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31 July, 2006

Restroom humour in Queensland beach resort incorrect

Toilet humour is alive and well in the Whitsundays but not everyone is laughing. A mural in the men's section of a new toilet block on the Airlie Beach foreshore has divided opinion in the tourist town. The mural depicts four young women above the urinal - an office type peering over her spectacles, a Jennifer Aniston lookalike stretching a tape measure, a blonde taking a photo with her mobile phone and another so bored she's blowing bubbles.

Some residents including the local newspaper editor are up in arms at the cheeky artwork. Airlie Beach local PR consultant, Tom Coull, who with newspaper editor Linda Brady has railed against the images, described them as "cheesy, tacky, not original and definitely sexist" and worried about explaining the images to his young son. Another resident. Lesley Campbell, reckons the murals are "disgusting, unnecessary and extremely suggestive" and gave a negative reflection of the town, even suggesting they encourage rape and sexual assault.

But most see the funny side and reckon it's a great idea. Fish D'Vine restaurant's Kevin Collins said many of his customers commented favourably. "They think it's cute, light-hearted. They haven't been offended at all," he said. "People have taken pictures with a mobile phone and they've been sent around the world in emails. "There can't be too many toilets that give this sort of publicity to a town," Mr Collins said....

Whitsunday Shire Council's corporate and community services executive manager Royden James said public feedback had been overwhelmingly positive, with only one negative response from the community. "If anything, most criticism has been that there is nothing similar in the women's toilets," he said in a statement.

The excerpt above is from an article that appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on July 30, 2006. There is an earlier report on the same subject here

Rescued terrier returns favour

A great doggie story

Just a few months after being rescued near death from an industrial bin, hero pooch Jerry has saved a life of his own. The tiny fox terrier cross recently stood between two-year-old Reuben Wright and a deadly brown snake in the garden of the family's property at Goondiwindi, 360km west of Brisbane. Mum Patricia Wright saw the stand-off when she raced outside after hearing her younger boy crying. "I came out and I saw Jerry standing between Reuben and an adult brown snake," she said. "We get a lot of them around here and I've been bitten by one myself. I don't know if a two-year-old would survive a bite but Jerry fought it off and it went off under the garage." She said the family was "pretty lucky" that Reuben was still alive.

Jerry is also lucky to be alive. He was found in an industrial bin in Kingston, in Brisbane's south, and rushed to the RSPCA. "He was close to death," RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty said. "He had lacerations to his skin, he had demodectic mange and was severely undernourished. It was a classic case of abuse and neglect." After a few months getting his strength back, Jerry headed to his new home out west after the Wright family's tenterfield terrier was killed by a snake.

Jerry was a bit timid at first, but soon warmed to his new surroundings and has become a favourite playmate for Reuben and older brother Danny, 9. "He'd been through a lot and it took him a while to relax," Ms Wright said. "But the two boys love him and he really took to them as well."

Source. See here for another good doggie story from earlier this year

Lost Australian literary heritage

Excerpt from an article by Imre Salusinszky that appeared in "The Australian" on July 29, 2006

The recent experiment perpetrated by The Australian, in which a chapter of Patrick White's The Eye of the Storm was submitted to 10 publishers and agents and rejected by all of them, tells us little if anything about literary genius, or about some purported decline in modern civilisation that means genius is no longer recognised.

It tells us something that is both more mundane and more interesting, which is that young commissioning editors in Australian publishing houses - those who did not simply bin Eye of the Cyclone after a glance but offered Wraith Picket remedial writing advice - have not read Eye of the Storm or sufficient Patrick White to recognise his style.

Have a look at a range of school and university curriculums across Australia and it is easy to see why. In the Victorian Certificate of Education, for example, students of English are presented with a range of perfectly worthy contemporary Australian texts but study no classic Australian literature, apart from a few Henry Lawson stories.

Meanwhile, in universities you will find plenty more contemporary Australian texts, this time grouped. explicitly according to the organising categories of cultural studies: race, gender, sexuality and class. What you won't find are courses with boring titles such as "19th-century Australian fiction" in which the organising feature is canonical; that is, these are important writers with whom any Australian student of literature should be familiar.

In a sense, we have returned to the situation of 30 years ago. When I was stumbling around the corridors of the University of Melbourne stoned out of my gourd in the 1970s, Australian literature was considered a minor offshoot that could be studied only around the fringes of the core courses in English (British) literature. The situation was not quite as bad everywhere, but neither was it good. All this changed in the late '70s thanks to the activism of a group of energetic young academics who formed the Association for the Study of Australian Literature. For a while, Marcus Clarke, Henry Handel Richardson, Shaw Nielsen and, yes, Patrick White loomed large in the window of Australian undergraduates.

But who was to know what a narrow window it would turn out to be? The study of classic Australian literature in universities thrived only during a brief interval - say 1975-90 - sandwiched between cultural snobbery (no Australian belongs in the canon) on one side and cultural studies (there is no canon) on the other. Unless the readers of the publishing firms caught out by The Australian were educated in that interval, I can easily imagine they would not have read The Eye of the Storm or much White.

Responding to a complaint by John Howard that the teaching of history in our schools has degenerated into a "stew of fragmented themes and issues", federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has convened a history summit to meet in Canberra next month. I would suggest that the teaching of literature has degenerated into the same kind of stew, partly courtesy of cultural studies, and that a national strategy to address that situation (with a special emphasis on the teaching of Australian literature in schools and universities) is long overdue.

Cultural studies is a perfectly legitimate area of study but one that should come after, not before, an immersion in literary works studied for their own sakes as imaginative structures. Proceeding in that order, students can make their own educated investigations into the ways that literature, along with other forms of symbolic expression, reflects cultural values. Taken in the wrong order, however, categories such as gender and class themselves become canonical, and education narrows into indoctrination.

As former NSW premier Bob Carr has argued in connection with the study of history, the study of literature, too, is a vocational necessity in an information economy where the ability to organise arid express complicated ideas is at a premium.

While I am a non-believer at the church of "national identity" and the cultural protectionism based on it, I certainly believe there are such things as cultural traditions. Unlike an identity, which cannot lead to a liberal education, a tradition is inseparably a part of all that comes before it and exists alongside it.

Just as Howard and Bishop have asserted that the study of Australian history requires a sound understanding of European history at least as far back as the Enlightenment, so the proper study of Australian literature requires a grounding in European literature as far back as Shakespeare. Bring on the literature summit!

Killer doctor still practicing

Yet Another case of your regulators protecting you

A manslaughter charge has been recommended against a prominent Queensland surgeon who continues to operate out of a private hospital with full registration through the state's Medical Board.

Four years ago, Nardia Annette Cvitic checked into Brisbane's Mater Hospital for a hysterectomy to be performed by David Ward, who was then a respected professor of medicine at the University of Queensland. But the 31-year-old mother of two died after a drain inserted into her pelvic area during surgery reportedly punctured a major vein - an error that was allegedly compounded by Dr Ward prescribing her a bloodthinning agent.

An inquest into Cvitic's death, headed by Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements, has heard evidence that after the operation the operating theatre resembled the scene of the Granville train disaster in NSW in the 1970s. The Weekend Australian has obtained a draft submission from counsel assisting the inquest. Richard Perry informing Ms. Clements and other parties in the case: "There is sufficient admissable evidence upon which a properly instructed jury could conclude that Dr Ward is guilty of the offence of manslaughter."

He recommended that Dr Ward be committed for trial. "Further, it must be acknowledged, and done so openly and honestly, that a great tragedy occurred in this case." Mr Perry states in his draft submission. "Ms Cvitic's death is one which was, in some senses, entirely avoidable, not simply because of what may or may not have occurred during the operation ... but also because her condition, however it was caused, was one which ought not to have resulted in her death."

Dr Ward's barrister, David Tait, did not return calls yesterday and Dr Ward has previously declined to comment. Cvitic's family was unavailable. Michael Coglin, medical officer for Healthcope, which owns the Sunnybank Private Hospital in Brisbane, said yesterday Dr Ward "occasionally" operated at the hospital and there was no reason for him not to do so. "In view of some of these concerns, we've checked with the Medical Board of Queensland and we've been advised that Dr Ward is in good standing with the board, he's fully registered, and there's no reason he should not continue to practise in Queensland and our hospital," Dr Coglin said.

While the Mater had referred Dr Ward to the Medical Board, a spokeswoman has said "all appropriate action was taken" and no conditions had been attached to his registration. A District Court judge recently sanctioned an out-of-court settlement in which the Mater, the University of Queensland and the Queensland Government will put $115,000 in a trust fund for Cvitic's 10-year-old son and $60.000 in trust for her 16-year-old son.

The coroner has heard there had been complaints about Dr Ward's surgical techniques and management style before Cvitic's death, and two professors who audited some of his patient files in 2003 warned: "Something is radically wrong and it cannot continue." Russell Strong and Alex Crandon, commissioned by the Mater to conduct the audit, raised problems over Dr Ward's surgical techniques, communication skills, post-operative care and medical judgment. In only three of the 10 patient files examined did they find Dr Ward had no case to answer.

The Mater subsequently withdrew Dr Ward's surgical credentials, as did the Royal Women's Hospital, and he lost his role with the university the same year.

The above article appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on 29 July, 2006

30 July, 2006

Australia helped civilize the Iraq invasion

Australia intervened to stop key US military strikes against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, fearing they might constitute a war crime. Major General Maurie McNarn, then a brigadier and commander of Australian forces in Iraq, on several occasions played a "red card" against the American plans, which included hits on individuals. His objections drew anger from some senior US military figures. In one instance, Major General McNarn vetoed a US plan to drop a range of huge non-precision bombs on Baghdad, causing one angry US Air Force general to call the Australian a "pencil dick". However, US military command accepted Major General McNarn's objection and the US plans were scrapped.

The revelation of how Australia actively and successfully used its veto power in the 2003 invasion of Iraq is contained in a new book on the US-Australian alliance, The Partnership, by The Weekend Australian's foreign editor, Greg Sheridan. The book reveals that Australia, as a member of the so-called coalition of the willing in Iraq, was given a power known as a "red card" that allowed Major General McNarn to veto US military actions, including individual targets and the types of weapons used. Australia's proactive use of the veto power - on strategic, military and ethical grounds - helped the Americans produce a more effective and ethical targeting policy during the war.

The book reveals that Major General McNarn - now the head of the Defence Intelligence Organisation - delivered a "great shock" to the US when he first used the red card and then put his objections to the proposed US military strike in writing. "Shit," exclaimed one American when he saw the document. "What if this leaks?" Major General McNarn replied that if the US did not take the illegal action, it would not matter.

As coalition forces prepared plans to take Baghdad, Major General McNarn vetoed three of five proposed US Air Force weapon systems - mostly huge bombs - on the grounds that they were not accurate for a radius of less than 16m and, as a result, were unsuitable for use in a built-up area. One another occasion, Australia, along with fellow coalition partner Britain, successfully whittled down a list of proposed individuals the US considered legitimate targets.

The book also reveals that before the war, which started in March 2003, Australia made repeated efforts to get the US to focus on post-conflict planning in a more coherent way. The lack of early US planning for the post-war phase in Iraq is seen to have contributed substantially to the violent disorder now being experienced there.

Australia also argued for the US to try to involve the UN as much as possible after the war. However, in a frank conversation with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on April 1, 2003, US President George W.Bush said the US would get the blame for destroying Iraq and he did not want others coming to rebuild it. "The UN can't manage a damn thing," Mr Bush told Mr Downer, recalling his visit to Kosovo, where the President found the UN personnel to be "a bunch of drunks". [He sure got that one right]

The book also reveals that immediately after the fall of Baghdad, Mr Downer told Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, that the coalition should leave as soon as it could, while Iraq was in a decent state. Since then, the Howard Government has argued it would be wrong to "cut and run" from Iraq and says Australian troops will remain there for as long as they are needed.

The book also reveals how close and frank the bilateral relationship became in the months leading up to and during the war in Iraq. It includes an account of a conversation between Mr Downer and Mr Bush in April 2003 in which the President likened North Korea's erratic leader, Kim Jong-il, to "a child who throws his food on the floor and expects all the adults to rush over and pick it up". At the same meeting, Mr Bush warned Mr Downer that Australia was likely to suffer casualties on the ground in Iraq, but he expressed unqualified admiration for the "brave, skilled fighters" of Australia's elite SAS


Your regulators will protect you (again)

Employing a loony as a psychiatrist was a good one!

Vincent Berg, the Russian immigrant exposed as an allegedly bogus psychiatrist at Queensland's "Dr Death" medical inquiry, is undergoing treatment in a psychiatric ward at the Gold Coast Hospital. Mr Berg, 54, was scheduled to face a committal hearing in Southport Magistrates Court on the Gold Coast yesterday on a charge of indecently dealing with a boy under 16. But the hearing was adjourned to January 25 next year after Mr Berg's lawyer, David Gilmore, told the court his client had voluntarily admitted himself to the psychiatric ward.

Mr Berg, who was in court for the brief hearing, is accused of sexually molesting the teenage son of one of his patients when he was employed as a psychiatrist at Townsville Hospital in 2000. The allegation was revealed during the Queensland hospitals inquiry by commissioner Tony Morris. Magistrate Ron Kilner expressed frustration that committal proceedings had still not begun, despite Mr Berg's arrest in September last year. Mr Gilmore said the defence required a psychiatric assessment of Mr Berg before he could face a committal hearing.

But prosecutor Mark Whitbread said: "He has had an opportunity to see a large number of psychiatrists, and no one has been able to give him the report he desires." Outside court yesterday, Mr Gilmore said he expected Mr Berg to apply to have his case heard before the Mental Health Tribunal. Mr Berg could face further charges resulting from his 12-month tenure as a psychiatrist at Townsville Hospital, using allegedly bogus qualifications. Geoff Davies, who took over from Mr Morris as health inquiry commissioner, recommended in his final report that police should investigate whether Mr Berg should be charged with fraud, forgery and "attempts to procure unauthorised status".


Leftist State governments weak on terrorism prevention

Manuals instructing fanatics on how to build suicide bombs would be allowed into the country, federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock claimed yesterday after failing to convince his state counterparts to accept new book classification laws. He accused the states of not having "the wit" to understand his proposals, during a break in the meeting of federal, state and territory attorneys-general in Melbourne. Mr Ruddock, who wants the power to ban books that advocate terrorism, said Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hull had a "blind spot" on the issue, believing human rights should be absolute.

But Mr Hull said Mr Ruddock had arrived at the meeting with a "fictitious" and "half-baked" proposal and needed to refine his stance. "We have said to Mr Ruddock. "Go away and do some work". He came in here wthe a half-baked proposal and couldn't tell us where the gaps in the law were. So he's decided to that, he said.

Mr Ruddock said the nation needed to he able to stop publications that advocated and instructed in terrorism but did not meet the current definition of inciting it. He provided as an example: "Somebody is told through a publication how to acquire material to produce a suicide iacket, but they are not in the publication told how to explode it, or when to explode it, or where to explode it -- but the material is clearly preparing people for a a suicide mission. "But you cannot, under the existing law, demonstrate that somebody is being encouraged or incited to carry out a terrorism act. If you can't do that, publication can't be refused. "If you put in a new factor for classification- -namely advocacy - that step would not be required.

The states have agreed to have their bureaucrats give the issue further consideration, but Mr Hulls has suggested that Ruddock deal with the issue by changing federal criminal law.

Mr Ruddock moved to create tighter controls on such publications last year after the Classification Review Board cleared eight books alleged to promote jihad and incite terrorism. On appeal from Mr Ruddock, the board eventually banned two of the books. Defence of the Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan, but cleared the other six. The books were allegedly being sold by a Sydney Islamic bookshop.

The above article appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on 29 July, 2006

Now in Australia, a "professional" woman aims to get rich by whining

Big law and accounting firms must be having lots of doubts about hiring women now that there have been so many cases of this kind in Britain and the USA

When Christina Rich confronted her PricewaterhouseCoopers boss Stuart Edwards about his alleged workplace sexism and discrimination, he offered this solution: "I just want to give you a big hug to make it better. We just need to go out for dinner with a bottle of wine to nut out the issues and a way forward."

The accounting multinational's defence of a $10 million sex discrimination case makes these admissions and also reveals Mr Edwards thought it was acceptable to adopt the habit of kissing the highest-paid female partner in the firm. Mr Edwards believed that since Ms Rich had shared with him matters of a personal nature, they had enjoyed a "friendly, open and good-humoured relationship". Therefore, greeting her with a kiss was not out of context, documents filed in the Federal Court this week show.

After Ms Rich objected to the kissing and was also allegedly subjected to sexism, harassment and discrimination from a number of senior partners at the firm, she requested a mediator to resolve the matters. Mr Edwards's solution to go out to dinner was his way of working through the issues in "an informal and non-confrontational manner", the response says.

In the nation's biggest workplace sexism claim, Ms Rich says she suffered discrimination, bullying and victimisation and her progress through the organisation was hampered. In its response, PwC confirms a substantial number of the incidents but does not accept that Ms Rich was adversely affected.

Melbourne-based Mr Edwards was the head of the transfer pricing division and Ms Rich, who worked from Sydney, was paid about $1 million a year for her advice in the area, saving clients of the calibre of American Express tens of millions of dollars by moving global profit from one tax jurisdiction to another.

The accounting giant denies that Mr Edwards told Ms Rich that she received a positive performance review because chief executive Tony Harrington "fancies her". It admits that partner and board member Tim Cox asked Ms Rich, when watching a corporate video showing a woman sunbaking topless: "Christina, is that you sunbathing on the beach?" PwC says that comment, too, was made in the context of a "friendly and good-humoured relationship".

In justifying Mr Edwards's comments to her that she was emotional, scatty and high-maintenance, the response says these were "matters of opinion which were reasonably held". The firm also claims Mr Edwards's comment to Ms Rich that the pregnancy of another employee was affecting her work did not cause offence to the other woman.

PwC says Ms Rich was unco-operative in mediation from March 2004 and - after making a complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission - she was placed on restricted duties in August, her pay cut and her access to clients prevented. "The applicant expressed on a number of occasions her lack of faith and confidence in the firm or its ability to address her concerns," the response says. "She was operating under intense stress and required real relief from the pressures which she faced" and had "indicated that she was unwilling or unable to operate as a partner of the firm. "In those circumstances the imposition and confirmation of access restrictions in good faith by management and the board respectively was reasonable and in the best interests of the firm"

Senior partners and board members at all times "acted in good faith" and "took all reasonable steps" to reach agreement.

The above article appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on 29 July, 2006

29 July, 2006

Public broadcaster gets a slap on the wrist over Greenie bias

The media regulator has given the ABC's Four Corners program a slap on the wrist for using emotive language and providing inaccurate information during an "impartial" report on the forestry industry in Tasmania. The finding comes more than two years after the first complaint was made about the program, Lord of the Forests, which appeared on the ABC in February 2004 and included allegations by a close connection between the Tasmanian government and the forestry industry, in particular the timber company, Gunns Limited.

"The manner in which the report was presented would have given an ordinary reasonable viewer the impression the program favoured the anti-forestry, anti-logging perspective," the Australian Communications and Media Authority said in its 25-page report. "The many instances of subjective and emotive language over the course of the program are sufficient to find that the program was not impartial." The authority told the ABC to review its procedures for preparing television current affairs programs so "every reasonable effort is made to ensure the impartiality of those programs".

A spokeswoman for the ABC said the matter would be referred to its board. In an earlier response to the findings, the ABC defended reporter Ticky Fullerton's use of language. It said many of the phrases highlighted by the regulator - including "overwhelming devastation" and "voracious appetite for timber" - were taken out of context or were "reasonable journalistic descriptions".

The authority said yesterday the ABC was found to be in breach of its code seven times in the 12 months to June 30 last year. A spokesman conceded the investigation took a long time to complete. He said the authority's boss, Chris Chapman, wanted to improve investigation processes.

The ABC has often come under fire from the Government because of claims of impartial reporting. During a senate estimates hearing earlier this year the news director, John Cameron, was pummelled with questions from a Liberal senator, Michael Ronaldson, about a former ABC policy banning journalists from calling members of Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists. Three years ago, the then communications minister, Richard Alston, hit the ABC with 86 complaints about its Iraq coverage.


Feds take away the "obesity" rattle of the State health ministers

John Howard has described efforts by the nation's health ministers to restrict junk-food advertising on TV as a waste of time, saying it is an issue for media authorities, not health departments. In a letter presented to a health ministers meeting in Brisbane, the Prime Minister wrote: "Given ... the fact that regulation of media advertising is an Australian government responsibility, I see little value in continued consideration of this issue in the Australian Health Ministers' Council forum."

The letter, delivered by federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, has infuriated his state counterparts, who have been campaigning for junk-food advertising restrictions for the past 12 months. "We are not going to back down to the Prime Minister's bullying," Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson said. "I do not believe it is open for John Howard to unilaterally dictate the ministerial health conference. "The fact that we now have a PM who is prepared to shut down debate on health is frankly unacceptable."

State and territory ministers agreed yesterday to establish a working party to review marketing and advertising practices with the industry, while looking at existing regulatory codes.

More here

Homosexual propaganda masquerading as news

Once upon a time, a person could buy a newspaper and be fairly confident that the news covered therein was more or less reliable, factual and impartially presented. That certainly is no longer the case, especially for certain newspapers. Consider the case of one Australian broadsheet, the Melbourne Age. This paper is right up there with a few other contenders for Australia's most left-wing, politically correct and biased paper in the country. There are many examples of this bias and agenda-pushing. Just one will suffice.

The Age is notoriously pro-homosexual, with almost daily pro-homosexual reporting and opinion. Of course, with many homosexual activists on staff, this is not surprising. Consider one example of this totally lopsided and prejudiced news coverage and reporting. The Australian Capital Territory decided on May 11 to legalise same-sex unions, which was tantamount to legalising same-sex marriage. This was in spite of the fact that the Federal Government had reaffirmed, through legislation passed by both houses of parliament in August 2004, that marriage in Australia can only be between a man and a woman.

This year, on June 6, the Howard Government signalled its intention to override the ACT legislation - and with good reason. The ACT law was just a sneaky attempt to bring in same-sex marriage, even though the Australian Parliament, and the overwhelming majority of Australians, stated that marriage is a heterosexual affair. (On June 15, the Howard Government motion was passed, and the ACT law was struck down).

Consider how the Age covered this story over the following two weeks. I have clipped every article, opinion piece and letter on the subject from June 7 to June 18. (It was a good thing I monitored only 12 days' worth - there was so much to clip, I was beginning to get sore hands!). Take, for example, the articles run on the story. Altogether, 16 different "news" articles were written on this topic during this 12-day period. That is well over one a day. Talk about a beat-up. Talk about going overboard on a story. One would have thought there were other news items of merit worth covering during this period.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. In every one of the articles, there was such an obvious one-sided agenda being pushed that there was little or no difference between these supposed news item and the paper's editorials. I simply lost count of the number of homosexual and lesbian activists quoted in these pieces. And how many pro-family voices were heard? Not one. Is this news reporting or propaganda? There was one very short piece on how religious leaders felt about Howard's decision; so a few quick - and token - references were made to those from the other side of the debate, but that was it. Aside from that, these 16 articles were one mass promotion of the homosexual agenda. But it does not end there.

There were also three full opinion pieces on the subject. I guess, in an effort to pretend that there was some balance taking place, one of the three pieces did argue the "no-case" against same-sex marriage. But that is just 33 per cent. When weighed against all the articles, letters and other items in favour of same-sex marriage, it made up barely a fraction of the space devoted to the issue. In typical Age fashion, the very next day the letters' editor featured not one, but three letters attacking the no-case article, with not one letter supporting it.

Each of these opinion pieces, editorials and articles could in turn be analysed at length. They are great examples of sloppy thinking, poor reasoning, question-begging, special-pleading, red herrings and moral obfuscation. But those evaluations must await another article. But wait, there's still more. There were no fewer than four major human interest pieces as well (scattered among the 16 news items). These featured homosexual and lesbian couples given free rein to state their case at length.


Of course, no heterosexual was allowed to feature as a personal story. And there were plenty of full-colour photos of happy, smiling, hugging homosexual and lesbian couples. Of course, putting an emotive human face on the story always beats having to deal with the facts and the real heart of the issue. Just paint an emotional story using people who represent your cause, and you do not have to deal with hard things like truth, logic, facts or evidence.

One lesbian couple got to tell their story not once, but twice (June 9, 14). Both times the couple's story was adorned with large colour photos. They got to speak at length of how terrible it was that their relationship could not be recognised as a marriage. It featured all the emotive rhetoric about their love being denied, and so on. After wading though article after article like this, I really began to believe that I was reading articles from the homosexual press. The Age pieces were absolutely identical to anything found there.

Moreover, a Saturday Age Insight section featured a front-page story (which spilled over onto page 2), with numerous photos and large splashes of colour, complete with a rainbow. Paragraph after paragraph of quotes from homosexuals were featured therein. Again, not one pro-family voice. Not one dissenting position, except for a few references to Prime Minister Howard or Attorney-General Ruddock.

Shedding tears

There was of course the mandatory large editorial, shedding tears over this being a "matter of human rights". In it, the editorial writers said, among other things, that the Howard Government had chosen to "politicise the issue". Sorry, but it was the homosexual lobby that long ago decided to make a political issue of this. The Howard Government has simply responded to this attempt at social engineering by stating what most Australians know to be true: marriage is not whatever you make it to be. It is something that for millennia has meant one thing, and we are not about to let a group of noisy activists redefine it out of existence.

Oh yes, one last thing. The Age also ran a cartoon on the subject, by Leunig. It was a masterful example of propaganda at its best. Using colour, photos and text, it effectively implied that heterosexuals were torturers, murderers and militants, and it is time we let peaceful homosexuals have rights to marriage and children.

Thus this was one giant tsunami of pro-gay propaganda. Like a tidal wave, every day the reader was inundated with one pro-homosexual assault after another. This simply was one of the most blatant and disgusting cases of media bias and agenda-pushing that I have encountered in the mainstream press. Somehow, however, I do not expect that ABC's Media Watch will cover the story.

More here

Lebanon: Australian-built Catamaran to the Rescue

Post lifted from Defensetech. The story seems to have been totally ignored in the Australian media

The U.S. Navy's evacuation of Lebanon is done. Now, the focus is on delivering humanitarian aid to the Lebanese. At the center of the effort: the Navy's giant, super-quick catamaran.

Until recently, the experimental, Australian-built HSV-2 Swift was working as a mine warfare command and control ship. But with "its enormous 28,000 square foot mission deck, the ability to traverse littoral waters, the capability of handling speeds in excess of 40 knots, and maneuverability that doesn't require tugboat assistance," as Navy Newsstand notes, the catamaran was a natural for the Lebanese operation. "The vessel has the cargo space of about 17 C-17 aircraft and the access of a Cyclone-class patrol boat," said Lt. Cmdr. Phillip Pournelle, executive officer of Swift's Gold Crew.

And it's not the 318-foot catamaran's first humanitarian mission. Back in January, 2005, the Swift sped to Southeast Asia, to deliver aid to tsunami victims. In September, it brought supplies to the Gulf Coast in the wake of hurricane Katrina. The Swift's predecessor helped sneak SEAL teams into southern Iraq during the 2003 invasion.

The "wave-piercing, aluminum-hulled catamaran," originally designed as a commercial vessel, now comes with military enhancements, "such as a helicopter flight deck, small boat and unmanned vehicle launch and recovery capability, and an enhanced communications suite," the Navy says.

But it's the catamaran's ability to quickly get to an from ports -- without help -- that Navy leaders seem to find most attractive.

[Just before the Lebanese mission] "on the afternoon of July 11, Swift left Bahrain's Mina Salman pier with a shipload of cargo destined for USNS Supply (T-AOE 6) moored at Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates. Twelve hours later, the Navy-leased catamaran arrived alongside Supply, ready to off-load.

"The cargo was only touched twice," said Swift's Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Rob Morrison. "[Normally] we'd have to load a truck with the cargo, off-load it at the airport, load it back onto an aircraft, fly it to its destination, off-load it, and move it by truck to the ship, where it's delivered to the ship and finally loaded aboard..."

Upon arrival, Swift's crew had the cargo loaded onto the flight deck, thus allowing Supply's crane immediate access to the palleted goods. Within an hour, the transfer was complete.

UPDATE: HSV-maker Incat is also working on a funky heavyweight elevator for the catamaran. It's designed to take copters up to the flight deck, or lower amphibious vehicles straight in the water, between the ship's twin hulls. "Sounds like a perfect way to deploy a Marine platoon or company for quick-response missions like embassy evacuations and small raids," reader JG says.

28 July, 2006

Spelling: A shameful comparison

When kids whose native language is not English can spell English better than our kids can, what does that tell you?

The "wallpaper method" of teaching spelling by sticking words on the classroom wall for children to absorb is failing in Australia. Writing tests conducted by the University of NSW reveal that about nine times more students in Singapore - where about half of children speak English as a second language - can spell less-common English words or those with unusual spelling patterns. The stark difference is attributed to the more traditional drill approach adopted by Singapore schools to teach spelling, with the syllabus even listing words that students are expected to be able to spell.

About 9 per cent of Year 3 students in Singapore could spell words such as chaotic, dilemma, laborious, perceive and voyage, while only 1 per cent of Year 3 students in NSW reached an equivalent score. The improvement in students' spelling over two years was also markedly different, with 36.5 per cent of Year 5 students in Singapore able to spell at the same level, compared with 12 per cent of Year 5 students in NSW.

The tests, conducted by Educational Assessment Australia at UNSW and involving more than 110,000 Australians and more than 10,000 Singaporeans, required students to construct a news story based on an event. While the EAA students comprised a high proportion of private school students, the results are similar to those of the NSW Government's basic skills tests, which are sat by all Year 3 and 5 students in government and non-government schools. The 2003 results for the primary writing assessment of the NSW test show only 2 per cent of Year 3 students and 11 per of Year 5 students composing a factual piece of writing could spell words such as actions, appearance, camouflage, disappeared, frightening, muscular and predators.

EAA director Peter Knapp attributed the difference in spelling capabilities to the teaching methods used, with Australian schools adopting a more progressive strategy that encourages teachers to teach spelling in context. The fact that results for the different tests in Australia and Singapore, and populations of students, were so similar suggested the problem was the way in which spelling was taught. "I think it's definitely an issue of pedagogy and the absence of anything explicit in our syllabus documents," Professor Knapp said. "Spelling is not a high-order cognitive skill such as sentence construction, however, it requires practice and memory - two aspects of traditional pedagogy that have somehow fallen out of favour. "Teachers are encouraged to teach spelling in context, the wallpaper approach, that children absorb the spelling of words through reading them and saying them or looking at them on a classroom wall."

The chairman of the national inquiry into the teaching of literacy, Ken Rowe from the Australian Council for Educational Research, said the secret of Singapore's success was its direct and explicit instruction.


Lawyers fight for injustice

Paul Sheehan's new book raises disturbing questions about an Australian legal system that has swung too far in favour of defendants and hurts traumatised victims of horrendous crimes, writes Janet Albrechtsen

"Shut up, you bitch, you slut. Girls like you, I know how to fix them up". - One of the K brothers before an assault on his sister, January 3, 2004, after she failed to make him dinner. So begins Paul Sheehan's new book, Girls Like You, to be released by Pan MacMillan today. That was the way one of the K brothers mistreated his sister. The way our legal system allowed another three Kbrothers to mistreat Tegan Wagner after they raped her at the age of 14 was immeasurably worse.

The trial of the three K brothers was delayed nine times. "Each delay was for a different reason," Sheehan writes, "too much publicity, or it was Ramadan, or the accused needed new legal counsel, or the accused needed a psychiatric evaluation, or the accused had just sacked counsel, and on and on. There were many arguments for delay but only one real reason: to wear down the victim."

Sheehan's book raises disturbing questions about a legal system that has swung too far in favour of defendants, one that encourages a war of attrition aimed at grinding down traumatised victims of horrendous crimes, allowing offenders to walk free. The three K brothers did not walk free. But that had more to do with the resilience of their young victim than a legal system charged with conducting a fair trial and jailing the guilty.

He documents a trinity of abusers. Defendants who use procedural stunts and complaints to delay being tried, lie unashamedly, threaten and abuse witnesses. Lawyers who regularly cross the line between legitimate testing of evidence and bullying vulnerable witnesses to trick them into error. The three senior barristers in this case hurled 1971 questions at a 17-year-old schoolgirl, hoping she would break. And a legal system that has converted a sensible, practical concern for the rights of accused people into an unreal, inflexible set of unchallengeable precepts that grow ever more arbitrary and increasingly subvert the interests of society.

In many ways the chief villains in all this are the lawyers. They have grown to believe they, not society, own the legal system. They know better how justice should be meted out, invoking jargon, mystique and experience to defend their proprietorship. The lawyers' conflict of interest is exposed by Sheehan's astute observations. They protect their ownership, their belief systems and their careers against society's legitimate demand that the law serve the interests of society, not a small cabal of lawyers. They have elevated protection of the interests of a minority - accused people - into a form of oppression of the majority: society at large.

Sheehan is right. The lawyer-led oppression must be rolled back. His is not a call for revolution, merely for reform. It is not a plea to ignore the rule of law, though any criticism of the status quo is invariably met with hysterical claims from the legal protectionists that critics have no understanding of the legal system, are trying to subvert the rule of law and are engaging in populist law-and-order auctions.

After two of the K brothers damned the legal system as anti-Muslim and decided to defend themselves, the NSW Government introduced legislation to prevent accused rapists from cross-examining their alleged victims. The NSW Attorney-General said: "Without these protections for witnesses, the court would be an instrument of injustice rather than an instrument of justice." Under the new laws, an intermediary would conduct the cross-examination. But as Sheehan points out, the legal high priests at the NSW Law Society opposed the bill as an infringement of the accused's right to confront accusers. The new laws went ahead anyway.

In Britain, a similarly repulsive case led Tony Blair to recently admit that the balance between defendants' rights and the rights of victims had gone awry. Craig Sweeney, who abducted and sexually abused a three-year-old girl, was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Thanks to the Blair Government's 2003 Criminal Justice Act, Sweeney's guilty plea meant the sentence was cut by one-third and he would be eligible for parole once he had served half that time. Last week, Home Secretary John Reid announced tougher sentencing guidelines. But, once again, the lawyers, claiming they know better, are arguing against the reforms.

Back in Australia, cracking down on criminals is met with disdain by those lawyers who support the status quo: a legal system that effectively treats defendants as victims. Burdened by middle-class guilt, they refuse to believe that crime is caused by criminals.

Earlier this month, NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery announced that reducing crime had nothing to do with increasing penalties, mandatory penalties, zero-tolerance policing or additional police. Reducing crime was best done by spending more money on education, housing and health, he said. Cowdery's call for crime prevention through social and educational programs was "root causes" theory writ large. And it was quickly denounced by criminologist Paul Wilson, who said: "There is no evidence from anywhere it makes any difference." Speaking at a teachers union conference, Cowdery's root-causes performance resembled a comic playing to his audience. This is the same bunch that believes teacher performance has nothing to do with student outcomes. Rejecting personal responsibility, it believes social factors dictate how a student performs at school. Cowdery's left-liberal exposition is the snob theory of crime. The downtrodden underclass can't be held responsible for their own actions. So it's up to the well-heeled overclass to provide the social elixir by throwing money at the root causes.

The priestly caste among lawyers - DPPs such as Cowdery, the law societies and the law councils - no doubt believes fervently its cause is just. And it is no doubt coincidental that its theories will keep it in work for generations. But debates about reducing crime come down to arguments over the nature of man. For the left-wing idealist, each person is perfectible, provided that enough money is thrown at them. That's the theory. In practice, those good intentions based on utopian policies have delivered nasty, unintended consequences.

Those less starry-eyed about human nature recognise the good and bad in each person. Experience shows people respond to incentives and penalties. If they can behave badly and get away with it, they will. Sheehan's book is a reminder that evil exists and that a legal system skewed towards defendants at the expense of victims only encourages more evil. Those such as NSW

MP Peter Breen, who said last week, "I don't believe the law-and-order issue is as important as some commentators think it is", are living on another planet. Whether you believe in small government or big government, one thing rational people agree on is that the central function of government is to keep us safe. When 5000 people turned out to protest on the streets of Cronulla in Sydney last December, the message was clear: it's time to recognise that pandering to criminals is a leading cause of crime.


Political opportunism drives mania about incorrect food

Federal and state politicians debating a serious health concern this week could find themselves in decidedly unhealthy disagreement. Regrettably, obesity has become a political issue. The ever-present danger is that ends can be claimed to justify means, however unreasonable, unwarranted and undemocratic. Today, a group of state health ministers will seek restrictions on children's TV advertising of products judged overly high in fat, salt or sugar. The federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott, is expected to counter that it isn't a proper response to a problem of personal and parental responsibility.

Following Abbott's announcement last week of a ministerial taskforce on obesity, the health ministers' conference is attracting international attention, not so much in anticipation of a pointer to social policy as in assessing Australia's contribution to the politicisation of fat people.

Australian advertisers have lobbied against such an outcome since the earliest recognition of worrisome obesity trends. They have consistently - and persistently - sought to be part of a politically neutral response to something they see as not of their making, but as a whole-of-community problem requiring an all-of-community solution. Action to date, including new rules for advertising to children and a $10 million healthy lifestyle advertising campaign, will be extended this week with the tabling of a code of conduct for all food and beverages marketing communications. It's a big call but the advertising, marketing and media sectors want to be seen as the responsible contributors to the community they believe themselves to be.

But a minority of members of that community - within government bureaucracies as well as without - have persuaded some politicians that food and beverage manufacturers and marketers, together with their evil allies in the advertising and media sectors, are conspiring to kill off the very consumers who are their reasons for being. That the argument does not make a lot of sense has not dissuaded the deluded any more than their knowledge of Quebec, where a 25-year ban on advertising to children has resulted in no appreciable difference in obesity rates from other Canadian provinces. In fact, the children of Quebec have experienced a greater weight gain in the past decade than their provincial neighbours.

It's a fair comment that many claiming to be campaigning in the cause of childhood obesity have lost sight of the health objective, and have become focused on some sort of political victory over television commercials. In truth, there is as much research excusing advertising as a factor in obesity as there is accusing it. The response of one group of academic researchers linked to the anti-advertising lobby has been to simply assume a link, and build a case for advertising restrictions from there.

As complex as it is as a health problem, obesity may simply be an unforeseen consequence of the lifestyle change brought about by a world war that created a norm of two-income families, new drives for technological advancement and individual affluence, less need for physical activity and more demand for processed, packaged and convenience foods. But arguing whether Adolf Hitler is more or less to blame than John Logie Baird or Alexander Graham Bell will not do any more to reverse obesity trends over the next generation than considering it as a political rather than a health priority.


Loony Green/Left Victorian government

In Victoria, rivers are no longer water SOURCES. They are now water USERS! Comment below by Andrew Bolt

John Thwaites says we use too much water and too many plastic bags. But our state Environment Minister uses too little of something far rarer than water and even better than bags. Try brains. Has any government put out anything more irrational and half-baked than did green-priest Thwaites last week with his "Sustainability Action Statement"?

Here is proof that the true battle isn't between those who want to save the environment or use it. It's between those who have given in to superstition and those who still defend reason. Last week's statement promised, without a blush of shame, to make your power bills rise, your water dry up and your shopping bills rise, yet -- incredibly -- the media clapped like mad.

Indeed, this was mad. Take Thwaites' promise to force retailers to charge you 10 cents for each of those wicked plastic bags you use to carry home the shopping. Says Thwaites's statement, 10 million of them each year become litter "that endanger the health of marine wildlife", clog drains or "detract from the beauty of our environment". So from 2012 the poor will be fined for using these bags of evil, forcing them to use something else -- a pram, perhaps? -- to get their tins and packages home. (The rich won't feel any hurt at a lousy 10 cents a bag, which is why the rich-pleasing media barely cares about all this.)

But does the 10 cents actually make sense? Not if you believe the Productivity Commission. A draft commission report in May found that plastic bags make up only 0.2 per cent of land fill, where they probably do some good, reducing toxic leakage and keeping the fill stable. And there was little proof the bags caused harm to wildlife, which tends not to shop with them anyway. They might make a mess here and there, but there were probably cheaper ways of dealing with that than a ban, said the commission's boss, Philip Weikhardt. Besides, they are just so useful, which is why we don't carry our groceries home in, say, an Esky or a suitcase. More than 60 per cent are reused lining bins or for other household jobs such as keeping food fresh. Heavens, that might save lives. In fact, as the Environment Protection and Heritage Council concluded: "Plastic bags are popular with consumers and retailers as they are a functional, lightweight, strong, cheap, and hygienic way to transport food and other products."

So what was the Government's excuse for slapping on the 10 cent fine when it makes so little sense? I think I've found the answer on page 47 of Thwaites' statement: "(P)lastic bags are a symbol of our inefficient use of resources . . ." Note that the bags themselves aren't inefficient. They are bad because they are symbols of other things that are. And so must go. Mad. Next!

Next is Thwaites' promise to force energy retailers to buy 10 per cent of their power from green-approved solar and wind generators. Which sounds so earth-cuddling. Except for this: these huge mills and reflectors of "green" power wreck our views more than plastic bags ever could. And they'll crank out power that costs us big without cutting global warming by any amount anyone can measure. Figure it out for yourself: Most climate modellers -- such as Tom Wigley, senior scientist at the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research -- say even if all the Kyoto-approved cuts to the world's greenhouse gases were put in place right now, they would delay the rise in temperature predicted for 2100 by a measly six years. The heat expected in 2100 will come anyway in 2106.

Now imagine what small contribution wind-power will make in producing that tiny effect. Break that down even more: what share of that contribution is Victoria's? See? These wind farms we're building will make all the difference of a bat-squeak in a grand-final roar. But measure the cost, and not just in ruined views. The Government says the extra green power will make your power bills go up by $1 a month. In fact, the Opposition is correct in warning the true cost is more likely to become more than five times that -- and we'll still need coal-fired plants as backup for the days the wind doesn't blow. Or blows too hard. Again, this is just an expensive symbolic gesture to please green gods. We must pay so Thwaites can pray.

