal is a fine man so he is no doubt sincere. Whether he underestimates the crooks is another matter, however]

Currently, Australians can access anonymous medical care by simply not using their Medicare card. Health Minister Nicola Roxon did not comment yesterday but has previously said e-health would have strict, legislative protocols to protect patients' medical histories.


Victoria police knew about racist crimes against Indians 'two years ago'

They will never say, however, what the race of the attackers usually is. Around 2007, however, there were a few admissions that Africans were the principal source of the problem

VICTORIA'S top cop has admitted police realised two years ago there was a problem involving crime against Indians. Indians are over-represented in robbery statistics and there is a racist element to some attacks, Police Commissioner Simon Overland said. "There is no question, regardless of the motives, Indian students have to a degree been targeted in robberies and that is not okay," he told ABC radio.

"We recognised this problem a long time before it hit the public. "We have known for two years that there has been this issue and we have been working away, at a number of levels around engaging with students, trying to make them understand the risks and how they keep themselves safe." [How about arresting some of the offenders instead?]

Mr Overland said police had detailed data on attacks involving Indians and said that while Indians were over-represented when it came to robberies, the same could not be said for assaults. About 50 per cent of assaults on Indians occurred in their workplace, mostly involving taxi drivers and convenience store clerks, he said.

Mr Overland said some of the attacks were racist. "I have said from day one undoubtedly some of these attacks have a racist motive or there is racist elements to these attacks," he said. "Regardless of who they are, what they are, what colour they are, what occupation they are, my job is to make the state as safe as I can for everyone."

The comments come after a number of attacks on Indians, including the stabbing murder of student Nitin Garg in Melbourne earlier this month. In the latest incident, an Indian taxi driver was bashed in Reservoir, north Melbourne, on Saturday.


Peter Costello (below) has the last laugh

As usual, the Leftists haven't got a blind clue about what they are doing. Peter Costello is a former Federal treasurer

In terms of policy, this year started much better than last. Back then, Kevin Rudd published a treatise on the failure of the financial system and what had to be done about it. He said human history was at a turning point: "The international challenge for social democrats is to save capitalism from itself." The crisis was "the culmination of a 30-year domination of economic policy by a free market ideology that has been variously called neo-liberalism, economic liberalism . . . or the Washington consensus". You can't be much clearer than that. And it looked like grand plans were afoot for financial regulation.

This year began with the Government releasing a report on proposals to build Australia as a financial centre. The report defined its vision as: "A financial sector which is open, competitive and underpinned by strong stable and sound institutions. It exhibits the lowest possible barriers to entry . . . so as to foster price competition and innovation." As a statement of neo-liberalism, economic liberalism, the Washington consensus or whatever, it could not have been more pure.

It is obvious the writers of this report have not read what the Prime Minister wrote last year on "the global financial crisis". As punishment, they should be made to read the entire thing between now and next Christmas.

This year's report thinks that if we have a problem with financial regulation, it is in a very different direction. It recommends periodic reviews to ensure we do not build up "excessive and unnecessary regulatory rules". It wants consultation with industry to ensure regulatory proposals "impose as small a compliance burden on industry as possible".

The Government welcomed the report. Last year, there wasn't enough regulation. Apparently, this year there might be too much. Whatever the problem, it was obviously caused by the failure of the Coalition government over the previous decade. Either it under-regulated or it is over-regulated. Take your pick and hold me responsible.

You can guess that I prefer this year's report. It was written by people who understand the financial system. It rightly notes that Australia has a great opportunity to market itself and attract more investment in financial services. It says: "Our financial sector ranks highly in international surveys on many of the key requirements for a successful financial centre. These include a highly skilled workforce and a first-class regulatory framework that has served us well through the global financial crisis." The big Australian banks are all AA-rated. They needed no nationalisation and no taxpayer support like banks in the US and Britain. None of the Australian banks even made a loss in the past two years. No regulatory system performed better than Australia's during the past two years. And the world has noticed.

Which makes it so surprising that Rudd chose the moment of Australia's great triumph to deliver his stinging critique of the system. In commenting about this then I said: "We can live with his polemic as long as we all understand that no one seriously believes it, and further, that no one seriously intends to act on it. It can be used to assuage a section of opinion that Rudd feels the need to cultivate. If he starts to take his writing seriously, we are in for a bad time."

Fortunately. no one took the prognostications too seriously. Sometimes our politicians are criticised for being all talk and no action. This is a case where the Government should be congratulated for taking no action. Twelve months later we have some sensible analysis. The best way to bury last year's analysis is to endorse this year's report.

Some recommendations will require careful consideration. For example, recommendations to alter tax rules to promote Australia as a competitor to Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands for offshore banking and investment. I expect the Labor backbench will need convincing on that one. If the Government were serious on this it would hardly be pursuing a tax assessment against the investors who floated Myer and used the structures the report wants to promote.

This is a discussion worth having, to look at ways to open the system more to promote investment and innovation. Australia has proved the value of the regulatory structures put in place after the financial inquiry of 1997. Going backwards to the beat of the ideological drum is not worth a crumpet.


Jury still out on climate change: CSIRO

Australia's peak science agency, the CSIRO, has backed away from attributing a decade of drought in Tasmania to climate change, claiming "the jury is still out" on the science.

The comments follow the issuing of a CSIRO report yesterday, revealing drought has cut water availability in northern Tasmania's premier wine growing region by 24 per cent, with riverflows reaching record lows. One of the report's co-authors, hydrologist David Post, told The Canberra Times there was "no evidence" linking drought to climate change in eastern Australia, including the Murray-Darling Basin. "At this stage, we'd prefer to say we're talking about natural variability. The science is not sufficiently advanced to say it's climate change, one way or the other. The jury is still out on that," Dr Post said.

Australian Greens leader, Bob Brown has accused CSIRO of "caving in to political pressure" to soften its stance on climate change in the lead-up to this year's federal election. "We should ask why CSIRO is prepared to turn an unaccountable blind eye to recent climate trends in Tasmania. This undercurrent of scepticism would seem to suggest the report has been politicised," Senator Brown said.

According to the report, rainfall in northern Tasmania's Pipers River region famed for its award-winning rieslings and pinot noir has dropped by 12 per cent in the past decade, with recent climate conditions "drier than those of the last 84 years."

More than 80 per cent of Tasmania's river catchments have been affected by drought, with the South Esk the island's longest river and source of water for beer production most at risk.


19 January, 2010


Conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has been busy lately. He has two new offerings up. In one, he is steamed that NSW voters seem to find their new female Premier a more attractive personality than the Liberal Party leader. Intended vote swings the other way, however. He actually scored a "well-done" from the leader of the NSW opposition over that one.

And in the latest toon he has a shot at the Leftist teachers' unions who cannot stand the thought of teachers being judged by results

Police communications centre can't cope with calls

Having thousands of employees doing paperwork all the time is more urgent, apparently

CALLS for help to Queensland police are going unanswered because the state's main communications centre is understaffed. Frustrated operators say dozens of callers each day are forced to wait in long queues or fail to get through to the QPS call centre in Brisbane because overstretched operators cannot cope with surging demand. The delays affect callers reporting incidents ranging from burglaries and noise complaints to car crashes.

Queensland police yesterday admitted the situation was "not ideal", but said life-threatening triple-0 calls were still being answered promptly.

Figures provided by the QPS show the Police Communications Centre handled more than 1100 calls a day last year, including 480 to the triple-0 number. The statistics represent a 50 per cent increase on 2005, yet staffing levels have not kept up, improving just 20 per cent in the same period. The Courier-Mail has learnt the PCC regularly operates with a staff of just 12 officers and radio operators – six fewer than the agreed minimum staffing level.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said delays in answering calls could "cost lives". "It is critical that the safety of the public is put first when staffing levels for communication centres are determined," he said. On a busy shift, call takers can handle more than 160 calls each. At the request of Inspector Paul Fogg, the QPS recently installed a massage chair in the centre's meal room.

But frustrated officers said it was simply impossible to answer all calls with many going unanswered or waiting up to half an hour in phone queues. "At one point on New Year's Eve, we had 20 triple-0 calls in a queue. We weren't able to answer any of them on the first presentation," an officer said. "One caller waited 28 minutes to be answered (on the normal line). Most people wouldn't have the patience, but this was from a police officer who wanted to see how long it would take."

A QPS spokesman said triple-0 calls were given priority by the PCC which meant there could be "some delay in answering non-urgent calls". "On average, 90 per cent of triple-0 calls are answered within nine seconds of being presented to the PCC," he said. The establishment of a new call centre called Policelink later this year would alleviate some of the PCC's workload, the spokesman said.

Officers said a fair proportion of calls to Policelink would be forwarded to the PCC for attention, including those relating to noise complaints, car crashes and community assistance. "We like to think it will help, but there are no guarantees. It's very much a case of wait and see," the PCC officer said.


Yugoslavs bring their old hatreds to Australia

Croatians are anti-Russian because Russia has always supported the Serbs. Various ignorant newspaper headlines claim that the events described below are "racism" that shames Australia. How come? Serbs and Croats are racially the same. They even speak the same language. The rivalry is a religious one. Croats are Catholics and Serbs are Orthodox. And what's it got to do with Australia anyway?

RACIAL tensions cast a sinister shadow over the first day of the 2010 Australian Open. Ugly scenes of unruly fans chanting as they headed to Melbourne Park, letting off flares, intimidating visitors, making a mockery of security and shaming so-called multi-cultural Melbourne were broadcast to a world-wide audience who had tuned in to watch the tennis. Award-winning photographer Craig Borrow, from the Herald Sun, was spat on and slapped in the head as he attempted to photograph the chanting mob.

And in a worrying indication about security at the two-week tournament, at least one person was detected and ejected from Melbourne Park for smuggling in flares into the area - despite security searches on arrival.

Day One saw thrills and spills and upsets on the court including world No. 14 Maria Sharapova was bundled out by an upstart fellow Russian.

But it was the boorish bad behaviour of some Croatian fans which stood out just a day after the success of Sunday's exhibition match organised by Roger Federer and supported by stars of the sport who helped raise more than $500,000 for the countless victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

Teams of security staff were waiting when the front gates opened but some Croatian fans tried to dodge them by running up the stairs while others attempted to hide their faces under hats, hoods and scarves. Police defended the security presence, despite louts managing to breach the event, saying it was "as tight as it can be". "People are innovative and people smuggle contraband and other illegal goods into events, tournaments, to a number of public places," officer in charge of major events, Superintendent Jock Menzel said.

The behaviour of some fans yesterday - before the gates had even opened or a ball been hit - sent out signals of a return of the racial tension that have marred the international grand slam events in recent years. In the worst scenes of disharmony, opposing fans last year hurled chairs during a fracas in front of stunned families enjoying the sunshine in Garden Square last year - one tennis fan was knocked unconscious.

Eleven had been rejected by lunchtime yesterday and other groups of Croatian fans shunned the bad behaviour of the few who tarnished the name of all Croatian fans. "It is just a few older fans who make trouble and the general public thinks it is all of us," said members of one roaming group of proud, Australian-born Croatians who declined to be identified. "Flares are just over the top and dangerous and there is no place for them at a place like this."

Tennis Australia put fans on notice declaring that anyone would be expelled from Melbourne Park if they were caught playing up.

Family First Senator Steve Fielding said louts ejected from the Australian Open should be banned from all sporting events for at least three years or jailed. The idiot troublemakers deserved the full weight of the law, Senator Fielding said. He said the latest incident had already been a major embarrassment for Melbourne, which was currently on show to the world.


A small Antidote to welfare dependency

THE federal government's extension of income management across the country, announced late last year, reflects a new consensus in Australia and internationally about the pernicious effects on individuals and families of long-term welfare dependence.

From July, long-term welfare-dependent people will have half their payment quarantined to be spent on food and household essentials. Income management will also be extended to welfare dependent parents who are the subject of child protection concerns, and people assessed as vulnerable because of domestic violence or financial crisis.

The government's announcement was undoubtedly designed to ward off criticism that the Northern Territory intervention is racially discriminatory. Yet despite this practical (and even cynical) motivation, this bold policy shift is the biggest reform to welfare policy since the Howard government's "mutual obligation" package in the late 1990s. The Rudd government should be congratulated for taking such a tough stance.

We now know that many of the welfare policies designed to help people instead trap them in a cycle of dependency. In Australia, the evidence of this is most apparent in remote indigenous communities. But experience shows that the damaging effects of welfare are not confined to any race, gender or geographical location.

Almost one in six Australians of working age is reliant on income support. Long-term welfare dependence, which is often coupled with drug and alcohol addiction, child abuse and domestic violence, is overwhelmingly concentrated in disadvantaged communities. Children of jobless parents are more likely to end up on welfare. If these problems are to be overcome, the cycle of dependence must be broken.

Governments should not only help people to move off welfare but also hassle those who have lost their confidence, motivation and capacity for independent action to find work.

The new income management policy will try to achieve this with a mix of carrots and sticks. Individuals who show they can manage their money responsibly can opt out, and incentives will be offered to those who demonstrate that they can save.

While the usual critics of welfare reform claim that this policy unfairly targets the most vulnerable people, it appears that there have been some important converts. Appearing on ABC radio in November, Mission Australia chief Toby Hall endorsed the policy. He said that for the group of people who had "taken welfare for granted for too long", income management would increase the pressure to move into work.

The opposition should support the move as well. Expanding income management is the next logical step in the successful program of welfare reform implemented by the Coalition. John Howard's reforms, along with prosperous economic times, saw the number of prime-age households (in their mid-30s to mid-50s) reliant on welfare drop from about one in six in the mid-1990s to one in 10 in the late 2000s.

But while the Labor reforms are a move in the right direction, the road ahead may still be rocky. Income management on a large scale is untested. The potential for unforseen and unintended consequences is high. The government must be careful to define exactly what its objectives are, and be willing to change tack if they are not being met.

One danger is that income management could potentially exacerbate the dependency it is trying to overcome. Income management should be the means to an end, not the end itself. The reforms will fail if people simply become more reliant on government to manage their budget, instead of taking up the responsibility themselves.

To guard against this, local communities should be given some autonomy to decide how income management is administered. This flexibility could be more effective in tackling problems such as poor school attendance, domestic violence or drug abuse, which vary between communities. A good example of this approach is Noel Pearson's Family Responsibilities Commission in Cape York, which empowers local leaders to make decisions about individuals' income management based on their adherence to basic standards of behaviour.

There is also a danger that, in exempting Disability Support Pension from income management, the government will inadvertently increase the incentive for people who may be marginally disabled but still able to work to apply for this payment. Once they are on DSP, there is little chance they will ever leave welfare.

It is politically difficult for the government to extend income quarantining to DSP recipients, many of whom have severe physical and mental disabilities and would see income management as an unfairly punitive measure. But this difficulty simply highlights the need for reform of this payment. Perhaps it is time for a two-track system where severely disabled people are exempt from measures such as income management but those with a greater capacity to work are not.

In an open, liberal society, we celebrate our capacity to live our lives free from a high level of government interference. But growing levels of long-term welfare dependency present us with a real dilemma. Should we strive to protect the independence of those who are so clearly dependent on the state in so many ways? Paradoxically, paternalistic interventions may now be essential to rebuild people's capacity to take responsibility for themselves.


Public vs private school: funding row escalates

The Leftist enemies of private schools are being completely dishonest about this. Government schools in Australia are funded by State governments and private schools are subsidized by the Federal government -- so just looking at the Federal spending ignores the great bulk of taxpayer-funded spending on schools. See also here

Queensland private schools have accused the Australian Education Union of manipulating federal funding data showing private schools are set to receive billions more taxpayer dollars than their government counterparts. A report released today by the AEU claims the Federal Government's school's funding system is "flawed" and disadvantages those in the government's own school system.

The research, conducted by University of Sydney senior academic Dr Jim McMorrow, has revealed that by 2012-13, private schools will have received $47 billion in funding for building works, new equipment and running costs, compared to $35 billion set aside for public schools. The report revealed that despite the public system is teaching two-thirds of all students nationwide, it will receive just 36 per cent of federal education funds by 2012-13.

Despite Kevin Rudd's promise before the 2007 election of a digital education revolution at all schools, the report shows that the public school system is being shortchanged $500 million for computers and trades training facilities. "The Government should reconsider its allocative criteria for this program, to achieve a more equitable and strategic outcome from its investment in this area," Dr McMorrow said in the report.

AEU president Angelo Gavrielatos said the Federal Government's funding system was putting the interests of private school students ahead of students in public schools. "This system is so flawed that private schools are given huge increases every year regardless of their wealth or income while public schools are being denied the chance to expand the educational opportunities of student," he said. "True equity in education can only exist when government schools set the standard for high quality education."

But Independent Schools Queensland, which represents the state's private grammar and faith-based institutions, hit back today, saying the AEU had "misrepresented the facts". Acting Executive Director David Robertson said it was the state and territory governments - not the Commonwealth - which provided the bulk of the funding for public schools. "Any analysis of how schools are funded in Australia must take into account the funding provided by both federal and state or territory government," Mr Robertson said. "The AEU has once again been selective in its use of data and the picture it's painted of school funding is incomplete."

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said public school teachers in Queensland teachers had long opposed the Howard Government's schools funding system, which the Labor Government had adopted. "We haven't been campaigning based on the fact that the funding has gone to the private schools, our issue is the lack of funding going into the public system," Mr Ryan said. "The private schools receive the bulk of the funding despite the needs of the public schools being greater than that of the private schools."


18 January, 2010

"Groundbreaking" study rediscovers the link between social class and IQ

Someone should tell Charles Murray

MORE than half of Adelaide's Year 7 students who score below-average numeracy results live in low socioeconomic suburbs, a groundbreaking report reveals. Commissioned by the Education Department, the study is the first of its kind to detail the gap in outcomes for students in disadvantaged areas and finds the "most marked" shortfall in remote areas of the state.

It finds 177 of the 318 metropolitan Year 7 students with below-average numeracy scores are from the northern region. This compares with only 12 in the eastern region, 44 in the west and 85 in the south. Report co-author John Glover said the study, which used 2008 national literacy and numeracy data, revealed "big challenges to the public education system". He said the report demonstrated "hard cold facts" children in low socioeconomic areas had the "lowest education outcomes and poorest achievement".

SA Council of Social Services executive director Ross Womersley said socioeconomic status was linked to poor educational performance, but the issue was "much more complicated". He said the poor education of some parents and their inability to aid their children's development also played a role. "Low income does correlate, at least in some part, with people having poor educational outcomes," Mr Womersley said. "There are still people within that survey group and areas of the state where there would be people on quite low incomes who are managing one way or another to help their children get reasonable educational outcomes."

The report Understanding Educational Opportunities and Outcomes is a project between the University of Adelaide's Public Health Information Development Unit and The Smith Family. It has found that disadvantaged suburbs where students failed in literacy and numeracy included Elizabeth, Onkaparinga, Port Adelaide, Port Augusta and the APY Lands. Peers in inner-city areas including Burnside, Unley and Walkerville fared much better.

Other findings show:

YEAR 7 students from the northern suburbs are almost five times more likely to fail numeracy tests than peers in eastern Adelaide.

STUDENTS in parts of country SA were three times more likely to achieve lower literacy levels than the national minimum standard in Years 3 and 5.

ABORIGINAL children have the poorest educational outcomes but participation in literacy and numeracy testing has reached nearly 80 per cent.

MORE than three times the amount of Year 3 children living in outer suburbs including Elizabeth, Salisbury, Onkaparinga and Hackham are reading at levels below the national minimum standard

COUNTRY children in Years 5 and 7 are more likely to have scores below the national minimum standard than those in the city.

Professor Glover said the report provided a "lesson for the Government". "Overcoming the differentials in educational outcomes for children living in the most disadvantaged and most well-off areas is clearly a government priority, but it will require new thinking and a greater effort to address these inequalities," he said. [It will require a new set of genes too!]

SA Primary Principals Association president Steve Portlock said experienced teachers should be placed at schools with a low socioeconomic status. "Those students should have the most experienced teachers and the most experienced leaders," he said.

Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said the study would be used to help plan for educational improvement in disadvantaged communities. "This important, nation-leading work will help to ensure that resources and early intervention are directed to members of our community who most need help," she said. "Our 20 children's centres and Innovative Community Action Networks school retention program, currently being expanded across the state, are examples of government programs that target need."

Opposition education spokesman David Pisoni said areas of social disadvantage were the "worst places" for the Government to build super schools. "Overseas experiences show super schools have been detrimental to education and behaviour outcomes of children," he said.


500 rally against 'draconian' laws

The laws are a gross attack on freedom of movement and freedom of association -- all because a couple of bikers had a fight in an airport departure lounge. For that, all biker clubs have to be outlawed, apparently. But the laws are likely to affect many other clubs and businesses too. Background here

HIGH-PROFILE members of WA's legal fraternity, academia and industry united with outlaw bikies to rally against proposed new anti-association laws today.

About 500 people attended the rally opposite Parliament House this morning to protest the Barnett Government's "draconian" anti-association laws.

Speakers such as high-profile QC Tom Percy, CFMEU president Kevin Reynold,s and leading academic and criminologist David Indemaur spoke out against the injustices contained within the Government's police powers legislation, which is expected to be debated in Parliament within weeks.

Coffin Cheater Eddy Withnell spoke of the prejudice he had already experienced, having been hit with a prohibition order that prevents him entering any licenced premises - including his own business, The Voodoo Lounge.

The rally was organised by the United Motorcycle Council of WA (UMCWA), which was formed last year to give riders a voice in the public debate.


Australia/U.S. free trade agreement has been beneficial

IT'S five years since our free trade agreement with the US entered into force and the results are in: Australia has won. In the lead-up to January 1, 2005, public debate correctly highlighted the fact that the agreement wasn't perfect. Australia did not secure an end to US restrictions on imported Australian sugar and immediate liberalisation of trade restrictions on other agricultural commodities.

And Australia secured equivalent trade-offs by maintaining television local-content restrictions that were outdated and heavy-handed regulations on the pharmaceutical industry.

Since the FTA commenced, critics have continued attacking the agreement because our trade deficit with the US has widened. Yet an average $1.2 billion increase in our annual merchandise trade deficit between the 2005-06 and 2008-09 financial years is insignificant in comparison with the US investment windfall the FTA delivered.

A key provision of the agreement was the relaxation of the threshold requirements for US investors to seek Foreign Investment Review Board approval before investing in Australia. The results are clear. According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data, total US investment in 2005 was just shy of $334bn and has increased by an average of $20bn a year, reaching $418bn by the end of 2008.

And attacking a marginal trade deficit increase ignores that free trade is not a zero-sum game and that imports deliver benefits as well. To be internationally competitive, Australian businesses need technologies that help improve productivity, competitive inputs into domestically produced manufactures and service imports to support industry growth. Necessary imports added with the significant size of US investment have helped Australian industries grow, create jobs and ride out the global economic crisis.

Increased US investment has also helped foster industries of the future. According to a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade analysis, US investment is "increasingly more diversified, particularly with increased activity in the services trade". US investment is underwriting a boom for our services exports, with the ratio of Australia's goods to services exports to the US roughly two to one.

By comparison, our ratio of goods to services exports to our other top five trading partners is nearly 23 to one for Japan, eight for China, 10 for South Korea and five for India.

Our service exporters are also supported through the FTA's commitment to encourage professional associations and governments to recognise qualifications for people from both countries. The responsible bi-national working party has already secured greater qualification recognition and, consequently, work opportunities in the US for accountants, engineers and legal professionals. Not surprisingly, these particular industries now make up some of Australia's largest exports to the US.

And our service industry interests were also advanced through the establishment of the two-year, indefinitely renewable E-3 working visas in the US. In 2008 the visa was used by 15,000 people and now gives Australians one of the most preferential work visas to the US. Under the visa, Australia may lose skilled workers to the US in the short term, but the vast majority will return home with knowledge and experience to help Australian industries grow.

It is these dynamic, unpredictable outcomes that demonstrate the benefits of free trade as businesses find new markets, increase imports, increase competition, and cut the price of business inputs and consumer goods that improve standards of living.

But while Australia has won from its US FTA, we shouldn't sit on our free trade laurels. Although the Rudd government is making all the right public noises on free trade agreements, concurrent regulations and industry support programs are unwinding the dividends of trade liberalisation. Federal Industry Minister Kim Carr regularly introduces protectionist measures, from increased automotive industry subsidies to offset tariff reductions, to regulations that haze contractors tendering for government projects into using local suppliers.

The NSW and Victorian state Labor governments have introduced protectionist local-content thresholds for government contracts that reduce value-for-tax dollar for state budgets already in deficit.

The Rudd government also bowed to vested interests such as the campaign to keep import restrictions on copyrighted books that protect the profits of multinational publishing houses and marginal electorate-based printing companies that are then passed on to consumers.

Instead of introducing protectionism the Rudd government should be negotiating more FTAs such as the joint Australia-New Zealand FTA with ASEAN countries, which came into force on the fifth anniversary of the US agreement's. Why? Because in five years the economic benefits of the US and ASEAN FTAs will be clear, but they won't be for newly introduced protectionism.


Reconsider carbon plan, says Australian government adviser

ONE of the Government's key business advisers on the emissions trading scheme has called for a fresh look at whether the plan should go ahead. Dick Warburton, chairman of the panel set up last year to advise on emissions-intensive trade-exposed activities, said that after Copenhagen's failure, the matter should be debated afresh. He is organising a round-table of company executives, bureaucrats and experts - including supporters and critics - to consider the pros and cons and alternatives of a trading scheme.

His move comes as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott tonight gives his first speech as leader on the environment, arguing that while the environment is important, it is not just about climate. He will seek to redirect focus to areas where Australia can make a difference on its own, including water. Mr Warburton told The Age that despite intense political debate about the emissions scheme, important aspects had not been dealt with adequately. "Chairmen and CEOs and the public have very poor knowledge of what the ETS involves." The round-table should be held by the end of this month, he said.

The Government plans to bring in legislation incorporating last year's deal with the Opposition - which prompted the change of leadership - as soon as Parliament resumes next month. "I think there should be a delay in whatever we do until we have a clear picture of the best course," Mr Warburton said. There was no rush - "We need to get it right."

Mr Warburton is chairman of Tandou and the Magellan Flagship Fund, chairman of the Board of Taxation and a former member of the Reserve Bank board. He personally believes the climate change science is not settled and would favour a carbon tax or other alternative to a trading scheme. A round-table would give some indication of how opinion in big companies is moving after Copenhagen.

Other business sources expect a weakening of support from business for quickly passing the legislation. An important pointer will be the attitude of the Business Council of Australia, but it is yet to consider its position after Copenhagen.

The Government has constantly repeated the argument that business wants legislation passed as soon as possible to provide certainty


17 January, 2010

Carbon plan may break us, says government-owned power generator

This will put the NSW Labor government at odds with the Federal Labor government -- as it reduces the value of the NSW government-owned power stations to zero -- which will make it a tad hard for NSW to raise money by selling off the power stations concerned. NSW Laborites are very influential at the Federal level however so an exemption for the power stations will almost certainly ensue -- which will mean that just about everybody is exempt! In a sane world, Rudd would give up on the whole thing in that case. I certainly don't think that a toothless law would impress the Greenies, which is whom it aims to please. The Green party has in fact already voted against the initial version of the scheme

The country's largest single power generator, Macquarie Generation, has warned that its viability is threatened by the Federal Government's proposed emissions trading scheme. Its concerns throw into doubt the State Government's plans to privatise the power industry by selling electricity retailers and output from power generators.

Under an electricity sales contract written with its main customer, the Tomago aluminium smelter in the Hunter Valley, Macquarie Generation carries the full liability for complying with the emissions scheme. Yet under that scheme, Tomago will receive free permits that ensure it is fully insulated. As a result, it will benefit from "double dipping" under the scheme, since its direct liability is offset thanks to free permits it will receive, while its power supplier, Macquarie Generation, has to bear the financial burden of the emissions scheme.

In its most recent annual report, tabled in State Parliament late last year, Macquarie Generation said its "profitability, value and remaining life could be negatively impacted" by the emissions trading scheme. Macquarie Generation "has a long-term, non-reviewable electricity supply contract resulting in [it] carrying the liability for compliance with the carbon pollution reduction scheme and provision of carbon permits in relation to the electricity supply contract", it said in the report. "If the contract counter-party and Macquarie Generation cannot agree on an equitable arrangement with regard to compliance with the … scheme, the corporation will likely face significantly reduced earnings and value."

In its so-called Statement of Corporate Intent for 2008-09, tabled earlier last year, Macquarie Generation said that "without a pass-through mechanism to customers, the emissions trading system will be almost equal to Macquarie Generation's current planned total revenues". Passage of the scheme would result in the two NSW aluminium smelters - Tomago and Kurri Kurri - being compensated in full for any exposure, by receiving free permits to offset the impact of the scheme.