Next! Yes, there is a next because the one thing we're not running out of under this Government is irrationality. Next is Thwaites's manic determination to stop any future government from building a dam for Melbourne on the river once set aside for that very purpose. Not content with already having turned the dam reservation at Gippsland's Mitchell River into a national park, Thwaites now says the Government will pass a law to declare the Mitchell a heritage river that can never be dammed. Don't think he doesn't know he's locking up good drinking water that one day we will badly need. His statement admits the "Mitchell River (is) the largest free-flowing river without a dam in southeastern Australia". So, you'll think there must be a good reason to deny us this water when our dams are already less than half full, with dry Melbourne expecting a million more thirsty residents within 25 years.

And I've found them. Well, not good reasons, but the only ones Thwaites's allies at Melbourne Water can dream up to justify their minister's dam ban. Says Melbourne Water: "New dams do not create any new water." How about that for a reason not to build one? Might as well not have built any of Melbourne's dams, then. None of them create water either, do they? On struggles Melbourne Water: "If a new dam were built for Melbourne, it would need to be filled with water that is currently used by rural and regional communities and the environment."

Pardon me? How is water "used ... by the environment"? Who can tell if a river really is "using" water, or just wasting it? And if a river really is "using" water, who says I can't take it anyway? But isn't all river water "used by the environment"? Um, well, yes, actually. So this nonsense statement tells us we should empty every dam we've ever built and never drink another drop of water that could be "used" by the rivers instead.

Indeed, this Government is already pulling the plug on the reservoir at Lake Mokoan, and promising to send more water from our dams down half a dozen of our rivers to flow to waste in the sea. This, during our worst recorded drought. You'll find all this hard to believe, so go check the October issue of Melbourne Water's A Source magazine. There you'll find Thwaites's plan for the giant Thomson Dam, which holds 60 per cent of Melbourne's water but is less than 40 per cent full. Does Thwaites plan to plug any leaks? Cut back on releases into the river? Hell, no. His big idea is to empty the reservoir of an extra 8 billion litres of drinking water each year to baptise more fish and bless more plants. So, while sacred fish soak we mere humans must heed Preacher Thwaites' call last week to "save the planet" by taking "four-minute power showers instead of the average seven minutes".

I cannot be the only person to think all this is so irrational as to border on the mad. Less water, dearer power and higher grocery bills -- just to genuflect to the earth gods that seem to have moved into Spring St. One day, of course, the crunch will come. We'll have a real water crisis. We won't have enough power to drive export industries such as our aluminium smelters. We'll price ourselves out of competition with our neighbours. Pray then to the nature gods of John Thwaites, asking them to return our pious favours. Learn then how deaf they are. And how pitiless.

27 July, 2006

A view from close-up of a dysfunctional government health system

For many years I have been working as an emergency nurse at a busy Brisbane hospital. My first few years in emergency nursing were so rewarding. Every day I felt like the team I worked with was not only saving lives but also changing lives for the better. But soon the excitement wore off and the reality hit me of what was happening to the Queensland Health system. For years I have watched staff struggle to even keep their practice safe due to the conditions that we are enduring day in and day out. I have seen first-hand what it's like in the public health system. Let me tell you it's not pretty.

It is a harsh truth that there is a growing demand on the system and the money injected into it is not sufficient. Those who pay the price are not the politicians who decide how much money to allocate to health, but rather the likes of your loved ones and friends. There is increasing pressure on emergency departments due to many reasons:

* People are presenting with ailments that GPs could fix, but there are not enough bulk-billing services or after-hours clinics.

* Increasing lack of skilled staff in areas such as emergency due to high numbers of trained staff who are leaving the field.

* An increasing population, therefore an increasing number of people presenting to emergency departments, which means an increase in the patient-to-staff ratio.

* Not enough operational hospital beds. Hospitals throughout Brisbane have wards that are fully stocked but are empty of patients because there is no funding for staff.

Patients are waiting in emergency departments for up to 24 hours to get a hospital bed. Do you understand the implications of this? I am often forced to choose which patient should come off a trolley so that a more critically ill patient can have a bed. Sometimes I cannot take anyone off a trolley. Sick patients are put in chairs because there are simply not enough resources. I have watched patients have cardiac arrests on ambulance trolleys in the corridor while waiting for a bed in the emergency department. Ambulance officers can wait more than two hours to offload a patient at times.

I have seen nurses conduct cardiac tests on patients lying on the floor because there was absolutely no place to put this patient having a heart attack. Every day, patients wait far beyond their allocated triage time to receive medical treatment. As a triage nurse, it is terrifying to see someone with a potentially life-threatening condition wait up to three hours when they should be seen within 30 minutes.

The patients and their families become really angry about this and I don't blame them. Daily now I am verbally abused and so are my colleagues. It has become a frequent occurrence for an angry patient to threaten my life. I have seen the stress of working in this environment take its toll on many doctors and nurses, including me. Lots of excellent staff have left or are in the process of leaving because it seems the situation is only going to get worse.

Once we just had to deal and cope with the reality of what our jobs involved. Now we are not only trying to save lives, but also trying to do this within a system that is potentially killing our patients. I suggest to the state and federal governments that they send a representative to work a full 10 days straight with an emergency nurse - not just walk through an emergency department when you are campaigning. What true reality will that give you? It is obvious that you are not aware of the extremely dangerous conditions patients are being put in or I simply would not be writing this.

To the public I say, next time you feel like threatening a health professional, maybe instead you should consider voicing your anger in a letter to The Sunday Mail. It is time for you to speak up for your rights before someone you love is hurt by the public health system this State Government has created. I write this anonymously because I am bound to a contract with Queensland Health. A condition of my employment is that I don't disclose any information to the media or public regarding what happens within the hospital I work. So the sad truth is the public really have no idea what is happening behind closed doors - until it's happening to them.


Australian Labor Party self-detonates over nukes

A deep split has opened in the Federal Opposition concerning the proposed scrapping of the party's no new uranium mines policy. A day after Labor leader Kim Beazley declared the long-standing policy should be dropped, two Labor premiers and a member of his own Cabinet openly attacked the backflip. Opposition Environment Minister Anthony Albanese said the move was bad policy and bad politics. "I oppose any watering-down of Labor's anti-uranium policy," he said. Mr Albanese said his position was strongly supported by party affiliates such as the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Miscellaneous Workers Union. "Our existing policy serves us well," he said.

Mr Beazley told the Sydney Institute on Monday night he remained opposed to nuclear energy and uranium enrichment, but the no new mines policy was outdated, especially given Australia was already the third biggest uranium exporter in the world. Yesterday, he said the "vigorous debate" was to be expected.

A planned vote on the policy shift at Labor's national conference in April is looming as a defining moment in Mr Beazley's leadership. A defeat on the conference floor a few months out from the next election, scheduled for the second half of next year, would be a devastating blow for Mr Beazley's electoral prospects.

Western Australian Premier Alan Carpenter refused to back the change of direction, fearing it would lead to his state becoming a nuclear waste dump. "The majority of Western Australians support this position," he said. Former WA premier Carmen Lawrence also attacked Mr Beazley's position, although the Opposition Leader received welcome support from the Northern Territory's Chief Minister Clare Martin, Labor's resources spokesman Martin Ferguson and up-and-coming union leader Bill Shorten.

Prime Minister John Howard said Mr Beazley's policy backflip was a "no brainer". "There's never been any justification for discriminating between mines that were already in operation and those that weren't," Mr Howard said. "It was just a political compromise to settle a dispute within the Labor Party about 25 years ago. It made no policy sense and it's got no public rationale."

Greens leader Bob Brown said Australia was at greater risk of becoming a nuclear waste dump.


Senator Santoro on public broadcaster bias

Excerpts from a recent talk

Recent weeks have seen terrorists yet again unleash their work of destruction. In Mumbai, as in London a year ago, indiscriminate slaughter has proven the terrorists' weapon of choice. And in the Middle East, Hezbollah and Hamas - evil twins born of, and sustained by, the same evil parents - have provoked violence, knowing full well the cost their naked aggression would impose not only on innocent Israelis but also on many tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians and Lebanese alike.

Faced with these outrages, it is not enough for us to shake our heads and hope that the world will set itself right. Rather, we must protect and assert the values that underpin our Australian society: values in which there can be no place for terrorism's supporters and fellow-travellers. To that end, we must affirm our commitment to those throughout the world who are on the front line of the fight against terrorism - a commitment which is not merely intellectual and emotional, but also practical: that is, we must contribute as fully as we can, to ensure that terrorism, and the vile threat it poses, is defeated and ultimately destroyed. The Howard Government's commitment to fighting terrorism has been and remains steadfast. Absolutely steadfast....

In an open, democratic society such as Australia's, the media plays a central role in shaping our understanding of the world. It is mainly through the media that we are informed; and it is from the media that we get many of the images and analyses that help determine the way we see the world. It is because the media is so important that we provide large-scale financial support to the ABC and SBS - so that the community will have access to the impartial information it needs and deserves. It is a clear indication of the on-going government support for the ABC that public broadcasting received a substantial funding increase in this year's triennial budget allocation.

I want to state clearly here tonight my belief that both the ABC and SBS in so many ways provide a valuable service to Australian public life. Australia would be a poorer place without so many aspects of the services provided by the ABC and SBS. However, the public broadcasters lets themselves down regularly by failing to apply the same rigour to the task of self-critique that they would claim to apply to the task of representing the truth to their audience. The ABC, for example, has a charter requirement to cater to all Australians. But if it was truly capable of honest self-assessment, the ABC would be more willing to recognise, acknowledge and correct the deep-seated and institutionalised bias that is manifested in its recent reportage of both domestic and international affairs. Some very recent examples I can quote here tonight are staggering.

Merely a week ago, Fran Kelly, the presenter of ABC Radio National's Breakfast program, chose to interview Robert Fisk on the events in the Middle East. Mr Fisk, she said, is a much praised and award winning journalist. And indeed he is - for he has received praise from no less a judge of character than Osama bin Laden himself, who, in a videotaped message on the eve of the 2004 presidential election in the U.S., commended Fisk by name for his incisive and "neutral" reporting. Did Ms Kelly disclose any of this? Obviously not.

As an aside at this point, I would like to quote the same Mr Fisk from an opinion column in The Canberra Times last week. In it, he quotes - without challenge or question - terrorist leader Sayed Hassan Nasrallah claiming that in its rocket attacks on Israel "Hezbollah originally wished to confine all casualties to the military". Fisk then goes on to criticise the - quote - "cruelty of Israel's response" - unquote - to those unprovoked and deadly attacks. It's no wonder that he attracts rave reviews from Osama bin Laden!

To take another example, let's consider for a minute SBS's coverage of the conflict in the Middle East on its flagship 6-30 PM news for Sunday July 16th. Israel's military actions in Lebanon were described as variously "murderous", "illegal" and "contrary to the laws of war". As for what Hezbollah had done, and its disastrous consequences for the people of Lebanon, the report SBS chose to air - and I emphasize the word chose - cutely said this: that Hezbollah "had some little explaining to do".

The Prime Minister John Howard decisively attempted to stop the rot on the AM program on July 14th when he was asked, and I quote: "Has Israel gone too far?" Mr Howard asked the reporter why the question must always be couched in terms of what Israel has done wrong and whether it should be condemned. He was, of course, appalled by the loss of life on both sides of the conflict. But - and to quote again - the Prime Minister said "the assumption that it was started by Israel in this particular instance is wrong".

That the Prime Minister should feel the need to highlight to a reporter the skewed nature of the question he was being asked is indicative of a deeply-ingrained culture - a reflex anti-Semitism - in parts of the media. Such questions betray a belief that Israel is always at fault and has no right to defend itself in any way against attacks from terrorists such as Hezbollah. To say that this is outrageous, and a disgrace, is an understatement.

What makes bias so dangerous, and also so difficult to control, is that it is not only what is said, but rather what is not said, that can be profoundly misleading. Take the reporting - again on the ABC's AM program - of the statement by Mr Chirac that Israel's response to the invasion of its territory and the kidnapping of its soldiers was "disproportionate". Now, how often did you hear Tony Eastely note that this was the same Mr Chirac who merely a few months earlier, had said that were France subjected to a terrorist attack, he would not rule out retaliating through a nuclear attack? The simple answer: not once.

Nor did Mr Eastely make the same point when Mr Putin criticised Israel's response to the kidnapping of its soldiers as "disproportionate" and called on Israel to negotiate with terrorists. Surely, one might have expected our national broadcaster to ask how consistent this was with Russia's own behaviour in Chechnya - but no, yet again, the ABC chose the convenient course of silence.

Equally, how often have you heard the terms "indiscriminate", "illegal", "contrary to international law" and "disproportionate" applied by the ABC and SBS not to Israel, but to Hezbollah's and Hamas' practice of shelling civilian towns in Israel? The answer: not once!

And when the ABC and SBS interviewed Lebanese Government Ministers, who merely washed their hands of Hezbollah's actions, did you hear the interviewer ask how Hezbollah has been allowed to build up its arsenal in Southern Lebanon? No, of course you didn't - because they wouldn't even have thought to put the question, much less to fearlessly pursue the point. Similarly, how balanced is it for the SBS to selectively run commentary from the BBC - commentary which is systematically and aggressively hostile to Israel - rather than say, also running the stories aired on US channels?

Another form of bias is sympathetic language. To give just one example, the ABC refers to Kassam Rockets fired at Israel by Palestinian terrorists as "home made rockets." This has the effect of makings the Palestinians seem like the underdogs, battling away against the might of the Israeli military with home made weapons. In truth - as you all know - Israel is a small country with a small population, virtually surrounded by hostile and in some cases increasingly fanatical countries. The terrorists it faces are well-organised, aggressive and persistently violent. They are financed and armed by Syria and Iran, which are countries far larger than Israel. They cynically exploit the Western media's desire to convey graphic images of casualties by locating themselves in civilian areas, ensuring that women and children will be among the worst victims of the conflicts they ignite and promote. They are hardly the home-made Dad's Army the media language would suggest and would want us all here in Australia to believe.

The decisions to portray events in this way smack of deliberate, thought through, deception. They are what biased journalists do when they want to hide from claims of bias, while still slanting the way the news is presented. A few token interviews, ritualistically presented, with Israeli spokesmen or commentators, or others more sympathetic to Israel's predicament, only make this deceitful purpose all the clearer.

Blatant bias about Israel is nothing new. But the scope of the problems is far broader. When terrorists targeted the London underground, time and again our public broadcasters' reports linked the terrorists' murderous actions to the Britain's participation in the Iraq war - suggesting, if not stating, that the ultimate fault lay not with the murderers but with the Blair government. The further, important, inference was that - just as Blair had brought the wrath of the terrorists onto London - so the Howard Government was exposing Australians to unacceptable risks: risks that, according to many ABC commentators, had already eventuated in the Bali bombings.

Given that, one might have expected the ABC and SBS to at least comment on the fact that India could hardly be claimed to have any role in Iraq - a war it had actively opposed. Rather, here was further proof, if more proof was needed, of terrorism's indiscriminate character. But far from it: no such thought was expressed....

I believe a media which fails to distinguish between good and evil, and which equates `balance' with studied relativism, fails its constituency: if we are not willing to call terrorism evil, then we have lost any sense of truth.

If some journalists on the ABC and SBS are frankly sympathetic to Hamas and Hezbollah, or even on balance believe they have the stronger case, why don't they have the courage to say so, rather than hiding behind a pretence of moral relativism? The cause of truth is not well served when those who have so much power to shape perceptions refuse to disclose, and be held accountable for, the perspective they take.

Pro-natal policy working in Australia

Australia has recently started paying mothers thousands for every baby born. "Having one for Mr Howard" is now sometimes mentioned (with a bit of irony) as a justification for having a baby in Australia's poorer suburbs

Treasurer Peter Costello has made a new plea to women to start procreating, saying Australia's economy and defence system depend upon it. Launching the Australian Bureau of Statistics census today, Mr Costello said boosting the nation's natural fertility rate was vital to Australia's long term health. He also urged fathers to take a bigger role in looking after their children, saying they had a vital part in helping their female partners return to work after giving birth.

The natural fertility rate - or effectively the number of children a woman has during their lifetime - has increased in the past year to 1.8 after falling from 3.55 to 1.73 since the 1960s. Australia was one of the few developed countries in the world to actually record an increase in the fertility rate. Other nations, particularly Japan and Russia, are facing huge falls in natural population in coming decades.

Mr Costello said there was both a social and economic imperative for Australia to build its natural population. He said depending on immigration to boost Australia's population threatened the composition of the population. And without a surge in the number of people in the country, the nation's economy and its infrastructure were at risk. "It is expensive to maintain a highly equipped high tech defence force on a small population base. Larger states find it easier," he said. "It is hard to maintain living standards in a country where population is declining. "It is hard to maintain an older population in a country where there is a shrinking base of people of working age."

Borrowing from former Labor immigration Arthur Calwell's call to populate or perish, Mr Costello said it was time to adopt a new call to population arms. "Perhaps our future attitude should be procreate and cherish," he said. Mr Costello said although the drop in the fertility rate had stopped, for now, getting it back to replacement level - 2.1 - was a very tall order. "Let's just see if we can stabilise the decline and turn it back up. It would be a great thing for our country," he said.

Mr Costello said flexibility in the workforce, especially enabling people to work from home, was one way of encouraging women to have more children. But another key issue was the role of fathers. He said even though more fathers were taking a greater role in child-rearing, there was still scope for improvement. "I think fathers are probably doing better, but I think the mothers of Australia will tell you there's room for improvement," he said. "Dads can take more responsibility in relation to children and minding them. And I do speak from personal experience."


26 July, 2006

Australian Left slowly going nuclear

Kim Beazley has withdrawn his support for Labor's long-standing ban on new uranium mines in Australia, staking his leadership on a policy of more mining and exports. As part of his efforts to appear decisive, the Labor leader has set out an alternative to John Howard's plans for Australia to become "an energy superpower". The Opposition Leader said last night his change of position was aimed at lifting prosperity but he remained totally opposed to nuclear power in Australia because it was "not in our national interest". In the Sydney Institute speech, Mr Beazley also said he did not believe uranium enrichment would happen in Australia for years -- and not if he became prime minister.

His declaration brings forward the debate on one of Labor's most divisive issues, which threatens to split the ALP conference in April next year, only months before an election. "I believe the real issue is what we do with the uranium we mine -- not how many places we mine it," Mr Beazley said. "I will seek a change to my party's platform to replace the 'no new mines' policy with a new approach based on the strongest safeguards in the world. "Banning new uranium mines would not limit the export of Australian uranium to the world -- it would simply favour incumbent producers."

Mr Beazley's public position was immediately opposed by his frontbench environment spokesman and left-wing factional leader, Anthony Albanese. "I will be opposing this all the way to the national conference next year for all the reasons I have opposed it all along," Mr Albanese told The Australian last night. "I was consulted on this decision, I counselled against it and said I thought it was wrong."

Mr Beazley said Labor's new policy should focus on export controls rather than the mines themselves, because Australia was already the world's second biggest supplier of mined uranium and the expansion of South Australia's Olympic Dam mine would make us the biggest. He is proposing three tests for countries wanting to buy Australian uranium: accept the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; accept the world's strictest safeguards on the peaceful use of uranium; and join Australia's new diplomatic initiative against nuclear proliferation.

Environment Minister Ian Campbell said Mr Beazley had taken 20 years to do a backflip on uranium mining and it highlighted Labor confusion over a comprehensive energy and environment plan. Industry and Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said Mr Beazley could not wait months before setting out the policy, but had to do it now. "If this is Mr Beazley's position, then we need to see the policy now and the West Australian and Queensland Labor Governments can act on it," Mr Macfarlane said.

But Labor's resources spokesman, Martin Ferguson, another left-winger, supports the Beazley decision. Australian Workers Union leader and Labor candidate Bill Shorten said yesterday Mr Beazley's change of position showed that the party was serious about winning the next election. Mr Shorten said Mr Beazley's intervention was significant and the policy would be changed at the ALP conference next year. "The policy of no new mines was a 'half-pregnant' policy and people got around it in South Australia by linking any number of mines with a road and calling it one mine," Mr Shorten said. "Kim's calling a spade a spade. The no new mines policy was an economic ball and chain around Labor's leg and doing away with it makes economic sense." Acting South Australian Premier Kevin Foley said the decision was sensible and "will give great confidence to the mining industry in South Australia". Mr Foley said: "We're on the verge of a mining boom, this is a great leadership decision by Kim Beazley supporting that shown by Mike Rann."

More here

Yet another stupid photo ban

Prime Minister John Howard has described a move to ban cameras from a popular Melbourne tourist precinct amid terrorism fears as "over the top". Southgate management has erected "no camera" signs around the Yarra River retail and dining centre after security guards tried to force tourists to delete photos taken of "obscure" parts of buildings. The police were called when they refused.

Mr Howard said he did not think the terrorist threat in Australia warranted such a move. "I think that is over the top," Mr Howard told ABC Radio. "Everybody's got a camera now. Does that mean a mobile phone camera? "I don't think the terrorist threat in this country warrants that. I really don't. "I don't know who did this and I don't wish to offend them, and I'm sure they mean well, but I do think that is going too far."

Southgate property manager Kathy Barrance said there had been a couple of incidents of tourists taking photos of obscure things. "It was just the facades of buildings, things that would be of no interest to put in a photo album," Ms Barrance said. The new signs banning cameras state that "Southgate thanks you for not taking photos within the complex unless approved by management". Ms Barrance said anyone found taking unauthorised photographs would be told to stop by roaming security guards. "It's policy around Southgate for security to ask people not to photograph," she said. Exceptions will be made for photos of such things as the Ophelia sculpture at the main entrance. "On the (Yarra) promenade, it's fine, or if it's of Ophelia," Ms Barrance said.

Asked if the restrictions were designed to deter terrorists from conducting reconnaissance, Ms Barrance said, "Yes, that type of thing." Victoria Police told the Herald Sun it was unlikely any police officers would order the removal of images from a camera under such circumstances. "I've checked with our privacy people and they said there's no law against taking photos," a spokeswoman said.

Southgate workers were stunned at the restrictions. "I think it's stupid," Oras Charcoal Souvlaki Bar employee John Tsarpalas said. "There's got to be better ways than that." One shop owner who did not wish to be named, questioned whether there were any vital targets in the complex. ''It's a bit much. I know they are trying to protect us, but it's just a food court," she said.


Politicians forced to over-rule irresponsible medical regulators

Doctors love their own. This is an update of a report posted previously on July 7, 2006

Premier Peter Beattie will consider changing the law to stop some convicted criminals from practising medicine in Queensland after the Medical Board this week re-registered a convicted rapist and known drug addict. Despite pleading guilty in 2002 to rape, attempted rape, deprivation of liberty and assault, James Samuel Manwaring is considered fit to practise medicine in Queensland. Manwaring is now listed as a registered doctor on the Medical Board's public access website.

He had a history of drug addiction while practising in Australia, the US and UK. After pleading guilty in 2002 to a vicious attack against his then wife, he was told by District Court judge Brian Hoath that nothing could 'excuse your involvement in these offences'. However, the Health Practitioner's Tribunal last July allowed him to immediately apply for re-registration after he had met a stipulation to submit hair for drug testing. The tribunal further imposed 24 conditions on his registration which would be strictly monitored. The conditions are listed on the board's public access inter-net register.

The Premier called for a report into the board's decision after revelations earlier this month that Manwaring was eligible for re-registration. He demanded that the board explain its position saying he was 'buggered if he knew' how Manwaring could qualify to practise again. Mr Beattie last night said he had received advice that legislation could be passed to 'prevent candidates from being registered or re-registered if they have been in-volved in specific criminal or other activities which affect their fitness to practice'. "I will now seek advice from the Health Practitioners Registration Board on the possible effects of such legislation," he said.

Manwaring's registration was listed on the board's website at the weekend, to the horror of his victim, Pat Gillespie. Ms Gillespie, a former journalist and public servant, has voluntarily identified herself as his victim. She said she was stunned to hear of the board's decision to re-gister Manwaring, given his his-tory of drug abuse and violent criminal convictions. She called on Mr Beattie to ensure Manwaring would never practise in Queensland again. "Someone has to warn the public what Manwaring is like," she said. "The medical board will not tell the public that he is a convicted drug addict, rapist and wife-basher."

The Medical Board yesterday defended Dr Manwaring's registration, saying it was forced to implement the tribunal's decision if he met eligibility criteria. [A lie. They have a power of discretion]

The above article appeared in the Queensland "Gold Coast Bulletin" (p. 9) on 19 July, 2006

Government bleeds home-buyers

Brisbane home buyers pay almost $100,000 in taxes when buying a typical new home. The value of charges involved in building a home has skyrocketed over the past five years and, according to the results of a development industry inquiry to be released today, the situation is likely to get much worse. The taxes, combined with dramatic rises in the cost of land over the past five years, mean home ownership is slipping away from Queenslanders. According to the Urban Development Institute of Australia, the cost of vacant land has increased an average of 85 per cent over the past five years, adding an extra $100,000 to the cost of Brisbane blocks. If the trend continues unchecked, it could see the demise of the Australian dream of home ownership, according to UDIA Queensland chief executive Brian Stewart.

In Brisbane, the average new house and land package price of $432,375 includes State Government charges of $18,200, local government fees of $26,494 and Federal Government charges of $48,379. On the Gold Coast, $89,959 of the cost of a $432,375 house and land package is in taxes. It includes about $50,215 in Federal Government charges, $17,674 in State Government land tax and transfer duties and local government charges of $22,070. Statewide, the average new home cost of $383,990 includes about $86,313 in government charges.

Mr Stewart said single-income families and those earning less than the average household income of $62,000 appear to have been left behind. "They have the right to ask why a country such as Australia has one of the smallest urban footprints and yet some of the most expensive residential land in the world," Mr Stewart said in the report. He said previous generations of Australians had been taxed for infrastructure throughout their lives but now new home purchasers were being taxed at entry.

In the past five years, as average household incomes have increased at about four per cent a year, house prices in Redlands have increased about 19 per cent a year, Brisbane by 17 per cent a year, the Gold Coast by 13 per cent and the Sunshine Coast by 14 per cent a year. Across Queensland prices have increased an average 15 per cent a year seeing the average new house and land package cost $378,250, compared with $190,500, five years ago.

According to the UDIA report, one way of easing the affordability would be by reducing the value of raw land suitable for future development. If supply issues are not solved, land costs could nearly double over the next five years to an average of $389,000, claims researcher Urbis JHD, which says underestimating the level of supply by 10 per cent could drive prices higher than they are now. Property analyst Michael Matusik said research by his company has found much of the land that has been counted in the SEQ Regional Plan audit is not developable. "We need a proper independent count to find out what can really be developed," Mr Matusik said.


25 July, 2006

Tales from "Australians" fleeing Lebanon

Most are in fact Lebanese who live in Lebanon but who have acquired Australian papers at some stage

A few presses on her mobile phone keypad to look at the photos stored inside quash any doubts Jouliana Yazbeck has about fleeing Beirut. Captured on the screen is the exact moment that convinced the Sydney student, 21, and her cousins Laila and Alex Ajaka to abandon their Lebanon holiday. Snapped from the balcony of their uncle's house, the alarming image shows a bomb blast which killed two people just streets away. Within an hour of taking the picture at about 7am Lebanon time on July 18, the trio decided to leave the emerging war-zone as fast as they could....

They made their way to Ajaltoun, and then to a port where they were able to board an Australian-chartered ferry to Turkey. They remained in the Turkish port of Mersin yesterday, trying to work out the best way to get home. They were considering an Australian Government offer of a flight from Ankara to Frankfurt with a three-day wait before hitting Australian soil, but were also investigating other options.....

Also trying to work out how to get home yesterday was the Bazzi family, of Sydney. Mother-of-four Ahlam Bazzi was one of 20 members of her family to spend seven nights and eight days in a basement room of a friend's house to avoid bomb attacks.

More here

Another killer doctor in a Queensland public hospital

Officials at one of Queensland's top hospitals approached the family of a dead patient to offer an out-of-court settlement after discovering that her surgeon -- a respected professor of medicine -- had a questionable safety record. Nardia Annette Cvitic, a 31-year-old mother of two, died from massive blood loss and organ failure after a hysterectomy performed by Bruce Ward at the Mater Hospital in 2002. A coronial inquest has heard that the operating theatre after Cvitic's operation resembled the scene of the Granville train disaster in NSW in the 1970s. A drain inserted into her pelvic area apparently punctured a major vein, a mistake compounded by Dr Ward wrongly prescribing a blood-thinning agent.

Documents obtained by The Australian show that guardians for Cvitic's two sons were approached by Mater officials in early 2003 and encouraged to make a medical negligence claim for "loss of dependency". The Mater had earlier commissioned a surgical audit from two professors who examined Dr Ward's treatment of 10 patients, including Cvitic, and warned "something is radically wrong and it cannot continue". Russell Strong and Alex Crandon identified problems with Dr Ward's surgical techniques, communication skills, post-operative care and judgment.

After being urged to pursue a claim, lawyers for Cvitic's family entered negotiations with Dr Ward's three employers -- the Mater, the Queensland Government and the University of Queensland -- and sought medical and psychiatric opinions on the impact Cvitic's death had on her two young sons. But it was not until Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements began public hearings in March this year that the claim was accelerated, with a mediation hearing in April setting out the proposed settlement amounts.

District Court judge Helen O'Sullivan approved the settlement last week, a legal requirement given the age of the beneficiaries. Cvitic's youngest son, a 10-year-old diagnosed after his mother's death with Asperger's syndrome, will have $115,000 held in trust, while her eldest son, 16, will have $60,000 held in trust. Dr Ward's employers will pay legal and administration costs, but the figures represent only what Cvitic would have provided for her children had she not died, and do not cover damages or compensation, even though dependency claims are usually an acknowledgement of negligence.

Ms Clements -- who will decide whether Dr Ward should face manslaughter or criminal negligence charges over Cvitic's death -- has yet to set a date for the resumption of public hearings in the inquest. Dr Ward's lawyers could not be contacted last night, nor could members of Cvitic's family. Dr Ward was a professor at the University of Queensland for 10 years but left in 2003. While the Medical Board of Queensland has maintained his registration, he has lost the right to operate at the Mater and other public hospitals, but is understood to still work at Brisbane's Sunnybank Private Hospital.

Australian Lawyers Alliance state president-elect Ian Brown said dependency claims were capped by the state Government. "Dependency claims, just like all others, are governed by the unfair restrictions of the liability reforms," Mr Brown said.


Billionaire still likes certain assets

Most of Australia has seen pictures of the assets concerned. The lady was formerly a "swimsuit model"

The Packer circle is abuzz with speculation that James Packer and ex-wife Jodhi Meares are working towards a romantic reconciliation. Sources close to the couple say the pair recently planned to rendezvous abroad, possibly in Britain where Packer has been enjoying the best of England's polo season.

Back home, Packer's recent ex-girlfriend Erica Baxter has confided to friends that she was unhappy when her former flame told her to "get used to the idea" of him spending time with Meares in Britain.

Baxter was recently presented with a stunning kiss-off from Packer - a $4.5 million Vaucluse house - but sources say she is still hoping to recapture the heart of Australia's $7 billion man and has been earnestly keeping up her studies with the Church of Scientology.


Low-income Australian families turn to private schools

It tells you a lot about the standards prevailing in most government schools

One in six children at independent schools is from a low-income family, a report on social trends has found. Data collected for 2003-04 and published in the Australian Bureau of Statistics report Australian Social Trends 2006 shows 16 per cent of students at independent secondary schools and 17 per cent of Catholic school students were from low-income families. More than one-quarter of students in government schools were from low-income households and 8 per cent were from high-income-earning families. The proportion of students from high-income households at independent schools was 26 per cent, compared with 16 per cent at Catholic schools.

The head of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, said 80 per cent of students in schools belonging to the organisation were from families in the bottom half of income groups. "It is not the high-income families that have driven enrolments at all. The growth of enrolments in Christian schools are people in low income groups," he said. "It tells us that low-income families will spend money on education rather than other things. People will work two jobs and the perception is that they get quality education from non-government schools, values and discipline." Mr O'Doherty said even non-church goers were seeking "biblically-grounded values".

The Federal Government is reviewing its formula for funding private schools. Mr O'Doherty said the low-fee schools could become unaffordable for low-income families unless the Government addressed the way its formula was being applied. Brian Croke, who heads the Catholic Education Commission NSW, said the proportion of families who could afford to send their children to Catholic and independent schools was declining. Both were looking at expanding their scholarship programs to ensure low-income families were not shut out.

The report also shows that parents spent an average of $8690 on independent secondary school fees. Government secondary school fees were about $390. Fees at Catholic secondary schools averaged $3600. The Government was contributing an average of $10,000 for each student in public schools, almost double the $5600 it spent on students in private schools. Parents contributed more than $400 million in school fees and donations to government schools. Independent schools received more than half, and Catholic schools 22 per cent of their funding from fees and charges.

The data confirms the drift from public to private schools: 67.1 per cent of students were in government schools last year, against 71 per cent in 1995. The proportion of students in non-government schools has grown from 29 per cent in 1995 to 32.9 per cent last year. In NSW, government school enrolments fell from 749,880 in 2003 to 740,439 in 2005. Numbers in non-government schools grew from 357,456 to 367,247. Between 1995 and 2005 the total number of schools nationally fell by 25 as a result of amalgamations and closures. The number of independent schools increased by almost 20 per cent in that time.


24 July, 2006

Leftists reject the law of supply and demand

Labor has dismissed as nonsense suggestions a lower minimum wage would have made room for an extra half a million Australian jobs over the past decade.

A key adviser to the new Fair Pay Commission, which now has responsibility for setting the wages of the nation's lowest paid workers, has released his own modelling of the impact of minimum wage rises. Phil Lewis, an economist at the University of Canberra, said that if the minimum wage had been frozen at the 1996 rate, there would be 650,000 more jobs now. If it had merely kept pace with inflation, there would be 290,000 more jobs, he told The Australian newspaper. In 1997, the minimum wage was $359.40 per week. Professor Lewis said any rise above the current minimum wage of $484.40 a week would hurt the job prospects of low skilled workers.

But Labor says there is no magic connection between increases in the minimum wage and overall employment. "There is no link between increasing employment and increasing the minimum wage," Labor's industrial relations spokesman Stephen Smith said in Perth. "This is an economic and a social nonsense. It belies the Australian experience, it belies the experience in the United Kingdom and the United States, and it is also counter to the OECD employment outlook report of 2006 of a month or so ago," he said.

Unions warned hundreds of thousands of poor, working Australians would be struggling if Prof Lewis had his way. "That's less than $400 a week to pay the rent or mortgage, meet utility bills, and cover food, clothing and transport when they're working a 38-hour week," ACTU president Sharan Burrow said. "I don't think any Australian would think that would be fair or possible." Ms Burrow said the former Industrial Relations Commission's (IRC) final minimum wage decision last year found adjusting the rate would do little or nothing to diminish job opportunities.

The IRC's minimum wage setting role was thrown out by the federal government's controversial new industrial relations regime. The Fair Pay Commission was expected to hand down its first decision on the minimum wage - affecting 2.5 million Australians - before the end of November.

Today, it sought to distance itself from its own adviser's views. "(Chairman Ian) Harper stressed that the views expressed in The Australian today are Professor Lewis' own opinions and should not be seen as reflecting the views of the Australian Fair Pay Commission," the body said. The commission was still seeking submissions on the minimum wage up until July 28 and was yet to make a decision, it said. But it also acknowledged it had commissioned Prof Lewis' research and said it would be considered.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Howard used a speech to the New South Wales Liberal Party state conference to reiterate a commitment to his industrial relations changes and rail against Labor's "fear" campaign. The scrapping of unfair dismissal protection for employees would create "thousands of new jobs", he told the conference in Sydney. Mr Howard said Labor's promise to abandon individual contracts, or Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), would be folly, particularly for the mining industry. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley's industrial relations policy was "even more pro-union" than former prime minister Paul Keating's, he said.


Another botched government computer project

The Federal government finally abandoned the computer system that was supposed to run our new submarines. When will the Queensland State government wise up?

A State Government management project that was supposed to save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars will instead be almost $100 million in the red by 2008. An army of 500 consultants and public servants is being paid up to $1 million a day to deliver the Shared Service Initiative, which is already overdue and will not be completed for years. The project, expected to save the Government $100 million a year, will have cost Queensland taxpayers $219 million by December 2008, with a return of just $120 million in operational savings.

The much-vaunted project, introduced by then-treasurer Terry Mackenroth in 2003, involves an overhaul of information and communication technology systems across all government departments. But a source told The Sunday Mail the project was "fast becoming a sink-hole for government funds without delivering on time, on budget or delivering the benefits promised". The insider revealed Corp Tech, a unit within Queensland Treasury, had about 500 people working on developing new finance, human resources and IT management systems. "A massive percentage of these are contractors receiving from $1500 to over $2500 per day," the source said. About 1250 public service positions would be controversially axed as part of the project but predicted yearly savings of $100 million have failed to materialise.

Deputy Premier and Treasurer Anna Bligh yesterday told The Sunday Mail total savings from the project to date were $43 million. During estimates committee hearings this month, Ms Bligh said the project had saved just $26.4 million in the past financial year. She predicted further savings of $18.8 million in 2006-07 and up to $58.9 million in 2007-08. "Those savings reflect the cost of delivering services through this structure as opposed to the cost under the old structure," she said.

It is believed delays in implementing new IT systems have led to cost blow-outs. Documents leaked to The Sunday Mail reveal the finance solutions phase of the project was supposed to be up and running by December last year, but was delayed until July 1 this year. The human resources system was also set for release in December, but sources said a scaled-back version would not happen until at least February next year, with December 2008 nominated as more realistic. "While this mismanagement is occurring, the Corp Tech executive director and program director have travelled to Europe and Canada at taxpayer expense," the insider said.

In a four-page response to questions by The Sunday Mail, Ms Bligh said the project was not running late. However, she acknowledged that last year the "initial time frame was revised when the complexity of the project was clearer".

Coalition treasury spokesman Bob Quinn slammed the project as a failure. "If Anna Bligh can't deliver projects in her own department on time and under budget, then she has Buckley's chance of managing the finances of this state," he said. "This project was supposed to save Queenslanders money but, like most of the Beattie Government's schemes, it has ended up robbing us of preciously needed resources."

Ms Bligh said the project would be investigated by the Government's new public sector razor gang, headed by Service Delivery and Performance Commission chief Leo Keliher. She said a completion date of December next year had been set for all departments, except health, which had been added to the project and would be finished by December 2008. "It ranks as one of the largest ICT (information and communication technology) programs currently under way in Australia," she said. [Lucky old Queensland] Ms Bligh said the project had an operating budget of $94 million and capital investment of $125 million. She said the project was expected to achieve its savings target of $100 million a year from 2010-11.


'Third World' health care in Queensland government hospitals

Hospital patients are waiting on trolleys, in chairs and even on the floor for up to 24 hours before a bed is available at a Brisbane emergency department. Staff at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital are struggling with 30 per cent more patients to treat than they have beds for. They have told the Australian Medical Association that all 950 beds are full and capacity is overflowing. AMA president Dr Zelle Hodge said hospitals needed to operate at no more than 85 per cent capacity in order to be safe and to cope. "By operating at 130 per cent capacity, the Royal Brisbane Hospital is making conditions unsafe for patients and pushing staff beyond their limits," she said. "This is distressing for patients and their families, and is not the treatment they should be subjected to. "There are a lot of better ways the Government could spend taxpayers' money rather than advertising."

A nurse at one Brisbane hospital, who did not want to be named for fear of losing her job, said emergency patients were being put in extreme danger. "I have watched patients have cardiac arrests on ambulance trolleys in the corridor while waiting for a bed in the emergency department," she said. "Everyday patients wait far beyond their allocated time to receive treatment."

Government targets say treatment should be given within 30 minutes but a Federal Government annual report published this month shows that in 2004-05, Queensland emergency departments treated just 58 per cent of emergency patients within the recommended time. This month the Beattie Government boasted of more hospital beds and shorter waiting times in a glossy brochure "Keeping Our Promise" mailed at a cost of more than $300,000. Between December 2005 and May this year, the Government spent almost $2 million of taxpayers' money to reassure people about the health system is meeting their needs.

In contrast, Queensland Health reports released in April show patients are also waiting longer than the clinically desirable time for scheduled operations. Many who require urgent surgery are waiting up to a year, despite guidelines saying the operation should be carried out in 30 days.

Opposition health spokesman Dr Bruce Flegg said the Government must stop wasting money on publicity. "Clearly the situation with emergency departments has not improved, and no amount of spin and glossy brochures is going to make any difference," he said. Health Minister Stephen Robertson denied the occupancy rate at the Royal Brisbane had ever reached 130 per cent. He said the Government was investing $280.3 million into emergency departments over five years, and would increase the number of beds across the state by 860 over three years.


Breastbeating about naughty music videos

Women in dog collars, make-believe pimps and prostitutes . . . welcome to children's breakfast television in Australia. Despite being shown in the supposedly stringent G-classified timeslot of 6am-10am Saturday and Sunday, Australian music video programs are feeding their young viewers a barrage of offensive material. A loophole in the classification system means degrading and sexist music video clips are approved as suitable viewing for children without adult supervision. While the Commercial Television Code of Practice restricts violence, nudity, sexual acts and swearing, there is no regulation of sexist or demeaning depictions of men or women. Parents, community groups, the Federal Opposition, psychologists and even music video producers say the self-regulated system has failed.

Offensive clips include Christina Aguilera (pictured) simulating masturbation and fighting other girls, and the Pussycat Dolls stripping and asking Snoop Dogg to "loosen their buttons". [LOL] The music director for PG-rated pay TV music station Channel V, Drew Michel, said the station regularly showed a video for the song Pimp by 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg, that included women in dog collars.

But community organisation Young Media Australia wants clips like this banned from children's television. "Having women led around in dog collars is degrading, sexist material," YMA president Jane Roberts said. "There is a whole generation of young Australians who think this is normal behaviour." Family Council of Queensland president Alan Baker said parents should be "up in arms". "We are calling on the Federal Government to tighten laws regarding what can be shown during children's timeslots so that sexist or degrading images and lyrics cannot be shown." Queensland University of Technology children and media commentator Susan Hetherington agreed that the clips were inappropriate.


23 July, 2006

Nationwide demonstrations today to protest years of terrorist attacks on Israel

Whoops! Got it wrong. Killing Jews is fine. Muslims can do anything they like and no-one is allowed even to criticise them for it

Tens of thousands of people are expected to march through the Sydney CBD today calling for an end to Israel's attacks on Lebanon and Palestine. The protest is expected to start at Town Hall at midday and move along George Street to King Street and into Martin Place. Keysar Trad, from the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, said despite a last-minute change of venue and expected bad weather, up to 20,000 people would turn out for the protest. "We think there will be anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 people," Mr Trad said. "There could be a lot more - if we didn't have these dramas, I would expect maybe 100,000."

Mr Trad said he expected to see many mothers and children taking part in the march after seeing images of the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon. "One thing that has really been heartbreaking is the number of mothers who have called us to join the rally after seeing the images of all those children dying," he said. Mr Trad said the message of the protest would be one of peace. "We just want to give a message that peace is the only solution for the world community," he said. "It's just a terrible, terrible human catastrophe that's taken place as a result of the bombing. We just have to do what we can to put an end to it."

Mr Trad promised the rally would be a peaceful one. "We will not tolerate any violence, we will not tolerate any racism, we will not tolerate anything that does not serve the cause of peace." [But no problem to tolerate missiles raining down on Israel, of course]


Now it's Australia getting called a pawn of Israel

Delays in repatriating Lebanese-Australians from Lebanon showed Canberra was not only pandering to Israel but exhibiting racism towards people of Arabic decent, a prominent Australian Muslim said yesterday. Keyser Trad, founder of the Islamic Friendship Association, said the government of Prime Minister John Howard would have responded more swiftly if the crisis had been elsewhere. "I'm sure they would have acted a lot quicker if it wasn't Lebanon and people of Lebanese background," Trad said. "You just have to look at the way they reacted to other crises - Bali and East Timor - they used all their resources to get people out quickly." There are believed to be 25,000 Australian citizens in Lebanon, almost all of Lebanese descent and many with dual nationality.

But while the US and European countries have managed to repatriate thousands of their citizens, Australia has so far brought home fewer than 200 of its nationals. "This government is initiating racism here," Trad told Australia's AAP news agency. "There are signs of the federal government breeding racism." Trad said Australia was tardy in its response because it had sided with Israel in the conflict. "Our government is caught up in the constant blind support of the Israeli government," he said, singling out Foreign Minister Alexander Downer as a slave to Israel. "Alexander Downer said he was refused his request to Israel for a ceasefire, but when it comes to Israel, it's `yes, sir, whatever you want, sir' from him," Trad said....

Prime Minister John Howard defended the rescue effort. "It is a chaotic situation and it is easy to criticise a limited number of foreign affairs personnel who are operating in very stressful circumstances."

More here

A half-right Arab

An Australian Arabic leader who escaped from Lebanon this week says the Australian Government had done all it could to help Australians caught in the crisis. But Australian Arabic Council (AAC) chairman Roland Jabbour, who arrived in Melbourne this morning, said the crisis had shown how weak the Government's Middle East policy was, by failing to pressure Israel into a stopping the bombing.

Mr Jabbour had been holidaying with his family in Lebanon when the bombing began and had dashed to the Syrian border, passing through the bottle neck of refugees, before getting safe passage to Australia. He said the Australian ambassador, Lindel Sachs, and her staff had responded immediately to the urgency and dangers of the situation and coped with "the logistical magnitude and abnormality of the situation with the upmost professionalism". "I am confident that the Australian Government and our Prime Minister have done everything possible to support the repatriation of every Australian," Mr Jabbour said. "I have no concerns about discrimination. People are worried about loved ones and considering the circumstances the government has done all it can."

However, Mr Jabbour said the inability of the Prime Minister John Howard to pressure Israel into a ceasefire reflected the complete failure of Australia's Middle East foreign policy. "If anybody believes that the Israeli raids are surgical strikes only targeting Hizbollah, I can assure them they are both misguided and misleading," he said. "Not only is the response completely disproportionate, Israel is raining down utter destruction on a country which has just taken ten years to rebuild itself. "Not only are civilians being killed, but the term collateral damage is completely inappropriate. "The Australian Government should pressure Israel to implement an immediate ceasefire." [No mention of pressuring Hezbollah for a ceasefire!]


Lessons from Beirut

By Andrew Bolt

Loyalty cuts both ways. So how much do we owe the dual-nationality "Australians" screaming to be rescued from Lebanon? I ask after seeing two more Lebanese leaders savage the Howard Government on ABC television for not doing more to save Lebanese Australians in Beirut. One was Sheik Kamal Mousalmani, head of the Supreme Shiite Council of Lebanon (Sydney). The very name of his outfit says it speaks for Lebanese Shiites, not Australian ones. The other was Dr Abraham Constantine, a Sydney Lebanese community spokesman. Complained Constantine to Lateline: "We are feeling like second-class citizens. We are Australians. We've worked in Australia. Australia is our country. We may have been born in Lebanon, but Australia is our country."

But is Australia "their" country, really? Consider the following figures. At least 25,000 of the Australians in Lebanon actually live there and the vast majority have Lebanese citizenship, too. Does that make them really "ours", deserving all the help that we'd give to someone living in our own street who runs into strife overseas. More stats: At least 10,000 Britons living in Lebanon are also Lebanese citizens. So are most of the estimated 40,000 Canadians living there, and most of the 25,000 Americans. Belgium has 1200 dual-nationals living in Lebanon, and Denmark estimates 1000 of its citizens are still in the Hezbollah terror enclave in Lebanon's south, where thousands of Lebanese Australians also prefer to live, worryingly enough.

In fact, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens have passports to some other country should things at their real home get as sticky as they are now, with Israel attacking Iranian-backed Hezbollah strongholds. Yet, if these people are also Lebanese, and in Lebanon, I'd have thought it was the Lebanese Government's job to look after them.

To insist now that they are Australians hardly seems the kind of reciprocal deal that you need to create a community. Lebanese Australians living in Lebanon can ask us for help, but what can we ever ask from them in return? Citizenship like that sounds too much like all take and no give.

But let me be clear. The biggest issue right now is not whether we should help. Indeed, we should give a hand -- if only to those several thousand Australians who were simply visiting Lebanon, or working there temporarily. And, indeed, the first 200 or so Australians helped out were all visitors -- Lebanese born, perhaps, but not Lebanese residents.

The real question is instead whether we have sold the right to be Australian too cheaply. By allowing Australians to keep a second nationality have we have weakened our notion of what an Australian citizen should be in these fractured times? And as this conflict warns only too graphically, does dual nationality mean we'll be sucked too easily into wars not of our making, just because some ersatz "Aussies" are in danger?

I once liked the idea of dual citizenship, probably because I also held a Dutch passport. But I know very well how being of two nationalities weakened my commitment to both. Your loyalty is always hyphenated. Always qualified. Just take the loyalty of the three Sydney men in Lebanon -- all dual citizens -- who have asked our Beirut Embassy to help them escape their compulsory national service for Lebanon. If these men want our help to dodge doing their duty as citizens of Lebanon, what duties might they feel entitled to dodge here as citizens of Australia?

I was forced to confront my own split loyalties when the Dutch changed their rules and revoked my Dutch passport because I hadn't lived in Holland long enough. While I suddenly felt less Dutch, I had to admit I also now felt more Australian. The choice had been made for me. Game over. Australian for keeps. I doubt I'm unusual. And it might be time for the five million Australians now with dual nationality to be forced to make that same emotional choice, whether Muslims, Buddhists or Jews. Which country is really theirs? We need more of our citizens not just to truly commit, but to understand that being Australian is an exclusive deal -- and comes with responsibilities. We need that because more than ever we depend on the loyalty of our fellow citizens simply to feel safe.

If we keep allowing or encouraging immigrants to treat Australia, not as a family but a camping ground, what do we get? I'll tell you. We get an Australia in which a crowded Bankstown Town Hall in April heard Islamist speakers say the "overriding commitment of a Muslim" was not to Australia but "Allah and Allah alone". We get an Australia in which Islamist immigrants are arrested and some jailed for allegedly plotting to blow up Australians for a foreign-inspired jihad. We get an Australia in which second-generation Lebanese form ethnic gangs in Sydney that fight for turf rights to beaches in Bondi and Cronulla.

We get, too, a Victorian Government that hands a safe seat to a Syrian-Australian who has written to the dictator of Syria -- a sponsor of Hezbollah -- to pledge "absolute loyalty". We get a Fotis Kapetopoulos, a former Multicultural Arts Victoria boss, saying "Greeks who ... are Australian, we pay taxes and vote, and that is enough." We get Italian-Australians citizens who indeed pay taxes and vote, yet still feel so much loyalty to another government of another country that this year they elected two Australians to the Italian Parliament.

We pay ethnic groups millions to stay aloof, even as we have brawls involving Lebanese gangs in Sydney, and Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian and Greeks gangs at soccer games. And we even get state multiculturalism ministers this week rejecting an English test for new citizens -- with Victoria's John Pandazopoulos calling it "insulting", and the Northern Territory's Kon Vatskalis saying it "smelled strongly of racism".

We now have enough warnings that our community is fraying fast. Mass immigration, cheap travel and communication, multiculturalism and a loss of faith in Australia has given us the hyphenated citizen. The dual nationality. The split loyalties. And trouble. The cries for help from Lebanese Australians should wake us up. Help we can always offer, and will. We're generous. But our Australian identity? We must remember that some things are too valuable to hand out for free, or as some optional extra. Choose us or choose someone else. We're too good for only half your loyalty and love.


Shakespeare comes to Brisbane

"All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players" -- but not it seems in Brisbane when it comes to acting out the works of William Shakespeare.

The huge audience of international and interstate delegates who have just flown in for the 2006 World Shakespeare Congress must be puzzled and disappointed at the absence of big ticket performance events featuring work by their favorite playwright.

The congress, headquartered in Stratford-upon-Avon, is the Olympics of Shakespeare studies, with huge gatherings every five years. This, the congress's first-ever visit to the southern hemisphere, has attracted Shakespeare-lovers from 30 countries, each delegate paying up to $800 registration for a rich literary feast. But with the exception of performances from one visiting theatre company from Sydney and another from regional Alaska, there are no stagings of plays for this week of Bardic extravaganza.

There'll be academic talk galore -- seminars, workshops, learned discourses and forums -- but the living works of the author under discussion will be, like Banquo's ghost, an apparition -- the centre of attention, but not invited to the feast. "The play's the thing" -- but not this week.

The "Performance" page of the congress's program is a painfully slim document of mainly off-beat and fringe works. Sydney-based Bell Shakespeare are touring with their modern version of "Romeo and Juliet" at the QPAC Playhouse. A little-known community travelling group from Alaska, the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre, have been called in to stage a "promenade" version of Henry V at the fringe Metro Arts Theatre in Edward Street. Meanwhile, some members of the energetic local part-time troupe Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble are treading the boards of the Supreme Court's Banco Court with trial scenes from the Bard's works (called "Let's kill all the lawyers" -- a line from Henry VI). And the "pro-am" Harvest Rain Theatre at New Farm will run an all-female cabaret, "The Works of William Shakespeare by chicks". Some fun and diversion overall -- but it's not exactly an embarrassment of riches.

Missing from all the action are the state's professional and handsomely subsidised theatre companies, Queensland Theatre Company and La Boite, who may well have forgotten about the world's greatest-ever author: after all, QTC hasn't bothered with the Bard for four years, and La Boite for seven.

Perhaps the locals thought everyone else would be doing Shakespeare this year so they'd do something different. But our arts professionals have forfeited the chance to play for curious and motivated international audiences in a city that will have more blank-verse-hungry Shakespeare groupies wandering its streets than at any time in its history, or probably ever again. And the congress-inspired Shakespeare theme would surely have encouraged Queenslanders to brush up their Shakespeare with a winter's tale or two.

Our theatre establishment has failed its audiences, its performers and its city. Not much cleverness in this state ( -- but perhaps "I all alone beweep my outcast state"). Let's hope the Shakespeare Congress bardophiles aren't wandering the local taverns muttering, "A plague on both your houses."

Under the title, "Lean visit for Bard hungry", the above article by Prof. John Henningham appeared in the Brisbane "Courier Mail" on July 19, 2006

22 July, 2006

Drug-loving Australian Greens

By Andrew Bolt

The irrational cravings the Greens and other Leftists have for easier drugs runs so deep that we must conclude the worst. This month's "drugs, please" came from the Victorian Greens, who promised to scrap all criminal sanctions for drug users and give addicts free heroin. Last month's came from the Democrats' leader in South Australia, Sandra Kanck, who told Parliament that ecstasy (or MDMA) was "not a dangerous drug". In fact, she chirruped, "one of the best things you could probably have done for the people on the Eyre Peninsula who had gone through that trauma (of bushfires) was give them MDMA."

The federal Greens are no better, vowing at the last election to decriminalise drug use and consider free heroin for addicts. And three years ago its (now quietly deleted) policy was to make softer drugs "more freely available" because people need "the opportunity to achieve personal fulfilment" and that "may, for some people at particular times, involve the use of drugs".

I said this hankering for easier-to-get drugs was irrational -- but only if the Left's aim is to cut drug use. You see, make anything more available, and more people will use it. So when Switzerland pioneered "safe" injecting rooms, overdose deaths tripled. And when the Howard Government instead got tough on drugs, deaths dropped.

The sorry conclusion? These "more drugs" policies are clearly drawn up by people so selfish, unimaginative or arrogant that they can't imagine anyone who isn't exactly like they fancy themselves -- rational, and strong enough to take drugs without hurting anyone. I sure don't say they use drugs themselves, mind. But I can introduce them to plenty of junkies who once shared their lethal conceits.


Now some help for divorced men in Australia

Last Monday, the usual gathering of dog-walkers were wandering the cliff-side park near Sydney's Clovelly beach. But the peaceful early morning scene was disturbed by the arrival of policemen who explained they were looking for a man with a baby. As they peered over the cliff face to the rocks far below, they were joined by the police helicopter, hovering along the rugged coast line. A desperate man with a two-month-old son. Yet another tragedy in the making, with a father pushed to the edge by fear our family law system would rob him of his child.

This baby and his father are still alive, but so often we've seen these situations end in disaster. Yet, never before, has a father had a better chance of fair treatment. In the past few weeks a revolution has taken place in the family-law system, designed to improve the lives of divorced children by letting dads remain part of their lives.

Sadly, the man responsible for this family-law revolution didn't live to see it. John Perrin didn't look like a powerful man. At first glance, John Howard's social issues adviser seemed plucked straight from the set of Yes, Prime Minister. With grey suit, thinning hair, glasses and a trim moustache, this formal, mild-mannered man was the very model of the silent bureaucrat. But Perrin, who died in late May at 53 from cancer, was a mighty influential political operator, who changed the social map of Australia. This month, some of his most important reforms were set in motion.

Perrin was long determined to fix our family law system, a system which he knew to be a festering sore of discontent in the community. Inquiry after inquiry had shown that there was bias against fathers in both the Family Court and the Child Support system. For years, Perrin talked and listened -- prodding the experts for new ideas. A plan for a revamp of the system gradually emerged.

This month would have been a great one for Perrin. The first Family Relationship Centres have opened their doors. These are key to the new system, which is all about trying to keep children's matters away from the adversarial system of lawyers and courts. The aim of the FRCs is to revolutionise the way parents care for children after divorce. This should see the fortnightly dad model thrown out the window and replaced by a range of alternatives that evolve and adapt as children grow older or family arrangements change.

There are also new laws which talk about children's right to know both their parents -- new language that pushes the notion of equal time, or at least "substantial and significant time", a very big shift from the fortnightly access pattern that has dominated in the past. Plus, the new laws stress that children benefit when parenting issues are decided outside the courts. The whole system is set up now to try to make sure this happens, with the FRCs offering child-centred mediation to help parents sort out parenting arrangements that are in their children's interests. Some will need only a few sessions, but warring couples will be referred to the high intensity Children's Contact Programs, which deal with highly conflicted couples who have often spent years fighting through the court.

Those who do end up in court will be also greeted by a new system, the Children's Cases Program, where judges talk directly to the parents and help them focus on their children's needs. And finally, there are changes to the Child Support system, designed to help fathers afford to care for their children. This remarkable package is only part of Perrin's legacy, but quite a tribute to an extraordinary man.


A savvy Leftist politician for a change

A Brisbane Labor MP wants the Federal Government to pay rent subsidies for some low-income earners direct to landlords to prevent the tenants misusing the money. Craig Emerson, whose seat of Rankin includes low-income areas in Logan City, said last night that if the measure were applied to persistent rent defaulters it would guarantee their children had a roof over their heads. "Some may say this is an invasion of civil liberties and of the rights of parents," Dr Emerson told a Young Labor meeting in Sydney. "But surely children have a right to a secure roof over their heads and taxpayers have a right to be assured that the rent assistance they provide is actually being used on accommodation."

Single-parent families eligible for rent assistance can have up to 45 per cent of rent payments made, provided they produce a lease or complete a certificate at Centrelink stating that they are renting. Low-income two-parent families are also eligible. Dr Emerson said the rent assistance was paid regardless of whether the tenant was actually paying rent.

He said one of his motives was to ensure stable homes so children could access education. "Many highly-intelligent, brilliant young Australians miss out on a good education because they are growing up in dysfunctional families and in disadvantaged, welfare-dependent communities," Dr Emerson said. "In my own area, in Logan City, an estimated two-thirds of chronic school absences are condoned by parents. "Depressed single mothers want a child to stay home with them."

He said children in disadvantaged areas needed support and encouragement and that providing their parents with "passive welfare' was not helpful. "Passive welfare says to them: 'Your place is outside of mainstream society, you are on the outer, and your children are on the outer too'," he said.


Evil legislation defeated at last in the High Court

The West Australian Government could be held liable for millions of dollars in damages after its proceeds-of-crime legislation was labelled "draconian" by High Court judges who said it failed to provide fair access to the justice system. While many defendants across the country had been forced to scrimp on legal representation in the past because their assets had been frozen, the High Court ruled that property could be exempted to pay legal costs.

The decision could open the way for defendants to appeal against their convictions after they had been forced to represent themselves or hire cheaper solicitors, said celebrity lawyer Martin Bennett. Under the 6-1 judgment, Western Australia may also be liable to pay damages for changes in market value to property held under its control. Proceeds-of-crime legislation in other states could also be affected.

Mr Bennett led the landmark case, representing Nigel Mansfield in a battle against the state to access Mr Mansfield's funds to pay for his defence to insider-trading charges. Mr Mansfield's assets have been frozen for the past four years. "The act ... is draconian in its operation and complex in various of its provisions," the judgment said. Judge John Heyson was the only one who voted to dismiss the action. For Mr Mansfield, 65, a former financial adviser, who fought the case with the financial aid of friends and family, yesterday's decision was gratifying but came too late. "For four years this has drained me, utterly and completely," he said.


Australian boost for ethanol as fuel

Queensland scientists will attempt to create supercharged sugarcane crops designed specifically to fuel our cars. Others are working on a plan to create green fuel from algae grown in farm dams and lagoons across the state. The work is funded by national grants as the Federal Government attempts to improve our research into alternative fuels. Queensland has won the bulk of the $10.5 million announced yesterday under the Renewable Energy Development Initiative Program. CSR Sugar has secured $5 million for its work on "SugarBooster" - a program to develop high yielding sugarcane varieties increasing the amount of fermentable sugar.

Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, who announced the grants yesterday, said the program could dramatically boost Australia's green fuel industry. Bardon company SQC Pty Ltd has received $200,000 to help commercialise the process which could utilise suitable farm dams and irrigation lagoons to grow the algae. Other grants include $258,000 for a solar collector in NSW and $2.3 million for a renewable energy grid connector in the Northern Territory.


21 July, 2006

Leftists attack school choice in Australia too

A school voucher system would cost at least $5 billion more than present Federal Government funding, widen inequality among students and potentially lower average results, a study has found. Its discussion paper, which evaluated school vouchers overseas, concluded that introducing the system here would give parents a greater choice of schools. But this benefit would be largely confined to those on middle and high incomes and outweighed by negative effects on educational achievement, equality of opportunity, social cohesion and social capital.

Andrew Macintosh and Deb Wilkinson, of the left-wing think tank the Australia Institute, argue in the paper that a voucher system for all students could lower average results and widen social inequality. "The positives of greater choice must be weighed against the financial costs and risks associated with voucher schemes," their report said. "Universal voucher schemes would direct more resources to wealthy private schools at the expense of public schools and poor private schools, thereby reducing the opportunities available to children from low socio-economic backgrounds. "The redistribution of students and resources under a voucher scheme could result in sink schools that offer services that are vastly inferior to those available in the rest of the school sector. Public schools could ultimately become nothing more than a safety net for those who cannot afford to send their children to private schools."

The report concluded that a system that would provide a voucher of $8675.80 for each primary school student and $11,072.50 for a secondary student would cost the Federal Government about $32 billion - $5 billion more than it spends now (based on 2002-03 figures).

Yesterday, the federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, reinforced her support for a broader voucher system, which would give parents government funding for each child so the money could be spent on a public or private school of choice. She has commissioned a study of a possible voucher system for students with disabilities, which would enable those in public schools to attend private schools and take their government funding with them. Ms Bishop has given a favourable assessment of a national pilot program which offered $700 vouchers to parents of children who failed to meet year 3 reading benchmarks. "I am supportive of the principle of funding following students: for example, the reading tuition vouchers for students who have not met year 3 literacy benchmarks, which will be continued this year," she said. A spokesman for Ms Bishop said the minister was keen to look at the broader application of a voucher system for all children.

The Australia Institute's report said that a voucher system would increase subsidies to wealthy non-government schools and disadvantage or provide little benefit to poor private schools. Schools in rural and remote areas with special needs would be particularly at risk of losing a substantial proportion of their government funding. Vouchers could also cause greater segregation on the basis of race, religion, academic ability and socio-economic status.


Leftist myths about the Great Depression debunked

Leftists always portray it as a crisis of capitalism. In fact it was a normal cyclic depression made much worse by the socialist and anti-business meddling of FDR. Now it appears that it was much less of a crisis than we have been told as well

A new history of the Great Depression challenges the commonly accepted accounts of hardship and misery, claiming historians have focused on extremes rather than what happened to the great majority of Australians. "Tradition has it that the Great Depression of the 1930s swept through Australia like a raging flood, tearing up the garden of the 1920s and imposing terrible suffering on the population at large," writes David Potts in The Myth of the Great Depression. "Thus emerged the legendary Depression, on a par with Ned Kelly, Gallipoli and the death of Phar Lap; tragedy makes a rattling good yarn."

In a controversial revision, Potts claims the popular images of the Depression - men and women evicted on to the streets, eating out of rubbish bins, queuing for the dole, living in humpies, and men tramping the countryside in search of work - were extreme rather than typical. He writes: "In reality, during the Great Depression, no one died of starvation due to poverty; malnutrition declined; infant mortality and general death ratesfell; health improved; and most people remained housed much as usual and were adequately clothed. "On the issue of truth, so great is the passion of historians of the Depression to dramatise hardship that many of them have gone well beyond available evidence. "They heavily raise, even double, the extent of unemployment, incorrectly claim increases in malnutrition and suicide as the Depression deepened, and exaggerate the extent of evictions and homelessness. They overgeneralise the worst cases."

Potts does not deny that the jobless rate rose to about 25 per cent, that bankruptcies doubled, that relief work and dole payments were miserly and that many people experienced difficulties feeding, clothing and housing their families. But he says many people spoke of the Depression years with affection, saying they coped well, that it "gave life meaning" and that "people were happier then". Most of the evidence, he says, points to food deprivation seriously affecting only 5 per cent ofthe population, while less than 1 per cent were turned out onto the street.

At his home in Melbourne, Potts, whose Myth formalises a view expressed in his teaching at Melbourne and La Trobe universities over the past 40 years, says that traditional histories "which are overwhelmingly left-wing (although right-wing historians think the Depression was a terrible time, too) all emphasise the worst moments". He says oral historian Wendy Lowenstein, author of the celebrated Weevils in the Flour, was "dramatically wrong" on the extent of suffering, while Manning Clark, who described a ragged army of men tramping the countryside as the "soldiers of despair", presented a traditional left-wing view.

Another historian, Janet McCalman, author of Struggletown, wrote of the Depression breaking on working class people "as a cancer" and of "an army of outcasts ... not carrying leprosy or syphilis but poverty". But Potts says that for many Australians, the Depression was marked by resilience and happiness.


A pro-nuclear Prime Minister

The media are desperately trying to portray Howard as in conflict with US policy but only they think so. Australia is a major supplier of uranium and PM Howard is keen to use that as the basis for an Australian nuclear industry -- to the horror of the Australian Greens

John Howard has given his strongest sign he wants a domestic uranium enrichment industry, and he agrees that the Bush administration's new global nuclear policy influenced his decision to conduct an inquiry into Australia's policy. The Prime Minister's desire to join the uranium enrichment club risks a conflict with President George W. Bush's global nuclear energy partnership, a radical US initiative to prevent nations moving into enrichment reprocessing. In a historic joint concord before the G8 summit this week, Mr Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to work together "to allow all nations to enjoy the benefits of nuclear energy without pursuing uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing capabilities".

Asked directly in Washington last month what the Bush administration's attitude would be towards an Australian decision to become an enrichment nation, a senior US official replied: "I'm not able to say."

Asked about Mr Bush's GNEP in an interview with The Australian, Mr Howard said: "I'm not suspicious of it. But I'm keen to keep an eye on it and keen to ensure it doesn't damage Australia's position. "The fact that this (GNEP) isbeing developed is a reason why we should look more closely at whether we should process uranium."

In political terms, Mr Bush seeks a new global nuclear bargain. Nuclear supplier nations such as the US, Russia, Britain, France, China and Japan would provide user nations with reactors and nuclear fuel on a "cradle to grave" basis in exchange for a guarantee they would not enter into enrichment, reprocessing and technologies necessary to produce weapons.

Mr Howard left no doubt about his personal preference. "It does seem odd that you wouldn't enrich uranium, doesn't it?" he said. "One of the great historical anomalies of the Australian economy which most Australians could never understand is that we had the best wool in the world and we sent it overseas to be processed and we bought it back at a much higher price. "That always struck people as rather odd. I would be keen to avoid that occurring."

Any Australian decision to enrich uranium creates a potential conflict for the US between its global policy and its alliance obligations. Under GNEP, an Australian enrichment decision would be seen as a bad precedent, but this conclusion would be offset by trust in Australia as a close US ally and responsible nuclear player.

Mr Howard said he had not tested US sentiment on Australia's enrichment option. "I think any administration would accept it," he said. "Certainly, the present one would accept it. I can't imagine a future administration would have a different view. We would be seen as a totally reliable and trustworthy country."

After launching his vision on Monday for Australia to become an energy superpower based on its huge reserves of coal, gas and uranium, Mr Howard said he was working closely with Canada to ensure that the world's two biggest uranium producers were not locked out of the nuclear fuel-cycle. "Each of us has a very direct interest in the nuclear fuel cycle, and there is a body which is still embryonic being put together by the United States and the other nuclear powers which we will have to watch very carefully," Mr Howard said. "We have to watch that it doesn't impact negatively on Australia and Canada. "I am not suggesting there is any malevolence on the part of these other countries, but we will have to watch for any unintended consequences."


Deadly government medicine in Victoria

Here is a frightening statistic that should focus the mind. On some estimates, 3500 people have died unnecessarily in Victoria since the Bracks Government was elected. Think that through. What if the road toll had suddenly surged by so many? There would be public fury. What if the murder rate had leapt by 500 a year or terrorists were picking off Victorians at about ten a week? What if poor regulation of hygiene in the food industry was killing two people each working day? The pressure to fix it would be massive. If any other collection of problems was allowing so many people to die unnecessarily there would be public outrage and the full community focus would be on analyzing and solving the problem. So why are these lives different?

They are all people with families, and they are all equally dead. Why accept this? These people haven't died behind the wheel or at the wrong end of a gun, the accusation is that they have died because Victoria's health system is not working well enough. That much now seems beyond dispute, although the awful statistics have been sharpened by a passionate doctor who represents medical staff in public hospitals. Dr. Peter Lazzari is chair of the chairs of medical staff in the hospitals and himself a senior physician. His concern has provoked a flair for dramatic language that has been overly harsh but aimed to seize attention and did.

He has accused Steve Bracks of behaving like an undertaker and claimed the Australian Medical Association has abandoned patients: ``I officially declare a state of war, ``he said. ``The beds are bursting and the Government is architect of genocide against innocent Victorians.'' That is the ridiculous language of intense frustration. But the government has not directly disputed his figures, and admits much needs to be done. The argument now is about how to do it, and that is why Dr. Lazzari is right to try to shock the public out of its apathy and acceptance.

He says there are 500 deaths each year on waiting lists, 250 of which are avoidable. The government's own figures, revealed under Freedom of Information laws, show this could be a realistic assessment. He further claims that overcrowded hospitals cause another 250 unnecessary deaths each year. Again, government figures show hospitals are short 550 beds, and although Dr. Lazzari cannot prove overcrowding kills 250, it is reasonable to assume that as a representative of doctors in the system he has a fair idea what is going on.

Of course the government does not want such death. It has worked hard to improve the system, but now in the face of such an appalling statistic it is defensive and secretive because it knows health is a dangerous political issue. Much of what official information is available has been dragged out through FOI laws. Now, rather than encouraging an all-in debate that might throw up ideas and save lives the government prefers chanting politically targeted statistics designed to confuse.

The acting Health Minister Gavin Jennings finally recognized reality, admitting that the government had to take responsibility for the 500 deaths and for ``continued suffering'' on waiting lists. But the minister's spokesman offered this: ``The Government is proud of its record in health. This year Victorian hospitals will treat around 300,000 more people than they did when the government was elected. We have employed 6035 extra nurses and 1365 extra doctors.'' Perhaps that is true, but it is little consolation to the families of the 500 dead who need not be dead. Quoting staff numbers and dollars spent only proves the depth of the problem, because it is still not fixed. What is urgently needed in this are facts, ideas, and less political spin.

The Government needs to put aside political sensitivity and the State Opposition needs to allow them the breathing space to do it. Accurate and detailed figures on waiting lists and bed shortages need to be released, not dragged out through FOI. For example, we need to know how many patients on the lists are being reclassified as their health worsens. We need to know whether official waiting lists include those waiting to see a specialist and if not how many are waiting. We need to know how many patients wait so long they are deemed unfit for surgery by the time their case is at the front of the queue. And we need to know whether Dr. Lazzari is right and how many died because they waited too long. Doctors, God bless them, would throw endless billions of dollars at the system because all they want to do is help people.

The country does not have endless billions of dollars to spend so instead we need co-operation, consultation, openness and ideas. Perhaps hospitals can work smarter, not leaner. Perhaps medical staff can be freed from bureaucratic duties so they can concentrate on medicine ahead of bean-counting.

Perhaps waiting lists can be better managed. Perhaps there are ideas that would allow specialists to see more patients. Perhaps we should ask why this country tolerates the expensive and ridiculous duplication of the system through state and federal bureaucracies that sit around getting fatter while frail people can't get a bed. It is unlikely there is a person working inside the health system without a view on how to make it better. Victoria must end the defensiveness and listen. The politicians must put aside point scoring and construct a bi-partisan think tank to chase solutions.

There will never be a zero avoidable death rate, just as the roads will always kill some people. But if the united community focus that has built around the road toll can be applied to hospitals, lives will be saved. Once, 1034 deaths on the roads were considered inevitable. Now that is unthinkable. Five hundred unnecessary deaths in the hospital system must today be considered equally atrocious.


20 July, 2006

Economic growth steams ahead

New analysis of the Australian economy suggests there is a continuing head of steam. The Westpac-Melbourne Institute leading index of economic activity is showing an annualised growth rate of 4.2 per cent for May. Although that is down on the April reading, it remains well above the long-term trend rate of 3.8 per cent.

Westpac senior economist Andrew Hanlan says international conditions are still particularly favourable and are providing a major stimulus to the Australian economy. Mr Hanlan says there is a risk the Australian economy has more upward momentum than previously believed, although rising interest rates are likely to delay the emerging housing recovery.

Westpac expects Australia's economic growth rate to pick up to 3.5 per cent in 2006. It says the risk is that the Australian economy has more upward momentum than previously believed. That view has been echoed by ANZ head of Australian economics, Tony Pearson, who says official interest rates might be raised again as early as next month. "The Reserve Bank now seems to have more work to do that we might have thought before," he said. "The reason for that is that the economy seems to have more momentum than had been expected. "It looks as if, on early indications, that the May rate rise has not had as big an impact on consumer confidence or business confidence as you might have expected."


Tribal law 'no excuse for sex abuse'

Amazing that the Leftist infuence makes it necessary to assert that

Customary law will no longer be used as an excuse for sexual abuse and violence in indigenous communities under an agreement struck at yesterday's talks. John Howard and state leaders rejected an attempt by ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope to scuttle a statement on customary law on the grounds that it sent the wrong message on reconciliation. The push sparked a withering response from Peter Beattie during private talks, with the Queensland premier rolling his eyes at the suggestion and later urging the leaders to "stop the nonsense" on the issue.

Premiers have also signed off on a proposal to establish a joint intelligence taskforce to fight violence and child abuse under the supervision of the Australian Crime Commission. Truancy will be targeted under an agreement to collect and publish school attendance rates of indigenous children. The agreement follows the announcement of a $130million package to tackle law and order, reached at a recent inter-governmental summit on violence and child abuse.

COAG yesterday agreed to a statement that "no customary law or cultural practice excuses, justifies, authorises, requires or lessens the seriousness of violence or sexual abuse". The statement said: "All jurisdictions agree that their laws will reflect this, if necessary by future amendment."

However, Mr Stanhope rejected claims that customary law was being abused. "It is very important in the context of advancing reconciliation and issues in relation to indigenous disadvantage that we not seek to identify aspects of Aboriginal culture and customary law as incidences, or sources of some of the behaviours," he said. "It is important that we separate the causes of indigenous disadvantage from issues such as customary law, cultural background. The ACT has a particular position in relation to the role and place in sentencing courts to take account of issues such as cultural background."

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Beattie said it was clear states and territories needed to act. "Of course they do. I mean, there's too much abuse," he said. "We've got to stop all the nonsense that goes on about it. We don't have a problem with customary law in Queensland. Frankly, you know there are enough indigenous leaders who are taking a stand on this and we want to support them."

NSW Premier Morris Iemma also supported moves to address violence in indigenous communities. "I support the statement that we made about violence and abuse," Mr Iemma said.

However, Nothern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin said the positive contribution made by many Aboriginal people should not be forgotten. "Yes, it happens. But can I also say that one of the things that Aboriginal Territorians have said to me over the last few months is why can't Australia also recognise the incredible things that are being done, the people whose commitment is everyday for change," she said. "There are thousands of Aboriginal Australians who are really working hard for that change."

Law Council president Tim Bugg said statistics did not support claims that indigenous offenders were treated more leniently than other offenders.


A very un-Green Prime Minister

No nonsense about the evils of dams from John Howard

Australians living in major cities should not have to tolerate water restrictions, Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday. In a damning assessment of the nation's water infrastructure provided by local authorities and the states, Mr Howard suggested even the ancient Romans had superior policy in the area to modern-day Australia.

The Prime Minister, addressing the Committee for Economic Development in Sydney, also made a case for turning Australia into a global energy superpower incorporating a thriving nuclear power sector.

But he said one of the most urgent tasks was to create water projects that would deliver a genuinely "transformative impact" on water management. "If ancient Rome's 11 aqueducts 2000 years ago could deliver a billion litres of water to it millions of inhabitants every day . . . how can we seriously tolerate major water constraints in our great cities?" he said. Mr Howard said he saw little reason why large cities should be gripped by water crisis. "Having a city on permanent water restrictions makes about as much sense as having a city on permanent power restrictions," he said. "We would not tolerate it with electricity, we should not tolerate it with water."

The Prime Minister said two critical assumptions had to be overcome immediately if we were to reverse the trend - that water be used only once and that storm water be carried off to the oceans.

Mr Howard also said Australia turning its back on nuclear energy was like Saudi Arabia turning its back on oil. The Prime Minister will also oversee steps to encourage greater energy exploration. "While known oil reserves are declining, Australia remains relatively unexplored, particularly for petroleum in frontier offshore areas," he said. Mr Howard said Australia's energy exports were forecast to grow to around $45 billion in 2006-07 - more than three times what we earned last year from meat, grains and wool combined.

Greenpeace and Nature Conservation Council protesters who heckled Mr Howard outside the forum, said the PM had done nothing to increase alternative energies in a decade of power.


Teachers whine about merit pay

On the grounds that teachers don't make a difference!

Plans to reward teachers for results, rather than years in the job, have been dismissed by the national president of the Australian Education Union, who said it was "completely unreasonable to hold a teacher responsible foroutcomes". Pat Byrne disputed the idea that the teacher was more important than a student's family background in determining achievement and rejected the idea of tying pay to academic results.

She said a such system would set teacher against teacher and discourage them from helping difficult pupils. "You can only hold teachers responsible for what they can control and teachers have no control over the nature of the students they have," she said. "Classes are different, the way kids interact in a particular class is different, every subject area is different, every school is different. "All these things are variable and interchangeable and it is completely unreasonable to hold a teacher responsible for outcomes."

Ms Byrne made her comments after federal Education Minister Julie Bishop outlined a plan this week to reward good teachers with bonuses. Ms Bishop accused the states of complacency in accepting low standards, particularly in literacy and numeracy, and proposed an incentive fund as a way of keeping the best teachers in government schools.

The Association of Independent Schools of NSW is looking at introducing merit-based pay to replace the current system of incremental rises for every year of service, with the top pay rate cutting in after about eight years.

Ms Byrne's views were disputed by NSW Institute of Teachers chief executive Tom Alegounarias, who said student results were directly linked to teaching practice. Mr Alegounarias said that while a student's social background influenced their education, their social circumstances did not dictate a lower quality of teaching or expectations. "We hold the same aspirations for disadvantaged students as we hold for advantaged students. Our expectations of their achievement cannot be any less." He said public consultation revealed teachers and the community believed excellent teachers should be recognised and assessed. The debate now focused on how best to do it. "You risk, in schools that do add value, overlooking excellent teachers that get good results when the results are ultimately average," he said. "You also risk in schools like selective high schools and in high socio-economic communities believing that teachers are excellent simply because students are well-resourced and highly motivated."

But Ms Byrne said paying teachers according to an individual assessment would lead to teachers declining to work in challenging schools. She said it shifted responsibility from the government to the teacher without providing any support that might help students improve. Ms Byrne also said it was difficult to define the term "better teacher" and it was "extremely insulting" to say they had to be encouraged into state government schools because it implied that good teachers worked only in private schools.


19 July, 2006

Death of Millions a Zionist lie: Mufti

The nation's Islamic leader, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, has dismissed the Holocaust as a "Zionist lie" in a series of fierv sermons in which he also lashed out at the West and the LS-led occupation of Iraq. And Sheik Hilali - the mufti of Australia and a member of John Howard's Muslim Community Reference Group - also accuses the federal Government of being dishonest for claiming the anti-terrorism laws were not designed specifically for Muslims. "These laws are tailored to target us precisely," he said in a sermon recorded at Sydney's Lakemba Mosque in November - one of a number of recordings The Weekend Australian has of Sheik Hilali's religious addresses delivered in Arabic over the past eight months.

Revelations that the nation's most senior Islamic cleric has been openly preaching extreme messages to his mainstream followers will be a major setback for the Howard Government. Sheik Hilali is a senior member of the Prime Minister's Muslim advisory board. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Multicultural Affairs Andrew Robb will tomorrow unveil details of federal funding for national projects to help address problems within the Islamic community.

Mr Robb, who oversees the advisory group, told The Weekend Australian Sheik Hilali's reported comments were "inflammatory and unacceptable".

Last night. Sheik Hilali stood by his sermons: "We are always saddened and always remember with great sorrow what Nazism did to the Jewish people," he said in a statement to The Weekend Australian. "However, we do not wish to see these crimes repeated by other hands. There is no denying that for some time now, some who see themselves as supporters of Israel do abuse the Holocaust whenever Israel is engaged in its indefensible wars and crimes against humanity. "People, myself included, are within their right to question the morality of exploiting the memory of the Holocaust."

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Sheik Hilali's intolerance of other religions was hypocritical. "It is not the time for anyone in positions of responsibility to make comments about other groups, particularly if you are someone who has been concerned about a lack of tolerance towards Muslims," he said.

In a February sermon, Sheik Hilali attacked the Western press for being afraid to admit that the Holocaust was "a ploy made by the Zionists". He also trivialised the number of Jews killed by the Nazis. "What's that six million all about? Is there six million?", said the Egyptian-born cleric, before calling on Muslims worldwide to boycott Danish goods over the publication of cartoons that offended Muslims for their depiction of the prophet Mohammed.

In another Friday sermon, delivered two weeks ago at Lakemba Mosque - titled The Zionists Murder Palestinians and the World Watches and the Muslims Are Silent - he called the U.S. the breeders of oppression and labelled Israel "a cancer that is planted in the heart of the Ummah (Muslim community)"

The above article appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on July 15, 2006

Holocaust row Mufti to lose advisory post

Australia's most senior Islamic cleric, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilaly, will be thrown off John Howard's Muslim advisory board after dismissing the Holocaust as a "Zionist lie". The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Robb, yesterday attacked Sheik Hilaly's comments in The Weekend Australian as "offensive and divisive". He said the Egyptian-born leader would be stripped of his senior position on the Muslim Community Reference Group when its membership was reviewed next month. "It's unlikely he will continue," Mr Robb, who oversees the Muslim advisory board, said yesterday.

The chairman of the reference group, Ameer Ali, was not surprised by the comments. "Knowing the man, he's a bit of a loose cannon so I don't get shocked by any of his views," Dr Ali said. But he said Sheik Hilaly played an integral role in the nation's 300,000-strong Muslim community and should not be sidelined by the Government. "He is part of the community and he is the leader of the community and the Government should make use of him rather than push him aside," he said. "I will not support the view of throwing him out."