The Greens MP John Kaye said the State Government had been "less than open" about the impact of the contracts on its electricity privatisation plans. "The costs of these fixed-price contracts have been hidden from public view for 2½ decades," Dr Kaye said. "Now the people of NSW will begin to see how much they have been paying and how much they will have to pay off into the future."

It was recently disclosed that the power contracts are linked to aluminium metal markets, and that recent volatility there had cost state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

A spokesman for the acting Treasurer, John Hatzistergos, said the Government was working with the Federal Government to ensure NSW received its fair share of compensation under the emissions scheme, but he could not comment on individual contracts, which were commercial-in-confidence.

Macquarie Generation has never confirmed the identity of its main contract partner, Tomago Aluminium, nor the size of the contract, which is believed to account for about a quarter of its annual revenues of $1.2 billion. Delta Electricity is contracted to supply the smaller Kurri Kurri smelter, which has capacity of 175,000 tonnes a year of aluminium, less than half the 530,000 tonnes of Tomago.

Both contracts were drawn up in the 1970s and 1980s when the Government was looking for buyers for large amounts of electricity output when it upgraded electricity generation capacity.


Wealthy migrants pricing locals out of Sydney property market

This is an almost inevitable result of a high level of immigration anywhere and Australia's Leftist Federal government is deliberately and openly fostering a high level of immigration. The price problem would be much alleviated if more land for housing were released from restrictive land-use regulations but the Greenies would raise hell if that were done so the problem will only get worse

AUSTRALIAN families are being priced out of the property market by record numbers of highly paid skilled workers arriving from overseas. Research by The Sunday Telegraph has revealed for the first time how skilled immigrants - predominantly from Britain, India and China - are forcing house prices to some of the highest levels in the world when compared with average incomes.

Almost 115,000 permanent skilled visas were issued last year, compared with just over 40,000 in 1998-99 - an increase of 187 per cent. During the same period, the median house price rose 168 per cent, from $156,600 to $420,600.

Although the number of migrants is relatively low compared with total property transactions, which have averaged 500,000 a year over the past 10 years, experts say property-price inflation is driven not by what the average buyer can afford to pay, but by the highest bidder. And because skilled migrants command above-average salaries, they pay above-average prices. As a result, a relatively small number of highly paid buyers can have a disproportionate effect on house prices.

"There's no question the number of skilled migrants is a key factor in driving up prices," John Edwards, of property monitor Residex, said. "You need only two highly paid buyers at an auction to take the price of a property well above what any other party could afford to pay."

Proof of this theory came when Mr Edwards plotted a chart of the increase in skilled migration alongside national house-price growth. "It correlates at a rate of 98 per cent, which is almost unheard of," he said. "It even has an 18-month time lag, which is obviously the period between immigrants arriving in Australia, getting themselves settled and when they first purchase a property."

Coinciding with the surge in skilled immigration, the median Australian property now costs 5.5 times the average household income, and about eight times income in Sydney. That compares with a ratio of 2.5 times household income in the US and five times income in Britain.

Property prices in the US and Britain have collapsed, but neither country approached Australia's peak of six times income even before their markets crashed. Australia's skilled migration program is likely to keep prices rising for years to come. As The Sunday Telegraph revealed last week, the median Sydney house price is forecast to hit $1 million by 2020.

"We need immigration for our economy, but the fact they have higher-than-average incomes at a time when the supply of housing is constrained, inevitably results in prices going up," AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said.

Other economists, however, say the shortage of housing supply is only partly to blame. "The fact there is a shortage of property doesn't necessarily mean prices have to keep rising," Steve Keen, professor of economics at the University of NSW, said. "There was still a shortage of property in the UK when its housing prices crashed."

The list of skilled professions issued by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is dominated by high-earning professions such as accountants, IT workers, engineers and health-related specialists, from chiropractors to radiographers.

Meanwhile, the number of visas issued to unskilled families has been falling for years, from around 60,000 in 1995 to about 50,000 last year, further increasing the bias towards high earners. The result is a higher proportion of higher paid workers among skilled migrants, even as the number of skilled visas is reduced. Last year, the Government cut permanent skilled migration visas by 14 per cent from 133,500 to 115,000. It has proposed a further cut to 108,100 for 2009-10, a reduction of almost 20 per cent on previous levels.

[Skilled migration visas are only one of several ways to migrate legally to Australia. The present Federal government is reorienting the migrant intake towards less skilled people while increasing numbers overall. But low-skilled people still have to be housed so that will bid up prices in poor suburbs, which will be MUCH more disruptive than the situation described above. When poorer native-born people find themselves priced out of housing in their old suburbs while immigrants are increasingly moving in, the result could well be explosive -- JR]


Queensland Government backflips on foreign language studies

Learning a foreign language in late primary school seems a good idea to me. It will very rarely lead to fluency in the language concerned but it will lead to an understanding of how all languages -- including English -- work. The most beneficial language in that direction is of course Latin -- as both the grammar and vocabulary of English have been heavily influenced by Latin

THE State Government has backflipped on its controversial decision to drop the mandatory status on the teaching of foreign languages in all state schools following The Courier-Mail report this morning.

Acting Education Minister Stephen Robertson moved to separate the Bligh Government from the Education Department changes, stating the "optional" approach to foreign languages in Years 6, 7 and 8 was not Bligh Government policy and was not endorsed by cabinet.

"It is not in accordance with our commitment to providing all students with a world-class education - of which LOTE (Languages Other Than English) is a very important part - and this optional approach will not continue,” Mr Robertson said. An "urgent" review has now been ordered "to ensure schools meet the requirements of Government policy".

It comes after The Courier-Mail revealed the mandatory status of foreign languages had been dropped in Queensland, with the changes implemented state-wide last year. Education assistant-director general Yvana Jones said the status was dropped because a one-size fits all approach didn’t work in state schools, with research showing children were disengaging from LOTE and resources could be better targeted. About 298, or nearly one-quarter, of state schools chose not to teach either a language or intercultural investigations under the LOTE program last year, according to figures supplied by the Department.

Ms Jones said principals had to get the permission of their school community before they could drop a foreign language. The move attracted widespread criticism from experts and critics.


The rise and rise of the regulators

In 2009, more than 50,000 pages of new laws were enacted at the federal, state and territory levels. These were in addition to the 100,000s of pages of existing laws.

The consequences are serious. The first is that Australia will cease to be a world leader in being governed in accordance with the rule of law, and instead become ruled by law (there being a fundamental difference). Secondly, the rule of law will be progressively replaced by the rule of the regulator, the antithesis of the rule of law.

As the number and complexities of laws increase, there is a corresponding decrease in knowing and voluntarily observing the laws by the community. And, as it becomes practically impossible for the community to know, let alone apply the law, ensuring compliance is passed to the persons charged with administering the laws - such as ASIC, ACCC, ATO - the regulators. However, it is not practical for the regulators to enforce the mass of laws against everyone, nor even against one person, all the time. They therefore announce how they will apply the law, impose penalties on those who act otherwise, and reward those who act in accordance with their blessings. A few are prosecuted as a warning to the rest of the community. In this way, the rule of the regulator begins.

The result is a fundamental shift in the relationship between the individual and the law. Increasingly, the relationship is not of the individual knowing and complying with what the law states, but of knowing and complying with what the regulators state the law states, and then knowing the extent to which the regulators will apply the law as stated by them.

For many, the new relationship focuses on not being seen by the regulators; keeping the lowest possible profile on those matters that the regulators prioritise for enforcement. What is of practical importance is the relationship of the individual with the regulators. For in such an environment few have the time, fortitude or money to be visible to the regulators and to apply the law in a way that differs from the one taken by the regulators. This new relationship can also be readily observed by the practical necessity of going cap in hand to the regulators for approval to carry out many transactions. For example, in the last eight years the ATO has issued more than 80,000 private rulings on what it says the law says (these rulings became law to the applicant, regardless of what the High Court might declare the law to mean for the rest of the community). No new law administers itself. More and more people are required to be employed by regulators to enforce an increasing number of laws. This becomes difficult, and the next stage in the shift to regulator rule begins.

One of the first signs of this shift is the conferral on the regulators of more and more powers of search, access to private property, detention, telephone tapping, together with the increase in penalties. This happens not because a material number of Australians have suddenly become terrorists or members of organised crime. Rather, the intimidation of existing powers is believed insufficient to obtain compliance, so greater powers and harsher penalties are deemed necessary. Yet the futility of forcing compliance in this way was seen centuries ago by the penalty of hanging for stealing a loaf of bread. Further, the regulators increasingly find it difficult before an independent court to obtain a conviction. The regulators know that a crime has been committed but are frustrated because they have not the powers to get the evidence or get the court to agree with their view of the law. For those who doubt whether Australia is at this stage, they need look no further than the recent unsuccessful prosecutions by ASIC.

One of the other signs of the rule of the regulator is the attempt to reverse the onus of proof so that the regulators can get convictions to send a clear message to the rest of the community. The Australian courts are a real impediment to regulators in this regard as they insist that no one is presumed to be guilty unless proved so. However, if an Act reverses the onus of proof a court can do nothing. The legislative attempts to reverse the onus of proof come in several forms, often behind a government announcement (regardless of political persuasion) that it is "streamlining" or "codifying" the existing laws. This is often accompanied by government publicity demonising the group to be subject to the new law. It is fundamental to the Australian way of life that everyone, whether an alleged terrorist or member of organised crime group, or an ordinary Australian, is presumed to be innocent until the prosecution proves otherwise. Any attempts to weaken that principle must be strongly and loudly resisted.


16 January, 2010

Health bureaucrats send police after a "disobedient" pregnant mother

A rough public hospital adds insult to injury. The same hospital killed a pregnant mother a couple of years ago. Their attitudes have obviously not changed

A HOSPITAL that wants a mother to have her baby induced sent police to her home after she failed to keep an appointment yesterday. Rochelle Allan, who is reluctant to be induced even though her baby is 12 days overdue, was told by the hospital they intended to go ahead with the procedure when she came in.

But after speaking to her midwife following a visit to the hospital the day before, and being assured her baby was fine, she decided not to attend the hospital the next day.

Now Ms Allan is furious after the two police officers arrived on her doorstep after they were called by Bathurst Hospital. Wanting a home birth, Ms Allan, 24, has been under the care of a private midwife and had been attending the hospital daily to monitor the baby's health. "I couldn't believe it when I saw the police officers at my door," Ms Allan said. "They told me they had been asked by the hospital to check on my welfare because I had not attended. "The hospital knew I did not want to be induced and they gave me no medical reason why I should be." Throughout her pregnancy, Ms Allan and her partner Daniel Jones have been regularly attending the hospital's antenatal clinic for mandatory tests and scans to monitor the baby's progress.

A hospital spokeswoman confirmed police were sent to Ms Allan's house to conduct a "welfare check". The spokeswoman said doctors were worried about the mother as she had previously complied with all appointments.

Ms Allan said that she had decided on having a home birth after a "horrific experience" at the same hospital two years ago when their son Bailey was born. "I was induced and I spent 48 hours in labour," she said. "I don't want to go through with that again."

Ms Allan is not against medical intervention and said she would not hesitate to deliver at the hospital if her baby's life was threatened. "If they had told me that my baby was in danger then I would have the baby in hospital," she said. "But they could give me no reason and all the tests show that there are no problems." By late yesterday, Ms Allan had started labour at home and was in the care of her midwife.

The incident comes as the debate over the safety of homebirths continues, with the Federal Government under pressure to change the law to allow midwives insurance if they attend a home birth. Homebirths Australia secretary Justine Caines said the case demonstrated how women "are too often treated during pregnancy and birth very poorly".

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Dr Ted Weaver said women were usually induced 14 days after their due date. "If the mum did not want to be induced after 14 days then you would conduct extra tests," he said. "The reason people get worried about going overdue is because there's a slight chance that the baby could die suddenly in utero for no reason."


Catholic schools surging ahead

CATHOLIC schools have increased their share of the highest HSC awards, almost doubling the number of their top all-rounders. A Herald analysis of official government figures for the past five years has found that the number of HSC students in the Catholic diocesan system who achieved more than 90 per cent in each of their subjects has almost doubled.

While the Catholic sector claimed credit for setting exemplary performance targets, public school advocates have told the Herald that the improvement had come from a relatively low base compared with public and independent schools. The socio-economic status of Catholic schools had also improved over the years, as had their share of Commonwealth funding relative to schools in other sectors.

Dan White, the executive director of Catholic schools in the Sydney archdiocese, attributed the long-term improvement in results to investment in the professional development of teachers and measurable literacy and numeracy targets that helped to identify areas of need. "Our focus has been on continual improvement of teacher quality," Dr White said. "Our highest priority has been to put in place targeted intervention strategies where a clear need has been identified. Put simply, we have tried to respond quickly where the need is greatest."

In 2005, 45 students from Catholic secondary schools, not including the higher-fee independent schools, achieved the State Government's all-rounder award, figures from the Board of Studies NSW show; last year 80 achieved the award. As a proportion of the increasing number of students from all school sectors in the list, the percentage from Catholic systemic schools rose from 4.9 per cent in 2005 to 6.6 per cent last year.

Catholic and independent schools account for about a quarter of all HSC students. A Herald analysis found 38 Catholic schools in the list of top all-rounders last year, compared with 33 in 2008 and 30 in 2007.

Last year, 122 students on the list came from 59 comprehensive public high schools. The year before, 149 students came from 65 comprehensive high schools. As a proportion of all students in all school sectors, the percentage on the list from comprehensive public schools fell from 12.5 per cent in 2008 to 10 per cent last year.

Dr White said Catholic schools in the Sydney archdiocese achieved results above the state mean in 67 per cent of courses last year, up from 61 per cent the year before. A quarter of the archdiocesan schools achieved results above the state mean in more than 90 per cent of courses last year.

The president of the Secondary Principals Council, Jim McAlpine, said the top all-rounders list was a limited measure that did not capture all students who achieved a ranking of 99 or above since it did not take into account students who specialised in the sciences or the humanities - and so did not score above 90 per cent in every subject. "There is a greater opportunity for Catholic schools to select students from higher SES [socio-economic status] profiles now," Mr McAlpine said. "Students in low SES schools and communities require a greater level of funding in order to lift their academic performance, and that can only happen if the Federal Government bites the bullet to create a fairer funding regime for all students."

A spokeswoman for the Board of Studies said the all-rounders list represented "a very small percentage of the overall candidature [less than 2 per cent] and is just one measure of success".


A happily unchanging Australia

By Richard Glover

I'M SITTING on a North Coast beach reading Margaret Atwood's new novel, Isn't the World Awful, a book oozing with anxiety about the imminent breakdown of civilisation. I'm finding it difficult to get into the right apocalyptic mood as I keep getting distracted by the happy laughter of the Australian beach.

I put the book aside and pick up a tabloid newspaper, The Daily Scare, but its world view is strangely similar. According to a quick scan of the first three pages, there's nary a young person who isn't running amok with a gullet full of pills and armed with a pump-action shotgun. The only exceptions are those rendered so fat by obesity, they find running amok simply too exhausting.

It's true, the beach may not be the best place to take an accurate snapshot of society. All the same, from where I'm sitting - on one of those legless beach chairs - the fear-mongers and worry-warts do seem to go on a bit.

It's striking how little this scene has changed over my lifetime. Families play beach cricket, older teenagers gambol in the surf and younger ones bury their long-suffering fathers in the sand, all using time-approved methods.

The whole scene represents a happily unchanging Australia, the existence of which is hardly ever acknowledged in either the tabloid media or the literary novel, both of which prefer the Chicken Little style of reportage, one that involves running around squawking "the sky is falling, the sky is falling".

It's true that parts of the sky sometimes appear a little shaky but could we spare a few centimetres of print to note that some sections of the firmament remain relatively intact?

I hardly see a computer game during my week up here. The main hand-held entertainment device goes by the name of "a fishing rod". You see them everywhere. A good tabloid paper would do a story about it: "Fishing epidemic among young people. Experts warn about overuse affecting arm ligaments and dangers of this much fresh air."

Every bridge is lined with kids, all happily chatting and fishing. I wander past one kid - six or seven years old - who has just pulled up a net full of tiddlers. "Holy smokes Jarryd!" he yells to his friend, "we've got moollions of them." He looks up at me, "You want some mullet?" he asks, his voice spluttering with excitement. He dances from foot to foot with the pure thrill of it and then slips the tiny, silvery fish back into the water. He's like a kid from Norman Lindsay's Saturdee or Redheap, even if in 2010, the best mate is called Jarryd.

Later, up the road, I see a father and son in the supermarket debating the relative merits of the single-plugger versus the double-plugger thong. Ah, that timeless Australian debate. In the end, they decide - as have thousands of Australians before them - the extra reinforcing on the double-plugger is worth the extra 50 cents.

Others remain thongless and dance the traditional hot-sand cha-cha as they proceed from car park to beach, going "ah, oo, ah, ah, ah" like a troupe of Motown back-up singers. The mothers chorus back, chanting from their collective Jungian memory, "It's not that hot. You'll be right."

At the picnic ground, gathered around the barbecues, are small groups of various ethnic hues. Each appears to consist of a father, a mother and two or three teenage children. Not one of the 15-year-olds appears to have a heroin needle in his arm, nor are any currently downloading pornography. Some may be wearing single-pluggers, I just can't say. The only weaponry being carried by the various groups are tongs.

Kangaroos graze. There's the tinkle of laughter. Everyone is drinking responsibly. No wonder nobody has ever bothered to record this scene.

At the beach the next day, I catch two good waves before being badly dumped. I struggle to the surface as another wave crashes into me. Momentarily blinded and putting up my arms for protection,

I find my outstretched hands neatly cupping two well-rounded breasts. Naturally, I'm mortified. It's sure to be some poor 19-year-old girl who will be awfully upset. I open my eyes and discover the breasts belong to a somewhat pudgy nine-year-old boy. I fight off the urge to say "nice set, mate" and instead make an apology.

"Sorry, mate." "No worries, mate," he answers sunnily, swimming off. Yes, it's all pretty sunny up the coast, whatever the alarmists say. Although they may have a tiny point on the issue of childhood obesity.



Three current articles below:

Green/Left rips off blacks: Leftist "concern" for blacks and black rights is empty talk

Article below by moderate black activist Noel Pearson.

NEXT time you bump into a koala conservationist begging for money in the street, ask what it thinks of Noel Pearson and his opposition to the Queensland government's wild rivers laws. The koala will tell you that I am a rapacious developer who wants to mine, clear-fell, pollute and pillage the unique environment of Cape York Peninsula. The koala will tell you that I do not speak for Aboriginal people from the region, and that the laws are strongly supported by them.

The Wilderness Society has an army of teenagers out on the streets saying that about those of us resisting its attack on the land rights of Aboriginal people in the cape. As in all propaganda campaigns, its main currency is to push its side of the story.

It spent years laying down the groundwork before Premier Anna Bligh announced three wild river declarations after the state election last March. The first step was to cause great alarm about the threats facing Cape York. From Indooroopilly to Surry Hills it distributed pamphlets and held public meetings in the suburbs talking up the threats to Cape York. Threats can be the lifeblood of campaigns such as those routinely run by the Wilderness Society.

It helps when citizens on the southeastern seaboard of the country - not the least those in the marginal seats of Brisbane - are saturated with images of the Gunns Paper Mill in Tasmania and the disaster of the Murray-Darling. Not to mention global warming.

For an environmentally anxious public, the Wilderness Society conflated Cape York Peninsula with clear-felling of old-growth forests in southern Australia and the Murray-Darling, and it had a winner.

Add a good brand name - Wild River - and there you have it: the perfect product to sell to an environmentally troubled public. The name corners the market on motherhood and apple pie, and whatever protests affected landowners in remote regions may make, they have no chance in the propaganda war because they are by the very definition of speaking against Wild Rivers, environmental vandals.

The Wilderness Society spent years campaigning about the threats facing Cape York. But when you examine what possible source of threat it is talking about, you find very little.

Take clear-felling of forests for paper mills and the like. None. Never has been. Never will be.

Take timber. There is only one small sawmill in the entire region the size of Victoria that cuts a single species, Darwin Stringybark, a dry forest timber abundant across northern Australia.

Take mining. There are only two operating mines in the entire region, both of which have been in existence for 50 years, the Mitsubishi silica mine at Cape Flattery and the Comalco bauxite mine at Weipa.

There are two new bauxite mines proposed. One is to be developed by Chinese company Chalco, which was awarded the opportunity by the Queensland government. The Chalco mining area, on the northern side of the Archer River, was excluded from the Wild River declarations announced by Bligh, but on the southern side the Aurukun community lands were included.

The Chalco mining area is an example of hypocrisy for two reasons. First, the Queensland government says mining can be consistent with the use of Wild River areas. Therefore why exclude the Chalco mining area from the Wild River declaration?

Second, the Wilderness Society has never expressed its position on the Chalco mine. Why has it not insisted the Chalco mining area be included in the Wild River areas?

The second bauxite mine is proposed by a start-up company called Cape Alumina on a pastoral property purchased by the federal government for the owners of Australia Zoo. Terry Irwin has been campaigning against this mine. This area has not been excluded from a proposed Wild River declaration of the Wenlock River, and, therefore, Irwin and the Wilderness Society have been arguing that this mine is a grave threat to the environment of what Australia Zoo promotes as Steve's Place.

The Wilderness Society is campaigning vigorously against "strip mining" by the Cape Alumina mob, but seem silent on the Chinese proposal. Why?

It is because this was the terms of the deal the Wilderness Society cut with former Queensland premier Peter Beattie. Beattie insisted the Wilderness Society could get blanket Wild Rivers over the blackfellas' land - without providing anything to the blackfellas other than a few make-work ranger jobs - provided the Chalco mining area was excluded.

This is why the Wilderness Society is silent on Chalco and screaming loud on the other mine.

Like moving pieces in a massive game of chess, the leaders of the Wilderness Society sit down with Labor Party principals in front of a map of Queensland and they make deals about what they want and what they're prepared to give away. You give us the Traveston dam, we give you Cape York. You can fight Cape Alumina, but don't fight the Chinese.

This is how you get the Greens party in Queensland not opposing the Traveston dam at state election time. The charade of participatory democracy can be seen in every region of the state where there are networks of "catchment management groups" and "natural resource management groups". Farmers, local communities, indigenous representatives and shire councils sit down with state government bureaucrats and representatives of green groups and supposedly work out consensus solutions to land use and environmental management. But what the mug stakeholders from these communities do not realise is these processes are tokenism.

The real decisions are made in Brisbane. The people who actually live in these regions and who strive to make a livelihood out of the land, are reduced to being bit-part "stakeholders", while the real players are those cutting the deals in Brisbane.

Griffith University academics James Whelan and Kristen Lyons, in a 2004 paper examining the methods successfully employed by environment groups in getting tree-clearing bans in Queensland, report that one of the principals of the Wilderness Society, Lyndon Schneiders, called community consultation processes under legislation for land-clearing management "an exercise in futility" and "a long suicide note".

The organisations funded by the state and commonwealth to facilitate these stakeholder processes are controlled by the purse-strings of government. Their employees end up compromised because jobs and funding programs are dependent on everybody toeing the line that the governments and environment groups insist on.

From the far north to western Queensland you can see what is happening. The poor buggers who live in these places are no match for the corporatist power of organisations such as the Wilderness Society and the wealthy US outfit, the Pew Foundation, who bankroll these campaigns.

If you accept that Cape York Peninsula is not threatened by wholesale commercial or industrial development, and that the best prospect will be small-scale sustainable developments that preserve the region's environment, you are then left with the tragic conclusion that the entire argument about Wild Rivers is misconstrued.

Bligh has consistently rejected that Wild Rivers was all about election deals. But that wasn't always the community perception. Whelan and Lyons reported on the land-management campaign: "Interviewees considered TWS [the Wilderness Society] had demonstrably influenced the outcome of recent Queensland elections. The Labor Party's environmental commitments had been rewarded by TWS campaigns in marginal electorates, which boosted Labor candidates, notably [in 2004] by reducing the vote of a popular Green candidate who might otherwise have won the party's first parliamentary position."

This should be the last thing consuming the attention of Aboriginal people in Cape York. We should be devoting our political and organisational energies into the abject problems of health, education, housing, child protection and criminal justice afflicting our communities. Instead we have to fight a rearguard action to preserve our rights to sustainable development against a bunch of people from the Wilderness Society who desperately want their names listed on the pantheon of environmental heroes who saved Cape York Peninsula. But saved it from what?

IN the week before Christmas, The Weekend Australian featured a story on Eddie Woibo, from Hopevale in Cape York. Eddie is a hard-working indigenous man who set up a small-scale passionfruit farm on his native land. Woibo and his family developed the land for 25 years, building a home and putting in miles of fencing, planted pasture and irrigation infrastructure, waiting for formal land title from successive Queensland governments. His land and home is a dead asset. Because he does not have title to his lands, he has never been able to leverage any further capital investment into his property through loans from banks. More than 80 other indigenous families are in the same position.

Eddie was struck by a heart condition and was hospitalised in December. While he was in recovery a bushfire gutted his property, wiping out his enterprise and ruining most of his infrastructure. Normally, Woibo would have had insurance for his passionfruit business. But he could not insure his property because he did not have title. Woibo has been waiting 25 years for title to his land, and he's still waiting.


Rudd's taxing climate policy is a liability

IN the lead-up to the December climate change conference in Copenhagen the Rudd government was full of bravado as it threatened to reintroduce, next month, its legislation for an emissions trading scheme which the Liberals had just defeated in the Senate. This was clearly designed to unsettle the opposition, and its new leader, Tony Abbott, by holding out the prospect of a double dissolution election if the legislation was again rejected. The Prime Minister may have believed he was on solid ground because Malcolm Turnbull, who Abbott displaced, was clearly spooked at the consequences for the Liberal party if such an election was fought over this legislation.

But the political sands have shifted significantly since then, and far from being intimidated by the reintroduction of this legislation the opposition should be daring Rudd to bring it on.

For a start the Copenhagen conference, where Rudd the climate change warrior took centre stage, proved an embarrassing waste of time and taxpayers' money. Rudd and his caravan of advisers and hangers-on were left desperately trying to squeeze some policy credibility out of this gabfest. If anything, Copenhagen undermined Rudd's fundamental premise that the cap and trade system, which forms the basis of his government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, is the only satisfactory way to address global warming through reducing green house gas emissions.

While the conference failed to reach any constructive agreement for a global response to the effects of climate change it did throw the spotlight on the complexities and uncertainties that surround the cap and trade system. In the wake of the Senate's defeat of the CPRS legislation in early December, Rudd rejected a challenge by Abbott to debate the issue of climate change. He advised the new Opposition Leader to calm down and develop a policy on this.

Reintroducing the legislation not only provides the opportunity for the opposition to debate the government's policy but for it to drive a wedge between the flawed, tax-based, ETS and the broader issue of climate change.

Political polling has been in hibernation over the holiday season but will be back in full swing in coming weeks, particularly as this is a federal election year. The Liberals believe that while there is community support for action to ameliorate the effects of climate change, this is overshadowed by concerns the ETS is nothing more than a tax that will drive up the cost of living.

They expect this to be reflected in opinion polling before the CPRS legislation is reintroduced, if in fact it is.

This will significantly influence Abbott's "direct action" alternative to the government's climate change policy which he will develop in a series of public speeches which began with an address to the Sydney Institute last night.

In attacking government rhetoric supporting its climate change policy, Abbott claims that this, in fact, is a smokescreen for its general environmental neglect particularly in the areas of land and water management.

The Nationals, Abbott's Coalition partners, argue that by placing all these programs under one agency - Caring for Our Country - the government has drastically reduced access to funding for farmers who have maintained a sustainable balance in land use.

Meanwhile, the government has tried to justify passage of its CPRS legislation on the basis that it is essential in the fight against global warming, which is primarily the fault of mankind. But the reality is that this legislation will create a highly intrusive, big brother organisation within the Climate Change department which will have powers of intervention and enforcement rivaling those of the Australian Taxation Office.

And it is here that the opposition should be focusing its attack on the government because this is the area of greatest community concern and uncertainty about the consequences of Labor's policy lies.

Householders have been told to brace themselves for higher prices ranging from energy to food in the ETS-based battle against carbon pollution. Not surprisingly, few can understand how this comes about through a system of trading emissions permits. And the Climate Change department's enviro-babble explanation of how this system works in terms of provisional, make good, excess surrender emissions numbers and credits doesn't help. But what is clear is that businesses and power plants are free to emit whatever level of carbon dioxide they choose as long as they surrender an "eligible emissions unit" for each tonne of pollution.

As with the tax office, the Climate Change Regulatory Authority will have powers to monitor, audit and impose penalties where necessary to enforce compliance with this system, all of which will require a growing taxpayer-funded bureaucracy.

Australians do care about the environment. What they don't care for are more taxes.


Ban protest vessels from using Australia's ports

The Australian Government has been far too even-handed in its statements about the reckless actions of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in attempting to prevent Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.