The Weekend Australian revealed that the mufti labelled the Holocaust a myth fabricated and perpetuated by Zionists in Arabic sermons and had played down the number of Jews killed by the Nazis. The Jewish community was outraged, with the executive director of the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, describing the comments attributed to Sheik Hilaly as "repugnant, raw racism". "The comments are beyond the pale of decency, and anyone who has uttered them has disqualified themselves from any role in Australia's tolerant, democratic society, let alone any position of responsibility or community leadership," he said yesterday. The author of The Holocaust Denial in Australia, Danny Ben-Moshe from Victoria University, said the mufti's comments were anti-Semitic. "You would have to wonder about the responsibility of such a person when moderation is needed at a time like this," he said.

Sheik Hilaly, the head of Lakemba Mosque in Sydney's west, came under fire in March after The Australian revealed he said the 14-member Muslim reference group was "stillborn" and set up to disseminate government propaganda under the guise of an elite Islamic body.

Mr Robb said yesterday Sheik Hilaly's reported views about the Holocaust were at odds with the comments the cleric made to him during a meeting about three months ago. "It's quite hypocritical in terms of what he had said to me and it's not consistent with leadership if that's true," he said. He said the sheik - who was appointed mufti by the now heavily divided Australian Federation of Islamic Councils - was not representative of Australia's Muslim communities. "There are many Muslim communities and ... I'm encouraged that he doesn't speak for many of the Muslims in my view."

AFIC spokesman Haset Sali said the council was not considering stripping Sheik Hilaly of his position as mufti.


Red tape cut for greenhouse reports

Proposals for a single mandatory reporting system of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions will be developed by the end of the year. The Council of Australian Governments yesterday agreed its preferred option was to devise a "single streamlined system that imposes the least cost and red tape burden". Senior federal and state officials will report to the next COAG meeting in December with proposals for streamlining emissions and energy reporting.

"The report should be based on the preparation of national purpose-built legislation to provide for cost-effective mandatory reporting and disclosure at the company level at the earliest practicable date," the COAG communique says. "The report will also need to include advice on timing, thresholds and governance arrangements."

Yesterday's meeting agreed that the National Pollutant Inventory would no longer be used as a vehicle for reporting greenhouse gas emissions. No further work will be undertaken by the Environment Protection and Heritage Council on incorporating greenhouse gas emission reporting in the index. However, the states and territories reserved the right to use the index if there was no agreement by December.

The meeting also agreed that the commonwealth, states and territories would work together to maximise opportunities for Australia to reduce emissions through clean coal and other technologies. The meeting also moved to streamline environmental approvals across the country. The federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act allows for agreements with the states and territories to accredit their environmental assessment and approvals process. Agreements are in place with Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory but are yet to be completed with the remaining states and the ACT.

Officials said finalising the outstanding agreements would provide certainty for business by ensuring that proposed developments were assessed by the relevant jurisdiction, without duplication by the commonwealth. Senior officials will report by December on a strategy to further streamline the approval process.


Illegal Indonesian fishing still a big problem

The Immigration Department is chartering a plane to move foreign fishermen out of Darwin's detention centre, because they keep escaping. Fifteen illegal foreign fishermen scaled the perimeter fence and escaped last night, but Scott Kelleher from the Immigration Department says the men were caught and are in police custody. "Illegal foreign fishers are low risk detainees but these instances are not acceptable to the department and will not be tolerated," he said. "These people escaped lawful custody and the department will be speaking with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions with a view to charging those who escaped."

All 72 detainees at the Darwin centre will be moved to Baxter detention centre in South Australia until security at Darwin is upgraded. Another 67 Indonesian fishermen have just arrived in Darwin on boats captured near the Wessel Islands last week. Commodore Campbell Darby says several of the seven ice boats tried to dodge Navy patrol boats as they approached last week, and some threw weighted bottles at boarding parties. He says it is the first time seven ice boats have been caught at once.

The 67 crew were to be held in Darwin's Detention Centre, but will now be moved to South Australia because of the escapes. The new arrivals will have to go through medical checks in Darwin before they can be flown south.


18 July, 2006

NSW prisoners lap up $70 million worth of medical perks

Inmates are undergoing plastic surgery, hormone therapy and erection dysfunction procedures as taxpayers fund an expanding prison health system costing nearly $70 million-a-year. An investigation by The Daily Telegraph has revealed inmates are getting premium medical care that has featured 256 elective surgery operations over the past two years, including a series of bizarre optional procedures. The erectile dysfunction surgery was required to stop a young inmate feeling pain during erections - despite sex being officially banned inside New South Wales prisons.

Other procedures since 2004 revealed in official Justice Health documents include five cases of plastic surgery, a male circumcision, a tubal ligation, a tonsillectomy, a facial lesion removal and two hip replacements. Seven procedures involved removal of ingrown toenails with one on March 14 this year including "trimming of other toenails". The inventory of elective surgery procedures, obtained under Freedom of Information, even included a caesarian birth five days before Christmas last year. Six natural births also took place and six inmates are receiving hormone therapy. About 1120 are receiving methadone.

Taxpayers spent $69.15 million last year funding Justice Health, an 80 per cent increase on the $38.26 million in 2001. The bill does not cover the costs of surgery and clinical procedures in public hospitals. These are picked up by NSW Health and not covered by Medicare.

The runaway prison medical bill will add to concerns the Iemma Government has gone soft in its management of the state's jails. Last week The Daily Telegraph reported the Government had returned a television set and sandwich maker to serial killer Ivan Milat, despite an outcry from victims' families. The Government was also embarrassed last month by revelations that a gang rapist with cancer had his sperm frozen before undergoing chemotherapy so he could have children on his release.

A spokesman for the the prison officers division of the Public Service Association said he believed inmates got better health care than the rest of the community. "These guys in jail see the nurse for anything and if they need to see a specialist they are referred straight away. Somebody else organises it all for them. They don't have to do a thing," the spokesman said. "Even if they get a pimple on their backside they get themselves down to hospital to get it lanced."

Nurse numbers alone have surged over the past five years, from 142 to 506, equal to one nurse for every 20 prisoners. Martha Jabour, of the Homicide Victims Support Group, said it was disturbing prisoners were getting access to elective surgery for procedures such as erection dysfunction.

Justice Health chief Dr Richard Matthews vigorously defended the care offered to inmates. He denied they jumped waiting list queues that all other patients faced. Dr Matthews said the Justice Health's budget had increased in line with the prison population. But he said inmates should not get inferior care as "punishment". "Our view is that these folks are our patients. We have no interest in their offences, in fact we prefer not to know," said Dr Matthews.


Australian income tax at 25-yr low

People are paying less income tax than at any time in almost 25 years in the wake of the budget tax cuts. Personal income tax will strip an average of 17.3 per cent from total wage and salary income in 2006-07, according to estimates by Access Economics. Last year, tax took almost 20 per cent of that income. "We're back to a level that is lower than anything we've seen since 1983," Access Economics director Chris Richardson said yesterday. Taxpayers are $9 billion a year better off as a result of the latest tax cuts and increases to tax thresholds that took effect on July 1, Mr Richardson said. The average tax burden peaked in 1988, when it reached 23.5 per cent of wage and salary income. It rose above 23 per cent again between 1999 and 2000.

"The personal income tax burden has been lowered in a couple of ways. First, there was the shift with GST towards indirect taxes and, more recently, there has been a shift towards profit taxes rather than wages," said Mr Richardson. As well as the partial shift of the individual tax burden to the GST, the mining boom has raised company profits to a record share of the economy. The resulting flow of company tax revenue has financed the latest tax cuts.

Calculations conducted by the economic modelling institute, NATSEM, for the Labor Party show tax burdens for some households will still be higher following the tax cuts than they were 10 years ago. However, the Access Economics report shows that the overwhelming bulk of households are much better off, with the average income tax burden falling by five percentage points over the decade.

Mr Richardson warned that the Government's generosity would contain a sting if it led the Reserve Bank to raise interest rates. He said that every 0.25 per cent increase in interest rates removed $2 billion from household pockets. This would matter much more in the southeastern states, particularly NSW, than in the resource-rich states of Western Australia and Queensland. "Debt-servicing ratios are much higher for households in NSW than the national average," Mr Richardson said. "When something happens to interest rates, there is the higher cost of servicing the debt and the lower value for the house, which makes people feel less wealthy."

Access Economics expects the tax cuts to fuel retail sales this year, with a return to growth rates of almost 4 per cent, despite the burden of higher petrol costs. Increased interest rates might, however, prolong the downturn in the housing construction industry. Access Economics says that although a rate rise would dampen the picture, there are strong signs of economic recovery in NSW, with improving retail sales and good growth in two of the state's most important industries: finance and information technology. It also believes that investment in the state's export infrastructure should soon pay dividends. It expects NSW's growth rate to rise from 1.7 to 3.7 per cent this year. Victoria should do even better, recording 4 per cent growth this year. Queensland and Western Australia will both record growth rates in excess of 5 per cent, while South Australia and Tasmania will be just above 3 per cent.


More of the usual high standards in a government hospital

An expectant mother was forced to wait more than half an hour in the delivery room of Caboolture Hospital while medical staff searched for a clean set of forceps. Now the woman must be tested for hepatitis C because the forceps, when they were found, were not properly sterilised. A Queensland Health spokesman said the hospital had only four sets of forceps, now increased to five. The forceps were not sterilised because there was not time, and excessive demand on the day had used up all the sets. In the end the forceps had only been sterilised chemically, the spokesman said.

Dr Michael Whitby, an expert in infectious diseases, said it was not ideal practice for the hospital to have reused the birthing instruments, but the risk was very low of the mother contracting a disease as long as they were chemically sterilised. Testing the woman was a prudent action, he said. AMA president Dr Zelle Hodge said some visiting doctors take their own surgical instruments to hospitals because the state's equipment was not always good enough. The state Budget did not contain enough funding for basic infrastructure and service delivery costs, Dr Hodge said.

Susan Wheatley's husband, Noel, was in the delivery room as the doctor waited more than 30 minutes for a midwife to find forceps to deliver his child. The doctor had used suction on the baby's head, but the procedure failed. "It just seemed very disorganised to me," he said. "Emergency equipment should be kept in a emergency cupboard, not have people searching for it - I was livid. "I don't know what a set of forceps cost, but probably less than a lunchtime engagement in Parliament."

Opposition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said there should be an immediate inquiry. "You don't use unsterilised instruments - you just don't do it," Dr Flegg said. "The reason you need a sterilisation unit is you don't always know what instruments you need when you do a procedure. "Chemical sterilisation doesn't meet accreditation standards for a hospital. Even in a general practice, it wouldn't pass." Mr Wheatley said he did not plan to sue Queensland Health unless his wife contracted hepatitis. However, he said he wanted to let other women know what his wife endured.


Muslim schools bad for integration

Pupils taught in Brisbane's Islamic schools may struggle to integrate into Australian society, a leading Muslim has warned.

The number of parents choosing an Islamic education for their children has soared in the past five years. More than 750 pupils are now taught in the city's two Muslim schools and the number is set to pass 1000 when the next academic year begins. But Abdul Jalal, president of the Islamic Council of Queensland, says more should be done to integrate Muslim and non-Muslim children. "Segregation is not healthy and I'm totally opposed to it," he said. "The schools have to look at which direction they are taking our young people. How will this generation integrate if not at school?"

Mr Jalal said he supported religious schools in principle, but was concerned about the lack of non-Muslim pupils attending the Islamic College of Brisbane and Brisbane Muslim School. "It's a concern to me and I have made it known to the college's authorities that they have to get non-Muslim students into our schools," he said. "Unless schools integrate with the wider community, bringing people from different races together, then I'm afraid. We are trying to seek ways of ensuring another Cronulla doesn't happen here."

A recent British report on the aftermath of the London bombings said Christians and Muslims should be encouraged to integrate, claiming that the two communities lead "parallel lives". Co-author Asaf Hussain said: "Multicultural policies saved no lives in London on July 7. Britain's population has to become more integrated."

The Islamic College of Brisbane has 550 pupils and next year hopes to enrol 700. But Islamic College principal Dr Mubarak Noor said the school regularly hosted visits from non-Muslim schools and took part in inter-school sport contests. The school has three non-Muslim pupils - two boys and a girl, who has to wear a headscarf in line with the school's uniform policy - and is trying to enrol more. Pupils are taught the standard syllabus, as well Arabic and Islamic studies.

Shahid Khan, principal of Brisbane Muslim School, said it was founded in 2002 with 19 pupils, but today it has 233 and next year will have at least 300. He stressed that his school also took part in inter-school sport contests and visits and is now setting up a scholarship scheme to encourage local Aboriginal children to attend the school. More than half of his staff are non-Muslim. "We haven't closed the doors to others and are actively seeking Aboriginal participation in our school," he said. "We are not isolated in any way. We are trying hard to create good citizens and teach them Australian principles and to be proud of their country."

Mohamad Abdalla, head of Griffith University's Islamic Research Unit, said many Muslim parents opted for Islamic education because of a perceived lack of "ethics and morality" in state schools. "There are arguments back and forth on this subject," he said. "Some experts claim Islamic schools seclude students from the mainstream, but others say Jewish and Christian schools show pupils from religious schools can integrate without any problem."

State Education Minister Rod Welford declined to comment on the issue, but National MP and state opposition schools spokesman Stuart Copeland said: "I don't have a problem with religious schools, but they have to make sure they are producing well-rounded young people. I don't want any school to be too narrow in its focus."


17 July, 2006

Incitement to Islamic violence OK

An Islamic hate book that encourages martyrdom and war against non-Muslims has been approved by Australian regulators. They accept that the book, Jihad in the Quran and Sunnah, advocates fighting for Islam, but contend it is too old and vague to do any harm. The Office of Film and Literature Review has classified the title as unrestricted, meaning it can be imported freely and sold in Australia.

It contains references to bloodletting in the name of Allah and calls to rail against other faiths. "When you meet those who disbelieve, smite at their necks 'til when you have killed and wounded many of them, then take them as captives," it reads. "You are ordered by Allah to continue carrying out jihad against the disbelievers until they embrace Islam . . . those who are killed in the way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost."

It is one of the titles the Sunday Herald Sun found during recent visits to Islamic bookshops in Brunswick. Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council director Ted Lapkin called for further review of the book. "Anything that incites violence should be seriously checked and, if this particular book does that, I would think there would be grounds for finding it illegal," he said. "These are not normal times and we are dealing with a global jihadist network waging war with the democratic world."

The Office of Film and Literature Classification termed the book "historical and general" and said it contained no call to action: "There were no specific violent acts or threats of jihad referred to." Of the eight titles the board reviewed, acting upon a request from federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, two were immediately banned. They were Join the Caravan and Defence of the Muslim Lands, neither of which was in stock at Victoria's two main Muslim bookshops this past week.


PM Howard supports Israel

Prime Minister John Howard has blamed Hezbollah for starting the current crisis between Lebanon and Israel, saying the group provoked the Jewish state into "self-defence" by going across the border and seizing soldiers.

In the five days since the Lebanese militant group kidnapped two soldiers, Israel has pounded Hezbollah targets and civilian infrastructure in Lebanon, killing 103 people - all but four of them civilians. Hezbollah has rained rockets on northern Israel, including the Galilee town of Tiberias, killing four Israelis and wounding scores.

International leaders are divided over the Israeli response, with the Russian President Vladimir Putin calling it "disproportionate". Speaking on the ABC's Insiders program, Mr Howard echoed comments by the US President George W Bush, who said the violence started because Hezbollah kidnapped two soldiers. "You could hardly have had a more provocative act," said Mr Howard. He says Hezbollah is the "plaything of Syria", and that he understands the Israeli position. "Much as I deplore the violence ... one has to understand Israel's position, Israel has the right of self-defence," he said. "This country has been under constant attack for almost 50 years, since it was founded, and there is still an unwillingness on the part of many in the region to accept Israel's right to exist. "Until there is unconditional acceptance, and also an unconditional acceptance by others of the need for a Palestinian state, separate to Israel of course, we're never going to have any lasting settlement."

More here

Nobel winner's work rejected

Good to see that I am not alone in regarding Patrick White's stuff as turgid garbage

It is one of the most lauded novels in Australian literature, but when Patrick White's The Eye of the Storm was submitted to 10 Australian publishers, not one of them would have published it. And in many cases the rejection letters received by The Weekend Australian for the book by the Nobel prize-winning author were insulting. In one case the reply referred to British novelist and critic David Lodge's "how to" book on writing fiction.

Under the Patrick White anagram Wraith Picket, chapter three of the novel was submitted, with the title altered to The Eye of the Cyclone and with only the names of the characters changed. From 12 submissions, 10 rejected it and two have not indicated their intentions more than two months later. Seven publishers, including big names Pan Macmillan and HarperCollins, independents ABC Books, Text and Scribe, and three leading agents were sent the manuscript in May. Allen & Unwin sent a note asking for three months to look at it and independent Limelight Press has not replied.

No one recognised White's genius. When the experiment was revealed yesterday, only Text expressed some concern that the rejections could reflect a less than learned and vigilant culling process. In his rejection letter Nicholas Hudson of Hudson Publishing said the writing left him perplexed. "We regret that we cannot make an offer for publication. Why? The first and easy answer is that we try to curb all desire to publish novels. This is a matter of self-preservation: the Harold Park Trots are by comparison a rational way of earning a living. "As a result I cannot really give any sensible critique of the work, but what I read left me puzzled," Mr Hudson said. "I found it hard to get involved with the characters, so it was not character-driven, nor in the ideas, so it was not idea-driven. It seemed like a plot-driven novel whose plot got lost through an aspiration to be a literary novel. It was very clever, but I was not compelled to read on." Mr Hudson yesterday recalled reading the manuscript and said in the letter he was being polite. "I thought it was pretentious fart-arsery. I don't like White," Mr Hudson said.

Mary Cunnane, whose namesake literary agency represents Mark Latham, commented in her rejection letter that the manuscript was in need of work. "Alas, the sample chapter, while reply (sic) with energy and feeling, does not give evidence that the work is yet of a publishable quality," wrote Ms Cunnane, an agent for three decades. "I suggest you get a copy of David Lodge's The Art of Fiction (Penguin) and absorb its lessons about exposition, dialogue, point of view, voice and characterisation." Ms Cunnane said yesterday she made "no apologies" for rejecting the work. "It's like taking a square metre of the Sistine chapel and saying, 'what do you think, is this a great work of art?'," she said. "Patrick White was clearly one of the greatest novelists of our time. For whatever reason (this chapter) didn't resonate with me. "I wonder what Patrick White would have made of this experiment. I think he would have had something very derisive to say."

The Sunday Times of London earlier this year submitted a chapter of VS Naipaul's Booker Prize-winning novel In a Free State under a pseudonym and received 20 rejections.

Another veteran agent, Lyn Tranter of Australian Literary Management, was not enthusiastic about the chances of making it into print. "I'm sure you can appreciate that an agent must be totally committed to a work to sell it enthusiastically to a publisher; to do otherwise is not in the best interests of the author," Ms Tranter said. Yesterday, Ms Tranter said the experiment was "piss-weak". "I am looking at one thing and one thing and one thing only - can I sell it? And the answer is no, I can't sell The Eye of the Storm," she said. "As a literary agent my job is to secure the interest of the public."

Cameron Creswell Agency explained their list of clients - including Don Watson, David Williamson and Frank Moorhouse - was already long and new authors were only taken if "we believe very strongly in their writing". Pan Macmillan acquisition editor Daniel Carlyle's rejection letter included tips on where to get the work evaluated. "If you are after critical analysis, it may be a good idea to join a writers' centre. There are centres in each state and these communities provide access to proofreaders, mentor programs and inside information about the publishing industry."

Smaller publishers Scribe Publications, Text Publishing and Giramondo Publishers all said they read the offering but sent rejection letters with little individual feedback. Aviva Tuffield, Scribe's fiction acquisitions editor and until recently the deputy editor of the Australian Book Review, said the publisher's list of fiction was limited but slowly expanding and that the manuscript was not "suitable for the emerging list".


16 July, 2006

Gasbag mother learns her lesson

Without realising it, Tracey Robinson was making it too hard for her son Joshua to get a word in. She would read him stories at night, barely stopping to draw breath as she turned each page and kept reading. But since stopping at each page for long enough to allow her son to speak, he has made giant leaps in his language development.

Joshua's experience was repeated by other preschool children who were involved in a University of Sydney study that has found a child's language skills can be vastly improved if parents learn to stay quiet more often. While it was a hard lesson to learn, Mrs Robinson is delighted with the results. "The program taught me not to talk for him. When you have a child with a language delay, it is hard to stop and wait without answering for them," she said. "When Joshua was 3 r, he couldn't put two words together. Now his language is still behind what it should be, but it has vastly improved."

Joshua was one of 19 preschool children with language delays who started the "child-centred" reading program in July last year. His mother said Joshua, who starts school next year, had developed a love of books and reading since completing the program in March. "Before, I just tried to read a story to him, but because he didn't have the comprehension skills, he wasn't interested."

Dr Susan Colmar, program co-ordinator for school counselling in the faculty of education and social work, conducted the study and found the reading program resulted in an 11-fold improvement in verbal language skills. Dr Colmar said the techniques appeared to benefit all children. While reading to children was still a good bedtime strategy to calm children, Dr Colmar said she had found amazing results for child language development using the interactive, child-led approach to reading and conversation.

"What is very evident is that parents talk far, far too much, rather than letting children talk about what they want," she said. "Parents always had control of the conversation, before I asked them to wait at every page turn for their child to say something. "If a parent leads, the child virtually says nothing."


Unsafe working hours for doctors still ongoing

Doctors in Queensland will continue to work unsafe hours - with some GPs on call for 24 hours a day - until shortages in the health system can be dealt with. As the Beattie Government said it had exceeded recruitment targets by hiring 1200 health staff since the Dr Death scandal, the Queensland Medical Board was preparing a safe working hours inquiry that could exacerbate the state's doctor shortage.

Medical board executive officer Jim O'Dempsey said a discussion paper would be released within a month to guide development of working hours standards. "The Medical Board ... is developing standards of healthy work practices with the medical profession to help doctors realise that taking care of their own health is an important part of taking care of their patients," he said. A draft of the discussion paper, obtained by The Australian, shows the average number of working hours for doctors has already dropped from 46.7 hours a week to 44.4 hours in five years. However, the paper warns that if every doctor in Australia worked three fewer hours a week, Queensland would need an extra 1000 doctors to manage the same amount of work.

Queensland Public Sector Union general secretary Alex Scott said he supported a move to ensure doctors worked safe hours, but not unless there were more doctors to fill the gaps. "The fact is, doctors are not going to walk off the job. They are committed ... and if they are needed they are not going to walk away," he said. "We think a cap (on working hours) is a good idea, but it has to be resourced properly."

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said he believed any move to limit doctors' hours would not exacerbate existing workforce shortages but could help retain staff in the long term. "The responsibility (of safe hours) should be shared," he said. "There's an element of personal responsibility, but the system has to support doctors and nurses who need to manage fatigue ... In the long term, you have to be able to retain your workforce, so they don't leave you because of exhaustion."

Australian Medical Association state president Zelle Hodge noted the case of a Sunshine Coast doctor whose fatigue after working 20 hours straight was found to have contributed to the death of a young girl he had inadequately treated. "The young doctor there was asked to work long hours and when difficulties occurred, Queensland Health did not help," she said.


A picture of a coward

A man accused of attacking an elderly woman in a shopping centre car park is deeply ashamed of his actions, a court has heard. Robert James Kenyon, 54, of Windsor, was expected to appear briefly in court yesterday but the magistrate questioned why he should be released on bail. Kenyon had been charged with one count of serious assault on a person over 60 after an incident of "car park rage" at Westfield Chermside shopping centre on June 18. Police said the 79-year-old great grandmother fell on her face, breaking the bridge of her nose in two places, snapping two ribs and injuring her hands.

Yesterday the case was adjourned until September 11 before Magistrate John Smith expressed concerns about releasing Kenyon. "My prime concern is whether he'll reoffend," Mr Smith said. Defence lawyer Peter Shields argued his client should be released, saying he was a married father who wanted to take responsibility for an impulsive act. Kenyon had no criminal history before the court and would pay compensation. "This man has done something he's deeply ashamed and remorseful for," Mr Shields said.

On the day of the alleged attack, police say the elderly woman pushed past Kenyon before he forcefully pushed her in the back. After the incident, Mr Shields said, Kenyon stayed at the scene while his wife comforted the woman.

Mr Smith agreed to bail but warned: "If he steps out of line, he'll be in custody." Outside court, Mr Shields said: "My client is doing everything he can to rectify what was a traumatic situation for all involved."


15 July, 2006

New Australian nuclear reactor

Green groups have condemned the nuclear watchdog's decision to grant the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) an operating licence for a new $330 million research reactor. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) today gave the go ahead for ANSTO to operate the Open Pool Australian Light-water (OPAL) research reactor at Lucas Heights, in Sydney's south. However, the watchdog has imposed strict conditions on ANSTO's licence, including the need to provide regular safety and security reviews.

But green groups and local residents say the safety and environmental risks associated with the new reactor are too high and it should not be allowed to operate. Australian Conservation Foundation nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney said it was irresponsible for the facility to start operating amid a battle over the Federal Government's plan to build a nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory. "We believe for the federal regulator to licence the operation of what will be by far the largest generator of radioactive waste in Australia before there's an agreed management of that waste, is a deeply flawed decision," he said.

There are also concerns about giving the go-ahead to the new reactor just a month after four accidents occurred in one week at the existing Lucas Heights nuclear reactor. "That should have been a wake up call about how quickly things can go wrong with nuclear reactors," Greenpeace campaigns manager Danny Kennedy said. "Unfortunately, decision makers don't seem to be listening. "It's extremely reckless to introduce a nuclear reactor into a major growth corridor of our largest city."

Local residents have also accused the nuclear watchdog of ignoring the concerns they outlined in 11,000 submissions opposing the new reactor. People Against a Nuclear Reactor (PANR) spokeswoman Genevieve Kelly said residents were worried that there was no adequate emergency plan in place in the event of a major accident or terrorist attack. She said residents' fears were compounded by the fact there had been no independent assessment of whether the new reactor should be allowed to operate. "It is like having Dracula in charge of the blood bank," she said. "No one with any independence is appointed to protect the public in these matters. The Federal Government regulates itself."

But ANSTO defended the need for the new reactor and said it met the highest possible standards imposed upon the nuclear industry. "Not only will OPAL increase ANSTO's capacity to supply Australia and the region with critically important radiopharmaceuticals, it will provide world leading capability for our scientists to apply nuclear research to such areas as biotechnology, food and molecular biology, nanotechnology, health, environmental management processes and engineering," ANSTO executive director Ian Smith. "This research will result in tangible social and economic benefits for Australia."


More on the split among Australian Methodists

The "rebels" would probably be welcomed within the Australian Presbyterian church

The Uniting Church is closer to a fundamentalist split after conservatives yesterday moved to set up a breakaway "church within the church" in protest at the failure to ban gay ministers. About a quarter of the almost 600 delegates who attended last week's Uniting Church Assembly in Brisbane have moved to establish the Assembly of Confessing Congregations, which they claim represents the "true gospel". But they have stopped short of turning their back completely on the Uniting Church, saying they would wait until the movement was ordained in October to determine their next move. Sources within the church and on the rebels' side said it seemed to be a strategic move to determine how many people they could attract to the new movement.

The trigger for the movement is the Uniting Church's failure to ban homosexuals from the ministry, and over the past few days the conservatives have been discussing their future after last week's conference failed to definitively oppose the ordination of gay priests. Reverend Stephen Estherby, the national spokesman for the Evangelical Members Union - which, along with the Reforming Alliance, forms the basis of the new movement - said the breakaway body would be ordained in October. "At that point, we will decide what happens. There is a very big difference between having 10 congregations and 400 congregations," he said. "But we have been trying to reform the movement from within for several years, but it's just not happening, so we're going to do it ourselves outside the church."

Uniting Church president Gregor Henderson said he wanted to meet the leadership of EMU and the Reforming Alliance next week to clarify the proposal. "On face value this proposal seems to suggest establishing a series of parallel structures within the Uniting Church," he said. "The church's Basis of Union provides for members of the church to work within the established councils of our presbyteries, synods and the assembly, and the proposed charter appears to be in breach of this."

Reverend Estherby said "there will be confrontation in this - they've said to us, 'You can't do this', but we just have". He said the new movement would not only try to attract existing congregations but also those who did not feel comfortable with the direction of the Uniting Church. "That's not to get up the nose of the Uniting Church - we see it as missionary work," he said. "We see ourselves as forming a sort of government-in-exile within the church because the assembly does not perform the function for which it was formed." He claimed that his movement had the support of 80 per cent of the "people in the pews" of the Uniting Church, but the "other side" had 80 per cent of the numbers at assembly. "Evangelical people haven't been interested in politics, but what we're frantically trying to do now is claw back our fair share of the power in the church," he said. But he stressed that even though his group was opposed to the ordination of gay priests, its members were not homophobic.


Another Queensland Health bungle plays itself out

They sure know how to hire good staff. At least this guy did not kill anyone so I guess that is progress

An overseas health bureaucrat has had his contract terminated by the State Government in a deal that is likely to cost taxpayers in excess of $100,000 for only five weeks' work. Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital clinical CEO Dr Thomas Ward left the job yesterday following an incident when he tried to sack the hospital's executive director of nursing services, Lesley Fleming. The Canadian medical bureaucrat was forced into an embarrassing backdown during which he was forced to reinstate Ms Fleming and issue a humiliating apology after action by senior nurses and their union.

Premier Peter Beattie announced Dr Ward's departure yesterday, but would not be drawn on the specifics. "I think it is fair to say we've obviously had negotiations with the doctor concerned and we're keen for everybody to move on," Mr Beattie said. "He has decided to return to Canada and we support that decision. I think he would have been relieved and we support his relief." Mr Beattie said he had approved a termination payment to Dr Ward of three months' pay, an amount which he said was "fairly normal in the circumstances".

Opposition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said senior medical staff had confirmed to him that Dr Ward had been pushed rather than resigned. "When he came back from a meeting on Wednesday morning someone asked him what was wrong and he only said 'I am devastated'," Dr Flegg said. "He was shoved on a flight at 9.30am this morning (Thursday) as part of settlement to get him out of the country so he couldn't be interviewed."

Queensland Nurses Union state secretary Gay Hawksworth said nurses from the Royal Brisbane Hospital attending the QNU conference yesterday greeted the news of Dr Ward's demise "with applause". "I went to a meeting last week and he admitted he had made a huge error - that he had got bad advice and that he knew he was now two years behind where he would want to be because he knew he had lost the confidence of nurses, and that made his position untenable," Ms Hawksworth said.

A media release issued by Mr Beattie and Health Minister Stephen Robertson when Dr Ward was employed in Queensland had described him as "an internationally respected health care systems manager, strategist and planner".


Merit wins in private teacher pay offer

Government school teachers fight this sort of thing tooth and nail. I wonder why? Is it because many of them could not withstand scrutiny?

Teachers will be rewarded for merit and professional competency, rather than years in the job, in a new salary deal at private schools. A draft agreement for NSW independent school teachers, obtained by The Australian, proposes restructuring the salary scale from 13 levels into three bands, with pay rises of up to 11per cent next year in return for meeting professional standards. The agreement proposes a hefty starting salary for graduate teachers, who would earn almost $55,000 next year, and almost $76,500 by 2010 - more than fledgling lawyers on an average $40,000 - and potentially enables independent schools to lure the brightest graduates away from public schools. Existing awards covering teachers in the government and non-government sectors give pay rises every year, regardless of performance.

The proposal also strips back existing conditions by funnelling annual-leave loading and some long-service leave into superannuation, reducing the accrual of long-service leave and the amount of informal holidays. Teachers now accrue long-service leave at the rate of 1.3 weeks a year for the first 10 years of service and two weeks a year thereafter. The proposal would bring the rate in line with that of the rest of the community, at 0.866 weeks a year. The amount of time teachers must spend at school will increase by two working weeks and they will be required to attend organised professional development activities during school holidays, rather than term-time. While teachers have four weeks of annual leave a year, the amount of time they are not required to spend at school, called non-term time, can reach 12 weeks a year.

The agreement, developed by the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, is being sent this week to the principals of independent schools that fall under federal Work Choices laws, with a planned July 24 presentation to teachers, before a vote is taken later this year. The AISNSW represents about 300 independent schools employing more than 12,000 teachers. About 70 per cent of schools are expected to fall under federal industrial relations laws.

The package for principals includes a suggested presentation for staff, which says the new pay structure is intended to recognise quality teachers. "Good teachers will continue to be good teachers and this proposed agreement is designed to recognise good teaching and remunerate staff according to good practice and the attainment of professional standards," the package says. "One of the most attractive features is the provision for ambitious teachers to move through the bands according to the level of competence achieved. "You will not be constrained by the 'years of service salary scale'. If you are prepared to put in the effort, you can reach the top of the scale more quickly than you can with the current system."

The draft agreement provides pay rises of between 6 per cent and 11 per cent next year, which would make independent school teachers' pay up to 11 per cent - and an average of 7 per cent - more than teachers in government and Catholic schools. Under the state award, government and Catholic school teachers in their first year will receive about $49,000 from February 1, rising to $69,000 for the top rate. By comparison, independent school teachers next year will receive $54,652 in their first year, rising to $76,729 for the top rate.

More than 70 per cent of all teachers in independent schools are paid at the top rate and about 90 per cent are paid at the top three rates, with few teachers starting their careers at an independent school. The agreement also introduces a new allowance for "classroom excellence", worth $6100 a year, for the most accomplished teachers already on the highest band, enabling them to stay in the classroom rather than have to "move along the more traditional promotions pathway in order for their excellence to be recognised". Professional competency, accomplishment and excellence will be determined by standards set by the NSW Institute of Teachers and the Independent Schools Teachers Accreditation Authority. AISNSW executive director Geoff Newcombe stressed that the agreement was a work in progress, with all options still up for negotiation with the unions and teachers.


14 July, 2006

Rebellion against homosexual clergy among Australian Methodists

The Uniting Church of Australia is facing rebellion by conservative factions angry over the church's failure to ban homosexuals from the ministry. The Uniting Church's 11th National Assembly, which finished in Brisbane on Tuesday ruled a congregation would not be forced to accept a minister living in a homosexual relationship. Equally, any congregation willing to accept such a minister would have its decision respected.

About 100 ministers and leaders in the church - mostly from the conservative Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church and Reforming Alliance groups - met in Brisbane yesterday to discuss their concerns over the issue.

The Assembly resolved 173 to 48 in a formal vote to affirm the church's unity in Jesus Christ but acknowledged a variety of theological perspectives and biblical understandings over sexuality. Uniting Church president Gregor Henderson said he was deeply concerned over the meeting and urged those unhappy with the decision to consider the "bigger picture". "We are very keen not to lose one member of the Uniting Church over this decision but I do recognise that some people in their own consciences may feel that they can't stay with us," Mr Henderson told ABC Radio. [Which is a polite Methodist way of saying: "Good riddance to fundamentalist Neanderthals"]


Australia's most Leftist State government opposes Federal citizenship requirements

Victoria is on a collision course with the Federal Government over a proposed compulsory citizenship test, which would test migrants' English skills and knowledge of Australian values. Andrew Robb, the parliamentary secretary to the Immigration Minister, has pledged to have a "serious look" at introducing a compulsory citizenship test. He said in April it was essential new citizens learned English and made a commitment to "common values" in order to integrate into "our Australian family".

But state Multicultural Affairs Minister John Pandazopoulos is expected to voice the Victorian Government's "complete opposition" to a compulsory test at a meeting with Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone and state and territory ministers in New Zealand tomorrow. The Age believes Mr Pandazopoulos will raise concerns that a compulsory test would create a discriminatory, two-tiered system in Australia, where those who did not speak fluent English were seen as less worthy of being an Australian citizen than those born here. Mr Pandazopoulos will stress to the Ministerial Council on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in Wellington tomorrow that Australia is a multicultural society and the ability to speak fluent English should not predicate citizenship. He is likely to point out that not all migrants who come to Australia are young and educated, and many refugees can barely read and write in their own language.

The Age believes the Victorian Government has expressed concerns that many countries that have tried to introduce citizenship tests have had problems. The German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg sparked national controversy early this year when it introduced a citizenship test that included questions about a person's view on homosexuality, forced marriage and women's rights. It was branded the "Muslim Test". Critics claimed it was aimed at the state's large Turkish community.

The meeting, to be attended by Senator Vanstone, the multicultural affairs ministers in each state and territory and several New Zealand ministers, will also discuss ways to stamp out religious extremism. A multimillion-dollar national action plan is likely to include the establishment of an Institute of Islamic Studies within a prominent Australian University, programs to encourage Muslim youths to play mainstream sports and a jobs scheme for unemployed Muslims.

Earlier this year Mr Robb said one of the ways of preventing fanaticism getting a toehold was to aim employment programs at young Muslims. "Fifty per cent of the 300,000 Muslims in Australia are 24 years and younger and there are big pockets of unemployment, and that leads to frustration and anger and aimlessness," he said at the time. "We have to have a prime focus on getting young Muslims educated and ready for jobs and into real jobs, good jobs."

But The Age believes the Victorian Government is opposed to any strategy that targets one religion. It is expected to argue that singling out Muslims only serves to perpetuate the myth that Muslims are the only people responsible for extremism. The Victorian Government will also call for a national review of the use by police of ethnic descriptions such as "of Middle Eastern appearance".


Mammogram incompetence in Queensland Health

There are increasing concerns about Queensland Health's breast cancer screening service after it emerged yesterday that 9300 women's mammograms had to be reviewed last year. The review was ordered after three of the five radiologists contracted to BreastScreen in Cairns failed to detect the expected number of small cancers in the 2004-2005 financial year. All films taken during that year were checked in the review, which took the service's most experienced radiologist almost five months to complete.

From the checks, 83 women were recalled to repeat their tests and two were found to have ductual carcinoma in situ, a non-invasive form of breast cancer. Two Gold Coast women this week launched legal action against Queensland Health alleging negligence after their aggressive cancers were not detected from their mammograms.

Opposition health spokesman Bruce Flegg accused the Government of a cover-up for not publicly announcing the review, but the Government asserted the review showed quality assurance processes were working. Queensland Health senior director of cancer screening services Jennifer Muller said the review was part of the normal quality control processes. "It's not an unusual event that we would want to do a review because we're committed to providing a high quality service," Ms Muller said.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said BreastScreen was continually undertaking quality control measures, which led to the "exhaustive review" of the Cairns service. "No service is perfect but when you consider the number of women now using the service throughout Australia we will provide a world-class service," he said. "What we've seen over the last couple of days is experts from that service coming out and saying that we provide a service that identifies nine out of 10 cancers - it's not perfect. "The important thing is when we find problems or the service hasn't met appropriate standards . . . we fix it, and that's what we've done in the Cairns case."

But Dr Flegg accused the Minister of a cavalier approach to public health. "I think it raises some pretty serious issues when they knew there was a quality problem with readings in Cairns," he said.. "I think it does cast a doubt in the minds of patients as to how reliable the reading at BreastScreen Queensland is."


One Australian State (New South Wales) has high education standards

The Federal Government wants to introduce an Australian certificate of education, to ensure a nationally consistent credential which, it claims, will raise standards of education across the country. To do so, it will identify common curriculum essentials from all the states, set common standards, administer common tests, and then allow work to be added by each state to reflect local needs and interests.

Why would we, in NSW, want this certificate? NSW has a rigorous, highly regarded curriculum. It's not perfect, but it is the best in the land: syllabuses which tell teachers what to teach, are creative and up to date, explicit in their definition of standards, specific in identifying content yet flexible enough to give teachers the ability to react to the needs of their classes.

The syllabuses cover the curriculum for every stage of schooling, from kindergarten to year 12. In some other states, the curriculum is written for only the last two years of schooling - when a public examination is to be held. There are other examples in which the curriculum is less than specific - even waffly and imprecise, where the curriculum does not set the same high standards for students as does the NSW curriculum. In other examples, the standards are manifestly lower than ours.

There is proof. In nearly every national test I have seen, NSW does better than other states. In the scholarship examination for year 7 run by the Australian Council for Educational Research, NSW students do better than their Victorian counterparts. For example, 1 per cent of NSW students this year gained a score of 205, whereas a mark of only 198 put Victorian students in that state's top 1 per cent.

Some years ago, when I taught mathematics, NSW always had one of the highest cut-offs for distinction certificates in the Australian Mathematics Competition. The cut-offs for each state are no longer published, because, it is claimed, they may be prone to misleading interpretation. My bet is that NSW continues to outdo the other states, and education chiefs are no longer prepared to say so.

That NSW does so well is no accident. NSW schoolchildren are among the best educated in the world and we should fight to protect that at all costs. If we are going to identify common curriculum elements around Australia, what are we going to get? A lowest common denominator. To ensure that all states feel they have some ownership of the curriculum and some stake in its establishment, it will need to include elements from these inferior syllabuses. NSW students will lose in this exercise.

More here

13 July, 2006

Mistrust: An unfortunate byproduct of black violence

Cherbourg Aboriginal settlement is one very rough place -- a far cry from when missionaries ran it

An Aboriginal woman celebrating her 25th birthday has died outside a Queensland hospital after nurses tragically mistook her distraught friend for a violent drunk. Maureen Weazel had spent Friday night dancing and singing at her party in Cherbourg, west of Gympie, with friends and family. But she died of an apparent heart attack the next morning as a friend, Henry Gyemori, tried in vain for 90 minutes to have medical staff come outside the hospital to help her. "The nurse was standing there looking at me and she signalled for me to go away," Mr Henry said yesterday.

He had left the party with Ms Weazel to go driving. "I was panicking because I was checking on Maureen and she was on the back seat of the car and not moving, but I could not get them to open the door. "I was yelling and kicking the door, and head-butting it. I could see nurses inside, and there was a security bloke sitting there as well, but nobody came. "After an hour and a half, or two hours, the cops arrived and they called out to me to settle down because I was going off my head. I had torn a steel railing off and was bashing the door. And when they realised the problem, Maureen was taken inside. I had been checking on her, telling her not to worry because we were at the hospital. "I done my best."

Police are preparing a report on Ms Weazel's death for the Coroner. A Queensland Health spokeswoman would not comment yesterday but sources confirmed the tragedy behind the death.

Maureen's younger sister, Amber, travelled 1000km from Mt Isa to attend the birthday bash. Yesterday, she was distraught at what had happened - and facing waiting until Monday to bury her sister. "Maureen had sugar diabetes, and so did Mum, who died when she was 34, and us girls were aged 12 and 13," Amber said. "That is why we were close. It seems unbelievable that somebody so full of life at a party could be dead just hours later - after getting to the hospital. "They need a loudspeaker outside the hospital so people are not just left standing there and nurses look out to see who it is. "This is supposed to be an emergency part of the hospital.

"We have been told by other people inside that night that one young girl was in there after a domestic violence incident and she was saying, 'Don't open up - it's my man come to get me'. "My sister was in the car all the time, unconscious."

Cherbourg Mayor Ken Bone said it was a tragedy that had victims on the family side as well as from the hospital. "I can see both sides in this, but it something that never should have happened," Mr Bone said. "The nurse was too scared to open up. "We had a meeting yesterday with Health department officials, our council and police. "We said better lighting and an intercom system were needed, and security staff at the hospital had to be employed past midnight, and it had to be a local bloke - not some white guy who does not know anybody


Silverware ditched on beach

About 60 pieces of silverware stolen from Queensland's Parliament House have surfaced in the shallows off a Redcliffe Peninsula beach. Found in a plastic bag by residents of a local boarding house on Monday night, the crested silverware has deepened the mystery of missing parliamentary property.

The silverware, handed to police for finger printing yesterday, is believed to be worth up to $6000 with some pieces still in the original packaging from when they were purchased in the 1970s.

The emergence of the knives, forks, spoons and other pieces, worth about $100 each, comes amid an ongoing police investigation into truckloads of stolen antique furniture, some of which has been located in NSW. Speaker Tony McGrady revealed the silverware find on the first day of Budget estimates hearings yesterday but sought to quash any suggestion that the theft had occurred under the Labor Government's watch.


An Australian Bill of Rights?

So far in Australia there has been singularly little demand for a bill of rights from the ordinary person. The demand appears to come primarily from judicial and social activists and from some vocal minority groups. These groups frequently have agendas which are contrary to what the majority of citizens want. Far too often the groups' agendas are those of a permissive society.

When one compares Australia with most other countries, our institutions have not only exhibited remarkable stability, but have also constituted a most powerful force for ensuring the peaceful development of our nation within the context of maximum personal freedom.

In large measure this is due to our British heritage. It was from England we derived our democracy, our system of parliamentary government, our judicial system and the rule of law, habeas corpus, trial by jury and the common law, which underpins so well our human rights.

Although many activists and left wing academics now pour scorn on the common law, it is important to remember that the common law in fact is a vast bill of rights, which has been devised over more than 800 years by the finest legal minds in the English-speaking world.

The United States inherited the English common law. Most Americans do not believe that individual rights originate with the government, but rather that they are inalienable rights coming from our Creator and most rights may not be impaired without due process of law. This philosophy of government was spelled out in the American Declaration of Independence and also by implication in the United States Constitution.

Earlier this year, Peter Faris, a distinguished QC, claimed that if Victorians were allowed a referendum on the proposed Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, the majority would oppose it. "One right that Victorians will not have is the right to vote on the Bill of Rights," he said. "You will have it, whether you want it or not." (Melbourne Herald Sun, February 24, 2006).

He pointed out that all Australian referendums on rights or bills of rights have been soundly defeated. The most recent, in 1988, proposed the incorporation into the Australian Constitution of certain supposed rights. However the proposal could have removed important existing rights. A constitutional lawyer described it as a "confidence trick". This referendum question was defeated by a massive 69 per cent "no" vote, which was the strongest defeat of a referendum proposal in Australian history.

In the Western world in the past, a system of checks and balances has usually been an important part of the protection of our human rights. Free nations establish a constitutional division of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

As the late Sir Harry Gibbs, one of the greatest Chief Justices of the High Court of Australia, pointed out, the most effective way to curb political power is to divide it. He said that "a federal constitution which brings about a division of power in actual practice, is a more secure protection for basic political freedom than a bill of rights, which means those who have power to interpret it say what it means".

The Report of the Victorian Consultation Committee says expressly on its first page: "The Charter would also play an important role ... in the way in which courts and tribunals interpret laws."

What has happened in the United States in the last 50 years not only lends strong support to what Sir Harry Gibbs says, but also stands as a strong warning of the problems which may be created by bills or charters of rights.

The United States inherited the common law of England but also set out a Bill of Rights in its Constitution. While the common law has functioned effectively in the United States for more than 220 years, in the last 50 years its Bill of Rights has created problems never envisaged when it was adopted in 1791.

Phyllis Schlafly, in her recent book The Supremacists, asserts that judicial supremacy in its present form emerged with the appointment of Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1953.

From the moment of his appointment Warren was an activist judge acting as a politician rather than a judge. From the US Bill of Rights, Warren began to spell out new rights which overturned established laws about criminal procedures, prayer in schools, internal security, obscenity and legislative reappointments.

Thereafter US judges allowed a torrent of obscenity to engulf the movies, television, the theatre, books and even classroom curricula. This was achieved by an entirely new interpretation of the First Amendment's free speech clause, which was originally designed only to protect freedom of political speech.

The US Supreme Court suddenly discovered in this amendment that pornography and a wide variety of other assaults on decency were to be elevated to a first amendment right. Obscenity dealers were delighted.

Because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been held up by the Victorian Human Rights Consultation Committee as a model, it is important to note what has happened in Canada under its (until recently) liberal government and this Charter.

Unborn children

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has enabled judges in Canada to strike down all statutory prohibitions on abortion - leading to the legalising of such horrors as partial-birth abortion, where a viable human being of as much as nine months' gestation may be killed by suctioning out its brains and crushing its skull just before the baby's head is born. Could this be why the Victorian Human Rights Consultation Committee, in section 8 of its draft bill, defined the "right to life" to begin only after birth?

The Canadian homosexual lobby considers the Charter of Rights and Freedoms a stunning success, because since its enactment same-sex marriage has been validated by legislation and same-sex couples have been allowed to adopt children.

Where laws are created by parliament, there is at least the opportunity to vote out the government at the next election; but where the laws are created by activist judges, there is no ready solution. We are unable to rid ourselves of these judges until death or retirement.

Former New South Wales premier Bob Carr has noted, among other things, that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has led to greatly increased litigation. New Zealand has had similar problems.

Bob Carr wrote: "In the first seven years after the [NZ] Bill of Rights Act was enacted, it was invoked by the accused in literally thousands of criminal law cases, a large number of which were appealed to the Court of Appeal (the highest court in New Zealand). ...

"The Bill of Rights continues to be routinely used as a ground for attempting to overturn the admissibility of evidence, including confessions, evidence obtained under search warrants and breath-testing of drunk drivers. It gives lawyers a new source of technicalities to allow the guilty ... to go free. Bills of rights are notorious for being the last ground of the desperate in litigation."

Section 8 of the draft legislation negates any rights of unborn children by defining the right to life to begin only after birth. Although many Australians believe that a mother's rights supersede those of the unborn child in certain circumstances, they still recognise that the child has rights which should be considered.

However, section 8 implies that the unborn child is not a human person, thereby breaching Australia's obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989.

Recommendation 7 envisages that the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act and its Commission would play a significant part in the functioning of the proposed Charter. Recommendation 23 would make a Victorian Human Rights Commissioner a member or chair of the Equal Opportunity Commission. This would not reassure those familiar with injustices perpetrated by the Equal Opportunity Commission since its inception in 1977 - such as the 2002 religious vilification complaint against two pastors, Daniel Scot and Danny Nalliah, whose 2004 conviction is being appealed despite enormous legal costs.

Recommendation 12 proposes human rights training and education for public servants, judges and tribunal members, parliamentarians and their staff and members of the legal profession. During their legal careers, judges will often have dealt with rights issues and would be more knowledgeable in this area than the government which now proposes to "educate" them. The sudden requirement for such training reeks of some vast social engineering program.

Section 3 of the draft charter bill defines "discrimination" to include "discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation". Would future Commissioners or tribunals disregard the right of a child to be brought up by a male and female parent in a normal environment? Would they insist that lesbians be provided with assisted reproductive technology in order to bear children with no fathers?

The best protection

Human rights are best protected when there is a separation of the parliament (which makes laws) from the judiciary (which applies them). A charter of rights has the effect of transferring decisions on major policy issues from an elected parliament to judges who are not directly accountable to the people.

The proposed Victorian Charter of Rights and Responsibilities would lead to costly expansion of the bureaucracy, increased litigation - as has occurred in Canada and New Zealand. The proposed Victorian Charter omits important rights; those included are vague and uncertain. Experience elsewhere suggests that the interpretation of such a charter would be placed in the hands of libertarian zealots who would impose their prejudices against the wishes of the people.

As the late Sir Harry Gibbs once said, "If society is tolerant and rational, it does not need a bill of rights. If it is not, no bill of rights will preserve it." We should oppose any moves for charters of rights in Australia.


Banning "Mum" and "Dad": Media complicity

by Bill Muehlenberg

It had to come to this eventually. Yes, mothers and fathers are now taboo. At least, calling someone your mum or dad is verboten. Nix. Not allowed. Out of bounds.

Schools are being urged by a taxpayer-funded booklet never to allow children to be so insensitive and bigoted again: they are not to call their parents mum or dad. "Parent", yes, or "guardian" - but not those intolerant and prejudiced terms, "mummy" and "daddy". You see, we don't want to offend any homosexuals or lesbians out there. That would be terrible, wouldn't it?

Lesbian activist Vicki Harding has written a book for teachers entitled, Learn To Include. This teachers' manual also urges schools to put up posters of homosexuals and lesbians, and also not to use gender-specific toys. Children as young as five are also urged to act out homosexual scenarios.

The teachers' manual is meant for students from Prep to Level 3, and is already in use in dozens of Victorian schools. But not content to stop there, Victoria's Department of Education and Training has invited Ms Harding to promote the manual to principals and teachers. She will address a taxpayer-funded conference in Melbourne in July.

Let's get real about diversity

The aim of all this, we are toldd, is to get children to respect diversity. Oh, thanks. Now I get it. Yes, we certainly want little Johnny and little Sarah to know all about the real world out there, and to learn that everyone must be accepted for who they are, no questions asked.

So that means we should also bring in drug addicts to our schools, and let them share their stories with the littlies. Surely, they too are representative of the real world. Certainly, there must be some toddlers out there with a heroin-addicted mum or a pot-head pop. We must teach all the students that these parents exist, and they must be treated with the utmost respect.

The diverse world in which we live also includes criminals locked up in prison. Maybe we should bring in a few prisoners, and let them tell the little three-year-olds that we need to respect the diversity that is in their world as well. Who knows? The little kiddies may one day find themselves in prison, so what a wonderful experience to get them ready for the real world, and to teach them the very valuable lesson of embracing diversity in its fullest.

Of course, many of the toddlers in our schools have parents who smoke as well. We certainly do not want them to feel left out. We really do want to be tolerant and inclusive. Maybe we can invite the big tobacco companies in, and let them teach the kids the meaning of respect for those who choose the nicotine lifestyle.

Yes, it all does make very good sense. It is indeed a very diverse and multifaceted world out there. We dare not keep our little tykes in the dark about all sorts of lifestyle choices. So bring on the arsonists, racists, polluters and sexists. After all, they really do help to make our world so wonderfully diverse. We dare not be exclusive of anyone or any lifestyle.

Of course, the above passage is meant to highlight the fact that some ideas are just plain stupid and deserve to be treated as such. Obviously, all people deserve respect, but that does not mean that any and every alternative lifestyle must be crammed down the throats of toddlers. While people can and do choose their lifestyles, these lifestyles should not be force-fed upon our hapless children.

Media complicity

This incredible story first broke in the Sunday Herald Sun (June 4) and the next day Channel 7's Today Tonight also ran the story. The short segment on Channel 7 was introduced by Naomi Robson as possibly another example of PC going overboard. But the actual story itself was much less critical. Indeed, Vicki Harding seemed to get at least four chances to speak, while a conservative talking head (myself) was given just two.

Strange, but when I was introduced, I was called "deeply religious" and part of the Australian Family Association. They got it wrong on the latter, as I twice told them I was secretary of the Family Council of Victoria. And why the religious bit? What was the need for that? I do not recall Ms Harding being introduced with the words, "a deeply irreligious" person.

So it seems that Seven was intent on making me look like the bad guy, and wanted to pin me down with some religious tag, even though I said nothing religious throughout the interview, and was speaking on behalf of the FCV. But if you can be pegged as religious, that means your views can simply be discounted. You are just some religious nut.

But if that is the case, then so too are the vast majority of Australians - just another example of the secular media doing a hatchet job on religion.

The story was less than balanced in other ways. Parents at a Melbourne primary school were also interviewed, and asked their opinion on the ban proposal. In the story it was said that the parents were divided on the issue. Thus one parent was shown to be in favour of the ban, along with one parent opposed to it.

Yet, when the reporter spoke to me (having just come from the school), she told me that the majority of parents were clearly against the idea. Amazing what a little bit of television editing can do to change a story.


12 July, 2006

Crocs before people

Relatives of a young girl killed by a crocodile want a cull of the reptiles, but their plea fell on deaf ears yesterday. The eight-year-old girl was on the Blythe River in northern Arnhem Land on Saturday night when taken by a croc. Police and rangers yesterday continued searching the river, about 400km east of Darwin, in the hope of finding her body. Search co-ordinator NT Police Acting Supt Tony Fuller said police had found no sign of the girl's body or the crocodile which attacked her. "The crews out there are very experienced, particularly the parks and wildlife people -- if anyone is going to find them, they will," Supt Fuller said.

The girl's grieving uncle, Ronnie Barramala, said croc numbers needed to be reduced. "They're pests. Too many, too many," Mr Barramala said. The girl was the NT's third fatal croc attack victim in 18 months. Hunting crocodiles in the Northern Territory was banned in 1971 and the Government yesterday ruled out a cull. "It's not an issue, not a question before government at the moment," Acting Chief Minister Syd Stirling said.

Police believe the girl was collecting water from the river's edge between Maningrida and Ramingining about 9pm. It was not known how large the crocodile was. Supt Fuller said the attack happened in a remote area.


On classic consciousness

Critics of English lite - where literary classics are on the same footing as SMS messages, graffiti and movie posters, and students are made to deconstruct texts from Marxist, feminist, class and postcolonial perspectives - are regularly attacked, including by Elizabeth Butel in this space on June 24, as overly conservative and out of touch with developments in postmodern theory.

Ignored is that giving students a weak and insipid gruel, represented by present approaches to teaching literature, not only denies them entry to their cultural heritage, but an uncritical commitment to theory, where all texts are treated as socio/cultural artefacts and reader response is defined as being subjective and relative and also undermines the ethical and moral value of great literature.

During the 1960s, growing up in a Housing Commission house in Melbourne's Broadmeadows and attending the local government school, if the new approaches to literature had applied, I would have been fed an impoverished diet of magazines, comics and the odd film; the internet had yet to be invented. Thankfully, that never happened. Strangely enough, the '60s was a time when teachers knew that working-class kids could think, and that education needed to be challenging and introduce students to unknown worlds and new experiences and emotions. Each year we studied such classics as Shakespeare, Henry Lawson and Dickens on the assumption that one of the redeeming features of great art, whether music, ballet, painting or literature, is that it speaks across the generations and can never be restricted in time or place.

Forget the tyranny of relevance, where education is chained to the here and now as represented by SMS, blogs and television shows such as Australian Idol. Years before the multicultural industry established itself, we read works such as The Merchant of Venice and learned about intolerance and bigotry. Years before Luke Skywalker and Star Wars, we read the Iliad and the Odyssey and learned about emotions such as bravery, hubris, sorrow and loyalty. No amount of analysing a film can fire the imagination or awake the psyche as does following in the footsteps of Odysseus as he battles against all odds to return home.

On graduating, my first job involved teaching migrant children from Melbourne's western suburbs. As English teachers, we faced the same debate that is now being played out. One year we ditched Shakespeare in favour of Puberty Blues, a book about two teenage girls and their adventures in Sydney's surf culture. The argument was that the book was contemporary and exactly what young students would want. After several weeks discussing the book, our classes switched off. Not only was it poorly written and the characters superficial, but there was nothing challenging or profound about the plot or the issues raised. As one of the students said to me: "Why study in class what most of us can see on the weekend?" Given that many of the children's parents had emigrated from Greece, I tried a different tack and introduced the class to Greek tragedy, beginning with Medea.

The benefit? Not only did those students with a Greek background take pride in an aspect of their culture previously unknown, the class also enjoyed the challenge of reading a complex and difficult text. Many learned that education required concentration and that it could not be acquired in a 30-second sound grab.

One of the more insidious arguments against teaching literary classics is that they are of no immediate value or use. Ignored is the reality that what we learn in school, while sometimes of little practical use, may touch us in later life.

Four years ago our son, James, was killed in a hit-and-run accident. On seeing him in the hospital, the first words that came to our daughter's lips were: "Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." Not only did her words reinforce my belief that literature, more so than an SMS text or an internet blog, deals with human experience in a profoundly moving way, I also realised Amelia was only able to draw on Shakespeare's words because, years before, Hamlet had been taught.

As Umberto Eco argued in On Some Functions of Literature, the value of literature can never be restricted to what is utilitarian or what theory decides is politically correct. Literature survives because of its intangible power. As Eco wrote: "The power of that network of texts which humanity has produced and still produces not for practical ends but, rather, for its own sake, for humanity's own enjoyment - and which are read for pleasure, spiritual edification, broadening of knowledge, or maybe just to pass the time, without anyone forcing us to read them (apart from when we are obliged to do so at school or in university)."

The above article by teacher Kevin Donnelly appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on July 8, 2006

Gifted children should be put in higher grades

Years ago it was routine practice and worked well but the equality mania of the '60s put a stop to it

Miraca Gross, director of the University of NSW's Gifted Education Research, Resource and Information Centre, said teachers were unwilling to accelerate academically advanced children or were unaware that it was possible. "Most of these kids would be topping the class if they went up a grade. They don't realise that," Professor Gross said. "They're just cruising by at the moment. "Teachers equate acceleration with pushing the child. Teachers are afraid of hurting a kid by pushing them, so they feel better doing nothing -- but that can in fact do more harm."

How Australian schools deal with gifted children is the focus of a national study to be undertaken by Professor Gross and her colleague, GERRIC director of research Karen Rogers, over the next three years. The study will examine state and private schools and investigate different procedures that allow academically gifted students to move faster through their schooling. Professor Gross said teachers' attitudes and practices regarding acceleration would be a particular focus. The study is funded through a $500,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation, based in the US.

Professor Gross has previously investigated the use of acceleration in the US and expects the Australian results to similarly show an under usage of academic acceleration. "What we found in America, and what I'm betting will be the case in Australia, is that teachers are not aware that they are allowed to accelerate kids ... they aren't aware of the policy," she said. Professor Gross said gifted children who were not accelerated could be socially isolated, acting out and underestimating their own abilities. "They get enormously frustrated," she said. "Bad behaviour can sometimes be a camouflage so the other kids look at them and think, 'They're all right'. "It's not cool to be academically talented."

Josh Croke, 11, from Kawana, on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, attends a Year 7 maths class, the only sixth-grader at his school to do so. He said he would be happy to move up a grade if offered the opportunity. "It's boring when I have to wait for the other kids to finish something," he said.


11 July, 2006

Best Australian teachers and schools to get Federal cash bonus

Individual teachers and schools who turn out high-achieving students will receive cash bonuses directly from the Federal Government under a plan that could help keep the best teachers in public schools. The proposal from Education Minister Julie Bishop is designed to make state governments and public school teachers accountable for their performance. But she said yesterday it could also address the loss of good teachers to private schools that offer better pay and conditions.

Ms Bishop yesterday accused the states of complacency in accepting low standards, particularly in literacy and numeracy, and proposed an incentive fund that would bypass the state and territory governments to lift educational standards. "I'm looking at ways of rewarding individual schools and teacher performance, to shift the balance away from the state bureaucracies and state teachers unions and try to get accountability through an incentive-based approach," she told The Australian. "I'm concerned there's an acceptance of lower expectations, particularly in literacy and numeracy."

Ms Bishop said teachers were one of the few professions not accountable for their performance and it was "high time" they were not only held responsible for their students' achievements but also recognised for outstanding results. In state schools, teachers are generally remunerated on the grounds of seniority.

She said every classroom in the nation should have a highly qualified teacher, particularly in those schools where the need was greatest, which are generally state schools. "We don't serve teachers or students well by putting the least experienced teachers in the most challenging schools," she said. "We need to encourage better teachers into state government schools, have them performing well and then reward them for their results."

Under Ms Bishop's plan, existing federal school funding would be broken into base funding, paid to the states, with a percentage set aside for an incentive fund. Ms Bishop said the reward scheme would form part of the next round of funding negotiations with the states and territories, which start next year. The Howard Government, under the previous education minister, Brendan Nelson, tied federal funding to key policies, such as the introduction of simpler A to E report cards and a common national test for literacy and numeracy benchmarks.

But keen to stamp her own style on the portfolio, Ms Bishop wants to break away from threats to withhold funding, preferring to offer rewards for high-performing teachers and schools. "I'm not talking about rewarding people for what they should be doing, but rewarding them for outcomes that are over and above expectations," she said. Ms Bishop has set national consistency and high standards as a priority for schools, but earlier yesterday she ruled out the federal Government taking over control of schools. "I believe the commonwealth has a significant role to play. After all, we invest some $33 billion over a (four-year) funding period in Australian schools so the states must be accountable for that money," she said on Network Ten's Meet The Press. "At the end of the day I think public education should be in the hands of the states ... but harmonisation of standards is a good thing." Ms Bishop pointed to Belfield Primary School in Melbourne's eastern suburbs as proof that extraordinary results were possible.

Belfield was one of the lowest performing schools in literacy and numeracy, with a high proportion of disadvantaged students from low socioeconomic backgrounds - unemployed, single-parent, indigenous and non-English speaking families. In 1998, only 35 per cent of Belfield's Year 1 students had 100 per cent accuracy in literacy and numeracy tests. Five years later, 100 per cent of the school's Year 1 students had a perfect score, while in similar schools to Belfield, only 26 per cent achieved the top score. Ms Bishop said the tragedy was that the principal who oversaw the change in Belfield's students had since left for a non-government school.

Teachers in the bigger independent and Anglican schools are paid between 3 and 8 per cent more than a teacher at a state school, as well as having access to better facilities and resources, support networks and professional development. Students are also choosing non-government schools in greater numbers.


Australian intellectuals who raved about the Soviet Union get the kid-glove treatment

'Speaking about interpreters in Russia," wrote Jessie Street in 1938, during the first of her 10 visits to the Soviet Union, "they are as interesting as they are indispensable. They talk excellent English and translate simultaneously both ways while you are talking to another person. These interpreters are informed about pretty well every aspect of the Russian way of life. "If you happen to ask a question they don't know, they will find out the answer and tell you the next day. If you want more detailed information, they arrange a special interview with someone who works in that ... sphere."

Street, who died in 1970, was a prominent figure in Australian political debates for more than half a century and is celebrated as a pioneering feminist and human rights campaigner. She is also a prominent example of the "political pilgrim" syndrome. The term describes radical travellers -- and fellow travellers -- who went to the Soviet Union, followed the itinerary carefully laid out by VOKS (the Soviet cultural agency), and returned with glowing accounts. The paradigm of such accounts was uttered not by an Australian, but by US journalist Lincoln Steffens. On his return from the Soviet Union in 1921, Steffens made the remark that earned him everlasting fame in the annals of naivety: "I have seen the future," he announced, "and it works."

A conference at Melbourne University last week on Australian visitors to the Soviet Union from the 1920s to the '40s gathered more information and analysis on Australian political pilgrims than has existed before. Hundreds of examples discussed at the conference conform to the model of Street's wide-eyed admiration for her helpful Soviet interpreters. Although most of the pilgrims' accounts read like the work of those who participated, no doubt far too willingly, in their own deception, at their edges they shade into falsehood and propaganda.

That is the case with Katharine Susannah Prichard's notorious 1934 travelogue, The Real Russia. Queensland academic John McNair described it at the conference as "at best a disingenuous, and at worst a dishonest book" for its wilful suppressions, including evidence contrary to Prichard's rosy picture of Soviet life, and of her communist affiliation. During a year when millions starved, Prichard quoted a Russian farmer as saying: "This has been a wonderful harvest. We have been working from daylight until dark to get it all in, though the boys and girls are not too tired to sing and dance at 11 and 12o'clock at night, sometimes when Kolya, or one of the others, starts to play his harmonica."

In her paper on Street, Lenore Coltheart, a historian at the National Archives in Canberra, listed all the ways Street's accounts of her visits fit the fellow traveller model. The political pilgrim arrives a sceptic but departs a convert. Government agencies and representatives prove helpful beyond belief, confounding Western propaganda about censorship under the communists. Contrary, again, to the propaganda fed to the masses back home, the peasants are well-fed and happy.

And so are the intellectuals. Far from being the victims of surveillance and control -- as was, in fact, the situation -- Soviet intellectuals thrive in an atmosphere of free inquiry. Here, for instance, is the most famous of the Australian fellow travellers, historian Manning Clark, writing of a "unique feature of the Soviet Union" following his visit in 1958: "The intelligentsia not only support the regime: they have a vested interest in its survival. Whereas in most other countries of the world the intellectuals and creative people tend to be outsiders, cynical of the motives of the people in power, or to feel the need to apologise to their friends if they say anything in favour of the establishment, in Russia the intellectuals and the creative people are the warmest supporters of the regime."

The Melbourne conference was organised by Sheila Fitzpatrick, daughter of Brian Fitzpatrick, a pioneering Australian labour historian of the '40s and '50s and himself a famous fellow traveller. Sheila Fitzpatrick and Katerina Clark -- Manning's daughter, who also attended the conference -- have both become distinguished Soviet historians in the US and both celebrate their 65th birthdays this year.

Though Brian Fitzpatrick, who founded the Australian Council of Civil Liberties, did not visit the Soviet Union, he wrote supportively of it. In her paper on her father, Sheila Fitzpatrick showed a clear-eyed appreciation of the limited sources on which he was forced to make an assessment of the Soviet experiment, but also of the gullibility with which he was prepared to do so. "He didn't know much about the Soviet Union, so it would have been better if he'd been more cautious in expressing his view," she tells The Australian. "I want him remembered for his bravery and his foolishness."

There is no doubting the Oedipal theme that drove Sheila Fitzpatrick into Soviet studies in the first place: "In my university days, I was critical of my father on the Soviet Union and wondered whether he had enough information to justify his favourable view," she says. "I started to needle him on that." What quickly struck her about the Soviet Union in the '60s "was not 'this is the future', but just how backward it was".

Fitzpatrick points out that the opening of the Russian archives following the fall of the Soviet Union has added a missing element to our picture of the fellow travellers. In particular, it has revealed that most of those who staffed VOKS from the '20s to the '40s were from the pre-revolutionary Russian intellectual and artistic class. Although it is true that their mission was to make sure visitors went away with the "right" impression, they also wanted the Australians to reconnect them with the European world of high art. In this regard, at least, the pilgrims frequently let their hosts down. The archives tell us that J.J. Maloney, a former bootmaker and trade union official who joined the Australian mission in Moscow during World War II, appalled his VOKS guides by having nothing to say on culture or ideas: he cared only about the minutiae of Soviet boot production.

Although many of the papers at the conference took a fairly astringent view of their subjects' mistakes, there were periodic eruptions of older positions: for example, that the fellow travellers were well-meaning idealists, or that it was really Australian capitalism that was to blame. Melbourne academic Judith Armstrong quotes Clem Christesen, founding editor of Meanjin, on the invasion of Prague by Soviet tanks in 1968: "The implications of the Russian action are shattering. It's obvious that something must be fundamentally wrong with socialism/communism as we have known it to date." This was a dozen years after the Hungarian uprising. As we approach the 50th anniversary of that event in October, and knowing what we now do about the Soviet Union, it seems stranger than ever that woolly-minded attitudes such as Christesen's receive soft treatment from the intellectuals.

"While no one's willing to defend Stalin or Lenin or those who came after them, the Left is not willing to criticise those who did," says commentator Gerard Henderson. "Instead we're told, 'But they were nice people.' Except that they would have had everyone in prison." Henderson points out that such excuses would be dismissed as scandalous if a Street or a Clark had been a Nazi fellow traveller, rather than a Soviet one.

A less contentious way of putting the same position would be to note the absence, in the papers delivered at the Melbourne conference, of the voices of those who stood out against intellectual fashion in the '50s and '60s and denounced Soviet communism for the hideous tyranny it turned out to be. "Where is the conference, subsidised or not, celebrating the many Australian writers who were right about the great issue of totalitarianism and especially the Soviet Union?" asks former Bulletin and Quadrant editor Peter Coleman. There would be plenty for such a meeting to talk about, including the work of poet and critic James McAuley, who founded Quadrant, and influential Melbourne University academic Frank Knopfelmacher.

Although a good deal was made at the Melbourne conference of the ASIO surveillance of Fitzpatrick and Clark, there is no evidence either of them suffered discrimination in their careers. In contrast, when Knopfelmacher applied for a lectureship at the University of Sydney in 1964, he was blackballed for his bristling anti-communist views. As for McAuley, Tasmanian critic Cassandra Pybus found his anti-communism such a puzzle in her 1999 book, The Devil and James McAuley that she was forced to put it all down to suppressed homosexual impulses.

Sheila Fitzpatrick agrees that a conference registering both sets of voices -- the naive fellow travellers, and the strident anti-totalitarians -- would be "indeed extraordinarily interesting", but it is hard to imagine such a meeting taking place while the Australian intellectual community continues to do what it does best: circle the wagons.


Your government will educate you: Sort of

Many public high schools in Australia are in such a state of disrepair that they should be bulldozed or rebuilt, an education expert says. Professor Brian Caldwell, former dean of education at Melbourne University and author of a new book, Re-imagining Educational Leadership, warns that the drift towards private schools will continue. Professor Caldwell outlined issues facing the nation's secondary school system, saying many problems are being "hushed up". He conducted 14 workshops in Australia, Chile, England and New Zealand last year, and begins a seven-week tour of Australia tomorrow.

Professor Caldwell said private schools would continue to take in more students unless state governments addressed teachers' pay, building refurbishment, literacy and innovation. He said the problems with teachers' pay, building refurbishments, literacy and innovation were so serious that most high school students would be in the private system within the next 10 years. "The fact is the public is being duped," he said. "Many government schools now simply have to be bulldozed or rebuilt. We have teachers working in government schools based on the factory model of schooling from the 19th century."

Highlighting a recent study, which showed 70 per cent of parents would prefer their children were educated in private schools, Professor Caldwell said high fees were the main reason why more students were not already in the private system. About 40 per cent of senior secondary students, 37 per cent of junior secondary children and 30 per cent of primary school children were in private schools, he said.

He said teachers were avoiding public schools, and he knew of cases where senior teaching jobs carrying a salary of more than $90,000 had attracted only a handful of applicants.

Professor Caldwell believes secondary schools in Australia should follow models of countries such as England, with only 8 per cent of children are in the private system, where the government is planning to rebuild or refurbish 85 per cent of secondary schools during the next 10 to 15 years. Partnerships with business, better pay for teachers and giving schools more autonomy to hire staff would help state schools improve, he said. Professor Caldwell noted that NSW had gone some way to rectify the problems, with 19 schools built through public private partnerships.

Among his other key ideas for reform are for low-performing schools to be paired with high-performing schools to boost their achievements, and for schools to specialise in areas such as science, technology or music.


Stopping the rainman

Antisemitism? Why cannot Israeli research be used to increase Australian rainfall?

Aron Gingis admits he's stubborn. "Look at my big bull head," he says, laughing. But the tale he tells of underhand tricks, power plays and public hectoring to protect scientific reputations and funding within CSIRO is no laughing matter. Gingis, a environmental engineer working in water resources, climate and atmosphere, alleges that leading Melbourne-based scientists at CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology have worked together to deprive drought-plagued Australia of the latest rainmaking technology.

Gingis says the scientific establishment has misled government officials and policy makers about cloud-seeding science, disrupted scientific and public meetings and scuttled efforts to establish collaborative trials of new cloud-seeding technology. Observers claim this was done to protect funding, reputations and scientific ownership of a field CSIRO no longer even studies, that of hands-on weather modification technology such as cloud seeding. "They're at great risk of seriously embarrassing themselves," says Ian Searle of the scientists Gingis identifies as his opponents: CSIRO's division of marine and atmospheric research chief Greg Ayers, and Michael Manton, retired head of the BOM research centre and a former CSIRO scientist. When contacted by The Australian, Ayers and Manton express surprise at Gingis's allegations that they've conspired against him. "I find this very distressing," Ayers says.

Searle, however, isn't surprised. Now retired, he managed cloud-seeding projects at Hydro Tasmania for 31 years. He has watched Gingis bang that bull head of his against the wall, and he has also been on the receiving end of CSIRO nay-saying. "My experience with CSIRO has not been good," Searle explains. "It's been a long-standing experience of systematic opposition (to cloud seeding) from CSIRO outside Tasmania. The CSIRO dropped the ball in the late 1980s and how they're bagging cloud seeding whenever it's mentioned." Searle says that despite 30 years of pioneering work, CSIRO effectively abandoned weather modification. Its negative view hardened following a failed $6 million cloud-seeding trial conducted by CSIRO for Melbourne Water.

Gingis is head of Australian Management Consolidated in Melbourne, which specialises in applying remote sensing and automation technology to agriculture, water and air problems. In 1986, when he began representing the weather modification work of Abraham Gagin, from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, he and Gagin pushed for a $6 million Melbourne Water trial, only to be pushed out of the project. After learning of the disappointing results, the pair offered to review the work, at no cost, to find out what went wrong. The data was never released to them, or to Searle, who had trained the cloud seeders.

Gingis approached Gagin's successor, Daniel Rosenfeld, also from the Hebrew University, because the cloud physicist had devised methods of using satellite data to study the effects of air pollution on rainfall. "Through my consulting it was obvious to me that diminishing water resources were damaging the rural economy and environment and I recognised that Danny's scientific findings were very timely," Gingis recalls.

Rosenfeld, who was working with data from Australia, Turkey and Canada, contacted Manton suggesting a collaboration. "I had no response so I went ahead and published in Science in 2000," recalls Rosenfeld. "That's when Aron called. I thought, 'OK, I'll go with Aron.' We'd worked together before. Maybe we'll get somewhere." They began work with Peter McAllister, manager of air quality studies with the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority. Their assessment was that urban and industrial air pollution in Victoria had cut rainfall along a key Snowy Mountains watershed by about 1500 gigalitres a year, the equivalent of three Sydney Harbours. But their recommendations to reduce pollution or try cloud seeding were unwelcome. McAllister informed Gingis he'd been told to end the collaboration. McAllister has since left the EPA and The Australian was unable to confirm allegations that CSIRO had urged the EPA to drop the work in order to keep the project and funding in house.

Rosenfeld turned his attention to the US, Thailand, Argentina, Israel, China and South Africa: "Why bang my head against the wall in Australia?" he says. Bull-headed Gingis, however, ploughed on. He helped set up sessions with government and university scientists, politicians and officials, as well as irrigators and local councils to discuss possible trials and allow Rosenfeld to explain his science. What followed was a series of meetings where Ayers and Manton acknowledge they spoke vehemently against cloud seeding and Rosenfeld's findings. "It's quite normal that different points of view are presented," Ayers says. "It's the way science is done. It's a contest of ideas."

According to Gingis, Ayers and Manton went beyond muscular debate. Searle recalls a meeting at Parliament House in Canberra when "CSIRO had been given an inordinate amount of time to rubbish Danny Rosenfeld. It was a sad and depressing display of extraordinary bad manners, in my view. I would never tolerate that within my family or the workplace," he says. "I later discovered their case was flimsy indeed."

Jerry Killen, chairman of the Namoi Valley Customer Service Committee for NSW State Water, past chairman of the NSW Irrigators' Council and former president of the Namoi Water Users Association attended one meeting in Sale, Victoria. "I was absolutely disgusted," he says of the behaviour of Ayers and his CSIRO colleague Brian Ryan. "(They) were just trying to rubbish an overseas scientist who has a resume that's quite substantial."

Similarly, Jim Peterson, director of the Monash University Centre for Geographic Information Systems, was surprised by the "hostile" attitude displayed by Ayers and Manton at a seminar at Monash. Gang-Jun Liu, a geospatial expert then at the EPA but now with RMIT, was astonished when an EPA colleague told him he should not have arranged the Monash meeting. "She said I shouldn't have sent messages trying to promote a private individual," Lui says. "My understanding is that science doesn't belong to one community or agency. I thought it was ridiculous."

Manton and Ayers say these allegations are equally ridiculous. "I was not engaged in picking on anyone," replies Manton. "It's the nature of robust scientific debate." Besides, notes Manton, the World Meteorological Organisation concluded at a meeting in South Africa early this year - where Rosenfeld was honoured for his work - that the benefits of cloud seeding are "not clear". It's "controversial", adds Ayers, pointing to a 2003 report by the US National Academy of Sciences that concluded there's no scientific proof that weather modification, generally, works. Ayers and Manton point out that a 2002 report for the federal Government by former CSIRO scientist Neville Fletcher, now at the Australian National University, concludes there's "no convincing evidence" air pollution makes a negative impact on rainfall. They also note that the 2002 federal water inquiry again found inconclusive evidence for cloud seeding.

While CSIRO researchers dispute Rosenfeld's findings, they have been replicated worldwide. In weight of evidence Rosenfeld has a string of publications, while his Australian critics have only one critical speech to fight with. Rosenfeld remains baffled by the hostility, particularly from Ayers. "Why would a scientist do that? I cannot figure out what are the motivations," he says. Rosenfeld believes government scientists view Gingis as private-sector competition for limited research funds. "But by supporting (the private sector) it would increase the whole cake. There's no shortage of funding to get more water resources. It's happening in the US right now," he argues.

Searle couldn't agree more. He says weather modification, like the weather itself, is a matter of probability not certainty. As the science and technology advance, he argues, so too does the effectiveness of seeding, as results in Tasmania and overseas show. Feeding old arguments, alignments and methods into new inquiries helps little, argues Searle. "(CSIRO) have to be far more open-minded about advances in scientific research," he says. Gingis is determined to keep fighting." No, I'm not going to stop." he says. "I could pick up work overseas, especially in China, but our farming communities need this science here. Water is life. I'll continue to knock on doors and rattle cages."


10 July, 2006

Barry Cohen: Get out of town and let's live again

I am a great admirer of Barry Cohen and the light-hearted article below is a classic example of his good-humoured commentary. I think he is one of the most sincere and honest men ever to set foot in politics. His book "The Yartz", is not to be missed. It has some of the funniest stories I have ever read

"Poor and loving it: Bush battlers find happiness away from the city gloom", blared The Australian's headline earlier this year. This startling piece of news was generated by a Deakin University survey to determine a national index of community wellbeing that included people's standard of living, health, relationships, achievements, safety, community relationships and future security.

The media seemed nonplussed that the happiest electorates were "generally poor and isolated, rural communities", while the unhappiest were inner-city and outer suburban electorates of the main cities and Sydney in particular. High on the list was the federal outer-western Sydney seat of Werriwa, until recently represented by Mark Latham. Fancy that! That the electorate to which I have recently moved, Eden-Monaro, which includes Queanbeyan, Bungendore, Braidwood and Cooma, was listed as the second happiest in the nation, surprised me not at all.

A few days later The Sydney Morning Herald's headline, "Angry people going nowhere". Trains still late. Roads jammed. Ferries a shamble, explained the rankings. Such headlines are repeated every other day. Almost six months on and with state and federal budgets out of the way the message has gone unnoticed by politicians at all levels. The media and academics may have discovered that happiness is not dependent on the value of one's real estate or the ready availability of cultural events to which one rarely goes, but not government.

The survey confirmed my view that Australia is witnessing a reversal of the century-long population drift from the bush to the big smoke thus helping to solve many of the problems facing contemporary, urban Australia.

After almost 40 years on the NSW central coast, half of which was spent as the federal MP and the balance building and running a wildlife sanctuary, the first lady and I decided that if we wanted to see our grandchildren we had to move closer to Canberra where they lived. NSW's southern highlands seemed a nice halfway house until we realised only a life of crime would enable us to purchase our dream manor house. Our eldest son, aware of our fetish for space, suggested we cast an optic over the many towns and villages on the outskirts of the nation's capital.

Our joy was unconfined when we discovered that real estate was, compared to Sydney, at pre-war prices. On Melbourne Cup day we moved into our early Australiana home on 1.2ha of manicured lawns and gardens at historic Bungendore. Any reservations we had dissipated when, on our arrival, one neighbour arrived with a freshly baked cake while another mowed our lawn. On Sunday our three border collies were assured of entry to Heaven when we attended "the blessing of the animals" at the local Anglican church. We realised we were already in paradise.

The pleasures mounted when we found that the basic necessities were not merely on hand but on tap. Septuagenarians, with bits dropping off each year, have more than a passing interest in health services, but in a village of a few thousand surely it was too much to expect anything other than a witch doctor. Au contraire. There was a family health centre, pathology testing and a fitness centre with a chemist only a Viagra tablet's throw away. Then we discovered our doctor was Scottish. How could we go wrong?

Intensive care was not the only facility readily available. Butcher, baker, newsagent, hairdresser and much more were a two-minute drive and 10-minute walk. There are two pubs, seven restaurants, numerous cafes and a fascinating array of antique, book and craft shops. Of course it doesn't have everything, otherwise it wouldn't be a village. For the joys of shopping malls and McDonald's you have to drive 20 or 30 minutes to Queanbeyan or Canberra through rolling hills devoted to wheat, sheep and cattle. One almost expects to find Hans Heysen or Tom Roberts sitting by the roadside dabbing on the odd canvas.