By not condemning the harassment of Japanese ships by the anti-whaling activists, Australia is in effect acquiescing in militant tactics that come very close to piracy on the high seas.

Harassment will not change Japan's position on whaling. And not condemning these actions directed against a vessel going about its lawful business is counterproductive for Australia trying to broker a diplomatic compromise with Japan through the International Whaling Commission.

Japan could legitimately demand that Australia condemn the actions of the Sea Shepherd group before it even considers discussing any shift in its whaling policy at the next meeting of the commission in Morocco in June.

Given the public interest in these matters, the Australian Government has sensibly asked the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to examine the recent events in the Southern Ocean. But it is hard to see how, on any reading of the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, the Sea Shepherd captain, Paul Watson, could argue his actions were in compliance with it.

Given the relatively small size of the Sea Shepherd's protest boat Ady Gil, and the Japanese ship's restricted ability to manoeuvre, the speedboat was clearly placed in harm's way of the whaling vessel. It neglected the most basic precautions required by the ordinary practice of seamen to avoid a close-quarters situation from developing. Watson can't use the basic rules of the maritime road as his shield.

The Sea Shepherd group's other vessels, the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin, visit Hobart for refuelling, as it is the closest port to where confrontations with the Japanese take place. Sea Shepherd's ships dock in Melbourne each year to prepare for the Japanese whaling season over summer. Last year the Steve Irwin also docked in Brisbane, Sydney and Fremantle as part of a tour of Australian ports.

To demonstrate that Australia does not support the activities of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society against Japanese whalers, the Australian Government should ban the entry of its vessels into Australian ports.

In deciding whether to grant consent to vessels to enter its ports, a state is free to impose conditions as it wishes - access to a port of a state is a privilege, not a right. Australia banned port access to Japanese fishing vessels in 1998 when Japan would not agree on a total allowable catch for southern bluefin tuna in the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna. The port access ban was lifted in mid-2001. It is an offence under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act for a whaling vessel to call at an Australian port unless the master has written permission from the environment minister to bring it into the port.

If the Federal Government is serious about ending whaling and shifting the Japanese Government's position - one that has hardened in response

to harassment by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - it should completely distance itself from this group's dangerous tactics in the Southern Ocean by banning its protest vessels from Australian ports.


15 January, 2010

Something fishy in whaling debate

Ecoterrorists are actually likely to prolong Japanese whaling, says Australian anthropologist Adrian Peace. Pearce has an excellent coverage of the Japanese viewpoint but rather inexplicably overlooks something very basic about all East-Asian socities: Face. If the Japanese yielded to the ecoterrorists, it would be a huge loss of face -- and as such will be strenuously resisted. So as long as the ecoterrorists keep up their publicity-hungry antics, the Japanese will continue whaling

IF the profits were high and it required a substantial labour force, it would be possible to understand why the Japanese run the gamut of international condemnation at this time of year. But whaling nowadays entails minimal economic return and directly employs only a few hundred workers. A number of social scientists, Japanese and non-Japanese, have tried to explain why this intensely capitalist country persists in this seemingly irrational economic behaviour. The main points they make are worth thinking about.

The first explanation lies in the realm of Japanese culture and national identity.

When the International Whaling Commission holds its annual meetings, the intensity of the media gaze provokes pro-whaling claims about the Japanese being involved in this maritime industry for several centuries. But it is not necessary to go that far back. In the early 20th century, canned whale meat became a staple food for the Japanese military, while in post-war years the entire population acquired almost half of its animal protein from whale meat.

Older Japanese believe whale meat has saved them from famine. Subsequently, it became a regular item in lunch boxes (obentos), while for many people today whale meat in the form of sushi and other dishes is a special treat.

So the notion of an exceptional and distinctive whale eating culture (gyoshoku bunka) is a significant one which Japanese discourse (nihinjin roh) incorporates into a sense of national identity, for a unique population. As the anti-whaling movement has become the dominant international discourse, the consumption of whale meat has become a significant counter symbol of belonging to an inimitable Japanese tribe. As one anthropologist puts it: "The whaling issue serves to strengthen much-cherished Japanese myths about their identity, which itself helps fuel one form of Japanese nationalism."

The second explanation is that the Japanese do not think about whales in a manner similar to Western societies. Japanese categorise whales as fish, rather than as mammals, and this is indexed by the fact that the character (kanji) for the whale (kujira) has two parts, the first being the sign for a fish (uo-hen).

The Japanese do not raise strident objections to other societies' routine ways of eating. So on what grounds do Australians so vehemently object to the situation in Japan? The typical Japanese response is that cattle, pigs and chickens are often reared under horrendous conditions throughout their brief, caged lives, while whales live long ones in complete freedom. In this light, it is difficult to see why it is morally questionable to kill a whale rather than to slaughter a pig for much the same purpose; but easy to specify which population makes its food source suffer most. This explanation specifies the political hypocrisy of the West.

At another level, the Japanese do not see whales as having intrinsic value. Consequently, they look upon current conflicts in the Southern Ocean as little more than a political sideshow, and express minimal interest in non-government organisations such as Greenpeace that claim otherwise.

The third explanation directs attention to more rudimentary questions of the organisation of the Japanese state. Since whales fall in the category of fish, they are under the aegis of Japan's Fisheries Agency. Not only is this a notoriously conservative part of the Japanese state, it is also dominated by the ideology of science which it practices to the exclusion of all other ways of thinking about the world.

The Fisheries Agency and its ministry strive to ensure that their scientific understanding of whale stocks, and thus the continuation of whaling, is not somehow watered down by the politically responsive and ideologically liberal Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its position is also informed by the threat of a domino effect on other fish supplies: if the whaling industry is curtailed by external pressure, then dolphin, tuna, salmon and the rest will quickly come under threat too. Since the organisation of whaling in the Southern Ocean is directed by the Fisheries Agency, it is hardly surprising that the hunt proceeds, whatever the level of international outcry.

The fourth explanation is the most radical. It is argued that an alliance of senior politicians and public servants, a prominent media agency and other media figures mobilised the government and popular opinion behind whaling to maintain the status quo. This is not to say that whale meat was not part of Japanese cuisine. It is claimed, however, that those considerations most likely to sustain governmental and popular support behind whaling were strategically packaged for popular consumption to realise maximum political effect in society.

This strategic management of meaning began in the aftermath of the 1982 moratorium over commercial whaling. Industry representatives, concerned politicians and powerful figures in the Fisheries Agency and its ministry set about persuading, cajoling and seducing influential media representatives into adopting and then broadcasting select perspectives on whaling and the consumption of whale meat.

Once again, the relative autonomy of major institutions within the modern state was integral to the success of this calculated approach. What was critical was the distinctive political arrangement known as the kisha kurabu system in which editors, journalists and the like are incorporated into select political circles, with all the material and other perks this entails, to ensure they report faithfully what their political and industrial masters tell them.

This political arrangement thrives, according to this line of argument, because scientific specialists in particular are accorded a high level of infallibility. Their findings are broadcast without qualification or critique. As it worked to promote and privilege a particular set of understandings about Japan's whale eating culture and the threat to it from abroad, the kisha kurabu exercise especially exploited this unqualified deference towards scientists in the Fisheries Agency.

The twist to this fourth explanation is that, while at the outset the goal was to end the 1982 moratorium on commercial whale fishing, current arrangements have come to serve national interests. The Japanese can kill a substantial number of whales each year; there is little serious opposition inside the broader society; and the many government subsidies that have become available since 1982 to prop up an industry that is commercially non-viable continue to flow unabated.

There is some truth to all of these explanations. Militant action by the Australian government is most likely to reinforce a broadly nationalist response from the Japanese people and a narrowly bureaucratic one from those who effectively determine the country's whaling policy. This is not to suggest militancy is a poor option, only that it is more likely to draw out the conflict instead of foreshortening it.


Rogue social workers on a power trip -- again

Man arrested and baby taken from the mother on NO charges. The only redeeming feature of the matter is that the decisions by the social workers will be subject to a court review

MOMENTS after a dad cut his newborn daughter's cord and kissed her, a posse of armed police burst into the delivery ward and arrested him. The man had only just handed the infant across over to her mother when 10 heavily-armed Special Task and Rescue (STAR) group officers burst through the bedside curtains and pointed a pistol over his head. The incident happened in a delivery room at the Women's and Children's Hospital, Adelaide, at 7.05pm on December 10.

The baby was then taken by Families SA workers from the father who's believed to be a violent, convicted criminal. He was handcuffed, frog-marched to a car, driven home and ordered not to return to the hospital. Independent MLC Ann Bressington has now hit out at "rogue social workers on power trips".

The father, who has a "very extensive criminal history", was not charged with anything, but says he was told he would be arrested if he returned to the hospital. His lawyer, Michael Figwer, who has relayed the man's account of the dramatic removal of the child from the family to The Advertiser , said there were no outstanding warrants for the man, who cannot be named. "He cut the umbilical cord and kissed her before passing his daughter to the mother," Mr Figwer said.

"He was sitting between the mother and the wall. "Two midwives and the man's mother were in the room when the curtain came flying back, as two STAR Group officers armed with Tasers, flak jackets and helmets burst through. "One was armed with a semi-automatic pistol, which was pointed at his head across the bed where the baby was lying on the mother's stomach." He says there were probably another eight STAR Group officers outside the room in the corridor with machine guns. "Families SA staff were in the hospital, in the waiting areas."

Mr Figwer said the father claims he was taken to a stairwell, handcuffed and told he would receive an explanation outside the hospital. When out of the building, he was given the option of being taken to the city watch-house to "calm down" or be driven to his home. At his house, police showed him Section 16 of the Children's Protection Act and told him he would be arrested if he returned to the hospital.

Families SA yesterday confirmed STAR Group officers assisted social workers to take a newborn child from its parents in a delivery room on December 10.

The man, who cannot be named because of a pending Youth Court hearing which will determine who cares for the child, has an extensive criminal record in South Australia and Victoria, with convictions including discharging a firearm in a public place and threatening to cause harm. He has previously been detained under mental health orders and, in November, prosecutors dropped a charge of aggravated assault with a weapon and hindering police...

Ms Bressington, part of a select committee inquiry into Families SA practices, said Families Minister Jennifer Rankine had failed to "rein in the excesses of her department". "It was my hope that the Minister for Families and Communities, after reading the report into Families SA, would take stock of the identified failings and begin to rein in the excesses of her department," Ms Bressington said yesterday. "The Minister must accept that some of her staff are out of control and that rogue social workers on power trips account for most of the problems experienced by families coming to my office for assistance."


Coverup for speeding Victorian top cop

Outed by newspaper. The speeding is forgiveable. Virtually everybody does it at times. It is the coverup that is disturbing

ACTING Attorney General and Police Minister Bob Cameron has come out in defence of Ken Lay after his speeding offence revelation, saying his record spoke for itself. Mr Lay says he has to rebuild his credibility with the public after the Herald Sun revealed this morning that he had been nabbed speeding through a country town last October. The Deputy Commissioner also admitted he kept the offence under wraps until now to avoid undermining the Christmas road safety campaign.

“Ken has been a very good deputy commissioner for road traffic,” Mr Cameron said today. “What has occurred is a disappointment and I know Ken is very disappointed in himself.” Mr Cameron shook off claims that Mr Lay’s confession was media managed, saying it was up to Mr Lay and Victoria Police to decide the best time to tell the public. Mr Cameron would not say exactly when he was told about Mr Lay’s indiscretion, but said he was told sometime this week. “I was told about it this week and Ken told me about it himself yesterday," he said.

He said the timing of Mr Lay's revelation did not bother him and that it had been up to Mr Lay to tell Chief Commissioner Simon Overland about the incident and then it was at Mr Overland's discretion. Mr Cameron said while he has been caught speeding himself, he has not received a fine in about 15 years.

This morning, Mr Lay said he kept the $245 fine a secret - he only confided with Mr Overland - until now because he was the front man in a heavily promoted Christmas campaign to keep the state's road toll down over the holidays. Mr Lay, who lost three demerit points for doing 80km/h in a 70km/h zone when he passed through the town of Tooborac on the Northern Highway on October 1, said it was his first blunder in 35 years of driving. "One of the real problems I had at this time was we were launching Operation Raid, our biggest drink-driving operation leading into Christmas, so I made a very clear decision that I didn't want to undermine it," he told 3AW radio this morning.

"I also understood that when I did come out with it at the end of the Christmas period I would be criticised for holding onto it. "But I made that decision, I made it in good faith, and made it in the interest of making sure all Victorians were focused on slowing down and doing the right thing rather than Ken Lay doing a dumb thing and getting a speed camera fine." He said he spoke with Mr Overland after finding out he had been "pinged" and told him that he didn't want his mistake to take the focus away from the Christmas road toll campaign. "I made what I thought was in the best interest of road safety and I need to cop the criticism if it comes," he said.


Wong struggles to shift focus

DOESN’T the government have anything else to talk about other than climate change? More to the point, doesn’t it have anything better? Copenhagen, after all, was as much of a success for Kevin Rudd as the vote on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. But Penny Wong is at it again. She started another climate-change countdown yesterday, this time giving the opposition 21 days “to guarantee pensioners and seniors will be fully compensated under any alternative Liberal Party climate-change policy”.

Wong was so excited that she issued two different versions of the same statement. “The government has today called on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to guarantee pensioners and seniors will be fully compensated under any alternative Liberal Party climate-change policy,” said Mark I. “Under the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, all pensioners and seniors will, on average, be fully compensated for the costs of acting on climate change. “Mr Abbott has indicated he will provide a . . . fully costed climate-change policy . . . in February. That is just 21 days away. Mr Abbott must guarantee pensioners and seniors won’t . . . foot the bill under his alternative climate-change policy.”

Mark II covered similar terrain, but Wong also got stroppy that Abbott told Sydney radio on Monday: “The so-called settled science of climate change is not nearly as settled as the climate catastrophists would have us believe.” Abbott had a fair bit to say in that interview, but it was these lines that grabbed House Rules’s attention. “Governments always try to make the opposition the issue, as if our policy, or our thinking on things really mattered. It’s the government which has the power. It’s the government which is able to put its thinking into practice.”

The one-time boxer may be ducking and weaving furiously, but he is absolutely right. The current debate is all about the government’s policy. And its tactics have left one political player nonplussed. Independent senator Nick Xenophon asked yesterday: “Why start the new year reminding people of the bad bill they tried and failed to get up last year. Unless they change the bill, I won’t change my vote.”


Here’s a release just out from Wong’s office. You’ll never guess what the headline says…


With just 20 days to go to unveil a climate change policy, the time has come for Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to accept the climate change science. Mr Abbott cannot claim to be a ‘fair dinkum environmentalist’ if he does not accept that climate change is real. The evidence is clear that the globe is warming and that human activity is contributing to this.

At the end of Australia’s second hottest year on record and the hottest decade in Australian history, Mr Abbott still doubts the existence of climate change."

More here

14 January, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks that hunger striker Peter Spencer has achieved a lot.

Another government attack on farmers -- This time in Tasmania

Farmers in Tasmania say the State Government's revised private land clearing rules are at odds with its dream for the state to become the nation's "food bowl". The changes are part of the government's plans to phase out broad-scale clearing and conversion of private land by 2015. Over the next five years, new land clearing applications will be limited to 40 hectares per year and after that 20 hectares in any five-year period.

Chris Oldfield from the Farmers and Graziers Association says the government has changed the rules midway through the game. "It changes the plans of a lot of farmers who were willing to invest in really going along with the State Government's idea of creating a food bowl.

The Opposition says the government did not consult farmers.

In its statement announcing the revised policy, the Resources Minister, David Llewellyn, said the changes would provide landowners with certainty. He said farmers would still be allowed to clear land for essential infrastructure and routine agricultural activities.


Child safety trumps political correctness -- for once

THE Family Court has given a white grandmother custody of her two Aboriginal grandchildren. The court ruled a safe, stable upbringing in her home is more important than their immersion in the hunter-gatherer culture of their people, The Australian reports.

The grandmother, 60, has been fighting for full-time care of the children since 2008, saying they had been exposed to alcohol-fuelled violence in every home they lived in before coming to her.

The mother's legal team, from the Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, argued that the children must be raised in the tradition of Tiwi Islanders: gathering bush tucker, doing craftwork, speaking the Tiwi language and attending ceremonies. They pressed the importance of extended family in Tiwi culture: the children's mother is one of 11 children who were raised mostly in "bush settings", and their grandmother on their mother's side is a Tiwi elder.

The court heard the mother started a relationship with a white man in 1999. It was short and violent, and "NT police intervened on many occasions". The children's grandmother, who is part-Italian and part-Croatian, told the court their mother "abandoned" them to her care in 2006, only to take the children back again in 2007.

At a Full Court hearing in December, the mother's legal team argued that the children must live the Tiwi culture or they would gain only a "shallow or second-hand appreciation" of it. They said the children could not enjoy their Aboriginality "if they live predominantly with a person who does not viscerally understand them". The court agreed the white grandmother "does not understand what it is to be Aboriginal" and "can never know what it is to be an indigenous person".


Cabinet border security committee meets as more boatpeople arrive

Amid a continuing and uninterrupted flow of illegals -- a flow which the conservative Howard government had completely stopped

THE border security committee of cabinet met today in Canberra amid a deepening row over Kevin Rudd's decision to allow four asylum-seekers who ASIO deemed a security threat to be flown to Christmas Island. The meeting followed the interception of another boatload of arrivals near Christmas Island carrying 42 suspected asylum-seekers, the fifth boat for the year.

National Security Adviser Duncan Lewis attended the meeting in the Prime Minister's office as the government confirmed another boatload of asylum-seekers had been detected near Christmas Island.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans confirmed the meeting but would not discuss the agenda, arguing it was a routine meeting. “We are just managing what is hopefully a temporary peak in arrivals,” Senator Evans said.

He also conceded that Australia may have to activate a contingency plan to transport asylum-seekers from the offshore detention centre on Christmas Island to the mainland. There were 1724 people at Christmas Island - its capacity is 1820 detainees - with another 42 to arrive for processing. However, the immigration department said some people had been granted visas and would soon be transferred to the mainland. “We've still got some capacity at Christmas Island. I've always made clear we've got a detention centre at Darwin with a capacity for 500 that's purpose built,” Senator Evans told Perth Radio 6PR. “If we need to we will use that for the final stages for processing. But people will be taken to Christmas Island and they will be treated as offshore entry arrivals and all the legal structures that go around that.”

The cabinet committee was established last year to tackle the recent surge in asylum-seekers arriving by boat and has a $2.8 million budget to source advice and support for the committee to respond to “the resurgent maritime people smuggling threat”. Chaired by Senator Evans, it includes Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith, Defence Minister John Faulkner, Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Mr Lewis. The Prime Minister, who remains on holidays in Tasmania, did not attend the meeting.

Earlier, the opposition accused the Rudd government of committing a “grievous security breach” by sending four asylum-seekers deemed a threat by ASIO to Christmas Island.

Yesterday Senator Evans confirmed the decision to transfer the Tamils by charter plane to honour an agreement with Indonesia to end the Oceanic Viking standoff.

Opposition customs spokesman Michael Keenan said today it was difficult to understand “why the reaction of the Labor Government to the news that these four pose a security risk was to charter a plane to go and collect them from Indonesia and bring them to Australia”. “Now why any Australian Government would commit such a grievous security breach is very difficult to know,” Mr Keenan told ABC Radio. “It's really an extraordinary set of circumstances and it's the final calamity that's been associated with Labor's failed border protection policies.”

The Rudd government confirmed this morning that HMAS Bathurst, operating under the control of Border Protection Command, intercepted another vessel at 2.24am (AEDT) about five nautical miles north of Christmas Island. In a statement today the government said there were 42 people on board. It's the fifth vessel to be detected this year, pushing the detention centre to the brink of capacity.


The Climate is Changing

Comment on Australia from the Wall Street Journal: "The rise of Tony Abbott is part of a worldwide reconsideration of the costs of cap-and-trade"

When I say the climate is changing, I do not mean, as many people do, that man-made global warming is destroying Planet Earth. I mean that the politics of climate change is changing rapidly all over the globe. Al Gore's moment has come and gone.

In the United States, Democrats, nervously facing midterm elections, are calling on President Obama to jettison the cap-and-trade bills before the Senate. In Canada, the emissions-trading scheme—another term for cap-and-trade—is stalled in legislative limbo. In Britain, Tories are coming out against David Cameron's green stance. In the European Union, cap-and-trade has been the victim of fraudulent traders and the carbon price has more than halved to $18.50 per ton. In France, the Constitutional Council has blocked President Nicolas Sarkozy's tax on carbon emissions that was set to take effect in the New Year.

In Copenhagen, meanwhile, the United Nations' climate-change summit went up in smoke. And in Mexico City later this year hopes for any verifiable, enforceable and legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gases—and to bring in developing nations such as China and India that were, insanely, omitted from the Kyoto protocol in 1997—are a chimera.

Add to this that Washington was buried by record-breaking snowfalls last month, that hurricane activity is at a 30-year low in the U.S., that London is bracing itself for its coldest winter in decades, and that there has still been no recorded global warming this century, and it is no wonder public skepticism is rising across the world.

Nowhere is the changing climate more evident than in Australia. Last month, the Senate voted down the Labor Government's legislation to implement an emissions-trading scheme. Polls show most Aussies oppose the complicated cap-and-trade system if China and India continue to chug along the smoky path to prosperity. The center-right Liberal-led opposition, moreover, is now led by Tony Abbott, a culture warrior who has described man-made global warming in language unfit to print in a family newspaper and cap-and-trade as "a great big tax to create a great big slush fund to provide politicized handouts, run by a giant bureaucracy."

Until Mr. Abbott's election as opposition leader last month, the climate debate in Australia had been conducted in a heretic-hunting, anti-intellectual atmosphere. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd claimed that climate change is the "greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time." In clear breach of the great liberal anti-communist Sidney Hook's rule of controversy—"Before impugning an opponent's motives, answer his arguments"—Mr. Rudd linked "world government conspiracy theorists" and "climate-change deniers" to "vested interests." Much of the media, business and scientific establishment deemed it blasphemy that anyone dare question his Labor Party's grand ambitions.

Australians had heard a lot of science, much of it poorly explained. But the "dismal science" had been conspicuously absent from the climate debate. There was very little serious analysis of the economic consequences of climate change: What choices did we have to mitigate its effects, and how much would these choices cost us? Labor ministers had emitted a lot of hot air about global warming and the urgency with which resource-rich Australia (which accounts for only 1.4% of global emissions) must act.

All of this has now utterly changed: Australia's debate has entered a new phase, one that goes beyond the religious fervor and feel-good gestures that had held sway all too often. Suddenly, political strategists are thinking the unthinkable: far from presaging an electoral debacle that was inevitable under Mr. Abbott's green predecessor Malcolm Turnbull, the issue could be a godsend for conservatives Down Under.

Already, Mr. Abbott—an Anglophile, Rhodes scholar, patron saint of Australian conservatives and protégé of former Prime Minister John Howard—is gaining ground in the polls. In their first test at the ballot box since they killed the government's climate legislation last month, his Liberal Party recorded impressive victories in by-elections in Sydney and Melbourne—confounding the conventional wisdom that opposition to cap-and-trade will damage a center-right party in metropolitan seats.

In this environment, Mr. Abbott deserves praise for persuading Australia's conservatives to fight Labor on climate change—even when the liberal wing of his own party would happily bow to Mr. Rudd. Not only will he raise the temperature over the inevitable higher costs in energy, transport and groceries under the next tax—and thus appeal to Labor's working-class and coal mining and other energy-intensive constituencies—Mr. Abbott will also radiate the technological optimism that has characterized the human species since time immemorial. His case is not an appeal to do nothing, but to avoid doing something stupid. And unilateral Australian action in a post-Copenhagen world would be stupid: Economic Pain For No Environmental Gain. Not a bad slogan during an election scare campaign.

To be sure, Mr. Rudd remains politically popular on the back of a strong local economy that has weathered the global financial storm. But as the changing climate shows, Mr. Abbott is tapping into a more skeptical mood about climate change. If he wins the federal election later this year, Australia's opposition leader will be a role model to conservative skeptics around the world.


13 January, 2010

Australia doesn't want quality immigrants

As in America and Britain, low-skilled illegals can get in with little trouble. In the Australian and British cases, they just have to say the magic word "asylum". But in all three countries it's not so easy if you are highly qualified and likely to be an unusually valuable citizen

AUSTRALIAN universities are training top scientists in areas of importance to the national economy. Some of these students come from overseas, pay fees for their education and want to work and settle in Australia. They are young, highly qualified and have lived in Australia for some years, so they are making informed judgments when they apply for permanent residence with a view to becoming Australian citizens. They meet all the Department of Immigration and Citizenship criteria for permanent residence. Yet they have been pushed to the end of the immigration queue, where they face several years of delay before being considered for permanent residence. While they are waiting they cannot work in scientific positions of benefit to Australia.

Until mid-2008, students completing PhDs in Australian universities were eligible to be considered for permanent residence within three to six months, with the prospect of being eligible for Australian citizenship after a further two years. Two changes were then made to the skilled migration program. Priority was moved from independent skilled migrants (category 885) to those sponsored by employers, and a critical skills list was created. This list does not include specialisations in advanced areas of science in which recent PhDs have graduated.

As a consequence of these changes in immigration procedures, the permanent residence applications of the majority of PhD research scientists who graduated during 2008 and since that time will now not be considered until at least mid-2011. This pushes the likely time when they can expect a decision to 2012. This means a four-year delay.

While waiting in the immigration queue, these PhD graduates cannot apply for many positions, particularly those of high scientific value and those with long-term career prospects. These require permanent residence, if not Australian citizenship. Both government and private employers are reluctant to apply for immigration status for such positions. Heads of scientific laboratories often cannot spare the resources for the lengthy process involved in immigration sponsorship. Some high-level science positions that PhDs trained in Australia could fill are left empty and scientific work is stalled because PhD graduates waiting for permanent residence are confined to limited temporary positions.

Australia is thus wasting the talents and training of PhD graduates who have proved their ability to work at the leading edge of science.

The scientific problems on which we worked as students in human nutrition and food processing are typical. Our research was focused on improving the taste, texture and health-giving qualities of food so as to encourage consumers to enjoy eating more healthily. Such shifts in diet enable people to reduce the high costs of negative lifestyle diseases, contributing to the long-term sustainability of Australia's high living standards. On the production side, research in food technology aims to use water, soils, energy and other resources more efficiently to improve environmental sustainability. Other recent graduates whose permanent residence applications are stalled have worked on PhDs in renewable fuel technology, superconductivity, material science, radiopharmaceutical research, the development of vaccines and immunisations, hydrogen economy and other areas of advanced applied science that are important to maintaining Australia's position at the cutting edge of science and technology.

Studying for advanced degrees in science and contributing through conference papers and publications in peer-refereed journals takes commitment. So does the decision to become an Australian citizen. Yet although we have made these commitments, our lives have been put on hold. We have been told that it will take at least to 2011, and probably longer, before our applications for permanent residence are considered.

Scientists are an important component of any nation's strength and dynamic potential. The market for scientists is international. There are attractive openings worldwide. The US congress is considering a bill that would prevent PhDs trained in the US from leaving the economy. The bill is aimed at amending immigration legislation to exempt science PhDs from migration quotas. Australia does not need new legislation, but immigration rules and procedures should be amended so that scientists trained in Australia are able to work in their fields of expertise and are not discouraged from becoming Australians.


Wow! Australian authorities finally realize that some Tamil "refugees" are terrorists

Sri Lankan terrorists should be returned to Sri Lanka for appropriate action by the Sri Lankan authorities

FOUR of the Tamil asylum-seekers rescued by the Oceanic Viking and offered a special deal by the Rudd Government will be refused visas after ASIO determined them a threat to national security. The government lobbied furiously to resettle the 78 Sri Lankans swiftly following their stand-off aboard the Australian Customs boat, but The Australian revealed today that four of the Tamils being held at Christmas Island have been issued with adverse security assessments by Australia's chief domestic security agency, ASIO.

In a further complication for authorities struggling to manage a fresh wave of boat-borne asylum-seekers, it is believed one of the four is a woman who travelled to Australia in the company of her two young children. The situation presents a conundrum for the Government, which cannot return the four to Sri Lanka without exposing them to potential harm from the Sri Lankan Government, which in May crushed the decades-old Tamil insurgency with a comprehensive military offensive.

Australia would also be in breach of its legal obligations if it returned the four, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has designated all 78 of the Sri Lankans as legal refugees. However, people subject to adverse security assessments are by law ineligible for an Australian visa, which means the four have no hope of coming to the Australian mainland. Other countries will also be highly reluctant to take them now that Australia has deemed them a security risk.