And then, of course, there's the traffic. There is none. Unlike Sydney, one always arrives at one's destination on time. Instead of peak-hour traffic they have peak-minute. Dining out is a problem. With three or four hundred restaurants in the region, we have only sampled Spanish, Turkish, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Chinese, Thai, Indian, French, Italian and what one might best describe as first-class Australian cuisine.

Then there's the social life. Something we thought was over for geriatrics. However, with a walking frame and extra oxygen it's a doddle and with endless musical and multicultural festivals, agricultural and dog shows, book launches and art exhibitions it's difficult to find time to do a knees-up at the Bungendore Ball, but we did.

I could continue, but I'm sure you discern my drift. All of this can be enjoyed by those of modest or limited means. I'm talking about the Monaro but there are dozens of similar regions attracting vast numbers of sea and tree changers. There are those whose employment makes such a move impossible but vast numbers are retired or can work from home, thanks to the dramatic improvement in communications. Phone, fax, computer, email and cable or satellite television are readily available. Now you don't need to be in a big city to keep in touch with the whole world.

All very interesting, I hear you say, but what is he on about? It's simple. If I can see the bleeding obvious, why can't my erstwhile colleagues? Part of the solution to the overcrowding of our cities and their traffic snarls, pollution, third rate transport systems, crime, inadequate health services and widespread discontent can be solved by governments encouraging those who don't need to live in the city to move to more welcoming communities.

And while alleviating the pressure on the cities, the influx of population will breathe new life into hundreds of small rural towns that went into serious decline when the car became available to everyone after World WarII. Most of these towns have the basic infrastructure - railway, post office, police station, schools, sporting facilities etc. Not everything, I grant you, but what they do have is far less expensive housing and a welcoming community unknown to many who live in the sprawling metropolises of our cities. A little help and encouragement from state and federal governments would create the first really successful attempt at decentralisation in Australia's history.


Some lessons from Australian economic history

Economic history, as a discipline, has gone out of fashion in Australian universities. Ideologically driven economics, whether of the left or the neo-con variety, has triumphed over nuts and bolts empiricism. Students who want to learn about the role of wool and wheat and labour costs in the development of the national economy mostly have to search it out for themselves in textbooks written before they were born. This is a great pity, not only for the economics profession but for anyone trying to get a handle on the real world consequences of public policy.

There was a memorable example of how a grasp of economic history can transform policy debate a few weeks ago, in an article in The Australian Financial Review. It was written by John Roskam, the director of one of our leading think-tanks, the Institute of Public Affairs. Roskam was talking about the 1870s, the golden age of pre-Federation Australia. At the time our per capita Gross Domestic Product was the highest in the world. It was 50% higher than the United States' and 15% higher than Britain's.

As he said: 'Within a few years the twin disasters of industry protection and centralized wage fixation were established, and in the following decades the country's economic performance plunged. Wealth produced bad policy...'

Exploring that paradox, Roskam's analysis goes to the heart of the malaise that kept The Lucky Country underperforming for the next century. 'Colonial politicians believed they would always have enough money to fund any policy decision they chose to make'. To put it another way: the political class ever since has felt entitled to buy our votes with bad, self-indulgent policy. With Labor featherbedding the proletariat or the Liberals offering middle class welfare. In either case the political class cheerfully presided over a radical disjunction between bad policy and its baleful consequences. What's more-short of outright depression phases-they've usually been able to borrow enough to delay or disguise those consequences, or else to blame them on the weather, market cycles or flights of capital. To blame them, in short, on everything except the root causes.

The first decade of the last century, the early years of Federation, were the turning point. In the end, Alfred Deakin and the Victorian protectionists defeated George Reid and the New South Welsh free trade lobby. The Deakinite Settlement, with a white Australia policy and industrial arbitration leading up to the Harvester Judgement as its other planks constrained our future and capacity to grow for decades to come.

It's always instructive to think about the alternative scenarios, the Might Have Beens in our history. Perhaps the aptest parallel with Australia in the decades before Federation is with California, another goldrush boom economy. Had there not been a regime of tariff walls to protect local industries, imports would overall have been much cheaper. The proletariat in particular would not have been sorely taxed to cosset primary and secondary producers into ever-more-uncompetitive practices. By the middle years of the Menzies regime, the average level of tariff support was 35%. And locally manufactured goods were by and large a watchword for second-rateness.

Without the white Australia policy, competitive non-Anglo labour would in practice have undermined any attempt at centralized wage fixation. Unemployment as we know it would never have been an issue. Self-employment, of the kind which is only now coming into its own, would have been as much of a norm as working for someone else.

We would not have had the economic absurdity of arbitral bodies deciding minimum wages, not on a worker's worth to his employer but on the hypothetical needs of a couple with three children. Employers would not have been coerced into funding "a social wage", as a de facto arm of social security. Unskilled workers in Hobart would never have been priced out of a job by fixed pay rates geared to the cost of living in Sydney. We would also have had far earlier emerging, in the tradition of the Currency Lads and Lasses, what nowadays we call an enterprise culture and with it a much more adaptive, independently minded workforce.

Without the lazy politics of the Deakinite Settlement, Australia might well have become as rich, developed and diversified an economy as California. We'd no doubt have a larger, healthier manufacturing sector. We'd be mostly exporting steel products rather than iron ore. We'd have a far stronger finance sector and less of a balance of payments problem. We would never have let shipping and rail transport become the featherbedded and dysfunctional sheet-anchors on trade that they became for most of the last 80 years.

We would almost certainly have become major global suppliers of educational services much earlier and we'd be more likely to have the capacity and entrepreneurial spirit to spend up on research and development. Given our proven track record of technological inventiveness, too often marred by a lack of follow-through funding, we might even have given Silicon Valley a run for its money.


Teachers: Too bad about the kids

Our teachers' unions love to tell us that their unstinting concern is for the children. Yet, like teachers' unions the world over, their policies hurt children and serve only to entrench the comfort levels of teachers. That much becomes obvious at school report time. Which is right about now.

Under threat of financial sanction from the federal Government, schools will soon be forced to provide more comprehensive reports in plain English, telling you how your child is travelling and then ranking them. Compared with the piffle that most parents received in the past, it's tempting to think we've come a long away. But, boy, have we got a long way to go if we are serious about improving the social mobility of children, especially the most disadvantaged.

For too long, the social engineers in charge of teaching used the classroom as a leveller, where no one failed and no one excelled. Or, if a student was failing or excelling, you wouldn't know it from the school report dropped on the kitchen bench. In the weird world of educrats, the focus on outcomes-based education is code for hiding the real outcomes of students. That information under-load promoted mediocrity for students and teachers alike.

Protecting their own backsides from a caning for poor performance, that is just the way the teachers' unions want it. Greg Combet may daydream about unions one day running the country again, but in our schools unions still rule. Indeed, nowhere is the power of unions more pernicious than in our schools. Unions have been dragged kicking and screaming to the table on the issue of transparency and accountability in our schools. Last year, when former federal education minister Brendan Nelson suggested that schools start delivering meaningful information to parents, unions and their supporters defaulted into hysteria.

NSW Teachers Federation president Maree O'Halloran started waving around the teachers' industrial award that prevents the public release of comparative data on school performance. This information would lead to school leagues tables and we - meaning union members - don't want that, she groaned. Other teachers' unions also preferred the report that doesn't report. With unions as their paymasters, state Labor governments also resisted even these modest reforms. As Nelson said at the time: "Money is the only thing that brings them to the table."

Just how meek those reforms are becomes obvious when you look at what's happening in some American states. In the US a few weeks ago for the American Australian Leadership Dialogue organised by businessman Phil Scanlan, I learned about real education reform. And it's all happening in Florida. With textbooks such as Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by Numbers - which includes chapters on Multicultural Math - the US is home to the same sort of politically correct gimcrackery that infects our schools.

In 1999, Florida decided to see how its students were doing. Governor Jeb Bush introduced the nation's most far-reaching and controversial reforms premised on three ideas: testing, transparency and accountability. For a quick comparison of where we're at compared with Florida, click on the state's Department of Education website (www.fldoe. com). The wealth of information you'll find there puts the information void on our own state education websites to shame.

Bush's A+ program involves so-called high-stakes testing of all students from grades three to 10. It's high stakes because consequences flow from the results. Schools are graded between A to F depending on the performance of their students and, hold on to your seats, in those schools that attract two F-grades in any four-year period, students are given vouchers to attend private schools. As one pundit wrote, it was "the first money-back guarantee in the history of public education".

That the brother of George W. Bush is driving these education reforms will have left-wing union folk frothing about right-wing conspiracies. But the results prove that sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant. In a nutshell, once Florida started testing their students and making schools accountable for the results, student achievement levels kept rising. Released last month, the latest report from Florida's education department reveals record numbers of the state's students in grades three to 10 are reading at or above grade level: 223,000 more students than was the case in 2001. That's a 10 per cent jump on the 2001 results. In maths, 62 per cent of students in grades three to 10 are performing at or above achievement level, up from 50 per cent in 2001. Importantly, the traditional underachievers, African-Americans and Hispanics, have made the biggest gains.

The results for schools are equally remarkable. Putting pressure on F-graded schools was the most contentious part of Jeb Bush's reforms. In an analysis of Florida's failing schools, Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, point out that the theory behind the A+ program is that "chronically failing schools will have an incentive to improve if they must compete with other schools for students and the funding they generate". Their research finds that F- graded schools facing competition from vouchers made the biggest improvements when compared with other low-performing schools. So the theory was spot-on. In other words, Florida's willingness to penalise failing schools debunks the myth that economic forces stop at the classroom door.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Florida School Recognition Program awards funds to schools that receive an A grade or improve at least one grade category in any year. Each recognised school gets $100 for each full-time student and can use the money to award bonuses to teachers, buy educational equipment or material and employ additional staff to improve student performance. While there is a penalty for failing, there are also substantial incentives to achieve. Maybe that explains why, since 1999, the number of A-graded schools has jumped 500 per cent. In another radical move to align teaching with the real world, Florida is also awarding teachers performance-based bonuses.

And the reason Florida has been able to reform education to consistently deliver better outcomes for students brings us back to unions. In Florida, the education unions are much less powerful. Although they suffer the American disease of running off to court to complain, in Florida - unlike Australia - they don't have a state government in their back pockets. Our unionistas, dedicated to bankrolling the re-election of politicians who shaft children by cocooning teachers, have much to learn from Florida. For starters, the classroom is no place to be frightened of information if in fact you care deeply about children


How big government hurts Australian blacks

Article by black leader Noel Pearson:

Professor Greg Craven has asserted that the federal Government is no longer adhering to its conservative philosophy. Craven argues that, traditionally, "Liberals are suspicious of government power ... Liberals regard government omniscience as a mythical beast. Governments do not know everything, and their activities should be correspondingly modest and circumscribed". In our area, indigenous policy, the main trend has indeed been the rise and rise of governments. The notion that indigenous problems must ultimately be solved by indigenous people themselves has almost completely disappeared.

At the community level, local community councils and organisations which have run CDEP (indigenous work-for-the-dole programs) are soon to be stripped of their role. At Cape York peninsula, two of the best-performing CDEPs - at Cooktown and Old Mapoon (see Tony Koch's article in The Weekend Australian last Saturday) - have this month been informed that private-sector companies will take over their CDEP programs.

Old Mapoon has made impressive progress with the development of its new community. It is financially sound, has employed good staff over the years, has developed several enterprises in the community and has run a good CDEP program. Audit reports and reviews unanimously support the assessment that indigenous governance is working there.

The new policy lacks confidence in indigenous Australians and is utter madness. Such policy ignores the role that government has played in the indigenous social disaster in the first place. There is no appreciation that passive welfare has included passive service delivery by governments. One of the biggest problems faced by indigenous communities is that our lives are dominated by our dependency on and relationship with government. Government and its ubiquitous service deliverers affect our lives to a degree most Australians would not understand. Non-indigenous Australians have forgotten about the limits of government competence because their lives are not so much dependent upon government as our people's lives are.

In the past five years, Cape York peninsula people have entered into partnerships with corporate and philanthropic organisations through the aegis of indigenous enterprise partnerships. The main features of this model are that the reform agenda is led by indigenous leaders, the private-sector partners provide financial and in-kind support for the reform agenda, and senior corporate leaders champion his or her company's commitment to a long-term partnership. The most important contribution of our private-sector partners is competent personnel.

These partnerships have given us freedom to take action without being dependent on government authorisation and for government funding approval. Where government could not be persuaded to face up to chronic failure and to try new approaches, our private-sector partnerships have enabled us to try something new. The lesson: government is at its best when it realises its limitations. To be sure, governments are a welcome partner, but they are ideally junior partners who should limit themselves to playing a supporting role.

The task of reconstructing indigenous Australia socially and economically is so difficult that the logical thing for the government system would be to build a long-term partnership with each and every individual and organisation that is honest, well-intentioned and reasonably competent. Governments and bureaucracies should not be distracted from the long-term goal of indigenous self-reliance by making the flaws and problems of indigenous people the main determinant of policy direction. We are not arguing for relaxed standards of accountability for indigenous people and organisations. We urge governments to adopt indigenous capability building as the goal of all programs and actions, even when the indigenous party is struggling.

We from the Cape York peninsula would advise political leaders and senior officials to see intervention, reform and rebuilding of capabilities in indigenous communities in three distinct phases.

The first phase is the immediate need for government to intervene in those communities where the safety and protection of children and community members is an urgent priority. Simultaneously with emergency interventions, work must begin in partnership with responsible community members to rebuild functional social and cultural norms, which are much more important than simple compliance with law enforcement.

The second phase is the intermediate need to ensure that routine services and programs in health, education, housing and infrastructure are delivered as competently and efficiently as possible. It is this routine service delivery and routine community development which governments that talk about whole-of-government coordination are concerned with. However, it is our view in Cape York peninsula that routine service delivery will not solve the profoundly difficult questions involved. Reform is necessary across all policy areas, and there is not the competence within government to locate and develop these reforms. Co-ordination, while desirable, is not reform. Therefore, reform innovation must be part of the intermediate phase. This is where partnerships between people and organisations from the private sector, working with indigenous people, can research, develop and trial social innovations.

The third, long-term phase is where successful reform innovations developed in the second phase become the mainstream programs administered by governments and indigenous organisations. In this phase, the government's role should retreat so that it takes responsibility only for those things that are appropriate for them.

The present over-reach by government in response to the crisis in indigenous affairs will eventually be exposed as a failure. In the meantime, much good work and progress made by indigenous communities and organisations will be destroyed.

People might question our main contention here: that the political and bureaucratic top leadership does not have any strategy for the indigenous crisis. And consider this: things are admittedly still very difficult for people in Cape York peninsula. But during recent years there have been a large number of initiatives that have improved people's lives, or promise to do so in the near future: nationally renowned family income management, alcohol management, education trials, and Milton James's Work Placement Scheme. Governments have given us vital legislative and financial support. But not one of these ideas came from the bureaucracies or the politicians. Indigenous people and the private and philanthropic sectors did it all.


9 July, 2006

Political correctness hurts Australian blacks

An editorial from "The Australian" newspaper

Anyone who doubts that the road to hell is paved with good intentions has not spent enough time in Australia's remote Aboriginal communities. Policy after well-intentioned policy put forth by the country's progressives has forced Aborigines into remote, economically unviable communities with nothing to sustain them but sit-down money and grog. Worse, they have allowed a minority of criminals within those communities to turn them into Hobbesian nightmares where life is nasty, brutish and, on average, 21 years shorter than that enjoyed by white Australians. In short, Australia's progressives have been literally killing Aborigines with kindness.

This is seen in the damning reports that show a fear of incarcerating Aboriginal criminals, stemming from a misplaced respect for customary law and the royal commission into deaths in custody, routinely unleashes monsters of the worst sort to prey on the weakest members of their communities. According to the National Indigenous Council and other Aboriginal leaders, the legal system's "softly-softly" approach on indigenous crime has let sexual and other predators back into their communities to continue to prey on women, children and even infants.

Last August, The Australian reported the horrifying case of the 14-year-old "promised bride" who was kidnapped and raped by a 55-year-old elder, who initially received just a month behind bars for the crime. On ABC's Lateline last week, Melbourne University professor Marcia Langton said that in the Northern Territory, men who kill their wives and girlfriends routinely receive sentences as light as 18 months in prison per death. Yet the customary-law defence makes a mockery of the Australian legal system, which should apply equally to everyone across the land. And a proper analysis of the royal commission report reveals that Aboriginal men were not dying in custody at a higher rate than the general prison population, even though Aborigines were, and remain, over-represented in the system. Justice is denied to Australia's indigenous population thanks to an insidious soft racism that would rather romanticise Aboriginal culture and force its members to live in Rousseauian fantasy in remote bush communities, rather than be full participants in the life of the nation.

There is no question but that the 1967 referendum, which effectively ended constitutional discrimination against Aborigines, was an unqualified good for the nation. In the weeks leading up to the vote, The Australian repeatedly urged citizens to vote in favour of the referendum and called for its "unanimous approval", saying "if it is not carried the nation should be ashamed of itself". Yet in properly, if belatedly, granting indigenous Australians full citizenship and rights as Australians, little thought was given to what would happen next.

Equal pay laws had the unintended consequence of causing thousands of indigenous Australians who had been living with their families on cattle stations or other agricultural businesses to lose their jobs and their connection to working communities. As politically incorrect and, to borrow a word from Tony Abbott, paternalistic as it sounds today, this relationship sometimes led to indigenous children being sent to boarding schools by wealthy graziers. There is also evidence that many pastoralists sought to provide a decent living for their Aboriginal drovers and their families.

Even though by today's standards the removal of Aboriginal children into white homes looks like an exercise in eugenics, some Aboriginal lawyers were produced in the process. Maroochy Barambah, the first Aboriginal to professionally sing opera on an Australian stage, received her training living with a white family in Melbourne. Today, the fear of the term "stolen generation" ties the hands of politicians and officials and leaves indigenous children in circumstances in which no other Australian child would be allowed to languish. It has taken the courage of Noel Pearson to raise the possibility that some remote Aboriginal children should be educated in city boarding schools.

Any solution to the crisis gripping the Aboriginal community must respect the original ethic of the 1967 referendum. At the same time, Aborigines must not be told that their historical experience can be waved before authorities as, quite literally, a get out of jail free card. Nor is this about race or culture. Any group of people forced to live in the middle of nowhere - disconnected from the wider world save for weekly welfare payments and alcohol deliveries and largely insulated from the criminal consequences of bad behaviour - will develop a "Big Man" culture, if only to put a stop to the even worse scenario of internecine gang warfare.

It is absolutely understandable that the Freedom Bus and other 1960s-era Aboriginal rights movements were concerned with rights above all else. These had been cruelly denied to Aborigines for too long. But the 1967 referendum, as well as the necessary and well-intentioned reports into deaths in custody and the "stolen generation" did not help Aboriginal communities take up the responsibilities that went along with those rights.

Today, Aborigines are many times more likely to die or be hurt at the hands of a fellow Aborigine than by anybody else, while in dysfunctional communities across the central deserts and northern Australia virtually every single resident is on the dole. Just as 40 years ago Aborigines and their allies in white society fought for indigenous rights, today the fight is to get Aborigines off the dole, away from the grog and into responsible workaday lives. It is a battle every bit as worthy as those fought in the 1960s and, for many Aborigines, even more critical.


Tyranny comes to daycare

Exercise will be compulsory in every New South Wales daycare centre and junk food will be phased out under a NSW Health Department plan to fight childhood obesity. Regulation foods and fitness programs will be rolled out across every childcare centre and pre-school under new guidelines recommended by a government working party. The authors of the government-commissioned report also recommended junk foods such as chocolate, chips, soft drinks and biscuits be eliminated.

The recommendations follow revelations overweight toddlers are being sent to dieticians while babies are sucking from soft drink bottles. The NSW report investigating obesity levels in two to five-year-olds is the biggest study of its kind in the country. It found eating habits in young children were setting them on an path to obesity. The Weight of Opinion survey is a three-part report commissioned by the State Government to investigate ways of tackling the obesity crisis in early childhood.

In the 10-year period from 1985 to 1995 the level of obesity among Australian children more than doubled - and tripled in all age groups and for both sexes. "The period from two to five is such a critical time in children development and you can really set good eating habits," report author Deanna Pagnini said. There are currently no guidelines on physical activity for young children across the country and childcare and preschools set their own rules on what foods are allowed. A government working party is now determining how much physical activity young children need and the kinds of healthy foods that are acceptable.

Co-author, obesity expert Dr Michael Booth, said drastic measures were needed: "You go to the beach and see tiny kids with soft drink in their bottles - that is the most extreme but I've seen it. It sends a shiver up the spine." Professor Booth said children as young as two needed to be educated about healthy foods. "The earlier you start the better. You even want to start before two because at the age they develop a taste for a wide variety of foods. Many kids refuse to eat vegetables because they have never developed the taste," he said.

The Weight of Opinion report detailed alarming incidents, including an event with a toddler who had weight issues and had to be referred to a dietician. "We sent her off to see a local doctor, the doctor referred her to a dietitian, and this child was about three," the report said.

The early childhood findings are the first part of the three part report which will also look at general practitioners as well as school teachers and parents, to be released over the next six months. The toddler section - released to The Saturday Daily Telegraph - said young children in formal care were a "captive audience that can be targeted with specific foods and required daily exercise. "(Efforts) need to concentrate on ... changing the structural, economic, cultural and environmental factors that make it difficult to eat healthy foods and get adequate amounts of physical activity," the report read.

Food Watch nutritionist Catherine Saxelby said it was tempting for time-poor parents to give their children pre-packaged foods. "It is quicker, self-wrapped and you know the child will eat it." Ms Saxelby said modern mums and dads found it tough to battle the avalanche of snack food marketing directed at children. "We want them to love us so we buy them things they love. Generations ago if you were a fussy eater you went to bed without any supper," she said.


A stupid cleric

When the outgoing head of the country's Uniting Church, Reverend Dean Drayton, gave his farewell address in Brisbane last Thursday, he comprehensively demonstrated his ignorance of modern economics, politics and culture as well. Dr Drayton complained that in contemporary Australia, "only the field of economics seems above suspicion". He criticised government policy on asylum-seekers. He blasted Australians who "consume, consume, consume, with little concern for the tomorrows of our children and grandchildren". The reverend even went so far as to complain about the country's "neoconservative ridiculing of what is dismissed as 'politically correct' ".

This was all par for the course for Dr Drayton, who during his tenure as head of the Uniting Church was a vociferous opponent of any idea to the right of ordaining gay ministers. But in three years spent publicly opposing the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, anti-terrorism legislation, industrial relations reform and just about anything connected with the Howard Government, Dr Drayton never revealed much of what he was in favour of beyond "responsible talk about . . . identity, diversity and gender". Yes, churches should work to help the poorest and sickest members of society. This has been their core mission for nearly 2000 years. But aiding the least fortunate does not give license to ignore economic facts. Cutting taxes to grow a thriving economy generates jobs, which are a far more effective way to lift the poor out of poverty than welfare. And as NATSEM figures show, during the past decade the rich have gotten richer - but the poor have gotten richer at similar speed.

Dr Drayton and religious figures of his ilk are guilty of a moral arrogance that seeks to lift leftist and radical causes up on to a higher plane. When Dr Drayton gives a guernsey to political correctness, he reveals his intellectual unseriousness and fear of debate. But as much as he decries capitalism, Dr Drayton's speech was nothing more than an act of marketing designed to appeal to his shrinking target audience of liberal churchgoers. The most recent National Church Life Survey indicates that attendance at Uniting Church services are down 11 per cent since 1996. Perhaps those who've stopped attending politicised services decided its easier to stay home and listen to the ABC.


Outcomes we can do without

Confused about the conflict that is raging between traditional and student-centred teaching in schools? Kevin Donnelly offers a national guide

In publicly condemning the widespread influence of outcomes-based education, NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt should be congratulated. Along with the federal Opposition's move to drop Mark Latham's hit list of wealthy non-government schools, which was taken to the last election, it is obvious the Labor Party has finally realised that aspirational voters want choice in education and a curriculum based on high standards.

Tebbutt's recent conversion to the anti-outcomes-based education brigade follows last year's description by Brendan Nelson, then federal education minister and now Defence Minister, of the practice as a cancer and his initiative to force states to introduce plain English report cards, in which students are graded A to E, instead of using vague and feel-good descriptions such as established, consolidation and emerging.

Outcomes-based education shifts the emphasis from what is taught and can be tested fairly objectively to whatever students eventually learn. The ACT curriculum says "curriculum documentation has until recently concentrated on subject matter and teaching methods ... The move to an outcomes approach attempts to recognise the importance of what students know and can do."

Tebbutt's comments, reported in The Australian on Thursday, that "there are great pieces of literature and they should be studied as such" mirrors Prime Minister John Howard's comments earlier this year that there is no place for postmodern gobbledygook in the curriculum and schools need a more academic and rigorous approach to teaching history and the classics.

Victorian Liberal senator and the Government's backbench education committee chairman Mitch Fifield argues against outcomes-based education on the basis that "not all texts, not all works of literature are of equal merit. There is a right way and a wrong way to learn. There are right and wrong answers in exams. OBE is a failed experiment that should be declared DOA."

Why is outcomes-based education under attack from both sides of the political spectrum? It embodies a dumbed-down and politically correct approach to education and it is increasingly obvious that Australia's adoption of the approach has allowed standards to fall and put generations of students at risk.

That outcomes-based education has been forced on teachers and schools is made worse by the 1995 Eltis report in NSW in which University of Sydney professor Ken Eltis could find no evidence that the approach has been successfully implemented anywhere in the world and there appears little, if any, research proving that it is superior to what is being replaced.

A former head of the federal-state-owned Curriculum Corporation, Bruce Wilson, who was closely involved in introducing outcomes-based education into Australia during the 1990s, now describes it as an "unsatisfactory political and intellectual exercise". Wilson argues that "it is difficult to find a jurisdiction outside Australia which has persevered with the peculiar approach to outcomes that we have adopted".

A number of recent state and territory government-sponsored reports also conclude that there are serious flaws in outcomes-based education and, as a result, that teachers have suffered. A 2001 West Australian report concludes that teachers have been let down by an ineffective bureaucracy and that "many schools and teachers are experiencing significant difficulty in engaging with the requirements of an outcomes approach". In Queensland, the educrats in charge of the system candidly say in a 2005 report that the outcomes-based education framework forced on teachers lacks "clarity (on) what must be taught across schools and what standards of students achievement are expected". After reviewing Victoria's implementation of its curriculum and standards framework, a 2004 report says: "The current ways in which ... authorities have conceived the curriculum for schools resulted in poor definitions of expected and essential learning and provides teachers with insufficient guidance about what to teach."

Late last year, as a result of a second Eltis report, the NSW education department, which never adopted outcomes-based education in as pure a form as other states and territories, agreed that curriculum documents should be simplified, focus on essential academic content and give teachers a clear road map detailing what should be taught.

Those familiar with education debates in the US during the past 10 years will know that the adoption of outcomes-based education there faced similar criticisms. As a result, the practice is considered a failed and largely irrelevant experiment, and all American states have moved to a more academically based, year-level specific, detailed, unambiguous and teacher-friendly model of curriculum development.

Based on research associated with the federally funded primary curriculum benchmarking report completed last year, it is also obvious that most Australian curriculum documents in mathematics, science and English, as a result of outcomes-based education, are not as academically strong and teacher-friendly as the syllabuses developed in those systems that generally outperform Australia in the Trends in International Maths and Science Study tests.

Given the increasing belief that outcomes-based education is inherently flawed and impossible to implement usefully, it is hard not to think that the educrats responsible for inflicting it on Australian schools would admit their mistakes and move on to a better alternative. Such is not the case. On evaluating curriculum development across Australia, it is obvious that most systems, while rhetorically agreeing that all is not well, are pushing ahead with a more extreme form of the approach, described by the father of outcomes-based education, American educator William Spady, as "transformational outcomes-based education". "Transformational OBE is future-oriented," Spady says of the new age approach. "It exists to equip all students with the knowledge, competence and orientations needed for them to successfully meet the challenges and opportunities they will face in their career and family lives after graduating. It focuses on students' lifelong adaptive capacities. It is focused more on the broad role performance capabilities of young people and their ability to do complex tasks in real settings, in real situations, relating more directly to life. Transformational OBE is concerned solely with students' success after they leave school."

Those states and territories that are adopting transformational outcomes-based education in its pure form include the ACT, the Northern Territory, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. NSW and Victoria, along with Queensland, appear to be adopting a hybrid approach, combining aspects of outcomes-based education with the more academic syllabus approach.

In Tasmania, instead of basing the curriculum on academic subjects such as English, mathematics and science, the curriculum is organised in terms of thinking, communicating, personal futures, social responsibility and world futures. The NT curriculum adopts a similar approach and argues that learning is developmental (students learn in different ways), constructivist (teachers facilitate instead of teach and children take control of their learning) and futures-oriented. Essential learning is defined as the inner, the creative, the collaborative and the constructive. The SA curriculum is based on "constructivist theories of learning", adopts a student-centred view of education and, again, emphasises what are termed essential learnings: futures, identity, interdependence, thinking and communication. Similar to Spady's approach, the emphasis is on "understandings, dispositions and capabilities" and the world outside the classroom is given priority. The WA Curriculum Framework says it is not a syllabus as such and that its primary focus is on outcomes. Once again, the focus is on developing new age attitudes, dispositions and values, such as inclusivity, collaboration and partnership, flexibility and environmental responsibility to the detriment of giving students a solid foundation in academic subjects. The ACT is adopting transformational outcomes-based education in its most extreme form and the curriculum is defined in terms of 36 essential learning achievements. Students must know how to learn, use problem-solving strategies, demonstrate intercultural understanding and appreciate diversity in human society.

For a variety of reasons, including public criticisms of outcomes-based education and the realisation that teachers and schools have experienced significant problems with implementation, Victoria, NSW and Queensland are taking a more balanced approach to curriculum development. NSW, in particular, as a result of the two Eltis reports, is resisting the move to transformational outcomes-based education and the curriculum, instead of being defined in terms of broad competencies and generic skills, is grounded in traditional subjects and, thankfully, teachers are to be given clear and succinct road maps.

Since the Keating government's national curriculum statements and profiles were developed in the early '90s, most criticism of outcomes-based education has been characterised as coming from cultural conservatives. Now ALP politicians such as Tebbutt are voicing concerns that, in a bipartisan spirit, could give young Australians precedence over political point-scoring.


Australians getting taller

Australia's teenagers are about two centimetres taller than children of the same age just a decade ago, research has shown. This has posed a problem for everyone - from doctors to clothing manufacturers - leaving official growth tables hopelessly out of date. The study provides the first evidence that the increase in height that occurred in the 20th century has continued into the new millennium. The young people, aged nine to 18, were measured when they attended orthodontic appointments. They also had an X-ray taken of their wrist to confirm whether they had finished growing.

The heights of children who were measured between 1995 and 2005 were compared with those recorded between 1987 and 1994. The children from the more recent cohort were on average one to three centimetres taller than the same aged children a decade earlier, according to the study by University of Adelaide orthodontist Sarbin Ranjitkar. The difference was most pronounced among boys. If they are mirrored Australia-wide, the findings mean official reference charts for childhood growth are even more outdated. According to the charts, prepared in the 1970s, children are expected to be about five centimetres shorter than in the Adelaide study.

Dr Ranjitkar called for a revision of the charts, used by pediatricians and child health nurses to determine whether individual children are developing appropriately. But a spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Health and Ageing said there were no plans to do so. Better food was probably the major factor behind the increase, said Dr Ranjitkar. "Improvements in general living conditions, nutrition and health practice favour increases in body size," he wrote in the Australian Orthodontic Journal.

Associate Professor Tim Olds, from the University of South Australia, said nutrition was a plausible explanation for soaring heights - but it did not explain why people at the upper end of the height range were also growing taller. It was also possible increased mixing of people from different genetic backgrounds might have led to taller offspring - if natural selection favoured genes for height. Professor Olds said children's health might also be at risk, because steroids were prescribed on the basis of current height references.

But Tim Gill, Boden Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Sydney, said up-to-date information on adults' height would also be needed to make solid conclusions about height trends. This was because the increase in childhood obesity might influence the age at which children grew, without changing their final stature


8 July, 2006

Dangerous homosexuals

Gay activists in Australia won the first round in a struggle against being banned from donating blood if they have had male-to-male sex in the previous 12 months. A challenge to the Australian Red Cross's policy on the issue was referred to a tribunal by Tasmania's anti-discrimination commissioner after a man complained last year that the ruling was discriminatory. Assembly worker Michael Cain, 23, argued that blood services should consider whether people had safe sex, rather than their sexual preferences.

The AIDS virus HIV can be passed on through blood transfusions and while gay men have been seen as major transmitters of the disease in the west, heterosexuals are responsible for most transmissions in worst-hit areas such as Africa.

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome said the challenge could have international implications for gay donors, as bans on gay men giving blood were also being questioned in Britain and the United States. "The Tasmanian tribunal hearings will be watched carefully by governments and health experts the world over," he said. "It's about the global gay community and trying to get this fixed for everyone so everyone has the same rights," said Cain, the man who launched the challenge. "It's not about me anymore."


Watchdog sues striking workers

Workers on a Perth construction site could face fines of $22,000 each after the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) decided to sue them for walking off a job. It is the first time workers have been prosecuted under the new Federal Government industrial relations act. The ABCC is suing 107 of 400 workers who walked off the job, on the Perth to Mandurah railway, in February, to protest against the sacking of a union shop steward.

ABCC Commissioner John Lloyd said the strike had cost construction company Leighton $200,000 a day. "We felt that there was a case here which we were entitled to take proceedings against," Mr Lloyd said on ABC Radio.

Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) WA secretary Kevin Reynolds said he had never before seen workers hunted down in such a way for taking strike action. The union had warned these workers about the $22,000 penalties they could face, he said. "They were told by us that these penalties were being mooted by the Government, they were going to apply penalties - they have never been applied anywhere," Mr Reynolds said on ABC Radio. "We will have to see from lawyers what sort of defence these workers can provide and what mitigating circumstances (there are)."


Defence equipment bungles

Below is an article from the "Age" newspaper followed by an official response. Sadly, neither the report nor the response are surprising. Armies have ALWAYS been plagued by equipment bungles. We sadly remember the Russian soldiers of World War I who were sent into battle with one bullet each. So as much as possible of equipment purchase should be privatized. Soldiers should be given an allowance to buy their own gear. The Army should specify patterns only. Left to provide only the big stuff, the Army might even get that right

The provision of clothing and equipment to Australia's front-line troops has been plagued by "stuff-ups", one of the nation's most senior defence officials has admitted. In an extraordinarily candid briefing, the official stated that troops serving overseas had "missed out" on gear they should have received, and that the body responsible for equipping them, the Defence Materiel Organisation, had engaged in "inappropriate behaviours". "We are going to let the troops down if we don't improve the reliability, quality and safety of our equipment," said Stephen Gumley, head of the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO).

The comments, made in a briefing to defence industry suppliers in Melbourne on June 23, could cause embarrassment for Defence Minister Brendan Nelson and the nation's top military brass, who last month publicly dismissed claims of inadequate provision of clothing and protective gear to soldiers. The Age has obtained a secret recording of Dr Gumley's briefing, during which he also told industry suppliers: "Frankly, I did not do a good enough job in this area (soldier's clothing and equipment) so we failed in that and I am going to fix it . what has happened has been a big wake-up call for me. Like someone has chucked a big cold bucket of water over my face."

Dr Gumley also told the briefing that Dr Nelson was overwhelmed when he took over the defence portfolio. "My boss got very confused when he got in this portfolio by all the stuff that hit him," Dr Gumley said, before quickly adding that Dr Nelson's "huge intellect" had helped him "get on top of his portfolio in record time". Among a litany of extraordinary revelations, the DMO chief stated that:

* A still-secret inquiry ordered by Dr Nelson into DMO's combat clothing department had found "systematic problems with management in procurement".

* DMO had "stuffed up in clothing" because of a failure to ensure up-to-date technical specifications "across hundreds of our pieces of equipment".

* One quarter of the DMO's combat support and clothing department's staff had been shifted out after an internal investigation, resulting in huge "corporate knowledge loss".

* The army was inefficiently managing its equipment and clothing budget, placing stresses on DMO and defence suppliers who "have to produce all this stuff in rapid urgent time".

* The system troops use to complain about gear and clothing was flawed because troops were failing to get feedback about their complaints, the system was not designed to handle human factor feedback and complaints were dealt with in batches rather than individually.

* He was "very worried" about sole source contracts, in which only one company is able to supply troop gear.

Dr Gumley's comments back up the contents of a secret submission to an internal defence inquiry, revealed last month in The Age, saying that clothing and equipment provided to Australian troops serving overseas was of poor quality and reflected a culture of "near enough is good enough". The damning submission, by a serving defence force member, followed evidence by "Soldier 17" to the military inquiry into the death of Private Jake Kovco that the safety of Australian troops in Iraq was being compromised by shoddy equipment.

Dr Gumley, in his briefing to defence suppliers, said that the "vast majority of what we do is really good. We just have to work out how we are going to fix up the bad bits now." He said he was not alone in engaging in "inappropriate" conduct. "Please, do not think I am throwing bullets here. I am accepting responsibility. I am accepting (responsibility) for some of the stuff-ups that have gone on. But there are a few (stuff-ups) on the other side as well," he said. "If we get our act together, there should be good business for everyone. If we keep going down this vortex, which has seemed to happen over the last 10 to 12 months, it makes us very hard to supply the troops on time."

Dr Gumley said investigations over the past four months had revealed that defence suppliers had falsified test results, employed Asian-based manufacturers despite promising to use Australian subcontractors, and lied about their ability to meet contract deadlines, meaning troops on operational deployments "missed out" on equipment. "See it from my point of view? How can I run an effective procurement office when that sort of stuff is happening?" Dr Gumley said.

When asked why DMO had not taken appropriate action against companies responsible for denying troops gear, he replied: "I don't know." The DMO chief said the reason supplier contracts had dried up despite the huge demand for gear was because political and media scrutiny of DMO meant that his staff could no longer bend the rules. "You bash people enough, what do they do? The become risk adverse, don't they? And public officials will play it by the rule book. What has been really happening is that they (DMO staff) have been giving a lot of flex over the last decade to keep the whole thing running. Now, because they have been bashed, emotionally and psychologically, they are playing it by the rules."

Dr Gumley said reforms already applied to major defence projects would now be applied to minor projects and that minor project suppliers would be encouraged to sign non-binding "ethical" contracts.


The official response:

The Age/SMH today published selected parts of an unauthorised recording of a private meeting on 23 June between the Chief Executive Officer of the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), Dr Steve Gumley, and representatives of companies supplying clothing and personal equipment for the Australian Defence Force.

Dr Gumley arranged the meeting to allow a frank and open discussion of procurement issues, to brief the industry representatives on the actions being taken by DMO management, and to discuss further means of enhancing the relationship between DMO and industry.

The material published in the Age/SMH does not represent a balanced summary of the meeting or its key messages.

Dr Gumley acknowledged that there had been shortcomings in DMO's management of clothing procurement, and outlined in detail the actions which had been implemented, or were being considered, to address them. DMO management has taken significant steps to enhance the staffing, management and governance of its clothing supply area.

He emphasised that these shortcomings related to procurement processes. They had not impacted on the support provided to ADF forces deployed overseas. The requirements of our troops overseas have been met, in terms of the quantity and quality of equipment. Our troops deployed on operations have received, and continue to receive, the best combat gear available.

Defence has acknowledged that there have been difficulties in the timely supply of some items of clothing and personal equipment to troops training within Australia. These shortcomings have to be overcome, by the joint efforts of DMO and industry.

Dr Gumley discussed with the industry representatives some specific instances of inappropriate actions on their part.

Dr Gumley was characteristically open and direct in his comments. He acknowledged past deficiencies and shortcomings on the part of both DMO and industry. His key message was a call for a more unified effort between DMO and industry to ensure that the support needs of the ADF continue to be met. The discussion focussed very strongly on action being taken and further options to be considered.

It is very disappointing that a recording was made of the meeting and that its privacy was breached in this manner. The Age/SMH story presents a catalogue of problems and criticisms, rather than a more balanced account of firm management action being taken to address identified problems.

These issues have been subject to DMO management action since late 2005. They also led to an independent review, which commenced in March 2006. The report of that review is currently with the Minister for Defence, the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson MP.

The Defence Materiel Organisation will continue to work with industry to ensure that our troops receive the best clothing and equipment.

The downward spiral continues in Queensland hospitals

A shortage of nursing staff has forced Queensland's largest public hospital to cut back elective surgery for the next three months. More cuts are likely to limit operations to fewer than 1800. A leaked memo from the hospital revealed that since March "there have been ongoing elective operating sessions cancelled due to insufficient nursing and anaesthetic technical staff to provide safe patient care". "In addition, demand for emergency surgery is exceeding the current emergency OR (operating room) capacity," the memo says.

In the past year, the staffing shortages and additional demand for emergency operations have meant patients have faced last-minute cancellation of elective surgery. Several people who contacted The Courier-Mail said they had operations cancelled after they had been prepared and wheeled into the operating theatre.

Queensland Health Central Area Health Service acting general manager Terry Mehan said planned cuts in elective surgery were more appropriate than making last-minute cancellations to elective surgery lists. Mr Mehan said the hospital usually conducted 30 to 32 elective surgery sessions each day and the new roster would reduce that to 24 or 26 sessions each day. "Emergency surgery is exactly that. It is surgery that cannot wait. And this new roster system developed by the clinicians at the coalface aims to ensure emergency cases will not have to wait," he said. "We believe this will be a great improvement on ad hoc last-minute elective surgery cancellations. Last-minute cancellations result in stress and inconvenience for patients." Mr Mehan said demand for elective and emergency surgery was increasing throughout the state. "And there is a shortage of nursing staff, particularly of nurses with operating theatre skills," he said.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Zelle Hodge said last-minute cancellations of elective operations had been "going on for some time" at RBWH. Dr Hodge said the shortage of beds meant Queensland's public hospitals were operating at full capacity and had no room to move should there be a disaster or seasonal fluctuations. "Ideally hospitals should plan to run at 85 per cent capacity to deal with these fluctuations," Dr Hodge said. "But we know the RBWH is constantly running at about 130 per cent capacity. This means patients with serious cancers have to wait. They are being significantly disadvantaged in our public hospital system."

Opposition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said that previously a lack of doctors had been blamed for cancellations. "Now it is a lack of technical staff and nurses to open operating theatre," he said. "This is the same government which has recently spent millions of taxpayers' money on promoting how things have changed inside our public hospitals because of its successful recruitment programs for doctors and nurses."


Australian history portrayed in schools as shameful

Textbooks give school students a one-sided account of our national history and Aboriginal culture, argues Kevin Donnelly

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop is right. It's about time school students were taught traditional Australian history. For too long, teachers have downplayed - even, at times, denigrated - our nation's achievements. Pointing out past sins is one thing; making ourselves ashamed to be Australians is another thing altogether. Consider the way indigenous history and culture are taught in Australian schools.

Beginning with the Keating government's Studies of Society and Environment curriculum, students are told to celebrate Aboriginal culture uncritically and to recognise the worth of individuals such as Pat O'Shane and Eddie Mabo. European settlement is described as an invasion and there is little, if any, recognition that Aboriginal society may be dysfunctional. The Northern Territory Studies of Society and Environment document also presents Aboriginal culture in a blinkered way.

In the NT, students are told to "celebrate the survival of indigenous Australian cultural heritage" and to "learn from members of indigenous Australian communities as often as possible". Once again, no mention of the dark side of Aboriginal society, especially those elements that are misogynist and patriarchal.

One of the more extreme examples of a biased interpretation of indigenous issues is the Jacaranda SOSE Australian History textbook written for Victorian Year 10 classes. To be sure, some of the problems faced by Aboriginal communities, such as petrol sniffing, are acknowledged. But the dark side of indigenous culture represented by domestic violence is ignored. Of greater concern is the way problematic issues are presented as beyond dispute.

Take terra nullius. While some academics argue that the expression was not in use when the First Fleet landed, the Jacaranda text is in no doubt. In describing the High Court's 1992 Mabo judgment, the statement is made that the High Court decision "overturned the legal fiction that Australia had been terra nullius (land belonging to no one) when the British took possession of it in 1788".

The expression black armband provides another example of bias. Much of the Jacaranda textbook criticises the effect of European settlement. On two occasions it does briefly mention that historian Geoffrey Blainey and Prime Minister John Howard hold a different view. According to history teacher John Cantwell in the text, black-armband critics are motivated by the desire to "leave out certain parts of the human story because they are painful". In fact, Blainey, like Howard, acknowledges that history teaching during the 1970s and '80s was too congratulatory and what is needed is balance, not ignoring past sins.

The textbook's coverage of the 1997 report Bringing Them Home provides a further example of misleading students. Removing indigenous children from their parents is painted as genocide and the statement is made: "The motives for taking children were underpinned by racism." Never mind that many children benefited in later life from being removed from dysfunctional families.

It gets worse. The textbook writers argue that Australia's legal system fails "to cater for the cultural differences of Aboriginal Australians". (Is this code for arguing, as several judges do in interpreting tribal law, that Aboriginal elders should be treated leniently after raping underage girls?) The Jacaranda textbook condemns Australia's 1988 bicentenary celebrations. Most Australians, the argument goes, believe "the history being celebrated was only a small part of Australia's story and that the nation's history began thousands of years before 1788".

Mining companies and governments are not immune from criticism. "Mining companies and some state governments," the text reads, "have often shown little appreciation of indigenous land rights and even less concern for the protection of sacred sites." Never mind that mining giants liaise with Aboriginal communities and jointly determine the best practices to suit all parties involved in the process. Rio Tinto, for instance, employs anthropologists to work with indigenous communities to carry out cultural heritage studies before embarking on any developments and plans to double the number of indigenous workers employed at the Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia.

A second Jacaranda textbook, Humanities Alive 2, also adopts a simplified view of teaching history. Australia's settlement, the logic goes, is the same as the Spanish invasion of South America. Students are asked about similarities between what happened to the Aztecs and to Australian Aborigines. The suggested response is: "In both cases the invaders were after territory (and its resources) and set out (consciously or otherwise) to subjugate and/or destroy the indigenous population, should it stand in their way."

Education should be disinterested and give students a balanced understanding, free from ideology or cant. When it comes to teaching indigenous history, that means examining the full story and acknowledging the good with the bad. Over to you, minister.


7 July, 2006

The ABC never goes after leftie celebrities

By targeting a commercial rival and an ideological opponent, the taxpayer-funded broadcaster has shown its true colours and revealed its unfair and unbalanced agenda

Why on earth was the ABC so foolish as to contemplate publishing a book on Alan Jones? The answer is that tired old mantra: it was in the public interest. But the ABC's role, indeed its raison d'etre, is to accommodate the public interest through broadcasting, and surely this was satisfied with the Four Corners program on ABC television in 2002.

Of course, the ABC's commitment to balance means that we should have also seen similar programs on high-profile commentators across the ideological spectrum, perhaps including those on the ABC payroll. Don't think you missed them: there weren't any.

Now, some irate readers will no doubt recall Mandy Rice-Davies's immortal line: He would say that, wouldn't he? And it's true: I admire Alan Jones. I have met him about a half-dozen times and, yes, I have sent him the occasional note. (Mike Carlton, take note: I know this kills my chances of being invited on to your low-rating breakfast program.) My admiration is based on the fact that Jones is a principled and superbly effective communicator and a successful radio identity. He takes on an extraordinary workload. He is compassionate and charitable to those in need. And he eloquently speaks for the silent majority on issues from his opposition to the politicians' republic and an apology to Aboriginal Australians to his strong support for border protection and the war on Islamic terrorism. To be sure, I don't agree with everything he says. His support for protectionism and agrarian socialism, for instance, are just a little left wing for my taste.

But back to the Jones book that has been on the ABC agenda for several years. Why is the public broadcaster in the publishing business in the first place? After all, it is not as if there is no commercial outlet for books from the Left side of the political divide. Several years ago I went to a mainstream publisher with my proposed book Twilight of the Elites, which argued that the upper-middle-class small-l liberals were horribly out of touch with mainstream opinion in Australia on a variety of social and cultural issues. The publisher told me: "Yes, it's a good read. But only books from the Left sell and a book about them would not." And when a colleague asked for a book of mine at an ABC shop, he was told: "We wouldn't carry a book like that, but you can get it at Dymocks. I saw it there at lunchtime."

In an article in these pages several years ago, Greg Sheridan argued that about 25 per cent to 30 per cent of books published in the US on politics and foreign affairs were written from a conservative viewpoint. "If this were duplicated in Australia," he said, "it would represent an astounding liberalism in the great Australian narrowness in publishing." If you are not persuaded, ask yourself why conservative historian Keith Windschuttle resorts to his own publishing house.

Now, the ABC did not just agree to publish a book that some eager writer off the street happened to ask them to publish. No, at the very time it was crying poor, claiming to be unable to broadcast more than a ludicrously small amount of Australian drama, the ABC decided to spend a vast amount of money and executive time in planning, commissioning and "legalling" a book against a commercial and an ideological rival. This is not to say that Jones should not be exposed to investigation. People in public life cannot and should not escape scrutiny. Nor should they reach for the defamation writ to stop the legitimate investigation of their public activities. While the use of the stop writ has receded, all parliaments recently reaffirmed the right of the media to investigate and the right of public and indeed private figures to protect their reputations and their privacy. They declined to follow the US model that allows the publication, with impunity, of unsubstantiated rumour and gossip.

It is difficult not to come to the conclusion that the ABC had decided to target its commercial rival in a way it has targeted no one else. The indications clearly are that a purpose from the outset - indeed, the primary purpose of this enterprise - was not so much the public interest but to do damage, if not mortal damage, to Jones. By publishing a book, the ABC could evade the letter of the broadcasting codes without stopping it from launching the mother of all free and uncosted TV and radio advertising campaigns for the Jonestown tome. It could broadcast anything from the book without breaching the code. Everything in the book, you see, would be in the public domain and no longer private.

Jones's lawyers soon put two and two together and concluded that the ABC campaign would go further than any other ABC campaign. It would go into areas forbidden to the ABC under its code and actionable under our law. The book, they suspected, would intrude improperly into Jones's private life and would be "replete with false and inappropriate sexual innuendo". Jones's private life may well be interesting to the public but it is certainly not in the public interest to publish that. If the lawyers are indeed correct, it would seem that going into the areas of legitimate investigation remitted by the broadcast codes was not enough for the ABC. But when good sense finally prevailed it was too late. The ABC would lose the taxpayers' investment, which could probably be recouped by others who sniff a profit or see the opportunity for revenge.

Jones has made too many enemies not to ensure that. He is too effective. For instance: who played a leading role in stopping the Snowy Hydro sale? Who helped save the drivers at Tooheys? And who helped ensure that the clients of a big broker recovered their badly invested superannuation? The success of his many and constant campaigns means that he has enemies across the country, some of whom will do much to punish and to silence him. If the book does contain the filth the lawyers suspect, those involved - and not only the publishers - run this risk.

In the meantime, the result for the ABC is an unmitigated disaster. Its jealousy and hatred made it blind to what it was doing. As Talleyrand said of Napoleon's decision to execute the innocent Duc d'Enghien: "It was worse than a crime, it was a blunder." This blunder will only add more substance to the justified charge that the ABC needs not simply reform, but that it may have reached the point where it is beyond reform.


The Australian Labor Party returns to its racist "White Australia" roots

Who would have thought that Kim Beazley would end up resembling the John Howard of 1988, campaigning against Asian immigrants and accusing the Government of being too close to Asian governments? And that Kevin Rudd, of all people, would follow him down such a putrid, populist path? On two issues, Asian skilled migrants and relations with Indonesia, Beazley Labor has deliberately chosen the low path. It has appealed to the darker angels of our spirit.

I can barely believe I am writing those words. This column over the years has had the greatest admiration for Beazley. While disagreeing with many of his positions, I've always felt that he was eminently prime ministerial, that he had the temperament, the emotional maturity, the essential decency to be prime minister. Beyond that, he had a deep appreciation of Australia's interests in the international sphere. His recent positions are so unprincipled, dishonest, implicitly racist and cavalier in their disregard for our national interest as, for the first time in my view, to call all this into serious question.

Beazley's position on Asian skilled immigrants is utterly disgraceful and would be unhesitatingly branded racist if uttered by Howard. In his budget reply speech, Beazley referred to Chinese workers taking Australians' jobs. A typical Beazley statement on this is: "John Howard has created a situation where migrants are brought in as a substitute for training Australian workers, where foreign workers are being brought in to give employers extra bargaining power to cut the pay of Australian workers."

Let's be quite clear what Beazley is doing. He is deliberately generating hostility to immigrants on the basis that they take Australian jobs, which he knows is untrue. Only a few years ago, when Beazley was still Beazley, he argued a principled case for a larger immigration program.

Beazley has every right to lambaste the Government over training failures, real or alleged, but no right at all to direct the hostility at migrants. This is made much worse by pitiful, spiteful references to Chinese and Indian workers, when by far the biggest number of temporary skilled visa holders are British. That the contemporary Labor Party tolerates this is a sign of its utter moral bankruptcy.

Almost as bad has been the Beazley and Rudd performance on Indonesia. Becoming so unprincipled on Indonesia is a sign of the dreadful moral corrosion that too long in Opposition brings. Labor once was immensely proud of its grasp of Asia and the way under Paul Keating it pioneered so many modern Asian relationships. Indonesia, even more than China, was the acme of this pride. For the first few years of the Howard Government, Labor's critique was that Howard would never pay a domestic price to defend an Asian relationship. Labor, you see, was full of statesmen, whereas the Liberals were mere operators, or so the Labor statesmen often told us. Well, what a role reversal a decade brings.

Two issues demonstrate the low-class, irresponsible path Beazley and Rudd have deliberately embarked on: the Papuan asylum-seekers and the release in Indonesia of Abu Bakar Bashir, the former spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah. In order to prevent a flow developing of Papuan asylum-seekers, the Howard Government is seeking to treat unauthorised boat arrivals to all parts of northern Australia the same. Under the Pacific solution, which Labor supported, certain parts of northern Australia were excised from the migration zone and asylum-seekers who arrived there had their claims for asylum processed in a third country. The Howard Government decided to make this universal for all parts of northern Australia.

Labor decided to oppose the Howard Government's move, even though it had supported the initial Pacific solution. That is perfectly OK. Labor has every right to change its position and make whatever tactical judgments it wishes. But Labor embraced the poisonous rhetoric that the Howard Government was appeasing Indonesia, exactly the rhetoric that had been used against the Keating and Hawke governments by populist politicians who saw tactical advantage in making Australian relationships with Asia more difficult. A typical Beazley statement was: "The national interest is not served by appeasement in this instance." It is very easy in this country to stir up anti-Indonesian sentiment, and nothing will do it better than the cowardly and dishonest rhetoric of appeasement. Labor used to believe that one of its historic projects was to engineer better relations between Australia and Indonesia. Beazley and Rudd used to believe that, or at least say they believed it.

I have no objection to Beazley or Rudd making any criticism they like of the Government. As Winston Churchill once observed, the role of an opposition is to oppose everything, propose nothing and turn the government out. But to play fast and loose with Australia's most critical international relationships crosses a certain line of irresponsibility that even an opposition should observe. By wallowing in the gutter of appeasement rhetoric, Labor is not criticising the Howard Government but stirring up base hostility to Indonesia and then hoping to harm the Government by association.

As Greg Fealy has argued (Opinion, June 29), Rudd has engaged in consistent rank hyperbole over the release of Bashir. Rudd described Bashir as a "mass murderer" when there is no evidence of this. As Rudd should surely know, the evidence against Bashir was very weak and he was convicted on a vague conspiracy charge. I yield to no one in my hostility to Bashir but one of the most important developments in Indonesia's agonising and promising transition to democracy has been an increasing rule of law and courts. The International Crisis Group has pointed out that one reason why Indonesia under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been so successful in the fight against terrorism is the way it has proceeded through the courts with transparent cases against terrorists involving hard evidence.

Yet apparently Rudd wants Indonesia to abandon its court rulings. Typically, Rudd commented: "Mr Howard and (Foreign Minister Alexander) Downer are always listening to Indonesia's political sensitivities. It's about time Mr Howard and Mr Downer asked Indonesia to listen to Australia's sensitivities." So Labor's role now is apparently to stir up anti-Indonesian sentiment in Australia and thereby make a decent relationship between Canberra and Jakarta all but impossible. Perhaps it's time Rudd moved on from foreign affairs. Oppositions have responsibilities as well as governments. This has been a putrid little passage from the Beazley Opposition.


Line up for the dole, unpaid Mufti is told

Rather amusing

Australia's Muslim spiritual leader, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, has lost his $40,000 cleric's allowance and been told to apply for the dole because the bitterly divided national Islamic council can no longer pay him. The high-profile sheik has been instructed to "contact your local Centrelink office" by the nation's peak Muslim body, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, which is locked in a legal dispute over its leadership and has been denied access to its bank accounts.

"The Westpac Bank has informed us that we will not be able to draw any funds from the bank," AFIC's new president, Rahim Ghauri, told the mufti in a letter obtained by The Australian. "Due to this restriction we have to curtail or suspend our staff salaries."

AFIC, which derives most of its income from rent on land that houses Muslim schools across the country, and the certification of halal food, is understood to have paid the salaries of about 10 imams in the country. But Westpac froze the organisation's accounts last month after The Australian revealed the ethnic brawling that unfolded following the council's April elections, when a group of Pakistanis took control of the organisation, which had for years been controlled by Fijian Indians.

The Sydney-based Sheik Hilali was outraged by the instruction and sent a searing letter to the council's president. "I would prefer to die 100 times over than to stand in line seeking welfare payments from Centrelink," he says in the letter, dated June 27. "Does your dignity or Islamic manners permit you to direct such an insult to a spiritual leader who had spent his life in the service of the faith? "You are very much mistaken if you believe that you can insult me, my dignity will not accept for me to be held hostage to the mercy of AFIC or anyone else for that matter."

The Egyptian-born cleric was receiving fortnightly payments from AFIC for his religious duties as Mufti - the nation's most senior imam - since his appointment to the position by the national council in 1989. The nation's 150 imams earn their living through community donations generally given to them when they officiate at weddings and funerals. Some also receive money from other Islamic societies. But the dispute comes as AFIC, the Islamic umbrella body, is in the middle of a fierce legal battle with members of the rebel executive board attempting to win the control of the organisation. It is understood the Mufti favours the rebel board over the new regime.

The Australian understands that the new Pakistani-led AFIC executive has since redirected the council's earnings to a Commonwealth Bank account. But the letter from Mr Ghauri to Sheik Hilali, dated June 22, says: "Our records indicate that you have been on AFIC's payroll and your fortnightly salary is due on 30 June, 2006. "In view of our inability to draw funds from our accounts we shall not be able to transfer the money into your account on that day and furthermore, until such ... restrictions are removed from our accounts. "You may wish to contact your local Centrelink office to seek interim benefit ... However, any amounts received from Centrelink, until your payments from AFIC are reinstated, will be deducted from the accrued amount of salary that you will receive from AFIC subsequently."


Rapist doctor back to work

Your regulators will protect you (NOT)

The Medical Board of Queensland is set to renew the practising rights of a doctor convicted and jailed four years ago for violent criminal offences, including rape. James Samuel Manwaring's probable reprieve under strict conditions imposed by the registration body has appalled his former employer, original complainant Dr Bruce Flegg, and stunned his victim.

Dr Manwaring, who graduated as a medical student from the University of Queensland in 1985, had a history of drug addiction which compromised the care he provided in jobs in Australia, the US and the United Kingdom. He committed his most serious offences in 2000 against a woman, who suffered serious physical injuries and mental trauma. After pleading guilty in late 2002 to rape, attempted rape, deprivation of liberty and assault, Dr Manwaring was told by District Court Judge Brian Hoath that nothing could "excuse your involvement in these offences". "During the course of your sexual assault on the complainant, she suffered multiple bruises and the aggravation of pre-existing degenerative changes in her jaw," Judge Hoath said.

Medical board head Jim O'Dempsey declined to be interviewed late yesterday, but confirmed in a written statement that Dr Manwaring "has met the stipulation of the Health Practitioners Tribunal to be eligible to apply for re-registration". Dr Manwaring could not be contacted late yesterday. The board's statement said that 24 conditions, including the testing of his hair for traces of drugs, would be closely monitored. "It should be noted Dr Manwaring cannot start practice as there are a number of the conditions imposed by the tribunal where he requires board approval prior to commencement of practice," the statement said.

Sources close to the medical board said it had not used its power and discretion to reject Dr Manwaring "despite the inescapable grounds that the man is a convicted and violent criminal with a shocking history as a practitioner".

Dr Flegg, who owned a medical practice before becoming a Liberal Party state MP, yesterday slammed the board's decision as reckless and irresponsible. "Serious violent criminal offences are not compatible with professional standards. I believe the board has been weak and feeble in not wanting to be legally challenged," Dr Flegg said yesterday. "Manwaring is a violent convicted criminal and a serious professional offender. "The board is supposed to be the guardian of standards and public confidence."


Our classrooms need to make a date with the facts

School students should be taught traditional Australian history, insists federal Education Minister Julie Bishop

The time has come for a renaissance in the teaching of Australian history in our schools. By the time students finish their secondary schooling, they must have a thorough understanding of their nation's past. It makes young people more informed citizens and better able to appreciate where our nation has come from and how we have arrived at our place as a modern liberal democracy.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister John Howard said he believed that the time had come for "root and branch renewal of the teaching of Australian history in our schools, both in terms of the numbers learning and the way it is taught". The Prime Minister said "too often, Australian history is taught without any sense of structured narrative, replaced by a fragmented stew of themes and issues". This highlights the two glaring problems with regard to the teaching of Australian history: the quantitative problem and the qualitative problem. Not enough students are learning Australian history; and there is too much political bias and not enough pivotal facts and dates being taught.

Every schoolchild should know, for example, when and why the then Lieutenant James Cook sailed along the east coast of Australia. Every child should know why the British transported convicts to Australia and who Australia's first prime minister was. They should also know how and why Federation came about, and why we were involved in the two world wars.

Indigenous Australian history is also an important part of the Australian narrative and must form part of a basic understanding of Australian history. So is the history of our parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, and the Enlightenment, which were all aspects of our nation's past, bequeathed to us as part of our European inheritance.

The principal quantitative problem with the teaching of Australian history in most states is that it has fallen victim to a crowded curriculum that has squashed the discipline together with other social and environmental studies, and which has seen students learning less history and more themes and political science masked as history. This is a trend that must be reversed.

In 2000, the federal Government commissioned a report into the state of Australian history teaching in our schools that identified the gradual disappearance of history as a discipline in classrooms across Australia. To illustrate the point, as one columnist pointed out in The Australian in 2000: "In a recent national test, students were asked to name a political leader of this country who was famous in the period 1880-1901. Most were unable to name one. Among the names they did suggest were Arthur Phillip, (Robert) Menzies and Ronald Reagan".

In NSW, former premier Bob Carr deserves to be commended for taking steps during his premiership to ensure that the tide was turned in his state's classrooms and more Australian history was taught; but more needs to be done on a national scale. I welcome the support of the president of the History Teachers Association of Australia for the quantitative aspect of my concerns. Although the association may not fully agree with my criticism of what is being taught as part of Australian history, we agree on the need for more Australian history in classrooms.

In terms of the qualitative problem, it is my observation that there has been a tendency to downplay the overwhelmingly positive aspects of the Australian achievement. We need to find a balance that constitutes an understanding of our nation's past and is made up of the essential facts, dates and events that every student should know when they finish their secondary schooling. This must include an embrace not only of our European inheritance and our Aboriginal history but also post-war immigration from every corner of the globe and the other aspects of our nation's history that have made ours one of the most open and tolerant societies on earth.

Also, it is important for students to develop a body of knowledge that is rich in dates, facts and events, and from which students can then draw their own opinions about historical events. Without learning these primary ingredients of history, students are less able to form valuable conclusions. My concern is that in the social and environmental subjects that are supposed to teach history, students are missing knowledge about key historical events and their influence on our nation's development. Students should be encouraged to develop opinions about the different parts of Australia's history, but those opinions should be buttressed with an evidence base.

I intend to explore ways for the federal Government to encourage the state education authorities and all schools to make the teaching of Australian history a critical part of their jurisdictions' syllabuses. I want the states to embrace this agenda, and not succumb to pressure from various interest groups that see the rebirth of Australian history teaching as a threat to political correctness.


6 July, 2006

Make history study compulsory: PM

Australian history should be compulsory in the nation's schools, Prime Minister John Howard said today. The Federal Government is pushing the states and territories to reinstate the study as a stand-alone subject, and may force the issue in the next round of schools funding. Mr Howard said he was not expecting opposition from the states and said Australian history should be compulsory for at least part of the curriculum. "I would like to see it compulsory at certain stages," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting. "The detail of that can be worked out by the different education departments. "I'm not trying to write a course, I'm just wanting to establish the priority. "And I cannot understand how anybody in a government could object to Australian history being for some period of time a compulsory, stand alone subject."

The study should include European and Aboriginal history, Mr Howard said. "It's got to include some understanding of British and European history, an understanding of the enlightenment, an understanding of the influence of Christianity, of Western civilisation, all of those things that shaped Australian society have got to be included," he said. "But very particularly, we've got to have a proper narrative of what happened to this country both before 1788 ... and onwards. "Now that includes, obviously, some reference to indigenous history."

Mr Howard said it was essential to move away from studying history "as part of an examination of issues, an examination of cultural drifts". "I want history to be Australian history in all of the manifestations I've described," he said. "I want it to be a stand alone subject, it deserves that treatment. "I want Australians in future to understand the scale of the Australian achievement." The Government has commissioned two studies to assess the status of Australian history in schools and is planning a summit involving historians, teachers, commentators and community representatives.

The Australian newspaper reported today that if the states refused to reinstate Australian history as a subject, the Federal Government would consider making it a condition in its next $40 billion, four-year school funding agreement.


Labor Party warned on politics of envy

"Envy is dead," Labor's NSW secretary Mark Arbib has declared as the party attempts to shake off the class-war mistakes of the Crean-Latham era and reposition itself for government. In a rare public analysis of Labor's electoral failures, Mr Arbib has described what he calls "a huge change in the dynamic" as former blue-collar workers turn away from unions and become independent contractors, with no rusted-on political allegiances. "They think, 'I'm running a business, I want to keep going up the ladder, so who's the best party for business, who's the best for managing the economy, and who's the best party for aspiration?'," Mr Arbib said. "The truth is now, especially in Sydney, that envy is dead. There's really little personal envy between people living in different parts of the city."

Mr Arbib says the Howard-Costello tax cuts created little electoral reaction, "the reason being that in a lot of cases people are saying that if you're earning over $125,000 you're paying private health insurance, you're probably sending your kid to a private school, you're paying a huge amount of tax - why shouldn't they get a big tax cut? "And the truth is that most of these people who are earning $50K, $60K, $70K or $80,000 all want to be earning $120,000, and think that one day they'll get there. So therefore many are happy to see tax cuts at the higher end. And they're not envious of it - they just want to be there themselves."

Mr Arbib's comments, which contrast dramatically with the disastrous "politics of envy" campaign in the lead-up to the last federal election, are contained in a new book, Reconnecting Labor, a series of interviews with Labor luminaries and party faithful by former journalist and ALP staffer Barry Donovan. Discussing the changes Labor needs to make to get back into government, Mr Arbib says the Liberal Party has understood the aspirational "McMansions" changes in society a lot better than Labor, and on the issue of education he concedes "many families nowadays would like to send their kids to a private school because they believe it will give their kids a better start in life".

Reconnecting Labor - one of several books dealing with the state of the federal ALP - was launched yesterday by Julia Gillard, touted as a future leader, who said: "It is said if sharks don't swim they die, but if progressive forces don't debate ideas, then they may as well die." She said there was a "lively debate within Labor about what our traditional values are, whether we are honouring those values, or whether in truth we have sold them out". To laughter, she quoted Groucho Marx: "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others."


Bad bill of health for Queensland

Services provided by Queensland public hospitals have deteriorated during the tenure of the Beattie Government, and new national data rates the performance of the state's hospitals as among the worst in Australia. Released yesterday, the State of Our Public Hospitals June 2006 Report measures each state against its performance in 1998-99 and 2004-05.

Premier Peter Beattie said yesterday that he had not seen the report, but dismissed the findings, saying they were based on old figures. Mr Beattie said his Government had increased funding in October's mini-Budget and again in this year's Budget. "We've dramatically increased funding . . . $9 billion extra over the next five years," he said.

However, the report does provide a report card on the first seven years of his Government, according to the state Opposition and the Australian Medical Association. When Mr Beattie was elected in 1998, the number of people being admitted to public hospitals was above the national average. In 2004-05, the number admitted was 9 per cent lower than the national average. Public hospital beds reflect a similar trend. In 1998-99, Queensland had more hospital beds than the national average. But by 2004-05, it was below the national average. In terms of funding, in 1998-99, public patients in Queensland received only 81 per cent of the national average. This had declined to 79.8 per cent by 2004-05. Even the area of elective surgery, in which Queensland was rated the best in the country, has recorded a similar fall -- from 16 per cent above the national average in 1998-99 to just above the national average in 2004-05.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott was critical of the information provided by Queensland on elective surgery. "The report is only as good as the quality of the information provided by the states. If the states give us dodgy information then we will get a dodgy result," Mr Abbott said.

AMA Queensland president Zelle Hodge acknowledged that the report had come out before the recent mini-Budget which increased public hospital funding. In spite of this, she said the report showed Queensland still had "a very, very, very long way to go". Dr Hodge said most of the recent health funding increases had gone in salaries and did not address the critical shortage of beds which was now affecting the provision of services in public hospitals.


Criminals are to blame, not society: Increased welfare payments will do nothing to prevent crime

An editorial from "The Australian"

The human condition is such that, whether out of malice, opportunity, desperation or passion, some people will break the law in even the most functional and prosperous societies. But no matter the motivation, in a civilised society criminals are isolated from the rest of the population to protect the innocent, punish the guilty and deter their imitators. Which is why NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery's comments this past weekend seem so bizarre. Speaking to a conference of the NSW Teachers Federation, he said increased sentences, additional police and mandatory sentences do nothing to prevent crime. Instead, he called for society to spend more to sure people get good education, receive decent healthcare and have decent places to live.

These are all honourable goals. But in Australia and overseas, decades of expensive left-wing social engineering projects of the sort Mr Cowdery advocates have proved abject failures when it comes to preventing crime. "Assist(ing) those juggling the competing demands of work and family life" may be a noble goal, but it will not cut the number of criminals, as Mr Cowdery claims. Mr Cowdery seems to forget crime is broadly on the decline in NSW - the murder rate is at its lowest in 20 years - and that the incarceration of baddies on his watch is a large part of the reason for this. NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics research shows that locking up convicted burglars prevents 45,000 burglaries a year. The data also suggests that doubling sentences would prevent another 14,000 such crimes annually. Mr Cowdery's welfare-based approach to crime prevention has been rightly derided as naive and unworkable. Criminologist Paul Wilson of Bond University summed it up, telling The Australian there was "no evidence" to support Mr Cowdery's claims.

Here the experience of New York City, once considered ungovernable and lawless, provides a useful case study. When Rudy Giuliani was sworn in as mayor of New York in 1994, he embraced the "broken windows" doctrine of policing. What were once considered petty crimes and not worth cop time - fare evasion and public urination - were cracked down on. This sent the message to criminals that bigger crimes would not be tolerated either, and re-energised the morale of a city whose previous mayor had gone so far as to let looters rampage unchecked during the Crown Heights riots of 1991, which took the life of Melburnian rabbinical student Yankel Rosenbaum. Mayor Giuliani's policies were controversial, but they worked spectacularly. In 1990, the city had a record 2,245 homicides. In 2004, there were just 571 - a level not seen since 1963. Under Mr Giuliani, overall crime fell 57 per cent and the city enjoyed a remarkable civic renaissance.

This is not the only time Mr Cowdery has raised eyebrows. In the wake of the Cronulla riots and subsequent revenge attacks, he complained about local politicians who called rioters "grubs" - although he has not refrained from calling the media and politicians "bottom feeders". And he has been a repeated critic of state elections, which he says turn into little more than "law-and-order auctions". These are strange positions for a Director of Public Prosecutions to take. And they bolster the case of NSW Opposition Leader Peter Debnam that Mr Cowdery's position should not be a lifetime appointment, but rather held for a seven-year term. Mr Cowdery, who complains that outsiders should leave "experts" such as himself to handle criminal justice matters, should do the same when it comes to health, education and housing.


The Sydney Domain

As a former Domain orator myself, I was interested to read the following report. I remember Ada Green and Webster well

It is 1969, at the height of the protests against the Vietnam War. Raymond de Berquelle, a young photographer from Europe, is amazed to discover how many Sydneysiders flock to Speakers Corner in the Domain to take part in the Sunday political debates. He takes some photographs - and one is particularly symbolic. It shows the evangelist Sister Ada Green - one of most popular soapbox speakers - addressing a 17-year-old "dolly bird". According to de Berquelle's caption, Sister Ada had told the girl "I can save you" when she was interrupted by a wag, shouting "Save her for me, will you?" ....

Sister Ada, who preached opposite the art gallery every Sunday for 33 years, was a favourite. "Sister Ada was cool - crazy, Christian and full of love." Like all the regular soapbox speakers - including John Webster, who used to mount a stepladder, "The Wizard", who blew bubbles to attract a crowd, or Ann Duffy of the Socialist Party of Australia - Sister Ada knew how to deal with audience back chat. That was part of the fun, says Ms Chinguile.

Based on the Speakers Corner at Hyde Park, London, the Domain version began in 1878 as a venue for debates between Catholics and Protestants. It flourished for a century, proving popular during periods of national introspection: Federation, conscription, depression, the Cold War and Vietnam.

Why did such a robust tradition die? Inara Walden, curator of the exhibition, which runs until August 27, says visitors have suggested several reasons: we are too politically correct and intolerant; chat rooms and blog sites have taken over; we're too busy shopping on Sundays to think of intelligent debate. Says Ms Chinguile: "There isn't the same trust, the same innocence in people. Television and the media have killed communication."

More here

5 July, 2006

British medical bungling good for Australia

Recruiters plan to target an oversupply of more than 11,000 British doctors to fix Australia's chronic doctor shortage. Health officials and representatives from the national GP training scheme will travel to Britain this year to woo doctors who fear they will be left in dead-end jobs after planned changes by the Blair Government. Recruiters hope the availability of a well-trained pool of doctors may also reduce the chance of a safety scandal akin to events at Bundaberg Base Hospital in Queensland, where surgeon Jayant Patel was accused of harming patients.

The British Medical Association is up in arms over Mr Blair's changes. It claims 21,000 qualified doctors would compete for fewer than 10,000 training posts that lead to medical consultant roles - the top tier of specialists. Those who miss out on one of the 10,000 training posts may end up in hospital roles that offer negligible opportunities for better pay or career advancement, or even out of work.

Some doctors, such as Stephen Byrne, 27, are emigrating. After two weeks as a neurosurgery registrar at Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide, he said his work here was more interesting than in Britain, he received better training and he was not worried his career would be stifled. "I made the decision (to apply for work in Australia) at the end of February. I was looking to go into a career in neurosurgery but I didn't see much point in hanging around the UK trying to chase one of a dwindling number of jobs," he said.

No official estimate of Australia's doctor shortage exists, but a federal Government study on general practice last year found a nationwide shortage of between 800 and 1300 GPs. Senior health bureaucrats in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia agreed that the British oversupply offered a significant opportunity to cut doctor shortages. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie went to London last year to recruit 1200 health staff, including 300 doctors and 500 nurses. Since then, 849 doctors had expressed interest, and 10 had started work, with another 15 appointed.


Cowardly Cowdery: The friend of criminals

One of the top law-enforcement officials in NSW has been denounced by police and criminologists for proposing to fight crime by spending less on policing and more on welfare and education.

Criminologist Paul Wilson of Bond University said yesterday there was no evidence anywhere in the world that the scheme outlined by NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery would work. He rejected Mr Cowdery's assertion that social and education programs were the only way in which crime could be deterred in advance. "There is no evidence from anywhere it makes any difference," Professor Wilson said.

Mr Cowdery had called for a reallocation of resources in the fight against crime, speaking at a weekend conference of the NSW Teachers Federation. He argued that the Neighbourhood Watch scheme did not reduce crime, nor did police visits to schools in which officers explained the consequences of drug use. Mr Cowdery's weekend comments are not the first time he has attacked proponents of tough law-and-order policies.

Two years ago, he accused the Carr government of indifference towards people getting a fair trial, saying it was more interested in police numbers and full jails. In February, he accused Bob Carr's replacement as Premier, Morris Iemma, of undermining public confidence in the judicial system by making statements that could jeopardise the fairness of trials over the Cronulla riots. But Mr Iemma, who had referred to the rioters as "grubs", refused to withdraw his description, saying there was "barely a person in NSW" who would disagree with his comment.

The man brought in to tackle crime problems in the Queensland city of Ipswich more than a decade ago, security consultant Stacey Kirmos, also said Mr Cowdery was on the wrong track. He said his proposal focused on long-term issues when there was a clear need to address immediate crime problems. Two years ago, Ipswich city officials said the overall crime rate had fallen by 78 per cent from its peak.

Professor Wilson said he agreed with Mr Cowdery's analysis of the crime problem "but I don't think his solution follows from his analysis at all". There was considerable evidence that crime rates would fall if "the opportunities for crime" were reduced by adopting the same crime-busting tactics as former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Professor Wilson said. Under Mr Giuliani, overall crime rates in New York fell by 57 per cent and murders were reduced by 65 per cent. And while Mr Giuliani's tactics were sometimes described as a get-tough campaign, Professor Wilson said they really amounted to smarter, more focused policing. "Australia is not going to change from a criminal justice approach to crime to a welfare approach to crime," Professor Wilson said. "The US spent millions on a war on poverty during the Kennedy era. It made no difference to crime rates whatsoever. It was a big flop." He said massive education programs aimed at reducing crime rates "don't seem to work". "They might be good for other reasons but as a crime prevention strategy they seem to have no effect."

Professor Wilson said a better way of reducing crime rates would be to focus on hot spots, try to reduce opportunities for crime as much as possible and make more effective use of police. Increased police numbers were part of the solution "if they are employed effectively in areas where they are needed". NSW Police Association vice-president Scott Weber said the value of increased police numbers and zero tolerance had been demonstrated in New York. Police Federation of Australia chief executive Mark Burgess said fewer police on the streets would lead to more crime.


Greenies: Heads I win, tails you lose

Last summer was the hottest on record. But last month many parts of Australia reported record or near-record cold nights. The average minimum temperature was 1.69 degrees below the long-term average, making it the second-coldest June since 1950.

As people pile on extra clothes they may be sceptical about global warming. But Grant Beard of the Bureau of Meteorology's National Climate Centre said global warming could in fact be driving down overnight winter temperatures. The cold spell, he explained, was being fuelled by the high pressure systems that increasingly dominate southern areas of Australia during autumn and early winter. "High pressure systems are associated with clear nights, low humidity and light winds. These are perfect ingredients for low overnight temperatures," he said.


A lightweight transport solution

Why is light rail always urged as the solution to Sydney's traffic woes? Its record overseas is dismal. What this city really needs is roads, lots more roads. Using 2002-03 data, the US consultancy Demographia has looked at the extent of freeways in relation to the urban area of the 48 biggest cities in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It found Sydney was 44th on the list. No wonder we have traffic congestion. (Demographia is pro-freeway, but had no reason to rank Sydney poorly.)

Alan Evans, the president of the NRMA, was in Canada this week for a conference and has been driving around Montreal and other places. "It's a very similar country to ours in terms of population and land size," he said. "But the road system here is superb compared with ours. Plenty of other places, such as California, have better road systems. Not only is Sydney's system poor, there are no plans in place to build a good system for the future."

The NRMA's three priorities are to extend the F6 from Wollongong towards the city, link the F3 to the M2 across northern Sydney, and extend the M4 from Concord to Rozelle. But there's plenty more we should be doing. Instead, we waste public debate on utopian visions of light rail, ignoring the lessons of our own history (Sydney's trams were the same as light rail) and contemporary failures in foreign cities.

Light rail has been put into many cities in recent years, but this should not be taken as evidence that it's efficient. (Apart from anything else, until a few years ago most of the cost of light rail construction in the US was paid by the federal government, so it was an attractive choice for cities to make.) It's important to look at the results of real light rail systems, as distinct from claims made for them in theory.

Portland in Oregon was the first city to try to increase public transport use and relieve road congestion by boosting housing density and building light rail. The city is often offered as proof that this approach works, which is strange. According to Professor Robert Bruegmann of the University of Illinois, in his 2005 book Sprawl, despite the expenditure of billions of dollars to improve public transport "the percentage of Portland area residents taking public transportation has continued to decline . Critics further charge that the light rail system, like virtually every rail system in America in the last several decades, not only came in heavily over budget and failed to live up to ridership projections but also siphoned scarce transportation dollars from all other transportation modes, particularly the more heavily used, more flexible and more cost-effective buses. They also point to its slow speed, and the fact that it was designed as a way to take commuters in and out of downtown, which houses a constantly declining percentage of the jobs in the metropolitan area." (Sydney's CBD now contains only 13 per cent of the city's jobs.)

The US economist Randal O'Toole looked at the issue in his 2001 book The Vanishing Automobile and Other Myths. O'Toole works for the Thoreau Institute, a small-government think tank, and lived in Portland when it embarked on its light rail adventure. He took the 50 largest urban areas in the US and obtained average figures for how many passengers a day travelled on each kilometre of different means of transport. For a light rail track it was 4620, and for a freeway lane 23,724. This suggests that in practice light rail is not a realistic alternative to roads.

Some of the appeal of light rail is based on nostalgia for Sydney's trams, fuelled by the urban myth that they were removed at the behest of sinister tyre and motoring interests. In fact, there were various transport reviews from 1927 to 1949 and it was found that buses were faster, cheaper and caused less congestion. They could take a crowd from Central Station to Moore Park in one-third the time it took the trams.

It's difficult to assess the arguments today, but worth noting that the trams were shut down by Labor governments despite strong opposition from the tram unions, which suggests the reasons were solid. When the last tram stopped in February 1961, the Herald described trams as "noisy, draughty and cumbrous".

A lot of Sydney's light rail enthusiasts want to run lines to places like Coogee and Watsons Bay, to give the people of the eastern suburbs a more pleasant ride to work. Light rail would provide this, albeit at great public expense. But Sydney's wealthier citizens are already generously provided with subsidised transport, such as government ferries and buses. It's time that public discussion of this city's transport needs focused on the vast majority of its inhabitants. And for them, the only meaningful improvement will come from more roads, and possibly more ordinary rail lines (although overseas experience suggests even this is arguable).

The abiding enthusiasm for light rail is a Sydney curiosity, as is successive governments' failure to give us a transport system of international standard. When I asked the NRMA's Alan Evans about this, he said: "I don't know how it's happened. In other countries the voters would crucify politicians for such bad transport planning." Fortunately for our leaders, we Australians are a tolerant bunch


4 July, 2006

"Assimilation", then and now

A review by Peter Coleman of "The Education of Dr Joe" By Joseph N. Santamaria that appeared in "The Australian" on 24 June, 2006

When I was a child in Melbourne in the 1930s, some kindly uncle gave me a store-bought uniform of either Emperor Haile Selassie or Mussolini, I forget which. It was the time of the Abyssinian war and the uniform in which I strutted around the house became the occasion of angry family rows. Some backed the emperor, others the Duce.