The four were part of a group of 16 Tamils who flew from Indonesia to Australia in the final days of last year, amid concerns about their background. They had been held in Tanjung Pinang for about a month after agreeing to leave the Oceanic Viking. On December 29, six of the Sri Lankans, including the four who have been issued adverse security assessments, flew via charter aircraft from Indonesia directly to Christmas Island. The next day, 10 of their fellow passengers flew on a commercial flight into Australia, where they joined other Oceanic Viking passengers, who had flown in before Christmas.

Of the 78 rescued, 44 are in a UN transit facility in Romania awaiting resettlement in the US and Canada, 18 have come to Australia and 16 remain in Tanjung Pinang.

The revelations pose new questions about the Rudd government's handling of the stand-off and whether the decision to offer a special deal to leave the boat was driven by security fears.

Yesterday, ASIO refused to comment on the matter. However, an Immigration Department spokesman, Sandi Logan, confirmed adverse security assessments had been issued. "The passengers from the Oceanic Viking who received adverse security assessments will not be granted permanent visas to resettle in Australia," Mr Logan said. "They are being held in secure and appropriate detention arrangements while Australia continues to explore resettlement options or they choose to depart voluntarily." Mr Logan confirmed Australia would not seek to deport the four to Sri Lanka, acknowledging it would be a breach of the UN Refugee Convention. [Rubbish! There is no convention protecting terrorists]


Qld. Public hospital negligence: Couple forced into dangerous baby delivery at home

And the response is theorizing. No inquiry ordered. It needs a front-page story in a major newspaper to generate an official inquiry

A Stafford Heights couple forced to deliver their baby alone at home are seeking a ``please explain’’ from their hospital. Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital (RBWH) sent Louisa Tomon home seven hours after she presented at the maternity ward on December 22.

When Mrs Tomon returned to her parents’ house, she knew the baby was coming. The Tomon’s called the ambulance ``straight away’’, but within 10 minutes the baby had arrived. Husband Matt Tomon delivered baby Julian despite the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck.

``The first few minutes weren’t great, he was pretty blue when he came out and wasn’t really breathing and then he eventually started crying,’’ Mr Tomon said. "It was the best sound. It’s just one of those situations, it could have been a lot worse.’’

They question why they were sent home when Mrs Tomon claimed to have had three contractions every 10 minutes and had undergone an internal examination, a process known to kick-start childbirth.

RBWH executive director of Women’s and Newborn Services, Professor Ian Jones, said there were often a variety of reasons for a patient to leave a birthing suite after being admitted. ``One of the most common is because contractions become less intense and less frequent, or stop all together,’’ he said. ``This is called spurious labour.’’

Professor Jones said in these cases the patient was given the option to go home and return if they progressed to labour, or be admitted to an appropriate ward. Professor Jones said there was no evidence to suggest the high standard of care was not followed in this case.

Queensland Minister for Health Paul Lucas did not wish to comment specifically on the case but a spokeswoman for the minister said: ``If the patient or any patient has any genuine concerns they are welcome to contact the Health Quality and Complaints Commission (HQCC) regarding this.’’


Nasty one for the "extreme weather" cries of the Warmists

Like the Southern USA, Northern Australia has a lot of very severe wind events -- called hurricanes in the USA and cyclones in Australia. So Northern Australia is a prime place for detecting an increase in "extreme" weather. But it isn't happening. So how do the Warmists respond? Not in a scientific way by deferring to the facts but by saying that extreme weather is like the second coming of Christ or the collapse of capitalism: It will happen "one day"

AUSTRALIAN government climate experts have failed to detect an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones after analysing 26 years of data since the early 1980s. Climate scientists have warned that Australia should expect to see more intense cyclones in the future fuelled by rising global temperatures caused by greenhouse gases. But this latest research from seven Bureau of Meteorology scientists shows that so far there is no conclusive evidence to suggest this is already happening.

Scientists told The Courier-Mail the findings, which will fuel the debate among skeptics of human-caused climate change, did not mean climate change would not cause an increase in the frequency of powerful cyclones in the future.

Appearing in the prestigious Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres, published by the American Geophysical Union, the scientific paper analysed satellite data and images for all the tropical cyclone seasons in Australia from 1981 to 2007. The research concluded: "In the Australia region, no significant trends in the total numbers of Tropical Cyclones, or in the proportion of the most intense TCs, have been found."

Co-author of the research, Dr John McBride, said: "We still expect more intense cyclones but we are comfortable with the fact that you cannot yet see that in the data." The research did find a positive trend in the numbers of the most intense cyclones in the Southern Indian Ocean region. But the authors said while it was "possible" that the trend could show climate change at work, this finding could instead be down to "changes in data quality".

In theory, scientists say ongoing rises in ocean temperatures should see the numbers of intense cyclones increase. Professor David Karoly, a world-leading climatologist at the University of Melbourne, said the research did not change this expectation. "It's very very difficult with a 20 or 30-year time scale to separate a climate change signal from natural variation. You would not expect to see a signal until about 2030."

Last week Opposition Leader Tony Abbott criticised the Government's proposed emissions trading scheme, saying it should "not politicise events such as floods or cyclones to try to justify a new tax."


12 January, 2010

Extra hour of TV a day can kill, say medical shamans

Lord love us! More epidemiological "wisdom". They found, unsuprisingly, that people in poor health watched slightly more TV but in their wisdom from on high they interpreted it the other way around! It must be wonderful to have God-given insight that dispenses with the need for evidence! I personally watch TV about once a year but have no time for fraudulent scares. Scares that simply lead to needlessly upset children are particularly obnoxious

VIDEO killed the radio star, according to the famous Buggles song, but new research suggests television is killing the rest of us too. An additional hour in front of the box each day increases the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 18 per cent, according to Australian research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Each extra hour increases by 11 per cent the overall likelihood of dying from all causes, including cancer.

"The human body was designed to move, not sit for extended periods of time," the study's lead author, David Dunstan, said. "But technological, social and economic changes mean that people don't move their muscles as much as they used to. "For many people, on a daily basis they simply shift from one chair to another."

Prof Dunstan, from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, said sitting for long periods was bad for blood sugar and fats - even if you were healthy. The link between television viewing and increased mortality held true regardless of other risk factors such as smoking, poor diet, high cholesterol and obesity.

The average Australian watched three hours of television every day. The researchers monitored the viewing habits of 8800 adults over six years before publishing the alarming results. They found someone who watched four hours of TV each day had an 80 per cent higher risk of death from heart disease compared to someone who watched less than two hours.

They were 46 per cent more likely to die from all causes. Prof Dunstan said the findings suggested any prolonged sedentary behaviour, such as sitting at a desk or computer for work, could be risky. The answer? "Move more, more often." "In addition to doing regular exercise, avoid sitting for prolonged periods," he said. "Too much sitting is bad for health."


In Australia too, the media hate fundamentalist Christians

Lots of private religious schools get government subsidies. It is the Australian system -- going back to the days of Bob Menzies. But just one small set of private schools is singled out for criticism below -- the Brethren schools. And Rudd hates the Brethren because they supported his opposition. All the major churches supported Rudd

THE Rudd Government is handing more than $70 million to schools run by the Exclusive Brethren, a religious sect Kevin Rudd described as an "extremist cult" that breaks up families. The sect's schools have secured more than $8.4m under the Government's school building stimulus package and they will share in $62m in recurrent taxpayer funding.

Documents show a Brethren-run school at Swan Hill in northern Victoria was granted $1.2m for a library and $800,000 for a hall when its most recent annual report shows it had just 16 pupils and already had a library. [Many such bureaucratic bungles have happened with government schools too] Grants data released by the commonwealth shows that Brethren schools in every state received funding under the $12.4 billion schools stimulus package, The Australian reports.

Despite the Brethren's past disdain for computers, figures show its schools have received more than 300 under the commonwealth computers-in-school initiative.

Brethren schools have also secured grants under the Schools Pride program. All up, the 2400 children in Brethren schools will each receive the equivalent of $26,127 in recurrent funding and $11,200 in stimulus funding.

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said these sums were outrageous and the funding system had to be urgently replaced. "How can the Government justify handing tens of millions of dollars to an organisation it believes is a cult while public schools which educate the vast majority of our children are struggling for funds?" Mr Gavrielatos said. "The Government has said it will review schools funding this year. That review needs to be begin as a matter of urgency to allow for a proper public debate on where school funding should be directed and for what purpose."

The Brethren is a fundamentalist Christian sect that lives by the doctrine of separation from mainstream society. Brethren schools must teach the normal curriculum, although reports say some novels are banned and chapters on sex and reproduction are excised from science textbooks. Brethren members are taught to shun broader society. They do not use TV, radios and do not watch movies or eat in restaurants. They do not vote, are opposed to unions and other forms of association, except their own church. [There have always been Protestants with similar views -- e.g. Scotland's "Wee Frees" and the historic Puritans of Britain and America. And some famous Catholic monastic orders were doing it even before the Protestants came along. It is a perfectly defensible version of Christianity, even if it is not fashionable these days. Check John 15:19; James 4:4; John 18:36, for instance]

The Brethren has been accused by former members, and the Prime Minister in his 2007 comments, of denying those who leave access to their children, a claim the organisation denies.

Doug Burgess, the head of the Brethren's Victorian schools, said its schools were growing rapidly and the funding reflected that. He defended the sect's right to school funding, saying the children would otherwise be enrolled in state schools at full taxpayers' expense.



Four current articles below

Whales not worth risking Japanese relations for, says Abbott

If Australia continues its antagonism to Japan and support for terrorists, Japan could cut off all imports of Australian farm products in response -- which would cause great woe in Australia -- possibly enough woe to unseat Rudd. There have been great battles to get access to the Japanese primary-products market so a Japanese cutoff of that would be an obvious response to continued hostility from Australia's Green/Left government

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has declared Australia's relationship with Japan is too important to risk over whaling. Mr Abbott yesterday said it was not Coalition policy to take Japan to the International Court to stop its annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean, according to a report in the Courier-Mail.

"We don't like whaling. We would like the Japanese to stop," he told Macquarie Radio yesterday. "On the other hand, we don't want to needlessly antagonise our most important trading partner, a fellow democracy, an ally."

Relations with Japan have reportedly been strained in the wake of last week's dramatic clash between whalers and protesters. The Government yesterday said there had been robust discussions between the two countries but the issue had not harmed the relationship with Tokyo

The Opposition also has accused the Rudd Government of failing to follow through on numerous pre-election promises to end whaling in the Southern Ocean. Acting Environment Minister Penny Wong said if the Government could not resolve the matter diplomatically, it would take legal action.

SOURCE. There is a good commentary on the terrorist mentality and tactics involved here

Record heat -- just like a century ago

A very bad fit to the Warmist narrative

Melbourne has notched its equal hottest-ever night, with a sweltering minimum matching the city's other warmest evening, recorded more than 100 years ago. The overnight temperature did not drop below 30.6 degrees, and this dip was only reached at 8.49am, the Bureau of Meteorology said this morning.

This was warm enough to equal Melbourne's highest recorded daily minimum temperature, set on February 1, 1902, Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Terry Ryan said. ‘‘The overnight minimum temperature was 30.6 and that was recorded at 8.49am,’’ Mr Ryan said. ‘‘The previous record for the warmest night was also 30.6 degrees recorded on February 1, 1902, and we equalled that this morning," he said.

Mr Ryan said at 8am, the overnight heat was so intense it seemed the 1902 mark would be smashed. ‘‘It was going up to 34 degrees at 8am but then a weak cool change moved through the city and temperatures started falling again,’’ he said. The change threatened to cost the record, but 30.6 was as cool as it got.

Duty forecaster Stuart Coombs said a cool change this morning made a lasting impact to temperatures. ‘‘It appears we’ve dodged a bit of a bullet ... that cool air was deep enough to stop the temperature from rising further,’’ he said. By 12.45pm, the temperature had dropped to 30 degrees celsius, with isolated showers and cooler weather predicted for the evening.


Conservative leader defends Aboriginal rights against Green/Left laws

OPPOSITION leader Tony Abbott has come out swinging in his campaign against the Bligh government's controversial Wild Rivers legislation, labelling Bligh's regime as "outrageous" and the Rudd government "cowardly" for not stepping in.

In Cairns this morning, Mr Abbott formally announced his intention to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to override the Wild Rivers legislation on Cape York, after his move was revealed by The Australian today.

Mr Abbott, flanked by Cape York traditional owners, said the Wild Rivers legislation - which declared the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart river systems on Cape York as wild rivers - was an "attack on the rights of Aboriginal people". "(It will) suffocate at birth all proposals for economic development on Cape York," Mr Abbott said.

He said he will introduce the Private Member’s Bill when parliament resumes in February, but without the support of the Rudd government, it would die. Mr Abbott said he would be appealing to Mr Rudd and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin to step in and let the bill live.

SOURCE. More commentary on the Leftist hypocrisy involved here

Ecology and compulsion: The Divine Right of Environmentalists

The problem facing the Commonwealth government in Peter Spencer’s case is that on the one hand it’s embarrassing to have him dying of starvation up a pole because they denied him justice after forcibly taking billions of dollars worth of property in violation of the Constitution; and embarrassing to be caught out ignoring him, and lying to the population that it was all the States’ fault. But on the other hand, the Commonwealth has stolen too much property to be able to pay for it; and is too greedy to give it back. It is no defence of this injustice to say that other environmental and planning laws also restrict people’s private property use-rights. That only begs the question whether they also represent unjust acquisitions.

It does not answer to assert that government acts in the national interest. That is precisely what is in issue. If it’s in the national interest for the government to take people’s property without their consent in breach of the law by threatening them with force, then presumably armed robbery and extortion might be in the national interest too.

It is no answer to say that the laws are to protect native vegetation. Native vegetation is not an ecological category: it is an historical and aesthetic category. It means species that were here before 1788, that is all. The issue is not native vegetation itself: it is whether some people should be able to indulge their fancy of having a ‘pre-1788’ botanical museum imposed on other people’s property, paid for by the subject property-holders, or by the productive portion of the population under compulsion.

No doubt many environmentalists are genuinely well-intentioned, and shocked to be considered abusive and unjust, and will say that was not their intention. However the abusiveness and injustice of these laws does not come from the laws’ intent, but from their effect.

Nor is it any answer to say that the native vegetation acts were done to protect biodiversity. The mere fact that biodiversity is a value does not automatically justify the violation of property rights. It may be said that biodiversity is the necessary basis of life on earth, and therefore the need to conserve it is a precondition to any discussion of subsequent human utility. However it is hyperbole to suggest that we’re all going to die unless the environmentalists can steal other people’s land, which is what the argument amounts to.

Even assuming that ecological viability itself were in issue, it is still entirely unjustified and unjustifiable to jump to a conclusion that government is able to centrally plan the ecology and the economy, by bureaucratic command-and-control. This destructive belief, or rather delusion, has no basis in reason. Those wishing to run that argument must first refute Ludwig von Mises’ arguments which definitively prove that public ownership of the means of production is not only impossible in practice, but is not even possible in theory.

As to ecological sustainability, this attractive-sounding catch-phrase is meaningless. Ecology is the distribution and abundance of species. Species are made up of their individual members. The distribution and abundance of these are permanently and constantly changing forever, every second of every day, always have been, always will be. The ideal of sustainability is a dream of stasis; a utopian fantasy of paradise in which the economic problems of natural scarcity have been solved forever by the omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence of big government.

And if ecological sustainability is not meaningless, then how could or would a power to achieve it ever be limited, even only conceptually? Since all human action affects the environment, a power to manage the environment must necessarily be able to control any and every human action, and therefore it must be an unlimited power. In other words, the well-intentioned advocates of such a system are incapable of saying how they could prevent, or even identify, abuses of arbitrary power, as Spencer’s case is proving. It is completely incompatible with constitutional government.

It is said that the native vegetation laws were desirable because of the problem of land clearing. But just because something is desirable does not mean we are justified in using force to obtain satisfaction of our desire. The desire for money does not, of itself, justify robbery; the desire for sex does not, of itself, justify rape; and the desire to use land to grow native vegetation does not, of itself, justify confiscating other people’s property.

Either biodiversity is a higher social value than food or other produce, or it’s not. If it’s not, then there is no justification for using force to pay for it. But if it is, then there is no need for compulsion to pay for it. If society - people in general - really do attach a higher value to biodiversity as the environmentalists assert, then those same people are perfectly capable of representing their own values and protecting biodiversity directly by buying the land on which to grow native vegetation. Many people do it voluntarily. But so far as the rest don’t do it voluntarily, this proves that it is not a higher social value as the environmentalists claim.

Therefore environmentalists have not got to square one in establishing a justification for the native vegetation laws. If they genuinely believe the issue is ecology, this shows their confusion. For the issue is not ecology – it is power.

In truth, all that the advocates of the native vegetation laws have established is that they should have to buy the land that they would like to use to grow native vegetation; an idea they receive with shock and indignation. Yet why not? There are many who agree, the cost of contributions would be divided between millions of people, and in the end would amount to a monthly payment by each to finance it. But they don’t want to do that. Why not? Because they know that in order to do it, they would have to sacrifice other values they consider more important – like consuming internet bandwidth.

Why would they have to sacrifice such other values if they were to buy the land? To pay the price of the land. And what gives rise to the price of land? It comes from the values of all those in the market who buy and sell, or abstain from buying or selling the land and what it can produce.

In other words, the reason the environmentalists don’t want to have to pay for the land is because of the height of the price of land, and the reason the price of farm land is what it is, and the reason farmers were clearing land, is because six billion people, through the price mechanism, are telling farmers that they want that land used to produce food.

How disgraceful, and how disgusting, that rich Australians are forcibly shutting down food production on a massive scale at a time when millions of the poorest people are facing food shortages. The ecologists have morphed into social Darwinians, advocating the stronger using force and threats to arbitrarily violate and steal from the weaker. They think it goes without saying that they should not suffer the shortage they are imposing on others.

Of course the ordinary peasants must pay if they want land to be used to satisfy their want for food, but the intellectuals shouldn’t have to pay if they want land to be used to satisfy their own less urgent want for ‘biodiversity’, for which they refuse to pay voluntarily. So Peter Spencer, and thousands of Aussie farmers, have been expropriated of their livelihoods, in breach of the Constitution, to stop their land from producing food, causing people in the poorest countries to sacrifice their lives so Australia’s spoilt environmentalists will not have to sacrifice the slightest luxury!

All of a sudden all their protestations about equality and social justice go out the window, and we are back to the age of feudal privilege, and a pampered and self-absorbed elite of parasites feeding on the productive class, with a political philosophy dangerously close to divine right of kings.


11 January, 2010

Japan loses patience with Australia's support for ecoterrorists

JAPAN has risked an open breach with the Rudd government by hitting back hard at Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard's handling of last week's whaling confrontation in the Southern Ocean. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials have accused Ms Gillard of aggravating the whaling controversy between Tokyo and Canberra, and called for Australian action to prevent further illegal activities by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

The officials warned a senior Australian diplomat on Friday that Ms Gillard's statements immediately before and after the collision between Sea Shepherd's speedboat and a Japanese whaling ship were inflaming public opinion in Japan and making diplomatic resolution of the underlying dispute harder to realise.

This is the toughest public stance a Japanese government has taken towards Australia on Antarctic whaling -- or any other issue -- in recent times and is also highly unusual in singling out for criticism a senior member of a friendly government.

The move betrays Japanese frustration with the Australians' political management of the issue, including Kevin Rudd's repeated threats of international legal action against so-called scientific whaling, while not obviously helping to curb hazardous protest activities, including Sea Shepherd's efforts to disable whaling ships.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs senior officials told acting Japan ambassador Allan McKinnon it was "not appropriate" for Ms Gillard to urge Japanese whalers and the activists in equal terms to show restraint, "notwithstanding the Sea Shepherd itself was conducting the unlawful rampage".

Sea Shepherd accuses the Shonan Maru 2 crew of deliberately running over Ady Gil during a day of confrontation in which the activists' speedboat ran across the Japanese factory ship's bow and allegedly tried to entangle its propellers.

Ms Gillard yesterday stood by her call for calm on both sides and for Japanese and Sea Shepherd skippers to ensure crews' safety as their first duty. "These are extremely dangerous conditions and it is likely Australia would be called upon to deploy a search and rescue mission if things were to go horribly wrong," Ms Gillard said. "It is not therefore inappropriate for Australia to call for calm from both sides in these circumstances."

Japanese officials questioned the jurisdiction of Australia's Maritime Safety Authority to investigate last week's collision. Without access to the crew of Shonan Maru 2, any finding by an Australian inquiry into the collision is likely to be meaningless.

The Japanese have agreed to co-operate with a New Zealand investigation (Ady Gil was New Zealand-registered) and they are expected to vigorously contest a piracy complaint lodged in a Dutch court by Sea Shepherd on Friday...

Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, in answer to questions from The Australian, have called for the Australian Federal Police to investigate Sea Shepherd's actions the next time its vessels put into an Australian port. Japanese officials were already annoyed that the Steve Irwin, which uses Australian ports for its annual Southern Ocean campaigns, was allowed to put into Hobart without question late last month after initiating the first clashes of the season.

They told Mr McKinnon that Ms Gillard's call for the Institute of Cetacean Research to suspend charter flights monitoring the Sea Shepherd vessels that have been harrying the whaling fleet since mid-December "has already unnecessarily provoked the Japanese public opinion". "This has invited the Japanese public (to) call for a strong protest and it might impair both governments' will to lead the whaling issue to a resolution through diplomatic efforts," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Japan aims to slaughter nearly 1000 minke whales this summer for "scientific research", as well as 20 rare fin whales and 50 humpbacks. It has urged Canberra to distinguish between official Australian opposition to Antarctic whaling and illegal acts in international waters that put at risk Japanese crewmen and ships....

Ms Gillard yesterday maintained that the Australian government was "pursuing its anti-whaling position through the appropriate diplomatic and legal channels very strongly". "The government also respects the right of those who also oppose whaling to protest, and to do so peacefully," she said. [The ecoterrorists are "peaceful"???]

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said yesterday the government's handling of whaling was damaging Australia's relationship with Japan. She said Mr Rudd should either fulfil his pre-election promise to pursue international legal sanctions against Japan or withdraw the threat.


Chaotic schools mean that some kids have to turn to the courts for protection

KIDS as young as 10 are turning to the courts to protect them from fellow students, with 613 taking out apprehended violence orders against other children last year. But these figures are only the tip of the iceberg, according to the Daily Telegraph, with thousands more being protected by bail conditions ordering juvenile offenders to stay away from their victims while their cases are pursued through the Children's Court. Even the education department took out AVOs against two students in 2008 to protect teachers and other classmates.

Teachers complain that the increasing number of court orders is making the school system almost unworkable as they try to minimise the contact between the disputing parties, placing them in different classes, having allocated areas in the playground or staggering their lessons and lunch breaks.

Psychologists also attacked the trend and said adults are failing children by letting the situation deteriorate to such a point the courts have to become involved.

According to latest figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research there were 3062 children across New South Wales protected by personal AVOs, 20 per cent of them from other children. Personal AVOs are court orders to protect individuals from others in society, as opposed to domestic AVOs which offer protection from family members.

The surge of AVOs taken out against bullies is coming from the state's west. One country school teacher said that dealing with AVOs when the students attended the same school was "almost farcical". "They come in and this kid's got an AVO against this one, this one and this one and another's got AVOs against these kids," he said. "But in a small town like this there is only really one high school they can go to and legally they still have to attend school."

Wagga Wagga's Senior Constable Steven Johnson said some students were taking out AVOs against fellow classmates in a sort of arms race or "one upmanship". Armed with an AVO, he said they wielded it as a threat when they came into further conflict with their rival.

University of NSW National Children's and Youth Law Centre director James McDougall said: "It's adults failing children." He said it meant bullies would be excluded from mixing with other children and never learn how to change their behaviour. [i.e. much less effective than a good thrashing]


Culturally adrift without classical moorings

A return to Latin and ancient Greek would make for a real education revolution, writes Dan Ryan

MY grandfather, who spent most of his life on a sheep station in western Queensland, could quote tracts of Virgil and Homer from memory. My mother topped Latin in year 10 in her school in Brisbane in the 1960s, but things were on the slide; her prize was a copy of the Iliad not in Greek but in English, and in an abridged form, with all the poetry stripped away.

By the time I went to school there was apparently no need to teach the classics any more. They were dead languages and, besides, there was not enough time in the school day to fit them in between classes in home economics, woodwork, typing and the like. How sure are we that the effective elimination of the classics from our education system has been without consequence?

Educators once believed in the classical education very strongly. Little more than a generation ago you could not get into Oxford or Cambridge without demonstrating competency in Latin, and practically every Western historical figure and writer until the 1950s was taught the classics from an early age. The line of thinking that we don't need to learn Latin and Greek because they are too hard, irrelevant, not useful or not the languages of the future would have been regarded as the argument of philistines.

The rationale was not always stated explicitly; it was simply understood. A classical education was needed first of all to impart content -- to maintain basic Western cultural literacy. Your understanding of the West would be necessarily incomplete and superficial without a good acquaintance of the Aeneid, the works of Ovid and Aeschylus, the speeches of Pericles and Cicero, and the Homeric epics. The second reason, as classicist Tracy Lee Simmons emphasises in his excellent book Climbing Parnassus, was that learning these hard ancient languages had a point in itself -- it required students to focus on the precise meaning of words, making them less patient with sloppy language and thinking. For Westerners, only the languages of Latin and Greek can perform this role.

The high-minded hope was that the combination of the content and the process would make us better able to govern ourselves, both individually and as a society. To know a liberty fit for men, notanimals. What does it say that we are now fixated about becoming Asia-literate, but that there is no concern about the obvious decline in Western cultural literacy levels?

I am not saying that one should not learn Asian languages or have a deep interest in the cultures of Asia. I speak and read Mandarin and have been learning since university days. I ended up marrying a Brit who speaks Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. Whether spending $11 billion on compulsory mass Asian language education training from year 3 onwards would result in a net economic gain or otherwise make sense is something others can duke out. From what I've seen so far of the plans, colour me highly sceptical.

What I do strongly believe is that one's understanding of the East will, in the long run, be hindered unless you have a proper understanding of the West. Lawrence of Arabia would have thought the lack of Latin and Greek a terrible obstacle to the understanding of Arabic. William Jones, the famed Sanskrit scholar, would have thought likewise with regard to understanding the languages and cultures of the subcontinent. The same holds true for the languages of East Asia. Australia's pre-eminent Sinologist, Pierre Ryckmans, was educated in Europe. I bet my bottom dollar he was taught Latin during his formative years. It shows in his writing style and liberal mind.

Without a decent acquaintance with the Western classical heritage we are dooming ourselves to a glib relativism born of ignorance, to being forever trapped in the parochialism of the present, to being a nation adrift without a cultural anchor.

What is needed is not a new state education plan. The renewal is unlikely to come via our sclerotic state-directed command-and-control education system that governs both fee-paying and non-fee-paying schools. Carthago delenda est.

If there is a renewal, I suspect it will be through less mainstream institutions like Sydney's Campion College, through teachers with a deep love of Western culture, and through some of the classically educating home schooling families I have been honoured to know.

It will come when we realise that it has been a terrible dereliction of duty not to pass on "the best that has been thought and said" to the next generation and we are not going to let it continue. Now that truly would be an education revolution.


Dickensian lessons on homelessness

We should learn from the Victorians rather than mock them, writes David Burchell

WE weave history out of the thread of our collective vanities and self-delusions. And yet our attempts to lord it over our ancestors, to present ourselves as their superiors and emancipators, usually say more about us than them. Thus it is that the television series Mad Men can reduce the pre-Woodstock 1960s to an endless gallery of repressions about to be unbound, of hypocrisies about to be uncloaked, of blindness and prejudice about to be exposed to the all-seeing eye of futurity.

Yet at the end of every episode we are bound to have an uncomfortable tingling sense that we enjoy the very hypocrisies we pretend to deplore, and luxuriate in the social conventions from which we pretend to have emancipated ourselves. The things we enjoy mocking about the past are often the very things we are concerned to deny about ourselves.

This, of course, is why the Victorians are so necessary to us: so necessary, in fact, that we have had to reinvent them. Who, after all, could be better qualified than us to titter over what we like to describe as Victorian sexual prudery and hypocrisy: we who want to expose and condemn every single politician (and politician's spouse) who ever had an affair, at the very same moment that we wolf down every anecdote of their affairs, almost as if we had indulged in them ourselves? And who could be better qualified than us to burlesque the Victorians' supposed moralism about the poor: we who so skilfully combine a pretended easygoing egalitarianism with a clinical contempt for the manners and mores of everybody lower down the sociocultural ladder than ourselves?

We know the Victorians invented the modern idea of the social conscience. And yet, as a means of dispelling that uncomfortable thought, we tell ourselves they invented it only to deploy it in all the wrong ways and to all the wrong ends. The Victorians, we tell ourselves, moralised the poor, blamed them for their poverty and divided them into deserving and undeserving classes. We, on the other hand, have rectified these errors by the simple expedient of inverting them.

Rather than attributing poverty to personal agency, we deny all possibility of agency whatever, either in poverty or in people's efforts to extricate themselves from it. Then we assign all social ills to steely, impersonal forces, which we label as underlying causes, objective factors or entrenched factors of disadvantage. Except that, since the iron hand of necessity in the end offers no hope whatever, we still find our consciences pricked by the same woebegone images that Dickens used to touch the hearts of his readers some 150 years ago. Just like the Victorians, it seems, we are affected by the down-and-out, the pitiable, the wretched of the earth, Les Miserables.

At present, our emotional attentions are being exercised on what we've come to call the problem of homelessness. The ostensible source of this attention -- though the number of people who've read it through may well be small -- is the federal white paper on homelessness by Tony Nicholson of Melbourne's Brotherhood of St Laurence. And yet, were we to wander past the prefatory obeisances of Nicholson's report, we would discover that homelessness is a rhetorical and political issue rather than a social one. It is the aggregate effect of a series of distinct forms of personal trauma and dysfunction woven into a composite figure designed to arouse our pity. We need the homeless in the same way the Victorians needed Little Dorrit or Oliver Twist.

Though Nicholson makes the point plainly enough, not very many commentators have yet registered the fact that very few of those defined as homeless are sleeping rough. Rather, they subsist for shorter or longer periods across an archipelago of insecure housing forms, either because of their inability to hold down a job or apply for benefits efficiently, or else because of a well-founded fear of violence from their former life-partners. Only a tiny percentage of this broad population (about one in 25) will ever sleep on a metropolitan park bench in sight of a conscientious observer. Most of them are circulating, unobserved, on the fringes of remote indigenous communities; or else they cycle around various forms of crisis accommodation in the outer suburbs, avoiding their psychotic menfolk and trying to get their lives back together again.

Nor does the creation of this problem of homelessness require inventing brilliant new analyses or crafting radical policy initiatives, as the problems that lead to housing insecurity have been studied for decades. We know, for instance, that many remote indigenous communities are in acute distress and that their menfolk are especially so. We know that much serious mental illness is untreated and that its sufferers often choose to self-medicate by combining it with multiple forms of substance abuse. We know -- in the unfashionably Victorian language of the Australian Institute of Family Studies -- that the development of a sociable temperament is an essential element of personal and familial wellbeing.

We know, likewise, that civilised functioning requires fragile resources of psychic peace, which are maintained only with difficulty in situations of acute financial or relationship stress. We know that a significant minority of men have a violent element in their personalities which they are unable or unwilling to control, and which is most likely to exhibit itself as they feel more socially marginalised and useless. We know poorer communities are much more violent than richer ones and that the most dangerous places in which to live are generally also the most dangerous places to be a married woman and a mother. And in knowing all these things, we also know already, more or less, why so many people are defined as homeless and what will best aid them in extracting themselves from this circumstance.

But here's the trick. Every single one of these social policy diagnoses points us back down the road from which we believed we had travelled. They all depend on questions of conduct, of demeanour, of wellbeing, of self-respect. They all invoke matters of personal agency and responsibility; even, as it might once have been said, of ethos. And how dismally, shockingly, Victorian is that?


10 January, 2010

DNA records kept for some of Queensland's child criminals

Sounds a good idea to me: "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime". If you stop doing crimes you have nothing to fear. DNA might even clear you immediately if you come under suspicion for something you didn't do.

There is some addled talk below about rehabilitation. But rehabilitation is mostly a pipe dream. Lots of people talk about it and propose dreamy ideas about how to do it but nobody has much success at it. Most crime is committed by people who already have a criminal record. They don't rehabilitate.

But rehabilitation is in any case irrelevant to the DNA controversy below. Rehabilitation -- or not -- comes AFTER you catch the criminal. The DNA is used only in catching them. How they are treated once caught is a matter for the courts. Their DNA has nothing to so with it

POLICE have taken DNA samples from almost 1300 children earmarked as the next generation of criminals. Figures obtained by The Sunday Mail under Right to Information legislation have revealed that in less than five years, police have collected DNA from 1275 children aged between 10 and 16. The genetic blueprint may be used to catch them if they reoffend - a likelihood for more than half of juveniles, according to research.

Under state legislation, a DNA sample can be taken by police officers via a court order if a magistrate is satisfied there is reasonable suspicion of an offence.

Police figures show the most common crime committed by juveniles is property crime, including theft and vandalism. Last financial year, the Queensland Police Service caught 33,644 juvenile offenders. Police say DNA has become a vital crime-fighting tool and helps speed up clean-up rates.

But civil libertarians have accused the police and State Government of giving up on Queensland's youth and focusing more on convictions than on rehabilitation. Civil Liberties Australia chief executive Bill Rowlings said it was an infringement of civil rights because, while the law ensured a child's criminal record was not carried through into adulthood, it would not stop their DNA remaining in criminal databases indefinitely. "Some of these children might be guilty of stealing a Mars Bar and for that the Queensland police are prepared to put them on a national criminal register, possibly for life," he said.

The average daily number of juveniles in custody in Australia is 800.

Youth Affairs Network Queensland director Siyavash Doostkhah said he was against taking DNA from children and called on the Government to fund more rehabilitation and youth mentoring programs. "It never brings any safety to the community," Mr Doostkhah said. "If we get more tough, if we collect more DNA and have more cameras out there . . . it doesn't stop crime, it just brings convictions."

A Department of Communities spokesman said there were currently about 139 young people in detention in Queensland and insisted it was a priority to focus on rehabilitation for young offenders. "Research has shown rehabilitation is more successful than detention," he said.


I guess this is "inclusiveness": Australian kids to sing New Zealand national anthem!

I am not sure when inclusiveness became a good thing. I recollect no debate about it and I have been following politics for 50 years. It used to be exclusiveness that was honoured. But asking school students to sing the national anthem of another country on Australia's most solemn day of commemoration is certainly rather odd. Australians, however, generally have positive attitudes toward New Zealanders (though the converse is notably different) so I expect the idea will be accepted to some extent

QUEENSLAND state school students will for the first time be encouraged to sing the New Zealand national anthem to commemorate Anzac Day. Premier Anna Bligh will write to principals asking them to play God Defend New Zealand, along with the Australian national anthem, at school ceremonies. Her request, as chairwoman of the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee, could be controversial considering the rivalry between the Tasman neighbours, particularly in sport.

Queensland continues to be a magnet for Kiwis, with 11,700 settling here in the past year. More than 150,000 live in the Sunshine State, about 40 per cent of all New Zealanders in Australia. Trade between the countries is worth about $2.8 billion.

Ms Bligh said it was time to mark NZ's contribution to Australia by playing God Defend New Zealand. "This would be a fitting tribute and suitable recognition of the members of the New Zealand armed forces who have served alongside the men and women of our Australian armed forces during wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations," Ms Bligh said. "I encourage you to give favourable consideration to this request when planning the 2010 Anzac Day ceremony."

The Premier said schools could obtain free copies of the Kiwi anthem on CD or the sheet music. It would be up to individual schools whether they got the children to sing the song or just listen to God Defend New Zealand.

The New Zealand consulate office in Brisbane said it was unlikely that schools in NZ would reciprocate [THAT'S for sure!], but a spokesman said Ms Bligh's direction to state schools was a "wonderful gesture".

Anzac Day – April 25 – falls on a Sunday this year, so the public holiday will be held the following day.

Queensland Principals Association chairman Norm Hart said it was "an interesting idea". He said Ms Bligh had called on schools to improve numeracy and literacy, with a target of being one of the top three states in the country, and the focus was on that rather that extracurricular activities. "If she is saying our students have to learn the lyrics and sing it, then I am less impressed," Mr Hart said.


Rogue sharks to be killed -- but only if they are small

This is Greenie craziness. ALL sharks found near swimmers should be shot immediately. There is a whole ocean for them to live in. The little strip of it near land should be off-limits to them

Rogue sharks that attack beachgoers this summer will be hunted down, shot in the head and sawed apart until their spines are severed. [Seeing they don't have spines, that could be tricky]

The Sunday Times can today reveal the graphic methods put in place by the WA Government's Shark Hazard Committee for dealing with man-eaters. In a candid interview, WA Department of Fisheries strategic compliance manager and shark committee member Tina Thorne said a rogue shark that attacked a swimmer would be slaughtered if it continued to pose a significant threat to beachgoers and if it could be positively identified as the offending shark. But the kill order would only be given in "extreme circumstances" as a last resort where there was an immediate danger to the public.

Ms Thorne said fisheries officers would first use a baited drumline and put "attractant" in the water to try to hook the shark. Then the creature would be hauled aboard a boat where officers would "have to use a large firearm to dispatch the animal". "That is not an easy task, as sharks have very small brains," she said. Once shot through the head, fisheries personnel would take a final step to ensure the creature was dead by "severing the spinal cord and bleeding it out". "Even if you hook it, you can't just fly over in a chopper and shoot it because of refraction (of the bullets) in the water," Ms Thorne said.

While the shoot-to-kill methods had been put down in policy by the Shark Hazard Committee, Ms Thorne stressed great whites - the species responsible for most fatal attacks - were protected and a special exemption from the law was required by Fisheries Minister Norman Moore to kill one. "It's not something we would take lightly," Ms Thorne said, after a spate of shark sightings and beach closures across Perth this week.

Trying to catch a large shark was extremely dangerous, she said, and in most cases the creatures disappeared into the depths after an attack. Ms Thorne said in three of the past four fatal attacks in WA the shark responsible was never spotted. Only after the fatal attack in 2008 on 51-year-old Port Kennedy man Brian Guest did the shark linger. In that case, there was no immediate danger to other beachgoers, so authorities tried to tag the animal.

The statements about killing sharks angered the family of Mr Guest. A friend of the family told The Sunday Times Mr Guest's widow Charmaine and son Daniel stuck by their comments that sharks belonged in the marine environment and should not be harmed.

Ms Thorne agreed, saying "they live in the ocean and we don't". Six people have been killed by sharks in WA in the past 20 years.


Asylum seeker situation 'an absolute mess'

Like Obama, Rudd lied his way into power

The Federal Opposition is calling on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to act immediately on illegal immigration, as another boat of asylum seekers are processed at Christmas Island. A Customs boat intercepted a boat with 27 people and three crew members off the West Australia coast on Friday afternoon.

The Opposition's immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says in the last six weeks, there has been an average of 100 people a week arriving in Australia illegally.

He says before the last election the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd pledged to be tough on border security. "Before the election Mr Rudd actually said that he would turn back seaworthy boats and he took every opportunity to echo Mr Howard on the issue of illegal boatload arrivals into Australia," he said. "Now in government we've had 75 boats arrive on his watch. We see failed policies, weak decisions and an absolute mess."


9 January, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is aggrieved that Kevvy won't save either the whales or Peter Spencer

The loss of a poetry education in Australian schools

Knowing great poems can be a lifelong source of pleasure, satisfaction and wisdom but that knowledge is being withheld from many young people today

It is a welcome if rare event to see poetry on prime time television. The ABC's Bush Slam is an attempt to put poetry front and centre in the national consciousness. If we believe that 19th-century bush poets such as Henry Lawson and A.B. (Banjo) Paterson were representative of a golden age of wordsmiths, then Bush Slam at least gives word nerds an opportunity to enter our living rooms. And don't we need it? ...

Unlike Britain, Australia has no national poetry day. We no longer have a national search, sponsored by the ABC, for the most popular Australian poem. The website was archived in 1999.

The pity is that schools are generally not teaching much poetry. Don't hold your breath that poetry will undergo a renaissance in the new national English curriculum. Besides NSW being prepared to teach canonical works, including poetry, this is more the exception than the rule.

It is no accident that 18-year-old student Laurie Wallis topped the NSW Higher School Certificate extension 2 English course with a suite of Japanese-inspired poetry, Water Sounds. Such work would not have been possible in any other state. Here's why.

Responding to the draft of the English national curriculum, the West Australian government has not made any defence of the place of poetry, and in fact has asked for a broader definition of literature to include "spoken, non-verbal, visual and aural texts".

Meanwhile, the Tasmanian government has argued that any study of literature needs to embody "the critique of the attitudes and values underpinning the text" -- this sounds like the codling grub of critical literacy in the Apple Isle. Tasmania is marked by a core of poor school literacy results and the lowest adult literacy figures in the country.

The question is whether there needs to be a mandatory requirement in the national English curriculum regarding poetry teaching. The new chairman of the Australia Council's Literature Board, Dennis Haskell, thinks there is room for this. In September last year, Haskell saw the black hole of Australian literature in the nation's schools, saying it's about "getting it taught at all, the canon or otherwise"...

What must change is that Australian children need to be introduced to the rich heritage of the nation's verse. The ideological angst that the mere mention of the word "canon" creates for some teachers needs to be seen for what it is. Such a position actually prevents children from knowing their literature. They are denied discovering the voices of Thwaites, John Shaw Nielson, Judith Wright, A.D. Hope, Les Murray and others.

The blunt reality is that today, in the majority of classrooms across the country, few children could name two Australian poets, and few teachers could either. I know this to be so. Having taught in Australian schools, I have been shocked at how little poetry is taught, never mind the awareness of Australian verse.


Hunger strike is a desperate response to a Greenie-motivated injustice

On Tuesday I visited Peter Spencer, 10 metres up a wind monitoring mast on his property in the high country south of Canberra. Spencer lives there these days, inside a tent on a small platform. State laws restricting the clearing of native vegetation have helped make his land unviable. Some years ago he was unable to meet his mortgage repayments and his sister and brother-in-law took over the debt from the bank. Spencer has been unable to repay them, and soon the sheriff will be arriving to arrange for a forced sale of the property. There are important political issues here, but it is also a family tragedy, and a personal one.

Spencer has talked a lot in recent weeks about climate change and carbon sinks, but the root of his problem with government lies in the native vegetation laws that have prevented him from clearing - and farming - much of his land. In 2004 the Productivity Commission produced a report on the impact of the laws. It recorded how many farmers had lost income, their property had been devalued, and they had received very little or no compensation, and said the worst affected "often suffered serious personal stress in the face of the resultant marginal viability, or even loss, of their property".

The effect on Spencer has been greater than on most, because of his unique personal circumstances. He's now 61, but in his younger days worked in the hotel and tourism industry in Papua New Guinea. Apparently he was successful there, and ended up owning some hotels. He sometimes stopped fights between tribesmen and at one point had his nose pierced so he could wear a bone through it on festive occasions. (You can still see light though the hole if you catch him in profile.) ABC television made a documentary on him in the 1980s.

Spencer's long-term dream was to return to NSW and become a farmer in the high country, where his mother's people had lived for generations. From 1980 he began buying adjacent blocks of land as they came up for sale at Shannons Flat, just south of the Australian Capital Territory. It took him about 15 years to put together a holding that was big enough, and to build a house. He finally had a farm of 5600 hectares, of which 60 per cent was cleared. It was his intention to keep the other 40 per cent uncleared, and to log its alpine ash and mountain gum in a sustainable manner.

During this period he was still working in Papua New Guinea, so he did little farming, and vegetation grew on much of the cleared land at Shannons Flat. In the mid-'90s he was hired by the office of the PNG prime minister, and wrote a paper on corruption and law and order that didn't make him many friends. He says one night some men knocked on the door of his home, dragged him outside and tried to shoot him with a homemade gun. It misfired and Spencer escaped in the dark. Shortly after, he hopped on a plane and hasn't been back. He settled at Shannons Flat, with the intention of spending the rest of his life as a farmer.

A pressing task was to clear the saplings that had grown over much of the previously cleared land on his property, but with the clearing bans he discovered his farm had been turned into a vast nature reserve. He ran sheep on the small proportion that was still cleared, but was unable to make a living. Land clearing was not his only problem. His farm was not good grazing country on the whole, and like many farmers he was affected by the drought and by low wool prices. Opinions differ as to how important these various factors were to his financial failure. Some of his family believe he was undercapitalised and not a good farmer. A rural counsellor who tried to help him says much of the blame lies with the land-clearing regulations.

Spencer could have walked off his farm, but he was too attached to it to do this. He protested for years about what had been done to him. This included complaints to politicians, unsuccessful efforts to motivate the NSW Farmers Association, and many court cases, where he often represented himself. A passionate and intelligent man, although without much formal education, he spent a lot of his time learning about the law. After a while his third wife, Anna, left the farm and took their young sons to Europe to live with her parents.

Meanwhile his sister and brother-in-law were looking to recover the debt he owed them. They felt he was turning to political argument and legal action when he should have been more concerned about repaying them. Maybe government had hurt him, but that was life: it was time to sell up and move on.

Spencer's legal actions failed. One of them involved a government offer, made many years after the land clearing restrictions came in, to buy the farm. The price was based on the property's present value, but Spencer argued it ought to be the value had the land clearing bans not been in place.

In 2008 Justice Stephen Rothman in the Supreme Court rejected this claim, but expressed some sympathy for Spencer's situation. He noted: "The State Vegetation Acts had a crippling effect … on the business of Mr Spencer … it is an extremely disheartening and sad occasion that a person, whose life and resources have been placed into rural property for the purposes of conducting a grazing and farming business, has been required to resort to this action." He further observed: "While all members of society must accept that there will be restrictions on their activities for the 'greater good of society', when those restrictions prevent or prohibit a business activity that was hitherto legitimate, because of the area in which it is operating, and assistance is offered which does not fully compensate for the restrictions imposed, society is asking Mr Spencer, and people in his position, to pay for its benefit … it is a most unfortunate aspect of the operation of the scheme that a person in Mr Spencer's position is effectively denied proper compensation for the restrictions imposed upon him by a scheme implemented for the public good." However, he concluded, "that is a matter for government [not the courts]".

Peter Spencer is a complicated and volatile character. Most of us would regard going on a hunger strike as extreme, and he has shown a propensity for self-harm in the past. There was an occasion about 1970 when he went up a hill in Canberra and shot himself, as part of an effort to get attention during a dispute with his first wife.

Some of those who deal with him have described him as obsessive, and this is certainly my limited experience. I stayed in touch with him after writing a column on land clearing five years ago, and on one occasion when I wasn't displaying enough sympathy he hung up and didn't speak to me for a year. He can be a thoughtful and articulate human being who draws on a considerable experience of life, but he is also a righteous man given to monologues and high emotion.

Spencer's siblings are upset about what has happened, and believe politics has clouded what is essentially a family dispute over a loan. This is understandable, yet there is a genuine political issue here. The land clearing bans have played a big role in what has happened to him.

Spencer has now been without food for 48 days. He spends the time listening to animals and reading the Bible. On Thursday night he said he was losing strength and would give no more interviews.

How should politicians respond to the action he has taken? They should not change laws because of a hunger strike. But it might give them pause to reflect on those laws. Others are already doing this: in the past week there has been a lot of media coverage here and some overseas, and much discussion on the internet. In a poll on Today Tonight, 14,000 people (98 per cent of those who voted) wanted Kevin Rudd to meet with Peter Spencer.

This level of response is a reminder of the moral ambiguity of a hunger strike. On the one hand it allows people to question the mental health of the person engaged in the strike. On the other, it can attract attention to an important injustice: if Spencer hadn't embarked on this action, no one today would be talking about land clearing. His action has been effective precisely because it is unusual, and unusual things tend to be done by unusual people.

Mr Rudd has been much praised for making public apologies to Aboriginal people and to those who suffered as children in state care. These apologies are welcome, but in a historical sense they are (as I'm sure he would agree) regrettably late. With farmers and land clearing, we could say sorry while there's still time to do something about the suffering that's been caused.

But if anyone's going to say sorry, it ought to be the Premier of NSW. After all, it was the State Government that brought in the native vegetation laws.


Victorian government still looking useless in the face of bushfires

The thermometer read 41C on New Year's Eve as the Ferguson family pulled into a wild and windy Casterton. All around us, the rolling Western District hills were covered in dust fuelled by a baking summer northerly that brought back unpleasant memories of Black Saturday. And the official fire warning on the town's dated billboard? Low. In fact lower than low. Someone in the state's far west had assumed responsibility for pointing the arrow as far from reality as possible.

Further down the road, there was no mobile reception (thanks again, Optus) and the radio crackled so loudly even the local ABC updates were barely audible. We were, in every sense, on our own.

The experience tends to support the view of Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce Esplin, who made it very clear this week that no Victorian should rely on technology alone for bushfire warnings. "It's really important that people keep in touch with their environment and step outside and feel the temperature, smell for smoke," he said.

It's sound advice, but not necessarily what John Brumby's backbench would want to have heard. They woke on Wednesday to this paper's front-page story of another bungled warning, this time leaving fearful residents in and around Benalla with a 12-day-old message on the Victorian Bushfire Information line. Acting Premier Rob Hulls was furious (rightly) and the Opposition (rightly) went to town on a fundamental error, apparently caused by training deficiencies, even though the CFA's training is generally exhaustive and exhausting.

The system that failed this week dated back to before Black Saturday and the problem has been fixed. But in terms of public perception, it was a howler. Deficiencies in the information line were among the first things mentioned in the Bushfire Royal Commission's interim report, along with the performance of the websites. (On December 16, during an unsettling hot day, the CFA's website server crashed. That problem has apparently been dealt with as well).

The commission noted that often on Black Saturday "the information available through these sources was incomplete or out of date". And yet shortly before Black Saturday's first anniversary, Victorians have been delivered some rather underwhelming news on both systems.

What does this tell us? The measured analysis is that Victoria will be vastly better prepared to fight any disaster in 2010, but the effort is, manifestly, a work in progress.

In their first report, the royal commissioners noted the challenges of righting the wrongs of Black Saturday in time for this year's fire season, but still urged the State Government to do what it could.

The Government has worked overtime to implement a new phone emergency alert system, it will have implemented the new fire danger rating system, radically expanded the number of emergency broadcasters, overhauled planning, showered cash, brought in new water-bombing aircraft and started what will be the biggest shake-up of the CFA in its history. One warning system was rebuilt in just seven weeks. All the while the Government was embarking on the rebuilding phase after the horrific results of Black Saturday.

John Brumby's premiership will be defined by his handling of the disaster and so far the opinion polls suggest the community is behind him. But those who read the political winds for a living will know that there is no finish line and that both perception and reality will drive the electorate's judgment.

Wednesday's Herald Sun splash will have been nothing less than what the British describe as a "marmalade dropper". That is, a story or issue that leads the reader to drop their toast at the breakfast table. Senior insiders make the valid point that there will inevitably be glitches, but at the same time the Government is operating in an environment where the community will give it little latitude.

Built into this dynamic is the fact that the Government really has only as much time as the next major fire. If there is another disaster this year and there are deficiencies in the fire-fighting effort, then it will be all but game over for the Brumby Government. Victorians will not forgive another disaster. This is particularly the case if the warnings are again deficient.

The royal commission will be crucial in assessing how far the Government has gone and whether it has done enough. On March 31, the commissioners are due to deliver another report, this time assessing in detail how far and fast the Government has gone in implementing the interim recommendations. Brumby has his critics, but he has opened up his Government to scrutiny.

The next debate that needs to be had is how much Victorians are prepared to spend on firefighting. The time for a fire tax to dramatically increase CFA resources was probably February 8, 2009. The Government has allocated $700 million to firefighting, but when you consider the effort put in to reduce the road toll, it is a small price to pay to save lives.

Behind the scenes there are indications that the process of reform has only just begun. It seems likely that the CFA will head further down the path towards greater professionalism, with a heavier emphasis on paid staff rather than volunteers. Volunteers will always be the backbone of the authority, but the obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the better resourced the CFA is, the better equipped it will be to fight fires.

One option that has been raised is merging the Metropolitan Fire Brigade with the CFA, although the MFB is a markedly different beast with different equipment and objectives.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be in changing the CFA's culture. The volunteers are the north, south, east and west of the CFA. But how do you enforce private sector accountability on an authority that exists in large part because of the efforts of free labour? Maybe it's time more of them were paid for their efforts. This, of course, wouldn't guarantee a perfect service, but it would benefit the firefighters at the same time as providing de facto promotions.

One of the many lessons from Black Saturday - and the most recent bungling - is that reforming firefighting in Victoria is a long-term project. In the short-term, however, Victorians have a right to expect that basic warnings will be delivered in a timely and accurate fashion. That didn't happen this week. It didn't happen last month. It didn't happen on Black Saturday.

The time for excuses has passed.


Australian dollar buoyed by favourable interest rates

A WEAKER gold price took a little shine off the Australian dollar yesterday but the currency held near the 25-year high hit this week against the British pound.

The performance of the two currencies illustrates their nations' disparate economic fortunes. The pound is depressed by severe recession, zero interest rates, threats of a government debt downgrade and uncertainty over the timing and outcome of an election. "Question marks about the credit rating, alongside the ongoing political debate, are playing into the presumption that sterling is going to struggle to maintain gains," said Jeremy Stretch, a senior currency strategist at Rabobank International in London. He said there was "very little reason" to expect the pound would make gains after Britain's central bank this week left rates unchanged.

The Aussie dollar is buoyed by favourable relative interest rates, a better commodity price outlook and improving investor risk appetite. The British pound was at the peak of its powers versus the Aussie dollar in late 2001, when one pound equalled $2.99.

On Thursday, as stronger than expected Australian retail sales data raised the chances of an imminent official rate rise, the Aussie dollar touched 57.655 British pence, the most since March 1985. It was at 57.4p in trading late yesterday. The Aussie dollar's surge brings pain for local exporters by eroding dollar-denominated export earnings but it can also help by lowering their input costs. It also puts a squeeze on pensions Australians draw on from Britain.

Jonathan Cavenagh, a currency strategist at Westpac Banking Corp, said: "If we can make a clear break above 58p, people have got to start thinking about the 60-level as a realistic possibility."

The Aussie on Thursday rose against all 16 major currencies, hitting a two-year high against the euro after the Australian Bureau of Statistics said retail sales climbed 1.4 per cent from October, much higher than economists had expected. The dollar has been the second best-performing currency against the euro in the past three months among the 16 most-traded currencies. Demand for the euro has waned on speculation that Greece's fiscal problems may also engulf Spain, Ireland and other nations that share the common currency.

Demand for Australia's dollar was also boosted on Thursday after minutes of a US Federal Reserve meeting released on Wednesday showed policy-makers debated extending stimulus measures in the US, meaning no rate rises were on the horizon. Whereas most traders expect Australia's Reserve Bank will increase the official cash rate when it meets on February 2, which could set up another surge in the Aussie dollar against the US greenback.


8 January, 2010

Protesters invite confrontation: whalers

I didn't comment on this incident here yesterday because I couldn't see what it had to do with Australia but I see below that the incident took place in Antarctic waters claimed by Australia so that is the thread that the Greenies are clinging to. I will therefore repeat below what I said yesterday on GREENIE WATCH and follow it by some fresh comments:

This is the sort of crap that Israel has to put up with. Aggression provokes a strike-back and then the attacked party is blamed for striking back -- with the reliable collusion of a Green/Left media, of course. The whole episode was a blatant setup. The vessel rammed was a highly maneuverable diesel-powered (biodiesel, of course) trimaran that could easily have skated out of the way of the monohulled Japanese ship. They were only rammed because they wanted to be rammed. They want to be seen as the victims rather than the aggressors that they really are. It's just another Greenie PR stunt.

Another two comments: 1). The eco-terrorists were trying to blind the Japanese crew by shining a laser at them according to this video. The video also shows how the Greenie speedboat ran rings around the Japanese ship and could have evaded the Japanese ship if its crew had wanted to do so. 2). This is NOT a conservation issue. The whale species concerned are not remotely "endangered". Some Southern hemisphere statistics here and here. Minke whales: total population 761000, Japan catch 1000=0.13%; rare fin whales: total 85200, catch 20=0.023%; humpbacks: total 42000, catch 50=0.11%, rate of increase 7.9-13.9%. So the whole episode is pure exhibitionism from attention-seekers that has in fact nothing to do with the environment. The preceding figures are of course estimates. Japan in fact claims much smaller catches than the estimates used above.

Latest news update below

A spokesman for Japan's whaling fleet has accused the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd of recklessly causing a collision in the Southern Ocean two days ago. The Sea Shepherd's high-tech speedboat Ady Gil sank this morning after it was sliced in two by the Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru 2 on Wednesday. Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson told ABC News Breakfast the Ady Gil went down shortly before 3:30am AEDT while it was being towed to a French research base.

Both the Japanese whalers and the Sea Shepherd crew blame each other for the clash. But Glenn Inwood from Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research says Mr Watson has a dangerous attitude. "Paul Watson has said before that he's willing to give any Japanese vessel what he calls a steel enema by ramming his ship into the stern of any Japanese vessel," Mr Inwood told the Nine Network. "He also proudly displays the number of vessels he's sunk on the side of the [boat] Steve Irwin. "You can understand why the Japanese have put security vessels down there. "To say Japan has broken maritime laws can't be justified in this instance when you're under constant harassment and constant attack from these ships."