I remember the passions better than the arguments. But I do recall there was zero prejudice against Italians, even among those who opposed Mussolini. You met them in fruit shops or at the markets. If you were Catholic, you played with them at the parish school or worshipped with them at church. They were hardworking, decent citizens. Australians welcomed them to the football teams, tennis clubs, Saturday night dances, at work and in due course university. (Archbishop Daniel Mannix helped with scholarships.)

That was before assimilation became a dirty word: in those days it meant befriending immigrants. But about 30 years ago it was redefined to mean conformity, intolerance, even racism. Multiculturalism became the new slogan. Immigrants are no longer expected to become Australian but to smile with some derision at Australian history and the old quasi-totalitarian days of assimilation.

Joseph Santamaria's cheerful memoir, The Education of Dr Joe, shows the humbug at the heart of many multiculturalist dogmas. He was born in Melbourne more than 5O years ago, the son of Aeolian immigrants (and the brother of B.A. [Bob] Santamaria), and he grew up in Brunswick.

No hostility to Italians soured his childhood. There was no talk about multiculturalism or ethnic ghettos. (When one boy called him Darkie at school, a Protestant boy threatened the offender with that great Melbourne punishment, a blood nose. Young Joe played Australian football and cricket in the back yard. He caught a horsedrawn bus. The family boasted a chookhouse. During World War Il, his brother served in the army in New Guinea. As a medical student, Joe Santamaria helped produce penicillin at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. (He later served in the surgical team in Vietnam.) He recalls without bitterness the wartime internment of Italians suspected of fascism.

At the same time, the Santamarias enjoyed a rich Italian or Aeolian life, from cards at the Cavour Club to feast days in Richmond and religious festivals in Sunbury, not to mention the joys of belting out the songs of Naples, eating provolone cheese or cooking chicken livers. Friends dropped into his father's shop and sat around for hours. Others made wine in the bath according to the ancient Aeolian recipe. He lived and prospered in two communities, mainstream Australia and the Aeolian diaspora. That was what assimilation meant.

There is an elegiac note in these memoirs. The old easygoing way of life is almost gone, as with the horse-drawn bus and the chookhouse. But Dr Joe has more stories to tell. He notes in passing his "Italian reawakening ... a kind of shift into reverse gear". That, he says, is a story for another day. The sooner, the better.

Note: "Aeolian" refers to the historic Aeolian islands, roughly equidistant between Italy and Sicily

Absurd railway: Man beats machine

Sydney's trains have become so slow under CityRail's 2006 timetable it is faster to travel between key stations on foot. Veteran marathon runner Steve Moneghetti has exposed the farce at the heart of the State Government's face-saving schedule by outrunning a train over four inner-west stations. The grand old man of Australian distance running set off from Summer Hill and beat the 8.14am all-stops to Stanmore. He had to negotiate peak hour traffic and cross two arterial roads on his way but made it with enough time to board the train at Stanmore.

The 43-year-old's victory was made possible by inflated 30-second waiting times at stations that were injected into the ponderous new timetable when it was overhauled by RailCorp. Under the previous schedule the Olympic veteran known as "Monner" would have had to set a world record time to keep up with the train. The bloated schedule - which has added as much as 15 minutes to some metropolitan trips - has been branded a cynical attempt by the Iemma Government to get trains back on time. Punctuality has improved to about 90per cent as a consequence but commuters now complain of "agonising" trips on "dawdling" trains - especially on daytime and off-peak services.

Semi-retired Moneghetti clocked a creditable 7 minutes 7 seconds for the 2.5km run, managing to stay in front of the train as he strode past Lewisham and Petersham stations en route. He had no help crossing at traffic lights at busy Old Canterbury Rd, Lewisham and Crystal St, Petersham.

Chuffed with his win in The Daily Telegraph's CitySnail Showdown, evergreen Moneghetti said he was surprised he could outrun a commuter train. "On the pure maths of the timetable I knew I had a chance if I kept to my rhythm and had some luck with the traffic along the way," Moneghetti said. "The luck came and it was a dream run but I was surprised that it was possible to keep up with a train in Sydney. I'm not sure you could do that in Melbourne. "I was glad when the train seemed to wait a bit longer at Petersham, which gave me the chance to consolidate a lead as I powered uphill and then down into Stanmore."

Excruciating waits at stations not only paved the way to victory for the runner, from Ballarat in Victoria. They are also emerging as the biggest headache for train drivers. They say leaving ahead of schedule is a bigger problem than lateness because they have too much time on their hands from one stop to the next. A Campbelltown to Circular Quay service takes an extra 8 minutes than a year ago. Train journeys take longer today than they did when the first electric-powered red rattlers hit the tracks in the 1930s.

Off-peak passengers have been hardest hit under the new schedule, which ripped 270 services from them and increased trip times in line with peak services for reasons best known to RailCorp. The State Government has never acknowledged that the slower schedule was designed to improve on-time running statistics. Transport Minister John Watkins has consistently blamed recommendations out of the Waterfall inquiry. The judge who presided over Waterfall recently torpedoed those claims, saying none of his 127 safety recommendations mentioned slowing down ordinary suburban services.

The reduction in services has also created a glut of drivers who are being paid to do nothing. About 150 CityRail drivers on full pay are stuck with nothing to do but watch DVDs and hope for a shift.


Parting the Red sea of Australian public broadcasting

It's not that "your" ABC is biased, you understand. It's just that conservatives can't be allowed near it. So, hear all the retching from ABC staff and friends over the appointment to the ABC board last week of conservative historian Keith Windschuttle. ABC lion Phillip Adams, the former communist, was "shocked". Greens leader Bob Brown vowed to fight this Howard Government wickedness in the Senate.

The loudest squeals, not surprisingly, came from that expert in character assassination Professor Robert Manne, the "stolen generations" propagandist. Writing in the equally horrified Age, he denounced Windschuttle as "extreme", "combative" and "dogmatic", with "temperamental incapacity for moderation", "comically flawed" reasoning and "moral coldness". You'd think Windschuttle was a deranged serial killer, not merely the author of a book proving that fashionable historians told us untruths about an Aboriginal "genocide" in Tasmania.

Yet the funniest protest -- and most revealing -- was that of Hilary McPhee, a Vice-Chancellor's Fellow at Melbourne University. "This Government is shameless; their (sic) ideological bent is so palpable," she stormed. How I laughed. You see, this same McPhee was the wife of Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating's speechwriter when Keating made her boss of the artist-feeding Australia Council. Talk of keeping it in the family. How the council in those years echoed Labor's own agenda, announcing its priorities for literary funding were books dealing with multicultural themes, women, workers and unionism. It even urged artists to muse on republicanism and the Mabo ruling.

Hardly a cultural institution wasn't run by the Left. The National Australia Day Council, for instance, was headed by Phillip Adams, see above, who said he made sure the Australian of the Year Award went to Left heroes "who would discompose calcified conservatives". The ABC in particular was overrun with the loudly-Left from top to bottom. It's chairman and managing director, David Hill, even ran for federal Parliament as a Labor man. And on the ABC board, during those Hawke and Keating governments, sat a collective of Leftists far larger than the phonebox of conservatives there today. They included former South Australian Labor premier John Bannon, former Labor pollster Rod Cameron, union apparatchik Janine Walker and feminist activist Wendy McCarthy, to mention just a few.

No roars then of "shameless" from the McPhees et al. The reverse: Keating was cheered at Artists for Labor rallies, with actor Jacki Weaver sighing at him from the stage: "You don't know how much you are loved." But the screams now? Simply proof that the idea of having a conservative at the ABC is to such folk a sign of moral degeneracy.

And so we heard, for example, Mark Colvin, host of ABC radio's PM, complain to Communications Minister Helen Coonan last week that in public debates the ABC was meant to act "almost as a neutral referee". (Good joke, Mark.) He added: "The point I'm trying to put to you is that of the people on the board who have an identifiable political leaning, all three of them are from a fairly dry conservative background."

Coonan, too meek, should have told Colvin two home truths. First, the ABC Leftist culture is so set that board members such as columnist Janet Albrechtsen and anthropologist Ron Brunton -- hardly the dry conservative Colvin fears -- won't shift it, even with Windschuttle's aid. Former Liberal state director Michael Kroger found that out during his own penance on the board, when he asked 20 times in five years how the ABC was going in the hunt it promised for a "Right-wing Phillip Adams" -- a new on-air host as far to the Right as Adams is to the Left. He was fobbed off so often that he at last turned to the ABC's head of radio and snapped that her failure to find any conservatives in years of alleged searching showed she was either incompetent or dishonest.

Second, Coonan should have challenged Colvin's claim that the ABC was "neutral" by asking why almost every prominent presenter with an "identifiable political leaning" seemed of the Left. Think, for example, of Phillip Adams, Kerry O'Brien, Jon Faine, Tony Jones, Fran Kelly, Sandy McCutcheon, Lindy Burns, Monica Attard, Virginia Trioli, Liz Jackson and Maxine McKew, wife of a former Labor national secretary. Where on the ABC are presenters with an alternative view?

Let's count. There's, um, Michael Duffy, given the dead air of a 4pm shift on Monday on Radio National, and um ... Er, we're still searching, Mr Kroger. Indeed, the addition of Duffy is the only real concession the ABC has made in the 10 years of this fascist Howard Government to calls to become more fair and balanced in its coverage of politics and social issues. Oh, and it shoved an extra chair on the far right of the set of Insiders, the Sunday political chat show, so a lone conservative could be yelled at by the two "normal" commentators in the middle.

If only the ABC collective realised that what is being asked for is not an ABC that starts chirruping John Howard's propaganda. The challenge is simple: to join the 21st century. To realise that most listeners and viewers now know the "neutral" journalist or presenter is a myth. That most are as smart as a journalist and like to make up their own minds. That they can be trusted to hear a debate, in which all the facts come out, and still judge wisely.

Is there a model for this modern media? There is, and ABC TV last year ran a documentary trashing it. It's Fox News -- which came from nowhere to bury CNN and become the most popular cable TV network in the United States by a mile. Fox News, owned by the company that owns this paper, has a tone too raucous for the ABC. But it has a format for debate the ABC should copy, not condemn.

Compare: The ABC has Lateline, with issues and guests all picked by Leftist host Tony Jones. It hectors. Its equivalent on Fox News is Hannity and Colmes, co-hosted by Sean Hannity of the Right and Alan Colmes of the Left, with guests matched just as evenly. It debates.

The ABC has Media Watch, run always by Leftist hosts -- most notoriously David Marr, who decreed the "natural culture of journalism is kind of vaguely soft-Left" and hounded journalists who dissented. Fox News' version is News Watch, in which two media experts of the Left argue with two of the Right, and let viewers judge who makes most sense, on all the facts.

Which ABC shows, other than Insiders, try as hard to put both sides of an argument? Which compare with, say, Fox News' Beltway Boys or Special Report with Brit Hume, both political talk-shows with presenters and panellists from both sides of politics, debating the evidence, not force-feeding you the verdict? Why can't the ABC do something similar? Channel 9 under Eddie McGuire is examining the Fox News model because it makes for more interesting television -- and cheaper. The ABC should, too, because it is more fair -- and informative.

No, this wouldn't mean the ABC would be sweeter to the Howard Government. In fact, it might then finally hit Howard where it hurts. It might at last ask why this Government hypes global warming when the science is unsure; why it accepts the "stolen generations" myth that has made us now leave black children in mortal danger; why it has let our arts rot by subsidising artists rather than audiences; and why it won't replace multiculturalism with assimilation.

The debates we could have! But to have them, the ABC must learn to let a conservative not only into the boardroom, to twiddle his thumbs, but into a studio to twiddle the knobs. Why should the Left fear more argument? After all, my dear Phillip, aren't we conservatives too dumb to make you look too stupid?


Billions of extra government spending on health buys you this:

Queensland eye patients in limbo after closure

The temporary closure of the Queensland Eye Bank means patients with failing eyesight face an indefinite wait for their vision to be restored, Opposition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said today. Dr Flegg said the Eye Bank, at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, could no longer supply eye tissue to surgeons who operate on around 500 Queenslanders a year. He said staff resignations meant the Queensland Health facility had been closed for six weeks and there was "no light at the end of the tunnel". "Queensland currently is the only state in Australia not offering a cornea transplant service," Dr Flegg said. He said the situation shows the "falsity" of Premier Peter Beattie's claim of Queensland Health having hundreds of extra clinical staff. Dr Flegg said it would take only weeks to train nursing staff to harvest the cornea donations and keep them in a suitable condition at the Eye Bank for surgeons to use.

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said it was hoped the Eye Bank would reopen by the end of July. Some corneas have been imported from interstate for emergencies.


3 July, 2006

Individual agreement scheme to put mothers in work

Badly needed labour market flexibility now possible

Mature jobless mums will be lured back into the workforce by potentially using individual contracts that wipe out penalty rates and make it cheaper for retailers to hire staff on weekends. Retailers have signed on to a federal Government-sponsored program under which female employees could return to work stripped of the penalty rates received by existing employees.

The Australian Retailers Association said unemployed mothers prepared to work weekends could be offered Australian Workplace Agreements that did not compensate them for lost penalties. "The big issue for retailers is the weekend penalty rates because that's when 50 per cent of the work gets done," ARA executive director David Edwards said. "If it's possible to package up something for people who are happy to work weekends that doesn't have the high penalty rate in it, then there has got to be much more opportunity to bring people back into the workforce. "When you speak to retailers, there is a genuine group of employees and potential employees out there who prefer to work on weekends. For them, you'd have to pay them penalty rates on Monday to Friday because they don't want to do it."

Retailers want to use the new Work Choices laws to drive down labour costs that they claim are higher that the rest of the services sector. Penalty rates have been used by the fabric giant Spotlight to justify offering AWAs that strip away conditions in exchange for a 2c-an-hour pay rise.

Mr Edwards said employers wanted to encourage older people back into the workforce, under the federally sponsored ARA Retail Employment Pathways program, citing hardware giant Bunnings as a company that had successfully taken on many mature-aged workers. "It's a great sector to attract those mature-age people back in, but many are going to be unskilled and they are going to be competing with young casuals," he said. "If we're going to give them a chance, we need to look at the appropriate conditions to get them into the workforce again. "The project we're working on is to target some people trying to get back into the workforce and an obvious sector, because of the federal Government's changes, is the mum returning to the workforce who has been out looking after the kids for years."

The ARA had told the Fair Pay Commission that "if you make your minimum wages too high you are going to make it very difficult for these people to get back in". "I'm not arguing that everybody should come down," he said. "I'm just arguing that you need some flexibility". Asked if this would be done through AWAs, he said: "It's possible you could develop some AWAs that sort of recognise their initial competence. I'm just speculating at the moment, but AWAs give you an opportunity to cater for those people that inflexible awards might not do".

The central aim of the program was to train people who wanted to return to work, as well as "mentoring" retailers. "Most retailers have been put off by the complexity of getting out of the award system," he said. "They have remained in the award system by default because it's just been too difficult. "AWAs are going to make it easier for them to exit from the award system and there is certainly plenty of incentive for them to do it now."


Unionists: One law for you and another for me

Federal Labor and the ACTU have been severely embarrassed by claims from a union official that he was sacked by his union using John Howard's new industrial relations laws. Alex Reid, the former Queensland secretary of the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers says he was sacked on "trumped up" charges after falling out with his boss. Under the provisions of the Federal Government's unfair dismissals laws, he has no right of appeal.

Afraid of recrimination, Mr Reid, a lifelong Labor supporter who's been with the union for more than 30 years, has declined to speak directly to the media. But sources close to him say his dismissal followed a dispute with the union's federal president, Terry Snee. Mr Snee was unavailable for comment. A union official, who declined to be named, confirmed the sacking but said it had nothing to do with the unfair dismissal laws. The decision had been carried out under longstanding institute rules, he said.

The damaging claims came in the week that union-organised rallies against Mr Howard's workplace changes were mounted across the country. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and Australian Council of Trade Unions chief Greg Combet used the rallies to condemn the laws, which make it easier for workers to be sacked.

The Government is expected to seize on Mr Reid's situation to say even unions are availing themselves of the changes. Under the new laws, employees lose the right to challenge for unfair dismissal in organisations with fewer than 100 employees.

According to those close to him, Mr Reid would like to mount a legal challenge but can't afford to - a scenario Labor regularly uses to criticise the laws. According to Mr Reid's version of events he was sacked after clashing with Mr Snee over the union budget, specifically Mr Snee's insistence on paying for officials to go to university. They also clashed over Mr Snee's push to overhaul rules covering the election of union office holders. The dispute became bitter and Mr Snee ordered Mr Reid to take extended leave. Mr Reid says that while he was on leave the union's federal secretary, Henning Christiansen, was sent into the Queensland office to examine his records. Mr Reid was then summarily dismissed for alleged "gross misconduct and negligence" - charges which he says were "trumped up".

An institute official denied Mr Reid's story. He confirmed there had been a dispute over budgetary matters but denied the federal secretary had been dispatched to Mr Reid's office while he was on leave to go through his paperwork. "He was just there to keep things running," the official said. There had been a series of written requests put to Mr Reid dating back to 2004 for explanations relating to his performance, he said. They were effectively ignored. It was after the last of these, in March, that Mr Reid's employment was terminated.


Queensland health sure know how to hire the good guys

Nobody seems to be steering the ship and they lurch from one crisis to another

The new head of Queensland's biggest hospital has lost the support of nursing staff after the bungled sacking of a senior nurse. Queensland Health director-general Uschi Schreiber met the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital's new clinical chief executive officer Thomas Ward and director of nursing Lesley Fleming yesterday.

The meeting was called after Dr Ward sacked Ms Fleming on Thursday and gave her five minutes to clear out her desk. She was reinstated several hours later and Dr Ward was forced to apologise and admit he did not have "a clear grasp of the industrial relations processes within Queensland Health". Dr Ward only started the job three weeks ago. After the meeting, Queensland Health said Dr Ward and Ms Fleming had "committed themselves to working together in a collaborative manner".

Queensland Nurses' Union state secretary Gay Hawksworth said RBWH nursing staff was still "very unhappy" with Dr Ward's actions. "Whilst they appreciate that the director of nursing is now back in the job, Dr Ward has shown his management style and they will be watching everything he does in the future," she said. Ms Hawksworth said Ms Fleming was not given a reason for her dismissal. "She had about a 30-second meeting with him and he handed her a letter and said 'your contract has been terminated, leave now'."

Shadow minister for health Bruce Flegg said Dr Ward's position was untenable. "Clearly, once you have this sort of tension operating at the most senior level, you have a dysfunctional situation," Dr Flegg said. He cast doubt on Dr Ward's credentials, saying he had not practised medicine for years and had not worked in Australia.


The incorrectness of trampolines

Bouncing in the back yard has long been a favourite pastime for Queensland children but new research shows that trampolining is one of the most dangerous activities for those aged six and under. In Queensland, about 1500 children visit hospital emergency departments with trampoline-related injuries each year, most with a broken bone from falling off the equipment. The Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit found that 93 per cent of trampoline accidents happened at home and 20 per cent were admitted to hospital.

Christopher Mobbs, an emergency medicine specialist at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital and co-author of the study, said that of trampoline injuries in children aged under 15, 48 per cent were in children under six. "The big outcome from this study is that children under the age of six are the most commonly injured and that was nearly half of all injuries we saw in that age group in this study," Dr Mobbs said. "Children under the age of six shouldn't be allowed to use trampolines because of the increased risk of injury to that age group." The study was done on children presenting at Sydney Children's Hospital in 2004 and last year, during which time 152 trampoline injuries were recorded.

Olympic trampoline silver medallist Ji Wallace, from Logan south of Brisbane, admitted it was just luck that prevented him being injured when he used to play on the family trampoline when he was a child. He said parents needed to be more aware of the seriousness of trampoline injuries and be in the back yard when children were using the trampoline. "It's just like a swimming pool - you don't throw the kids in the pool and say, 'there you go, see you later'," Mr Wallace said.

Dr Mobbs said one of the major recommendations to come out of the study was the need for proper and constant adult supervision for children old enough to safely use a trampoline.....

National Trampoline Sports Management chairman Chuck Smith said there were many benefits to trampolining, including aerobic exercise and learning acrobatic skills. "Children learn how to move, how to control themselves in the air and they learn how to have fun doing what they can't do on the ground - it's a bit like being weightless or being in space," Mr Smith said...


2 July, 2006

The Exclusive Brethren in politics

The article below is by slimy Leftist media figure David Marr but there is probably some truth in it. The article seems to want to slime the church but is able to show only that individual members of the church are exercising their democratic right to campaign politically. See also a previous post here on 29th. March about the same issue

With an iron hand, West Ryde businessman Bruce D. Hales rules his world church. To his 40,000 followers in the Exclusive Brethren, this prosperous supplier of office equipment in the Sydney suburbs is known as the Elect Vessel, the Lord's Representative on Earth, the Great Man, the Paul of Our Day, Minister of the Lord in Recovery and Mr Bruce.

For 175 years the sect has counted among its strange proscriptions - no public entertainment, no novels, no eating with outsiders, no university, no membership of other organisations of any kind, no shorts ("God has no pleasure in the legs of a man"), no party walls shared with non-Brethren, no films, no radio, no television and no mobile phones - an absolute ban on worldly politics.

Brethren members have never voted. Since they came together in Dublin in 1829 to live their pure life, they have believed it is God's prerogative and His alone to choose governments, as laid down in Romans chapter 13 verse 1: "The powers that be are ordained of God." That rule held until the 2004 re-election campaign of John Howard where Brethren - never acknowledging their sect - advertised, leafleted and campaigned on behalf of the Prime Minister.

The Brethren fear God, honour the Elect Vessel and love Howard. "I am very thankful for the current Government we have in Australia," Brethren representative Richard Garrett told the Greens' leader Bob Brown a few weeks ago in Canberra. "I mean, in my lifetime we haven't had a better government. We haven't had a better government economically. Whatever way you look at it we have an excellent government in Australia."

Within weeks of campaigning for Howard, Brethren were offering covert but well-funded support for George Bush. Intervention in Canada and New Zealand followed. Earlier this year, Brethren campaigned hard against the Greens in Tasmania. The strategy involved billboards attacking the Greens, towed through Hobart's streets by men wearing party masks of freaks and ghouls. The message on the billboards was: "Dangerous Extreme."

They cover their tracks. The name of the sect is never mentioned. Their political demands are a seamless mix of business breaks and hard-line Christian morality. Under Hales, the Exclusive Brethren have become a new player in the right-wing politics of the world. And they have lots and lots and lots of money.

More here

Billions fail to help health

In Queensland as in the U.K.

A leaked memo written by Queensland Health's chief has revealed the Beattie Government has failed to substantially reduce surgical waiting lists despite an unprecedented funding boost and the Premier's claims to have turned the corner on health. The memo, by Director-General Uschi Schreiber, also warns that the integrity of Queensland Health's budget is at risk because little attention is being paid to how the billions of dollars the Government has promised to fix the sector's problems is spent. The two-page document's message is in stark contrast to the glossy brochure on health - titled "Keeping our promise" - mailed out to every Queensland household at a cost of more than $300,000.

A letter from Peter Beattie accompanying the brochure promised the funding would lead to "more hospital beds, shorter waiting times and better health care". But on surgery waiting lists, Ms Schreiber's memo states: "Despite the additional funds in 2005-06, to date, the available data indicates no substantial improvement. This is disappointing. "The effective management of elective surgery is crucial because the public health system's performance is constantly being assessed by the community by reference to this area of service delivery."

Ms Schreiber has summoned top bureaucrats to a strategy forum next week, asking them to justify their existing programs and rein in spending as "there is no further additional funding available" for the 2006-07 financial year. In the June 9 memo, leaked to The Courier-Mail yesterday, Ms Schreiber expresses frustration that a core function of Queensland Health, elective surgery, is still lagging. "It has become apparent that the recent substantial increases in funding to the Queensland public health system has led to a lack of attention to maintaining budget integrity, to the detriment of current and future service sustainability. I am also concerned that the large increases in funding have not been translated into improvements in performance, particularly in relation to elective surgery."

In a further leaked memo dated June 28, Ms Schreiber warns that the growth in employment [As in Britain, the money has gone on bureaucrats] in Queensland Health had increased "beyond the targeted levels". "Our current projections indicate this level of increase in staff may not be sustainable within our current budget allocation," wrote Ms Schreiber, who was appointed to the top job a year ago after the sacking of Dr Steve Buckland.

Ms Schreiber said yesterday she had a mandate to look after health as well as taxpayers' funds and to remind doctors, nurses and administrators that there was not a bottomless well of money. "This is about ensuring that we don't go over budget," she said. "If I'm not careful in managing the place, it will flip the other way where people think there is no reason to keep looking at budget integrity. "We are doing more surgery than the Queensland Health system has ever done in its history. It indicates ever-increasing demand. We have to find a whole lot of new reforms for elective surgery."

The Schreiber warnings come as Mr Beattie reassures Queenslanders in an expensive advertising campaign that the biggest ever reforms to the health system are paying off. An extra $9.7 billion over five years has been pledged by Mr Beattie for "more doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, more hospital beds, shorter waiting times and better health care".

Health Minister Stephen Robertson and Mr Beattie yesterday defended the cost to taxpayers of the advertising blitz. "It's really important that we produce a report card which highlights exactly where the reforms are being done. Queenslanders are entitled to know how the system is improving," Mr Beattie said. But Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg accused Mr Beattie of "spending $8 million on propaganda trying to convince Queenslanders they have turned the corner". "Despite all the glossy taxpayer-funded advertising and the self-congratulatory claims that they have turned the corner on health, the reality is that under Labor the waiting lists have grown by a further 13 per cent under the Beattie Labor Government," Mr Springborg said. "This is devastating news for those people forced to wait to get the health care they need."


The future of nuclear energy in Australia

On June 6, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a task force to conduct a comprehensive review into the future of the nuclear industry in Australia, covering uranium mining, uranium enrichment and the future of nuclear power. In light of soaring prices of oil, coal and uranium oxide - the main sources of energy - such an inquiry is long overdue.

As a result of a veto imposed by environmentalists and Aboriginal activists on Labor governments, the expansion of Australia's uranium industry has been restricted since the 1970s, and most new uranium mining projects have been stopped in their tracks.

The other matters to be examined by the nuclear energy inquiry are more complex, and refer to matters of less immediacy, even if in the long-term they are of considerable importance - including uranium enrichment and reprocessing, and the competitiveness of nuclear power reactors. However, as neither Australia's Government nor the Opposition has shown much interest in the viability of Australian manufacturing industry, preferring the easy alternative of buying cheaper imports from overseas, it is hard to believe that any recommendation of the inquiry in these areas will be taken seriously.

Despite the restrictions on production, Australia is currently the world's second largest producer of uranium oxide behind Canada. Australia's uranium is sold strictly for electrical power generation only, and safeguards are in place to ensure this. Australia currently supplies uranium oxide to the United States (where nuclear power provides 20 per cent of the country's electricity), Japan (30 per cent), South Korea (40 per cent), France (77 per cent), UK (20 per cent), Sweden (50 per cent), and Germany (30 per cent).

In announcing the inquiry, Mr Howard noted that "recent developments in global energy markets have renewed international interest in nuclear energy as a technology that can help meet growing demand for electricity without the fuel and environmental costs associated with oil and gas. This also comes at a time when energy prices and energy security are key considerations for future economic growth in a lower emissions future". The price of uranium oxide has increased six-fold since 2001.

Mr Howard also noted that a growing number of environmentalists now recognise that "nuclear energy has several other advantages over fossil-fuel electricity generation, including significant lower levels of air pollution and greenhouse emissions".

Australia has some 40 per cent of the world's known reserves of uranium ore, but the development of uranium mines in Australia has been severely restricted as it requires the approval of both state and federal governments: the states control mining, but the Federal Government controls export approvals.

There are currently three uranium mines operating in Australia: the Ranger mine in Arnhem Land (in the Northern Territory), the Roxby Downs copper-gold-uranium mine in South Australia, and the small Beverley mine in outback South Australia. These are low-cost mines, and have been expanded to meet growing demand for uranium oxide, a low-value raw material used for the production of enriched uranium which fuels the world nuclear power stations.

However, a string of uranium deposits around the country have been blackballed by state and territory government vetoes. These include the rich Jabiluka and Koongara deposits in the Northern Territory; the Honeymoon and Billeroo West deposits in South Australia; the large Kintyre, Yeelirrie and Mulgra Rock deposits in Western Australia; and the Westmoreland, Valhalla and Ben Lomond deposits in Queensland. As things stand at the moment, state Labor Governments have prevented the establishment of any new uranium mines. The new federal inquiry will have to find ways to deal with these, in the national interest. At the moment, a coalition of environmentalists associated with the Australian Conservation Foundation and Aboriginal activist groups have a stranglehold on public policy.

In light of the fact that uranium has been safely mined for decades in Australia, and that Aboriginal Australians have been beneficiaries of mining operations, the current veto on new mines is intolerable. Until this is changed, there will be little action on the ground. The line taken by the federal Opposition leader, Kim Beazley - that the Australian Government should be concentrating on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power - is both bizarre and irrelevant given that Australia's uranium is being supplied to electricity utilities in the northern hemisphere. One can only conclude that Mr Beazley is happy that Labor's policy is being determined by vociferous minority groups on the fringes of the political process.


Leftist MP slams welfare

Labor should become the party of "self-reliance" and initiative by weaning people off welfare payments, says Opposition MP and policy-reform campaigner Craig Emerson. Consumers should be able to buy childcare and other essential services as necessary, rather than have them supplied through a central command system.

In a provocative policy foray, the outspoken Labor MP argues the Opposition should take an unconventional message to the next election: "We will get government out of your faces." He also warns that the growth in welfare spending under the Howard Government will be unsustainable when the national economy slows.

Mr Emerson, a former economics adviser to Labor PM Bob Hawke, argues for modern Labor to "embrace markets, free of unnecessary regulation" - the best way to create prosperity. And he borrows from the Mark Latham policy handbook, labelling his pitch to middle Australia as "reward for effort". Mr Emerson's radical policy prescription comes as Labor continues to formulate policies for the next election. While Kim Beazley has sought to adopt a more centrist policy position in key areas, such as schools funding, Labor's hardline stance against individual work contracts has alienated business groups.

Mr Emerson argues for a stronger emphasis on self-reliance, allowing consumers more freedom to "buy" childcare and aged-care services, rather than have them dictated through a central system. "Hooking people on welfare might be a clever political strategy, but it denies reward for effort, destroys self-reliance, diminishes self-esteem, corrodes individual freedom and undermines democracy," Mr Emerson writes, in an essay to be released today. Labor should reposition itself to occupy the "vacated ground" of self-reliance and initiative - territory traditionally associated with the Coalition parties.

He argues that the Coalition has actually massively expanded the welfare system. "So, while the Coalition has talked the talk of self-reliance, they have walked the walk of the welfare state, right into wealthy Australia," he says. "The Coalition and Labor have traded places and the public has barely noticed." While Labor introduced the family payments system, John Howard has expanded it to include stay-at-home mothers. Mr Emerson warns his Labor colleagues against trying to compete against the Coalition "by promising a bigger welfare state and more intervention".

Mr Emerson's reward-for-effort principle builds on Mr Beazley's budget reply speech, which outlined a similar "when you put in, you get back" ethos. But attempts to reposition Labor could prove controversial, and the Government is likely to argue it is further evidence of an Opposition plan to wind back cash payments to families. The Government, Mr Emerson says, is "busting to run a scare campaign". "But current growth rates in social security and welfare spending are unsustainable past the resources boom, without large increases in tax."


1 July, 2006

Firemen sent to medical emergency

This is the ambulance system that has supposedly been "fixed" by the Queensland government. A defibrillator might have saved the woman

A woman died from a heart attack after volunteer firefighters were sent to her home because no paramedic was available. Christine Matthews, 55, of Mungallala, near Mitchell, suffered cardiac arrest early on Friday. A Triple-0 call to the QAS from a family member had to be redirected to the Fire and Rescue Service.

Sources said the ambulance officer was on leave at the time and there was no replacement on duty. The call was put through to the volunteer firemen at Mungallala, about 600km west of Brisbane, who responded to the emergency, arriving at the woman's home at Tyrconnel Street at 5.14am.

The firemen, who only had the standard 20 minutes' supply of oxygen on their truck, arrived to find Ms Matthews had no pulse and they carried out resuscitation for 30 minutes. A Queensland Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said the part-time firemen did "a damn good job" trying to revive Ms Matthews.

A senior volunteer fireman at Mitchell commandeered the unused ambulance and picked up a doctor and director of nursing from Mitchell Hospital, driving them the 44km to Mungallala. They arrived at 5.41am and Ms Matthews was treated by the doctor and nurse with a defibrillator, but was pronounced dead.

A QAS spokesman said the firemen were the "closest available emergency unit". "In rural and remote areas, all emergency response agencies and staff co-operate at critical times to provide the best possible service to their local community," he said.

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said it was another example of Queenslanders suffering, despite paying ambulance taxes. "This tragic case highlights just how the Labor Government has abandoned regional and rural Queenslanders," he said. Mungallala has also been without a policeman for some time after the previous officer transferred and no replacement was sent.

The article above appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 25, 2006

Neglected school suddenly noticed

If it had been a private school in such a state, there would have been lawsuits left, right and centre

Parents at this Brisbane primary school battled for years to get the State Government to fund an urgent upgrade to the school's crumbling electrical system. Despite the wiring being so bad that students at Darra State School in the southwest suburbs risked a blackout every time they turned on a computer, and despite warnings of an extreme fire risk, their desperate pleas were refused. Then they contacted The Sunday Mail.

Within hours of this newspaper asking Education Queensland for a response, the school was told it would get $25,000 towards the upgrade. Darra State School P&C president Tania Schott was amazed by the development. "They couldn't find the money on Tuesday when I was told there would be no funding for this," she said. "Then, all of a sudden, they've found $25,000 worth of upgrade a few hours after the media called them."

But the money is not enough. Ms Schott, a mother of two, said the school still needs another $55,000 to ensure the electrical system is safe. "You never know when you flick a switch if it is going to short the whole system out," she said. Ms Schott said the school was operating on single-phase power, the same system used in a normal domestic home. "Electricians have told us we should be running on nothing less that phase-three power," she said. Funding is available for a new airconditioning system but there is no point in installing it because the electrical system could not provide enough power.

When more than six PCs in the computer lab are turned on, it causes a short. "It is so outdated we cannot even put an oven in our tuckshop because it is in the same building block as the computer lab. If we use an oven, the computers shut down," Ms Schott said. Electrical experts say the system is a fire hazard and would most likely be illegal if it were in an industrial building of the same size. "Any system which cuts out regularly because it can't handle the power is inherently dangerous," an electrician, who asked not to be named, told The Sunday Mail. "In this day and age every school should be on at least a phase-three system."

Queensland Teachers' Union representative Marion James said the school needed an urgent upgrade of the electrical system. "We need it to be able to install airconditioning, which has been made available through a Federal Government grant, but more importantly to run our computer lab," she said.

Opposition education spokesman Stuart Copeland demanded Education Minister Rod Welford explain why the electrical system had been allowed to deteriorate so badly. "So much for Peter Beattie's Smart State. When our kids can't use the school's computers, when the tuckshop can't feed our kids, it's an appalling indictment of the Beattie Government," he said. "A good education and safe school is one of the basics. "The Coalition calls on the Education Minister to explain why his department refuses to provide adequate funding - particularly when there is a danger to children at this school."

The Sunday Mail was refused an interview with principal Warren Beetson but an Education Queensland spokesman denied parents' claims that they were ignored. "An audit needed to be carried out to determine precisely what work was required. That audit was completed recently and arrangements have been made for an upgrade to occur during the school holidays," the spokesman said. "The main switchboard will be upgraded to provide three-phase power for the school's computers and resolve electrical issues in the tuckshop."

But the department still refuses to completely upgrade the school to the phase-three level. "The electrical capacity provided to schools is determined by the electrical load within the school. On this basis, it is not necessary to have three-phase power in all schools," the spokesman said. Education Queensland declined to answer a request for information on the number of schools in Queensland suffering from the same problem.


Deaths in custody fear frees guilty blacks

Aborigines may be escaping heavy jail sentences for violent crimes such as murder, rape and sexual abuse because of fears a long period in jail could lead to a "death in custody". Aboriginal leaders and Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough claim victims are being "unintentionally" robbed of justice, 15 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended jails be used as a last resort.

Mr Brough said yesterday the pendulum had swung too far away from properly punishing offenders. "The deaths in custody is a terrible blight and people were doing everything they possibly could to stop it and prevent it, but in doing so the plight of the victim has been put into second-order, unintentionally," he said. His view was backed by National Indigenous Council chairwoman Sue Gordon and prominent indigenous academic Marcia Langton, who argued that women and children were the most disadvantaged by the system. Dr Gordon said since the deaths in custody report and the Bringing Them Home report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, a "softly softly" approach had been adopted.

But she defended the role of magistrates and judges in the process, arguing they had taken an oath to uphold the law. "Government agencies across the states and territories charged with the statutory responsibility for children's issues have, I believe, taken the 'softly softly' approach to child abuse, (whether it be) ... emotional, physical, neglect or sexual, because they have been frightened of creating another stolen generation," she said. "Even though they have been told repeatedly that Aboriginal children should be treated the same as the wider community, they have treated our children as second-class citizens by allowing them to stay in ... toxic environments." Dr Gordon said Aboriginal children and adults were being treated as almost "lesser beings".

Professor Langton said a "culture of unwillingness" was allowing Aboriginal people to escape murder charges because of a fear of imposing mandatory life sentences. She said some police and lawyers in the Northern Territory were reluctant to charge indigenous offenders with murder and added homicides were regularly downgraded to lesser charges, even though Aboriginal people wanted to see serious crimes treated appropriately. "There's a culture of unwillingness to go forward with murder charges when there's a life sentence," Professor Langton said. "(There are) entire small communities where you have a violent offender who is charged with something less than murder, gets a short sentence, comes back to the community and murders or rapes or sexually assaults somebody again." Professor Langton said a reluctance to charge Aboriginal people with murder resulted in "basically serial killers in the communities".

Aboriginal leader Pat Dodson, a commissioner at the deaths-in-custody inquiry, said the notion that prison should be the last resort, which arose out of the royal commission, was intended only in relation to less serious crimes. Mr Dodson said if the court system was afraid to pursue life sentences for offenders because of the recommendations - and he had no evidence that it was - then it was a misreading of its recommendations. "The notion that prison should be the last resort, that arose out of the royal commission, was really in relation to the less serious crimes," he said. "Serious crimes have obviously got to be prosecuted to the fullest extent."

Productivity Commission data reveals that indigenous people serve shorter jail terms on average. But for sexual assault, a primary concern about dysfunctional communities, the jail time is generally longer.

Indigenous academic Boni Robertson did not believe there had been lighter sentencing for Aboriginal people, saying: "When there's been lighter sentences, indigenous women have jumped on it."

Mr Brough said people had overreacted and "now we've gota situation where the pendulum has swung back too far the other way".

Northern Territory Director of Public Prosecutions Richard Coates rejected the comments, saying the most recent conviction for murder involving an Aboriginal offender was in Alice Springs in March. Chief Justice Brian Martin sentenced Jimmy Watson, 27, to life behind bars, with a non-parole period of 23 years, for stabbing a man to death in Alice Springs. "Reducing indigenous imprisonment levels in accordance with the recommendations of (the royal commission) is not a factor that has any influence on the decision to prosecute," he said.

Overall, there has been a decline in deaths in prison custody since 1995 but the trend lines vary for sentenced and unsentenced prisoners. In 2004, 24 sentenced prisoners died and the remaining 15 were unsentenced prisoners on remand. Death rates for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in custody are similar but a significant finding of the royal commission is that a disproportionate number of Aborigines are in custody.


False premises and promises underlie environmental politics

(An editorial in "The Australian" newspaper below)

When federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran declared this week that wind farms are a "complete fraud" that "only exist on taxpayer subsidies", he injected the first dose of sanity seen in the renewable energy debate for a long time. Wind power fulfils just 2 per cent of the country's electricity needs, is unreliable even on the gustiest of days and is emblematic of everything wrong with the quest for so-called sustainability. Greens love wind farms for symbolic reasons, as does federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell - so long as no turbines are sited in a marginal Liberal seat within cooee of a protected parrot. But, so far, the only ones who do well off wind farms are the companies that own them - and not even they dispute their poor economics. Wind farmers get huge subsidies and a guaranteed market share and return.

It is not just on wind farms where politics and feelings are allowed to trump economic reality. Senator Campbell and his ilk like to be seen on the "right" side of the environment. Meanwhile, so-called progressives try to shut down debate over global warming even though the science is far from settled. When The Philippines' Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it threw out vast amounts of ozone-depleting greenhouse gases. But the particles it cast skyward also lowered temperatures. Scaremongering polemics such as The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery (who is a paleontologist, not a climatologist, by training) have been shown to be riddled with errors. The Kyoto Protocol is far too flawed an instrument to reduce pollution. Australia needs to apply cost-benefit analyses to environmental issues, not sentiment or politics.

Seen in this light, Australia's environmental policy is all over the shop. It is not just wind power that fails the cost-benefit test. Plastic shopping bags are set to be phased out by 2008 at a cost of $840 million simply because inner-city voters don't like them, despite Productivity Commission data showing the bags to be only a minor threat. Water policy is driven by Greens, farmers and politicians, each with an interest in making city-dwellers feel guilty over every flush. Yet capital city residents consume less than 10 per cent of Australia's water; the real waste occurs in agriculture, particularly in the cultivation of cotton and rice. In Queensland, the Greens are doing their best to hold up a dam that will supply water for the fastest-growing region of the country. Recycling plants dump toxic chemicals and salt into rivers - including the Murray. Nor do "sustainable" policies create sustainable jobs. Victoria spends between $599,565 and $999,782 in subsidies per job, per year, in the renewable energy sector. And creating jobs sorting glass is hardly the stuff of a knowledge nation. Even in a world where carbon use is constrained, technologies such as clean coal and geosequestration make more sense for coal-rich Australia than wind power (or nuclear, for that matter). Feelgood environmentalism may win votes. But not only does it fail to pay the bills - it also doesn't save the planet.