Mr Inwood says Japan's whaling program is internationally recognised as legal. "The International Whaling Commission (IWC) have sanctioned it. The New Zealand government recognises its legality, and many members of the IWC do as well," he said. "Sea Shepherd is trying to prevent Japan from conducting what is a legal operation under the rules of the IWC."

Mr Watson says an insurance payout on the Ady Gil is unlikely because the incident was a deliberate act. "It's a $1.5 million loss for our organisation," he said. "I think the Japanese deliberately took that vessel out; they saw it as a threat and they were under orders to take it out. "It would be an act of war so there wouldn't be any insurance on it."

Mr Watson says two Japanese harpoon ships were nearby but did not offer any help after the incident. "They were responsible, they destroyed the vessel ... I think they should have offered some sort of assistance but they refused to acknowledge any distress signal," he said....

Meanwhile, Greens leader Bob Brown has sent a $2 million bill for the Ady Gil to the Japanese government. Senator Brown says the bill should have come from the Australian Government. "The Japanese fleet is entirely responsible for the destruction of the Ady Gil," he said. "It was an illegal operation; it's part of the wider illegal operation of whaling in Australian Antarctic waters and it was in Australian Antarctic waters and the Japanese government should pay up."

Yesterday, Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard asked the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to investigate the incident and said the findings would be made public. She says the Government reserves the right to take international legal action if diplomacy with Japanese officials fails, and has warned that evidence has already been collected to launch such action. New Zealand is also investigating the incident because the Ady Gil was registered there.


Victoria police outraged by Indian KKK cartoon

Victoria police are best known for corruption and political correctness rather than efficiency so I think they deserve some derision. Their turning a blind eye to black crime against Indians was undoubtedly a large factor in the death of the Indian student

Victoria's Police Association has reacted angrily to a cartoon in an Indian newspaper depicting one of the state's officers as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The Delhi Mail Today newspaper published the cartoon in response to the murder of Indian student Nitin Garg in Melbourne last weekend. The cartoon shows a person in a Ku Klux Klan hood wearing a Victoria Police badge, with a caption that reads: "We Are Yet To Ascertain The Nature Of The Crime." The Indian media has suggested the attack may have been racially motivated, but Melbourne police say there's no evidence of that.

Police Association secretary Greg Davies says it is highly offensive to suggest police are not properly investigating the murder. "To say that our detectives are going slow on this, or for some reason trying to protect somebody, is incredibly offensive and wrong," he said. "It's based on nothing but obviously a slow news day in Delhi. "The identity of the offender from the homicide in Footscray isn't even known at this stage, so we don't even know what nationality the offender is. "To say it's a race-based crime is not only premature, but stupid." [certainly premature but not stupid]

The Police Minister, Bob Cameron, has added his voice to the condemnation of the cartoon. "This is just terrible," Mr Cameron said. "Victoria Police is a very tolerant organisation [very tolerant of black crime in fact] and Victoria is a very tolerant state and to suggest that Victoria Police is racist is just plain wrong and it's offensive to the good police we have here in Victoria. "It just doesn't help anyone at all to have people from the sidelines throwing bricks," he said. "We've got a good police force and we should let our police force go about their policing business in a sensible and a calm way."


Corrupt health bureaucrats finally carpeted

TWO unidentified Queensland Health staff face disciplinary action following a financial probe into the Royal Children's Hospital. Two staff subject to the long-running investigation have been served with show-cause notices asking them to explain why action should not be taken against them. Queensland Health director-general Mick Reid would not reveal their identities, insisting both public servants had to be shown natural justice and be allowed to respond within 14 days.

The move comes after The Courier-Mail revealed that a Queensland Health ethical standards probe was investigating allegations including:

• RCH boss Doug Brown and former finance manager Alan Fletcher, now the chief financial officer for the Queensland Children's Hospital, processed an $8000 no-interest loan of taxpayer funds to a senior colleague for overseas travel.

• Mr Brown approved $6500 worth of luxury beauty treatments for 65 nurses as part of an alleged payoff following a dispute sparked when new staff scored free parking.

• Junior staff paid for wedding and baby gifts such as cookware for colleagues out of hospital funds.

Mr Reid said he was now acting on recommendations relating to "a number of matters" after the CMC completed a review of the Queensland Health ethical standards probe. "I have issued show-cause notices to two Queensland Health staff that were subject to the investigation," Mr Reid said in a statement. "As is standard procedure and in accordance with natural justice, the officers have been given 14 days to respond." It is not known whether Mr Brown and Mr Fletcher are the subjects of this action.

The moves came as Health Minister Paul Lucas criticised his department's handling of the affair, saying the two-year investigation had taken too long. "It has taken longer than I thought it should have," Mr Lucas said.

The Opposition has called for a broader inquiry into all public hospitals, with leader John-Paul Langbroek saying the allegations raised serious questions.


NSW rejects same sex adoptions

Prudence wins out. Homosexual couples are notoriously unstable and there are high rates of partner-bashing among them

Same-sex couples won't be allowed to adopt in NSW "at this stage", despite a parliamentary inquiry supporting the move as being in the best interests of children. The majority of a six-person upper house committee that examined same-sex adoption recommended in July last year that amendments be made to definitions of "couple" and "de facto relationship" in the Adoption Act 2000. At the time, the committee chair, Labor's Christine Robertson, said the committee found reforming the laws to allow same-sex couples to adopt would "ensure the best interests of children" were met by NSW's adoption laws.

Community Services Minister Linda Burney on Wednesday issued a statement saying the state government believed there was "some merit" in the committee's findings. "However, members were unable to reach a consensus, reflecting divisions on this issue in the wider community. "As a result of these concerns, the government is not satisfied there is broad enough community support to justify new state legislation at this stage."

Ms Burney said further consultation would take place as the Community and Disability Services Council discussed a national approach. "The government's primary concern will always be what is in the best interests of children," Ms Burney said. "The committee was given examples of successful parenting and fostering by gay and lesbian couples and in these case studies, adoption provided permanence, stability and security which are so important for children.

"However, I am also aware that there are very deeply held, divergent views on this issue and that is why a decision on this matter will not be taken at this stage."


7 January, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is scornful about Kevvy writing a children's book

Indian student numbers plummet

As the African "refugees" whom Australia has kindly taken in show their gratitude by half-destroying a major Australian industry. The coverup is tight but all indications are that most attacks on Indian students are the work of African gangs. Letting tens of thousands of Africans into Australia may be seen as virtuous but it cannot be seen as wise. African populations everywhere have egregiously high rates of crime, usually crimes of violence

THE number of Indians applying for visas to study in Australia has fallen by almost half, heightening fears for the nation's $17 billion international education industry. The news come as India seethes over the recent murder of an Indian national, Nitin Garg, in Melbourne.

The Immigration Department figures, for the period from July to October 31 last year, show a 46 per cent drop in student visa applications from India compared with the same period in 2008. The decline follows a year in which reports of attacks on Indians and unscrupulous practices by some colleges and migration agents have battered Australia's reputation as a study destination.

The figures also show overall offshore student visa applications have dropped by 26 per cent. Applications from Nepal plummeted 85 per cent, from 5696 to 845, and those from Korea, Brazil and the United States each fell by about 20 per cent. However, applications from China increased slightly, by 0.2 per cent, and those from Vietnam rose 19 per cent.

The chief executive of Universities Australia, Glenn Withers, said the number of Indians applying to study at universities had dropped by about 20 per cent on the previous year. He said a reduction in Indian students would be likely to have a greater impact on vocational colleges, where a greater proportion of Indians enrolled. But Dr Withers said there were anecdotal reports that negative publicity had caused some middle-class Indian parents to turn to universities in countries such as Britain and Canada.

He said part of the problem was that Indians had started studying in Australia in large numbers only recently, so there were few alumni to counter bad press with stories of their own experiences.

Dr Withers said he was more concerned that interest from China may be softening, possibly because of warnings published by the Chinese Government about the quality of some colleges.

Andrew Smith, the chief executive of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, which represents private colleges, said he was expecting a ''significant'' decline in enrolments this year from several countries, including India and China. He said reputational damage, the strength of the dollar and a tightening of the visa application process had all contributed to the drop, which could threaten the viability of colleges and lead to job losses.

Research commissioned by the council predicted a 5 per cent drop in international enrolments could lead to 6000 job losses.


Australia's private schools become less affordable

Even though there are lot of them. The reason is higher demand -- once again the old law of supply and demand dictates price. And why the higher demand? Because many government schools have got so bad -- mainly due to negligible discipline -- that parents are driven to the private sector in desperation

TOP private schools have become less affordable over the past decade, despite taxpayer subsidies and claims from John Howard when he introduced the current funding system that fee increases would taper off. The yearly fees in the top schools of about $11,500 in 1999 were about 28 per cent of the average yearly wage, whereas this year's fees of about $23,500 at these schools are about 36 per cent of the average salary.

The decline in affordability comes despite private schools securing billions in taxpayers' money under the Socioeconomic Status funding model that has been extended until 2012 by the federal Labor government. When it unveiled the SES model in 1999, the Howard government boasted it was about giving parents of all incomes a "choice" in schooling. "In some cases, it will mean that fees won't go up at the same rate that would otherwise be the case," the then prime minister said at the time.

However, looking at the typical fees payable for the upper echelon of schools, this is clearly not the case. To use the Kings School in Sydney as an example, a parent in 1999 would pay $11,595, or 28.4 per cent of the average wage of $40,820. This year, that parent would be paying $23,442, or 36 per cent of the average wage of $64,896.

The Rudd government decision to extend the SES funding model until 2012 gave non-government schools an estimated $28 billion. It was made despite protests from public education unions.

The Australian yesterday reported that private schools were putting up their fees for this year by an average of 6 per cent.

The reaction to the hikes has been muted so far, with parents groups and the Independent Education Union noting that the education component of the consumer price index had risen by 5.6 per cent in the past year. IEU federal secretary Chris Watt said teachers' wages were rising at about 4.5 per cent a year and it was possible that schools were facing reduced fee payments and donations from alumni amid the global financial crisis. "If the increase was of the order of 10 per cent, we would say it's outrageous, but it's not that much more than the base wage increase plus extra costs," he said.

Tony Abbott yesterday defended the public subsidisation of elite private schools and said they had the right to increase fees. "In the end, these are private institutions and it's up to them to decide what their fees should be," the Opposition Leader said.

Mr Abbott also defended the SES funding model. "Every Australian child is entitled to government assistance towards his or her education," he said. "Whether people choose to utilise that assistance by going to a public school or whether they choose to go to a private school and receive a reduced level of support, but nevertheless a substantial level of support, that's up to the parents of the child."


Government produces housing shortages and the consequent high housing prices

By Harry Triguboff, founder and managing director of the Meriton Group

I READ with interest The Australian's editorial ("Giving them shelter is but the first step to a solution", January 4) on the growing crisis of homelessness in Australia and could not agree more with your conclusion that this is not a problem that can be solved by simply pouring in money or building more homes. And yet, as you correctly observe, there is clearly a shortage of affordable and appropriate housing.

While the private sector is no panacea to the ongoing problems of homelessness, there is no question that if we were allowed to get on and build it would have a terrific and immediate impact on the numbers of homes available for Australians to own and rent and would help ease the situation for those who are presently squeezed out of housing, particularly in the large capital cities. Yet local government continues to do its best to ensure we cannot build the housing stock for which there is clear demand.

The simple fact is that we must produce more dwellings. Not only for the homeless and not only for young people. And not only for our growing population (up to 35 million by 2050, we are told). We must produce more dwellings and greater incomes so that our best young people will not continue to leave the country. And we must produce more dwellings to encourage the best type of migrant to come here.

From my perspective as one who has tried to provide affordable and appropriate housing for the better part of half a century, I have to say things have never been harder. Last year we managed to build about 1000 apartments in Sydney and southeast Queensland, which is about the same number as we built 25 years ago in Sydney alone. We would have built five times as many if we could have got approvals, but the approval process across Australia is now completely broken. In order to produce enough dwellings, and for them to be affordable and appropriate, three things must happen:

First, more dwellings must be built in established areas where resources are already in place to support populations. This will require rezonings. In Sydney, in particular, we cannot afford, economically or environmentally, to continue to build houses further and further out on the fringe.

Second, once appropriate zonings are in place, councils should stop being the consent authority and much more development should be "as of right". The development process has become too politicised. Councillors are convinced that if they approve developments they will lose votes. Of course we have too many councils and our culture is anti-development. The big picture sees that people would rather leave the country than attempt to have sufficient land zoned for apartments.

And once land is rezoned, it should be left to the market to dictate what is appropriate housing, because the market can respond much more quickly to changes in people's desire for a particular type of housing, and their ability to afford it, than any form of regulation. Housing size is a classic case. We read that our houses are too big (I actually don't think that they are once apartments are taken into the mix because apartments are certainly getting smaller) and it is clear that codes set many years ago are irrelevant by the time approvals are granted.

What is the point of approving apartments or houses in areas where nobody wants to buy them, or at sizes where nobody can afford them, and banks will not lend to purchasers to buy them? Nobody dictates to Holden how many Commodores and how many Barinas it should produce, and nor should anyone tell private developers too much about unit mix and apartment sizes. If we get it wrong, nobody will buy our stock and we will get the message much quicker than from any well-meaning councillor or town planner.

Finally, the Reserve Bank must come to the party and drop interest rates. Talking about what will happen to buyers when interest rates go up is nonsense. Our interest rates are already 3 per cent higher than in other parts of the developed world, so it would be lunacy for the RBA to raise interest rates higher. We should not be afraid of inflation or prices rising too much. Our population is getting poorer not richer. And we would be poorer still if it were not for the stream of cheap imports coming out of Asia. If the RBA drops rates, and the banks only add a small margin (which I think is what they do) then housing prices will inevitably go up. This is a good thing for everyone. The people will become wealthier. We won't have to depend on foreigners to fund our residential development. The problem in Australia is not inflation but lack of housing. By raising interest rates we will have fewer houses, not more. In America and Britain the problem was that there was an oversupply. We have had undersupply for many years.

Longer term, Australians must make more money. Our wages must keep on rising well above inflation; we must have higher full-time employment. We must get young people to start working when they are younger. Schools must prepare them for work with a renewed focus on vocational training and not merely on those who get 90 per cent results and go to university. Older people must be found employment. Perhaps the government should subsidise their wages. But all these measures take time. Only the RBA can have an immediate impact.

Historically, Australians made money on property values going up. Now we have decided that the super funds, which have a great deal of money, should invest in shares rather than in property. Of course shares go up sometimes, but the weakness of our share market is that it depends too much on what happens abroad. Whereas we can control our real estate, we cannot control to the same extent the share markets. Some money should stay in shares but most of it should be in property. If the government could find a way to channel the nation's superannuation into the development of residential property we would see a great number of homes built, and a safe investment for Australian retirees.

None of the above is rocket science: human beings have managed to produce affordable and appropriate housing in societies across the world and across time; only in Australia in the 21st century have we decided for some reason that it is all too hard.

Until we get the courage to change things we will continue to make life unnecessarily difficult for many Australians.


Secretive defence bureaucrats outed

The woman responsible should be fired. It does however raise an interesting question about what she was trying to hide

A FURIOUS Defence Minister has been forced to countermand potentially unconstitutional orders from bureaucrats banning staff from involvement in parliamentary committees without his clearance. John Faulkner said yesterday action would be taken to improve the Defence Department's understanding of parliamentary procedures. Senator Faulkner won an unmatched reputation as a champion of open government and accountability with his work on Senate committees, including the inquiry into the children overboard affair.

He was embarrassed last month when Defence assistant secretary Karen Creet issued an internal department memo, or DEFGRAM, briefing staff "of the correct procedures to be followed in their dealings with parliamentary committees". "The minister must approve all Defence involvement in, or support to, parliamentary committees," she stated. "Under no circumstances should material be provided to parliamentary committees or inquiries without clearance from the minister."

The DEFGRAM was leapt on by opposition defence spokesman David Johnson, who warned that it ignored "the inquiry powers granted to the commonwealth houses under section 49 of the constitution". He described its contents as "a potential improper interference with the free exercise by a committee of its authority".

Russell Trood, the chairman of the committee investigating the handling of allegations of sexual misconduct against three sailors from HMAS Success, expressed concerns about the impact of the memo on the inquiry.

Clerk of the Senate Rosemary Laing offered a scathing assessment of the DEFGRAM in response to a request from Senator Johnston for advice on its contents. "At best, the directive is a misrepresentation of the government guidelines for official witnesses before parliamentary committees," she wrote. "At worst, it represents a potential improper interference with the free exercise by a committee of its authority, and therefore a possible contempt."

Senator Faulkner told The Australian yesterday he had ordered the withdrawal of the instructions "as soon as it came to my attention".

Senator Trood said the committee would discuss the matter when parliament resumes.


6 January, 2010

Mr Rudd, your misguided warming policies are killing millions

An open letter to Kevvy from The Right Honourable The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley below. Australian cartoonist ZEG has a fuller version up. Kevvy is too much of a Leftist to be bothered with facts and logic, however

YOU say I am one of "those who argue that climate change does not represent a global market failure". Yet it is only recently that opinion sufficient to constitute a market signal became apparent in the documents of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is, however, a political rather than a scientific entity. There has scarcely been time for a "market failure".

Besides, corporations are falling over themselves to cash in on the giant financial fraud against the little guy that carbon taxation and trading have already become in the goody-two-shoes EU, and will become in Australia if you get your way.

You say I was one of "those who argue that somehow the market will magically solve the problem". In fact I have never argued that, though in general the market is better at solving problems than the habitual but repeatedly failed dirigisme of the etatistes predominant in the classe politique today.

The questions I address are a) whether there is a climate problem at all; and b) even if there is one whether waiting and adapting, if necessary, is more cost-effective than attempting to mitigate the supposed problem by trying to reduce the carbon dioxide our industries and enterprises emit.

Let us pretend, solum ad argumentum, that a given proportionate increase in CO2 concentration causes the maximum warming imagined by the IPCC. By the end of this month, according to the Copenhagen Accord, all parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are due to report what cuts in emissions they will make by 2020. Broadly speaking, the Annex 1 parties, who will account for about half of global emissions over the period, will commit to reducing current emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, or 15 per cent on average in the decade between now and 2020.

Thus, if every Annex 1 party to the Copenhagen Accord complies with its obligations to the full, today's emissions will be reduced by about half of that 15 per cent, namely 7.5 per cent, compared with business as usual. If the trend of the past decade continues, with business as usual we shall add 2 parts per million by volume/ year, or 20 ppmv over the decade. Now, 7.5 per cent of 20 ppmv is 1.5 ppmv. One-fiftieth of a Celsius degree of warming forestalled is all that complete, global compliance with the Copenhagen Accord for an entire decade would achieve. Yet the cost of achieving this result - an outcome so small that our instruments would not be able to measure it - would run into trillions of dollars.

You say "formal global and national economic modelling" shows "that the costs of inaction are greater than the costs of acting". Yet, every economic analysis except that of the now discredited Lord Stern, with its near-zero discount rate and its absurdly inflated warming rates, comes to the same ineluctable conclusion: adaptation to climate change, if necessary, is orders of magnitude more cost-effective than attempts at mitigation. In a long career in policy analysis in and out of government, I have never seen so cost-ineffective a proposed waste of taxpayers' money to stop the tide from coming in.

I have done this calculation on the basis that everyone complies with the Copenhagen Accord yet precedent does not look promising. The Kyoto Protocol has been in operation for more than a decade. So far, after billions spent, global CO2 emissions have risen.

Remember, too, that we have assumed the maximum warming that might occur in response to an increase in CO2 concentration. Yet even the IPCC's central estimate of CO2's warming effect, according to an increasing number of serious papers in the peer-reviewed literature, is a five-fold exaggeration. If those papers are right, warming forestalled may prove to be just one-thousandth of a degree.

You led a delegation of 114 people to Copenhagen to bring back a non-result. Half a dozen were all that was really necessary. If you and your officials are not willing to tighten your belts, why should the taxpayers tighten theirs?

You say that our aim, in daring to oppose the transient fashion for apocalypticism, is "to erode just enough of the political will that action becomes impossible". No. Our aim is to ensure that the truth is widely enough understood to prevent the squandering of precious resources on addressing the non-problem of anthropogenic "global warming". The correct policy response to a non-problem is to have the courage to do nothing.

You say that I and others like me base our thinking on the notion that "the cost of not acting is nothing". Well, after a decade and a half with no statistically significant "global warming", and after three decades in which the mean warming rate has been well below the ever-falling predictions of the UN's climate panel, that notion has not been disproved in reality.

However, the question I address is whether the cost of taking action is many times greater than the cost of not acting? The answer is yes.

Millions are already dying of starvation in the world's poorest nations because world food prices have doubled in two years. That was caused by a sharp drop in world food production, caused by suddenly taking millions of acres of land out of growing food for people who need it, to grow biofuels for clunkers that don't. The policies that you advocate are killing people by the million. At a time when so many of the world's people are already short of food, the UN's right-to-food rapporteur, Herr Ziegler, has rightly condemned the biofuel scam as "a crime against humanity".

Yet this slaughter is founded upon a lie: the claim by the IPCC that it is 90 per cent certain that most of the "global warming" since 1950 is man-made. This claim - based not on science but on a show of hands among political representatives, with China wanting a lower figure and other nations wanting a higher figure - is demonstrably false. Peer-reviewed analyses of changes in cloud cover over recent decades - changes almost entirely unconnected with changes in CO2 concentration - show that it was this largely natural reduction in cloud cover from 1983-2001 and a consequent increase in the amount of short-wave and UV solar radiation reaching the Earth that accounted for five times as much warming as CO2 could have caused.

Nor is the IPCC's great lie the only lie in the official documents of the IPCC and in the speeches of its current chairman, who has made himself a multi-millionaire as a "global warming" profiteer.

It is also a fact that, while those of the UN's computer models that can be forced with an increase in sea-surface temperatures all predict a consequent fall in the flux of outgoing radiation at top of atmosphere, in observed reality there is an increase. In short, the radiation that is supposed to be trapped here in the troposphere to cause "global warming" is measured as escaping to space much as usual, so that it cannot be causing more than about one-fifth of the warming the IPCC predicts.

It would be kinder to your working people to wait another decade and see whether global temperatures even begin to respond as the IPCC has predicted? What is the worst that can happen if you wait? Just 0.02C of global warming that would not otherwise have occurred. It's a no-brainer.


Victoria police resent being singled out for scrutiny

They don't consider that it is their own corrupt behaviour that has sparked the scrutiny

POLICE union boss Greg Davies says it is ridiculous his members are the only Victorian government staff who can be investigated by an anti-corruption body with royal commission powers. Sen-Sgt Davies vowed the powerful Police Association would this year step up its campaign to ensure all public employees are subjected to the same level of corruption probing as police.

The Office of Police Integrity investigates police corruption, but can't use its royal commission-type powers to examine politicians, public servants or other public officials, such as judges, magistrates and local government officers. "For anyone to consider that the Victoria Police force is the only part of public life in Victoria that could possibly have any corruption within it is as insulting as it is stupid," Sen-Sgt Davies said. "That's why there should be a broad-based, anti-corruption commission to deal right across the board, rather than singling out 11,000 police and saying they are the only people in Victoria who could possibly be corrupt."

Sen-Sgt Davies was responding to moves by the OPI's new deputy director, former Australian Federal Police agent Paul Jevtovic, to try to heal the long-standing rift between the OPI and the Police Association. The Herald Sun this week revealed Mr Jevtovic considered the OPI and the Police Association had a "mutual obligation" to try to make Victoria Police as corruption-free as possible.

Sen-Sgt Davies said he was happy to deal with Mr Jevtovic, but he would also be continuing the association's campaign for the OPI to be superseded by an independent, anti-corruption body to probe all public officials. "Now that doesn't mean stripping away the resources of the OPI and putting them all into something like the Independent Commission Against Corruption in NSW. "They have an ICAC and sitting under that is the Police Integrity Commission. That is the sort of model we could have had and probably should have had."

Premier John Brumby last year appointed former public service chief Elizabeth Proust to review the powers of all state integrity bodies, including the OPI, Ombudsman and Auditor-General.


Greenie-inspired attacks on electricity usage spark fears of more deaths during heatwaves

SOARING power bills have sparked fears of more deaths during heatwaves as battlers turn off fans and air-conditioners. Welfare agencies want more financial aid for hundreds of thousands of Victoria's poorest households to cope with crippling price rises. Struggling pensioners, singles and families are telling emergency relief services they will have to cut back on food and children's education costs. Some households face being slugged $400 extra for electricity this year unless they shop around.

Even more financial pain is predicted amid proposed federal climate change policies and an industry push to upgrade electricity poles and wires.

A Victorian Council of Social Service report has called for a boost to winter energy concessions, as well as cash to help pay for the installation of new smart meters. "Prices are rising so dramatically that concession payments are simply not keeping energy affordable," VCOSS deputy director Carolyn Atkins said.

The Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre fears the problem will get worse, with potentially deadly consequences, as companies switch to "time of use" billing in coming years. This method charges more for power used in peak periods. "We are concerned some people will dangerously resort to not using cooling or heating in their homes because of the impact on their budgets," CUAC chief Jo Benvenuti said.

Ms Atkins said the winter energy discount paid to 740,000 Victorian households should be lifted from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent. She said a rebate for smart meters was also needed.

A State Government spokeswoman said: "Organisations such as VCOSS regularly put forward suggestions for the coming Budget at this time of year, however we always make our Budget announcements in May. "Victoria is widely considered to have the most robust and comprehensive energy consumer protection regime in Australia."


QANTAS again. Did I say this was getting to be a daily occurrence?

They should sell off the A380s (if they can). They are just too complex to work reliably. It was just QANTAS vanity that said they had to be one of the first to have the latest and greatest. What the A380s are greatest at is malfunctions. QANTAS should have stuck to more tried and tested planes. With all the malfunctions, there is going to be a critical one eventually and the A380 will be the new De Havilland Comet. And that could well be the final straw that breaks the airline. Think of the legal costs if you kill 500 passengers in one fell swoop. And all the prior malfunctions will be a good legal basis for saying that QANTAS breached its duty of care

A QANTAS A380 flight from the US had to be cancelled after it reportedly recorded the longest wait on Los Angeles International Airport's tarmac since 2007, in the latest blow for the airline.

The cancellation of the Sydney-bound flight on Sunday night, Los Angeles time, came after a computer glitch at global distribution system provider Amadeus caused chaos on Sunday, the Australian reported.

An A380 flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles was cancelled on Monday because of a faulty fuel indicator after 443 people spent more than four hours on the plane waiting for take-off.

The latest problem also involved an indicator light, this time on the braking system. Almost 400 passengers spent three-and-a-half hours on the plane before Qantas cancelled it for 24 hours. US sources said this was the longest stretch passengers have had to wait on the Los Angeles tarmac since a computer glitch in August 2007.

Authorities have moved to impose fines of up to $US27,500 for US carriers leaving passengers stuck on a plane for three hours or more. Flight QF93 from Melbourne to Los Angeles was initially delayed one-and-a-half hours because of a fuel gauge fault. It was taxiing when the problem recurred, forcing take-off to be aborted.

Passengers remained on board while maintenance crews examined the problem. They were not allowed to disembark because of heightened security procedures for US-bound flights that made re-screening passengers impractical. Qantas cancelled the flight altogether when it became apparent the crew would exceed their on-duty time limits. The Los Angeles-Sydney and Melbourne-Los Angeles flights have since departed.


5 January, 2010

QANTAS again -- this is getting to be almost daily

Passengers should have been transferred immediately to other flights so that they could arrive nearly on time -- but QANTAS wouldn't know how to put their passengers first. QANTAS are so bad that I have started a QANTAS blog just to keep track of how constantly they fail. I have taken it back only 6 months so far but there are still a LOT of troublesome incidents on it

Qantas passengers who sat on a defective A380 for five hours at Melbourne Airport yesterday finally departed for Los Angeles this afternoon, after yet another delay. Flight QF93, originally scheduled to take off yesterday at midday, was pushed back to 11am this morning. After another delay the flight finally left the terminal at 12.10pm, 24 hours late, and took off at 12.27pm.

A Qantas spokesman said engineers were this morning still working on the problem, in consultation with Airbus, that caused yesterday's delay. He said today's delay was due to the large volume of A380 passengers boarding at Melbourne Airport.

One passenger told Traveller that frustration boiled over during yesterday's delay and an "altercation" between another passenger and a Qantas representative was met by applause. After the flight left the gate, the problem reoccurred, forcing the superjumbo back to the terminal. Passengers were not allowed to disembark for more than five hours due to new security measures for US flights, which made it unfeasible to re-screen all 450 of them, they were told.

Business analyst Jeff Lobo said the delay had been "pretty horriffic." As a result of the flight postponement, he said he had missed hosting a clinical research workshop for over 20 people in North Carolina, a meeting difficult to re-convene. He said Qantas had been "ever apologetic, but decisions should have been taken much more quickly." "There was no depth to the explanations" offered by Qantas, which led to annoyance amongst those affected, he said.

After spending five hours on the grounded A380, "another couple of hours" were spent dealing with customs, which appeared ill-equipped to cope with the volume of affected commuters, Mr Lobo said. Mr Lobo did not get out of the airport until eight o'clock and stayed at the nearby Hilton Hotel overnight.

Another passenger, who wished to remain anonymous, said he had decided to go home rather than take up the Qantas offer of overnight accommodation, arriving home after 8pm last night. He said "there were issues, one after the other" all day yesterday. "There were different messages from different people (representing Qantas)," he said, over whether baggage should be left at the airport or taken with passsengers, and the availability of taxis.

Delayed travellers were told to go to the domestic taxi rank for transport, but rank marshals there were unaware of the arrangement, according to the passenger. "By seven o'clock there were a lot of angry people, a lot of tension" he said. There was an "altercation" between a frustrated passenger and a Qantas representative, which was received with loud applause.

The passenger heavily criticised the lack of "recovery effort" from Qantas following the delayed flight. Qantas said refreshments were served to passengers during the delay and that in-flight entertainment was available. The Qantas spokesman said overnight hotel accommodation would be provided to passengers who required it. "We sincerely regret any inconvenience that this has caused and we're doing everything we can to look after customers tonight," the spokesman said.


And QANTAS subsidiary Jetstar is just as bad

A Christchurch woman who was left to worry about her teenage son's fate after a dispute with Jetstar says the airline has agreed to investigate the incident. Stephanie Kelly said she was told by Jetstar staff last week that her 18-year-old son, Jordan Kelly-Houston, did not board a flight from Sydney to Honolulu. However, the teenager was on the December 31 flight, and arrived safely in Honolulu.

Kelly said she spoke to Alexander Knigge, head of commercial services at Jetstar Airways, yesterday. She said the airline had agreed to reimburse her for the phone calls she made to Sydney and the United States in an attempt to find her son. "He's [Knigge] agreed to investigate the conversations that went on," Kelly said. "He has offered to compensate [me] for my phone calls around the world and the extra night's accommodation we had to book in Honolulu."

Kelly-Houston was due to leave Sydney on December 30, but that flight was delayed until New Year's Eve. He was travelling – via a stopover in Canada to visit family – to take up a tennis scholarship at Florida State University. On arrival in Honolulu, Kelly-Houston had to wait for a new connecting flight to Toronto at 10am the next day.

As the flight to Honolulu was delayed, Stephanie Kelly had to spend $900 on the new flight to Canada. Jetstar had not committed to reimbursing her for the connecting flight, she said.

Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway confirmed the airline had been in contact with Kelly-Houston's family. "Today, a senior manager of our airline spoke directly with Jordan's mum," he said yesterday.


Tony Abbott defends government private school subsidies and 6pc fee hike

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has defended the public subsidisation of elite private schools and said they have the right to increase fees. "Well in the end these are private institutions and it's up to them to decide what their fees should be,” he said in a radio interview today.

Mr Abbott was responding to a report in The Australian today showing wealthy private schools are increasing fees by an average of 6 per cent this year despite acknowleding parents are feeling the pinch.

The Opposition Leader also defended the introduction under the Howard Government of the SES funding model that is set to deliver non-government schools $28 billion in taxpayers' money between 2009 and 2012. “Every Australian child is entitled to government assistance towards his or her education,” he said.

“Now, whether people choose to utilise that assistance by going to a public school or whether they choose to go to a private school and receive a reduced level of support, but nevertheless a substantial level of support, that's up to the parents of the child, so we don't support these schools because we think they should be free or almost free we support these schools because every kid is entitled to get government support towards an education.

“Now, obviously it would be better if fees were lower and the increases were less but in the end it is up to these schools to make their own decision on”.


South Australia: "We asked for help - but they took our kids"

Social workers are an arrogant lot worldwide -- mini-Hitlers. They wouldn't know the meaning of "help"

TRIGGER-HAPPY social workers are taking children from their homes and creating a new "stolen generation", a group of distraught mothers claim. The four women, with 26 children between them, say what started as cries for help became the catalyst that destroyed their families. They say care workers bullied and threatened them and coerced them to put their children into care. In some cases, the children were ripped from the arms of their parents outside court houses and schools without any warning.

The mums also say their children are now living in situations worse than the conditions they had at home. Some have unsupervised visits with fathers convicted of child neglect and other crimes, others are separated from siblings and children as young as three have run away from foster homes.

Recent FamiliesSA figures show that at the end of June last year, there were 2111 children under care and protection orders, an 8.6 per cent increase on the previous year's 1943. There are now about 1780 children in state care, the office of Families and Communities Minister Jennifer Rankine confirmed yesterday.

The minister's office provided reasons for FamiliesSA intervention in each of the cases of the four mothers, and emphasised it was the Youth Court that assesses the department's applications and makes the protection orders. But the mums argue they face no charges of neglect and believe they are good and capable mothers who were "tricked" into handing over their children to the state when they asked for help. The mothers say FamiliesSA social workers have been "jumpy" and "trigger-happy" since June, 2008 when 21 children were found living in squalid conditions at Parafield Gardens. Six people face child-neglect charges over that case.

All four mothers who approached The Advertiser to tell their stories say they have never been charged with any child neglect crimes.

MUM 1, a 21-year-old from the southern suburbs, has lost the neat, comfortable rental property she had secured to raise her two young children. She says FamiliesSA has not only "stolen" her children, but also her joy of being a mother. She first came to the attention of the service when she and her mother asked for help to deal with her six-week-old daughter. "They told me that they would help me to get on my feet, that the order would only be for six weeks and I would get her back," the mum said.

"Three months after she was born, I was pregnant. The order got extended to 14 months and throughout my pregnancy they threatened to take my baby away when he was born." Her daughter was returned to her care and she looked after both children until December, 2008, when her son, now aged three, was admitted to hospital with head injuries sustained while he was in the care of a babysitter. The mother claims her son was in the babysitter's care for just 15 minutes. No charges were laid over the incident but both children were taken from the mother and are now in the care of their father's parents.

The father lives in the home with the children but an order states he is not to have unsupervised access to the children, the mum says. The mother says she now lives with her parents and they would like to help her raise her children in that home. But they have only recently been allowed limited unsupervised access to the children.

She said she is required to undergo a psychological assessment before her case can progress and that the current guardians have taunted her, saying she would never get her children back because they are now accredited foster carers.

MUM 2 is a 26-year-old mother of six who was herself under the care of the state as a child. "I was under the guardianship of the state from 11 to 18 and I learnt what I know about being a mum from FamiliesSA," said the southern suburbs mum, who is pregnant. "When I needed help with my five-week-old twins, I had to turn to them for help . . . that's all I knew to do. "They said I would get my boys back, but I can't see that I will get my boys back and now they have taken my other four children. "I am pregnant and I am scared they will take my baby away, too."

The young mum said her infant twins were taken from her more than a year ago and her other four children - whom her current partner had helped care for - were placed under a protection order in November. She said she now only has supervised visits with her children, for a few hours twice a week, while the father of the four eldest children has unsupervised access despite having being jailed for child neglect of her eldest son.

"The three eldest kids were taken from school . . . We didn't even know it was happening," the woman's partner said. "We had our three-year-old daughter with us and they were forcibly removing our girl from my arms. I was distressed and they handcuffed me when they did it."

The mother said: "They are creating the new stolen generation. "I just want to be a mother. I want for my children to not have to go through what I went through as a child in the care of the state."

MUM 3 lives in the northern suburbs, has 11 children, and seven of them were living with her. In November, five children were taken from her outside the Youth Court under a protection order. She said the children who were put into care, aged 3-11, had all tried to run away from their foster home. These included a four year old and a five year old who had both tried to hitch-hike home. After a month in foster care, they were placed in the care of their grandmother.

The mother's lawyers wrote to the mother, saying the magistrate overseeing her case deemed the foster care home had not provided "superior care" to that which she had offered.

In May, the mother admitted in a TV interview to being a neglectful parent when she was evicted from a rental property because of the putrid environment she lived in. This week, she told The Advertiser she had done the best she could and had asked for help in a bid to adequately provide for her children. "This is the worst experience of my life," the mum said. "The minister . . . needs to come out here and talk to people like me to work out what's going on."

MUM 4 is the 32-year-old Frewville mother who had seven children removed from her care on Christmas Eve. She said she handed her children to social workers on the promise they would be kept together. She first visited the children briefly five days after they were removed and she says they are being cared for in four different homes.


2009 Australia's second hottest year on record -- according to the BOM

But now we know how Australian temperature records are compiled, you would be gullible to believe them

THE past calendar year - 2009 - was the second warmest on record in Australia since 1910, the Australian government's Bureau of Meteorology reported today. The bureau said the high temperatures were driven by unusual or extreme heatwaves, with a temperature trend consistent with global warming, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

Australia's annual mean temperature for 2009 was 0.90 degrees Celsius above a 1961-90 average, making it the nation's second-warmest year since high-quality records began in 1910, the bureau reported in an annual climate statement. The warmest was 2005.

High temperatures were especially notable in the south-east during the second half of 2009, with Australia nationally and the states Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales independently all recording their warmest July-December periods on record.

Extreme heatwaves occurred across much of southern Australia during late January/early February, resulting in a new maximum temperature record in the Victorian capital Melbourne of 46.4 degrees and a new Victoria state maximum temperature record of 48.8 degrees.

An unusual winter-time heatwave occurred in August over large parts of the inland and resulted in Australia's warmest August on record, while a prolonged heatwave occurred during November across central and south-east Australia. "Based on the analysis of daily maximum and minimum temperature data...there are clear upward trends in the number of hot events and downward trends in the number of cold events over the period 1960 to date, consistent with global warming," the bureau reported, without citing a cause for global warming.

The end of 2009 also saw the end of Australia's warmest decade on record, with a decadal mean temperature anomaly of 0.48 degree above a 1961-90 average [Picking an arbitrary base-year for your averages is fun]. This meant that in Australia, each decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the preceding decade, it reported.

As for rainfall, the overall Australian mean rainfall total for 2009 was 453 millimeters, down a little from a long-term average (1961-90) of 464 mms, it reported. During July to October 2009, serious rainfall deficiencies were experienced over large areas of Queensland and isolated parts of New South Wales, consistent with the development of an El Nino event during this time.


4 January, 2010

Hundreds rally for hunger-striking farmer

More than 300 people have rallied outside Parliament House in Canberra in support of hunger-striking New South Wales farmer Peter Spencer. Mr Spencer has spent 43 days without food on top of a tower on his property at Shannons Flat near Cooma, in protest against state laws which stop him from clearing vegetation on his land. He wants the Commonwealth to compensate farmers whose land has been used as 'carbon sinks'.

Mr Spencer's daughter, Sarah Spencer, told the rally her father will not give up his hunger strike until he meets with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. "He has strong resolve. He will hold true to his word," she said. His son, Kahn Spencer, says his father has lost a lot of weight but he has not lost his mental resolve. "He's short of energy, he hasn't got as much energy as he normally has and things like that," he said. "But he appears to be hanging in there."

Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce also addressed the crowd, calling for a Royal Commission into vegetation laws. He said farmers across Australia have been unjustly divested of their land. "It might have been legally possible but it was totally unjust," he said.

Some of the protesting farmers are now travelling to Mr Spencer's property to offer their support.


Modern green romanticism is misanthropic

By John Cox

The start of the modern environmental movement is often taken as the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which described the excessive use of pesticides in the US. The first page of this book was dedicated to Albert Schweitzer and quoted his words: "Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth." Carson was very much influenced by Schweitzer's philosophy of "reverence for life", which has been described as Jesus Christ's ethic of love and compassion between humans widened to all living beings. There is a case, therefore, in arguing that Schweitzer was the father of the modern environmental movement.

If this is so then I must be counted as one of the first environmentalists in Australia, having been influenced during the late 1950s by this reverence-for-life philosophy in my university days. I immediately gave up my sporting life of hunting kangaroos, foxes and rabbits in the mid-north of South Australia and pledged, like Schweitzer, to work in developing countries.

Schweitzer and Carson were children of the Enlightenment, which emphasised the progress of civilisation through the primacy of reason. Schweitzer's philosophy was an attempt to find a rational ethical basis to lead Western civilisation away from the tragedies of the first half of the 20th century. Carson's book was a well-argued, scientific study of the effects of pesticides on various aspects of nature, particularly birds.

Today, however, I find myself nearly always opposed to the viewpoints taken by the modern greens who seem to trace their roots back to the 19th-century romantic period, which was a reaction against the scientific rationalism of the 18th century. Emotions, nature mysticism, intuition and a sense of the whole being more important than the parts were considered more important than a clear-cut view of nature's laws that could be analysed and used for human progress. This was evident in the music, literature and lifestyles of this romantic period and can be expressed best in the words of Goethe: "All theory is grey, dear friend; Green is the golden tree of life".

This romantic view of nature has lead to the pervasive influence of an ecocentric rather than an anthropocentric life view in today's world and was manifest in the Traveston Dam decision to put the possible effects of this dam on a few species ahead of the interests of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Other decisions such as this seem to be a radical wish to return to a primitive, animistic, anti-technology, Jean-Jacques Rousseau-inspired agrarian society so as to avoid any possible harm to nature.

Having worked for more than 20 years on transport projects in Southeast Asia to help raise human beings from their poverty, I find this ecocentric view to be immoral in many ways. I consider that India and China have been morally correct in their decisions to put present economic growth and the elimination of poverty ahead of possible future environmental benefits. In my transport field I find myself coming up against environmentalists who cannot see the economic and environmental benefits of putting more traffic on freeways that have 30 per cent less fuel and greenhouse emissions, 50 per cent less particulate emissions, 70 per cent fewer crash fatalities and 30 per cent lower economic vehicle operating costs than on stop-start arterial roads.

I also find myself up against public transport advocates who cannot admit that the motor car has given people the freedom to work, travel and live where they want. They cannot admit that the car is the most equitably distributed form of transport that Australia has seen and that it was a major instrument for the promotion of gender equity in the 20th century. It has allowed women to do what they want to do because they can now make chained trips to work, shop, drop children off to school and make social visits, trips which are not possible in any other form of transport.

It is also not well known that cars are a more sustainable form of transport than public transport as the cost of a car trip, including externalities, is lower than a public transport trip including government subsidies.

The anti-motor car ideologues remind me a little of the duke of Wellington who was opposed to the development of railways because they allowed "the masses to travel needlessly".

I also find myself in the camp of the sceptics with respect to anthropogenic global warning. Not, it must be said, in the right-wing camp but in the geological scientists' camp, having researched the formation and engineering properties of the deltaic clays in Southeast Asia. The rise in temperatures of more than 6C and the rise in sea level of 130m during the past 15,000 years, without any anthropogenic emissions, show me that the forces in our solar system are much larger than our puny efforts in affecting climate change.

It may be that humans are rebelling against a purely intellectual approach to life and are cleaving to a more emotional, romantic view of an organic, holistic world. Rationalism does not, however, have to kill what it dissects, and there are many of us who still cling to the concepts of rationalism, a web of being and reverence for life that still leave human beings as important members of this world.


Scepticism stems from a worthy spirit of inquiry

By Greg Melleuish

WE are truly living in a strange world when the word sceptic, as in the term climate sceptic, has come to be used as an insult. It used to be the case that there was something honourable about being a sceptic. It meant one did not merely take things on trust; that one insisted on a rigorous examination of both evidence and argument before exercising one's judgment on a particular matter.

Even then a good sceptic would recognise that this judgment was only provisional, as more evidence or a better explanation could emerge. Human beings are fallible creatures; none of us can claim to have a monopoly on truth. Be it physics, history or even climate science, there will always be competing explanations.

Attempts to impose a single model or explanation will always be doomed to failure. I recently read Ross Honeywell's Lamarck's Evolution, in which he discusses the career of Australian biologist Ted Steele. Steele has defied the Darwinian consensus and argues for a more Lamarckian view of evolution. Despite much opposition from within the scientific community, the evidence has emerged to support Steele's position.

A democratic society can only flourish if it allows a range of ideas and views to thrive. Some of these ideas will turn out to be wrong; the price of openness is to allow both the sensible and the ratbags to have their say. Open societies work. Failed ideas can be discarded and replaced by better ones rather than congealing into dogmas and ideologies. Scientific ideas, like historical interpretations, are never settled. There will always be challenges as new data comes to light.

What does it mean then when supporters of one interpretation of climate change claim that those who do not support them are deniers, not really scientists and therefore not worthy of a hearing? It can only mean one thing. One group of people has attempted to turn its particular interpretation into a dogma that is beyond challenge. It has become a form of absolute truth. This is not a form of scientific activity but a political act.

It can be quite difficult to move from the messy world of science, its provisional explanations and need for revisions, to that of public policy in which governments take action. Definite action requires certainty. The science cannot be open to question. There is a real conflict here between the provisional nature of scientific and academic activity and the need for governments to take clear-cut and definite action. They cannot be reconciled because those engaged in the world of ideas and science will always find qualifications and possible objections to any theory.

However, we now have a generation of scientists and academics with a desire to have an impact on the world. They are willing to create dogmas so governments will act according to their wishes. This represents the triumph of political over academic and scientific values.

I was struck recently by the similarity between the present debate on climate change and the referendum on the republic held in 1999. On that occasion I asked some of my academic colleagues their views on the effect of changing the wording of sections of the commonwealth Constitution. They told me they had not looked at the proposed changes. They would simply support the case for a republic on trust.

It seems to me that we are now in an analogous situation. Many people are supporting the case for climate change simply on trust. The scientists have spoken and they are happy to accept what they have said.

What is odd is that many of those who are willing to accept climate change dogma are well educated. They have been educated at universities that are supposedly devoted to encouraging rigorous analysis and respect for a diversity of intellectual views.

Why are climate change advocates so willing to accept so much on authority and not use their critical faculties? There is an obvious answer. Their education has taught them that the political is more important than the intellectual. Political action trumps rigorous intellectual investigation. This attitude is no longer confined to the humanities and the social sciences; as climate change dogma indicates, it has also infected the so-called hard sciences.

It is a sad state of affairs. For a democracy to flourish, it needs also to be an open society in which a variety of viewpoints can jostle for public attention. When the term sceptic becomes a term of abuse, and there is willingness by many to demonise those who do not agree with them, then one must be concerned about the future of our democracy.

What is particularly worrying is that those who are leading this drive away from discussion and debate towards a passive acceptance of climate change dogma are often very well educated. What has happened to their spirit of open inquiry?


Abbott takes aim at a PM all at sea

The Opposition Leader is steeling himself for a fight over the Prime Minister's flawed strategy on asylum seekers. PRACTICALLY the first thing Tony Abbott did upon snatching the Liberal leadership a little over a month ago was vow to lead an Opposition that would exist primarily to oppose rather than support the Government.

While this might have seemed like the bleeding obvious (isn't that, after all, what oppositions are supposed to do?) Abbott's statement was calibrated to send three very loud messages – to his party, to the public and to the Government.

First there was the heavily implied criticism that under his predecessors, the Liberals had ceded their identity by broadly supporting an emissions trading scheme. The criticism was aimed squarely at Malcolm Turnbull and to a lesser extent Brendan Nelson, both men whose moderate views had always rendered them somewhat confusing figures, lacking in political definition, among traditional Liberals. Abbott was effectively drawing the curtain on what many conservatives viewed as a “failed experiment” whereby politically ambiguous “outsiders” had been allowed to run the Liberal Party.

Second, Abbott wanted to scream from the rooftops that he was in town for a fight and that voters should pay attention – right now.

Finally, he wanted to immediately wrong-foot a Government which still believes that sections of the Liberal Party could support its legislation for a carbon pollution reduction scheme when it is introduced to Parliament for a third time in February.

Turnbull's demise and Abbott's rise blindsided Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, his deputy Julia Gillard and the Government's most senior political strategists. For they were convinced that Turnbull would secure sufficient amendments not only to win Senate support for their climate change legislation but also to remain leader at least until this year's election. Which is exactly how they wanted him. They were even willing to pay a hefty dividend for Turnbull's support on the carbon reduction scheme, having factored in that his authority – and thereby, perhaps his poll ratings – would be enhanced if he stared down the climate change sceptics in his party. Wrong.

It seems most unlikely at this stage that the Government will win sufficient support for the legislation when it is again presented to Parliament next month.

Between now and then Abbott must formulate a policy to reduce Australia's carbon production that is not based on the emissions trading model he so opposes. It's no easy task. He must convince voters that the Liberals under a big-C conservative leader such as himself can be genuine advocates for “green” measures to reduce our carbon output. Such green measures, of course, depend largely on heavy regulation – and government regulation is the enemy of both progressive and conservative Liberal-ism.

On human-made climate change – about which Abbott is something of an avowed sceptic – he is proposing what one Liberal colleague describes as “a type of progressive conservatism”. The Government will come out all guns blazing to discredit whatever policy he unveils as an alternative to the carbon reduction scheme come February. Abbott's climate change policy will, however, be primarily about contrasting himself with both Rudd and the Government.

Rudd's low public profile since Abbott took over and his calm and measured approach to a new adversary belies a distinct uneasiness within Labor about how Abbott should be dealt with. Labor tacticians recognise Abbott as an adversary who is capable of setting and running agendas and of determining the direction of public debate where his two immediate predecessors were not. This makes them distinctly uneasy because Rudd has set the agenda, first from opposition after he became Labor leader in late 2006, and then firmly as Prime Minister since November 2007.

While Rudd exercised his prime ministerial right to a spot of commentary from the box at the MCG on Boxing Day, Abbott has, true to his word, popped up in his electorate office and at home to niggle and oppose. On the last day of 2009, he aimed squarely at Rudd's most critical policy vulnerability – his deeply flawed strategy to deal with asylum seekers.

On his way to the prime minister-ship Rudd let it be known that he, like Howard, would be tough enough to turn away asylum seekers including by pointing their vessels back out to sea. In Government, amid a temporary decrease in asylum seeker numbers, Labor scrapped the contentious Pacific solution for off-shore refugee processing and the temporary protection visa program. The boats, predictably perhaps, began returning in great numbers.

In mid-October, the Prime Minister called Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He asked the President to get his navy to intercept a boat, the Oceanic Viking, carrying 260 mainly Sri Lankan asylum seekers heading to Australia. At that point Rudd began talking tough on "illegal immigrants". "I make no apology whatsoever for adopting a hardline approach when it comes to illegal immigration activity," he vowed. "And I make no apology whatsoever having a hardline and humane approach to dealing with asylum seekers."

Hard line? Humane? What on earth was he talking about? If he knew, nobody else did. Nonetheless, as the crisis involving the Oceanic Viking deepened, the Prime Minister kept walking both sides of the street, promising that his Government would be both “tough” and “humane” in relation to asylum seekers. It was meaningless babble that highlighted the Prime Minister's absence of conviction on what is both a thorny moral and a practical security issue. It also highlighted the Government's absence of a well-formulated policy.

Bad policy makes for bad government. And as the Prime Minister floundered in Parliament with his confusing rhetoric while the Viking remained in Indonesian waters, he looked vulnerable for the first time since November 2007. Turnbull sensed this. But he lacked the authority to capitalise on Rudd's weakness. Meanwhile, Rudd's backbenchers – under continuing pressure from constituents to articulate a policy – remain deeply concerned about the Government's untidiness on this issue.

Abbott has now moved decisively to capitalise on Rudd's indecision and consequent vulnerability on asylum seekers. Having already highlighted Rudd's hypocrisy in purporting to be tough and humane when he has been neither, Abbott has vowed to turn refugee boats back out to sea if he becomes prime minister. On the last day of 2009, Abbott was quoted in The Australian: “If the circumstances permit it, you've got to be prepared to turn the boats around. John Howard was fiercely criticised for this. Nevertheless Kevin Rudd said he would be more than tough enough to turn boats around were he prime minister but he singularly failed to show any steel whatsoever since becoming our leader.”

Abbott has highlighted another point of great contrast with Rudd. While the proposition of sending asylum seekers back into dangerous seas may represent a return to the past that many voters will view as deeply distasteful, Abbott appears resolute compared with Rudd. Abbott said: “I think it has been a significant issue in terms of illustrating the comparative weakness of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister.”

Many Labor MPs would concur that Rudd has lacked “steel” on this issue. They do not, of course, want him to start turning the boats away. Rather, they want him to expend some of his considerable political capital on radically increasing the quotas of migrants it takes from the war-torn source countries that are producing so many asylum seekers willing to risk their lives to reach Australia informally. That, they say, would show genuine humanity and true leadership on one of the most vexing, not to mention morally and politically challenging, issues of our time.

Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser presciently closed 2009 with his recollections about how Australia came to resettle 220,000 Vietnamese refugees. “One of the problems was a lot of the people fleeing Vietnam were doing so in boats that ... were totally unsuitable to survival at sea. Therefore it was essential to try to establish centres they could get to without making the journey longer than it had to be,” he recalled.

Fraser noted the obvious parallel between the Vietnamese refugee crisis and the problem Australia now faces. “Politicians would be surprised how much support a political party would get if it truly stated the case for asylum seekers and refugees and explained the circumstances from which they are fleeing. It shows a lot of courage to leave everything behind to try to get a better future for your family.”

Call it courage or call it steel. There's not much of it about in the Government on this issue. And Tony Abbott knows it.


3 January, 2010

Coverup for crooked Queensland cops: No review after innocent man served four years for robbery

Queensland is the only State that has had to put a chief of police in jail

THE State Government has abandoned a review into the wrongful conviction and jailing of a north Queensland man for armed robbery. Terry Irving served more than half of an eight-year sentence for a hold-up at a Cairns bank in 1993. Then 39, the concreter protested his innocence, claiming a case of mistaken identity and a suspect investigation. The High Court quashed the conviction in 1997, saying it had "grave misgivings about the circumstances of this case", and cited concerns about the police evidence. Documents obtained by Mr Irving's legal team under Freedom of Information legislation revealed 19 instances where evidence had been falsified or withheld.

Mr Irving was hoping for a full inquiry, apology or compensation, which could have topped $1 million. But any favourable outcome was knocked on the head last week when Attorney-General Cameron Dick reneged on a previous government deal. Former Attorney-General Kerry Shine agreed in September 2007 to an independent review. He said he was impressed by evidence Mr Irving had presented to him at a Community Cabinet meeting in Bowen in June 2007.

In February 2008, Mr Shine appointed retired Supreme Court judge Martin Moynihan to review the case. But Mr Moynihan was then given another government assignment: a review of the criminal justice system. That task was completed by January 2009 and Mr Moynihan was expected to finish the Irving review by July. Then last month Mr Moynihan was appointed to replace Robert Needham as chairman of the Crime and Misconduct Commission for the next two years.

Mr Dick told Mr Irving's legal aid lawyer, Michael O'Keeffe, last week the Government had decided to abandon the judicial review. Mr Dick rejected a plea for an ex gratia payment and said Mr Irving would have to sue the Government if he wanted compensation. Mr Dick claimed that Mr Moynihan was not appointed to review the case and a review was never established. That is in direct contrast to comments made by Mr Shine to The Sunday Mail last year.

"The best way for Mr Irving to test evidence and call witnesses is for him to pursue the civil proceedings against the state that he started 10 years ago," Mr Dick said.

Mr O'Keeffe slammed the decision. "The appointment of a judicial review was a most serious matter and was taken by Kerry Shine only after the closest personal scrutiny of the actual evidence in Irving's case by Mr Shine himself. It was not done lightly at all," he said. "The abandonment of that review by Mr Dick without reasons and in such a cavalier, almost throwaway, manner must be deeply disturbing for most right-minded Queenslanders."

Mr Irving said he would still seek restitution for the almost five years he spent in prison after being wrongly convicted.


School policies on disruptive students 'not working'

The Leftist horror of physical punishment is anything but kind

A MOTHER whose nine-year-old son missed 53 days of school on suspension last year is appealing for Education Queensland to improve its policies on disruptive students. Brock Duchnicz will start year 5 at a new school this year unable to spell simple words like at, in or on.

In two years he has missed 63 days – almost 13 weeks – of school for offences such as swearing, class disruption and pushing chairs over. His mother Sarndra said EQ's policy of blocking her son from the classroom was not working. Ms Duchnicz said teachers were not equipped to deal with children like Brock and called on the Government to introduce specialised behaviour management training for all teachers.

"I feel as though these kids are just pushed to the back of the classroom in the too hard basket," she said. "There are so many more children coming up the line like this and if they (teachers) are not equipped they need more understanding and time put into them."

Ms Duchnicz said the more Brock was suspended from Eagleby State School, the more he misbehaved to get another day off. "He thinks if he's naughty he gets to go home. The little light bulb goes on 'if I'm naughty I get to go home'," said Ms Duchnicz. Brock was recently diagnosed with ADHD but Ms Duchnicz stopped his Ritalin medication because it had no effect. She plans to have him reassessed.

EQ's assistant director-general of education (student services) Patrea Walton said the department fully supported a principal's decision to take disciplinary action. "It is not in any school's interests to keep badly behaved students in the classroom disrupting the learning of others," Ms Walton said.


Workplace laws may backfire on mothers

PROVISIONS for two-year parental leave in new "family-friendly" workplace laws could work against career mums, feminist academics and business groups have warned. A new right for parents to request unpaid leave of two years, and for parents of young children to request flexible work arrangements, are "major legal changes that may lead to major social change", University of Sydney professor of employment relations Marian Baird said.

She said research showed men generally did not take unpaid parental leave, so women were more likely to request their 12-month maternity leave be extended by up to a year. But Professor Baird suspects the provision contained in the National Employment Standards - which came into force on Friday - will increase the silent discrimination against women who interrupt their careers to have children, even though it is illegal. "There is evidence that employers restructure after 12 months, making it harder for women to return to their role. Imagine what will happen after two years," she said.

In July, the Fair Work Ombudsman was given the power to investigate discrimination for the first time and expressed concern at the large number of women losing their jobs for taking maternity leave. Ombudsman Nick Wilson said his office had intervened repeatedly in cases where women's jobs were advertised or small employers refused to grant 12 months' maternity leave.

But NSW Business Chamber chief executive Stephen Cartwright said keeping a job open for two years would be difficult for small companies. The Government should fund a 12-month paid parental leave scheme instead of increasing employers' burdens, he said. "I understand paternity and maternity leave are a societal issue that needs to be supported. But the problem at the moment is it is only being supported by employers. I'm being realistic here. How do you keep a job open to anyone if at the end of 12 months they might say, 'thanks, but I'm not coming back'?"

Australian women take nine months of maternity leave on average and three-quarters return to part-time roles, Professor Baird said.

Among the 10 new employment standards, which cover all workers, is the right for new parents to request flexible working hours, patterns or location. Professor Baird said this would help women resume quality part-time careers after the birth of a child. "It sends a very strong signal about what the Federal Government expects."

ACTU president Sharan Burrow said it was a "crucial breakthrough" that allowed parents to negotiate job-sharing and change start and finishing times so they can pick up children from childcare, or work from home. Employers have to seriously consider a request and respond in writing. "A simple refusal is not sufficient," she said.

Mr Cartwright said employers were "confused and nervous" about flexibility requests. The chamber is advising companies they "don't have to agree to something that will put you out of business".

"Employers don't need to overreact," Professor Baird said. Britain introduced a similar law several years ago "and the sky hasn't fallen in".

Kate Sykes, founder of - a recruitment website for parents returning to the workforce and wanting flexible hours - said Australian law was only catching up with society. She said the long-term skills shortage and an ageing workforce meant the increased provisions and flexibility would create "no downside for employers. We need to change the way we work."


QANTAS again

Huge queues at Brisbane Aiport as QANTAS computers crash. You would think it was a budget carrier from the way it is run. There seem to be no backup systems for when things go wrong. Will it be another PanAm? Seems like it

QANTAS flights have been impacted by a global crash of the airline's check-in system. Queues at the Brisbane Airport departures area this morning snaked right through to Jetstar as frustrated travellers were repeatedly told of the computer problems.

Issues with the baggage system compounded the delays but passengers were reassured their flights would not leave without them. The 7.55am flight to Melbourne eventually departed more than 40 minutes later and other flights were held up for as long as an hour.

Qantas apologised to passengers for the inconvenience, on one of the busiest flying days of the year. An airline spokesman confirmed the global crash of the Amadeus check-in system. The problem last arose on November 16, 2009, and took about six hours to rectify as check-in staff were forced to process passengers manually.


2 January, 2010

Electricity prices set to double under Warmist laws

THE wholesale price of electricity will more than double within two years and triple in the next two decades under the Rudd Government's plans to tackle climate change. New modelling by the Government's energy market operator reveals the wholesale price of electricity will rise from $30 per megawatt hour in 2010 to about $100 by 2024. In a national transmission report released before Christmas, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) predicts the price will double to $60 per megawatt hour by 2012. The wholesale price makes up less than half of the final bill that reaches each customer, who also pays distribution costs.

The AEMO modelling is based on Treasury's carbon price estimates under the proposed emissions trading scheme, which from next year will force big polluters to pay for their emissions.

Opposition energy spokesman Nick Minchin yesterday accused the Rudd Government of trying to hide the real costs of tackling climate change. "I think Australians will be stunned to learn that their power bills could more than triple as a result of Mr Rudd's climate change policies," Senator Minchin said.

Earlier this week, the Rudd Government released its own Treasury modelling, which it said revealed low-income households would be $190-a-year better off under its proposed scheme. The Government said its measures to cut carbon emissions would cost low-income households $420 a year, but they would receive $610 in assistance from the Government to offset the higher prices.

The price shock comes as Queenslanders prepare for surging power bills next year with the latest draft proposal by the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) estimated to add $250 to the average household bill. Households also face the prospect of paying more for their electricity during peak times, with State Cabinet due to consider a suite of proposed new tariffs as part of a QCA review early this year. Peak pricing measures are aimed at reducing power use at times during the day when electricity is more expensive to supply.

The Federal Government was also warned in October about the likely impact of its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme on energy costs in a report prepared by the Australian Energy Market Commission, an advisory body to energy ministers. "The underlying costs of supply might also become more volatile. This will translate to customers being exposed to higher prices, and potentially more frequent price changes," it said.


Ghetto coming to a suburb near you

High density housing for the poor will inevitably bring increased crime and disruption to otherwise quiet locations

SUBURBS across NSW are in danger of becoming "mini ghettos" as the State Government pushes on with an unpopular $2.9 billion plan to integrate public housing. An investigation by The Daily Telegraph has found residents are protesting against at least 48 projects stretching from Lake Macquarie in the north, through Sydney and down to Ulladulla on the Far South Coast.

Among the objections are what residents claim are an overload of units stacked on single blocks, not enough parking and significant overshadowing from two and three-storey apartment blocks on what have traditionally been streets of single-storey family homes.

Residents also claim they have been silenced by draconian laws enforced last year which block locals from appealing against public housing in their neighbourhoods.

More than 6000 units and townhouses are being built by NSW Housing across the state before a June 2012 deadline to qualify for the Federal Government's $1.9 billion Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan. A further $1 billion is being spent by the NSW Government to build another 3000 units and townhouses on 505 sites across the state.

Community groups in Lake Macquarie considered class action in the High Court and petitions are being drawn up and signed by thousands of residents against "substandard dog boxes" being built in their streets.

Parramatta Lord Mayor Paul Garrard said he had been inundated with community concerns over development and the spread of townhouses throughout western Sydney. "They are effectively taking government out of the hands of locals," Mr Garrard said.

The rights of citizens to appeal to council or the Land and Environment Court have been over-ruled by the Nation Building and Jobs Plan Act and the State Environmental Planning Policy for Affordable Housing. These allow "social housing providers to develop affordable housing in accessible locations without the need for rezoning". They can also build up to 20 dwellings or an 8.5m-tall building as long as they inform neighbours and the local council.

Residents have 21 days to lodge a complaint, however they can not appeal against a NSW Housing construction in any court. There are 39,000 people on waiting lists and 340,000 tenants already in public housing across the state.

NSW Housing Minister David Borger said: "NIMBYism is alive and well and many of the objections we receive are from people not wanting public housing near them." He said NSW Housing needed to take advantage of the stimulus package. "I accept that if we had more time there would be more consultation," Mr Borger said. "If we lodged everything through councils there is no way we would have received the $2 billion from the Federal Government."



If drought is a sign of global warming, what do the three current stories below show? The fact of the matter is that Australia has always had cycles of drought and flood -- something every farmer knows but which the Warmists ignored during the drought phase of the cycle. They are strangely silent now, however. They are also culturally and historically stunted. One of Australia's most famous poems rightly declared Australia to be a land of "Of drought and flooding rains" -- and that was written over a century ago.

Since the Greenies brought dam-building to a screeching halt, however, much of the rain is wasted. Given the cyclic nature of the rainfall, Australia badly needs dams to even out the water supply and more dams are needed in areas where the rain falls most heavily

Rains will flood NSW economy with money

RAINS that drenched inland NSW, flooding rivers and plains, could bring a boost worth billions of dollars to the rural economy, with farmers hopeful of two seasons of good crops and plentiful feed for livestock. The Darling River, drying before Christmas, is filled to its banks after a week of rain in the north of the state, with more falls predicted over coming days.

Rory Treweeke, the chair of the Western Catchment Management Authority, which covers the northwestern quarter of NSW, reckons the floods could be worth more than $100 million to his region alone. "For those of us who are floodplain croppers, once we have had a flood on our country, we can probably look forward to a couple of good years of crops," he said.

Farmers from the region, including Bourke Mayor Andrew Lewis, said the rains would bring certainty to both crop farmers and those who run livestock. "The irrigators know they can finish their summer crop and plant a winter crop now. Graziers know they can take their stock through, without having to sell them. "Before, you were starting to think about getting rid of stock or agisting or (supplementary) feeding," Mr Lewis said. He runs cattle and sheep on his property at Enngonia, north of Bourke, which has recorded more than 200mm of rain since Christmas. "It is fantastic. We were able to get our sheep off the low country before it rained, so we didn't have any trouble there."

He said the psychological value was beyond measure. "Most people have a smile on their faces, even if they do have a bit of trouble getting their stock out," Mr Lewis said. "They still know they are set up for the next six months or longer."

NSW Farmers Association president Charles Armstrong said the nation as a whole would benefit from the floods. He said agriculture earned $32 billion in export income last year and that if the floods brought a 10 per cent boost, "that produces another $3.2bn". "That plus a 10 per cent increase in prices due to a lower Australian dollar, and you are looking at a $6bn-plus figure, " he said. "The value of rain at any time is quite enormous for agriculture and the value of rain right now is advantageous."

The rain would result in quick summer pasture growth for livestock. "It is only another month and we will be starting to look at what crops we put in for winter. Follow- up rain is essential between now and Easter to make it possible," he said.

But he cautioned there were still parts of NSW, the most seriously drought-affected state, that had not received good rain. Mr Armstrong said many farmers would not receive any financial benefit from the rains until next December, after their winter crops had been harvested.

Most of the rain has fallen downstream of the dams, and most NSW dam levels are still too low to provide irrigation water. But the NSW Office of Water has temporarily allowed farmers to pump water from the lower Namoi and lower Macquarie.

Tony Wass, the chairman of Macquarie Food and Fibre, estimates the value of the water irrigators have been permitted to pump at $2 million. "Some of this water will get used on cotton, some will go into farm dams, maybe, as a start to storage for future crops, and some people are pre-irrigating fields to top up subsoil levels," Mr Wass said. "They could even plant a late summer crop."

The last year Macquarie River irrigators had a full water allocation was 2001. This year only about 10 per cent of their usual acreage has been planted to summer crops. But Mr Wass said the biggest benefit was psychological. "Not only have we seen a good rain across the whole area, we have actually seen some water run in the river," he said.

Manager of Bourke Shire Council, Geoff Wise, said the floodwaters would provide a good flush "right down the Darling, at least to Menindee. It is just invaluable for the communities downstream. Psychologically, it is invaluable." The NSW Office of Water estimates about 300 billion litres could flow into Menindee Lakes.

Economist and executive director of the University of Adelaide's Environment Institute Mike Young said the floods would also recharge groundwater. "There is a lot of groundwater use all through that area and recharging that groundwater is going to be salvation to them." Professor Young said the floods would bring "tremendous opportunities for both the irrigation and the grazing industries, but also the value for the environment is not to be underestimated".


Downpours in Victoria too

DROUGHT-stricken Victorians had another reason to celebrate as a new year's downpour drenched the state. Falls Creek in the alpine country had the most rain, receiving a whopping 131mm between 9am on New Year's Eve and 3pm yesterday. Falls Creek Resort Management spokesman Will Flamsteed said the rain was torrential. Organisers of today's Big Fella Festival, expected to attract about 1000 people, were hoping the rain would drain away in time, but would carry on anyway, Mr Flamsteed said.

Nearby Mt Hotham recorded 65.2mm, Warburton 44.2mm and the city 10.2mm while Viewbank in Melbourne's northeast had the most rain for the metropolitan area with 29.2mm. In Victoria's northwest, Swan Hill had 19mm.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Andrew Broad said the rain was welcome for summer pastures. But Mr Broad said the true test would come after late April when farmers needed good falls to plant and maintain winter crops. "This summer rain will be putting moisture in the soil profile," Mr Broad said. "But the real business end comes in autumn and spring."

Melbourne Water spokesman Nicolas McGay said water storages received an unexpected boost. The smaller Maroondah and O'Shannassy catchments received 30.8mm and 20mm respectively while the Upper Yarra catchment got 12mm and Thomson 10.2mm. Storages were steady at 37.5 per cent. "The rain is a bonus because it will keep storages steady at a time of year when we usually see them continue to drop," Mr McGay said. "It's a positive start to the year, but the flow-on effects of the rain will be short lived, and we're heading into the hottest months, so it's important to continue saving water."

Weather bureau senior forecaster Scott Williams said a trough of low pressure combined with sub-tropical moisture generated the thunderstorms responsible for the wet start to 2010. There were unconfirmed reports of hail as large as baseballs near Hamilton in Victoria's southwest. Mr Williams said the trough was weakening as it moved inland, but would bring more rain. A few showers and possible storms are predicted for Melbourne today before warm and fine conditions return tomorrow.


And its been raining heavily in Queensland too

Every now and again, I've stood at my front door and watched it pelting down. Report below from two days ago

AS up to 110mm of rain fell yesterday, Brisbane has recorded its wettest December in five years, but dams have largely missed out on the deluge. More than 160mm has been dumped on the city this month, as an upper low combined with a surface trough to bring torrential rain to the state's parched southeastern corner. Rain again pelted parts of Brisbane yesterday, with Hemmant recording 110mm in the 24 hours to 1pm, while Carindale received 75mm. Kelvin Grove, which has recorded more than 100mm in the past seven days caught another 21mm yesterday.

Meanwhile, flood watches remain in place for seven northwestern NSW rivers, with more rain expected across the state. Despite the big wet, experts say the NSW drought is far from broken. It has been the wettest December recorded in Brisbane since 2004, when more than 220mm was dropped on the region during a series of severe thunderstorms. Parts of the Granite Belt received the heaviest rainfall in the past few days, while some roads on the Gold Coast were inundated by flash flooding.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Michelle Berry said the rain had been fairly widespread, but dam regions had largely missed out on the falls. "Each day it has favoured a different area of Brisbane," she said. Brisbane's Wivenhoe catchment area only recorded 1.2mm in the 24 hours to 1pm, while North Pine and Somerset Dams only registered small totals, most soaked up by parched dam catchments. The combined levels of Wivenhoe, Somerset and North Pine dams are currently 70.9 per cent, increasing only 0.2 per cent since Christmas Eve.

Ms Berry said the rain is expected to weaken about the southeast over the next couple of days, but could still put a dampener on New Year's Eve celebrations. "There will be a possibility of another shower or two but nothing like we have seen in the past couple of days," she said.

In central western NSW, farmers in drought ravaged areas such as Coonamble and Dubbo have been celebrating several days of rain. However, more falls will be needed before farmers there can bid farewell to drought conditions. "Even if the drought was to finish today, it's going to take a few years to come out of it," drought-affected Coonamble Shire Mayor Tim Horan said. "It's definitely not drought-breaking, we need a lot of follow-up rain."


1 January, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has some New Year wishes up

Housing prices soar

That is seen as good news. And for existing housing owners it obviously is. And it is also evidence of recovery from the financial crisis. That is all very blinkered thinking, however, and ignores the plight of prospective first-time home buyers -- mostly young. Construction costs have risen little so what it shows is a shortage of land for building. And that is almost entirely due to government-imposed land-use restrictions -- many of which are Greenie-inspired. FALLING prices would be a sign of humane government policies

MELBOURNE house prices soared by 17 per cent in the first 11 months of 2009, outstripping growth in all other capital cities, new figures show. The latest RP Data index, compiled from Valuer-General's figures, indicates the Melbourne median house price hit a new record of about $580,000 in November.

The news came as the Australian sharemarket closed at its highest level for the year. The S&P/ASX 200 index finished yesterday at 4870.6, up 31 per cent for the year and 55 per cent from its trough.

Melbourne's 17 per cent house price jump eclipsed Darwin's 15 per cent, Hobart's 14 per cent and Sydney's 12 per cent. And the rise more than offset the 5 per cent slide in Melbourne prices that followed the global financial crisis. Melbourne's median apartment price increased even more strongly, up 19 per cent to $440,000.

RP Data cautioned that the November figures were preliminary and based on incomplete sales data. However, the inclusion of further sales figures would be unlikely to alter the strong upward trend.

CommSec economist Craig James said immigration was a key driver of prices, with Victoria receiving more than its proportional share. "With population growing at the fastest rate in 40 years boosting demand for homes, state and federal governments need to be focused on ways to get more homes built," Mr James said. "Barriers to housing investment need to be removed, and scrutiny needs to be applied to lifting land production and revising zoning laws."

House prices continued to rise in October and November despite successive interest rate rises in those months and the winding back of first home buyer grants. "First home buyers have been trending down since peaking in May," said RP Data research director Tim Lawless. "But the gap is being filled by upgraders and investors who are much less sensitive." Credit figures released yesterday showed borrowing for housing up a further 0.7 per cent in November and up 8 per cent over the year.

Mr James said the resilience of the housing market increased the chance of a further interest rate rise when the Reserve Bank board next meets in February. "The main worry is that home prices are rising at unsustainable rates in some capital cities such as Darwin, Hobart and Melbourne," he said. "The last thing anyone wants to see in 2010 is another boom-bust scenario."

Mr Lawless said he expected more modest house price growth in 2010 after an "exceptional and surprising" 2009. "We would expect conditions to moderate into 2010 as interest rates continue to move back to a neutral setting and the remainder of the stimulus is rolled back," he said. "But the primary driver of growth will continue to be an under-supply of housing coupled with extraordinary demand fuelled by population growth."

Yesterday's sharemarket peak of 4870.6 is still a long way from the pre-financial crisis high of 6851. And there is little joy for investors in The Age's half-yearly economic survey to be published tomorrow, with economists predicting a rise of just 5.4 per cent in share prices this year. With LUCY BATTERSBY


$30 million cheap at the price

Most "asylum seekers" are not remotely desperate and are certainly not penniless. They are just economic migrants making a good investment. Leftists however always highlight the cases who tell a good story

ASYLUM-seekers trying to get to Australia paid up to $30 million to people smugglers to make the perilous journey in 2009. In a growing problem for the Federal Government, almost 2700 asylum-seekers were intercepted on 59 unauthorised boats last year. Three boats arrived in just 48 hours this week. The year before, just 161 asylum-seekers arrived on seven boats.

The going rate to get to Australia from Afghanistan is up to $US10,000, or about $A11,000, sources said. Tamils fleeing war-torn Sri Lanka pay less because of the shorter distance.

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr said not all asylum-seekers paid their full travel costs up front; many took out loans. Those rejected as refugees often faced death threats from smugglers when they returned home, she said. Many families faced terrible choices about which family members to send on the journey.

"There was a man on Christmas Island with his daughter," she said. "He and his wife had five children but she was the one who had to go, the eldest girl, because she had been marked by the Taliban for a forced marriage."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd branded people smugglers the "scum of the earth" last year after a deadly explosion on an unauthorised boat. As more boats arrived, he defended his border protection policies as "tough but humane".

Flagging a renewed assault on the issue this year, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the Government lacked the "steel" to send the boats back. "An Australian government that doesn't have the option of turning boats back in the right circumstances is a government that is not doing enough," he said.


New anti-job laws now in force

Making life difficult for employers means that they will be slower to hire

AT the stroke of midnight, as the champagne corks popped heralding the New Year, doing business in Australia just got harder. Thanks to the federal government's fair work industrial relations laws, being an employer is more expensive and more regulated. Not many champagne corks are popping today in employer and small business land.

The government is planning a big pubic relations campaign next week to sell the IR laws. You can bet it will feature the word fairness. Even the legislation, the tribunal and workplace inspectors are called Fair Work something or other.

While parliament can and should set a safety net of standards, real fairness in the workplace depends on the behaviour of managers, employees and unions. Just like Work Choices, the government of the day claims it has the workplace formula right, but employers have learned to be wary. The pendulum looks like having swung too far back.

It is best that employers focus on what changes are happening today, not the political claims and counterclaims. Today, the second and final stage of the Rudd government's new IR laws come into operation. The first stage began six months ago. This second stage imposes new mandatory wage and employment standards on almost every employer in the country.

The government says it is restoring the safety net after Work Choices. In truth, the government is today imposing two safety nets. New employment regulation written directly by the parliament (called the national employment standards, or NES) and additionally, new employment regulation written by its new industrial tribunal, Fair Work Australia (called industrial awards). Two safety nets is a recipe for over-regulation; that is what parts of the fair work system deliver. Rather than just restoring the pre-Work Choices safety net of employment standards, the government has added to it.

Combined with last July's IR laws, today's changes complete a re-regulation of the labour market that will be a slow burn on the economy unless greater flexibility is introduced, and unions and tribunals limit claims and decisions to what is economically responsible.

To be fair to the government, none of this is unsurprising. For those in the know, the government has for a long time used its determination to get rid of the Work Choices laws to also change laws that existed until Work Choices.

It must be said not everything in the new laws is a backward step. A national set of laws is a good idea. But the government must account for some broken promises (such as that new awards would not increase labour costs) along with some extra regulation never promised (such as tribunal powers to arbitrate higher wage agreements than the new standards require).

The biggest problem is that the new standards are mostly one-size-fits-all. There is almost no flexibility for businesses of different types or different health to make changes. A lack of flexibility leads to unfairness.

Impacts of the new employment standards will differ between industries and between states. For some employers the changes will seem to be slight; for others, severe. In totality the new laws make the business of being an employer more tricky and often more costly. That amounts to a slow burn on the economy.

Some of these costs will build up over time. Some of the new wages and penalty rates in some industries will be phased in over years to soften the impact. Some of the new powers that unions and tribunals have will only be felt by an employer when a union official takes aim at that business.

Worryingly, today's standards are not the end of the story; they can be topped up by union activism and tribunal intervention. Early signs are that unions are already making more aggressive claims. Pre-Christmas strikes returned to the IR landscape, and the new tribunal is being asked to be more interventionist, with comparative wage justice claims dressed up as pay equity, equal remuneration and claims against lower-paid industries.

Even old unfair-dismissal laws, which ate away at employer confidence over many years, are back, in a slightly changed form. Those changes need to be given a go, but early experience has been mixed.

The government's PR will sound impressive. We will hear that the national employment standards include only 10 requirements. We will hear that the new awards only add another 10 conditions. We will hear that a massive deregulation has taken place with thousands of awards reduced to just over a hundred. We will hear that businesses operating across state boundaries will be more efficient because there will not be differences in employment conditions between locations. In each of these claims, there is an element of truth, but even bigger caveats.

For example, there are fewer awards, and that is commendable. But the content of those fewer awards for some large employing industries in some states, means that higher wages, reclassifications and higher penalty rates even though employees are working no different hours or duties. Not much is fair about that.

From next week individual employers should use the services of their employer organisation to find which of these new laws affect their business, and how. These changes are now law. They are non-negotiable. Ignore the laws, and you are a lawbreaker. Even the fines have gone up.

We all want 2010 to be the year that real economic growth returns to Australia. It still can, but these new IR laws make that task harder. Employers need to comply, not lose faith in employing people, and urge the government to make changes when experience shows the new IR system to be too inflexible or costly.


Eucalypts promote bushfires

THE surge in severe bushfires over the past decade has prompted much agonised soul-searching. Last year's Victoria fires led to demands to reassess a number of established practices: the leave or stay-and-defend policy; the question of controlled burning and fuel-load reduction; and the green environmental policies that have encouraged and even mandated the planting of eucalypts in rural and semi-rural areas.

But if we really want to reduce the fire threat, perhaps we need to ask some even more basic questions. Is the eucalypt the right tree for rural dwellings, the urban fringe and semi-settled areas? Should we be planting more of them when climatic modelling predicts decreasing rainfall and more days of extreme weather conditions like those that whipped up infernos such as the Canberra firestorm of 2003 and the Kinglake-Marysville disaster? Should we consider planting less inflammable and more fire-resistant species instead?

Eucalypts are fire-adapted, lethally so, as they are full of volatile oils that vaporise in not-so-extreme heat and explode like a bomb. On top of that they drop masses of dry bark, leaves and twigs that burn just as furiously - hot enough to melt brass taps at several metres.

One lesson of history (1851, 1939, 1983 ) we seem to be taking a long time to learn is that a mature eucalypt forest is a gigantic bonfire waiting for a dry spell, a north wind and a spark. The downside of eucalypts' capacity to survive fire (or as with mountain ash their dependence on it to germinate seed) is that they also promote fires.

A few years after the Canberra firestorm we took a walk in the Blue Range, an area just west of the city and in the heart of the pine forest that supplied the fuel for the blaze of January 18, 2003. The terrain had been cleared, but the site of the former Sherwood homestead was easy to find because the trees that surrounded it were alive and green. The settlers had planted oaks and elms, and although their windward side had been scorched by the flames, they were still healthy and vigorous. The area within their perimeter was untouched: a little oasis that had been protected from the blaze by a barrier of green leaves.

It was a similar picture at Callignee, South Gippsland, where homesteads protected by oaks or elms survived February's fires. In contrast, many dwellings surrounded by bare lawns had been damaged or burnt by flying embers, while those near gums or pines had nearly all been destroyed.

Eucalypts have been implicated in the increasing incidence and severity of wildfires in Spain, where they have been extensively planted in reafforestation projects and to provide pulp for paper production. Spanish authorities point out that the native holm oak (Quercus ilex) is fire-resistant.

There are many northern hemisphere and some Australian trees that would have an equally fire-retardant effect, such as liquidambars, plane trees and poplars. Among hundreds of species of oaks, particularly those from the Mediterranean and arid regions of North America, there are several that tolerate hot, dry conditions and would thrive in many parts of southern and inland Australia. The three plantations of cork oaks on the western edge of Canberra not only survived the firestorm, but checked its advance; the stand on the northwest corner of Curtin slowed the fire and protected the homes behind, not one of which was damaged. Further up the hill, where eucalypts took over, several houses were burnt.

The ACT Department of Municipal Services notes that, unlike gum trees, "Cork oak is essentially fire resistant and the foliage results in a relatively non-flammable, low-level ground fuel".

As well as oaks, there are many trees originating in dry areas of the Middle East and southern Asia that would do the job - quinces, pistachios, pears and apricots, for example, and the ubiquitous peppercorn tree, once an inevitable feature of every rural homestead. Suitable native species include the kurrajong and several varieties of wattle and casuarina.

Non-eucalypts offer other advantages. A plantation of wet-leaf trees is more effective as a firebreak than a strip of cleared or burnt ground, since their foliage blocks flying embers. During the Canberra fire large manchurian pears in Morehead Street, Curtin, stopped flaming embers from reaching several houses.

Unlike eucalypts, whose roots release acids that limit the growth of rival plants, and whose dead leaves lie around until consumed in the next fire, leaf litter from deciduous trees rots down into compost and enriches the soil.

They also moderate air temperature and increase humidity through transpiration, keeping the ground cooler and less fire-prone, and they do not desiccate soils to the same degree as thirsty gums. As the early settlers complained, gum trees are so heat-adapted they turn the edges of their leaves to the sun and give very little shade.

Non-eucalypts may also offer advantages in terms of increased net carbon absorption. When calculating the effectiveness of a eucalypt plantation as a carbon sink, it is necessary to compare the quantity of carbon it absorbs during its years of growth with the quantity it releases when it burns - as, inevitably, it eventually will.

We don't want to give the impression that we are advocating anything like the program of the 19th-century acclimatisation societies, which sought the wholesale replacement of native ecosystems with English trees, shrubs and fauna - though it should be that recognised Aboriginal "fire-stick farming" radically transformed the botanical profile of the continent, assisting fire-loving species to become dominant. It would be absurd to clear stretches of mountain forest and replant it with oaks.

All we are suggesting is that tree-planting programs, particularly on the urban fringe and in areas where there is substantial settlement in gum forests and woodlands, consideration be given to varying the species mix by the addition of non-eucalypt varieties known for their fire-resistant properties.

Local governments should particularly encourage the planting of such species on the edge of towns and around dwellings. A belt of oaks or pistachios instead of eucalypts could mean the difference between life and death in the climatic conditions that lie ahead.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.